Disclaimer I (sadly,) do not own any of the characters or settings pulled from the world of Harry Potter. Naturally, all of the credit for them goes to JK Rowling.
Chapter XIV December, Ottery St Catchpole, Devon. 1997 A.D.
That night, Hermione lay in bed staring up at the dark ceiling above in silence. No sound filled the room at that ungodly hour, and only a sliver of pale moonlight slanted in through the curtains. Every time she closed her eyes she saw his hands all over her, his lips on hers, his haughty voice whispering sweet nothings into her ear, and bile rose in her throat.
It hadn’t been Draco all that time.
Tears dotted the corners of her eyes and she inhaled deeply to will herself not to cry. She felt filthy; everything was all wrong. How could she have been so oblivious? There hadn’t been any blatant signs… except for the fact that he had been so taken with her since the first day of term.
Hermione shut her eyes tight and rubbed at them with the heels of her hands. Crap. There was all the proof she needed, staring her right in the face.
Why hadn’t she seen it before?
She held her breath, waiting for Chione’s customary smart-arse remark to echo in her brain with its usual dose of sarcasm and mockery, but none came. Her body relaxed ever so slightly, and she waited another moment.
“Hermione?” She opened her eyes, turning her head in the direction of the voice. Ginny was sitting up, looking down at her as she crossed her legs and picked at the duvet. “I thought you’d be awake.” She paused, eyeing her friend. “Are you… you know… are you all right?”
She’d just found out that the bloke she’d been snogging and falling head over heels for, the bloke that she’d been sharing a tower with for the past few months wasn’t really the bloke she’d thought he was after all. How could she possibly be alright after finding out something like that? She wanted to throw up.
But she wouldn’t tell Ginny any of that.
“I’m fine,” lied Hermione quietly, rolling over on her side so that her back was to Ginny and wrapping her arms round her abdomen. “Just… just thinking for a bit.” She closed her eyes and lay very still for a minute or so, hoping that she would just lie down and go back to sleep, too.
She wasn’t so lucky.
Ginny shifted, leaning slightly closer and blocking the moonlight with her shoulder, casting a dark shadow over Hermione. “I think we should at least talk about this –”
“What is there to talk about, Ginny?” Hermione snapped. “What George told us was simple enough to comprehend.”
As Ginny’s hand touched her shoulder, she sat up abruptly, knocking it off again. Hermione shoved the duvet off of her body, stood up, and paced back and forth, her hands shaking as she clenched them and opened them repeatedly to calm her nerves.
She ran a hand through her thick, wavy mane. She felt uncomfortably hot. All Hermione wanted right now was to be alone with her thoughts. She should have gone back when she’d had the chance. Ginny just watched without saying a word. Her brown eyes were filled with concern.
But still she said nothing.
“We have to find him,” said Hermione finally.
Ginny’s eyes widened. “What?” she hissed, shaking her head. “Hermione, we don’t even know where he is, which doesn’t exactly make searching for him any easier.”
“Well we can’t just leave him to rot! What if someone’s done something to him? What if he’s been tortured – or worse;” she swallowed hard, “what if he’s dead?” Suddenly, her legs went to jelly. She leaned against the wall by the door and slid down it to the floor, burying her face in her knees, trying to breathe.
Chewing on her bottom lip, Ginny slowly climbed out of her bed and approached her friend silently, watching as her body shook with muffled sobs. She’d never seen Hermione break down so easily before, and it sort of scared her – especially given who she was sobbing about.
Ginny lowered herself to the floor beside Hermione, tucking her feet under her bum. The wood floor was cool beneath her bare legs.
“Hermione, why do you care so much?” she asked gently. “When –” Ginny stopped, chewing on the inside of her cheek, “– if we find Malfoy… you know there’s a big chance that things won’t be the same between you two, right? For all we know, he could still have a heart of ice that won’t melt, even for us.”
“I know,” Hermione croaked. She propped her chin on her knees and stared across the semi-dark room, watching the dust particles dance in the sliver of light that illuminated very little. Ginny could see fresh tears glittering on her cheeks.
Judging by her silence, Ginny decided not to prod any further.
Hermione’s eyes scanned the room for a brief moment, before they found her bag lying where she had discarded it some hours before at the foot of the bed. A spark of hope flooding her body, she wiped away the tears lingering under her eyes and shuffled over to the bag, wrenching it open and fishing round inside till she found what she was searching for.
Ginny’s eyes narrowed seriously when she saw what Hermione had retrieved. “Hermione… I don’t think we should –”
“Just… give me a moment, alright?” Hermione responded sharply, desperately. “There’s something in here. A clue, a picture; something. There’s got to be.” Her voice was shaky as she flipped through the pages of the journal on her lap, but she didn’t look up.
With a hesitant nod, Ginny just sat back, leaning against the bed and pulling her legs to her chest as she watched warily. She was biting down so hard on her inner cheek that a part of her was worried it might start to bleed soon. But she didn’t like this. Or that journal. Not. At. All. Not since… well, every little thing that’s happened since their run-in with Rowena the Incredibly Mad and their quick escape through the journal. It all reminded her too much of Riddle’s diary. Of her devastating and frightening first year; of how it had manipulated her; of how it had taken over her mind and body. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, Hermione was beginning to look like Chione.
She shut her eyes, taking deep breaths every five seconds up to twenty, and then back to zero to calm herself down. Her mum had advised her to go into therapy for a little while when she was twelve because she had been plagued by nightmares about You-Know-Who. Perhaps that explained her lack of sleep now.
To make a long story short, she’d learned that calm-inducing technique during those sessions.
But it was no use to her now.
With a loud groan of frustration, Hermione chucked the journal at the wall as hard as she could, just missing Ginny’s legs by millimeters. She could feel her leg tingling a little, and looked down at it. Well.
It didn’t miss her, after all, but it was only a scratch. Ginny exhaled deeply. She could live with a scratch. Pushing her bed-tousled hair out of her face tiredly, Ginny looked at Hermione, who was now lying on her back on the floor, muttering to herself about things being useless, good-for-nothing shit – why do I even bother? She’d ask herself – and then she looked toward the journal, lying lifeless on the cold wood paneled floor.
Swallowing hard, Ginny crawled over to the journal and picked it up gingerly by the spine, eyeing it skeptically. A second later, something slipped through the pages and landed with a barely audible plop on the floor at her knee. Her brows furrowed, Ginny picked it up.
“Er… Hermione?” she said unsurely, “I think I may have found something.”
Hermione abruptly removed her hands from her face, stopped sulking, and propped herself up on her elbows with her eyes wide in disbelief. “What?”
She shook her head, sitting back on her heels as she set the journal down on the floor and opened the folded piece of parchment. One edge was jagged, as though it had been ripped from the book. The parchment was aged and worn, deeply creased as though it had been refolded numerous times before.
“I don’t –” Ginny began to say as she began to skim the slanted, inked calligraphy on the page. Her eyes widened, flickering up over the page to Hermione as she held it out to her. “You’d better read it.”
Hermione’s eyebrows pulled together, but she leaned forward and took the parchment from Ginny anyway, her eyes lingering on her friend for a long moment before falling to the words written on the parchment. Unlike the journal, this page was written in English.
I met a man once; he was quite charming. Tall, and very handsome, with dark hair and even darker, intriguing eyes. I could tell that he was troubled, that he had been let down a lot in his past. I found myself quite smitten with him; this was long after Godric and the other founders had passed, and the school had begun its cycle of Headmasters. As each new one came, I found myself changing my name and my story, and I kept my stories of my time with Godric a secret, so that no one would question why I did not age. But somehow, this man saw through my façade.
Tom. His name was Tom Riddle, and he told me of a very powerful magic, one that would ensure my immortality as my faith was faltering quite rapidly. You see, I had been alone for a long, long time. I tried to end my own life on multiple occassions, and he discovered me once, consulting with a ghost who spent many hours haunting the girls’ toilets and moaning on about her miserable life. He found me there, and took pity on me. He that he would show me how to stay alive forever, and that he would keep me company. And he did, but after I saw what he wanted to do with the world, the way he was infecting the minds of so many people with his Dark magic, I decided to leave him. He threatened me when I told him that I would, saying that he would destroy each and every horcrux that I created until I was dead, but I told him that I didn’t care. That was what I had wanted in the first place. But even then he did not know that…
The rest of the entry had been rubbed out, faded deeply with age, but that wasn’t what Hermione was hung up on. It was the first words of the second paragraph, standing out from the page as clear as day, as though they had been retraced ten times over.
Tom. His name was Tom Riddle…
Hermione exhaled deeply, her mouth hanging open slightly. She let her arms drop onto her lap, her eyes falling on Ginny. “She knew him. She knew You-Know-Who,” Ginny whispered, combing through her long, deep red hair with her fingers nervously. “How can that be possible?”
“Anything’s possible,” countered Hermione quietly. “She lived for quite a long time, didn’t she?” Ginny swallowed hard, watching as Hermione stood up and started pacing back and forth. She shakes her head, running her fingers through her hair.
“Maybe…” Ginny said quietly after a moment, her eyes falling on the journal lying on the floor beside her. She picked it up. “Maybe that letter wasn’t written by her?”
Hermione shook her head, rubbing her temples. “Ginny, what –”
She held out her hand, palm up as she looked up at Hermione. “Let me see the parchment again,” she demanded, raising her eyebrows pointedly and gesturing for her to give it to her with her fingers. “I just need to see something for a moment.” Hermione swallowed, staring at Ginny skeptically for a second, before approaching her friend and handing her the letter. As Ginny took it from her, she opened the journal easily to the pages that had been ripped out.
As Hermione looked at them, she realized that she had forgotten about them since the last time she had consulted Chione’s journal. It seemed just as possible that it had been Chione who had written it as it was that someone else had planted it in the journal, but why was Ginny trying to prove to her that it was the latter? Nothing made much sense to her anymore.
Ginny smoothed out the letter over her thigh, before looking up at Hermione briefly as she lowered the parchment into the book. As Hermione had expected, the parchment’s torn edge fit perfectly with the one still connected to the journal’s inner spine. She let out a sigh, relief flooding her body.
“Well,” whispered Ginny. “I suppose she really was consorting with the Dark Lord.” She looked up at Hermione then. “Are you happy now that you’ve got your wish?”
“I’m not happy about any of this, Ginny,” Hermione murmured, staring at the parchment. “I only said that anything was possible when it came to Chione, and implied that we should at least try to believe the things that we read from her journal. All information is good information,”
Ginny eyed Hermione for a long moment, her eyebrows pulling together. “Information for… what?”
Hermione met her eyes for a split second before pushing herself to her feet, turning her back on her as she went to the window. “It’s nothing,” she replied passively. Ginny scrambled to her feet, letting the journal slide off her lap to the floor, hurrying over to her friend and putting her hand firmly on her shoulder.
“Hermione,” Ginny said firmly, looking her in the eyes, “there is something that you aren’t telling me right now. What is it?”
“What are you on about now, Ginny?” Hermione demanded, making a face as she shook her head and went over to the bed, sitting down. “I’m not hiding anything from you.”
Ginny frowned, hovering a few feet away. “Well it certainly wouldn’t be the first time if you were,” she murmured, eyeing her friend. Hermione pretended not to have heard Ginny’s harsh words, rubbing her arms absently as she stared morosely at the floor. Ginny knew that look. She approached her slowly. “Hermione,” she said tentatively, “this isn’t about Draco, is it?”
Hermione laughed weakly in disbelief, shooting her a look.
“Oh don’t be silly,” said Hermione, her voice hitching near the end. “I never cared about him anyway.”
“Hermione, I know that look,” Ginny replied, sitting down on the bed next to her. “You wore it the day my brother and Harry left. In fact, you wore it the entire week afterward, too, I think.” She raised an eyebrow at her pointedly. “Now I know for a fact that you had strong feelings for Ron when you had that look on for him, and now that you have it on for Draco… well, actions certainly do speak louder than words.”
Hermione looked away from Ginny, her bottom lip trembling. This was all too much for her to handle; her plate was becoming piled high with more than it could take on and soon – very soon, indeed – she found that she could not hold it in anymore.
“We have to find him,” she told Ginny, her voice tinged with desperation.
“But, Hermione, have you ever considered the simple fact that Draco may have simply run off of his own accord?” Ginny inquired, her eyebrows pulling together. “After everything that he has had to go through these past few months… I would run off, too, if I were him, just to get away from all of the pressure –”
“Then why was someone else posing as him?” Hermione countered. “I highly doubt that he had spared a moment to hire someone as a stand in for him while he was gone.”
“Okay, then. Someone had taken it upon themselves to stand in as Draco for a few months, to target you, I suppose,” Ginny agreed, before shaking her head. “But that still does not explain why anyone looking to target you would want to kidnap Malfoy.”
Or someone looking to target me, Chione corrected in a small voice, speaking up for the first time all night. Hermione clenched her teeth, deciding that now was not the best time to berate her about having known Tom Riddle all this time and not mentioning it at all, not even once, even though she was quite sure that the topic of Horcruxes had crossed her mind a few times since the boys left.
“Maybe they kidnapped him after they had convinced McGonagall to make him Head Boy, because they knew that he would be spending a lot of time with me,” mused Hermione with a heavy sigh as she buried her face in her hands. “We need to find Malfoy because he probably knows more about this than we do,”
“Alright, you have a point there, I will give you that,” Ginny told her, “but we can’t just up and leave, not now, anyway. Christmas is almost here and – and I’ve already managed to get you something.”
Hermione looked over at Ginny, who was fiddling with her hands intently.
She sighed again, managing a small smile. “That was really kind of you, Ginny, but I’m afraid I didn’t have time to get you anything,” Hermione admitted, frowning slightly. “You didn’t have to buy me anything –”
“Now, who said I bought you anything?” Ginny said, crawling across the bed to her side, closest to the window, with a mischievious glint in her eyes.
“What?” Hermione inquired, her eyebrows pulling together as she twisted around and looked at her best friend.
Ginny scooted back under the duvet, laying on her back and tucking her hands under her head. “You will just have to wait until Christmas to see, I guess,” she told her, glancing at Hermione with a wink.
“And what about Draco?” Hermione asked pointedly.
“I suppose we’ll deal with that matter after we’ve opened presents,” sighed Ginny, rolling over so that her back was to Hermione, indicating that she was finished with the conversation. Hermione stared at her, exhaling deeply, before crawling in under the duvet as well.
But when her head hit the pillow, she found that sleep would continue to evade her for a little while longer.
Author's Note Hi everyone! I'm still alive, and I do still care about this story - very, very much - I promise! I have just been so busy writing all of my other stories that this one sort of slipped through the cracks, but I had the beginning of it written for a while. Can you believe it's been a month since I updated this story? That seems so long! Oh, gosh, I'm a terrible author *hides in shame*. Well, let me know what you thought of the chapter. It's a bit emotional, I'm afraid. I only gave it a quick glance over once, but if it seems a bit repetitive to you, give me a holler! I've been really busy working hard on my first JulNo ever, so I wrote about a thousand words of this chapter half asleep. :O Well, I'm off again. Hopefully it won't take as long for me to update next time! Thank you for stopping by to read :)
edit//: I just realized that all of my dates were completely off. D: That was sooo embarrassing, but thankfully no one noticed! I don't even know how I managed to do that, really, but all of the dates have been fixed accordingly.
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