I'm not sure how long I will be continuing this, but I'll be following my muse until she tuckers out. Also, just so everyone knows, Nicholas Flamel isn't dead. I know he died in the early 90s but this is fanfiction and I'm bending time to my will, muahaha. is he going to be a main character? No. But I couldnt think of many people who were famous that Hermione would be interested in meeting, so I picked him. Anyways! doesnt really matter.

Disclaimer: Nothing here is mine. Im just playing with the idea.


Chapter 5

"I'm searching for answers,

'cause something's not right.

I follow the signs; I'm close

to the fire. I fear that soon

you'll reveal your dangerous mind…"

- Within Temptation

The sun's last cheerful rays illuminated the architectural wonder that was "the Burrow". The surrounding fields and fluttering leaves on the trees glowed a golden hue, with the sweet smell of freshly mowed grass. Slowly making it's glowing red path down towards a dark horizon, the sun glared through the windowpane; lighting upon the merry Weasley household inside who were currently gathered around a warm wooden table piled high with delectable food.

Sitting at that table, Hermione picked at the food on her plate, seeing everything and registering nothing. She barely noticed what her gleaming silver fork was poking at, as she pushed around the contents on her white ceramic plate in small swirling patterns.

The sun struck the silverware at a sharp angle, scattering the light into individual prisms of color and if she relaxed her eyes and let them go slightly out of focus, she could imagine she was seeing a spray of rainbow down a tunnel of light. The illusion distracted her.

The happy cacophony of the Weasley family surrounded her as they all partook of the assorted dishes, delicious and steaming. The eating utensils made tinkling sounds as they connected with the different types of metal and glass plates. But everything was more of a background noise in her head, the sounds of the family's chatter merged together rather than individual voices standing out.

She sat there, with a smile plastered onto her face, trying to seem normal to anyone who happened to glance at her. It helped that she was using a gentle occluding spell.

It had been three days since "the incident" as Hermione referred to it in her mind.

She pulled a hand away from her forehead only to bring it down to massage her neck, where very recently a livid black bruise had stained her skin. The jar of ointment that had healed it without a trace was pressing sharply into her thigh, reminding her that it was there. Hermione carried it with her everywhere, afraid of someone else accidentally finding it among her belongings.

A hand slapping the table as someone made an emphatic gesture to prove a point, startled Hermione briefly from her knarled thoughts and she was able to focus once more on her surroundings, but only just.

The Weasley family was loud. A loud and loving sea of red hair and smiling faces. Hermione - who had always been an only child - had gotten used to the noise over the years that she and Harry had spent time at Ron's house. They were now as much her family as her own father and mother; the loud, obnoxious, most wonderful brothers and sister that she had ever had. More so now that she and Ron were officially together as a couple with wedding bells perhaps not too far distant.

Right now though, Hermione longed for solitude. Such as a quiet corner in a library, somewhere she didn't have to pretend that nothing was wrong and that the war was over. A place she could do what she excelled at: research.

Hermione had been forcing herself to focus mostly towards the two ends of the table, as she tried with all her might to ignore the glaringly empty space next to Fred. Her shoulders were hunched slightly, as if cringing away from the very ordinary chair that may or may not harbor the ghost of George or, at the very least, the reminder of him. She pretended to listen to Mr. Weasley joke with Bill but her thoughts began to drift, as always, back to "the incident".

Need. Gift. Healing.

They were more than mere ideas. They were the weights on a balance scale: one that continued to swing to and fro as she teetered between the two choices in front of her, embodied by a single Fae symbol; Uruz.

The beast, or the rain.

War, or peace. Truth, or lies. Conflict, or allegiance. Destruction, or healing. The sickness, or the cure.

The beast, or the rain.

Hermione closed her eyes against the sounds of everyone enjoying their time as a family, trying to block it all out. To choose what was right, she had done and must continue to do something very wrong. To do what she thought was right, was to choose the wrong thing. She had not told Ron about "the incident", and thankfully Harry was still in London with Ginny so she hadn't had to avoid him and his too trusting spirit. But he would be coming later tonight to join the family festivities and part of her desperately didn't want to see him.

She had been chasing herself around in circles for the past few days and although she thought she had already made her choice, it didn't make it any easier.

There seemed to be no answer.

Her mind flashed back to the dark of the hotel room, the rainstorm and the purple lightning, shocking revelations, the curiosity and the pain. The memory of the hand around her throat made her fingers flex tight against the fork she held. How could she ever trust him?

"I would never hurt you…" Those had been Tom Riddle's words, spoken like a solemn vow. Objectively speaking, she supposed he hadn't. Except…"At least not more than I have to."

Hermione didn't like the idea of such an evil wizard deciding how much hurt she could and couldn't endure, even if it was just a bruise. It didn't feel like just a bruise… The memory of the burning in her lungs and the blackening of her vision sent a tremor through her. It wasn't the injury itself. It was the act. The fear, the helplessness, the violation…

She reached up to touch the rune pendant, still dangling inconspicuously on her neck and swore he would never lay hands on her again.

On the heels of that, a sensory memory of the gentle friction of his lips rose up to swallow the crushing grip of his hand. Remembering the slide and press of his mouth on hers shot a confounding spark of electricity zinging along her limbs before she tamped down on it, vowing he would never do that again either, and refusing to acknowledge the curious shadow of ambivalence her resolution conjured. She could reluctantly admit, in the sanctuary of her own mind, that it had been… rather stimulating. For a moment. A very brief moment. But it hadn't felt that good – not good enough to overcome everything that stacked against it – and whatever good it had felt had been the product of adrenaline and fear… and maybe a little bit of curiosity… the conceit of being wanted so desperately… nothing else.

Hermione could admit to being a little vain, sure.

It should never have happened in the first place. It would never happen again.

No matter what choices she made surrounding the golden sun in her pocket. This was a distraction she couldn't afford now.

Besides! Hermione reasoned with herself He's over 70 years old! Gross much? DEFINITELY not my type.

She frowned, trying to control her thoughts and emotions. Why am I even bringing that up? It's not like it's an option even if he WAS younger! Just stop thinking about it!

If the others noticed her unusual reticence, they didn't say anything. Ron had asked her twice in the past two days if she was feeling well...which had prompted her to use an occluding spell around her. But how was Harry NOT going to notice that she was a little off?

He certainly hadn't LOOKED that old in the hotel room, her mind went back to the strange situation of Riddle's age, He actually looked rather young. In his 30's? Hermione frowned and mentally countered her observation, It doesn't MATTER... I'm only 17!

She again wrenched her thoughts away from the absurd notions and felt angry. What was she doing? Why was she debating with herself over Voldemort's age as if that had any factor in the matter! Even if he HAD been the same age as her, it wouldn't...it never...

She began to focus on the happy reunion around her with renewed intensity. She needed to do her best to forget about the whole thing. She consciously tuned her ears and eyes to the loudest thing going on at the moment, desperate to distract herself.

Mr. Weasley and Bill were joking about...well, something. Big smiles, lots of teeth, wrinkles around their eyes in mirth. Their shoulders shook as they chuckled to each other.

Mrs. Weasley came up behind Mr. Weasley while Hermione studied them, and her gaze then remained with Mrs. Weasley as she flitted around her family at the large table like a protective fluffy red haired bumble-bee. She took her role as hostess seriously as she seemed to put all of herself into everything she was doing.

Perhaps Mrs Weasley was also trying to chase some shadowed memories away? Hermione gaze on her intensified and sharpened for a moment, looking for any oddity. Raised up eyebrows here, a playful smack on her husband's shoulder there, a smile struggling to remain hidden underneath a stern look...heaping more food onto Fred's plate and saying something about him being too thin. There! Hermione could see a sadness that entered her eyes as she had looked at Fred.

Hermione's attention focused on Fred now. She swallowed as she took in his appearance. Fred had a smile on his face as he relished this time the family had together but he looked tired and was quieter. Gone was the joking Fred, the mischievous Fred. Before Hermione sat a changed man; more sober and serious.

What must it be like, Hermione mused even as her eyes started to tremble with guilty tears, to lose half of yourself? Someone you shared everything with, even the womb?

She quickly occluded herself even further, hoping no one saw her start to sniffle. Watching Fred made her inadvertently think of the revelations from the hotel room again...

Riddle wanted an alliance between them. One that he apparently believed could make things right after all that had gone so wrong. One that would begin, she could only assume, with her silence, making her complicit in his deceit and creating a 'debt of loyalty', as the mysterious Alexa Solberg had put it.

Hermione had already chosen once not to expose him, when she had failed to contact The Ministry of Magic while she was still in London. But the real test had come later when she had materialized out of the flu and into Ron's loving embrace.

His face had lit up as she had crossed the stone hearth and reached for him. She was swept into the arms of her red-headed love. All of her anxiety, fear, and despair were swallowed up for a moment in the euphoria of finally being with the boy she had loved since he had saved her from the troll in the girl's bathroom. The delight of having her close again was plain on Ron's face. When he reached down and tilted her mouth up to meet his, her heart sang.

"I've missed you, Hermione," Ron had sighed, cradling her face in his hands. Hermione craned her neck to stare up into the sincere expression of his face, and reached up to cover his hands with her own, pressing her cheek into the strength of his fingers. He was dressed casually in a grey t-shirt and jeans.

Their fingers laced together and they kissed. Wonderful Ron...GOOD Ron...

She made her decision; she was going to tell him everything. Everything!

But just as she had been about to open her mouth, the memory of Tom's thinly veiled ultimatum made her pause...

"Are you so eager to burn the world again with me, Hermione?"

She shivered. That message had been clear enough. If she kept quiet and didn't stir up any trouble, there was a chance he'd do the same; if she told anyone that he was alive, and they came looking for him, he would defend himself. She had no idea what he might do, but there was zero doubt in her mind that he would do it and it wouldn't be good. He would not be taken easily. Innocent people would get caught in the crossfire again. Lives would be lost.

And this time, it really would be my fault...

And so she just told Ron that she had missed him, that the meetings she and Harry had in London had been interesting, and that she was happy that they were together again.

Hermione's eyes came back into focus, coming out of her own memory and she realized she was staring at George's empty wooden chair without even meaning to.

Hermione rubbed her arms in an attempt to drive away the cold that seemed to have invaded her bones. She quickly moved her eyes down the line, past George's empty chair and saw that Percy and Ron were talking about different plans they had for the weekend. For the first time she could ever remember since meeting this family, Ron and Percy seemed to have become friends. The death of a sibling could do that, she supposed. She watched them for a moment or two longer; a shove here, a joking insult there. It filled her with hope to see the two enemies become friends.

Ron turned, catching her gaze, and smiled. She automatically smiled back, feeling the warmth of her love for him spread through her as she gazed into his warm, brown puppy-dog eyes. But as soon as he looked away, the smile slid off her face as she worried anew about what he saw when he looked at her. Did he see through her act? Did he somehow know she was a fraud? A fake?

At times she imagined she could feel the magic cut that marked her choice tingling on her forehead, so cold that it burned.

She squeezed her eyes shut as her forehead prickled and itched. She reached up to quickly scratch it with no one knowing but froze before she actually touched it. She still had no idea what the mark really was, what it was for, or what it did. Alexa had told her that it was dangerous, but not necessarily evil; that it represented two possibilities, raging fire or cooling rain, the embodiment of the choice Tom was offering her. Tom himself had told her that it would protect her.

But it wasn't much to go on. What did 'dangerous' really mean? And as for protection… Hermione dropped her hand once more to the rune pendant still hanging around her neck. Emhagalaz had taught her very effectively that protection could mean a lot of things, and those things weren't always what you might expect. As for the Quills of legend, THAT was a complete wild card; their only known properties being somehow knowing every baby born with magic in the world and possibly having unpredictable mind-altering effects if you wrote on someone's forehead with it...

"It doesn't change you. It reveals you…"

Her fingers tightened on the rune pendant.

What if she scratched the mark and Tom popped out, like a genie from a bottle? What if by scratching it, the mark thought that meant she was being harmed, and… and… did something. Something bad? Worst of all, what if it was influencing her thoughts and perceptions, and she didn't realize it? Tom had denied it, but what was a Dark Lord's word really worth? Harry's mark had burned and hurt him every time Voldemort was around him...

Hermione's breath caught. What if her mark itched to signal when he was around? Her eyes darted furtively around the cluttered and yet organized home around her, paranoid. She knew she was being paranoid but there were moments she could swear she felt his eyes on her, watching her from some dark corner, but no matter how often she looked around herself, he was nowhere in sight.

He's not near me. He's inside me. In my head...

The uncertainty was tying her in knots.

She had to tell to Ron and Harry. Setting aside all of the conventional reasons why it was the right thing to do, there was a chance that Harry would know what the mark was, and what to do about it. Despite Tom's warning, despite the devastation she could be responsible for if she revealed that he was alive, despite the way her insides squirmed with unease at the thought, and despite the pain it would cause Harry to learn that his mortal enemy was not as gone as he currently believed him to be, the only rational conclusion was to tell them what she knew.

What part has rationality played in any of this?

She shoved that thought forcefully aside.

If she were honest with herself, she also had another, more selfish motivation: trust. She and Harry trusted each other...with their very lives. They HAD to be able to continue to trust each other. Especially since she didn't know if she completely trusted Ron yet. He had broken her heart when he left Harry and her in the middle of the woods. She had eventually forgiven him, of course, after a long while and had assumed that he had been influenced by the horcrux...but what if Tom was right? What if it had merely revealed his insecurities and not actually given them to him?

Hermione shook her head, as though she could shake off her doubts or somehow detach Tom Riddle's poisonous influence. Nothing he said regarding Ron could be trusted. Tom didn't want her to build a bond with Ron, he wanted her to build a bond with him. She couldn't allow that.

But the fact remained…

"Ron divides his affections."

Harry was her best friend and she trusted him as much as any human being could trust another. But in the meantime, she had to be trustworthy as well. She couldn't ever choose Tom over Harry. And if she ever wanted to build something truly meaningful with Ron as she hoped, like marriage and a family, then she needed to trust him as well.

But then it always came back to Tom's threat. If the charred, broken husk of Hogwarts and the ruin of London had been too heavy a burden, how could she bear the guilt of another city, another world, another crowd of innocent lives, whose blood this time really would be on her hands?

Maybe she could convince Harry not to go after Voldemort? She very nearly laughed at herself on the heels of that thought. Harry couldn't know of a wrong without trying to right it. It wasn't in him to ignore a crime, no matter the cost.

Is it in me to do that? she wondered. She didn't like to think so, but the real trouble wasn't so much that she ignored right and wrong, so much as she sometimes didn't quite know the difference. Like right now.

Harry would know the right thing to do instantly. He always knew just where he stood, just what he believed was right. An ache of longing blossomed in her chest and she sighed, longing to be in the sheltering strength of both Ron and Harry again, and simultaneously wishing that the fireplace would never change color from its red glow to an emerald green so she never had to make this decision.

"I can't, Tom," she murmured softly, letting her eyes go out of focus to stare out the window, the sun already disappearing over the horizon, allowing the darkness to take over once again. She hardly knew which choice she was referring to. "I just can't…"

"Ginny my dear!" Mrs. Weasley, exuberant voice suddenly came through the walls with happy cries from the others, pulling Hermione from her fruitless thoughts. She was in the bathroom, splashing water on her face to clear her head, and had been staring into the mirror above the sink for several minutes, lost in thought, as though maybe her dripping reflection might come to life and tell her what she should do. "And Harry darling! Goodness what took you two so long?! Dinner is over, but we saved you some plates and I've got a pie baking in the oven..."

Hermione's heart fluttered in her chest like a trapped bird.

She couldn't be the cause of more death and destruction.

She couldn't keep Tom's secret, building a tacit alliance with him while sacrificing Harry's trust.

She couldn't tell.

She had to tell.

Her voice, when it issued from her lips, was a high thready whisper, and the words left her feeling like a frightened child.

"Don't make me do this." She pleaded for Tom to hear.

Hermione paused for a long while, just listening to the group's excited tones through the wall. No one answered her plea, except Harry's voice muffled through the wall when he finally asked, "Where's Hermione?"

Sighing heavily, she scrubbed at her face with a paper towel and quickly exited the bathroom with a smile she hoped looked excited and normal.

She turned the corner and was immediately greeted by the Weasley's and Harry's smiles and shout's of "there she is!" She grinned, momentarily amused by the unnecessary enthusiasm at her appearance.

Ginny was all smiles as she came over and gave her unofficial sister-in-law a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

Once he had established that no one was missing; Harry went back to talking animatedly with everyone else in the room.

Hermione watched him for a moment over Ginny's back, taking in his appearance. Normally she would go over and give him a hug, but something held her back. It was almost like... Judas giving Jesus a kiss even as he sold him out to be killed or something. Not that Hermione would ever do that, of course, but it would feel even worse if she showed him her usual affection all the while keeping this important information from him.

Instead, she went over to stand by Ron and wrapped an arm around his waist while he talked with Harry so she could be close to the two of them.

This was what she had been waiting for, longing for, desperate for: Harry's steady nearness, Ron's warming presence, the wonderful simplicity of their friendship with each other, her mind quieting as they awakened her senses, the guiding hands that would lead her unwaveringly down the proper path, even if she couldn't see where she was stepping. They were the Golden Trio. It never failed…

So why wasn't it working?

The peace and stability her friends always brought her was now no more than a brittle veneer over the swelling mass of confusion and painful uncertainty, like a boil that needed to be lanced. Her heart felt light, but her stomach was twisted in knots. She looked up into Harry's smiling face, and all the happiness was shot through with fractures. She felt sick with guilt.

"How was your stay at the hotel? I was going to come by, but then I met up with Ginny and we had a bunch of other things to do." Harry nodded over to her, apologetically.

They were seated outside on the lawn in blue camping chairs, looking up at the night sky while drinking ginger beer and eating some of Mrs. Weasley's Strawberry-rhubarb pie. Hermione had conjured a fire while they also munched on toffee apples. Ginny and Harry were snuggled together with a patchquilt blanket wrapped around them, while she and Ron were doing the same. Ginny looked over at Hermione and winked.

Hermione smirked back at her. Other things to do, huh? More like they got their own hotel room.

His words finally registered though and her stomach suddenly clenched in panic and her heart started galloping. It was just the four of them. Now was her chance!

She opened her mouth…

"It… it was…"

Tell him. Looking into his eyes, it was the only right answer. Tell him!

…then she closed it.

"Don't look for me."

Telling Ron, Harry, and Ginny was the right thing to do. They loved her and trusted her. They would have the answers she couldn't find. The benefits outweighed the risks by miles.

"My only plans are to lay low. But if I am forced to change those plans…"

There was no reason for her to believe Tom would keep his word. None. And she needed to build trust with Ron, not Tom; keeping Tom's secrets from her friends would be an absolute violation of that trust.

"You will be the rain that cools his fury. Or you will be the fire that drives him to incinerate everything."

From nowhere, that heart-rending smile, sad and knowing, flitted through her mind, and the taste of his lips accosted her memory without her permission. The feel of them, still so real all these days later, made her skin tinge so brazenly that she could swear they were there even now, invisible but real.

"You are my rain."

Her chest constricted painfully. She cleared her throat.

"Um… it was…"

Tell him!

"…fine…"

No, it was not fine! I was attacked by our mutual mortal enemy who has been tormenting us since we were 11 years old who, as it turns out, is not so dead or mortal after all!

Ron seemed to sense her distress - perhaps because she was locking her muscles too stiffly under the blanket - and turned a little to look at her as he asked, "Just fine? How were the Horcrux meetings? You said they were interesting?"

"Kind of boring actually. Lots of explaining, like, really basic information to a bunch of Wizard politicians and authorities."

It was the opposite of boring! I got a magic symbol slashed into my forehead by an extremely powerful Augury quill and who knows what it does!

"But I got to meet Nicolas Flamel...He's, like, my favorite celebrity, it was a pretty big deal…"

I met the part-Fae descendents of another realm that we never knew existed!

"But other than that… you know… it was just… um… fine…." Gosh, she was a bad liar.

Why am I lying to them? What is wrong with me? Guilt, hot and acidic, burned behind her eyes, and a heavy, uneasy knot in her gut twisted tighter. She dreaded finding a way to explain herself, since there was no way Harry would believe such a…

"Yeah, it's all done and over with! We're free!" Harry said, smiling warmly. Openly. Trustingly.

Hermione discovered that the only thing worse than Harry discovering she'd lied to him, was Harry not discovering that she'd lied to him. He had no reason to NOT trust her. She'd never let him down. The only other time she had kept something from her friends was when Dumbledore had given her the time turner in their 3rd year. The smoldering guilt in her gut blazed white hot. Unbearable.

"No…" she said, closing her eyes, swallowing against a bitter taste on her tongue. "Actually…"

Careful

"…actually, it wasn't all fine…"

…be very careful now…

"Really? What else happened?" Harry's voice was laced with concern, and when she opened her eyes, his brow was deeply furrowed, his shoulders tense, as though braced to catch some heavy pronouncement about to fall from her lips. Ginny and Ron were all looking at her curiously now.

"What is it?" Ron asked, giving her shoulders an encouraging squeeze.

"It's… about Voldemort."

...


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