“Can I borrow your robe, Antonin?” Hermione said calmly and pulled up her hair, stretching her neck until it cracked. One side and then the other. “It’s October. I’m a bit chilled.”
"Of course, dove," Antonin nodded and removed his robe, holding it out for her arms. "English cannot take even the mildest cold. It is charming."
Sometimes, the misogyny of the forties proved useful.
Her hands did not shake as she put it on. Her wand was steady and relaxed as she altered it slightly so the hem was not on the ground. She was still swaddled in it, but that was the point. Her body was not as emaciated as it had been when she had first gotten here—her bones were now safely hidden under her skin—but Tom watched her often, eyes sticking on her like she was a grand piece of art or grotesque abomination. Or both. He might recognize her shape.
“I’m going now,” she said politely.
“Hermione." Again, that perfect name. "I told you—”
Hermione touched the cool glass. It was a large, thick pane. The building was old. It must have been expensive. If she was a muggle, she would worry about fingerprints. As it was, wizards were idiots and couldn't catch a thief unless they bled all over a crime scene. Poor Missy.
The spell was soft as a sigh in her head.
Hermione apparated down to the floor.
The glass exploded, the crowd startled. Panicked. Transfixed by the glass stars raining down on them. The horror of an attack in the middle of a war. Tom Riddle jerked his head to the blast the same as the crowd. Ever the animal beholden to his instincts.
Hermione only saw the back of his head. Black curls and the scar behind his ear where he'd been stabbed at ten.
She remembered the bridge, remembered that her spell had not worked on him properly, remembered that he hadn’t been at all surprised by it.
How he hadn’t gone to be healed by Madam Ophior.
Magic was fickle with him, but he had stabbed himself quite easily.
Hermione summoned a dagger, touched the hilt with her wand, and sent it, with all the force of a bullet, to the back of his skull.
Tom disapparated with a thundercrack. Sloppy boy. Rosier and the other woman along with him. The dagger shattered through a dragon egg, splitting it open, leaking red yolk, and killing whatever had been inside.
Assassination failed. It was going to be a fight.
Someone shouted. A child screamed.
This was going to be messy.
Hermione rolled her shoulders and straightened her back. Took a deep breath through the mask. She had been in too many fights to be scared, had killed too many people to hesitate. The blood rush was familiar. The quickening of her mind. The way time stretched out, thicker and sweeter than syrup, making seconds seem like minutes. Heart rapid, steady.
She was fine.
Cold as iron.
Float like ice.
The main hall was a large, high ceiling room with booths scattered about, showing off different magical findings. A display of dragon eggs—now cracked—a grand exhibit of Coatls, a mighty Thunderbird, another dozen eggs and their layers. There were hundreds of attendees. Mostly academic, judging from their simple robes. A handful of investors, judging from their gaudy ones. The only child Hermione had seen was the Potter. Worst comes to worst, Hermione would simply return James to an only child.
Aligning this timeline closer to hers couldn’t be too disastrous, could it?
An alarm went up. Some fireworks and sirens in the crowd. Someone shot a stunner at her. Hermione leaned out of the way and the witch on her left collapsed. The crowd scattered towards the doors. She turned to look for Tom. There was still that unspooling inside her, a hum, an itch across her magic. The Hallow was here. She could feel it. It had never been in his room at all.
Tom was prideful. Maybe not damned by it, but he would not leave. He would not run away.
And Rosier stood out.
A shock of white hair and dark skin near the back doors, Rosier gripped Tom’s elbow tightly, breathing panicked, eyes wide. He was scared. Too young. Not used to war. Tom whispered rapidly in his ear, smooth-faced and relaxed. The other woman looked frantically around, disoriented from the apparition. Until her eyes landed on Hermione.
And she smiled.
Softly amused, head tilted. Charmed. Like Hermione was a toddler who had just lied for the first time.
Hermione stayed cold. A river in winter. Anger was useless.
Tom jerked the woman toward Rosier and—
The man in white robes and gold rings shot a Killing Curse at her. Hermione stepped aside, and the wizard behind her collapsed to the ground.
She walked calmly, sent a stunner back. He shielded; Hermione warped, pulled, yanked the Coatl exhibition down on his back. The wire cage smashed down on him with double the force of gravity, clanging in her ears. The metal separated his skin in neat squares. Three Coatls flapped out, trapped by the ceiling of the room, and Hermione levitated the logs and crushed them on top of him. Weighed him down. He would not move now.
She wondered if he was dead for a moment, and then decided she didn't care.
Hermione Granger did not think she was evil.
She was not going to purposefully kill someone when she could just as easily stun them, take them out of the fight.
But they were nothing but ghosts.
Everyone here was already dead. It was nice to play like they were alive—like Tom was alive—but they were not. He was not. These people had died of natural causes, or in this war or another one. It was not her responsibility to save them. Even if she saved the world, even if she unmade the Hallows and returned home. Even if she was perfect. Riddle would be dead, Fleamont would be dead, that annoying, smiling woman would be dead. All of them would be dead. It did not matter.
Hermione would not kill them for sport, but she would not save them for her soul.
A half a dozen stunners shot toward her. Out of the hundreds that had been here, not many people had stayed behind for the fight. Not many Gryffindors in academia.
Hermione didn’t bother to shield. She apparated to Riddle.
Three meters in front of him, taking a small step, not bothering to hide. They were fighting now. She needed to fuck with him a bit. Riddle was relaxed, half-lidded eyes and back straight. Not a trace of joy he’d had at the bridge when he’d been moments from killing her. In his pressed robes and combed hair. Black gemstone sharp on his finger. She might think him uninterested.
He looked like he was in defense class, turning children into fish. Not like how he usually looked at her at all.
No, that was saved for someone else apparently. Someone in an expensive dress and jewels.
Rosier and the woman had disapparated elsewhere. Perhaps just outside the building. Perhaps outside Paris.
Didn’t matter. They weren’t the target. She could get in their heads and kill them later.
Tom Riddle was the target.
The ring. The Stone.
Perhaps she wouldn’t even murder him.
Perhaps she would only cut off his hand, liquify his lungs, and leave him to drown in his own gore.
Stop. Be cold. Anger was useless. This may be murder, but it wouldn’t be gaudy.
Tom Riddle casually shot a bright green curse her way, the color of spring grass and something new. He didn't open his mouth. His face didn’t change. He didn’t look tired or excited or angry.
He looked bored. Like he was still in a lecture.
Or taking a new student out shopping.
Flat, black, empty.
Hermione shielded the Killing Curse—
It hit with the force of a meteor and all the heat of a star. Nothing dexterous about it. The curse stuck on her shield for a heart-choking second. Boiling through it like acid. Her magic rebuffing his would not tell her as much as it would if she had caught it, but it told her enough. There was a wildness to it. Overzealous. Barely contained. Not the delicate magic of a sixteen-year-old prodigy.
There was something very wrong with Tom Riddle.
"Please tell me you are not alone," he sighed lazily, absolutely unconcerned with his imminent death, "I will be terribly offended if he thought one little monster could kill me."
Hermione felt the overwhelming urge to scream at him to shut the fuck up and die. Stop saying nonsense. But she did not. She hadn’t thought to put a charm on her mask to shift her voice.
What a mistake.
Hermione did not look up to Antonin. No doubt he would be furious. Fleamont was either getting the Goose or he wasn’t. She did not particularly care at the moment. The only thing that mattered was the Stone.
And it was here.
On a relaxed pale hand, on a bone-white wand, on a boy who was about to die drowning in his own blood.
Focus. Stop being angry. What did it matter how he looked at someone else.
“Quiet thing?” Tom said, cocking his head. “That’s fine. I have spent most of the day listening to idiots. Lectures are dreadfully boring without the right company. Thank you for livening things—”
The thunderbird exploded in size, surging out until it tore the barrier in its enclosure. Its form crackled with lightning, rumbled with thunder, and took up half the conference hall in the breath of a second. Those few that remained suddenly lost their courage to face the beast and fled. She may not be able to curse him, but she could kill Tom in other ways.
Tom Riddle turned his head and shut the fuck up.
The bird screeched.
Some terrible thunderous, gnawing cacophony, reverberating through her bones like a tuning fork struck with lightning. Thoroughly ruining whatever good mood she still had left from the charmed food. The rest of the windows in the building shattered, dusting them in glass. Riddle shielded lazily. Hermione didn’t. She let the glass fall over her masked face and focused on the floor beneath him.
It was rich marble. Ostentatious in the middle of a war. Pristine and untouched by skirmishes.
It cracked open under his feet. A great fissure and little shards of sharp stone erupted from the floor. The sound, an echo of the Thunderbird raging above.
Riddle snapped away loudly, not a trace of finesse, the air distorting hard around his form like molten glass. A bright green flashed from her left. Hermione jerked out of the way. A Coatl behind her collapsed to the ground. A pathetic, flopping heavy rope and broken feathers.
“Those are endangered you know,” Tom called from the other side of the room, amused or enraged she couldn’t tell, but there was a surprising amount of something in his voice.
Nothing on his face though. Pristine as a doll as he stood unruffled, one foot resting on the corpse of a man.
The one the rich wizard had killed. Not her fault at all.
“You should have taken the quick death. I will make it worse for you now—”
She exploded the stone underneath his feet again. Another massive, raucous boom.
Riddle apparated away, a sharp shot that could rival the Thunderbird better than any of her splitting of stone. He took the corpse with him.
The bird flapped once. A great clap of thunder. Screeching at the sudden too-small cage of a building. Lightning cracked between the tips of its feathers, shooting deadly bolts around the room. Buzzing in super-heated, warped tones. Hermione apparated to the stone corner, away from the metal cage. The noise from Tom's atrocious apparition and Hermione's breaking of marble worked the bird into a frenzy.
Thunderbirds were notoriously territorial creatures. It would try and out-perform another.
She could taste the static in the air. Burnt ozone and tacky clouds.
A quick, sloppy plan but she had limited options.
And perhaps Tom Riddle was always destined to be killed by lightning.
The unspooling inside her did not lessen. Riddle was still in the building—he did not apparate far—but he could be hidden behind a booth or under a table or in one of the back lecture halls. Doing whatever a dark wizard did with a corpse.
Hermione spared a glance up. To Antonin in the now glassless windows. He leaned against the building, a hand scrubbing at his close-cropped hair, looking at her like she was mad or idiotic or both. She motioned her wand toward the side of the building, to where Fleamont was supposed to deliver the Goose. Of course, she was still following the plan.
Antonin popped away.
Either he went back to England or went to the other side of the building. Either way—
The room went white.
There was one second of cold-choking fear. An icy knife dug under her chin. Hermione couldn’t swallow. One second of too many memories drilling into her brain, a boy forcing her into calm, porcelain white. Too many moments of Harry smoothing out her thoughts. It’s alright. This is how we win. This is peace. Do you think—
Hermione gasped, forcing her lungs to work past the rocks in her throat.
It was just a spell. Something Tom had summoned to hide. He must have some way to attack her without seeing. A medimagic spell to enhance his hearing or smell. Hell, maybe his silly little snake tongue could actually taste infrared heat. Or maybe—
Fog. Cloud. Lightning.
Her hair rose in static.
Annoying, evil, clever boy.
A trillion, trillion electrons bouncing around this place and her, stuck in the middle of it. She was going to fry. What made Tom think he wouldn’t. He was still here, in the building. She could feel the Stone around, an unspooling in her bones, why did he think he was immune to a lightning bolt.
The birds screeched again. Deafening.
The smell of sharp ozone, the small nip of static between her fingers, some feral, beastly instinct inside her told her to run, get out, leave, or be struck down by the gods.
Hermione leveled the building.
It was old. The foundation was cracked from years of winters, expansion and retraction. It did not take much to suffuse her magic in the cracks of the mortar and stone, growing like roots of a tree, and make it worse. She didn't need to cause an earthquake in the middle of Paris. She only thought about it for a second. It was a heady thought, externalizing all that violence. But Hermione leashed herself, tied her magic around the throat, and wove it with deftness until the only difference between her and the stone was one was well-rested.
It was one thing to level a building. It was another to flatten it. Make it collapse quickly enough no one could escape with a quick apparition. Hermione focused. Focused on the fragile foundation in the earth. And compacted the gravity around it until the stone would collapse like paper. She released the spell—
—and apparated outside, away from the building, to the other side of the street before the magic could catch up with her.
There was a gargantuan cracking. A rumble from beneath. And then the building crushed to the ground like a child with a paper house. The fog burst out in a fat billow.
The grand Thunderbird rose out of the rubble, dust falling off its wings the same as water droplets. It was not as immortal as a phoenix, but no magic of the earth could hope to kill a thing of the sky. It screeched. Again. Ricocheting off the cobblestone streets and ruining more windows. And then, it lifted itself and flew over the rooftops.
Into muggle Paris
That plan may have been a mistake.
It started to rain.
Little plinking drops on Antonin’s too large robes, she hoped not to catch a cold.
She waited as the clouds of dust and smashing of stones and whimpering of dying animals rose and fell. Too loud, too obvious, the Statue of Secrecy agents were going to have a field day. Perhaps the Ministry should have chosen a building not in the middle of a fucking occupied city.
None of the Coatls flew out. Even more endangered now.
There was no crowd of wizards outside. People had left to get help or left to save their life. It didn’t matter. The unspooling hadn’t stopped. The ring was somewhere in the rubble. It was just a matter of finding it.
Hermione took one breath. Chalky dust and hot stone. Light rain. Petrichor. Something sweet from a restaurant of panicked muggles down the street.
Accio Resurrection Stone.
Accio Gaunt Ring.
A wicked raven flew down and landed on a plinth sticking out. Half a doorway on the side of the building, barely held up by its bones. The metal at the right angle for a perch. Crooked. Like the branch of a tree. The raven turned to her and blinked. One eye white.
The Killing Curse was actually rather easy once you broke your moral compass. The first time was hard. Like trying to swim weighed down, drowning and desperate to get to the surface. Afterwards, it was as simple as sliding soap through your fingers. Nearly accidental. Eager. Almost as if, once you were worthy, once you were broken, it wanted to be cast.
Magic was weird.
The curse bounced off the raven.
The same way her spell had before, the same way Tom's spell had. As if it was just not a thing that magic could affect.
Hermione didn’t scream.
She carefully moved to the spot the bird was, over debris and rubble slowly turning darker from raindrops, and started levitating shards of the broken building away.
“What's your name?” she said to the bird, the rolling of rocks setting her teeth on edge. “If you are my familiar, you can tell me your name.”
“Why are you giving me Horcruxes? Where did you find the Founders’ relics?”
Hermione sent the next rock hurtling toward it and it flew off. Idiot bird. She returned to her work. She was not stupid enough to trust it. Whatever was at this spot was bound to be infuriating and send her into a spiral of distress. But it would be something. It hadn’t ever given her nothing.
Hopefully, it would be the corpse of Tom Riddle.
She moved a large chunk of marble, and the empty brown eyes of Fleamont Potter stared back at her.
The grandfather paradox was a simple thought experiment. Quite literally time travel 101. If you went back in time and killed your grandfather, would you cease to exist? And if you ceased to exist, how then were you able to go back in time to kill your grandfather? If time was a line, these two states were irreconcilable. Obviously a paradox.
Time turners and their hour reversal charms worked on this theory. That the timeline is not mutable and whatever actions you take in the past, you already had to have taken.
Merlin, time travel was murder on verb tense.
Hermione knew of three other ways to time travel. Ways that allowed for a greater disregard for the future. Plotting time in less of a line and more of a tapestry. Many threads interweaving and running parallel. Hermione had meant to travel to her timeline, just with more flexible magic that allowed her to steal the Hallows. Unlike the restriction that had caused her failures with a time turner. But maybe she had made a mistake somewhere in the calculations. Ended up further off course than she had planned. Somewhere else.
Regardless, it had worked.
Here was the proof.
She should be very happy.
All of her hard work paying off.
The corpse of the grandfather of her best friends—her worst enemy, the catalyst to all of this—looking at her dead, dusted in the ash of rubble. Blood splattered richest across his brow. Another body lay underneath. Smaller, with only a hand peeking out. A ring on the fourth finger. Euphemia. He had tried to protect her from the collapse, but her hand was still, her arm painted with blood. Lifeless. Why the fuck were they here. Why had that idiot brought his family. Where was their daughter—
Fleamont and Euphemia were already dead in her time anyway. It did not hurt. They were casualties. It did not hurt. They were ghosts. It did not hurt.
His hair was a shade too ashy. His eyes were brown. His nose was wrong.
It was not Harry. It did not hurt. She was fine.
Sometimes, Hermione was very good at lying to herself.
And sometimes, she was not.
A bright green flashed from her right.
Hermione tilted her head slightly, looked at the pristine form of Tom Marvolo Riddle. Not a scratch, not a ruffle, not a speck of dust from the destroyed building on his pitch-black coat. His hair was still neat, his clothes impeccable, his black tie at the lovely, pale hollow at his throat. Pin straight back, perfect wand form. Eyes flat black and bored as he killed her. She did not matter to him. She wondered if he would care once he took off her mask. Once he realized he’d lost one of his little projects.
Later, when she thought back on it, she would rationalize. That she had been in shock. That she had been distressed. That she was tired. And after a lifetime of staring Death in the face, it was expected to be curious about it. To think that maybe, it wasn’t the greatest end of the world. Greet Death like an old friend and all that. Peace.
But it was a lie.
That was not why she hesitated at all.
It was simply that she hated herself, ugly and viciously. Hated herself for the wretch she had become. That she was a fucking monster and deserved to be put down before she destroyed the world again. Neville should have killed her.
And then the Death curse came closer, and she had fucking work to do, and it did not matter if she deserved to die.
Hermione could do that later.
She apparated to the other side of the ruined building. Slide-stepping on rubble. Another curse flew her way; she blocked it. Let it boil and pop on her shield. Another one came a moment later, doubling the weight of the first. It stuck the same. Another. And another. He was trying to brute strength overpower her with Death magic. Test how long could she keep up a shield as it was being eaten.
Duels had a rhythm to them. A push and pull. A moment when you collected yourself and a moment when you strike.
Real fights did not.
There was only forward momentum. If you tripped, either you recovered or you died. Feet forward and flat and ready to move. Shoulder loose, arm steady. Fingers firm but light. She needed to be dexterous. It was a race off a crumbling cliff face, and you had to keep your feet under yourself at all times.
Killing Tom Riddle was becoming very annoying.
There was a vicious crack behind her. And inch from her ear. Hermione flinched, turned, raised her wand to Riddle, and stepped back. If she touched him, even the stab of a knife, he would know. He may not feel the heat, but he felt something—
Tom was still black-eyed and bored.
He brushed his hair back, his ring was still right fucking there. She was going to take his hand. Leave it charred under a tree.
Hermione had brought a building down on his head, had killed everyone left inside, had sent a Thunderbird to fly over Paris. Risking the wizarding world. And Tom Riddle looked like murdering her was so very uninteresting to him. His wand wasn’t even raised properly. He had been more focused when they first met, arguing over fucking Divinations—
Something tackled into her back, bringing her to the ground. Her chin hit stone.
Her teeth clacked her tongue.
She tasted blood.
A gnawing groan in her ears. A hollow gurgle and the necrotic smell of Death as a body pressed on her, weighing her down. A claw gripped her hand, too tight to be only human. No longer bound by a mind conscious enough to leash muscle strength.
Inferi were very irritating.
She thought of Harry. Of a stolen life. Of him renaturing, ruining her into something calm and placid and ready to do whatever she was told. His grand mission to destroy Death or become it. Master was never enough. Insane, hungry boy. She thought of herself too tired, too broken from failure, rolling over, and agreeing.
And that hatred curdled in her stomach.
Hermione could not summon a Patronus, but summoning Fiendfyre came as smooth as slicing silks.
Hermione summoned a fistful of Fiendfyre in her cursed hand, rolled over on top of the corpse, and shoved the violent horned flames down its mouth. The stink of burnt flesh and bile and rot overpowered the chalky dust and raindrops. The Inferius gnawed at her, trying to bite through her fingers, but her curse was a cruel thing and it only cracked its teeth. The fire went down its lungs, goring through its stomach like a feral stag. Until she could see the shadow of bones in its skull, the outline of its ribs.
Like fluttering, butterfly scalpels in her ears. Slicing delicately, incessantly at every one of her fraught nerves.
There had been so many loud noises today.
She gripped harder.
Until her nails dug into the flesh of its cheek.
The screams turned hoarse as the flames stomped and tore at its throat, chewing, grinding, feasting like a starving animal at new spring grass.
The Inferius thrashed. A too-strong hand dug into her wrist, over its mouth. And she ripped it off with her other hand. Her bones were strong, and Hermione held it down on the broken stone until the flaming horns of a stag erupted out its eye sockets and its teeth blackened to char.
They had been very pretty blue eyes.
The corpse went limp.
Hermione breathed hot under her mask. The little slits for a mouth provided just enough air that she wouldn’t pass out, but not enough to feel full.
There was still blood in her mouth. Iron and salt. She swallowed.
And then, she realized she was not dead.
She soothed the flames, calmed the hatred of a wild stag until it was smoke and embers, and glanced up at Tom.
Tom Riddle watched her mildly. Crouched low, elbows on his knees, a hand on his chin. The edges of his hair curled more in the light rain. Her wand, spinning around his fingers. She must have dropped it when the Inferius tackled her.
He was calm as she burned his work to ash. Inferi usually took hours to make. What wild magic allowed him to make one in minutes.
“I have never seen a Fiendfyre take the form of a stag before. Usually, it is a thing that you hate,” he said quietly, low and soft enough for her to be horrifically grateful for it. Still clean and perfect and apparently too curious to kill her when she was at a disadvantage, occupied by a corpse. “Do you enjoy working with fire? Do you like to watch the world burn?”
His eyes were not bored. Curious and keen, over-lidded and sly. Innocently asking about her politics. Even when he did not know it was her, he tried to solve something he only had half the pieces for.
In one fluid motion, Tom Riddle flipped her wand backwards, stuck the handle between his molars, and snapped it in half with his sharp, white teeth.
There was one single pop of magic, and then it lay deader than the corpse between her legs.
He spat out the end.
It rolled between the cracks of rubble.
It was Luna's wand. Hermione wasn't fucked. She was fine.
Tom smiled at her. The slit of the fanged moon. He straightened slowly, languid with all his height. Eyes so much starker, crueler black in the noonday sun. And pulled out a bone-white wand.
But it was Luna's. The only thing Hermione had left of the girl. She was going to stuff the splinters past his tongue, make him swallow. Make him choke on it until his throat bled, and he screamed as hoarsely as the dead man. Hermione cracked open her charred bones and let dark magic flow through her blood, until the only difference between her and a Dementor was one wouldn’t mind kissing him.
Tom cocked his head. Blinked once. He did not look concerned, he only looked slightly more curious. Perhaps he was damned by pride after all.
Perhaps he would be equally curious as she cracked his ribs open to get to his heart.
God, she wanted to taste him.
A child screamed.
Tom jerked his head toward it, sharp jaw and hard throat. Hermione did not.
She was surrounded by thick slabs and shards of cut stone. Rubble and rebar, and the broken corpse of a building burying a hundred more corpses of creatures. Human and animal alike. So much magical blood.
It would not do to be wasteful.
Blood magic was the simplest form of black magic. Use the vita, life, soul, magic of a thing to augment your own. Shore up magic too difficult to attempt alone, or reinforce a ward leftover but ancient family lines, or steal hair to pass yourself off as another.
It was magic for thieves and troublemakers.
Hermione was both.
Riddle had his head turned, suddenly, strangely worried over a child screaming and screaming and screaming. Like he had any business being a father. She saw the scar behind his ear. Not completely untouchable.
Hermione blinked. Focused on the blood, on Tom Riddle, every single sharp stone and jagged piece of glass. A hundred thousand shards the size of pebbles, fine as scalpels. A hundred tonnes of concrete ready to crush. The blood underneath it all, dripping into the cracks of the earth. Dragons and Coatls and creatures so powerful and pure. Practically a wand itself. Connecting Riddle and the rocks and the rot beneath.
She tongued the cut in her mouth. Tasted the blood. Iron and salt.
A thousand rocks shot to his face.
Riddle snap-cracked away. Apparated up in the air, judging for the direction of the rocks hurtling toward the sky. It did not matter. He was the center point now. A hundred rocks, a thousand pebbles slid, tumbled, and fell toward him. The apparition gave him a second as they turned and approached terminal velocity, but he would die regardless. The magic did not need to touch him. The rubble would do that. There was rich enough blood in the building to string each individual piece to Tom Riddle. The only magic she touched was the pieces of earth.
He would be crushed by stone and earth, buried alive. Once he was dead she would dig him up at her leisure. Take his hand.
She would not eat him.
Hermione would leave him to be picked clean by a raven.
And then she would eat the raven.
Like a normal person.
Hermione stood slowly, dusted off her robes, let the burnt corpse turn to ash.
The Potter girl was staring at the exposed corpses of her parents. The bodies, bloody and mottled with bruises. Crunched to nearly unrecognizable. Exposed with the lifting of stones. Screaming and screaming and screaming. Grating Hermione's ears sharper than ever.
Hermione Granger did not think she was evil.
And to prove it, she did not kill the annoying girl.
Why was she still here anyway? Euphemia should have apparated them out once the attack started. What was wrong with these Potters. Why the hell had Fleamont brought his family—his child—to deal with a dark wizard, smuggling items to the Continent—
Riddle apparated to the girl's side with a ruthless pop, making her jump. Did he think Hermione would stop the magic to save a child from being crushed? That was incredible silly—
“Catherine,” Tom barked.
The girl lifted her head. Tear-stained and red puffed. Riddle's teeth clenched disgusted. Murderous and cruel. The most emotion that had shown on his face all day. Hermione was certain Tom was going to kill the girl, turn that rage against the pathetic, annoying child. Was this her end then? Was this where she died?
But he did not.
He grabbed at her—
Tom turned his hand and offered it, ever the gentleman, not one to seize a child by the scruff. The girl took it hesitantly.
Tom glanced at Hermione. Dark eyes, dark hair, dark clothes perfectly pressed, but his lips pursed, his brow furrowed. This had not gone the way he wished. Something troublesome.
And they disapparated.
A splitting crack and the warping of molten glass and they were gone.
Left Hermione alone.
She turned once, looking for the trick, looking for him to return with a snap and try to kill her again, he couldn't have gone far. He wouldn’t run away. He may not be a lion, but Riddle wasn’t a coward.
The stone and mortar collapsed to the ground, ruining the rooftops and the cobblestone street, no longer tied to anyone.
The unspooling stopped. The ring was gone. As was Riddle.
She stood there in the rubble of a Paris conservatory. Panting cold October air until it felt like metal. Ringless. A burnt contact and a broken wand.
A siren started somewhere.
A muggle screamed for help.
If she stayed here forever, the sun would set and she would see stars.
Hermione stole Fleamont's wand and disapparated.
The pub was cleared. Empty of people, empty of chairs, empty of tables. Ghosted by whatever smuggling ring Dolohov was a part of. Antonin sat at a lone table in the middle of the room cleaning his teeth with a pick. His hands were bloody, his teeth were not.
There was the corpse of a Goose splayed out on the table. Its intestines and viscera spread out like a still life. Its liver as shiny as Renaissance fruit. She wondered if it would be just as sweet.
"You are not dependable, Hermione Granger," he said soft and cold as mountain snow. Naming her perfect. “Even in death, the Potter held up his end of the deal.”
"Are the rumors true?" Hermione nodded toward the table. She did not sit. She kept on her feet. As tired as she was, there was work to do. Nothing else mattered. "Is there a Philosopher’s Stone inside the Goose that lays golden eggs?"
Antonin smiled. Not as many teeth as a vampire yet somehow twice as unnerving.
"The people I work with value consistency,” he said, “You are looking for some terrible creatures and cannot be asked to do as you're told,”—Hermione dug her fingernail into her thumb until all she could feel was a thread of red pain up her hand—“How am I supposed to trust you?"
"You got what you wanted didn't you?” she kept her voice steady, not telling a lie, “I just improvised a bit. A storm in a hall could be easily dispelled. An attacker must be defeated."
"And you are not easily defeated?"
Hermione clenched her jaw.
"He ran away. I... won."
"I am glad you had fun." Antonin stood and walked toward her as he spoke, "And I think we might be able to work together in the future. I like your teeth, hungry girl. Perhaps we may try again with some… wetter work.” He tilted his head and held out his bloody hand.
“My robe,” he said.
“Of course,” she said, removing it, drying it wandlessly. Her dress was cheap and thin but surprisingly not damaged. She would not have to clean up too much when she returned to the house. Hermione handed it over—
Antonin grabbed her wrist.
Light. Not a threat, but the promise of one.
He did not burn.
Even with all that blood.
She would not return with a bruise from anyone other than Tom Riddle. She wondered if he would be angry again.
“Do not fuck me over again, Hermione Granger,” he said, eyes clear and blue and suffocatingly cold. The first moment of winter when her lungs hurt to breathe. “Wild dogs are put down.”
Hermione returned to the castle at midnight. Clean and bitter. All patched up. The fire blotted out the stars and, for once, she didn't long for them, looking to the sky for familiarity. The tunnel to the school was cold, wet, smelling of roots. It was comfortable in the darkness. Unable to long for lights that weren’t there. She was cold and angry and tired and—
She opened the passage behind the witch, into the softly lit corridors of Hogwarts, and the silhouette of Tom Riddle greeted her. His height, his hair, the sharpness of his shoulders distinct enough, close enough to make her jump.
Closer to her than he had ever been when they had tried to kill each other.
Standing pin-straight, hands behind his back, outlined in soft torchlight. Featureless flat as the black hole he was.
He had been up waiting for her. Not in the common room. Here where the sound of a fight wouldn't wake students.
She had been careful, but he was better than her.
And he knew.
It was the curse in her arm, the way she held herself, the feel of her magic on his. Maybe Antonin has leaked, maybe he caught a drop of her blood, maybe he actually did have some skill in Legilimency and had been lying this whole time. He’d brushed against her mind subtly enough not for her to know, but for him to recognize Hermione Granger.
The how didn't matter.
"So this is your secret passageway,” Tom said lightly, as if they were speaking about books not about to kill her, “Curious. I never knew of it before.”
“The castle must not like you very much."
If he took her tongue first, then she would not be able to spill her secrets.
Riddle walked into her, two steps into the pitch of the secret hideaway. Further blurring his form. It was easy for a shadow to hide in the dark.
Hermione took one step away. Not even that. Just placed her foot behind her. It was a fighting stance, not fear. She had fought him fearlessly a few hours ago. This would not be different.
It felt different.
In her blood, in her bones, in the back of her throat. Something small and shaking, sand in a seastorm.
He did not feel much like a ghost.
There was no unspooling. His ring wasn't here. She would have to kill him. And get nothing.
"You don't smell like my perfume," he noted.
"I did not… I didn't wear it."
"Liar," he said curiously, cocking his head. It was too dark to see his expression. She wondered if he would be bored or peeling her apart. "You wore it... and then took it off? Strange. Did he not like the scent?"
Something was wrong. Something was off. She felt it at the hollow of her throat.
Hermione made it worse. Because at least that was a choice.
"Must have worn off from the sweat. We had quite the workout."
Tom’s eyes flashed bloody.
Quicker than a gas fire and overflowing to consume wholly. Faceted crimson and the black pupil in the center, blown out void and trying to eat her.
Ah. Well. It couldn’t be worse. Time for round two. At least she had her true wand this time.
"I'm glad you had fun," he said flatly, "I had fun as well. Adelaide Flint and I had an interesting conversation when I returned."
Half of her body jolted, turned, and reset.
This was worse.
She couldn't even kill him now. She had to play the part of student meddling in dark magic.
Not that she wasn't a student meddling in dark magic.
"What did you chat about?" Hermione swallowed tightly.
"Immortality." Red burned into her. The only thing she could see in the dark. Leaving spots in her vision. She preferred the forest fire.
"Does Adelaide wish to become immortal?" she croaked lightly.
"Do you?" Riddle asked nonchalantly.
"I'm not lying."
"You're lying to yourself,” he stepped into her further, taking up her space until the only thing she could see was red eyes and darkness. Until her back hit the earth and roots and cold, cold stone. “You are a ravenous, terrified, desperate creature, scratching with bloody nails to cling to something. I may not know your end goal, but you would cut quite the bloody path to get there, wouldn't you? Not even Death could stop you."
If she didn’t know any better she would think there was admiration in his voice.
But she did know better and Tom Riddle admired nobody but Salazar. He wanted information. And he was skilled at getting it.
"I do not wish to live forever," she said honestly, "There is a difference."
Riddle sighed, something amused, something enraged.
She wanted to go back to trying to kill him and not whatever this was.
"Tell me about Horcruxes, Ms. Granger,” he said and his hand moved to hover over her throat. Not touching her neck, just holding it over the skin. Through the air, she could feel a bit of heat ready to burn her alive, make her tongue loose, “What black magic have you tried to bait me with."
"They are dark magic, Riddle," she said lightly, not breathy at all, "Or do you not know the difference?"
Tom cocked his head. So much like how he examined her in a fight. Please. Let them go back to fighting.
Even if he looked at her like she was nothing, it was better than this.
At least then she could not feel his breath on her face.
The red in eyes dimmed, to the deepest shade of dried blood black. Her eyes adjusted enough to cut the lines of his face, his cheekbones, his mouth. Pale except when pitch. Only starkness tonight.
"I wasn't aware you did,” he said.
"It's an important distinction in the field," she said and swallowed. The bob of her throat came a breath closer to his fingers. "Often the difference between life and death."
"I thought you only did research for a small coven in France, Ms. Granger," he said looking at her neck, watching her breath and swallow and squirm, refusing to touch her. The stone was so cold. "Have you finally given up that story?"
"What is your interest in Horcruxes, Mr. Riddle?" Hermione looked over his shoulder. Not waiting on his hands at all. She was perfectly in control of herself. "Do you wish to become immortal?"
"No," he lied perfectly. Serious and calm, giving all the weight to the answer it deserved.
"Shame," she said, "I could have helped you make one."
His eyes flared once more. Tom leaned in to touch her throat—
And she caught his wrist, pushed past him, left the passage, and stepped into the bright lights of the hall. Out of the dark. Into better, cleaner air. That wasn't suffused with his breath, his cologne, his eyes watching her like she was some grotesque work of art or grand abomination—
The hall stretched infinitely.
It was the second-floor corridor between the upper-level Transfiguration classroom and the DADA practice rooms. Red windows and the fire and repeating doors. The sconces and marble and the same plant on the fifth window repeated over and over and over again. An illusion or Tom contouring the castle.
Hermione didn’t panic. She didn’t run or scream. She sighed lightly. Apparently, Tom really wanted to talk. That was fine. She had more space out here. She could breathe. Not drown in him.
"Do you wish to run from me?" Riddle said and walked up behind her, shoes lightly tapping, "You have the space."
"Do you wish to chase?” she asked annoyed, “Is that why you don't quiet your shoes? You like people to know you’re coming—"
Tom rested his chin on the top of her head, and her heart stopped. He pressed himself into her back. Lighting her on fire as easily as a stray spark in a dead forest. She did not whimper, she did not whine, but she could not help the shudder. The flinch.
Her dress was thin and cheap and a mistake. She wanted Antonin's heavy robes back.
"I don't need to chase you,” he said. His jaw moved on the crown of her head. “You are here for me, remember?"
"Do you wish to be hunted?” she asked surprised, ignoring the way the breath of his words wove through her curls, “Do you not have enough people on your coattails. How many people are after your favor. How many little pawns do you have?"
"At the castle? The student body is nearly five hundred." He brought his hand over her side, burning through her dress, splaying his fingers over the softness of her stomach. White-hot iron ready to claw her to shreds.
Hermione felt light-headed. When was the last time she ate?
"Am I a pawn?"
"No," he breathed over her hair, "You aren't."
Had she had dinner?
"A knight?" Hermione tried for cheeky. It came out soft. "Have I finally earned your trust?"
"Not in the slightest," he chuckled. A dark thing. Lapping waves at midnight, soft warm water in her curls.
"Still just a rook?" she asked. "I have done nothing to change your impression of me."
"Have you wished to?” he mused and brought his head down, nose through her hair until Hermione felt his breath on the back of her neck. A part of her wanted a bite. A part of her wanted to bleed.
But Tom was relaxed. He spoke to the back of her neck, breath too soft to burn her the way she wanted. “Do you not wish to be that impassioned girl who cares about the merits of Arithmancy over Divinations. Who gets distracted by a book in the middle of her assignment. Who cries over two pies because a handsome boy was polite."
He held her close with his hand on her stomach, thumb just on the split of her ribs, his other hand brushed her hair back from her neck. Let it rest on her throat.
"Is that not who you wish to be?" he finished.
"Is that who you see me as?" she said, "Just a girl?"
Something strange twisted in her lungs. She did not like it.
She did not hate it.
"No," Tom said simply.
Better? Worse? Hermione did not know. But there was a something. A reaction to Tom Riddle not viewing her as simply a girl. Disappointment? No? Did she even want to be thought of so softly? Why would she be disappointed?
Hermione hated this. She should try and kill him again.
That was so much simpler. Two people ready for murder. One would live, one would die. Easy, simple math. They were both good at Arithmancy. He would enjoy it as well.
Instead, she leaned back, rested her head on his shoulder, stretched her neck long. Let him breathe harder on her throat.
Because a part of her wished to.
"If you call me a queen, I will snip out your tongue with my teeth," she said up to him, softly in his ear.
Riddle’s eyes were closed. There was some expression on his face, something she had never seen before. It was not soft. It was not odd. She did not understand the mercurial moods of Tom Riddle. There was too much of him. Too many masks. Too many pieces that she could not fit together.
If he was even a fraction as confused by her as she was by him, it would be a laugh.
God, she wanted to taste him.
"And heady as the thought is,” he sighed over her neck, “You are not a queen.”
“A bishop?” she smiled, the most she could do with his teeth near her throat, “Am I a bishop, Mr. Good Little Catholic—”
"You are the opponent."
Hermione flushed crimson. Like she had been drowned in lava, her face as bright as summer in the light of the hall. Why would he say that of all things?
Was that worse? Better? God, she wanted to kill him.
"Look at you," he said and brushed his hand up her neck to the heat on her cheek. Eyes lifting open black. Not bored. His pupils, blown wide like he wanted to eat her. "I name you enemy, and you blush like I have confessed a crush."
"You are manipulating me.”
“To make me sound special.”
“Do you not wish to be?”
No. Yes. No.
All she wished for was to the Stone. That was the only thing that mattered.
She hated this.
Hermione straightened and turned. Stepped out from all his heat. There was too much. She needed to focus. They were talking about Horcruxes. She could use this.
Stop thinking about eating him.
Tom let her. Barely. He caught her hair through his fingers, let it brush through as if touching her was the most important work he had to do. The only thing that mattered.
“No, I want to be useful,” she said blatantly. Not a lie at all. “And I very much doubt you see me as your opponent. And if you do, I am not the only one. How many little boards are you playing?”
She focused on his face, the twitching of his eyes. Not the way his hand felt in her hair. The way his thumb brushed her throat. The way his eyes followed it.
He smiled sharper than the reaper's moon. The slit of a cat's eye. Just the barest hint of teeth.
"Enough to hesitate to add yours,” he said slowly, “Why are you here, Hermione? What do you want with me? " He curled his fingers in her hair, caressing her skull. “What is in that head of yours that you guard it under a mountain. If you trust me, I will trust you.”
"Why are you here Tom?” she rolled her eyes, “What do you want with me? What’s in that head of yours that you guard it with barbed wire and bricks? If you trust me, I will trust you."
He laughed once like she was a very amusing child, but something flickered in his eyes. He cast them to the side before she could identify it.
"I'm simply here to save the world, dearest."
Riddle sighed, looked to the ceiling, unwound her curls until she was cold. Taking away all his heat. And move away from her. "That is a bit dramatic. What I mean to say—"
Hermione grabbed him by the back of the neck and kissed him.
Tom jerked his head once, trying to pull away, but her bones were strong and her blood was thick and he was quite helpless.
She thought he might taste of the sun.
Or of blood.
Or of fire. Of magic.
But no, he tasted of body heat and spit and Tom. Sweet and spice. Something terribly, terrifyingly human. Sometimes he was just a boy...
And that was so much worse.
She could not abstract away the way his lips moved over hers, turn it into the sun and stars. There was only the heat of his mouth and the taste of his tongue and his finger suddenly no longer hesitant but eager in her hair. Riddle stepped her back towards the wall, burning hands pulling her to him as if he wished to devour her.
Silly boy, she was the one that hungered.
Her teeth were sharp. It would take nothing to bite hard enough to split his lip. A single drop of blood. He would probably thank her.
Something flicked in her mouth, small and slick and strange. Hermione wondered if that forked tongue tasted her differently. If it could taste the way Tom burned her. The heat of her exploding with every pant and pull and stroke. If she felt like prey to him. The rapid beat of her heart in her throat, in her lungs, in her mouth.
If he wanted to bite her too.
It was not like drowning. It was not like breathing. It was simply taking something she shouldn’t and enjoying it anyway. A mistake that she would feast on. Something she stole for herself.
She should not have healed that cut on her tongue.
There was something very wrong with Hermione Granger.
He slid his mouth down her neck, kisses catching like kindle. His tongue laved on her throat like a torch. For a moment, she pushed into it. Ran her hand through silk curls, gripped too hard, and forced his teeth into her neck. Forcing it to burn sharper like tonguing a cut in your mouth, making the pain worse, just to take some control over it.
Tom bit her.
Over on the corner of her collar bone. The same spot he had spelled her before. Deep enough he could rip out her throat.
And then opened his mouth softer, only lips and tongue and the air in his lungs hitching over her collarbone, not a drop of blood spilt. The faint flicks of a smaller, smoother tongue tasting her pulse.
"I will not save you," he panted, plush red velvet, "I refuse."
"I do not wish to be saved." Hermione's mouth was loose and the only thing coming out was nonsense.
She pulled on his hair and shut up with his tongue.
He didn't seem to mind.
Tom offered an open mouth and hot tongue and she feasted greedily. He caught her hair with ringless hands and arched her neck, her spine straightening until he did not have to curl his back to kiss her. Shameless about his hardness at her stomach, he pressed into her until the only space between them were the layers of his rich fabrics and her cheap ones.
And then he bent her neck back further until she could only see the dancing reflection of flames on the ceiling, to kiss under her jaw, her neck. A red hot tongue laced down her throat, his hands tightening in her curls until she couldn't move. Down her throat to where he bit her. One burning kiss on her neck and then over the fabric of her dress. Between her breasts.
Hermione was panting those little embarrassing notes and he was so languidly, syrupy slow. The heat of his mouth even though the fabric was worse than a curse. He took one of her little pearl buttons in his mouth—
Bit it off.
It was meant to chastise. He ruined her dress.
She didn’t know how it came out so breathless and pleading. Some strange witchcraft between her lungs and her mouth and her mind.
“Tsi Hermione?” Riddle looked up at her through too long lashes and eyes as bright as poppies, mumbling something she did not understand. Barely able to catch her name. The pearl clacked against his teeth. Savoring some part of her. He kissed her hard. Once. The violent press of his lips to hers.
For one hysterical moment, she thought Riddle would swallow it.
But he turned, spit the pearl on the floor, let it get lost in the dark cracks of the castle.
Then his mouth returned to her dress and bit another one off, and a third. With slow, open mouth kisses on her chest. The little pearls rolled over her soft stomach and landed on stone, softer than raindrops. Cracking her ribs open to get to her heart.
She slipped her fingers through his hair, under his collar, tie tighter than a noose, but she was dexterous, could peel him apart in her own way, and all that his skin was so close. Her fingers dug past his tie onto his neck, his back.
Her fingers touched something cold. Hard and cool like stone instead of skin—
Riddle tensed, grabbed her wrist, jerked her out from under his tie. "Sihr—Ms. Granger, please, show some restraint," he said teasingly, pulling his head back, lips red and wet and his tongue flicking between the words.
Eyes bright as sunset as he pulled out a button from his mouth and shoved it in his pocket like a crazy person.
His hand slid down her arm. “Do not be so lascivious. We are in an open corri—"
His body shuddered. His eyes slid back in his head. So close Hermione could feel him writhe like a snake in coals. His cock twitched.
"What is this," Tom hissed—
—and bent back her arm, licked her from wrist to elbow. Eyes fluttering closed rapturously, tasting the curse. Flicking his sharp thin tongue down along the word. “What black magic are you involved in Hermione?” Some jagged pained laugh sawed out of him as nipped at her curse. “You are more broken than I am.”
He shouldn't be able to feel it through the bracelet, through the magic. A glamour created with all the strength wild, ruthless magic at the end of the world could provide. Better than anything here. But Tom paved hot open mouth kisses down her arm and she wondered if his tongue felt how deep it cut, if he could taste her bones. What exactly he was feeling through her magic.
If he felt something bite him.
Why he did not seem to mind.
What the fuck was wrong with Tom Riddle.
“Let... go," Hermione mumbled. Her head was still slow and lazy, replaying his kisses, telling her to stop being smart and kiss him again. Enjoy the way his lips moved so softly over something so wretched like he was trying to suck out the curse.
"No," Riddle said roughly, eyes closed. No doubt they would be even redder now. ”Tell me. Show me." He caught her bracelet between his knuckles and tightened it, a twitch away from snapping. "Is this what hides it? Is this what hides you? Show me or I will break it."
His voice was rough, desperate, all the mania of when he had tried to kill her on the bridge, but none of the joy. If it was anything else, she would have given it to him. But not this. Let her keep this one wicked scar.
"The bracelet was my mother's," Hermione said, ignoring the hitching in her lungs as her breathing changed from horny to panicked. And how there was not much difference. "If you break it, I will kill you."
Not a lie.
Tom smiled, wide as half a moon, hot breath sending waves crashing over her skin. A boiling sea.
As if he found the thought enjoyable.
“Let go or I will leave,” She said harder, collecting herself.
“Leave?" Tom hummed another open mouth kiss on her arm, blistering, as if whatever she said couldn't be minded with such curious dark magic to occupy him. "Are you hungry? Have you not had dinner?"
Yes and no, but Hermione doubted he would truly care.
"I will leave Hogwarts, Tom," she said and tugged at her arm. His grip was iron. Her bones might be hard, but her flesh was not. If she wretched out of his grip, it would tear her skin off. "Let go."
He did not look at her. His lashes fluttered and a hint of teeth appeared, amused. "You are here for me. Only me. Good little soldier wouldn't leave—"
"Am I lying?" she said. Riddle's eyes flicked to hers, blood and void, too soft, too wild, too drunk to carve. "I will leave. Let me go."
"Is it that dreadful to you?" he whispered into her skin, but his grip loosened lightly on her arm. Leaving was a better threat than killing him. "Or do you think me so useless I could not help?"
Tom sounded offended.
"I am fine."
“What do I feel like to you, Riddle?” she said hotly, “You feel like fire and heat. I burn when I touch you. What do you feel when you touch me—”
Tom dropped her.
Let her slip through his fingers like ocean water. His face went blank, hiding all that burning inside him under a porcelain doll mask. Covering every crack and chip and slip with a blink. Diving into an oil spill. Riddle stepped back slowly, purposefully, to the other side of the corridor, to sit on the windowsill. His back to the fire.
Not once taking his eyes off her, off her chest and flushed lips and missing buttons.
"Fix that before you get back to the dorms," he said neutrally, pointing to her dress, haloed in the red of the forest. Like his hair wasn't mussed from her fingers, his face wasn’t flushed from her kiss. Like his tie was not ever-so-slightly askew from before he managed to steal her fingers.
Breathing harder than when she tried to kill him.
Hermione did not know if she should be amused or enraged.
He pulled out his box of cigarettes and lit one with the tap of a finger. Fiddling with it, distracting himself with his fingers. He spread his legs wide, relaxed, shameless about his hardness.
She wondered if he was trying to cover the taste of her.
Hermione breathed out slow. Rest the back of her head against the wall. The dancing reflection of flames on the ceiling. The glow of the cigarette was a pathetic excuse for a star.
She closed her eyes, reveled in the black, thought of camping under starlight, searching for a lost soul. The old locket of Slytherin soothing her nightmares with dreams of murder.
"Give me back my buttons."
If he could contort the school enough to trap her, then he could fish a pearl out of the cracks.
There had never been a larger bastard than Tom Riddle.
"I will walk the length of the school like this,” Hermione looked down the corridor, to the only one plant, one set of classrooms, one welcome corner at the end. Tom was done with her. The conversation settled once he decided so.
Hermione glared at him. Tom remained unmoved. “Expose myself to every Professor and student."
"You are worse than me," he laughed.
"I have no manners, remember?"
"Yes,” he sighed and breathed out smoke, “I remember your rudeness vividly and often."
"Does it get you off quicker than my murder?" she said and ran a hand through her curls. The magic in her shampoo made it easier to fix it from his fingers.
Tom did not seem interested in putting himself back together. He did not even run a hand through his hair. Curls left only mess.
"Sometimes," he said cheerfully, "though sometimes I like to savor."
"Fascinating,” she said, not thinking about Tom, cock in hand, fantasizing about the way she interrupted him. What he would like to do with her mouth. “Do you want your soul back?"
“What are you talking about, Hermione?” he said like he knew exactly what she was talking about.
She didn't strangle him. Instead, Hermione began sticking her dress together with a charm. No different from her hose that slipped. It only needed to last long enough to get back to the dorms anyway. He could keep her bloody buttons.
Tom watched every twitch of her fingers, every slide of fabric.
“The locket. The Horcrux. That’s why you brought it up right? Adelaide Flint? Do you want it back?”
“What makes you think it's mine, Hermione?"
She wanted to take back her goddamn name from his mouth.
Maybe with her tongue.
"It…" she trailed off. Hermione did not have a good answer for that. It did not feel anything like this Tom Riddle. What could she say? That she was from the future. Knew how his life would turn out. "Well, do you not want it anyway? It seems like an ancient heirloom. It would be worth a lot at least."
"Are you the type to pawn off grand magical artifacts, Ms. Granger?" he said a bit tighter.
"Yep! Yes," she lied, trying to get under his skin.
Tom smiled amused, eyes crinkling, not even slightly angry. Suddenly soft as a boy.
He saw through her lies as clearly as ever, and yet did not see her as a girl at all.
Bastard. Wretch. Hateful. Goddamnit.
What did it matter. Stop thinking about it.
She wanted to kill him. He wanted to kill her. It was better this way. Simpler. Arithmantic. She did not put faith in Divinations. Hermione needed to stop thinking of him as a boy. Tom clearly did not feel the same way.
"Keep it," he said amused, eyes dark, softened from a raging inferno to the char left over. Only the void, the space between stars. "Wear it, sell it, throw it in the Black Lake. Eat it for all I care."
"I am not going to eat your soul, Riddle," Hermione said resolutely.
"Aren't you?" Tom raised an eyebrow. And something like disappointment echoed in his voice. “Have you never even thought about it?”
He smiled softer.
This was humiliating.
Her entire body flushed. Her bare neck went red, bright even against the light of the fire, his eyes watched the flush spread from her throat to the highest part of her cheeks. Hermione firmly decided killing him was better. There, the flush was from exertion, not embarrassment.
“Have I succeeded then?” she asked breezily and stepped away from the wall, walked toward him and the red windows, “Have I made you fear me?”
“Not in the slightest.”
Of course. She wondered if he was afraid at all in Paris. If he ever thought he wouldn't survive.
Hermione certainly hadn't feared for her life. There was no way Tom Riddle could kill her. He was only a student. Raw talent and violent magic, yes, but he did not have the knowledge, the experience to overpower her. In the end, he had run.
“I think your expectations are a little high,” she said.
“They are not.”
Tom said it like it was an immutable fact about the universe. Something that no magic could affect.
Of course, there were never expectations too high for Hermione Granger.
She didn't know if it was a compliment or condemnation.
"How was Paris?" Hermione asked calmly and hopped up across from him on the sill.
The glass was cool despite the fire. And she preferred the endless inferno to the infinite abyss of the Black Lake. She wondered if she asked for tea, would he call down an elf from the kitchens. It was midnight. It would be terribly rude.
“Rather exciting actually. Lots of pretty girls,” he mused as if thinking fondly of some stupid witch, uncaring of blatant change of subject. Hermione did not twitch. Tom took a drag of his cigarette and looked at her more intently, “Lots of good food.”
Hermione frowned. “Are you trying to make me jealous?”
“Is it working?”
“I don't know," she said honestly, "The last time I was jealous was before the war. It doesn't feel the same."
"Oh? Was it that boy who broke your mind?” he asked uncharacteristically quickly, showing too much. He had been thinking of this. “That must have been an exceptionally unhealthy relationship."
"No," she smiled, "It was the boy who taught me chess. He won nearly every match.”
Riddle frowned, just a twitch at the edge of his mouth, brought his cigarette down from his mouth. Watched her blankly. "Judging from your skill, he wasn't very good."
"He was," she said simply, softly, a little too wistful, "He was a good person."
Ron was fickle and annoying and beautiful and vibrant and someone that felt too much like home. She would get back to him eventually. Chart the strange tides of time and make her way home. She wondered if she could still be with him. Or if she could only handle being alone. The Weasleys were so loud. She might have a breakdown the first day at the Burrow.
"I killed him."
"Do you often kill your lovers?" he said mildly interested, but his finger twitched on the cigarette and that was practically a shout coming from him.
Ron. Draco. It was a short, easy list.
"I have killed every lover I've ever had,” she mused, “You?"
"I'm a virgin."
He said it perfectly. Equal parts embarrassed and proud. Straight face still flushed from the kiss.
"You are nothing if not a liar."
Tom smiled filthy. Sharp eye teeth and lips still slick from her mouth.
"And you are nothing if not tactless,” he insulted her softly, indulgently, like it was a compliment running through her hair like a nighttime breeze.
But Tom looked away from her, out the windows with the dark, starless sky and the endless inferno, flicking his burning cigarette between his fingers. She wondered what would happen next time the wards around the fire broke. If whatever he had done before was something he could repeat indefinitely. And even if he could, they had lost a hundred meters last time. It would grow again in the time it would take to reset the wards.
Even if he was perfect, even if he was immortal, even if he never made another mistake, it would keep coming. A thousand years and it would devour the world.
Hermione should go inside and fix it. See him under starlight.
"I’ve... only killed one lover," he said quietly, toneless, bored. Not a twitch of his fingers. She wondered if he was lying. "And it was quick."
"Will you kill me slow?" she said tactlessly.
His black eyes flicked back to hers. They looked softer at night. A shadow in the dark. "Quiet and cold?” he added casually.
“I’ll drown you." Tom winked. "I promise."