Chapter 51 – Meeting Again
AN: Hello, there. Well, I'm into law school, finished the thesis, and so on. Should be studying for finals, but decided not to. Hope some of you are still with me and enjoy this chapter!
His eyebrows were slightly raised, as if he were surprised by her resistance. He must have seen a hint of recognition in her half-paralyzed expression, for his eyes narrowed and showed a considering glint.
"It seems by your reaction that you recognise me, witch," he began. "But I am quite certain that I do not know you."
He flicked the wand in his hand, and Hermione felt the magical restraint loosen. She slowly sat up, inhaling sharply when she spied Aulus' limp body in a chair on the other side of the room.
"He is still alive, for now," Tom said, a smirk the likes of which Hermione hadn't seen in ages on his face.
Hermione looked at him closely. He was strangely blurred around the margins and his movements seemed to lack the normal weight of a physical body. It took only a moment for Hermione to realise what he was.
Deciding what to do with her knowledge was more difficult. There was the risk that if she told him that she knew how he was regaining his body, he would summarily eliminate her. Summoning her courage, Hermione began to speak, hoping that she was correct in betting that he would be too arrogant to view her as a threat, just as he had before.
"I know about you, Tom. I know you are a Horcrux, and I know how you were made. Please, just listen to me before you do anything rash." Hermione forcefully suppressed the tremor in her voice, unwilling to show any weakness to this Tom Riddle, one that she had left behind long ago.
The doppelganger's nostril flared. Hermione knew she had insulted him. He mastered himself, shrugging carelessly, curiosity and hubris winning out over his Slytherin self-preservation.
"I suppose I have time. But only a little. You had best hurry." He twirled his wand, or more likely Aulus,' as he waited for her to begin.
"We met in Tom's seventh year at Hogwarts. At first, I said I was a transfer, but you found out that I was lying rather quickly. I am actually from the future, about fifty years in the future. In my time, you were a mass murderer who thought himself a Dark Lord. When I arrived in this time, I barely kept myself from killing you on multiple occasions. You figured out my secret, and we manipulated each other for months. I was afraid to trust you, and more afraid that you would never trust me and would go on to murder everyone I cared about a second time. Eventually, you fooled me into lovin you and believing that you loved me, and I agreed to marry you."
Tom had managed to maintain his equanimity for the first part of her speech, but upon hearing that he had asked this girl to marry him, his eyes widened momentarily.
"I thought that you were finally finished with your manipulation. Unfortunately, I was wrong. You used me to get powerful artefacts that would give you all the power you could hope for. We had only been married a few months when you deserted me. Because of your actions, our marriage was legally ended, although the—"
"What were these artefacts?" Tom asked, cutting her off.
Hermione sighed wistfully. Of course he would ask. "The Deathly Hallows, and before you ask, you destroyed them when you used them. They are gone."
"Tell me what I did," he commanded.
Hermione's nerves were beginning to get the best of her. "You took the Deathly Hallows, one of which you stole from me, and used them to go through a portal that would take you to your idea of the perfect world," she retorted sharply. "I can only imagine that you thought it would involve you ruling over everybody like a bloody tyrant.
"Imagine your disappointment when it only brought you right back to me." Even after everything that had happened, Hermione couldn't contain her lingering bitterness.
"Why?" Tom looked like he could not comprehend what she had said.
"According to you, because you loved me. Of course, you blamed everything on me before you realized it."
"I can say very confidently that it is not." Hermione went on the offensive before he could answer. "You regretted your actions so much that you reabsorbed one of your Horcruxes. You know as well as I do how rare that is."
"I don't believe you," he interjected. "I would never do something so stupid."
"You did. Right now, your body is lying at St. Mungo's in agony because your true soul is trying to reabsorb you."
"Why should I believe you? You have every reason to lie to me right now."
"The only thing I want is for my Tom to live. To do that, I need you."
"Convince me that I should help you." The gleam in his eyes told Hermione that he had no intention whatsoever of doing anything other than mocking her.
"You are a Legilimens, correct?" Hermione asked.
"Then look and you'll see. I'll let you see everything."
"I still don't believe you."
Despite the stress and anxiety of the situation, Hermione couldn't help but feel slightly exasperated.
"Tom, your other self, the one currently dying in St. Mungo's, was my husband. He also had the brilliant idea of using an obscure bonding ceremony to make sure that he could figure out what I was thinking and feeling while preventing me from doing the same. He knew whatever he wanted to know, whether I liked it or not. I have nothing to hide. If this works, you will know everything about me that he does. Does that convince you?"
Tom looked slightly disquieted.
"What's the matter, Tom? Afraid of what you'll see?" she taunted, hoping it would give him the extra push he needed.
Tom stepped in front of her and grabbed her face, forcing her to meet his eyes.
He wasn't careful when he entered her mind. She instantly became nauseated and the pain that she had felt even while blocking out her connection with Tom increased threefold. As he rifled through her memories, Hermione lost control of the barrier between her mind and Tom's. Through the instantaneous agony that erupted, she could feel the other Tom reeling. Realizing that this might
be her only chance, she completely opened her mind to both of them. She gasped with the intensity.
"Well, what do we have here? A student locked out of their common room and it's not even breakfast yet. You are lucky that you have such a responsible Head Boy willing to make rounds at quarter to seven in the morning just in case some idiot forgets her password," he added snidely, as he glanced at her less-than-impressive attire.
"Hey, when did this turn green?" she asked, trying to lighten the mood with little success.
"I don't know, must have been magic," Tom answered softly.
They waited in silence, strangely comfortable in each other's presence. Before long, the clock started tolling midnight.
"You know what tradition is, don't you?" Tom asked on the eighth toll. Before Hermione could say anything, he kissed her softly on the lips.
"After you apologized to me for your actions, I felt very guilty," Hermione began, the words flooding out of her like a dam had burst. "I wasn't any better than you, I was maybe even worse. I didn't trust you with Louisa because you were a Slytherin, I did nearly everything that you did. Then on New Year's Eve, I purposely tried to get you drunk to get information and find out if you were being honest with me. It was stupid, I know, but I was afraid that you were manipulating me. I already lost everyone I cared about, I couldn't stand it if you were just using me. Then after you apologized, I felt terrible. You were being honest with me and I was still lying to you!" she finished, out of breath, congratulating herself on not lying at all in her whole speech.
"What is your reason?" he asked commandingly.
"What?" she asked, not comprehending his question.
"What is your reason for wanting to trust me?"
"Well, I…" she blushed and looked into the fire.
"Hermione," he said quietly. "I need an answer."
"I…care about you. You are my closest friend here, maybe closer than any I have ever had before."
"Are you telling the truth?" he asked with quiet harshness.
"Yes, I am," Hermione answered, looking straight into his eyes, silently giving him permission to test her honesty. Tom stared at her for a long moment. He saw that she wasn't lying about caring for him, but that the kind of caring was not quite as she had described. It was something deeper than friendship, certainly stronger than any emotion that had been directed toward him before, but he couldn't identify what it was or understand its source.
"What does it mean?" she asked.
"'Thou eternally mine, I eternally thine.'" Hermione nodded her assent and Tom gently replaced it on her finger and pulled her close to him.
"Hermione," he whispered in her ear, "I think I love you." Hermione's eyes filled with tears.
"I love you, too," Hermione said emotionally, gently turning his face toward her. She stared into his eyes for a moment before stretching up to kiss him.
Tom had never felt anything like it. It was different than the other kisses they had shared. "Because she belongs to me now," he thought before all thoughts left his mind. It didn't even occur to him that the feelings might be related to love. They stood there embracing for what seemed both like eternity and no time at all.
"Is she a Pureblood? Or are you a blood traitor?" Grindelwald hissed maliciously.
"She is a Mudblood," Tom admitted. "But the most powerful witch I have ever met, and I have not yet discovered her full capabilities."
"And how did a mere Mudblood manage to capture your attention?" Grindelwald asked curiously.
"She appeared in the library with her trunk and no explanation of how she got there. She dared to antagonise me and knew of my heritage as soon as she heard my name. We nearly killed each other while duelling in the first week. In fact, for the first few months, we constantly considered assassinating each other. She was the first person I had ever met who could possibly be my intellectual equal. Were it not for her blood and occasional lapses in judgement, I would consider her to be an ideal Slytherin."
"I no longer want you to be my girlfriend," he continued, stepping toward her. Hermione gasped, confused for a moment. Her eyes filled with tears, first of horror, but then of anticipation.
He knelt. "When I think of you, you are no longer just my girlfriend. I dream of waking to your face every morning for the rest of my life, of coming home to you every evening. I cannot even imagine my life without you in it. Hermione Jane Granger, if you were no longer my girlfriend, I would be the happiest man on earth.
"Will you marry me?"
Hermione sat motionlessly for a second. Tom felt anxiety creep upon him, but it was soon relieved.
"Will you, Tom Marvolo Riddle, of your own free will, bind your body, never to desert or harm, with that of your intended, to be separated only in death?"
"Will you, Hermione Jane Granger, of your own free will, bind your body, never to desert or harm, with that of your intended, to be separated only in death?"
"I will." A gleaming strand of golden light coiled around their joined hands.
"Will you, Tom Marvolo Riddle, of your own free will, bind your soul, ever faithful, with that of your intended, never to be separated in life or in death?"
"Will you, Hermione Jane Granger, of your own free will, bind your soul, ever faithful, with that of your intended, never to be separated in life or in death?"
"I will," she answered, a slight tremor in her voice.
The entire room watched in awe as silvery strands of light appeared around the couple, swirling through the air, causing their clothing to flutter as if touched by a breeze. It felt as if lightning were dancing across their skin and jumping through their joined hands.
"With your kiss, may your troth be sealed, souls united, never to be separated," the official intoned, stepping back from the couple.
Suddenly, instead of seeing Hermione's memories, Tom felt himself being pulled away. The pain was increasing, but he could still focus enough to experience the new memory.
Tom's body and heart flared with pain momentarily. His anger toward Alphard faded as a sense of urgency built within him. He could feel that he was about to lose her. He struggled with his emotions, concerned that the possibility of any future with her rested entirely on her staying for just a few moments to hear him out.
"I can't, Tom. I'm sorry." She hurried outside and quickly Apparated away.
Tom watched her disappear, a leaden feeling settling into his chest. For the first time since realising his feelings for Hermione, he was forced to accept that she would never forgive him, let alone allow him to repair their relationship. There was no ancient tome or experiment that could provide him with an answer to his problem.
"Fuck," he murmured painfully, running his hand through his hair, not bothering to smooth it back down. He left the cafe, not caring about the stares he received from the other patrons.
He made his way back to the half-empty flat, his mind churning as he searched for ideas for convincing Hermione of his love and sincerity. Every solution was immediately met with countless insurmountable obstacles. He seated himself on the couch, arms resting on his legs and head between his hands, a throbbing headache beginning.
It was all gone. Everything that he had wanted was forever beyond his reach. The grand destiny that he had thought awaited him since discovering his lineage was nothing more than a cruel joke. His every success served only to increase the height of his fall. Against his every expectation, he had been loved, despite his iniquities, but now he had lost the thing he had not even realised he wanted. Even death would give no relief, since his remaining Horcrux ensured that he would only return as an even more tortured spirit should it be anything other than natural. His anguish rushed through him in a wave of physical pain, but he fought through it as he gazed around the room at the few things he had left to remind him of his life with Hermione.
Tom withdrew and spun away, reeling from what he had seen. He could scarcely believe that he had seen himself in her memories. His actions and emotions did not fit anything he could remember from his life. And the last memory, the one he had seen and felt as himself, was wrenching. Even though he didn't have all the memories that had led his other self to that point, the effect was debilitating. He had felt that he had nothing. His lifelong purpose, to show everyone who and what he was, and damn the consequences, had meant nothing to him. Somehow, this Hermione, whom even after leaving the memory he felt as though he loved, had turned his world upside-down.
"What did you do?" For the first time since she had entered the room, the superiority was gone.
"You did it," she said. "I told you we were married. You wanted a soul bond. Even though we're no longer married, the bond is still there. You felt yourself through it."
"He was me, but he was ... different," he murmured.
"Yes, he is different. That is why I need you, so that he can survive," Hermione pleaded. "He needs you, even if you don't need him. And I think that you were happy with your life with me."
"I will...agree to go with you to St. Mungo's," he said finally. "But if this doesn't work, you must let me go."
"Will you kill Aulus?" As much as Hermione wanted to ignore the fate of her former classmate, her conscience would not quite allow it.
"If your Tom dies, I will ... find someone else to complete the process, far away from here. Though I will not promise you any more than that."
Hermione was relieved that he had agreed to even that much.
"Let's go." She didn't want to risk him changing his mind. "I'm going to Apparate us directly to St. Mungo's. Do you have the diary on you?"
He waved his hand and the book floated over to him from Aulus' lap. "Now I do. Let's just get this over with so you will leave me in peace."
Hermione grasped his arm firmly and focused on their destination. A brief squeezing sensation and the bright, sterile walls of St. Mungo's surrounded them.
"Come on, we don't have much time," she said, pulling him with her. A few of the Healers caught sight of her companion and stared. Not wanting awkward questions, she sped up.
"This is his room," she said when they reached the ward. "I don't know what you will need to do."
Healer O'Donnell was standing over Tom when they entered the room. He looked up and gaped.
"Who are you?"
"That is none of your concern. Just tell me how he is," Hermione cut him off.
O'Donnell's eyes strayed toward Tom once more before he answered. "He is still in intense pain, from what I can tell, but we've continued to manage it the best we can. I'm more worried about his vitals. His heart rate has been off the scale for a prolonged period and respiratory function is decreasing. If nothing changes, he probably only has two, three days at the most left."
"I need you to leave, Healer." Hermione's tone brooked no opposition. "This is Unspeakable business."
O'Donnell looked like he wanted to resist, but at Hermione's glare, he backed away and left the room.
"What should I do?" Tom asked, looking down at his original body.
"Try touching the journal to him."
"You really have no idea what you're doing, do you?"
"Do you have a better idea?"
"Yes, I could finish off Aulus and leave him to die." A small part of him delighted in the flash of pain he saw on her face. The control he had prized his entire life had nearly slipped from his grasp, but this was one power he still retained.
"Then why are you here?" Hermione asked angrily. "I didn't force you!"
"I was curious," he defended. He lowered his eyes back to the form on the bed and moved to connect the book to the hand clenched on the sheet. He misjudged, and his own hand connected with it.
Hermione watched as his body went rigid, the journal falling to the bed where it disintegrated into ash. An alarm began to sound as Tom's heart rate climbed rapidly.
The younger Tom began to shimmer, losing his cohesiveness. Finally, he vanished all together. Tom didn't stir, although some of the tension seemed to have left his body. Gingerly, Hermione opened up their bond.
She felt nothing. He was completely gone, just as he had been for the few minutes after going through the third portal. She went to his body and took the cool hand in her own. Nothing happened for moment, but then she felt a jolt, as if she had been hit by a Stunner.
Tom was there again. He was weak and still in some pain, but he was there. He opened his eyes slowly. When he saw her face, they grew wet with emotion, more than she had ever seen from him before. Through there bond, Hermione felt a slight brush, truer and more honest than any she had felt from him before. His lips tilted upward slightly before he fell into a restorative slumber.