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Our Magic Knows No Bounds

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Narcissa Malfoy was more than passingly familiar with insanity. She’d literally spent her life acting as if the statements and actions of disturbed individuals made perfect sense, starting as a child with her numerous unstable Black relatives, and continuing into adulthood with her husband’s various shady connections, both in business and ideology.  

 

If a half-rabid werewolf who preyed on children roamed the halls of her home, stinking of rotting flesh and muttering about dirt and blood, Narcissa only gripped her wand tighter and swept by without a glance. If her sister carved obscenities in the beautiful wooden panels of the Malfoy dining room and dug up garden gnomes to practice torture on, Narcissa got up at three in the morning to fix the damage, then went out to her rose beds to make sure there were no more gnomes to find.

 

Now, though, for the first time, Narcissa was truly terrified. She was terrified that the Dark Lord would win, that this madness would never end. Already, she could feel her desperation rising every time she looked at the cowering shell that had replaced her husband, and the raw panic that surrounded her son like the malevolent cloud she saw every time another Death Eater appeared in her home.

 

So much of her life had been spent keeping hidden in one way or another that no one knew the real Narcissa. She was probably the most powerful occlumens on the planet, but no one knew that – how could they? Narcissa had been consciously hiding her thoughts since she was four years old, and probably unconsciously since she first began to speak. Her father had used legilimency on his children routinely, pulling out any undesirable or traitorous thoughts, and punishing those thoughts soundly.

 

Anyone reading her mind now (and it was a routine, off-handed, violation performed by her sister and the Dark Lord) would only read the thoughts she deemed safe: concern for her own and her family’s safety, normal bothers associated with running a large estate, and an unfailing “belief” that the Dark Lord would make the world a better place for those of pure, deserving blood, even if the cost was high. For authenticity, she even let a low level of her disgust at the Death Eater’s lack of proper manners in as well.

 

Due to her birth into a pureblood family, and the assumption that she would graduate Hogwarts only to take up her position as the Lady of a manor, she was extremely well-versed in household and healing spells, as well as those dealing with clothing and cosmetics. She was also quite skilled at potions, though Severus did her the remarkable favor of neglecting to mention how much she actually assisted him in the work he did, both for himself and the Dark Lord.

 

The Malfoy library was one of the largest magical collections in the world, and Narcissa had been researching all manner of possibilities for months. Something had to change, she knew. The Dark Lord could not win, but she didn’t want her husband and son in Azkaban either.

 

Meticulously, Narcissa had reviewed her past memories. She had made a habit of pulling out disturbing memories and carefully labeling and storing them.  It was clear upon reviewing them that everything centered around the Dark Lord. She knew him better than he realized, and she knew that his insanity had worsened the less of a soul he had, and the longer he went with so little of a soul.  His obsession with horcruxes was a closely guarded secret, but to Narcissa, it was obvious. 

 

When the Dark Lord had risen to power the first time, he had been strong and charismatic – even occasionally charming. However, Narcissa had watched carefully, and by the time he was chasing prophecies and going after the Potters, he was already showing signs that his madness was beginning to rival his power. Since his 'rebirth' the night of the final task of the TriWizard Tournament, he had devolved exponentially, and Narcissa's life had devolved into a nightmare. What sort of ruler could he ever be? He was incredibly paranoid, and Narcissa knew without a doubt that he would rather rule over a kingdom of corpses than allow a rival to rise to power.

 

The Dark Lord was the problem, and he needed to be the solution. Narcissa had found an old dark magic spell that she had painstakingly translated from Nordic runes that could hurl enemies across space, transporting them far from oneself. She was working to combine that spell with an even older, darker Egyptian time travel spell, and as much as the thought frightened her, she planned on cursing herself, sending herself back in time to deal with the Dark Lord as a child.

 

This plan was not perfect. Time travel, even in the more common increments of a few hours, was dangerous and unpredictable. She accepted that she might never see her husband or son again, that changing the time line could write them out of existence, perhaps even herself. But Narcissa was a pragmatist, and she knew there was no future from this point. Either the Dark Lord won and everyone lost, or Potter somehow triumphed and she and her family spent the rest of their lives in prison, going slowly insane.

 

She had a target range of five years, as it was difficult to be precise with the spell, planning to arrive before young Tom Riddle started Hogwarts. Narcissa didn’t believe that time would look kindly on being rewritten, especially in a drastic fashion, so killing him outright wasn’t an option. Besides, who knew what worse horrors would rise in the power vacuum?

 

Though the Dark Lord did not share personal details of his life, she knew he had entered Hogwarts with no parents. If she could find a way to take him in, set herself up as a guardian, then she could influence him. She had no illusions that she could ‘save’ his soul, but she thought she might be able to keep it intact. Her plan was to find him and help him rise to power without horcruxes, to somehow keep his sanity. The wizarding world would still most likely fall to a Dark Lord, but not a madman. Who knew? Maybe she’d somehow steer him into politics and he could rule as Minister of Magic, with little to no bloodshed at all. Deep inside, Narcissa’s mind smirked. The Dark Lord clearly had both mummy and daddy issues. If she could enter as a maternal figure, she might just save the world.

 

The sound of blasting spells and screams of pain and rage rose to the library, and Narcissa immediately went downstairs, wondering what fresh chaos would greet her. It was worse than she had imagined – Bellatrix screeching at snatchers and Draco, everyone in the room staring at three ragged teens. Three. One a gangly red-headed boy, one a waif of a girl whose hair was a tragedy beyond description, and one whose face was disfigured – features swollen to the point a mother wouldn’t recognize. Of course, Narcissa knew in her heart that this boy’s mother was long dead.

 

She watched silently as Bellatrix urged Draco to identify the boy, then lash out when he refused to do so in any definitive way. The boys were hauled away and the girl was tortured, Bellatrix taking great delight in practicing the work she’d started on the garden gnomes. Narcissa felt ill, though she knew her face was impassive. The girl said nothing, though she screamed loudly. Her tears streaked her dirty cheeks, and she bit her lips into a bloody mess. In the walled part of her mind, Narcissa allowed herself to note that the girl was incredibly strong and brave for one so young and outwardly frail.

 

“Bella, darling, leave some for the Dark Lord,” Narcissa spoke softly, as one did with mad people. “He’ll want the girl to be able to speak, to answer questions,”

 

Bellatrix looked up, her eyes wild. “You always try to spoil my fun, Cissy!”

 

“No,” Narcissa soothed, adopting the words from their childhood. “I always try to keep you safe. You are my sister. You are the Dark Lord’s favorite, but he will not be happy if you damage the mudblood beyond repair before he’s ready for that to happen.”

 

Bellatrix squeezed her thighs tightly against the girl’s ribs, which were most likely broken from the extended cursing. Smiling at the strangled sound of pain that emitted from her prey, she pushed back her sleeve to reveal the Dark Mark.

 

“Bella!” Narcissa couldn’t afford to speak softly now. “Please, wait.”

 

“Cissy,” Bellatrix growled, her angry magic crackling around her.

 

Narcissa put up her hands in what was half-plea, half-prayer to whatever deities might be listening. “Just an hour, Cissy. Only an hour. I am certain the hex on the second boy’s face will be faded by then. Let us please be certain before we call on the Dark Lord.” Because she knew her sister felt most powerful when reminded of others’ weakness, Narcissa added, “For me, for Draco, please. We cannot afford to displease Him anymore. We are not favored as you are.”   

 

After a moment’s silence, then a spiteful jab of her wand into the girl’s neck, Bellatrix rose from astride the girl, leaving her bleeding and convulsing into the four hundred year old carpet. Narcissa cast a minor healing spell nonverbally, and the girl’s whimpering lessened. Bellatrix was across the room, pacing. Draco and Lucius were standing still, as if pretending to be statues would somehow solve this disaster of a situation.

      

“One hour, Cissy! That is all!” Bellatrix swept away regally, as if she were a magnanimous queen extending mercy to unworthy subjects.

 

“I’m going to move her to the dungeons,” Narcissa announced to no one in particular, casting a levicorpus and floating the girl’s body in front of her as she walked out of the room. No one protested, nor did anyone follow her.

 

It was truly her plan to deposit the girl in the dungeons, after a few more healing spells. Narcissa needed to leave soon, and this girl’s nasty fate, along with that of her friends, would hopefully be rewritten or even written completely out of existence once Narcissa made it back to the past.

 

That idea was thrown to the winds as the bottom of the girl’s dirty and frayed shirt caught the edge of one of the many Malfoy ancestors’ portrait frames. The fabric rose up, revealing pale flesh, a sunken stomach, and ribs that were too prominent to be healthy. But what ruined all of Narcissa’s careful planning was the magical writing circling the girl’s navel. In a slanting, beautiful cursive, the words What are you? What are we? spiraled inward like the curve of seashell.

 

Narcissa stared, barely daring to breathe. This type of magical writing, embedded in the skin deeper than any Dark Mark, was a very rare, very special occurrence. There were enough instances in history that she knew exactly what it was, but not nearly so many that it didn’t shock her. These were the first words that her soulmate would say to Hermione Granger when they met. Everyone had a magical soulmate, someone whose magic melded perfectly, someone who made the other stronger, better. But only those with incredibly powerful magic were ever marked in such a way. The history books said that Merlin and Morgana La Fey had such marks, and even though they did not have a happy ending, there was no doubt their magic both separate and combined, had been formidable.   It was also rumored that Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin had been marked for one another, though that had ended in tragedy as well. There were a handful of others, with happier outcomes. What Narcissa knew, though, was that soulmates found one another, time and space be damned.   And what she also knew was that the words etched into the stomach of one of Harry Potter’s best friends were in the handwriting of Lord Voldemort.

 

The words themselves had to be spoken in the past, Narcissa decided, her mind working at lightening speed. The only word likely to come out of the Dark Lord’s mouth towards the girl now was crucio. There were time circles and paradoxes at play here, and she hadn’t even spoken the damn curse yet!   Her frustration mounted, but her determination strengthened.

 

This was the moment. Not the one she’d wanted, but the one she would seize. It would be nothing to add this girl to her spell, and if even half of the reports she’d heard of this girl were true, then she’d be a powerful ally, not even factoring in that she was apparently Lord Voldemort’s soulmate. She’d cast legilimens on the girl while Bella had been torturing her and found an intelligent mind with a strong moral code, but also pragmatic and flexible like her own – it was a mind Narcissa was sure she could work with.

 

Turning the corner, she took the girl into a long, narrow linen closet only ever visited by the house elves. She cast several silencing spells, a few more healing spells, and then ended the levicorpus, and instantly cast a petrificus totalus.

 

The girl’s eyes were wide, but she was frozen, as well as too shocked to panic.

 

“Hermione Granger,” Narcissa began, immediately deciding to leave off any talk of soul mates for now. As a muggleborn, the girl might not have any idea what the marks were, and they didn’t usually appear until the age of majority, so the girl probably wouldn’t have had them long – she was not much older than Draco. “Listen to me carefully. The Dark Lord will be here any minute. There is no way this war will end without unacceptable losses for everyone. I am going to change everything. I am going back in time. You can stay here, oblivated, and hope that you and your friends aren’t killed in the next few hours, or you can come with me. We will rewrite history and shape the magic of England.” She arched a perfect brow. “Don’t you think it’s time witches were in charge?”

 

There was no response as the girl was still petrified. Narcissa pointed her wand at the girl’s head. “I am going to go into your mind, but only to listen for one word. You must tell me “yes” or “no” to my offer, and you must tell me now, because I will be leaving with or without you.”

Chapter Text

Hermione Granger was sure that she’d finally lost her mind. The stress of hunting horcruxes, of being hunted themselves, of camping with quickly dwindling supplies and even faster dwindling patience for two teenage boys, listening to the steady drone of dead or missing friends and allies on the wireless, combined with wearing that fucking horrible, soul-draining pendant – all of it had finally fried her brain, like pouring a can of soda over a computer’s circuit board.  Because they couldn't have been captured, couldn't have been dragged to Malfoy Manor - this was all a horrible hallucination.  It had to be.

 

And then? Then she’d been tortured by the person who’d haunted her dreams for the last two years. Of all the Death Eaters, Bellatrix Lestrange had been the one who scared her the most. Yes, Dolohov was frightening, as were the others, but Voldemort’s fiercest follower was positively feral, and Hermione would never forget her cackling taunts the night she'd murdered Sirius.

 

Lying under the madwoman who salivated over each of her cries like a rabid dog, Hermione’s mind had shut down. She would die before betraying their cause,  so she allowed herself to focus on the pain, to enter it fully and respond only to it.   The technique was not difficult; Bellatrix’s curses were the strongest she’d ever felt. Her thoughts briefly strayed to the Longbottoms, and she wondered if she somehow survived whether she’d be placed near them in St. Mungo’s. Bellatrix screamed questions, but Hermione’s brain processed nothing except the pain. She hadn’t even felt fear when the insane bint had pulled out a knife. After all, pain was pain, and the terrible burning in her arm was at least localized, not wracking through her entire body like the cruciatus.

 

It had taken several minutes for Hermione to recognize she was no longer being beaten, cursed, or cut. She slowly opened her eyes a crack and saw Narcissa swish her wand silently in her direction. Instantly, Hermione’s pain lessened. Bellatrix was pacing and yelling. Narcissa was responding quietly, and before she could make sense of anything, Hermione’s skin began to tingle as her body rose into the air.

 

Narcissa was taking her out of the room. Why? Hermione wondered, but quickly decided that it didn’t matter. Draco’s mother was infinitely preferable to his aunt. For starters, she had discreetly healed Hermione though that action didn’t benefit her in any way. She was most likely taking her to where the boys were, which was exactly what Hermione wanted. They were always strongest together.

 

She felt cool air hit her stomach as her clothing caught on something. Suffering the after-effects of Bellatrix’s cursing, Hermione had not realized that Narcissa had stopped moving her until she heard the gasp. Even her eyelids ached, but she raised them to look at Narcissa, whose lovely face showed clear and deep shock.

 

What had caused Narcissa’s surprise? Hermione thought, but she answered her own question as she remembered the strange writing that had appeared only a few months earlier around her navel, around the time she and the boys had gone on the run.  Because regularly bathing and even changing clothes had been a luxury, she wasn't exactly sure when the marks had formed.  It was a mystery, but Hermione had determined to the best of her ability that the odd magical tattoo was not dark or dangerous, and as much as she loved to solve mysteries, she had horcruxes to hunt and Harry and Ron to keep alive. Her plate was full. She could research to her heart’s content when Hogwarts was liberated and Voldemort was defeated.

 

Then, it was Hermione’s turn to be shocked beyond speech when Narcissa had steered her into a linen closet, healed her, and asked her to accompany her, a Death Eater’s wife (and mother, for that matter) back in time to “fix” things.

 

Narcissa didn’t give a detailed explanation, but Hermione had no doubt that Narcissa was serious, and that she was capable. She saw Narcissa raise her wand, and let her mind race through her options. The horcrux hunt was crawling along. Yes, they had destroyed the locket, and thought they might know where the cup was, but there were still others, under who knew what magical protections – Dumbledore had been dying from the curse on ring before Snape had killed him.  And Dumbledore had only guessed at the number seven - there could be more. 

 

Hermione had spent the last year reading every dark magic book and treatise she could obtain, and it was obvious to her that Dumbledore would have died eventually from that magical damage. If Dumbledore, the most powerful wizard Hermione had ever known, could be permanently felled by the magic of Voldemort, what chance did three teenagers stand against it? She loved Harry as dearly as a brother, and she believed in him, but she wasn’t sure if belief was enough any longer. Dumbledore was gone, Snape had betrayed them, Hogwarts and the Ministry had fallen, and she and the boys were in the clutches of Bellatrix Lestrange, with Voldemort on his way. And if the pureblooded wife and sister of Voldemort’s inner circle members was also saying that he needed to be stopped? He must be even less stable than Hermione had feared. As gut-wrenchingly terrifying as Bellatrix was, she was nothing compared to her lord and master.

 

There really was no question – no option. Hermione felt Narcissa’s entrance into her mind. The older witch’s intrusion was surprisingly gentle, a slight nudge for an answer. Hermione allowed her agreement to come to the forefront of her mind. Yes.

 

                       -oOo0oOo-

 

Hermione was on a soft bed, covered with blankets. She stretched experimentally, and found that most of her body’s aches were faded. Sitting up cautiously, she looked around the room.

 

It was a small bedroom, and had the look of a hotel room. There were a few decorations – dried flowers in a vase on the dresser by the window, and a magical picture of a chubby blonde child playing with a rambunctious puppy – but nothing personal.   A fire blazed in the grate, and Narcissa Malfoy sat in one of two over-stuffed chairs on either side of the fireplace.

 

She looked over at Hermione’s movement, and walked to the bed. Hermione noted that her clothing and hairstyle were different – about fifty years off.

 

“Are we in the 1940s?” Hermione asked, her voice sounding like a public service announcement against smoking.

 

“Drink this,” Narcissa handed her a cup of what looked and smelled like chamomile tea. She arched an eyebrow when Hermione did not immediately drink. “Distrust now? You’ve already made an irreversible leap of faith, Miss Granger.”

 

Hermione noted the logic and took a sip. The temperature was just barely below scalding, but it was soothing on her throat, so strained from screaming.

 

“And, no, we are not quite in that decade,” Narcissa continued. “It is the end of June, 1938. And we need to get to the Dark Lord before Dumbledore does.”

 

Now it was Hermione’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “The Dark Lord? I’m pretty sure calling him that when we first meet will not set the right tone.”

 

Narcissa’s eyes flashed with brief anger, then settled. “Yes, well, years of terror do take their toll,” she sighed. “He starts Hogwarts this year. I had hoped to arrive a bit earlier, to shape him at a younger age.”

 

“What exactly do you know about Tom Riddle’s early years?” Hermione asked. She had the information Dumbledore had shared with Harry, and what little bits Harry had gleaned from his connection with Voldemort, but hoped Narcissa knew more.

 

Narcissa refilled Hermione’s cup, then poured a second cup for herself. “My sister’s father-in-law, Sebastian Lestrange, and my father-in-law, Abraxus Malfoy, both went to school with Tom Riddle, and were members of the original Knights of Walpurgis. And, of course, the oldest Death Eaters – the elder Avery, Mulciber, and Nott were also members, along with my grandfather Rosier and Dolohov.”

 

Hermione shuddered, running an unconscious hand down her breastbone, where she still bore the scar from the battle at the Department of Mysteries. “Yes, I know Dolohov, but I can’t imagine any of those men saying anything about Voldemort’s past, especially when he seems determined to obscure it.”

 

“They didn’t speak of it,” Narcissa conceded. “When they were sober. I am sad to say that my home became quite the Death Eater gambling hell and drinking den. Late at night, when those men were in their cups and the Dark Lord was away, well, they could gossip and bicker like teen girls.”

 

The two witches quickly shared what they knew, and Narcissa frowned when Hermione told her of Riddle’s parents, his birth, the orphanage, and the disturbing behaviors Dumbledore had been so suspicious of.

 

“Raised in a muggle orphanage during a depression and wartime? No wonder he had such hatred toward them.” Narcissa looked ill.

 

“You think that’s an excuse for his behavior?” Hermione felt her temper flare, and knew that they needed to get a few issues cleared between them before proceeding any further. “That it was reasonable for him to become a genocidal maniac simply because he was an unwanted child at a time of deep poverty? That it is fine because he mostly wanted to hurt muggles and mudbloods?”

 

“That is not what I said,” Narcissa said sharply. She set down her tea cup, took Hermione’s away, then pushed up the girl’s sleeve to reveal the thick magical bandages she’d carefully placed over the carving Bellatrix had made. “I can’t pretend to be something I am not, and I will never fully understand muggles or the muggle world, but I am not my sister. I am not a Death Eater. I am a human, and I have my own opinions and prejudices, but I am willing to adapt,” she tapped gently on the bandage. “And you must be willing to as well.”

 

Before Hermione could respond, she continued. “I was merely commenting on how difficult it would be for a magical child to grow up in the muggle world, with no family, and burgeoning powers that probably ostracized him from others, and how that unpleasant experience most likely fueled his future behavior.”

 

Hermione nodded slowly, swallowing her anger. She reminded herself that Narcissa had given up just as much as she had to come here, and they had to make this work. “Yes, I agree. My parents were incredibly understanding once my Hogwarts letter arrived, but I know that my accidental magic as a child was frightening to them, and to other children. It set me apart, and not in a pleasant way.”

 

“Did you have many magical ‘outbursts’ as a child?” Narcissa pulled Hermione’s sleeve back down.

 

“A fair few – usually when I was upset or wanted something quite badly,” she admitted.

 

Narcissa cleared her throat delicately. “And I understand that you were teased at Hogwarts, by Draco and many others, for being a ‘know-it-all’ among other things?”

 

“Yes.” Her surprise at Narcissa admitting her son’s behavior must have shown on her face, because Narcissa gave a small, tight smile. “But you were probably also teased in your earlier, muggle school, were you not? For similar reasons?”

 

“Yes,” Hermione repeated, feeling sad at the memories, as well as confused.

 

“My point is that you are called the brightest witch of your age, even by your enemies, and the Dark Lord was certainly the brightest wizard of his own age.   Children, whether muggle or magical, will always tease others, and they will especially target those who are different, so it is reasonable to assume that,” Narcissa paused and swallowed hard, clearly struggling to speak the word, “Tom had a similar experience in the orphanage to what you had before coming to Hogwarts, as well as the initial adjustment period.”

 

Hermione sat quietly, taking in Narcissa’s implication that she, the very type of person Voldemort hunted, tortured, and killed on a regular basis, could “relate” to his childhood. There were so many landmines there, Hermione was afraid to open her mouth.    

 

Narcissa must have taken her silence for some level of agreement because she continued. “Clearly, Albus Dumbledore doesn’t know how to deal with Slytherin children,” she sighed. “Especially ones who have come from abusive backgrounds. How did he expect a talented, magical child with the blood of Salazar in his veins would behave when he was being mistreated?”

 

“Dumbledore didn’t know then that Riddle would be sorted into Slytherin; he just noticed that Riddle was a dangerous bully,” Hermione protested, though weakly. She had always privately thought Dumbledore, though brilliant, expected too much from children, and cared too little for their well-being. After all, he had left Harry in the custody of Dursleys, knowing Petunia’s distrust and disdain for her sister, and he hadn’t bothered to check on him for almost a decade! Years of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, as well as neglect. With all Harry had gone through, and his mind’s connection to Voldemort, it was a miracle he’d turned out so well. And changing Voldemort’s past, giving him a place to call home besides Hogwarts, that would have to make a difference, wouldn’t it?

 

Narcissa was laying out the contents of a bag on the bed. There was some money, and a few official looking documents with seals, written in French.

 

“What are these?” Hermione asked, ready to change the topic.

 

“It’s easier to transfigure false documents on paper that has already been magically infused to be a legal document. Fakes on normal parchment are detected quickly, but some clever spells that are disguised as corrections, not forgeries, will produce us with new identities.” Narcissa sighed. “You do speak French?”

 

Hermione bristled a bit. “Yes, I do. Not fluently as a native of course, but I can get around Paris without trouble.”

 

“That will have to do,” the older witch sighed, pushing a lock of her pale blonde hair over her shoulder as she carefully pointed her wand at the paper. “I am now a distant cousin of Gaunts from France, Narcissa Bonneau, nee Rosier, and you are my daughter, Hermione Bonneau. My husband, your father, was killed in battle with Grindelwald. With the unrest in France and Germany, we decided to move to England, where I have cousins on my Rosier side. In going through our family papers in our preparation to move to England, we discovered the family connection to the Gaunts, and to Meriope, and subsequently, her son, and we have come to claim him.”

 

“Am I a pureblood?” Hermione didn’t think she could possibly pass as one, even if Narcissa drilled her privately day and night until September.

 

Narcissa shook her head. “No, that would be too difficult to prove, too much scrutiny. We will say that I came from a pureblood family, since I know enough about the older history of my French Rosier cousins, and my husband came from a wealthy half-blooded family. You can and will pass for half-blooded.”

 

Hermione examined the papers Narcissa had made. The work was excellent. “You know that muggle documents will be different,” she began.

 

“About that,” Narcissa smiled. It was a dangerous smile. “We are on a mission, Hermione. Too much is at stake to be morally squeamish.”

 

A cold shiver ran down Hermione’s spine. “What do you propose to do to the muggle orphanage director?”

 

Narcissa laughed at her. Laughed. “I’m not going to avada anyone! I was thinking a well-placed confundus.”

 

Hermione let out a breath, then decided total honesty was the only way to build trust. “That is good. I didn’t think you would kill anyone, but I thought you might use imperius.”

 

“Have you ever used an Unforgiveable, Hermione?” Narcissa’s voice was hardly a whisper.    

 

“I’ve thought about it,” Hermione looked directly into Narcissa’s eyes. “I’ve wanted to. And if it came down to my life, I think I might. But I would like to avoid putting myself or others in that situation. Have you?”

 

Narcissa met her gaze calmly. “I’ve never killed or tortured anyone. I have used imperius, but only once, and it was an extreme circumstance.” She glanced away, as if looking into her past. “I would not use it again unless I had to.”

 

She rose and crossed to a set of drawers. Opening the top one, she took out several pieces of fabric. She came back and laid out underclothes, hosiery, and a dress on the bed. “You can shower through there,” she pointed toward the bathroom. “Then, we’ll get you dressed and head out.”

 

“Thank you, Narcissa,” Hermione began.

 

“Mother,” Narcissa corrected. “You’ll need to get used to calling me mother. And don’t thank me yet. You haven’t heard the part you’ll object to most - we’ll need to de-age you to be the same age as Tom.”

 

“What?” Hermione had no desire to be ten again, especially not a seventeen year old mind in an eleven year old’s body. But even as she protested, she knew it made sense to have someone at Hogwart’s keeping an eye on Riddle, and Narcissa wouldn’t be able to do that as an adult.

 

Hermione didn’t elaborate on her complaints, but she did grab the clothing roughly off the bed and stomp toward the bathroom, closing the door with more force than necessary.

 

An hour later, Hermione didn’t recognize herself, or Narcissa, for that matter.   Hermione was her younger self, but Narcissa had wordlessly fixed Hermione’s teeth and used about three different spells to force her hair into calm, lovely ringlets held back by a green leather headband which matched her navy dress with green piping at the rounded collar, sleeves, and hemline that fell mid-calf. She also wore gloves, and a light weight summer sweater. Narcissa had charmed her hair into a sleek bun, and turned the color all one shade – a slightly darker, less striking blonde. She wore black, as a recent widow would, but her dress fit in a way that screamed she had money.

 

That thought raised a question in Hermione’s mind. “I’m not trying to be gauche, but how will we afford to live? Some things can’t be created by magic.”

 

“I am more than aware of that,” Narcissa adjusted Hermione’s collar, even thought it was perfectly fine. It was something a mother would do, and Hermione suddenly ached for her own mother, the woman she’d obliviated and sent far away. “I had been planning this trip for a while, Hermione. I have plans in place. I researched investments, and I have enough to keep us until those investments pay off.”

 

Why did you bring me?” Hermione blurted out. “And what do you know about the words on my stomach?”

 

“I will tell you all about it, but right now, we need to get our plan underway.” Narcissa transfigured her bag into more of a muggle purse shape and tucked her wand into her sleeve. “Once we have Tom Riddle, I’ll breathe more easily, and we’ll have time to discuss this. We need to be his first interaction with magical folk, not Dumbledore.”

 

“Fine,” Hermione agreed, pushing her annoyance aside for the moment. “Let’s go adopt Voldemort.”

Chapter Text

          Tom Riddle was having a bad day. Though, if he really thought about it, this day wasn’t much different from any of the days before. Wool’s Orphanage was short on food, as usual, and Tom’s stomach was grumbling, even though his angry scowl over breakfast at the new boy two plates down had earned him an extra slice of bread. That boy, Shawn, had mocked Tom yesterday, had tried to take Tom’s book, but he’d learned what a mistake it was to cross Tom Marvolo Riddle. The memory of how his skin had tingled, like a gentler version of an electric shock, and how the skin on Shawn’s hands had turned red, like a bad sunburn, was a good one, but it was already fading.

 

            Those fleeting moments, when Tom made his will manifest, were the only bright spots in his life. He was surrounded by inferior people; Tom knew he was better than them all. He didn’t hate the weak children who were smart enough to recognize their own weakness. Children like little Sarah who always flattened herself against the wall to let him pass, or the older, slower, Jonathan who didn’t hesitate to hand over anything he held that Tom showed interest in. He didn’t mind those type of children, and he had even stepped in with a menacing smile when Jane, a nasty redhead who liked to sneer at Tom with disdain, had tried to take Sarah’s sad excuse for a doll. Jane had dropped the doll instantly, clutching her head in pain. Let it not be sad that Tom wouldn’t protect those who did as he told them. No, the people who earned his ire were the ones who didn’t realize how stupid they were or those who openly defied him. Those idiots deserved to burn, and not only in their hands.

           

            Tom knew, though, from past experience, that it would take a few days to feel that delicious tingle of his willpower again. Making things happen was tiring, especially the amount of fury he had directed at Shawn. Tom didn’t think he believed in love like some of the silly girls he heard tittering around the orphanage or at school, but if he did come close to love, it was for books, for knowledge, and for things he had claimed as his. That imbecile had dared touch something of Tom’s, and Tom wasn’t satisfied with the minor punishment he’d inflicted yesterday. Once his energy was restored, Shawn would be sorry on a more permanent basis, even if Tom were incapacitated for a week.

 

            His hunger pangs diminished by his plans for revenge, Tom allowed himself a smile at his reflection in the spotted mirror over the bathroom sink. His clothes might be ill-fitting and shoddy, but everything was clean and pressed, and Tom knew he was a handsome boy. It was time for school, and even though Tom’s teachers were sadly lacking in the ability to challenge his intellect, he much preferred school with its books over the orphanage, where almost all time not spent sleeping or eating was devoted to various monotonous and meaningless chores. One day, Tom was confident, his superior intelligence and ability to charm others when needed would help him to rise above his circumstance, find his father, and claim his birthright, which he knew had to be magnificent. Being his, how could it be anything less?

 

            “Tom?” a voice, thick with hesitation sounded from the door.

 

            He glanced over and saw Jonathan hovering nervously. “Yes?” Tom knew his voice was cold, and he was pleased when Jonathan fidgeted more under his gaze. On days when he couldn’t exert his will forcefully, he had to rely on intimidation.

 

            “Mrs. Cole asked for you,” Jonathan said, his hands behind his back. Tom smirked. He must have seen the red blisters on Shawn’s hands. “In her office.”

 

            “Fine,” Tom replied, brushing past the older boy and heading downstairs to Mrs. Cole’s office. It was a drab, dingy room, like the rest of the orphanage, but it was small, and the fireplace made the room overly warm. Though the night had been cool and damp, it was late June, and the temperature was already rising.

 

            Mrs. Cole’s face was flushed, and the grey hair around her temples damp. Tom put on his most charming smile, but he knew it faltered when he realized that there were two other occupants in the room. Tom recovered quickly, bowing his head slightly and giving a broad smile, making sure it reached his eyes.

 

            There were two of them, both women. The older woman was beautiful, with pale blonde hair, aristocratic features, posture that had to be reinforced with steel, and impeccable, expensive clothing. She looked like the rich women he saw on the walk to school, when he passed by the high street, with its department stores and boutique shops. This was the type of woman who should have been his mother – elegant and clearly intelligent, from the way she met his gaze. He also had the disquieting feeling that this woman knew more about him than Tom normally allowed, but he was intrigued, and that meant he would reserve judgment for now.

 

            When he glanced over to the other woman, a girl, really, he felt his energy rise to the surface of his skin involuntarily. The tingle in his flesh, so strong and unexpected, was startling, and Tom fought to keep his face neutral. He could nearly taste the energy on his tongue, a coppery flavor more intensely than he ever had before, and he swore he heard it crackle gently around his body, as if trying to reach her.

 

            And even more spectacularly disturbing? The girl seemed to be crackling as well. There was the barest hint of a shimmer around her, and a faint smell like air during a storm. Objectively, he noted that she was a lovely girl, though she didn’t favor the older woman. Where the older woman was coldly alluring, like a sharply cut, flawless diamond, there was something wild about the girl – something that belonged deep in a forest. She put him in the mind of a painting of the goddess Diana that he’d seen on a rare school trip to the National Gallery, but even as he admitted this to himself, he knew it didn’t make logical sense. The girl was dressed and coiffed in a most civilized manner. Her curls, a dark chestnut brown, full and glossy, were neatly held back by a headband, not a hair out of place. Her eyes, the color of the precious sprinkling of nutmeg put over the once-a-year eggnog, with their flecks of gold highlighting the irises, looked everywhere but in his eyes, like a properly brought up young lady who hadn’t been introduced. She clearly had hidden depths, and at that moment, Tom decided he would discover them, no matter the time or effort he had to expend.

 

            He tore his eyes away from her at the annoying sound of Mrs. Cole’s “Hmm, hmm.”

 

            “Mrs. Cole,” Tom began, keeping his anger at being distracted well-hidden. “You asked for me?”

 

            “Yes, Tom,” Mrs. Cole smiled, though she seemed uncomfortable, almost afraid. “I did. I,” she paused, looking down at papers on her desk.

 

            To his amazement, Tom watched as the older woman moved her arm in a subtle manner, and whispered something under her breath. Then, she stood and held out a hand to Tom, ignoring Mrs. Cole, who sat back down in her chair with a dazed expression on her face.

 

            “Forgive our hurry, Tom, but we must conduct our business and leave quickly,” the woman’s voice was as polished as her appearance. “This will be a great shock, but we are distant relatives of yours. I am Lady Narcissa Bonneau, and this is my daughter, Hermione. We only learned of our connection to your mother’s family in the last few months, when we were preparing to leave France. We would like you to come and live with us, and we will have plenty of time to go into more of our family’s history, but we have very strict travel plans and we need to leave as soon as possible.”

 

            Tom was shocked, especially when the woman mentioned his mother. He had always assumed for some reason that when he did find some remaining, distant family, it would be on his father’s side. He was also absolutely sure that the woman was lying, at least in part, but he didn’t care. An opportunity to leave the orphanage? He would never have passed that up, even if it hadn’t arrived in such an intriguing package as these two strange women.

 

            “Of course, my Lady,” he bowed over her hand, kissing her cool skin, and his lips buzzed, in the same way his energy did. As he had read in the book Alice in Wonderland, things were getting “curiouser and curiouser.” Luckily, Tom knew he was more snake than rabbit, and he had no fear of dark places. He would tumble down into this mystery and rise victorious. “I am honored that you have sought me out and pleased to leave with you immediately.”

 

            The Lady Bonneau met his eyes with her own, and he saw fear and determination, coupled with amusement and awe. What a strange combination, he thought. Yet another puzzle to solve.

 

            “Do you have any belongings to collect?” she asked, looking over his clothing in a way that riled Tom’s temper. “We will, of course, provide you with a new wardrobe.”

 

            Tom thought briefly of the treasures he had collected here, but dismissed that idea just as quickly. He wanted nothing to do with this place again, no shoddy scraps from annoying orphans to accompany him into a future with people of quality. “No, we may leave at once.”

 

            From the corner of his gaze, he saw the younger girl touch Mrs. Cole’s arm and murmur something unintelligible. She was still avoiding his eye. Lady Bonneau took his arm, as if he had politely offered it to her, and marched out the door, the girl following silently. He was a bit put-off by her assumption of control, but she was the adult, and she was taking him from this wretched place, and there would be plenty of time to establish his dominance. The fact that both women seemed to want to hurry made him very alert, and he decided watching them closely was the best plan for now.

 

            Outside the high gates of the orphanage sat a motor car, idling. Tom had never been in one, though he had wished to be, on mornings when he arrived at school soaked to the skin because the rain jackets provided to the orphans at Wool’s were second-hand at best.   The driver was not in a livery, which meant it was a hired car, not one owned by the Bonneau family.

 

            The girl, Hermione (what an odd name, like Narcissa…like Marvolo) was the one to open the door, and Lady Bonneau climbed in readily enough, but not before Tom saw a look of trepidation and mild disgust cross her face. Did it bother her to be in a public cab? Tom followed, and was happy to find the seating clean and smelling of some kind of lemon polish.   He waited for the girl to follow, and was surprised to see that she was the one talking to the cab driver, giving him instructions.

 

            She entered and pulled the door closed behind her, and nodded to her mother. “He’ll take us near to the entrance of Diagon Alley. It should be about a twenty minute drive or so.”

 

            “Thank you, Hermione,” Lady Bonneau looked relieved, as if talking to the driver was a task she couldn’t possibly face.   And that simply didn’t make sense. Lady Bonneau exuded wealth and power. What was a lowly driver to her?

 

            There was a sudden jolt as the car hit a rut, and Tom’s hands came out involuntarily to steady himself. His fingers gripped the seat beside Hermione’s knee, and he felt a shock, stronger and almost painful, jump from her to his skin. The thought that had been forming in the back of his mind solidified and he knew without a doubt that this girl was like him. She could do what he did, or something like it.

 

            For once, Tom couldn’t censure his tongue. The words spilled out before he even knew he was speaking. “What are you? What are we?”

Chapter Text

           Hermione Granger, oh wait, make that Hermione Bonneau (seriously, from Malfoy to Bonneau, wasn’t that a bit on the nose, Narcissa?) was no stranger to sacrifice. She had given up her education, the comforts of civilization, even her parents’ knowledge that she existed, for the greater good. She been tortured from a woman who was known for driving people insane rather than speak of her plans with Harry. In the last twelve hours, she’d even traveled through time, probably destroying any future, good or bad, she might have had, and allowed a woman who had been an enemy only yesterday to de-age her and claim her as a daughter – all to make a brighter future for everyone else. So, it was not hubris for Hermione to consider herself braver and tougher than most people her age.

 

            And yet, at this moment, Hermione wasn’t feeling brave. As she sat with Narcissa and the orphanage matron in a stifling office, she thought the inside of Wool’s was as dreary as the outside, the walls papered with faded designs that couldn’t really be recognized, the baseboards and other woodwork battered, the floors scrubbed yet still stained dark and worn horribly. The two chairs had seen better days perhaps twenty years prior, and the boy the matron had sent to fetch Tom was dressed in clothes patched and altered too many times to retain much shape. Hermione felt pity for any child who lived here, even the future Lord Voldemort, then felt anger and disgust at herself for those feelings. Really, wasn’t it a bit like feeling sorry for Hitler because he didn’t get along with his father? Wasn’t empathy wasted on sociopaths? Then, she scolded herself for judging him. She needed to stick to the plan. Accept him. Like him, or at least do a fucking fantastic job of pretending to.

 

            Narcissa had confounded Mrs. Cole as soon as the matron began asking too many questions about ‘legal proof’ of their relationship to Tom Riddle, though it was clear she was a bit relieved at the thought he might be leaving. Hermione saw the look in the woman’s eyes when she said Tom’s name, and, as Narcissa had predicted, it did remind her of how she had been looked at as child when she had inadvertently used magic.

 

            During the trip by train from the wizarding village of Tutshill in the West Country to London, Narcissa had spoken more than Hermione had expected. She had still put off answering any questions about the magical words, but Narcissa had told Hermione about being raised magically, and pureblood customs, and the more she spoke, the more Hermione had begun to like Narcissa Malfoy against her will.

 

            Hermione had always despaired of the many old-fashioned and often vaguely sexist rules of what she saw of pureblood families, but the truth of Narcissa’s life was more like a Victorian novel than that of a modern woman.   Narcissa had been passed from father to husband, and then once her husband joined Voldemort, yet another man had ruled her life. That Narcissa had been strong enough to hide her true self, and yet keep that true self intact for at least forty years was mind-boggling to Hermione. And then to have the bravery to risk the only way of life she had known? Perhaps the lady snake had a bit of the lioness in her, after all.

 

            “You know that you’ll need to ask the hat to be sorted into Slytherin,” Narcissa spoke into the silence that had formed over the last few miles. “Hogwart Houses are very insular, and we want Tom to trust you, as much as we can manage.”

 

            Hermione nodded grimly. She had come to that conclusion as well. Yet another part of her identity she would have to relinquish. She would need to become a snake. What would be left of her? She looked down to see Narcissa’s hand, pale, slim, and cool on her own slightly more olive-toned wrist.

 

            “This is unbearably hard, I realize,” Narcissa said, and there was sadness in her eyes. “Our way forward has only the vaguest of plans, but I have faith in us, Hermione.”

 

            “I’d like to have stronger faith, Nar- Mother,” Hermione corrected herself. “But I have to be honest, I am concerned about the future you think we will be able to create. I agree that killing Tom Riddle is too drastic,” she chewed on her lip thinking about the changes she’d made with Harry when she’d had the time turner. “Still, I wonder how much we can influence his beliefs.”

 

            “Why, a great deal,” Narcissa insisted. “If Tom enters Hogwarts not as a poor orphan, but associated with a magical family, has a place to call home, and is exposed to more temperate ideas in the form of you, Hermione, I imagine we can work wonders.”

 

            Hermione opened her mouth, but Narcissa raised her hand and continued, “Though I hope you use that ‘brightest witch’ brain to recognize the need to look at the bigger picture. Tom Riddle will never be content to simply work for the Ministry of Magic or run a profitable business. We aren’t here to save his soul,”

 

Hermione made a sound between a scoff and a choke. “As if he has one,” she muttered.

           

            “His soul, and keeping it intact, is the precise reason we are here, I remind you.” Narcissa narrowed her eyes, just as a displeased mother whose child had dared to be insolent would.

 

            Being a mother, it was probably easy for her to fall into that role, Hermione thought, and she needed to embrace being a daughter again, a role that she had feared she had given up for good. “I’m sorry, you are right,” Hermione was determined to keep the peace. “It’s just fear of the unknown that’s bothering me. I like to plan, to control outcomes as best I can, but everything here is chaos.”

 

            “Oh, Hermione, life is chaos,” the older woman had that far away look again. “Control is mostly an illusion. The only control we have are the choices we make, and we must dedicate ourselves to making the best possible decisions.”

 

            “But how can we know what those are?” Hermione protested. “What if our presence here, now, is already creating a bleaker future?”

 

            “There could be no bleaker future,” Narcissa’s voice was low, but firm with conviction. “The Dark Lord would have won – he would have slaughtered the three of you as soon as he arrived, and his insanity would have progressed further, and the whole of Britain, if not the world, would have eventually died, if not in body, then surely in spirit.”

 

            Hermione didn’t argue – it didn’t matter now, though as an inside witness to Voldemort’s behavior, Narcissa painted a compelling and terrible picture.

 

            “So, we’re making it up as we go along, then?” Hermione tried to sound lighthearted, but failed.

 

            “Mostly,” Narcissa admitted. She had been thinking of the soulmark, and she wanted to tell Hermione about it, but she needed to let them meet for the first time without any interference in their conversation, and she was afraid an outright rejection from Hermione would cause irreparable damage. Tom had to see them as allies from the beginning.

 

“Hermione, you have seen the aftermath of the Dark Lord’s work, but I have borne witness– I have seen more cruelty, torture, and death than you can imagine, and I have seen it unfold in my own home. I have been the one to levitate corpses, the one to hear pleas and screams day and night, with no escape. Do not think I don’t understand what I am about to ask, because I know fully.”

 

            Hermione was getting nervous. What the hell was Narcissa going to ask?

 

            “I need you to be nice to him, not simply tolerate him. We need to be his family, Hermione,” there was a plea in Narcissa’s voice, a vulnerability that Hermione hadn’t heard before. “If we don’t make him feel invested in us, in our ideas and beliefs, we can not sway him later. He will discover Dark Arts, and he will like them – from what you’ve said, he already has a taste for them, without even knowing his powers. We need to set up the conditions for him to come to us with questions, to know that we will not judge or reject him, or he will turn from us, and we will lose the advantage we have sacrificed everything for.”

 

            Everything Narcissa said was true, and Hermione had already decided that she would need to put on an act with Riddle, to pretend to like him, but she realized now that wasn’t enough. Tom had already done several dodgy things at the orphanage, but he wasn’t Voldemort. He hadn’t killed anyone, but he was smart, probably at the genius level if his prodigious magical talent, along with the memories from Dumbledore were any indication. He wouldn’t be fooled if Hermione only pretended to like him. She had to give him a legitimate chance, somehow divorce the child he was now with the monster she had seen in the future.

 

            There was no going back to the future. The only future now was the one she and Narcissa would shape, the one Tom would probably still rule in some way. If she couldn’t accept that, well, she had no place here.

 

            “Yes, you are right,” Hermione finally said. “I will do my best.”

 

            Narcissa gave her a rare, full, smile. She’s so beautiful when she actually looks happy, Hermione thought, then frowned.

 

            “What’s wrong?” Narcissa watched Hermione’s face fall.

 

            Hermione shook her head, then admitted slowly, “No one is going to believe I’m your daughter. You are very pretty, and I’m,” she paused. “Not.”

 

            “We girls are so hard on ourselves, aren’t we?” Narcissa took out a small, round metal object and handed it to Hermione.

 

            “What’s this?” she asked.

 

            “It’s a mirror spelled to only give compliments, as well as helpful beauty suggestions,” Narcissa smiled. “I think you need to hear some. Honestly, dear, the only problems with your appearance were the teeth and hair, both of which I have corrected, though I will need to teach you the hair spells – I suspect they will need to be repeated daily. You are a lovely girl, with fine features and a nice complexion. Don’t internalize nasty comments you’ve heard over the years.”

 

            “That’s easier said than done,” Hermione murmured, tracing her fingers over the gold filigree on the compact case. Narcissa Malfoy giving her a peptalk? What had her life become?

 

            “Do you doubt you are a brilliant, powerful witch?” Narcissa prodded.

 

When Hermione shook her head, she added, “Then why can’t you see yourself objectively? The lines of your jaw, nose, lips? Are they not symmetrical? The distance between your eyes? Completely still, your features are pretty. Animated, you are beautiful. And you must be confident in this – in all things.”

 

            Hermione was quiet, taking in the compliments uneasily, and Narcissa spoke again. “My sister had once been beautiful, though madness, hatred, and years in Azkaban ruined her. Still, she had no doubt that the Dark Lord would favor her, and he did.”

 

            “I don’t think modeling my future interactions with Tom after Bellatrix is a good idea,” Hermione snapped, her anger rising. She took a deep breath to steady herself. Any and everything seemed to be setting her off. She needed to be calm, to be collected, or this plan would fail before it started.

 

            “I wasn’t suggesting you should,” Narcissa said coolly. “The Dark Lord was attracted to power and confidence, so long as that power and confidence served him, rather than challenged him. Tom is still a child, but I am sure he will respond to power and confidence,”

 

            Horror rose in Hermione as a thought crossed her mind. “You don’t imagine that I will be his girlfriend, do you?”

 

            Pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration, Narcissa took a few moments to reply. She was absolutely sure that Hermione and Tom would experience intense attraction for one another eventually, but with the age differences and time travel, there was no way this would be an easy or even linear journey.

 

“No,” Narcissa lied easily, “but this type of response is exactly what I was talking about earlier – you cannot look at him with absolute horror and disgust. There are many types of attraction, Hermione. Remember, you may feel seventeen inside, but you are only a few months from being twelve on the outside. Tom is eleven as well, and I doubt he has an eye for girls. He will still seek out power, though, and if you are a source of it, he will come to you.”

 

            “This is so fucking convoluted,” Hermione moaned.

 

            “Language,” Narcissa murmured reprovingly.

 

            The absurdity of the situation, along with the panic at the overwhelming odds rose in her, bubbling over in laughter that bordered on hysteria. Hermione laughed for the first time in what felt like weeks, and she couldn’t stop. Narcissa watched her silently for about ten seconds, then seemed to make a decision. She swiftly moved to the seat beside Hermione and wrapped her arms tightly around the younger girl. Hermione’s laughter quickly turned into sobs. How long had it been since anyone had hugged her? Narcissa smelled opulent, a mix of honey and almonds and ambergris; it was nothing like the light scent of lilacs and fresh soap that had always accompanied her mother’s touch. But Narcissa wasn’t holding back; she was completely enfolding Hermione, holding her like a mother would, and Hermione, though strong and brave, dissolved into tears.

 

            “What have we done? What have we done?” she repeated.

 

            Narcissa surprised even herself by kissing the top of the girl’s forehead. She had always wanted another child, a girl, and she laughed bitterly inside her mind at how fate had fulfilled her wishes. “We did what we had to, and we will continue to do so, Hermione.”

 

            She pulled away slowly, allowing Hermione to collect herself. “We need to find a way to help you act younger. I expect you were always a mature child, but you must try to remember your younger self and act accordingly.”

 

            “Okay,” Hermione agreed, though she wasn’t sure how exactly she would go about doing that.

 

            The conductor’s voice carried from the hall outside their private compartment, announcing the stop in London in fifteen minutes time.   Hermione straightened her shoulders. It was time to test the limits of her strength and bravery. Narcissa was smiling approvingly at her, as though she could read Hermione’s intentions. How strange that Narcissa Malfoy should look at her with pride, and even stranger still that Hermione should be glad of it.

            

       -oOo0oOo-

           

            The next two hours had been a flurry of planning and activity. They had traveled to Diagon Alley, rented rooms, visited Gringrotts and Madame Malkins, and ascertained the exact location of Wool’s Orphanage. Narcissa had sent letters by owl to her great grandfather Rosier, informing him that she was a cousin on the French side of the family, and asking for advice and assistance in procuring a permanent home now that she was widowed and no longer wished to live in France. Hermione had grimaced, hoping she would never have to meet the rest of the family.

 

            Then, Narcissa and Hermione had stepped out into muggle London, and Hermione had helped Narcissa hail a hansom cab. Even though she was clearly uncomfortable dealing with a muggle, Narcissa said nothing, and even squeezed Hermione’s gloved hand with her own as they stepped out in front of the orphanage gates.

 

            “My mother asks that you wait for us,” Hermione smiled brightly at the cab driver. “We will only be a few moments, and we will be bringing another passenger with us, a boy my age,”

 

            “I’ll wait,” the man nodded, looking grimly at the orphanage’s forbidding exterior. “It’s a kindness to be taking a child away from here, I reckon.”

 

            Hermione only nodded in return, wondering how Tom Riddle would have reacted if he had seen the pity for his situation in this man’s eyes. She turned and followed Narcissa inside.

 

            Now, she waited for the first sight of Tom Riddle. She felt him before she saw him – a rising energy in the air around her, something she’d only experienced a few times in her life, and only when spells had flown thickly around her – in the Department of Mysteries, in the Astronomy Tower, in the woods, running for her life from snatchers. She couldn’t help but feel some grudging awe at how much raw magic was concentrated in this boy. It seemed impossible, but Hermione swore that for an instant, she saw his magical energy in a blur around him.

 

             And when she snuck a look at his face while he was staring at Narcissa, she understood how he had fooled everyone for so long. He was more than a handsome child – he was beautiful, with the kind of classical features that in the future would have had modeling agents stalking him with offers to be on posters for Gap or Abercrombie Kids. God help her in four or five years. Gilderoy Lockhart had nothing on Tom Riddle. His gaze moved toward her, but she quickly looked to the floor. She needed a minute before she could look at him. Maybe she needed several minutes. Why was her own magic rising inside her, unbidden. She felt strange and unsure and neither of those feelings set well with her.

 

            Narcissa came to the rescue, rising to speak to Tom, and as soon as he agreed, she led him out the front door to the cab. Hermione kept her eyes focused on the driver as she asked him to take them back to the street where they’d been picked up, and promised him extra money if he could make the trip quickly. The shorter period of time that she was in a small, enclosed space with Tom Riddle, the better. Had the de-aging process affected her magic? Her control over her involuntary magic? Did it recognize Tom as an enemy, even as a child? Would she somehow harm him?

 

            Narcissa had promised to talk to the Headmaster of Hogwarts within a few days, to make sure both Tom and Hermione were enrolled for the coming year, but they wouldn’t get their own wands until about a week before the beginning of school, and Hermione’s old wand was somewhere on the floor of Malfoy Manor, in a future that probably no longer existed.

            With a bit of panic, Hermione entered the cab, and sat beside Narcissa, keeping her eyes fixed on the scuffed floor. She noticed that Tom’s shoes were more worn than the floor, and that the soles were beginning to separate. It reminded her of the clothing Harry was forced to wear on his summer holidays, and she felt so sad and angry at once that she wanted to scream.

 

            Just then, the cab lurched as it hit a rut, and Hermione did give a little surprised scream, but not because of the movement under her. It was the sudden appearance of a pale white hand beside her on the seat, Tom Riddle’s fingers brushing her knee as he attempted to avoid colliding entirely with her, that made the sound escape.

 

            As though her head was on a string, being pulled, she looked up into his eyes, which surprised her with their light shade of blue, no hint of red, and felt her magic jump to his hand, almost like an electric shock. Those eyes widened in something like recognition and delight, and he spoke directly to her for the first time, “What are you? What are we?”

 

            Hermione’s heart thudded as though she’d run miles. He had said those words to her. Something of fate was at play here, something that transcended time. She felt her mouth move, and words spilled out, unbidden, “We are magic.”

 

            Tom grasped at his arm, sitting back in his seat and pulling at the worn sleeve as though his skin was on fire. He pushed up the fabric, and there, before Hermione’s very eyes, her words appeared on his skin, in her own neat handwriting, down the inside of his forearm. He brushed his fingers over the letters, then glanced up at her.

 

           “How did you do that?” he demanded, in a voice more astonished than angry, but still a bit cold. “Why did you do that?”

 

            Narcissa spoke quickly, “She didn’t. It was involuntary.” She really didn’t want to have this conversation now – she was shocked his mark had shown up so quickly. Their connection was clearly a powerful one. “I will explain it, but perhaps it would be better if I start with the larger question of the existence of magic in this world?”

 

            Hermione sat silently, still trying to calm her racing heart. What had happened? She was angry at Narcissa, who clearly knew what it was, but refused to tell her. However, it did make sense to give Riddle more of a general understanding of the magical world before going into something Hermione knew had to be complicated.

 

            In the fifteen minutes left of the drive, Narcissa laid out the basics of the wizarding world, and Tom listened quietly, asking several intelligent questions that reminded Hermione of the ones she had asked of Professor McGonagall in her parents’ living room.

 

           “So,” Tom asked, “my mother was a witch?” He shook his head. “That makes no sense – if she had magic why did she allow herself to die?”

 

            There it was, Hermione thought, an obsession with death, thinking death could be conquered by magic.

 

           “Having magic isn’t the same as having immortality. Witches and wizards get injured, sick, and old, just like muggles do,” Narcissa said. “And childbirth is hard for all women, magical or not.”

 

           “And my father?” Tom inquired. “Was he a wizard?”

 

            Narcissa shook her head. “Riddle is not a wizarding name, Tom. We haven’t found your father, but we are fairly certain he is not a wizard.”

 

           “Why would a witch marry someone without magic?” Tom scoffed. “Why would my mother want to live outside the magical world, if it is as wonderful as you describe?”

 

             “Love,” Hermione finally spoke. “Love is the most powerful magic, and everyone, wizard and muggle alike, has access to it.”

 

            Tom gave her a condescending smile, as though she were a three year old. “Love? You are no better than those silly girls at school.”

 

           “Children,” Narcissa intoned. “I think we have arrived.” She took a bit of muggle money from her purse and handed it to Tom. “Will you pay the driver, please?”

 

           Hermione was surprised for an instant, but then thought it was smart of Narcissa to have Tom continue to interact with someone non-magical, and to give him a job that made him more a part of their group, not an outsider.

 

            Tom stared at the money for a moment, and Hermione wondered if he’d ever held so much at one time. In the midst of an economic depression, probably not. He opened the door and held out a hand to help both women down, paid the driver, then returned and offered his arm to Narcissa. For an eleven year old, this kid knew how to charm, and use polite mannerisms to his advantage, Hermione thought.

 

             Narcissa smiled graciously and led them to the brick alley. When she pulled her wand out fully and tapped the bricks, Tom’s eyes filled with hunger. Hermione understood how he felt. She wanted a wand again as well.  

 

             Before they stepped through the open entrance, Narcissa turned to Tom. “Tom, it is important for you to know that there are some people in magical society who do not exactly welcome children of mixed magical and non-magical unions, nor children born into muggle families who are inherently magical. This is not necessarily just or fair, but it is the state of things, and it is my hope you will rise above such old-fashioned thinking. My husband, Lord Bonneau, was half-blooded, which makes Hermione half-blooded as well. I think the two of you will be turning tradition on its head at Hogwarts this year.”

 

           Hermione listened to Narcissa, feeling like she had been turned on her own head. Narcissa Malfoy telling Tom Riddle not to believe half-bloods were inferior? Was it possible this whole crazy adventure was a dream? If she pinched herself hard enough, would she wake up in a cold tent, wearing a horcrux locket and eating increasingly watery root stew? She even went so far as to push hard into her palm with her fingernails, but she remained in Diagon Alley in 1938, following her new “mother” and Tom Riddle.

Chapter Text

             It wasn’t often the Tom Riddle found himself surprised. Like any unwanted child deemed a burden by society, he was an expert at reading people and situations. He was also highly intelligent, and no adults seemed to expect that of children, so that gave him yet another advantage. And Tom liked having the advantage.

 

            Today, though, today was hardly real. Tom had always known he was destined for great things, that he was different – in a wonderful, special way. The appearance of long-lost, wealthy relatives was exactly the type of scenario Tom had imagined.   That alone would have pleased him, but what had happened next was so much more.

 

            We are magic. The girl had said it so simply, so easily, as if it were as natural as breathing. Her magic had jolted his hand, then her words had marked his arm. Marked him. He had been angry, had wanted to punish her, but at the same time, for the first time in his life, he was fascinated. She was powerful. He knew it in the same way he knew he was powerful. There might be a whole hidden world of wizards and witches, but Tom Riddle would stake his incredibly precious life on the belief that even among magical people, he and Hermione were somehow apart, were better.

 

            Hermione’s mother was very competent as well, though her magic didn’t appear to him in the same way as the girl’s did. He was glad that he would be in the custody of an adult he could tolerate. The Lady Bonneau was not an embarrassment like the half-witted Mrs. Cole who could barely keep a small group of orphans under control. No, she was a woman to be reckoned with and respected.

 

            He watched as shopkeepers, clerks, and other customers made space for her. She was beautiful and regal, and being associated with her raised his status. Tom thought he could grow to be fond of Lady Bonneau. He was pleased that she had informed him about the truth of the social structure, which allowed him to school his features and keep an impassive expression even as the most wonderful sights were unfolding around him. No one would know more about him than Tom allowed them to know. Some privileged group thought he and Hermione were inferior? Well, he would make it is business to correct their thinking when the situation eventually presented itself.  

 

            Tom was fitted for robes and other clothing, magically measured with floating tapes and chalk.   His school clothes were immediately replaced, as were his shoes. Afterwards, dressed in clothes that fit him for the first time in his life, they went to a book store, larger than any library Tom had been in, and Hermione handed him a stack of books with a quiet murmur, “you will like these.” Perusing them briefly, he agreed with her assessment, and gave a polite “thank you,” because that was the charming thing to do, and Tom had made up his mind to thoroughly charm the two Bonneau women.

 

            After Lady Bonneau bought him all the books, as well as a stack for Hermione nearly as tall as she was, they came to a writing supply store. The store’s wares were excellently displayed, with glass cases full of various quills and engraved seals, stacks of parchment in every shade, and shelves packed with inkpots and wax sticks.   Tom stood as orphans always did when they entered a store – in the center, not touching a thing. For a moment, he wanted everything he saw so badly that he was unaware of himself.

 

            He started when a warm, gloved hand slipped into his own, accompanied by a tingle of magic. Tom didn’t need to look to his side to know it was Hermione. Would it always feel like that when they touched? What would it feel like without the fabric of her gloves as a barrier? He hated it and craved it at once. He wanted to yank his hand free and yell at her for touching him without permission, but what he did instead was grip her hand firmly, and face her.

 

            “Yes, Hermione?” he asked, surprised at how calm his voice sounded. He would say this girl was a witch, but that was obvious now.

 

            “Which feather would you prefer?” she pointed to the glass display mounted on the wall, which was clearly filled with the most rare and expensive feather quills the store had to offer. Unlike at the orphanage and in the cab, where she had exuded a mixture of hesitation, fear, and a tinge of hostility, here, in this store, she looked relaxed and even happy, her solemn expression traded for a broad smile.

 

            Tom had the strangest sensation at her question. He had taken things he wanted. Many things. But in his eleven years, no one had ever shown him a collection of beautiful items and told him that he could have whatever he wanted. In that moment, looking at her while she stared so intently at the feathers, her magic pulsing with his own between their clasped hands, he decided that when he started his new collection, this time of magical things, Hermione would be the prize jewel. She was already his by blood, even if she was a very distant cousin, and she had dared to mark him. There was no escape for her. Her knowledge and magic would be an extension of his own, and it would be magnificent.

 

            When he didn’t immediately respond, she pointed at a smoky grey feather with brilliant scarlet markings that ended in a tip so sharp, it looked as if it could slice off a finger. “That looks your style,” she smiled, her lips quirking to the side in amusement at some unspoken joke.

 

            As with the books, he agreed with her taste, but he didn’t want to let her know that. Tom Riddle made his own choices. He dropped her hand, even though part of him didn’t ever want to let go, and gestured to a deep brown eagle feather that was fringed gold, making the edges of the feather indistinct and shimmery. “I prefer that one,” he said, pushing away the thought that the colors reminded him of Hermione’s hair and eyes.

 

           She shrugged, and then showed him the parchment she liked, as well as shared her opinion on the different inks. He noticed she was back to being grave and factual, and as much as Tom understood both the need and the desire for a clever mask, he was not pleased she was wearing one around him.

 

          When they came back to the strange inn with their purchases, Lady Bonneau showed him his room, which was his alone, and next door to hers and Hermione’s. She told him that they would have dinner downstairs at seven, and he was free to rest in the meantime.   He thanked her and closed the door.

 

          Of course, Tom was far too energized to rest. He went to the stack of books and began to read about his legacy. The top book, Hogwarts: A History, was the one Hermione had recommended reading first, and he didn’t plan on stepping foot into that school until he knew everything about it.

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

         Hermione wasn’t sure what was happening to her, but she was sure that 1) she didn’t like it, and 2) it was related to the words on her and Tom Riddle’s flesh.   From the moment she touched him, Hermione had felt a strange calm that seemed to disconnect her temporarily from her brain. Why in the world had she simply blurted out, “We are magic”? There were certainly better ways to ease Tom into the knowledge.

 

         Thankfully, Narcissa had carried the rest of that conversation because Hermione hadn’t been able to concentrate. She had watched him carefully in Diagon Alley, looking for clues of sociopathic behavior, some excuse to hate him in the here and now, but instead she had seen his restraint and felt saddened. He had taken Narcissa’s warning about children from muggle and mixed backgrounds to heart, and closed away his reactions to all the wonderment around him. Despite this, Hermione knew he was thrilled to have things all his own – nice clothing and books.

 

          Then, in the quill and parchment shop, her heart had broken a little. His guard had fallen, and he wasn’t anything except an unwanted orphan child who could barely fathom that he would be freely given something beautiful. Without thinking, she had done what she would have done for Harry; she had taken his hand, and as soon as she did, there was that feeling again, that palpable concentration of magic buzzing between them. She was thankful for the old-fashioned custom of wearing gloves, because she could feel his energy strongly as it was. He gave the slightest of tugs, but then tightened his grip. For some reason that she chose not to explore further, that relieved her. As awful and traitorous as she should feel, holding the hand of Tom Riddle simply felt right, which was so absurd her brain simply refused to process it.

 

         When he dropped her hand a few moments later, the loss was there, but it was outweighed by relief. She hadn’t wanted to pull away from him. Heaven knows he didn’t handle rejection well, and she could already see the gleam of possessiveness in his eyes. Like Slughorn, Tom Riddle was a collector. He sensed her magic, and he wanted it. She had to make sure that he didn’t find out about his writing on her skin for as long as possible. There would be no escaping him then.

 

          Hermione wondered how extended amounts of time with Riddle would change her. She was keenly aware of her reaction to him – her whole being, excepting her brain, wanted to like him, to comfort him, to help him. She felt this way immediately, and it had only grown stronger in the few hours they had spent together. What would an entire school year be like? And holidays together with Narcissa?

 

          Back in her room, she excused herself to the bathroom and unbuttoned her dress. Her stomach was smaller, and the words were more tightly curled, but they were the same, and Hermione knew without seeing Tom use his quill that it was his handwriting, just as she had recognized her own on his arm. She traced the words, but they didn’t feel any different than her other skin. If Narcissa didn’t tell her the whole story soon, Hermione would find out using her own tried and true method: the Hogwarts library.

 

          When she stepped back out, Narcissa was writing at the small desk in the corner. Hermione glanced down and saw a list of potion ingredients, a rather fanciful list – things like butterfly dust, baby’s breath, and laughing hibiscus.

 

          “What is that for?” Hermione asked. “Sounds like the ingredients of a potion for cheering someone up?” She couldn’t imagine trying to cheer up any of the three of them artificially.

 

           “I suppose it will have some mild mood enhancing effects,” Narcissa continued to write. “But it’s a potion to compliment your de-aging, to help you feel younger, more innocent – to act like a child, not an adult.”

 

            Hermione shook her head furiously. “No, we can’t do that! I need to be on my guard with him! I need the advantage of my years, of what I know.”

 

            “It isn’t a forgetting potion, Hermione,” Narcissa added unicorn hair to the parchment. “But you are wrong about being on your guard. That is precisely what we need to avoid. He won’t come to trust you if you are guarded.”

 

            “I don’t think he’s actually capable of trust,” Hermione snapped. It was much easier to feel anger and loathing toward him when he wasn’t present, filling the air with some weird magical buzzing.

 

             Narcissa rolled up the list and turned to Hermione. “You are doing exactly what you said you would not – judging him. I find that interesting, since when you are in the same room with him, the two of you seem to gravitate to one another. And don’t think I didn’t see you take his hand earlier, or the fact that he held it firmly for several minutes.”

 

            “Yes, what is that about?” Hermione stabbed her finger at her stomach. “What are the words about? Neither of us will leave you alone until you tell us the truth!”

 

            “I’ll tell you,” Narcissa rose and crossed to the heap of shopping bags. She pulled out a small vial of a familiar potion. “But you must take this first.”

 

             “Calming draught?” Hermione groaned. How bad was this going to be if she needed to take the potion before she heard it? Still, the calming draught wouldn’t impair her senses, only help her not to freak out, so she took the vial and drank quickly. “Okay. Tell me.”

 

             Narcissa looked like a small animal trapped in a corner by a predator.   She obviously did not want to have this conversation. She sat on the edge of one of the twin beds and motioned for Hermione to sit beside her.

 

             “Just tell me,” Hermione urged. “Rip it off quickly, like a band-aid.”

 

             “A band-aid?” Narcissa started. “What?”

 

             Hermione normally would have made a noise of frustration, but the potion was kicking in and she just calmly waited instead. “Never mind. I meant, tell me the main point first, then go into the details.”

 

             “Fine,” Narcissa took a deep breath, then took the vial out of Hermione’s hand and drank the rest.

 

             “You do realize you are scaring the shit out of me, even with the potion?” Hermione raised her eyebrows.

 

             “Ladies do not refer to ‘shit’,” Narcissa corrected.

 

              “Stop trying to avoid the issue at hand,” Hermione ignored the previous comment. Whatever was coming would probably be worthy of a few f-bombs.

 

              Narcissa met her eyes, and Hermione could see fear and sadness there, and maybe the tiniest bit of hope.   “You and Tom Riddle share one another’s words because you are soul mates.”

 

             “What?” Hermione’s mouth dropped open, and she thought somewhere in the back of her mind that she should be screaming, but the calming draught was doing its job admirably.

 

              “I believe that muggles have a concept of soul mates; you must be familiar with it,” Narcissa waited for Hermione’s dumbfounded nod. “Well, in our world, it is similar, though of course with a magical component. Every magical person, every magical being, really – fairies, elves, I suppose even trolls, has a magical signature, which has unique properties. Magic is energy, and there are many types. For every magical signature, there is another that compliments, strengthens, and completes it. You may have many family members and friends with whom your magic cooperates and mixes well, but only one soul mate. The connection is different, much more intense, and”

 

              “Romantic? Sexual?” Hermione squeaked.

 

              “Not necessarily,” Narcissa hedged, then caught Hermiones’s disbelieving stare.

 

              “Yes, the link usually blooms into a passionate relationship,” she admitted. “But not everyone ends up with or even finds a magical soul mate. With arranged pureblood marriages, and the widespread nature of magical settlements across the world, it simply isn’t that common. And, honestly, it doesn’t impede a fine, fulfilled life. I know Lucius wasn’t my soul mate, but I loved him, and we were happy in our marriage.”

 

             Hermione unconsciously rubbed her stomach. “I get the magical compatibility aspect, but what about the writing? No one I know has ever mentioned anything like it.”

 

             “It’s a mark of the power of the connection, and of those connected, and it is much more rare than finding a soul mate at all.   When it does occur, those soul mates will meet. It happened with Merlin and Morgana, with Gryffindor and Slytherin,” Narcissa paused, a thought coming to mind. “It is a soul connection, so it’s logical that Tom’s mark didn’t show up until there was a version of him available after you were born who had his soul intact. When did your mark appear?”

 

             “A few weeks after we destroyed the locket,” Hermione said quietly. “At New Year’s.”

 

             “You were exposed to part of his soul, it may have even attached itself to you,” Narcissa mused.

 

             “Are you saying you think I’m a horcrux?” Hermione felt sick. “How would that even be possible? His soul is complete right now.”

 

             Narcissa shook her head. “Not a horcrux. But with a soul mate pull so strong, the magic in that soul piece would have been drawn to you, and I doubt once it was with you that it would have left.”

 

              “I’m getting a headache. Am I his soul mate because of my inherent magical signature, or am I his soul mate because I was available, compatible magic that his soul piece happened to latch onto, and now, in the past, his soul recognizes his own magical signature?” Hermione’s mind was a mess of possibilities and how time travel and loops may have complicated them.

 

             Narcissa placed a hand over Hermione’s. “You are over-thinking this, probably because you don’t want to believe that you are naturally his match, but the Dark Lord was not the first to make a horcrux, nor the first to have a piece of his soul go astray. Simply recognizing one’s own magic would not make a soul mate mark.”

 

            “True,” Hermione admitted. “I don’t want to believe I am the soul mate to the most evil wizard the world has ever seen.”

 

            “He isn’t evil yet, Hermione.” Narcissa looked desparate, and her voice trembled despite the draught. “You must embrace this, embrace him. You are the key to steering him from the dark.”

 

            “He’s already dark!” Hermione wanted to cry, but the potion kept her eyes dry. “It is clear that he sees people as objects, that he cares only for himself and his possessions, and that he wouldn’t hesitate an instant to hurt others to get what he wants.”

 

             Narcissa laughed, but it was a humorless sound. “Yes, that is all true. He might not have a conscience, but he does have a brilliant, logical mind, and a soul that is intact. And that soul will never stop wanting you – he will care for you.”

 

             “No, he -” Hermione began.

 

             “He will – he already does,” Narcissa insisted. “It may not look like the type of affection you recognize, but, like all aspects of Tom Riddle, it is unique to him. You keep trying to make this about him, Hermione, but it is more about us, about the differences we can make in his life. We can’t make those differences unless we are whole-heartedly devoted to this mission.”

 

              Hermione fell back on the bed, stared at the ceiling. In the short time since they’d arrived, she felt like she and Narcissa kept having the same conversation with only slightly different phrasing. Narcissa wanted her to accept the situation; Hermione wanted to as well, but couldn’t. Narcissa impressed upon her the importance of acceptance; Hermione felt guilty and vowed to do better. Then, a few hours later, they had another round. But the soul mate mark? This was something completely different.

 

              As a child, Hermione had attended the Church of England with her parents on Sundays. The Grangers were not devoutly religious, but they were spiritual, and had encouraged Hermione to ask questions about God and life and death and faith. When she discovered magic, she had needed to re-evaluate some of her beliefs, and the results were simple. She believed, and was backed up by what she knew of Harry’s mother’s sacrifice, of actions she had seen during the war, and of her own and Narcissa’s actions, that love was the most powerful force in the universe. She also believed that anger and hatred were motivated by fear. More than Voldemort had hated Dumbledore or Harry, he had feared death.

 

             Hermione thought teaching Tom Riddle how to love was a near to impossible task, but if their souls were meant to be together in some way, maybe she could help him not to be afraid. Fear was always driven by insecurity, by a lack of love, which Tom had in spades.   Narcissa, as usual, was right. This mission was about her - if she couldn’t act out of love when they were faced with their best chance of creating a livable future for the wizarding world, then she had already given up.

 

             She sat back up, and took Narcissa’s hand. “Mother, prepare the potion. I’ll take it. I’ll act my body’s age, and I’ll win Tom over.”

 

             Narcissa smiled at Hermione’s use of ‘mother’. “Excellent. I am quite a dab hand at potions; I promise it will help.”

 

             “What are we going to tell Tom?” Hermione asked. “He isn’t going to let the subject of the words go for long, and at school, he’s going to see my writing eventually. He’s too clever not to put it together, and we need to make sure he doesn’t equate this mark, me, as a weakness he needs to eradicate.”

 

             “I’m not sure,” Narcissa said, tapping her perfectly manicured plum fingernails against her matching lips. “But I think it will go better than you believe. I saw the way he looked at you in the shop. He already thinks of you as his.”

 

             “I know,” Hermione shivered. “It’s creepy.”

 

             “No, it’s a defense, Hermione,” Narcissa sighed. “Think of it. He has had no one – no family, no person to care about him in the slightest way. He’s only known indifference at best. Then we arrived, brought him here. We are his first connection to something wonderful, something beyond his wildest dreams. And the first words you said to him are now on his skin. As smart as he is, he is still a boy, and if he doesn’t cling to you, in his own way, what does he have left? The orphanage is gone – he’s adrift in a strange new world.”

 

             “A fair point,” Hermione conceded, then added, “Can one develop an addiction to calming draught? Because I have a feeling I’m going to be needing more in the coming days.”

 

             Narcissa laughed, and this time it was a true laugh. “Won’t we both?”

Chapter Text

         Hermione soon discovered that it was very difficult for her not to like Tom Riddle when in his presence. When the three of them sat down for dinner that evening, Narcissa calmly explained to Tom that he and Hermione were magically linked. With a skill that left Hermione quite impressed, Narcissa carefully and subtly emphasized the point that would most resonate with Tom – that the mark was a rare and promising sign of great future power.

 

         Tom’s look of wary acceptance transformed to a smug smirk. “And will Hermione have my mark someday?”

 

         To Hermione’s great annoyance, Narcissa bit back a grin and said, “She already does. Your words have been on her for months. It was the appearance of your words that started our search for you.”

 

        “Well,” Tom’s smug smile grew. “Then I think you were right to say that great things can be expected of us, Lady Bonneau.” He turned, flashing that beautiful smile at Hermione. She was grateful at that moment that she hadn’t taken any potion yet, that she could look at him as a child, not a contemporary. The amount of time she had left feeling that way was eroding rapidly.

 

        “Please, Tom,” Narcissa caught his attention once more, and Hermione took a deep breath. “We are related. My paternal great-great-grandfather and your maternal great-grandfather were brothers. In the muggle world, this is a tenuous connection, but the magical world is much smaller. Let’s simplify and say cousins, with no numbers or ‘removed’. You may call me ‘Aunt Narcissa’ to account for the age difference.”

 

       “Thank you, Aunt Narcissa,” Tom responded politely, but his eyes were on Hermione.

 

       -oOo0oOo-

 

        Narcissa was up at dawn the next morning, preparing the youth potion for Hermione. She was already feeling strongly for her, as if the girl were her real daughter. In this time, she was as good as, Narcissa reasoned. Though she was still suspicious of muggles, and frightened for their world to ever collide with her own, she had long since given up on thoughts of blood purity. She had performed enough tergeo spells on her floors and walls after Dark Revels to know there was no difference in how people bled. And pureblood families, with their centuries of intermarriage, high rates of insanity and low rates of birth? Over the last year, watching the Death Eaters roam Malfoy Manor, she had thought more and more that muggle borns and half-blooded children might actually be the solution to keeping wizarding alive in Great Britain.   Though her parents and in-laws had spoken with venom about the lack of distinction between blood statuses in the United States, there was no doubt their wizarding community was more robust and thriving.

 

       When Hermione rose and dressed, Narcissa handed her a potion the color of sunshine. It even smelled like sun – bright and clean. Hermione glanced at the potion, then back to Narcissa, who wore black from head to toe. She briefly wondered how Narcissa would look in a different shade, something softer, perhaps. Then, she raised the potion and drank.

 

       It was a bit fizzy, and tickled her throat. By the time Narcissa performed the three hair spells on her, Hermione was feeling the effects. It seemed ridiculous, but her heart felt lighter, and she simply wasn’t as worried. The knowledge of Voldemort, of future events, was still in her brain, but it was further away, and she didn’t feel the desire to analyze it. What she really wanted to do was curl up in a comfy chair and read one of the books she had bought yesterday.

 

       They had breakfast with Tom, where Narcissa announced she would be apparating them all to Hogsmeade. “Tom will be able to look around a wizarding village, and we will walk to Hogwarts, to make sure you are both enrolled for the school year.”

 

       “We must walk because no one can apparate into Hogwarts, is that correct?” Tom asked. “That’s what I read in the book Hermione recommended."

        “Oh, you started,” Hermione was pleased, speaking more freely than she would have without the potion. “Did you get to the section on the floating staircases and vanishing doors?”

 

            “I finished it,” Tom said proudly. “I read rather quickly.”

            “Wonderful!” Hermione replied. “I’m so glad to have someone to discuss my readings with.” For a moment, she forgot she was speaking to Tom Riddle.

            But if he was disinterested or annoyed, he didn’t show it. “I look forward to it.”

 

            -oOo0oOo-

 

            Tom had never been more pleased in his life. He had spent the night learning about Hogwarts and its founders, and when he had asked Hermione and Narcissa about speaking to snakes at breakfast, they had informed him that it was a rare gift, one shared by the founder Slytherin. He had no doubt which house he would be sorted into.

 

            Every hour unveiled something new, something wonderful, and all of Tom’s suspicions that he was apart from and beyond others were being proven as each new fact came to light. He was a Parselmouth, able to do spontaneous, wandless magic, and his magic had marked Hermione first, before they had even met. Their marks were yet another sign that he was no ordinary wizard, and that Hermione was meant to be in his life, to help him rise to the glory that surely awaited him. All the talk about soul mates was a bit silly – he had no need for love. He preferred to think of the attraction in more scientific terms, like the bonding of atoms in the chemistry books he had read. Their magic formed something like a molecule, something that was stronger than the atom by itself. That he would allow.

 

           The sensation of apparating alongside ‘Aunt’ Narcissa and Hermione was both unpleasant and unlike anything he’d experienced before. Once they arrived, Hermione took his hand again, and he felt instantly better, which annoyed him. He didn’t want to be dependent on anything, on anyone to feel better, but it was an indisputable fact that her touch, still through those gloves, did just that. And, he reasoned to himself, if she made him stronger, then it was only logical to keep her close.

 

          He held her hand for a few moments, until the worst of the sick, dizzy feeling had passed, then dropped it, though he still walked close by her side. Tom found that standing in close proximity to her was about half as nice as touching her. She was particularly excited this morning, and happier, like she had been for those few moments in the quill shop. He didn’t normally care how other people felt, but he reasoned that she would be a better amplifier of his magic if she were in a good mood. Also, she appeared more receptive to his smiles and witty comments, which was as it should be.

 

            Aunt Narcissa briefly described the different shops as they walked, but told them that they would go to Hogwart’s first, then have lunch and shop on the return trip. Tom was glad of it – ever since reading the book last night (for which he had stayed up until the sky had begun to turn red), he had been filled with the desire to see the building in the flesh.   Apparently, Hermione felt the same way, because he felt her magic fizz around her like bubbles from the gin and tonics the rich ladies drank at the outdoor cafes on the high street in the summers.  

 

            When they came around the corner, he was glad neither Bonneau lady was looking in his direction. There was no possibility of keeping the shock and awe from showing on his face. It was the biggest, grandest building he had ever seen, and he had once walked past the gates of Buckingham Palace with the other orphans. The idea that he would be able to go to school here, to receive an education here, was almost too much to grasp.

 

            “It is beautiful, isn’t it?” Hermione looked as if she would float into the air. Her curls were a bit wilder than normal, and Tom thought this must be what seeing a rare animal in its natural habitat was like. She simply belonged here, and she knew it. He wanted that certainty for himself.

 

            Tom gave her a measured smile. “The building’s design is impressive.”

 

            She laughed and lightly slapped his shoulder, “Tom, you know what I meant. It’s okay to love it at first sight.”

 

            Before this moment, Tom was sure he would have badly hurt anyone who dared such an action, but his shoulder was abuzz from her touch, and she was smiling at him in a way no person ever had – with pure, unguarded joy. “I won’t say it’s love,” he finally said. “But I would like to see more.”

 

            She laughed again, and Tom noted that while most people’s laughter grated on his nerves, hers had a sweet sound that he didn’t mind in the slightest. She was changing him, and he wasn’t sure if he liked that, but at the moment, he seemed to be powerless to stop it.

  

-oOo0oOo-

 

           Hermione knew that the potion was affecting her, and she knew that Tom was responding positively to her, but she couldn’t believe she had hit him on the shoulder, as if he were Harry or Ron. Did this potion come with a death wish?

 

           But then, after a blank expression that must have hid his shock, he gave her a smile, which though small, was still dazzling. Luckily, before she could make another assault on his person, they were distracted by their arrival at the gates, where they were let in by a dour man who muttered and grouched just like Filch had.

 

          Did caretakers come in any flavor except grumpy, she wondered, but was honestly a bit comforted that something at this older version of Hogwarts already felt like home. He lead them on the familiar path to the Headmaster’s office, which Hermione could have found both sleeping and blindfolded, but she, along with Narcissa, she noticed, took care to not appear to know the way.

 

           Hermione knew that Headmaster Armando Dippet was over 300 years old, but his picture on the Chocolate Frog cards in the future was a younger image, and she had to stop herself from staring at his mostly bald head and heavily lined face as they entered. Tom stiffened beside her, and she knew he must be thinking similar thoughts.  It didn't seem possible someone so ancient could still be alive.

 

         “Lady Bonneau,” Dippet rose a bit unsteadily, and Hermione was relieved when he sat back down. “I am pleased to meet you, though this time of year is very busy. What can I do for you?”

 

          “I have two matters of business, Headmaster,” Narcissa began, and her voice was more heavily accented than previously. “I am a Rosier by birth, though I have lived most of my life in France. My husband, Lord Bonneau, was killed fighting against Grindelwald’s forces near the prison he is building in Nurmengard. I felt it no longer safe to remain in France with Grindelwald’s power growing by the day. My daughter, Hermione, would have started Beauxbatons this year, but I ask that she be accepted here.”

           Narcissa handed him a few of the papers from her bag, but he barely glanced at them before nodding and returning them to her. “I am sorry for your loss, Lady Bonneau. Grindelwald is a danger to us all. Most magical folk cannot remember life before the Statute of Secrecy, but I lived it my early years. It was a violent time, and I have no wish to spend my remaining years in the same type of chaos. Of course we will take Hermione in.”

           He paused, as if collecting thoughts from the air around him. “You had a second matter to discuss?”

 

           “Yes,” Narcissa said, “I needed to inform you that Tom -”

 

           But Narcissa was cut off by the door slamming open and the caretaker running into the room, yelling.

 

           “He’s done it again, sir!” The caretaker’s face was red and his words barely discernable between his gasps.

 

           Despite this, Dippet seemed to understand completely, and he rose with a speed that surprised Hermione. “Pringle, this will be his 43rd probation, if the bloody fool lives. He only arrived back for the term yesterday. What has he done this time?”

 

           “He’s brought a bleedin’ dragon with him, sir!”

           

            “Is it loose?” Dippet’s eyebrows, which seemed to have all the hair that was missing from his head, rose comically.

 

            “No,” Pringle gasped, holding his side. “But Silvanus’s burned pretty bad, and I can’t find Madam Selwyn!”

 

            Narcissa was already standing, her wand out. “Sir, I am quite skilled at healing magic. Please allow me to assist.”

 

            Dippet nodded quickly, and everyone ushered out, following Pringle across the lawn to the edge of the Forbidden Forest. A charred lump that could have been most of a man was sprawled on the grass.

 

            As Narcissa knelt beside him and began to murmur spells, Headmaster Dippet headed into the forest path, with Pringle behind him, towards sounds of loud snorts and roars that Hermione recognized from Harry’s first task during the Triwizard Tournament.

 

            Tom turned back and forth, clearly unsure which direction merited the most attention. Another roar, louder than any elephant, erupted from the tree line and Tom grabbed Hermione’s arm without thinking. “Are there really such things as dragons? That breathe fire?”

 

            Hermione nodded. “Yes, and they are as fierce and deadly as in muggle legend.” She threaded her arm through his, and pulled him back. “Let them handle it. We should see if Mother needs help.”

 

            Though Tom didn’t care one way or the other about the coal heap on the ground, it was fascinating to watch the witch perform a spell of substance, not simply levitating goods or magically performing every day tasks.   He watched her closely, and this time, as she moved her wand in intricate patterns and spoke in words he couldn’t quite understand, he could see her magic, feel it.  

 

            Unlike Hermione’s energetic, barely contained magic, Narcissa’s was tightly controlled, like a well-trained pet, and it didn’t cast nearly as wide of a circle around her. He wondered how much of this was due to the use of a wand channeling the magic, as opposed to the spontaneous, full-body magic he and Hermione were capable of wandlessly.

 

           “Mother, do you need me to get any supplies?” Hermione spoke lowly, but firmly, loud enough to be heard, but not enough to break Narcissa’s concentration.

 

           “Fairy aloe balm,” Narcissa replied quickly. “There should be some in the hospital wing cabinets. Break into them if you must. Go!”

 

            Hermione took off at a run, and Tom paused only for a second before he ran after her. She was light and fast, and Tom didn’t catch up with her until they had reached the doors to the school.

 

           “Which way to the hospital wing?” he panted slightly, as she pulled open the door.  

 

           She froze. She couldn’t immediately go to the right place. The timeline information had to be preserved, but she couldn’t waste time. “I don’t know,” she bit her lip, took Tom’s hand in hers and cried, “Accio ghost!”

 

           Tom felt magic pour through their joined hands. The feeling was incredible, a rising power that traveled out of him, out of her, and shot down the corridor. To his amazement, almost instantly a ghost floated at them, holding his very displeased head in place on his neck.

 

        “See here, children!” The mostly see-through man began, “I am not at your beck and-”

 

        “Please, sir, no disrespect, but we need to find the hospital wing. A professor is gravely injured and we must get medicine.” Hermione spoke in a rush.

 

         “Follow me,” the ghost nodded, more with his hand than his head, and Hermione ran after him, dragging Tom behind her, their hands still clasped tightly.

 

         The hospital wing was on the first floor, not terribly far from the entrance, but no one was there. “Do you know where to find the Matron?” Hermione asked the ghost, already opening cabinets.

         The ghost sniffed.  "It is not my job to keep track of the living."

         Tom could not abide boredom, so he began to look as well, reading the spidery script on the boxes, jars, and bottles. There was nothing he recognized as a normal medicine, only strange words like bezoar, calming draught, dreamless sleep, and so on.

         “I found it!” Hermione yelled, and she was off down the hall.

         He chased after her more out of a distaste at being left behind than anything else, and arrived on the lawn to find a larger group assembled around Narcissa. There was a tall, slender man with long brown hair and an even longer beard, as well as another man with thick spectacles and blond hair that stood straight

         He chased after her more out of a distaste at being left behind than anything else, and arrived on the lawn to find a larger group assembled around Narcissa. There was a tall, slender man with long brown hair and an even longer beard, as well as another man with thick spectacles and blond hair that stood straight up from his scalp like the growths from an onion bulb. Both men were wearing long robes like the Headmaster.  

         The onion haired man looked at the jar in Hermione’s extended hand and took it immediately. “Clever girl!” He kneeled beside Narcissa and began to scoop out the slimy green gelatin and spread it on the man’s exposed, reddened skin.

 

         Tom noted dispassionately that the man’s skin hardly had any charring left, having turned an angry red on the right side and a waxy pink on the left. Of course, the man was missing his right leg up to the knee, his right hand was gone and the remaining skin was covered in a multitude of scars.

 

         There was silence for about ten minutes, and then Narcissa stood. “I believe we can move him to the hospital wing now. He will need to be on bed rest for at least a week.”

 

         The tall, bearded man pointed his wand at a fallen tree branch and it lengthened and spread into the shape of a stretcher. He floated the unconscious man onto it. “I believe, Headmaster, that Madam Selwyn was visiting St. Mungo’s this morning to see about recruiting an assistant healer for the year.”

 

        “Yes, Albus, I remember now,” he glanced at Narcissa, and gave a respectful bob of his bald head. “It is fortunate that Lady Bonneau was here to assist us, and so capably, too.”

         Everyone began to walk, slowly making their way back to the castle beside the floating stretcher.

        The bearded man looked at Lady Bonneau with an intelligent and close, though friendly, gaze. “Indeed, Headmaster, I am certain Silvanus will be grateful for her presence, as soon as he is conscious again.”

        He looked across to Narcissa and bowed his head.   “Professor Albus Dumbledore,” he gestured the hand not holding the wand toward Hermione and Tom. “Are these your children, Lady Bonneau?”

        Narcissa smiled, but Tom thought it wasn’t as kind of a smile that she gave to others. “Hermione is my daughter. Tom is a cousin, but his parents have passed, so he is my ward. I believe Tom is already on your book for this year, and I have just arranged with Headmaster Dippet for Hermione to come here rather than Beauxbatons.”

       “Yes, a bad situation on the continent, this business with Grindelwald,” Dippet murmured.

       “Indeed,” Dumbledore’s face definitely tightened at the mention of the name Grindelwald, and Tom wondered what that was about. He liked collecting information about what made others uncomfortable, so he filed that observation away for later use.

       The onion haired man smiled at Hermione and Tom. “I am Professor Beery. I’ll be your Herbology teacher. After your quick thinking this morning, I’ve no doubt you’ll both be star students.”

       They had reached the entrance, and a dark haired woman dressed like a drawing of Florence Nightengale Tom had seen in a history book greeted them, annoyance twisting her mouth into a frown.

      “Of course Silvanus would choose the morning I was gone to pick a fight with a dragon! That man won’t have any limbs left by the time he retires!” She brandished her wand, pointing it like a sword at the unconscious man. “I can take it from here Albus.”

     She glanced down, taking in the man’s condition, and her head snapped back up. “Who healed him? This is excellent work.”

     Headmaster Dippet nodded at Narcissa. “It was the lovely Lady Bonneau. Perhaps she could go with you to the hospital wing to discuss the spells she performed, to make sure all is well?”

      “I would be happy to let Madam Selwyn check my work,” Narcissa said graciously. She turned to Hermione and Tom. “Children, can you wait here for a few moments?”

      “They can come with me,” Professor Beery offered. “I will show them the greenhouses they will be working in come a few months from now.”

      They split up, and Professor Dumbledore followed them to the greenhouses. Hermione knew she had attracted his attention, and she did her best to stay calm. Tom might be a child in this time, but Dumbledore was an adult, already at great power, only a few years from winning the elder wand from Grindelwald.

      Tom saw Hermione tense when the taller professor with the odd name – what self-respecting man would allow the word ‘dumb’ to be part of his name – entered the greenhouses behind them.   That, combined with the effortless nature of the man’s earlier magic was enough to earn Tom’s attention.

      “Miss Bonneau, and Mr.?” He paused.

 

      “Riddle,” Tom supplied with an easy, charming smile. Oh, he was definitely going to be watching this man. “Tom Riddle.”

 

      “Muggle-born?” Dumbledore asked. Professor Beery coughed behind them.

 

       “No,” Tom answered, a tad more coolly. “Half-blooded, like my cousin.” He nodded to Hermione, who was now standing so close to him that their shoulders were almost touching. That pleased him for some reason.

 

      “It is no matter either way,” Dumbledore answered kindly and looked over at his colleague, who was fussing with terracotta pots. “We care only about magical merit here. Isn’t that so, Professor Beery?”

 

      Professor Beery glanced up, his eyes giant behind his glasses, blinking like an owl. “Oh, of course, we welcome everyone, especially in Hufflepuff house.”

 

     Dumbledore winked at Hermione. “I do believe he’s trying to sway your vote toward his house before the sorting ceremony.”

 

     “Oh, that won’t matter,” Tom quickly added. “Hermione and I will both be sorted into Slytherin.”

 

     Her former Headmaster raised an eyebrow. “Is that so? Well, then I imagine my house in a tight race for the house cup.”

 

     “Are you Ravenclaw, sir?” Hermione was not above a bit of misdirection. Maybe she would be fine in Slytherin.

 

     “No, I’m the head of Gryffindor House. Professor Merrythought leads Ravenclaw, and Professor Slughorn is the head of Slytherin.” Dumbledore answered. He paused, then asked, “How did you two find the hospital wing so quickly?”

 

     A shiver of Hermione’s magic washed over Tom, like water sloshed from a glass too full. She was nervous, and he wondered if they would be in trouble for using magic. There had been some mention of a restriction of underage magic in his readings.

 

    “We summoned a ghost and asked for directions,” she said, truthfully enough.

 

     “I see,” Dumbledore began.

 

      “How did you summon a ghost?” Beery had moved closer, apparently forgetting he was holding a handful of potting soil. “You’re first years, and you don’t have wands.”

 

     “Hermione and I channeled our joined magic through our hands and she said the spell,” Tom jumped in.

 

      “Accio?” Dumbledore asked quietly.

 

       Tom nodded, “Yes, that was the spell, and then almost instantly, a ghost who was nearly missing his head came to us and we followed him to the hospital wing.” He refused to be ashamed of the fact that they had done magic. He and Hermione were magic.

 

       Dumbledore stroked his beard for a moment. “That is quite impressive; it is certainly beyond the ability of most first years,”

 

       “Come now, Albus,” Beery laughed. “Let’s be honest. That sounds beyond the ability of most fifth years! Wandless magic at, what, 11? If these two are any indication of what this crop of students will be like, I’ll be thrilled. I’m tired of students who pass out when re-potting mandrakes simply because they forget to pull down the earmuffs.”

 

       “I had read about wandless magic in Durante’s Practically Everything About Practical Magic,” Hermione added, wanting to remove herself and Tom from Dumbledore’s radar. “I knew in theory that we could channel one another, and it was emergency – poor Professor?” she paused. No one had said his surname.

 

       Dumbledore smiled at her, and this time, his eyes twinkled. “Kettleburn. He is our rather brash and often reckless Care of Magical Creatures instructor.  It is fascinating that your abilities are so well-developed, and in tune with one another, though that can happen in families. It was underage magic, but there was no wand involved, and it took place at Hogwarts, where you are both admitted, even though the school year has not quite begun.”

 

       “And I think, Miss Bonneau, if you have been reading Durante,” Dumbledore shook his head, “that you may be headed for Ravenclaw, not Slytherin.”

 

       Hermione blushed at the compliment. “I do love to read, sir,”

 

       “And I will inform Professor Kettleburn of that when he awakes, and let him know that his gratitude may be expressed in the form of obscure 19th century magical texts.”

 

       Hermione and Dumbledore both laughed. Tom’s face pulled toward a scowl, but he stopped it. When Dumbledore left only a few moments later, Tom was relieved. He heard Dumbledore murmuring, “Durante!” under his breath.  Tom turned back to see the wide smile on Hermione's face, and he thought they needed to have a chat about where and to whom she belonged.  

Chapter Text

          “How about we put those clever minds to good use?” Professor Beery came upon them before Tom could share his displeasure with Hermione. “I’ll need to collect some more fairy aloe since we used most of it on Professor Kettleburn. Again.”

 

            Tom swallowed his anger for the moment and listened carefully to the professor. He didn’t like making mistakes, so he always paid attention to instructions. The process was simple enough – cut the smaller inner leaves that glowed like a firefly from the plants, then cut the leaves apart and scrape the bright gelatin inside into a jar to be processed with other ingredients later. Professor Beery handed them both knives and jars, and then moved away to another task.

 

            It was satisfying to be given trust and responsibility when they hadn’t even started classes, so Tom followed the instructions carefully, and he noticed Hermione took great care in her work as well, scraping gently but thoroughly on each leaf segment.   He liked that she was smart and skillful, but he was still angry with her.

 

            “Are you going to be in Ravenclaw?” He asked quietly. “Or in Dumbledore’s house? He seems to want you there.”

 

            “Any of the houses would be thrilled to have either of us, Tom,” Hermione responded absently, still engrossed in her work.

 

            Tom scraped a bit more roughly at the leaf in his hand. “That isn’t an answer.”

 

            She could practically see his anger, and thought carefully before replying. “I don’t know where I’ll end up. The hat does the sorting – it magically determines the best House match for each student. I have many of the qualities associated with Ravenclaw, as do you.”

 

            “You are very smart,” Tom allowed. “But we are magically linked - our magic is a match for one another, and there is no doubt I belong in Slytherin, so that is where you belong as well.”

 

            “Tom, our connection is at the soul level – it will never break. I don’t need to be beside you every moment for it to ‘work’. It simply is.” Hermione was getting upset.

 

             Yes, she was here to make Tom’s life different, to give him a human connection, but she was not going to exist only as an adjunct to him, as only his and not as her own person. “Also, our magical match is a complimentary one – each of us supplying something the other does not have – that is what makes it so strong. It stands to reason, then, that exploring and developing the differences in our magic will only strengthen our bond, not weaken it.”

 

            Tom narrowed his eyes. Her argument made sense, and more power was definitely a good thing. Her magic was crackling in her curls, creating an angry halo. She was angry with him, and something else….was she afraid? Oddly, the thought of her fear didn’t please him. Perhaps he needed to try a different tactic.

 

            With a charming smile fully in place, Tom turned to her, setting down his knife. “Is there some reason why you don’t want to be in Slytherin with me? You know more about the houses than I do. Your mother said she was in Slytherin. What is the matter?”

 

            Hermione nearly dropped the leaf she was holding. Was Tom showing concern? Though she didn’t doubt for an instant that he had an ulterior motive, his tone of voice and facial expressions were shockingly convincing. She decided to be as honest as she could.

 

               “Everyone you have met so far, Tom, has either been tolerant or ignorant of our blood status, but I have grown up with blood-based prejudice, and thinking like that is what led to my father’s death,” Hermione was not exactly lying, and she and Narcissa had come up with a detailed backstory that would need to be told at some point.

 

              “Even though Grindelwald is more about magical ability than blood status, the bottom line is that he believes magical people should rule over muggles, that they are inherently better. And, here in England, many pureblooded families believe they are better than half-blooded or muggleborns, and should have more rights. Some believe muggleborns shouldn’t be allowed any rights in the wizarding world at all.”

 

             Tom was silent, so Hermione continued. “My mother is pureblooded, and she was raised to believe that way, but she broke from it to marry my father, who was half-blooded. My grandmother was a muggle, and I have no desire to see her, or any of the rest of my muggle relatives, subjugated simply because they cannot perform magic. There are many brilliant muggles, many amazing muggle inventions, and it is a part of my heritage that I won’t be ashamed of.”

 

             She was on a roll now, gathering steam. Despite what Narcissa said, Hermione did not want to be in that nest of vipers. “And, on the opposite side, I don’t believe that muggleborn witches and wizards are any different magically than purebloods. Look at us, Tom, we are both half-blooded, and I can literally feel how strong our magic is, especially when we are together. How can anyone say we are weaker or less than purebloods? Slytherin House is full of this kind of pureblood prejudice. They will not welcome me or my ideas, Tom. Why would I want to subject myself to that kind of environment, day and night, for seven years of schooling?”

 

            Watching Hermione for the past few minutes had been thrilling, Tom admitted to himself. This was the longest speech she’d ever made to him. Her personality, which like her magic, fluctuated so wildly between lighthearted cheer, determined resourcefulness, somber consideration, and passionate defense, was almost overwhelming. She wore her heart on her sleeve, which was simply baffling to Tom’s cautious nature. Though he wanted her to do as he said, he did not care for the idea of anyone else telling her what to do, let alone insulting her.

 

             “I wouldn’t let anyone hurt you, Hermione.” He responded without thinking, and was shocked at the words that came out.

 

             Hermione’s eyes were wide as saucers. “I know that,” she replied instantly, looking just as surprised.

 

             They were quiet for several long seconds. Then he asked, a ferocity in his voice that chilled her, “Do you imagine I would allow anyone to disrespect either of us?”

 

             It was a tricky question to answer, Hermione thought. The part that was linked to his magic was pleased he would stand up for her. But she didn’t want to encourage his bullying. “Tom, you can’t change people’s beliefs by intimidation – all that does is drive the belief into hiding. Wouldn’t you rather prove them wrong simply through your intelligence, your power?

 

            Tom gave a small laugh. “I don’t think that will quite do the trick, Hermione.”

 

            The magical world was still very new to him, but people were people, Tom thought. Motivated by greed and fear and power. It was obvious that the purebloods had been in power for quite a while and were determined to keep that power. Tom had no problem with disrupting that system, and he knew for a fact that intimidation worked just fine as a way to subdue enemies.

 

            He belonged in this world. The longer he was here, the stronger the feeling became. And if anyone – pureblood or muggle, adult or child, saw him as less, they were absolutely his enemies. However, Tom was smart enough to know he needed to destroy it from within, and that, to keep Hermione happily ignorant, he would also need to be discrete.

 

            Knowing that contact would comfort and distract her, Tom closed his hand over hers. She had taken off the gloves to collect the fairy aloe, and the pleasant buzz was indeed much stronger through their bare skin. He allowed himself a moment to enjoy it as well, then focused on his words. “I would very much like to have your company in Slytherin House, Hermione. If half-bloods are so rare there, then the two of us, in one year, will make much faster progress together than in separate houses.”

           

            “And,” his smile widened and he ran his thumb over the top of her hand, copying the reassuring squeezing motion he had seen girls who were considered friends share in school and at the orphanage. “I promise you will not be threatened or bullied or treated any differently. I’m surprised you are so concerned. Your mother is a pureblood. Your father was a wizard, even if his mother was a muggle. I’m the one who is truly half-blooded, by their definition, which I find highly suspect.” He paused, a thoughtful look on his face, as though he were solving a puzzle.

 

            “Mathematically, it doesn’t work. In the magic books I’ve read so far, it is claimed that wizards have been here since approximately the same time as the rest of humanity, with very little influx of other wizarding communities or new blood. Even if the families were very large, it seems there would be too many close blood connections to sustain a healthy population. These supposed ‘sacred’ pureblood families must be lying – they have to be hiding half-blood connections or possibly even muggleborns in their pasts.”

 

            Hermione couldn’t believe Tom Riddle at any age was saying these things out loud. She caught his thumb, holding his hand fast. “You are brilliant, and you will be an amazingly powerful wizard. Anyone who thinks differently is both prejudiced and a fool.”

 

            Tom didn’t need her reassurance, but he liked it.   He was finding that he liked many, many things about Hermione Bonneau. But it simply wouldn’t do to let her know this. He disengaged his hand and started back on the next fairy aloe leaf. “Agreed. Slytherin House is facing a year of transformation.”

 

            There was no point in arguing, Hermione realized, her hand still tingling from his recent touch. It did make more sense for her to be in Slytherin, as much as she was dreading it.

 

            After a few minutes, Tom spoke again. “Why did Dumbledore make you so nervous? Did you think we were going to get in trouble?”

 

            She shrugged, trying to act casually. “I wasn’t sure. The underage magic rule is very strict, but it doesn’t usually go into full effect until after one has a wand. Magic before then is a grey area, but we were helping to save a man’s life, so I was mostly certain it would be okay. I just didn’t want to start my school career by upsetting the Deputy Headmaster.”

 

            “That is understandable,” Tom cut the next leaf, watching her from the side. “Is what we did so rare?”

 

            “Well,” Hermione admitted, “most children do exhibit wandless magic now and then, but to perform an actual spell, and not simply make a toy move or vegetables disappear from their plates, and to consciously use our magic together – that is rather unusual.”

 

            Tom nodded, pleased, “I would like to read the text you mentioned – the Durante?”

 

            “Of course,” Hermione smiled, then adding a teasing tone, “Are you sure you might not be a Ravenclaw?”

 

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

            Electra Selwyn was full of emotions. She was angry at Silvanus for doing something stupid, again. She was worried because, despite his careless ways, she actually liked the man. She was guilty she hadn’t been there to help. And she was frustrated because not a single person who she’d interviewed at St. Mungo’s was half as talented as the witch in front of her, and she desperately needed competent help for this school year, especially considering Silvanus had a dragon somewhere in the Forbidden Forest.

 

            “Lady Bonneau,” she finished her diagnostic over Silvanus, “you saved Professor Kettleburn’s life. I only wish I could have assistance like yours for the coming year.”

 

            A thought formed in Narcissa’s mind, and she decided to go with it. “Why couldn’t you?”

 

            “Couldn’t I what?” the matron asked, confused.

 

            “Have my help,” Narcissa replied. “I have no permanent home at the moment, and I must admit that the loss of my husband so recently makes me anxious to be separated from my daughter for so long. If you need an assistant healer, I would be happy to take the position. I don’t have formal training, but,”

 

            Electra cut in. “It doesn’t matter! You’ve more than proven yourself, as far as I’m concerned. And I think Headmaster Dippet likes you. He’s a fairly crusty, grumpy old man, but he called you ‘the lovely Lady Bonneau,’ which is practically singing your praises. I suspect I won’t have to work too hard to convince him.” She smiled, heading toward the door. “Come, let’s speak to him now. I’ve placed an alert spell on Silvanus.”

 

            An hour later, Narcissa had, for the first time in her life, a job that wasn’t being a wife or mother. She genuinely enjoyed healing magic, and she would be able to stay at Hogwarts, close to Hermione. It was hard to be alone in the past, and she knew they needed one another.

 

            She collected Hermione and Tom, and they walked back to Hogsmeade. There was an owl waiting for them from the Rosiers at the little village inn. She held her breath as she broke the seal. From conversations in childhood with her grandfather, she knew the French side of the family was not disliked, per se, but they were not close either.   Before she had left the future, when she was still planning on going alone, Narcissa had researched the family members and found that nearly all direct connections to the Rosier and Bonneau families had either been killed or imprisoned in Nuremguard during this time, so there was no one to contradict her story.

 

Dear Lady Bonneau,

 

                        My husband and I were pleased to receive your owl. It has been far too long since we’ve connected with our French cousins. We are sorry for the loss of your husband and the need for you to leave France with your daughter. We are also intrigued by the boy you mentioned. Though we were aware of our family’s connection with the House of Gaunt, we did not realize there were any Gaunts living other than the old man Marvolo and his son Morfin, who are both currently in Azkaban for assaulting muggles near their home. We would be happy to assist you with finding an estate, and invite you, your daughter, and the Gaunt boy to come to Rosier Manor for the rest of the summer. Our son, Thaddeus, will be entering his second year at Hogwarts in the fall, and our daughter, Marguerite, will be in her first year. I am sure the children would enjoy the opportunity to become acquainted before the school year begins.

                        As you mentioned staying in Hogsmeade, I will open our floo connection to the one in Madam Pudifoot’s – she is a former school friend of mine – and you may come this evening at six pm.

 

Yours Cordially,

Orpha Rosier, nee Prewett

Chapter Text

Tom was fighting the urge to stab Thaddeus Rosier in the neck with the silver butter knife resting with the tea service on the table in front of him. He imagined the feel of the sharp tip sinking into flesh, the gush of red when he pulled the knife back out. It seemed impossible that he could be related, no matter how distantly, to someone was so stupid that he didn’t know he was stupid.

“And then there’s Professor Slughorn, the head of Slytherin House, and of course he knows how important the Rosier family is, so I expect when I get to fifth year, I’ll be invited to his get togethers – the Slugclub it’s called-” Thaddeus smiled condescendingly at the three younger children. “Perhaps, because of the Rosier connection, you might get in as well when the time comes. Of course, I’m sure I’ll be a beater for our Quidditch team this year, and Slughorn loves good players -”

“My brother is obsessed with that silly game,” Marguerite gave an unladylike snort. “But he isn’t as good as he thinks, and Mother won’t let him play unless until he brings up his charms scores – he almost got a “T” last year!”

“Shut your mouth, Marguerite!” Thaddeus scowled. “You don’t know anything. You don’t even have a wand yet! And Charms is a completely useless class!”

Hermione watched the siblings fight, wondering if the adults would ever come back. Like most upperclass families at this time, the Rosiers didn’t seem to want to see or speak to their children unless it was mealtime. They had arrived early, and Narcissa was immediately taken on a tour by Orpha, while she and Tom were encouraged to get to know the Rosier children over tea.

It was abundantly clear that the younger Rosiers did not like one another, and it was also clear that they were opposites. Thaddeus probably would have the build for a beater, in another year or so. He was tall and burly, with broad shoulders even at a few months shy of thirteen. In contrast, Marguerite was small, looking more like eight than eleven. Marguerite seemed intelligent, but she clearly loved taunting her less bright brother.

Hermione could also see that Tom was annoyed by Thaddeus’s boasts. He was probably imagining some kind of gruesome physical punishment for the boy’s sheer stupidity. Even though he’d somehow managed to keep his underage magic discreet enough at Wool’s to avoid notice, Hermione knew that if he attacked Thaddeus, even inadvertently, that the consequences would be disastrous. Luckily, she had years of practice being the level-headed peacekeeper.

“Do you both have brooms?” she asked.

“I have a broom,” Thaddeus smirked. “Marguerite’s is practically a toy.”

Marguerite huffed. “I can still go faster than you do! I’d have a better chance getting on a team as seeker than you as a beater. You cry like a baby whenever you fall off.”

“Perhaps you could show us? Neither of us has ever had a broom,” Hermione said. She glanced at Tom, who still looked dangerously annoyed.

“That’s not surprising, given your backgrounds,” Marguerite murmured.

“Marguerite!” Thaddeus looked shocked. Hermione was more shocked that the boy had better manners than his sister, and she felt a rush of anger that reminded her of the surge of emotion she’d experienced right before she’d punched Draco Malfoy in the nose. God, had that been satisfying. She briefly wondered what Marguerite Rosier would do if she smacked that pureblood smirk off her face.

“Our backgrounds?” Tom inquired, an eyebrow raised, which honestly, a boy of eleven should not be able to do, Hermione thought.

Before Marguerite could answer, Hermione cut in. “We are all cousins here. Let’s be civil. Yes, Marguerite, we are both half-bloods. It’s simply a fact; there is nothing to be done to change it. Are you going to throw away the chance to have company besides your brother this summer by insulting and avoiding us, or shall we all have fun?”

Thaddeus smiled, and this time, it was genuine, not an attempt to impress or cow her. “I vote for fun.”

“So do I,” Hermione smiled back, and turned to Tom. He gave an irritated shrug. Hermione decided that was as close as she would get to a yes – Tom Riddle didn’t strike her as someone who enjoyed many of the ‘normal’ pursuits of childhood.

Marguerite nodded slowly, and Hermione knew she was weighing options, responses, and outcomes. This girl definitely belonged in Slytherin House. “Fine. I do get bored with Thaddeus so quickly.”

“Hey!” Thaddeus began, but Hermione and Tom were already following Marguerite outside to the extensive gardens.

For the next hour, they took turns on the brooms, and Hermione was indeed grateful that Marguerite’s broom didn’t rise more than six feet off the ground, though it zipped along rather too quickly for Hermione’s taste. Tom, on the other hand, took to Thaddeus’s broom with ease, and Hermione caught more than one begrudging grin from the corner of her eye as he flew by.

Marguerite seemed to warm up to both of them, and she even offered to get out her wizarding chess set after dinner and explain the rules to Tom. Privately, Hermione thought that Marguerite was impressed with Tom’s ability to fly so quickly and easily, and was realizing she had underestimated his magic. Slytherins did love their displays of power. For his part, Tom acted politely, with no more icy stares. Whether that meant he was mollified, or if he was silently plotting revenge, Hermione was unsure.

“Do you play exploding snap?” Thaddeus asked her while the other two were flying. “I’m not really one for chess,” his voice was a bit hesitant, as if admitting that was shameful.

Hermione felt a little sorry for him, sure that if he had been actually been in danger of earning a “T” that he probably had some kind of learning disability or simply a low intellectual ability overall. Pureblood inbreeding did produce some problems like that. His initial arrogance was most likely a defense mechanism, a smokescreen of bravado. “Well, I’m not very good at it,” Hermione admitted. “But I don’t care for wizarding chess either – it’s so violent.”

Thaddeus laughed. “Yeah, that’s why Margie loves it. She likes beating things up, but she’s so small, she can’t do much yet,” his face darkened. “Once she learns a few things at school, she’ll probably hex me every chance she gets.”

Hermione shivered. Even though Thaddeus was the boy who would grow up to be Narcissa’s grandfather, she wondered if perhaps some of Bellatrix’s lovely personality traits hadn’t come from her great aunt Marguerite. She certainly looked like a younger version of Bellatrix. Instinctively, Hermione touched her arm, which was still securely bandaged with enchanted healing wraps. She and Narcissa hadn’t yet come up with a way to heal the words Bellatrix had carved into her flesh.

“Are you cold?” Thaddeus asked, confused. “It’s quite warm, but if you are chilled, we can go back to the library. There’s a fireplace, and always blankets on the chairs.”

Such chivalry from a Slytherin, and one who knew she was not a pureblood, was a welcome surprise. “No, I’m fine. I just had a brief cold chill,” she paused. “I’m honestly a little afraid of being on flying brooms.”

Thaddeus’s expression went solemn. “If you end up in Slytherin House, don’t tell people things like that. They will use your fears against you.”

“Who uses yours against you?” Hermione asked softly, wondering if he’d actually answer her.

“Antonin Dolohov, mostly,” Thaddeus said. “He’s a year ahead of me. Sometimes the fourth years Hubert Avery and Jack Mulciber. They’re on the Quidditch team, and they like to harass me about how I’ll never be good enough to play.”

“I’m sure they aren’t the experts on Quidditch,” Hermione reassured him. The House head is the person who picks the teams – Slughorn, right?”

“Yes,” Thaddeus glanced down at his shoes, suddenly interested in the laces. “But I still have to get better grades, like Marguerite said.”

Hermione smiled. This was familiar territory. “I’m very good at school work. I was homeschooled until this year, and I would be happy to help you, if I can.”

Thaddeus shook his head, “I don’t think that will happen. You don’t seem like a girl who will end up in Slytherin House. You’re too nice.”

“Hermione will be in Slytherin, I have no doubt,” a cold voice said from behind her. Hermione bit back a sigh. Not this insecurity again.

It was at this moment that a small house elf popped in front of them. It was the first time Tom had seen one, and he couldn’t stop himself from starting just a bit. He had heard the dragon, but this was different – the first magical creature he’d seen. The fact that it could travel instantly between two points meant it must have magic that was at least similar to humans. Though, with its bald head, floppy ears, and Grecian-style toga, it was impossible to know from sight alone whether it was male or female.

“Mistress Rosier is asking Yeza to be bringing the young Masters and Misses into the house now. Dinner is being ready.” The little creature looked nervous, though with eyes so large, Tom wondered if that were how it always appeared.

“Thank you, Yeza,” Hermione smiled at the creature, and Tom had to shake his head. Even though Thaddeus was clearly as dumb as a box of rocks, his earlier statement about Hermione being too nice was true. The girl was polite and kind, even when people didn’t deserve it. Tom firmly believed in giving people what they deserved. Hopefully, Hermione would learn this too.

 

-oOo0oOo-Seven Weeks Later-oOo0oOo-

“Pass the biscuits, please,” Tom spoke absently, two books, one for reading, the other for reference, open in front of him.

Hermione, who had three books open, one for reading, one for runic translations, and one for reference, handed him one of the jam-filled biscuits he liked best without comment, though they both paused and shared a glance as their fingers met and magic flowed between them.

She smiled at him in such a casually affectionate, matter-of-fact way that Tom returned her smile before he realized what he had done. For others, he felt mostly annoyance, occasionally tolerance, and, very rarely, respect, but Hermione’s presence, and especially her touch, made him feel calm and focused. She had a way of eliciting emotion from him that no one else could, and he wasn’t comfortable putting that on display. In his experience, any shown emotion was a weakness except anger. Anger was power, so long as he was able to make those who angered him suffer. If that was beyond his abilities at the time, then he hid that feeling as well, waiting until the moment to strike presented itself.

He decided then and there to be more careful with his expressions. However, when they were alone like this, the two of them surrounded by books, with too much tea and far too many cakes and biscuits (if Hermione politely asked for a small tea tray, the elves squeaked with teary eyes about the fact she said please and then brought more of a selection than Tom had ever seen, even in the display windows of bakeries), Tom thought it was alright to allow a small smile or two. He needed to keep Hermione happy, after all, and at these times, reading silently, occasionally stopping to discuss something they had found, Tom felt at home. The orphanage was already fading into more of an unpleasant dream than a memory, and after the arrival of their Hogwarts’s letters two weeks ago, he had been determined to prepare himself for the coming school year. Tom Riddle would not be caught off guard or put to a disadvantage.

They had spent every afternoon for the past seven weeks in the Rosier library, during the time when Marguerite had her elf flute lessons, and Thaddeus took his private Quidditch mentoring from a retired professional player. Apparently, Maxwell’s desire to have a son follow in his beater footsteps outweighed Orpha’s concern over grades. Tom was glad for this quiet time – he didn’t like many of the games the Rosiers wanted to play because they were a waste of time. Why in the world would he want to play chess when he could be reading a book about magic? When he could be discussing theory with Hermione?

The more they studied together and talked, the more Tom realized just how brilliant Hermione was. Of course, there was never a doubt that someone whom fate determined was a match for him would be intelligent, but Tom was so used to being disappointed by people’s abilities, Hermione was a revelation. She could read as fast as he could, and he thought she might even have a better memory than he did – she could repeat or quote huge chunks of text or page numbers without looking. When they paused to discuss their readings, she spoke thoughtfully and with insight. Honestly, other than the fact that she was so nice, she was a perfect compliment to him.

The door opened to the study, but instead of Thaddeus bounding in, followed by a sauntering Marguerite, Narcissa entered. She was dressed in a traveling cloak, a charcoal grey with green trim. When she looked at them, surrounded by tea and books, she laughed.

“You two are the most studious children I have ever met. Go and change, please. Today, we are taking our trip to Diagon Alley for school supplies.”

Tom’s heart beat fast in his chest, but he kept his face neutral. Luckily, Hermione asked the very question he wanted to. “And our wands?”

Narcissa’s smile widened knowingly. “Yes, we will be making a stop at Ollivander’s.”

Hermione made a noise that Tom was not sure he was able to classify – it was somewhere between a laugh and a squeak. Her excitement was so strong, he could feel her magic pouring off her; it hit him like a wave and he felt his facial muscles twitch. This girl was getting more dangerous by the second.

“I’ll go change,” he said shortly, and left quickly.

Narcissa looked at Hermione. “He left in a hurry.”

“I think he feels something when I have a strong emotion, and he doesn’t know what to do, how to react.” Hermione closed the books on the table and neatly stacked them.

“So many changes, even positive ones, so fast – he does need some adjustment time.” Narcissa flicked her wand and returned the books to the shelves.

Hermione added quickly, “He’s excited, though, to get his wand. I can feel it.”

“I’m sure you can,” Narcissa patted her hand.

“How does this work? I’ve looked through this whole library,” Hermione gestured to the room. “There are only vague references to soul mates, and nothing about those with magical word marks.”

Narcissa gave her a rueful smile. “There wouldn’t be. This is a pureblood library. As I told you, very few pureblooded families have access to soul mate magic due to family alliances and matches made when children are very young. Soul mates are meant to find one another, but that doesn’t happen when daughters are shut away and kept from contact with anyone besides family and the intended. In our seventh year, a friend of mine, Janice Mulciber, confessed to me that she was sure a muggleborn Hufflepuff was her soul mate. They didn’t have the marks, but she could feel their connection. Of course, she was already engaged to one of those ghastly Goyle boys, and so she married him, and never saw her Hufflepuff again after she graduated.”

“That’s horrible,” Hermione remembered Gregory Goyle and bile rose in her throat at the thought of being engaged to any of his relatives.

“Yes, though I doubt she would have ever chased after the muggleborn boy – it would have been too much of a leap of faith for her to take,” Narcissa shook her head, remembering the leap she had made, and the uncertainty she now faced. “My point was that you’ll have better luck in Diagon Alley or the Hogwarts library, because pureblood families tend to ignore books on subjects they consider beneath them.”

Hermione chewed on her lip. “I’m afraid there probably won’t be much anywhere.”

“You are likely right. From what I’ve been told, for most people who are lucky enough to find their mates, the bond mostly ensures a happy union, stronger wards on their homes and properties, and, if there are children, extra protections for them.” She paused, adding quietly, “I suspect from the sheer force and power of her final act of magic, that Lily and James Potter were soul mates.”

A memory flashed through her mind, the photo of his parents that Harry had shown her, and she knew Narcissa was right. There was something about them, about the way they had smiled at one another, that was special, and Harry, well, Harry’s life was a miracle. It made sense that soul mate magic had protected the extension of itself in the form of Lily’s child. She made a silent prayer to the universe that Harry was alive and well in the future, and that she would be able to help create a future where he knew his parents, and witnessed their love every day.

She felt Narcissa’s arm go around her shoulder, gently leading her to the door. “We’re doing so well, dear.” Narcissa squeezed her. “Better than I expected, honestly. When you go upstairs, will you tell Tom that he needs to pack his trunk? After Diagon Alley, we’ll be heading directly to Hogwarts. I need to be there a week early to help Madam Selwyn prepare the Hospital Wing, and you two will stay with me in the staff lodgings until school starts next Monday.”

Hermione let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. “That sounds wonderful. Thaddeus is fine, but I’m worried that if Tom spends much more time with Marguerite that she’ll end up having a nasty accident.”

Narcissa sniffed. “Well, the girl is perfectly horrid.”

She’s no worse than Draco in our first year, Hermione thought, but held her tongue. It was somehow sweet that Narcissa was defending Tom. And that thought made Hermione laugh silently. Wanting to defend Tom? How far she’d come in a few months

Chapter Text

           

            Diagon Alley was much busier than usual, with many families shopping for school supplies alongside the normal business traffic. Narcissa was glad that Orpha planned on taking her children the following day, and that she would only be going with Hermione and Tom. Orpha, being born into the Prewett family, was a bit more tolerant than what Narcissa remembered of her own grandmother, Thaddeus’s future wife, who had been born a Crouch. Still, Orpha’s constant tuttings over the problems “poor Hermione and Tom will most likely face being half-blooded,” along with the implication that Narcissa should have married a pureblooded husband, were insufferable.

 

            A master of compartmentalization, Narcissa smiled and nodded, accepting Orpha’s sympathy while contemplating how best to sabotage the woman’s prized unicorn-shaped topiaries.   She reminded herself hourly that she would be escaping to Hogwarts soon, with the two children she had claimed. And she truly had claimed them, Hermione more so than Tom, but the charmingly devious future Dark Lord was growing on her despite her knowledge of his potential future.   Some times, late at night, alone in bed, Narcissa allowed herself to think of Lucius, and, very rarely, Draco. Those indulgences didn’t last long because they ended in bitter tears, and tears were a weakness she couldn’t allow herself.

 

            When Narcissa thought of Lucius or Draco, she was quick to push those thoughts away, as she knew Hermione pushed away any hint of her friends or family. Hermione was her family now, and the girl made her proud everyday. Without fail, she came to Narcissa’s room every morning and drank the potion for making her behavior better match her physical age, even though Narcissa was fully aware that Hermione worried about how unguarded the potion left her. Early in the morning, and in the evening before bed, when the potion’s effects had faded, Hermione would share her fears about how close she felt to Tom, how easy it was to like him.

 

            “What if my feelings for him, as they grow, make me overlook my morals? My belief in what is right?” Hermione had asked just last night.

 

           It had become a nightly habit for Narcissa to comb Hermione’s hair after her evening bath, gently whispering spells to help tame the wild curls and prevent them from turning to a frizzy mess while she slept.

 

            Working the comb gently through Hermione’s wet golden brown curls, Narcissa had answered honestly, “People change, as do their morals and beliefs. I am a different person than I was twenty years ago, and it is only reasonable to expect that you will be influenced and changed by such a significant connection as a soul mate.”

 

            “I only hope I can influence him more than he influences me,” Hermione twisted her hands in her lap. “He’s so charismatic, even at such a young age.”

 

            Narcissa carefully braided a thin strand of hair, then unbraided it. “Maybe we just need to make you equally as charismatic.”

 

            “Ha! My default temperament is, as I’ve been repeatedly told, ‘a bossy know-it-all’ – not the sort of girl who draws a crowd. My first year at Hogwarts, it was a few months before I made any friends, and even then, I only ever had a small social circle.”

 

            “Well, this is a new first year, and you have me,” Narcissa held her shoulders in a comforting grip. “And you really don’t need to do much. Tom already finds you fascinating, and that won’t change.”

 

            “I don’t simply want to be pulled along by the tsunami that is Tom Riddle,” Hermione leaned against the woman she was considering a true mother more and more every day.

 

            Narcissa shook her head. “You won’t, Hermione, you are too strong for that. Trust yourself. You were holding your own against a fully-grown Dark Lord who was actively hunting you. You can do this.”

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

 

            Now, having taking the potion, Hermione seemed more relaxed and spontaneous, less worried about identifying every possible consequence of every word or action.   It had been years since Narcissa had seen a purely joyful child. Draco had been sweet when he was young, but never so unconsciously happy as Hermione was capable of being. Hermione’s happiness was almost a palpable energy, especially when they entered any place with books.

 

            Narcissa allowed herself to embrace her new reality. She was for all intents and purposes, a widow in this time. She was Hermione’s mother, and Tom’s guardian, and she was going to enjoy the yearly tradition of school shopping, as well as do her best to make sure the children enjoyed it as well. A quick trip to Gringott’s last week had confirmed that her first two investments had paid off, and the forged paperwork she had provided to lay claim to what remained of the Bonneau estate had gone through as well. No Bonneaus in line for inheritance would survive the next few months in Grindelwald’s embattled territory, so she didn’t feel bad for taking it in her quest to prevent the rise of another, much more powerful Dark Lord. There was money aplenty, and she intended on showering both children with the best of everything.

 

            From the brief histories of themselves she and Hermione had shared when they had first come back in time, Narcissa knew the girl had been raised in comfort, with two parents who had earned above average incomes. Her family had provided nice things for her, and frequent opportunities for travel and entertainment that many others would not have been able to afford. Still, Hermione had never lived in luxury, and Tom knew nothing of it.

 

            She apparated the children side-along to the main street of Diagon Alley, and took them first to double-check their previous orders at Madame Malkin’s. Since the shop already had everyone’s measurements, it was simple to add a few more things to the list.

 

            Tom eyed a tuxedo-cut dress robe, and Narcissa discreetly murmured, “You’ll get something like that in a few years, for the formal occasions at Hogwarts, and I’m sure you will cut a dashing figure.”

 

           “That will be nice,” he smiled at her in reply, and Narcissa thought that his grin was more genuine than normal. The boy had no trouble smiling at most everyone if it got him what he wanted or projected the proper image, but Narcissa, through the very discreet use of light legilimency, had been happy to determine that he respected her and enjoyed her company, which was practically a rave review as far as Tom Riddle was concerned.

 

            He turned and motioned toward Hermione, who was looking at a large, colorful display of hair bands and ribbons. “I think you might need to buy the whole lot to keep Hermione’s hair in check, Aunt Narcissa.”

 

             In a quieter voice that only Narcissa could hear, he added, “Her curls look like a friendly version of Medusa’s snakes, don’t they?”

           

            Despite the daily morning and evening spells that Narcissa placed on her daughter’s hair, it was only ever barely contained. And in moments like this one, when the girl was excited and happy, her curls rioted. How telling that Tom would see them as snakes.

 

            “Well, as you are the parselmouth, Tom,” Narcissa replied, failing to keep the laughter out of her voice, “you might have to be the one to pick out the proper ribbons.”

 

            Hermione heard their laughter, and gave them both a playful scowl as they joined her. To Narcissa’s surprise, Tom actually reached out and tugged gently on a stray curl and spoke to it in a hissing whisper.

 

            “What did you say?” Hermione asked, her eyes wide. She had only ever heard Harry use parseltongue in times of danger or distress, and those had been harsh, rasping sounds.   The light, playful hiss Tom had made was something completely different.

 

            Tom smirked. “I told your hair to behave.” He hadn’t yet released the curl, and he tugged it again, slightly harder, but still not enough to hurt. He sighed and let go, watching the curl spring back. “Clearly, your hair listens as well as you do.”

 

            “Hey!” Hermione batted at his hand, but Tom side-stepped and pointed at the case.

 

            “She needs the thicker bands for everyday – in the silver, green, black, and amber leathers, as well as some thinner ribbons for braids in those same colors,” his tone was so commanding, he could have been stating preparations for a battle.

 

            Hermione made a face as the shop clerk immediately began pulling out the selections Tom had requested. “I can pick out my own hair accessories, thank you!”

 

            “Darling, Tom has good taste,” Narcissa soothed. “Those are actually very nice colors against your coloring. I would have recommended the same.”

 

            “Fine, but I want the sapphire and the ruby as well, in the hair bands,” Hermione insisted, feeling a bit childish, but wanting to make the point that she would not allow Tom to make all her decisions. “And the white ribbons with the blue diamonds,” she added, feeling like Tom knew exactly what she was doing, and was amused.

 

            That smirk stayed on his face as they walked to the bookstore. Narcissa was aware of how many stares they attracted. The wizarding world in Britain was small enough that most families knew one another at least by sight, if not by proper introduction, and gossip spread quicker than a doxy infestation.   A young, attractive, wealthy widow with two children was enough to cause a stir, but add to that the amazing fact that said widow and the children had helped to save the life of a Hogwarts professor before the school year even began? Everyone in Diagon Alley wanted to meet them.

 

            When Narcissa gave the names of the children in the bookshop, people around her stared. She noticed that this made Hermione uncomfortable, but seemed to feed Tom. With every place they visited, he became more assured, and Narcissa was glad he would be starting the school year with a sense of belonging.

 

            After arranging to have the books sent to her assigned quarters at Hogwarts, she took the children to the magical pet store. Tom’s initial (and very brief) facial expression was distaste, though it smoothed out when he saw the owls. Hermione went over to the cats, and began playing with the kittens.

 

            “Would you like to help me pick the family owl?” Narcissa asked Tom, who hadn’t moved from just inside the entrance.

 

            “The family owl?” Tom echoed, looking slightly perplexed.

 

            Narcissa nodded. “You are a part of our family, Tom.” When he didn’t answer, she added, “Permanently. We are only very distantly related by blood, though that would be enough, but you and Hermione are also bound by magic. If I haven’t made this explicitly clear, let me do so now: You will always have a home with us, Tom. You will never go back to Wool’s. I have arranged my will, in case of any accidents, and you and Hermione would live with the Rosiers until reaching majority. You are provided for, Tom, and more than that, you are wanted.”

 

            He was silent for several seconds, staring at the cages of owls. Finally, he met her gaze with a solemn expression, and said, in a very grave tone, “Thank you, Aunt Narcissa.”

 

            Narcissa was no fool, and Tom was a master manipulator, but she felt that he was sincere, and as a child raised in an often violent home, she could read emotion, or the lack of it, very well. Tom, as much as he was able, was grateful, and he was certainly relieved that he would never go back to that orphanage.

 

            They didn’t elaborate, instead turning the conversation to the qualities of the owls for sale. Narcissa told him what she knew about the various breeds, as far as distance and strength, and as she suspected, Tom was drawn to the larger, more impressive birds.

 

            “I think this one,” Tom pointed at the largest owl in the store, a grey bird with white marks like a bow tie on its neck, a wickedly curved beak, nearly unblinking amber eyes, and talons that looked like they would cut through the thickest bird-handling gloves.

 

            One of the store employees rushed forward, a small woman with eyes almost as wide as the owls she sold. “Ah, strix nebulosa, the great grey owl,” she opened the cage, and the bird flew out, stretching its wings to a span wider than Narcissa had ever seen. The bird came directly to Tom, who had put out his arm. Though the bird’s weight pressed down his forearm, Tom didn’t flinch as the talons gripped him.

 

            “Oh, he likes you,” the woman cooed. “That’s nice. Some of the larger breeds aren’t as friendly.”

 

            Narcissa was impressed, too. Many magical children were a bit frightened their first time handling owls on their own, let alone a child raised in the muggle world.   Tom looked impossibly regal, holding the owl like a born prince. She sighed inwardly. He was a prince, the heir of Slytherin, so much more than he currently knew.   It would be quite the life’s work to keep him from falling headfirst into the seductive embrace of dark magic.

 

            “So, is he fit to bear the Bonneau and Riddle family post?” Narcissa asked lightly.

 

            Tom nodded, and the owl, clearly well-trained, went back into the cage at the shopkeeper’s motion. “He won’t have to stay caged long, will he?”

 

            The woman shook her head. “No, of course not. As soon as we get him registered to your family, we can send him directly to the Hogwarts owlery if you like.”

 

            “That would be perfect,” Narcissa replied. She gestured to the rest of the store. “Tom, you may pick out your familiar, if you like.”

 

            “Most students choose a cat, toad, or owl, all of which are approved Hogwarts pets,” the woman offered. “Though I understand there is some flexibility for true familiars, as opposed to simple pets.”

 

            “How is the difference defined?” Tom questioned.

 

            The woman’s large eyes blinked a few times as she pondered her answer. “True familiars form a magical bond with their owners, and will protect owners with their lives. It is a difference that is more felt than seen, but it is usually obvious from how well the animal responds to the witch or wizard. The great grey will be an excellent family bird, but I wouldn’t call him a familiar.”

 

            Tom nodded and walked toward the other cages. Narcissa gave the woman her account information and filled out a few forms for registering the bird as a mail carrier. From the corner of her eye, she watched Tom pass the owls, then the toads, heading instinctively toward the rather small selection of reptiles. He stopped in front of a bright green snake with white markings, hanging in curls from a thick branch that crossed the cage.

 

            Her pulse quickened as he leaned his forehead against the glass and the snake immediately unwound itself and raised up along the inside of the glass, as if responding to a snake charmer’s flute. She reminded herself that without the connotation of Voldemort himself as a parselmouth, Tom’s ability, though rare and often connected to darker wizards, wouldn’t be alarming to most people. Dumbledore was a great fool, she thought for not the first time, to judge the child Tom so harshly. Parseltongue could clearly convey amusement and affection because she had seen and heard it this morning in Tom’s teasing of Hermione. All magical talents had the potential for light or dark, and all variations inbetween. Encouraging Tom instead of shaming him was important, Narcissa felt.

 

             “Does your son speak parseltongue?” The shopkeeper had followed Narcissa’s gaze and her eyes were now so large, she resembled a house elf. “How fascinating! It’s such an uncommon talent. He was so good with the owl, too! Why, I’d bet he’d be a natural at gamekeeping!”

 

             Narcissa laughed at the image of Tom in such a career. “I’d highly doubt that,” she murmured. “But, yes, my ward is a parselmouth, and I imagine you can go ahead and add that snake to our account.”

 

            “Anything else, Lady Bonneau?” the shopkeeper asked.

 

            “My daughter still needs to choose something,” Narcissa replied. “I’ll let you know.” She headed over to the section with the cats.

 

            Hermione was petting the kittens, though she was watching Tom.   When Narcissa came to stand beside her, Hermione lifted a tiny cat that looked like a cheetah with too-large ears. “It’s a serval,” she smiled. “A wild cat from Africa that’s commonly domesticated.”

 

            “Trust the two of you to pick the most wild animals in the store,” Narcissa responded dryly.

 

             “Is it really alright for Tom to have a snake?” Hermione bit her lip.

 

              Narcissa shrugged gracefully. “It will be fine. If there were more parselmouths, there would be snakes instead of toads. If anyone complains, they can take it up with me.”

 

            One look into Narcissa’s hard brown stare made Hermione glad that she and Narcissa were no longer enemies. She watched as the storekeeper opened the case and lifted the snake out into Tom’s waiting hands. The snake slithered up and around his arm, extending over his shoulders and resting its diamond-shaped head against his chest, the almost neon green contrasting sharply with Tom’s grey and black sweater.

           

            Hermione walked to Tom, holding her kitten. As she approached, his snake perked up its head, tongue darting out at the kitten’s scent.   Tom hissed something softly, the sounds much sharper than he had used with her in the morning.

 

            She watched the snake watch the kitten, then looked at Tom. He appeared both relaxed and amused, and she couldn’t help but smile. “I hope you told your snake that my kitten is not dinner.”

 

            He smirked and titled his head down to the snake, hissing. The snake nodded at him, hissing back in what seemed a friendly fashion, as far as one could tell of a snake. “I just told him not to eat the kitty. He agrees, though insists that I offer him something of similar size for his actual dinner this evening.”

 

            Hermione narrowed her eyes. “Then what did you say before?”

           

            “Only that a friend is approaching, and not to be frightened,” Tom said easily, though Hermione had the feeling he was lying.

 

            “Why would he be frightened?” she queried.

 

            Tom raised his eyebrows at her obvious suspicion. “Snakes have a strong startle reflex. It is only courteous to warn whether approaching animals or individuals are friend or foe.”

 

            Now, Herimone’s expression turned to fascination. She couldn’t resist new knowledge. “So, when you talk to them, how does it translate in your head? Surely, with an animal, it can’t be word for word?”

 

            “No, there really aren’t words in the same way that we think of them – I can communicate simple thoughts, but mostly, it’s more of a speaking of feeling,” Tom said, a bit hesitantly, as though he couldn’t believe he were talking about this to another human.

 

            “If you had to translate directly, what would the words be?” Hermione pressed, eager for understanding.

 

            Tom’s brow furrowed in concentration. “It doesn’t really translate. I suppose the closest would be, ‘Not food, protected.’”

 

            “You would protect my kitty?” Hermione’s smile was so wide, her bright white, perfectly straight teeth were on display.

 

            “I didn’t say that,” Tom grumbled, “it would be a wise practice to keep the little fluff ball away from him when we are not present. Instinct is instinct, after all.”

 

            Hermione had a sudden memory of the similar argument she had had with Ron over Scabbers the rat and her half-kneazle.   She wished now that Scabbers had been eaten, honestly. It wouldn’t do to be a hypocrite. “I’ll keep her safe at night, if you promise not to let your snake go wandering.”

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

 

            Looking at how possessively Hermione clutched the baby cat, Tom knew that letting his snake eat it would be a problem. “My snake will behave, I assure you.”

 

            She seemed satisfied with his answer, at least for the moment. The snake was curled under his chin, and Tom felt content for the first time. Was this a common sort of happiness? Not feeling the need to do anything, simply enjoying being?

 

            He had lied to Hermione about what he had said, because the truth was too dangerous, too revealing. When she had approached with the kitten, his snake had actually been more interested in Hermione than the feline.

 

            “Your magic mate?” the snake had asked.

 

            Tom knew enough of snake ‘words’ to understand that the word ‘mate’ wasn’t the equivalent of ‘wife’ or ‘girlfriend’ in human terms. It implied a deeper connection of absolute trust, a willingness to sacrifice for the other, and anything created by the pair. Tom had no doubt he and Hermione would create great things, even if he had no interest in the messy physical side of human relationships.

 

            “Yes, my magic mate,” Tom had answered, knowing that would protect Hermione forever, and extend any protection the snake would offer him to Hermione as well.

 

            When Hermione asked what he said, he came up with a plausible response. It was one thing to admit to himself how important Hermione was. It was something altogether different to admit that to her.   Giving another person that level of power over him was unthinkable. He was glad when she got distracted by the idea of parseltongue as a language, and the mechanics of translating it.

 

            He racked his brain to give her some kind of approximation, and was again pleased by how intelligent she was. They spent the next fifteen minutes discussing parseltongue, while his snake patiently put up with the kitten’s attempt to alternately bat at, lick, and nurse from him.

 

            Narcissa interrupted them long enough to provide small cages for transporting the two animals, and though Tom would have preferred to keep the snake draped over his shoulders, he whispered soothingly that he would be out soon, as well as provided an excellent meal the approximate size of a kitten (though explicitly not Hermione’s kitten).

 

            They walked down the cobbled streets toward yet another shop, and Tom thought about what was left on their lists. Could it be time for the wands? Narcissa stopped, and he read the sign above the mullioned window with satisfaction: Ollivander’s.  At last.

Chapter Text

 

Stepping into the airy store lined from floor to ceiling with many shelves stacked with thousands of slender boxes, Tom was struck by two things. One, magic was practically alive in this store, and, two, Hermione was suddenly either very upset or nervous or both. Beside him, her magic had dampened and wilted, as though doused with cold water.

 

He looked around for an obvious cause. An affront to Hermione was an affront to himself at this point, but there was nothing he could detect. There were other customers, trying out wands at the long counter that ran the width of the store, with a man of about forty or so whose brown hair, already liberally streaked with grey, puffed out around his head in a rather wild fashion. He had muttonchops to match, and though his clothing was well-tailored and clean, he gave the overall impression of the sort of mad scientist drawn on movie house posters.

 

The man came from behind the counter as they entered. As he came closer, Tom felt the man’s magic. Like Hermione, this man exuded magical excitement, though his magic was sharper, and a touch darker. Tom knew instantly this man was very personable, very clever, and very secretive. He recognized those qualities easily in others.

 

He bowed to Narcissa. “Lady Bonneau, I am so pleased to have you in Ollivander’s,” his hand gestured to the wide room. “I’ve recently replaced Professor Kettleburn’s wand for the third time, and he told me of the great service you and your children did him. I’m honored to help your children find their wands.”

Narcissa nodded graciously, her posture and movements aristocratic without effort. Tom liked her more every day. After her recent statements in the pet shop, he was ready to let down his guard somewhat with her. He trusted she meant what she had said, and the thought that she had gone to the trouble to provide for him in her will was satisfying. She valued him as an addition to her family, accepted him without reservation as the match for her daughter.

 

Tom, like all orphans, had imagined what having a family would be like, but those thoughts had mostly been of curiosity, not a true desire to have a group of people coddle and fuss over him. That idea was actually repugnant. What Tom truly desired was to have the best of things, and he knew Narcissa was the best of mother figures he could have. She was his now, too – a beautiful, intelligent, and powerful woman to be the head of his family until he was old enough to claim that spot for himself. His family – it was an odd thought, but it had taken root in his mind, and he simply couldn’t stop himself from accepting it as the new state of things. After all, didn’t he deserve a family that was worthy of him?

 

“Mr. Ollivander, this is my daughter, Hermione, and my ward, Tom Riddle, who is our cousin through his late mother, Meriope Gaunt.” Narcissa replied politely. “They are both starting Hogwarts in the next week, and long to choose their wands.”

 

“Ah, Lady Bonneau, but it is the wand that chooses the wizard or witch,” Mr. Ollivander corrected gently.

 

Tom had not missed how the man’s eyes had widened when Narcissa identified him as a Gaunt. He had learned more about his mother’s relatives while staying with the Rosiers, and knew he was only one of three Gaunts remaining. The Rosiers had many books of pureblood family genealogies, and he had been gratified to learn just how old and prestigious the House of Gaunt had been, though it had suffered in the last few centuries from the exact attitudes Hermione had told him of – too much intermarriage with close relatives, children born with little or no magical abilities, as well as outright madness. Hermione had helped him find old copies of the wizarding newspaper the Rosiers had stored in their library. Even though her face had been tense, as though she were afraid of his reaction, she had handed him the stories of his uncle and grandfather’s imprisonment for attacking a muggle and assaulting a Ministry of Magic official, respectively.

 

His relatives’ appearance was repulsive – they were ragged and filthy, unkempt, as well as simply ugly, with twisted features, matted hair, and sallow complexions. Even had they been clean, well-dressed, and smiling, Tom doubted the men would be a welcome sight to anyone. The family’s obviously limited means, combined with their stupidly aggressive nature, made Tom glad he had never met them. They weren’t worthy of being his family, of being connected with him. It was probably a blessing his mother had married a muggle, or Tom might have been more like his Uncle Morfin or Grandfather Marvolo, which was a horrific thought.

 

When he had said as much to Hermione, her eyes had sparkled so brightly he thought she might have been holding back tears, which would have been ridiculous. She had touched his arm, removed the newspaper from his grip, and said, “You are the only person who can define who you are, Tom.”

 

Her hand, small and white on his arm, and her voice, full of emotion on his behalf, pleased him though he needed no reassurance. “I know that,” he had answered, “I am not ashamed of anything, nor will anyone make me feel that way, especially not inbred, insane pureblooded fanatics who are stupid enough to land themselves in prison.”

 

Hermione had shaken her head. “Not all purebloods are like that,” she’d argued. “My mother is not, and there are other families who are more tolerant and open. The Gaunts are simply a very extreme example.”

 

“Those who wish to judge us will find themselves corrected,” Tom had answered, finishing the conversation as he had thrown the page with the pictures of his relatives in the fireplace.  

 

    They had not spoken of the Gaunts again, nor had he asked any questions about his muggle father. Given what he had seen, he suspected his charm and attractive features came from that side, but he had no need of a father now, especially not when he was beginning a new life, in a magical world. A muggle father (if the man were even alive) might protest, or expect him to live in the mundane world. Leaving behind all the wonders he had seen was unthinkable, so he crushed any random thoughts of the Riddle side of his heritage. The name was agreeable enough, and he would keep it, but he had no desire to seek out any additional information. That chapter of his life was done forever.

 

 

“Now,” Mr. Ollivander’s voice brought Tom out of his thoughts. The man had extended his hand toward the children. “Who shall go first?

 

Once again, Tom felt a disturbing fluctuation in Hermione’s magic. When she was standing so close to him, their shoulders almost touching, her magic was always at edge of his awareness. Mostly, the sensation was calm and peaceful, though occasionally, as it had been most of the day, excited and playful. Since coming into the shop, it had contracted, drawn in on itself. Tom did not like the loss – the retreat of her magic left him feeling empty, like on the mornings when the oatmeal at Wool’s had been thinner than usual, barely lining his stomach. He felt his anger flare. He wanted to know why this was happening, and he wanted it fixed. Now.

 

Before he could turn to Hermione to question her, she had answered Mr. Ollivander. “I will,” she said, her voice calm, even though Tom knew she was far from calm inside.

 

He followed her closely. Was she frightened? If so, of what? It didn’t seem to be the man, even despite his eccentric appearance. Glancing discreetly at Narcissa, Tom noted that she was tense as well. He could sense her subtle magic at a low level, and it was vibrating nervously. Had Hermione had a previous bad experience with handling a wand? She had seemed happy earlier in the day, even asking about the wand store.

 

Mr. Ollivander had gone back to his position behind the tall counter, and Hermione stepped up on a small platform that put her at a better height. It was wide enough for two, and Tom didn’t think twice about stepping up beside her, keeping the distance between their bodies narrow. He was going to figure out what was going on. Hermione should not be keeping anything from him. If she was worried, she should tell him. And if she was scared, she should definitely tell him. He could barely stand the withdrawal of her magic.

 

Narcissa had come to stand on her other side, as if offering support, and Tom was further puzzled and angered. Hadn’t she said he was a part of this family? Why weren’t they telling him everything? Even the salesman could see something was amiss, because he raised his eyebrows at Tom and Narcissa.

 

“Lady Bonneau, Mr. Riddle,” he began, taking a long, narrow black box off the shelf behind him. “You may want to give Miss Bonneau a bit of room. Searching for the right wand can be a delicate process – mismatch of witch with wand can let off quite impressive accidental magic. Only a few days ago, a young Weasley set fire to my curtains,” he added dryly, gesturing to faint singe marks on the wall around the curtain-less window frame.

 

Something in that statement made Hermione giggle and relax a bit, but Tom was not sure what.   Narcissa went a few steps back, and Tom grudgingly moved a few inches. He wasn’t leaving that platform, though.

 

Reading his clients like any good salesman, Ollivander shrugged and opened the box. Inside, nesting in black velvet, was a light, faintly reddish brown colored wand, a bit stubby, with a thick handle. Tom found it rather ugly, and from the slight frown on Hermione’s face, he gathered she did, too.

 

“Just a starting place,” Ollivander murmured reassuringly. “This wand is pine, with a kelpie hair core, an older wand, made by my father. It is a good wand for giving me an idea of your magical strength.”

 

Hermione’s magic was pulsing wildly as she reached out and closed her hand around the wand. She gave it a very gentle wave, and the box Ollivander had been holding flew out of his hand and hit the high ceiling, almost hitting the man in the head as it fell back down.

 

Ollivander smiled knowingly. “Yes, I thought you would be too powerful for that by far,” he said, using his own wand to bring the box back up to the counter. “You need a wood that is very strong – your magic channels forcefully.”

 

He walked up and down the shelves for a few moments, pulling boxes until he had a pile of about six. Laying them on the counter neatly, he opened the top one. This time, the wood was dark, almost black, on a red velvet lining. The wand was much thinner, but still looked more substantial than the first.

 

Hermione’s magic flared out instantly, the box with the wand shooting away like a bullet, so far that it was lost in the darkness of the shelves behind the wandmaker. Tom had to keep from gasping for breath. He could feel Hermione’s magic again, with ferocity. She was both angry and in pain. What was happening? His magic rushed out, wrapping around her. He couldn’t control or stop it – the magic itself wanted to comfort her.

 

“Not walnut,” Hermione barely managed to speak, her voice low and strained. Her head leaned against his shoulder and Tom let it rest there, unconscious that he was making a loud hissing sound until it had already escaped his lips.

 

“No one will hurt you,” he repeated in English. Hermione’s head remained on his shoulder, her magic shivering.

 

Ollivander stared openly. Hermione had performed magic without touching the wand at all, powerful magic at that, Tom was speaking Parseltongue, and their combined magic was filling the air with a smell like a thunderstorm.

 

Narcissa’s calm voice sounded from behind them, getting softer as she came to stand near Hermione again. “Mr. Ollivander, I am sure you are aware that I was recently widowed. Lord Bonneau was murdered by one of Grindelwald’s followers, and that man had a black walnut wand. I believe my daughter would appreciate it if you didn’t show her any wands of that type.”

 

“Of course, Lady Bonneau,” Ollivander’s face brightened in understanding. “My apologies, Miss Bonneau.”

 

“No, I’m sorry,” Hermione replied, her voice sounding more like its normal tone. She straightened her head, but stayed pressed against Tom’s side. “That was a rather overwrought reaction.”

 

“It was instinctual, my dear,” Narcissa rubbed Hermione’s back lightly. “Getting one’s own wand is a momentous occasion. I know your father would have wanted to be here. All is well. Simply be yourself, and the right wand will come to you.”

 

“Excellent advice,” the wandmaker smiled, and opened a third box. “This is an apple wood, nine and one-half inches, with a core of unicorn hair.”

 

Hermione lifted it cautiously, giving it a small twirl in her fingers. The box it came in levitated evenly, and Tom was delighted as Hermione’s magic seemed to stabilize, flooding back to mingle at its edges with his own magic. He was a bit annoyed she hadn’t shared her concern over choosing a wand without her father or the fear of a particular type of wand – did she think he wouldn’t understand her fear or pain because he didn’t remember his parents? However, Tom’s anger had mostly evaporated, soothed by the return of their magical equilibrium and replaced by the pleasure of watching magic, as well as the prospect of trying his own wand soon. He would simply need to have a talk with her later about keeping secrets.

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

Hermione had been terrified as soon as she had entered Ollivander’s, and she knew that both Tom and Narcissa were aware of this as well. As much as she wanted a wand again, she was afraid of what choosing a wand might reveal. Wands sat in Ollivander’s store for decades sometimes after being made. They waited for the right owner patiently. Having fought in many skirmishes, Hermione had ‘mastered’ several wands, and her own wand had been taken from her before they left. Even if her wand existed in 1938, which was doubtful, would it still want her? Would its magic somehow know she had failed to keep it? And what of Harry’s wand? If it was here, having been made with the twin core of Voldemort’s wand, which was certainly here, would the holly wand, choose her because of the piece of Voldemort from the locket that was most likely attached to her now? And if she failed to change future events as far as Harry was concerned, would the lack of that wand kill him? All these possibilities were giving her a headache and making her dread what should have been a wonderful moment.

 

She could feel Tom’s growing annoyance, the angry tingle of his magic reaching out for hers, and she tried to get her emotions under control. An upset Tom Riddle would do nothing to help the situation. She took the first wand, which was ridiculously weak, and was relieved when Ollivander seemed to understand she needed something more substantial.

 

But then, to her absolute horror, he had brought her the very wand that had tortured her. It had only taken a split-second for her to recognize the future wand of Bellatrix Lestrange nestled, fittingly, in blood red velvet. Did the wand recognize the lingering touch of Bellatrix’s magic in the wounds on her arm? Pain and anger had flooded her. With no consciousness of what she was doing, Hermione’s magic had swiftly and aggressively thrown the wand as far away as possible.

 

Incredibly, Tom’s magic had surged toward her, enfolding her in a buzzing cocoon, as if protecting her from harm. She doubted he was aware of what he was doing, but it was a lovely gesture, and she put her head on his shoulder, grateful for the support. She felt a bit sick and dizzy. Hermione was further shocked when Tom spoke to her in Parseltongue, a soothing hiss which he translated quickly. No one will hurt you, he’d said. She wanted to cry at the irony that the woman who had so damaged her had been Tom’s future mistress and most avid follower. That the future version of Tom had most certainly wanted to hurt her – to kill her. She forced herself to take deep breaths, to focus on the present, not the past that was actually the future.

 

While she was still attempting to recover, Narcissa, who also recognized her sister’s wand, stepped in with an utterly believable lie, and, in that moment, with Narcissa’s strong, cool hand rubbing gentle circles on her back, Hermione knew she loved her. Narcissa loved her. Narcissa would protect her, and the feeling was absolutely mutual.

 

Her calm had returned, she had performed adequate magic with the next wand, and Tom had relaxed as well. Hermione sighed inwardly in relief. No matter what happened, she and Narcissa would deal with it, and they would do just about anything to keep Tom from becoming the monster he had been in future.

 

“I don’t think this is the one,” Hermione said politely, handing the apple wand back.

 

“No,” Ollivander agreed. He shuffled the boxes and frowned. “I have a few wands that I’ve only made very recently, from a shipment of rare cores I received. I’ve just started using phoenix feathers as cores, as well as a few exotic specimens from around the world. I made some test case wands with these different cores. They are a bit temperamental, but they are powerful.”

 

His cool, intelligent gaze focused on Hermione, then Tom. “Forgive me for asking, but are you children magically linked? Soul mates, perhaps?”

 

Narcissa cleared her throat in what sounded like reproof. “Mr. Ollivander, that is a rather personal question, and I’m not sure,”

 

“Forgive me,” the man repeated, even though he continued. “It is simply that my work requires me to be very sensitive to magical signatures and attachments, and these two,” he pointed to Tom and Hermione, “are more magically in-tune than twins.”

 

At Narcissa’s annoyed look, he hastily continued. “If they are magically linked soul mates, they would be best served by complimentary wands – yin and yang, if you will. Perhaps they should test the wands at the same time.”

 

“Yes,” Tom replied firmly. He clearly wanted to take charge, Hermione thought. He’d been thrown off by her emotions and needed to be in control of something.   She felt Narcissa nudging gently in her mind, planting words there with careful legilmency. Be calm, darling. Tom’s wand will most likely be the yew wand. You mustn’t react badly.

 

She nodded slightly to let Narcissa know she’d heard. “That’s fine,” Hermione added out loud to Ollivander.

 

“Lady Bonneau?” Ollivander questioned, seeking her approval.

 

Narcissa caught the wandmaker in a firm gaze. “I am trusting your discretion, Mr. Ollivander, to protect my family’s privacy. We both know how rare soul mate pairings are, let alone ones this early in life and so strong, and my daughter and ward do not need to be the subject of gossip or unwanted attention and questions concerning their magical connection. That is a private matter.”

 

Ollivander nodded solemnly. “Of course, Lady Bonneau. I wouldn’t say anything.”

 

“Alright,” she waved a hand toward him in acquiescence. The man disappeared into the shelves again.

 

Narcissa looked at the two children. They were standing so closely together, she doubted she could have slipped a piece of parchment between them. When they were in the same room, they gravitated toward one another like magnets. She didn’t think they even realized how close they were. As Ollivander had mentioned, they reminded one of twins, though two more different children it would be impossible to find.

 

Hermione was almost certain Ollivander was fetching the yew wand. A phoenix core was a newer type, and still uncommon in her time. But what were the other cores? She longed for her vine wand, its reassuring weight in her hand. Would she be able to perform magic as well without it?

 

“Here we are,” Ollivander was holding only two boxes. Both were rather long. He placed one in front of each of the children. “Try these.”

 

Tom opened his box with no hesitation. Hermione closed her eyes briefly at the sight of the long, pale wand, with the handle carved to jut out over the thumb like a sharp thorn or bird beak. When she looked again, he was holding it, and his face was so satisfied, so aglow, that Hermione felt bad. She was doing it again, judging him for things he hadn’t done. Right now, he was where she had been at the age of ten, thrilled at belonging to such a wonderful world, delighted to be experiencing magic, to be making magic happen.

 

He deftly swished the wand and with no verbal command, Hermione’s box rose, the lid lifted, and the wand inside floated to her hand. The wand wood was also quite pale, though a few shades darker than Tom’s wand, with a hint of gold to it. It was carved in a spiral fashion, gradually narrowing to a fine tip. It was not particularly flexible, but Hermione could feel the strength of its magic coursing up her arm, racing to join her own. It was her wand, she knew without a doubt as soon as it touched her fingers.

 

She turned to Tom, and with a subtle wave of her new wand, vanished the wand box altogether. Tom smiled at her more broadly than he ever had, twirling the yew wand between the fingers of his other hand thoughtfully before making a semi-circular motion that caused all the lights to flicker at a rapid pace, moving across their faces as if they were under a mirror ball.

 

Hermione had never faced Voldemort directly. She had second-hand reports aplenty, and she knew he was brilliant. Now, though, standing toe to toe with Tom as he held a wand for the first time, feeling their magic, now amplified and intensified by the use of wands, Hermione was speechless. She was also euphoric. Their magic was buzzing and flowing and swirling, and she thought they just might float away. It took her a second to realize that Tom was happy – truly, properly, happy – maybe for the first time ever. She returned his smile and added to it with laughter.

 

“My goodness,” Ollivander stared at them, close to speechlessness himself as the lights finally stopped flashing.

 

“What are the particulars of the wands?” Hermione asked, forcing the wandmaker to concentrate on something other than the amazingly precocious performance he’d just witnessed.

 

“Oh, yes,” he smiled, though he still looked a bit dazzled. “Mr. Riddle’s is yew wood – a powerful wand wood associated with both mystery and leadership, victory and longevity. The core is a phoenix feather, which is a strong, fiery magic that also has healing and regenerative properties.”

 

He saw Tom watching him, and added, “These are magical properties of the wood and cores by themselves – these can intensify or change when made into a wand, and the magic of the wand’s master influences the wand as well. Both wand and master learn from and adapt to one another.”

 

“And Hermione’s wand?” Tom asked, his voice pleased and relaxed.

 

“Ah, Miss Bonneau’s wand is made of rowan wood, which also has properties of power and mystery, as well as vision, balance, protection, and transformation. The core is a hair from the tail of a sphinx, recently collected by a friend of mine who traveled to Egypt,” Ollivander said. “It was very tricky to work with. The sphinx magic should have an affinity for logical, ordered magic, but also enormous potential for sheer power.”

 

He looked first at Tom, “Your wand is fire and action,” then to Hermione, “Yours is air and logic. They will suit you both individually, but also compliment you when you do magic together.”

 

“Thank you, Mr. Ollivander,” Narcissa took Hermione’s arm and motioned to Tom. “Come, children, it has been a long day of shopping and we need to get ourselves and your pets settled in at Hogwarts before it’s too late.”

 

“A pleasure to help you, Lady Bonneau,” the salesman responded. “Remember, Mr. Riddle and Miss Bonneau, that you mustn’t use the wands outside of Hogwarts grounds until you are of age.”

 

Hermione saw Tom’s mouth twist in displeasure, though it didn’t stay that way long. She had a feeling that now Tom had experienced the power of magic channeled through a wand that few restrictions would keep him from practicing it.

Chapter Text

That evening, Tom sat with Hermione in the small parlor of Narcissa’s staff rooms, practicing spells listed in their first year textbooks. They floated small objects, produced lights at the ends of their wands, and repaired torn pieces of parchment. Their familiars were out, the snake wrapped comfortably around Tom, its tail touching Hermione’s side, where the kitten in her lap gently batted at it.

 

After unpacking their things, Narcissa had told them to explore, and they had headed immediately to the library. The current Hogwarts librarian, Miss Brannan, was about five hundred times more personable than Ms. Pince, and she had allowed the two early students to browse in the stacks for a few hours before shooing them to dinner. After a bit of research, Tom and Hermione had both chosen names for their animals. Since the cat’s natural habitat was from central Africa, Hermione had settled on Khethiwe, which was Zulu for ‘the one who is chosen.’ Tom unsurprisingly picked a name he thought was fearsome for his emerald green boa – Damballa, the name of a Voodoo snake god who was considered a primordial creator of all life.

 

The next few days passed quickly, even without much of a schedule. Narcissa spent most of her time in the Hospital Wing, helping Madam Selwyn with restocking the potions and preparing common antidotes and medicines for student ailments. Sometimes, Tom and Hermione would assist Professor Beery in small tasks in the greenhouses. Hermione was pleasantly surprised that Tom didn’t mind the work. She wouldn’t have thought he would have a green thumb, but Tom seemed to want to try everything, and go everywhere.

 

Hermione remembered the work it had been to keep Harry and Ron from roaming in restricted areas, but Tom was actually worse. He was so confident, and seemingly fearless, determined to be master of this new domain. In the mornings, they explored, traipsing up and down floating staircases, finding all the ghosts and poltergeists, even looking down the third floor corridor, which had been strictly off-limits in her time, and which appeared to be a humid hibernation area for some kind of pulsating seedpods that Hermione later discovered after a study session in the library’s herbology section would eventually erupt into extremely large carnivorous plants with flesh-eating secretions.

 

In the afternoons, they would walk the grounds, skirting the edges of the Forbidden Forest, wading up to their knees in the lake, and going over the lawns. One day, they sat in the empty stands overlooking the Quidditch pitch, and Hermione gave a brief, incredibly bad description of the game.   The first day, it had taken every bit of Hermione’s considerable mental ability to remember to act surprised at every ‘new’ sight. However, by the second day, Tom’s enthusiasm had her experiencing the familiarity of Hogwarts with fresh eyes. Honestly, he was so like her in some ways. He wanted to go to the library, wanted to know the reasons for things. Tom would never call her a bookworm or a know-it-all. She began to dare to hope that this school year would be different than her first one in 1991, that she might indeed have more friends and less ridicule.

 

Two days before the school year, they sat in a patch of daisies near the south lawn, trying to turn the petals on the white flowers another color.   When Hermione had suggested the exercise, she had expected Tom to scoff. Once again, he had proved her wrong to judge. Tom seemed very interested, especially when she informed him that the spell was advanced for a first year, but a type of foundation for more complicated transfiguration. They worked side-by-side among the flowers, first only managing to send the flowers flying across the field, but then, gradually producing pale shades, and finally progressing to brilliant jewel tones.  

 

With her excellent memory, it was not hard to recall how she had originally learned performed this spell, the fits and starts she had experienced. She duplicated those actions, though holding her magic back was not as simple as remembering her previous actions. It was not in Hermione’s nature to deliberately do something incorrectly or at less than her capabilities. When she had first held her new wand, Hermione had felt better, like a real witch again, but that evening, when she and Narcissa had discussed the need for her to restrain and disguise the limits of her magical abilities, her frustration had returned. It required more focus than normal to under-perform.

 

Tom floated a daisy that had been turned crimson to the growing pile in front of them, and Hermione placed a canary yellow one on top of it. Suddenly, something slimy, enormous, and on fire came charging directly at them, and she threw up her wand, yelling, “Protego!”

 

What she could now see was a fully-grown blast-ended skrewt bounced off her magical barrier, dazed, and began crawl-running in the opposite direction.   A man with wild rust colored hair, the very pink skin of a recovering burn victim, as well as a prosthetic hand and lower leg, rushed to them.

 

“Miss Bonneau and Mr. Riddle, I presume?” He spoke rapidly, not waiting for an answer. “Excellent shield charm, Miss Bonneau, first-rate. I’d love to stay and tell you kids how grateful I am, but that skrewt won’t catch itself! I need it for Monday’s third-year class.”

 

He began to run, rather quickly for a man with a fake leg, but stopped after only a few paces. He turned back to Hermione and Tom. “No need to mention this to the Headmaster – he can’t put me on double probation, after all.” He winked, his bloodshot black eye missing its lashes, and took off again.

 

“That man is a hazard to himself and everyone else,” Tom said absently after a few seconds of watching Professor Kettleburn attempt to herd the skrewt toward the lake.

 

“What was that spell? Something about protection?” He was focused on her again, intently. “It was very powerful.”

 

Hermione flushed unhappily, searching for a plausible excuse for her knowledge. “My mother and father taught me a few things, to be used in emergencies only, since things were getting so bad in France.”

 

Tom nodded. “I know that must have been,” he searched for the right word, “frightening.”

 

She thought of the battle at the Ministry, the Astronomy Tower, and Bill and Fleur’s wedding, of racing through the woods being chased by snatchers, of lying on the floor of Malfoy Manor, screaming and bleeding. It was no act to reply, “I spent most of my time terrified.”

 

“In London, there was constant talk of Hilter,” Tom said quietly. “Many people think England will go to war soon with Germany and Italy. I thought the magical world was outside of that, but it seems you have a similar figure terrorizing Europe.”

 

“Grindelwald has some similarities to Hitler, I suppose,” she admitted. “But no matter what war, muggle or magical, wages outside, we are safe at Hogwarts.”

 

“Do you truly think so?” Tom gave her a critical look. “That seems incredibly optimistic, especially given your family’s circumstances, Hermione.”

 

“Mother and I came here precisely because it is so safe. And though Grindelwald has many followers, they are still greatly outnumbered.”

 

Tom picked another daisy, pointed his wand at it, and it instantly turned a deep green. “Will you teach me the protection spell?”

 

There was no emotion in his voice, no obvious concern, nor greed for knowledge, but Hermione could feel a shift in his magic, a tension that she hadn’t felt before, even when the skrewt was rushing toward them. Tom would never admit to fear, and she wasn’t about to press the issue, but Hermione was positive that was why he wanted to know, and she didn’t see how she could refuse him. It wasn’t remotely dark magic, and not terribly advanced, especially for someone like Tom.

 

“Yes, I’ll show you, though you’ll need to have something to block to know whether or not your shield is effective, so I’ll have to throw a mild jinx your way.” Hermione hid a grin. She was about to jinx Tom Riddle, and she couldn’t lie – she was a bit thrilled.

 

Tom raised an eyebrow. “A mild jinx? I don’t suppose your parents taught you that. Have you spent every waking hour since you could read learning spells for future use?”

 

            Hermione did smile at that. “Stand and face me,” she instructed. “I’m going to use a jelly-legs jinx – if it hits you, it will make your legs go limp and you’ll fall down. I haven’t tried it out before, so if it works, it will be fairly weak and fade quickly. When I cast, you will try to perform the shield spell in time to stop my spell from connecting with you. This is actually like a duel, but we aren’t being formal.”

 

            “A duel? We haven’t used those since the 1800s,” Tom shook his head. “For having magic, wizards can be rather old-fashioned.”

 

            “True,” Hermione said. “It’s even customary to bow to your opponent.”

 

            Tom immediately gave her an exaggerated bow, and she laughed. She showed him the wand motion and repeated the proper pronunciation. Then, they both cleared their expressions, staring silently at one another for a few seconds before Hermione quickly struck, raising her wand and yelling the spell simultaneously. He raised his wand and performed the spell perfectly, but a fraction too late. His legs wobbled under him. Annoyed, he copied her spell, sending the jinx back her way, but her shield was up instantly.

 

            “Give it a minute, and we’ll try again,” Hermione offered, knowing he wouldn’t be satisfied until he could block her spells. She was moving at less than half her average casting speed, and only a quarter of her force, but she was still impressed. Tom had owned a wand for less than a week, and he was performing spells accurately and forcefully and far beyond the normal capabilities for his age.

 

            Tom was hit three more times before he successfully blocked her. It was a good thing he got faster, she thought, because he was looking rather angry by the final attempt. His protego was solid and strong, and she was happy to put an end to the dueling. Tom would be formidable very soon, she knew. He wouldn’t stop until he could perform at a level he found acceptable.

 

            Hermione gathered the flowers, and watched Tom throw a jelly-legs jinx at a daisy stalk, which immediately fell sideways.   “Feeling better?” she asked.

 

            He didn’t quite scowl at her, but it was close. “I don’t like feeling at a disadvantage,” he finally said, his voice low.

 

            She knew exactly how it important it was that Tom was admitting this to her, and she thought carefully about her response. “You aren’t at a disadvantage, Tom. How could you be? You are incredibly intelligent. The magic you have is the strongest I’ve ever felt – and I don’t believe that’s because we’re soul mates. In the past few weeks, you’ve mostly seen magic performed by adults, and you can’t compare yourself to them. There’s a reason why school lasts seven years – magic, for all the people seem to be born with it, is not easy to focus or control.”

 

            “You know more than I do,” Tom accused. “How is that not a disadvantage?”

 

            “Because knowledge alone won’t help you. Someone can know the words and wand movements of a spell and still struggle with casting it,” Hermione answered. “And I will share my knowledge with you, Tom.”

 

            He looked up at her, his blue eyes staring at her intently. “Will you?”

 

            “Of course,” Hermione nodded, standing with the handful of colorful flowers.

           

            Tom came closer, put his hand over hers, crushing a few of the daisies. “You promise? Do you swear that you will never lie to me or keep things from me?”

 

            Sensing abandonment issues several miles wide, as well as many potential danger zones, Hermione nodded again. “Tom, we are soul mates. Our magic is bound. What good would it serve me to try to be separate from you?”

 

            “You didn’t tell me you were scared about choosing a wand,” he insisted, his hand warm on hers. “And I know there is more to the story about the walnut wand.”

 

            Hermione’s heart raced, and she wondered if he could feel her pulse through her fingers. Why did he have to be so clever? His brilliance forced her to lie to him even more.

 

            “Was your father murdered in front of you? Your mother said he died in a battle near Nurmengard. What is the truth? What are you keeping secret?” Tom looked into her eyes, ready to catch any mis-step.

 

            She was being tested, Hermione knew, and much sooner than she had accounted for. Her careful story with Narcissa had been thrown off by the unexpected offer of Bellatrix’s wand and Hermione’s loaded reaction to it. If Tom was this observant and suspicious at eleven, things would only become more complicated. The real eleven year old version of Hermione might have panicked at this moment, because, back then she truly had relied upon book knowledge, but she wasn’t that girl anymore. She wasn’t afraid to think on her feet and adapt her plans to fit the situation.   The future of the magical world, maybe the whole world, depended on her, and she wouldn’t let it down.

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

 

            Tom’s anger was growing by the second. He was annoyed about the jinx, frustrated it had taken him a while to match her speed, but that wasn’t the true problem.   Hermione had a head start in magical studies, but he had not a single doubt he would catch up quickly. What truly bothered him was what she wasn’t saying. As her soul mate, Tom deserved to know her fears and weaknesses; they might affect him, too. And, it was only fair. Hermione had seen him in Wool’s, wearing disgusting hand-me-downs, alone and unwanted. She should share what she was hiding.

 

            With his hand around her wrist, he could feel her magic and her quick pulse. She was scared, nervous, but she looked directly into his eyes. “Well?” he asked, impatient.

 

            “I’ll need my hand,” she replied, no tremor in her voice. He released her and she set down the flowers and gave him her wand.

 

            He took it silently, feeling its magic, which was very different from his own. Hermione unbuttoned the cuff of her shirt. What was she doing?

 

            “I’m going to show you something,” she said. “Something I have not shown anyone except my mother.”

 

            From the placement, he wondered briefly if he would see her magical words – his words, but then discarded the thought. She wouldn’t be upset over his words, and she was very upset.

 

            “After my father died, but before we left France, there was an attack on the village near our home. Mother and I were in town that day, making preparations to leave, and when Grindelwald’s followers arrived, it was chaos,” she was slowly rolling up her sleeve, revealing a wide bandage wrapped around her forearm.

 

            “I was separated from my mother as people dueled in the streets, and I went down an alley to try to find a place to hide. One of Grindelwald’s followers saw me, and came after me. He had seen me with my mother right before the attack, and he knew my father had been a half-blood, and had fought against Grindelwald.   The man said I didn’t deserve magic, that I had dirty blood, because of my father, and he did this.”

 

            She had unwound the bandage, and Tom looked down. The pale, soft skin of her inner arm was almost completely covered by raised, angry cuts that spelled out ‘mudblood’ in jagged, uneven letters.

 

            Tom had probably been angry at least three times a day for as long as he could recall. His anger came easily, and it was warming feeling, a comforting prelude to his plans for revenge on whomever had dared to cross him. Seeing the word on Hermione’s arm was a different feeling entirely. He gripped their wands tightly, both in one hand, to keep from roaring in anger. His magic was rising in him, and he couldn’t stop it.

 

            There was a loud sound, like a cannon, and suddenly, they were surrounded by a cloud of white. It took Tom a few seconds to realize that he’d somehow blasted magic at the daisies, and the petals were falling around them in a silent storm.

 

            “I’m not ashamed,” Hermione said defiantly, tears in her eyes. “But the attack was very painful and frightening, and the memory of a wand like that man’s made everything fresh for a few seconds in Ollivander’s.”

 

            “Who was he? Do you know his name? Is he still alive?” Tom asked, his fingers reaching out and tracing the air above her wounds. Someone had marked his soul mate. It didn’t matter how long it took; if that man were still alive, Tom would find him. And if that man were dead, Tom would find a way to bring him back to life so that he could kill him.

 

            Hermione shook her head, her hair wild around her face, white petals caught in the curls. “No, we don’t know who he was, but none of Grindelwald’s men died during the attack, so he probably is out there, somewhere.”

 

            “Why hasn’t your mother healed it properly?” Tom’s gaze was drawn to the cuts again, wanting to memorize every injury so that someone could account for it later. “It looks so red; is it infected?”

 

            “No, it’s not infected in the muggle way, but the knife he used was cursed. The wounds are full of dark magic, and they’ve resisted all the attempts to heal them so far. Mother is working on a new salve.” She began to fumble with the loose bandage.

 

            “Stop,” Tom ordered. He handed her the wands, and slowly pulled her arm out straight. Carefully, he rewrapped the bandage. “Is that too tight?”

 

            Hermione shook her head, looking like she would cry.

 

            Tom rolled down her sleeve and buttoned the cuff. “Does it hurt?”

 

            “Always,” Hermione said simply, one tear finally escaping down her cheek. She took a deep breath and straightened, wiping her face. “But I won’t give any of those prejudiced bastards the satisfaction of knowing that.”

 

            He regarded her, unsure of what to say. He was so very angry still, but also proud – proud of her strength.

 

            She held out his wand, and he took it. “I didn’t mean to make you feel like you weren’t a worthy confidant,” she said. “It is just painful and it makes me feel very vulnerable.”

 

            “You don’t need to feel that way,” Tom brushed a petal from her hair. “I’ve told you twice already that I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

 

            She smiled at him, and he was relieved. Her magic was relaxing, going back to a happier state. “It’s a two-way street, Tom. I won’t let anyone hurt you, either, and I will always keep you from having any disadvantage.”

 

            “How will you do that?” He raised an eyebrow.

 

Her expression was playful now. “Haven’t I already been teaching you? I bet no one else begins first year knowing what we do.”

 

Tom grabbed her free hand and squeezed it. “Let’s go to the library and continue to make sure they will never catch up.”

 

 

-oOo0oOo-

           

 

            Narcissa was thoroughly enjoying herself. Other eyes might glaze over at the prospect of making the same potions and ointments in batches of one hundred or folding and magically sterilizing dozens of bandages and linens, but Narcissa found the repetitive actions peaceful. Madam Selwyn apparently felt the same way, because though they occasionally shared a story or discussed a work-related topic, they mostly worked in a peaceful quiet.

 

            When Narcissa commented on the peaceful atmosphere, Electra laughed. “Oh, it won’t be this way much longer. Mark my words, on our first night, we’ll have at least five crying first years, a few second or third year girls having their first menstruation, six or seven assorted headaches, ten to fifteen stomach aches from eating too much at the welcoming feast, and a small group of fifth through seventh years who want to ask about contraceptive potions but who are too shy to say the actual words.”

 

            Laughing, Narcissa began to ladle the aforementioned calming draught into several individual dose sized flasks. “That’s quite a list for a first day.”

 

            “The first two weeks are the worst, then things quiet down until Quidditch practices begin. Then, in December, Professor Merrythought begins the dueling club, and things get horrible all over again.” Electra griped, a sour expression on her face.

 

            “Did I hear my name?” A voice called from the door, and Narcissa glanced up to see a woman walking into the small lab that was exclusively devoted to the Hospital Wing.

 

            Professor Galatea Merrythought was dressed in muggle men’s clothing from head to toe, and it suited her immensely. She was a tall woman, with a boyish figure, wide shoulders, narrow hips, and no bust to speak of. Her top half was covered in a tailored tweed suit jacket with matching waistcoat, crisp white shirt, and a burgundy ascot at her throat, while her bottom half was clad in form-fitting trousers that disappeared into brown leather boots polished to a shiny gleam. She was tapping her wand against her side as if it were a riding crop. Narcissa wondered idly if that were safe, but surely the DADA professor would know.

 

            Electra’s facial expression did not improve at the sight of her colleague. “Ah, Professor Merrythought, how good to see you.”

 

            The Head of Ravenclaw House simply grinned at her, despite the implication that Electra was not at all pleased. “And you, Madam Selwyn, as always.”

 

            “Can I assist you?” Electra pursed her lips. “Lady Bonneau and I are very busy with preparations for Monday, so…” she trailed off.

 

            “Actually, I came to introduce myself to Lady Bonneau,” Galatea stepped across the room and came to stand directly in front of Narcissa. She held out her hand across the cooling cauldron of calming draught.

 

            Up close, Narcissa could see that Galatea Merrythought was about ten or fifteen years older than she was, strong-featured, with large, wide-set hazel eyes, a long nose, and a wide mouth that was a bit crooked when she smiled. Her auburn hair was cropped closely at the nape of her neck, leaving only short curls to cluster around her face. Her eyes and mouth had the beginnings of laugh lines. She was not beautiful, but she was very alive, and her vitality was attractive. Narcissa wanted to know this woman.

 

            She put down the ladle and flask and wiped her hands on her apron, then extended her arm to shake the professor’s hand. Narcissa noticed a shift in her magic, like a log falling in a fire and sending up a shower of sparks.   Then, their hands were touching, and Narcissa nearly cried out. This woman’s magic was flowing up her arm, caressing her own magic and that could only mean…

 

            Galatea recovered first. “I simply had to meet the woman our old codger of a Headmaster refers to as a ‘lovely lady’. I didn’t realize you were actually an aristocrat.”

 

            “Only by marriage,” Narcissa replied automatically, her pulse pounding.

 

            The professor’s smile wilted. “Oh? You are married?”

 

            “Widowed,” she corrected.

 

            Galatea’s smile was there again, though more subtle this time. “That’s g-….I mean, I’m very sorry for your loss.”

 

            Electra was watching the two with a confused expression on her face. “Well, Professor, you’ve met her now, and we still have work to do,” she gave a hard smile. “I’m sure you do, too.”

 

            Shrugging off her jacket, Galatea shook her head. “No, I haven’t a thing to do. I suppose in the spirit of camaraderie, I’ll have to stay and help you bottle medicines.”

 

            “Fine,” Electra managed to bite out, her annoyance clear as day. “You can sterilize the flasks in the cabinet for Lady Bonneau. I need to go speak to Professor Beery about the weeping cherry bark he promised me for the headache tonic.” The matron was gone with a swish of her long, full skirts, her heels clicking sharply against the stone floor.

 

            “Electra doesn’t like me,” Galatea sighed, opening the cabinet to the left of Narcissa and using her wand to float the bottles out onto an open counter space.

 

            “That much is obvious,” Narcissa replied, still trying to calm herself. Perhaps she should take a sip from the ladle? “Why doesn’t she like you?”

 

            “Oh, a dozen reasons,” Galatea replied cheerfully, as if discussing a thoroughly pleasant topic. “She thinks I’m too rough with the students, she thinks I’m too blunt, she thinks I encourage Silvanus to do stupid things, she thinks I’m too wild, and, even though she won’t ever admit it out loud, she thinks muggleborns shouldn’t be professors.”

 

            “Really?” Narcissa had wondered how soon discussions of blood status would find her at Hogwarts. “Electra doesn’t seem-”

 

            “You’re pureblood, aren’t you?” Galatea interrupted, her brows knitting.

 

            “Yes, though I don’t see,” Narcissa had never had to defend her blood status, and Galatea’s tone had turned a bit less friendly.

 

            Galatea interrupted her again. “Oh, it has a lot to do with the situation. You know what just happened as well as I do. I’m muggleborn, and I know, so I’ve no doubt you’re aware.”

 

            Narcissa didn’t trust herself to speak, so she simply nodded.

 

            “So, we are soul mates, and I don’t know if we could be more different,” Galatea sighed and waved her wand over the flasks. “I mean, you are beautiful. Very, very, very beautiful, but how would this even work?”

 

            Narcissa flushed as she spooned out the potion. She wanted to turn around and hold the other woman’s hand again, but Narcissa Black Malfoy was nothing if not disciplined. “I’ve no idea. I never thought I would meet my soul mate.”

 

            Galatea gave a harsh laugh. “No, the purebloods don’t give their daughters much choice when it comes to marriage. How old were you when you were married off?

 

            “I was eighteen,” she replied, “but I went willingly, I had a loving marriage, and I wouldn’t trade my daughter for anything.” Draco’s face flashed through her mind, but she pushed it away.

 

            Turning, she faced the older woman with her chin lifted proudly. “I do not apologize for my blood status, nor do I expect you to.”

 

            “You are such a surprise,” Galatea murmured, stepping so close that Narcissa could smell a hint of cedarwood and clove on the professor’s clothing.

 

            “So are you,” Narcissa answered honestly, barely breathing. Everything was too close, too intense. She had too much to do to deal with a soul mate. Hermione and Tom were her priorities. She would not be swept away by some strange combination of magic and lust. Because there was definitely attraction. Narcissa had never touched another woman romantically, but she wanted to run her hands all over Galatea.

 

            Galatea chose that moment to prove her blunt and wild nature by leaning down the four-inch difference in their heights and pressing her lips to Narcissa’s. Galatea’s lips were warm and smooth and dry, and Narcissa sighed into her mouth, her own lips opening slightly, their breath mingling. They stayed that way for a long moment, sharing a rather chaste kiss, until Galatea finally ran her tongue over Narcissa’s lower lip, and then they were kissing in earnest, their arms wrapped around one another’s waist, their tongues, teeth, and lips out of control.

 

            Narcissa couldn’t think. She hadn’t kissed anyone in her life except Lucius. He had been a very good kisser, and a passionate lover. She wouldn’t have imagined she could experience a better kiss, but Galatea was. The kiss wasn’t simply passionate, it was engulfing, and that made it dangerous.

 

            With a deep breath and a gathering of will, Narcissa pushed away and straightened her hair. She turned back to her task, pouring the potion with a trembling hand.

 

            “Well,” Galatea’s mouth touching Narcissa’s ear as she spoke softly, “Wasn’t that something? I think we’ll get along just fine after all.”

 

            Narcissa’s knees felt weak, but she locked them and didn’t respond.  

 

            Galatea ran a finger down the back of Narcissa’s dress, tracing the line of her spine. It felt like fire, like Galatea was touching her naked body in a much more intimate place than her spine. “Can we have dinner in my quarters? I would very much like to talk to you in a more private setting about all of this.”

 

            Narcissa waved her wand and levitated the flasks, stepping toward the cabinet on the other side of the room. She needed space. “Yes, we can have dinner, but not tonight. My daughter and my ward are staying with me until the school year officially begins, and I need to be with them.”

 

            “Fine,” Galatea’s tone was exaggeratedly gracious. “What about Monday night?”

 

            “Electra said that the first night of the term is very busy here,” Narcissa didn’t look at the other woman while she finished putting the bottles away and returned to clean out the cauldron with a few strong spells to avoid cross-contamination with any other medicines. “She’ll probably need me.”

 

            Galatea was close again, and with a swift, non-verbal spell, she had cleaned the cauldron to a spotless state. Narcissa stared down at it, but Galatea gently tipped up her chin. “I’m pretty sure we need each other – that’s what the whole soul mate bond is about – strengthening and complimenting one another. How about Tuesday?”

 

            “Tuesday will be fine, though if I have to work, you must understand,” Narcissa finally answered, her jaw tingling from where Galatea’s fingers had caressed the skin there.

 

            “Excellent! It’s a date,” she grinned, a wide, infectious, lopsided smile that had Narcissa’s mouth twitching at the corners. Galatea leaned down and dropped a brief kiss on the corner of Narcissa’s tiny smile. “That’s my girl. I’d better head over to my office before we scandalize Electra by making mad, passionate love in the Hospital Wing potion lab.”

 

            Narcissa had no reply to that, but she couldn’t stop herself from sighing softly as Galatea grabbed her jacket, threw a wink at her over her shoulder and left whistling a jaunty tune, her slim hips swaying slightly. Once she was out of sight, Narcissa groaned and gently beat her head against the closest medicine cabinet. How in the world was she going to deal with this? Galatea Merrythought was a complication that she didn’t need, but that she couldn’t deny she wanted

Chapter Text

         

 

          Hogwarts by night was stunning, and even Tom Riddle could see its beauty. Narcissa had brought them to the Hogwarts train station just as the children were disembarking so that he and Hermione could take the traditional first year boat ride across the lake.   Though Tom didn’t care about tradition, Hermione had seemed excited, and now that he saw the outline of the castle, with its thousands of glowing lights, silhouetted against the starry sky, Tom appreciated the grandeur, and was pleased to be part of it.

 

            Thankfully, the incessant chattering at the train station had died away on the lake, and when they disembarked and walked up to the school, the other children were mostly silent, staring with wide eyes at the building looming over them. Tom and Hermione had been standing side by side, but then the prefects were greeted by Professor Dumbledore, and they began arranging the students in alphabetical order by last name. She was now far ahead of him, only three students back from the beginning of the line, while he was only five away from the end.

 

            Marguerite Rosier was directly behind him, her mood better than Tom had ever seen over the summer. “Hello, Tom,” she even gave an attempt at a smile. “Are you ready to be sorted into the glorious House of Slytherin?”

 

            Though Tom did not like Marguerite, he was on his best behavior at the moment. He had learned at muggle school that being charming to classmates and teachers was a good policy, and as long as no one crossed him, that was how he would proceed.

 

            “Yes,” he answered simply.

 

            “I’m sure I’ll be Slytherin as well,” a small but firm voice said from behind Marguerite. A boy of roughly Tom’s size and build, stepped into sight, and held out his hand. “I’m Jacob Selwyn.”

 

            Tom shook his hand, because that was the polite thing to do. “Tom Riddle.”

 

            “Oh!” the boy smiled. “You’re the boy who helped my aunt over the summer.”

 

            Tom nodded. It was no stretch to see the family resemblance between Jacob and the matron of the hospital wing, even without the same last names. They both had pale skin, dark hair and dark eyes, and pointed chins. Aware that he didn’t want to get a reputation as a braggart (because Tom earned all his praise), he added, “It really was my guardian, Lady Bonneau, who did most of the helping. Hermione and I simply got some medicine and brought it back.”

 

            Jacob shook his head. “My aunt wrote to my father that the two of you performed magic in the school, without wands.”

 

            Marguerite was interested now. “What kind of magic did you do?”

 

            “We used accio to summon a ghost for directions,” Tom replied in a bored tone. After several weeks of reading about magic, and this last week of practicing magic with Hermione, their small use of a simple spell back in June didn’t seem terribly impressive to him.

            “Without a wand? Really?” Marguerite’s head tilted and her eyes narrowed in suspicion. “That sounds -”

 

            But Tom was saved from having to show Marguerite just how much he could do without a wand by movement in the line. He turned and followed the students in front of him. They took the most direct route to the Great Hall, and though Tom had seen it several times over the last week when he and the Bonneau ladies ate informal meals with whichever staff members showed up, the room looked much different now.

 

            The enchanted ceiling was free of any clouds, and studded with twinkling stars. Giant candelabras floated over the tables, providing soft yet adequate light. The four tables, so empty over the summer, were filled with students and the air was filled with the hum of multiple conversations. The students quieted as the first-years filed in to the center of the room, in the space between the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw tables. Looking to the end of the room, Tom saw the staff table, where Narcissa was seated beside another woman who put him in the mind of the photographs in the papers of that American aviatrix who had vanished at sea trying to fly across the world.

 

            Narcissa smiled at him, and he returned her smile. The other woman whispered something to her and Narcissa looked down. Who was that woman? She seemed awfully familiar with his guardian. He refused to fidget, because that was something children did, and he was above that, but he was starting to get annoyed. He wanted to get the sorting sorted, have dinner with Hermione, and see the Slytherin dormitories, which had been impossible to explore without a password.

 

            Headmaster Dippet stood, wobbled slightly, then raised his wand to his throat. His voice rang throughout the room. “Good evening Hogwarts students and staff, and welcome to another year of study. We will begin the sorting shortly, but first a few announcements. As an addition to our staff, Madam Selwyn has taken a new assistant in the Hospital Wing, the Lady Bonneau, and will be better equipped to handle the various and sundry student maladies. Regarding safety concerns, due to last year’s end-of-term herbology prank by the graduating Hufflepuff students, the third floor corridor is now off-limits, and Professor Beery will be enlisting sixth and seventh year herbology honor students to help come up with a solution for moving the seedpods. Mr. Pringle has asked me to remind all students that fleeing from Professor Kettleburn’s class, while understandable, is not an excuse to enter the Forbidden Forest, and if students are found there for any reason, they will receive detention. We have a rather large in-coming group of first years, so that will do for now. Individual House Heads and prefects will provide any house-specific information after dinner.”

 

            He nodded at Professor Dumbledore and collapsed into his chair. The Transfiguration professor stood, brandishing his wand and neatly summoning a wooden stool to the center of the room, followed by a ragged, black conical hat. Tom stared. It was the opposite of what he had expected – it was shoddy and patched, and looked like a parody of magic, not a powerful, enchanted object.

 

            The hat moved on its own, something like a stretch, and began to speak, telling the tale of Hogwarts and its founders. Tom stifled a yawn. He had read all of this, with far less annoying drama and cutesy rhyme, in Hogwarts: A History.   Finally, there was a pause, applause by the students, and Professor Dumbledore called out, “Abbott, Tabitha.”

           

            The first student approached, a nervous girl who seemed to disappear in her robes when she sat down. Dumbledore placed the hat on her head, though it barely touched her before shouting, “Hufflepuff!”

 

            The table furthest to the left clapped and shouted their approval, and the girl almost ran to their table, clearly not comfortable being the center of attention, even for so short an amount of time.

 

            “Barnes, Richard,” Dumbledore consulted the list which floated beside him, trailing down the floor and to the edge of the platform.

 

            A short boy stepped forward with a grim face. Tom rolled his eyes. What were they all so scared of? The hat wasn’t going to eat them, though that would perhaps be more amusing.

 

            The hat took a bit longer with Barnes, but still, the total time was under ten seconds. “Gryffindor!”

 

            Dumbledore didn’t look at his list this time. He smiled at the next student directly.   “Bonneau, Hermione.”

 

            Tom straightened, watching Hermione. She was at least thirty feet away, but she was nervous, he knew. He reminded himself that Hermione was different than he was, that she felt things, and given the reactions of the rest of the students in line, being nervous seemed rather common.

 

            The hat fell almost down to her nose, obscuring the top part of her face. It sat there, and was silent. Several seconds passed. Then, the seconds became a full minute. Then another minute, and another.

 

            A nearby older student sitting at the Ravenclaw table pulled a watch from her pocket, and quietly said, “I think she’s going to be a hatstall. I wonder which houses are being deliberated.”

 

            The student beside her glanced at the watch face. “It has to be at least five minutes to be a true hatstall.”

 

           “Well, she’s at four minutes now – I’ve never seen that.”

 

            Tom fumed, turning his gaze back to Hermione, who was biting her lower lip quite aggressively, her teeth turning the skin around her mouth white. He hoped that hat had enough sense to put Hermione where she belonged, or he’d set the bloody thing on fire.

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

            Have we met before? The hat asked as soon as it slid onto Hermione’s head.

 

            She groaned and whispered, “Put me in Slytherin, please, and let’s get this over with.”

 

            Oh, you are cunning, no doubt, the hat replied. And willing to lie and manipulate to serve your purpose. Slytherin House will embrace those qualities.

 

            Hermione wanted to protest, but it was the truth.

 

            But you are also clever, very clever. A lover of books and learning for simply the joy of expanding your mind. You would live in the library if you could, and write term papers for fun. That is Ravenclaw through and through.

 

            Well, at least it hadn’t suggested Gryffindor, she thought.

 

            Speaking of Gryffindor, the hat echoed cheerfully in her head, I can’t see what you’ve done exactly, but I know it was brave. Brave beyond compare – brave like Godric was.

 

            “Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Hermione hissed. “I asked for Slytherin!”

 

            The hat ignored her, making a humming sound. There is magic in you that is yours, but not yours. It is soul mate magic, and it is stronger than I have felt in centuries. Do you bear words?

 

            Hermione nodded, the hat slipping a little further past her nose. She wanted to yank it off; it was hot and stuffy, but the hat was a powerful object, and if it knew something about her bond with Tom, she wanted to hear it.

 

            A few seconds passed, and the hat spoke slowly, as if putting together the pieces of a puzzle with its mind. You are such a case! You’ve made a habit of meddling with time, and journeyed to the past to meet your soul mate.

 

            “It wasn’t to meet him!” she whispered angrily. “That just happened!”

 

            Fate doesn’t allow anything to ‘just happen’, the hat sounded like it was smirking. Your actions will be critical to the future of the wizarding world.

 

            Hermione huffed. “I know that.”

 

            You know so much, yet so little, the hat said in its usual cryptic fashion. You want to hate and love your soul mate at the same time. You want to save him and destroy him all in one breath. You are too strong to have your personality subsumed to another’s. Best to give you some space to breathe, to grow, to become the woman he won’t be able to live without.

 

            “Please,” Hermione begged, her voice a low prayer. “I need to be in Slytherin.”

 

            Your nest doesn’t need two snakes, and a magical pairing like yours must have balance. It would be a shame to come all this way to save the world, then throw it all away to be a slave to a tyrant’s whims. You can’t save him by becoming like him. Don’t be afraid to challenge him; your bond will hold, and not only hold, but grow stronger.

 

            “Ravenclaw!” The hat yelled, triumph in its voice, and the Ravenclaw table cheered loudly.

 

            Hermione brushed curls out of her face as the hat was lifted off. Professor Dumbledore was smiling broadly at her, the familiar twinkle in his eyes.

 

            “I did predict just this, Miss Bonneau,” he laughed, but caught sight of her miserable expression and sobered. “It is for the best. Even soul mates need some distance, especially when they’ve found one another so young.”

 

            She cast a glance back at the staff table, trying to send an apologetic look to her mother, but Narcissa didn’t look angry, only thoughtful. When she turned back and began to walk toward the Ravenclaw table, she tried to avoid meeting Tom’s gaze, but the impulse was magnetic.

 

            His expression was blank, which she knew meant he was hiding extreme anger. She thought about the hat’s words, and how she and Narcissa had been treating Tom so carefully, trying to keep him pleased and non-lethal. The hat was right. Saving him, keeping him from becoming a vicious, Pureblood supremacist – that wouldn’t happen by letting him have everything he wanted. She had told him a few days ago that their bond would never break, and now she had to believe in her own words. Tom Riddle was furious with her, but she wasn’t going to allow herself to care.

 

            She gave him a broad smile, which merited a look of surprise, then of barely contained fury. Hermione turned, breaking the contact, and sat at the place made for her at the Ravenclaw table.

 

            When she looked across the table, she almost gasped. A girl around her age sat absently twirling her long, straight, white-blonde hair and staring at Hermione with wide blue eyes that seemed to look right through her. She was most definitely a grandmother or great-grandmother of Luna Lovegood.

 

            “Does that boy want to harm you?” she asked, her voice just as dreamy and slow as Luna’s had been.

 

            In Hermione’s time, she had found Luna illogical and often annoying, wondering frequently how the girl was sorted into Ravenclaw. Now, though, Hermione found the mannerisms comforting and endearing, a little piece of her time that she could embrace.

 

            “Oh, I’m sure he’s contemplating it,” Hermione answered evenly. “But he won’t. What’s your name?”

 

            “Patience Foster,” she replied. “Bonneau is a French name. Did you flee France? There’s terrible fighting there at present.”

 

            “Patience!” The girl of around fourteen who sat beside Hermione admonished sharply. She had light brown hair pulled back in braids so severe they raised the skin at her temples. Her glasses, which were curved like cat’s eyes, were thick and sturdy, fastened with a beaded chain around her neck. Honestly, she looked like a younger version of Madam Pince. “You are being quite rude!”

 

            Patience looked blankly at the other girl. “Irma, I’m only asking the questions everyone wants to know. That is a service. If Hermione doesn’t wish to answer, she will say so.”

 

            She was Madam Pince! Hermione smoothed her robe, and tried to keep her face from showing her shock. She wondered if the girl was as nasty now as she would be as a librarian.

 

            “I don’t mind,” Hermione said quickly. “These are facts, and people will learn them eventually. I have nothing to hide, but I would like to watch the rest of the sorting.”

 

            “Yes, we need to see what your cousin is going to do to the sorting hat,” Patience nodded sagely. “I predict violence.”

 

            Irma made a sound that was somewhere between a scoff and a cluck.

 

           “You have no idea,” Hermione sighed at Patience, turning to watch the students behind her.

Chapter Text

 

 

          Tom watched Hermione smile at him, then turn and sit at the table full of cheering Ravenclaws. Her back was to him now, and her hair made a wide halo around her head and shoulders, the curls crackling with magical energy. The students around her were talking to her, congratulating her.

 

          As the line move forward, Tom felt her excitement and nervousness. He was certain she could feel his anger, even though he knew his face was perfectly calm. Before this soul mate magic, he had never had to worry about anyone knowing something about him that he didn’t want them to know. Tom liked to keep his things close, especially the things he valued most. Hermione was the most valuable, and now she was going to be out of his reach for most of the time for the next seven years.

 

          He had read several books on the school system to make sure he knew how the school worked – the organization, the customs, the course of study. In those books, there had been many references to the house system, and how deep house loyalties ran in students, often for the rest of their lives.   Tom knew that he would have some classes with her, and free time to study in the library together, as well as the weekends, but he had grown accustomed to the last two months of having her constantly at his side from the time he went down to breakfast to the time he went to bed. That arrangement had pleased him, and he was very upset that it had come to an end.

 

         When the line had moved enough that Tom was beside where Hermione was sitting, he subtly shifted and leaned toward her. Before he could say or do anything, she spun in her seat and faced him.

 

         “I did ask for Slytherin, Tom,” she whispered. “But the hat said I belong here, and I won’t lie – I’m happy. I told you how I felt about the pureblood prejudice there.”

 

          Tom stared at her with cold, angry eyes. Having possessions that thought for themselves and talked back was a headache, he decided. The line started to move forward, and Tom spoke, not realizing he had hissed in parseltongue until he saw the confusion on Hermione’s face.

 

          He straightened and moved forward without translating, ignoring her hurt expression, though he could feel disappointment tinged with sadness at the edges of where her magic met his.   They had been within a few feet of one another for most of the summer, and he wondered how well he would be able to feel her magic when he was in the dungeon dormitories and she was in an airy tower.

 

          “Tom!” Marguerite was speaking to him, her voice low but excited. “Tom!”

 

          Annoyed, Tom turned a bit sideways in the line, but not enough to draw attention to himself. “Yes?”

 

          Marguerite moved closer, and Tom’s angry magic flared, sending out a small shock that hit Marguerite’s shoulder. Her hand flew up, rubbing at the spot, but she made no sound. Pureblooded children did not often cry out when reprimanded, and Marguerite knew a reprimand when she received one. Tom’s obvious skill, combined with what she had just heard, was forcing her to re-evaluate her opinions on Tom Riddle.

 

          She kept the space clear between them now, but asked quietly, “Are you a Parselmouth?”

 

          Tom gave her a disdainful stare. “Obviously.”

 

           Jacob Selwyn nudged closer to Marguerite, staring openly at Tom over her shoulder. “That’s a very rare talent!” he whispered. “You’ll be in Slytherin for sure – Salazar himself was a Parselmouth!”

 

           “I know,” Tom replied, turning to keep pace with the line’s movement. Though he would have preferred Hermione’s company and praise, the way Marguerite had cowed before him, and the amazement in Jacob’s eyes was improving his mood.   The sorting was proceeding at a very fast rate now, the hat shouting pronouncements, the tables cheering. Having seen several other students sorted, the children were approaching the stool more confidently, and it was almost Tom’s turn.

 

            He watched the hat, and as it moved and spoke amid rips and patches, his anger rose again. What right did a piece of talking fabric have to separate him from his soul mate? He needed her. Tom stopped, frozen for a second. Had he just thought that he needed her? That was impossible and unacceptable. He didn’t need anyone. Maybe distance was not a bad idea, after all, if he was growing weak and attached.

 

            “Riddle, Tom.” Dumbledore called, and Tom strode forward with no hesitation. Dumbledore set the hat down, and though it stayed on the crown of his head, Tom could hear the hat speak, inside his mind.

 

              Well, well, the other half of the pair! There’s no doubt where you belong, is there?

 

             “Slytherin,” Tom said with satisfaction, then added accusingly, “Why did you take her away from me?”

 

             Your little sphinx is part lion, part bird, and all independence. If you want to possess the heart of a wild creature, you must set it free occasionally. You don’t keep your snake in a cage, and you can’t cage her, either. Heed my words, Tom Riddle, your soul mate will require a careful touch if you don’t want to end up like Merlin and Morgana and Salazar and Godric.

 

             Before Tom could ask about those last words, the hat shouted “Slytherin!” and a loud clapping and a few whistles came from the far right of the room. Tom walked over, enjoying the applause (the first he’d had in his life) and pondering the hat’s words. It was true he would never cage Damballa, other than short times of transportation. Damballa needed freedom to wander and hunt. The same went for Jeeves, the name he had bestowed on the family bird. Last year he had read a battered Wodehouse novel he’d found in the school library, and he rather liked the extremely competent, almost omniscient butler. Jeeves was free to fly in the rookery, and placing such a grand bird in a cage was not something Tom would do.

 

            He remembered his first impression of Hermione, of the hint of the wild, deep woods about her magical core. Then, he thought of the times her magic had flared: when they had needed to find the medicine; when she had been faced with the walnut wand; and when they had been charged by Kettleburn’s creature. Her defensive, protective magic was very strong, like an animal who was afraid of being wounded. Tom felt a flash of rage as he thought of the wounds she already had. He swallowed his anger for the moment. Let it not be said that Tom Riddle couldn’t adapt to new knowledge. Hermione needed to be approached like a wild creature? Fine.   Tom was excellent with taming and controlling animals. He would slip a silken leash over her neck and keep it long enough that she wouldn’t even notice before it was too late.

 

           The Slytherin table was full, but the students toward the closest end had moved to make a place for all the first years to sit. There were several students Tom recognized from the boat ride and the line, and Thaddeus was also there. Tom sat beside him.

 

            “Excellent, Tom!” Thaddeus smiled. “I knew you’d end up here!”

 

            “Slytherin!” The hat called again, and Tom clapped with the rest of his new house as Marguerite came over. There was barely ten seconds pause before the hat shouted, “Slytherin!” for the third time in a row and Jacob bounded toward them, looking extremely pleased with himself.

 

            Marguerite came to stand beside Tom and asked quietly, “May I sit?”

 

            Tom found he rather enjoyed her appropriate deference. He shrugged as if he didn’t care and turned back to the table, where he caught the eye of a larger boy who was looking at him.

 

            The boy, maybe a third or fourth year, with a solid build nodded at him with an arrogant expression. “So, you’re Thad’s cousin? A half-blooded Gaunt? I thought they were all in prison.”

 

            His wand was burning in his pocket, heating along his thigh, but Tom knew pulling it out and hexing this Neanderthal would be a bad idea. At the moment. “I don’t have anything to do with my Gaunt relatives,” Tom replied coolly. “And my blood status has nothing to do with my abilities.”

 

            Immediately, silence fell around him. All the students within earshot of Tom’s statement stared at him. He felt his magic rising, anger causing it to crackle. Marguerite moved a few inches away, as did Thaddeus.

 

            The boy laughed at him. “See? Even your Rosier cousins know that’s not true; they don’t even want to touch your dirty blood.”

 

            “Thad and I moved because his magic is going to strike, you idiot,” Marguerite hissed like an angry snake. Tom was honestly surprised the girl wasn’t a Parselmouth.

 

            Jacob nodded in wary agreement. “He’s a Parselmouth, and he can do wandless magic.”

 

            With any angry glare at Jacob and Marguerite, the boy continued. “Listen, I don’t need a lecture from snot-nosed first-years, and I’m not afraid of anyone, especially a little half-blood whose Pureblood relatives are insane old bastards rotting in Azkaban for getting caught giving muggles what they deserve.”

 

            Tom’s eyes narrowed, and the boy began to quietly choke. The rest of the table watched, silent, and Tom smiled broadly. He rather liked the way Slytherin House seemed to deal with its problems without alerting any adults. These were not the tattle-tales of Wool’s. The choking continued, and the boy’s face turned an angry red.

 

            “Tom,” Marguerite said, her voice low, not a warning, but something close to a polite suggestion.

 

            He released his magic, pulling it back to himself, and it embraced him in a euphoric cloud. Few things pleased him more than punishing idiots who had earned his wrath. The boy staggered to his feet and took a seat at the other end of the table without a word.  

           

            “What is his name?” Tom asked.

 

            Another older boy, with dark Slavic features, turned his black eyes toward Tom. “That was Jack Mulciber, and, as you saw, he isn’t smart enough to recognize when strong magic is present. I’m Antonin Dolohov.”

 

            “And you are smart enough to recognize strong magic?” Tom stared directly back at Antonin.

 

            “I am,” Dolohov nodded. “I’m also powerful enough to defend myself, and I think I should warn you that most Slytherins believe that blood status means something. If you want to attack everyone in your own house, you’ll find yourself in a bad position. You might be strong, but you’re still only a first-year, and you don’t know even a quarter of the spells the rest of us do.” His tone was matter-of-fact, not accusatory.

 

            Tom’s blue eyes could have been carved from ice. “I don’t need formal spells to do whatever level of damage needs to be done. My magic is instinctual and it obeys me completely. I may be a first year, but imagine what I’ll be doing one month from now. It would be very, very foolish for anyone, no matter his year, to cross me,” he paused and spoke at length in Parseltongue, his low hissing just loud enough to carry down the table. Nearly the entire table stopped what they were doing and watched.

 

            A tall, handsome boy with pale blonde hair, light grey eyes, and very white skin whom Tom had seen on the boat ride, was the first to have the courage to ask, “What did you say?”

 

            Tom smiled at the level of caution and submission in the boy’s voice. “I said that I am descended from Salazar Slytherin himself, in an unbroken line, and it doesn’t matter if my father was a muggle, I will be the most powerful wizard this house has seen since our founder. Anyone who cares to test me will learn this first-hand. Ask Mulciber if my magic felt weak or lesser when it was crushing his throat. Power will trump blood every time.”

 

            No one laughed this time, nor did anyone speak at all. The silence stretched until there was sudden, loud applause from the rest of the room, and food appeared in front of their faces, loading the table. The sorting had ended, and the feast was begun. Subdued, the Slytherins began to fill their plates, gradually relaxing and turning back to regular conversations.

 

            “Abraxas Malfoy,” the blond boy said as he took a roll from a plate.

 

            Tom gave him a nod, inwardly wincing at the strange names these wizarding families insisted on burdening their children with. “Tom Riddle.”

 

            The boy grinned easily, his face almost as handsome as Tom’s own. “Yes, I’m sure all of Slytherin House knows you now.”

 

            Marguerite smirked beside him. “Jack Mulciber certainly knows it.”

 

            Thaddeus added cautiously, “Don’t hurt him too much, Tom. He’s a really good beater. We need him for Quidditch season.”

 

            Deciding that his intimidation had gone well, Tom changed tactics. His experiences at Wool’s had taught him that nothing kept enemies and subordinates more off balance than the ability to switch moods instantaneously. So, Tom laughed, treating Thaddeus’s statement like a joke.

 

            “Don’t worry, Thaddeus, Jack will fine so long as he watches his mouth.”

 

            As expected, the other students looked at each other nervously, unsure how to take Tom’s good mood. Finally, a girl with dark glossy hair, intelligent brown eyes and honey colored skin said, “Vidhi Khatri. I am also half-blood. I am glad to know that at least one person here won’t spit on me for that.” Her words were crisp, spoken with a slight accent.

 

            Tom regarded her solemnly. She had a very serious demeanor, and he could tell she had the potential for magical strength. “To me, magical power is the true test of a witch or wizard, and I’d rather be surrounded with strength than an out-dated belief system.”

 

            Abraxas, Marguerite, and Jacob fidgeted. Dolohov’s mouth was shut firmly, as though he were struggling to keep from saying something he’d regret. Tom decided to throw them a bone. He wanted to rule this house eventually, after all, and he didn’t want to alienate everyone.

 

            “The Pureblood customs have done their work of protecting and maintaining magical society thus far, for which I am grateful,” he said smoothly, his most winning smile firmly in place. “We simply need to be flexible enough to add to our power by allowing those with great potential to have a place in this glorious house.”

 

            “Well, that sounds fine to me,” Thaddeus spoke between mouthfuls of potato. “Slytherin needs more smart people so we can win this year’s House cup. You can earn a lot of points in the classes.”

 

            “Not that you’d know,” Marguerite chided. “You probably only lose points for forgetting your homework or opening your mouth.”

 

            Abraxas winced in sympathy for Thaddeus. “I’m glad my younger sister isn’t here yet. She’d be saying the same things to me.”

 

            Dolohov finally spoke. “It is true that very little can be accomplished without power,” he admitted, his face less tense.

 

            “Just so,” Tom agreed, and turned his attention to the delicious banquet in front of him. It probably was good Hermione wasn’t here. She would have been outraged. He smiled to himself. What Hermione didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.

 

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

            Hermione was thrilled with the conversation at the Ravenclaw table. Everyone was discussing classes, professors, and books they had read over the summer. When she mentioned Durante, two other Ravenclaws had immediately started a discussion with her about the contents.

 

            Of course, everyone had listened to her answers to Patience while trying to pretend they weren’t, but after she had given a brief explanation of how she’d come to leave France, they seemed satisfied, and turned back to talk of studies. Except Patience.

 

            “Tell me about the boy, your cousin,” she said, dipping a finger in her potatoes instead of her fork. “He is very intense.”

 

            Hermione looked over to the Slytherin table where Tom was sitting. She didn’t have a direct line of sight, but she could feel that Tom was angry. This anger wasn’t the same as earlier, though. He was…using magic? Now? She craned her neck. Patience moved to the side, creating a gap.

 

            “Someone’s angry over there,” she said in a sing-song voice.

 

            “What are you talking about?” Irma snapped. “Really, Patience, sometimes I think your brain is stuffed with feathers.”

 

            Turning out Irma’s sharp tone, she tried to hear anything from the Slytherin table, but it was quiet. Oddly quiet. Could he not be away from her for twenty minutes without causing mayhem? His magic heightened, flushed with pleasure, and then dissipated slowly. Whatever he had been doing, he was pleased by it, but he had also stopped.

 

            She forced herself to pay attention to the dinner, but it was hard to concentrate on food and small talk when she was concerned about Tom’s behavior. She chatted lightly with a few other Ravenclaw first years, Josephine Longbottom, and Felicity Fraiser, as well as answered on-going odd questions from Patience about the Chinese zodiac, magical creatures who might or might not live in the South Pole, and the possibility of whether, with a particularly strong Bubble head charm, one might be able to find Atlantis. However, the meal was over before she had eaten much of anything, and her stomach was in knots.

 

            Students were rising and forming lines to head to their dormitories, and Hermione knew the potion was wearing off, because she didn’t feel remotely like an eleven year old. She felt eighty, burdened with responsibility that seemed close to breaking her back.

 

            “Darling?” Narcissa’s calming voice called to her, and she turned to see her mother standing with Madam Selwyn and another tall woman with short red hair and an easy, clearly genuine smile who had to be the head of Hermione’s new house, Professor Merrythought. “Could you come here for a moment?”

 

            Hermione left the line and approached the women. They made an interesting visual composition – short to tall, with contrasting coloring and clothing styles. Madam Selwyn was short, with a rounded figure, rosy cheeks, shiny black hair, and dark eyes. Her clothes were almost an exact copy of what Madam Pomfrey had worn – a floor-length, long-sleeved, high-necked slate blue dress covered mostly by a heavily starched and brilliantly white apron. She could have stepped into any muggle hospital in the 1800s, looking right in place. Narcissa was also wearing a long dress, but hers was a darker, charcoal grey, with only half-sleeves, a closer, more stylish cut and rounded neckline that showed her collarbones. Her apron only started at the waist, and seemed more part of the dress than a protective piece. A few inches taller than Madame Selwyn, with her much paler complexion and hair, Narcissa looked like a fashion designer’s vision of how a nurse should dress.

            Professor Merrythought was altogether different, and Hermione liked her on sight. She was tall and rangy, dressed in the long, black professorial robes, but they were open, falling like a coat around her rather than being her actual outfit. The clothes she wore underneath reminded her of Professor Lupin’s style, except well-cut and brand new. She made Hermione think of the old movies she had used to love to watch with her father – this woman was fiercely intelligent and independent, and not afraid to confront gender roles, like a Katherine Hepburn or Marlene Dietrich.

 

            Merrythought immediately put out her hand. “Miss Bonneau! So glad to have you in my house! Your mother sings your praises.”

 

            Hermione flushed. “I am happy to be a Ravenclaw, Professor Merrythought.”

 

            “Yes, well, we weren’t sure for a bit,” Merrythought laughed. “Once you hit six minutes, I was concerned Dippet was going to have a heart attack. I believe that’s a new record. Did the old hat want to put you in the snakes’ nest like your mother?”

 

            Though her tone was playful, Hermione could tell Merrythought was fishing for answers, wanting to know about any hint of potential deviousness in her house.   “The hat considered every house except Hufflepuff,” Hermione admitted. “The hardest choice was actually between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw.”

 

            Narcissa shook her head at Hermione’s easy confession. “I should have known you’d never be a Slytherin, dear. You’re too willing to share your secrets.”

 

            Madam Selwyn gave Professor Merrythought a decidedly unfriendly look. “The staff, even Heads of Houses, should guard against judging students by their house affiliation.”

 

            Merrythought’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly. “I don’t judge anyone by house affiliation, Electra. I judge them by their words and actions.”

 

            “Darling,” Narcissa spoke, redirecting the conversation. “I called you over to make both Madam Selwyn and Professor Merrythought aware of your special need for a daily potion, and the potential side effects of the cursed wound you are suffering from.”

 

            Hermione and Narcissa had become as close as true mother and daughter this summer, sharing long talks at night, and by virtue of their unique situation as time travelers who were interfering with the past, both were acutely aware that there would be instances when one of them realized the need for a change in plans, and the other would need to play along. “Of course, Mother,” she replied evenly.

 

            The hall was silent now. All the other students and staff had gone, and Narcissa carefully rolled up Hermione’s sleeve and unwrapped her bandage. Both Madam Selwyn and Professor Merrythought gasped.

 

            Gently, Professor Merrythought touched the skin around the cuts, taking out her wand and whispering several rapid spells that Hermione barely caught. The air above her arm glowed red, with dark splotches of black.

 

            “The curse in this wounds is exceedingly dark,” the professor murmured. She glanced up at Hermione with an expression both sympathetic and outraged. “This must pain you greatly.”

 

            Hermione nodded. Madam Selwyn had also drawn her wand, and she gripped Hermione’s arm with a cool soothing touch while performing her own medical diagnostic spells. “What have you tried so far, Narcissa? This probably won’t respond to much in the way of healing, but I’m sure we can figure out some kind of pain relief.”

 

            Narcissa listed the common healing spells she had attempted, as well as the lesser known ones. “The enchanted bandages are helping at the moment, and they lessen the pain, as well as offer a protective barrier against any contact, which intensifies the pain. I wanted both of you to be aware, because the constant, low-level fight Hermione’s magic has with this dark curse can cause her to be withdrawn and affect her mood, especially in the evenings and mornings when she is tired. I have designed a potion that helps to elevate her spirits throughout the day, so that she may have a more normal childhood experience, but, of course, we would welcome any ideas you ladies might have for a more long-term solution.”

 

            Madam Selwyn waved her wand, “Coeo.” The basic healing spell took away a bit of the sting, and then she expertly rewrapped Hermione’s arm with magic, the enchanted bandages strengthened by several additional spells. When she had stepped back, Professor Merrythought circled her wand around Hermione’s arm and tapped the bandages lightly, saying “semper tuens et servans.”

 

            “Always seeing and protecting?” Hermione asked, her Latin as good as ever.

 

            Merrythought smiled at her quick translation. “Just a spell to strengthen the protection offered by the bandages – you should be able to bump your arm in your sleep or be jostled in the hall crowds without pain now.”

 

            “Thank you,” she said to both women. She glanced at the empty hall. “Though, if that’s all, I should probably get to my dormitory.”

 

            Narcissa leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “Good night, darling.” Hermione hugged her in return, comforted by the now familiar smell of expensive marzipan that surrounded Narcissa’s clothing and skin, wishing they could discuss the sorting debacle, but knowing it would have to wait.

 

            “I’ll escort you, Miss Bonneau,” Professor Merrythought offered. “Ravenclaw Tower is quite a ways from here, and the path is not a direct one.”

 

            Hermione nodded gratefully, though she was sure she could have found her way. She didn’t mind company – it would keep her mind from wondering what Tom was doing out of sight in the dungeons.

 

            Professor Merrythought pocketed her wand, gave a civil nod to Madam Selwyn, and openly grinned at Narcissa. “Good night, ladies.”

 

            Watching Narcissa flush like a third year, Hermione wondered what was happening. There was definitely a flirtatious vibe coming from the DADA professor, and it looked like Narcissa was responding. Just when she thought she had things figured out, the past threw another mystery her way.

 

            “Your mother is quite the lady,” Professor Merrythought said as they walked, then laughed. “Literally.”

 

            “She is very special,” Hermione answered, then decided on bluntness. “Are you interested in her romantically?”

 

            Professor Merrythought stopped walking and faced Hermione. Her sharp hazel eyes regarded Hermione for several long seconds. “You sound like a Gryffindor, but observe like a Ravenclaw. And if that hat debated Slytherin at all, then you are triply dangerous. I doubt you miss a thing. I can’t wait to have you in class.”

 

            “That isn’t an answer,” Hermione responded.

 

            “No, it isn’t,” Professor Merrythought resumed walking, at a more brisk pace. “I don’t normally discuss anything remotely personal with students. Since you are Narcissa’s daughter, and since you have had a very trying last six months, I will say that I value your mother’s company, and leave it at that.”

 

            Hermione shook her head. “I can’t leave it at that,” she spoke as her seventeen year old self, ready and willing to defend Narcissa from any possible hurt. “I don’t care the slightest that you are a woman, but my mother has lost nearly everything in the last few months and I won’t allow anyone to hurt her, even unintentionally.”

 

            “Good Lord!” Professor Merrythought stopped again. “I would deposit you with those brash loudmouths of Dumbledore’s for sass if I weren’t so entertained! So many of my Ravenclaws are quiet and introverted – you are going to shake up the nest something fierce.”

 

             She was smiling a broad, crooked smile that was mirrored in her bright eyes. Hermione desperately wanted to trust her – she was so likable. Her face sobered for a moment. “I am muggleborn, Miss Bonneau, and a woman who loves other women. I wouldn’t trade my life here for anything, but this magical existence of mine has come at a cost –the same cost you bear on your arm. If anyone would be hurt out of a relationship between Narcissa and myself, I think we both know who it would be.”

             There was something in the professor’s eyes, a softness around her mouth, whenever she said Narcissa’s name, and Hermione thought of Narcissa’s flush. Narcissa didn’t flush. “Are you soul mates?” Hermione blurted out.

 

             Professor Merrythought threw her arms up in the air in exasperation. “I have no words for you right now, Miss Bonneau.” She continued to walk. “I foresee a year of headaches in store for Ravenclaw House.”

 

              Hermione hurried after her, a grin on her face. “But that’s wonderful! Why aren’t you happier?”

 

              “I’m not discussing this with you, especially in the hallway,” Professor Merrythought continued to practically run down the hall, her long legs taking great strides Hermione had to rush to catch up with.

 

               “My mother needs a soul mate. She loved,” Hermione forced the words out, ignoring a shudder at the thought of Lucius, “my father, but with your help, I think she can heal and be truly happy.”

 

               “Not talking about this,” Professor Merrythought repeated. “And I expect your silence on the matter.”

 

                Now it was Hermione’s turn to stop. “Of course!” she said, mildly offended. “I would never discuss such a matter with others.”

 

               They were going up stairs now, and Professor Merrythought waited on a landing for another staircase to float into place. “You are as much a mystery as your mother. What are they putting in the water over there in France?”

 

               “We only drink wine in France,” Hermione teased.

 

                The professor laughed, a deep, full laugh. “Ah, well if that is the case, I’ll need to be checking your room for contraband every weekend.”

 

                The staircase aligned, and they continued on, the tension between them evaporated. “You really will be a shock to the Ravenclaw system, I expect,” Professor Merrythought said. “Intelligence combined with action is sometimes too much for this house to handle. I know I was a bit misunderstood as a student. Everyone wanted to throw me to the lions.”

 

                Hermione nodded. “Gryffindors are wonderful, but their study skills are atrocious!”

 

                “Now that sounded like a true Ravenclaw!” Professor Merrythought grinned, stopping in front of the entrance to the tower. “And just in time.” She lifted the brass ring of the knocker that was shaped like and eagle.

                 “There are two sisters,” the eagle spoke, “One gives birth to the other, and she, in turn, gives birth to the first. Who are the two sisters?”

 

                  “Day and Night,” Hermione answered promptly, then added, “Or Life and Death, if one considers the life cycle, how decaying plants and animals feed other plants and animals. Really, any endless cycle that is commonly divided into two halves could be reasoned to answer the question.”

 

                  Professor Merrythought smiled. “Excellent! I’m glad to know there’s at least one first-year who won’t be crying outside the tower all day.”

 

                 They entered the common room, where the six prefects were leading a discussion of the rules. Hermione was immediately struck with how quiet and orderly the Ravenclaws were, and understood what Professor Merrythought had said. She hadn’t realized how much being a Gryffindor had shaped her personality until she was in a setting without those qualities.

 

                  Everyone stopped talking as they entered. “Good evening, my fellow Ravenclaws!” Professor Merrythought’s voice carried through the airy tower. “Welcome to our new additions. This is Hermione Bonneau, and she needed to discuss some Latin with me. Apologies for our lateness.”

 

                  At the mention of Latin, most of the students nodded, as if consulting the House Head on a matter of Latin was a perfectly understandable reason for being late. Hermione went over and sat on a long blue velvet sofa beside Patience and Josephine. Professor Merrythought spoke for a few minutes, encouraging students to come to her with any problems, and mentioning weekly Friday evening house meetings that took place right before dinner. Hermione was surprised again. Professor McGonagall had rarely come to the Gryffindor common room, but it seemed that Merrythought was here frequently.

 

                 “I’ll be retiring now, but I’m never far, and Zephora, Tamesine, Nicholas, John, and Alysander are all patient and understanding prefects, and Rachel is our prefect and the Head Girl, so Ravenclaw tower has many sources of wisdom for any questions or concerns. First years, I’ll be seeing you bright and early tomorrow after breakfast for our first Defense Against the Dark Arts class.” She smiled and left the tower.

 

                 The Head Girl stood. Rachel was a short girl with the compact build of a gymnast and skin the color of coffee with only the barest hint of milk. Her dark hair was braided in several rows flat against her scalp, but the multiple strands joined at the nape of her neck and made a single braid that trailed to her waist. “First year girls, follow me. I’ll show you to your rooms.”

 

                 She led them to an arched doorway near the large statue of Rowena Ravenclaw, then up a spiral stone staircase to a circular landing that branched out into several large rooms. Rachel pulled a list out of her pocket. “Bonneau, Foster, Fraiser, and Longbottom, this is your room. There is a bathroom for the four of you to share adjoining your room.”

 

                 The four girls entered, and Hermione saw their trunks were at the ends of the large, four-poster beds that were made of a dark wood and hung with thick sapphire bed curtains, and covered with white and blue comforters. Thick white rugs lay on the floor beside each bed, to give a warm place to step onto in the morning. Each girl’s pajamas had been put across the bed, and matching slippers and robes in dark blue had been placed there as well.

 

                 Hermione was exhausted, her arm throbbed, and she just wanted to sleep. She gathered her things and went to the bathroom, quickly changing into the nightdress, wiping her face and neck, and brushing her teeth. She would get up early and take a long, hot shower, but for now, her new bed was calling.

 

                 When she came back, all three of her roommates were standing in the middle of the room, staring at her bed. Josephine and Felicity looked about to scream, but Patience was smiling that dreamy, vacant grin.

 

                “I think your cousin sent you a message,” she said, pointing to Hermione’s bed.

 

                 Hermione turned, and saw Damballa curled on her pillow. Khethiwe was also there, sprawled over Damballa’s coils. She sighed. “I see.” She went to the bed and gently ran a finger over the snake’s bright green scales.

 

                 “That snake is terrifying,” Felicity shuddered.

 

                  “It’s a constrictor, not poisonous,” Hermione said, thinking logic was the best tactic for a Ravenclaw crowd. “And it is my cousin’s familiar. He wouldn’t hurt a human unless that human tried to hurt him or Tom.”

 

                  “Or you,” Patience added. “Damballa would protect you, too.”

 

                  “Probably,” Hermione nodded.

 

                  Josephine stepped a bit closer. “It is a very beautiful color,” she was clearly trying to be nice. Hermione thought of Neville’s sweetness with a pang of regret.

 

                 Damballa had stretched out, and now she could see that just below his mouth, a small rolled piece of paper had been attached with a thin string. Hermione thought the fact that Tom had sent his familiar to scare the crap out of her roommates was a message in and of itself, but he certainly went for the grand gestures.

 

                She unrolled the parchment. Patience was reading over her shoulder, which Hermione should have found intrusive, but somehow found adorable instead. The other two girls were obviously curious, but not willing to get so close to Damballa.

                In the neat, aggressive script that matched the handwriting on her stomach, was written, I said ‘you are still mine,’ but what I meant was that nothing can separate us. I’ll see you at breakfast. Damballa will make sure no one bothers you. Ever.

 

                Patience read the words out loud and petted Damballa without a care, who allowed it graciously. “He’s a funny boy.”

 

               Josephine shook her head slowly. “I don’t know if I’d call a possessive Parselmouth ‘funny’.”

 

              “It’s a little romantic,” Felicity argued, then glanced at Damballa. “Is he staying the night, or are you sending him back?”

 

              “No romance!” Hermione frowned, getting out a quill and ripping a small piece of parchment. Tom was clearly attempting to switch tactics and be charming again. However, she was wise to him. She penned a quick reply. I agree that different houses will not separate us, but I have my wits and a nearly wild cat to protect me in a tower with three lovely roommates and absolutely no threats. I will be fine, and will see you at breakfast. Good night.

 

              She rolled the parchment, attached it to Damballa’s string and whispered softly to him. “Go back to Tom.” Even though it wasn’t Parseltongue, the snake seemed to understand, because he slithered away at a faster speed than Hermione would have thought possible.

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

            Tom had settled into the surprisingly warm and rather luxurious bedroom in the Slytherin dormitory with ease. The bed was soft and magically warmed, as were the stone floors around the beds hung with emerald green curtains. His room housed three other boys: Abraxas, Jacob, and Corvus Black. All the other boys were purebloods, but they said or did nothing to indicate they had any problem with his status as a half-blood.

             He had heard vague whispers in the common room from older students about him, but he didn’t respond. The display at dinner had been enough for now.

 

            He sent Damballa to Hermione, and wasn’t sure to laugh or scowl when the snake returned before too long. Her note did make him laugh, because he could hear the tone of her voice in her writing, and because the writing itself, which matched the words on his arm, reminded him of their connection.  

 

            A prefect, William Bulstrode, came by a few moments later and gruffly ordered the lights out, and Tom lay in his bed, clutching his wand, thinking he would never fall asleep due to all the thoughts racing through his mind.

 

 

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

            Tom woke to the sound of muffled laughter and his flesh on fire. He sat up in the bed, only just managing to keep from screaming, and saw the shadows of three figures in the doorway.

 

            “Learn your place, Riddle! You aren’t as powerful as you think!” A voice which could have been any of the older boys whispered menacingly.

 

            There was more laughter, then another voice hissed, “You might have bullied muggles, but now you’re up against real wizards now, you stupid little git!”

 

            Tom said nothing. He couldn’t. His whole body was burning, and he could hardly open his eyes to see if he was actually physically on fire, or if this was simply a painful sensation. The voices retreated, though the pain remained, Tom managed to recognize there were no real flames. If he tried to speak, he knew he would scream, and the whole house would hear him, hear his failure. Instead, he yelled in his mind, and he yelled for Hermione.

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

            Hermione Bonneau might rule the day, but Hermione Granger ruled the night. Nearly three years of constant, outright danger, and many months of being an outlaw on the run had made her ready at a moment’s notice. When she woke to the sound of Tom’s screams reverberating in her skull, Hermione was out of her bed, wand in hand, and running down the stairs, out of Ravenclaw Tower before any conscious thought had passed. Her soul mate was in danger, and she would rescue him.

 

            Muscle memory carried her to the dungeons, and she screamed outside of the entrance until a disheveled and sleepy perfect opened the stone wall. She burst past him, ignoring his yells, and those Slytherins who had come to stand in the common room. She glanced around wildly until she caught sight of the glint of Damballa’s green scales down a dark hallway.

 

            A few small-time jinxes were thrown at her, but Hermione mindlessly threw up a rebounding spell, and didn’t stop to see who got hit with what. She flew down the corridor into Tom’s room, yelling for the lights, which illuminated brightly, to the dismay of its occupants, and found Tom on his bed, convulsing in pain.

 

            “Oh, Tom,” she whispered, all thoughts of Voldemort forgotten at the sight of the eleven year old being tortured in front of her. He had espoused her thoughts, no doubt, said something in defense of half-bloods, and this was the price.

 

            She cast a strong protective boundary around his bed, sent a patronus to Narcissa, then began to use every healing spell and counter-curse she could remember. His teeth had bitten bloody marks into his lower lip, and she would have thought cruciatus, but it was continuing without the caster present, so that couldn’t be it.

 

            Knowing he was too proud to scream, she cast a muffliato, and leaned over him. “Tom, Tom,” she stroked his face. “No one can hear you, I promise. Tell me how it hurts. I want to help you. Please.”

 

            At her assurance, he finally let out a scream, terrible and long, and Hermione began to cry tears of rage.   “It burns! Help me!”

 

            “I will,” she cried, as frantic as if she were in the pain herself, casting any spell, healing spell, counter-spell, or charm that had to do with cold or cooling. She even jinxed him with a freezing spell, and that seemed to do more good than anything else. As it faded, she jinxed him again, holding his hand and telling him that it would be all right, that Narcissa was on her way.

 

            Narcissa did arrive shortly thereafter, with Madam Selwyn, Professor Slughorn, and Professor Merrythought in tow. Hermione didn’t realize they had arrived until she saw frantic waving at the edge of the bed. No one could speak through her muffliato or pass her boundary spell unless she lowered them. She ended the spells, noticing the looks of shock in the staff members’ eyes, but not caring at the moment.

 

            “We have him, darling,” Narcissa murmured, as she and Madam Selwyn approached the bed.

 

            “They cast some kind of burning curse on him,” Hermione cried, her tears falling faster, as Tom had stopped crying out again. He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction, she knew, and she also knew what that cost him.

 

            Professor Slughorn stood looking uncomfortable and useless, though Professor Merrythought called out a few suggestions of counter-curses as she tried to take Hermione by the shoulder to lead her out of the room. Hermione shrugged out of her touch, and ran back to the common room.

 

            “Whoever did this, I will find you. Tom will find you,” she magnified her voice with her wand, until the walls nearly shook. “And nothing will keep you safe. The Pureblood Reign of Terror has ended. If you stand against us, you will be sorry!”

 

            Professor Merrythought had come to her side, and was staring, her face a war between shock, approval, and the need to do her job.   “Miss Bonneau,” she began softly, but Hermione had spent six years in the company of Ginny Weasley, and she cast a perfect and explosive reducto curse at the Slytherin fireplace, watching with satisfaction as bricks and mortar and embers went flying and the Slytherins ran for cover.

 

            A strong hand covered hers, lowering Hermione’s wand hand, and gently taking the wand from her grip. “Go to back to bed!” Professor Merrythought’s voice was so firm that not even Slytherins objected.   Most of them had already scurried away.

 

            Professor Merrythought tipped up Hermione’s chin. “Well, you’ve made a pretty mess coming to your soul mate’s defense. I hope I never have to do something like that for your mother.”

 

            Hermione continued to cry, wanting to stop, but unable.

 

            “Can you help me clean this up?” Professor Merrythought asked softly.

 

            Surprised, Hermione hiccupped. “Yes,” she admitted.

 

            “Then you will,” her professor answered. She handed Hermione back the rowan wand and began to cast spells to repair the fireplace. Hermione joined her, and it was only a few minutes before there was no evidence that the fireplace had been reduced to rubble.

 

            “Would you like to check on him?” Professor Merrythought turned to her.

           

            Hermione nodded dumbly.

 

            “Will you behave? This is going to be disaster as it is.” The DADA professor pinched the bridge of her nose. “I hope you realize that you’ve as good as declared war in this school? As a first year? On your first day?”

 

            “I don’t care!” Hermione insisted, holding up her arm. It didn’t matter whether the wounds had occurred almost forty years in the future. The ideas that feed the actions were the same, and they needed to be rooted out. “I’m tired of the prejudice. I will fight it to my dying breath! No one will tell me I’m less!”

 

            Professor Merrythought drew in a shaky breath. “On a personal level, if things work out with your mother, and even if they don’t, I will say right here and now, that I would be honored to call you my daughter.”

 

            Hermione gave a surprised laugh. It was not the response she had expected, but then, Professor Merrythought was a muggleborn, and she understood – understood in a way Narcissa never quite could.

 

            “However,” she continued, “as your professor and Head of House,” she sighed. “I must tell you that this behavior is unacceptable,” when Hermione tried to interrupt, Merrythought gave her a sharp look that stilled her words. “Coming to another student’s aid is admirable, but you should have contacted your mother and Madam Selwyn, and myself instead of taking off on your own.”

 

            She paused, regarding Hermione critically. “You have performed magic tonight that is beyond my wildest expectations for any student, let alone a first year. Hell,” she admitted, “I would have had a hard time getting through that barrier if you hadn’t lowered it. You are clearly a prodigy, and I refuse to allow you to act so much like a rash Gryffindor that you get yourself expelled in your first twenty-four hours of school.”

 

            Hermione was silent, knowing Merrythought was speaking the truth. There was little argument against it, now that her anger had faded somewhat.

 

            “Good,” Merrythought smiled weakly. “You’ll have to talk to Dumbledore and Dippet, but I’ll be there, and you were acting protectively,” she eyed the now-pristine fireplace, “except for that last bit, but we fixed that. I’ll give you a week’s detention, and we’ll call it even.”

 

            “A week’s detention?” Hermione asked, aghast.  Somehow, the idea of being in trouble still managed to shock her.

 

            Merrythought’s smile widened. “You did destroy school property in a rather spectacular fashion. I’d say that was pretty lenient.”

 

            “Did I at least hit any of the Slytherins?” Hermione grumbled.

 

            Merrythought tried to force her face into a stern expression, but failed. “Oh, a few I expect. Let’s go check on Tom and then get you to bed.”

 

            They walked to doorway, where they were stopped by a younger, slightly slimmer version of the Potions professor Hermione remembered from her sixth year. “Miss Bonneau,” his eyes were gleaming at her, “that was some rather amazing magic for a first year.”

           

            “Horace,” Merrythought sighed. “She nearly blew up the common room. She needs no encouragement.”

 

            “Indeed?” Slughorn looked excitedly at Hermione. “Was it a reducto?”

 

            “Tend to your students, Horace,” Merrythought snapped, and Slughorn immediately shuffled away.

 

            Inside the dorm room, three young boys sat up in bed, wide-eyed. Hermione easily recognized the closest boy as a Malfoy, while the second heavily favored Madam Selwyn. The final boy was unknown, but she noted with satisfaction that all of them looked terrified of her. Best to have made a strong impression.

 

            “Hermione,” Narcissa looked up at her. “He’s better. We’ll move him to the Hospital Wing in a few moments.”

 

            Madam Selwyn murmured a few more words over Tom then also straightened. “He’s asleep for now. He’ll rest through the worst of the effects.”

 

            “What was it?” Merrythought asked. “It reminded me of some kind of flagrante curse.”

 

            The matron nodded. “I believe it was a weak version of that, and Tom was lucky it was cast by someone without too much power or ability, probably a third or fourth year at most.”

 

            Narcissa came around the bed and hugged Hermione tightly. “He’ll be fine as soon as the curse fades. You saved him much pain, and maybe even some permanent damage.”

 

            “Who did this?” Hermione had turned to the room, her anger rising with her magic again.

 

            “Whoa!” Professor Merrythought grabbed her arm again, and now Hermione was trapped on both sides, Narcissa clutching her on the other. “We aren’t going down that road again. Dumbledore and I will do a thorough investigation. We’ll find out who was the culprit, and, even if we can’t, I will personally make sure Tom’s bed is warded appropriately.”

 

            Hermione twisted free, and in her anger, she barely thought as she turned to Tom’s four-poster bed and covered it with every protective spell she knew.

 

            “Oh, darling,” Narcissa was pulling her back, whispering in her ear. “I’m so sorry. So little is known about the strength of a soul mate bond like yours and Tom’s – I didn’t know you’d have so visceral a reaction, but you must think.   You must breathe. You must come back to yourself. You can’t continue to do this level of magic.”

 

            Slowly, Hermione’s arm stilled, and she stopped casting, letting Narcissa hold her. Over her mother’s shoulder, she glanced at the three boys who watched her, their mouths agape. She narrowed her eyes and they all instantly looked away.

 

            She allowed herself to be handed from her mother back to Professor Merrythought, who led her out of the dungeons and back to Ravenclaw Tower. At the door, Merrythought silenced the knocker and opened the door quickly.

 

            “Get the rest you can. We’ll deal with the fallout in the morning,” she sighed, running a hand through her short red curls. “Be aware, though, that I am always on your side, Hermione.”

 

            Hermione nodded, and walked slowly up to the silent tower room. There was quiet breathing from the other occupants, and she cast a muffliato on her own bed so that she could alternately cry and scream in peace.

 

            What had she done? Had she ruined everything? And why in the world had she reacted so strongly? Now that she had some distance, she could see that she how rashly she had acted, how much she had exposed and risked. The magic done in front of the Slytherins had been mostly silent, and they probably didn’t truly recognize the significance of her power, though they would be certainly be shocked that she could perform non-verbal spells. But Selwyn, Merrythought, and Slughorn surely did, those Slytherins would likely tell the whole school the tale of the reducto explosion she’d caused.

 

Thinking of damage-control, Hemione thought that if she carefully coordinated with Narcissa, they could probably chalk up what she’d done to a combination of an extremely strong soul mate connection, precocious magical ability, and being a child who had lived in an active warzone.

           

            But what she couldn’t defend to herself was how rage-filled she had become. If she had been faced with the Slytherins who had cursed Tom, if she had known for sure it was the culprits, she could barely imagine what she wouldn’t have done to them in retaliation for Tom’s pain. She would have blasted her way through all of the dungeons, dragged bodies from the rubble and destroyed them. How was she affected in this way? Was it Voldemort’s soul piece, somehow clinging to her and tainting her? Or was it an instinctive need to protect the other half of her soul, no matter the cost? Hermione wasn’t sure there was an answer that would satisfy, but since she knew that if Tom were in danger, she would know, she allowed herself to fall into a fitful sleep.

Chapter Text

Narcissa was feeling numb. Months of careful planning, such strong initial success, and now…now, it seemed all was falling apart around her. How foolish she had been to think that she could rewrite history so easily, that bringing a girl of seventeen, even one who had a strong moral center, to meet a soul mate who had no morals would end in anything but disaster.

 

            She looked down at Tom, wiping a few beads of sweat from his small brow. He was still a child, and now he was going to be caught in the middle of war with himself and Hermione at the center. It might only be a school-aged war, but it was already vicious, and after witnessing Hermione’s reaction last night?

 

            Narcissa had heard tales from Draco, and minor snippets from Death Eater talk about the skills of the Golden Trio. They had all written the Weasley boy completely off, chalked Potter’s successes up to extremely good luck, but the girl, they had agreed, was an actual threat. Narcissa had taken that to mean that Hermione was a bright and clever witch for a seventeen year old. What she had seen displayed in the Slytherin dormitory last night was not the magic of seventeen year old. She was beginning to realize that Hermione not only matched the Dark Lord in intelligence, but that she was on her way to matching him in magical power.

 

So far, the pair had only been exposed to one another with significant age discrepancies. The Dark Lord had been in his seventies, which was barely middle-aged for a magical person, while Hermione had been a child, though still a match for his wits. Now, Tom was eleven, and Hermione, though only six years older in magical terms, was worlds older in experience, having nearly finished school, and learned much more in practical, real-world magical experience.   When Tom gained a few years, and was closer to Hermione’s level, Narcissa wondered if there would be any force on the planet that could withstand their combined wills.

 

In the meantime, even though his ability was raw and unfocused, Tom would wreck havoc.   And Hermione, whether she agreed with him or not, would protect him, that much was clear after this evening, and that was a terrifying thought because there was not a single student at Hogwarts who could best her, and more than one professor who would struggle to do so.

 

“Narcissa?” Electra had come to Tom’s bedside with a fresh bowl of mint and aloe water. “I’ll take over for a bit. Tending to someone you care for is especially draining. Get some rest, I will see to him and call you if anything changes. I truly believe he will be fine now.”

 

“Thanks to Hermione’s quick thinking,” Narcissa stared down at the boy, not moving.

 

Electra put down the bowl and took the rag from Narcissa’s hand. “Yes, your daughter was…stunning, honestly. She is brilliant, though she doesn’t quite have your talent for healing. Now, go to your quarters and sleep, or you won’t be much help to anyone tomorrow.”

 

“Tomorrow,” Narcissa repeated. “Tomorrow is going to be,”

 

“Awful,” Electra supplied bluntly. “The Slytherins will be in chaos, the other houses will hear about it, and all of that added to the normal beginning of the year headache will make for an absolute kerfuffle beyond all comprehension.” She raised Narcissa by her shoulders and pointed her to the door. “I know Professor Merrythought thinks I hate muggleborns, but I don’t. I just don’t like her. I think Slytherin House needs more half-blooded students, and even muggleborns, eventually. But being the first outspoken half-blood in that house is not going to be an easy road for Mr. Riddle. This probably won’t be the only time he ends up in the hospital wing. It’s good he has your daughter to give him friends outside of Slytherin.”

 

Narcissa nodded, but she was thinking more along the lines that they would be seeing a lot more of Tom’s victims in the hospital wing than the boy himself. The Dark Lord would not be caught unaware twice, no matter his age. She walked down the hall to her quarters in a daze, having lost focus for the first time since going back in time. Before, she had not known what would happen, but she had deluded herself enough to feel like she was in control. That control was gone, and she had no idea of what to do next.

“I thought you’d show up eventually,” Galatea was leaning casually against her door, still in her robe and men’s pajamas. “How’s the boy?”

 

“He’ll be fine physically by morning,” Narcissa replied automatically. “How’s my daughter?”

 

Galatea laughed. “After what I saw tonight, I could drop that girl into a nest of Hungarian Horntails and feel sorry for the dragons.”

 

Narcissa made an annoyed huffing sound.

 

“She’s fine, physically, same as the boy,” Galatea soothed, moving from the door to take both of Narcissa’s hands in her own. “You know, when we first met and you said that you had been married, even though you were widowed, I was jealous. I was jealous that someone else had been married to my soul mate, and had given her a child. But now, after having spent time with Hermione, I’m glad. That girl is a genius, a prodigy, and she believes in equality and humanity, and I can’t imagine a better future than a Hogwarts with her in it. She’s going to take this place by storm.”

 

At the mention of ‘future,’ Narcissa groaned. “I need to get some sleep, Galatea. This has been a trying evening.”

 

“Let me come in, Narcissa,” the other woman whispered in her ear. “Just let me hold you. You know you’ll sleep better that way, whether or not you admit it.”

 

Too tired to argue, and not wanting to be alone with her thoughts, Narcissa opened the door with a quick spell and allowed Galatea to follow her. She didn’t pause, but headed straight to her bed, and Galatea was as good as her word. The taller woman slid into bed behind her, pulled her close, and breathed softly into her hair until Narcissa finally slept.

           

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

 

            Tom woke slowly to unfamiliar surroundings. He had a vague memory of pain, then of Hermione over him, her hair and face wild, like the etching of an avenging angel he’d seen in an old family Bible his third grade teacher had always had on her desk, and allowed him to read.

 

Once he’d fully come to, his memories returned, he identified the room as the Hospital Wing, and he was on his feet, jumping out of the bed before Madam Selwyn could protest. As he ran down the hallway, he looked out the windows. The sky was still mostly dark, though light was breaking on the horizon. Nothing would stop him from attending his first day of classes, just as nothing would stop him from punishing whoever had been behind the events of last night.

 

“Crystallized Pineapple,” he spoke to the dungeon wall, which promptly slid open. No one was in the common room, and Tom went quickly to his room, quietly got clean clothes from his trunk, grabbed his school bag with writing supplies and textbooks, and ran back out.

 

He went down the hall until he found a regular bathroom and washed his face and hair in the sink. He had not seen his wand, but he was not worried. Tom was sure, with no room for doubt, that Hermione had picked it up to keep it safe, just as he was sure Damballa had gone back to her.

 

As much as he had been angry with her yesterday, that was how much she had redeemed herself, and more. Though he wouldn’t like to say so out loud, Hermione had been right in everything she had said about Slytherin House, and when he had needed her, when he had failed himself, she hadn’t failed. She had rescued him.   Due to the pain he’d felt, which was still lingering as a vague, uncomfortable warmth, he didn’t know exactly what she’d done, but there had been a flurry of spells, cast faster than he could follow. She had protected their space, he knew, and cast some kind of noise cancelling spell, allowing him to let out the scream that he’d been holding. She had somehow lessened the pain, and then made his skin blessedly cool. Tom had read all of the first year textbooks, front to back, and none of what she’d done was there.

 

Narcissa and Madam Selwyn had taken over then, and Hermione was gone, but then, only seconds later, he had heard her voice, emanating from everywhere in that dungeon. His heart almost stopped when she swore vengeance. Even though he knew he was magic, this world was still half a dream to him, and despite accepting the idea of soul mates intellectually, it wasn’t until that moment, when Hermione was screaming her rage on his behalf, that he knew in his heart that she was truly his match.

 

After checking to make sure he was perfectly presentable, not a hair out of place, the marks on his lips thankfully healed, he entered the Great Hall and sat silently at the end of the Slytherin table.   He watched the sun rise, and listened as the castle began to wake. He needed to come up with a plan, but in the meantime, he needed to show the school that he was strong, that last night was nothing to him.

 

The first person to come in was Hermione, as he had hoped. She was in her uniform, her clothing neat and pressed. Her hair was pushed back from her face by the wide black leather band he’d picked out in Diagon Alley, though her curls were not what he’d call restrained.

 

“Tom,” she said, her voice full of affection, relief, and exasperation. “I’ve just come from the Hospital Wing, where I had hoped to find you. Of course, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see you on your feet well before you should be.”

 

He stood, walking to meet her in the middle of the hall, his arms spread as if he owned the room. “I won’t be off them again.”

 

“It might not be that easy,” she took his wand out of her pocket and handed it to him. “We’ve stepped into a nest of vipers itching to bite us.”

 

“Easy is boring, and it’s my birthright to control snakes” he replied, taking the wand and sighing in pleasure as he felt his magic reconnect with it. He tucked it into his sleeve and took her hand.

 

She looked at him in surprise. He didn’t usually initiate contact. He returned her gaze, and smiled broadly. “Hermione, I want to thank you for last night.”

 

“I,” she stuttered, perhaps more shocked than she ever been in her life. When he turned on the charm, she felt nearly defenseless. “I… of course, Tom. I told you I would protect you, too. I meant it. What actually happened?”

 

Tom squeezed her hand, enjoying the fact that her touch was lessening the lingering discomfort of the burning curse. He knew she wouldn’t like some of what he was going to tell her, but he was certain she wouldn’t reject him either. Last night had shown him just how strong their bond was.

 

“A fourth year insulted me at the welcoming feast,” Tom was sure to lead with the evidence that he hadn’t been the one to start the problem. “Jack Mulciber. He called my Gaunt relatives insane and stupid, but I didn’t really care.”

 

Hermione knew something big was coming. Tom’s jaw muscle was twitching. “What else did he say, that you did care about?”

  

            “He said I was weak, that I had dirty blood,” Tom replied, the words coming out in a furious hiss.

 

            She knew exactly how those words stung, especially the first time one actually understood the hatred and prejudice behind them. “Tom, you know that’s not true,” she soothed, then asked. “What did you do to him?”

 

            “What makes you think I did something to him?” Tom’s face was all innocence.

 

            Hands on her hips, Hermione gave him the same expression she had used countless times on Ron and Harry. Though Tom did not duck his head to hide a sheepish expression, he did answer her.

 

“I choked him with my mind,” he admitted, then added in a defensive tone, “He was an idiot, spitting prejudiced poison, and I wasn’t going to listen to it. He needed to be taught a lesson!”

 

A thousand different alarms were going off in Hermione’s mind. This was the heart of the problem of Tom Riddle. She and Narcissa might have swayed him to the other end of the blood-status belief spectrum, to the side that believed in equality and personal merit, but that didn’t mean his motives had suddenly become pure. He still acted out of anger as well as a need to amass power and control others, and had no problem using violence and intimidation to get his way. He wasn’t concerned for the plight of half-bloods and muggleborns so much as he was determined to be recognized as the best at everything as the half-blood he was, with followers in tow to praise him.

 

How could she combat his core personality? She was no psychiatrist, but Voldemort’s actions in the future had been symptoms of many psychological problems – megalomania, sociopathy, and narcissism, to name a few. Some of this was created or worsened by how he had whittled away at the piece of his soul left in his body, and Narcissa had told her that there had been a marked increase in both cruelty and irrational behavior when he had refashioned his body after the final task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament.

 

She had difficult material to work with, and he was too smart to manipulate. The hat had told her not to be afraid to test their bond, to challenge him, and that seemed like her only option at the moment.

 

“I know you have always been alone, but part of that is because you choose to hold yourself apart from others, to see yourself above them,” Hermione began. “Simply because we have great magical potential doesn’t mean we are better, or that our opinions or lives mean more than others, and if you believe that, then you are embracing the same tenants of Pureblood prejudice, only with groups moved into different roles.”

 

“We are better, Hermione,” Tom looked more amused than angry, as if he were trying to explain a simple concept to a small child. “How can you claim that your life isn’t a million times more valuable than an inbred pig like Jack Mulciber’s?”

 

“I don’t have to like everyone to believe that all life is sacred,” Hermione countered. “I won’t pretend that I won’t fight to protect you, myself, and others, but I would never even consider choking someone just because he insulted me!”

 

Tom drew himself up. He was a few inches taller than she was, and with the extension of his angry magic, he seemed even larger. “Mulciber didn’t simply insult me! He tried to invalidate my existence in Slytherin House, in the magical world altogether. I know all about the pecking order of humanity, magical or not. People like Mulciber see us as their subordinates at best, and their slaves at worst, Hermione.”

 

Though his magic was swirling around them in anger, he ran his hand up her arm with an extraordinarily gentle touch, barely touching the sleeve over her bandage.

 

“People like Mulciber will cut and curse us to pieces if we don’t take decisive control,” he made a repetitive motion with his index finger on her shirt as he spoke, and Hermione realized with surprise that he was tracing a rune of healing and protection over her wound. It was one of the runes she had shown him several weeks ago, and her heart thudded at the thought he wanted to protect her.

 

His hand stilled and he looked into her eyes. “If anyone else dares to spill a drop of your blood, or harm you in any way, I will kill them.”

 

“Tom,” her eyes were wet, tears of frustration welling up. “You can’t kill people. It is wrong. We can reform this society, bring equality for every blood status. We can be free without resorting to violence.”

“We can be more than simply free, Hermione,” a broad smile both charming and arrogant covered his face. “Together, we could rule this world, and bend it to our will.”

 

She closed her eyes. He’d said it. Rule the world. At eleven. “Tom, I don’t want to rule the world,”

 

“Really?” He raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you want the magical world to accept and follow your beliefs?”

 

“Changing public opinion and enacting fair laws and protections for all blood statuses and all magical creatures isn’t the same as ruling over the magical world.” Hermione snapped. “I don’t want to sit on a bloody throne!”

 

“I sat in the galley at a Parliament session once,” Tom said. “My teacher brought the brightest students there, to ‘see our government at work,’ but I saw nothing except meaningless arguments. There was no action, no work done at all. From what I’ve read about the Ministry of Magic, it seems no better. Do you want to wait until we’re old and grey before changes are made? Or do you want to make our lives, and those of others you value, better now?”

 

Hermione recognized his point, but refused to concede. “Social change takes time precisely because it isn’t a war; it isn’t violence! And if you paid any attention in your history classes, you will know that war doesn’t solve anything! It may deal with immediate problems, but look what is happening in Europe right now! How do you think Hitler has won the hearts of the German people? Because they were crushed in the first World War, and they were impoverished and angry, and now they want revenge! How is creating a situation like that here with the Purebloods going to give us a better society?”

 

“I find it amazing that you want to pretend power doesn’t matter when I know you used a massive display of power last night to protect me. Why is power used defensively fine, but power used offensively in order to pre-empt the need for defense bad?”

 

“Because good people don’t go around attacking others!” Hermione yelled.

 

Tom smirked, “I never claimed to be good, Hermione, and as my soul mate, you must have more than a little bad inside yourself.” He pulled at one of her curls, his eyes unfocused for a moment, lost in memory. “You looked like the Angel of Death over my bed last night.”

 

She thought of her rage last night, and suspected that was an accurate description. “But,” she insisted stubbornly, “I didn’t hurt anyone.”

 

“No,” Tom laughed. “You declared war, and war has violence. If you think for one instant that the Slytherins who attacked me and their allies won’t seek to answer the challenge you issued last night, then you are more naïve than I thought.”

 

Hermione groaned. He was right about that. He was right about a lot of things. “That’s true. They will be coming for us. The Headmaster will be asking questions, but the halls will likely be a gauntlet.”

 

She thought of the coming interviews with the staff and knew she needed to warn him. “I know you are used to doing whatever you want without many consequences, Tom, but you can’t be expelled from Hogwarts. I need you here with me, and if you openly attack other students, you will be sent away. And if you try to fight all your battles alone in the dungeons, you will get hurt. If the professors find out that you choked Mulciber, you will be in serious trouble. If it comes up, you need to say you didn’t intend it. Since you didn’t use a wand, that is believable enough; anger can trigger involuntary magic, especially in untrained wizards and witches. Lie as little as possible. Professor Dumbledore will recognize any lies, trust me.”

 

“And what do you plan to say about your actions?” Tom asked seriously. “I was not fully aware of what was happening last night, but I could feel your magic, and it was out of control. It was everywhere, like its own living force, and I am positive you did things that you should not be able to do at our age and skill level.”

 

Hermione had spent the morning pondering this, and she had briefly talked with Narcissa in the Hospital Wing about a plan of action. “I’m not sure, completely,” she said slowly. “Our bond is very special, and very rare, so that was certainly a factor in my magic out-doing itself to protect you. I also have extremely strong and specific memory abilities. I can watch an adult perform a spell and repeat pronunciations and wand movements perfectly, often on the first try.   Much of what I did last night was unconscious, and I can’t claim to understand how I did it all.”

 

She looked up at him, remembering his beautiful features contorted in pain. “But I’m glad I did, and I’d do it again.”

 

Tom seemed mostly pleased with this response. “We will triumph, Hermione, and then you won’t have to worry about me ever again.”

 

“Tom,” Hermione answered honestly, “I’ll always worry about you because you are your own greatest enemy. Until you can understand that other people have inherent value, not simply as tools or possessions, then you will always be angry and at odds with others, no matter how many ‘problems’ we solve.”

 

He frowned at her. “We’ll have to agree to disagree on that point. For now, we need to decide what we are doing in the immediate future. Students will be arriving for breakfast any minute.”

 

She sighed, knowing she wasn’t going to change a lifetime of behavior in one conversation. “Fine. Only two or three Slytherins were involved in the attack, right?”

 

Tom nodded. “I believe it was Mulciber and two others, probably in his same year. The shapes were mostly the same size.”

 

“And some of the other first years were interested in what you said?” Hermione’s nose crinkled as if she smelled something bad. “Marguerite seemed to hang on your every word.”

 

“Are you jealous of Marguerite, Hermione?” he laughed.

 

“No!” she snapped, and continued speaking while he kept laughing. “Your roommates seemed concerned for you.”

 

Tom shrugged. “They were polite enough. I think they were impressed by my magic, and they were terrified of you, so power will win them over more than words.”

 

“Slytherins,” Hermione muttered. “The good news is that many of the students in the other houses are half-bloods, and only a generation or two away from muggle relatives, if that far. Add the muggleborns and the sympathetic pureblood families like the Longbottoms, Shacklebolts, Weasleys, and Abbotts to that, and there are plenty of students who will support and defend the stand we’ve made in classes and hallways.”

 

He looked pleasantly surprised. “That is good news.”

 

“Tom, that isn’t carte blanche to do what you want,” she warned. “Many of those students will support you as far as defense, but will not agree with attacking Purebloods or taking revenge.”

 

His expression soured. “So, they all have morals, like you.”

 

“That isn’t a bad thing, Tom!” She could hear noise above them, in the halls. “Do you remember the protego?”

 

Tom nodded, and she quickly listed three other defensive charms, grabbing his wand hand and leading him through the motions, her palm over his knuckles, her magic pleasantly mingling with his. It was difficult to pull away from how ‘right’ it felt to touch his hand, to move his wand with hers, as if they were one magical source, with one conduit. “You can use any of those to block spells cast at you, and you won’t get in trouble for them.”

 

“So, I should allow them to attack me with no consequence?” Tom’s mouth made a grim line. “That isn’t the Slytherin way, and they will never respect me if I simply defend with no attack.”

 

Students were in the hallway now, and Hermione gave in a bit, realism setting in. “Fine!” She whispered. “Just don’t do anything that will cause lasting or visible damage, and do not use your wand. Spells from your wand can be traced. IF a small amount of revenge will keep you safe, then use it wisely.”

 

He smiled now, a beautiful smile that would have charmed any other girl to her toes. With a flourish, he lifted her hand and bowed over it. “Of course, my Lady.”

 

She gave him a disapproving glare, but inside, she was thinking she was never going to be free of Tom Riddle if he continued to look at her like that.

 

“Riddle!” Abraxas Malfoy was striding toward them. He stopped several feet short, glancing warily at Hermione.

 

“Hermione, this is Abraxas Malfoy,” Tom’s voice was all polite civility. “Abraxas, this is my cousin, Miss Hermione Bonneau.”

 

“A pleasure, Miss Bonneau,” Abraxas bowed his head, though he seemed afraid to get too close to either of them. “You are quite the marvel at spells.”

 

Hermione shook her head modestly. “I am simply extremely fond of my cousin, and will do anything to keep him safe.” She let the edge of a threat enter her voice, which caused Tom to grin and Abraxas to go whiter than he already was.

 

“Yes, that was clear,” Malfoy assured her. “I was actually coming to find Tom, to see if he was alright after…” his voice trailed off, unsure if reminding Tom of the curse was wise. “Jacob and Corvus on their way too, and I saw Vidhi and Marguerite in the common room. We all support you, Tom,” he glanced at Hermione. “And your cousin, too, of course.”

 

Her ego was thrilled to have a Malfoy shaking in front of her, and even though she knew it was petty, Hermione gave him a hard stare, and responded, “Good.”

 

Tom looked positively enchanted with Hermione’s not-so-veiled-threats. “Yes, I hope that everyone understands that Hermione and I have a bond that transcends house affiliation, and any insult to her is an insult to me.”

 

“And vice versa,” Hermione said, even though she had already proven that beyond the need for words.

 

Abraxas nodded, and Hermione caught sight of the Rosier children entering with three other Slytherins, Tom’s two other roommates, and a girl barely larger than Marguerite with dark hair and a grim look on her face. In contrast to everyone else’s serious expressions, Thad gave her a small smile and wave, and, for once, Marguerite didn’t sneer or make any snide comments.

 

“We know Mulciber was one,” she said quietly to Tom once the entire group had come to stand in a semi-circle around him, leaving a wide space between them. “And Thaddeus and Sebastian told me this morning Calvin Nott was out of their room last night. Calvin’s only a second year, and more stupid than my brother. If you scare him, I’m sure he’ll tell us who the third boy was.”

 

A tall, thin boy who was clearly having an awkward transition to his teen years came up to them and nodded silently. Marguerite performed the role of social secretary, to Hermione’s annoyance.

 

“Tom, this is Sebastian Lestrange, he’s a second year who rooms with my brother and Calvin Nott,” she stated.

 

Hermione’s magic flared up briefly, the air took on a metallic charge, and Sebastian, who had come to stand beside her, moved away quickly. Apparently, tales of her performance in the dungeon last night had carried to all of the Slytherins. She took a deep breath, reminding herself that this boy had no connection to Bellatrix, who had only been a Lestrange by marriage, and that she couldn’t hate him solely due to his last name.

 

Tom glanced at her sharply, but said nothing when she quickly shook her head and calmed her magic. He turned to Sebastian. “We didn’t get a chance to meet last night,” he extended his hand.

 

Everyone watched, wary, but Sebastian took Tom’s hand without hesitation. “I’m proud to be a pureblood, and I will marry to keep my line pure and carry on my family tradition, but Mulciber and Nott don’t have a single brain cell between them. I would rather ally myself with power.”

 

With a gracious and diplomatic smile that everyone except Hermione probably believed was sincere, Tom answered, “I don’t want to destroy any traditions – I simply want to expand them. Some of these traditions were started in the middle ages, and they need to be updated for the modern world in order to keep the magical world strong.”

 

All of the Slytherins were nodding, as if hypnotized by Tom’s words and Hermione was amazed. Maybe he did have a birthright to control snakes, both literally and figuratively.    

 

“Hermione?” Patience had come over to the group, her pale eyes, fly-away platinum blonde hair, and vacant expression giving her an ethereal air. She looked directly at Tom and smiled broadly, as if they were old friends. “Damballa is very happily resting in my bottom drawer. I left it open so he can slither out.”

 

“Thank you, Patience, Tom and I appreciate that you looked after him this morning, don’t we, Tom?” Hermione prompted.

 

Tom nodded, giving Patience a critical stare that would have had any one of the Slytherins running for cover. “Of course.”

 

Patience looped an arm through Hermione’s. “Come, they want to plot. Snakes need dark spaces to relax sometimes. We should get breakfast. I’m sure they’ll be full of surprises in our DADA class.”

 

Knowing she couldn’t control Tom, and hoping he would heed her warning, Hermione said a polite goodbye and turned to leave with Patience. Tom caught her other elbow, his magic buzzing on her skin. Her own magic rose to greet his, and the mix hung in the air, thick with power. All seven Slytherins took another step back. Patience remained on Hermione’s other arm, smiling at them approvingly.

 

“Be careful,” he said, and because it was Tom, the words came out like an order, but she could feel the affection behind it in his touch.

 

“I will,” she promised, and left with Patience, praying that he would use that brilliant mind of his to avoid getting caught doing whatever he was about to plan.

 

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

Things were quiet at the Ravenclaw table. Hermione answered all the questions she was asked calmly and as logically as she could, and her housemates were quickly satisfied with the fact that she had a strong bond with her cousin, she was exceptionally clever and a quick learner, and she had been exposed to more practical battle magic than an average student because she had lived in area heavily attacked by Grindelwald’s forces. Being very intelligent themselves, they knew it was possible for young witches and wizards to be very talented, and not being Slytherins, they were much more inclined to take her at her word, because she hadn’t given them any reason not to trust her.

 

 

After breakfast, when they received their schedules, she and Patience headed to Professor Merrythought’s classroom, waiting briefly at the entrance of the great hall for Tom and the other first-year Slytherins to join them. Hermione wanted to keep Tom in her line of sight, to prevent any trouble she could.   They made an odd group, she thought. Patience had linked arms with her again, and they walked beside Tom, with the rest of the Slytherins around them like a security detail. Fate had a funny sense of humor, she thought bitterly.

 

As expected, news of last night had spread through the whole student body, but the details were, as usual, embellished or completely wrong. Hermione heard a group of second-year Gryffindors arguing over whether or not she had apparated into the dungeons, and two first-year Hufflepuffs asked her if she had really used fiendfyre to destroy the Slytherin common room.

 

“Your legend proceeds you,” Tom said dryly as the Hufflepuffs scurried away, disappointed that Hermione had denied the use of fiendfyre.

 

“We should compose a ballad,” Patience hummed a sample heroic-sounding tune. “We could call it, ‘The Tale of the Lady of Light and Her Dark Prince.’”

 

Hermione nearly choked on the laughter she held back at the thunderous expression on Tom’s face. “That’s ok, Patience, I doubt music could do me justice,” she teased.

 

Patience nodded gravely. “True, perhaps I should make a painting? Or an enchanted tapestry? I’d need quite a lot of thread.”

 

“A sense of self-preservation would serve you better,” Abraxas muttered off to Hermione’s side.

 

They all fell silent as they turned the corner and joined the larger group of Ravenclaw and Slytherin students filing into Professor Merrythought’s classroom.

 

“Hermione?” Tom held out a chair at one of the long tables that sat four students.

 

It was usual for students of different houses to sit with one another in classes unless professors specifically mixed the students for projects. However, no one said a word as Patience and Hermione sat down with Tom and Abraxas.

 

Professor Merrythought was already in the room, at the front of the class, and Hermione relaxed a bit. She loved learning, and it didn’t matter if she’d taken this class long ago. Her DADA teachers had been disastrous for the most part, so she thought she could learn quite a lot from a competent professor.

 

She took out her books and note-taking supplies, and smiled as Tom did, too. He had the brown eagle feather quill, its golden edges shimmering in the light. As the class began, Hermione was once again reminded of Professor Lupin. Professor Merrythought had a split schedule for classes; for every two class periods of traditional instruction, there would be one class period of practical spell work, and all exams would have a spell casting component.   She also sponsored a dueling club that began in December, and though first-years weren’t eligible to duel, they were welcome to come and watch the older students practice.

 

After DADA class, they headed to Charms with Hufflepuff House and then Herbology with Slytherin again. Hermione wrote copious notes in all her classes, as usual, and managed to hold herself back to answering only every other question, which worked out well, since Tom answered most of the others in DADA and Herbology. Between the two of them, they might have earned enough points for their respective houses to slightly offset the points that would be deducted once they were called in to speak to the Headmaster.

 

As the day wore on, Hermione came to dread the inevitable meeting more and more. Why hadn’t they been called first thing? She was in the library, working on the first homework assignment for Charms with Josephine, Felicity, and Patience, feeling like she must be in the calm eye of the storm when a Hufflepuff prefect came to the table.

 

“Hermione Bonneau? Headmaster Dippet would like you to come to his office.”

 

She nodded and gathered her things, actually relieved to be finally taking care of this problem. Whatever the punishment, she would face it, and she and Narcissa would help Tom figure out a better way to handle the older Slytherins.

 

 

   -oOo0oOo-

 

When Hermione entered the Headmaster’s office, she thought she had an inkling of how Harry had felt facing the Wizengamot in his fifth year. The Headmaster was seated behind his large desk, and Professors Dumbledore, Merrythought, and Slughorn were in chairs to either side, creating a sort of high court, with a single, hard wooden chair in front.

 

“Miss Bonneau,” Headmaster Dippet called, and gestured to the chair. “Please sit.”

 

“Thank you, sir,” she replied, perching on the edge of the seat. She pulled her magic into herself as tightly as she could, to keep everything about herself in control. She also raised her mental shields, but tried to make them appear as natural barriers rather than consciously constructed ones.

 

“Last night was an eventful first day for several students,” Dippet murmured. “And not the type of beginning that bodes well for the rest of the school year. There are always minor scuffles between houses, but such an attack within a house, and then a response from outside, well, it is more than a little concerning.”

 

The ancient headmaster seemed out of breath from that pronouncement, and looked to Dumbledore, who continued for him.

 

“There are many altercations in Hogwarts throughout the year, intended and otherwise. As staff, we know that these arguments and even some of the minor damage inflicted are necessary for the growth and development of maturity in young magical persons. It is only by testing limits that students can learn how serious magic is, how great an honor and responsibility it is to have magical abilities.” Dumbledore’s voice was kind, as was his expression. Hermione relaxed just a bit.

 

Dumbledore went on, “However, when students cross the line into seriously harming others, the school administration has a duty to investigate, correct, and, if necessary, punish those who are mis-using magic in dark or malicious ways.”

 

Dippet nodded, his bushy eyebrows raised high on his bald head. “Absolutely correct, Albus!”

 

No one had asked her a question yet, so Hermione remained silent. Dumbledore smiled at her, and she wasn’t sure if it was quite genuine. She wanted to believe in him, but he had concealed so much from Harry, and allowed so much harm to come to him in service of the greater good, that it seemed foolish to trust him completely.

 

“Miss Bonneau,” Dumbledore began. “We have interviewed everyone in Slytherin House who was awake before or during the incidents of last night. I have consulted with Madam Selwyn and your mother, as well as Professors Merrythought and Slughorn. Other than damage from a reducto curse fired in the Slytherin common room, which hurt no one, and which you subsequently repaired under the instruction of your Head of House, you did nothing wrong last night. Indeed, you came to the aid of a fellow student, and alerted staff members while you attempted to counteract a very dark and painful curse.”

 

Professor Merrythought added, “I’ve already explained to our Headmaster and Deputy Headmaster that I told you the appropriate response to learning of Tom’s suffering would have been to inform the staff immediately instead of trying to attend to him yourself.”

 

Hermione nodded, still unsure of where this interview was headed.    

 

“Miss Bonneau, I suspected from the first day that I met you and your cousin that the two of you were magically linked in an extraordinarily powerful and unique way. Your mother has informed us, privately, that you and Mr. Riddle are soul mates, and not only that, but soul mates who are magically marked with each other’s words,” Dumbledore shook his head in amazement. “A bond like that will shape your life and magic profoundly, but we know very little of how the particulars will play out. Clearly, you can sense when he is in danger, and I am sure the reverse is true.”

 

“It will a fascinating seven years,” Professor Slughorn noted, his eyes alight with anticipation. “I simply can’t wait.”

 

The other professors all turned to the Potions professor, who quickly looked away. “Of course, we want to avoid problems in the future,” he muttered.

 

“Hermione will be serving detention with me for the next week for the damage in Slytherin house,” Professor Merrythought said, giving Hermione an encouraging crooked smile.

 

Dippet nodded approvingly, “That will do for the infraction, since she did help repair the damage,” he glanced at Hermione, his ancient eyes seeing her more clearly than she had given him credit for. “Which brings us to the other concern, your level of magical ability.”

 

Slughorn sat forward, all but rubbing his hands together.

 

Professor Merrythought rolled her eyes, and said sharply, “I think we can all agree that Miss Bonneau is a magical prodigy, at defensive abilities, if nothing else. It is not a crime for a student to be a genius.”

 

“Of course not,” Dippet humphed, then turned to Hermione. “Your mother assures us that you have always had strong magic, exhibiting unconscious magic even as an infant, changing the color and shape of your toys, moving items into your reach with levitation. It is also true that the restrictions on underage magic are more lenient in France, and your mother freely admits that she and your late father taught you spells of healing and protection to be used in life or death circumstances due to the fighting near your home.”

 

Dumbledore stood and approached her. “There are many instances throughout history of witches and wizards performing extraordinary magic while they or their loved ones were in danger. The pull to defend a soul mate would be irresistible, I am sure.”

 

He stroked his beard with a thoughtful look. “We would like to perform a few basic tests of your magical skills, simply so we can be aware of whether last night’s events were mostly unconscious, or if we need to consider moving you up a few years of study. What do you say?”

 

Because Hermione didn’t put legilimency past Dumbledore, she looked at Dippet instead as she replied. “I am happy to take any test.”

 

“See?” Professor Merrythought grinned. “Definitely belongs in Ravenclaw.”

 

For the next half-hour, the three professors and the Headmaster took turns asking her questions and having her attempt to perform various spells. Not wanting to be separated from Tom further, but also not wanting to draw suspicion, she allowed herself to perform several protective spells at almost her full capabilities, but kept everything else to the level she had displayed in 1991 in her first year of Hogwarts. The professors seemed impressed with her defensive skills and general knowledge, but relieved that she wasn’t doing beyond NEWT level magic in other areas.

 

Dumbledore turned to Dippet after they had asked her to produce a Patronus. Hermione knew that Narcissa had revealed this skill, as the way she had learned about Tom’s condition, so she reluctantly cast the spell, her otter not nearly as bright or active as it normally was.

 

“Armando, I believe we could easily move her to third or fourth year classes, but she would suffer socially, and certainly be distressed due to further distance from her soul mate,” he declared.

 

Professor Merrythought nodded in agreement. “She is very talented, but she is still a child, and one who recently lost her father. Moving her out of her age group would be a disruption, and likely isolate her.”

 

“And it would deprive us of the opportunity to have her in our classrooms for the full seven years of schooling,” Slughorn added, as if this were the primary concern.

 

With an indulgent smile, Dumbledore replied, “That is also true.”

 

Dippet cleared his throat for a full ten seconds, and Hermione was about to ask if he was choking, when he finally spoke. “Miss Bonneau, I believe we are all satisfied. You will report to Professor Merrythought to discuss detention next week. Do you have any questions?”

 

Hermione desperately wanted to know if Tom had already been seen, and if they had found the Slytherins who had hurt him. She wasn’t sure if asking was wise, but her inner Gryffindor came out. “Did you find the students who cast the burning curse on Tom?”

 

“We did,” Headmaster Dippet’s eyes were dark, and Hermione thought he must have been very formidable at the height of his powers. “Due to the severity of the curse, and the cowardly nature of attacking a fellow student in his sleep, all three boys have been expelled from the school until after the Christmas break. Their parents have been notified, and they will need to arrange for private tutors to keep the boys current in their studies. The boys will have an opportunity to return in the new year, but will be on a strict probation.”

 

Hermione blinked in shock. Dippet was impressing her. In her own time, she had honestly thought students at Hogwarts got away with far too much, even when those students happened to be Harry or Ron or herself. Dippet clearly ruled Hogwarts with a much firmer hand, something she would keep in the forefront of her mind, especially when she was trying to make sure Tom behaved in the halls.

 

“It is more generous than I would allow,” Professor Merrythought said quietly. “I saw Mr. Riddle’s condition, and if those boys had been more competent, they could have killed him.”

 

Dumbledore answered Hermione’s other question with his next statement. “Yes, but Mr. Riddle also needs to learn to control his temper. His inadvertent magic at the dinner table could have killed Mr. Mulciber just as easily.”

 

“Yes, but it was inadvertent,” Slughorn cut in. “The boy is a raw source of power, like his soul mate, and we must foster such prodigious talent!”

 

Hermione kept her expression still, but she was greatly relieved to know that Tom had taken her advice, and that he had managed to convince the professors that his choking of Mulciber had been beyond his control. Even Dumbledore seemed to believe it, which was important. Dumbledore’s suspicion of and animosity toward Tom in the original timeline was not something she wanted to recreate.

 

“Did Tom get in trouble for the accidental magic?” she kept her voice concerned, but not accusatory.

 

Professor Dumbledore shook his head. “No, but we did have a long discussion with him about the importance of keeping his emotions in check, and the warning signs of when his magic may be on the verge of acting out of his control. Many first-years have trouble with accidental magic, but those students who are often angry have the most difficulty. Mr. Riddle would do well to find a few hobbies that help him to decompress.”

 

“Does he fly well?” Professor Slughorn asked excitedly. “I’m always on the watch for a new member for our Quidditch team.”

 

Hermione couldn’t hold back a smile at the thought of Tom playing Quidditch. The first time he got hit with a bludger, he’d level the whole pitch. “I don’t think Tom is the Quidditch type.”

 

“Pity,” Slughorn said in a dejected tone.

 

Headmaster Dippet cleared his throat again, for even longer this time. “That concludes our discuss, I believe. Miss Bonneau, you are free to go. We will see you in a half-hour at dinner.”

 

“Thank you, sir,” Hermione replied, nodding at all the adults and leaving the room in a much happier mood than she had entered it.

Chapter Text

 

            Tom was a man on a mission, striding down the hall with purposeful steps. He was alone, for the first time in nearly three weeks. After the admittedly rough start to the school year, Tom had found equilibrium between caution, planning, and action. The two fourth years, Jack Mulciber and Hubert Avery, as well as the second year, Calvin Nott, were gone, sent away in shame, and Professor Merrythought had spent a good hour placing protective spells over his room and his bed, though he had heard her mutter that it was mostly redundant after Hermione’s previous warding. Still, he slept lightly, and always rose earlier and went to bed later than the other students. He wouldn’t be caught off-guard twice.

 

            Before the three boys had left, Tom had managed to place some terribly itching nettle powder stolen from the greenhouses all through their packed trunks. It was juvenile, but his options were limited at the moment, and the thought of their skin stinging with no hope of relief for at least a few hours took the edge off his anger for a short while.

 

            No one else had said anything to Tom about his blood status, and Tom hadn’t spoken of it, either. Classwork had become his new focus, and he applied himself with a ferocity he usually reserved for punishing those who had insulted him. From Herbology to Transfiguration to even Care of Magical Creatures, Tom outperformed every student except Hermione. Every professor was pleased with his magical and intellectual abilities, and he was cementing his place as the rising star of Slytherin, of the whole school, with Hermione at his side. He was biding his time, focusing on growing his skills, along with the list of spells he could perform. When he wasn’t in class or doing homework, he was in the library, reading every book that seemed remotely useful.

 

            He knew that many Slytherins weren’t happy with him, especially the older siblings of some of the first years, and the boys who were sent away. However, they were keeping their distance and their tempers for now. Sagitta Black, the sixth year sister of Corvus, eyed him maliciously in the halls and warned her brother loudly in the common room about being careful choosing his ‘associations’. She was already engaged to the seventh year prefect, William Bulstrode, and he seemed to share her opinions, even if he wasn’t as vocal about them. Morgan Nott, another sixth year, and the older sister of Calvin, was often in the pair’s company, along with Ulfred Avery and Blake Goyle, who were both seventh years, and she looked like she was barely restraining herself from scratching his eyes out every time she passed him.

 

            Abraxas, Jacob, and Corvus, along with Marguerite and Sebastian, seemed willing to ignore the older Slytherins if aligning themselves with Tom would gain them power. As the youngest students, they grasped at anything that would raise their status. Thaddeus simply followed them out of habit, while Vidhi, as the other half-blood, was attracted to Tom’s ideas out of principle. Dolohov remained neutral, taking no side. His position was the most popular one, and most of the second through fifth years seemed content to act like nothing had happened at all.

 

            Tom played along, not hiding his beliefs, but not shouting them out, either – there would be plenty of time for that later. In the halls, he found that Hermione was right about the support he had. Many students of other houses, especially first and second years who were half-blooded or muggleborn, greeted or nodded at him every time he passed them. It was a bit odd, honestly. Tom was quite used to praise from adults, but kind regard and respect (not born of fear) from his own age group was foreign to him. He found it not altogether unpleasant.

 

            A routine was growing, along with a lull in the apparent animosity of the pureblooded students, but Tom didn’t believe for an instant that this was a ceasefire. It was strategic withdrawal on both sides, waiting and watching for the perfect opportunity to strike again. Right now, though, he had his mind on another matter.

 

            Yesterday, in the library, as Hermione and her Ravenclaw girlfriends were leaving for dinner, he’d heard Patience say something about Hermione’s birthday this weekend. He had not had any idea when her birthday was, but if it was soon, he needed to talk to Narcissa immediately. Keeping Hermione happy was important, and a strong leader made gestures of generosity.

 

            He entered the Hospital Wing and found Narcissa wrapping the hand of a third year who was sniffling. “When Professor Kettleburn offers to let you pet any of his creatures, decline in the future,” she murmured.

 

            The student nodded in furious agreement and shuffled away. Narcissa smiled softly, then sight caught of Tom. “Tom! Are you alright?”

 

            “I’m fine, Aunt Narcissa,” he reassured. “I came to ask you about Hermione’s birthday.”

 

            “She turns twelve on Saturday,” Narcissa hid her surprise that Tom was interested. As a muggle orphan, birthdays probably hadn’t been different than any other day for him.

 

            Tom nodded. “And may I order her a present?”

 

            Narcissa just managed to keep the shock off of her face. “Of course you may.”

 

            Tom looked away, his face blank. “I have no money.”

 

            It was a fine line to keep from hurting his pride, Narcissa knew. “You are a minor. Hermione has no money of her own, either. But you both are my family and legal heirs, so my money is your money. You may order whatever gift you please from any magical shop catalogue and charge it to the Bonneau family account. And when I am next in Gringotts, I will arrange a small allowance for both you and Hermione.”

 

            “Thank you, Aunt Narcissa,” he turned his face back to hers, and rewarded her with a charming smile.

 

            Taking advantage of his good mood, Narcissa broached a more sensitive subject. “How are things in Slytherin House?”

 

            Tom replied non-committedly, “No one is bothering me, if that’s what you are asking.”

 

            “Don’t forget that I was a Slytherin, Tom, with many Slytherin relatives. I know all about their tactics, and I also know that this fight is far from over,” Narcissa sighed. “You’ve been alone for most of your life, but you have me now, too, not just Hermione. Remember, I do have years of hard-won knowledge that might just help you.”

 

            He considered her anew, his cool blue eyes shrewd. “What would you do? If you were me? A half-blood speaking out in the midst of a House clinging to outdated traditions that will eventually drag it down into madness and loss of magic?”

 

            It almost took Narcissa’s breath away to hear how astutely he’d diagnosed the problem, and how completely he’d rejected the pureblood belief system in this brave new timeline she and Hermione had created. Maybe things would work out, after all. They simply needed to guide Tom where he already wanted to go, with minor adjustments. “I would proceed slowly, with great caution, and make every statement deliberate. They must see you are not backing down, and that alone will eventually anger them into making a mistake.”

 

            Tom’s eyes darkened with surprise and admiration at her blunt speech. “And then?”

 

            “Then, you put them in their place,” she gave an elegant shrug. Hermione would be annoyed, but Narcissa was a Slytherin, had been raised in a house of Slytherins, had married and given birth to Slytherins, and she understood Tom’s motivations better than Hermione’s Gryffindor heart and Ravenclaw brain ever could.

 

            “They won’t stop attacking you until you prove to them that you have the power to keep them in that place. But you must be smart about this – you cannot simply punish them. You must win them over, or you will always be fighting. This is a war, not a skirmish.”

 

             The child who might not become the Dark Lord looked at her with something close to affection in his eyes. “What do you think I will need to do to win the war?”

 

             “Have patience, foremost, Tom,” Narcissa answered honestly. “This will be the work of several years, not weeks or months. Gather friends outside of Slytherin, and treat them well, not as lackeys. Loyalty born of fear only lasts so long before it turns to hatred. As the other Slytherins see you growing in power and well-supported, their willingness to stand against you will falter.”

 

            “You could be our youngest Minister of Magic ever. You are a brilliant young man with amazing talent. But if you allow your anger to get the better of you and hurt others for speaking their minds, then you won’t gather the wide base of support you will need to rise to the top of our society.”

 

            “How much power does the Minister of Magic actually have?” Tom’s expression was thoughtful. He’d told Hermione didn’t want to go into politics, but he was willing to reconsider.

 

            “That depends on the Minister,” Narcissa said. “Someone who is intelligent and cunning might have nearly unlimited power to make change.”

 

             Tom Riddle was a beautiful child, and he could smile in a way that made Narcissa’s heart ache for her own son. “I see. Thank you for your time and advice, Aunt Narcissa.”

 

             “I am happy to advise you on any matter, Tom. I will always be here for you.” On an insane impulse, she leaned over and kissed his forehead, as if he had been Draco. Tears began to well in her eyes, and she blinked rapidly to keep them at bay.

 

             Tom raised his head sharply, though he looked more confused than angry. Had he ever been kissed, Narcissa wondered. Had Meriope Gaunt been able to place her lips to his cheek before she died? Had any muggle woman lifted him in her arms as an infant or toddler? After a few seconds consideration, he gently took her hand, bowed over it, then left without another word.

 

-oOo0oOo-

            Hermione woke to excited chattering. As she sat up and opened her eyes, she saw Khethiwe tangling herself into ribbons dangling from a small stack of presents at the end of her bed.

            “Finally!” Felicity came over and sat near the presents. “We’ve been dying for you to wake up so we could watch you open your gifts!”

            Josephine and Patience had come over, too, and all three girls were crowded onto her bed now.

            “Can’t I get a shower first?” Hermione asked, thinking that she was actually somewhere between eighteen and nineteen this morning due to the extra months from the Time Turner, and that all she really wanted was a strong cup of coffee

            All three roommates shook their heads. Josephine lifted a small wooden box and handed it to Hermione.

            “I know we’ve only been friends a short time, but I hope you like it,” the girl smiled, her sweet expression guileless. Hermione appreciated the no-strings-attached affection from her roommates greatly. They wanted nothing from her; they simply enjoyed her company. It was like being in Gryffindor Tower again, except with more intellectual discussions and less exploding Weasley brother products.

            “I’m sure I will,” Hermione opened the box and saw a large, round pewter pin, with a raven engraved into the metal. “It’s beautiful, Josephine!”

            Josephine’s smiled widened. “It’s a pin for securing your winter cloak. I know it will be a little while before you need to use it, but the winds blow so strongly here, I’m sure our cloaks will be flying in our faces during Care of Magical Creatures.”

            “I agree,” Hermione was touched by the lovely and thoughtful gift. “Thank you,” she leaned over and hugged her.

            “Now mine,” Felicity was practically bouncing on the bed. She pointed to an oddly-shaped package in plain brown paper, tied with twine. “My mum sent it from Edinburgh.”

            The bag was heavy as Hermione lifted it, with an uneven weight distribution. A few quick tugs to the string revealed two smaller paper bags, each one white with blue stripes, and another, tall and thin paper wrapped object. The first bag was filled with the light brown, Scottish fudge she knew was called ‘tablet.’ The second had several pieces of ‘Edinburgh Rock’ a roughly circular soft candy that came in various pastel shades. The third gift was a bottle of a bright orange drink labeled ‘Iron Brew.’ Though the gifts were small, Hermione was well aware that sugary treats were expensive in a country rapidly heading to war, and the sugar itself was hard to come by.

            “Felicity,” Hermione hugged her as well. “Thank you, so much. I love Scottish sweets.”

            “Really?” Felicity asked. “I wasn’t sure, since you spent so much time in France. Isn’t everything chocolate and cream there?”

            “I’m only half-French,” Hermione laughed. “And I can’t wait to try this drink – does it really have iron in it?”

            Felicity grinned. “They say so, but it tastes more like ginger beer and orange cream to me. Course, everyone in my family says it tastes different to them, so it’s a bit of mystery, really.”

            “Well, let’s try it now!” She opened the bottle with her wand, and the four of them passed it around, commenting on the taste, and sharing the tablet and rock candy.

            “The aftertaste does remind me of the time I had to carry my house key in my mouth while I was gathering flowers last summer,” Patience said, putting a large gift wrapped in bright blue, shiny paper in Hermione’s lap.

            As much as she had come to adore Patience, Hermione was half-afraid to open the present. There was absolutely no way to know what it would be. Best to get it done, she thought, and pulled off the paper and opened the box. She immediately laughed so hard she almost fell off the bed.

            In the box was a large leather book that looked at least one hundred years old. The red cover of the book was embossed in gold letters that read, Weaving Tradition: Creating One’s Own Magical Tapestries. Beside the book were several skeins of yarn in the traditional reds, blues, greens, and creams of tapestries.

            “Oh, Patience!” she said when she caught her breath. “Where did you get this book?”

            “It was my grandmother’s. She said I could have it,” Patience answered. “She heartily approves of young women engaging in traditional hobbies.”

            Hermione laughed again at the thought of Patience being traditional in any way. “You do realize that if we make this, Tom will probably set it on fire?”

            Josephine and Felicity had both heard the story of ‘The Lady of Light and Her Dark Prince,’ from Patience, who half-sang, half-chanted the ballad she was continuously composing, laughed even harder.

            “It’s a good thing you’re an ace at protection spells, then,” Felicity said.

            Josephine added, her eyes crinkled with good humor, “I’d be happy to have my mother send us a book on protecting magical artwork from damage.”

            “We haven’t even made it yet,” Hermione thought of her attempts at magical knitting in her fourth year. “It probably won’t even be recognizable as a picture.”

            The girls entered the Great Hall an hour later still in an excellent mood. Breakfast on the weekends was leisurely, and many students were still asleep, so the hall was only about a quarter full. When they entered and sat at the Ravenclaw table, Narcissa rose from the staff table and came over.

            Reaching a hand to smooth the curls that were much more unruly without her daily intervention, Narcissa kissed the crown of Hermione’s head. “Happy Birthday, darling.”

            “Thank you, Mother,” Hermione replied, turning to face her.

            “Since it’s the weekend, I was thinking you could come to my quarters for a birthday tea later this afternoon.”

            Hermione nodded, eager to have a private conversation with Narcissa. “That sounds lovely.”

            “Excellent,” Narcissa rose again and nodded at the other girls. “Have a good morning free with your friends.”

            “Your mother is so elegant,” Felicity sighed once Narcissa was gone.

            Josephine nodded as she spooned oatmeal into a bowl. “She looks like she stepped out of a fashion magazine. I’ve never seen a healer dress so well.”

            “You must take after your father,” Patience said, reaching across Hermione to take a piece of bacon off a platter.

            Hermione had long since giving up taking anything Patience said as insulting – the girl’s brainwaves clearly operated at a different wavelength than most. “I do,” she answered simply.

            A large, dark owl flew into the room and landed on the table between Patience and Hermione. Felicity and Josephine both pulled back in surprise.

            “This is Jeeves,” Hermione explained, giving him a bit of bacon and taking the package he held. “Our family owl.”

            “He’s the biggest owl I’ve ever seen!” Felicity hesitantly reached out to pet his tail feathers.

            “What did he bring?” Josephine asked.

            Hermione wondered that as well. She thought Narcissa would give her any gift at the tea, and she didn’t think Tom even knew it was her birthday, not that she supposed birthdays were very important to him, at least other people’s.

            The package was light and rectangular, wrapped in iridescent silver paper with thick, curly green ribbons. There was a card tucked firmly under the ribbons, and Hermione opened it first.

            In memory of our first magic together. I know we can do more, and I thought you’d be interested in these. Happy Birthday, Hermione.

                                                                                                Tom

            Inside were two slender leather bound books, even older than the weaving book Patience had given her. They had no markings on the outside, but the title pages told her they were original copies of Durante’s treatises on wandless magic from 1723 and 1730. That Tom had known about her birthday, and had gone to the trouble to find a gift that was not only suited to her, but also had emotional meaning left Hermione speechless.

            He had been remarkably restrained in the past few weeks, and a model student when in any public space. From what she heard when the Slytherins talked in the library, the situation in the dormitory was a bit more tense, but not outright hostile.

            She looked over to the Slytherin table, and saw him watching her, so she rose and went over to him. Most of the older Slytherins were absent, but Tom’s usual group surrounded him, Marguerite glued to one side and Abraxas on the other. The Malfoy boy quickly made a space for her and she sat sideways, facing Tom, who looked very pleased with himself.

            “Thank you for the books, Tom,” Hermione held the books, stroking the covers.

            “They seemed the perfect gift for a girl who already knows so much,” his smile was crafty, and Hermione wondered what he was up to. “I believe wandless magic is untraceable?”

            Of course he wanted to learn about and practice magic with her that would enable him to attack others without a trace.   “Yes, but it is a very difficult type of magic, and not something that can usually be done without a firm foundation of wand magic.”

            He leaned close and whispered softly, “I have faith in our ability to do that which is not commonly done.”

            She had that faith too; more than that, she had the knowledge that he was absolutely capable of extraordinary magic. “We can, I know, but we must also pace ourselves – great power without knowledge is almost worthless.”

            Tom frowned as he considered her words. “Perhaps, but we can gain the knowledge concurrently. What the school will not teach us, Hermione, we must teach ourselves.”

            Hermione recognized her own thoughts, especially from her fifth year, and nodded, hoping that she could guide him slowly. “Thank you again.” She squeezed his hand, noticing how surprised the rest of the table was that she touched him freely, or even at all.

            “Tomorrow in the library, then?” he grinned, not attempting to disguise his pleasure at her agreement. He loved it when she did what he wanted, she knew.

            “Yes,” she replied, giving him his ‘win’ for the moment. If he wanted to meet in the library, he wouldn’t be expecting to actually practice much magic, only to discuss theory.

            She excused herself, and went back to her Ravenclaw friends. After they finished breakfast, they went back to the Tower and spent a relaxing morning of listening to music, painting each other’s nails, playing gin rummy with the muggle cards Felicity had brought, and attempting to make sense of the magical tapestry book, which was rather vague in its directions.   Patience insisted on trying some of the basic weaving spells using a few of Hermione’s thin hair ribbons, and though Hermione was initially afraid her hair would be damaged beyond repair, the result was truly lovely, leaving Hermione’s brown locks in two thick braids, the hair interwoven with the white ribbons with the blue diamonds.

            By the afternoon, she was in an excellent mood, even though she had skipped her potion this morning because of the weekend and the late breakfast, and she honestly thought it was a very nice birthday, despite the occasional pangs of longing for her friends and family from her own time.

            She went down and through several halls to get to Narcissa’s quarters, whistling softly as she walked. The library was on the way, and as she passed it, she ran into Tom, who was coming out, alone.

            “Do you want to take a walk around the lake?” he asked. “I need some light and air, I think.”

            “No wonder. I really don’t understand putting dormitories in a dungeon,” Hermione frowned. “But I can’t, I promised Mother I’d meet her for tea.”

            Tom was disappointed, but he didn’t scowl, which Hermione took as progress. As she turned, he reached out and touched her braided hair. “Who did this?”

            “Patience,” she replied. “Do you like it?”

            “It looks almost exactly how I had imagined it would,” he nodded approvingly. “This will be good for dueling club and all the classes where you’ll need your hair back for practical lessons, though the green ribbons would look better against the color of your hair.”

            She laughed. “I’m not a Slytherin, Tom. Wearing green in Hogwarts is different than wearing it out and about. House colors are taken very seriously. Why do you think Patience chose the white and blue ribbons out of the rainbow of colors I had?”

            Tom’s tone was almost petulant when he spoke his reply. “Green isn’t just a Slytherin color. It’s always been my favorite color, and I like to see it on-” he stopped himself.

            On his things, Hermione finished in her mind. “Well, my favorite color is red, but I don’t need everything I own to be red.”

            “I’ll keep that in mind,” he said. “You had better get to your tea.”

            She shook her head, surprised that he had given up so easily, and when she caught sight of her reflection in the mirror in the entry of Narcissa’s quarters, she knew why. That little sneak had used the transfiguration spell she’d taught him, and he’d done it with his wand out of sight, and nonverbally. She was slightly mollified that not all the ribbons were green; there were also some of deep crimson woven in, the two dark complimentary colors standing out in what she had to admit was a better contrast to her honey colored hair than the blue and white.

            Narcissa appeared behind her and lightly touched the ribbons. “From your expression, I take it Tom had something to do with these?”

            “He changed the colors,” Hermione sighed, and followed her mother into the sitting area, where there was a tea service and several delicate and delicious looking sandwiches, cakes, and biscuits. “His power at this age is simply astounding.”

            “But he’s coming along,” Narcissa murmured. “He approached me about a gift for your birthday, and he was very agreeable. It’s becoming easier for him to talk to others in a more normal, less autocratic way.”

            “Yes,” Hermione agreed, thinking of interactions she’d seen between Tom and other students.   “He still thinks he’s better than everyone else, though.”

            Narcissa lifted the teapot and began to pour. The smell of Lady Grey tea rose in the air. She handed a gold-rimmed china cup and saucer to Hermione. “Darling, he is special, and by many common definitions, better than most. He’s too smart not to realize he is unique, different, even in this magical world.”

            Hermione bit the inside of her cheek in exasperation. “Yes! He’s a bloody genius! He has intuitive magical abilities that are insanely advanced for his age, but being better at magic, or having stronger magic doesn’t make him a more worthy person. People are equal. Everyone’s life matters.”

            Calmly, Narcissa sipped her tea. “I agree. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here. However, it is naïve to think that Tom will not rise above others, that he will not seek out a position of power, and it is important to carefully encourage his leadership abilities.”

            “Encourage him how?” Hermione narrowed her eyes. She knew Narcissa was much more willing to cross the line into darker magic if it suited her purposes.

            “Tom will eventually have to prove his power to the older Slytherins, and to the younger ones who have put their faith in him,” Narcissa answered. “If you can help him do so with a minimum of violence and without getting into trouble with the Headmaster or any teacher, he will learn that outright deadly attacks are not necessary to achieve his goals.”

            Hermione picked up a cucumber sandwich and took a vicious bite. She chewed for a moment, then asked, “Does he even have a goal besides a vague, insane desire to rule the world?”

            “When we spoke the other day, he seemed to warm to the idea of one day being Minister of Magic,” Narcissa leaned forward and patted Hermione’s knee reassuringly. “As much as we would like to plan the next seven years, we have only a fraction of control in how they will turn out. Life is unexpected, and Tom is a force not easily manipulated. The best we can do is offer him support and guidance.”

            “He wants to study wandless magic,” Hermione looked down into her almost empty cup, thinking how nice it would be if divination and reading tea leaves actually worked. Then she might know what the right thing to do was.

            “Already?” Narcissa raised her eyebrow. “He is one surprise after another. I expected him to be very talented, but his level is beyond my wildest expectations.”

            “Should I do it? If he can do wandless magic, then his magic can’t be traced, and he’s less likely to get into trouble, but it opens up the potential for a great abuse of power.”

            “If he wants to learn, he’ll learn with or without you, and isn’t it wiser to keep apprised of how he’s progressing?” Narcissa asked.

            Hermione absently ran a hand down the back of her braids, feeling the silky fabric of the ribbons. “I suppose. He told me that he isn’t good. He actually said that to me. I’m concerned about how dark he will eventually become, the lines he will cross, and whether or not I’ll be dragged across those same lines.”

            “You won’t be dragged anywhere,” Narcissa smiled. “You are much stronger than you give yourself credit for, and you wouldn’t hesitate to speak your mind on an issue that was important to you. As for Tom, well dear, we knew that we’d never make him good, as you put it. You need to come to terms with that. He is your soul mate, and you are meant to be together, so I have no doubt that you can find a compromise in yourself. You simply must decide what that compromise entails.”

            Hermione needed to change the subject. Too much thought of Tom’s future gave her headaches. “Speaking of soul mates,” she grinned. “What of Professor Merrythought?”

            Narcissa flushed, darker than Hermione had ever seen. “I do not know. It is very confusing. To also find my soul mate in the past, to have that soul mate be a woman, it is…all a bit much.”

            Hermione was glad she had skipped her potion this morning, and that she was in her adult brain for this conversation. “My father’s sister is a lesbian, and I was raised to see her relationship with her partner as no different than the one my parents had, but I’ve noticed the magical world doesn’t seem to have much to say about differences in sexuality or gender assignments. I never saw any couples in Diagon Alley who weren’t heterosexual – how is that even handled in the magical world?”

            “It isn’t, really,” Narcissa admitted. “Because having magical children is so important to the pureblooded families, sexuality simply doesn’t matter. Duty to one’s family comes first. Many pureblood spouses separate in everything except name after they’ve produced children. And I know several half-blooded matches who have similar arrangements.”

            “So, there is a lot of pressure to be in heterosexual relationships, not because homosexuality is seen as bad, but mostly for the purposes of having children?” Hermione frowned.

            “Yes,” Narcissa nodded.

            “It seems ridiculous that witches and wizards don’t just use some type of magical artificial insemination or a gestational surrogate. Muggles have sorted this out quite well,” she said.

            Narcissa smiled. “There are gay witches and wizards who marry and live together, they just aren’t a very large population. The number of married witches and wizards who engage in homosexual liaisons are much higher.”

            “But that’s so sad!” Hermione argued. “Why do they put duty before their own happiness?”

            “We did,” Narcissa shrugged. “We came back in time and left our lives forever out of a sense of duty to make a better future.”

            “Point taken,” Hermione said, her voice grim. “But to the world, you’re a widow, with a child. Surely you are free to do as you please.”

            Another rosy flush covered Narcissa’s cheeks. “Yes, I am free in that sense, but Galatea is a complication. A very serious one. I know I feel our bond strongly, and I’m concerned it would grow to the point that she might figure out our secret.”

            “That’s jumping far ahead,” Hermione cautioned. “I think you deserve happiness, Narcissa, and I think you can have it with her if you let yourself.”

            Narcissa, her cheeks still flushed, said nothing, only sipped her tea in silence, but Hermione had the feeling would be seeing Professor Merrythought very soon.  

Chapter Text

              Galatea Merrythought was a joyful person, but that didn't mean she'd had an easy life. She had been born the seventh child to a poverty-stricken family in Manchester in 1886, and when she had received her Hogwarts letter, accompanied by a tall, florid faced-man dressed in seventeenth-century garb in the late summer of 1897, she had already been working for ten months as spinner in one of the many local cotton mills.   Upon opening the door to a man in clothing more suited to an Elizabethan gentleman than to those worn in a tenement slum house, her father had promptly boxed Professor Johnston’s ears, yelling that he’d find a place “in Bedlam for the damned nutter” if he didn’t stay away from his daughter. Galatea, whose born name was Jane Galatea Barker, after her mother’s one and only romantic remembrance of Greek mythology, had gone after the strange man who was now sporting a bloody nose, splashing mud over her only clean dress as she had screamed for him to stop.

            Thankfully, Professor Fesiah Johnston had encountered much worse in his thirty years of contacting muggleborn children and their families. He had given the young Jane a wide smile, clear and specific directions to Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts station, and having witnessed her family’s poverty, he had also given her a small purse of muggle money for her journey. In a very compassionate manner, especially for a man who was sinking nearly knee-deep into the muck of a factory town street, the professor had warned her that she had a hard choice to make, and that her choice would likely cause deep divisions in her family.   Professor Johnston had stayed with her in a shadowy corner, whispering spells that had kept them miraculously cool and dry until her father had departed for his own factory shift, then had gone back with Jane to speak to her mother, who was a bit more reasonable.

            The division of her family had not been an exaggeration. Understanding that explaining magic simply wasn’t an option, Professor Johnston had instead informed Ingrid Barker that her youngest daughter had been noticed as exceptionally clever at the mill, and that wealthy benefactors wished to pay for her education. Though Mrs. Barker was inherently suspicious of a grown man in strange clothes who clearly had money, showing interest in her youngest daughter, she had noticed that Jane was different than the other children, that she was sharper, hungrier for knowledge, and definitely less likely to be satisfied with the narrow world around her. After getting assurances in writing (which she could barely read) that they wouldn’t have to pay anything, Mrs. Baker gave the odd man her promise that they would put Jane on a train bound for London at the end of August.

            Due to the constraints of their first meeting, Jane hadn’t completely understood all of what her Hogwarts letter meant until she had stood outside of the entrance to Diagon Alley, happy to see Professor Johnston waiting for her. By the end of the day, Jane had finally understood the reason why so many of her wishes came true, like the time she’d prayed for the fire not to go out in the dead of winter, and it had blazed so strongly, it had nearly burnt down the apartment. She’d also heard enough of chatter around her to know that Jane would not do as a name in the magical world. Professor Johnston had laughed at this proclamation, but had agreed to call her by her middle name.

            It was twenty years later before she had changed her last name as well, though it was not to separate herself from her muggle parents, who were long dead, their lives shortened by years of factory work and the squalid conditions of crowded tenement housing. She had been offered the name by her mentor, an ancient woman with whom she had completed her advanced degree and double certification as a Master of Defense Against the Dark Arts and Counter-Enchantments. Tabitha Merrythought had no children, was the last of her line, and after ten years of an apprenticeship that had been more like a mother-daughter relationship than anything else, Galatea had taken the surname Merrythought as a tribute to their connection, and Tabitha had officially named Galatea as her heir, leaving her a small estate in Surrey and a tidy sum in Gringotts.

               Given how much she had drifted away from her remaining muggle family (one sister and a handful of nieces and nephews), Galatea had mostly given up on maintaining those connections beyond sending birthday and holiday cards and setting up money for the children’s schooling. Her sister was sixty now, an old woman with grandchildren who had aged in the normal muggle way, while at 52, Galatea wasn’t even middle-aged by magical aging standards. Beside the obvious barrier of dramatically different life experiences, and the aging issue, Galatea also knew without being told that her romantic attachments to other women were not something her muggle family approved of, adding another layer to her estrangement.

              Galatea loved teaching, she liked most all of her coworkers, and she adored the bustling halls of Hogwarts. When Armando had offered her the position of Head of Ravenclaw House after Professor Johnston had retired, she had been more than thrilled, more than honored. She had felt vindicated. Her hard work and natural talent had been the only considerations – not her sexuality, not her status as a muggleborn. Over the years, though, she had longed for companionship, and had formed crush after crush on married witches who had occasionally returned her affection, but never wanted to be seen with her in public.

              Those affairs had left her heart and ego bruised, and she had given up on romance, had made her peace with being alone. It gave her more time to work on her constant and various projects, she reasoned. Galatea was a born inventor, and often shopped in muggle stores for things to charm and enchant, trying to create magical objects out of the mundane. Sometimes these experiments went well, and she had even patented a few: a tea kettle that whistled the tune, “I’m a little teapot,” instead of shrieking, and a hall bench that sprouted arms and removed users hats, boots, and coats when they said, “Service, please.” Other times, they were unqualified disasters, and she still bore the faint scars from when a china cabinet she had been trying to enchant to set the table had exploded and cut her face and hands to ribbons.

              She also had a keen interest in disenchanting dark objects. Her run-in with a cursed Slytherin scarf that had tried to strangle her in her second year had set her on the path of specializing in Defense Against the Dark Arts, and in Counter or Disenchantments.   She had worked closely with Dumbledore for the past five years, going from room to room in Hogwarts, attempting to locate and neutralize the dark magical objects and curses that both students and staff had left behind over the centuries.    

             The castle was a living thing with not all areas available at all times, secret passages and stairways that never quite lined up, and even after half a decade, they hadn’t come close to eliminating one-tenth of what was likely in the place. This task, though it was impractical and probably actually impossible, gave Galatea something to focus on when she wasn’t teaching, especially on the school holidays. Dealing with unknown curses and dark magical objects required concentration, and Galatea didn’t think about her lack of a love life when she was hard at work.

             Then, she’d returned to Hogwarts after a trip to South America over the summer, studying with a witch descended from the Mayans, and learning about the magical properties of several jungle plants. She’d even brought samples for both Professor Beery and Slughorn, to their delight. Madame Selwyn had never liked her, but she had brought the nurse a jar of ointment for soothing dragon pox scars as a gesture of goodwill. However, as soon as she had walked into the Hospital Wing, she’d forgotten all about the reason she had come.

              The new healer was the most beautiful woman Galatea had ever seen. She had expected the woman to be pretty – the fact that crusty old Dippet had called her lovely meant something – but Lady Narcissa Bonneau was practically a goddess. Standing over a cauldron, which was usually a recipe for frizzy, greasy hair and oily skin, the woman was perfectly composed, her light blonde hair twisted intricately on both sides of her face, and gathered in a tight bun at the nape of her neck. Her skin was pale but luminous, her eyes large and dark, her features finely shaped and perfectly symmetrical. She was slender, but still womanly in her curves, and when she looked up and smiled, Galatea’s hibernating heart had awoken, ravenous.

             And that had been before they’d touched. When their skin had met, a euphoric feeling had flooded Galatea’s entire being. She had always been an optimistic, cheerful person, easy to laugh and be pleased. It was not unusual for Galatea to feel good, to be happy. But Narcissa’s presence made her baseline happiness seem like nothing; she felt ecstatic and filled with possibilities.

            She’d wasted no time with coyness, and though her brain cautioned her that this must be a mistake, that this beautiful, polished, pureblooded aristocrat couldn’t possibly be the soul mate of a muggleborn who had been come from nothing, her heart leapt. It had been insane to kiss the Narcissa only a few minutes after meeting her, but the pull was strong, and the kiss itself had been the best of Galatea’s life.

            Narcissa had been very reserved since then, smiling and flushing, but never giving anything away. Galatea had never been good at hiding anything, actively attempting to solve any mystery she came across, and never backing down from a challenge. Narcissa was both. How much of her behavior was upbringing and how much was having recently lost her husband in a war zone, Galatea hadn’t deduced yet. She wanted to be respectful, to offer Narcissa companionship without any type of romantic pressure, but it was hard to be patient with the constant tugging of the soul mate bond. Having found her magical match, she wanted to be with her, to touch and hold her.

            Since the night at the beginning of term, though, Narcissa had made herself scarce. She often missed meals, staying in the Hospital Wing with any patients and eating from a tray, and had not yet had the promised dinner in Galatea’s quarters. Narcissa seemed to avoid being caught alone, especially after the morning when she’d woken in Galatea’s arms after the horrible business in Slytherin House.

            The light streaming in through the high windows had been hazy, and Galatea had opened her eyes slowly, taking in the feeling of a soft body pressed against her own, the faint smell of sweet, expensive flowers, and the tickle of a warm exhalation on her exposed collar bone. Narcissa had turned in the night, and her head rested on Galatea’s shoulder, her sleepy breathing and nuzzling movements unintentionally erotic. Not wanting to break the calm, but knowing that she needed to return discreetly to her own room before long, Galatea had shifted as slowly and subtly as she could, but Narcissa had instantly sat up and apologized.

            “I’m sorry,” her eyes had been downcast, her body already turning away to stand. “I – we – I need to get back to the Hospital Wing to check on Tom.”

            Galatea had also stood, and grabbed her robe from the end of the bed. As a lesbian in a society that saw same-sex relationships as itches to be scratched or quaint curiosities, Galatea had found herself politely but firmly dismissed the morning after more than once. Though they hadn’t done anything sexual, Narcissa’s reaction hinted strongly at shame, and Galatea simply didn’t have it in her to fight a whole lifetime of pureblood conditioning this early in the morning.

            “I understand,” she’d said, and left without another word.

-oOo0oOo-

            Now, a month later, Galatea was ready to fight. This avoidance was ridiculous. Some people spent their whole lives looking for soul mates, so how could she throw away such a gift? How could Narcissa? She checked the staff schedules, and waited patiently for Narcissa to get finished in the Hospital Wing, and caught her as she walked out.

            Seeing her, Narcissa’s face took on an expression that was at once happy and exasperated. “Galatea,” she said, a slight reproof in her voice.

            “I know you didn’t eat dinner,” Galatea answered. “I asked the elves – no one brought you a tray, but two very sweet house elves are bringing a near feast to my quarters, and if you don’t come with me and help eat it, they’ll be heart-broken.”

            Narcissa sighed in resignation. “I am hungry,” she admitted, rubbing a hand on the back of her neck. “But I’d like to have a bath.”

            Galatea grinned, her smile wickedly tilted. “I have a quite lovely bathtub. I charmed it to sink into the floor. It’s practically a small lake.”

            Flushing, Narcissa pursed her lips together. “The bath can wait, I’m sure.”

            They walked quietly to Galatea’s rooms, which as the Head of Ravenclaw House, were much larger, grander, and airier than Narcissa’s quarters. As promised, the main sitting room, which was lined with books from floor to ceiling, except for the break for the white marble fireplace, had a small table with places set for two and a wide variety of foods piled on it.

            Galatea pulled out Narcissa’s chair, then poured her a glass of wine. Narcissa raised an eyebrow. “Feeling lucky?” she murmured

            Laughing, Galatea poured her own glass and sat down. “Always. My life has been an exceptionally lucky one. Finding you is proof of that.”

            Narcissa’s face was still. “My life has been the opposite. Nothing in it has been charmed except for my hair and clothing.”

            “I’m sorry to hear that,” Galatea said. “But we can make a new life, together, if you will allow this to happen.” She looked at the other woman, who was so clearly struggling with her feelings. “What is holding you back?”

            “I’m not sure,” Narcissa grabbed her glass and took a very unladylike gulp of her wine. “My life has been very…planned. And in the last year, everything changed. I suppose I am just trying to adjust to the newness of being in a different country, of being a widow, a single mother, of having a job, of finding a soul mate I hadn’t been looking for.”

            Galatea nodded. “That is a lot. And I don’t want to hurry you or make you feel pressured – I only want to spend time with you, to get to know you. Fate apparently thinks we’re insanely compatible, so I think we’d enjoy the process.”

            “I know I would,” Narcissa spoke into her glass, and took another sip. “That’s part of the problem,”

            “Because I’m a woman?” Galatea asked, not sure if she wanted to know the answer.

            “Well, that part is certainly new,” Narcissa admitted, then hastily added, “but not unwelcome. I don’t mind that you are a woman, I just…I had a husband, one whom I had been married to since I was eighteen, only a few months ago. He might not have been my soul mate, but I loved him, just as I am sure you have been in love before.”

            “Of course,” Galatea picked at the mashed potatoes with her fork, not looking at Narcissa. “I suppose I’ve been overly eager. It is one of my many faults.”

            Narcissa reached across the table and placed her hand over Galatea’s. “I find you utterly charming, Galatea, but I’m not an easy woman to love. I was not raised with love, nor even affection. Talking about how I feel is difficult for me. And, if I am honest, I am terrified of being with you, of embracing the joy of having a soul mate, because with the luck I’ve had, I’ll have you only long enough to be heartbroken when I lose you.”

            Galatea stood, pulling Narcissa up to face her. “I have enough luck for both of us, Narcissa. Just be here, with me, now, and let the rest go. I’m not going anywhere.”

            Giving into the desire to be closer to her soul mate, Narcissa went into the taller woman’s arms, resting her ear against Galatea’s nearly flat chest, hearing the reassuring beat of her heart, feeling the gentle flow of their magic mixing together. She tried not to think at all, only breathe and feel, and found it easier than she would have guessed.

            How long they stood, swaying in front of the fireplace, Narcissa didn’t know. She had been so scared. What would it mean to have a soul mate? Narcissa’s whole life, for as long as her memories could stretch, had been built around two things: duty to her family and hiding her thoughts and feelings. She might have replaced duty to her family with the loftier goal of duty to the entire magical world, but she hadn’t given up on hiding herself away. Would Galatea be able to know the true Narcissa? Was there even a true Narcissa to know? She was just starting to learn who she was, with her healing work, and adult friendships not based on being Pureblooded or married to a Death Eater. It was so much at once.

            There was no denying, though, that being in Galatea’s company was soothing and invigorating at the same time. And being in her arms? Heaven. It was like an instant calming draught, a peaceful sensation that everything was fine, and would continue to be fine. Was this what safety felt like? Narcissa didn’t think she’d ever felt safe in her life until this moment.

            Galatea pulled away slowly after a while, and walked through an adjoining doorway. Narcissa heard the sound of water and debated running.

            “You need to relax, and I think a soak in my lake is just the thing,” Galatea came back in, and lead Narcissa into the bathroom. The tub did sink into the floor, and was filled with steamy water scented with the clean smell of lavender. It looked wonderfully inviting, and Narcissa’s muscles were sore. Galatea waved her wand and thick white bubbles covered the surface. “I’ll let you undress in private.”

            Narcissa waited until the door was closed and shrugged out of her clothing, folding it neatly on the cabinet that held the towels. The water was bliss, just hot enough to start to unwind her tension, and it was a few minutes before there was a knock at the door.

            “Come in,” Narcissa called, feeling absurdly light-hearted, almost as bubbly as the water surrounding her.

            Galatea entered, carrying their two glasses and the bottle of wine. She sat cross-legged on the tile that made the rim of the bathing area and handed Narcissa her glass. Her grin tilted again, and she spoke reverently, “You are the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.”

            Narcissa had been raised knowing that she was attractive. Both Andromeda and Bellatrix had also been lovely, and the three sisters were considered to be the perfect Pureblood matches, with more than one family offering for each sister. Of course, Andromeda had run away to marry a muggle and been blasted off the family tapestries, but before that, the girls had been taught to value, enhance, and protect their looks as their most important asset (after their chastity, of course). Lucius had often told her that she was beautiful when they were courting and newly married, but the words had little meaning. Saying she was beautiful meant she was acceptable, that she looked the way a wife should look.

            When Galatea said those same words, though, with wonder in her eyes, as if Narcissa were a gorgeous sunset or the view from a mountain overlooking miles of forest and valleys of flowers, Narcissa felt beautiful.

           “Thank you,” she managed to finally say, feeling overwhelmed. Part of her wanted to pull Galatea into the water with her, to feel her hands again, and to feel them in new places.

            “Can I take down your hair?” Galatea asked quietly, and Narcissa nodded, a little thrill of anticipation running down her spine.

            Galatea moved to sit directly behind her, and spoke soft spells of undoing, slowly uncoiling the bun and twists, then carding her fingers gently through the mass of Narcissa’s thick blonde hair.

            “Where did you learn those spells?” Narcissa groaned in pleasure as Galatea began to massage her scalp with strong fingers. “Your hair is too short for them.”

            With a laugh, Galatea leaned down and whispered in Narcissa’s ear, “I make it my business to know all the spells it takes to reduce a woman to a state of déshabillé.”

           Narcissa shivered, and Galatea lifted her hair to one side, draping it over her shoulder and placing slow, barely there kisses to the line of her bared neck.

           “How many women have been in this bath?” she teased, trying to distract herself from the warmth spreading through her body that had nothing to do with the water.

          “Just us,” Galatea answered between kisses, her lips now on the curve of Narcissa’s shoulder.

          Narcissa meant to keep quiet, but instead, she said, her voice tinged with lust even to her own ears, “You aren’t in the bath.”

          Galatea’s long, broad hands tightened briefly on Narcissa’s skin. “I could remedy that situation rather easily, and I would love to do just that, but I promised to give you time to process all the changes in your life. I’d be a poor soul mate if I pressed my advantage when you are drowsy, tipsy, and naked.”

         With a gentle touch and a few swishes of her wand, Galatea had Narcissa out of the tub, wrapped in thick, soft towels. She led the younger woman to a chair in front of the fire, which was quickly blazing, then left, coming back holding a long white cotton nightgown with tiny emerald flowers embroidered along the square neckline.

        “I transfigured a pair of my night clothes,” she smiled, her hazel eyes shining as they reflected the firelight, a very faint line of freckles visible across the bridge of her nose.

       Narcissa stood, and managed to get the nightgown over her head before she dropped the towels. She was amazed that she felt so at ease and unguarded around this woman, whom she still barely knew, yet trusted effortlessly. “Thank you.”

       “Let’s go to sleep,” Galatea put an arm around her shoulders. “You look exhausted.”

        The bed was wide, but Narcissa made no pretense of staying on the far side. As soon as Galatea slipped between the sheets, Narcissa rolled over to her, laying her head against the other woman’s chest and falling into a quick and deep sleep.

Chapter Text

       

 

             Hermione had a headache. Honestly, every part of her ached. For the past three months, Tom had been pushing the limits of her mind, her emotions, and her magic. His homework, like Hermione’s own, was always done well and well in advance, leaving him with large chunks of free time, which he insisted on spending either in the library for study or an abandoned classroom on the fifth floor for practice.   His cadre of Slytherins were usually present, and over the weeks, he’d managed to attract a few others from outside his own house, a couple first-year Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs who were muggleborns. Hermione was always accompanied by Patience and often by Josephine and Felicity, too.

            On the surface, they functioned as a large study group. After a long discussion with Tom about how it was important to surround oneself with intelligent and talented people, and that doing schoolwork would help prevent them from looking like some sort of gang, Hermione had convinced him to help her make sure that all the people in group had their homework completed before spending time on other projects. For the most part, this was easy. Thad had the most difficulty, and Hermione spent a good deal of time checking his work and explaining concepts to him. He was still earning more “Poors” than “Acceptables,” but at least he wasn’t getting “Dreadfuls.”

            Once all homework was done, they would head to the fifth floor and practice all the current spells and charms from their classes, then work on spells from the first year textbooks. Everyone in their group, even Thad (who hadn’t really remembered much from his first year), was now doing end of the year spells before the Christmas break had even arrived. Sebastian Lestrange, as a second year, was helpful in tutoring the first years, and despite her initial reaction to him, and his outspoken belief that blood purity did matter, just not as much as power, Hermione got along with him. He was perfectly polite, without a single sneer or snide comment, and he treated the few muggleborns in the group the same as everyone else.

            The study group lasted a few hours in the evenings after dinner, and on the afternoons on the weekends. By then, most of them were ready to do something that normal children did, and left to relax in their common rooms with their friends.

The core group that remained, usually just Patience and Tom’s fellow first-year Slytherins, ended up watching Tom and Hermione argue over the interpretation of obscure magical texts, as well as attempt nonverbal and wandless magic. Most of their disagreements were on fundamental theoretics: what was magic? What made magic? Was it energy? What allowed a ‘magical’ person to tap into this hidden power? If some people were inherently magical, why did an overwhelming percentage of those people need help via wands and words to make their natural magic manifest in the world? How much did motivation and intention affect one’s magic? Could magic actually be light or dark, or only the people wielding it?

            These were questions Hermione had often wrestled with in her own mind, and though they were certainly difficult and abstract, she had always thought that the wizarding world seemed very content to accept the benefits and dangers of magic without much investigation into where it came from and what sustained its existence in the world. Tom was very hungry for knowledge, and he devoured books almost as quickly as Hermione did. They read theory, created their own theories, and experimented.

            Despite their intelligence and strong connection, and the times she and Tom had instinctively used magic to connect to and protect one another, they soon found that purposely trying to use nonverbal spells was tricky for most of the group, and unpredictable in its results. Wandless magic was so difficult, it was almost impossible unless the casters were very angry or frightened. The amount of concentration required was physically draining, and Hermione went to bed exhausted every night.

            However, Tom was nothing if not stubborn, and Hermione was not going to allow him to outpace her. She might be the only thing that eventually kept him in check, and she had committed herself to being able to do anything he could. It was an insane experience, to have a group of friends who really wanted to learn and explore magic.   It was like being in Dumbledore’s Army again, only at a younger age. The others in their circle didn’t put forth as much practical effort as she and Tom, but they watched and listened, as if attending a series of lectures, and there was no doubt that they were gaining confidence and ability at a much faster rate than the average first-year students.  

            Through their daily time together, distinct personalities emerged. Tom, of course, was the charismatic leader. Jacob and Vidhi were both quiet and studious, but also the two most likely to ask questions about theory. Abraxas was all charm, opening doors for the girls with broad smiles. He was the largest first year boy, and he always stood behind Tom, and a bit to the side, the very definition of a right-hand man. Though his eyes tended to glaze over when deeper theory was discussed, he was quick with defensive spells and never needed help with his homework. Corvus was the funny one, always joking and when he laughed, something about the curve of his smile and the tilt of his head reminded Hermione of Sirius in his light-hearted moments. Patience usually sat near Corvus, and was the most likely to laugh at his jokes, though often at the wrong places. She didn’t seem to pay attention to anything that was happening around her, but then she would offer a comment that was deeply insightful, and Patience was the only person beside Tom and Hermione who could consistently perform nonverbal magic.   Marguerite was stealthy and mostly silent, and though the girls were not exactly friendly, there was no doubt Marguerite noticed everything that happened in her house, and that she managed to keep tabs on budding plots. Hermione thought more than once that the tiny brunette would’ve made an excellent spy/assassin in the future.   Marguerite also seemed to understand that Tom had little impulse control when it came to disrespect, and that he only listened to Hermione, which meant that Marguerite went to Hermione with any news about what the older Slytherins were or were not doing.

            The halls were quiet and peaceful, and no one in Slytherin had said a single thing about Tom’s half-blood status in weeks, according to Marguerite’s nightly reports at their study group. And tonight, Marguerite had said the same thing she’d been saying – that no one was saying anything, and that was a terrible sign. Hermione had made sure everyone practiced protective and rebounding spells, as well as temporarily incapacitating but not truly harmful jinxes. As the group broke up to head back to their dormitories, Tom helped Hermione pack all their books away.

            “You’re worried something is going to happen soon,” Tom said, his tone matter of fact.

            “Yes, I am,” Hermione admitted, whispering a protective spell over the delicate Durante texts before placing them in her bag.

            Tom shook his head. “And you still think shields and jelly-legs jinxes are going to solve the problem?”

            Hermione frowned. “I think those actions will prevent you and the others from being expelled, Tom. We can’t go around cursing and choking people.”

            “We’re getting better with wandless magic everyday, Hermione,” he put down the book he was holding and took her bag from her hands. “Soon, we’ll be able to do whatever we want.”

            They were facing each other now, only about a foot apart, and neither of them was holding a wand. Tom looked at the rest of the books on the table and levitated them into her bag. She sighed and closed the bag’s flap and sent the bag across the room, to rest by the door.

            “Look at us!” Tom smiled. “We can do more nonverbal and wandless magic than most adults!”

            “I want to go further with magic than anyone else ever has,” Tom grabbed both of her hands, and she could feel their magic – both her own magic and their combined magic was always so much stronger when they were touching. “We can’t do that if we don’t firmly establish our dominance in this school.”

            “Yes, we can,” she tried to pull her hands free, but he tightened his grip. “If we’re so superior, like you believe, then why isn’t defense enough? They won’t be able to hurt us – isn’t that what matters?”

            Tom laughed. “No, what matters is respect.”

            “There’s a big difference between respect and fear, Tom,” she gave another jerk and he let go. The loss of their combined magic left her feeling a bit lightheaded. She looked away from him and voiced a question she wasn’t sure she wanted the answer to. “Do you like the way it feels when you make other people afraid? When you hurt them? Does it make you feel good?”

            He had her hands again, and the flood of their magic back through her body made her close her eyes. His head lowered to hers, their foreheads touching. It was incredibly intimate, though not at all romantic. It was deeper, and Hermione wondered briefly if this level of connection was something that only soul mates could feel, no matter their ages. Vidhi had lent Hermione a few magical texts from her Indian grandmother about chakra magic, and as their third-eye points aligned, the force of his life energy almost knocked her over. His will, and his determination to see his will done, was immutable. Thoughts flew through her mind. Was he the irresistible force? Was she strong enough to be the immovable object? How could this possibly end well?

            “Yes, it feels wonderful when others fear me,” he whispered, his breath cool against her face and smelling of peppermint. “I crave it. It makes me believe anything is possible, that the whole world will kneel at my feet.”

            Her eyes flew open and she wrenched backwards. “I will never kneel, Tom.”

            His expression looked as close to hurt as Hermione had ever seen it. “I wouldn’t ask you to! You’re -”

            “Special?” she spat, her anger rising.  “No, no I’m not. I’m just a girl, a person trying to live a happy life and make positive changes in society without hurting others. You don’t have to subjugate the world to be happy!”

            “Maybe not,” he snapped, heading toward the door. “But I want to. I want to control others, and I will have the power to do so, eventually. Since our happiness is so clearly linked, I think it would be best for your happiness to help me obtain what I want with the minimum amount of pain for all the stupid, unimportant people you seem to hold in such esteem.”

            He slammed the door with magic, and she gathered her books and made it back to Ravenclaw Tower just before the curfew began.

            Rachel Shacklebolt, the Head Girl, was sitting in a chair near the entrance, books and parchment spread out over a small table in front of her. She looked up as Hermione entered.

            “You just made it,” Rachel said, glancing at the clock on the wall. “Your shadow Patience was back twenty-five minutes ago.”

            Hermione sighed. “I had to-”

            Rachel held up her hand. “I’m not yelling at you. You are here, and in time. You don’t owe me an explanation. From all the accounts I’ve heard, you are certainly intelligent enough to properly manage your time.”

            Hermione nodded and walked toward the staircase leading to her room. Rachel’s voice stopped her.

            “Hermione?” Rachel stood and crossed to where Hermione was, lowering her voice. “It’s very admirable, how you are fostering inter-House connections with your Slytherin cousins. Ravenclaws and Slytherins and even a few Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs studying together and practicing magic together as first-years is almost unheard of, but I think it’s great.”

            “I think so, too,” Hermione said, relieved to know the Head Girl was on her side.

            Rachel gently caught her arm and pulled her still closer. “I want you to know, though, that you should not underestimate the older Slytherins. Just because they haven’t done anything doesn’t mean they aren’t planning something. Those boys who got suspended have older siblings, and those boys themselves will be back after the holiday break. I’m all for studying and practicing spellwork, but being out in the halls late is a recipe for disaster. If they catch you alone, they will hurt you. It won’t be bad enough to get them suspended, but it will be enough to make you miserable. Trust me, I’ve been on the wrong side of Slytherin hex more than once in my seven years here.

            Hermione thought of all the hexes she’d suffered as well, and unconsciously rubbed her lips, reminded of the time Draco had made her teeth grow.

              “That friend of Tom’s, Corvus?” Rachel continued. “His older sister Sagitta is probably the most vicious person in this school. Last year she thought I was flirting with her stupid fiancée just because I had to do evening patrols with him as a prefect, and she cast a spell on my braids that made them twist like screws into my scalp. Even though it only took Madame Selwyn and Professor Merrythought an hour to loosen them, the pain in my muscles stayed for several days. I could barely think for the splitting headache I had.   Sagitta hates Tom and you – she thinks you are contaminating her brother’s mind. She talks about it during our Herbology classes all the time. I want you to be aware and be careful.”

             “Thank you, Rachel,” Hermione said with all sincerity, and she began planning in the back of her mind. She would be prepared to handle Sirius and Narcissa’s great aunt. No other member of the Black family was going to get a chance to harm her.

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

            The faux peace lasted a few more weeks, not erupting until the day before the holiday break was scheduled to begin. To discourage students from skiving and general laziness, several of the professors had scheduled tests for the day, and Professor Beery was one of them. There was a practical exam on the proper harvesting techniques for several plants, and Hermione and her roommates had been joined in the hall by Tom and his first year Slytherins on their way to the greenhouses. They easily fell into step with one another, and even though she had been annoyed with Tom, she still felt better when they traveled the halls in a group.

 

They rounded a corner and were suddenly faced with a group of much older Slytherins, all sixth and seventh years. There were five of them, and the two in front held hands. The couple appeared well-matched in temperaments, looking at everything around them with disdain. The boy was the prefect who’d opened the dungeons their first night, William Bulstrode, and the girl on his arm was Sagitta Black. The others were Calvin’s older sister, Morgan Nott, Hubert Avery’s older brother, Ulfred, and Blake Goyle. All of them had smug expressions on their faces.

 

              Sagitta had very pale skin, a pinched face, and dull brown hair. She glared at them all, then spoke to her brother. “Corvus,” her voice was incredibly shrill, unpleasantly reminding Hermione of the portrait of Sirius’s mother in Grimmauld Place. “Mother and Father wanted me to remind you that we don’t allow mongrels in our home, so you’d better not be planning on having any of your dirty-blooded pets over during the break.”

 

            “Don’t worry about me,” Corvus replied quickly, then glanced behind her. “I would think Morgan and Ulfred would be the ones concerned about their younger brothers, not you. How long has it been since a student was suspended from Hogwarts? Your families must be so proud.”

 

            Morgan leaned forward, her red face nearly matching her hair color. “My brother will be back next month, and if any of you bother him, you’ll regret it. Our father works for the ministry in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and he could have you thrown into Azkaban before you could blink.”

 

           “I don’t think that’s possible, even if one were directly apparated to the prison,” Patience noted dreamily, though Hermione noted that her wand was gripped tightly in her hand.

 

            “Are you brain-damaged?” Morgan sneered at her. “How did you end up in Ravenclaw?”

 

            “Well,” Sagitta smirked, “the Sorting Hat is clearly losing its powers. Sorting half-bloods into Slytherin? That was clearly a mistake.”

 

              Hermione glanced around. None of the first years could do much of anything yet as far as attack, so she really only needed to worry about Tom. And the five older Slytherins.  

 

             “The only real mistake would be failing to recognize the need for change,” Tom responded icily. “Luckily, I’ve learned to distinguish between pureblooded students with talent and loyalty,” he gestured magnanimously at the young Slytherins who had come to stand in a cluster around him, “And those who exhibit the unfortunate signs of centuries of incestuous inbreeding.”

 

             Several things happened at once then. Sagitta shrieked and swished her wand hand, her mouth open, but Hermione nonverbally cast expelliarmus, neatly catching Sagitta’s wand, pausing only briefly before throwing it over the side of the nearby stairwell. William was yelling something at Tom, who advanced toward him, not taking out his wand or speaking. William, in contrast, fell to his knees, making a pained face and clutching his stomach.

 

            Ulfred Avery sent several hexes in quick succession toward Hermione and Patience, but Patience had already conjured a shield that extended to both Hermione and herself, and Hermione cast a silencing spell on him. Marguerite followed that with some kind of hair-growth hex and Avery’s eyelashes were soon completely obscuring his vision.

 

            Morgan was behind Avery, using him as a shield, and she hit Abraxas with a stinging hex, his white skin instantly breaking out into red welts. Abraxas didn’t cry out, though. He bit his lip and sent a jelly-legs jinx at Avery, who went down, leaving Morgan exposed. Vidhi threw a spell at her from the side, and Morgan hunched forward, as if she were going to vomit, but then began making a growling sound, followed by an outright barking noise.

 

            With a satisfied smirk, Vidhi announced loudly, “I think I’ve found the real mongrel. Morgan thinks she’s a dog!”

 

            Tom turned away from whatever he was still doing to William, delight on his face at Vidhi’s obvious talent for humiliating the enemy.   “Well spotted, Vidhi!”

 

              The Goyle boy seemed about as clever as his future relatives, and the spells he threw, though dark, were not particularly powerful. Jacob and Felicity were both hit, but still continued to fire back, and Josephine yelled, “sominus” and Blake fell over sideways and promptly began to snore.

 

                Sagitta, now angry but disarmed, ran at her brother, yelling, “You stupid little blood traitor! Our parents will disown you for this, I’ll make sure of it!” and began to rain blows on his head, landing punches to his face and neck.

 

                Corvus was a bit small for his age, and scrawny, and though he had his wand, he seemed too shocked and desperate to avoid his sister’s fists to remember to do magic.

                The other pureblooded children stood silent as well. Apparently, siblings coming to blows was not very common in magical households. Hermione ran over and kicked Sagitta hard in the shins, not wanting to use magic on someone she’d disarmed.

 

               Turning, Sagitta shrieked, “Stay out of this, you little bitch! You’re no better than a mudblood, and if you dare touch me again, I’ll-”

 

               But what Sagitta would have said was lost, because in that moment, Hermione only saw Bellatrix, and she wordlessly and wandlessly sent the older girl flying across the corridor, her head smacking against the stone wall with a dull thud, then falling to the floor.

 

                  Everyone had been watching, even Tom, and whatever spell he had cast on William had ended. William rose slowly, on shaky legs, walking toward his fiancée. Hermione turned back to face the others.

 

                The scene was a disaster. Morgan was still barking, tears of rage streaming down her face at her inability to stop. Avery was trying to walk away, but was tripping over the facial hair that was down to the floor and completely obscuring his vision. Goyle was on the floor snoring. William was pale and drawn, and Sagitta was unconscious. On their side, Abraxas was covered in welts, Jacob’s nose was three times its normal size, Felicity had a horn sprouting from the side of her head, and Corvus had a bloody nose and a black eye.

 

              Hermione couldn’t believe what she had done, and she was terrified that she’d really hurt Sagitta, even as she felt a thrill of satisfaction that her friends had done well against the group of much older students.

 

              Tom stepped over to where William knelt beside Sagitta.

 

              “What?” William snapped at him.

 

            “If you attempt to hurt me or any of my friends again, no amount of family connections or money will keep you safe from me,” Tom spoke quietly. “You may have thought yourself better than others, but your magic is weak and pathetic. I am strong, as are those who align themselves with me, and we will not tolerate your disrespect.”

 

             William made a horrible jeering laugh. “You and your little girlfriend are going to end up in Azkaban for assaulting my fiancée.”

 

              Tom raised an eyebrow. “Really? I don’t think so. Hermione used wandless magic, and there’s no trace of it.”

 

             “But there are witnesses!” William snarled.

 

             “No, there aren’t,” Tom gave him a nasty smile. “Morgan, Goyle, and Avery saw nothing, and you – well, Obliviate.”  

 

             Hermione watched, stunned. Tom had clearly been working on his own, looking up things he knew she wouldn’t approve of.

 

            “Let’s get the sequence of events clear,” Tom was speaking to the group now. “We were attacked. We defended ourselves, exactly as it happened, except that when Sagitta was hitting Corvus, he ducked and she was thrown off balance, falling and hitting her head.”

 

              Every one of the Slytherins and Ravenclaws present nodded solemnly. Tom looked at Josephine, who was unharmed, and a generally cheerful and well-liked student. “Josephine, will you fetch Lady Bonneau?”

 

              “Yes, of course,” Josephine went back down the hall at a run.

 

              William was now staring blankly at Sagitta, and Hermione knelt beside the girl, feeling the back of her head and murmuring healing spells. There was no blood or swelling, and Hermione had been received enough vicious knocks during magical fights that she knew her spells for healing head injuries were effective if applied immediately after injury. Sure enough, Sagitta was moaning and opening her eyes before Narcissa had arrived.

 

             With her sharp gaze, Narcissa took in the situation, assessing it quickly. She checked over Sagitta and announced she would probably be fine, but would need a headache potion before going back to class. She stopped the hair growth on Avery and ceased Morgan’s barking. After looking at Goyle, she left him on the floor. “He’ll wake up in about ten minutes, no worse for the wear.”

 

             She healed Corvus’s bloody nose, and relieved the pain of his bruised eye, but told him the mark would stay for a few days. With a soft expression that Hermione knew was because she was reminded of Draco, Narcissa smiled warmly at Abraxas and cast a few cooling charms on his skin and told him to ask Professor Beery for a little aloe to rub on his welts. “They’ll fade in a few hours. Just don’t itch them.”

 

            Abraxas nodded, and stood aside for Jacob. “My, your nose is quite spectacular today,” Narcissa murmured. She looked at Felicity’s horn and sighed. “You two will need to come with me, along with Mr. Avery and Miss Black.”

            Narcissa took Avery’s arm because he still couldn’t see well. She glanced at Tom and Hermione. “I’ll see both of you this evening, after dinner, to discuss our holiday plans.”

            “Of course, Aunt Narcissa,” Tom smiled widely. Narcissa looked somewhere between pleased and exasperated. “The rest of us will just get to class.”

            “Yes, do that. I’ll send Felicity and Jacob with an excuse once they’re set to rights.” Narcissa left, shepherding the injured students down the hall.

            The remaining students hurried to the greenhouses, where they were ten minutes late. They relayed the story of the hall altercation to Professor Beery, mostly to explain the absence of Jacob and Felicity, and he shook his head. “All this blood status business is pure nonsense! Get to work now, or you won’t finish your exams in time.”

            Hermione worked with Patience, Tom, and Abraxas, as usual, and of course they had no difficulty finishing their work with time to spare. Once their answers and sample cuttings were submitted, Tom moved his stool over and leaned close to Hermione.

            “I’ve been thinking of a word to adequately describe you, my dear soul mate,” his voice was barely a whisper, no chance that even Patience or Abraxas would hear it. “And I believe the correct term is hypocrite.

            When she didn’t respond, he continued, his breath tickling her ear. “Don’t think we won’t talk about this.”

            Luckily, Jacob and Felicity returned, and Professor Beery allowed Hermione to help them catch up with their work. She had no doubt she was in for an uncomfortable discussion with Tom, but right now, she just didn’t want to think about anything. The hall fight had brought with it so many memories of her previous Hogwarts experience. After so long of being in constant danger, Hermione knew she had over-reacted, that none of the older Slytherins had been using spells that were permanently damaging. Her response to Sagitta had been a release of pent-up anger at all the pureblooded prejudice she’d been subjected to for the last seven years of her life, and to the torture she’d suffered at the hands of Sagitta’s future relative.

            Through the rest of the day, Hermione kept her distance from Tom and concentrated on her work, though she couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d said. When she returned to Ravenclaw Tower before dinner, she took a long shower, and tried to gather her thoughts. She wanted to face Tom and Narcissa with a clear mind.

            Was she a hypocrite? She railed at Tom for wanting to use violence, then she was the one out of all of them who had used the most force, force that could have been deadly. Yes, she had acted out of instinct, but wasn’t Tom driven by instinct as well? Was he evil because he wanted control? To be honest, she was a bit of a control freak herself. She planned and researched every option of every possibility, and had a tendency toward melt-down when her plans went awry. Narcissa had warned her again and again that Tom did not share her morality. She cried, her tears running down her face with the shower streams. How could he be her soul mate? If she was supposed to somehow temper his homicidal tendencies, she was doing a piss-poor job. She’d made him stronger at a younger age, and was failing at being a role model for morality.

            She dressed for the holiday feast in a mechanical fashion, still lost in her thoughts. Tomorrow morning, most of the students would leave for home, and Sagitta’s words to Corvus kept running through her mind. What would the Blacks do to Corvus when they found out he was aligning himself with a half-blood who denied and defied the importance of blood status? What about the Rosiers and Abraxas, when their parents caught wind of what was happening? Pureblooded families were closely tied, and they all seemed to know one another’s business. Vidhi and Jacob would be fine, but their families were the exception in Slytherin House students.

            “A penny for your thoughts?” Hermione was pulled out of her worst-case scenario spiral by Felicity’s soft Scottish accent.

            “Oh, they’re worth a few pounds, at least by weight alone,” she laughed weakly.

            Felicity nodded and rubbed the side of her head that had sported a horn only a few hours earlier. “It was a very strange afternoon.”

            Josephine walked over, clipping her hair back from her face with barrettes. “That is an understatement. I’ve never been in a fight! It was scary, but…”

            “Thrilling?” Patience had drifted out of the bathroom, her hair still wet.

            Nodding excitedly, Josephine sat on Hermione’s bed, which was the closest to the bathroom door. Felicity came over as well, and they absently helped one another as they talked, combing and braiding hair, straightening buttons and ties and sharing jars of hand lotion and tiny pots of scented lip balm.

            “I was so surprised we did so well!” Felicity exclaimed. “I mean, we’re first years, and they were in sixth and seventh! We held our own.”

            Hermione worried her lip, looking down at the sapphire blue bedspread. “I was a bit out of control. I could have,”

            “You weren’t,” Josephine said flatly. Her tone was not at all like her normal bubbly self and Hermione glanced up to see that the sweet girl’s eyes were hard with justified anger. “She’s horrible. That whole family is horrible. The Blacks are third or fourth cousins of mine, and our family sees them at weddings and big parties, and they are just awful. Sagitta has an older brother, who was married last spring. The poor bride cried through the whole wedding and she was dead two months later. The Blacks said she got dragon pox, but she probably killed herself to get away from him. They use dark magic on their children to punish them, and it twists them forever. I honestly don’t know how Corvus has remained so normal and nice.”

            Patience caught Hermione’s hand and squeezed it. “It was a very good thing that you disarmed Sagitta before anyone else, and that you knocked her out.

            Felicity shook her head. “I don’t know why you feel guilty! You healed her, almost immediately. You clearly didn’t mean to knock her back as hard as you did, but you were protecting yourself, and Corvus. His sister was beating the snot out of him.”

            “So,” Hermione began slowly. “You don’t think it’s, well, wrong, that Tom obliviated William?”

            All three of her roommates looked at her in disbelief. They shook their heads, nearly in unison.

            “No, it wasn’t wrong,” Josephine said. “It was smart. Even if it was accident, you would have been the one in trouble, and Tom knew that. He kept you safe. I think it was very nice how we all protected one another. I feel like I have a school family.”

            “Exactly,” Felicity joined in. “I was very scared to come here, being muggleborn, and though everyone in our house has been nice, there are older students and even some teachers who don’t seem to accept me. To know that we have friends who are willing to fight people who would bully us is important.”

            Hermioine remembered her own difficulties as a muggleborn and gave Felicity a reassuring hug. “Of course we will always fight for you.”

            As she spoke, she realized the truth of her words. She was motivated to fight against pureblood prejudice, and she would protect herself, her friends, and Tom. Tom’s beliefs were extreme, but maybe she had placed herself too far on the opposite end of the spectrum. She couldn’t always fight dark spells with simple shields, and things would only get more intense. Her Ravenclaw sisters, who were all good people, didn’t see any problem with their actions today, so maybe she needed to just relax a little. Tom wasn’t going to turn into the Dark Lord over night, and if she tried to keep a stranglehold on his magic, maybe she would do more harm than good.

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

            After the feast, Hermione and Tom walked together to Narcissa’s quarters. They walked in silence for a bit, then Hermione finally spoke.

            “You were right, somewhat, about my actions,” Hermione said. “I do say one thing and do another, but it isn’t intentional. I have high ideals, and I want to be a good person, but sometimes, I fall short.”

            Tom sighed. “You do not fall short, Hermione. Your magic knows what it wants, and it is glorious. I know you want to believe that everyone is equal, but that just isn’t true, Hermione. All of the world, nature, is variance.”

            “Outwardly, yes, but inside, in the heart and soul,” Hermione argued, “we are the same. We are equal.”

            “You think Sagitta Black has a heart? She beat her brother for no reason other than he dared to disagree with her beliefs. If you hadn’t disarmed her, she would have tried to hurt all of us.”

            Hermione frowned. “I think she had a hard childhood, that she was treated very cruelly at a very young age, and that makes her an angry, unstable person.”

            “And because of her sad childhood, which by the way, Corvus shared, we should allow her to attack us and feel bad for defending ourselves? For attacking her back adequately enough that she’ll think twice about bothering us again?”

            “No,” Hermione threw her hands up in exasperation. “I didn’t say that, I just-”

            “You just don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Tom laughed, a jagged, cynical sound, especially coming from an eleven year old. “But that’s impossible. We won’t change centuries of prejudice with sweet talk.”

            Thinking of various human rights movements, Hermione recalled the pictures of beatings and brutality that those seeking to change the status quo had faced. And how remaining non-violent, even though it was difficult and at times heart-breaking, had been the best policy in the long run for all of those movements.

“Well, you won’t win them over with fear, either, Tom. Making people kneel before you will only drive fear and anger deeper, and make supposed ‘followers’ more likely to stab you in the back. Why do you think most monarchies are only figureheads these days? We have to find a middle ground. I’ll give a little if you will.”

            Tom looked amused now. “Give a little? What do you suggest?”

            Hermione thought for a moment. “If you give up on the idea of people kneeling before you, and if you will promise only to attack those who are trying to harm us, I will promise to continue helping you with wandless magic, and to help you achieve your goals, so long as they fall short of world domination.”

            He raised an eyebrow, interested. “What about financial domination?”

            “As long as any workers in businesses you may own are treated fairly, fine,” Hermione replied.

            “And what if I want to go into politics and change laws that benefit only Purebloods and restrict the rights of others?” Tom queried.

            Hermione nodded. “As long as your political policies do not go so far that they start to leave Purebloods without rights, then I agree to help.”

            Tom snorted. “So, you agree to help me as long as you agree to help me? Hermione, for someone who wants to meet me half-way, you aren’t giving much ground.”

            She groaned in frustration. “You have no idea what you are talking about! I am more than meeting you! Just because I don’t want to go on a sadistic reign of terror and leave all of the people who disagree with me crying in pain at my feet -”

            “No,” Tom broke in, grinning. “You want them unconscious at your feet, their wands tossed far away, with no hope of mercy unless you yourself choose to give it. I watched you this afternoon. You were the Angel of Death again, holding Sagitta Black’s life in your hands.”

            “What?” she asked horrified. Was that how he had interpreted her actions?

            “If I offered to only fight with defensive spells, to do everything you asked any time we were attacked for the rest of the year, how long do you think it would be before you broke your own rules, Hermione?” Tom laughed, his handsome face even more handsome in the expression of genuine amusement. “Your brain might have high, civilized ideals, but your magic is untamed, and it fights like a wild creature.”

            Hermione didn’t answer that statement, because they had arrived at Narcissa’s quarters, and she was glad. Tom was insightful, and she needed to process what he’d said before she answered.

-oOo0oOo-   

            Tom was still grinning as he opened the door, though his face fell a bit when he saw Professor Merrythought sitting beside Narcissa on the couch by the fire. Their hands were not quite touching, but he could see the flow of their magic around them, swirling together. He had suspected something was going on between the two women, which honestly, was a little surprising – two women? Was that something that happened in the magical world? But the entwined magic he could see at their edges told him they must be soul mates, too.

            He didn’t really care other than to be sure that Professor Merrythought did not disrupt the family balance he had come to enjoy and expect with the Bonneau ladies. Professor Merrythought was the Head of Ravenclaw, and a powerful witch, so he was content for the moment to withhold judgment.

           Hermione was quiet, and Tom knew she was thinking about what he had said. She thought too much, at times. His soul mate’s overactive conscience was further proof to him that having one was a burden. If she would just allow her magic to flow instinctively, she would be unstoppable. One day, he would convince her of that. She wanted the world to be fair, which was an insane, childish idea. He wondered how she reconciled that desire with her brilliant mind. It would be easy to lie to her, to simply keep his dabblings into topics and behaviors she didn’t approve of hidden, but he didn’t want to lie to her. That was a new experience for him, the urge to share his thoughts.

              He’d shared them with her a week ago, when she’d asked if he liked making others fear him. To anyone else, he would have denied it, come up with a charming lie. But to her, to his soul mate, he’d spoken the truth. She’d reacted with indignant defiance, and he had been confused. He didn’t want her to kneel. They were a pair, a matched set, and she was the only person on his plane. She didn’t believe that yet, but she would. She might not understand herself completely, or want to accept her darker side, but there was no doubt she had one.

             Narcissa greeted them and they politely said hello to Professor Merrythought as well.

            “Professor Merrythought has invited us to spend the holidays at her estate in Surrey. It will be quieter than the Rosier house, and I thought you two might like the chance to have a peaceful break, given the tension we’ve had here, and the events of this afternoon,” Narcissa said.

             Hermione questioningly looked at Professor Merrythought who replied, “Yes, all the staff knows about the little hallway skirmish, though the details are thin because no one is saying anything. Since everyone is fine and no truly dark spells were used, I believe a blind eye will be turned, but I would not expect that to continue into the new year. Headmaster Dippet may be ancient, but he is savvy, and he will not allow the halls to turn into battle zones.”

             “I’m worried about Corvus,” Hermione blurted out. “Sagitta said she was going to have their parents disown him, and that is something the Blacks are known for doing.”

            Tom had been thinking about that threat as well, and wondering about how the time at home might affect several members of his group.

            “We can’t do anything about that in advance,” Narcissa said evenly. “But if he comes to us, we can certainly help him.”

            Hermione seemed pleased with that response, but Tom continued to think about the problem of the holiday break all through the rest of the conversation, and even when he walked back to the dormitory.

            The Slytherin common room was full, students lounging and talking and making plans to visit one another during the break. When Tom entered, silence fell. He noticed Marguerite and Abraxas and the others sitting in a corner, talking intently. He ignored the stares and walked over to them.

            “Hello, everyone,” he smiled, his charm fully in place.

            “Hello, Tom,” Thad said, before Marguerite nudged him in the ribs. “What? He said ‘hello.’”

            The rest of the first years were silent, waiting for Tom to speak. He decided praise was the best opening. “All of you did an excellent job this afternoon. I have heard from Professor Merrythought that no further questions will be asked about the incident, and, of course, I trust your personal discretion.”

            They nodded and Tom quickly cast the muffliato spell Hermione had taught him once they had started the group work. “That said, things are not over, and many of you have to spend time at home for the next few weeks where you may be raked over the coals about your connection with me and the things I’ve said about blood status.”

            Abraxas and Marguerite both looked pained and Corvus looked terrified, but defiant. “Let me ease your minds,” Tom turned up the charm, working to make them feel invested in what he was saying.

            “I will never ask you to be anything except the Slytherins you are. If you need to recant, lie, or beat siblings into submission to get through the holiday break, then do so. We will pick up where we left off in the new year, but do not feel the need to defend me to your parents. I suspect many of them will believe there is no defense for me. And that is fine. The time will come when the whole wizarding world will see how powerful we’ve become. But we have to get through the next six years first.”

            He could see from the relief on the others’ faces that he had said the right thing. Despite the disconcerting fact that Hermione was able to see through his motives, no one else could. They saw what he wanted them to see.

            “Are you coming to Rosier Manor?” Marguerite asked, her eyes worried though her voice betrayed nothing.

            “No, Hermione and Lady Bonneau and I have other plans for the holidays, though we may see you at some point over the break,” he answered non-committedly.

             After that, the conversation lapsed into everyone’s plans and what they hoped to get for Christmas, and Tom listened because he believed it was important to keep track of what his followers desired, but he was wondering what in the world a Christmas outside of Wool’s Orphanage would be like.

Chapter Text

 

          

             The Merrythought estate was definitely on a more humble scale than the Rosier residence – more the home of a country squire as opposed to a lord, but it was well-made and well-cared for, with four constantly smiling house elves who wore sparkling white togas with blue trim and fawned over the guests to the point that Tom began to contemplate violence.

            Hermione, of course, sensed this, and as he came down the stairs on the second morning of the break, he watched from around the corner as she spoke to all four elves in a kind, firm voice.

            “Tom,” she began.

            “Oh, the young master!” The oldest one squeaked. Tom thought it was the oldest, at least, and probably a male, from the amount of hair that sprouted from its ears, but he couldn’t be sure. “Such a handsome one! So charming!”

            Well, Tom, thought, at least the elf had good taste.

            “Yes, he is very handsome,” Hermione agreed, and Tom smiled in the shadowed stairwell, strangely happy to have her compliment, though that was ridiculous, because he knew he was handsome. It was simply a fact.

            “He is telling Olive not to be picking up his clothes!” A less-wrinkled, more feminine-looking one nearly wailed. “I needs to! I needs to make the guest room nice!”

            “I know,” Hermione soothed softly. When she wasn’t yelling at him, she had a very lovely, calming voice, he thought. “But Tom was not raised in the magical world.”

            “Like our Mistress!” The third one, who was completely androgynous, as far as Tom could tell, said. “We serve our new Mistress just as well! Our new Mistress Merrythought is so kind! She was trying to sets us free at first, but when we was so upsets, she is letting us stay!”

            Hermione’s expression was pained. Tom bit back a laugh. From what he knew of Hermione, and the little he’d experienced of house elves at the Rosiers, Hogwarts, and now here, he knew it must be killing her to have servants who were basically willing slaves. There was no way she’d be able to wrap her mind around that.

            “Professor Merrythought is an excellent person, I know. And I’m sure she only wants you to all be very happy,” Hermione bit out grudgingly. “But back to the subject of Tom, well, I think it would be best if you only came to him if he specifically calls for you. He simply isn’t used to the level of attention you so kindly provide.”

            “But what abouts the clothes?” the one named Olive wrung her hands.

            Hermione patted her stick-thin arm with a delicate touch. “Well, just pick up his clothes when he isn’t in his room, and make sure not to bother his books or paperwork. I suspect he’d be more touchy about those things than his clothes.”

            She suspected right, Tom thought darkly. He didn’t like anyone to touch his books. The elves agreed and popped away, and Tom waited a moment, then walked down the rest of the stairs.

            “Oh, Tom,” Hermione smiled broadly, and he noticed how much more relaxed she was when they weren’t at school, when it was just the two of them. “I was thinking of going sledding down the large hill at the back of the property. What do you say?”

            “I’ve never been sledding,” he responded slowly, not sure if he wanted to or not.

             “Well, it’s great fun,” she replied, taking his hand, and as he knew that she knew, it was difficult to refuse her when they were touching. “Come with me. The sun is shining, the snow is perfect, and you’ll love it.”

              He acquiesced, and soon found himself bundled in a scarf, hat, and gloves, trudging up a steep hill dragging a battered sled. Professor Merrythought’s home had many plain, muggle objects, and that strangely made Tom feel more comfortable there. Not every thing was a mystery, though he quickly learned that many of the muggle objects had been enchanted and did unexpected things, like the towel rack in his bathroom which had tried to dry him off when he got out of the shower. There was regular pen and paper in the library though, and Tom reveled in the convenience of being able to write notes without unfurling parchment or dripping ink.

               When he reached the top of the hill, he was a bit out of breath, and he saw Hermione was as well, though she was smiling nonetheless. “Ready?” she grinned, and threw herself belly down on the sled and took off.

                He quickly followed, though seated properly, and used the guide ropes to try to catch up with her. It was close, but she came out ahead, and then it was a true competition, and neither of them could be pulled away. They went up and down the hill countless times, getting thoroughly soaked from crashing and landing in the snow, and standing covered in said snow while disputing loudly who had won each and every race.

               Tom had no idea how much time passed, but the sun was almost gone from the sky when Professor Merrythought came out, waving her wand and vanishing the sleds.

                “I think that solves that argument,” she said with her crooked grin. “We’ll call it a draw.” Then, she swished her wand again and dried both of their soaked hats, scarves and coats. “I can see your competitive nature extends beyond the classroom. Popsy made hot chocolate. Come inside and warm up.”

                Hermione laughed and took his hand, and Tom went quietly, mostly because he was still mentally tallying his racing wins. It was nice to be inside the warm house, and the hot chocolate was excellent, as was the dinner that followed.

                 After dinner, they all sat in the library and Tom watched from under his eyelashes at the women around him. Professor Merrythought was sitting at a desk in the back of the room, studying the pieces of a dismantled clock in front of her.   Narcissa was on the sofa, reading a muggle book on healing herbs that Professor Merrythought had handed her as they had entered the room, looking up every so often to ask a question or make a comment. Hermione was stretched out on her stomach in front of the fire, as she had been on the sled, looking at a catalogue for a magical bookstore, occasionally circling a title. Tom was in a chair by the fire, his feet near Hermione’s head. Damballa was draped across his shoulders, and, to his annoyance, Khethiwe was in his lap, purring and kneading her claws into his legs while he tried to read a book on magical laws.

                 He wasn’t really paying much attention to the book, though not because of the stupid cat. The scene before him was so normal, so peaceful, and even though Tom didn’t need a family, this was certainly pleasant. He liked being around intelligent people in comfortable settings, and this definitely qualified.

                “Tom, Hermione,” Professor Merrythought called. “I think you’ll find this interesting.”

                 They both stood and came over to desk. As they got closer, Tom felt something tug at his magic, like a magnet.

                 “Is this clock cursed?” Hermione breathed, keeping her hands firmly at her sides, not touching the desk. At her words, Tom copied her posture.

                 Professor Merrythought nodded. “Yes, it was a clock I found in Hogwarts, and as far as Professor Dumbledore and I can tell, it’s a few hundred years old, and when it strikes the hour, anyone who hears the chimes will fall asleep then and there.”

                 “Why?” Tom asked.

                 “Why does anyone curse any object?” she shrugged. “Probably to keep a rival from getting somewhere on time, one Quidditch team sending it to another House to make them miss practice or a game, though it could have simply been to cause general mayhem. A lot of low-level curses like these are simply pranks that are a bit too powerful.”

                   Tom leaned forward carefully, looking at the springs, cogs, and hands on the desk. The magic emanating from them felt different from that which came from the enchanted objects he had become accustomed to. It had a slower, lower energy, more like a coiled snake waiting to strike than the happy bustle of floating cups or teapots, and Tom found its vibration familiar, akin to his own natural magic.

                    “Are you a curse breaker, too?” Hermione had moved a bit closer to him, and he could feel her magic extending outward in a protective fashion across both of them. He held back a grin at her instinctive defense. She thought she was so in control, his soul mate, but under her civilized exterior, her magic was wild and ferocious, and prepared to retaliate against any perceived threat before she was even fully aware of it.

                     Professor Merrythought lifted the clock face, which was detached from the rest. “I can break many curses, but I don’t specialize in them. I studied more general disenchantments and counter-spell work. Most cursed objects were magical to begin with, so identifying the underlying magic can sometimes undo the curse without the need for further work.”

                    Tom was fascinated now. “How do you undo a curse?”

                    “Very carefully,” Professor Merrythought laughed, then walked them through the preventative steps she had already performed. “Now, this bit is very theoretical, but you two are brilliant, so I’m confident you’ll follow. Do you think magic is a living energy?”

                   “Yes,” Tom and Hermione answered at the same time.

                   “I agree,” the professor said. “And so do many theorists, though it hasn’t been proven,”

                  “Well, magic is never proven like a scientific theory,” Hermione said, her tone annoyed. “I don’t see why not – it makes sense to have a rigorous method for testing theories.”

                   Tom nodded, thinking that many of the advanced texts on magic he’d read didn’t really discuss why or how magic worked.

                  “So true, Hermione,” Professor Merrythought seemed to share their frustration, and he thought once again that muggleborns, or half-bloods stood the best chance of making exciting magical discoveries, simply because they didn’t take magical knowledge for granted. “Now, if we accept that magic is a living energy, then can we go a step further and say that magic is intelligent?”

                  Hermione pondered the question, her lips pursed. Tom thought of the way his magic flowed through him when he was angry or upset, often knowing what he wanted or needed to do before he did.

                  Tom spoke slowly, reasoning as he did. “I believe so, but to know for sure, don’t we need to know where magic comes from?”

                  “Right,” Hermione picked up on his thought, “if it comes from somewhere inside the witch or wizard, then it is only as intelligent as the person fueling or wielding it. But if it comes from some outside source, then, yes…I think it does have some type of intelligence, though not necessarily a human definition of intelligence – something greater?”

                 Her last statement was more of a question, and Tom scoffed lightly. “Greater? Like magic is from God?”

                 Hermione shook her head, clearly knowing Tom well enough not to take offense. “No, not God, exactly. Maybe love and hate? Life and death? All the energy that dissipates when matter is transformed? Is magic what happens in the space of transformation, since matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed?”

                 “I think you are on the right track,” Professor Merrythought mused, lightly moving her wand, and floating the clock face and hands into the air. “Let’s say that magic is intelligent, that it comes from some source outside of us, whatever we want to call it. If it is intelligent, how can we use it?”

                “It must submit to us,” Tom readily supplied. “We have to control it.”

                 Professor Merrythought raised an eyebrow. “A telling choice of words, Tom. You can control magic to a certain point, but brute force of will isn’t always the solution.”

                “What about tricking it?” Hermione was staring at the clock hands, hanging like tiny daggers in the air. “Simply because it is intelligent doesn’t mean it has infinite intelligence – we could be smarter and fool it.”

                 Tom smirked at Hermione’s rather Slytherin response.

                “Both right,” the professor said, and spoke a few words that caused the various parts of the clock to glow different colors. Most of the pieces were a pale yellow, like weak sunlight, but the face plate, the hands, and a chiming mechanism were a blood red color.

                “These pieces,” she pointed to the red ones, “are infused with a curse. Under the curse is the original enchantment, which is now lying dormant. We must make the curse believe it has done its job. Once a curse has ‘sprung’ if you will, it has used up most of its energy and is weakened. It must be renewed before striking again. In this instance, the clock strikes on the hour. After it thinks it has chimed, that is when I can most easily destroy the curse by transforming it into a different kind of magic.”

                  She manipulated the chiming device with magic, and whispered a silencio over the parts. “Just in case,” she grinned, then as the mechanical pieces began to vibrate, she cast several quick spells over it.

                 Tom watched, fascinated, as the red pieces glowed more brightly for a few seconds, then faded and become the same pale yellow as the other parts of the clock.

                 “How?” Hermione breathed, her gaze focused on clock as well. Tom could almost see her brain furiously working through theories.

                 “Well, just as you said, one can’t really create or destroy magic. It is, I firmly believe, subject to the laws of energy and matter as laid out by muggle scientists and philosophers. However, there must be ways to transform magic between the various distinct classifications of how it is expressed.” Merrythought offered the clock face to Tom, and he held it in his hand, feeling only a gentle quiet magic emanating from it now.

                  Hermione chewed on her lower lip. “So, all magic, is at its core, an act of transfiguration.”

                 “At an even more basic level, it is an act of communication,” Narcissa had come to stand behind Tom. She smelled like expensive flowers, the type that only bloomed in carefully tended greenhouses. “The magic that is a part of you, that you channel naturally, works with the free-floating magic that is everywhere.”

                 After a long discussion on the nature of magic, which was more interesting than any of his classes so far, they all retired to bed. Tom lay awake on the soft mattress, thinking of how marvelous it would be if he could pull in the free-floating magic, make it part of his permanent magical signature. He longed to try his hand at cursing something, then try to undo the curse, just to see how it worked. Of course, there was the stupid rule about not doing magic outside of Hogwarts, which made Tom’s skin physically itch with the need to release magic. How could he have magic, know it, and not use it?

                 Over the next few days, no matter what she said about following the rules, it was obvious Hermione felt the same way. She was constantly trying to distract him with activities, probably because she was well aware that he was dying to do magic. Narcissa seemed to know this, too, because she arranged for several day trips, taking them to Diagon Alley for shopping two days in a row, then sending them with Professor Merrythought to muggle London so that she could shop alone.

                 He enjoyed the day in London, marveling at what a difference it made to have money. Professor Merrythought had no trouble navigating downtown London, and she took him and Hermione to the National Gallery, Harrod’s, and several bookstores, stopping for a lavish afternoon tea that probably cost more than what was allotted for an individual orphan’s keep for several months.

                 Narcissa had given Tom and Hermione wizarding and muggle money during the trip to Diagon Alley and Tom spent quite a while carefully selecting gifts in both locations. Having money of any kind was highly addictive, and Tom vowed to himself that he would never go without it again. With the help of the house elves, who were much more tolerable when they weren’t hovering over him, he got a list of Professor Merrythought’s books, and managed to find a few titles he thought would interest her. For Narcissa, he ordered a magical herb collection set, which came with several pairs of scissors made of bronze, silver, and bone, and were enchanted to glow in different colors when it was time to harvest particular plants. Because she had been very keen on the muggle book Merrythought had given her, Tom also bought Narcissa a botany text from one of the bookstores in London.

                 Hermione’s gift plagued him. Of course books were always an appropriate item, but she went through them so quickly. She would love a book, but she’d be on to another one within a week or two. And, he had gotten her books for her birthday. He bought her a few volumes on magical theory and one on muggle chemistry, but he needed to get her something else as well, something different. The stores he visited were full of possibilities, but none of them were quite right.

                  It wasn’t until he’d wandered off from the others in Diagon Alley that he’d found that something. A twisted, dark lane had veered off into the shadows, giving a markedly different atmosphere than the well-lit and cheery stores on the main road. A smudgy sign that was barely legible seemed to read “Knockturn” something. Tom strode down the road, and stopped in front of a mullioned window display. Borgin and Burkes was the name above the door, and Tom entered without a second thought. He could feel old magic here, magic that wasn’t particularly nice, and it called to him.

                 Not everything in the store was infused with dark magic, but Tom was sure that a hefty majority of the items would be banned from Hogwarts. Despite this, Tom was intrigued. What happened to the magic stored in these items before it was triggered? It was lying in wait, and he pondered whether or not he could steal it, transfer that magic to himself without activating curses or other unpleasant side effects.   A place like this was practically a repository of magic, there for the taking, if one were clever enough to do so.

                 “Can I help you?” A cadaver thin man had appeared at Tom’s elbow, seemingly out of nowhere. He appraised Tom’s expensive outer robes, shoes, and Tom’s handsome features. Tom saw the exact moment when the man decided it wouldn’t do to simply hurry him out of the store like the average unaccompanied minor.

                 “I’m looking for a unique gift,” Tom said evenly, the weight of his intelligence and the heavy purse in his pocket behind his words.

                 The man’s smile was more of a gash in his face than anything one would wish to see. It didn’t phase Tom at all. “For a friend or….”

                Enemy was the unspoken word that hung in the air. Of course this was a place where one would shop for an enemy.   Tom smiled, and it was charming, even to the cadaver man. “A very, very close friend. My cousin. She is my age, but very mature.”

               “Women of all ages do love jewelry,” the man suggested offhandedly, pointing to a few glass cabinets that were softly lit on the inside with light reflected off of various stones and gems.

                Tom wasn’t sure that was true, but he glanced at the case. Jewelry was a traditional gift, and it bespoke of power and money. Most of the pieces were boring – pretty enough, but not unique enough for his soul mate. There was one item, though, a delicate necklace made of tiny links of silver and green and blue stones carved into the shape of scarabs, that caught his attention.

                 The man followed his gaze and frowned. “That piece doesn’t really belong there – it’s Egyptian, designed a thousand years ago to put on someone considered property – someone the owner didn’t want to be touched. The scarabs represent eternity and life’s mystery, but the hex on it is rather strong. If a person not the giver touches the wearer, that person’s hands burn and swell.”

                 Tom rather liked the idea of anyone who touched Hermione getting burned, but then he thought of Patience, of how she nearly always had an arm linked through Hermione’s. He often thought of Patience like another Khethiwe, an annoying pet of Hermione’s that he had to tolerate. It wouldn’t do to hurt her. Still, the necklace exuded power, and he wanted it, to experiment on when he returned to Hogwarts.

                 “I’ll take it, but I still need something else,” Tom said. Moving away from the glass case, he went up and down the crowded rows of shelving. As he walked, he heard a faint whispering. It was in parseltongue, and it was saying “yours, Heir of Slytherin.” The cadaver man was following him, and Tom schooled his face to be neutral, though his magic was buzzing. Toward the back of a dead-end aisle, he encountered another glass case. This case was only sparsely filled, but on the middle shelf, nestled in a bed of wrinkled black velvet, was an octagonal golden locket, with glittering emeralds creating a shape that was both the sinuous curve of the letter “s” and a snake across its front.

                 He knew the locket was his by right, but he also knew the cadaver man was crafty, though he did not appear to be able to hear the locket's hissing. Tom did not allow his eyes to fall on the locket for long. Instead, he looked at the item beside it, a cloisonné pin shaped like a fleur de lis.

                 Tom pointed at the pin. “My cousin was born in France. She might fancy that pin.”

                 The cadaver man’s jaw muscle twitched in what was probably amusement. “You seem to have a talent for selecting cursed objects, young man. That pin will make the wearer forget any events that have happened in the last year.”  

                 With a sigh that Tom injected just the right amount of annoyance into, he pointed at the locket beside it. “What about the locket – is it cursed, too?”

                 “No,” the man bit out the words, clearly insulted. “It is simply an old locket, probably owned by a member of Slytherin house. Is your cousin in Slytherin?”

                 “Yes,” Tom lied. He gave another glance at the locket, but kept his tone and expression casual. “I’ll take it, too.”

                 Reaching past Tom, the man plucked out the locket. “Is that all, then?”

                 Tom looked around the store for a full minute more, then nodded. “For now,” he replied easily. He followed the man to the front counter and had just completed the transaction, paying what he was sure was too much, but feeling generous enough not to argue, when the door opened and Narcissa walked in.

                “Tom,” she said, her face a mirror of his own perfectly even expression. Her cheeks were a bit reddened from the cold weather, but she still looked regal. “We were not sure where you had gone.”

                It was simply a statement of fact, no reproach, but Tom felt vaguely uncomfortable at the idea that Hermione and Narcissa may have been worried. “I’m sorry,” he said easily, having learned long ago that the important thing about apologies was their statement aloud, not whether one actually meant them. “I was getting a few last minute gifts for Hermione.”

                Narcissa raised one delicate eyebrow that said, here? “Well, if your shopping is completed, we should be getting back to the others.”

                “Madam,” the cadaver man injected quietly, all subservience. “I do feel I should inform you that nothing purchased here is returnable, and we are not liable for an improperly handled merchandise.”

                Tom smiled broadly at the withering, haughty glare that transformed Narcissa’s beautiful face to that of an angry Queen.

                “My ward is perfectly capable of handling magical objects, and our family could purchase this entire store without blinking, so there is no need to worry your likely faulty objects will be brought back. You would do well to remember your place, sir.”

                “My apologies, Madam,” he murmured, his skull-like head bowed.

                 Tom offered Narcissa his arm, and they left, Narcissa’s skirts swishing and Tom’s boots clicking. They had only walked a few yards before his guardian spoke to him in her normal, soft tone.

                 “Knockturn Alley is not a place where underage wizards or witches generally go unaccompanied, though Borgin and Burkes is probably the least objectionable of its stores. What did you purchase?”

                 Ever since their discussion in the Hospital Wing, Tom had not felt the need to lie to Narcissa. She supported him, recognized his talent, and didn’t seem phased by anything he did. Perhaps it was because she was the mother of a very complicated, talented child herself, and because Tom was that child’s soul mate. Regardless, he answered her without hesitation.

                “A cursed Egyptian necklace for practice at undoing the curse,” Tom said, then added, “When I get back to Hogwarts.”

                “Breaking curses is a difficult, tricky business,” Narcissa replied. “You will need to proceed slowly and cautiously, and never alone. Make sure Hermione is there with you, in case you need to get help, if something goes wrong.”

                “The curse isn’t that powerful – it causes burning and pain in the hands if a person not the owner touches it, but it isn’t deadly,” Tom used his reassuring voice.

                “Don’t trust everything a salesman says,” Narcissa warned. “Is the item wrapped?”

                “Yes,” Tom nodded.

               “Then promise me not to touch it with your bare hands until I’ve run a few diagnostics on it, please,” Narcissa tightened her hold on his arm as they went over a patch of slick cobblestones.

                 Narcissa’s request was perfectly reasonable, Tom thought, and she hadn’t forbade him from working with the necklace, only asked that she look it over as a precaution. “Fine,” Tom allowed, even though he didn’t like to be hindered in any way.

                “What was the other item, the gift for Hermione?” Narcissa asked curiously.

                 Tom smiled widely, his face handsome even when smug. “It is a surprise, but I promise it is safe.”

                 “How do you know that it is safe?” Narcissa continued, and Tom was annoyed, though he knew she was only motivated by concern for Hermione.

                 “It spoke to me, in parseltongue,” Tom said with finality in his tone. “And I can feel its energy. It’s meant to be mine.”

                 As soon as he said the words, he realized his error – that he had identified the item as his, but had also told Narcissa that he was giving to Hermione, which was as good as saying out loud that he considered Hermione his as well. However, Narcissa made no comment on this, and Tom once again appreciated the older woman’s excellent sense of discretion.

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

                 On Christmas morning, Hermione woke early, went downstairs and found Narcissa at the breakfast table. She was sipping tea and had the small vial of sunshine yellow potion already prepared for Hermione to take.

                 “You’re up early,” Hermione smiled as she drank the potion.

                 “I thought it would be nice to have a few moments alone,” Narcissa poured Hermione a cup of tea as well.

                 Hermione nodded eagerly. Professor Merrythought’s estate was a peaceful, happy place to visit, but they hadn’t had much time to converse alone. “What happened with Tom yesterday? Was he down Knockturn Alley?”

                “Yes, and he bought a cursed Egyptian necklace from Borgin and Burkes,” Narcissa sighed. “He wants to try to break the curse on it, he says.”

                Hermione shook her head. “He might consider that an interesting project, but he wants more than that. I’m sure he’s going to try to figure out a way to absorb the unused power from the curse.”

                Narcissa smiled. “Well, I wish him luck. He certainly isn’t the first to think of that, to have these types of theories, but no one has done such a thing. Tom is one of the most brilliant wizards I’ve met, but there are limits to everyone.”

                 “I hope so,” Hermione slowly sipped at her tea, trying to avoid burning her tongue. The tea here was always a bit too hot. She reached for the cream to cool it down some. “But I have the feeling that what Tom puts his mind to, he’ll accomplish eventually.”

                  “I simply can’t imagine how it would work – trying to amass more magical power in one’s body…people aren’t hollow –they can’t simply be ‘filled’ up with additional magic. The magic that goes into enchanting objects is different,” Narcissa absently traced her finger on the flower design on the tablecloth as she thought aloud.

                 Hermione took another drink of tea, relieved that the cream had made it a drinkable temperature. “But Tom is aiming to transform the magical energy, to make it compatible with the magic inside himself.”

                “Still, it would require his body to host more magic than it was accustomed to,” Narcissa pointed out. “He would most likely burn himself out – overload his physical self.”

                “Since when has Tom cared about his physical body?” Hermione snapped, then caught the reproving look from Narcissa and bit her lip. This Tom hadn’t done anything to his body, had sliced away pieces of his soul, she reminded herself. It was her job to help make sure that he didn’t.

                 Narcissa tucked a lock of her hair, which was loose for once, behind her ear. “Let us speak of more pleasant things. It is Tom’s first Christmas. What did you get him?”

                 Hermione couldn’t help the grin that formed on her face. Despite her gripping a few moments ago, she had been enjoying her time with Tom on break. He had been amazingly tolerant and good-natured, though Hermione suspected much of that was because he wanted to be distracted from his inability to do any magic. They’d had a lovely trip to London, and his continued, easy acceptance of muggle travel, art, food, and the great crush of holiday crowds while at the museum and shopping had warmed her heart. He simply hadn’t blinked. He had enjoyed going to the muggle bookstores, and had even dragged Hermione to see his favorite painting in the National Gallery, one of the Goddess Diana walking through a green wood, her bow in her hand, quiver slung across her back, all manner of woodland creatures following her. It seemed an odd choice for his favorite, but she’d loved it immediately, too.

                 He had been very tolerant of the house elves, once they had given him a bit of space, and he didn’t treat them rudely or with disdain. She didn’t think he thought of them as equals, but she had time to work on him.

                The four of them had gone shopping in Diagon Alley a few separate times, and Hermione had also looked at numerous wizard store catalogues, trying to find the perfect gift for Tom. He was not easy to shop for. Of course he was interested in all kinds of books on magic, but Narcissa had given him the best of everything as far as clothing and school supplies, and had also given him permission to order additional things he needed or wanted, so he had his small but growing library of books, and plenty of nice parchment, inks, and quills. She had a suspicion that Narcissa had gotten him a broom for Christmas, so that was out, too. The problem was though Tom wanted the whole world, he didn’t want many actual things in it. He longed for gifts Hermione couldn’t give: knowledge and power.

               Even though she put no stock in divination, she knew from Harry and the future Dumbledore that Voldemort had been interested in it, so she ordered a set of texts with the most sensible explanations of the various branches of divination for Tom, even though they wouldn’t start those classes until third year, or in Hermione’s case, not at all. In Harrod’s, she purchased him a lovely set of jade cufflinks and a tie tack made from an excavated Trojan coin, remembering what her father used to say about all men needing a good set of cufflinks and at least one tie pin.

               The final gift, she’d found in a crowded shop in Diagon Alley, more of a flea market than a proper store. It sold a bit of everything, from small housewares to knick knacks to a tiny selection of premade potions for minor problems like headaches or acne. Shoved on one of the many sagging shelves was a glassy black rock the size of her fist, with a hole through the middle about four to five centimeters in diameter. Hermione knew it was an adder stone, and she could feel the magic coming off of it. Without access to her magic at the moment, it was impossible to know how old the stone was, but there was definitely magic infused in it, and she knew that the Druids who had lived in the British isles had prized adder stones and used them for many spells of protection and persuasion. The magic had a lovely feel to it – strong and protective, and Hermione thought it was just the type of old, magical object Tom would appreciate, and it was also just the type of positive, light magic that Tom needed more of around his person. Luckily for her, the shopkeeper didn’t seem to notice those same things, looking at Hermione in surprise when she said she wanted to buy it. She thought that Tom could put the object on his bedside table for an extra level of protection, which was never a bad thing in that snakes’ nest of a dungeon at Hogwarts.

             She listed her gifts to Narcissa who nodded approvingly. The stairs creaked and both women went silent. Tom entered, looking perfectly put together despite the early morning hour and the fact he was wearing striped pajamas. Hermione tried not to stare, but Tom Riddle in pajamas was not a sight she’d ever thought to see.

            “The elves keep popping outside my room, whispering to one another about whether or not I am awake yet,” Tom’s mouth was twisted into a sour expression. “I decided it was time to get up.”

             He sat beside Hermione and she poured him some tea. “They’re just excited for Christmas.”

            “Yes, it’s been ages since they’ve had children in the house at the holidays,” Professor Merrythought came in, her smile crooked and her men’s pajamas paisley.  

            After everyone had managed to drink a cup of tea, Narcissa stood, and Hermione was surprised by how excited she looked to usher everyone into the library, where the stockings and gifts were. Her adoptive mother was grinning ear to ear, making piles of the presents and handing the stockings to Hermione and Tom.

            When Narcissa handed Tom the oversized sock, he was silent for a few minutes before looking inside. This was his first Christmas, in so many ways, she thought. For a few seconds, Hermione thought of what it must have been like to be an orphan at Christmas, and her heart swelled with empathy for him. As always when she was in the same room with him, she wanted to be close to him. She had sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the fire, so she gently pulled on his pant leg, and he sat down beside her. She scooted close, their bodies touching from shoulders to bent knees, and she felt him slowly relax as he looked in the stocking.

            Narcissa had outdone herself, and there were sweets of every kind, enough to give her dentist parents a massive coronary. Tom unwrapped a chocolate frog right away, but it escaped, sending both Khethiwe and Damballa hunting after it. Hermione unwrapped one of her own and handed it to him, and he ate it with a wide smile. She cautioned him against the every flavor beans, but he was stubborn, and she was pretty sure he ate a boogey flavored one, even if he wouldn’t admit it.

            There were boxes of clothing and additional lovely school supplies of the highest qualities.  Tom did get a sleek broom, which he examined with great interest, but not the unabashed love Harry or Ron would have shown.  Hermione’s breath caught when she saw that Professor Merrythought had given them both beautifully handcrafted leather diaries with thick, creamy blank pages, black leather for Tom and sapphire blue for Hermione. She also gave them both golden and silver fountain pens enchanted to never leak or run out of ink. He hasn’t made a horcrux, Hermione chanted in her mind. This diary will not become a horcrux.

            Her thoughts must have been loud, though, because Narcissa gave her a tight smile and very subtly handed her cup of tea that smelled suspiciously of calming draught. A few minutes later, she was relaxed again, and thrilled at how much Tom had loved his presents. They had exchanged gifts of books, and of course those were wonderful, but she was able to feel Tom’s excitement over the adder stone, and his pride at the cufflinks and tie pin.

            “This is for you, too, Hermione,” he handed her a small square box.

            It was very light, and Hermione thought it must be a hairpin or a piece of jewelry to be in such a small box.   As she unwrapped the box, Tom’s magic surrounded her. He was very tense, and she realized that whatever was in this box, it was very, very important to Tom that she like it. What could mean so much to him? Besides his wand, she couldn’t think of any object that he cared that much about.

           She pulled off the lid and managed just in time to keep herself from hurling the box into the fire. In the green fabric lining of the box was Salazar Slytherin’s locket. Hermione had so many horrible memories of that damned thing, the whispers it made, the cold dread she felt when placing it around her neck, the way it filled her with anger, how it turned her and her two best friends against one another. It was evil.

            “I think it was in my family at some point,” Tom was saying, lifting the locket from the box and undoing the clasp. “I think it may have belonged to Salazar Slytherin himself; it spoke parseltongue to me in the store; it told me that it belonged to me.”

            Hermione kept very still as Tom leaned forward and put his hands with the ends of the locket chain around her neck, fastening the clasp at the back of her neck and letting the locket fall to the middle of her chest on its long chain. It’s not a horcrux. Tom has obtained this without killing anyone. Tom is proud of it. He finally has something that is a piece of his family’s history. I can’t reject this. Besides, if I have the locket, he can’t make a horcrux out of it, can he?

           “Tom,” she wetted her lips and tried again. “Tom, I…this is probably a family heirloom…you don’t have to give this to me.”

          “Hermione, you are my family, and I want you to have it,” he leaned back, looking at her thoughtfully, then nodding his head in a pleased way. “The golden amber color matches the flecks in your eyes.”

            She swallowed. There was no way out of this. Narcissa was in the corner, pouring another cup of tea. Hermione was pretty sure she was going to need it. “Thank you, Tom, I can’t tell you what this means to me.”

            He gave her a beautiful smile, looking so much like a normal boy that Hermione was almost fooled for an instant. “Say you’ll wear it all the time.”

            “I’ll wear it,” she promised, thinking gloomily of how often she had already worn the necklace. “But you know at Hogwarts, it will have to be under my sweater. I can’t wear a Slytherin locket in Ravenclaw Tower.”

           “That’s true,” Professor Merrythought laughed. “Can I see it?”

            Hermione went over and allowed Professor Merrythought to exam the locket. The professor was fascinated, and Narcissa and Tom came over as well as she ran diagnostics for age and spells and finally, after questioning Tom about the parseltongue, agreed with him that the locket was very, very old. They pulled out a few history textbooks and found illustrations of Slytherin, and he was often depicted wearing a locket quite similar in appearance to the one now around Hermione’s neck.

          “There’s certainly power coming off of it,” Merrythought gazed at it.

           Hermione could feel the magic as well, but, to her unparalleled relief, it was nothing like the horcrux. Instead, it reminded her of the ancient, deeply layered magic of the sword of Gryffindor when she had held it in the Forest of Dean. Even though it was Slytherin’s, the energy did not come across as inherently dark, simply complex and powerful. She forced her thoughts about future memories of the locket as a horcrux aside and looked at Tom who stood beside her, the pure pleasure in his smile, which was uncalculated, unguarded.

            He had given her something he treasured, something he wanted, a powerful magical object that was intimately tied to the family he’d never known, tied to the prestige of his House. It was the only gift he could truly give, the only thing he had to give. Hermione focused on that, because that was good – that was as close to love and kindness as Tom was capable of. Filled with emotion, she turned and threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly, the locket pressed into their diaphragms between their bodies.

             At the contact, their shared magic swirled and swelled around them. It felt like home, and Hermione couldn’t fight it with her logical mind, she could only close her eyes and rest her head against Tom’s shoulder. His arms had come to close around her waist, and it was, against all odds, against all she knew, comforting. She was hugging Tom, and she didn’t want to stop.

            “We need to get some real food in our stomachs after all that chocolate,” Narcissa’s voice sounded nearby, and Hermione finally opened her eyes and pulled away.

             Tom said nothing, but his eyes watched her like she was another gift.

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

            Six days later, Hermione had grown used to the locket and even enjoyed the low hum of magic she could feel radiating like a second heart beat in her chest area. Today was Tom’s birthday, and she’d gotten up early to make him a cake. The house elves helped her and between the five of them, what had started as plans for a simple chocolate cake with buttercream frosting had turned into a three-layered confection decorated with tiny green marzipan snakes and twelve silver candles.

            Narcissa had quietly issued invitations to a birthday get together at Fortiscue’s in Diagon Alley. After ensuring that several students could be there, she and Hermione had told Tom that they wanted to take him to Diagon Alley for a birthday lunch, and they apparated together with Professor Merrythought. When they walked toward the ice cream parlor, Tom laughed.

            “Ice cream? It’s snowing,” Tom shivered for effect, an easy grin turning up the corner of his mouth.

            Hermione returned his smile. “They put hot fudge on top of the sundaes – that’s warm.”

            He stared at the locket, the bright winter sun catching the emeralds, making them sparkle. “I’m glad you didn’t put the locket under your robe.”

            Of course Tom wanted the locket on her, visible in all its Slytherin magnificence to anyone who gazed at her. It marked her as his, an extension of him, and there was a part of her that knew in her modern, muggle existence, that would have been unhealthy. But they were magical soul mates who had transcended time and space and Tom had never had anything or anyone to call his own, but now he had her. And whether he admitted or not, the gift was not so much about claiming her as it was offering everything he had to her, which was the opposite of possessive and selfish.

            When they entered the shop, Tom stopped just inside the door, and though his smile widened no further, Hermione could feel from his magic that he was happily surprised. Abraxas, Marguerite, Thad, Vidhi, and Jacob were all there, as well as Patience, Felicity, and Josephine, and the table they had claimed was filled with gifts.

            It was a normal birthday party for a twelve-year-old boy. They laughed and joked and everyone noticed the locket, though only Patience mentioned it.

            “Even though you aren’t the Heir of Slytherin, you look good in his jewelry,” Patience twirled a toothpick with cherries impaled on it and bit one on the end.

            Marguerite choked on her milkshake. “You think that’s Slytherin’s locket?”

            The others stared at Hermione’s chest, and she was intensely glad of the fact that they were all currently eleven or twelve.

            “It is,” Tom said simply. “It spoke to me in parseltongue.”

            At those words, everyone stared harder. Tom leaned close to Hermione and spoke in parseltongue. The low hissing curled around them all, and they watched as a group as the locket made a soft clicking sound and opened. For a terrible instant, Hermione imagined a black cloud of evil billowing out of the locket, but it was empty, though the inside was covered with tiny runes, dozens of them intricately carved into the glassy golden surface.

            The runes were beautiful, but the locket did nothing more until Tom spoke again and it closed. They all looked duly impressed, mostly because of the use of parseltongue, rather than a locket that opened and closed magically.

            Hermione had been afraid that without magic to tie them together that their group wouldn’t function as well, but the afternoon was like a study session with no studying. Narcissa brought out the cake that the house elves had delivered and the Ravenclaws teased the Slytherins over eating snake cake. It was a scene she could have had with Harry, Ron, Ginny, Luna, and Neville, with only minor modifications, and that was a surreal realization. Part of her ached for her future-past friends, but she knew she was doing the right thing, the only thing she could do, to make their lives better, even if she wouldn’t be able to be in those lives.

            She had wanted to get Tom a meaningful gift, but had already used up all her ideas at Christmas. His birthday on New Year’s Eve allowed her no time to think up something new. She’d bought a few additional books, and an excellent potions ingredient set that included several rare elements, but wanted something more personal.

            When the party was over, Tom and Hermione sat in Professor Merrythought’s library, looking over the gifts. They were mostly books, though Patience had given him a hat covered in snake scales. Hermione laughingly put the hat on, two strands of scaly yarn trailing down on either side of her face to create ‘tails’.

            “Tom,” she sat beside him on the couch. She put her hand on his and he laid down the book Marguerite had gotten him on the history of hexes.

            “Hermione,” he smirked, looking at her in the silly hat. He tugged on one of the tails and the hat easily slid off, falling to the cushioned seat.

            “I don’t have a wonderful gift to give you, nothing that matches the locket,” Hermione said softly.

            Tom’s eyes widened slightly. “You give me your company every day,” he replied smoothly.

            “I would give you that any way,” she waved a hand dismissively. “My additional gift is my promise to help you with the necklace, to help you learn how to undo curses,”

            “You’d do that anyway too,” Tom teased. “A puzzle left unsolved would drive you mad.”

            She found it hard to concentrate when he teased her, because he was so adept at playing the role of charming boy that sometimes she wasn’t sure what was real. An angry Tom was easier to accept in many ways. But Tom wasn’t angry now, he was happy, his magic moving playfully at the edges of her own. In these brief moments, she believed anything was possible, that she could save the world from the monster he had the potential to become. Instinctively, she knew that the best chance would come from fostering and strengthening their connection, of being the conscience he didn’t have.

            Hermione twisted so that she was sideways on the couch, fully facing him. She stared directly into his eyes, grasped both of his hands, and said, “Tom Marvolo Riddle, I pledge to help you explore the limits of magical abilities. I will help you to become the best wizard and person you can be.”

            Tom raised an eyebrow, “If you will be attempting to turn me into what you deem a good person, then you have only disappointment ahead.”

            “No,” she replied immediately. “I’ll settle for as good as you can be, and I’ll make up the difference.”

            Even white teeth, just a bit sharp, appeared as he laughed. “Well, that seems like a deal completely in my favor. I’ll take it.”

            Hermione smiled, wondering if she’d just saved the world or bargained it away to the devil himself.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19

-oOo0oOo- four year later, fall of 1942-oOo0oOo-

            “Isn’t Tom Riddle the most gorgeous boy you’ve ever seen?”

            “His eyes are so blue, and his smile!”

            Hermione did not look up from her OWL study materials at these comments. Over the past two years of school, she had become immune to the near constant refrain of Tom Riddle worship that filled the halls, classrooms, and dormitories, and had even penetrated the sacred walls of the library. Somewhere between their third and fourth years, Tom had grown five inches and this past summer, leading into their fifth year, he’d added another two inches to be nearly six feet tall while still three months shy of turning sixteen. He’d also become even more good looking, though that should have be impossible.

Everyone at Hogwarts who found men attractive noticed. The third and fourth year girls were the worst offenders, like the tittering Hufflepuffs who were currently waxing poetic on Tom’s physical features. As a prefect, Hermione could have issued a detention for their loudness in the quiet area of the library, but if she started giving detentions or deducting points for every time someone went ga-ga over Tom, she’d reduce all the houses to negative numbers and empty the halls of students.

            “Oh, here he comes! He’s coming this way!” The voices were shrill whispers now, the girls working themselves into a frenzy.

            She had felt his magic a full minute earlier, but had continued with her notes. Even though she’d already successfully defeated the OWL exams in the future, she was nervous all over again, her mind inventing a million reasons why she might fail despite her talent.   Also, obsessing on the test kept her mind occupied. And occupied was a good thing, because her mind was full of bitter musings and dangerous secrets.

            “Hermione,” his voice had fully deepened over the summer, and it was melodious. Still, she didn’t look up.

            “Fine,” he said, and her notes vanished. Her head snapped up instantly.

            “Tom!” she yelled in a whisper. “Bring those back!”

            “You know how bad I am at retrieval,” his voice was all lazy insolence as he dropped into the chair beside her, long, graceful limbs sprawling artfully. Hermione heard the girls in the library make a collective sigh.

            Hermione gave him an angry glare. “You’re only bad when you want to be.”

            He smiled, and another sigh sounded from the room. “I’m only bad when you ignore me. I’d have thought a clever girl like you would have figured that out by now.”

            “I’m trying to study,” she snapped. “I don’t have time for your games.”

            “Hermione,” Tom’s cajoling tone walked like fingers up her spine, and she used every bit of self-control to keep from shivering. She hated how her body responded to his presence, to that new, deeper voice of his. “Those tests aren’t for months, and you know don’t need to study for them. School started three weeks ago, and I’ve barely seen you.”

His voice dropped even lower, and there was a hint of anger in it now. “Why are you avoiding me?”

            She stood, because he was too close. Her whole being was on fire, and she wasn’t ready to deal with this. “I’m not avoiding you, Tom.”

            A lovely, perfectly shaped dark eyebrow arched. “You’ve put off the study group, and you are sitting on the other side of the room in our shared classes,” those blue eyes matched the color of a stormy sea as he stood, too, his body in her space, his height towering over her. “Are you wearing the locket?”

            He didn’t wait for an answer. He whispered a modification of accio, and the locket gently floated out of the neck of her sweater. The stormy look passed, replaced with a smug smirk. “Of course you are.”

            “Tom, I told you I would wear it,” she stuffed the locket back down her shirt. She had kept her promise, and hadn’t gone a single day without it since he’d given it to her nearly four years ago.

            “Promise me you’ll be at the study group tonight after dinner,” he reached out and tugged at one of her curls, which were standing wildly around her head from her anger, she knew.  

            She nodded; she couldn’t keep up the pattern of the last three weeks. “Of course,” she kept her voice neutral. “This is a challenging year academically. I’ve simply been trying to settle in.”

            Tom eyed her suspiciously. “Well, we’ll have plenty of time to discuss this later. I’ll see you after dinner.”

            As soon as Tom left, after another pull at her curls, she gathered her things, realizing with relief that her notebook had reappeared amid her papers. She practically ran to Ravenclaw tower, and locked herself in the shared bathroom.   Tugging off her clothes, she stepped into the hottest shower her skin could stand.

            Three weeks ago, on the train ride to Hogwarts, several things had happened and she didn’t want to think about any of them. She and Tom had come to King’s Cross from Galatea’s, Professor Merrythought now that school has started again, she reminded herself, where they had spent their summer break. Narcissa had purchased a lovely cottage in Hogsmeade at the end of their first year, but the Bonneau Riddle clan was not often there. Hermione knew Narcissa wanted a symbol of her independence, a place to call her own, and that was important. She also knew that Narcissa was very much in love with her soul mate, and that Galatea lobbied hard for the whole family to move in with her at the Merrythought estate. The compromise was a few token days staying in Hogsmeade during every vacation, but most time not in school was spent in Surrey. Hermione and Tom had their own permanent rooms, though Narcissa had long since given up the pretense of a separate bedroom there.

            Narcissa had apparated them to the King’s Cross station so they could reconnect with their school friends before the term officially started, though their luggage was already at the school, and they’d been running through the halls of Hogwarts for two weeks prior when Narcissa and Professor Merrythought had moved back into their Hogwarts quarters to prepare for the new school year.  

            Tom had gone looking for Abraxas, and Hermione had quickly been found by Patience, who had grown rather willowy over the summer. Though no one in this time would understand the reference, Patience looked like a 1960s flower child with her loose white blonde hair crowned with a daisy chain, her dazed expression, and her colorful yellow sundress made from enough material for a small tent. Golden fabric was everywhere and when Patience sat down beside Hermione, the extra material settled over her lap like a blanket. They had chosen a small compartment, really only space for their roommates, and once Josephine and Felicity were there, the girls closed the door and shared stories of their summer.

            Set to turn sixteen in only a few weeks, Hermione was the oldest of the group, but all of them had fall birthdays, and would be sixteen before Christmas. Josephine’s family was already discussing her marriage options in a serious way, and that topic dominated the conversation. As a pureblood, Josephine was expected to marry soon after completing Hogwarts, and pureblood engagements were lengthy. Even though the Longbottoms were a kind family, they still believed in duty, and continuing their magical bloodline.

            “They want me to be married by eighteen!” Josephine cried, her pretty dark eyes filled with tears. “I want a family, I do, but I’m not even sixteen until November! My grandma came over with a list of ten names last week and told me to whittle it down to three likely candidates who could ‘court me’.”

            Felicity patted Josephine’s back and sighed. “I can’t even imagine that. My parents don’t want me to even think about boys until I’m twenty. Those were their exact words. I think they still hope I’m going to quit this ‘weird’ magical life, train to be a nurse, and come home to Edinburgh, that I’ll marry a nice boy from our neighborhood eventually.”

            “Is Jacob on the list?” Patience asked, her eyes gazing out the window, unfocused on anything in particular.

            Hermione watched as Josephine’s cheeks rapidly blushed. “I’d say that’s a yes,” she grinned. “Jacob is getting to be very handsome.”

            The shortest boy among the group for the first three years of school, Jacob Selwyn had finally grown toward the end of last year, and his cute, boyish face had matured greatly. He had very long lashes, was incredibly studious for a Slytherin, quiet and a little shy, but always polite. Hermione didn’t know about the other names on the list, but as far as picking a pureblooded husband who wouldn’t be insane or cruel, Jacob had to be at the top of the list.

            “No one is as handsome as Tom, though,” Patience turned her eyes back toward the other girls.

            Her words were said in a very matter-of-fact tone, like the sky is blue. Josephine stopped crying and laughed. “And no one knows that better than Tom does.”

            “Do you think he gets tired of seeing that face in the mirror?” Felicity mused. “Is he even human? Sometimes, last year, when he did magic, especially in dueling club, I swore he was glowing.”

            Hermione was decidedly uncomfortable with discussing Tom’s appearance. “It’s the way he’s always looked, there’s nothing different,” she shrugged in what she hoped was a casual way.

            “Hermione, how can you be so blind?” Felicity laughed. “You have a Greek god for your cousin – you spend all the holidays and summers with him. How are you not in love with him like the rest of the school?”

            “I’m pretty sure love is not what the attraction is,” Hermione responded tartly.

            Patience nodded solemnly. “Hermione’s right. You wouldn’t believe what I heard a group of seventh year Gryffindor girls say they wanted to do to him last year.”

            “Well,” Josephine tugged on Patience’s sleeve. “Now you have to tell us. And don’t spare the dirty details!”

            If Hermione had thought for the first two years of school in the past that the students seemed more innocent when it came to romance and attraction, that notion had been sent to fiery grave of exploded hormones in the last two years. Third year had been full of secret crushes and tears in pillows for both Josephine and Felicity, as well as others around the school, Hermione knew. She and Patience seemed the only ones not affected, thank heavens.

            Last year, there had been much more active demonstration of affection – invitations to the tea shop in Hogsmeade, hands held in the hallways, even a few kisses for the more adventurous. And of course, there were the illicit meetings with unsuitable partners in empty classrooms or dark hallways that were spoken of in hushed tones. No, the students of the 1940s might be more discrete, but they were no less ruled by their sex drives. There were some differences, she noted. The boys were almost always the instigators of an actual relationship in this time, though girls hinted and flirted with their intended targets. The relationships between fifth years and older were taken much more seriously in this time as well – when a pair was labeled a true ‘couple,’ and not just a brief flirtation or a single date to a particular event, a future commitment of engagement was heavily implied. This was especially true for the pureblooded students, but many half-blooded students in sixth and seventh years had already been discussing marriage.

            The Hermione who had grown up in the 1990s found this ridiculous. What about college? What about apprenticeships to gain the title of mastery over a particular field of magic? Some of the girls, Ravenclaws and Gryffindors in particular, were planning on further studies, and had mostly removed themselves from the dating arena by publicly stating as much. It seemed, sadly, that there were only two categories available at the moment: a girl who was looking for her future husband at Hogwarts and who would be settling down and having a family shortly after graduating, or a girl who only wanted a career, and had pushed boys to the side completely. Hermione seemed to all outside eyes to be in the second group, as she made it clear to anyone who asked that she would be going on to advanced studies after her NEWTs, and Tom Riddle always smiled approvingly when he heard her say this.

            Despite the beginning of romance swirling around them at Hogwarts, Tom and Hermione’s relationship had remained the same as it had since their first year. They were incredibly close, but they were not a couple. Even though sixteen and seventeen year old girls who were practically women had been throwing themselves at Tom since he had turned fourteen, he simply didn’t seem interested. He was his normal, charming self, opening doors, giving empty compliments, and smiling at each girl like she was the only one in the world, but those actions had no impact on him, only the lovesick females of Hogwarts. He was perfectly aware of his affect on others, and used it to his advantage, but remained untouched by any such feelings himself.

            Over the holiday and summer breaks, they spent long hours reading in Galatea’s library, walking the property while discussing magical theories, and following the news from both the muggle and wizarding wars currently on-going. With Tom, the pursuit of magic, of honing his abilities, was everything. He could go all night without sleeping or pass up meals to keep on a particular train of thought.

When thinking, and especially when doing magic, Tom preferred Hermione to be physically close to him, in the same room, and often seated directly beside him. Their connection had grown from all their time together, and now, Hermione could feel in her magic when he left the house or when he was coming down the hall toward the room she was in. This was when he was feeling neutral, of course. When he was feeling strongly – either happy or angry, it didn’t matter how far away he was, she felt it, too. That reminded her of Harry’s connection with Voldemort, which made her uncomfortable, but also reminded her of her duty to the world.

            In many ways, their relationship had solidified into more of a brother-sister connection than anything else. During their first two years at school, they had touched frequently – holding hands to make spells stronger, sitting so closely their body warmth mingled through their clothing. But somewhere over the summer before their third year, shortly before her fourteenth birthday, Hermione had stopped reaching for him, and he also drew back. Their magical connection was strong enough that they didn’t need to physically touch to draw energy from one another, and that buffer of magic took the place of physical touching.  

            It was over the fourth year Christmas break that Hermione had gone to Narcissa and asked for additional training in occlumency. Tom had been starting to work on legilimency, and it was only a matter of time before he tried it on her, she knew. She made it clear that she didn’t want him to use it on her, but speaking her boundaries meant very little when Tom viewed her like an extra limb filled with magic he could use to strengthen and sharpen himself. Her mind would be a playground for him to practice, and he’d do it so quietly and carefully, she wouldn’t know until it was too late. Narcissa had agreed and the two of them had begun evening ‘teas’ that were less about mother-daughter bonding than about protection. Hermione was confident that she had proper shields up for now, though she doubted they would last unless she continued her training. To resist a person who would eventually become one of the strongest legilimens ever known, she would need to become a master occlumens.

            It didn’t help that Tom often knew how she felt, even if he didn’t know her exact thoughts. She had been hard at work since last spring at burying her emotions as well. If she didn’t let her emotions boil over, she could keep them hidden. This summer had been difficult. She was fifteen all over again, and she was a mess. The reason she’d stopped reaching for Tom was becoming harder and harder to hide. All the little tiffs of anger and frustration and longing she had felt over Ron were nothing compared to how Tom made her feel. When Tom sat close by, her heart thudded. When he smiled at her, it practically stopped. He was her soul mate, and her body knew that. It also knew that he was the most beautiful creature she’d ever seen. Her mind ignored her body. Hermione had already compromised so much. She was terrified if she touched him, or he touched her, with romantic intention, that she’d be lost, just another one of the silly girls mindless to everything except pleasing him.

            Tom was the golden boy of the school. The study group he and Hermione had created was hailed as a shining example of inter-house cooperation and their members were producing astonishing magic. When the three boys who had cursed Tom during their first year had returned after Christmas break, they had stayed clear. There had been a few additional scuffles with Sagitta Black and her cronies, but the hexes had all been more petty than harmful. In their third year, after Sagitta had graduated, there was really no one to stand in his way of being the defacto leader of Slytherin House. Even Dolohov, who had remained neutral, had come around, and now, as he was entering his seventh year, he was already talking about making connections in the political world that would benefit Tom in a few years.

            Abraxas Malfoy was working on that front, too, through his father. Even with the family motto of “Always Pure,” Gawain Malfoy seemed to agree with Abraxas’s decision to align himself with Tom. He was descended from the House of Gaunt, after all, and the ward to a pureblooded woman with excellent connections, even if he did have some radical ideas about muggleborns. During part of the summer each year since their third year, Tom had been invited to Malfoy Manor. The two boys were a wonderfully complimentary pair – Tom’s dark good looks and Abraxas’s pale handsomeness, Tom’s slender grace and Abraxas’s more muscular build, carved from his place as Keeper on the Slytherin Quidditch team. When they walked the halls of Hogwarts together, they left three-quarters of the school enthralled. Tom was the more reserved, circumspect one, while Abraxas was often ‘do first, think later.’ The elder Malfoy appreciated the rise in Abraxas’s grades and magical skill that had resulted from his friendship with Tom, and from the few times Hermione had been around Gawain, she had the impression that he wanted to turn the duo into his own political machine. It was amusing to her that Gawain thought he could manipulate Tom, but Hermione had no doubt Tom had skillfully led him to that conclusion.

            On the surface, Tom was near to perfect, and most of Hogwarts saw him that way. Hermione knew this version of Tom had to be a world of improvement over the Tom he would have been otherwise, but though he treated people better and inspired loyalty due to his charm and how much he helped others to be better at their own magic, he was still a master manipulator, and ravenous for power. He adored the dueling club, and Hermione could feel the flare of satisfaction whenever he saw fear in the eyes of others, and even if it was only a fleeting, oh, bloody hell, I’m about to get hit with a powerful jinx, it was still a sadistic form of happiness that worried her.

            She had managed to keep Tom away from practicing seriously dark magic, though they had read about everything, and had even frankly discussed the pros and cons of horcruxes at the end of last year, though, thankfully, Tom had seemed to approach the topic as a simple discussion of the limitations of being truly immortal, not an actual plan of achieving said immortality. She had jokingly suggested they become vampires if all they wanted to do was to live forever, and he honestly seemed to give more thought to that idea than horcruxes.

            Frighteningly, he had been more interested in the imperius curse than anything else last year. Of course it appealed to his dominating nature to have people do his bidding, but she thought she had impressed upon him how serious the consequences of such an action would be, and he’d dropped the topic, or had least pretended to. When she was in Ravenclaw tower for the night, she often wondered what Tom was doing in the dungeons, and how far he was going in a dark direction when she wasn’t there to rein him in.    

          Tom could make convincing arguments for power and darker spells, and Hermione always felt her arguments about rightness and morality fell short, going in one ear and out the other with Tom. He humored her and slightly teased her by taking dark spells and modifying them to be weaker or even light, opposite versions. Once, at the end of last year, he’d turned a stinging hex into a tickling jinx and made her fall to the floor laughing in front of the whole study group. She’d been so angry, she’d sent the original stinging jinx back, and he’d laughed triumphantly through the pain of red welts covering his skin, pleased at her angry response. He knew just how to push her to make her act out of a dark place, and she hated that. It was like he could reach inside her and pull out malice, and that was terrifying.

            She rose from the seat, dis-entangling herself from Patience’s dress. “I’m going to find the trolley. Does anyone want anything?”

            They all shook their heads, and Hermione went into the corridor. The train had pulled out over an hour ago, so most students had settled into compartments with friends, and the hall area was empty. There was no sign of the trolley. She walked toward the next car, and her magic shifted subtly.

            Tom was probably near, in one of the other compartments that lined this car. She peered into the closest one, though she was at an oblique angle and couldn’t be seen herself.

            There were only two people in the compartment, Tom and Marguerite. As usual, Marguerite had put herself as close to Tom as she could, nearly plastered to his side. In their first few years, Marguerite had given Tom distance, but she’d inched closer as time passed and she wasn’t reprimanded. It was no secret that Marguerite was in love with him, nor that Tom knew this.

            “Slughorn will put us all in his club this year, don’t you think?” Marguerite was saying, her hands threading through her long, dark curls as if combing them with her fingers. Her fingers casually brushed Tom’s arm as she did so.

            Tom was focused, looking down at a book, but he made no move to pull away from Marguerite. “Most likely,” he replied in a bored tone.

            Marguerite sighed, obviously a manufactured sound. “Well, definitely you and your girlfriend, at least.”

            Now he looked up. His head turned to Marguerite, and Hermione couldn’t see his expression, though she clearly heard his words, “Hermione is not my girlfriend.”

            Hermione walked away quickly, keeping her magic pulled in as tightly as possible, her blood chilled in a similar fashion to another train ride, one that had featured dementors roaming the halls. She kept going until she found a loo, then ducked inside, warded the tiny space against sound and cried for ten minutes straight. Her tears were angry ones. She was furious, and tears were the only outlet she had right now because she couldn’t blast Tom and Marguerite into nothingness like she wanted to.

            Why had fate screwed her so royally? Why did she end up longing for a soul mate who would never return normal human affection? Tom loved the power she had, the magical boost her presence gave him, the prestige she connected him to through her assumed identity, but he didn’t love her. He used her like another part of his brain, his magic, but he didn’t look at her like a person, like an independent being who needed real love and affection. She knew he didn’t look at Marguerite that way, either, but he enjoyed her slavish attention, the way the ancestress of his future favorite henchwoman fawned over him and obeyed him without question.

Hermione’s rather fertile imagination began to spin all kinds of possibilities. They probably did dark spells together in that bloody dungeon, laughing at how naïve she was to think Tom wouldn’t do whatever the hell he wanted behind her back. With a sinking feeling, she realized that Tom would probably sleep with Marguerite if it afforded him any advantage. If he hadn’t already.

            She took a deep breath, ending the spiral of her thoughts. Even if her body was fifteen, her mind was older and she was better than this. Hermione did a few simple charms to erase the signs of her crying from her face, and went back out into the hall.

            As she stepped out, she saw Abraxas coming her way. He bounded up to her, all muscles and smooth smile and knowing eyes and pale blonde hair, and the fifteen-year-old hormones inside Hermione had to appreciate his appeal.   He had been a terrible flirt since their third year, though he never directed those type of attentions toward Hermione. No one did. Even if no students knew about Tom and Hermione’s status as soul mates, they all either believed she was Tom’s girlfriend (which she clearly wasn’t, per his own words) or his beloved cousin (as if he could love anyone), which put her off-limits to everyone. Not a single student had expressed anything except friendly interest in her.

            “Hermione!” he said easily, familiarity born of years of close study and magic performed together. “Jacob and I have been scouring the train at opposite ends for the treat trolley. Marguerite asked for a bloody pumpkin juice, and we were trying to be nice, but I’m getting tired of looking. Have you seen it?”

            It was slightly comforting that Abraxas and Jacob had also been in the compartment at some point, but wildly annoying that Marguerite had sent them away to practice her wiles on Tom. There was also the crushing statement that Tom had definitively labeled Hermione as “not his girlfriend,” repeating itself in a loop in her head.

            “No,” Hermione shook her head, still struggling to be calm. She felt immature and stupid to care about whether or not Tom thought of her in that way. Maybe they were an example of rare platonic soul mates. Maybe Hermione just wasn’t his type. Voldemort was so twisted, he and Bellatrix had probably crucioed each other in the place of a real human connection. And if Bellatrix had been his type, well, Marguerite was a much saner, if no less cruel, version. If Tom was her only option for a relationship in this time, and he didn’t want her that way, then she was doomed to be without a romantic interest, probably for the rest of her life. And that was a horrible feeling.

            “Are you alright?” Abraxas was closer now, peering critically at her face. “You look sad.”

             Abraxas was generally a loud and boisterous presence, bragging loudly, flirting outrageously, but that was part of his sneaky Slytherin nature, Hermione thought. The noise of his demeanor kept most people from realizing how perceptive and intelligent he was beneath that exterior.

             He had come even closer, and Hermione could smell chocolate and the polish that the Quidditch players rubbed on their brooms that reminded her of an evergreen forest. She felt fragile, like her skin was a web of cracks barely held together. If he pushed, she would break apart into all the insecurities that had eaten her to a near hollow state of being.

            She didn’t understand that she was silently crying until his warm, slightly rough hand was cupping her cheek and wiping away a stream of tears.   His face was very near, but tilted to her ear.

            “I’d kiss you now, but he’d kill me. Or you would,” he whispered with a grin, his breath smelling of dark chocolate and oranges.

             A laugh came out automatically, but it wasn’t a very pleasant sound. “He would only kill you for show, not because he cared.”

            Abraxas hadn’t moved back, and when he spoke again, his lips brushed the outer curve of her ear. “But you wouldn’t?”

            A shudder ran through her and she didn’t try to disguise it. She was mad, and that made her especially susceptible to bad decisions. When she was angry, her logical mind had a tendency to shut down, and emotion ruled in its place, a wild thing driven by baser instincts. This was too serious, though. She had to keep herself together.  

           The movement of her shiver had twisted her head to the side, and Abraxas’s lips trailed down the line of her neck, not so much kissing as breathing softly, barely touching, but making her whole body come alive in a flood of feel-good chemicals. Her back went against the door to the loo, and she fumbled at the knob, opening it and pulling him inside.

           Abraxas had a husky laugh, and it wrapped around her pelvic region in a wonderfully pleasant way. He whispered spells of locking and sound protection, then he bent his head and kissed her mouth.

           It had been six years since Hermione Granger, now Bonneau, had been kissed. The last one had felt like a horrible impression of an octopus trying to eat her face – an octopus named Cormac McLaggen. In her bed at night, when the potion wore off, she wished she had better memories of kisses to draw upon for her fantasies, especially two years ago, when those fantasies had started to feature a tall, dark-haired boy with a devastating smile that rarely reached his blue eyes.

           She knew she was falling in love with Tom, and she was fighting it. Her loyalty, her devoted friendship, her intellectual abilities, her magical power – those were things she could and did give him. But her heart? That felt like the last remaining piece of Hermione Granger, the secret spot that she could still call her own. And she was glad she had held on to it for dear life, because it was clear Tom didn’t want her heart. Well, he probably did want it, because he liked to own things and people completely, but he had no plans on giving her his heart in return, so Hermione would keep it hidden, safe.

           And Abraxas Malfoy, of all people, was going to help distract her, it seemed. He was an excellent kisser, his lips wide and smooth and soft, exerting just the right amount of pressure and tongue, one hand wound into her hair at the base of her neck, the other gently splayed at the base of her spine. She returned the kiss, mirroring his movements to make up for her lack of experience, letting the pleasurable sensations distract her. He was a gorgeous boy, and on nights when she had been angry with Tom, he had been the replacement fantasy material, though she had no idea before now that he wanted her.

           After several minutes, he pulled back, looking down at her with grey eyes stripped of his earlier, light-hearted flirtation. “Hermione,” he began, his breath coming in pants, his hand still tangled in her hair. “I can’t believe we just did that. I mean, I’ve wanted to do that for ages, but…”

            “He will kill you,” she sighed sadly. “I like you too much to want you to die.”

            Abraxas’s expression was suddenly violent, an emotion she hadn’t seen on him before, though he wore it well. “I would follow Tom to the ends of the earth. He is going to change everything one day, and I want to be beside him when he does. Just being near his magic, his brain, is addictive. He is the Heir of Slytherin, and I’m happy to be his loyal knight in most every way, but he takes you for granted, flaunts Marguerite in your face,”

            She closed her eyes. “Tell me the truth, Abraxas, please. Is he sleeping with her?”

            He rested his head on her shoulder, still holding her close, the strands of his pale, straight hair tickling her cheek. “Yes.”

            And just like that, Hermione knew she hadn’t kept her heart safe, because it was breaking right now, and it was more painful than Bellatrix’s torture. “How long?”

           “The end of last year,” his voice was hardly audible, as if volume could affect the amount of injury she felt. “I don’t think it was very many times,” he hastily added.

           “Does he even like her?” Hermione’s voice cracked.

           Abraxas kissed her cheek, catching her tears in his mouth. The gesture was oddly kind and comforting, and Hermione allowed herself to cry harder, allowed him to hold her in this intensely private and vulnerable moment.

          “I don’t know,” Abraxas said finally. “He’s…Tom. The only person he actually cares about is you, Hermione. But sex feels good, and it gives him power over Marguerite, and all her connections.”

           “Yes, he’s a fucking chess master, isn’t he?” Hermione wanted to hurt him, and that thought scared her.

            Abraxas nodded seriously. “He absolutely is, and we can’t forget that. Marguerite is a pawn, a rook at best. You’re the Queen. You’re the one he won’t let anything or anyone touch.”

            She grinned sadly, looking down at the arms holding her. “You’re touching me.”

            His smile matched hers. “I clearly have no regard for my future existence,” a tiny part of his normal, easy to laugh self had returned. “Look, I’m his roommate. I see more than I should, and I keep my mouth shut, except now, with you. Marguerite threw herself at him, waited half-naked in his bed. She wants him, and what Marguerite wants, she gets.”

            “She can’t marry him,” Hermione knew her voice was petulant, but she didn’t care. “He’s not pureblooded.”

            Abraxas laughed. “Oh, she won’t marry him, but she’ll marry a stupid pureblood with lots of money and no talent, and she’ll put all those resources behind Tom. She’ll do what pureblooded wives do best – give their husbands a few children, then do whatever she wants. Tom is only sleeping with her to control her.”

           “And that makes it better?” Hermione’s hair was curling, her angry magic rising and she pulled at it, tried to keep it in check.

           “No,” Abraxas shrugged, “but it makes it something Tom would do. Hermione, I don’t understand why you are so upset. You know how he is.”

           “I’m upset because,” she searched for words.

           “Because he isn’t using you?” Abraxas’s grey eyes were sharp, pinning her down. “Would it make you feel good if he had kissed you, had sex with you, without feeling anything? Whatever he does feel, it is for you, and it is as good and pure a feeling as Tom is capable of. Marguerite is acting like a fucking whore, and that’s how Tom treats her. She knows she will never have one-millionth of the affection he gives to you, and she hates you for it.”

           Everything Abraxas said was true. She knew Tom had no conscience – or at least, so little that it couldn’t effectively function. Sociopaths used people as they saw fit, and they tended to be promiscuous, and pleasure-seekers. Of course a fifteen year old with little to no morals would have sex with a half-naked girl in his bed. But some part of Tom had to have known it would hurt her, upset her, because he hadn’t let anyone tell her.

           “Well, fuck him,” Hermione said, her anger rising to a near-volcanic state. “I’m a person, not an ideal, untouchable statue of a girl on a shelf. I can’t live the rest of my life without affection.”

            Abraxas looked both terrified and amused at her outburst. “What are you going to do, Hermione?”

            “You’re sixteen now, aren’t you?” she thought his birthday was right before school started, about a month before her own.

             He nodded, looking wary.

            “Do you have a fiancée yet?” her fierce gaze dared him to lie.

            “Not yet, I swear,” he put up his hands. “My parents are talking to other families, but they don’t have a list yet. I think they thought I’d pick someone at school and save them the trouble.” He gently rubbed her hand. “Unfortunately, I’ve been preoccupied with thoughts of a beautiful, brilliant half-blooded girl who isn’t an option for several reasons.”    

             A small smile played at the corners of her mouth. “Not so preoccupied that you haven’t gained a thorough reputation as the best kisser at Hogwarts.”

            “Have I now?” he grinned, taking her hands and putting them around his waist, then doing the same with his at her waist. “Care to weigh in on the matter?”

             They kissed for a long time, gentle, slow kisses that were arousing in a non-threatening way. She could have fallen asleep against him; he felt safe and solid. How long had it been since she’d felt safe around Tom? As soon as she started to be attracted to him, she had run for cover.

             “This can’t end in anything except tragedy, Abraxas,” she sighed against his mouth.

             “I’m well aware of that,” he kissed her as he spoke. “But I’ve been half in love with you the night you stormed into our room and saved Tom, and I fell the rest of the way last year in potions when you squeezed my hand after I helped Felicity save that disaster of a sleeping draught she was trying to make.”

             “What?” she was shocked. Until those last words, it had been a silly action, a flirtation they could walk away from, keep as a guilty secret.

             He pulled her more tightly against his entire body, his actions more rough than anything previous, and she felt how hard he was – how hard all of him was. “I want you, but I don’t want to use you, Hermione. I love you.”

             She cried, much harder than before. This was the first time a boy had told her he loved her. It wasn’t Ron, the boy she had dreamed of in her previous, future life, and it wasn’t Tom, her fucking soul mate. It was Draco Malfoy’s grandfather, and she thought her head might just explode.

            “It’s okay,” he continued, his voice the only part of him that was soft. “I know you love him.”

             “Abraxas,” she wiped at her tears, and kissed him. “You are so much more than I had realized. I can’t use you, either.”

             He was smiling again, the sexy smile that was legend at Hogwart’s, second only to Tom’s. “Oh, but you can. I hereby give you permission to use me any way you want, Hermione.”

             And, again, anger shorted out Hermione’s higher brain. Tom had fucked Marguerite – more than once, and he would do it again, now that school had started. If he could use sex as a weapon, then she damn well could use it for comfort. She wasn’t going to save herself for the hope that Tom would wake up one day and care for her in the way she wanted him to. What a fucking fool she’d been, practically drawing hearts with their names in them, thinking, as soul mates, that she and Tom would go off into the sunset together. This second adolescence with its flood of hormones had betrayed her, and the euphoria of the soul mate connection had struck the killing blow. Hermione Granger had fallen in love with Tom Riddle and he couldn’t care less. Well, she was taking it back; her love was her own, her body was her own, soul mate bond be damned.

              She leaned in to kiss him and there was a quiet knock on the door. They both jumped, panicked. The spells Abraxas had put up cancelled noise going out, not coming in. Hermione’s heart raced and she hurried to check her hair and face in the mirror. Would Tom be there? No, she didn’t feel his magic. There was something familiar, though, something soft and comforting, like a favorite blanket. Patience.

                 “Hermione? I think you have five minutes to be gone from there,” Patience’s voice was more focused than usual, and definitely more insistent.

                 Abraxas looked like he might vomit. Hermione rubbed his arm. “We’re safe. It’s Patience. I trust her with my life. I’m going with her, now. Wait five minutes, then go back to the others.”

                  Despite his obvious fear, he grabbed her and kissed her, hard and deep. “I don’t regret it. I never will. I love you.”

                  She kissed him back, part of her glad they’d been stopped before doing something that would have probably gotten them both killed. “You love power, Abraxas. I’m just the wrapping.”

                  “That’s not true. What do we do now?” he asked, pulling her close again and lifting her to be able to lean his head against her.

                 “I have no idea,” she said honestly. “It’s more than a bit terrifying. Don’t you remember what happened to Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot?”

                 His head was against her chest, a warm weight against her heart. “Arthur didn’t love Guinevere, not more than Britain, not more than power, not the way Lancelot loved her,” he protested.

                  Hermione took a deep breath, tried to swim through a sea of hormones, hurt feelings, and arousal back to her logical mind. “Abraxas, you are going to be married in a few years, and it won’t be to me. I could easily fall in love with you, but I won’t. I can’t do that to either of us.”

                 “Tell me this won’t be the last time, please,” his grey eyes pleaded even more than the tone of his voice, and his arms held her tight.

                 It felt so good. So good to be loved, to be wanted, to be given unconditional affection – affection given even at the risk of so much danger. “I can’t promise that, Abraxas, but I can tell you that I still want you.”

                She was out the door before he could answer, sliding the door open just enough to get out and closing it behind her. Patience was there, alone, bright yellow as a sunrise.

               “You smell like mortal danger,” she grumbled, and Hermione started, because Patience never grumbled.

                Patience took her hand, Hermione followed meekly, whispered every cleansing spell she knew on herself as she walked, just in case. They were in the compartment, seated with Josephine and Felicity for only a few minutes before the compartment door opened and Tom slipped inside.

                “Ladies,” He addressed the whole group, but his sharp blue eyes raked over her, and she erected the walls Narcissa had shown her, protecting her mind and keeping her emotions chained down. The truly good part of her thought she should feel guilty. The part of her that sought justice said she’d only done what Tom had done to her months ago, though a few kisses could hardly be compared to full-out sex. The part of her that sought vengeance itched to curse his lying ass off the train, quickly followed by Marguerite.

               “Tom,” Hermione was shocked at how normal her voice sounded, like she hadn’t just been kissed for several minutes by Abraxas Malfoy, and told that he loved her. She looked at his lovely mouth and wondered if Tom went down on Marguerite. She didn’t think he’d be that self-less of a lover. Marguerite probably had to do all the work. Well, she could fucking have him, Hermione told herself fiercely.

               “Hermione, we have to go to the prefect’s meeting in a few minutes. Will you walk with me?”

               “Sure,” she nodded and rose, not daring to check that she was completely put together. Patience handed her the prefect badge and her school robes. “Thanks, Patience.”

                Patience’s expression was back to its normal, dazed self. “That’s what friends are for, Hermione, to help us when we forget ourselves.”

                Tom ignored Patience, as usual, but Hermione wondered, not for the first time, if Patience had a bit of the second sight. She leaned over and dropped a kiss on Patience’s forehead.

                 “Can we go?” Tom scowled. Hermione allowed herself to laugh on the inside. If he was annoyed at a friendly kiss on the temple, then he’d probably spontaneously combust over the earlier events of the day.

                They walked back to the last train car quietly.

                “What made you so happy a little while ago?” he asked, his voice light, but forced.

                Shit, Hermione thought. Please tell me he didn’t feel my arousal. “Patience invited me to stay with her family this summer. I’m excited to see her grandma’s place. It’s in the Orkney Islands.”

                Tom held the door to the next compartment open for her. “You won’t be at home this summer?” he sounded angry, but not because he thought she’d lied.

                “You go to Abraxas’s every summer,” she shrugged, her heart racing just a bit at the mention of the boy who was now her partner in the crime of high treason against Tom Riddle.

                 He didn’t answer, and they spent the rest of the walk in silence.

 

                In fact, she thought as she showered, that was pretty much how the first few weeks of school had gone. She was avoiding him. She was avoiding Marguerite, and the other Slytherins because she knew they all knew, except Thad, because he didn’t know anything not directly related to Quidditch. A whole group of people she had considered her friends had kept a secret from her, and even though most of them had probably thought not telling her was a kindness, and she was mad at the whole snakey lot of them. Well, not Abraxas.

                She scrubbed harder at her skin as she thought of that pale Malfoy hair, those grey Malfoy eyes, his rough hands, and soft lips. She was beginning to think Abraxas had put a tracking spell on her, because he had found her several times in these last three weeks, and always when she was alone, walking back from the library or heading to the greenhouse to check on a set of plants she was growing for extra credit that she didn’t need but wanted anyway.

                He would pull her into empty classrooms, and they would kiss each other senseless, though he never pushed her for more. It was clear that the soul mate bond did not in any way preclude attraction to others. Abraxas was beautiful, and his arms were strong and his lips soft, and he always tasted like chocolate. Sometimes, she ended up crying, and he just held her and stroked her hair. He was incredibly sweet, and she wondered each time how much longer she could do this without hurting him one way or another.

               And, now? Tom was calling her out on her odd behavior, insisting on her presence at the study group, and this was going to be simply horrible. She got out of the shower and metaphorically dressed for battle. Her hair was pulled back into a tight braid, her mental shields were up, her emotions were tamped down, and her wand was in her hand. On a whim, she pulled the locket out of her sweater, letting it rest on its long chain on her diaphragm, a connection to Tom that Marguerite would never have. It was petty, but she didn’t give a fuck.

               The study group had long since claimed a large, unused classroom on the fifth floor as their base. Over the years, they had cleared out old desks and brought in more comfortable furniture, and even a few thick rugs to fall back on when practicing dueling. When Hermione walked in, everyone else was already there. The small groups of students, some looking over homework, others practicing transfiguration and charms, still others dueling, reminded her of the best part of school – the camaraderie. Too bad that was gone for her in a large way.

               Several people glanced up when she walked in, and as she crossed over to where Tom was sitting on a couch, the low table in front of it covered by books and the ever-present Marguerite at his side, she saw Marguerite narrow her eyes at the locket.

              Hermione made no attempt to hide her grin. She wasn’t going to fight Marguerite for Tom. Why would she fight for someone who didn’t want her, not in that way? But she wasn’t above pissing Marguerite off.

              “Hermione,” Tom’s voice was pleased, as it always was when she did as he told her to, when she was near to him. He wanted his magical battery, with its shiny trophy locket, right next to him so everyone could admire it, but not dare to touch it. “Sit down. Abraxas, move over and make a spot for Hermione.”

               Abraxas, who had not looked up when she came in, now obligingly made room for Hermione, and she sat, without a word, between Tom and Abraxas. She could feel heat coming from Abraxas, magic coming from Tom, and hatred coming from Marguerite, who sat on Tom’s other side.

               “We’ve almost found the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, I think,” Tom said, pride in his voice. “I’ve narrowed it down to three likely locations.”

                Hermione froze, swallowed, and answered evenly, “I didn’t know we were looking for it. I thought that was a myth.”

               “Well,” Tom said breezily, “the part about it being a home to a beast who will cleanse the school of muggleborns has to be pureblood propaganda, but it is the chamber of secrets – plural – so, I think it is there, that it was Salazar Slytherin’s private potions lab and maybe library, and it is something that, as the Heir of Slytherin, I am entitled to find.”

               “I’m not sure I’d dismiss the claim about the beast so easily,” Hermione held back a shiver at the horrific memory of being petrified. She thought of Myrtle, the whiny, annoying girl who wasn’t improved by being alive, but whom she had promised herself she would keep alive this year. And Hagrid, sweet, bumbling, and gigantic even in his third year, whom she could not let be framed and expelled.

              “Really, Hermione,” Marguerite snapped, her eyes on the locket once more. “What type of ‘monster’ do you think could live undetected, unfed, in the school for about one thousand years?”

              “I don’t know, Marguerite,” Hermione snapped back, though Abraxas had discreetly poked her in the side in warning as she leaned forward. “What about a basilisk that could move through the pipes and eat all manner of rodents and also go into the lake as it pleased? What better magical monster for Slytherin House than an enormous, fucking, slimy snake?”

             She hadn’t counted on feeling so angry when she was face to face with Marguerite, with Tom beside Marguerite, so angry she would say things she never, ever should have. Both girls had leaned forward, on either side of Tom, and he watched them with knitted brows.

            “A basilisk? That would be…quite genius, really.” Tom turned toward Hermione, smiling in wonder. “Well, we’ll just need to kill it when we open the chamber and our problems will be solved. See, Hermione? Everything’s better when you come to the study group. No one else thought of that.” He turned to Marguerite. “Make a note to study ways to kill basilisks.”

             Marguerite nearly stabbed through her parchment with her quill as she wrote. Hermione cast a nonverbal slipping spell, and the quill dug sharply into Marguerite’s leg. Blood welled up through her stocking. The cut was long and deep enough to require treatment, and the horrible part of Hermione’s brain wished she could cut the girl all over.  

             “You’d better go get that healed,” Hermione said tonelessly.

             Tom gave Hermione a pointed look as Marguerite left in a huff, holding her hand to her leg to stop the bleeding. “You could have healed that instantly.”

             “I didn’t want to,” Hermione replied, and she leaned back into the couch and opened the book she’d brought with her.

 

-oOo0oOo-

            As Hermione smiled at him, a bit of evil in that grin as Marguerite fled, bleeding, Tom knew that she knew. And she was angry. He reached out with his magic, and felt what he had for the last several months – hardly anything. Her emotions, her magic, were walled up, barely touchable, and that made him angry, too.

            Since shortly before their third year, Hermione had been pulling away from him, subtly at first, then, since the end of last year, about the time he’d come into his room to find Marguerite in his bed wearing nothing except one of his button down shirts, rather dramatically. He should have realized before now what had happened, but he’d been researching the Chamber of Secrets, and was so close to finding it, that he’d been distracted.

            When he’d first seen Marguerite on his green sheets, her dark, almost black curls, and pale white skin spread out in invitation, he’d been inclined to throw her out. Though his roommates and the other boys seemed to have sex on the mind more than magical studies, Tom hadn’t been particularly tempted. He’d masturbated in the shower; it felt good, but it was more of a biological urge that could be controlled, like putting off a meal, than some great desire that he would allow to consume his time and energy. He was happy that Hermione seemed to be of the same mind, not giggling and tittering like all the other girls in their classes. She gave no hint of being interested in anything romantic or sexual. She didn’t flirt or give significant glances, and she certainly didn’t throw herself at anyone the way Marguerite (and several other, older girls) had done with him.

            It wasn’t until that night that he’d made the connection between sex and power, and, well, then he’d been a goner. Sex with Marguerite had been like what he imagined using the imperius curse would be like. She did what he asked, when he asked it, and it felt fantastic. He hadn’t come inside her, ever, because there was no way he would let her have his child. Instead, he’d pulled out and spilled over the sheets, then instantly vanished the mess. He hadn’t let her stay afterwards, even though she wheedled for it, and he’d only had sex with her a few other times since then. Marguerite mainly got him off with her hand or her mouth, and he didn’t care in the slightest if she had an orgasm herself. She was the one who kept coming back, so it wasn’t as if she could complain.

            The sexual knowledge itself was another benefit, because knowledge was always power, and now he could slide subtle innuendoes into his charm, into the smiles he bestowed, and he got what he wanted even more often because of it. Except with Hermione. She was something else entirely, not a girl or a potential conquest; she was his soul mate, elevated above the physical. This summer, he’d looked at her differently, had caught himself wondering how sex would feel with their connection, how their magic might flow around them if he took her in the field of wildflowers outside the Merrythought estate. Of the wonderful, powerful sexual magic they would be able to perform together.

            But he hadn’t. She was beautiful and wild, but she also seemed innocent, and Tom had never had anything that was pure in the way she was. He didn’t want to touch her that way. She was already his. He didn’t need to prove it. He would never say out loud that he was scared, that he was worried that if he joined with her in that way that she’d be able to rule him, control him, and that simply wasn’t acceptable.    

            He didn’t think she knew. Truly. He was a very perceptive person, but she’d been her normal self, except for the gradual retreat of her magic. More than one girl in Hogwarts had changed her entire behavior overnight, and he had chalked it up to a woman’s hormonal issue, thinking it would sort itself out eventually, and he’d have his Hermione back, her usual cheery, brilliant self. He didn’t think she also had fallen victim to those nasty hormones that every one else seemed to be struck senseless by.

            But she’d just deliberately cut Marguerite, then sent her away. She knew he’d had sex with Marguerite, and Hermione had punished her. Now, the only thing that remained was for her to try to punish him. He could feel that she wanted to. Part of him longed for it, to have her fly at him, her magic wild, so he could subdue her and show her once and for all that he was the one who was dominant. Then, they could cease their tiresome arguments about what was the right and moral thing to do, and just do what he wanted, with her in her proper place at his side, her mouth shut and her magic at his disposal.

            The room emptied quickly. The magic crackling in the air was not something most students could handle. It was heavy and charged, and Hermione’s hair was escaping from her braid at an alarming rate. Tom stood from the couch and discovered he was aroused. Hermione was beautiful, and her magic was thrilling, and he realized he did want her in that way. And now, for the first time, it was clear she wanted him in that way, or she wouldn’t be jealous of Marguerite, who any moron could see was nothing to him.

            Abraxas was still on the couch, and Tom narrowed his eyes as he saw how close together they sat, how comfortable they looked beside one another. It was an off-handed, unconscious comfort, the way Hermione’s wand hand was twitching on the cushion, and how Abraxas was leaning toward her, his own hand, also curled around its wand, brushing her knuckles.   Any one else, except maybe Patience, who was potentially brain-damaged, would have moved away from Hermione when she was that angry, when her aggressive magic was coming off of her in waves.

            Oh. Oh, Tom realized, and then his anger was beyond words. Hermione was his, but Abraxas was his, too. Abraxas was the closest thing he had to a friend, the person he turned to nearly as much as Hermione. In the summers, when they raced brooms and plotted political futures and took day trips to exotic locales with Abraxas’s father, Tom thought that might be what having a brother would be like. Abraxas was much, much smarter than most people realized, and he was an important ally, a loyal and obedient knight to Tom’s cause. Or he had been. The two people he had trusted had been betraying him behind his back, lying to his face. He imagined their bodies, one all white blonde hair and muscles and grey eyes and that fucking bastard smile, and the other all golden brown curls and slender grace and amber eyes and his. No one touched what was his.

            Something shifted, and it took him a few seconds to understand that Hermione had let her magic loose, had finally stopped holding it in. It came to greet his, though the greeting was more of a slap in the face. Now, as clear as anything, he felt her desire, her anger, her sense of…betrayal?

            He had cast something, but he didn’t even know what it was, only that he’d hurled it at Abraxas, but it didn’t connect, because Hermione had put up a protective barrier. Before they could leave, or someone else could come in, he magically barred the door and muffled the room.

            “Did you fuck him, Hermione?” His voice carried, echoing in the empty room. “My best friend?”

            “Tom,” her voice was low, but carried just as well. “People who live glass houses shouldn’t cast stones.”

            He cast several stone projectiles her way, and she vanished them in mid-air. “I take it that’s a yes.”

            “Did you think I wouldn’t find out about Marguerite, that I wouldn’t care?” She threw a flurry of jinxes his way, each one successively darker.

            Tom was impressed despite himself. She’d been holding back. Well, so had he. Instead of aiming at her, he threw curses at Abraxas, who had been silent, but now did a remarkable job of defending himself, though he didn’t cast a single attack spell.

            “Tell me, Abraxas, did you know that Hermione isn’t just mine because I want her?” Tom moved closer, his handsome face wearing a deceptively benevolent expression. “She is mine because fate gave her to me. She is my soul mate.”

            “What?” Abraxas looked shocked, and glanced at Hermione, who said nothing. All her energy was focused on Tom, on anticipating his actions and deflecting them.

            Suddenly, Tom was struck with the idea that Abraxas might have seen Hermione’s words, his words that were on a place on her body he hadn’t seen, and he now desperately longed to view. “Did you see -”

            “No,” Hermione shook her head fervently, cutting him off. “But I’ll bet Marguerite saw mine. You’re so righteous, so bloody chauvinistic, you fucking bastard! You let her touch what was mine!” Her magic came out and it knocked him onto his back, his body hitting against the thick, dusty carpet.

            “Go, Abraxas! I’ll deal with this.”

            “No, Hermione, I,”

            But Tom didn’t know what happened after that, except that Hermione had somehow gotten Abraxas out of the room, and re-barred the doors, and now it was just the two of them. The fall backwards had only mildly stunned him; he was more impacted by Hermione’s anger, the rage that seemed to match his own over Marguerite. Did she think of him the way he thought of her? That didn’t work. He was no one’s. She was his, but he was no one’s.

            He stood, and looked at her, his eyes full of incomprehension. “Do you think I am yours?”

            She was absolutely still, her magic pulled back in again, a contained, beautiful statue carved of ice. “No. And I am not yours.

            Tom’s magic flared around them, and he walked quickly toward her. “You are mine. You have always been mine.”

            A sharp blast threw him across the room. He used his wand to halt the speed, and stood several feet away, panting in anger.

            “It’s one or the other, Tom. Either we are each others or no one’s,” Hermione frowned.

            “You don’t get to decide that!” He roared.

            “Yes, I do! I am a human being! I am not your magical totem or slave! And if you were capable of basic human emotion, you would understand that!” She dodged the freezing curse he sent her way as she yelled.

            He considered her words, then sneered. “I’m clearly more evolved, Hermione, since I understand that emotions are useless. Where have yours gotten you? Here, where I am forced to teach you a lesson in how to behave.”

            “Good luck!” She laughed bitterly. “If you’re interested in a woman who acts like a dog on a leash, go find that little bitch Marguerite!”

             Red jets of light flew toward him, and though he moved quickly, the edge of the hex caught his arm, slicing through his sleeve into his skin. His expression stilled, his face frozen in a deadly, charming smile. “You’ve drawn first blood, my dear soul mate. Or was that Abraxas? How much of yourself did you give him?”

             “Tom, at this point, it doesn’t matter, because you’ll never be touching me, ever again.”

             In an instant, he was beside her, grabbing her arm. The touch was electric. They were both so angry – enraged, really, but it didn’t matter. They deflated somewhat, and Tom could feel, feel how hurt she was. How she ached over what he had done.   “You will always be mine, Hermione.” She shivered, and he sighed in something like relief.

             Inspired, he ran his hand up her arm, and he felt her response again, the one she didn’t want to give, but came anyway. He pulled her close and she didn’t protest. “You will, won’t you?” he whispered. “Be mine?”

             She shook her head, her eyes willfully closed. He smiled, and put his newly acquired skills to use. His hands went around her waist, and he knew his suspicions from the summer had only been the palest of hints at the truth. Touching Hermione in this ways was not pleasurable. It was a revelation, heaven spread across his flesh.

             Her eyes were still closed when he lowered his lips to her mouth, and even though she bit his lip hard enough to draw blood, he kept kissing her and she kissed him back, angry and sexy and what the hell had he been doing with Marguerite? Hermione’s lips were silk and her teeth were like daggers, and the combination was intoxicating. He put his hands on either side of her face, holding her cheeks and deepening the kiss.

             “Just because you’re sexy and a good kisser doesn’t mean you win,” she pulled away, but only to speak against his lips, her chest heaving against his own.

             “No,” Tom agreed, and he kissed her, much more softly this time. “I’ll win because you want me to, because Abraxas can’t make your skin sing like I can.”

             “Marguerite can’t.” Hermione began.

             He put a finger to her lips. “Hush. Marguerite can’t anything. Marguerite is nothing.

             She looked down, tears in her eyes. “If she’s nothing, how could you give her what was mine?”

             Touching her body, with their magic loose around them, her feelings were absolutely clear. She was furious, she was aroused, but further down, she was devastated. She was in pain, and he had done that. He knew instantly that continuing to try to convince her of the truth that Marguerite meant absolutely nothing to him was not the route to take. Hermione didn’t want to hear that. She wanted to be comforted, to be…loved? He held back his own anger at the memory of the look on Abraxas’s face when he’d revealed their soul mate status. Abraxas was in love with Hermione, and that was why she’d done whatever she’d done with him.

            Tom filed that information away, pushed his anger to the side. He’d make Abraxas pay later. Hermione was the priority now. She needed to be re-tied to him, their connection cemented, her wounded feelings soothed.

            “I didn’t give her anything,” he said gently, all calm reassurance.

            She reared back, but he held her. “You fucked her! How is that not -”

            “Yes, I had sex with her,” Tom admitted, keeping a tight grip on Hermione’s arms, not letting her go. If she really wanted to, she could use magic. But she wasn’t, which he took as a good sign. It was time to sacrifice a chess piece. “But I won’t, not again, not if you ask me not to.”

            “I shouldn’t have to!” Hermione began.

            “Should I have had to tell you not to let Abraxas touch you, to let anyone touch you?” He struggled and failed to keep the anger out of his voice.

            “We’re soul mates!” she protested. “You know what that means!”

            Tom arched an eyebrow. “What I know is that you haven’t touched me in years, haven’t shared your full magic with me, have given me no indication that you wanted any kind of relationship like that!”

           “Wow! So, I’d need to be naked in your bed for you to understand my feelings? Some soul mate connection!” Hermione scoffed, though he could see that those words had hit their mark.

           “I think our connection, now that it is flowing again, is rather amazing,” Tom’s voice was back to deeply seductive. “Don’t you?”

           She was wavering, he felt it. He let go of her and went for the action he knew would win her over. He unbuttoned his cuffs, carefully taking out the jade cufflinks she’d gotten him that he always wore, and pushed up his sleeves, revealing pale skin and her words on his forearm. “I barely removed anything, Hermione. Marguerite never touched your words.”

           Hermione hadn’t seen those marks in four years, he knew. Tom was always dressed smartly, wearing long-sleeved dress shirts even in the summer months. At night, the few times she’d seen him in pajamas, he wore long sleep shirt and pants sets. He never pulled up his sleeves, never looked anything but an elegant young man, perfectly put together.

           As he’d hoped, her small, thin fingers reached out and hovered over his exposed words. Her magic was concentrated, electric, and when she finally lowered her fingers to his flesh and traced the words that had ushered him into the magical world, into his destiny, he couldn’t stop a low, shuddering sigh from escaping his throat. Hermione’s fingers were magic, just like her words said, We are Magic.

           At his admission, she’d relaxed, though only a bit. He clearly had more work to do. “Hermione, I’ve never wanted anyone except you.”

           Her beautiful brown eyes, with those fanciful amber flecks, stared at him accusingly. “I heard you on the train. In the compartment with Marguerite, heard you tell her that I was not your girlfriend.

           He laughed, loudly, unconcerned. “You aren’t my girlfriend, Hermione! You are my soul mate – you are above all that. Your place doesn’t have a label, or a question.”

           She looked oddly pleased, but continued in an angry voice. “Did you ever think that I might want what everyone else does? That I need attention, affection, touch?”

          “And I suppose Abraxas was happy to supply those things?” Tom’s anger had returned, full-force, before he could stop it. “He’ll be lucky to live through the night!”

           “Don’t you dare touch him!” Hermione yelled, her hair crackling with building magic.

          “He touched you! And you let him!” He yelled back.

          “Marguerite touched you first! And you let her!” She screamed, and several windows burst, glass flying out onto the lawn in a great whoosh.

           He took a deep breath, forced himself to calm down. He turned away and repaired the windows. The release of that magic was somewhat calming, but when he turned back around, Hermione was crying.

           The only other time he’d seen her cry was when he’d rewound the bandage around her scars. Guilt and regret were not feelings Tom Riddle had any experience with, but he was feeling something. Something that was extremely unpleasant.

           “I’m sorry,” he said softly, and, for the first time, he truly meant those words.

           “Please don’t hurt Abraxas,” she responded, then at his angry glare, “He is a loyal friend – to both of us. He didn’t do anything except comfort me.”

           “How, exactly?” Tom needed the details, even though he didn’t want to hear them, to imagine them.

           She pulled herself up straight, and he could see that she wasn’t ashamed. His soul mate felt justified in what she had done, which made him even angrier. “We kissed. That was all.”

           “How many times?” Tom wasn’t done with this interrogation.

           “I didn’t count,” she huffed. “Probably…ten times, I guess.” Her own anger began to build again. “How many times did you have sex with Marguerite?”

           “We had sex three times, she gave me oral sex seven times, and used her hand another dozen or so times,” he answered honestly, no emotion at all.

           “Oh, my god!” Hermione shrieked. “And you’re trying to make me feel like shit over a few kisses? That were mostly in tears over how upset I was about you and Marguerite? You are a fucking asshole, Tom Riddle!”

           “Wait!” he lifted his hands in a stopping gesture. “We’ve already established that neither of us had given the other an indication of interest, so how can you blame me?”

            “I had hoped you loved me,” the words were so low, he almost didn’t hear them. His chest contracted painfully.

            Almost as soon as she had spoken, she was running for the door, as if her words scared her so much she had to flee before they could catch up with her. He lifted his wand and sent the closest tables hurtling in front of the exit, blocking it in a neat, if somewhat precarious-looking, stack.

            “Let me out,” she hissed, her head turned away. He could hear tears in her voice.

            “No,” he replied, coming up behind her. Her narrow shoulders were shaking. Tom pulled her wand out of her hand, then bent, putting both of their wands on the floor.

            Hermione’s laugh was such a cold, hollow version of the one he knew, of the one he craved hearing, that a shiver went through him. “I don’t need a wand to make you regret keeping me here, Tom.”

            At that, he quickly spun her around, putting his arms around her waist again. “If you stay, you won’t regret a thing, Hermione.”

            She didn’t answer because he was kissing her again, and it was even better than the first time. He lifted his hands and tangled his fingers in that glorious mane of hers, feeling the silky curls and the magic in them flowing up his arm. They were locked together for several minutes, and his hands found other places as well, explored the length of her spine, the curve of her hips, the subtle rise of her perfectly rounded ass. She was made for him, and he even though he had told himself he didn’t want this from her, he knew now that he’d been lying to himself – that this was nothing without her.

           She pulled back from him, panting. “I can’t just be your new toy Tom. I can’t be another Marguerite.”

           “What? You are nothing like Marguerite! I don’t ever want her again, not after touching you,” his arms, much longer than hers, pulled her back against his chest, though she managed to look up at him in righteous anger.

           “Until it serves your purposes. I’m not blind, Tom. I may have been lost in hormones, but I still have a brain. You use her. You want to have her connections, the power and money she might supply in the future, and sex is the easiest way to guarantee your access to it!” Hermione’s cheeks were flushed, her mouth was swollen, and Tom could hardly focus on her words.  

            Tom smiled, and it was beautiful and horrible all at once. “You have it exactly. I use her. Why does that bother you so much? I think I have much more cause for anger. You care about Abraxas, and he’s probably in love with you, so that is much worse.”

            Hermione was gone again, slipped from his arms and crossing the room to their wands. “You are insane, Tom! No, wait. I’m the insane one, for thinking that I could be in a relationship with a person who has no sense of morality, of fidelity, of kindness. You won’t ever see why I’m hurt, why what you are doing to Marguerite is wrong. And that means that I can’t ever be with you in that way. You’ll just break my heart, Tom. And you won’t feel a goddamned thing.”

            “You think I feel nothing; you always say that, but it isn’t true,” Tom protested. “I might not feel the way you do, but I’m upset. I’m upset that you didn’t trust me enough to tell me you wanted to be with me that way. I’m upset that you let Abraxas touch you! I’m upset that you are telling me now, once again, how I think and how I feel. And judging me! Always judging me! You preach about accepting people as they are, but you won’t accept me as I am.”

             “So, being your lover would mean allowing you to run off whenever it was convenient to have sex with a political connection, but I would have to be pure, to save myself only for you? How like a man to think that is an acceptable arrangement!” Hermione snapped back.

             “How many people do you want to fuck, Hermione?” Tom asked, his voice dangerous.

             “I don’t want to fuck anyone. I’d like to make love, to be held,” she answered. “I doubt you could understand that.”

             Quickly, without a word, he lifted her. He was much taller, and stronger than most people realized. His build was elongated muscle, slender, but he kept himself fit. Hermione was not difficult to pick up. He carried her to the couch, depositing her on the cushion, and kneeling on the floor in front of her.

             Her eye color looked much darker now, thanks to her widened pupils. Tom smiled in a way he knew would curl her toes. “I might not understand other people’s feelings, or even feelings in general, but you are my soul mate. I know exactly how you feel when you let me. And I know that under your anger, you want me.”

             “Of course I want you, Tom. That’s why I’m so angry,” Hermione’s expression softened.

             “Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you pull away?” Tom pressed, his hands tracing circles over her knees, his touch burning through her thin stockings.

              Magic vibrated in a high, nervous way around them, through her into his fingers. “Why are you afraid of me, Hermione?”

              Her eyes were closed again, her head back against the couch, her hands fisted. “When our connection is open…it just kept getting stronger, and then I wanted….and it’s just too much.”

              Clever as always, he read between the lines. “You think if we have a romantic, sexual relationship that we’ll be even more connected. And that scares you.” He didn’t admit, wouldn’t admit that he had worried over the same thing.

              His hands tightened on her knees, and he leaned forward until his lips were against hers. He kissed her lightly, pulled at her lower lip with his teeth, keeping the pressure just below a bite. “It’s good, then, we’re both very talented and brave people,” he laughed.

              “Yes,” she whispered, emboldened by their shared magic, by how right it felt, but also scared. There was no going back from this moment.

              “I know you’re still a virgin,” he whispered back, a smug smile on his handsome face as he lowered his head to kiss her knee through her thin stocking. His lips were hot, and she shuddered. “Abraxas isn’t that stupid, though I was apparently foolish to not properly mark what is mine.”

              With a quick motion that shocked him, she came forward, made her face level with his own. “Make a wand vow that you won’t hurt Abraxas,” she held up her wand.

              “Hermione,” he began, annoyed again, then stopped. The magic seeping into his fingers from her knees was intoxicating. He wanted to feel her magic all over, wanted that intense pleasure he’d gotten when she’d touched the soul mate mark, and wanted to find his words on hers. “Why is it that you seem to attract pale blondes with no concern for their lives?”

              “I don’t know. Why is it that you seem to attract tiny, vicious, lying brunettes that would as soon kill me as look at me?” She scowled.

               Now it was Tom’s turn to scowl. “Marguerite would never hurt you. She knows I would kill her.”

               Those lovely brown eyes filled with tears again, and Hermione bit her lip, hard, before replying, “Oh, Tom, don’t you see that Marguerite has already hurt me? And I can’t ever return the blow.”

               There it was again, a jagged sensation in his chest, sharp and tight. “You cut her leg open,” he argued. “Then you cut my arm open.   So far, you’re the only one who has hurt anyone.”

               Hermione had the grace to flush, embarrassed. “I won’t do anything else, just promise not to hurt Abraxas.”

               “Define hurt,” Tom smirked, thinking of several possibilities.

               “The fact that I am in love with you already hurts Abraxas every minute,” she snapped.

                The tightness was replaced by a glowing feeling, a rising euphoria. “You love me?”

                She sighed heavily. “I don’t want to, but I do.”

                He was quiet for a few moments, the only sound their breathing, and the slight catch of her stockings under his fingers as he continued to stroke her knees. “I’m not sure about love, Hermione, but I value you, value you more than anything else. And I don’t care if Abraxas loves you, because that means he’ll protect you, serve you, as my soul mate.”

               “If it’s a pride thing, Tom,” her voice was hesitant, obviously trying to keep the tenuous peace they’d reached. “No one knows. No one but the three of us. And Patience.”

                Tom huffed, rolling his eyes. “Of course Patience bloody knows.”

               “She’s my best friend, my roommate,” Hermione answered.

               “And Abraxas was mine,” Tom’s tone was scathing. “You are both mine, not each other’s.”

               She looked at him sharply, and he wondered what she was thinking. He felt her confusion, though that was clearing, and her residual anger, though that was fading as well. Her arousal was there, too, but her brain had taken control, because he could practically feel her thinking, though her actual thoughts were out of his reach. He’d tried some low level legilimency on her over the past year, but with no success, unlike the easy entrance he’d made into several other minds.   He wondered if she were a natural occlumens.

               “Are you attracted to Abraxas, too?” she asked after a moment’s contemplation, a sly smirk playing around her lips, as if she knew something he didn’t.

                He didn’t pull away, didn’t protest. Instead, he considered the question, thought about the possibilities. Tom didn’t keep secrets from himself – there was nothing he was ashamed to think about. He knew he liked collecting things, and since coming to Hogwarts, he had added people to his collection, and they were some of his most prized possessions. Hermione, of course, was the jewel in his crown, the most precious, but Abraxas had been in the second place. He was intelligent, he was powerful, he was handsome, he had excellent political connections, his family had more money than probably any other in the country, and he had, until tonight’s events, seemed unquestionably loyal. All of these things enhanced Tom’s status.

                Marguerite had these things, too, though not as much as Abraxas, and she was a distant third in his mind’s rankings. This idea of being able to completely own all of his favorite things, to own their bodies as well as their magic and actions, well, that was an intriguing thought. Hermione seemed much less upset about the thought of Abraxas than Marguerite…and Marguerite was expendable, he’d already decided that. If Tom allowed some kind of connection between Hermione and Abraxas, and also with himself, would that satisfy Hermione’s need for ‘a more human connection’ as she’d put it?

               “Why?” Tom arched an eyebrow. “Do you think he wants me that way?” Tom thought being able to control both Abraxas and Hermione with sex might simplify matters greatly.

               She bit her lip, chewing the way she did when she was trying to figure out an Arithmancy problem. He found it adorable, and noticed that he was relaxing as well, that both of their magics had calmed, and there was more pleasure of just being together, of a simple touch, the way it had been when they were first years. He hadn’t realized how much he had missed it until now. He suddenly wanted to keep this, even if it came at a great cost, to keep Hermione happy, to keep her open to him.

              “I think he might be,” she finally answered. “We compared ourselves to Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere, and that legend certainly has homoerotism aplenty. And,” she ran her fingers down his jaw, tracing the line of bone, “who, male or female, could resist this face?”

               “You’ve been resisting it,” he said sourly. “If you’d kissed me last year, we could have avoided all of this.”

                “Don’t lie to me, Tom,” her voice was firm, her fingers found the back of his head and pulled his face closer. She bit his lip again, and it was hard. “I know you. You would have fucked her regardless, because it suited you to do so.”

                He didn’t pull back.   He found the harsh sting pleasant, and he wanted to dig into her in return, to hurt her just enough to make her scream in the same kind of pleasure. “So, if I let you have Abraxas, if I let Abraxas have you, if I eventually take him myself, will that appease your feelings, will you stop trying to control me?”

                “Control you?” her hair moved of its own accord, her eyes darkened with anger.

                “Hush,” he said again, bringing his finger up between their lips. “Think, think with that brilliant mind of yours, my dear soul mate, instead of those messy emotions. You can’t change me. You do influence me, whether I like it or not, and you remind me of consequences. You love me, and I…can’t be without you. I won’t be without you. We are meant to be together, and I want you to be mine, but I also want you to be happy. Do you understand how significant that is? I don’t care what other people think or feel, but I care about you. And, if we are being brutally honest, I can’t make you happy, Hermione, not if you try to fit me into some romantic ideal. I’m not Lancelot, that's your precious Abrades. I’m Arthur, the once and future King of all Britain, and his wizard, Merlin, all in one. You are not only Guinevere, you are Morgan Le Fay. The dark part of you knows this, even though you try to silence it.”

               “Morgan and Merlin nearly killed each other,” her voice was sad again, and he didn’t like that.

               “We won’t,” he said, kissing her fiercely for a minute, then stopping to speak. “We will surpass their legends with ease. You are my lady, my Queen, and my dark enchantress, but you have to let me be who I am.”

               “Let you sleep and torture your way though the school, through the larger wizarding world, securing power by any means?” her tone was light, though they both felt the weight of her words.

                “Not exactly,” he laughed softly. “I can see now how I might have been hasty with Marguerite, and after kissing you, well, she’s not even a shadow of you, Hermione.”

                She blushed, this time in pleasure, though her critical glance told him she was well aware he hadn't answered her question.

               “And Abraxas?” he pushed her shoulders back against the couch. “How did he kiss?”

                Hermione’s golden brown eyebrow raised and her mouth tilted. “Very, very well,” she replied, her voice barely on the safe side of a taunt.

                His hands were on her knees, then sliding down her legs to her ankles. Slowly, he unbuckled her shoes and set them aside. She swallowed, her legs seeming to be the center of the world as his hands slid up her thighs, under her skirt, finding the tops of her stockings, whispering an unsticking charm, and rolling them down an inch at a time, his mouth starting kisses at her knees and continuing to her ankles.

               “And where, exactly, did he kiss you?” Tom’s voice was somewhere between deadly and amused. He was unhurried, revealing pale flesh in small increments, then kissing that flesh. Once both of her stockings were crumpled on the floor and she was panting, he looked up at her from his place between her legs, a place no boy had ever been.

                “Only my face and neck,” she breathed, distracted by his fingers and mouth, but not enough to stop this dangerous game they were playing.

                “Only?” Tom made a tssking sound. “I know Abraxas could have done better than that. He’s told me about other girls, you know, told me what it felt like to fuck them. Pureblooded boys start early, you know. He must truly be in love to respect you so much,” his hands inched further up as he spoke, found the lace of her knickers, made hooks in the waistband, and with a wicked grin, he gave a harsh tug, and the scrap of red silk joined the grey stockings on the floor.

                 He smiled, a coy, amused grin as he glanced at the red lace and silk. “I would have guessed white cotton.”

                “Shows what you know,” she said, trying to be haughty, but laughing herself.

                “I am going to show you what I know,” his smile widened and his eyes darkened. “You’ve always been so far ahead in so much, and now, I’m going to be the one giving the lesson.”

                 “Yes, Sir,” she breathed, half-mocking, half-seriously aroused.

                 “Oh, my, you like that, don’t you?” Tom shook his head, and lust and power poured off of him in waves. “Abraxas is probably the perfect gentleman, and that…well, that’s a bit boring, isn’t it? ”

                 “I find it lovely,” Hermione lifted her chin defiantly, and he grabbed it, put his finger in her corner of her mouth. She made to bite it, and he pulled away, laughing.

                 “A powerful thing like you, longs to be reined in, held tightly. Watch and learn, my dear,” he murmured, lifting her skirt and handing her the hem. She took it, looked down at herself, bare to his eyes. Her pubic hair was neatly trimmed, not nearly as wild as the hair on her head, and it was glistening. He leaned forward, pushed gently at her thighs. She spread them wider and he, in turn, spread her most intimate folds, his long, strong fingers making her shudder.

                 “I’m doing this because I want to,” Hermione panted as his fingers slid inside her, first one, then two, stretching and pulling. “You can’t control me, either. Sexual submission isn’t the same as magical submission.”

                 “Mmmm,” Tom murmured, using his free hand to trace around the skin of her thighs and pelvic area. “Where are my words, Hermione?” the question was an order.

                  She raised the hem of her skirt higher, revealing the curve of her stomach. He sucked in his breath. There was his hand writing, coiled like a spiral, like a snake, around her navel What are you? What are we? As if the skin there were magnetic, his fingers went to them, unerring, immediately. Her whole body trembled under him as he traced the path of his words.

                  It was too much, Tom felt their magic rising, connecting in new, stronger ways, and he had to see it through, had to seal it, to never let her escape him. He pulled on her hips, sliding her closer and lowered his mouth to her stomach, tracing his words with his tongue, then trailing down to her hip bones, sucking and licking until she was writhing against, all breathy moans that had to be the most beautiful sounds he’d ever heard. It didn’t matter how well Abraxas kissed, how much he said he loved her, he was nothing next to Tom.

                  Her shudders and moans morphed into a loud gasp as his talented lips and tongue followed the path of his hands, licking and sucking at her labia and clitoris with the same energy he normal reserved for punishment and revenge. Because this was a bit of punishment, a reminder to her that she couldn’t resist him, that she wouldn’t be complete or happy without his touch, without being in his good graces. She didn’t care about herself, but he had plenty of leverage, especially those two pale blondes Hermione loved, and he knew she loved Abraxas, even if she wasn’t in love with anyone except Tom himself. His soul mate had a billion pressure points, and he would experiment with all of them.

                 “Did you do this for Marguerite?” Hermione managed to say between her more vocal reactions.

                 “What do you think?” Tom gave her a nasty, sarcastic smile as he raised his head. He replaced his lips with three fingers, inserted harshly and fast, making her wince and lean into him at the same time. “I didn’t even kiss her, Hermione. She is pathetic. She is not worth your thoughts.”

                 “Oh, God!” Hermione was distracted by his pumping fingers, by the way his thumb was toying with her clit, in a lazy, careless way.

                 Tom’s smile sharpened, his teeth bared. “I think I prefer the term, my Lord. It has such a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? I think I’d like to hear it screamed in your voice, Hermione. What do you say, my little bird?” He dragged a finger over the Ravenclaw shield on her chest, over the swell of her breast.

                 Her body went taut as a bowstring for an instant, and he felt fear, but he worked her through it, lowering his mouth to her cunt again. He would never lower himself to do such a thing with someone else. But Hermione was a world unto herself. She was the exception to everything, his one weakness, and as such, she needed to be completely under his control. He had to be clever, though, because she understood him, guessed his motives and actions frighteningly well. Handling her properly was the greatest challenge of his life, but he knew that she was also the key to his greatest reward.

 

-oOo0oOo-

                 Hermione hated herself as her body responded to Tom’s touch like his was its master – as if the arrogant bastard needed any more fuel for his superiority complex. But she couldn’t stop herself. Too much had happened, and she could feel what Tom couldn’t – that he was giving himself to her as well. He might be all power plays on the outside, but she’d found a crack, a way in. He’d admitted she was everything, had even tacitly agreed not to hurt Abraxas, to give up Marguerite, at least for now, and if she handled her supposed submission in just the right fashion, and she would be more in control than she’d been in years, and he wouldn’t even know.

                 She also hated that much of what he said was correct, even if it wasn’t right. Her fear of him, of loving him, of giving him power over her, had complicated matters. And, she did judge him. She held him to the standards of regular people, and he wasn’t a normal person – he didn’t have a conscience. As much as she tried not to, the shadow of his future self loomed in her mind, and his current self was more than capable of wrecking havoc. She and Narcissa were constantly debating how far Tom could go into darkness before he reached the point of no return. Would it be the imperius? The cruciatus? Would he kill someone? Hermione honestly couldn’t imagine Tom going his life without killing, multiple times, and that realization was horrible, because she loved him anyway. How could she let a killer, a sociopath who wanted to control her, to control everyone touch her? How could she like it?

                Hermione pushed those thoughts away, because there was no answer. It simply was. Tom might not have a conscience, but he had desires, and right now, his burning desire was her. If she kept it that way, she might keep him from sliding into the abyss.

                He was laughing above her, drawing all kinds of sounds from her throat, sounds she would never have thought she could make – sexy, husky moans and gasps. He said he wanted to hear her call him my Lord, and part of her wanted to, to see his satisfaction as she screamed out. Would giving him that, that sense of power, soothe his ego enough to relax him into a less angry space?

                These thoughts swirled in her mind, but they were barely coherent, as they were punctuated with waves of pleasure from Tom’s ministrations below her waist. She could feel an orgasm building, even though she tried to keep it back, not ready to give him that yet.

                “Stop it, Hermione,” Tom’s tone was amused and annoyed at the same time. “I know you are holding back, trying to punish me. That isn’t how this works. You crave order and rules, and I’m the one who can supply those things for your physically. Give in, be a good girl and let go, let me feel you,” his voice dropped, and it was so sexy, Hermione shivered from the sound.

                 “Not until you do,” she bit her lips, trying to tense her muscles against the rising euphoria.

                 He grinned, and rose, pulling her to her feet in front of him. He was so tall, her head only came to his collarbones. In one swift motion, he had her sweater over her head, her tie on the floor, and was unbuttoning her shirt.   He arched an eyebrow at her, daring her to argue.

                 She responded by tugging at his clothes, and shortly, they were naked. Hermione stopped breathing for a moment. He was so beautiful, so terrible, so powerful, so…hers. No one else would see him so vulnerable, whether he realized that or not. She lifted his arm to her mouth, kissing her words again.

                His eyes closed, his mouth tightened, and she knew he was holding back, that he was just as concerned about this irreversible step in their connection as he was. She wouldn’t call him out on that, though. His fingers were in her hair, and he was tugging. She found she liked that.

                They were in sync, lowering themselves to the floor, on one of the thick rugs, which Tom transfigured into a soft mattress and Hermione swiftly covered with slick, cool sheets that felt amazing against their bare skin. Rolling, she found herself on top, and she clenched at his hips with her thigh muscles, running her hands down the elongated muscles of his chest, the plane of his abdomen, the jut of his hip bones, the hard length of his very aroused cock. She curled her hand around him, fascinated by the silky skin that moved easily over the hard muscle underneath.

               “Hermione,” he half-panted, half-warned. He clearly wasn’t a fan of being teased. He flipped her over and she sighed at the feel of his entire body covering hers, of his magic covering her, bringing every cell to heightened awareness.

               “You are mine,” he spread her legs, stroked her, then lined his cock up with her entrance. He kept his hips still, bringing his hands up to grab hers, and pin them to the mattress on either side of her head, her curls caught tightly under them, a warning. They were both motionless, just staring into each other’s eyes. “You are mine, no one can touch you without my permission, little bird. Do you understand, Hermione?”

               She nodded, because she needed to give him this, because she wanted to give him this, despite all logical thought.

               “Do you really?” He pushed forward just slightly, his cock brushing all the nerves in her labia, at the very outer part of her vagina. “I want to be perfectly clear,” he moved forward again, barely at all, only enough to set off another round of fireworks between her legs. “I will kill any one who touches you without my permission, and there will never be a body found, and all your tears and anger won’t change a thing, because your body, your magic, knows its mine.”

                Hermione responded before thinking, “And you’re mine?”

                His pupils were wide, the blue around them just a hint, but it was an icy blue. She held back a shiver. His response was to push inside of her, hard, all the way. She shrieked. Even though she was very aroused, it was an intrusion, an instant stretching that pulled at her muscles, burning. Once he had filled her, he was still again, kissing her face in a much gentler way than she expected, though his wrists continued to pin her own down.

               “You feel like bliss, Hermione,” he breathed, his mouth close to her ear. “And I’m going to make you feel the same way. Relax.” The last word was said in his command voice, that particular tone that managed to bypass her brain entirely and go directly to her animal instinct. She took a deep breath and focused on how the pain was turning into pleasure.

              “Does it hurt and feel good all at once?” he asked when he started to move, pushing down against her wrists, making long, deep strokes in and out of her.

              “Yes,” she breathed. It did hurt, but she liked it. His movements skirted the line between pleasure and pain, pulling first to one side, then into the other, leaving her panting and wanting more of both.

             “Good,” he laughed and kissed her. It was no longer gentle. They were teeth and tongues, and she would have bruises on her wrists, bruises inside, but it was so good. She reopened the bite on his lower lip and tasted coppery blood.

              “You are positively feral, dear,” he leaned down and bit her breast in retaliation. It was a hard bite and she yelled, though he followed the bite with a long, soft laving with his tongue, twirling his tongue over her nipple, licking at the swell of her breast, then repeating his actions on the other side.

               She wrapped her legs around his waist, pulling him closer. “I’m not the only one who’s feral,” she hissed.

              “Just marking my territory, darling,” he made a very sharp, deep thrust and closed his eyes at the half-cry, half-moan she made. He spoke a series of spells, ones for contraception, and then he moved even faster.

               Hermione held on with her legs, because her hands were still pressed into the mattress, she could feel something growing, not just an orgasm on the horizon. No, their magic was preparing, and something was going to happen, something beyond their control.

              Tom clearly noticed as well, because even though he didn’t break his pace, he let go of her wrists, twining his fingers into the hair at the nape of her neck instead, pulling tightly so that her head was bowed back, so that she was looking directly into his eyes.

              Her whole body was shivering, in a way that wasn’t entirely physical. This was a spell. This was some ancient magic, and they were already past the point of stopping.

             “Say it, Hermione,” Tom demanded, his voice low and harsh, but also somehow pleading. “Say you’re mine.”

             “You first!” tears formed in the corners of her eyes as he tugged on her hair, but she felt powerful, the magic rising through her made her feel invincible.

             He was shuddering, too, looking at her in anger and wonder, biting his own lips, as if he could hold back the magic that was about to hit them like a tsunami.

            “Tom! My Lord!” she screamed against the pleasure, and those words did the trick, just as she knew they would.

             Tom pulled her hair even tighter, determined to hurt her even as he gave her what she wanted. There was a price for this, and she would be paying it forever. “I’m yours, Hermione,” he gasped, ecstasy overtaking the feeling of defeat.

             “And I’m yours!” she exhaled, her hands wrapped around his chest, leaving no room between them.

             It happened then, whatever it was. Magic filled them, pushed them both past the pleasure point of human bodies, lifted them into something outside of flesh, outside of time. Was this heaven? Hermione wondered, as they slowly came back into themselves. Tom looked bewildered, and slightly distraught, not at all his normal, carefully controlled self.

             He looked down at her, rolled them to their sides. “What did you do to me?” His voice was too stunned to be completely angry.

             “It wasn’t me, Tom,” she shook her head. “It was us.”

             “This,” he gestured to the two of them, “was not normal. It was,”

              Hermione hid her smile. It was scary, how powerful that had been, and he had to be terrified over what he’d admitted. “Amazing?”

             Tom said nothing. He moved away from her, and she felt the instant he pulled away magically as well. She didn’t push, didn’t need to. She could still feel him, behind his walls. She wondered if he could feel her as well.

             “Your words,” he scowled, looking at her stomach, then his arm. Hermione followed his gaze. Their words, which had been inked in their skin in a bold, black color, were now a glowing gold, shimmering in the light like the words would come off and float away, ethereal and beautiful.

             Before she could say anything, he was putting on his clothing. He was scared, and angry, unsure of how this would affect him. She felt gently along their bond, along the edges of their magic, searching for a soft spot, some place where she could help.

            She used magic to get her clothes back on quickly, then crossed to him. He looked livid and dangerous. “What do you want?” she asked softly.

           “The world, Hermione,” his smile was not a happy one. “You know that.”

            “What do you want of me?” she clarified.

             He had grabbed her waist and pulled her close before she’d finished her question, his face pressed into the wild cloud of her curls, breathing slowly and deeply. When he drew back, he tapped the locket and spoke in a low, trembling voice. “Take care of the part of me I seem to have given you.”

            Then he was gone, angry again, blasting furniture away from the door, and down the hall at a sprint.

Chapter Text

 

 

            Tom didn’t actively recall walking back to the dungeons. When he entered the Slytherin dormitory, he paused, blinking at his surroundings, orienting himself. The common room was full, as usual at this time of night. It was barely past eight o’clock. Time seemed to have stood still on the fifth floor.

            Marguerite came toward him as he crossed the room. He put up a hand in warning, and she stopped, a sullen expression clouding her face.

            The thought that her presence hurt Hermione tempted him to find a way to get rid of her, permanently, but that would piss her off, too. Honestly, his soul mate was difficult to please.   He continued down the hall to his room, and was happy to find Abraxas the only occupant.

            He closed and warded the door against opening and sound. Abraxas immediately got off his bed, homework sliding onto the floor unheeded.

            “Abraxas,” Tom said calmly, a polite smile on his face. He watched the other, older boy closely. Abraxas was a strange mixture of defiance and resignation.

            “Tom,” he replied softly, his grey eyes wide.

            He knew Abraxas was handsome, knew that his pale good looks were a foil for Tom’s own dark ones. But, now, gazing at him in the diffuse, low light in the dungeon, he saw that Abraxas was beautiful, and he saw how Hermione had been attracted to him. Plans were forming in Tom’s mind, and he had several things he needed to test. Abraxas’s loyalty was first and foremost, along with the hint Hermione had made.

            Tom came to stand in front of him, much closer than was normal for them. He lifted his hand, put on the back of Abraxas’s neck, and though he started, Abraxas didn’t pull away. Tom could feel his pulse, pounding nervously under his fingers. He tugged gently on Abraxas, bringing him even closer.

            “What do I smell like, Abraxas?” Tom whispered, a venomous sound that was more hiss than speech.

            Abraxas’s grey eyes went even wider, his long lashes curling back to his pale eyebrows. He didn’t answer, only sucked in his breath.

            “Do you see my lips, Abraxas?” Tom continued in a low voice, the same one he had just used on Hermione to great effect.

            The other boy nodded, only the barest movement of his head.

            “Hermione made those marks,” Tom grinned, the bloody marks red against his white teeth. “Whom do I smell like, Abraxas?” this time, he inched his fingers up a bit and wound them in the silky pale hair that brushed the other boy’s neck.

            “Hermione,” Abraxas exhaled shakily, his words mostly inaudible, though Tom knew exactly what he’d said.

            Tom gave a sharp tug on his hair. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that. Whom do I smell like?”

            Abraxas’s face was so close, Tom could smell chocolate on his breath as he answered, louder this time, but still softly, “Hermione.”

            “Yes,” Tom lowered his head to Abraxas’s ear. “Hermione. I smell like Hermione because I just had her under me, screaming my name. I smell like Hermione because she is mine. Now, that makes sense because she is my soul mate. What I don’t quite understand is why you know what she smells like.”

            With a quick jerk, Abraxas tried to pull away, but Tom was too fast, and his grip was too strong. “Now, now. If you want to be alive tomorrow, you will behave in a civil fashion, my dear friend.”

            Abraxas was still again, though his eyes darted to his wand. Tom waved his hand and it vanished from the bed. Abraxas closed his eyes, a deep sigh torn from his chest, then squared his shoulders, clearly gathering his courage. Tom appreciated how he didn’t grovel. He really was a clever boy, Tom thought. He decided to turn a knife, just to see the reaction.

            “Do you know that Hermione asked me to make a wand vow to not hurt you?”

            “What?” Abraxas flushed, his pupils dilated. “She asked that?”

            Tom nodded, still holding Abraxas’s hair. “Hermione thinks you are worth saving, that you are loyal despite your recent actions.”

            “I am loyal,” Abraxas said firmly.

            “We’ll see,” Tom’s tone was breezy. “First, you need to recount your sins, Abraxas, before I can decide whether or not to forgive you.”

            Abraxas wet his lips, and Tom noted how wide they were, how they curved pleasantly even when motionless. “I…I kissed Hermione.”

            Tom laughed. “Yes, you did! She told me that you kissed her several times, and that you kissed her….how did she put it? ‘Very, very well.’ But that isn’t all, is it Abraxas?”

            His eyes were wide again, a bit of panic there. Tom thought it was unbearably lovely, that tiny amount of terror threading through the slate grey of his irises. He shook his head. “No, no, I haven’t done-”

            “Oh?” Tom arched a brow. “You don’t love her? You didn’t fall in love with my soul mate, offer her not only physical attention, but romantic love? You didn’t try to creep into her heart, yet another place reserved only for me?”

            Abraxas’s gaze flew to the floor, his pretty mouth turned down. “I,”

            “Yes?” Tom prompted, another hard tug at his hair. “Honesty is the best policy, Abraxas. Or don’t they teach purebloods that?”

            Grey eyes looked up at him incredulously. Tom laughed, in actual amusement this time. “True, we are Slytherins. Honesty isn’t one of our common virtues. But, do you know, Abraxas, I think will demand honesty from you, and trust me when I tell you that I will know if you are lying.”

            Abraxas nodded heavily, hampered by Tom’s hold. “I do love her. She is,”

            There was another pull, much more vicious than any others so far. “I know exactly what she is, Abraxas. She is mine.

            “I just wanted to make her smile,” Abraxas finally said, “She was crying and it hurt to see. She was so sad!”

            Tom was close again. “And you’d risk your life for her?”

            Abraxas nodded without hesitation but said nothing.

            “What about for me?” Tom mused. “What would you do for me?”

            “Anything that didn’t hurt Hermione,” came the swift response. Abraxas barely winced at the way Tom’s hand wound tighter and tighter in his hair.

            “Anything? Well, that is something,” Tom replied. “That is…excellent to hear.”

            He closed the remaining distance between their bodies. They were so similar in height, there was no noticeable discrepancy, their hips, shoulders, chins, mouths, and eyes in alignment. Tom had power over Abraxas, and Abraxas was a very attractive person. He made no attempt to hide his arousal over these facts. Abraxas’s grey eyes were blown black, wide and wary, but aroused as well. Tom could feel the evidence of that, too.

            “Hermione is my soul mate,” Tom used his low, seductive voice again, and watched as Abraxas tried and failed to hold back a shudder. “I want her to be happy, and I am not the cuddly, romantic type. If she needs those things, I will need to find a way to supply them for her, even if they don’t come from me,” he smiled, his blood red lips close to Abraxas’s pink ones. “But, I’d need to trust that source. That other source would also have to be mine. My things can play with one another if I allow it. Do you understand what I’m offering you, Abraxas?”

            The pale boy wet his lips again. “Yes,” his breath came out in a low exhalation that was almost a plea.

            Tom spoke a finger’s width from Abraxas’s mouth. “And how will you repay me for such a generous offer?”

            Abraxas swallowed. “However you want.”

            Tom smiled so broadly, the bites on his lips reopened. “Oh, I hoped you would say that, my clever friend.” Then, he kissed Abraxas, pushing his face forward with the fist at the back of his neck.

            Even though Tom applied force, Abraxas went willingly, parting his lips and kissing Tom with a passion that surprised him. So, Hermione had been absolutely right. Abraxas wanted them both. It was silly for him to doubt her, Tom thought. She was almost always right, annoyingly so. There was copper in his kiss as well, and Tom was oddly pleased at the idea of both Hermione and Abraxas swallowing his blood, even in minute amounts.

            The kiss, which had been angry on Tom’s part to begin with, grew languorous, and he once more agreed with his soul mate. Abraxas Malfoy was a very, very good kisser.

            Tom pulled away, released Abraxas’s hair, watched in satisfaction as the other boy tried to restore his composure. His lips were red now, too, and his pale cheeks flushed and Tom was very, very pleased. Yes, he could forgive Abraxas his indiscretion. After all, Hermione was irresistible, and she would need another outlet, a place to focus her messy emotions. And Tom would allow that, with Abraxas only, because now they were a closed circuit, the three of them, and both Hermione and Abraxas were his.

            He waved his hand and he was holding Abraxas’s wand. He held it out, a show of good faith, and Abraxas took it, and immediately put it on his bed again and shrugged, as if to say he didn’t need it all, not in Tom’s presence. Once again, Tom was impressed. Abraxas was so much smarter than most knew, and he could read people well. He really was an excellent choice for a right-hand man.

            Abraxas came back to him, stood closely. “May I kiss you again?”

            Tom laughed. “You are a greedy one, aren’t you?” He wrapped his arms around the other boy’s waist, so much more substantial than Hermione’s slender form, and kissed him for several more minutes, then stopped abruptly. “We’ll continue this later, but you have homework to do,” he motioned at the parchment and books on the floor around Abraxas’s bed.

            “Homework? Really?” Abraxas asked in disbelief, his erection evident against his trousers.

            “Have you ever been fucked by a man, Abraxas?” Tom titled his head, curious.

            The pale boy shook his head furiously, his cheeks flushed and eyes down.

            “Excellent,” Tom said, then added. “If you’re going to be mine, you will be mine only, and Hermione’s, of course. I’m sure she’ll want to play with you, too.”

            Abraxas’s mouth was open, but no sound came out, and Tom had cancelled the spells on the door and left before he could think in words instead of sheer lust and panic.

 

-oOo0oOo-

            Hermione put the room to rights and headed slowly back to Ravenclaw Tower. She had a lot to think over, and she wanted to be alone. She changed directions and found in herself in a long, empty hallway, pacing in front of an empty stretch of wall.

            The Room of Requirement responded gracefully to the request, I need a place to think. The room was part library, part bedroom, and a fire crackled in an enormous marble fireplace. She crossed to one of the seats in front of the fire.

            It was oversized and plush and swallowed her in a comfortable way. She drew up her knees and stared into the fire, watching the magical flames dance. The flicker movement was hypnotic, and she enjoyed letting her mind rest after so much turmoil, finding a peaceful, meditative space.

            Strangely, it wasn’t difficult to get to that peaceful place, nor was it a problem to come back to herself, and lay out her thoughts in her mind afterwards. Normally, Hermione was prone to over-thinking and second-guessing, her clever brain seeing too many possibilities, branching out into an overwhelming sea of potential actions and consequences. This was one of the main reasons why she loved reading and research so much. By accumulating knowledge, she was better able to wade through and discard actions that hadn’t worked for others in the past or that might lead to future problems.

            The situation with Tom was even more complex because she had two sets of knowledge to try to work with and integrate: the current set of circumstances and their probable outcomes based on the factors she knew, and the future outcomes that had been created by a timeline she was interfering with, but still had the potential to occur in some similar or even wildly mutated fashion.

            It was evening, getting late, and her potion, though weakened greatly because she was only a few years away from the age she’d been when she and Narcissa had first arrived, was worn off. She could always tell when the potion was gone from her system because she would feel a bit wistful and introspective, thinking of her parents or her friends. She didn’t allow herself to dwell on them long though, because she couldn’t imagine what they would say to her about the day’s events.

            Instead, she focused on the present, and the immediate future. Tom was angry and sacred, but that was good in a way. Whatever had happened with their soul mate bond had forced him to recognize he was capable of feeling, even if it didn’t follow the same patterns as most others. This gave Hermione hope. He could be reasoned with, he could be molded. For all that he said she couldn’t change him, she knew very well that she already had, and even though the sex would surely lead to some future drama, she was glad she’d done it, for multiple reasons.

            Her new points of research were to find out everything she could about the Chamber of Secrets and killing basilisks – hadn’t there been some sort of ridiculously easy solution, something involving a chicken…no…a crowing rooster? She’d figure that out and make sure that no one who was muggleborn was anywhere near the third floor bathrooms until that thing was killed. That includes you, she reminded herself. Sometimes, after years of being Hermione Bonneau, she forgot her own story. The other item was to discover more about the soul mate marks, especially the change in color in their marks. It had to be some kind of sex magic tied to the soul mate bond, because it hadn’t taken place until after they’d both climaxed, simultaneously.

            Having been on the run with a limited library, and then having been put back into the body and, at least during the day, the mind of a twelve year old, Hermione hadn’t done much research into sex magic, but she was definitely going to be correcting that deficit in the next few days.

            The calm she’d felt all evening kept steady, and she thought maybe her magic was just so happy to be free, and her soul mate bond was thrilled to be re-established, stronger than ever. If she concentrated, she could feel Tom’s magic humming somewhere far away. She focused a bit more and felt…happiness? She shook her mind. No, it was more like satisfaction and thrill. A thrill at doing something, proving something. Whatever it was, though, it wasn’t violent or angry, and she was relieved. Despite the threats he’d made, she didn’t think he would hurt Abraxas, not after the intrigued look he’d had on his face when she’d asked him about the two being attracted to one another.

            It made sense, given Abraxas’s unerring devotion to Tom from their first year, even when Abraxas had been coming from a background that was decidedly not in favor of half-bloods proclaiming their equality, and especially not of half-bloods championing muggle borns as well. She sighed, understanding exactly how Abraxas felt, the magnetic pull of Tom Riddle. She supposed she even understood Marguerite’s attraction to Tom, to the power he represented, though that didn’t stop her from hating the girl. If it had been any one else, Hermione was sure she would have been at least fifty percent less angry, but Marguerite reminded her so much of Bellatrix that even on a good day, she itched to hex her.      

            She rose and went to the shelves by the fireplace and perused the books. The Room, always helpful, provided a book on dangerous magical creatures, and Hermione noted she was right. All they needed was a crowing rooster, which couldn’t be too difficult. She would have asked Professor Kettleburn for one, because she was sure he kept several kinds of birds, but his roosters where probably crossbred with dragons and breathed fire. One of the families in Hogsmeade must have a rooster. She put the book back on the shelf and went onto the one beside it, a crimson leather bound volume with no label. Gingerly, she lifted it, cautiously opening the cover, though she didn’t think the Room would provide her with anything that would hurt her.

            Inside, in calligraphy that was overly loopy and a tad difficult to decipher, Hermione read a faded title: The Moste Astounding Magick of Linked Heartes. Could linked hearts be another term for soul mates and their bond? She turned the thin parchment pages, her speed slowed by the handwriting that took effort to read. There was no date on the book, but from the spelling and some archaic word usage, she estimated it was about least six hundred years old, not quite as hard to read as Chaucer, but more challenging than Shakespeare. The content was badly organized, more of a collection of musings rather than a book with a central, recognizable thesis and clear evidence provided to support said thesis. However, Hermione was nothing if not persistent, and she bit her lip in frustration and curled her hair around her finger and forced herself to read the entire thing.

            From what she could garner, the author (also unnamed) was the husband of a woman who had soul mate markings, and who later left him to be with the soul mate, or as the man termed it, ‘her other heart’. Though the writer didn’t seem bitter, he was clearly heart-broken himself, and began collecting all the information he could on how the ‘heart link’ worked.   He had traveled all over Europe, looking for people who had found their soul mates and gathering their stories, which he related in bits and pieces. Most of the text was personal anecdotes that were interesting but not really helpful. However, he did mention that those linked with writing had the most powerful bond and were most likely to find one another. These pairs, he wrote, ‘are the glowing sun and the pallid moon, the fragrant summer and the frozen winter, extremes of behavior and magic – often one very light and one most dark.’ Hermione knew this was true, from the small amount of research she’d been able to do. Marked pairs tended to be strong personalities with great magical abilities, and not a lot else in common.

            The book offered no explanation for the marks or soul mates in general beyond references to fate. However, toward the end, the author made a list of stages of the marked bond, based on the information he’d collected. First was the initial appearance of the words, usually upon the two first meeting one another, but, he noted, occasionally one would be marked before meeting the other, if exposed to a great deal of the other’s magical energy in the form of a wand, enchanted objects, etc. When the words appeared, especially if the pair was with one another, their magic would create a link, enabling them to feel the presence of the other, and emotions as well.

            After that, the more time the pair spent together, and the more physical touch, the more the bond strengthened. Crucial to this was the viewing of the bond, seeing one another’s writing, and touching the writing, which were stages two and three. Hermione frowned in thought at this. Because they were so young at their first meeting, and because her marks were on a more private place, they hadn’t fully complete stages two and three until tonight, as well as stage four, which was alluded to as a ‘physical and spiritual congress.’ That had to be the sex, and no wonder their bond had made such a powerful connection, practically taking them out of their bodies – they’d solidified several significant steps in the bonding process in a very short span of time.

            She squinted at the last stage, which was not clearly worded. It was labeled, ‘The Unified Hearte, Body, and Spirit.’ Did that mean the bond was capable of linking their bodies and souls completely, tethering their lives together? Would they eventually be able to read one another’s minds without legilimency? That would be a serious problem, for multiple reasons. Under no circumstances could Tom Riddle ever know the contents of her mind. Though she read the entire book, there was no further information on what caused this final state of bonding, whether it occurred naturally from continued exposure to one another, or if they had to do something additional to make it happen.

           Hermione rubbed at her temples, thinking that she now had a headache, and the book had only given her vague worries, not any truly useful information. The thought lead to an inventory of her other physical aches, and they were many. She wished for a bath, and the Room provided one. Hermione sank into the tub, letting the hot water soothe her muscles. In the long mirror on the opposite wall, she saw the signs of her earlier adventure. There were matching finger shaped bruises on her wrists, and perfectly symmetrical bite marks on her breasts. Everything from her navel to her knees was sore, and she carefully healed herself, removing the outward evidence, though she left one thumb bruise on her left wrist, a single spot she could gaze upon, a small gateway to all the memories of wild range of sensations she’d felt.

          She had given her virginity to Tom Riddle, to her soul mate who didn’t actually seem to have a working soul. Clearly it was there, intact, but he didn’t use it the way other people did. And the sex itself? She bit her lip at the memory, felt the tender spot where he’d bitten her, though much less hard than she’d bitten him. There was no surprise that Tom would want to dominate her physically, and she was honest enough with herself to admit she found it arousing, though she was blind-sided by her reaction. She hadn’t imagined that rough, angry sex, a battle with their bodies, could be so amazing, or that it would transform into something much more profound by the end.

          Submitting to Tom sexually also served the purpose of giving Tom an area of their lives where he called all the shots, where he could feel in control, which was important to keeping him stable. When Tom Riddle felt out of control, bad things happened. In Tom’s original timeline, this year was a pivotal one. He had opened the Chamber of Secrets, killed Myrtle, made his first horcrux, framed Hagrid, and solidified Dumbledore as an enemy. Then, there was the search for the Gaunts, and the murder of his father and grandparents, along with more horcruxes.

         He had mentioned offhandedly that they would kill the basilisk, but Hermione wondered how willing he would be to kill such a powerful weapon, a snake that he could talk to and control. Would he want to keep it? Train it? Adjust its magic to become some kind of attack dog? That seemed a cunning and likely choice for Tom, who valued power so highly. She was positive that he wouldn’t turn the snake loose in the school to hunt muggleborns, but she was much less positive that he wouldn’t use it to kill someone who’d annoyed him at some point in the future.

           And his father and grandparents? There was no reason to think they would react any differently to Tom finding them now than they had in the original timeline, and that would mean murder. Tom did not take kindly to rejection. His uncle was probably out of Azakaban by now, and if Tom decided to visit him, he would be very upset to learn that his mother had used a love potion on his father, not because he believed in the sanctity of free will, but because he would learn his father reviled his mother, never wanted her, never wanted to have a child with her, and no matter how beautiful and brilliant Tom was, he would never be welcome at the Riddles’. And, because he was half-blooded, he would never be welcome at the hovel of the last of the Gaunts.

            She gathered her clothes along with her thoughts, taking the two books as well, and went back to Ravenclaw Tower. It was close to curfew, and there were only a few students out in the common room. She took the stairs up to her room, and found that her three roommates were sitting on the central rug, talking quietly.

            “Hermione!” Josephine was up and hugging her as Hermione put the books on her nightstand. “We were worried about you!”

            “Why?” Hermione was confused. None of the three Ravenclaws had been at the study group because they had been on the Astronomy Tower, working on a shared star charting project.

            Felicity put her hands on her hips and made an exasperated sigh. “What do you think everyone is talking about? There were twenty students in there, and they all went back and told their common rooms that you and Tom were probably going to kill each other before the night was over, that the doors were warded and silenced, and you did something to Marguerite?”

            Hermione looked down, not answering. She was a bit annoyed she’d let her emotions get the better of her over Marguerite. It seemed so petty now, to say that she’d cut Marguerite’s leg out of jealousy.

            Patience was at the side of Hermione not taken up by Josephine, in the extremely close way that Patience always stood by her, and her button nose scrunched as she sniffed Hermione’s hair.

            “You’ve had a bath,” Patience stated. “You smell like vanilla soap, with a hint of mint, too.”

            All three girls stared at Hermione. Felicity and Josephine both had dropped jaws, while Patience simply smiled in her vaguely absent fashion.    

            “Why would you need a bath, Hermione? And why would you take one somewhere else?” Felicity’s tone was teasing, fishing for the story.

            Josephine had pulled back, was looking Hermione over with a close eye. “Yes, Hermione, why would you do that?”

            Hermione flushed. She was not ashamed of the sex, but it was extremely…intense, and not the sort of sexual interaction most girls a few days from their sixteenth birthdays engaged it, especially not in 1942.

           Felicity was smirking now. “Tom just looks the same as always, huh?”

           Josephine laughed. “What does he kiss like, Hermione?”

          “Probably like a very strong snake,” Patience supplied helpfully. “I imagine he has a long, flickering tongue.”

           No one commented on that, though they all snickered for a few minutes. Hermione collected herself. “He was very…passionate.”

          “I’ll bet,” Josephine had collapsed backward onto Hermione’s bed. “I’d be afraid to touch someone so…”

          “Pulsating with power?” Patience asked, laying beside Josephine.

           Felicity shook her head and looked at Hermione in mock despair. “Did she just say ‘pulsating with power’?”

            Hermione could barely answer for the laughter spilling out of her throat. Once she could breathe again, she took Felicity’s arm, and they both sat on the bed with their other roommates. Hermione leaned over Patience’s perfectly calm face.

            “Don’t ever use that phrase around Tom, Patience,” she laughed a bit more.

            “It isn’t true?” Patience drew her eyebrows together.

            Josephine was half-laughing, half-choking. “Yes, Hermione,” she gasped. “Tell us all about Tom’s pulsating -

            She was cut off by the launching of a pillow at her head, which in turn became a full out battle. Fifteen minutes later, feathers surrounded them and they were breathless. They cleaned up the mess with magic, then all laid cross ways on Hermione’s bed, the four of them staring up at the sapphire bed hangings.

            “Seriously, though, do you think you’ll marry him?” Josephine asked, breaking the quiet that had fallen.

            “I can’t imagine you with anyone else,” Felicity remarked, before Hermione had answered.

            “Maybe Abraxas,” Patience mused.

            “Malfoy?” Josephine’s voice held amusement and disbelief. “Hermione, he’s worse than Tom. Between the two of them, they have the whole school in love with them, but Abraxas actually kisses all the girls who fancy him! He’s a Romeo! Plus, he’ll have to marry a pureblood.”

            “It would be hard to be in love with someone everyone else wanted,” Felicity sighed. “I’d get very jealous.”

            Hermione bit her lip, then answered, “I did get jealous, of Marguerite,”

            Josephine made a scoffing sound. “Tom couldn’t care less about Marguerite. You’re the only girl he ever really looks at.”

            Felicity added, “When he watches you when you do magic, in classes and during the dueling club, his eyes get dark and he gets this smile, and…” she fanned herself.

            Now, Hermione laughed. “How much do you watch him?”

            She shrugged. “He’s pretty. I like pretty boys.”

            Patience turned, laying her head on Hermione’s shoulder, which wouldn’t have been possible when they were standing, because Patience was quite a bit taller now, the tallest girl in their year, in fact. “Some of the prettiest things are the most poisonous.”

            They all fell silent again. There was no arguing that point. No matter how lovely Tom’s words, his manners, and his smile, the power barely contained within him was dangerous. Three sets of arms suddenly surrounded Hermione, holding her close.

            “Be careful,” Josephine whispered.

            “It’s too late for that,” Felicity murmured. “If you weren’t his before, you certainly are now.”

            Patience sighed, her breath warm on Hermione’s clavicle. “Don’t worry. Hermione is more than a match for him.”

            Hermione hoped that was true.

 

-oOo0oOo-

           The next morning, Hermione woke early, dressed quickly, and hurried to breakfast. Patience accompanied her, a quiet, calming presence always at her side. Over the years, Patience had become a part of Hermione’s life that was automatic. Rise, dress, walk arm and arm with Patience to breakfast, to class, to study, to dueling club. During the summers, when Patience was traveling with her parents, Hermione felt the loss keenly. Her odd, but very perceptive, friend was like a security blanket, a support to her emotions, and often, the voice of thoughts Hermione herself did not speak. She had not had close female friends in her previous school experience, but her bond with her roommates, and Patience especially, was something that made losing her future friendships bearable.

             Tom found Patience annoying, she knew, mostly because Hermione gave her love and attention without thought and unreservedly. And also because Patience seemed to know more of Tom’s true nature and secrets than he liked others to be aware of.

            At the base of the stairs that lead to Ravenclaw Tower, Hermione and Patience found Tom and Abraxas standing, apparently waiting.

            Tom’s eyes flicked to Patience and narrowed.

            “Good morning, Tom,” Patience smiled as if he weren’t practically scowling at her.

            “Patience,” Tom replied tersely.

            “Are you boys going to escort us to breakfast?” Patience asked, then added, “How nice.”

            “We were hoping to have a few minutes to speak with Hermione alone,” Tom answered.

             Hermione gave him a smirk. “You can say anything you’d like in front of Patience.”

             Tom frowned. “Really? So you want me to talk about how I fucked you last night in front of Patience?”

             The only person who looked embarrassed was Abraxas, who immediately ducked his head.

             Patience gazed directly at Tom. “I know. Under the vanilla and mint, she smelled like blood and lightening – like you.”

             Hermione made a coughing sound to cover her shocked laughter.

             Tom’s expression would have scared anyone else, but as usual, didn't phase Patience. “Do you have an exceptionally excellent sense of smell, Patience, or were you exceptionally close to her?”

             Abraxas made a sound of distressed warning, his eyes trying to catch Patience’s, but she was still meeting Tom’s eyes completely.

             “My head was on her shoulder, while we were lying in bed together,” Patience gave him a broad smile, as if she just taught him a new spell. Hermione briefly wondered if Patience were deliberately baiting Tom.

             “Tom,” Hermione interjected. “This is nothing new. Patience is my best friend. She hugs me all the time.”

              “In bed?” Tom asked, though he seemed more resigned than angry now. “How many pets do you need?”

              Hermione didn’t respond, but, to her surprise, Patience let go of Hermione and took Tom’s arm, looping her own arm through his. Tom glanced at her in shock, which only increased when Patience hugged him tightly, then rested her white blonde head on his shoulder for a moment before she kissed his cheek, rather close to his mouth.

              Tom, Abraxas, and Hermione were all frozen as Patience gave another bright, distracted smile and said, “There, now I’ve given you all the same affection I give Hermione. I think you needed it. Affection always improves one’s mood.”

              She let go of Tom and repeated her actions on Abraxas, who actually smiled in return and gave her a shaky, “Thanks, Patience,” after the kiss on his cheek.

              “What planet are you from?” Tom mused aloud as he continued to stare at Patience for several minutes. Hermione noted that he made no move to rebuke Patience, which she took as a promising sign that he would accept her as a part of Hermione’s life she wouldn’t set aside. Finally, he shook his head and turned to Hermione.

               “I think the Chamber entrance is in the girls’ third floor bathroom. Tomorrow is Saturday, and I think we should explore it.  What better way to spend your birthday, Hermione, then uncovering magical secrets buried for centuries?” he said, then sighed. “You can come, too, Patience.”

               Patience graced him with another smile, to which Tom rolled his eyes.

               Hermione fought against panic. “I think there is a basilisk there, and I think it is incredibly dangerous. We’ll need to take several precautions.”

              Abraxas was close to her free elbow, closer than she would have thought Tom would allow, but Tom said nothing, nor did he say anything when Abraxas actually touched her, putting a calming hand on her arm. Her eyes darted to Tom, and he smirked at her, a sexy, knowing smirk. What had he said to Abraxas last night, she wondered.

              “The basilisk shouldn’t be dangerous, right? I mean, it only targets muggleborns. We’ll just keep them away until we deal with it.” Abraxas squeezed her arm, and Hermione felt an odd thrill, not only from his touch, but from the fact that Tom was watching with that expression on his face.

               She shook her head, focusing. “No, the basilisk won’t be dangerous to Tom, because he is the Heir of Slytherin, and he is a parselmouth. But it’s venom and stare could kill any of us, no matter our blood status.”

               Tom’s smirk dropped as he seriously considered her words. Patience began to hum her ever-lengthening ballad. He glared at her, but she continued as if she didn’t notice.

              “A rooster’s crow will kill it,” Hermione began. “I looked it up last night.”

              “Maybe we should see if I can control it before we try to kill it,” Tom said, a thoughtful expression on his face.

              “I was sure you were going to say that,” Hermione’s brow furrowed. “If you do want to keep it alive, you will need to make sure that it can’t go beyond the chamber. This creature is deadly, and if you are controlling it, and it hurts someone, there will be serious consequences.”

              “Tom doesn’t want to kill anyone right now,” Patience’s words were half-sung. “Isn’t that right?”

              “Listen to your pet, Hermione,” Tom laughed. “I’m not feeling murderous at the moment, so everything will be fine.”

               Abraxas laughed, too, and stroked Hermione’s arm gently, lightly, as if it truly were a silly fear on Hermione’s part to be concerned about potentially letting loose a creature that only Tom could control.

              “You’ll need to go down first,” Hermione insisted. “You’ll need to talk to it, get it slither away, or stand down, or whatever, before the rest of us can enter. And you need to promise me that you will command it not to kill anyone.”

              “If there is actually a basilisk down there,” Tom replied, “and if it responds to my orders, I will command it not to kill anyone, unless I say so.

              Abraxas gave Tom a questioning look. “What if it is down there, but it doesn’t respond to you? If it doesn’t want to obey you?”

             “Snakes tend to obey me,” Tom arched an eyebrow. “But in that unlikely scenario, well, you and Hermione and her pet will be waiting in the girls’ bathroom with a rooster, just in case.”

             “Stop calling Patience my pet,” Hermione glared at Tom’s self-satisfied grin.

             “Oh, it’s fine,” Patience said airly, patting Hermione’s other arm. “It makes him feel better. Snakes can be so tetchy.”

             Tom opened his mouth to say something venomous, Hermione was sure, but other Ravenclaws were coming down the stairs.

            “We need to be getting to breakfast,” Tom said instead, giving Patience a look of warning that she blithely ignored.

           “Abraxas, take Patience’s arm,” he ordered, and took Hermione’s arm in his own.

            It was the first time Tom had touched her this morning, the first time he’d touched her since last night, and there was surge of magic as their arms linked, threading up their shoulders, spreading through the rest of them. They were still a moment, absorbing the impact. Tom glanced intently at her wrist. Her sleeve had ridden up a bit, and the thumb shaped bruise was visible.

            He lowered his head to her ear and whispered, “I’m glad you kept that.”

            She turned and kissed his cheek, right there in the hallway, even closer to his mouth than Patience had. He shivered. “So am I,” she replied.

            “Kissing in the hall, Miss Bonneau?” he asked as they began to walk behind Patience and Abraxas. “Trying to stake a visible claim?”

            “As if I need to,” Hermione scoffed. “You told me the truth last night, I could feel it. I’m the one you want.”

            Tom nodded. “That’s right, little bird. You don’t need to prove anything. Remember that, and try your best not to peck out Marguerite’s eyes with your sharp little beak.”

            “I’m not going to touch her,” Hermione replied loftily.

            The sexy smirk was back, full-force. “Are you sure? You seem to require an awful lot of touching, from an awful lot of people: me, Abraxas, your little pet.”

            “You make friendly hugs sound salacious,” Hermione protested. “And most people do like to be touched, as Patience said.” She switched topics and lowered her voice. “What happened with Abraxas?”

            “Why, I only touched him in a friendly manner,” Tom’s tone was teasing, and he laughed at Hermione’s wide-eyed response. “You put the idea in my head, dear, and you were right. I think Abraxas will be even better friend to us in the future, his loyalty to us thoroughly secured.”

            She sighed. “It isn’t just about controlling him,” she began.

            “I know,” Tom cut her off, and she watched his face as he looked ahead at Abraxas, saw the glint of appraisal and felt the affection in his magic. “I do like him, you know.”

            Hermione felt the truth of this through their connection and she smiled. “That’s wonderful, Tom.”

            “That doesn’t mean I’m going to start liking your pet, though,” he warned, his eyes moving to the loose, straight waterfall of pale hair that fell to Patience’s waist. “She’s an impossibly annoying thing, and if it weren’t for you, I would have stuffed her in a vanishing closet in our first year.”

            Hermione laughed, because she felt no real malice from him, only exasperation. “I think she’s growing on you, Tom.”

            “Never,” he vowed, but there was a hint of smile at the edge of his mouth.

Chapter Text

 

-oOo0oOo-

            “The Chamber?” Narcissa frowned, pacing in her small parlor. “So soon?”

            “He’s actually close to the original time line,” Hermione replied absently, sitting in the chair by Narcissa’s window, looking out over the moonlight reflecting on the lake. It was far past curfew, but Narcissa had informed Galatea that she wanted Hermione to spend the night in her quarters, as an early birthday evening spent together, since Hermione would be spending most of Saturday, her actual birthday, with her friends. “He did open it in his fifth year.”

            Narcissa nodded. “True, but we’ve changed so much. I’d hoped that maybe that whole issue would be sidestepped.”

            “Ha!” Hermione laughed, a touch bitterly. “If Tom knows there is a chance something down there will increase his power and status, nothing could keep him from exploring it.”

            Suddenly, Narcissa had crossed to her, was on the floor, holding Hermione’s hands tightly. “You can’t be anywhere near this! You are muggle born and I will not have any harm come to you!” Her voice was fierce, a mother’s love suffusing it.

            Hermione uncurled from the seat and hugged Narcissa. “Give me some credit, mother.” She’d grown used to calling Narcissa mother, and it was natural now, an easy habit. She had two mothers in her mind, her mother from the future-past, and Narcissa, the woman who’d changed her life and was helping her to save the world. “I’ll have mirrors set up over the bathroom, a spell for clouding its eyes, and a rooster ready if Tom can’t control it, though we already know he can.”

            “So, he’ll have a basilisk at his beck and call,” Narcissa sounded worried.

            “He did before, but he didn’t risk using it much – it’s too large, too difficult to explain away,” Hermione soothed, but then thought about Hagrid, who had Aragog growing somewhere in the castle and shuddered. “I honestly think he’s more interested in what else might be down there.”

            “Do you know?” Narcissa asked.

            Hermione shook her head. “Harry didn’t really explore it beyond what he described as a kind of enormous antechamber-underground cavern that was carved from rock, with stone and tile and serpentine sculptures. That can’t be all, though, I agree with Tom on that point. Slytherin would have some kind of lab or library or both down there, too, I would think.”

            “Yes,” Narcissa agreed, “It doesn’t seem likely that he would design something so elaborate only to hold the basilisk, but Hermione, darling, you must be careful. Many, many old pureblood families guarded their possessions with curses designed to keep those objects and books within the family. They will likely recognize Tom as being a descendant of Slytherin, and perhaps even Abraxas because the Malfoys have familial connections to Slytherin, but you should not touch anything.”

            Hermione squeezed her hand. “It will be fine, mother. After five years of watching Galatea, I understand the protocol for approaching potentially cursed objects, and so does Tom.”

            Narcissa looked at her wrist, at the bruise there that had faded to a yellow brown color, like a smudge of dried turmeric. Her expression was thunderous. Hermione had never seen such emotion on Narcissa’s face. “Did he hurt you?”

            Several thoughts flashed through Hermione’s mind in rapid succession. Narcissa had seen Tom’s future self torture and kill many, many people. Even if Hermione was his soul mate, she didn’t have this knowledge, this deep-seated fear that Narcissa concealed so well, the vivid memories of just what Tom was capable of.

            “No,” Hermione answered firmly. “No, he didn’t. It was consensual.”

            Narcissa managed to both relax and raise a suspicious eyebrow at the same time. It was quite a feat. “Consensual what, exactly?”

            Hermione squirmed. Narcissa was her confidant, but she was also her mother figure, and this was slightly embarrassing. She took a deep breath, remembering a comment her other mother had once made in her fourth year, ‘If you’re too embarrassed to talk about it, you’re too young to be doing it.

            “We had sex, Tom and I,” she looked at Narcissa with a bit of difficulty.

            “So I surmised,” Narcissa sighed. “Were you…careful?”

            “What?” Hermione asked, then understood. “Oh, yes, of course.”

            “Hermione,” Narcissa began, then stopped. She rose, poured a drink of fire whiskey from a decanter she rarely touched, then turned back and continued. “I am well aware of how the Dark Lord treated the people he slept with. It was often a form of humiliation, a punishment. Even those who enjoyed such activities found him cruel. My sister,” she looked away and gulped the drink in one swallow. “My sister bore many marks that came from him, and though she also would have labeled them consensual, I want you to know that you can come to me if he hurts you, and we will figure something out. I would keep him under imperio for the rest of his life rather than let him hurt you.”

            Hermione’s eyes welled with tears, and she went to Narcissa and hugged her again, more tightly this time. “Thank you, thank you, for your love and care, mother, but I am fine. I wouldn’t lie to you. Tom is…a dominant presence, but I can handle him. I am his soul mate, I…” she thought of the new development.

            She untucked her shirt and unbuttoned the bottom few buttons, revealing the words that had remained their new shade of shimmering gold. Narcissa gently traced the words. “Does it feel different now?”

            “Only when he touches it,” she admitted. “Otherwise, it feels like normal skin.” She re-buttoned her shirt and went to her school bag, taking out the book she’d been given by the Room of Requirement.

            She pointed out the relevant passages and they discussed possibilities for over an hour. Narcissa agreed with Hermione that there was most likely some kind of magical event or spell that created the final unified state, and that they needed to make sure Hermione and Tom never reached it, which was difficult without knowing what it was in the first place.

            Then, Hermione took a bath and changed into her night clothes and Narcissa brushed and spelled her hair in front of the hair, as she had when they had first travelled back in time. They were almost ready to fall asleep in front of the fire when there was a knock on the door.

            Narcissa stood, a smile on her face. “It’s Galatea,” she said simply and went to the door.

            Hermione wondered if non-marked soul mates went through the same stages. Galatea and Narcissa had become as close as any couple she’d ever seen. It didn’t seem a stretch at all to imagine them sharing thoughts, and, unlike Tom, Galatea would probably understand, respect, and support the changes Narcissa had made to create a better future.   The weight of future knowledge was a heavy one, she knew.  

            Galatea came in wearing her usual crooked smile, looking very pleased. “I’m sorry about the late visit, and I know tomorrow is your birthday, but I would like to give you your present tonight.”

            “You finished it?” Narcissa asked her, happiness shining in her eyes.

            “I wouldn’t be able to wait now,” Hermione smiled. “Not after seeing how you two are grinning.

            Galatea laughed. “Well, I can’t help but be excited. I’ve been working on this gift for five years, with your mother and Madame Selwyn’s help.”

            Hermione chewed her lip, trying to figure out what in the world the three women would have collaborated on, but then Galatea gently took her arm, and she knew. With a light touch, Galatea slid up her nightgown sleeve and carefully unwound the ever-present bandage to reveal the jagged wounds that had never even so much as scabbed over in five years.

            Narcissa took a jar off the mantle and rubbing a cooling lotion over Hermione’s angry cuts. In her mind, Narcissa’s voice there, a tender use of legilimency that said, “I’m so sorry I didn’t stop her.”

            There were tears in Hermione’s eyes again. Galatea said, “I have to warn you, this is going to hurt. I have to trigger the curse in your wound to get to be able to transmute it. It might not disappear completely, either, but I’ll do my best.”

            Hermione nodded and steeled herself. Galatea waved her wand, and there was a burning fire in her arm, a bone-deep pain that she’d never forgotten, but had been able to push to the furthest corners of her mind. The pain wrapped around her, dragged her into the past, which was the future, and she screamed, not sure where she was, not sure when she was, only that the pain was there, and she couldn’t escape it.

            Suddenly, Tom was in her mind, yelling for her, and she tried to shut him out, to keep him from feeling her pain, but she was stretched too thin. “Tom!” she gasped, and blacked out.

-oOo0oOo-

            When she came to, she was in the second bedroom of Narcissa’s quarters, the one Tom slept in when they arrived at Hogwarts before the dormitories were opened. Tom was beside her, his face angry. When he saw her open eyes, his anger faded.

            “Hermione,” he breathed, as if it were the first breath he’d taken in years.

            “I told you that she would be fine, Tom,” Narcissa was on her other side, Galatea at the foot of the bed. “We knew what we were doing. The curse was extremely dark. There was no way to get rid of it without some pain.”

            “Some pain?” Tom snapped, angry again. “I felt it. It was…torture,” he finished, his jaw muscle twitching as though he were holding back worse words.

 

            Galatea nodded solemnly. “Yes, it was. The curse was made for torturing, and Hermione has been living daily with its lingering effects, which though not as intense as the initial occurrence, are decidedly unpleasant.”

 

            Hermione tried to sit up and two hands, Narcissa on right and Tom on the left, pushed her back. “I’m fine now,” she protested, though weakly.

 

            “It was a strong curse, and an even stronger countercurse, and both of those spells flooded your system. You need rest,” Narcissa’s tone brooked no argument. It was her ‘I’m your mother and a healer’ voice.

 

            “Can I at least see it?” Hermione made to lift her arm, but it wouldn’t obey. Her whole body was weighted with exhaustion.

           

            Tom was the one who rolled up her sleeve with the delicate touch she’d only previously seen in the way he cut magical ingredients in Potions or harvested plants in Herbology. She stared, and he did, too. On her forearm was a pale pink scar, raised and knotted in the way that burn scars usually were. It covered most of the space from her inner elbow to her wrist, as the words had, but there was no visible writing, and no pain, either, other than a certain tightness from the pull of the raised skin.

 

            “One day, I’ll fix it completely, make it as flawless as the rest of you,” he said, his words low in her ear, more sweet than he probably intended.

 

            “I have many flaws, as you well know,” she smiled, her head tilted toward his, their foreheads close together. She saw Galatea and Narcissa watching them – the professor in amusement, her mother in resignation.

 

            Hermione met Galatea’s eyes. “Thank you, so much. To look at my arm and not see that hateful word, it’s…it is the best gift.”

 

            Galatea came over and kissed her forehead. “I’m only sorry that it took me so long, and that it was still such a painful process.”

 

            “That doesn’t matter,” Hermione reassured her, tears in her eyes. “It was worth it. I’m going to be thanking you for a lot longer than the five years you worked on it. This is priceless, Galatea.”

 

            Narcissa waved her wand, checking over her daughter’s vital signs. “You need rest, dear. It’s late and you should sleep.”

 

            “May I stay? I want to be sure she sleeps peacefully.” Tom was the picture of innocent concern, no hint of impropriety.

 

            Narcissa looked at him, her intelligent gaze piercing directly through Tom’s act, and making Tom aware of this as well. “Hermione needs rest, not an anxious soul mate. You can only stay if you promise to let her sleep.”

 

            “Of course,” Tom smiled, his expression angelic. “I want Hermione to be full of energy for her birthday tomorrow. We are going to go exploring in the castle.”

           

            Galatea waved her wand and transfigured a chair into a cot for Tom. “This castle is the best place in the world for exploring, but if you find something that is exuding dark magic, or even hints at it, please come fetch me or Professor Dumbledore. We don’t want to have to be spending Hermione’s birthday in the Hospital Wing with more counter-curses.”

 

            Tom nodded, “Don’t worry. We won’t try to deal with any magic we aren’t prepared to handle.”

 

            Hermione managed to hold in a snort, and when Narcissa leaned in to kiss her cheek again, she whispered, “Be careful. Send me a patronus at once if anything goes wrong.”

 

            The two ladies left shortly after, and Tom immediately got off the cot and slid under the covers beside Hermione, putting his arm under her upper body and pulling her against his chest. She rested her head, listening to the physical evidence that he did have a heart.  

 

            Tom didn’t say anything, though Hermione had expected he would launch into plans for tomorrow. He simply held her, stroked her hair, and said, very softly, “I was afraid you were going to die. That pain was much, much worse than the burning curse from our first year. I will get my hands on that man, eventually, and he will be paid back in kind, with interest.”

 

            “I’m not giving him another thought, Tom,” Hermione answered sleepily, knowing the fictitious man would never be found, and not wanting to wish a vengeful Tom on any of Grindelwald’s followers, no matter their beliefs. “You shouldn’t, either. He might be dead by now, anyway. It was years ago, and fighting has been going on in Europe all this time.”

 

            “Death is too good for him,” Tom muttered, but surprisingly let the matter drop. He occupied himself instead by playing with her hair, twisting the curls around his finger. “But sleep now. We have an eventful day ahead of us tomorrow.” He kissed her temple, and she fell asleep in his arms, dreaming of terrifying glimpse she’d had of the basilisk in her mirror, and of the instant, complete paralysis that had frozen her for days.

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

            Narcissa’s back was to the door when Galatea entered the bedroom. She could feel the waves of confusion and upset pouring off of her soul mate, but Galatea wasn’t sure of the exact cause.

 

            She came up behind her, looped her arms around Narcissa’s slender waist, resting her chin on the shorter woman’s shoulder. “What’s wrong, love? Are you upset about those two? They are soul mates, and they are both so mature. Tom will be sixteen in a few months as well; I’m surprised they waited this long to get involved romantically.”

 

            Narcissa didn’t answer, but her shoulders shook ever so slightly. Galatea’s heart jumped, and she turned Narcissa around, holding her close. “Is it that your daughter is growing up? I think it’s natural to feel some loss over their movement towards adulthood, and Tom, he’s been like a son in a way, too.   Do you want to talk about it?”

 

            “I can’t,” Narcissa spoke through her tears, rubbing her face against Galatea’s shirt. “Not right now.”

 

            “That’s alright, too,” Galatea soothed, and kissed the top of her head. “Let’s go to bed.”

 

            They lay down on the bed, and Narcissa put her arm and leg across Galatea, as she always did, her entire body molded to the side of Galatea’s form. Her long, blonde hair was down, and it hinted at the smell of orchids and other hothouse flowers. There was something exotic about Narcissa, something secret and intriguing, something Galatea felt she would never quite grasp or touch, even after four years of being together as soul mates.   As Narcissa’s breath deepened and she fell asleep, Galatea thought of how they’d become lovers.

 

            It had been in March, on an usually warm day. They had gone out to the Forbidden Forest to gather unicorn hair from the bushes for Professor Slughorn, and make cuttings from some of the healing plants and herbs for Madame Selwyn. Though they had shared a bed most weekends since returning from the Christmas break, they had not progressed beyond kisses and touching over clothing. Narcissa held back, and as much as it hurt, Galatea did not press the issue. She told herself that it would be all the sweeter when Narcissa finally was comfortable, and she took many long showers.

 

            They came to a circle of trees, an area strong with peaceful, protective magic. There was quite a bit of silky strands of unicorn hair in the surrounding low brush, and the thick grass in the center was like a soft carpet, inviting bare feet. Galatea was an impulsive person, and her boots and socks were gone in an instant. Only a few seconds later, she was lying in the grass, staring up at the leaves that blocked most of the blue sky, but allowed enough soft light in that it felt more like dusk than noon.  

 

            Narcissa laughed at her as she gathered the hair, carefully winding it around large spool. “You’re such a child sometimes.”

 

            “Just because I enjoy nature doesn’t mean I’m a child. You’re just afraid to have fun, Narcissa,” Galatea had teased, though there was an element of truth there as well. Narcissa was carefully controlled, very tightly wound, and any humor she displayed was more sarcastic or dark than joyous.

 

            With an indignant expression, Narcissa had set down her things and taken off her own shoes and socks, lying down beside Galatea in one fluid motion. “I can be spontaneous, too,” she protested.

 

            “Just how spontaneous?” Galatea raised herself up on one arm, leaning over Narcissa, her voice dropped low.

 

            Narcissa raised one perfectly arched eyebrow. “Why don’t you find out?” She lifted up high enough to brush her lips against Galatea’s in a teasing manner.

 

            “There is nothing I’d like more,” Galatea whispered as she gently pushed Narcissa back down onto the ground. The grass was tall enough that it framed Narcissa’s pale blonde hair and dark eyes with a vibrant green aura, making her edges seem almost aglow. “I wish I were an artist,” Galatea sighed, her thumb rubbing across Narcissa’s high cheekbone. “I would paint you, just like this.”

 

            “You don’t need a portrait,” Narcissa twisted into Galatea’s touch, following the movement to stay connected. “You have me.”

 

            Galatea sobered for a minute. “Do I? I don’t know that anyone can have you, Narcissa. You are the most guarded person I’ve ever met.”

 

            “And you are one of the most open I’ve met,” Narcissa responded. “Soul mates tend to be complimentary. We give each other what we lack most. Through you, with you, I can be more open, more spontaneous.”

 

            “And I can learn discretion?” Galatea laughed. “I don’t know if that’s possible.”

 

            Narcissa smiled, a quirk of her lips both sweet and sad. “I wouldn’t want you to learn any of the lessons I’ve had.”

 

            “What are you keeping back, Narcissa?” Galatea frowned. “I am here for you. I will help you carry any and every burden you have.”

 

            “I don’t want you to carry them, Tea,” Narcissa softly argued, using the diminutive that she only spoke when they were alone. “I want you to kiss them away, make me forget them completely.”

 

            Galatea knew there was more than one deep hurt Narcissa was avoiding, but this was the most frank she’d been about it so far, and they had the rest of their lives. Galatea was a patient woman, and when her soul mate looked at her with that inviting gaze, she couldn’t do anything except the woman’s bidding. “Far be it from me to disappoint a lady,” Galatea murmured.

 

            She slowly undid the line of buttons down the front of Narcissa’s dress, watching with growing anticipation as more and more pale, perfect flesh was revealed. At the waist line, she stopped, and pushed the sides of the dress back, exposing Narcissa’s brassiere, a concoction of black lace that hardly shielded her now pebbled nipples.

 

            “Oh,” Galatea breathed, her fingers coming up to trace the line where lace met flesh, dipping below the fabric, feeling the rise of Narcissa’s chest with each deep, shuddering breath. She lowered her head, and kissed along Narcissa’s clavicle, paying attention to both sides before she focused her attention on the hollow of her throat, then traveled the path of her breast bone. “You are unbearably lovely.”

 

            A pink flush suffused Narcissa’s skin, which only added to her charm, Galatea thought. She had reached the inner swell of Narcissa’s breast, and she whispered, “Divesto.” Her hands came up, cupping the rather generous curves, her mouth finding and teasing the nipple, just as Narcissa’s hands wound into her curls, pulling her closer.

 

            Galatea chuckled lowly, “Don’t try to rush this. We’ve waited so long, we need to do this right.” She used her tongue to make circles around the nipple, then gave small nips and kisses across the rest of the breast tissue.

           

            Narcissa groaned in frustration, tugging on Galatea’s hair, trying to get her to refocus her attention on the nipples, which were hardened and flushed a deep rose color. “Don’t tease,” she moaned.

 

            “I haven’t even started teasing you, sweet thing,” Galatea answered softly. She shifted Narcissa to her side and worked her dress the rest of the way off without magic, slowly pulling her clothes off, stroking and kissing down the line of her spine, the curve of her hip, the back of her knees, the small dip just below her ankle bone. Narcissa gave a shiver, and Galatea cast a warming charm.

 

            She lay, still clothed, behind Narcissa, one hand lightly touching her breasts, darting back and forth in a way that was delightful and unsatisfactory at the same time, her other hand spreading through the darker blonde curls between Narcissa’s legs, finding the slick crevice there, tracing first the outer lips, then the inner ones, hovering over the small button at the top, but barely making contact.

 

            Suddenly, Narcissa’s hand closed over hers, forcing fingers to go where she wanted them most, index and middle digits pinching lightly, on either side of her clitoris, rubbing in tight, frantic circles. She pushed back against Galatea’s shoulders and hips, then spoke the same spell, leaving Galatea naked behind her, their skin touching from shoulders to toes.

 

            Galatea gasped, but it was from Narcissa’s rising magic, not the boldness of her action. Their increased skin contact made their magic hum delightfully, creating a depth of intensity to their touches that left Galatea fearing she was going to spin out of control.

 

            She scrambled to gather her thoughts and coordinate her movements, to use the techniques she knew would pleasure Narcissa, leave her shuddering for minutes at a time, drawing out the sensation. Even though they were soul mates, that wasn’t a guarantee that they would end up together, and she wanted to give Narcissa everything, to show her that she didn’t need to go anywhere else. Part of her was terrified Narcissa would end up married again, probably to a Pureblood, with Galatea as the dirty little secret she was so used to being.

 

            Try as she might though, there was too much desire and magic mixed together to be premeditated, to artfully seduce Narcissa, and her body was so soft, so beautiful, so perfect, Galatea was in a state of awe, hardly believing she was allowed to touch this woman, that this woman had been designed by fate to be with her.

 

            Narcissa’s grip loosened a bit, and she turned in Galatea’s arms, out of breath, but with a concerned look on her face. “What’s wrong? Are you ok? Do you want to stop?”

 

            Galatea laughed. “Those are my lines, not yours,” she kissed the bridge of Narcissa’s nose, then the indentation above her lips. “I was simply overwhelmed for a moment. You are…perfect.”

 

            “I’m over forty and I’ve given birth,” Narcissa’s smile had a self-deprecating twist. “I’m far from perfect.”

 

            She looked at the fine lines, hardly noticeable around Narcissa’s eyes, and the bit of frown line between her brows. Galatea felt a pang of sadness at how often her soul mate had to have frowned. She kissed the lines individually, then went down and kissed the faint, almost silvery marks on the curves of her hips and the gentle rise of her stomach from where the skin had stretched during pregnancy. She lifted her head after touching the last one to her lips. “I love every mark on your body because they have been your life, and they have led you here, to me, to us, now, in this place.”

 

            There was a distinct glistening in Narcissa’s chocolate colored eyes, “That is the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me.”

 

            Galatea’s easy, crooked grin came out. She felt a bit more at ease, some of the nervousness faded away, and she was in a prime spot, between Narcissa’s spread legs. “Let’s see if I can’t shift your mood from romantic to lustful.”

 

            Narcissa laughed. “I have no doubt you can,” she said, but she sat up, scooting away.

 

            “What are you doing?” Galatea asked, unclear on what was happening. If she didn’t get to make Narcissa come, she would likely die, she feared, though more from the sting of rejection than un-culminated sexual desire.

 

            Narcissa pushed Galatea back to the grass, then straddled her. Galatea was sure her brain had stopped working completely at this point. She kissed her for several minutes, rocking her hips against Galatea’s until they were both panting. “I just didn’t think it was fair for you to do all the work. I’m not like your other women, Galatea. I’m not going to use you for sex and then pretend we are nothing to one another. And I’m not going to make you do all the work, lay back and be pleasured, without returning the favor.”

 

            Galatea raised an eyebrow. “Have you ever touched a woman? Have you ever tasted a woman? It’s a learning curve. Don’t worry about me, Narcissa. I’m happy to please you and then take care of myself.”

 

            “No!” Narcissa’s voice was sharp. “I desire you. I want to touch you, so take your own advice and be patient and let me do this without rushing.”

            Galatea put up her hands in surrender. “I am at your mercy.”

 

            Now, Narcissa’s smile held a hint of danger. “Well, that was silly of you.”

 

            She shimmied down Galatea’s lower half, rubbing as she went, then settled on her stomach between Galatea’s legs. Her touches were soft and a bit hesitant at first, and she began her kisses on Galatea’s smooth, hard inner thighs, thin and toned from years of nervous energy, running up and down stairs and corridors in the castle, hiking and horseback riding in her spare time. The warmth of her mouth, the softness of her lips, the tiny flicks of her tongue, had Galatea a moaning mess before Narcissa even made it to her cunt, spreading her lips, licking and kissing from the bottom of the folds to the hard nub at the top, sucking at her clit while sliding her hands under Galatea’s buttocks to lift her up closer into Narcissa’s mouth, pushing her tongue deeply inside of Galatea, then pulling back to replace her tongue with fingers and kiss and lick higher. Galatea’s hips were bucking and each touch was imbued with magic, but she held back.

 

            Galatea wanted them to come together, to feel their magic combine, along with the physical pleasure.   She managed to twist herself away, and realign their bodies so that they could each be pleasing one another. Narcissa was above her, and she pulled her hips and cunt down to her mouth, using every bit of skill, every trick she knew to bring her soul mate to the edge with her. The combination of a finger curved up high on the soft, spongy spot of her inner wall along with a circular motion of her tongue on Narcissa’s nub seemed to be effective, if the increased pace of her rocking hips was any indication.

 

            Galatea felt her own body start to tense, to prepare to break apart, and she moved her tongue faster and pressed her finger harder, and suddenly, they weren’t bodies writhing in an enchanted forest, they were energy whose only experience was bliss, their magic wrapping around one another and caressing inside one more deeply than any tongue or fingers could. For an instant, Galatea touched something, dark and raw, inside of Narcissa, but then it swirled away, hidden again.

 

            Narcissa had collapsed on top of her, and Galatea could feel the pulse in her cunt, the throb of her pounding blood as it flooded the lower half of her body. Narcissa’s long white legs were sprawled over her chest, and Narcissa’s blonde head was resting on her thighs, her heavy breathing sending aftershocks of pleasure through Galatea as the warm puffs of air hit the delicate skin of her lower lips. The idea of ever moving from this spot seemed impossible.  

 

            “I believe you may have inadvertently used a bone-dissolving spell on me,” she murmured, turning her head to kiss the side of Narcissa’s knee. “I can’t wait to see Electra’s face when I tell her what you did, and I have to spend a night screaming while I re-grow bones in the infirmary.”

 

            Narcissa’s body gently shook with laughter, the vibration against her skin making Galatea sigh in pleasure. “Well, you’ve done the same to me, so I don’t know how we are going to make it out of this clearing.”

 

            “Oh, we aren’t,” Galatea looked up at the tree canopy above. “I think we’re going to have to live here now.” She lightly traced the curve at the bottom of Narcissa’s buttocks, watching with a smile as the other woman shivered.

 

            Though they had been exaggerating, it had taken them quite a while to recover. They had cuddled in the soft grass for over an hour, half-dazed, before their magic and their bodies settled to the point where standing and dressing were viable options. After they had gathered the rest of the items they had set out for, they’d made their way back to the forest entrance, and on to the open school grounds, where many students were enjoying the lovely day, sitting on blankets by the lake, practicing flying on the Quidditch pitch, and walking the outdoor gardens.

 

            As soon as they reached the first students, a pair of second year Gryffindor boys who were trading chocolate frog cards, Galatea had moved further away Narcissa, so used to keeping her relationships private. But Narcissa had shocked her by sliding her arm into Galatea’s, and walking arm in arm with her for the rest of the way back to the castle.

 

            “I told you, I’m not ashamed of you, Galatea,” Narcissa whispered, and Galatea had to look away, because if she had meet Narcissa’s gaze, she had known she would have cried.

 

 

            And Narcissa had been true to her word. They didn’t stand in front of the school and make an announcement, but staff and students alike seemed to slowly realize they were a couple, and when people started asking, Narcissa told them that Galatea was her soul mate, and Galatea did the same.

 

            They kept their separate quarters at Hogwarts, but spent the evenings in each other’s rooms when Narcissa wasn’t covering the overnight watch in the Hospital Wing. On vacations, they mostly went to the Merrythought estate, but spent occasional weekends at the Hogsmeade cottage Narcissa had purchased.

 

            Galatea looked down at Narcissa, sleeping with a frown. It was hard to see Hermione and Tom grow up, to know that they would come of age in just over a year, and leave Hogwarts in two years. Narcissa was exceptionally close to her daughter, Galatea knew, and she cared for Tom deeply as well. Galatea adored Hermione, and considered her an adopted daughter, and she found Tom fascinating, though there was a darkness about him that gave her pause. Sometimes, standing near him, she felt a power exuding that nearly matched some of the darkest cursed objects she’d dealt with. She knew that Dumbledore felt it too, though most of the other staff sang the boy’s praises. Hermione and Tom were going to change the world, she had no doubt, and Galatea only hoped that Hermione’s leveling influence would win out over the anger that Tom tried to bury deep inside himself.

 

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

            Hermione’s second attempt at a sixteenth birthday began in a much more dramatic fashion than the first time. She woke from a restless, not-quite-nightmare about the basilisk to Tom’s low hissing against her skin, a vibration more than a sound, his lips trailing over her neck.

 

            “What were you saying?” she asked as she slowly opened her eyes, focused more on the feel of his lips.

 

            Tom smirked, and damn her if he didn’t look even more gorgeous with tousled hair and sleepy eyes. Her heart thumped as his hand found the hem of her nightgown and began inching up her thigh. “I said, ‘Happy Birthday.’”

 

            She wiggled closer, putting her mouth near his ear and her hand in his dark hair, caressing the spot where his scalp dipped in right at the base of his skull with her thumb. “I didn’t think snakes celebrated birthdays,” she teased.

 

            “Oh, they don’t, but I’m making special words, just for you,” he laughed, leaning his head back into her touch, then quickly forward to kiss her lips.

 

            “Well, Narcissa owes me a tidy sum,” Professor Merrythought observed from where she leaned lazily against the door jamb. “I told her you two would be in the same bed.”

 

            Tom and Hermione had pulled apart at the sound of her voice, which was definitely more amused than angry, but she gave Tom a pointed look until he got out of the bed.

 

            “I’m sure you’ll want to get cleaned up for Hermione’s birthday explorations,” she said, looking pleased that Tom was still completely clothed.

 

            “Yes, indeed,” Tom answered smoothly, no embarrassment on his face. He glanced at Hermione. “I’ll see you in just a bit.”

 

            Hermione nodded and he left. Galatea sat on the side of the bed Tom had vacated. “I’m sure you’ve already had a thoroughly awkward conversation with your mother about this, and I don’t want to add to that, but I do want you to know that you can always come to me with any questions and concerns. I’ve been Head of House for long enough to know that some of the most brilliant students can also be the most stunningly stupid when it comes to romance and sex. Tom being your soul mate both eases and complicates matters. I’m sure the attraction is strong, to the point of being overwhelming, once normal hormones are factored in.”

 

            “It is…intense,” Hermione admitted, looking down at bedspread.

 

            “I won’t natter on,” Galatea stood up again. “Happy Birthday, dear, and remember that I am here for you.”

 

            Hermione stood up as well, and hugged Galatea tightly. “Thank you for the thoughts, and for last night.”

 

            Galatea flushed happily. “You are the closest thing to a daughter I have, and I couldn’t let you suffer if I had the ability to stop it.” Then she left, before Hermione could thank her again.

 

            It was early, especially for a weekend, and the Great Hall had very few students in it. Patience was at the Ravenclaw table sitting beside Irma Pince, who was a seventh year now, and who was lecturing Patience on something she was clearly ignoring. When she saw Hermione enter, she stood up, and they walked arm in arm to the Slytherin table, where Tom and Abraxas were sitting at the far end, across from one another.

 

            They both stood as the girls came over, and met them half-way. Tom immediately put his arm around Hermione’s waist and kissed her cheek. “Happy Birthday, Hermione. Are you ready for an adventure?”

 

            “Once I get down to Hogsmeade and back,” Hermione noted. She still needed a rooster.

 

            “The spells we went over last night for the clouding of the eyes, the mirrors we will set up, and my parseltongue really should be enough, dearest,” Tom narrowed his eyes. Even though the use of the word ‘dearest’ was more emotion than Tom usually displayed, he managed to make it sound more like an admonishment than an endearment.

 

            He clearly did not want to kill the basilisk, and didn’t want any crowing bird to do so by accident, either. Hermione chewed her lip in thought. Since Tom hadn’t yet opened the Chamber, it was possible that the basilisk was not even active. It could be in a magical hibernation, waiting for instructions from the Heir of Slytherin. Salazar Slytherin was too clever a wizard to leave a beast at large that could potentially kill his precious purebloods as well.

 

            “Fine, but no one except you goes down into the Chamber until you’ve found the thing, temporarily clouded its eyes, and ordered it to go into the pipes or someplace out of the way until further notice,” Hermione offered her compromise.

 

            Tom squeezed her arm again. “You are worrying over nothing. There probably isn’t even a ‘monster’ down there.”

            “We’ll see,” Hermione answered grimly. She leaned over and took a muffin off the platter on the Slytherin table. “Let’s get this over with.”

 

            As luck or fate or whatever gods wanted to fuck with Hermione would have it, the first floor bathroom was occupied at only eight in the morning on a Saturday. By one whiny third year doing her damnedest to get killed, Hermione thought bitterly.

 

            As they entered, it was not immediately apparent that anyone was in the room, but as Hermione and Tom began to put repelling wards on the door, a face that was not much paler in life than it had been in death peered out from an open stall, large eyes blinking owlishly behind even larger circular frames.

 

            “Ooooh! What are you doing bringing boys into the girls bathroom?” Myrtle sounded both appalled and thrilled simultaneously.

 

            Tom froze, as did Abraxas. Hermione could practically see the potential lies spinning in their minds, but there really was no time for convincing Myrtle. Hermione would not have her blood on any of their hands.

 

            She quickly raised her wand and oblivated Myrtle, then pushed her out into the hall and closed the bathroom door. Tom raised an eyebrow.

 

            “What?” Hermione said defensively. “She’s muggleborn. I don’t want her anywhere near this place.”

 

            Patience gave Hermione’s shoulder a reassuring pat. “It was for the best. She talks too much, and Tom would end up very upset.”

 

            Tom eyed Patience with annoyance. “Don’t pretend to know my mind, Patience.”

 

            She turned those light blue eyes that seemed to see through everything to Tom. “Oh,” she said offhandedly, “I’m not pretending.”

 

            Abraxas fidgeted as Tom continued to stare at Patience. “Can we please get on with this?”

 

            Hermione nodded. “Yes, let’s.” She gestured at the bathroom at large. “Where do we start?”

 

            Tom strode over to the sinks, looking at them carefully. “There was a book left in the private Slytherin library, written in something that no has been able to understand in generations. It’s a curiosity now, a game or trick that Slytherins play on incoming students – trying to make them decipher something that isn’t decipherable. But I’ve figured out what it was – notes left by a parselmouth, notes written in phonetic parseltongue, since it isn’t a written language. It was a rough translation, since so much is tone of voice and inflection, but I believe one of my Gaunt ancestors knew there was an entrance in this place, and made an effort to keep it hidden even when more modern plumbing was installed.”

 

            Hermione was peeved. Tom hadn’t told her he’d found such a book.   Of course, in all previous conversations about the Chamber of Secrets, she’d tried to play it down or say it likely was a musty dungeon or cave not worth the trouble.

 

            He was speaking parseltongue now, softly, and the sink came apart, just as Harry had described. The exposed pipe was large enough around to slide down, but it was a blind slide, with no way to see what was at the bottom. Tom spun around, grinning widely at his success. Abraxas started forward as well, but Hermione caught his arm.

 

            “Wait!” she said sharply. “Let Tom go first. That’s what we decided.”

 

            Tom was too happy to be annoyed at her fear. He came over and kissed her on the mouth, quickly, and winked. “I’ll be back in a few moments to tell you that there is no basilisk and you’ll feel silly.”

 

            Before she could reply, he climbed into the pipe and slid into the darkness. Hermione felt a bit sick to her stomach. She noticed that Patience was already moving mirrors, arranging them around the room, and she breathed a bit more easily, going to assist her friend, then standing close to the door, at an angle that only allowed for seeing the entrance to the Chamber through the mirrors.

 

            “Hey,” Abraxas came and stood beside her. “This really has you shaken up. I can’t believe you oblivated Myrtle. I thought you thought oblivation was borderline dark magic because it is a form of mind control, no matter what the Ministry thinks about using it on muggles. In fact, I’m pretty sure you used that line on Tom during one of your famous arguments.”

 

            Hermione changed the subject. “I’m surprised you are still walking and talking after mine and Tom’s last argument. I’m so sorry you got dragged into that,” she told him truthfully.

 

            He was blushing now, and it was adorable on his pale skin and against his chin-length white-blonde hair. “I would have stayed,” he said quietly, “but Tom has forgiven me, and even said…” he trailed off, his pink cheeks turning red.

 

            “I can just imagine what Tom said,” Hermione responded tartly. “Tom knows we care about one another, and that we care about him, and he will use that to his advantage.”

 

            Abraxas met her eyes. “I don’t mind being used as long as I’m allowed to touch you,” He was so earnest, his feelings so plain, Hermione wondered how on earth he’d been made a Slytherin.

 

            “It isn’t just Hermione you want to touch,” Patience sang, having finished work on her last mirror and come to stand beside them, so quietly they’d barely noticed.           

 

            Poor Abraxas was rapidly approaching the shade of a tomato. “It’s ok, we aren’t judging!” Hermione said quickly, taking his hand. “But I think we should continue this discussion with Tom present, just so there are no misunderstandings.”

 

            “Right,” Abraxas looked relieved, and Patience merely smiled serenely. Hermione tried to relax as well, feeling through her bond with Tom that he was fine. In fact, he was happy. She wasn’t sure whether that was a good sign or not.

Chapter Text

 

-oOo0oOo-

             Tom was more than a little shocked to find an enormous basilisk curled in the mouth of a giant statue of Salazar Slytherin in the main antechamber. It wasn’t that he doubted Hermione’s intelligence, but he had truly believed her to be wrong on this matter. Even though he had lived in the magical world almost exclusively for the past five years, with only occasional trips to muggle London or other large cities, and had seen all manner of wondrous things, it still seemed a bit far-fetched that a giant basilisk had been living in the bowels of the school for centuries.

 

            When he approached the statue, he saw the glint of scales, and quickly cast the eye clouding spell he and Hermione had devised, and as he came closer, it lifted its enormous emerald green head, in a questioning motion he’d often seen from Damballa, its eyes now a milky white.

 

            One of The Blood? It spoke quickly, flicking its tongue, testing the smell of Tom on the air.

 

            Yes, One of The Blood; the blinding is only temporary, Tom replied without hesitation, and he could have sworn the snake smiled.

 

            It uncoiled, and Tom, who had also researched basilisks to be on the safe side, noted that it lacked the red plume which would indicate it was a male. She was gigantic on a scale that was beyond impressive, and Tom smiled back, flicking his own tongue against his teeth as he spoke.

 

            I claim this space, as One of The Blood. Are you claimed, too? It was hard to ask questions that were based on more human concepts, but the snake was a magical creature, not an average serpent, and she seemed to understand and speak more clearly than other snakes Tom had encountered, other than Damballa, who always understood Tom, even when he didn’t speak.

 

            She bobbed her head. Yes, I am Snake Queen, but I am bound to this place, bound to serve Ones who are of The Blood.

 

            Tom was impressed with her speech. She was indeed more advanced in her ability to talk in human concepts. Was Salazar Slytherin the first of The Blood? Did he place limits or rules on you?

 

            Salazar brought me here. I cannot leave without One of The Blood’s order.  Her hiss was sharper now. I am very hungry for a good meal. Tiny creatures do not satisfy.

 

            We will get you something better soon, Tom promised, pondering how difficult it would be to get a cow down here. Or maybe that talking cow, Marguerite.

 

            We? She moved her head from side to side, scenting the chamber.

 

            I have friends who will be coming down. My magic mate and two others. They are not directly of Slytherin’s blood, but they are not to be attacked.

 

            The snake reared back, rising high, her head towering above Tom. She was clearly affronted. I do not attack invited guests of One of The Blood.

 

            Excellent, Tom replied, then added, I won’t be ordering you to kill muggle borns, either. Centuries have passed, and I have no interest in wiping out what might be the only way to revitalize inbred magical bloodlines. We’ll have to find a way to supply you with larger mammals. If I give you freedom to leave the castle at night and hunt in the forest and nearby mountains, can you be discrete, killing only animals, and return to the chamber during the days? Or do you have an insatiable taste for people? You might have to wait a while before I have someone who annoys me enough to feed him or her to you.

 

            One of her thin nostril slits twitched in what might have been a sneer. She was apparently a very moody snake, Tom thought. Deer and other large mammals will be sufficient. And I need only hunt once every few weeks if my prey is large enough. People aren’t very satisfying, either – they taste like large, fatty rats.

 

            Do you have a name, other than Snake Queen? Tom asked, amused.

 

            Salazar called me Astarte, she answered, and leaned in very close to Tom, flicking her tongue along his skin. Tom stood very still and did not flinch. You are very magical. Salazar would be pleased you have come.

 

            Tom tried not to preen at the praise. I am pleased as well. Return to your nest for now, and stay there until this evening, when you may go out and hunt.

 

            The snake acknowledged his order with a quick head bob, and then turned and disappeared into the recesses of the mouth of the statue. Tom was indeed pleased that the snake had obeyed him without question, that she could be reasoned with, and wasn’t simply a vicious attack dog that would kill anyone who entered the chamber or even came across her path.

 

            Once the snake had retreated, Tom explored the Chamber, looking for some kind of hall or door that led into a different area. The walls were rough-hewn stone, more of a natural cave than a man-made room.   As he moved around, he drank in the magic of the place. It was alive with energy, with power. The walls were warded heavily and there was old, thick magic not just in the walls and emanating from the presence of the basilisk, but in the air itself. He hovered his palms over the rock, and found a place that wasn’t as solid as it appeared. There were still wards, but it was an entrance of some kind. He spoke in parseltongue again, “Open for the Heir of Slytherin,” and after a shimmering flash of light, there was a doorway.

 

             He followed the short hallway that opened into a large, circular room with a vaulted ceiling and shelving around the entire circumference. The walls were an emerald green tile that shone dully in the light from enchanted, never diminishing candles ablaze in a massive silver chandelier. The shelves were English oak, stained so dark they were nearly ebony. Many of the shelves were filled with books and journals, but there were also magical objects and instruments, jars, boxes, and vials of potions and potion ingredients. There were two large white marble fireplaces on opposite sides of the room, with a cluster of green leather chairs in front of each. The center of the room had four long tables arranged in a diamond shape, with potion making supplies littered on the tops.

 

            Tom examined the tables closely. Not a hint of dust or cobwebs were present, so the chamber had to have some kind of perpetual cleaning enchantment. The cauldrons on the four tables were all empty, but there were ingredients and instructions laid out – and they were mostly rare and very advanced, tricky potions that Tom had read about but not yet attempted. One was a mind-altering potion that produced effects similar to the imperius without a wand trace, and the other three were all attacking potions that led to various nasty deaths.

 

            Knowing Hermione would be annoyed by all four, Tom carefully put the parchment with the instructions in one of the drawers built into the wall below the potion shelves and floated the ingredients back to their places. He breathed deeply. It was lovely – the feeling of power that surrounded him. This was his inheritance, his birthright. Maybe the Gaunts had gone weak and insane from inbreeding over the centuries, but his original ancestor had left so much magic behind that it was almost unfathomable how powerful he must have been in life. Tom was elated, so ready to absorb all the knowledge and magic and strength this space was offering. It was his for the taking, and he would use it to rise, but he was smarter than Slytherin. He wouldn’t preach exclusion and isolate himself from others who didn’t agree with him. No, he would take over the world, with the world none the wiser, with the world thanking him for it.

 

            He explored the rest of the area, finding another hall that led to a suite of personal rooms – bedroom, bathroom, and sitting area with another, smaller library, this one with row after row of green leather bound journals. Tom picked one off the shelf, felt a tingle as the magical wards in the journal reached out to him, tested him. The writing inside was small and neat, but it was in late Old English, right near the boundary when Old English was transitioning into Middle English, and though Tom had some familiarity, he would need to get dictionaries and study further before he could unlock all these no doubt precious secrets.  

 

            Walking back to the entrance, he was almost floating. Tom was so alive. This year was going to be the best yet, he knew. He had his loyal followers, he had his plans, he had the Chamber of Secrets, and he had Hermione, more firmly than ever. Anything – everything – was possible.

 

            It took a great deal of undignified shimmying to get back up the pipe, and Tom vowed to make another entrance soon. Going in and out of the girls’ bathroom was not a habit Tom wanted to continue, and he needed something more convenient, because he would certainly be spending a large amount of his time there from now on.

 

            When he came out of the pipe, he saw Hermione, Abraxas and Patience standing near the door, facing away. They were very close to one another, and the two tall, pale blondes made attractive bookends framing the shorter stature and darker coloring of his soul mate.

 

            “Tom!” Hermione had turned, and rushed toward him, looking him over for damage. “What happened? Are you alright?”

 

            “I’m excellent,” Tom replied as he put his hands on her waist and kissed her lips in an offhandedly possessive gesture. “You must all come down and see it now.”

 

            Abraxas bounced on his toes, pausing only briefly at the entrance to ask over his shoulder, “So, no giant snake?”

 

            “Oh, there’s a giant snake,” Tom laughed. “But she’s bound to serve the Heir of Slytherin, and she’s promised to leave my guests alone.”

 

            “Did you cloud her eyes?” Hermione looked concerned.

 

            Tom nodded impatiently. “Yes, I clouded her eyes, but as I said, she will obey me, and I explicitly told her no killing of people, and certainly not on the grounds of blood status. She’s retreated to her nest for the rest of the day, anyhow.”

 

            That answer seemed good enough for Patience, who stepped past Abraxas to slide down the pipe, and Abraxas himself, who immediately followed.

 

            Hermione walked to the edge of the entrance, but her feet didn’t move farther. Tom could feel her worry, her anxiety, her outright fear. He thought of the pain she had relived last night, that he had shared a small fraction of, and how she been subjected to pureblood prejudice, and how badly it had scarred her, both externally and internally. Though he usually enjoyed watching others be afraid, Tom did not like to see it in Hermione. He preferred her active, passionate, even angry and vicious, not withdrawn and rooted to the spot.

 

            He pulled her into his arms, let his magic surround her. Her own magic responded instantly, reaching to his, and allowing her to be soothed. “How about a bit of trust, my little bird? I told you I would keep you safe. This is no different. Astarte will not harm you, and I would kill her a thousand times for even thinking it.”

 

            Quickly, before she could protest, he gathered her up, and they slid down the pipe, Hermione clutched tightly to his chest, the smell of woods and sunshine filling his nose from her hair. He smiled as she made a small squeaking noise when they landed on the pile of bones, and pushed him away in a huff.

 

            “I was going to come down on my own!” she snapped, her hair coiling in snakish curls around her face, down loose as he preferred it. “There was no need to manhandle me.”

 

            “But I enjoy manhandling you so much, dearest,” Tom replied. “Come on, let me show you around.”

 

            The four entered the Chamber, and Tom watched with pleasure as they displayed proper levels of awe and excitement. Even Hermione relaxed, especially once they entered the library-potion lab area. So many books and magical objects won her over easily. Patience started fires at both sides of the room, then took a glass ball off one of the shelves and sank into a leather chair.

 

            “This place is a bit creepy,” she spoke softly, though her voice carried well. “I like it,” she added as an afterthought.

 

            Tom rolled his eyes, though he noticed with interest that she had made the glass glow a brilliant, sunny yellow with a shining ring of pink around it. “What is that?”

 

            Patience gave him her slow smile. “It is an aura ball. It focuses the aura of those who touch it. My aura is yellow with pink, so when I hold it, the ball glows those colors. Do you want to try?”

 

            “No,” Tom said shortly. Auras were a soft magic, not really something he was interested in, but he also wasn’t about to let Patience see and diagnose his internal self from the color of his aura. All knowledge was power, and Patience already had the uncanny ability to know things he had never told her – or anyone else, for that matter.

 

            Abraxas came and sat beside Patience. “I will,” he took the ball from her, and it went clear for a few seconds, then became an almost solid silver, with a small bit of bright red in the center, like a drop of blood pooled in mercury.

 

            Patience took Abraxas’s free hand, holding it tightly. “You are very rich,”

 

            Tom and Abraxas laughed together. “That is hardly news, Patience,” Tom scoffed.

 

            “The silver is his material wealth, which surrounds him and enables him to manifest many ideas, and the bright red is the love he feels,” Patience continued, unperturbed by Tom’s tone.

 

            Three sets of eyes focused on Hermione, who had remained strangely in the center of the room, not touching a thing. She flushed, and all three smiled.

 

            “Let’s be careful what we touch,” Hermione spoke, though she looked away in embarrassment. His soul mate wasn’t quite used to all the attention she was receiving, Tom noted. He found that adorable, and it only heightened his already buoyant mood.

 

            Patience nodded gravely. “Yes, much of this room is either warded or cursed, but this ball is fine. It has no wards or spells on it.” She took it from Abraxas and walked over to Hermione, placing it in her hands.

 

            Tom glanced at the ball, curious to see what color it would turn. He expected green, like the forest, or even blue, but the ball glowed a deep red. “What does that mean?” he asked Patience.

 

            “I’m strong-willed, a survivor, a realist, very grounded and passionate,” Hermione answered, and threw the ball at him.

 

            He caught it by instinct, and then dropped it in annoyance, but not before the glass sphere had turned jet black, with hairline cracks of purple spreading over it like a spider’s web.

 

            “You absorb power, transfigure and transmute it, have little capacity for forgiveness, a great capacity for anger, and you are very magical,” Patience announced, floating the ball back to the shelf before it crashed to the ground.

 

            “Once again, no surprise,” Tom scowled, giving Hermione a pointed look.

 

            She shrugged. “Then there’s no need to hide, is there?”

 

            He came to stand in front of her. “You are quite sassy today, aren’t you?”

 

            “It is my birthday,” she grinned, her teeth tugging at her lower lip.

 

            “Indeed,” Tom replied, looking down at her with darkened eyes. He did so like it when she chewed on her lip. It was like an invitation for him to do the same. “What would the birthday girl like to do?”

 

            Hermione glanced around the room. “You want to use this area for our group meetings eventually, right?”

 

            Abraxas frowned. “Not everyone, surely. The original group only, I’d say. It will be hard to keep this a secret if all the people currently in the study group know.”

 

            “I agree with Abaxas,” Tom said. “This is more of an inner sanctum, and will have limited membership.”

 

            “Still, that’s us, and Jacob, Corvus, Vidhi, Sebastian, Felicity, and Josephine,” Hermione listed.

 

            Patience gave her a long look. “You left out Marguerite,” she noted, then gazed at Tom questioningly. “Are we leaving Marguerite out because you’ve been sleeping with her? Don’t you still want her money and influence? It doesn’t make any sense to leave her out once you’ve already invested so much time in her.”

 

            Hermione’s face turned red. Abraxas’s turned white. But Tom beemed at Patience, looking at her with something other than annoyance in his eyes for the first time ever. “Patience, I completely agree with your assessment, and I’m sure our red-aura, pragmatic leading lady will see the sense in that statement now that you’ve pointed it out.”

 

            “Fine,” Hermione ground out. “Marguerite, too. But she’s not allowed in the bedroom area. I want it warded against her. I want it warded against,”

 

            “Everyone except the four of us?” Patience supplied helpfully.

 

            Tom arched an eyebrow, a hint of teasing in his voice. “Why, Patience, do you have designs on my bedchamber?”

 

            She shrugged her shoulders, as if he’d asked if she wanted to sit at the same table or share a sandwich. “I think you three need me, to even things out, magically. But I mostly like to watch and cuddle.”

 

            “You do a lot of watching, Patience?” Abraxas asked in mock shock, his eyes playfully widened. “Just who have you been watching?”

 

            Patience turned her dreamy pale blue eyes to his grey ones. “I watched you and Marilyn Tuttle on the Quidditch pitch last spring.”

 

            “That girl from Gryffindor with the really big -” Tom began, smirking.

 

            “Yes, they are quite large,” Patience agreed with a placid smile.

 

            Abraxas flushed. “In all fairness, I was just curious. I’d never seen such enormous -”

 

            Hermione’s mouth made a grim line. “Marilyn Tuttle can’t even do a proper accio, and she’s a sixth year, for Circe’s sake!”

 

            “Well,” Patience reasoned, “one doesn’t need magic to get naked.”

 

            “Or even half a brain, apparently,” Hermione muttered.

 

            Tom was laughing out loud now. “And you get annoyed at me, little bird? You don’t want to share your toys, either.”

 

            “I thought I was a pet,” Patience corrected gently.

           

            “Yes,” Tom put an arm around her shoulders, in a way that would have been friendly and maybe a touch seductive if anyone else had done it, but with Tom, was all claiming and possessiveness. “Yes, Patience, you are our pet, I think.”

 

            “Well, you do treat Damballa well. He is a very happy snake,” Patience was not at all disturbed or insulted.

 

            “Regardless,” Hermione tried to change the subject. “If we are going to be down here, working on projects that are not sanctioned by the school, and that may stray into darker magic, we need protections in place. We can make a vow that everyone has to sign to keep the secret of the larger chamber, but there are things here that are not for everyone. I don’t care if Marguerite is part of the larger group, but I don’t trust her, nor do I trust Sebastian or Dolohov, and I think we need to go over the inventory of this place and move any sensitive or especially powerful items or books into the personal suite and ward it against all except us.”

 

            Tom nodded. “Let’s get started, then we can do the warding at the end.”

 

            They set to work. A quick use of revealing spells indicated which items were simply warded against use as opposed to cursed, and Abraxas moved the warded items to the smaller library area, as he was able to touch them without difficulty. They soon discovered Patience could handle the items as well, and Tom was not surprised. She had two magical parents, and though she didn’t claim to be wholly pureblooded, her line had been mostly magical for at least the last five generations.   Hermione made no attempt to touch any item, working instead on the cursed objects, using techniques she’d learned from watching Galatea to try to undo the dark magic. Tom joined her, and they managed to undo several minor curses, mostly things like burning the hands of someone who was not of the Slytherin line who picked up the book or object.

 

            When they had finished, all the books left on the shelves could be touched, as well as the remaining potion ingredients, useful items like mortars and pestles, small cauldrons, spoons enchanted to stir on their own, rolls of unused parchment, quills, and ink and several basic magical objects, including an early version of a rememberall, an enchanted cup that constantly refilled itself with wine, meade, or water, according to the drinker’s choice, and a pair of dragon hide gloves that shrunk or enlarged to fit the wearer’s hands.

 

            The entrance to the larger room was already visible and it posed no problem to enter. Clearly, Slytherin had reasoned that with the outer entrance protected by parseltongue as a code, any one who came this far was likely accompanying the Heir of Slytherin. The back hall branched into the bathroom, then into the sitting room, and behind it, the bed chamber. They left the bathroom unwarded, but worked together to ward the sitting room door to their individual magical signatures, along with basic repelling and forgetful spells, so that anyone else would think this hall contained a bathroom and nothing else.

            A clock chimed in the main room, a strange, haunting sound, like wood flutes hanging in the forest. It was dinner time. They had spent almost ten hours on magic, and they were all hungry and exhausted, but thrilled as well.

 

           “The spells on the bathroom doors upstairs have probably faded by now,” Hermione told Tom. “It’s six.”

 

            Tom smiled at her. “It’s not a concern. I shut the entrance behind us once we were all down here.”

 

            She smiled. “Good. I know you said Astarte will behave, but I wouldn’t want anyone else stumbling down here on accident.”

 

            “I don’t want to leave,” Tom admitted to the others, surprising himself with the confession.

 

            “We can’t yet,” Hermione pointed at the pile of darker cursed objects they had floated to a distant spot on the floor. “We have to find a secure place to put those things until we can figure out the proper counter-curses or dispose of them safely.”

 

            Tom eyed the collection. These were the much darker items, ones with curses that hinted at madness and death. Possession of these items alone was probably illegal and if someone accidentally touched or used one of them, time in Azkaban was a distinct possibility.  

 

            “There’s a large closet cabinet in the bedroom,” Abraxas said. “We could float these things in there, then lock and ward it. With the wards on the outer sitting room, it would be very unlikely anyone would ever find them.”

 

            Hermione stared hard at one of the items, a delicately carved bone box, decorated with two entwined snakes on the lid. Tom followed her gaze. On the surface, it seemed innocuous, just a container for magical herbs or maybe rings or brooches. But the closer one got to it, the more one wanted to touch it – it almost had a siren song. Tom alone could hear the second voice, the one in parseltongue that warned the box was a trap, that opening it would mean death. All four of them had tried to cast silencing spells on the box, but it remained impervious for now.

 

            Tom took her hand, and she shook her head. “Yes, that’s a good idea,” Tom kept his fingers tightly curled around Hermione’s, since the box seemed to bother her the most.

 

            They each floated a section of the pile into the empty cabinet in the corner of the bed chamber. Then they locked, warded, and silenced the cabinet itself, and were relieved to find that the whispering from the box was no longer audible.

 

            Patience went over to the large canopy bed hung with green curtains embroidered with what gleamed like real silver thread. The posts were high, and there was a three step stair by the bed, which Patience climbed. She threw out her arms and fell face first into the green comforter with a small “oof” sound.

 

            “This mattress is surprisingly comfortable for being several hundred years old, though it does smell a tad musty,” Patience wrinkled her nose as she sat up and cast a few cleansing spells on the bed. “I’m ready for food and a nap.”

 

            Tom watched her closely. Hermione’s best friend defied categorization. When he’d first met Patience, he’d dismissed her as flighty and odd, with the potential for intelligence, since she was a Ravenclaw, but unlikely to be practically skillful. He tolerated her because Hermione valued her for unknown reasons. But by the middle of their first year, and after watching Patience in their shared classes, Tom realized she could easily have been sorted into Slytherin based solely on how well she hid her talents. Over the years, he’d seen Patience grow into a strong caster, with a strange ability for absorbing knowledge without seeming to pay the least bit of attention. It was also becoming apparent that Patience had some kind of extrasensory skills that were not yet fully developed, but which could become critical in the future. Because she also read people on a deep level, it made sense to Tom to keep her close and happy. Of course, knowing what made her happy was not an easy task. The girl was wildly unpredictable. Nothing seemed to upset her, nor did anything make her excited. As a person who worked to keep his own emotions and responses hidden, Tom respected that about her.

 

            As annoying as Patience could be, she was right about their complimentary magic, and Hermione was right about Patience growing on him. He suspected the way they fit together was due to the various elemental natures of their magic. In Ollivander’s shop, the wandmaker had said Hermione was aligned with air, and Tom with fire, and he believed Abraxas to be earth and Patience water, creating a magically balanced quartet.

 

           The four of them had been partners in many classes over the past five years, and they knew each other’s minds and magic very well, often casting classwork with no need to work out who would do what. Tom had also had many other partners or opponents in classes, dueling club, and the study group. No one else’s magic fit with his in the same way. When they worked together, their spells were strong and instinctive.

 

           Vidhi was firey, like he was, and their magic worked best together when pointed in the same direction, casting the same spell. Corvus and Jacob were both very familiar, being his other roommates. Most of the others in the group had magic that was so much less in sheer force than Tom’s that it simply submitted to his. Josephine was an exception, her water magic somewhat temperamental around his, like Patience’s could be when it was only their magic alone, without Hermione and Abraxas as well.

 

            “your birthday,” Abraxas was saying when Tom came out of his musings, his fingers surreptitiously stroking the side of Hermione’s hand where they sat side by side on the wooden trunk at the foot of the bed. Patience had rolled to the end of the bed, and was sitting behind Hermione, absently braiding small strands of her hair. They all looked happy, and Tom found that this pleased him.

 

            Tom crossed the room and sat on the bed beside Patience. When she had touched him the other day, hugged him and kissed his cheek, Tom had been surprised, but she, like Abraxas, was a lovely creature, and Tom did appreciate beauty, and even better, he liked to own things of beauty. “Yes, we’ve finished the first part of Hermione’s birthday adventure – uncovering all kinds of ancient magic. Now, we need the celebration.”

 

            Abraxas frowned, looking over his shoulder at Tom. “We’ll have to go back up to get anything to eat, though there is that fantastic goblet in the other room.”

 

            “There’s still so much to look at,” Hermione looked around the room wistfully, her gaze falling on the bookshelves, and the three other cabinets which they had yet to explore the contents of.

 

            “That’s not a problem,” Patience announced, her unfazed smile in place as always.

 

            “What?” Hermione and Abraxas said at once, but Patience had already summoned an old, wizened house elf who bowed low in front of the four of them.

 

            Tom stood rapidly, his heart beating fast at the thought of his secret getting out, but Patience spoke before he could.

 

            “Hello, thank you for coming. You can keep this place a secret, correct?” her high, sweet voice sounded like a constant song, even when she was speaking the most mundane of words.

 

            The elf nodded primly. “Of course. The Chamber is a secret passed down with the Hogwarts magic. No Hogwarts house elf can reveal its location or even talk of it.”

 

            Hermione made a face, probably thinking of Salazar threatening house elves with dark magic, but Tom was glad of it, because it protected the secret he didn’t want to share, and it made staying for longer periods of time easier if they could get food brought to them.   “Would you be kind enough to bring us some food? Just some sandwiches or something?”

 

            The elf nodded and was gone. “How did you know that, Patience?” Hermione asked.

 

            “It made sense. I can’t imagine Salazar Slytherin making his own food, and he obviously spent a lot of time down here, so he must have allowed for house elves to enter to wait on him,” Patience answered, and used her wand to move a small table that was against the wall to the center of the room.   Abraxas went to the main room and came back, floating a leather chair. Tom and Hermione pitched in, floating three more chairs to surround the table.

 

            In a few moments, the table was laden with much more food than a few sandwiches, and Abraxas had pulled the magical cup off the library room shelf, commanding it to fill with meade, and the sweet, heady drink was passed around the table.  By the time the strange wooden chimes had sounded again, everyone’s cheeks were flushed and even Tom’s laughter was coming easily.

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

            Hermione knew that she’d had a bit much to drink. The meade was stronger than she’d allowed for, and it was easy to drink. She could recognize the looseness in her limbs, and the increased urge to laugh and smile. However, she refused to feel guilty. She hadn’t consumed so much that she was ill, and she could still think – everything was just a bit slower, softer, and funnier.

 

            Though she had been very concerned, well, honestly, terrified, of coming down into the Chamber of Secrets, it had pleasantly surprised her. The snake was nowhere in sight (thank Circe), and the library and potions laboratory was beyond her imaginings. There were so many books to explore, rare potion ingredients to experiment with, perhaps even lost spells and theories to bring back to the magical world.   From the books that she’d handled, she’d seen they were written mostly in Latin and old English, though there were some Greek and Egyptian, as well as a bit of Babylonian, Sanskrit, and Arabic. The Latin and Greek wouldn’t a problem, but the other books and journals would take some time to translate. Honestly? A library full of magical books that required time and research? Hermione couldn’t possibly begin to think of a better birthday present.

 

            Magic itself was thick in all the rooms of the Chamber, and it was invigorating, though Hermione forced herself to channel Mad-eye Moody and remain vigilant while in the library, not touching anything until she had ascertained and undone any ward or curse on it. It was a testament to how paranoid and stingy Slytherin was with sharing magical knowledge that he had bothered to curse or ward anything in the Chamber at all. The whole place was a secret, after all, and only accessible with a parselmouth leading the way.

 

            She was glad Tom had agreed to stash the darker objects that they couldn’t deactivate in the bedroom for now. Hermione could never forgot the horror of Katie Bell’s silent scream when she had touched the cursed necklace in their sixth year, or the look of Dumbledore’s blackened, withered hand. She wasn’t surprised that there was so much dark magic in the Chamber, but she was surprised that there seemed to be an equal, if not greater, amount of neutral or even light books, potions, and objects as well. Slytherin may have embraced darker magic, but he certainly didn’t seem to use it exclusively. There were books on healing, Herbology, magical history, and several handwritten rolls of parchment for spells that appeared to be just as likely to be normal things like headache remedies or sleeping draughts as poisons or pain-inducers or truth serums.

 

            Hermione had great hopes for this space, for the knowledge it contained. She knew Tom was move into experimenting with darker magic, but perhaps she could show him that neutral or light magic could be just as powerful, and help temper whatever secrets they would discover here.

 

            She nibbled on a chocolate biscuit, very happy with her birthday. Tom looked much more relaxed than normal, taking a drink of the meade and passing it to Abraxas. He caught her eye and smiled, a wide, toothy grin that went up to his deep blue eyes, as well as straight to her groin. Apparently the meade also made everything sexier, she noted.

 

            “Enjoying your birthday, dearest?” he asked, reaching over quickly and pulling her out of her chair and into his lap. She rubbed her head affectionately against his shoulder, turning sideways so that she could loop her arm over his neck and pull him down for a kiss before she had really thought about it. His mouth tasted honey sweet, like the meade, and they kissed slowly for several moments, then pulled back to look at the other two people in the room.

 

            Abraxas was watching them hungrily, his grey eyes closer to a stormy sky now. He was sitting on the edge of his seat, like a coil ready to spring. Patience was watching them as well, though her expression was as serene as an undisturbed lake, her posture gracefully slumped in her chair, both her long legs thrown over one arm.

 

            “I think we should all give Hermione birthday kisses,” Patience said calmly. She didn’t wait for a response, but stood and walked over to Hermione and Tom, and sat on the other side of Tom’s lap, facing Hermione.

 

            “Ah,” Hermione began, unsure of how exactly this would play out, or how Tom would react, but Patience was already leaning in and kissing her.

 

            Hermione had never kissed a girl. She had no fear of doing so, or even repulsion, but she’d never really desired to do so, not with any girl except the one kissing her now. Over the last two years, she suspected that Patience liked her more than as a friend. Josephine and Felicity were her roommates, too, and they touched Hermione’s arm, or buttoned up the backs of her dresses, or gave her hugs, but that contact felt different from the way Patience touched her. Patience’s hand fit on her arm in a different way, Patience breathed on her neck when she rested her head on Hermione’s shoulder, Patience cuddled. Hermione had also realized, to her surprise, that she liked the way Patience touched her, and if Patience had suddenly stopped, or had started touching her the way her other friends did instead, Hermione would have felt a loss. Patience was special. She was dear to Hermione in a way that she wasn’t sure how to explain. It simply was.

 

            And, now, she knew, Patience had the softest lips in the world. Her tongue was soft, too, and also tasted like the honey from the meade, but where Tom was passion and danger and excitement, Patience tasted like peace. Hermione knew that was a ridiculous thought, but her intoxicated brain insisted it was the right description. Patience was peaceful and safe and a warmth that Hermione could fall into.

 

            She hadn’t realized that she’d lifted her hands to Patience’s face, pulling her closer and kissing her more deeply, until they fell off balance and were jerked back by Tom.

 

            “My, my,” Tom drawled dryly as they righted themselves. “If that was a sample of ‘friendly’ affection, then I’m surprised you ladies ever leave your tower.”

 

            Abraxas laughed, trying not to choke on the meade he had been sipping. “It certainly gives a new meaning to bosom friends, doesn’t it?”

 

            Hermione scowled playfully, but Patience looked confused. “Oh, I haven’t touched her breasts yet.”

 

            Tom raised an eyebrow. “But you apparently have plans to, pet?”

 

            “Well, we are all need goals, don’t we?” Patience asked.

 

            “I think that’s a marvelous goal. I’d love to see you reach it,” Abraxas grinned.

 

            Hermione huffed. “I hope you all realize I have a say in who does and doesn’t touch my breasts,”

 

            Tom kissed the top of her head and then pushed her off his lap, though he wrapped a loose arm around Patience’s waist, keeping her in place. “I think Abraxas would like to give you a birthday kiss as well, dearest,” Tom’s voice came out lower than usual, his arousal clear.  

 

            Hermione gave him an annoyed expression. “I’m only going because he’s a great kisser, not because you told me to,” she said as she walked over to Abraxas, and sat on the edge of the table in front of him.

 

            For a few moments, they simply stared at each other, unsure of this permission to touch. Then Abraxas took her hand and lifted it to his mouth, kissing the ends of her individual fingers, then turning her palm up and sliding his lips along the curve of her thumb down to the place where veins showed a faint blue under her skin at the beginning of her wrist. Her pulse was jumping as his tongue delicately traced those veins, and her eyes closed involuntarily against the strength of the sensation. When she opened them, Abraxas was standing, pulling her against him, and kissing her like he hadn’t been able to touch her for weeks, as if he would never get enough of her. Where Tom and even Patience kissed her like they were sure of her affection, sure she would return their embraces, Abraxas devoured her as though she might try to escape, as if this might be his only chance to have her. With a gasp, they both pulled back for a moment of air.   Hermione glanced at the others.

 

            “That is not how he kissed Marilyn Tuttle,” Patience noted, her whole upper body resting bonelessly against Tom, who now had one hand splayed over her hip and the other at the bare skin where Patience’s knee socks stopped and the hem of her skirt hadn’t quite reached. His fingers were drawing circles on her skin, the same circles Hermione had felt only a few days before.

 

            “Well, he didn’t love that silly Gryffindor,” Tom replied, and as Hermione and Abraxas watched, he rearranged Patience to face him as though she weighed nothing, as though she wasn’t only a few inches shorter than he was, with legs that went on for miles, and kissed her, twining his hands in her long, pale hair, tugging on it to force Patience’s head back, allowing him to kiss along the line of her neck, and giving them an excellent view of how wide his eyes went when Patience leaned forward and bit his ear, hard.

 

            “Bad pet!” He growled, wrenching on her hair and biting her neck roughly in return. The skin on the place where her neck joined her shoulder instantly reddened, and would be bruised soon, but Patience didn’t cry out at all. Instead, she giggled, then brushed his lips lightly as a falling feather, her hips canting forward as though she were riding a horse.

 

            One of Tom’s hands was on the small of her back now, pushing Patience closer to him, and even though he was annoyed, he was also clearly aroused. Abraxas was breathing heavily against Hermione’s ear, his lips skating her outer earlobe, though both their faces were turned to watch Tom and Patience.  

 

            “Do you think they might break each other?” Abraxas whispered, a bit of humor mixed in with actual concern. “They are at the opposite ends of everything.”

 

            “Mmm,” Hermione breathed, the touch of Abraxas’s lips distracting her ability to produce rational thought. “My money’s on Patience.”

 

            Abraxas laughed. “I had a feeling you were insane,” he lowered his head to her neck, lifting her hair out of the way, turning them so they could continue to watch.

 

            Patience had risen to her knees, straddling Tom, and Tom had twisted her hair into a rope, winding the ends around his palm for a firm grip. She was kissing his face all over, his forehead, eyebrows, eyelids, cheeks, her lips moving quickly. Tom continued to make marks on her neck, above and below the original bite.

 

            “Tom,” Hermione protested softly from across the table. “Her whole neck is going to be bruised!”

 

            Tom lifted his head, his eyes darkening at the sight of Abraxas’s mouth on Hermione’s neck. “It’s your fault, for not teaching your pet better manners. Sad, really, that her discipline has fallen to me.”

 

            Patience had half-turned in his lap and smiled at Hermione. “It’s ok. You can kiss it better later, Hermione. Plus, it hurts in a nice way. And I really like biting him,” she demonstrated how much right then by turning and biting Tom’s neck, and Hermione could see, even across the table, that it was a very hard bite. Tom winced and his mouth made an angry line, but Hermione had seen that look in his eyes before, and she had no doubt he was hard as a rock.

 

            Standing quickly, Tom rose with Patience still attached to him, and walked over to the bed, throwing her on it. Patience rolled over onto her stomach, her lips and cheeks flushed, her pale hair a loose white blonde cloud around her as she laughed. Her laughter continued as Tom flipped up her skirt and pulled her knickers down just enough to expose her rather surprisingly shapely (given how straight and flat Patience was over the rest of her body) arse cheeks.

 

            “Do you know what happens to pets who bite their masters, Patience?” Tom’s voice held no amusement whatsoever, though Patience didn’t look at all worried. Hermione’s stomach did a flip. It was one thing for Tom to dominate her. She knew she enjoyed it, and she also knew that Tom cared for her, and that, whether he admitted it or not, she had power over him as well. Patience was a mystery in many ways, even to Hermione, and she didn’t want to see her friend hurt or damaged, emotionally or physically.

 

            “They get punished?” Patience answered, her voice near a taunt in a sing-song tone. She looked right at Hermione and winked. Hermione breathed in relief, resting against Abraxas, who had also taken a step forward in concern.

 

            Tom nodded, and brought his hand down, the sound of the slap loud in the quiet room. Both Tom and Patience’s breathing became heavier, but Patience didn’t make a sound of protest, nor did she cry. The noises she made were moans, and her hips moved back toward the spanking as opposed to away from it. Her creamy flesh turned a bright pink, then red, before Tom stopped. He was biting his lip, and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. Patience had clearly won this round, Hermione thought, though she wasn’t about to point that out.

 

            “Do you feel better?” Patience asked, looking over her shoulder at Tom, who was on his knees behind her, his hands now lightly hovering over the skin he’d reddened. “You like punishing people, don’t you?”

 

            Tom looked at her sharply. “Yes. Just as you like biting people,” he pulled her underwear further down and slid his hand between her legs. “And apparently, as you like being punished.”

 

            Patience squirmed, more than she had during the spanking. “Oh,” she breathed, and Tom smiled, clearly feeling in control again and determined to press his advantage.

 

            He lifted her onto her knees and pulled her hips to his. They were still fully clothed, and her skirt fell back down as they moved. One hand kept Patience’s hip against his, the other wrapped around and under her skirt. Patience’s head lolled against Tom’s shoulder as his fingers tapped out a rhythm beneath her underwear.

 

            “Oh,” she cried again, and Tom’s hand moved faster, sensing a weakness. Abraxas and Hermione forgot to do anything but look at the two people on the bed, Tom’s expression arrogant and fierce and very lusty, and Patience’s perfectly calm except for the way her lips parted in a round, languid shape as her “Ohs” came out closer and closer together until they were one long string of sound, and her hips twitched against Tom’s tight grasp, a silent fight that Hermione knew would leave finger-shaped marks.

 

            To Hermione’s shock, Tom kissed Patience gently on the cheek and eased her back onto the bed. He spoke softly, but Hermione heard him say, “See? Isn’t it better when you behave, pet?”

 

            Louder, he said, “Hermione, dearest, come tend to your pet for a moment.”

 

            Hermione kissed Abraxas and used the steps to climb onto the bed, pulling Patience into her arms. Though Patience was several inches taller when they were standing, she always scooted down in bed so that her pale head was nestled on Hermione’s chest.

 

            Patience smelled like warm honey and sex and the lavender shampoo she used. Hermione stroked her hair, which was rather tangled from Tom’s twisting and pulling of it, and whispered, “Are you alright? You seemed to enjoy that, but it wasn’t too much, was it?”

 

            Tilting her head back to meet Hermione’s eyes, Patience smiled broadly. “It was lovely. I’ve always wanted to be spanked. Tom is rather forceful, isn’t he? I can see why you needed to take a bath afterwards. I’m very sticky now.”

 

            Hermione sighed in disbelief. “Only you, Patience. You aren’t a bit scared of him.”

 

            Patience pushed herself up a bit, and kissed the underside of Hermione’s chin. It was somewhere between arousing and ticklish. “He’s like a wild thing, never taught how to love. He’s more scared of us than we are of him,” Patience whispered back between kisses, her lips moving up to Hermione’s lips.

 

            In the space of only a few days, Hermione had learned quite a bit about kissing, and she’d realized the main reason why kissing had seemed so lackluster with Viktor and the Octopus also known as Cormac was that they simply weren’t good at kissing. Kissing required more finesse and less brute force than either of those boys had understood. Abraxas had it down to an art form, Tom was simply magic, and Patience made her forget herself. Those soft lips of hers were like having a flower petals drifting over her skin, leaving a trail of sensitized flesh and little shivers in their wake.

 

            Patience put a hand up to the shiny red buttons that fastened the cardigan Hermione was wearing. Almost daily, she cursed the formality of dress in the 1940’s, wishing for jeans, a lightweight knitted jumper, and trainers to go exploring in the Chamber instead of one of the many ‘casual’ day dresses Narcissa had purchased for her that was still fancier than most dresses she’d owned in future.   Her dress today was black, with bright red poppies printed on it, and a matching hued cardigan over top for warmth.

 

            “Are you cold?” Patience asked softly as Hermione shivered.

 

            Hermione whispered a warming spell. “Not now.”

 

            With quick, nimble fingers, Patience unbuttoned the cardigan, and Hermione sat up. Patience undid the back, pulling the dress down to just above Hermione’s waist. She smiled at Hermione’s pale pink bra, and then put a hand out to touch the scar on Hermione’s arm.

 

            “You always had this covered,” Patience ran a finger over the raised, knotted skin. “Does it hurt?”

 

            “Not anymore,” Hermione smiled widely.

 

            Patience kissed the length of Hermione’s scar, her soft lips moving from wrist to elbow, and though Hermione didn’t feel much through the scarred skin, it was a sweet sight that made her sigh. “That’s good.”

 

            Hermione turned to her, looking at the tiny white buttons on Patience’s blouse. “May I?” At a nod, Hermione unfastened the line of pearl buttons, watching with fascination as Patience’s long torso was revealed, along with a white cotton bra.

 

            The two friends stayed wrapped in each other’s arms for several minutes, foreheads touching, noses bumping, breath mingling, lips occasionally kissing, hands mapping out the lines of collar bones and ribs and shoulders. Every pass of their fingers became a bit bolder, sliding under the straps of bras, moving down and across the swell of a breast, or inching up from the diaphragm to press gently at the underside of the breast.

 

            As the kisses grew longer, the bras disappeared completely, and Hermione felt a growing ache between her legs as Patience fondled her breasts and kissed them for what seemed like hours. She returned the favor, pleased to see Patience’s nipples grow hard under the attentions of her mouth and fingers. Hermione rubbed her thighs together, clenching her inner muscles, and moaned in frustration. Patience slid one of her long, lean legs between Hermione’s thighs pressing firmly against her throbbing cunt. Hermione bit her lip to keep from yelling.

 

            “It’s ok,” Patience whispered against her lips, twisting one of Hermione’s nipples between her fingers, just hard enough to make her whimper. “Go ahead. I’m here. You’re safe.”

 

            She pushed her leg up harder, and Hermione pressed down, and that was enough to unwind almost two hours of sexual tension and touching. Hermione’s whole body shuddered and Patience moved her leg back and forth until the shuddering stopped and Hermione went limp, her mouth open and gasping against Patience’s shoulder.  

 

            Hermione felt so relaxed, she almost didn’t notice when Patience pulled her up and over, bring her back toward pillows that rested against the headboard, putting the cover over both of them and letting Hermione rest against her chest. Patience was cuddling, playing with her hair, and humming softly. Hermione wondered briefly why they had moved from the center of the bed, but then she looked over and saw the answer.

 

            Tom and Abraxas were both standing, shirtless, by the side of the bed. Hermione had seen both of them shirtless before. Tom, a few days ago, and Abraxas once last summer on a particularly hot day when she’d visited Malfoy Manor with Narcissa to pick up Tom. The two boys had been flying outside, and Abraxas had done so without a shirt. Of course, when he realized there was company, and ladies at that, he’d hurried off to get dressed, but that quick glimpse from afar had been impressive. The two of them together made both Hermione and Patience take a deep breath.

 

            “Aren’t they lovely?” Patience sighed.

 

            Tom heard her and laughed, while Abraxas flushed. “Yes, tell us, Hermione, what do you think?”

 

            Hermione clicked her tongue and snuggled against Patience under the covers. “You know you are both gorgeous, the two most handsome boys in this school.”

 

            “I agree,” Tom said, and he kissed Abraxas, pulling the other boy up against his body, his hands sliding down Abraxas’s bare back to cup his arse and push his hips forward against his own.

 

            Hermione sat up, leaning forward. This exhibition was incredibly erotic, and from Tom’s grin, she knew that he knew she was terribly turned on. Soon, Abraxas’s hands were mirroring Tom’s, and their kissing was more aggressive, their hips grinding against each other.  Patience’s chin was resting on Hermione’s shoulder, and both girls watched enrapt.

 

            “Do you know that Abraxas told me he’d do anything for me, as long as it didn’t hurt you, dearest?” Tom said as he pulled away from the kiss for a moment.

 

            He glanced at Hermione and she saw that he was playing games, trying to manipulate them all with through their affection for one another, and the feel good chemicals of sex. She had to hand it to him, it felt like it was working.

 

           Abraxas lifted his chin, looking sadly stubborn, and Hermione wanted to kiss his worry away.   “I meant it,” he insisted.

 

           Tom tugged on the belt loops of Abraxas’s pants, keeping their groins pressed tightly together. Abraxas’s head fell against Tom’s chest, and he let out a deep moan. “I know you did, my friend. I was simply pondering whether I should let Hermione have you first or not. It is her birthday, and she’s been lusting after you for a while. Of course, she did just enjoy some time with our pet, who we both saw take very good care of her.”

 

           “It’s obvious our pet plays favorites,” Tom shot Patience a dark look. “You didn’t bite Hermione, I noticed.”

 

           Patience only smiled in return, then said, “Why not share him at the same time?’

 

           “Good idea.  On the bed, Abraxas,” Tom gave him a little push forward.

 

            Abraxas looked like he was both thrilled and terrified by that suggestion, his grey eyes widening, but he did as Tom instructed.

 

            Tom pointed his wand at the bed and enlarged it, making it big enough to easily accommodate all four of them. He got onto the mattress on the other side of Abraxas, and they were now in a row, Patience on the left of the bed, Tom on the right, and Hermione and Abraxas in the middle. Despite the extra room, they were close together, Patience pressed against Hermione’s back, Tom pressed against Abraxas, with Hermione only separated from a breathless Abraxas by the blankets Patience had pulled over them.

 

           Reaching over Abraxas’s shoulder, Tom tugged gently at the sheets, and Hermione let him pull them away, leaving her bare to the waist, just as they were. Abraxas sucked in his breath with a shaky sound and Tom brought his hand back, deftly unbuttoned Abraxas’s pants until Hermione could see the white fabric of his underwear. Abraxas had stopped breathing completely.

 

         “Touch her,” Tom whispered, his lips against Abraxas’s ear, though they could all hear it. “You want to, she wants you to, I want you to.”

 

          Hermione gave the pale blonde a soft smile and leaned in to kiss him. It was a soft, sweet kiss. “Relax,” she said, and took his hand and placed over it her breasts. “They’re certainly less than Marilyn’s – you can handle them,” she teased.

          They all laughed, and some of the tension was broken. Abraxas used his exceptionally light touch to trace over her chest, her arms, her neck, and he followed his fingers with his lips. Occasionally, he would shudder against her violently because of something Tom was doing, and Patience would sigh over her shoulder, and Hermione would think how odd of a situation this must look like from outside of it, but how natural it felt from the inside.

 

        “I think Abraxas needs to loose his pants, don’t you, dearest?” Tom asked as he watched his friend kissing the space between each of Hermione’s ribs.

 

        Hermione moved her hand from Abraxas’s muscled chest to his hip, to the waistband of his pants. She dipped her fingers lower and found Tom’s hand. She slid her fingers into his and they both sighed in pleasure. Tom held her hand fast and drew it even further, until he was bending her fingers around the hard length of Abraxas’s cock, then wrapping his hands around hers to guide her in a rhythmic stroking.

 

        “God!” Abraxas was gasping, and Tom leaned forward, kissing Hermione over Abraxas’s shoulder, keeping a tight grip on Hermione’s hand.

 

        “Patience was right,” Tom smiled lecherously. “It’s good to share.”

 

         Patience merely continued to hum, watching them while running her fingers over Hermione’s back and hair.

 

         There was a feeling of cool air, and Hermione opened her momentarily closed eyes to see that all their clothes were gone. Abraxas was staring at the golden words spiraled over Hermione’s stomach. His hand hovered over them, not quite touching.

 

          “See?” Tom’s voice was smug. “I told you she was mine.”

 

           “And you are mine,” Hermione reminded him sharply, running her free hand over the words on his arm, and feeling satisfied in a petty way when he shuddered deeply.

 

            Abraxas’s expression showed that he was both deeply aroused and deeply confused. “Why am I here? You are both so…” he was not going to use the words ‘in love’ because they had their hands around a rather delicate part of his anatomy.

 

            Tom kissed his shoulder. “You are here because we want you,” he said simply. “Does there need to be another reason?”

 

            Abraxas shook his head, though he was clearly holding back.

 

            “It’s alright that you love her, Abraxas,” Tom said, his lips now on his shoulder blade, his hand still closed over Hermione’s sliding up and down in a slow, torturous pace that kept the other boy on edge, hardly able to reason. “I was very upset that you coveted my soul mate at first, but I’ve been thinking very carefully about this situation, and I think this kind of connection between the four of us will make our magic stronger, make our bond stronger.”

 

            Tom released Hermione’s hand and took Abraxas’s instead, pulling his hand behind him, and placing it over his own cock. Abraxas whined in the back of his throat as he felt Tom throb in his hand. “See how interested I am in our bond?”

 

            Hermione made a tsking sound against Abraxas’s neck, where she was kissing him. “It isn’t just about the magic, Tom. We care for each other. I care for you, Abraxas,” she smiled.

 

            Abraxas smiled back so widely, so happily that Hermione felt a pang in her chest. He did love her, unreservedly.

 

            “Yes,” Tom said with some exasperation in his tone. “The three of you can cater to one another’s emotions. Now can we please continue with the sex? I think some people need to put their mouths to better use than all this talking.”

 

            Abraxas tried to laugh, but it came out as more of a moan, as did Hermione’s because Abraxas was sliding down her stomach, and then burying his head between her legs. He was just as good at kissing down there as he was on her other lips. She twisted her fingers in pale blonde hair, tugging and crying out, but Tom swallowed most of her noises as he kissed her, pausing once in a while to whisper filthy things in her ear.

 

            “My, he is excellent at this sex business, isn’t he?” Tom laughed lowly. “He makes you taut as a bow, dearest.”

 

            “Uhhh,” was all Hermione managed in reply. Tom flicked at one of her nipples, a sharp movement that only added depth to the pleasure she was feeling.

 

            Tom’s hand joined hers in Abraxas’s hair, and he forced the pale blonde’s head up. “Tell me what she tastes like now, Abraxas,” he commanded.

 

            “Magic,” Abraxas answered with no hesitation. “Alive and buzzing and joyful magic.”

 

            Tom slid down and kissed Abraxas’s mouth, both of them inches from Hermione’s cunt. After a few seconds, Tom pulled away. “What a clever boy you are. I agree. That’s exactly what she tastes like.” He pushed Abraxas’s head back down between Hermione’s legs and smiled up at her. “Is his tongue just as talented on your cunt as in your mouth?”

 

            “Yes,” Hermione gasped, her head thrown back against the soft pillow of Patience’s chest, who was still behind her, her long fingers stroking the side of Hermione’s arm in a way that was both comforting and erotic.

 

            Tom moved up just slightly and dropped a quick kiss on Hermione’s words, which made her whole body give a great shudder. Then, he was up by her ear again. “Shall we fuck him, dearest? He wants us both so badly.”

 

            “Yes,” Hermione answered, her lips pressed to Tom’s jaw, just as turned on by Tom’s voice and words as by Abraxas’s ministrations. She could hardly believe she had said that. She would never, never, have thought that uptight, bookworm, killjoy Hermione Granger would be doing something as wild as this, let alone reveling in it. What had Tom said to her? That, as his soul mate, she was darker than she thought? Well, she wasn’t so sure about the darkness, but she was definitely setting aside society’s rules about love and sex and monogamy, and it felt wonderful.

 

            “Oh, my little bird,” Tom murmured as he kissed her ear and nuzzled against her hair. “You really are a serpent in disguise, aren’t you? I love your mind, your magic, your lust,”

 

            She shivered against him as his kisses turned into bites on her neck. “I love you, Tom.”

 

            He yanked back on her hair, and brought her eyes to his. “I know, and you – you are my dearest, and we are going to rule the world together, whether you like it or not,” he kissed her fiercely, and she bucked her hips at something amazing Abraxas started doing with his tongue. Tom laughed and looked down. “He’s getting impatient, I think.”

 

            “He’s not the only one,” Hermione moaned. She was on the edge, had been there for quite a while. Abraxas was a horrific tease, she was realizing.

 

            “Well, let’s see what we can do,” Tom kissed Hermione’s breasts as he worked his way down, leaving behind bites and bruises in his wake. When he got behind Abraxas, and pulled him upright, almost in the same position he’d had Patience in earlier. Tom wrapped his hand around Abraxas and gave a few sharp tugs that made him cry out and weep clear fluid from the slit at the top of his cock.

 

            “He’s very similar in size with myself,” Tom noted in a clinical tone. “A tad shorter, but maybe a tad wider? Honestly, a negligible difference. I’ve no doubt he can satisfy you, dearest.”

 

            “No doubt,” Hermione echoed, her eyes focused on the two gorgeous boys in front of her. Was it possible to be even more aroused just from watching them? She thought she might have an orgasm right then, spontaneously, from the way her cunt was pulsing and clenching, all on its own. Patience squeezed the side of her hip, and Hermione had a feeling she was thinking the same thing.

 

            Abraxas had twisted in Tom’s arms, was facing him now, kissing him deeply, and their lower halves where a tangle of hands on cocks and hips grinding together. They broke away, both panting. Tom turned him back around, held him by both hips, pushing his cock against Abraxas, and forcing Abraxas to hold still.   He rested his chin on Abraxas’s shoulder, kissed his temple.

 

            “Look at her, Abraxas,” Tom said quietly. “Look at my soul mate and her little pet. Aren’t they beautiful?”

 

            “Yes,” Abraxas answered simply.

 

            “Now, if Patience belongs to Hermione, then who does Hermione belong to?” Tom prompted.

 

            “You,” Abraxas replied quickly.

 

            “Yesss,” Tom hissed, his voice almost sounding like parseltongue. “And who do you belong to?”

 

            “You and Hermione,” Abraxas said again, just as quickly as before.

 

            “Mmmm,” Tom licked down the line of Abraxas’s neck, snapping his hips again as well. “I love having smart, beautiful, obedient things,” Tom smiled. “Will you serve her? Serve me? Do anything for us? Be ours?”

 

            The part of Hermione still rooted in her old morality wanted to protest as she watched, but there was nothing to argue, really. They had been on this path for much longer than she had initially realized. The four of them had been harboring tangled emotions for one another for at least the last two years, and Tom was a dynamic leader with few limits. This was a test of loyalty, a way of binding Abraxas to them, and Patience as well, and everyone here was a willing and aroused participant. No one was being hurt, and Hermione thought that was quite a victory given Tom’s previous timeline. He had already killed and made a horcrux by this point in history. Kinky sex magic was definitely an improvement.

 

            “Of course,” Abraxas was saying, looking down at Hermione with a soft expression in his eyes. Hermione smiled up as him, lifting her hands to stroke his trembling thighs. “I think I already am.”

 

            “You are so good,” Tom sighed, and pressed him forward. “Show Hermione how good you are. Please her.”

 

            It was her turn to gasp as Abraxas grasped her hips, pulled her down to meet him and entered her in a careful, fluid motion. He closed his eyes and moaned as he sank into her, but Hermione barely heard him because she was too busy making her own obscene sounds. Tom had been right. Abraxas was more than enough to please her, though the slow, long strokes he began to make were much more gentle than anything she’d felt from Tom. This, she thought, was what it was like to be adored. Tom wanted her, needed her, desired to take her apart and put her back together. What she and Tom had as soul mates couldn’t be duplicated, but Abraxas was making love to her, and it was beautiful, and she fell into it, let him worship her body and kiss her with reverence while Patience held her hand and played with her hair.

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

            Tom ran his fingers lightly down Abraxas’s spine as he watched his friend fuck his soul mate. This evening had been full of pleasant surprises. Even though Tom had been planning on having sex with them all as a group, for the benefits of binding the quartet and strengthening their magic, it was much more arousing than he would have thought, watching them play together. He saw Patience glance at him from beside Hermione and she gave him a sly smile.

 

            Hermione’s little pet had been the first surprise. She was a bold thing, initiating the whole affair, which made Tom a bit suspicious. It seemed more and more likely that Patience had the unique ability to know what people wanted, and then give it to them. Though he’d never say it out loud, Patience had almost made him come in his pants. Her sharp little teeth, coupled with that vacantly innocent expression? It had gone straight to his cock, and then she’d liked the spanking. Her cunt had been soaked, drenching her knickers and his fingers. When she’d come with that long, low moan, he’d had to use every bit of will power he possessed not to come as well.

 

           Then, he had barely been able to calm down while he watched her with Hermione, the two of them the opposite of what he’d experienced with Patience. They had been slow and sweet and hesitant, and though he had been kissing Abraxas, they had stopped several times to look at the two girls, and watch Hermione come spectacularly just from the pressure of Patience’s thigh between her legs.

 

           Tom had silently cast a sex magic spell when they’d first started drinking. He had begun researching sexual magic right after he’d started fucking Marguerite, and though even the Hogwarts restricted section didn’t contain much, the Malfoy and Rosier libraries both did, and Tom had borrowed several books surreptitiously, charming the covers to look like textbooks. He hadn’t used any of the spells on Marguerite because, one, they weren’t necessary, as she already did everything he told her, and, two, he wasn’t interested in having his magic mix with hers. She was smart and good at spell work, but her magic didn’t mix with his naturally in the way he wanted.  

 

          This spell was not for controlling; it was to strengthen their natural magical compatibility, which of course he didn’t need with Hermione, but would be helpful with Patience and Abraxas, and among them as well. It was meant to create a bond that increased with each orgasm, and Tom felt it begin to work with Patience, then get stronger when Hermione came. The air was abuzz with magic, and the look Patience had just given him told him that she knew what he’d done.

 

          Hermione and Abraxas, on the other hand, seemed much too distracted to notice at the moment. The books had spoken repeatedly about the magical anchor in any practice of sexual magic, and though Tom had thought at first that he would logically be the anchor, he had realized tonight that the anchor was undoubtedly Hermione. She was the center of the group, the one that they all felt most strongly for.

 

          The way Patience had touched her, and the way Abraxas was moving with her now was further proof. They were both in love with Hermione, in their own fashions, and Tom knew this would make the spell even stronger. The fact that his soul mate was such an object of desire was heady. Tom loved that she was his, first and foremost, and that she, as an extension of him, inspired such loyalty and devotion. They really would rule the world together, and it would be brilliant, with their beautiful blonde pets at their sides, grounding and strengthening their magic until they were unstoppable.

 

            Tom watched Abraxas’s back, his slender hips and those rock hard thighs, muscled from clenching a broom. He lifted his wand, and spoke a spell he’d only recently learned. Abraxas made a gasping sound, and moved his hips back against Tom, who had moved to be flush against him.

 

            “Are you surprised I did some research, my friend? I didn’t want to hurt you, not too much,” Tom let his voice drop low, saw the shiver go down Abraxas’s spine in response.

 

            Abraxas moaned as Tom’s hand went between his legs, spreading him, and he slid two fingers inside him at once, with no warning. “That spell was for lubrication, as I’m sure you can tell. There was also a spell to loosen you, but I’m not going to use that one.”

 

            He leaned forward and bit Abraxas’s shoulder, hard enough to leave a mark, looking down into Hermione’s brown eyes, which were mostly black from her dilated pupils. She gasped too, as Abraxas pushed into her harder at Tom’s invasion. “Because I want you to feel every bit of my cock as you take it, my friend.”

 

            “Yes,” Abraxas answered, his head and hips thrown back against Tom. “I want that, too.”

 

            Hermione moaned, biting her lip. Tom grinned at her as he thrust into Abraxas’s arse, and Abraxas cried out, a sound of pain and pleasure that reminded him of the sound Hermione had made when he’d taken her for the first time. It was such a wonderful noise, a sound of claiming, of conquering, and Tom closed his eyes, focusing on the way Abraxas’s walls squeezed his cock in a fucking death grip that felt like heaven. Sex magic, Tom decided, was the best magic. He barely gave the blonde time to adjust before he set a quick pace, and Abraxas was moving back to meet him and pushing back into Hermione who was quivering and moaning, and Abraxas was shaking, but maybe that was Tom himself, and he could feel the spell thickening around them, and then a cool hand was on the side of Tom’s hip and he felt Patience’s magic, too, and opened his eyes. Patience was sitting up, one hand on Hermione’s arm, one hand on his hip, and all of their magic was flowing around them, and it was fucking amazing.

 

            Hermione started screaming, then Abraxas was shouting a string of obscenities, and Tom began to shudder, coming hard, shaking from the magic and the orgasm, the release so badly needed after so much stimulation, and he could hardly think for the pleasure.

 

            There was a long silence, where the only sounds where their attempts to breathe normally. Patience was up on her knees over them, still naked to the waist, her small, pert breasts high on her long, slender torso, her hair falling straight over her shoulders. She pointed her wand at each of them in turn, using cleansing spells.

 

            “Now you won’t be so sticky,” she smiled at them.

 

            “Thanks, Patience,” Abraxas murmured, sounding half-asleep, collapsed on his side between Hermione and Tom. “You’re a gem.”

 

            Tom reached out an arm and pulled her down, turning to face her. He wanted to keep an eye on their little pet. She returned his suspicious glance with a guileless expression. How had she known about the spell? Though, honestly, he was sure she’d given it a boost at the end. He had to admit that he appreciated the way Patience seemed to know instinctively what to do, and how to keep her mouth shut.

 

            “Tom?” Hermione’s voice was exasperated, but too exhausted to hold much annoyance. “What spell did you use on us?”

 

            He sighed. It had been silly of him to think she wouldn’t notice, no matter how many orgasms she had, he thought. “Nothing objectionable,” he responded.

 

            “I’m pretty sure the definition of objectionable includes ‘lack of knowledge and/or consent’,” Hermione answered quickly. “Why didn’t you ask us?”

 

            Tom didn’t have an answer for that. He could have, he knew. The four of them had just had group sex. It was unlikely they would have said no to sexual magic. He could tell Hermione that he hadn’t wanted to ask, but that would start a fight and ruin what had otherwise been a lovely day. So, instead, he said, “I’m sorry. I just wanted to make our magical compatibility stronger. It will be good for all of us.”

 

            There was a huffing sound from Hermione, but she didn’t respond. He wasn’t sure if that was good or not. She had a tendency to hold grudges and explode about them later. He crawled across Abraxas and slid behind his soul mate, holding her against him, his finger tracing her words, because he knew that would relax her.

 

            “Oh, Tom, you’re awful, but I’m too tired to fight,” she sighed. “Tell me now, right here, that you won’t do anymore spells on me or them without letting us know. And I want to see the book you got the spell from. Tomorrow.”

 

            She pressed her fingers on his arm over his own words, and he felt her along his magic, knew she was checking to see if she could feel deception. “I won’t do any more sex spells without telling you,” he told her, honestly. They would probably be more effective with her knowledge, he reasoned.

 

            He felt her magic, pleased and relaxed, and she closed her eyes. “Set an alarm for an hour,” she murmured. “We need to get back before curfew.”

 

            “I will,” he whispered back, kissing her forehead. He looked over to see Abraxas watching him. He kissed him over Hermione’s shoulder, and even graced Patience, curled up behind Abraxas, who draped a loose arm around her, with a rare, genuine smile. They did make an excellent court, Tom thought. He was King, with Hermione as his Queen, Abraxas his knight, and Patience the soothsayer. Honestly, the world didn’t stand a chance.

Chapter Text

 

            It was late November before the rest of the core members of the study group stepped foot into the Chamber of Secrets. Most of the delay was finding a way to create an alternate entrance. There wasn’t much opportunity to go down except on the weekends, and it had taken all four of them several weekends to use their combined blasting spells to make way through the rock wall and fashion a low, slanting tunnel that came out behind the greenhouses. It was not ideal to be traipsing outside, close to curfew, especially as the weather grew cold, but at least the greenhouses weren’t across the lawns, and it was better than trying to take a dozen students through the girls’ bathroom.

           

            There had been an intense debate over how to conceal the entrance. Tom had wanted practically every spell known to man, in addition to the parseltongue password, but Hermione had argued that too much use of magic would flag the area to the staff and the more clever and magically sensitive students. In the end, the entrance was covered with rocks and brush that could be levitated, and then warded by the parseltongue, so that no one would be able to enter without Tom along. This restriction, of course, not only appealed to Tom’s desire for control, but also kept anyone from facing Astarte alone.

            Astarte, however, had been on her best behavior. She went out through the pipes, into the lake, or through the new tunnel, and hunted in the Forbidden Forest or the mountains. She did not attack or even threaten anyone and stayed mostly in her nest behind the statue of Slytherin. Tom reapplied the clouding spell every time he went into the Chamber, and she didn’t protest. Rather, the giant snake seemed pleased to have freedom to roam and weekly company.

 

            The effects of the sex magic spell were already making themselves known. When Tom, Hermione, Patience, and Abraxas did spells together in their shared classes, everything flowed exceptionally well, and when they practiced more advanced spells in private, the magic was even better. The combination of their complementary magical styles made for strong shields and attacks in Dueling Club as well, and Professor Merrythought had started forcing them to be on different teams because when they were together, they were unbeatable, even when facing the best seventh year students.

 

            On the weekend evenings, after they had exhausted themselves with blasting rock, they sat in the Chamber library, translating books that looked interesting. The work was slow, as none of them were fluent in ancient Egyptian or Arabic or even old English. They were all intelligent, though, and each worked on a different book, switching occasionally to check each other’s work.

 

            Once the tunnel was complete, before noon on a chilly November Saturday, they all lingered in the library, strangely unwilling to tell the others, even though they had worked long and hard to be able to bring them down to the Chamber.

 

            “We can bring the others down tomorrow,” Patience broke the silence, her voice echoing off the tiled walls as she twirled in a slow circle. “I’d like to keep it just ours for one more day.”

 

            Hermione looked up from a very dense Egyptian text on resurrection that she was purposely taking sparse notes on – really, this was not the kind of thing Tom should be reading - ever. “I agree. The quiet is nice. Even with the muffling spells, all that blasting earlier gave me a headache.”

 

            Abraxas went over to the potions along the nearest shelf and selected a bottle. He set the vial down beside Hermione’s hand, then moved her hair to the side and gently massaged her neck.

 

            “Thank you,” she murmured, drinking the headache potion and leaning into his touch. “That feels good.”

 

            Tom watched them all with a small smile on his face as he continued translating one of Slytherin’s journals. The man’s writing was not very detailed. Slytherin took just enough notes to prompt his memory, but not enough to enable someone else to copy his work. Luckily, Tom was quite skilled at reading between the lines, and he had an inkling that his mind worked similarly to that of his ancestor.

 

            Although he wanted to see the looks of awe on the rest of the group’s faces, he understood the desire to keep the Chamber as their place for just a while longer. They hadn’t really been able to enjoy the Chamber since that first weekend, since they had been working so hard to make the second entrance and complete a few translations of books that looked especially interesting. Hermione was right – the blasting was loud and exhausting, and even though they had all thoroughly enjoyed the delicious sex they’d had on their first night in the Chamber, they hadn’t had the time nor the energy to do much since then.

 

            Not that they’d been chaste – touching was second nature in the Chamber. Down here, they were free with their caresses and kisses, and Tom liked that. He didn’t care for rules that were not of his own making, and he found it annoying that he couldn’t touch Patience or Abraxas in the hallways if he wanted to. He did touch Hermione, though, and the whole school had taken notice. Tom held her hand in the halls and kissed her cheek upon parting. Abraxas and Patience walked with them, sometimes on either side of the couple, sometimes behind them, holding hands, but even though the two pale blondes were unusually affectionate with one another, their relationship was not deemed serious because Abraxas was a Malfoy, and Patience was not from one of the sacred Twenty-Eight families he would most definitely need to choose a bride from.

 

            Tom wasn’t too happy about that, either. Abraxas’s father had sent several letters in the last few months, urging his son to come up with some suitable candidates for a fiancé before his mother sent a list that would severely limit his choices. They would want him engaged by seventeen or eighteen, then married by twenty or twenty-one. Tom did not relish the thought of Abraxas married to some half-insane, dim-witted, magically null Pureblood wife. Money and connections were important, but power was paramount, and Abraxas was too valuable a resource to squander. Also, Tom admitted to himself, he did not wish to share Abraxas with someone outside their group. He rather thought it would be perfect if he could somehow convince Lord Malfoy to let Abraxas marry Patience, but short of the imperius or that potion he’d found when first coming down to the Chamber, that was impossible. The only Pureblooded girls in their inner circle were Marguerite and Josephine. The mere thought of Hermione’s reaction if Abraxas became engaged to Marguerite made Tom reconsider the use of the mind control potion.

 

            Abraxas had not mentioned the letters to the girls, and Tom thought that was wise. Following the night in the Chamber, Tom had felt closer than ever before to Abraxas. Abraxas had shown the perfect combination of initiative and submission, and Tom had no more doubts about his loyalty. In fact, Tom had made it a point to rise early on several occasions, rouse Abraxas, ward and muffle the bathroom off their bedroom and press his pretty face pressed against the mirror while Tom fucked him roughly from behind if he was in a bad mood, or more slowly, face to face, with long, languorous kisses if he was in a good mood. Regardless of his mood, sex with Abraxas calmed him, and though he wished the others could have been there, Abraxas was the most accessible and the sex bound them tightly. Tom was mostly certain that Abraxas was in love with him as well as Hermione, and though Tom didn’t care about love as long as he had Abraxas’s loyalty, there was something uniquely satisfying about collecting hearts.

 

            Marguerite’s heart was currently broken, Tom knew. He barely noticed her these days, as busy as he had been with the Chamber, though he was careful not to push her away or snap at her more than usual. Tom did want access to her money and connections, and he kept Marguerite guessing, flirting just enough to give her hope. Abraxas pointed out how cruel this was on more than one occasion, but Tom didn’t care. Marguerite was useful, but now that he had slept with Hermione, had felt the magic of joining with his soul mate, and the elemental magical combining with Abraxas and Patience, there was no need to have sex with someone who didn’t add to his magic in some way, at least not at the moment. When she came to his room, pouting that he never made time for her anymore, he let her run her hands over his chest and kiss him, but always told her to leave before her mouth or fingers made it anywhere important.

 

            Now, he pushed away thoughts of Marguerite. She would be here, in the Chamber, tomorrow, but for the rest of today, he was going to enjoy the lack of extraneous company. For most of his life, Tom had preferred to be alone. He didn’t have friends at the orphanage, or at school, and he spent all the time he could in hidden corners, reading, or practicing his ability to control things. And presently? He had many people who would classify him as a friend, and three people who knew him intimately and still wanted to be with him.

 

            That was quite a feat, he understood. Tom was very self-aware, and he knew he was significantly different from other people in many ways, but especially in terms of feeling emotions and connections to other people. Walking down the corridors of Hogwarts, sitting in the classrooms, lounging in the library or Slytherin common room, he observed his fellow students. They were so relaxed with one another, girls giggling in each others’ ears and practically skipping arm in arm down the halls; boys teasing each other, lightly punching or wrestling when the teachers or prefects weren’t looking. It was no difficulty to fake casual connections, to smile at the appropriate times or open doors or give a few compliments, but touching…touching had not been a natural action until Hermione came into his life, and even now, years later, he preferred not to be touched except by a select few.

 

            But with Hermione, Abraxas, and Patience, he wanted to be touched, wanted to feel their fingers on his skin, in his hair, down his back. He thought about touching them and being touched by them more than he would admit. He told himself that it was natural – he was a teenager, and there were hormones and drives and all that rubbish. It would calm down eventually, but best to satisfy that hunger when the opportunity was upon them.

 

            Hermione had read the books on sex magic he’d liberated from the various libraries and reviewed the spell he’d used last time, and she agreed that it was neutral magic, strengthening without any draining or negative aspects. They had discussed some complimentary spells that could be used along with the first one, and spells that would bind individual pairs. There was a book in Slytherin’s library, thankfully mostly in Greek and Latin, that focused specifically on elemental magical connections. He and Hermione had translated it together and found many interesting spells.

 

            As soul mates, their bond of air and fire couldn’t be any stronger, but there were several spells designed to help strengthen all the cross connections of an elemental quartet: fire and water, earth and air, water and air, fire and earth, and earth and water. According to the text, a successful and thorough binding of elemental magic would create life-long bonds and the ability to at least partially channel and use one another’s magic. He didn’t want any of them leaving Hogwarts, going off and getting married or studying abroad without being bound in such a way that they would always return, that when he was running the magical world, they would be at his side.

 

           Tom’s plans for the future were starting to take shape. Between Slughorn, Gawain Malfoy, and Dolohov’s connections at the Ministry and his own brilliant mind, he had no doubt he could secure a place from which to work his way up to the top. The same was true for Abraxas and Hermione. Patience was a wild card, but he wasn’t worried. She seemed to instinctively know which direction to take in life to produce the best outcome. However, the more he reflected on the future, the more he realized that a direct transition into the Ministry was not the path for him. He wanted to study further, and reporting to a boss at the Ministry who would no doubt be inferior to him in every way would probably drive him to murder. No, he needed to distinguish himself in the public eye.

 

           He thought of the mess with Grindelwald, and pondered that if he could bring down that man, seen by so many as one of the greatest wizards alive, that he would be famous – a hero. Just the sort of publicity that could propel him into a high position, bypassing the need for years of low-level work. Tom could be patient when he had to be, but he would always look for the most efficient way to rise. And the fact that Grindelwald, through his followers, had killed Hermione’s father and marked her? Well, that just made the idea of hunting him down, making him suffer, and then eradicating all traces of him from the planet all the more attractive.

 

            He had begun keeping track of Grindelwald’s movements, reading the papers and listening to the radio broadcasts on low in the Slytherin common room in the late evenings. The man’s feats of magic were impressive, if they were truly as described, and Tom knew better than to rush in. He needed more practical dueling and fighting experience, but he wasn’t sure how to get it yet. Although the Dueling club was great practice, and Professor Merrythought had taught him excellent form and improved his casting speed, he couldn’t truly simulate battle conditions there. He had never fought for his life, and he needed to be comfortable doing so before attempting to face Grindelwald.

 

            Right now, though, he thought as he closed Slytherin’s journal, he had more pleasant things to occupy his mind. They were done with all the Chamber preparations, and there were many, many hours before curfew. He rose, passing a closed eye Hermione who was still getting a shoulder rub from Abraxas. Though Tom doubted anyone except himself could make sense of Slytherin’s journals, he wanted to keep them locked away and safe in the warded area of the Chamber. Carefully, he placed the book on the shelf in the inner library-sitting room.

 

            When he turned around, he found himself face to face with Patience, staring into those eyes the shade of pale sea glass, more a suggestion of blue than the color itself. Those glassy orbs were like mirrors, and Tom had never been able to read Patience in the way he did most others. He had tried legilimency on her, but unlike Hermione, whose brain had a clear and strong barrier that didn’t allow for any reading beyond what he felt as her soul mate, Patience’s mind was a wide-open, chaotic wonderland that he could spend hours in and never begin to understand. She mainly thought in pictures, and he caught flashes of dancing flowers and talking animals and honestly, it was so exhausting to try to translate into an actual thought, Tom had given up on it, at least at his current skill level with mind reading.

 

            Since Tom had spent the better part of five years being thoroughly annoyed with Patience, his appreciation of her in the past few months had come slowly, with much thought. Patience was a contradiction. She was the least like him, all flights of fancy and no plans and half the time barely present in the room, unlike his extreme focus and hyper awareness. She was his opposite – the water to his fire.

 

           And yet, she was the most like him in that she was not like others. Her brain wasn’t wired ‘normally’ either. Just like Tom, she didn’t feel or think like other people, and her morality was selective. She was the only other person who seemed to have no problem with Tom using sex to control others, or even Tom trying to control others in general. Tom was sure Patience was tapping into some psychic field, some sense of a bigger picture, that his actions were on the ‘right’ or at least predestined course, and that was why she was so accepting of his behaviors when the others protested. He wished he could see what she saw or feel what she felt, but then, no, he thought, that would probably be like smoking opium. He wasn’t sure his brain could stand a trip through Patience-land.

 

           However, his eyes were definitely enjoying the landscape. Like Hermione, though for different reasons, Patience was seen by the other students as beautiful, but untouchable. Tom simply reveled in having something no one else did. He’d overheard many a conversation since their third year about how pretty Patience was, what lovely, full lips she had, what long, long legs. He hadn’t really paid attention until this fall, but he was focused now. She was only a few inches shorter than he was, so tall for a girl, but slender and seemingly frail, though Tom would never be so foolish as to think her weak. No, there was a reason most students kept their distance from Patience. They could sense, on some level, that she was like a less malicious, but no less dangerous Siren, attractive to hear and see, but not to be approached.

 

           Currently, despite the chill of November in Hogwarts, she was wearing those blasted knee socks. Like most of the girls older than second or third year, Hermione wore stockings that went up to her mid-thigh, so that no skin was visible below the hem of her skirt, only hosiery, which this time of year, had turned to wool. True, they were secured with a sexy silk and lace garter belt, and that knowledge sometimes drove him to distraction, but Patience’s knee socks presented a very singular temptation. Her skin was smooth and pale like marble, and a neat expanse of it was exposed from the distance from the top of her knee to the hem of her skirt, which Tom noted was decidedly shorter than when she had entered the Chamber.

 

           “Patience, pet, did you shorten your skirt?” Tom inquired, laughter at the edge of his question.

 

           “Of course,” she answered blandly. “You like to look at my legs.”

 

           He did laugh then. “Yes, I do.”

 

          “And we’re all going to get naked again.”

 

           At that, he sobered, his lust hitting him like a stunning spell. Tom nodded. “Yes, we are, Patience. We’re going to do some lovely sex magic. Starting with the two of us.”

 

           “No, we already started months ago,” she went over to the green leather chair beside the shelves and sat down, spreading her legs wide open, one long limb draped over each arm of the chair, her skirt now high enough to reveal sapphire silk knickers.

 

          Tom stared. It had been a while since he’d seen under a girl’s skirt, and he liked the view. “True, but this spell is different. It is just for us.”

 

          “You want to do the spell for the cross corners, the opposite elements?” Patience asked in her high, sweet voice, but Tom was more focused on how Patience’s fingers were moving up her leg, dancing closer and closer to the silk that was getting darker by the second under Tom’s gaze. Her fingers were long, pale, and slim, like her legs, and when they grazed the edge of her knickers and slipped under, it had a hypnotic effect on Tom’s brain.

 

          He struggled for words. “Yes…did you see the spell I was discussing with Hermione last weekend?”

 

            Patience hummed and nodded as her fingers began to make slick sounds against her flesh, and though those damned knickers kept him from seeing her pretty pink cunt, Tom remembered exactly how it had felt when he’d fucked her with his fingers. His hand twitched against his leg in memory.

 

            “That’s a permanent spell, you know,” she spoke in a level tone, calm and easy, as if she weren’t touching herself, making obscene noises.

 

            “I do know,” Tom replied, happy to hear that his voice was also calm, that his intense desire had not bled into it, giving him away. “Are you afraid?”

 

            Patience shook her head. “We’re meant to be in each other’s lives – four elements, four directions, four chambers of the heart,” her eyes were not at all dreamy when she looked directly at him and asked, “Are you afraid?”

 

            Tom had started, very subtly, when she had said ‘heart’, and he knew she had noticed. He didn’t feel fear – he never felt fear. He was, however, attuned to recognizing potential weaknesses and any mention of a heart was a red flag.

 

            “No,” he scoffed, a cold mask dropping over his face out of habit. “It’s my plan. Why would I be afraid?”

           

 

            She shrugged. “Because connection of any kind with other people is difficult for you.”

 

            “But you aren’t people,” Tom stalked closer, ready to shift the balance of power in this room. “You are my pet, Patience.”

 

            Her answer was a decidedly cheeky smile, a cat in the cream. Tom wanted to smack it off her face and kiss her at the same time. She reached up and pulled her wand out from where she’d tucked it absently into the top of her long braid. Her hand was steady as she pointed it at Tom and said the spell in Greek, which roughly translated to, “burning water.”

 

            Tom pointed his wand at her almost at the same time and spoke the accompanying words of “liquid flame.” There was a flash of purple light as their magic met, like fireworks, but it quickly faded, leaving nothing except a wall of sexual tension between them.

 

            For a moment, Tom wasn’t sure how to proceed. Even though Patience seemed to know everything and have a very relaxed, at times even worldly presence, she was a virgin. He wanted her, very much, and he wanted her magic, but he wasn’t out of control like he’d been with Hermione, and he wasn’t running on pure lust, like he had with Abraxas. For some bizarre reason, he wanted to go slowly with Patience, to make sure he didn’t break her, not the least of which was that he knew Hermione would kill him if he did.

 

            “You can’t hurt me, you know,” Patience smiled.

 

            “I’m not known for being gentle,” he raised an eyebrow. “And you’re a virgin.”

 

            “That’s a meaningless designation,” she replied, her fingers moving faster beneath the blue silk, though her breathing stayed calm and steady. “It sees us as separate bodies, bodies that do or don’t do actions to one another. We’re already joined in our minds. What happens with our bodies doesn’t really matter.”

 

            Tom clenched his jaw to keep from laughing because he wasn’t sure whether or not he wanted to laugh. If he were less clever, it would be easy to write Patience off as half-insane, but Tom was brilliant, and Patience was too, in her own way, and if she said their minds were linked, he believed her, even though that made him wary as hell.

 

            He put one knee on the chair cushion between her widely spread legs and pulled her hand from her pants, lifting her fingers to his mouth and sucking them one at a time. She tasted like sea foam, and Tom thought of the trips he’d made with the other orphans to the seashore, of how he’d delighted in the special power. That magic had been merely parlor tricks compared to what he could do now, to what he would do in the future.

 

            “Just how are our minds joined, pet?” he asked, pleased that she’d made a breathy little gasp as he’d licked and sucked her fingers.

 

            “By a little bit of choice and a lot of fate,” she said, leaning forward to kiss him. It was a small, chaste kiss, a mere peck on the lips. “Your plans are too grand for one person, or even two. But a solid elemental quartet will keep you grounded while letting you also rise.”

 

            Tom pulled back, his eyes on her soft, wide lips. “How do I know I can truly trust you, little soothsayer?”

 

            Patience stared at him with her pale eyes, unblinking. “You’ve already been in my mind.”

 

            “And it makes no sense!” he snapped, annoyed that she’d felt his legilimency. “That isn’t a help.”

 

            “Your magic wouldn’t let me in if I didn’t belong there. Your walls are too strong. And I’m about to give you my virginity,” she added.

 

            “You said that didn’t matter,” he threw back.

 

            “It doesn’t,” she confirmed. “But you like to claim things, and that will make you feel good.” She came forward in a flash and bit his lip, hard. “Make me yours. It will calm you down.”

 

            Tom didn’t need to be told twice, or even once, honestly. The spell was certainly intensifying their desire, and though he still wasn’t comfortable with the idea that Patience had access, at least in some small way, to his mind, he would deal with that as it played out. Whatever she could see or feel of his future plans, she clearly approved. His priority now was to get her bound to him tightly, to make sure she would always be the water magic in his quartet.

 

           “Biting again, pet?” Tom wiped at his lip and found a faint smear of blood. “I know you don’t do that to Hermione.”

 

            Patience shook her head. Tom bent forward and slid his hands beneath her legs, lifting her and turning them so that he was sitting in the chair and Patience was straddling him, their faces only a breath apart.

 

            “What do you do with my soul mate, pet?” Tom whispered. Thoughts of Patience and Hermione sometimes kept him up at night, imagining what they did in their blue bedroom high above his.

 

            Shimmying her hips against his to find the best balance, Patience sighed. “The same kinds of things you do with Abraxas in the dungeons, I suppose.”

 

            Part of Tom’s brain exploded at the thought of picturing Patience and Hermione in some of the positions he’d been in with Abraxas. “I doubt that,” he smirked.

 

            “You shouldn’t,” Patience smirked right back. “I’ve given her more orgasms than anyone else so far.”

 

            Tom’s eyes darkened in anger. “Taunting me isn’t your best bet, pet.” Fuck going slowly, he thought as he yanked Patience’s hips against his own. “Hermione is mine, before anyone else. I let you have each other, but you are all mine. Remember who is in control here.”

 

            With that, he stood and harshly pushed her against the bookshelf, the ledge of it at just the right height to set her on. He was a lethal combination of angry and turned on, and she was warm and wet and wiggling against him, her legs wrapped tightly around his waist, her fingers threading through his hair, clearly excited as well.

 

            “I think you like making me angry, pet,” Tom’s voice had dropped lower, and he pulled back enough to run his wand down the front of her blouse, magically undoing her buttons as he went. He was pleased to see her bra matched her knickers, the same sapphire silk covering the pale swells of flesh on her chest.

 

            “I think,” he continued, vanishing her shirt, skirt, and shoes, leaving only her bra, underwear, and knee socks, “You do it on purpose because you like it when I punish you.”

 

            Patience gave a little shiver, and Tom smiled. “So, it really isn’t much of a punishment, is it? It’s a treat, a reward,” he hooked a finger under her bra strap, caressed the line of skin from her shoulder to the beginning of the slope of her breast. “It simply won’t do to reward bad behavior, pet.”

 

            Tom had never seen Patience pout, but the expression on her face was probably as close as she got to one. He laughed, pleased to have the upper hand. Her hands had settled just above his hips, and she was tugging at the back of his shirt, trying to untuck it from his trousers. He helped her, pulling off his shirt, standing before her naked to the waist.

 

            Those pale eyes widened, taking him in with an appreciative glance. “What do I need to do to be rewarded?” Patience asked softly, as she pulled him closer with her legs, her lower limbs tightening around his waist, bringing her soaked panties flush with his straining trousers.

 

            “How about doing as you are told for once, without any mouthy comments?” Tom answered, keeping his voice level and his hips still even though he wanted to rip off her knickers and pound into her. This was a test of wills, and he was going to win.

 

            “I’d say that sounds hard,” Patience tilted her hips upwards, rubbing back and forth against his groin. “But I think you know exactly how hard it is.”

 

            “Here’s your first lesson: good pets know how to be still,” Tom frowned, and waved his wand, using a sticking charm to keep her hips on the bookshelf ledge. Then, he quickly raised her hands above her head and repeated the sticking charm. He stepped back and admired his work. Patience’s face was calm, but her eyes were narrowed, and he knew he’d scored a point. Her long, lovely arms and legs were on display, spread out for him.

 

             He took a silver knife from one of the shelves behind her and slipped it between her skin and the middle of her sapphire silk bra. Her pupils dilated as the flat of the cool blade touched her chest. “Knives, Patience? Really? You are such a naughty thing.”

 

             “Only with you,” she whispered, her tone perfectly sweet and sincere.

 

              And didn’t that just hit Tom in a soft spot. He knew he was vain. He knew he liked owning things others couldn’t have, people included, having parts of them that no one else would experience. He also knew under her sweet seeming exterior, Patience was a master manipulator, though how aware she was of that, he simply couldn’t tell.   The risk – that she might know too much, that he might take too much – it was all part of their game – their dance of fire and water. The elemental opposites of their magic had to find a natural equilibrium, and he intended to establish his dominance thoroughly.

 

             With a sharp tug, he sliced, smiling at the sight of her small, pert breasts with tips the exact winter rose shade as her lips displayed to great advantage by her raised arms. He experimentally dragged the tip of the blade up her sternum, over to her left nipple. Patience remained very still, as ordered, but a low moan escaped her throat and the barest hint of a shudder passed through her.  

 

            Very carefully, pressing hard enough to leave behind a fine pink line, but not enough to break her skin, Tom criss-crossed her chest with the blade, moving lower and lower until he reached her knickers, where he cut through the fabric at her pelvic bones, letting the scrap of soaked silk fall to the floor. He placed the blade back on the shelf and began tracing the lines he’d made with his tongue.

 

            Through it all, Patience stayed perfectly still, though not silent. Her low, breathy sighs were distracting, and Tom’s cock was throbbing painfully against his pants. Because they didn’t usually have a lot of time, his sex with Abraxas tended to be rushed, quick fucks that left them breathless, not drawn-out like this. He was torn between a desire for instant gratification and a need to keep Patience wanting for as long as possible.

            When his tongue finally made it between her thighs, Patience gave a short, high-pitched shriek. “Oh!” Tom responded with a quiet chuckle and used two fingers to spread her slick folds, holding her open for his tongue and teeth.

 

            He could see her pelvic muscles strain, and he knew if it weren’t for the sticking charm, that she’d be mashing herself into his face. He turned his head and sucked a deep bruise into her inner thigh while he pushed his fingers inside her, going in and out in fast, hard movements. The muscles on the inside of her cunt were fluttering against his fingers, and he knew she was close to coming, so he pulled away and vanished the rest of his clothing.

 

            Tom muttered an end to the sticking charms, and Patience was on him before he could react, her legs wrapped around him, one hand between them, squeezing his cock and lifting herself onto him, pushing down and up against him. One second he was planning on torturing her for the rest of the night, and the next, he was inside her, gasping at the wet, hot glove around him – liquid flame, indeed.

 

            She was bouncing on him, moving up and down like she weighed nothing and gravity didn’t affect her – had she spelled herself, he wondered briefly, before pleasure completely took over his brain. Tom held onto her hips, thrusting into her, his face buried in her chest, nipping and licking at the fine marks he’d made over her skin. Her nails were raking down his back and it hurt, but he liked it, liked that he brought out the animal side of Hermione’s little pet, made her lose control. He wanted to mark her permanently, mark her with more than a spell. She was one of his things now, and he was going to keep her.

 

            “Now,” he ordered in the tone he saved for sex and violence, “be a good pet and come when you’re told.”

 

            He expected a bit of a fight, some of Patience’s naughty little passive aggressive hold out behavior, so he was shocked when she immediately clenched around him, whispering the spell from earlier over and over, her voice growing in volume as her body spasmed, but he quickly joined her, speaking his half of the words and coming so hard his knees gave out and they fell in a sweaty, panting heap on the stone floor, magic shimmering around them in waves of blue-green fire.

 

            Tom pulled her up into his lap and wrapped his arms tightly around her still shuddering form. “To whom do you belong, pet?”

 

            “Hermione,” she smiled, her sea glass eyes dreamy and perfectly unconcerned.

 

             Of course she would be difficult now, Tom thought. “And?” he prompted, squeezing tighter like a constrictor.

 

             “You, my Lord,” she whispered, and Tom instantly tensed.

 

             He had not spoken of his desire for that title to anyone except Hermione, and he knew his soul mate would not have breathed a word of it. Patience was giving him what he wanted and baiting him at the same time. If he weren’t buzzing with magic and the afterglow of excellent sex, he would have been angry. As it was, he settled for merely annoyed, which, honestly, was his default setting with Patience. Apparently even sex magic couldn’t change that.

 

             “Don’t worry,” Patience cooed in his ear. “I’ll keep all your secrets, my Lord, even the ones dipped in blood.”

 

             Her words coiled in him, like a snake at the base of his brain, waiting to strike. But he was a master of snakes, so he smiled, tilted her neck by pulling her hair and bit her along the throat until she was moaning against him, that curvy arse stirring his cock all over again. “Yes, pet, you will. Or you’ll be the one who’s bloody.”

 

              She turned with an easy laugh, pushing him back on the floor and straddling him. How did she always end up on top? “You don’t need threats with me,” her voice was doing that sing-songy thing he hated and yet found a bit cute against his will.

 

              “What do I need to do to keep you, then?” he asked, bemused by the fall of her hair over him like a pale, silky curtain, and the slide of her wet cunt over his stomach, down, down, until he was inside her again, and ohmygod that had to be sex magic, because being that hard again, that fast, should have been impossible, but the blue-green flames were still around them and he did feel on fire, in a good way. And Hermione would simply kill him if he drove Patience away, and he did like her, did want her, because she was rare and unique and so…Patience.

 

               Patience didn’t answer right away. She put one hand flat on his chest, splayed over his heart, and she took his hand and placed it in a mirror image, and she chanted the spell again, and they were, unbelievably, coming again, together, the wavy flames rushing toward them until they were hit and Patience was knocked forward, her head to his shoulder, the two of them gasping for air, magic covering their skin like a heavy mist in the air.

 

              “Swear you’ll never hurt her,” she breathed into his ear, and he swore he felt magic from her lips literally flow into his brain, surrounding it in a hazy, euphoric cloud.

 

               He shook his head, still abuzz, but trying to speak nonetheless. “I don’t love people, Patience. Not even Hermione. But I would never hurt her. She is mine, a part of me.”

 

               Those light blue eyes were icy at the moment. “You’ve already hurt her.”

 

               “The thing with Marguerite?” Tom rolled his eyes. “We’ve been over this. And I thought you were on my side.”

               “Hermione is my side,” Patience’s voice was more forceful than Tom had ever heard it. “Unlike you, I love her. You don’t have to change; you only have to be honest with her. She knows who you are. When you hide things from her, she finds out anyway, and then it’s a mess.”

 

               “Fine. No secrets. I’ll be honest with all three of you.” Tom ran a lazy palm through the corn silk of Patience’s hair. It was almost like unicorn hair, he thought idly. He was pleased to know that the key to keeping Patience was simply keeping Hermione happy, which he already planned on doing, so it involved no real extra effort.

 

                He brushed aside her hair and trailed his fingers down the long line of her back. Her skin was smooth and without marks, unlike Hermione and Abraxas, who both had little freckles and moles and assorted scars from life and war and Quidditch and, in Hermione’s case, his words. The lines on her chest from the knife had already faded, and Tom was filled with a desire to put a permanent mark on her so that anyone who looked at her would know she was claimed. Hermione might fuss and claim that was a barbaric tendency, but he knew she loved seeing her words on him, and that she’d probably secretly like some kind of variation of a magical tattoo of theirs on Patience and Abraxas.

 

“How are your drawing skills these days, pet?” he asked with a smile.

 

Chapter Text

         

 

           Hermione’s head was throbbing. Even with the headache potion and Abraxas’s clever fingers working another kind of magic on her neck and shoulders, Hermione was only a few minutes away from a full-blown migraine. She knew the muffled sounds, vibrations, and magical exertion of the blasting had exacerbated the pain, but the true cause was the slow weaning from the potion she’d been taking daily for the last five years. Though there was nothing harmful in Narcissa’s potion, it did have mood enhancing effects, and to be on a much lower dosage this year, right when OWLs were looming, and Tom was exploring the Chamber of Secrets, and she had to worry about somehow triggering the final stage of the soul mate bond and giving Tom access to her mind? And to finally, finally, finally, after years of age regression, be able to explore her sexuality again, only to find herself in an elemental magic quartet that was bound mostly with sex magic? Well, stressed didn’t begin to cover it.  

 

            She’d read a few passages in Slytherin’s journals that Tom had pointed out to her, and they both decided, in their growing familiarity with old English, that the Hogwarts founders had been an elemental quartet, though not a sexual one. Slytherin and Gryffindor were soul mates, if rumors and the Hat were reliable sources, but Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff were simply dearest friends with one another and with the other pair. They had clearly explored their complimentary elemental magic in the amazing act of building and warding Hogwarts, and it made Hermione hopeful for the future, that their combined magic could achieve great things.

 

                She was well aware that Tom wanted them all bound quickly and tightly so that he could feel in control of the situation. From her roommate’s mischievous look when Patience had followed Tom out of the library, Hermione had a feeling there was sex magic happening right now, on the other side of the wall.

 

               In fact, she had more than a general feeling. She could sense Tom’s pleasure and humor, and that actually calmed her nerves a bit. What Tom seemed to be ignoring was that sexual magic worked both ways, and he was giving more of himself than he realized, making personal connections that the Tom Riddle from the previous timeline had never had. Also, if Tom was distracted by Patience and Abraxas, the chances that they would end up somehow fucking themselves right into the last soul mate stage was lowered, though she doubted that was truly a risk. Hermione still hadn’t been able to find any additional information on what caused total mental unity between soul mates, but her logical brain told her that it couldn’t simply be sex or even lots of sex. The soul mate bond was already sexual, so to push it to a further level must require something beyond mere physical intensity.

 

               The last few months hadn’t allowed for much free time to research, between classwork and preparing the Chamber. It still made Hermione nervous to walk past Astarte coiled up in the antechamber, even if her eyes were clouded. She was a bundle of nerves, waiting for something to go wrong, and her continuous state of anxiety, as well as working hard to keep that feeling out of her bond with Tom, was beginning to take a toll.

 

              “Your shoulders feel like they’re made of wood,” Abraxas murmured, his hands working against her shoulder blades. “What has you so upset? Is it Marguerite coming down here tomorrow?”

 

               Hermione shook her head. “No,” she said honestly. “I’ve gotten over that. I’m not going to like her, but I really was holding Tom to a standard he simply couldn’t achieve, and, besides, I have you and Patience as well now.”

 

               “He’s sent her away every time she’s come to our room the last few months,” Abraxas used his thumbs to push on a knot along her spine, making Hermione groan. “She’s not happy.”

 

              “Mmm,” Hermione sighed. “Poor thing. I suppose you are more the cause of that than I am. Tom has you right there in his room, and he’d rather be with you than her.”

 

              Abraxas mumbled something unintelligible. Hermione grinned, though she knew he couldn’t see it. She couldn’t resist teasing him a bit. “Two healthy young men like yourselves, I’m sure you’re working off plenty of…steam.”

 

             “You forget that I’ve seen you riding Patience’s thigh, Hermione,” Abraxas replied, running his fingers up to her neck, making small circles at the base of her skull. “I am absolutely positive that things are just as…steamy upstairs.”

 

            “Point taken,” she paused. “Did you enjoy it? Watching us?”

 

            “Of course. You are both beautiful.” His hands stopped then started again, fumbling slightly in her hair. “Did you enjoy watching me with Tom?”

 

               Hermione felt a rush of warmth between her legs at the mental picture the memory supplied her with. “It was the most arousing thing I’ve seen – all of us together, sharing our bodies and our magic. It was a lot to process at once, not something I would have imagined myself doing, but now that we’ve all been together, it feels natural. Our magic fits together – we’ve seen that in action after the initial spell a few months ago.”

 

            He nodded and continued to massage her shoulders, and she drank another headache potion, and the tension finally started to ebb away.

 

              “Tom really wants to do more elemental bonding, with the various pairs, as well as all of us again,” Abraxas closed Hermione’s book and put her notes away on a shelf. He glanced toward the back rooms. “I think Tom and Patience may have already started on their pairing.”

 

                “Oh, they definitely have,” Hermione smiled wickedly. “I can feel Tom’s pleasure, especially since he’s so close.”

 

                He looked impressed. “How does that even work?”

 

               “When he feels something strongly – pleasure or anger, I can feel it, like a tingling at the edges of my magic, in my body. It is usually a general sensation. I can’t read his mind, though the closer we are, the more I can intuit.”

 

               Abraxas watched her carefully. “So, what do you sense now?”

 

               Hermione laughed. “He and Patience are…bonding. And he is thoroughly enjoying it.”

 

               Abraxas gave her a slow, sexy grin that increased blood flow to all her erogenous zones.   “I’d like to do some bonding as well.”

 

              “And here I left all my ropes and chains in my room,” Hermione joked.

 

              “We don’t need them,” Abraxas was beside her, pulling her to her feet and flush with his body. “I get all tied up inside every time you smile at me.”

 

              She opened her mouth, but he was kissing her before she could think of a witty response. As usual with Abraxas, the kiss went on and on, slow and sweet, and just so good. He made kissing an art form, and Hermione barely had the presence of mind to transfigure one of the leather arm chairs into a chaise before they were lying on it, their hands in each other’s hair and down one another’s backs, but the kissing no more hurried.

 

             After several minutes, he pulled away enough to press his lips to her forehead and sigh, “I could kiss you all day.”

 

             She laughed softly into his collarbone, her own lips finding the hollow of his throat. “I don’t think this spell works with just kissing.”

 

             He raised one pale eyebrow in mock offense. “Is this just a ploy to get me naked?”

 

             “Yes, absolutely,” she nodded emphatically as she slid her wand from her sleeve. “I simply can’t stand another second with that gorgeous body of yours covered.” She waved her wand and his clothes were neatly folded on the table several feet away.

 

              Abraxas laughed so hard, he almost fell off chaise. “I can’t believe you did that, you lusty wench!” He threw up his hand and Hermione’s clothes were simply gone, nowhere to be seen.

 

             “Lusty wench?  I hope you’ve been practicing on retrieving items as much as you’ve clearly been working on vanishing them, because I liked that dress, you insatiable rogue!” Hermione snapped, adding in a grudging tone, “Good work with the wandless and nonverbal spell, though.”

 

            “Well, my motivation factor was high,” Abraxas admitted, running his fingers down her arms so lightly that she shivered. “I really am an insatiable rogue when it comes to you, and I’ve been dying to see you naked again for weeks.”

 

             He summoned his wand from the table, pointed it at her, and spoke the spell. It translated to something like “dust in the wind,” which made Hermione think of the famous song, though, of course, that song didn’t exist yet, like the rest of her previous life.  She had to make the most of this one, this amazing chance she’d been given to save the world.   With a small flourish, she aimed her wand at him and spoke the accompanying words, which were a bit scary, since they seemed to mean “whirlwind” or “tornado.” She was sure this would be an intense spell, made more so by their feelings for one another.

 

            They lay side by side, kissing and touching for several more minutes, and if Abraxas had pushed her at all, she probably would have panicked. It was overwhelming to go from zero to three lovers in such a short time, and to adjust years of belief in monogamy. She wasn’t a prude; she never had been, despite what Lavender Brown and her little gaggle had thought. Hermione had simply had other priorities and been unsure of her physical body. Now, having experienced sex in more variations than she would have imagined, she was more confident in her body, but her mind was still reeling.

 

            Tom was her soul mate, and she loved him, even if he wasn’t capable of loving her back in the same way. He was also her duty, her obligation, her mission. She and Narcissa had assumed the awesome responsibility of rewriting history, and every decision she made had an impact on the future. Keeping Tom human, with an intact soul was her primary purpose, not her own pleasure. There had been more than one night since September when she’d worried herself to sleep, wondering if she was just as bad at pleasure seeking as Tom was, if pulling Patience and Abraxas deeper into Tom’s orbit was wise. He was so excited about the elemental magic, though, and could it really be a bad thing for him to connect to more people, to care for them in his fashion?

 

            And, she thought, as Abraxas’s fingers tangled in her hair, and his mouth deepened their kiss, in Tom’s mind, he had given her Abraxas and Patience, as if they were presents, given them to her to supply her with the types of affection he couldn’t provide. Of course, the two had come willingly because they loved her, and she loved them, so rejecting them and trying to engage in some kind of traditional, one-sided monogamous relationship with Tom just because that was the model she’d always seen in society would be an insane level of masochism. No, she realized, she had to adapt to the realities before her, and make the best choices she could in any particular moment. And right now, in this moment, Abraxas was showering her with love and she needed to return it.

 

           Hermione could feel the spell working on them, a sense of urgency building as their kisses became almost frantic, their hands moving faster, stroking lower and lower. She shivered as Abraxas’s finger lightly traced circles on the little dip at the top of her arse. She’d never realized how sensitive that spot was before. Her hips moved upward with no prompting from her conscious mind, her breath shortening.

 

          “You are so beautiful,” Abraxas spoke against her lips, though his mouth began trailing downward. “I can’t think when I’m touching you. I just want to please you.”

 

           “I’m not the only beautiful one,” she protested, though weakly. Abraxas knew he was good looking. His desire to please was lovely and sweet, but she wondered if he had received much personal attention in the last few months. Tom had been all over him, she was sure, but Tom, though the sexiest thing alive, was not a particularly giving lover. He pulled orgasms from his lovers’ bodies, rather than gave them, forcing them to the edge of pleasure, then pushing them over with sadistic glee. “And I think it’s your turn to be pleased.”

 

           She moved down, letting her curls slide down his chest as her lips kissed the line that went from his breastbone to his belly button.   At his navel, she traced the blank skin, wishing briefly that she could keep him with her and Tom and Patience forever, that he wouldn’t have to get married and live a life separate from them in only a few more years. She wondered if Tom’s possessive nature was rubbing off on her, because she just couldn’t bear the thought, so she pushed it far away, concentrating on the warmth of his skin beneath her own. His temperature ran hot, and she wanted to wrap herself in him like a blanket.

 

           Abraxas took a shaky breath when Hermione’s lips finally touched the place where his thigh met his groin. “You don’t need to do that,” he tried to pull her up, grasping at her shoulders.

 

          Her fingers slipped between his legs, cupping the tender sac in her palm, one thumb ghosting over the thin, sensitive skin. “I want to,” she said firmly, dropping a light kiss on the head of his cock. “Show me what to do. I don’t have much experience with this.”

 

          “Ah,” he closed his eyes briefly. “You seem to do be doing very well.”

 

           “You know I’m a quick learner,” she teased, her mouth now licking a path down his rigid shaft, swallowing the tip of him for an instant, sucking hard, then releasing him with a pop. “Always the top of the class.”

 

          He gently placed his hands on either side of her head, guiding her without pushing. “You can be on top of me whenever you want, love,” he moaned.

 

          His eyes were closed again, and Hermione didn’t stop moving her mouth, alternating long licks with twists of her hand and sucking and kissing along the head and shaft until he was thrusting his hips toward her, his fingers twisting tighter and tighter in her curls. Always the gentleman, he still wasn’t forcing her head down, but she found she wanted to go closer, take him more deeply in her mouth. With one finger pressed firmly to the spot directly below his bullocks (which she had read years and worlds ago in one of her mother’s guilty pleasure Cosmo magazines was a magic spot for men), she surrounded him with her mouth, doing her best to relax the back of her throat. The sound from his throat alone was worth the effort, and she tasted a slight, salty flavor leaking onto her tongue as she swirled it around him like she would a lolly.

 

           Once, she had thought that going down on a man seemed a bit demeaning, something women did to please men, but not themselves. Now, having done it twice (even though Tom had barely let her spend five minutes on him due to his control issues), she cheerfully revised her opinion. It was sexy and powerful, holding such a vulnerable part of her lover’s anatomy in her mouth, at the mercy of her lips, tongue, and teeth. And Abraxas was definitely at her mercy, writhing and groaning. Her cunt was slick against his leg, her inner muscles throbbing at the noises she was wringing from him.

 

           “Oh, love, please, stop,” Abraxas managed to get out between gasps of pleasure. “I…that’s amazing…but I don’t want this to end just yet.” He lifted her head, staring into her eyes with a dazed but determined expression. “Come up here.”

 

            She crawled up his body, grazing the hard tips of her breasts along his skin, the wetness between her thighs slicking his leg and hip. Resting her head to his chest, she listened to his steady heartbeat, felt it speed up as she closed her hand around his cock, lazily stroking up and down.   His fingers, thick and strong, went between her legs, caressing lightly, then slipped into her, stretching at her walls, the callouses from holding the Quidditch brooms pulling at the ribbed lining of her cunt, each drag a flurry of sensation.

 

            “Can we do this forever?” he asked, kissing her neck as he removed his fingers and pulled her on top of him.

 

             Despite the fact she was no longer a virgin, no longer a novice, Hermione flushed. Abraxas’s desire for her, so much more than lust, the way he called her ‘love’, warmed her heart, and she wanted to pretend, even for just a few minutes, that this wouldn’t become terribly complicated. Her stupid brain didn’t get the memo, though, because a response tumbled out of her mouth before she could censor it. “I don’t think the future Lady Malfoy would like that.”

 

            Abraxas was rather good-natured. He put up with Tom’s behavior, submitting like the obedient right-hand man he was. He worshipped Hermione and amused Patience, flirted adorably with all the ladies of Hogwarts who wanted him to, and saved all his aggression for the Quidditch pitch, where he was single-mindedly vicious in his protection of the hoops, earning a fearsome reputation that most students found difficult to reconcile with his easy-going attitude in school. But when Hermione spoke those words, his grey eyes blazed a terrible combination of rage and sorrow.

 

            “You are the only Lady Malfoy I want,” his voice was harsh and forceful, more a tone that Tom would use. As he spoke, he tugged at her hips and was inside her, suddenly filling her with a hard, burning stretch.

 

             She gasped, both at the feel of him, which was delightful, and his statement, which was terrifying on multiple levels. “Your father,” she began, but then he was thrusting upwards and she couldn’t form words against the rush of pleasure.

 

            “Fuck my father,” he hissed, moving faster. “I’m his only heir. He can’t give away the title or money, and he can’t force me to do anything.”

 

            “Tom,” she gasped, biting her lip, because one of Abraxas’s hands had moved from her hip to her clit, and he was pinching and rubbing at the nub and she was sure she was going to fall apart or explode or something equally dramatic.

 

            “You’re his, I know,” he moaned, his voice softening a bit as she began to ride him in earnest, chasing after the rising sensations inside her. “I know.  But I’m his, too, and we’re each others, and we can all be together, but I have to marry, and I only want to call you ‘wife,’ and it will make the Malfoy money and power his forever. He isn’t the marrying kind, love.”

 

            “I know,” she moaned, her orgasm coming closer and closer, the magic between them building, and she felt a bit of panic. What had they done? Binding their magic when there was already so much emotion involved? She wasn’t sure this had been a good idea, but it was too late now.

 

            Abraxas sat up, pulling her close, embracing her upper half with incredible tenderness even as he fucked the living daylights out of her lower half. She pushed her fingers in the muscles of his back, scrambling for something solid, something to hold onto against the explosion that was coming their way. Whirlwind had been the right word. They were going to be blown apart, laid bare, and Tom was going to come and pick at their bones.  Their love for each other, for their love for him, gave Tom all the power, and he would run with it.

 

            Her body started to shake violently, and he was kissing her and whispering against her mouth, “I love you, Hermione. I love you. I want to marry you. I want you to have my children. I want you to be happy,” and those words made their way into all the vulnerable places in her heart and she came against him, screaming silently because she was actually gasping for breath as he thrust into her, shuddering and shaking until they may have passed out.

Chapter Text

 

            Tom stood in the doorway to the Chamber library, a naked Patience standing beside him, so close he could feel a few fine strands of her loose hair brushing his arm. He’d thrown his trousers back on, but his chest and feet were bare. He’d felt Hermione’s magic rising just as he and Patience had been collapsing against one another, and the pull of it was irresistible. Abraxas’s magic was there was well, mingled with his soul mate’s. Once he’d been able to move, he had tugged at his pet’s hand and they’d walked quietly down the short hall.

 

            What they’d found was two bodies, one pale, one a bit more golden, tangled together, moving like one fluid machine, Abraxas whispering words of love and devotion, as well as a fucking marriage proposal, until they both shuddered themselves right into unconsciousness and the air was suffused with their combined magic. Tom remembered when he’d claimed Hermione, how it had felt like they’d left their bodies, how their words had transformed. Standing there in the doorway, he could feel her pleasure, knew it was intense, beautiful, but it wasn’t what they had experienced. That knowledge calmed the anger that had flared up and he let out a long exhale, clearing his mind.

 

            “Love is sweet,” Patience announced, her cool fingers absently tracing the words on Tom’s forearm. “Hermione would make a lovely Lady Malfoy – better than any of the other ones so far.”

 

            Only a few hours ago, Tom would probably have ignored Patience’s comment, or snapped at her. Now, after the spell they’d just done, he felt a connection to her, an awareness of her and her magic that made him more generous and tolerant, though not that generous and tolerant. “Love is foolish, a weakness,” he answered automatically.

 

            “So, you don’t care, then?” Patience slipped her hand down into his, grasping his fingers.

 

            Tom felt the surge of their magic. It was intoxicating, all that power Patience kept hidden. Their spell, and the remnants of the one in this room, made Tom feel a bit drunk on the magical energy flowing around and through them.

 

            “Don’t think you can trick me into showing emotion that isn’t there in the first place, pet,” Tom replied calmly, his eyes running over the naked bodies in front of them. He’d touched both of those bodies, intimately, and wanted to do so again, very, very soon. They could do with a reminder of who was in charge, especially Abraxas.

 

            Patience started to hum and danced away, taking a book off one of the shelves, settling naked and cross-legged on the floor in front of one of the fireplaces, which roared to life as she sank down.

 

            Tom walked slowly toward the chaise, working through the complications before him as quickly as he could. Nothing had to happen right away, of course. They had two more years of schooling, and even if Abraxas’s parents were anxious to see him engaged, he could put them off at least until graduation. Even if Hermione had been touched by Abraxas’s romantic words, she was too strong-willed and sensible to want to get married at a young age. He knew that she was just as puzzled as he was at how quickly and seriously magical students as young as sixteen (and even occasionally younger) were paired off, engaged, and then married before the ink was dry on their Hogwarts diplomas.

 

            She spoke frequently of all the advanced magical studies she was interested in, of seeking out apprenticeships for mastery levels. On the other hand, she probably would want a permanent home and family life one day, something like Narcissa had with Galatea. He tried to imagine a future with Hermione separate from him, living in a different home, or even a different city, and he found himself angry at the mere idea of it. Then, he tried to imagine the same without Abraxas, or even Patience. Even now, across the room, Patience was humming that bloody awful tune and he found himself involuntarily smirking. When had the company of three other people become so much a part of his daily life that he was thinking of a future with them, not just his own plans?

 

            Hermione was stirring, her head twisting as though trying to shake herself awake. She was very beautiful, his soul mate, and looking at her did make him feel like nothing else in the world, nothing except magic coursing through his skin. She was a part of his magic, a part of him, and just as Abraxas and Patience amused and pleased him, they made Hermione happy. He glanced at Abraxas, who had begun moving as well, one arm wrapped around Hermione’s waist, his face against her shoulder. They all had to stay together, Tom thought, because that was his will, and he would keep them together, even if that required some creative solutions in the future beyond Hogwarts.

 

            Those honey colored eyes were open now, and when she met Tom’s gaze, her cheeks flushed a rosy tint. He grinned at her, ready to put her at ease for the moment. “I trust your cross corners bonding went as well as mine?”

 

            Even though she was completely naked, she nodded primly as she sat up. Abraxas stood, looking sideways at Tom as if searching for cues. He couldn’t resist making the blonde squirm just a tad. “Though, I must say, I didn’t propose marriage to Patience, so we must have done something wrong.”

 

            Abraxas went paler than usual, nearly snow white. “I simply said what I was feeling – you already know that I love her-”

 

            Tom slid a hand behind Abraxas’s neck and pulled him close, until their lips were touching. “I’m not mad at you. I believe it’s called teasing.”

 

            “Oh,” a shudder of relief passed through Abraxas’s shoulders, and Tom kissed him, more gently than he normally did.

 

            “No one is getting married right now, anyway,” Hermione stood and hugged Abraxas from behind, her hands reaching past his hips and pulling on Tom’s as well. “And we aren’t going to hold what people say in the moment of orgasm against them.”

 

            Tom laughed, kissing Hermione over Abraxas’s shoulder, thinking of some of the obscenities he himself had wrung from Abraxas’s lips, and the way ‘my Lord’ had sounded coming from both his soul mate and their pet. “A good policy, I’m sure,” he vowed to make sure Abraxas said those words very soon.

 

            He was pleased to know that he was right about what Hermione wanted, at least for the meantime, and eager to do the group spell again now that they’d established some of the cross quarter bonds. Tom still needed to do the formal bond with Abraxas, and Hermione with Patience, but since those were the roommate pairings, they could probably find the time and space to perform those bindings late at night in a warded dormitory bathroom, or even in their beds with the proper blurring and muffling spells in place. Now, while they had the opportunity, he wanted to feel them all together, feel the difference in their strengthened bonds.

 

            He looked directly at Hermione this time and spoke the general spell. She shook her head, but there was a smile playing at the corner of her mouth. “Aren’t you exhausted?”

 

            Tom held her gaze, and put his hands over hers, pulling her closer, and grinding his hips into Abraxas, who was still between them. “Abraxas isn’t too tired,” Tom noted as he felt his roommate’s cock stir against his own.

 

            “You know, there’s a term that might apply to you - nymphomaniac,” Hermione scolded playfully, letting them go and walking over to offer a hand to Patience, who practically leapt into her arms.

 

            “Shall we go sit on the bed and be entertained by our boys?” Hermione asked her, giggling at the indignant looks that immediately covered Tom’s and Abraxas’s faces.

           

            “You read my mind,” Patience twirled one of Hermione’s curls and kissed her nose. “Do you think the house elves would bring us popped corn?”

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

            Three hours later, as well as several bowls of popped corn, Hermione didn’t think she had a body left. The sex had been wonderful, as always, but the magic raised and shared between them had left her in a state that she supposed was similar to some drug like ecstasy. Unlike with just Tom or Abraxas, when the magic channeled had overwhelmed her, this magic flowed easily between the four of them, spread out enough so that no one passed out, though they all felt euphoric and able to do anything.

 

            Tom had insisted on doing spell after spell together afterwards to test the effect on their magic, levitating and vanishing half the furniture in the bedroom, summoning items from the library, and even unlocking the chest in the corner, and using their combined magic to disarm a few of the cursed objects they hadn’t been able to previously. One of those objects was a delicate silver bracelet that slowly cut into the wearer’s flesh.

 

           After they’d removed the curse, Tom put on the bracelet on Patience, transfiguring the simple chain into a snake swallowing its tail. She, in turn, changed the color to a bold, metallic blue and made Tom teach her how to say “pretty” in parseltongue so she could enchant the snake’s head to hiss it periodically.

 

          “Snakes do not slither around calling things pretty,” he’d protested, but he had made a series of low hissing sounds at Patience, repeating them three times until she was satisfied and her bracelet was making a vague approximation of whatever word he’d actually said.

 

          Hermione had hugged him then, full of affection, and some amazement, at how normal he was acting. He kissed her hair and swung her onto the bed. Abraxas was on the bed, more asleep than not, and Patience was curled in the chair, alternately reading a book and hissing along with her bracelet.

 

          “You are in an excellent mood,” Hermione observed, leaning into his fingers, which were tracing the words on her stomach. She sighed, enjoying the sensation, which was closer to love than she’d ever felt from him. He was very happy at all their magic, and he wasn’t upset by the variance in their individual bonds.

 

          “So are you,” he replied, taking her hand and placing it on his arm, so they were touching each other’s words, and their magic was thrumming in the air, shimmering like a heat wave.

 

        “Oh, Tom,” she smiled. It had been too long since they had done that, and the connection was stronger than ever, a joy she felt to her toes, to the ends of her curls. “I’ve missed this.”

 

          He hissed low in her ear. “So have I, dearest. Just remember that I’m the only one who can make you feel like this. I am your soul mate, and my touch is the one your body craves most, the one your magic craves most.”

 

          She didn’t smile because she knew he would see that as a challenge, and she wanted to reassure him, to soothe the tiny, rarely acknowledged part of him that still had the mindset of an orphan, that still worried she might not be his to keep.

 

          “We are forever, Tom, beyond time and space and any other arbitrary boundaries.” Leaning down, she kissed his words gently, then raised up to kiss his lips. “I am yours, Tom Marvolo Riddle. Never doubt that.”

 

          “I don’t.” His voice was cool and even a bit scoffing, but Hermione felt his relief through their magic, the way his emotions settled, and she relaxed fully for the first time in months, feeling safe and secure and more hopeful for the future than she had in years.

 

-oOo0oOo-

 

            When they finally left the Chamber, with hardly time to spare to get back to their dormitories before curfew, Abraxas kissed both the ladies’ hands, and even Patience flushed a little. Tom, in contrast, kissed Hermione’s mouth soundly and bit Patience’s neck, leaving behind a rapidly darkening bruise. Then, he walked away, silently laughing at Hermione tutting over another mark they would need to heal or disguise on the way to Ravenclaw Tower.

 

            Abraxas followed him, and when the blonde caught up with his long strides, Tom teased, “You never kiss my hand.”      

 

            “Do you want me to?” Abraxas laughed.

 

            “I imagine you’ll be kissing most of me soon enough,” Tom briefly squeezed his roommate’s arm in the empty hall. “We still have our spell to perform.”

 

            A barely-there flush crossed over Abraxas’s cheeks. “Hermione might be right – how much sex can a person have in a day?”

 

            Tom gave him a sideways smile. “Night has fallen, Abraxas. You’re just mine now.”

 

            The flush came out in full-force at that, and Abraxas didn’t respond. They walked quickly toward the dungeons, but Tom didn’t let the silence stay.

 

            “Why do you love her?” he asked, his voice neutral, no hint of accusation, or even real curiosity.

 

            Abraxas stopped for a moment, looking directly into Tom’s eyes for a trap. When he didn’t see one, he resumed his pace, taking several seconds before answering, “For the same reasons you do.”

 

            Tom laughed. “I don’t love anyone.”

 

            “You do everything a person in love would do. You enjoy her company, like to hear her laugh, desire to impress her, not to mention, you can’t keep your hands off of her these past few months, and she is your bloody soul mate.” Abraxas had stopped again, his grey eyes not blinking as he faced Tom. “You might not feel things in the exact same way, but you value her the way a person in love values another. Call it what you like, but it’s love, in some shape or form.”

 

            Though his first instinct was to push Abraxas against the stone wall, hard, Tom let out a breath and continued walking. “You didn’t answer the question,” his voice was cold as the air around them now. “Please do so.”

 

            Abraxas shivered slightly. The more polite Tom became, the more danger was present. He gathered his thoughts. “I love her because she is everything I have never had. My family is not kind. They do not give away smiles, or help anyone without securing a deal in advance. The only thing that ties us is our blood, our traditions, which you and Hermione have forced me to re-evaluate and throw to the winds. She is the only person I have ever met who holds me to no standard other than basic humanity. She is the only person who has never asked anything of me. She doesn’t care about the Malfoy name or money – if anything, she scorns it. She is brilliant and beautiful and I feel like I could do anything when she looks at me with those big brown eyes and smiles simply because she is happy to see me.”

 

            He had spoken while they walked, and Tom was glad he was not looking at Abraxas’s face. He wasn’t sure how well he would have taken the fucking adoration he surely would have seen if he had glanced over. He had already known, on some level, everything Abraxas had just said. Having spent weeks at a time at Malfoy Manor in the summer, Tom knew exactly how different Abraxas’s home life was from the easy, unconditional affection that was continuously present at the Merrythought estate, or the little cottage in Hogsmeade.

 

            The Malfoys were not overtly cruel, but there was no hint of love, only approval, and that approval was contingent upon Abraxas’s performance at school, at Quidditch, at the social luncheons conducted entirely in French, and his impeccable personal appearance (no slouching, tie perfectly knotted, hair either tied back or pomaded within an inch of its life). If Tom allowed himself to be introspective for a minute, he could easily find parallels with the Malfoy home and the orphanage in London. Yes, Abraxas had anything and everything money could buy, but he was emotionally impoverished. Of course he would be enthralled by someone like Hermione – who was simply kind and loving because that was her core nature.  If a person valued love, then Hermione was the jackpot.

 

            “Do you not want me to love her?” Abraxas asked quietly, but they had reached the Slytherin dormitory entrance.

 

            “We’ll talk later,” Tom simply replied, not looking his way.

 

            Marguerite was sitting on a couch by the fire, homework for History of Magic in front of her. She glanced up when they entered. “Rumors are starting about you two,” she said as she quickly returned her gaze to her parchment and scratched a few lines.  Tom noticed that the quill she used was dull at the tip and smirked at the memory of Hermione's act of anger.

 

            Tom walked over and sat beside her, reviewing what she had written. Marguerite was needy and grasping, but she was also clever and rich, and he didn’t want to completely alienate her. “I care nothing for rumors. We have a surprise for everyone. All these weeks, we’ve been working on something amazing, and we’ll share it with you tomorrow.”

 

            She did her best not to look pleased. “Is that so? Well, I’m sure Thad will be happy.”

 

            “Oh, you’ll be happy, too,” Tom replied, as he stood. “Be at breakfast by seven, please. And make sure Vidhi knows as well.”

 

            Abraxas and Tom went toward the boys’ rooms and stopped into tell Dolohov, Sebastian, and Thad that the study group needed to meet first thing after breakfast, then headed to their own room, where Corvus and Jacob were playing a game of wizarding chess.

 

            “Would it do any good to ask where you’ve been all day, again?” Corvus met Abraxas’s eyes. As the Slytherin House seeker, as well as a fellow Pureblood who was related as some fourth or fifth cousin, Corvus Black was probably Abraxas’s best friend after Tom. Their hours of practice together had made an unspoken bond, and they could read each other well.

 

            “Ask me again in the morning,” Tom replied lazily, answering for Abraxas, sprawling across his bed.

 

            Jacob took Corvus’s remaining bishop. “What does that mean? Everyone really misses our weekend practices. There isn’t enough time in the evenings to get into the better spells, not after all the OWL studying Hermione is making everyone do.”

 

            “You’ll thank her after the tests,” Tom said from across the room. “You do need the extra study time in Arithmancy.”

 

            Abraxas pulled up a seat and watched the game. “He’s going to take your Queen in three moves,” he told Corvus.

 

            Jacob reached over and punched Abraxas’s arm. “Don’t bloody tell him!”

 

            Corvus glared at the board. “How? I hate this game!”

 

            “We’re meeting after breakfast tomorrow,” Abraxas said as he moved Corvus’s knight for him to Jacob’s continued dismay. “Trust me, what’s happening tomorrow will have been worth the wait.”

 

            “I hope so,” Jacob grumbled.

 

            Corvus snorted. “You’re just mad because you haven’t had as much time with a certain little dark-haired Ravenclaw.”

 

            Abraxas laughed as Jacob scowled. “Josephine is quite pretty,” he winced as piece of destroyed pawn flew up in his face.

 

            “It is more important that she’s clever and powerful,” Tom added, still on the bed. “If you are thinking about getting engaged, those are more important factors. Looks fade, but power and intelligence remain.”

 

            “No one is talking about engagement,” Jacob insisted, his ears red, his eyes on the board.

 

            “Patience told me in Herbology that you’re on Felicity’s parents’ short list of suitable candidates,” Corvus grinned, starting to move his rook, then rethinking when Abraxas subtly shook his head toward the king.

 

            "Stop helping him cheat, Abraxas!" Jacob muttered, then added, his eyebrows raised incredulously. “Patience says the weather is controlled by fairies. She’s hardly a reliable source.”

 

            All four boys laughed at that, and the subject was dropped. They fell into companionable conversation on easy topics like schoolwork and professors and the upcoming Quidditch match with Gryffindor. Once Corvus had been beaten, though Abraxas helped him enough to draw the game out for an hour longer, they went to bed.

 

            Tom cast a sleeping spell on Corvus and Jacob to make sure they stayed asleep, then went over to Abraxas, who was wide awake, staring up at the emerald hangings on the bed. His roommate looked troubled, and Tom was annoyed that he didn’t like to see the frown on Abraxas’s face. Caring for others was a horrible inconvenience, and it gave others power that Tom found unacceptable.  Still, he could feel the effects of the group spell, tiny tendrils of Abraxas’s earthy magic reaching out to him, and Tom didn’t want to deny himself.

 

            “Come with me,” Tom took his hand.

 

            Abraxas didn’t move, nor did he look at Tom.

 

            “That wasn’t a request,” Tom added, his fingers tightening around Abraxas's palm, digging in.

 

            “So you can take the anger you didn’t show Hermione earlier out on me now?” Abraxas asked, though there wasn’t any emotion in his voice.

 

            “Well, you’ll need to get your arse into the bathroom to learn the answer to that question. I suggest you not make me wait any longer,” Tom said coldly, then walked to the bathroom.

 

            Sighing, Abraxas followed him, knowing that testing Tom’s limits would only make matters worse. Tom didn’t hesitate to use hexes or worse if he was angry, though he always performed his angry magic wandlessly, and never anything that left a mark. Which didn’t mean that he couldn’t make it hurt like hell. Tom’s power had grown exponentially over the last year especially, and now he was finding new spells in the Chamber every week.  

 

            Tom was usually restrained, and only struck out at his fellow Slytherins when they did something he found either a personal insult or slurs about blood status. Even the most fervent Blood-purists soon learned not to speak about dirty blood. It was common knowledge that the term mudblood would send Tom into a rage. And once one had seen Tom in a rage? Well, one wasn’t likely to want a repeat performance. Abraxas hadn’t truly been on the receiving end of Tom’s rage, though he’d certainly felt his anger.

 

           Abraxas couldn’t believe he’d spoken so honestly in the hallway, about Tom loving Hermione, and about how he felt about Hermione. I must be the worst glutton for punishment in the whole fucking world, he thought. Maybe the Hat misplaced me, because that was a fucking dumb-ass Gryffindor move if there ever was one.

 

          The bathroom was only lowly lit, candles floating high in the air and creating deep shadows. The mirrors that lined the two opposite walls above the four sinks made illusions of a grand space. Tom was standing in the center, facing away, his hands behind his back, that pale, viciously curved wand twitching in his fingers. Abraxas swallowed as he shut the door and put locking and sound wards on it.

 

         “Why are you so scared tonight, Abraxas?” Tom asked without turning around. “Have I ever really hurt you? Even when you touched Hermione without permission? Didn’t I forgive you?”

 

          Abraxas looked in the mirror, gazing at Tom’s profile, which gave nothing away. He could have been carved from marble. “I think that when we start talking about love, then all the previous rules dissolve,” he finally said, deciding he would be honest, no matter the consequences. “Because love is the one thing that scares you.”

 

          Whirling around, Tom had Abraxas up against the tile in what felt like an instant. Abraxas had seen it coming, of course; he was a keeper, he was used to having objects flying toward him at high speeds. He could have deflected the assault, but he didn’t. With Tom, he had learned, the greatest, and really only, power was in submission.

         “I am continuously amazed at the growing number of people who think they know my mind,” Tom hissed. “Just because I fuck you doesn’t mean I owe you anything, that I feel anything for you.”

 

          His lips twisted into a cruel smile. “Surely, you can see the truth of that, given the number of conquests you’ve had.”

 

          Abraxas nodded. “Yes, but I also know the difference between a fuck,” he put the same inflection on the word as Tom had, “and sex that means something more. Are you really trying to say that you would rather me fuck Hermione than make love to her? Use her the way you used Marguerite? Like she’s nothing?”

 

          “If you ever,” Tom began, his wand at Abraxas’s throat, a drop of blood welling at the tip.

 

          “I would never, that’s the point, Tom,” Abraxas didn’t try to move away from the pressure, even as the drop became a line running down his clavicle. “We love her,” he leaned forward, even though the wand cut deeper, and kissed Tom’s lips.

 

         Tom dropped his hand like he’d been burned. “Keep your opinions on my feelings to yourself, my friend.”

 

         “Tom, can’t you see that I would never say any of these things to anyone else? I know you are destined for greatness. I want to be beside you when you are changing the world, when you are running it,” Abraxas smiled. “I’m your man.”

 

         “And Hermione’s,” Tom bit out. “You want her more than anything.”

 

         Abraxas titled his head, looked into Tom’s blue eyes. “Not more than anything,” he admitted.

 

         Now, Tom grinned, like a predator finding a soft spot for a kill. “Do you want power more?” He asked, pondering aloud. “You already have power as a Malfoy.”

 

         “No,” Abraxas smiled, sadly. “I want you just as much.”

 

         Tom looked shocked, though he was so handsome, he wore it well. His eyes widened, his mouth opened slightly, and Abraxas felt lost. As easy as it was to love Hermione, as wonderful as it was, it was that hard and terrible to love Tom Riddle, but he couldn’t stop doing either. They were a pair, a package deal, and of course Patience as well, and even though their magic had only been truly linked and mingling for a few months, Abraxas couldn’t imagine not having it, not having them, for the rest of his life.

 

        “Wanting isn’t the same as love,” Tom finally said, his tone cautious. “I don’t require love from you – just your loyalty.”

 

         “It’s easiest to be loyal to something or someone you love,” Abraxas shrugged. “And I didn’t really choose it; it just happened. You don’t have to love me back, I don’t expect that. I would like to know, though, that you value me.”

 

         It did not escape Tom that Abraxas had used the same word he’d mentioned in the hallway, the one he had equated closely with love. He remembered the conversation he’d had with Patience, about being honest. These elemental and sex magic spells were having unintended side effects, creating more than magical connections. Now, it seemed, there were emotions that needed sorted out.

 

         “I would have thought your value to me was obvious,” Tom was exasperated, and didn’t bother to conceal it. “How many times have we-”

 

         “But you just said fucking me didn’t mean anything,” Abraxas argued.

 

         Tom raised an eyebrow. “I think I’m done with this conversation. You and Hermione and Patience can save your talk of love and making love for one another. You know who I am. Either you accept that or you don’t. I will never be some tender lover, Abraxas, and I won’t have you thinking you can be in some tug of war for power with me. You may be the future Lord Malfoy, but I am the Lord and Master here – over all of you.”

 

         “These are the facts: I let you touch my soul mate. I trusted you with her, alone. I touched you, wanted you over and over – I still want you. I am willing to enter a permanent magical binding spell with you, and let you in turn enter into one with my soul mate. If that doesn’t qualify as me valuing you, then you must be truly impossible to please, my friend,” he cupped the pale blonde’s jaw, running a thumb over his lower lip as he spoke low and harshly. “Now, if you’re done whinging about feelings, I’d like you on your knees, and we’ll get our spell started.”

 

        Abraxas’s eyes glazed a bit at the feel of Tom’s thumb, and the press of Tom’s other hand on his shoulder, pushing him down to the floor as Tom pointed his wand and said the Latin words for the mixing of fire and earth, something like magma, and Abraxas lifted his and said the matching ones. Nothing seemed to get Tom as aroused as proving his dominance. And very little aroused Abraxas as much as submitting to it. He kept his smile inside as he thought of how much Tom had said, even though the word love had not been mentioned, nor likely ever would be.  

 

        “Your mouth has been rather impertinent this evening,” Tom smirked, one hand taking Abraxas’s wand and setting it on the counter, and his other hand twining in Abraxas’s hair, glad the length was just enough to wrap his hand in once over. “And we need to deal with that, don’t you agree?”

 

        “Yes,” Abraxas quickly supplied. It was impossible to know for sure how much payment in flesh Tom would exact for his earlier admissions, for Abraxas stepping out of his usual character as unquestioning follower.

 

        Tom shook his head, tipping up Abraxas’s chin. “Oh, no, that won’t do at all.”

 

        Abraxas’s grey eyes were wide with confusion. Tom laughed, and it was a sound that sent a chill down his spine and up his cock, all mixed messages of sex and violence.

 

        A sharp tug brought Abraxas’s head further back. “You see, my friend, since you’ve allowed yourself so much latitude with your behavior towards me, I feel the need to have you reminded of our relative positions. So, for the rest of evening, you will address me as my Lord, or there will be consequences.”

 

       “Yes, my Lord,” Abraxas breathed, shocked at how hard his own cock became as he spoke those words. How could he have made the sweetest love in his life, a heaven if there ever was, with Hermione only hours ago, and now want to be torn apart and put through hell by Tom Riddle?

 

       Tom laughed again, even lower this time, stroking his face with his wand, a light, tingling touch emanating from the wood like mild electricity. “Oh, you can be such a good boy when you want to be, Abraxas. I hate to have to punish you, but I think you need just a little, to help you remember what’s at stake when you disobey, don’t you?”

 

            “Yes, my Lord,” his shoulders shook, half in anticipation of pain, half in desire.

 

            “Undo my trousers, slowly, please,” Tom raised his wand, twirled it between his fingers while Abraxas ran his hand up the inseam of Tom’s trouser, lightly, until he reached the buttons and began to slide them free of their holes, one at a time. “You know, I’ve been reading so much on elemental magic, not only on joining with others, but on exploring the unique properties of my own. Elemental magic is practically a lost art.”

 

            “For instance,” Tom sucked in his breath slightly as Abraxas freed the last button and his hand grazed Tom’s rigid cock, “I’ve learned I have a special talent for making things hot, and tolerating heat.”

 

           He tapped his wand to Abraxas’s cheek and smiled. “Now, show your Lord and Master your special, earthy talent of making things disappear into holes.”

 

           “Yes, my Lord,” Abraxas only just managed to gasp, because his lips, mouth, and throat had risen several degrees in heat. Tom pushed forward, through his lips and groaned in pleasure.

 

           “Excellent,” he hissed. “You feel like a bloody sauna, so hot and wet.”

 

           Abraxas could barely concentrate. His mouth was on fire and it made it difficult to gauge how much pressure he was applying as he moved his lips and tongue around Tom. He knew this was part of his punishment, especially when Tom laughed and held his head, fucking his mouth while Abraxas did his best. And he was still aroused, despite the heat, despite, or perhaps because, he knew it was a punishment. How fucked up am I? Abraxas thought, as a moan came out around Tom’s cock.

 

           “Mmm,” Tom sighed, pulling back then pushing forward so hard that Abraxas’s head was forced against the tiled wall. “Do you know how to cool off, my dear friend? Do you know what to do?”

 

          He didn’t pull out, so Abraxas could only make a slight shake of his head in between thrusts of Tom’s hips. He had a guess, though.

 

          Tom confirmed it with his next words. “Swallow it all, Abraxas, show me how good you want to be for me, the Master whom you love.”

 

         Abraxas started at the word love coming from Tom, throwing off the rhythm he had created, but it didn’t matter because Tom was coming, chanting the words of the elemental binding spell, and Abraxas was swallowing, barely tasting anything; instead, it was the blessed sensation of coolness spreading through his burning mouth and throat and he pressed Tom’s hips against his mouth, thanking any and all gods that Tom had kept his promise to end the heat. Tom smirked down at him as Abraxas sighed in relief at the end of the punishment spell.

 

        “Are you ready to behave, then?” Tom asked, his beautiful mouth making him look like an angel, even though Abraxas knew better.

 

         Abraxas nodded. “Yes, my Lord.”

 

        “That sounds so good,” Tom held out his hand, helped Abraxas up. “And not because of a hereditary title – it is because I am superior, because I am a King among men. One day, we’ll show that to the world, Abraxas. And you will be at my side.”

 

         “It would be my both my duty and my pleasure, my Lord,” Abraxas replied smoothly. He was nothing if not a quick study, and he knew Tom craved power and respect more than anything else.

 

         Tom leaned close, kissed him for several minutes. “I like that you taste like me, with a hint of Hermione as well.”

 

         Abraxas moaned his agreement, moving in for another, long kiss. Tom pulled at the front of Abraxas’s clothes, then got impatient and vanished them. He wrapped his hand around Abraxas, tugging a bit too harshly, but somehow Abraxas didn’t care.

 

         “Hermione went down on you today?” Tom’s tone was a question, his hand stroking Abraxas’s cock quickly up and down.

 

          “Yes, my Lord,” Abraxas gasped. “She did.”

 

          “She did that for me, very briefly, the first time we had sex. It was very distracting, her sweet little mouth all around me. I made her stop because I thought I would come. Did you make her stop?”

 

          His hips were moving now, and Abraxas bit his lip to focus enough to get out, “Yes, my Lord.”

 

          Tom raised an eyebrow. “How long has it been since you’ve finished in someone’s mouth?”

 

         “Ahhh…”Abraxas nearly came at the question, his cock giving a thick spasm, his bullocks tightening threateningly. He knew instinctively, though, that Tom would not be pleased if he came without being told to do so. He tried to remember the question. “Ahh…sometime last year? Maybe Marilyn Tuttle? In the spring, my Lord?”

 

         “Pining after Hermione so long that you couldn’t bear someone else sucking your cock?” Tom’s voice was low and seductive, with a hint of teasing. “Silly boy, she didn’t even know at the time.”

 

         Abraxas wasn’t fooled into thinking that a teasing Tom was necessarily a safe Tom. There was no safety with Tom. Only intensity, be it pleasure or pain, joy or fear.

         “I didn’t want to hurt her, my Lord,” Abraxas allowed, attempting to focus on something other than the growing need to explode all over Tom’s hand. “And I honestly didn’t want anyone else except…”

 

            Tom gave an evil grin, followed by an evil twist of his hand, his finger skimming over the head of Abraxas’s cock, rubbing the pre-come over his shaft, using it as lubrication on his palm to move even faster. “No one else except me, Abraxas?”

 

            Before Abraxas could answer, he leaned forward, whispering in his ear as he kissed and bit along the lobe, “How long have you wanted me, Abraxas? How long had you been dreaming about my hand on your cock, my cock in that pretty, wide mouth of yours?”

 

            Abraxas closed his eyes against all the sensation – Tom’s voice, his lips and teeth, his fucking hand, his near psychic penchant for asking the questions guaranteed to elicit more arousal, both physical and mental. “I…since you stayed with me this past summer and we rode brooms without our shirts and we got caught in the rain, and you undressed in front of me in the shed, since we were soaked and we couldn’t use magic” it all came out in a rush, like a confession, even though they’d been having sex for weeks.

 

            “My Lord,” he hastily added at the quirk of Tom’s mouth.

 

            “Lie down,” Tom ordered brusquely, using his wand to transfigure a stack of towels into a mattress.

 

            Abraxas quickly complied, speaking the required words of assent, feeling more exposed naked on the small mattress than he had standing. Tom vanished his clothing as well, revealing that he absolutely was not done for the night, then kneeled on the mattress, straddling Abraxas’s hips, low enough that he could continue that torture he’d been practicing with his hand, but now there was the added bonus that his own cock was bumping against Abraxas, and Tom’s naked skin pressing along Abraxas’s was wonderful and awful all at once.

 

            “I’m not going to use a spell to keep you still like I did with Patience, and if you move at all, I will stop, and you will be sorry. Do you understand?” Tom asked while his fingers squeezed and released, squeezed and released, along Abraxas’s shaft.

 

            “Yes, my Lord,” he could hear the whine and plea in his voice, and Abraxas wanted to be mad at himself, but it was too much effort to keep from coming.

 

            “Oh, good,” Tom sighed, straightening out his legs and lowering his lips to within a breath of Abraxas’s leaking cock. “I just can’t wait to see how long it takes you to disobey me again.”

 

            And then, Abraxas’s vision went white for a few seconds, and he forgot to breathe or have a heart beat or anything except clamp down on the urge to come because Tom Riddle’s mouth was all over his cock. Was it any wonder that Hermione was Tom’s soul mate? Neither of them had experience with blow jobs, and, yet, in the same day, they’d both given him the best ones he’d ever had. Trust Tom to turn something that could have been interpreted as a loss of control into a game of control. He’d suck Abraxas’s cock, but he’d also punish him if he moved. The man was the goddamned devil.

 

            Tom laughed, and the vibrations from his mouth were Abraxas’s down fall. It was simply too much sensation, and he could feel the dam breaking inside him. “My Lord!” he gasped, his hips thrusting off the mattress despite himself.

 

            “Say the spell!” Tom hissed, then put his mouth back on Abraxas and pulled at him with such suction that Abraxas literally ached from the pleasure as he yelled the spell out, over and over, spilling into Tom's mouth.

 

            The air was hot and muggy with magic around them, and Tom gave him no time to recover before he flipped Abraxas over onto his knees, pulling his arse flush with Tom’s rock hard erection. Tom spoke the lubrication spell, and Abraxas shuddered. Why was that so sexy?

 

            Abraxas felt the tip of Tom’s cock at his arse, put Tom only pressed lightly, not even entering him truly.

 

           “You moved,” Tom said, in that voice that dripped with sex and power.

 

          “I’ll give you points for effort, and you did warn me, thankfully for you, but the fact remains,” he leaned down and kissed Abraxas, first on one shoulder blade, then the other, then down the line of his spine, all the while keeping his cock head teasingly poised at his entrance, “that you disobeyed me. Again.”

 

          “I’m so sorry, my Lord,” Abraxas was moaning now, and his hips were still twitching with aftershocks of previous orgasm. He thought he legitimately might die from wanting Tom to fuck him, and he really didn’t care how much he was punished, so long as Tom put his cock inside him.

 

           Tom made a string of hissing sounds, the most musical parseltongue Abraxas had heard him speak. “I believe you are sorry, my dear friend, I do, but I have to admit, I lied earlier,” he entered Abraxas is one harsh stroke, making the blonde cry out, “I just love punishing you.”

 

          The punishment became immediately clear. Tom’s cock was on fire, hot like Abraxas’s mouth had been, though not quite so severe. The heat and the pull and the pressure and Tom’s ability to hit that one spot, over and over, had Abraxas on the verge of a second orgasm in moments, and this time, he begged, pleading to come, nearly incoherent.

          “Of course you can Abraxas,” Tom thrust harder and faster, his own breath coming in gasps. “You only had to ask nicely,” he spoke in time with his strokes, moving so deep so fast that they came together, gasping the spell yet again and falling, both face first, into the mattress, the floor around them glowing like lava, heat and magic surrounding them.

 

          They twisted to face each other, and Abraxas was feeling so blissful, so high on sex and magic, that he stroked Tom’s cheek and kissed his lips and said, “I love you,” before he’d even processed any of those actions.

 

          Surprisingly, Tom said nothing, just pulled him close and held him. They lay like that for a while, coming back to themselves, absorbing the magic and recovering physically from the exertion.

 

         “So,” Tom spoke after several minutes. “There’ll be no more talk of how much you’re valued?”

 

         Abraxas smiled against Tom’s shoulder. “No, my Lord. I have learned my lesson.”

 

         “Excellent,” Tom replied, his lips brushing Abraxas’s temple, then pulled away and rose, helping Abraxas up. “We need to get to bed. Tomorrow is a big day.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

oOo0oOo 

            Hermione was trying desperately not to kick Felicity in the face. She had one of her feet, was painting her toe nails, but Hermione’s feet had always been terribly ticklish, and it was near torture to hold still while her friend ran fingers along the sides of her soles and toes, pushing her this way and that to get the right angle for applying the magenta varnish.

 

            “I don’t even know why we’re doing this,” she said to Josephine, who was sitting on the pillows beside her, the dark haired girl’s own toes being seen to by Patience.

 

            Josephine laughed as she painted her fingernails, carefully balancing the polish bottle on her extended knee. “Well, you and Patience won’t tell us what tomorrow is all about, only that it’s a surprise, and I just have a feeling that it will be like a party,” she added, “and it is important to be pretty at parties.”

 

            “You mean it’s important to be pretty when you think Jacob will be there and looking at you,” Felicity said as she gripped harder at Hermione’s foot. “Stop trying to wiggle away. I’ve had to redo your last two toes three times. If you’d just keep still, I’d be done.”

 

            Hermione made a sound that was a cross between a giggle and growl. “No one is going to be seeing our feet, though! We’ll be wearing stockings and shoes!”

 

            “But we already did our fingernails,” Felicity explained. “Trust me, the boys will look at our fingernails and wonder if our toenails match, and that will have them thinking about our bare legs, even if they can’t see them, and that means we are winning.”

 

            “Winning?” Patience stopped blowing on Josephine’s big toe. “Isn’t it more of a draw if you are imagining them naked, too?”

 

            Felicity and Hermione laughed, though Josephine blushed, a delicate pink shade that made her more adorable than usual. “I’m not imagining anyone naked,” she said primly as she capped the polish bottle. “Painted nails just look nice, and I like them.”

 

            “Well, it isn’t really a party, anyway,” Hermione gritted out, fighting her instinct to jerk away from Felicity’s hand. “And next time, I’m painting my toe nails with magic.”

 

            “What is it?” Felicity asked, for probably the fifth time.

 

            Patience shook her head. “You’ll find out tomorrow. Words can’t do it justice anyway.”

 

            “I hope this surprise, whatever it is, means our study group gets back on track on the weekends,” Josephine sighed, setting down the polish and picking up the bottle of butterbeer she’d brought back from their last Hogsmeade weekend. She took a sip and handed it to Hermione. “I could use the extra practical practice in transfiguration before the OWLs.”

 

            Hermione drank from the bottle, noting again that something in the recipe had changed over the years. The butterbeer from the future had been slightly sweeter, though this version was richer, more buttery. She couldn’t decide which she preferred. There was a slight catch in her chest, as she had a pang of despair that she’d never see the future again, not in the same way. So much had changed, at her hands. And she could only hope she was making the right choice as the future slowly unrolled in front of her.

 

            Felicity let go of her foot, and Hermione looked at the others. “Sorry, I was miles away. Everything will be explained tomorrow, and you will have plenty of opportunity for practicing, Josie, I promise.”

 

            “And for flirting?” Felicity prompted, making Josephine blush again.

 

            Hermione smiled. Josephine and Jacob were too cute together, the way they both tried to pretend they weren’t interested in one another except as friends. If even one of them actually managed to flirt tomorrow, she’d be shocked. “Sure, flirting, too,” she gave Felicity a knowing smile. “Who’s going to be your victim?”

 

            “Ha!” Felicity turned her nose up in mock arrogance. “As if I’d lower myself to flirt with a snake.”

 

            Her face turned serious for a second, and she added, “They all play nice, but I know most of them still think I’m not good enough to be any kind of love interest. Sebastian looks at my arse when he thinks I don’t notice, and Corvus stares at my chest, but they wouldn’t ever actually touch me, other than the kind of ‘dirty secret’ tumbles that take place in abandoned classrooms on the west wing fourth floor.”

 

            Folding up her legs, Hermione leaned over and hugged Felicity tightly. “You are wonderful and smart and pretty and any wizard would be lucky to have you, no matter any silly thoughts of blood status.”

 

            “Yes, but I think I’ll stick with a Gryffindor or Hufflepuff,” Felicity joked. “Easier to control, since I’ll be the smart one.”

 

            Hermione snorted, thinking of how not a single Gryffindor boy from the future, with the exception of Neville, had listened to her, especially when she was speaking common sense. “Better just stick to Hufflepuff, if you want a man who might listen.”

 

            This observation led to a discussion of all the annoying things the male students at Hogwarts did, which continued until Josephine began to yawn. Patience was already asleep on Hermione’s pillow, and Hermione didn’t have the heart to wake her, so as Felicity put out the lights, Hermione whispered a spell to enlarge the bed that was not made for two, and snuggled backwards along the length of Patience’s form.

 

            Soon, the other two girls were sleeping, as Hermione could tell from Felicity’s gentle, but deep breathing and Josephine’s mumbled dream talk, which seemed to mostly consist of giggles and Jacob’s name. Being an only child, Hermione had never had to share a bed, except for a few Christmases as the Burrow. Even the magical tent she’d called home while on the run had provided a separate bunk for her.

 

            Now, with Patience so close, Hermione felt wide awake and painfully aware of how their bodies touched, Hermione’s back to Patience’s front, the gentle swells of Patience’s breasts pushing softly against Hermione’s shoulder blades, Patience’s arm thrown over Hermione’s waist, her long fingers splayed over Hermione’s abdomen.

 

            Patience had been an amazing, ridiculous, beautiful surprise in Hermione’s life. For the first few months, Patience had felt like a link to the future, a way of still being with a friend who wouldn’t be born for decades. But as time had passed and Patience had become a closer and closer friend, Hermione simply loved her for who she was, not what she represented. Patience was kind, loyal, and much smarter and more powerful than most people realized.

 

            Her grades didn’t always reflect this, because Patience either ‘forgot’ to do homework that bored her or would write long, complicated essays that had nothing to do with the actual assignment, and she had the dubious honor of being the Ravenclaw most likely to receive detention for these exact reasons. Professors often scolded her in class for not paying attention, as Patience was almost always looking off into space, that dreamy expression in her eyes, but when they asked her questions, she would answer correctly most of the time. Professor Kettleburn loved her, though, because Patience seemed to have not an ounce of fear in her body, and was always willing to volunteer to be the first to interact with whatever dangerous creature he’d brought to class.

 

            Hermione couldn’t think of another person more different from herself than Patience. Even Tom had more similarities to her than the pale blonde Ravenclaw currently in her bed. At least she and Tom shared a passion for knowledge and magic, and a drive to see their wills made manifest, even if those wills were often very different. Patience was a giant question mark so much of the time – what was she thinking? What motivated her? What in the world would she do with her life after school? Sometimes, Hermione pondered a future for Patience, but no idea seemed feasible for more than a minute or so. Patience have a steady job? Patience undertake a mentally and physically grueling apprenticeship needed to become a ‘Master’ at a particular type of magic? Hermione honestly worried about her best friend quite a bit. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Patience to know what was best; it was that she didn’t trust the world to understand how beautiful and unique Patience truly was.

 

             “You don’t need to worry about me, Hermione,” Patience whispered in her ear.

 

             Hermione started, coming out of her thoughts, not so much shocked that Patience knew what she’d been thinking as that Patience was awake. “I know,” she turned to face her friend, her own arm circling Patience’s waist.

 

             They were face to face now, as they had been many times since September. Patience had ended up in Hermione’s shower every Saturday and Sunday morning, and though time had been of the essence, as their two other roommates were early risers as well, they had become quite familiar with each other’s bodies, with all the secret places that elicited sighs and gasps and moans. Their fingers knew the right rhythms and thrusts, their tongues the exact twirls and perfect pressure.

 

             Patience whispered a muting spell around the bed and laid a finger over Hermione’s lips. “Our elements are begging to be combined.”

 

            “Here?” Hermione squeaked, glad for the silencing spell. “Now? What if Josephine wakes up? She’s the lightest sleeper.”

 

             “Here,” Patience nodded, sliding her hands under Hermione’s nightgown, rucking it up past her waist. “Now.”

 

              Hermione shivered as Patience’s cool palm moved up the curve of her ribcage. “We’ve done so much magic today – do you even have the energy?”

 

             “Our magic is circling around us. I can feel Tom and Abraxas’s. Can’t you?” Patience’s mouth was on Hermione’s bared shoulder, alternately kissing and sucking.

 

             Closing her eyes, Hermione pulled at her magic, and felt it – Tom glowing with satisfaction, and Abraxas, radiant with pleasure. She was connected to both of them, and now, they were connected to each other. This was much, much stronger than the group magic they had done in the Chamber. That spell had laid the foundations for these deeper, permanent connections that were closer to the soul mate bond than Hermione had realized. Had Tom realized the impact of this yet? Was he still so overwhelmed by the initial wave of pleasure that he hadn’t completely experienced how tightly the four of them would be bound once these cross-circle spells were all done?

 

            “Don’t be afraid,” Patience’s lips were at Hermione’s ear now, her fingers undoing the buttons on the nightgown. “We’ll be fine. He needs us, even if he doesn’t want to admit it. And you need us, so that you don’t get lost in him, in trying to prevent or counteract everything he does. You are not responsible for Tom, Hermione. Only he is.”

 

            Hermione was used to Patience saying things out of nowhere, of Patience’s ability to pull thoughts and feelings from deep inside and lay them bare, but being used to it didn’t make it any easier. “But I am,” she protested quietly, unable to say more.

 

            “No, no you are not,” Patience countered, pulling Hermione’s night gown completely off her. “You are as bad as he is sometimes. You both think you can control the whole world,” she said these last words in amused frustration, her silky soft lips kissing Hermione’s neck between words.

 

            “I do not!” Hermione protested, though her indignation was spoiled slightly by the moan she made when Patience’s fingers lightly traced her areola, making that sensitive skin instantly respond by hardening. “I don’t think I can control -”

 

            Patience’s grin was only just visible in the moonlight coming through the window as she interrupted her friend. “You want to control people just as much as Tom does. The only difference is that Tom wants to control people because he likes the feeling of power, and you want to control people because you think you know what is best for everyone.”

 

            She would have immediately argued if Patience hadn’t placed her lips on Hermione, kissing her with those soft lips that made Hermione forget everything, that made her relax like some kind of drug designed to shut down thinking. Her hands moved along the edges of Patience’s knickers, slipping under the waistband to squeeze that curvy arse that even the boxy Hogwarts uniform failed to hide.

 

            “Let all that responsibility go, Hermione,” Patience said, handing Hermione her wand from the bedside table. “Just for tonight. Let’s have fun.”

 

             Hermione couldn’t help the smile that formed on her lips. Something about Patience brought out her lighter side, the part of herself that Hermione usually kept weighted down by a sense of duty, knowledge of future horrific possibilities, and the need to be the best in all her studies. That was probably why she loved Patience so much. With the pale, dreamy blonde who never seemed completely present, Hermione was able to find that lightness, the joy of simply being without the use of Narcissa’s potion.

 

             “Fine,” Hermione murmured, using her wand to divest Patience of her nightgown and knickers, then cast “procella,” the Latin spell word that meant hurricane. She had always felt that her relationship with Patience was one of peace, and wondered just what she was getting herself into with invoking a destructive tropical storm.  

 

             Patience’s returned phrase was something similar – a gusty storm, and as soon as the words were spoken, Hermione felt the magic settling on her skin, sinking into her, making her hungry for touch, for completion of the spell. Patience clearly felt the same, because she pulled Hermione’s knickers off and asked in a husky voice that didn’t sound at all like her normal self, “Fingers or tongue?”

 

             It was dark, which emboldened Hermione. “Both, please,” she replied.

 

            “Good answer,” Patience laughed, and slid her body down Hermione’s front, kissing and licking as she went, taking her time to suck on Hermione’s nipples and leave little love bites on her ribs. She even traced Tom’s words, whispering, “how lucky we all found one another.”

 

             Before Hermione could ask her what she meant, her hips were canted forward as Patience slipped her hands under them, pulling Hermione as close as she could. She spoke again, this time with exaggerated emphasis, so that little puffs of air teased at the slick, sensitive skin Patience was less than an inch from. “You smell like lightening – the mix of your charged air and Tom’s fire as it hits Abraxas’s earth.”

 

             “What about you?” Hermione asked breathlessly, aching to have Patience touch her with more than her breath.

 

             Patience smiled, and she was so close to Hermione’s cunt that the movement of her lips brushed against her labia, gliding smoothly through the moisture there, no catching, just a whisper of a caress, and when she pulled back, Hermione could see how her lips glistened in the moonlight.

 

             “I’m right here,” her lips curved upward in a wide smile as she ran a finger along Hermione’s seam, then suddenly thrust two fingers in and out, twisting and withdrawing in a move that left Hermione panting. “Do you think you’d be this wet without my water magic flowing all over you?”

 

             “Patience,” Hermione gasped, half aroused and half embarrassed. She was insanely wet; she could feel it seeping into the sheets below her. This bed was going to need a serious scourgify before morning.

 

             The pale blonde lowered her head, and Hermione finally understood fully the slang phrase “eating out,” because Patience was devouring her. Hermione wound her fingers in Patience’s hair, but it was more to hold on than to provide any direction. Usually, Patience was languid and gentle in her movements, but now she was much more forceful, her fingers long and curling into the soft inner walls, finding all the spots that made Hermione’s back arch, while her tongue worked a magic that made Hermione’s toes curl into the blankets.  

 

            Occasionally, she would raise up just long enough to make filthy comments that reminded Hermione how much she secretly loved dirty talk. “The boys taste your magic, but I can taste the girl underneath. You are sweet and tart and juicy, like a plum…and something else.”

 

           Patience dragged her tongue at a painfully slow pace over Hermione’s clit, flicking it with her tongue, then grazing it hard enough with the edge of her teeth that a buzzing thrill shot through Hermione’s body even as warnings went off somewhere in the back of her mind.

 

          “Something else,” Patience repeated, her lips massaging the upper part of Hermione’s labia while her fingers thrust and stroked the lower half, her thumb dipping below, toward the delicate skin of Hermione’s arse, ghosting over the spot that sent another thrill up her spine, along with a jump in her pulse.

 

           Hermione tugged on the pale blonde hair, forcing Patience up. She kept her fingers in the silky mass and pressed her lips to Patience’s, tasting herself. There was a hint of ozone, the tingle of magic, mixed with the unique flavor of Patience, which was like the breeze from the ocean on a summer day – cool and wet with a hint of salt. As they kissed, Hermione let one of her hands drift down Patience’s chest, past her hips, and into the wetness between her legs.

 

          It didn’t take long for the magic to reach a fever pitch around them with their fingers thrusting and curling and twisting, their mouths on each other’s faces, necks, and breasts. Hermione’s heart was beating so fast, her breath coming in such pants that she worried she would pass out again. Sex magic, she was learning, had the ability to shut one down completely, to temporarily short-circuit one’s magic from its sheer power.

 

          “Hold on,” Patience whispered with a grin as her finger pressed into Hermione’s clit. “We’re coming.”

 

          And they did, together, Patience with a joyful shout and Hermione with a bitten lip and a low, sustained moan of pleasure, their arms and legs wrapped around each other, somehow managing to work the words of the spell into their orgasms. Their combined magic settled around them, and the sensation was shockingly similar to a protection spell, the feel of it was one of being safe.  

 

          Patience brought her fingers to her lips, the ones that still glistened with Hermione’s juices and sucked on them. She cocked her head to the side, not dreamy for once, but lost in serious contemplation.

 

         “Oh,” Patience said, her eyes and mouth wide as if she'd suddenly understood an ancient mystery. “You are a juicy plum,” her fingers went back to Hermione’s cunt, going deeper, making Hermione’s hips rise to meet them in the aftershock of orgasm and magic, “stuffed with juicy secrets.”

 

         As Patience spoke the word secrets, Hermione froze, but Patience’s touch gentled, like someone approaching a spooked horse, and she whispered, “Don’t worry, Hermione, not even Voldemort could pull your secrets from my mind.”

 

         “What did you say?” Hermione was filled with a paralyzing cold.

 

         “Voldemort,” Patience replied easily, as if naming a cloud in the sky on a lazy afternoon. “One of the many potential futures for Tom, the one you are trying to change. I had a vision of him a few days ago, but it was not in our timeline.”

 

          “How?” was all that came out of Hermione’s mouth, though it sounded more like strangled despair than a word.

 

          “Did you hear that in my mind?” She knew that Patience was special, that she knew things, but it was easier for Hermione’s orderly, logical mind to believe in something like ESP than to believe that someone could see into the future, that things like divination (such a fucking ridiculous study that wasn’t even really a study) or prophesies were actually…true. She knew that Trelawny had predicted the future, but that prophesy wasn’t real until a crazed Voldemort made it so. Hermione was firm acolyte of free will, that one’s future was always in one’s hands, not predestined. The only time prophesies even worked was when one of the people who was involved heard the damned thing, then let that “knowledge” either consciously or unconsciously affect his or her behavior and life choices.

 

            Patience was still between her legs, still touching her in a soothing way, her soft, sweet voice smoothing down some of the frayed edges of Hermione’s nerves. “No, I told you, I saw it. I’ve always been able to see the future, many different versions of it. It comes in flashes, and often doesn’t make any sense until the events have come and gone. Sometimes it is the near future, and sometimes I think what I see is far beyond my own life. I don’t control it. I’m just a conduit. But you’re out of time, Hermione. You and your mother, and being around you makes the visions come more often, because you are a split in time, a source of more than infinite possibilities.”

 

           “How?” Hermione repeated dumbly, her brain in tatters.

 

           “I don’t know,” Patience shrugged, then a fierce expression came over her face, and with her pale looks, Hermione was briefly reminded of Narcissa when she was angry.