disclaimer: couple of lines borrowed from the hp books here ("are you sure that's a real spell? Well, it's not very good, is it?"; "i'm hoping to do some good in the world," and "give her hell from us, peeves.")
author's note: written for the amnesia experiment by windingarrow 3 due to the situation on hand aka hermione's memory loss, there may be ooc. still, i hope you enjoy it either way!
GODS WITHOUT GRACE
She doesn't remember a thing.
Doesn't remember what she ate for breakfast, doesn't remember what she wore yesterday or the day before that, doesn't remember what she came here to do, how she came here to do it, what here even is – she doesn't even remember her name. All she has are vague impressions: the sense that here is home and that the man before her – a long auburn beard, a crooked nose, spectacles shaped like a moon halfway on its journey to being whole again – is powerful and benign (but not really) and that she has been sent on an important mission of some sort, though what it is, she can't quite recall.
Illegal? … Perhaps.
She gets the sense that she, too, is powerful, though not nearly as powerful as the man inspecting her. He is old and wise and otherworldly; he analyses, sharp blue eyes scanning her, a soft gravelly voice asking her for her name, for her intentions, for her allegiance.
And though she can't quite say why, the name Grindelwald has her shake in equal parts revulsion and fear.
And though she can't quite say why, she doesn't tell this man that she is on a mission, only confesses that she does not remember how she came to be at the front gates.
And though she can't quite say why, when she searches for her name, she can only recall faint whispers of suggestions, each more unsuitable than the last, until finally it's Jane – no, Jean – and it is both right and wrong and she is testing it out on her tongue, hesitant but at a loss as to what else it could be, and he is digesting this with a head cocked carefully to the side and –
"Jean," he murmurs and her stomach cringes. "I am going to make a decision concerning you, Jean, that I hope you will prove not to be a foolish one."
And then he hands her a long stick – her fingers instinctively wrap around it, a grip as natural as the quiet inflation of her lungs, and she moves her hand in a long, languid movement, murmuring words in a foreign tongue –
A lemon drop hovers in the air.
She is home.
# # #
Life proves to be strange for Jean Doe.
The castle is her home and yet it is unfamiliar to her. These students are not her students, these halls not her halls. Often, she enters the common room and automatically turns towards the fireplace, her heart lifting in anticipation, before it crashes back down, splatters the white bones of her ribcage in crimson when she doesn't see what she wants to see. Sometimes, she sits in Potions class and listens to Professor Slughorn drone on and thinks, randomly, that a bat is far more suited to the dungeons than a walrus. Sometimes, she glances out the window on her way to the Great Hall, catches a glimpse of the Quidditch Pitch and thinks she can see a blur of messy dark hair and scarlet robes, even when it is clearly empty.
She has odd moments here and there; like on the first night back when she brushed past a severe-looking girl in the year below and suddenly had the image of a tabby cat with square markings spring to her eyes as clear as day. She stopped dead in her tracks, words hovering on her tongue, before the girl raised a sharp, inquisitive eyebrow, and they were lost to the winds, replaced instead with a shame-faced apology and the hurried patter of feet.
Home but not home.
Hogwarts but not Hogwarts.
She walks through the grounds and disjointed thoughts make themselves known in her mind: a werewolf underneath a Whomping Willow, a giant in the forest, Abraxan horses beating their powerful wings in the sky. She looks toward the Astronomy Tower and sees a frail body fall; looks toward the Black Lake and sees it burn. There is a beech tree that makes her heart ache and a bathroom on the second floor that freezes it in fear. She strolls past a tapestry on the seventh floor and finds her fingers pressed against the wall, picks up the stray cat she adopted and wishes for ginger fur.
Constantly, she is consumed by this sense of other.
Worst of all is the clamminess she feels when she sees him. By all means, it is an irrational reaction. After all, Tom Riddle is a perfect student. Charming, well-spoken, easy on the eyes. As far as Slytherins go, this one is perfectly pleasant, if in an untouchable sort of way, as if several inches of bulletproof glass barricades him from the world… And yet. And yet he raises the hairs on the back of her neck, beckons panic to grip her legs, has her clutch onto her wand just that little bit tighter when she passes him in the corridor, as if in anticipation of an attack. He fills her with pure, unadulterated fear.
And she's never even breathed a word to him in her life.
# # #
Professor Merrythought is going to retire any day now and old age has not done her well. Most lessons find her weather-beaten face lined in half a million frowns and snarls and scoffs, dismissing the students' attempts with nothing more than the well-worn line between two thick eyebrows. She is old and mean and likes to test everyone until they are at the ends of their tethers which is why when she announces that today's lesson will be somewhat of a practice wizards' duel, Jean gets a sinking feeling in her chest until…
"Miss Doe," comes the sudden bark. "Let's see what you're made of. You're up first against Master Riddle over here."
There it is, thrumming to life. A pitch-black hum of fear sinking into the cavity of her chest, wrapping its tendrils around her heart as it squeezes it to a pulp. Her breath catches in her throat, loud enough for Riddle to hear and smirk, loud enough for one of her fellow Gryffindors to groan and drop her head into her hands.
"Well, go on, get on with it."
Chairs scrape against the floor as everyone rises to their feet, the air filling with grumbles and murmurs and people placing bets. Only the foolhardiest root for her, the naïve new girl who remembers nothing but a few handful of facts that are steadily growing, over Tom bloody Riddle. With a sharp sweep of her wand, Merrythought sends the desks and chairs skittering backwards into neat piles on either side of the room. Moments later, even the rowdiest of students are assembled in a loose circle around the centre of the room, buzzing with anticipation.
Everyone is looking at them and she is looking at him and he is looking at her, mouth twitching into an almost imperceptible smile. He bows, low and lazy like a man who knows he has already won, and she has to force herself to do the same. Her body simmers.
He sends the curse without hesitation and she throws herself to the side. Quicker than lightning, he fires off another two, one after the other.
Run, a voice says in her mind.
She tenses, determined to ignore it. She might not know much but she knows that running will get her nowhere – Merrythought will have her head, the Gryffindors betting on her and yelling her name will discard her for life, and Tom Riddle will win – and the thought of that, of this boy who terrifies her to no end actually winning, is enough to root her feet to the ground. She will not run. She will not hide. She will not –
He doesn't give words to the next spell.
But she sees his hand move and her body unthinkingly reacts – she slashes her wand through the air, screams an incantation in her mind –
And one of the desks flies forward to knock him cold to the ground.
# # #
In the days following Tom Riddle's visit to the hospital, Jean notices the eyes. They have always been drawn to her in the first place, curious about the girl with no memory of the world but instincts all the same – probably one of Grindelwald's traumatised victims, they say after she finds she is fluent in French, running from the continent – but once she has proven herself to be dangerous, the eyes press into her even more.
There are Dumbledore's, pale blue flames peering at her over slices of glass, steady and stern and suspicious.
There are her roommates', wide and awed and a tiny bit fearful as they invite her over, huddle around her protectively, send fierce glares to the Slytherins who dare to threaten one of them.
And then there are Tom Riddle's friends, each one dark and dangerous and damning. Those stares are the ones that slide ice down her spine, choke her with the feeling that she's bitten off more than she can chew. Abraxas' eyes are like quicksilver, Nott's like Fiendfyre; Lestrange's are black holes that suck away her smile every time she feels them on the nape of her neck, Avery's as sinister as Thestrals – and Tom… well, Tom is another matter entirely. She's right to fear him, she knows that now. No matter how much her roommates – or friends, she supposes – giggle and tell her that he's perfectly fine with the incident, even admires her ingenuity, Jean knows.
Retribution is coming.
Until then, there is nothing she can do, except pull her cloak a little tighter to herself, strap her wand to a holster on her arm and stay in packs.
She immerses herself into the sixth year Gryffindor girls' group until Maggie feels comfortable enough to tell her all about her boyfriend troubles and Lilith sits with her for hours talking about what life has been like for the past few years, hoping something will spark her memory. Once she has earned their trust, Ida finally confesses that she is a Muggleborn, brings out her photo albums and flicks through them, giggling all the while at the serious expressions of her siblings.
And Jean realises that she likes them, she really does, even as she gets the feeling that she never used to do this sort of thing before. Certainly, their conversations are sometimes a little too feminine for her – she whose hair is a perpetual frizzy bob and her skincare limited to a healthy splash of water on the face – but they are by no means vapid girls. After all, their conversations about waterproof mascara often precede a discussion of war.
And that, surprisingly, Jean is good at talking about.
It is easy to discuss war when one is removed from the situation. Conflict is rife all over Europe as Muggles blow each other to pieces and wizards strike their brothers down in cold washes of green, but in Hogwarts, it is not difficult to feel safe, protected, untouched. Easy enough to discuss the articles in the newspaper, words heavy with horror but unburdened all the same.
Of course, the feeling is too good to last.
"He – he's been conscripted," Ida whispers, tears staining her cheeks, dripping onto the letter that quivers in her hands. "My brother… He's been sent to war."
Maggie lays a hand on her forearm. "He'll be okay."
"He will not!" she screeches, pushing her violently away. "He's only twenty years old! He doesn't know how to fight, he can't win! None of us can win, Maggie, the war's been clear enough on that!"
She's grabbed by the shoulders fiercely. "Don't you dare say that. Don't you dare. The British will never bow down to a pig like Hitler," Maggie spits. "Your brother will survive. We will all survive. And Adolf Hitler will die in the mud where he belongs."
"She's right," Jean says and they're not empty words of comfort. Pages of a book flutter open in her mind's eye, a fleeting image of recent history pressed into paper forevermore. "German forces will suffer defeats this winter. Hitler will kill himself soon."
Maggie spits in derision. "As he should."
Ida only cries harder.
# # #
A bunny in the rafters. A snake nailed to the door. Yellow, bulbous eyes in a compact mirror.
Jean is not surprised when Minerva McGonagall tugs her out of the common room and solemnly informs her that her cat has been found at the foot of the Owlery Tower.
"Tried to catch an owl and met a nasty fall, I reckon," comes the apologetic grimace. "I'm very sorry."
Jean is numb. She doesn't think she is capable of crying.
"It's okay," she whispers.
A bunny in the rafters. A snake nailed to the door. Yellow, bulbous eyes in a compact mirror. A broken cat splayed on the ground.
Retribution means death in the eyes of Tom Riddle.
# # #
In early November, Jean Doe realises she is not of this time.
She sees Professor Dumbledore in Transfiguration and thinks he is too enigmatic for the lesson; she sees a toad hop through the grass and remembers a train she has never boarded; she sees the platinum part of Abraxas Malfoy's hair and, bizarrely, recalls a ferret bouncing on the ground. Walburga Black reminds her of screaming curtains and frenzied snarls, Adella Prewett of garden gnomes and treacle tart, Nearly Headless Nick of a table groaning under the weight of rotten fish. She strides past a corridor in the castle and remembers that ENEMIES OF THE HEIR should beware, eats a chocolate frog and recalls that Nicolas Flamel is the only known maker of the Philosopher's Stone, sees the Prophet plead for Dumbledore to take action against Grindelwald and wonders whether they were once in love.
Every single day, she remembers something new, something incongruous to this world.
One day, she is sitting by the fire and abruptly recalls the names of forty two presidents, all the way from Washington to Clinton, only to realise that there have only ever been thirty two. Another time, they are discussing werewolves in class and she blurts out that they're not so dangerous once they drink some Wolfsbane potion, much to the eternal amusement of her group who crack a few unoriginal jokes about her sanity. Yet another time, when she is reading the World Cup special edition of Beaters and Broomsticks from this summer, she remembers that Bulgaria managed to catch the Snitch but Ireland still won anyway.
None of it makes a lick of sense…
Until she pauses, considers the possibility that perhaps she was not born in 1925 or 1926, calculates the maths in a frenzy and ascertains that she is from anywhere between 1982 and 2022 – and that she truly is here with a purpose, here to change history in some way.
She simply cannot remember how.
# # #
When the Soviets corner the Germans at Stalingrad, Riddle corners Jean in the bathroom.
She emerges from the cubicle, inspecting her hands as she runs them under ice cold water, watching the suds slip away. Her eyes glance up out of curiosity, collide with the reflection of his in horror, and before she can scream, he has wrapped one arm around her waist, the other around her shoulder, pressing a wand to her throat and his hand to her mouth.
"Scream and I'll use it," he hisses.
Heart crying out in terror, she bobs her head in a petrified fraction of a nod. He digs the wand in experimentally, teasing her, letting her know her life is in his palms, before he slips his other hand away and allows her to breathe.
"Wh – what do you want?" she whispers, mouth dry.
Riddle chuckles. The sound is sinful and sexy and stiffens her spine like a rod struck by lightning. She can feel his chest rumble against her back. "I want you to know that I know the truth."
Her blood runs cold. "The truth?"
"The truth," he confirms. He releases her waist, spins her around to face him, and then pushes her against the sinks. Water sticks her skirt to the backs of her thighs, the porcelain digs into her lower back, and he presses forward until he has her pinned right where he wants her. "I know your secret."
She swallows. "I have no idea what you're talking about." Her words are frail, her breaths unsteady. She is not ready for this conversation, has not prepared a suitable response, and she can feel herself failing her mission already.
The wand is back at her throat. "Don't lie to me," Riddle orders, voice low and malevolent. His tone crushes her like a python, reduces her to blood and bone, and she is breathless with the thought that he must be brilliant if he has managed to fool the school into believing he is anything but a threat. "I know that you're a Seer."
Her blinks come hard and fast. "I'm… what?"
"A Seer," he tells her, confident and smug. "And a powerful one too, I'd say."
"How – how – " How did you get it so wrong? "How do you know?"
Riddle smirks. Unlike his usual charming smile, this one is slow and true and absolutely terrifying. His glee transforms him from beautiful to bestial; a Greek God into a Gorgon. She is completely reduced to stone, frozen against the mirrors and sinks like a statue, too afraid to look away, too afraid to move. An unyielding stick of yew flicks up from the base of her throat to trace the side of her face, brush away the stray strands of her hair.
"I've been watching you, Jean," he informs her softly. "For a long time now. And you know what I've seen?" When she can only shake her head, he leans in and whispers, "I've seen that you know things. Things that no one should know, never mind a girl with no memory. Things like Grindelwald's attack on Durmstrang or the recent breakthrough on the administration of Veritaserum or the fact that church bells would ring through England again for the first time in years. You didn't just tell Ida Ryan that the Germans would lose to comfort her; you said it because you knew they would. And all of this weeks before the events even occur. Which only points to one thing, really. If you can see things that have not yet come to pass, you must be a Seer."
Her heart convulses in her chest. "What are you going to do about it?" she whispers hoarsely.
This time, when he smiles, it is practiced and superficial. "I'm not going to hurt you, Jean," he tells her, inflecting his words with a light sort of humour that doesn't befit him. "I want to help you."
"Help me?" she chokes out. "How can – how can you help me?"
He raises a challenging eyebrow. "I own this school, sweetheart. The teachers adore me, the students adore me – even those not in my house adore me. And the ones who are in my house? They respect me more than Dippet himself. I'm the most powerful wizard in these halls. Under my protection, no one – and I mean no one – can hurt you. Under my protection, you will be safe. Whoever wiped your memory out of ignorance and fear won't be able to touch you with me around. Help me and I'll help you."
"You don't want to help me." Suddenly, with the knowledge that he is no longer out to destroy her, a new defiance has reared its head within her. "You want to use me."
He smirks. "Is there a difference?"
# # #
Every time Tom's hands touch her, Jean reminds herself that this is all for the mission. Because, even though she doesn't know what the mission is in the first place, her gut tells her that Tom Riddle is the key to it and logic tells her to stay close to him. So she grits her teeth and feigns her eternal gratitude and ignores the fact that he notices every last drop of the resentment underscoring each of their interactions. If he fails to comment on it, she doesn't see why she shouldn't do the same.
Of course, there's a clear reason as to why he doesn't mention it.
Tom is an actor.
In the early days of their deal, he is simply polite. Hovering on the edge between friendliness and common courtesy with only the faintest suggestion that he is going out of his way to be nice. By the end of the first week, it has already transcended to volunteering to help her in class, engaging in light conversation about academia and current affairs, his smile just a little too bright to be friendly. By the time the next Wednesday rolls around, his hands are out. He touches her shoulder to get her attention, indulges in wrapping his fingers around her wrist when adjusting her grip, almost playfully tweaks the strap of her bag like an alpha male casually marking his territory.
In a few days' time, Jean Doe and Tom Riddle transform from a pair of duellists into a duo.
Teachers seat them together with a knowing smile, Slughorn ribs him to no end about his extracurricular activities, and her friends smirk and giggle whenever they happen to pass him in the corridors.
"Who knew that Tom Riddle likes girls who literally knock him off his feet?" Maggie keeps saying with a shriek of laughter at Jean's annoyance.
And throughout all of this, she can only throw her shoulders back and smile through the pain.
# # #
There's a new ghost in the castle.
When Myrtle Warren moves into the abandoned girls' bathroom, Jean is sitting at the Slytherin table, Riddle's arm wrapped around her waist possessively. The announcement makes him tense and a vein in his neck vibrates viciously.
"Good God," laughs Walburga Black contemptuously. "You'd think even a ghost would have better class than that. Who moves into a lavatory of all places?"
Her brother, Alphard, rolls his eyes and presses two fingers in circles against his temple. No doubt he is already sick and tired of her nasal screech, even after only a mere few minutes in her company. "She died less than a year ago, Walburga. Have a care and respect the dead, won't you?"
"Respect a filthy Mudblood?" She lifts her rouge lips in a sneer. "Do be careful, brother. You're starting to sound like dear old Cedrella with that sort of talk."
"And just how am I doing that? Cedrella is a blood traitor; I am merely aware of what common courtesy. Merlin, the girl was only twelve years old when she – "
"How did she die?"
The table falls silent at Jean's question. For the next generation of pureblood politicians and ruthless socialites, they seem oddly vulnerable in that moment. The one closest to her – Abraxas, as usual, since he's Tom's favourite – flickers his eyes over to his leader in hesitance before Walburga breaks the tension, leaning forward with her usual demanding demeanour.
"There was an oaf called Haggis in one of the years below," she says, mouth twisting with equal parts revulsion and spite and savage delight, "who raised a beast in the castle. An Acromantula, I believe it was. Either way, the half-breed spent the entire year unleashing it on unsuspecting students until one of them – the Myrtle girl who has just returned – was killed. Our Tom here managed to track Harvis down and apprehend him. He was expelled immediately."
It is as if one of the dams in her mind have cracked. Shadowy memory after shadowy memory seeps out, one after the other, until she has to shake them all away, focus on the mechanical actions of eating her breakfast to concentrate. The knowledge that someone has died in this castle has unlocked a door in her mind. Where once she would've thought it impossible for something so horrible to have happened here, she is now consumed with an ache in her bones that whispers that it has occurred half a hundred times before.
A body falling from the sky.
A wasteland of smouldering ashes and dragon fire.
A boy crushed by stone.
A hand reaching out in vain.
AVADA KEDAVRA AVADA KEDAVRA AVADAKEDAVRAAVADAKEDAVRAAVADA –
# # #
Myrtle Warren doesn't remember who killed her.
# # #
"Fuck – "
Tom's hips crash into her with a groan.
"Yes, yes, right there – "
Objectively, sex with Tom feels good. He's by no means a professional, but he's a diligent study and he has memorised all the ways to induce the right response in a woman. He holds her in all the right places, bites down on her fluttering pulse when she's close to the end, grits out her name like she's only one he's ever thought about.
And she supposes that's the point, really.
Because, as little as she knows, she is perfectly aware that everything Tom does is calculated. He may be a teenage boy, yes, but he is a smart one, an ambitious one, someone who wants to wrap his greedy fist around the world. He wants a Seer in his ranks and he thinks the best way to do that is to have her fall in love with him so he fucks her every week.
He fucks in her in the Restricted Section after curfew, her back flat against ancient tomes, her legs wrapped around his body. He fucks her in the dungeons, her cheek pressed against the rough stonework, her hair tangled in his fingers. He fucks her in the Prefects' bathroom, her body submerged in bubbles, her gasps mixed in with the heat.
He fucks her.
He does not make love.
And she lets him do it every single time. Lets him think that she is warming up to something other than his body, lets him believe that every time he presses into her, she is unravelling in his hands – because every time he flips her skirt up, she knows that she is another step closer to his destruction.
But yes, objectively, sex with Tom feels good.
Of course, when Jean thinks about it, it really isn't. She doesn't want to just be fucked in the library like in a scene right out of a deprived teenage boy's fantasies – she wants to be loved. She wants someone to hold her in his arms gently, to pepper her with kisses and smile clumsily against her laughter, to tell her that she's beautiful. She wants to feel his unsteady breaths against her neck and know he is just as besotted with her as she is with him, wants to count every freckle on his body and run her fingers freely through a damp mop of auburn hair. She wants, she wants, she wants –
There is a pause as she flies high on her euphoria.
And then Tom is slamming her against the wall in a dark fury, fingers crushing her throat. "What did you say?" he snarls. His face contorts. "What the fuck did you just say?"
"I – I," she chokes out, scrabbling to loosen his grip. Her nails dig uselessly against the back of his hand, chicken scratches on steel, and black spots enter her vision. "Tom."
His fingers rip away to shove her shoulders back. "Who the fuck is Ron? You think that you can moan another man's name when I'm inside you? Do you take me for a fucking fool?" Her head crashes against the stone. "You do not cross me and get away with it – "
"It was a vision," she gasps, struggling to inhale air. The room spins. "I couldn't – I couldn't help it, it was a vision."
For the first time she can recall, she begins to cry. Shoulders shaking, she drops her head, her breaths rapid and hysterical as she struggles to contain herself. She can't remember the first thing about him, but she misses this Ron so goddamn much and badly wants him back, wants him to hold her again and tell her everything will be okay.
Tom's voice is hard. "About what?"
She lifts her hands to her cheeks, sobbing, "It wasn't even important. It was just the name of some stupid president. I'm so sorry." Desperately, she tries to wipe away the tears, stem their flow from her eyes.
He is quiet.
Contemplating whether or not he wants to hit her or fuck her.
Finally, he wraps his hands around her wrists and pulls her to him, firm but not harsh. His knee nudges open her legs.
"Don't ever do that again."
# # #
As it turns out, there are some perks to having Tom around.
For one, he is right in claiming that being by his side is all the protection she needs at Hogwarts. Any Slytherins who might've hexed her – some assuming her to be an easy target, others to avenge their dear housemate after she knocked him unconscious with a desk in a duel – now nod their heads whenever they pass her, offering fleeting smiles by way of a greeting. Gryffindors who might've taken offence to her betrayal clap her on the back and commend her for hooking such a big fish. Worst of the lot are the bolder teachers. Now that she is with Riddle, she finds she is applauded for merely turning up to class and oftentimes these praises come hand in hand with a casual hint about how wonderful a union between the two of them would be.
For another, he is smart and willing to work on their studies with her. She imagines that if she had not approached him first, he still would've found a way to sit her down and force her to slave away until her grades were the envy of all. As it stands, Jean enjoys work. Enjoys the repetitiveness of her quill scratching the parchment, enjoys the thrill of deducing the answer to a particularly tricky question, enjoys going out of her way to research extra information for classes. Thus, having Tom around is really quite useful, after all: he is a minefield of knowledge just waiting to be tapped into.
Of course, there are drawbacks.
The fact that the library is his second home makes it difficult to borrow books on her true predicament. She has to tap into her sneakier side to work around him, even going as far as to tuck a book into her bag and walking out without running it past the librarian all the same. Part of her pangs with hurt at this casual sacrilege but it is drowned out with the affirmation that she is only doing it because it is necessary. Sacrifices must be made and this is but a small one.
It is on one such day, when she is quietly musing about how she will sneak away from Tom to borrow yet another book – she refuses to give up hope even after all this time, no matter how futile her efforts seem – when he slams his ink pellet down and demands:
"Is it true he's going to die?"
Jean starts, dragged out of her thoughts. "Sorry?" She blinks.
Irritation flits across Tom's face. It is a look familiar to him when he's around those who have glimpsed at his true nature: a spark of intense dislike for anyone who hasn't been paying him attention. Tom despises having to repeat himself.
"I said," he says, teeth gritted in annoyance, "is it true Hitler is going to die? You said he kills himself. Was that the truth or were you merely comforting Ida Ryan?"
Her mouth parts in surprise, though she doesn't know why. Of course, he remembers every word from that conversation she had so long ago, one she put out of her mind as soon as she could. She still doesn't even know how he is aware of what transpired but she has long since stopped questioning it. Doing so will only elicit a dangerous smirk from him along with the promise that he knows everything there is to know about her. Perhaps he will even prove it.
"He does," Jean murmurs, darting cautious eyes all around them. She worries away at her lip as she tries to recall all the fuzzy details. "I think… I think he shoots himself."
His eyebrows flit upwards. And then his face sets in stone. "Good," he says shortly. "The filthy Muggle bastard deserves to die." Jean can only nod. Encouraged by this, he continues in a low, venomous voice, "He's insane. Can you believe that he honestly thinks they're the superior race? As if a Muggle could be part of the superior race. It's fucking ridiculous. And the fact that some of our students have volunteered to fight in a war that isn't ours too! What idiocy." He lets out a high, disbelieving laugh.
Again, all she can do is nod.
Her stomach clenches painfully throughout his spiel. Having entered this world a blank slate, she has never given much thought to the purity of wizarding blood, though she knows many do. And yet, when she pauses to consider it, an instinctive tug in the depths of her stomach confesses that her blood is as 'dirty' as one can get. Mud flows in her veins as sure as day.
Voicing that would be a death sentence.
For now, Tom is content to accept her as a halfblood like him. But a Muggleborn? Who he has slept with? That will be unthinkable for him.
The boy in question leans back in his seat, the epitome of cockiness. His arms stretch out languidly above his head, robes hugging the muscles in his upper arms. For someone so dangerous, he doesn't look it. He looks like a dashing hero straight from the pages of a novel: dark rugged hair, the exposed triangle of skin underneath the base of his throat glittering with a light sheen of sweat, his boyish sprawl exuding confidence of the highest degree.
And then he smiles.
And it is clear that this snake has a bite.
"Of course," he muses, faint enough to escape any would-be prying ears, "one has to… admire him in a way, I suppose. He really did a number on the world, didn't he? Wormed his way to the top of the government and then simply did what he wanted. Of course, it can't have been a great plan if he kills himself in the end." Venom twists his words once more.
Jean finally finds her voice. "Men like that fail to anticipate what lengths their enemies will go to. They become lazy in their triumph and that is their downfall."
Tom eyes her, somewhat amused. More dominant, however, is his approval. "I would never do that," he declares softly. He leans over to cup her face in his hand like a victor with his prize, thumb ghosting over her lower lip. "After all… I have you."
# # #
One of the many, many books Jean fervently devoured since she first realised she was displaced in time advises victims of memory loss to seek that which is familiar. That seems a little ridiculous to her – after all, what could be more familiar than Hogwarts of all places? – but she still tirelessly searches for something that might ignite the grenade of memories in her mind.
She spends long hours with Minnie McGonagall, anxious for another vivid image to spring to mind. She treks it to the edge of the Forbidden Forest, gazes into the dense darkness, trying to glean even the faintest of calls from the towering trees. Explorations of the castle once more becomes a priority; whenever she can slip away from Tom, she can be found wandering the hallways, stopping here and there to chat to the ghosts or one of the friendlier portraits. She even actively seeks out Peeves for a solid week after the incantation Waddiwasi hits her with full force upon seeing him scrawl rude words on a blackboard.
And yet… there is nothing.
No significant memories, no hint at who she might be. All that returns to her are useless facts like the fact that she once had overly large front teeth or that she broke her right wrist when she was seven years old.
Frustrated by the lack of progress, she decides to forego her usual afternoon walk around the castle one dismal Sunday and curls up with one of Ida's books instead. Ever since she realised that she is most probably Muggleborn, she has made an effort to engage with Ida about her life at home which is how she finds out that Ida adores Glen Miller, the local bakers' boy and William Shakespeare. Seeing as how both the bakers' boy and the music are left at her home, the only thing she can offer are worn copies of Shakespeare's plays which is why Jean is opening to the first page of The Winter's Tale when it happens:
LEONTES, King of Sicilia
HERMIONE, Queen to Leontes
Pain explodes her head. With a scream, Jean digs her hands into her hair, her fingers scrabbling against her scalp to claw down to her brain. It is all she is aware of, all she has ever known – the pain crashes against her skull like an unforgiving hammer driving a thousand nails into her and she is helpless, collapsing forward onto her bed in agony. Blood and salt assault her tongue; she retches, sobbing all the while. She can't, she can't, shecantshecantshecant –
Are you sure that's a real spell? Well, it's not very good, is it?
A troll smashing its club in the bathroom – a hundred Dementors in the sky – a flash of green and a skull made of smoke –
Spin an hourglass and time flies backwards –
I'm hoping to do some good in the world
The exhilaration of waving her wand – laughing until their stomachs hurt – freckled fingers threading through hers –
Give her hell from us, Peeves
Hallways slick with blood – screaming, screaming, constant screaming – Death Eaters on dragons – Hogwarts burning to the ground – Voldemort shaking with rage –
NO, HARRY, PLEASE, YOU CAN'T –
# # #
Hermione Granger cradles the toilet with a shaking arm, her stomach shrieking protests as she heaves out everything inside her. A guttural groan escapes her – primal, anguished, raw – and she continues to sob with abandon, overcome with a thousand powerful emotions that battle to get the best of her.
"Ron," she whimpers and she knows he is dead.
Her eyes screw shut to stop the memory but it is dragged to the front of her mind with merciless hooks anyway. She remembers the wash of green as Lord Voldemort finally defeated Harry Potter, the horrible scream of rage as Ron charged forward… and then the slash of the Dark Lord's wand and the blood that poured from his body. She remembers the pain – in fact, she still feels it, clawing its way to the hole where her heart once beat, and how she fought to get to Ron's side, biting and scratching and shrieking as she was dragged away.
The love of her life was dead.
And she'd shagged his murderer.
Her stomach recoils violently again. Hermione tips her head over the toilet and empties her body, acid scorching her throat, her tears burning her cheeks. She can't – how can she have done that to him, to herself? How can she have degraded herself to such an extent? God, she's a despicable human being. She's the one who deserves to be buried in the ground. Not Ron. Not Harry. Not any of them.
Their deaths haunt her again in vivid detail. She can picture each last drop of Luna's blood on the floor of Malfoy Manor, the bone white pallor of Neville's skin, of how small Ginny seemed in death. Draco Malfoy's gaunt eyes, the way he wordlessly turned them away when he recognised her in the alleyway. Lee Jordan's broken voice on Potterwatch, bravely soldiering on. Andromeda cradling Teddy's still body in her hands and the endless wails that haunted the night for hours.
I don't deserve to be alive.
Not for the first time, Hermione wishes for death. For a divine being to take pity on her and strike her down so that she might return to her friends once and for all. The porcelain of the toilet is cold against her cheek as she waits for it to happen, her eyes drifting close.
She isn't sure how long she waits.
Memories pull her in, submerge her under the tide. She drowns and she drowns happily. She remembers the early days: the euphoria she always felt, the thrill of bickering with Ron, the ridiculousness of her spats with her friends. Feasts in the Great Hall and books in the library. Endless praises from her teachers, the unsubtle rolls of her friends' eyes as she harped on about work. She pictures Ron's hands – big, freckled, irritated from the sun – and how they wrapped around her waist, his mouth still hesitant against her own.
You're beautiful, he told her honestly. Loads better than any Veela there is.
She is almost delirious when Lilith finds her in the bathroom. Exclaiming something about her being absolutely mad, the other girl pulls her to her feet, dragging her to her bed, tucking her in with motherly reprimands and requests that filter in through one ear and out the other. Hermione lifts an arm to her eyes, presses down and tries to escape to a world she once knew.
"You rest for now," Lilith says unnecessarily, smoothing back her hair with surprisingly gentle hands for a Quidditch player. "Just you see, you'll be back on your feet in no time. Come tomorrow, you'll be ready to take the whole world by storm."
No, Hermione thinks as she drifts off. Come tomorrow, I'll be ready to save it.
# # #
Hermione Granger can be ruthless.
Once upon a time, her wrath was reserved to tremendous smacks to the face or permanent scars across the cheeks of a traitor. Fearsome in its own way but still the acts of a child with no true malice. Back then, she was still blissfully unaware of true loss, naïve to the harsh realities of the world. And then, in what still feels like the blink of an eye, everything was taken from her. She was left an empty shell, cracks mapping the surface of her body, crumbling away piece by piece.
When that happened, Hermione Granger snapped.
All her life, she was controlled by rules. Confined in the parameters they set for her, content to thrive within the order, knowing that everything was in its place and that she could finally flourish because this was the way things were done and that was that. Even in this godforsaken war, she clung onto the rules because it was the only way to keep her humanity, the only way to separate herself from one of them.
And look where it had gotten her.
The love of her life was dead. Her brother was dead. Her parents were all but dead. The resistance was scattered, crushing under the weight of their oppressors. The world was nothing but empty, blood red skies; nothing natural could thrive anymore.
Fuck the rules.
The time for following them was over.
She was never particularly good with matters outside of them, somewhat of a novice when it came to tasks fuelled by emotion and not common sense. Ron had once been all heart – tying the group together with a few ill-timed jokes, feeding their fire with broad pats on the back and squeezes of her hands, bearing his feelings on his sleeve for the world to see – while Harry had been the drive of instinct, a gut feeling that punched its way out into the world and demanded to be followed.
But Hermione… she was old books and cool logic and precise plans. She sought out tiny threads and latched on, pulling and pulling until she was staring down at the world's most hidden secrets, until she was packing her bags and smuggling her way to Peru to visit a woman who was rumoured to have mastered time itself.
She strategised, formulated, planned her actions down to the very last second –
It is no different now.
Perhaps her original plans were thrown to hell but she did not come this far to fall. All the ghosts who exist solely in her mind will be avenged, even if it costs her everything. Which is why Hermione Granger bides her time, poses as Jean Doe with her bland smiles and distant eyes, remains perfectly polite to the wizards she knows will grow up to murder others in cold blood, even lets their master fuck her to keep him off the scent. Shame burns her whenever she stumbles back to the dormitory, pinpricks of tears burning into existence, but she swallows her pride every single bloody time.
She has nothing else to lose.
And, in the end, it all boils down to this.
# # #
He starts, his hand diving into the pocket of his slacks as he whips around. When he catches sight of her in the shadows of the alleyway next to him, his eyebrows slam together in confusion – and then suspicion and irritation, the three blending into one another in quick succession. Back as straight as a plank, he sets his jaw and steps forward menacingly.
"How did you find me?" he demands, flushing with fury. No doubt he wants to keep his background as quiet as possible lest she use it as leverage over him. "What are you doing here?"
She shrugs. "I wanted to see you again. It's been too long."
He pauses, head cocked to the side. A cursory glance backwards at the empty street… and then he dives, throwing her back into the shadows, his wand flying out of his pocket to press into her throat. Her head collides against the brickwork, stars erupting into her vision, and her breath is knocked out of her, only to be greedily inhaled by Tom as he presses forward. He digs his hips in experimentally.
"It's only been a week," he hisses, pale fingers sliding up to grip her face. "Why are you really here, Jean? And how did you find me?"
"My name is Hermione," she chokes out.
The yew pierces skin. "What?"
"I remember again," she tells him. Her eyes flit up to his and they harden. "My name is Hermione Granger. I'm a Muggleborn witch born to two dentists in Chiswick. And I came here to do this."
She jams a knife into his gut.
# # #
The years that follow Tom Riddle's death in a grimy alleyway in London aren't perfect. When news reaches Hogwarts, the entire school mourns their would-be Head Boy, listless and sombre for weeks into the new school year. Everything seems a little duller than usual, as if Hogwarts itself is lamenting the loss of such brilliance, now that the world will never again see him burn so fierce and bright. Understandably, Hermione withdraws herself in grief, publicly condemning life as cruel for stealing her boyfriend just when her memories finally returned.
Now that she has killed Tom, she sheds the name 'Hermione' for life. It's too innocent, too good – and she is anything but.
Instead, she returns to Hogwarts with the harrowing tale of Jeannette Dubois, a halfblood witch who lived in Uzès with her English rose of a mother and her father, a French baker who went to fight in the War and never returned. Her mother perished in the fire that ravaged wizarding Lyon during Grindelwald's attack in the summer of 1942 and poor distressed Jeannette Dubois stumbled her way to a distant sanctuary her mother had heard tales of, a castle in Scotland called Hogwarts. By the time she arrived, her magic had turned on her mind in an effort to protect its host, wiping it clean until the next tragic loss in her life beckons the return of her memories.
She still prefers to be called Jean, reluctant to let go of her past entirely. She tells everyone that it's because it's what Tom knew her as and another little way to keep him alive – but in truth, when she thinks of Tom, she thinks of the way his eyes flew open in shock when she sank a knife into his stomach, the way his hands slipped away from her face to press against the blood, shaking in shock and fear and rage. She remembers him bleeding out on the dirty ground, breaths rough and staggered. A boy betrayed by a girl he thought loved him.
That is the only way she keeps him alive.
Outside of Hogwarts, the world continues to be destroyed by Muggles and magic alike. She graduates when Dumbledore is still cowering from his old love, escapes to tour South America and wizarding communities that are thriving in peace and prosperity. She throws herself into another task, one decidedly less violent: researching other wizarding cultures. For years, she immerses herself in another world entirely, one devoid of the ghosts from her past – she still carries them around in her mind, of course, but there is nothing to anchor them in her surroundings anymore – and eventually, it gets a little easier to breathe, a little easier to laugh, a little easier to love.
By the time she returns to England, she has amassed enough knowledge to publish not one but several books and settles into a quiet cottage on the Isle of Skye, far out enough to be left alone but close enough to the land of her birth to be there within seconds. In between manuscripts and meanders into the local village, she visits her friends from school: Lilith with her Quidditch medals, Maggie with her husband, Ida with the bakers' boy and a baby. Minnie McGonagall is already stationed at Hogwarts and the thought makes her heart ache with a nostalgia that is now much easier to bear. When Hermione visits, Dumbledore offers her a job but she respectfully declines, feeling that it is still too early to return.
There are other Dark Lords, of course. She thinks there always will be. The world needs someone stirring up trouble, for it is the way it works: hatred and resentment rises, only to be combatted by the law and love over and over again.
Only when the possibility of a pureblood revolution led by Abraxas Malfoy becomes serious in the late 1950s does Hermione return to Hogwarts, though it is as Jeannette MacKinnon, a formidable Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher married to a Muggle with strawberry blonde hair and a wicked sense of humour. In some ways, he does remind her of Ron but with a maturity that that Ron never had the chance to grow into. There are plenty of differences between the two as well, enough for Hermione to be sure that she loves her husband for who he is and not because of who he looks like if one squints hard enough and turns their head to the side. Truthfully, too many years have passed since Ron's death for it to dictate her life anymore.
So Hermione returns to Hogwarts as Jeannette MacKinnon, teaches her students to protect and defend, helps to groom the next generation into knowing how to defeat monsters like Abraxas Malfoy. She falls in love with academia again, falls in love with the big brown eyes of each of her children, falls in love with a castle she has known throughout time. She falls in love and she forgets the sharp bite of pain.
By the time her eldest son befriends James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew, her heart doesn't convulse at the sight of boys who died far too young in another life. By the time Lily Evans very publicly kisses James in the Great Hall, she doesn't see them as parents of a boy she once knew but as humans in their own right. By the time one William Weasley swaggers into the Great Hall, she doesn't remember scars and wolf claws but thinks oh dear God, please tell me he isn't another Prewett boy.
Of course, she is not quite as prepared for the moment she claps eyes on Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley and Harry Potter.
By some miracle, they have managed to come into the world in the same year despite the fact that, without the threat of war, both the Potters and the Weasleys delayed their births by some years – they're even standing together, whispering excitedly as they stare at the Sorting Hat, glowing with their innocence. It shouldn't even be possible. After all, meddling with time has repercussions and she assumed that her younger self would be written out of this timeline entirely – but perhaps, the universe has always meant for these three to be together.
Jeannette gazes down at the shy grins the three exchange and realises that her mission is finally over: at last, she is home.