Categories > Books > Harry Potter

Horcruxes Lost - Souls Regained

by Forty_Two 9 reviews

Harry Potter has been granted more fanfiction second chances than a 999-lived cat. Now Tom Riddle gets a second chance.

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Humor,Romance - Characters: Hermione,Tom Riddle,Voldemort - Warnings: [!!!] [V] [?] - Published: 2014-11-26 - Updated: 2014-11-26 - 16245 words - Complete

5Exciting
Horcruxes Lost - Souls Regained

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Summary: Harry Potter has been granted more fanfiction second chances than a 999-lived cat. Now Tom Riddle gets his second chance.

Warning: Contains messy death scene. With blood, and stuff.

Disclaimer: Harry Potter, his playmates, their adult supervision, and all that they do, and all that they are, and all that they think, and all that they can even imagine, are the sole property of J. K. Rowling, her various agents, publishers, and movie-rights holders. And yet, ironically, we're supposed to believe that owning house-elves is an immoral form of oppression!

In this regard I hold myself blameless, as I own neither house-elves nor Harry Potter, et. al.

Author's note: Although the diary was the first Horcrux to be revealed/destroyed, according to later canon, we learn that the ring Horcrux was created first, the diary second. This inconvenient little fact would have very effectively destroyed the plot of this story, so we'll ignore it. For this account, the diary Horcrux was created first, the ring second. By continuing to read this story, you hereby agree to accept this premise.

Lastly, I'm posting all ten chapters as one. Why? Because I'm lazy. Duh!

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Chapter 1.

In a torch-lit cavern, hidden somewhere deep under a magical castle, a twelve-year-old boy pulled a basilisk's fang out of his arm and buried it in a book - a diary, to be precise - and he watched in morbid satisfaction as a specter faded and dissolved to nothingness before his thankful eyes.

The boy paid no attention as a screaming, dark, wraith-like form coalesced and sped off through the hole in the statue from where the huge basilisk had emerged. The boy had more pressing things on his mind, such as the pain from the venom that was spreading from the wound in his arm. He would be dead in less than a minute, by his own estimation.

Whether, in fact, the boy died or not was of no concern to the wraith-like form that was presently biding its time in a cave in Albania. A much more urgent event had just impinged upon its awareness. Part of its soul had just been released from one of its Horcruxes. This was at once both worrying and wonderful. That a Horcrux had been discovered and destroyed was cause for great alarm, but at this point in time, this was exactly what the wraith needed!

He would wait - in his wraith-like form - for his counterpart to join him. Or more specifically, to re-join him, for they were both part of the same soul, after all.

It was the better part of a week before the reunion could take place. Albania is a long way from Scotland, even for a wraith that knows exactly where it's going.

Potter! It was Potter - again, the wraith realized, once his other part had finally combined with him.

He's a Horcrux - I could feel it in him, the newer part reported.

Harry Potter had sent Lord Voldemort, the most feared Dark Lord of the age, to this semi-existence eleven years prior, and had duplicated the feat a year ago. Unfortunately for the boy, the soul-piece that Potter had liberated this time constituted fully one-half of the original soul. With each splitting, the remaining soul had been halved again and again - six times in all - so the piece that Potter had 'vanquished' eleven years ago had been only one sixty-fourth of the original. That miniscule fragment had almost - almost - succeeded in regaining a body and a life. So, with thirty-three sixty-fourths recombined, there was no stopping the Dark Lord now!

Yes, it seemed that Lord Voldemort had split his soul six times, not five, his newly-released half had just informed him. He'd somehow made the infant Potter into a Horcrux and Potter now possessed one sixty-fourth of Voldemort's soul.

Now that was good news! Lord Voldemort could not die as long as Harry Potter lived!

How utterly poetic!

And at a cost of only one sixty-fourth of his soul, Lord Voldemort considered that to be a very good investment.

So the boy has killed Salazar's basilisk, the older Lord Voldemort mused, having just witnessed the memory of the skirmish in the Chamber of Secrets. His sixteen-year-old soul, though technically in the majority, had immediately deferred control to his older, wiser self.

What was the greenish mist? the youngster asked. I noticed it as I made my escape.

No idea, the older part answered unconcernedly. My guess is that it was a physical artifact of the collapsing magical containment field. Why did you scream like that?

Because it HURT! You try getting yourself burned by basilisk venom and forcibly expelled from a Horcrux and we'll see if you let out a bit more than a polite whimper! Whatever gave Potter the idea to stab the diary with that basilisk fang?

The boy has uncanny luck.

We don't believe in luck, his younger self reminded him, or at least in my time we didn't...

True - luck is merely having good instincts, after all. This Potter seems to have good instincts in spades!

How can we fight that? Voldemort, Jr. wondered.

We have two options available to us, the older one instructed. Firstly, we can refuse to fight him. As long as he remains alive, we win!

If the wraith had had a human body, an evil grin would have graced its lips.

Unfortunately, Potter simply will not let the matter alone. A year ago he killed a host I was possessing and now he has destroyed one of my Horcruxes. With that in mind, our second option - and the one I reluctantly prefer - is to set a trap. We'll create a situation, analyze all of Potter's possible moves, and have a counter response ready for each one. Whatever his instincts tell him to do, we'll be prepared.

And we'll select a scenario where his options are very limited, so that we'll have fewer responses to allow for?

Exactly! I am reminded that I was a genius even at the tender age of sixteen!

Voldemort Jr. smirked at that.

We'll need a body, the elder wraith sighed.

How? How can we do that?

That's right - when I made the diary Horcrux, it was merely an exercise to see if I could do it. I hoped that it would provide immortality. I had no idea that it could be used to resurrect myself.

Really!? It can resurrect us?

The Muggles have a saying: What's the point in making backups if you don't know how to perform a restore?

What!? What does that mean?

A bit after your time, I suppose. The Muggles have computers now, and they're constantly losing their data. The Muggles save backup copies, but most of the fools wouldn't know how to put the information back if they needed to.

So - you do? You know how to return us to a body, I mean?

There are several methods, some more effective than others. The best ways require more than half of the soul to be present - a luxury I did not have until now.

So I'm necessary, after all? the younger one grinned.

Absolutely! Until we re-joined, I was considering using a very barbaric ritual. It's ancient and produces only a very crude approximation of a body, but with such a tiny fraction of my soul left, it was my only option.

And now?

How old do you feel? the elder one asked.

Sixteen?

And I am sixty-six. Since you account for thirty-two sixty-fourths of us and I only one sixty-fourth, your age will factor in thirty-two times what mine will. I would estimate that we should fall out at somewhere near twenty years old.

Seventeen years and six months, the younger one supplied after a moment's calculation.

Show off! the elder smirked. He fully appreciated his younger self's mental agility, however. This was going to be so easy!

Don't get cocky, the younger warned, knowing the other's thoughts. We need to be very careful - we'll get only one chance, I'm guessing.

Right.

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Chapter 2.

Two weeks after his soul's recombination, a seventeen-and-a-half-year-old Tom Riddle stood admiring himself in a mirror.

"You do excellent work, Madame Olandra," he smiled at the old witch's reflection.

"And I expect to be well-paid for it, too!" she eyed the young wizard suspiciously. "Ten thousand Galleons! That was our agreed price!"

"You shall have it," he said, turning to face her.

"You try anything," she warned, narrowing her eyes, "and you'll regret it. I expect full payment within a month! Thirty days! On the thirty-first day, you'll discover a rather nasty side effect of the ritual I used."

"I would expect no less from someone with your abilities," the handsome young wizard inclined his head. "You shall have your Galleons within a month."

"I didn't reach this ripe old age by trusting my clients' honor, you know," she glared at him. "You try and do me in and you'll spend the rest of your life as a Flobberworm!"

"A Flobberworm!" he laughed. "My! You are vindictive!"

"Too right!" she nodded, allowing the hint of a self-satisfied smile to cross her lips.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

It was nearing the end of July before Tom Riddle arrived in London. Tom was without his wand and although he was proficient at wandless magic, wandless Apparition was good for only very short distances and was quite draining. As he made his way across Europe, he'd kept himself in traveling money by robbing Muggles, then Obliviating them. All that was about to change, however.

"Lucius, my old friend," Tom stopped the man in the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic.

"I'm sorry - do I know you?"

"I entrusted something to you once - years ago - and it seems that you were very reckless with it."

"Who are you?" the blonde man demanded.

"It was a diary - a very valuable diary - and now it appears to have been destroyed," replied the middle-aged man with red hair and a bit of a paunch around his middle.

Lucius Malfoy's face grew even paler than usual. "M-my lord?" he stammered in an undertone, swallowing conspicuously. "You look different! I didn't recognize you!"

"Yes, I am your lord! And I would urge you to never forget that fact! Of course I look different, you fool! Do you think I'd be so stupid as to appear in public without using a Glamour charm? Now - what have you done with my diary?"

"I was attempting to use it to bring you back, my lord," Malfoy insisted quietly, lest his words be overheard. "It was the Potter brat! He's the one who destroyed it!"

"I entrusted it to you, Lucius!" Tom Riddle hissed in reply. "To you! To protect and to keep safe! You've allowed a mere child to destroy it!"

"I shall make it up to you, my lord..." the blonde man offered, praying that the price would not be his life.

"Indeed you shall! Immediately! Meet me on Gringotts' front steps within one minute! Arrive late at your peril!"

With that the red-headed man Disapparated. Lucius Malfoy took a deep breath and hurriedly did the same.

Tom was thankful for his ability to perform basic wandless magic, including short-hop Apparition. He was also thankful that Lucius did not suspect his temporary disadvantage. Tom's old wand was missing and he didn't have the kind of money needed to purchase a new one in Knockturn Alley. His trip to Gringotts would rectify the latter problem. He could then work on the former at his leisure.

"I am here to open a vault account," Tom informed the Goblin teller, "and Mister Malfoy, here, would like to make a deposit into it."

"How much?" the Goblin asked, not bothering to look up from the new-vault-account form he'd begun filling out.

"One million Galleons," Tom smiled.

That got the Goblin's attention!

Lucius was suddenly overcome by a coughing fit.

"Is there a problem, Mister Malfoy?" the Goblin inquired over the tops of his spectacles.

"N-no - no problem at all," the well-dressed blonde man cleared his throat and regained his composure. "One million Galleons," he straightened his robes and nodded his assent.

"And Mister Malfoy wishes to transfer a further ten thousand Galleons to the Albanian vault of one Madame Olandra," Tom added. He certainly didn't want that transaction traceable to his new, squeaky-clean Gringotts account.

The Goblin looked over at Lucius, who closed his eyes in frustration, sighed heavily, and nodded. In a choice between 'your money or your life' Lucius was happy to part company with his money.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Tom's new wand didn't feel the same in his hand as his old one. It felt less powerful - less in tune with his magic. It ought to feel better - it was custom-made, wasn't it? He had paid a small fortune for it, although apparently, most of the price was to cover the Knockturn Alley wand-maker's 'no questions asked' policy and the lack of a Ministry trace. Ollivander's reputation as the finest wand-maker in Britain - perhaps in the world - was well-deserved, it seemed.

I can use this one to avoid Ministry monitoring, but I'll still want my old wand in my possession, he frowned to himself. It was so much more alive than this one, and besides, it might become a necessity should I need to prove my identity to a reluctant Death Eater. The last person to see it was Pettigrew - the night I attacked the Potters...

It took Tom only a few questions around Knockturn Alley to get the full story: Peter Pettigrew was long dead - killed by one Sirius Black, who was currently rotting in Azkaban for Pettigrew's murder. Perhaps Black might have some information. Perhaps he'd taken the yew-and-Phoenix-feather wand from Pettigrew after killing him. Regardless, Black was now his only lead. Tom would have to pay a visit to Azkaban.

Tom Riddle exited Knockturn Alley and headed for the Ministry of Magic. The easiest way to visit Azkaban was to simply purchase a visitor's pass. The second easiest way was to fire off an Unforgivable curse in the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic. That was a one-way ticket, of course, and thus should be avoided. Breaking into the wizarding prison was a third alternative and a bit trickier, but not impossible, should it come to that.

Fortunately, it did not come to that. Posing as a recent Hogwarts graduate doing some historical research into the Ancient and Noble House of Black, young Tom 'Dunbar' easily obtained his visitor's pass for an interview with the infamous prisoner. He also earned a strange look from the clerk who issued it.

Tom traveled by official Portkey to the dock from where the ferry would transport him to the island prison. The ferry, of course, was nowhere in sight. Neither was the ferryman. Tom pulled the rope of the ferry-summoning bell hanging at the end of the dock and settled down on the bench to wait. He picked up the discarded day-old Daily Prophet lying nearby.

His eyes were immediately drawn to the photo on the front page. A large family was waving at the camera and the father was holding a small slip of parchment. According to the caption, Arthur Weasley, a Ministry employee, had won the Prophet's daily Galleon draw. It must have been a slow news day.

Tom had finished with the newspaper by the time the ferry pulled up to the dock, but he tucked it under his arm anyway. A small gift like a day-old newspaper might help to loosen Black's tongue, and the paper had cost nothing. Tom stood as the ferry operator motioned him down to the boat.

"Not many come out here," the man eyed the visitor suspiciously.

"I'm doing research," Tom presented his visitor's pass.

"Black!?" the man looked up from the parchment in surprise.

"What?" Tom shrugged.

"Sirius Black escaped last night, that's what!"

"Escaped?" Tom gasped, trying to react in the way he imagined a seventeen-year-old might do.

"Sometime during the night. Aurors are searching the area for him," the man replied. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, now, would you?" he eyed the lad before him.

"Me!? Of course not!" Tom didn't need to feign innocence. "I wouldn't be standing here chatting with you if I did! How did Black escape?"

"That's the poser, now, isn't it? He got a visit from the Minister of Magic yesterday. Afterwards he kept muttering something about, 'He's at Hogwarts,' and then this morning he was gone. All he left behind in his cell was a copy of the Prophet that Fudge had given him - that one right there," he pointed to Tom's folded newspaper, "except that picture had been torn from the front page."

"Why would the Ministry issue me a pass not two hours ago if Black had escaped?" Tom wondered.

"Er, the information has not been widely released," the man stated with some embarrassment, realizing that he'd just committed a breach of security by telling this kid about the break-out. "We're hoping to recapture Black quickly and not have to panic the general populace. You're not to repeat this to anyone, you hear?"

"Of course," Tom smiled. "I'm always happy to cooperate with the authorities."

"Good lad!" the man grinned back. "Sorry you had to come all the way up here for nothing. Pass me your Portkey and I'll activate it for your return trip to London."

Two minutes later Tom found himself back in the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic, studying the front page of his newspaper. It was not the father in the picture who drew Tom's attention, however. One of the children carried a rat on his shoulder - a very ordinary-looking rat, except that it was missing a toe from one of its front paws.

Pettigrew? he thought to himself. Could it be you? If it is, you'd better hope that Black finds you before I do. He may want to kill you, but I can do far worse. Two years ago Weasley carried you everywhere with him - including to my Defense class - and you never once contacted me. Surely you must have known... Ah, Pettigrew, you'd better have my wand with you when I find you. That would be the only thing that could save you.

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Chasing down Sirius Black was a job best left to the Aurors, Tom decided. Besides, Black was not his primary interest. Pettigrew was currently vacationing with the Weasley family in Egypt, according to the Prophet article, but Ron Weasley would be returning to school on September first. Tom would be there, too!

Getting close to Ronald Weasley proved easier than Tom had anticipated. Posing as a seventh-year transfer student, he simply purchased a ticket and boarded the Hogwarts Express. He invisibly roamed the corridors of the carriages - courtesy of the disillusionment charm - until he found Ron Weasley, the red-headed boy from the picture in the Prophet. There was a problem, however - Weasley was sitting with Potter!

Tom was no fool! Potter's mere touch had turned Quirrell to stone. Until he figured out what power the brat commanded - and how to neutralize it - there was no way he would go near the boy.

Perhaps it was a byproduct of Potter's accidentally becoming a Horcrux, Tom mused from the aisle as he studied the boy through the window of the compartment. He had not properly prepared the vessel - the toddler, in this case - to be used as a Horcrux, and since the vessel had not been well cleansed, magically, who knows what could have happened? The Horcrux ritual was not exactly well-researched or well-documented. Random side effects could not be discounted.

Tom's thoughts were interrupted by the sudden slowing of the train and by the cold and unnatural darkness that quickly surrounded him.

Dementors!

Tom instantly Apparated to the small platform just outside the rear of the rear-most carriage, but he found that position well guarded by two of the foul creatures. He silently cast Fiendfyre at the nearest one, reducing its tattered robes to ashes. The foul thing gave off a scream that went unnoticed among the cries from inside the train and it fled into the darkness.

The other Dementor suddenly remembered a prior engagement and backed away cautiously before turning and also fleeing the scene.

Disembarking well past sundown at Hogsmeade Station, Tom used the darkness to slip away in the direction of Honeydukes. The candy store's locked doors posed no problem for him and he silently made his way down the creaking wooden steps to the basement and the trapdoor he knew so well from his years as a student. The tunnel's ceiling seemed a little lower than he remembered, but he soon emerged from the hump-backed witch statue and hurried to the first floor girls' restroom as the new crop of terrified first-years were being sorted in the Great Hall.

"Hello, Tom," the ghost blushed as she addressed the object of her long-time crush. "I knew you'd come back to me! I just knew it!"

Riddle looked up from the sink in front of him to study the apparition. "Myrtle?"

"You remembered!" she gushed. "After all these years, you remembered! You haven't changed a single bit, you know? Are you a ghost, too? That would be so-o-o romantic!"

"No - I'm not," he replied curtly. "I'm busy right now, Myrtle. Perhaps we can talk later," he dismissed the ghost and turned back to the sink. "Open! Stairs! " he hissed in Parseltongue, then disappeared into the darkness below.

"I'll be right here, Tom!" Myrtle called after him as the sink lowered itself back into place.

"Ah, Slytherin! What have they done to you, my friend?" Tom shook his head sadly at the sight of the dead basilisk. Its eyes were shredded, its head was covered in its own blood, and there was a fang missing from its once magnificent mouth.

The hollow 'ploink' of a drop of water falling from the high ceiling into the small pool below was the only answer he received in the empty chamber.

We can extract the venom, at least, Tom's younger spirit suggested sadly. Basilisk venom is very hard to find when you need it and there's quite a bit here.

Nonsense! his older part responded. He's been dead for less than three months and basilisks are very resistant to decay. We should be able to effect a complete resurrection.

You mean - like an Inferus? Can you do that with a snake?

Not an Inferus - a resurrection, the elder Riddle repeated. We'll bring our friend back to life.

Wow...

Yes - wow - but we'll need potions - and we'll need to carve some Runes. We'll use the lab in Salazar's private quarters, he nodded to the hole in the statue.

"Stairs !" he said aloud in Parseltongue and stone steps slid out from the statue.

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Chapter 3.

Just over a week later, Tom was hidden outside the entrance to Gryffindor Tower. His basilisk was alive, its bandaged eyes were on the mend with the aid of some magical salve, and its missing fang was regenerating nicely. Disillusioned, Tom waited near the portrait of the Fat Lady as the Gryffindors returned from breakfast.

"Fortuna Major," they gave the password to enter.

Tom lingered outside the third-year boys' dorm until well after the bell for the first class period had sounded and he was certain that any stragglers had exited Gryffindor Tower. Now it was time to search for a rat, and mid-morning during classes provided the perfect opportunity.

"Peter!" he exclaimed at the sight of the small creature napping on a bed surrounded by bright orange Quidditch posters.

The Animagus barely had time to awaken before he was stunned. He regained consciousness in a dimly lit room, in human form, and bound tightly with magical ropes.

"Peter Pettigrew!" the young man sitting at the small table smiled at him as he idly drummed two wands on the tabletop. "You have some explaining to do..."

"H-How did you f-find me?" Pettigrew stammered.

"You allowed your picture to appear on the front page of the Daily Prophet ," Tom smiled. "Rather careless of you..."

"But h-how did you r-recognize me?"

"I didn't - Sirius Black did. He was quite upset, it seems - so upset that he escaped from Azkaban to hunt you down."

"He wh-what!?"

"Yes - he escaped from Azkaban," young Riddle nodded. "Quite an accomplishment, but then he was very highly motivated, it seems."

"Wh-what do you want with me?" Peter asked, half knowing the answer - though when it came, it was not what he expected.

"My wand, of course! You were the last one to see it. If you had the foresight to secure it for me, I might allow you to live."

A smile graced Peter's face at this news. "I did, my lord! I hid it in a cave in a hill above Hogsmeade. My friends and I used to sneak up there to drink Firewhiskey when we were in school. I checked on it just last spring - your wand's still there!"

"Last spring, you say?"

Peter nodded eagerly.

"What about the spring before that? Where was my faithful servant, then? Where were you when I needed you?"

I d-didn't know it was you, m-my lord," Peter stammered. "I never f-felt your presence on my arm..."

"And now you can, I assume?"

"N-n-no, my lord!" Peter replied, turning his eyes to the sleeve of his left arm. "I'd show you, but I can't m-move..."

"Finite Incantatem ," Tom waved his wand casually, freeing his 'guest.' "Show me," he said.

Pettigrew quickly pushed up the sleeve of his robes to reveal a faded Dark Mark. He silently held out his arm for his master's inspection.

"Hmm..." Tom frowned.

What's that? his younger self wondered.

A modified Protean Charm. It linked me with all of my servants. Apparently, since your part of our soul was not involved in the charm, your strength does not help to power it - only my later self's part, which appears to be too weak to do so.

At least the rat has our old wand, Tom, Jr. noted.

Riddle's eyes flicked up to meet his former minion's. "I've taken the precaution of casting a tracking charm on you, Peter. You'll find it difficult to remove without the aid of your wand," Tom smiled, twirling the wand in question between his fingers. "Lead me to this cave where you claim you've hidden my wand. Assume your Animagus form, and I shall follow you in mine. You are familiar with my form, are you not?"

"No, my lord..."

"I'm a snake - an adder, specifically. I trust that you know what adders prefer to eat?"

"R-Rats?"

Tom simply smiled in reply. "We'll take the tunnel to the Shrieking Shack," he instructed. "From there, I'll follow you to this cave of yours. Change - now!"

A short while later a gray snake followed a gray rat across Hogwarts' grounds, both disappearing in the vicinity of the Whomping Willow. It was well over an hour before they arrived at the cave, not being able to make good time in their Animagus forms. Those were necessary, though - Tom didn't want to attract any attention to their journey.

Peter was the first to change back once they'd entered the cave. He was also the first to be stunned.

"Peter! You've made it all too easy!" a semi-deranged laugh filled the small cave. "Here I sat, trying to figure a way to get into Hogwarts, when you show up at my doorstep and end the game! You're lucky you reverted when you did, though - I heard a rodent scuttling in here and I was about to kill you for food!"

Pettigrew heard none of this, of course - he was lying on the dirt floor of the cave, stunned. Tom heard every word, though, and he silently slithered to the farthest, darkest corner to listen and wait.

"So what do I do with you, now, you little rat? If I show my face, the Aurors will never give me a chance to explain. I'd be Kissed within minutes."

So it was Sirius Black, the Azkaban escapee, Tom realized.

"If I go to Dumbledore, he'd likely turn me in. There has to be a reason why he never visited, never questioned me during those twelve long years. He must not have wanted me released, although why, I may never know. Moony - it has to be Moony! Once he sees you, he'll have to believe me! Ennervate !"

Tom watched in curious fascination as Pettigrew came to his senses, then immediately transformed into a rat and attempted to scamper away.

"Stupefy!" Black shouted. "Peter, you were always so predictable!" he chuckled as he stunned the rat a second time for good measure and stuffed it into a pocket of his robes. "Nox," he said, extinguishing the small magical torch on the wall. He then transformed into a large black dog and loped out of the cave, apparently in a hurry to find this 'Moony' person.

Tom waited for several minutes before he stirred from his dark corner. It took him only another minute - after he'd regained his human form - to locate the hiding place of his old wand and then Apparate away.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Tom read the headlines the following day:

Sirius Black Cleared!

Peter Pettigrew Alive, Kissed!

"Well, Peter," Tom chuckled as he studied the article below, "It looks like you got the last laugh! You managed to free our mutual enemy and evade my punishment! Bravo! Well done! Too bad it cost you your soul!"

Yes, Peter Pettigrew had already received the Dementor's Kiss. The Ministry, in their haste to administer 'justice,' had failed to thoroughly question the rat and had therefore not learned of the return of one Tom Marvolo Riddle. Of course, Tom would have to talk with Lucius to verify the story in the Daily Prophet. The newspaper was notoriously error-prone.

But first things first, Tom Riddle considered. How is it that Potter was able to deflect a Killing Curse? And then turn Quirrell's skin to stone just by touching him? The boy is a mystery - one that we will have to study from a distance, although not too far a distance.

And so the seventeen-and-a-half-year-old 'student' Apparated to Hogsmeade and invisibly made his way to the trap door under Honeydukes.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Chapter 4.

It was imperative that Tom Riddle keep out of sight of the Headmaster. Dumbledore had an uncanny knack for being able to see through disillusionment charms - and invisibility cloaks, for that matter. Tom suspected that those half-moon spectacles he always wore were involved, somehow, but exactly how they worked was a mystery that eluded him.

It would be lunchtime shortly, so he took up a position just off the main staircase, disillusioned and hiding in an alcove behind a suit of armor. The spot afforded him a view of the students as they descended the stairs on their way to the Great Hall.

He hadn't waited long when Potter made his appearance, accompanied by his two friends. The boy was a red-head, tall and lanky. The girl was average build with bushy brown hair. Potter's two friends seemed to be arguing about something. As they passed his position, Tom could make out that the boy was upset about losing his rat, and somehow blamed the girl for it.

"... If I'd known Scabbers was Pettigrew, Ron, I'd have..."

Tom didn't learn exactly what the girl would have done because her voice faded as the trio passed by his alcove. He peered out around the corner and watched them enter the Great Hall.

The red-head is Ron Weasley, the older Tom informed his younger counterpart needlessly.

Yes - poor student, badly written essays, but good at chess, the younger Tom replied. And the girl is Granger - top of her year and cursed with a curiosity that borders on obsessive. I've picked all that up from your memories with Quirrell.

She spends an inordinate amount of time in the library, the older one continued, and is seldom there in the company of the other two. We shall arrange a little chat with her.

It was later that afternoon when Hermione Granger dropped her book bag on the library table - her favorite one in a quiet corner - and settled into a chair. She looked up as an older boy - probably sixth or seventh year - wandered over and placed his small stack of books on the table, across from her and several seats down. Though she did not recognize him, she returned his polite smile before pulling out her ink and parchment and setting to work.

The boy was still sitting there an hour later when she stood to stretch her legs.

"Hermione Granger?" the boy whispered, glancing up from his book curiously.

"Yes - I'm afraid we haven't been introduced," she replied quietly, moving sideways down the table and offering her hand.

"Tom Dunbar - Ravenclaw," the boy said in a library whisper after rising to shake her hand across the table. "You looked like you were quite absorbed in your work. What are you studying?"

"Ancient Runes. They're a right bother to memorize."

"Yes, they are," the boy agreed, "but very useful."

"Are you Faye's older brother? She's in my dorm - third year Gryffindor?"

"No," he chuckled. "No relation - I'm an only child. You?"

"I am as well," she smiled. "I'm also the first witch in my family. My parents were very shocked when they were told."

"I didn't have any parents," Tom sighed. "I lived in a Muggle orphanage until I got my Hogwarts letter."

"Oh! I'm so sorry..."

"Don't be," he shrugged. "It turned out tolerably well, and that's what counts, right?"

"Yes - I suppose..." she agreed - with a long look at him.

Tom gave her a wan smile. "Well - back to work, then," he ended their short conversation, took his seat, and turned back to his book.

His calculated move was rewarded an hour later when the girl stood and began packing up her things.

"Are you going to dinner?" she asked, sounding very much as if she were inviting him to accompany her to the Great Hall.

"Oh - no!" he feigned surprise. "I'm not currently attending Hogwarts. I graduated last year and I've been given permission to do research in this amazing library. As it's getting to be dinner time, I suppose I should be calling it a day." He closed the book he'd been 'studying' and placed it on top of his pile. "Perhaps I'll see you here another day," he nodded, then rose and hurried off to return his books to the stacks.

In the library the following afternoon, Tom struck up another conversation with the bushy-haired Gryffindor.

"Are you friends with Harry Potter and that red-headed boy I've seen him with?" Tom asked.

"Well, I'm Harry's friend and Ron is Harry's friend, so by association, that makes Ron and me friends as well, you see. I'm constantly tugging on Harry to get him to be a bit more studious and Ron is always tugging him in the opposite direction. It's quite a tugging match, really," she grinned, flattered by the attentions of the handsome, older boy.

"And who is winning?"

"Ron is, at the moment," her smile turned sullen. "We had a bit of an argument over a pet rat and the result is that Ron and I aren't speaking. Harry refuses to part company with his 'best mate' and Ron has made it clear to him that spending time with me would be considered 'consorting with the enemy,' so the upshot is that I'm currently on the outs with the both of them."

"Their loss," Tom chuckled.

"Yes - I suppose so..." Hermione agreed wistfully.

"You were quite helpful to them two years ago, if I recall the rumors correctly. Weren't you involved in that business with Professor Quirrell?" Tom asked as he sent out a Legilimency probe. It wouldn't do to launch an all-out assault, here in the library, but if he could get the girl to think about the events, he could skim her surface thoughts.

"Well, maybe a little," Granger blushed, "but it was really down to Harry. Ron and I were merely his assistants."

"What did Potter do to Quirrell, anyway?" Tom pressed. "That was always a bit of a mystery to me."

"Harry's not really sure, and I wasn't there when he faced Quirrell. By the time I returned with the Headmaster, the battle was over and Quirrell was already dead."

Hmm... Granger was telling the truth. She really didn't know any details of what had happened in that room.

"Still, it was rather odd, though - a first-year defeating a Professor..." Tom tried yet again.

"Yes," Granger nodded, unwilling to say more.

"So - about these Runes..." Tom abruptly changed the subject. "There's a book over in the Runes section that might help - if it's not currently checked out. Come with me!" He rose quickly and beckoned her in the direction of the Runes stacks.

She capped her ink bottle - out of habit - and hurried off after him.

"Let's see..." he ran his finger across several rows of books before he stopped and pulled one out. "Yes! Here it is! Standish on Runes !" He flipped to the back of the book and handed it over to her. "Appendix A," he smiled. "A complete table, arranged and grouped by purpose, affinity, and strength. A bit like the Muggles' periodic table - are you familiar with it?"

"Yes - well, I haven't memorized it or anything," Hermione blushed.

"The periodic table makes it so much easier to see the relationships between the elements, and this table does the same for Runes."

Tom felt a surge of what - pride? - at being able to show this very bright girl something she didn't already know. And her look of utter adoration when she glanced up from the page at him - that triggered something he'd never felt before. Appreciation? Being genuinely respected? Strange emotions, indeed!

His sixteen-year-old component was positively beaming, although his older self was much more subdued. And reflective. He had never experienced such gratification in the admiration shown him by his Death Eaters, and yet their subjugation to him was utter and complete. This girl had offered him a mere glance before she turned hungrily back to the book in her hands, yet the impact of that single glance far and away exceeded anything he'd ever felt in either life.

"So how did you learn about the periodic table?" she suddenly paused to look up at him.

"I mentioned that I was raised in an orphanage," he reminded her. "It was a Muggle orphanage. I was not well-liked, and so I spent most of my time reading. The orphanage received donations of old textbooks, and since they were available, I read them."

"That sounds a little like my childhood," Hermione sighed. "Not the orphanage part, of course, but I was not well-liked at school, either. I did a lot of reading, as well, and since my parents are both dentists, they had a lot of their old textbooks shelved away. They were big on the medical sciences - especially chemistry and biology. That's how I became acquainted with the periodic table. Are you first-generation, then? Like me?"

"Yes," Tom replied, not wishing to delve into the circumstances of his birth. Odd - he felt a twinge of guilt at telling the lie.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Chapter 5.

Hermione flipped her Time-Turner back an hour and hurried to the library after her last class of the day, hoping that Tom would be sitting there at what she now considered 'their' table. They had been meeting every afternoon for the past week and each day seemed to yield some new, pleasant surprise. Their afternoon rendezvous had become the highlight of her days, now that Ron and Harry were ignoring her, and she dreaded the upcoming weekend when Tom would likely not make an appearance.

Tom was handsome, witty, smart, kind, helpful - everything that Ron Weasley and Harry Potter were not! And he was four years older than she. Her fourteenth birthday had been only eleven days ago and if Tom had recently graduated, that put him at eighteen or thereabouts. The idea that she could maintain a mature, intelligent relationship with the boy - er, young man - was flattering in the extreme. She hurried into the library to find the object of her affection - er, interest - waiting for her at 'their' table.

"Hi!" she whispered, flashing him a huge smile and hefting her book bag onto the table. "Did you miss me?" she flirted, suddenly wondering where that had come from. She didn't know how to flirt - did she?

"Of course!" Tom smiled back as he stood to pull out the chair beside his own for her.

Add 'polite' to his list of qualities, she noted to herself.

"That's an interesting pendant," Tom observed, glancing down at the front of her robes.

"Oh!" she gasped, realizing that in her haste, she'd carelessly forgotten to tuck the Time-Turner back under her shirt. She hastened to do so.

"It that a...?" he trailed off as realization dawned.

"Er, yes," Hermione replied guiltily, withdrawing the item in question once more and extending it to him for his examination. "Please don't tell anyone," she whispered. "Professor McGonagall insisted that I must keep it absolutely secret."

"I've heard about these but I've never seen one before," he said, holding the pendant reverently and turning in over and over in his hands.

"Careful!" Hermione reached over to clamp his fingers between her own. "Don't flip the hourglass or you'll send me spinning off to who-knows-when!"

Tom's other hand gently covered hers. "We couldn't have that, now, could we!" he smiled. "I like you exactly when you are!" He gave her hand a tiny squeeze before releasing it and noted with appreciation the slight blush that colored her cheeks as she slipped the Time-Turner underneath her shirt once more. "How is it that Professor McGonagall entrusted you with a Time-Turner, if I might be so forward as to ask?"

"I'm taking all of the electives this year, and there simply wasn't enough time in the day to fit them all into one schedule," the girl told him.

"All of the electives!?" Tom nearly gasped. "That's unheard of! You must be a very smart young woman!"

"I've been top of my year for the past two years," Hermione admitted - blushing quite prettily, Tom thought.

They spent the next two hours discussing the nature of time from both a magical and a Muggle perspective. There were not many magical books on the subject, due - in Tom's opinion - to the Ministry not wanting people to muck about with it.

As they parted company for the day, Hermione promised to ask Professor McGonagall for a pass to the Restricted Section for the next day, and Tom offered to search a private library that he had access to. He was referring to Salazar Slytherin's private collection, but he would find nothing there. Time research had only gotten underway in the early twentieth century after Albert Einstein had published his Muggle theories. Time-Turners were a more recent invention.

As Hermione lay in her four-poster bed that night, memories of Tom's hand covering hers filled her mind. She fell asleep with a smile on her lips.

Tom's thoughts fell along much the same lines - at least his younger portion's did. His older self was busy considering two things: Hermione Granger was a brilliant girl - perhaps even on par with himself - and she might make a very useful ally. Secondly, she possessed a Time-Turner! Oh, what fun he could have with that!

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

The following day, Wednesday, found them at their table, not in the Restricted Section, as Professor McGonagall had declined Hermione's request for a pass, giving the excuse that the Restricted Section contained nothing useful regarding Time-Turners.

"Hermione, why in Merlin's name would you sign up for all five electives?" Tom asked her.

"Well - why not?" she answered, a bit self-consciously.

"Muggle Studies? Come on! You were raised as a Muggle!"

"So? I wanted to learn what witches and wizards thought of Muggles. The class has been very enlightening, so far."

"Really?" Tom gave her a doubtful look.

"Yes - really !" Hermione answered curtly. "Did you know that the Muggle Studies textbook was written in 1892? This year marks its eighty-eighth anniversary of being woefully out of date!"

She smiled at Tom's widening eyes.

"Yes, while others take the course to learn about Muggle society, I'm taking it to discover just how little wizards know."

"Hmm," Tom paused to consider. "How about Divination, then? You do realize it's a load of tosh, don't you?"

"Well, yes, I'm being forced to draw that same conclusion," Hermione winced. "But if I hadn't taken Divination, I might have spent my entire life believing there was something to it. So you see? It's useful after all!"

"Have you covered Lecanomancy, yet?"

"No - what's that?" Hermione asked, her curiosity aroused.

"Divination by throwing three stones into a basin of water and invoking the aid of a demon to interpret the results."

"Really!?"

"Any fool can toss three stones into a basin!" Tom chuckled. "Summoning the demon is what separates the men from the boys!"

"Are you serious!?" Hermione gasped.

"Ask Professor Trelawney to demonstrate the technique," Tom continued chuckling. "Watch her face carefully when you do."

"Hmm..." Hermione's own face took on a decidedly demonic smile. "I think I shall!"

"How is Care of Magical Creatures with Professor Rubeus Hagrid?" Tom asked. He couldn't believe that the half-giant he'd framed a half-century earlier had been made a professor.

"Quite good, actually, though I've nothing to compare it against. Hagrid does know his Creatures, but sometimes he ignores the fact that he's dealing with students, not adults. Did you hear what happened to Draco Malfoy?"

"No - what?"

"Malfoy acted arrogant with a hippogriff during our first lesson and got his arm broken."

Tom chuckled at that. "Yes - that sounds like the little ponce, alright. I remember Malfoy as a little first-year. He strutted around like he thought he owned the castle and everyone in it. So - you need a Time-Turner to get to all of your classes?" he deftly steered the conversation back in the desired direction.

"Shh !" Hermione looked around nervously. "No one is supposed to know about it," she hissed.

"Oh - right!" Tom nodded. "How does it work?" he whispered.

"Each full turn of the little hourglass equals one hour," she explained - without removing the device from its hiding place under her shirt.

"Alright - but how does it accomplish that?" Tom clarified his question.

"I have no idea," Hermione shrugged. "I asked Professor McGonagall that same thing when she lent it to me. Her reply of, 'Enchantments and Runes,' was not terribly informative."

Tom chuckled again - this time at the frown on Hermione's face. He found it rather cute.

"I wonder," he gave her a studying look, "Would you be willing to demonstrate it for me? Maybe together we can make some sense of it."

Hermione had to think about that. "Perhaps," she rendered her decision, "but there's a problem."

"What?"

"We mustn't be seen - not by anyone - not even ourselves. Especially not by ourselves!"

"Why not?" Tom started to ask, but realization dawned. "Oh! A temporal paradox!" he nodded.

"Right!" Hermione nodded, too, pleased that Tom so quickly grasped the problem. "We'll go over there - to the Runes section, out of sight of our table, here - and do one-half turn. That's half an hour," she decided.

"Right! Lead the way!" Tom rose and ushered her towards the Runes stacks.

"Here - loop this chain over your head," Hermione instructed, once they were safely around a corner and out of sight of their study table. She gave the hourglass one-half turn.

"Nothing's changed," was Tom's initial reaction.

"This is the way this aisle was thirty minutes ago. Peek around the corner at our table, but do not let us see you."

"Brilliant!" was Tom's whispered verdict when he returned to where Hermione was waiting.

"And a little disorienting," she smiled.

"How far can you go back in time?"

"I've only done an hour at a time, twice per day on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and only once per day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Professor McGonagall told me not to do more than an hour, but she implied that one trip could be as much as several hours."

"So if we went back three hours, say, and then went back three hours from there, and then..."

"No !" Hermione shook her head vigorously. "Professor McGonagall specifically warned me about that. Under no circumstances should I ever turn time backwards while I'm in the past!"

"Why not?" was Tom's logical question.

"It was a warning from the Department of Mysteries - the people who furnished the Time-Turner. They we very emphatic, Professor McGonagall said."

"Well, that places a limit on the amount of damage we could cause, I suppose."

Hermione merely glared at him.

"To pull pranks, of course," he quickly revised his statement.

"I promised Professor McGonagall that I would use this exclusively to attend classes and provide myself with additional study time. She was very insistent that it not be used for any frivolous purposes."

"I see," Tom nodded. "Did she forbid you lending it to anyone? A friend, say?"

"Yes!! I was not supposed to let any other students know I have it, but I carelessly left it out, visible, and you recognized it. Even this little test would be prohibited - technically," Hermione said sternly. "I suppose I've broken my promise," she sighed.

"Not at all!" Tom smiled. "I'm not a student! You said you weren't allowed to tell other students ..."

"Hmm..." Hermione grinned. "You're right! She did say that the other professors were in on the secret..."

"There! You see!! Your promise remains unbroken and your word is still good as gold!"

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

That evening in Salazar Slytherin's secret quarters, hidden behind the statue in the Chamber of Secrets, Tom considered the situation regarding one Hermione Granger and her Time-Turner.

Maybe we should just forget it. If it's only good for a few hours... his younger self began.

Much can be accomplished in three hours, Tom Sr. advised.

She seems like a young woman of principle, though. She'd never allow us to borrow it.

Perhaps we can convince her to join us - to actively participate in our plans.

Really!? Do you think she might? young Tom asked hopefully.

If she refuses, she dies and her Time-Turner 'mysteriously' disappears, the elder Riddle shrugged.

No!! I won't hear of it!! Tom Jr. rebelled, shocked that his older counterpart would even consider such a thing.

We killed Myrtle Stebbins, the smaller fraction reminded the larger.

Myrtle Stebbins was not Hermione Granger!!

Oh, come on! You can't be serious!

But the older Tom Riddle could plainly see that his younger self was very serious. Hermione Granger was beginning to grow on the lad. He let out a loud sigh of exasperation and shook his head. Perhaps having his younger soul re-joined with him was not the ideal situation he had originally envisioned.

I heard that! his younger part glared at him - figuratively, of course.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Tom's cunning plan was a resounding success and at the same time, a total failure.

Convincing Hermione to use her Time-Turner for unapproved and nefarious purposes was surprisingly easy - he bribed her!

"You know, if we really wanted to learn how Time-Turners function, we could always sneak into the Restricted Section," he suggested.

"How?"

"Well, since Professor McGonagall refused your request for a Restricted Section pass, we can logically assume that there is information in there that she doesn't want you to find, right?"

"Right..." Hermione nodded.

"What if we were to meet here on weekend mornings, just after the library opens? Then we would go back three hours - to before Madam Pince arrives - and help ourselves to whatever we want!"

Hermione had to think about that. The more she thought, the more she was convinced that it was not only a good idea, but a great idea! Why? While raiding the Restricted Section was good, spending additional time with Tom - on those otherwise lonely weekends - was simply fabulous!

"Okay," she nodded guiltily.

The weeks of October passed slowly, but pleasantly for Tom 'Dunbar.' He looked forward to his afternoons - and early weekend mornings - with Hermione, and she seemed to look forward to them, as well.

That was the 'resounding success' part of Tom's cunning plan. He realized the 'total failure' part after several weekends of fruitless searching through the Restricted Section. McGonagall was right! Contrary to his earlier prediction, there was nothing useful to be found there on the subject of Time-Turners.

Still, he would continue with their clandestine meetings. Time-Turning was not the only subject he was interested in. The other one didn't happen to be in a book, however.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

It was getting late on the Thursday afternoon before Halloween and Hermione's blush was going full force as they gathered up their things.

"Tom?" she asked.

"Yes?"

"Um," she swallowed nervously before speaking, "This weekend is a Hogsmeade weekend..."

"And...?" he prompted.

"Well - Harry's not allowed to go, as he doesn't have a signed permission slip, and I'd rather not go with Ron..."

"Would you like to go with me ?" Tom offered with a gallant smile, finally understanding why she'd broached the subject.

"Really !?" Hermione gasped. "I mean, really ?" she repeated in a library whisper. "You'd really go with me?"

"I'd be delighted!" Tom assured her. "It's a date!"

Her eyes grew round at his declaration. A date! A real date! She was so giddy that she didn't know what to say! She settled on, "Thanks!" as she slung her book bag over her shoulder, turned quickly, and fled the library.

Tom stood beside their table, chuckling as he watched her go.

Friday's 'library time' began with a bit of unease. Hermione wasn't sure what to say or how to act with the boy she was developing a crush on - okay, had developed a crush on - and was scheduled to go on a date with the very next day.

"Hermione," Tom whispered softly, taking her hands in both of his, "Have you ever been on a date, before?"

"No," she admitted with a blush.

"Ah! That explains the nervousness," he nodded, smiling. "It's only a day in Hogsmeade together. I'll still be me and you'll still be you. It will be just like spending time together in the library, except that we'll be doing other things instead of studying."

She gave him a wan smile as she looked up into his eyes. They were friendly eyes. "Okay," she agreed. "Just like the library, only different."

Hogsmeade was wonderful - that was Hermione's opinion. Tom had met her at the Hogwarts gates and had held her hand as they walked the path to the village together. He'd shown her the sights, they'd explored, laughed, eaten, window shopped, and even walked past the Shrieking Shack together. The weather was perfect - a little nippy, but sunny all day. Best of all, just before they headed back to the castle, he'd pulled her aside.

"You've made everything perfect - I've enjoyed a wonderful day," he told her, his eyes boring into hers.

"Me too!" she smiled back.

That's when he leaned down and kissed her.

The kiss was hesitant at first, then tender. It was the first kiss that she'd always dreamed of and she never wanted it to end.

But end it did, and it left her heart pounding in her chest. Without thinking, she stretched up to kiss Tom again. Just a quick 'thank you' peck on the lips, though, not a repeat of the first kiss.

The two of them walked back to the gates hand in hand, Hermione swinging their joined arms to and fro in her happiness. Tom smiled over at her every two steps and she grinned back at him each time.

"I'll see you tomorrow morning," he told her as they parted company.

"Tomorrow," she nodded, and watched as he Apparated away.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Chapter 6.

"Who was that boy I saw you with yesterday in Hogsmeade?" Ron frowned at breakfast on Sunday morning. He'd made a point of directing Harry to sit across from their estranged friend, although his intent was far from reconciliation.

"A friend," Hermione dismissed the question as she served herself some bacon from the platter.

"Save some for me!" Ron demanded, eyeing the bacon hungrily. "He seemed very friendly! You were holding his hand all day!"

"So, are you admitting to stalking me the whole day long?" she asked airily, passing the platter across the table to Ron.

"I only saw you once or twice," Ron countered, clearing off the remaining bacon onto his plate. He was scowling so intently at Hermione that he failed to notice Harry nicking several rashers and sliding them over to his own plate.

"And from 'once or twice' you extrapolated to 'all day,' then?" Hermione retorted.

Ron's frown deepened as he tried to deduce what 'extrapolate' meant. "Yeah!" he finally responded. No sense in showing weakness.

"Who I spend my time with is none of your concern, Ronald, but thank you for caring," she half-sneered at him.

The confused expression on Ron's face assured her that she had won their little verbal skirmish and she turned back to her breakfast. In an hour's time - minus three hours - she'd be joining Tom in the Restricted Section.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

I have to tell her, Tom Jr. insisted.

Why?

It's dishonest to let her believe that I'm this Tom Dunbar character.

Dishonest!? Since when have you grown a conscience? the older one chided. I remember our Hogwarts years, you know. We never exhibited a penchant for honesty. Besides, it would be suicide to tell her that you're Tom Riddle.

I'll explain to her that I'm not really Voldemort, and that given this second chance, I don't intend to become Voldemort. She's a rational, intelligent girl. She'll understand - trust me.

No! Absolutely not! You're young and naive, compared to me, and you have no idea the Pandora's Box you'd be opening. I don't want to hear any more talk of this!

You sound like Dumbledore! Tom Jr. figuratively spat.

Dumbledore might be a doddering old fool, but even a doddering old fool can be right some of the time!

May I quote you on that?

No! Now let's speak no more of this. The topic is closed!

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

The topic re-opened a week later.

"Hermione, I'd like to talk with you privately," Tom greeted her hesitantly as she walked up to their table in the library.

No!! Absolutely not!! Don't even think about it!! his older fraction railed at the idea.

"What about?" she asked warily. Had she said something to offend him - or done something to offend him. Was he angry with her? Did he want to tell her that his research was finished and he wouldn't be coming to Hogwarts, anymore?

"I have a little confession to make..."

No!! You will NOT do this!!

Hermione let out the breath she'd been holding in. This was not about her. It was about him. Whatever it was, she would be understanding and accepting. If no one were watching, she might even kiss him again to show him that she had really forgiven him his imagined transgression.

"Where?" she asked looking around their section of the library.

"I know of a place - a secret place - within Hogwarts. We'll go there."

Stop!! Stop this instant!! You must not do this!!

"Okay," she nodded, picking up her book bag again.

"I'll have to disillusion myself," Tom warned. "I can't be seen walking the corridors."

That struck Hermione as a little odd. How did he manage to get to the library without walking along the corridors? It was impossible to Apparate within Hogwarts, after all. "Okay," she shrugged. "Where are we going?"

"There's a girls' lavatory on the first floor..."

"The one haunted by Moaning Myrtle?"

"You know it?"

"All too well!" Hermione rolled her eyes. "Let's go."

"Tommy!" the ghost greeted him as he cancelled his disillusionment charm. "You came back to see me! What!? Wait! Who's this!?" Myrtle crossed her arms angrily when Hermione followed him in the door. "I should have expected something like this, you two-timer!" Myrtle wailed.

With that, she plunged herself into her toilet, trying to create the most annoying splash possible.

"Open ! Stairs !" Tom hissed and the sink rose at his command.

"Oh! So that's how it works!" Hermione examined the opening closely. "I've never really been down there, before. After you."

"Go to your lair and stay there until we leave, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts four ," Tom ordered, speaking in Parseltongue.

Hermione heard only hissing, both from Tom and from somewhere in the distance.

"Is that what I think it is?" she asked nervously.

"It's a basilisk, but it obeys my command," Tom assured her.

"I was petrified by it last year. I thought Harry had killed it."

"Basilisks are harder to kill than one might imagine," Tom quibbled. "They don't always stay dead. Don't worry, though - you're perfectly safe with me here."

"Are you...?"

Tom looked at her expectantly. "Am I...?"

"Are you the Heir of Slytherin?" she asked hesitantly. Maybe coming down here with Tom was not such a good idea, after all. Whatever he confessed to her - no matter what it was - she would act as if it didn't matter to her. She was alone and vulnerable and she could not afford to tip her hand and alienate Tom.

Stop! Stop this instant!! Don't you dare tell her!!!

"Yes, Hermione, I am. My name is not Tom Dunbar, it's Tom Riddle."

The elder Tom Riddle buried his face in his hands. All was lost, of that he was certain.

"You don't seem at all like Voldemort," Hermione offered.

"That's because I'm not - not yet. I'm the sixteen-year-old version of Tom Riddle - before the Horcruxes, before the Death Eaters, before Voldemort. I'm not Voldemort, and thanks to you, I intend to never become Voldemort."

"Really? Because of me?"

"Had I known a girl like you back in 1942, there would never have been a Voldemort," Tom said - very convincingly, Hermione thought.

"Really?" she asked hopefully. "Do you really mean that you wouldn't have - that you won't become Lord Voldemort?"

"Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. You've changed my life, Hermione. You've changed me for the better."

She stared into his eyes for any hint of duplicity. Finding none, she leaned forward to kiss him.

"I believe you," she whispered.

Take that, old man!

"How did you come back? I thought Harry killed you - first year when you were possessing Professor Quirrell."

"Actually, it was last year - when he destroyed the diary. It was a Horcrux and I escaped from it. In a way, Harry Potter set me free."

"What is a Horcrux, exactly? You mentioned that word earlier."

"A Horcrux is a container that allows you to split your soul in half and store half away in the container. It gives you immortality. If you are killed, as long as part of your soul is safe in a Horcrux, you can't die - your soul can't pass over."

"But what if your Horcrux is destroyed - like Harry did to your diary?"

"That part of my soul re-joined with me. It made me stronger."

"So - without your Horcrux, you're no longer immortal?"

"I made others."

"How many?" Hermione asked, genuinely intrigued.

"Six, altogether, although Potter's scar was unintentional."

"What!?? Harry's scar holds a piece of your soul!??" she gasped before she remembered her plan. "That explains so much!" she recovered quickly. "The dreams, the pain every time he looked at the back of Quirrell's head! He's been carrying around a piece of your soul in his scar! Of course! Why didn't I think of that before?"

"I'm sorry - Potter was an accident. And it's only a very small piece."

"How big?"

"One sixty-fourth," Tom admitted warily. "Each Horcrux ritual split it in half. Six splits is..."

"One sixty-fourth - yes," Hermione interrupted. "So the question is, how do we get it out of him?"

"Well, that's why I never intended to use a living host as a Horcrux. First, when the host eventually dies, the soul fragment is released. And then there is the problem that the only way to release the soul fragment is for the host to die."

"So Harry will carry part of your soul around in his scar for as long as he lives?"

"Yes - is that a problem?" Tom asked hesitantly.

"Not for me," Hermione thought quickly, "but I suppose it is for Harry!" she forced a little laugh.

"It's only a very small piece..."

"Well - it can't be helped, now, can it? I mean - what's done is done," she shrugged. "Besides, it's not like you meant to do it. You said it was an accident."

"It was. I'm sorry, Hermione. I know Harry's your friend and all..."

"He hasn't been much of a friend lately," she sighed. "In fact, I've barely spoken to him since I started meeting up with you in the library. My schedule has been rather full, you know," she fingered her Time-Turner through her shirt. "It's Ron Weasley you should be apologizing to about Harry," she chuckled. "They're best mates, now."

"If my presence causes Harry pain, I'll do my utmost to avoid him - I promise."

"Fair enough, I suppose. I'll do my best to avoid him, too!" Hermione smiled. "I'll pretty much have to, won't I? If I want to spend all my time with you, that is."

"Do you really mean that, Hermione?"

"Yes - I do," she smiled up at him, and to seal the bargain, she kissed him once more.

"Are we done talking? Can we get out of here, now?" Hermione asked when the kiss ended. "This isn't the most romantic of places, you must admit."

"Sure! Let's go!" nodded a jubilant Tom Riddle.

Well, thirty-two parts out of thirty-three were jubilant. The last part was relieved, but still a bit wary.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Chapter 7.

Hermione Granger found it difficult to get to sleep that night. She had a lot to think about. She'd had a crush on Tom Riddle, a.k.a. Lord Voldemort.

Yes, he'd seemed quite sincere. He didn't have to take her down there to the Chamber of Secrets and bare his soul to her, but he had done so willingly.

And she'd played along.

It wasn't hard, really. The things he'd told her - the promises he'd made - he'd sounded completely sincere. Could she, a bushy-haired, buck-toothed, know-it-all bookworm, actually make a difference in something so important? Something that would shape the entire wizarding world? Could she really change Tom Riddle for the better? Had she already done so? It was an exhilarating thought.

But Hermione Granger was a calculating girl. Exhilarating thoughts were automatically suspect, simply because they were exhilarating.

As she had suspected since first year, Voldemort was not dead and gone. Tom Riddle was back - and it was up to her to determine whether the young man would resume his reign of terror, or become the brilliant but benevolent wizard she'd known, and quite possibly grown to love, during their short time together. It all depended on her. She could reject Tom, or encourage him. There was a third option, of course...

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

You see? I was right!! young Tom crowed. Not only was she not appalled, she was quite supportive! She even revealed that I was a closer friend than Harry Potter!

Fool! the elder part of him retorted. She's playing you - and the sad thing is that you're too besotted to see it.

I spoke the truth - had I known a girl like her during my time at Hogwarts, I would never have become Lord Voldemort.

And that's the pity. She'll be leading you around by the nose like a prize bull. Is that what you want for our second chance? I trusted no one! I relied on no one! I became my own man! I made some mistakes, certainly - mistakes that we can correct if we work together - but your infatuation with this girl can only lead to disaster.

It's not 'infatuation.'

Oh sweet Merlin! You fancy yourself in love with her!

And why not?

She's four years your junior, not to mention five decades younger than me! Don't you see how unhealthy that relationship can be?

I don't intend to hurt her.

I wasn't referring to you hurting her, you fool! Think of the ways that she can hurt you!

Help me out, here, old man, for I seem to be blinded by love, Tom Jr. snapped.

Exactly my point! The girl is young, her affections can switch in a heartbeat. Now you've told her your secrets - our secrets - and she can quite literally bury us. What were you thinking, confessing that Potter is a Horcrux? Did you see the momentary flash of panic in her eye? No - of course you didn't! You were staring at her lips and dreaming of how kissable they might be! You're nothing but a love-struck teenager! And a foolish one in the bargain!

So what would you propose that I do?

Obliviate her, obviously - then stop meeting her in the library. There are other ways to spy on Potter - the Weasley boy, for instance.

Tom Jr. winced at the thought of spending any time around Ron Weasley.

Not every task in life is pleasant, his elder part reminded him.

Just because you've never experienced love, doesn't mean that I can't.

You're a fool! A young, arrogant fool!

And you're an old, arrogant fool! Tom Jr. managed to get in the final word.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

"Tom, do you think that maybe I could make a Horcrux?" Hermione asked. She had led him to an unused classroom and asked him to seal the door. She had a plan. She hoped that she had not misjudged how much Tom cared for her.

"No!" the young man recoiled from her. "Why would you want to make a Horcrux?"

"To become immortal, of course - like you," she answered innocently. "Would you want me to die, eventually? While you live on?"

"Horcruxes are nasty business," Tom warned. "You must commit a murder as part of the ritual."

"There are a few people I wouldn't mind killing," Hermione considered. "Snape, Malfoy..."

"It has to be an innocent - someone who does not deserve death," he informed her.

"Oh!" she seemed taken aback. "So - who did you murder?"

"Myrtle Stebbins."

"Moaning Myrtle?"

"Yes."

"Oh..."

"Are you disgusted with me?" Tom asked warily.

"It was necessary, wasn't it? Nothing worthwhile comes without a cost," she recited the adage with a shrug.

"Also," Tom put forward another argument against her plan, "there's the fact that splitting your soul weakens it. Each time you become less and less human."

"I'd only do it once, then," Hermione smiled back at him.

"The first one takes the largest piece - fully one half of your soul."

"Hmm..." the girl paused to consider something. "You're only half alive, then?"

"Yes, but here with you, I feel more alive than I can ever remember."

That comment earned Tom another kiss.

"What if you were to recall the other parts of your soul - all save the one in Harry, since you can't release that one without killing him. Then you would still be immortal, and you would be whole once more - or very nearly so - and we'd be able to experience life together fully."

Tom paused to consider this.

Well? Nothing to say, old man?

You already know what I'm thinking.

That with your later Horcruxes emptied, you'd regain the upper hand and be able to reign in the rebellious youth that I have become?

What else? the elder soul fragment shrugged. It was impossible to keep secrets from himself.

"What you suggest is tempting, Hermione," Tom finally replied. "I'll need to think on it."

"Really!?" she nearly squealed. "You'll really think about it?"

"For you, yes," he nodded.

"The other option, of course, is that I would make six Horcruxes of my own, then I'd release the first one so we'd match," she told him earnestly.

"No! I'll hear no more talk of you splitting your soul!"

"Why not? If it's so horrible for one's soul to be split, then why don't you want to join yours back up?" she asked reasonably.

Tom hated it when she was reasonable. Absolutely hated it! Hermione sounded like she was serious about this - very serious - and that required that he address the situation. Now.

Tom had experienced first hand the horror of making his own initial Horcrux. The diary was by far the worst. The killings came more easily after that, but they still tore at his soul - literally - until there was not enough of him left to care. Could he allow Hermione to do that to herself? Absolutely not!

What? No rebuttal, old man?

You know my feelings on the matter, Tom Sr. dismissed the jibe.

I can tell that you're in a snit because you can't think of a logical argument to counter Hermione's, Tom Jr. gloated.

I still don't like it!

No one asked you to like it.

"Alright! I'll do it! I'll join my soul back up! Except for the small piece in Harry Potter." Tom announced, much to Hermione's surprise! "There! Are you happy, now?"

"Yes! Very happy!"

And to prove it, she gave him a kiss of happiness - and gratitude.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Chapter 8.

"Vocans ab occulto anima mea ," Tom chanted, waving his wand in a circular motion above his head.

"What's that mean?" Hermione frowned.

"I call forth my soul from its hiding place," Tom answered as a dark, wraith-like shadow drifted from between the stones in the wall and was absorbed into his body. "One of my Horcruxes was hidden right here in Hogwarts - right under Dumbledore's nose!" he laughed.

"Wow!" Hermione blinked. "Where are the others?"

"They're scattered around - here and there. The recalling spell has a limited range, so I'll have to do a bit of traveling over the weekend."

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Tom Jr. was clever about the order in which he retrieved his soul fragments. He saved the ring for last because that's where the largest remaining fragment resided. He didn't want to get out-voted before he'd fulfilled his promise to Hermione and the ring accounted for fully one-quarter of his soul. Technically, of course, he would always have a slim majority - 32 to 31 votes - while the piece in Potter remained in place, but that was cutting things a little too close.

A trip to visit his new vault deep under Gringotts put him within range of Hufflepuff's cup.

Slytherin's locket proved to be the most difficult. When he stood at the entrance to the cave and cast his spell, nothing happened! Nothing at all!

I'm not going to help you dismantle the traps, Tom Sr. warned.

I don't need your help - I share your thoughts and memories, remember?

It was a long morning, but the locket was in his hands at last.

R.A.B? Who is R.A.B? Tom Jr. stared at the bit of parchment in his hand.

Regulus Arcturus Black, Tom Sr. glared at the note with a deep, seething hatred. I knew he was a traitor. I could never prove it, but I killed him anyway.

So that leaves us with the question of the day: Where is the real locket?

Not in the Black vault, obviously. It would have responded when we were under Gringotts for the cup.

The Black ancestral home? Tom Jr. plucked the information from their shared memory. You think?

Where else? It's a starting point, I suppose.

The Black ancestral home proved to be a veritable fortress. The ancient wards were well-anchored, Tom discovered. When all else fails, try the simple, direct route, he decided - he cast a Glamour on himself, walked up to the front door, and knocked.

"Yes?" the house elf eyed him suspiciously.

"Tom Dunbar to see Sirius Black," he announced himself. "I was scheduled to visit Mister Black on the day he escaped from Azkaban. I was hoping to interview him. Here is my visitor's pass," Tom handed the Ministry-stamped slip of parchment to the elf, who eyed it with continued suspicion before returning it.

"Wait here," the elf motioned Tom into the foyer. "I will notify Mister Black."

With that he popped away.

"Vocans ab occulto anima mea ," Tom waved his wand in circular motion above his head. Moments later he was joined by a dark shadow. It was several minutes after that when a confused Sirius Black arrived in the foyer, only to find it empty.

Marvolo Gaunt's ring was last on the list, and probably the easiest to retrieve. Tom merely had to approach as close as the nearby lane to summon his soul fragment.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

"You look older," Hermione greeted Tom on Monday afternoon.

"I am older!" he chuckled. "Almost twenty-one by my calculation."

"Did you get them? All of them?"

"All but Harry Potter," he smiled.

"How do you feel?" she asked worriedly, raising her hand to brush his temple lightly with her finger tips.

"I'm fine, Hermione. Honestly."

And in fact Tom was fine. As he had expected, the older parts of his soul had agreed with the eldest part - Hermione Granger was a risk not worth taking. They had been quite vocal about it, in fact. Then, when the fragment from the ring had been released, it had sided with Tom, Jr. That part was also from Tom's teenage years and as he absorbed Tom's memories of the clever young witch, he too became besotted.

So now fully three-fourths of Tom Riddle were agreed: he and Hermione were in love, and that was definitely fine.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

"Harry," Hermione whispered as their last Tuesday morning class before lunch was dismissed, "I need to talk with you - in private. Can you meet me in the library - in the History stacks - right after lunch?"

"I guess so..."

"Just you and me? No Ron?"

"I'll try, but what if he insists on tagging along?"

"Then I'll leave the library without talking to you and we'll have to try again later," Hermione frowned. "This is private - just you and me."

"Okay," Harry agreed.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Hermione's plan was not merely a good plan - it was a great plan, she believed. Good plans were air-tight - like hermetically sealed glass. Glass can shatter, though, and she couldn't settle for a merely 'good' plan. Truly great plans were more like sponges - able to soak up any unanticipated glitches and re-shape themselves to meet any unforeseen developments.

Yes, Hermione's plan was a great plan.

From the library, Hermione led Harry up to the fourth floor and into an unused classroom.

"Colloportus !" she sealed the door after Harry had entered.

"This must be really important!" Harry gave a nervous laugh as he glanced over at the still-shimmering door.

"It is, Harry! This is just between you and me. You can't even tell Ron what I'm about to tell you - promise?"

"Okay - I promise. Is this about Ron?" Harry guessed. "I know that he can be a right arse at times, but..."

"No - it's not about Ron," Hermione cut him off. "It's about Tom, the boy that Ron saw me with in Hogsmeade. We've been meeting secretly in the library every day since that big fight over Scabbers. I fancy Tom, but there seems to be something a little 'off' about him. That's where I need your help."

"What about him?" Harry, of course, was all ears as his 'saving people thing' kicked into high gear.

"Well, you know how during first year, your scar would hurt whenever you were near Quirrell?"

"What!? You think this boyfriend of yours might be possessed by Voldemort?"

"I didn't say that - exactly," Hermione frowned. "Well, perhaps I should have, though," she reconsidered, biting her lower lip nervously. "He just suddenly showed up and in addition to being interested in me, he's also quite interested in you !"

"What do you mean?" Harry eyed his estranged friend warily.

"Well, he's forever asking me questions about you, but they're not the usual Boy-Who-Lived type of thing," she lied smoothly. "Well - some of it is," she corrected herself. "He wanted to know all about the night you defeated Voldemort as a baby, for instance."

"What did you tell him?" Harry demanded, the heat of his anger starting to rise in his face.

"Nothing! I told him that you don't remember any of it," Hermione quickly assured him. "Then he seemed very interested in Quirrell - and how a first-year managed to defeat the Hogwarts Defense professor."

"And...?" Harry prompted.

"I told him I wasn't in the room at the time and Dumbledore's forbidden you from discussing the matter - with anyone ."

"Hmm - nice going!" Harry grinned, his anger dissipating. "So you think this guy is working for Voldemort?"

"Either that or maybe..."

"Possessed by him," Harry nodded. "What do you want me to do?"

"Well - and I realize this is asking a lot - plus it could be quite painful for you..."

"Just spit it out, Hermione."

"I'd like to introduce him to you..." She hesitated to say the rest.

"To see if my scar reacts," Harry finished for her.

Hermione nodded hopefully.

"And if it does? Then what!?" Harry asked fearfully.

"Then we're in a lot of trouble!" she seemed equally fearful. "This version of Voldemort - if that's really who he is - is a lot more powerful than Quirrell was."

"Hmm..." Harry considered. "We'll need an advantage - we'll need to set a trap."

"Okay," Hermione agreed. "But how?"

"Don't forget - I've got an invisibility cloak!" Harry grinned, a plan forming in his mind. "Bring him back here this afternoon - to this classroom - after History of Magic. I'll be waiting."

"So if he does turn out to be possessed by Voldemort, we'll have the element of surprise, plus we'll have him outnumbered. I'll have to go to the library to meet him, first."

"That will allow me plenty of time to fetch my cloak and get into position," Harry nodded.

"Remember, Harry," Hermione warned as she unsealed the door, "You promised not to tell anyone - not even Ron."

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

"Tom?" Hermione approached her boyfriend as he sat at their library table waiting for her arrival.

"Hi! Did you miss me?" he grinned.

"Yes," her look of concern broke into a warm smile. "Can we go find an empty classroom?"

"Oh? And why would we require an empty classroom, Miss Granger?" he teased.

"You'll see," she flirted back as she turned to lead the way to the fourth floor.

"Colloportus !" Tom sealed the door and dropped his disillusionment charm after ushering Hermione into the room. "Okay, Miss Granger, now - what was it that was so important that we couldn't discuss it in the library?" he grinned in anticipation of her planned snogging session.

Crouching in a corner, unseen, Harry Potter felt the pain building in his scar. Yes, this was Voldemort, alright, and there was only one thing to do. He must do it before the pain became disabling.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Chapter 9.

Like the 'Charge forward first - think later' Gryffindor that he was, Harry threw off his invisibility cloak.

"Voldemort!" he shouted as he took aim with his wand.

"Petrificus Totalus !" Tom spun around and attempted to cast the first hex, but unfortunately he chose one with a rather lengthy incantation.

"Expelliarmus !" Harry thrust his wand tip at Tom, his shorter incantation ending at exactly the same instant as the other wizard's.

What happened next surprised them all! The two curses met in the middle and seemed to engage each other, each fighting for dominance. At first the red stream of Harry's Expelliarmus pushed back the white energy of Tom's weaker Petrificus Totalus because Tom had been caught thoroughly off guard. As he realized that the red energy was winning, Tom redoubled his efforts and began to force the red curse back in Harry's direction.

"Expelliarmus !" Hermione's hex caught Tom completely by surprise. He was thrown sideways as his yew-and-Phoenix-feather wand flew into her hand. The battle of wills between Riddle and Potter ended with Potter's curse flying past and hitting the far wall.

"Dobby!" Harry called and the elf popped into existence.

"Dobby is here, Harry Potter, sir! How's may I be..." his greeting died on his lips as he took in the sight of Harry Potter and his friend Grangy holding their wands on a stranger.

"Dobby! Go get Dumbledore! Tell him that Voldemort is in the castle!" Harry commanded the little elf.

Dobby's huge eyes bulged out even farther before he disappeared with another pop.

"Well, Tom - you thought you'd won, did you?" Hermione smirked, holding Tom's own wand on him as Harry moved up to join her. With a quick sideways smile at Harry, she turned back to face Tom. "You imagined that you'd convinced me that you'd reformed - that you were not the evil Dark Lord known as Voldemort, and you would never become him. You thought I believed you," she said, pointing Tom's yew-and-Phoenix-feather wand directly at his heart. "Well guess what! Reducto !" she whipped the wand around to send the curse straight into Harry's scar at point-blank range.

Potter's face didn't even have time to register surprise. His forehead exploded and the final soul fragment quickly traversed the short distance to make Tom Riddle whole once more.

"You gave me quite a fright!" Tom gasped as he reached for his wand, his pulse still racing. "What were you thinking?"

"Harry Potter's good luck defies all logic," Hermione grinned, handing Tom his wand. "I needed to do something completely unexpected - something totally random - in order to prevent him from countering it like he always does. The idea came to me in a flash and I reacted without analyzing it - just the way Harry does. Er - did," she corrected herself, looking down at the lifeless body.

"What was Potter doing in here?" Tom demanded, his older parts suspecting that this was no innocent coincidence.

"He and Ron have been following me around - ever since you and I spent that day together in Hogsmeade. Harry must have been using his father's invisibility cloak and snuck in as I opened the door." Hermione walked over to the corner where Harry had been hiding and felt around on the floor. "Ah-hah!" she nodded, picking up the cloak and stuffing it into an inside pocket of her robes.

Then she returned to where Tom stood and smiled as she allowed him to pull her into his arms. She closed her eyes and kissed him for what seemed like an eternity.

You see? the two youngest Tom Riddles grinned at their elders as they relished the warm, soft feeling of Hermione's lips. Was there ever any doubt of her devotion?

"Alohomora !" they heard the Headmaster's voice overpowering the Colloportus charm on the door.

Damn that boy! Tom Sr. raged inside. Potter had summoned his house-elf and the elf had fetched Dumbledore. Damn that boy and his instincts!

"It's Dumbledore!" Hermione whispered. "Hold me as your hostage until we can figure something out!" She spun herself in front of Tom and hid her wand behind her back as the door burst open.

Tom grabbed Hermione with his left arm and held her in front of his body as a human shield. His right hand held his wand tip to her temple.

"Toss away your wand, Dumbledore - you've lost! Do it now or the girl dies!"

"Tom..." Dumbledore replied soothingly, hoping to as least buy himself some time as he surveyed the scene. "You don't really want to do this. Let Miss Granger go. She's done nothing to you. This battle is between you and me. Let her go."

"Yes, this is between you and me, old man, and from my vantage point it appears that you are losing - badly!" Tom chuckled. "Now throw down your wand and the girl lives. Otherwise, I kill her and Apparate away before you can stop me."

"You can't Apparate within Hogwarts," the Headmaster reminded him.

"Most people can't," Tom sneered. "How do you think I got here?" he bluffed.

"Tom - please..." Dumbledore stalled as he watched Hermione struggle under Tom's grip.

Hermione's wand was still concealed behind her back and she very slowly brought it up until she could feel its tip behind her neck, which was just a few inches below Tom's chin.

"Reducto !" Hermione shouted as she bent her head sharply forward, tucking her chin to her chest..

The top of Tom Riddle's skull exploded backward and upward, spraying blood and gray matter over the wall and parts of the ceiling. His lifeless body slumped to the floor behind her. There was no green mist, no dark wraith - only blood and gore and the body of a very dead Dark Lord.

"Thank you, Headmaster!" Hermione rushed forward to hug him. "You saved my life!"

"I beg your pardon, Miss Granger?"

"He would have killed me, too - I know he would have!" she said in a panicky voice, clinging to the Headmaster as if in mortal peril still. "He'd already killed Harry and he was deciding what to do with me when you arrived."

"But you dispatched him, yourself," Dumbledore frowned, slightly confused. Surely the girl must have realized what she was doing when she cast that Reducto.

"But it was your distraction that gave me the opportunity, so it was really your doing," she insisted. "Without you, I'd be dead. I give you all the credit."

Dumbledore merely peered down at her bushy hair through his spectacles as he considered what it would mean for him - Albus Dumbledore - to claim to be the one who finally defeated Lord Voldemort. With both Voldemort and Grindelwald as notches on his wand handle, his name would be right up there next to Godric Gryffindor and Merlin! Albus would be remembered as one of the greatest wizards in history! Perhaps it was time for him to start carrying a wizard's staff...

"Besides," Hermione continued, releasing her death-hold on her Headmaster so she could look him in the eye, "I can't be the one who killed Voldemort. Every Death Eater in Britain would be looking to take revenge on me. You'll have to take the credit! Any remaining Death Eaters will think twice before challenging you !"

"I see..." the old man nodded in understanding. "Perhaps you are right, Miss Granger. May I have your wand, please? I'll need to clear it."

Hermione handed over her wand and watched as the Headmaster muttered an incantation over it before returning it to her.

"Reducto ," he whispered, using his own wand to send a weak hex at the floor beside the body of the fallen dark lord. "In case the Aurors wish to check my wand, of course," he gave her a small smile.

Yes, Hermione's plan was a great plan. It hadn't gone without a hitch, but it was pliable - very adaptable. She had intended to simply get Harry and Tom in a locked room, shield Tom from Harry's expected sneak attack, kill Harry with Tom's wand to make Tom mortal once more, then kill Tom with Harry's wand. After it was over she would leave the room, allowing someone else to discover the bodies. It would appear as if Harry and Voldemort had fought each other to the death and neither had survived the encounter.

Who could have possibly guessed that Harry 'Charge in and don't wait for the professors' Potter would have called for Dumbledore? Or that he would have been so stupid as to not attack from underneath his invisibility cloak, thereby giving up the element of surprise. And who could ever have predicted that business with the 'dueling curses' - or whatever that was?

Yes, Hermione's plan was a great plan, and she had prevailed. It was too bad that Harry had to die in order to kill Voldemort, but what was one life versus hundreds - or perhaps thousands - of lives?

So that was my first boyfriend and my first break-up, Hermione chuckled to herself. I wonder if I should warn my next boyfriend about how I terminate unhealthy relationships?

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Epilogue.

There was very little fallout from the death of the unknown young wizard. This 'Tom Dunbar' had killed the Boy-Who-Lived, hadn't he? Albus Dumbledore's actions were never questioned.

Much to Dumbledore's dismay, however, the Ministry refused to acknowledge that Voldemort had returned, so the dead body could not possibly have been the Dark Lord's.

After the debacle with Quirrell two years prior, and then the fiasco with the basilisk last year that had seen the Headmaster under pressure to leave Hogwarts, Dumbledore decided not to press the issue. He wasn't sure he could withstand the scandal when the public learned that he had allowed Voldemort into his school, yet again.

The whole affair was quickly swept aside after the necessary speeches were made at the funeral of Harry James Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived-And-Died-Young.

Gringotts, however, was not fooled. Hermione Granger received an owl from them the day after Riddle's death. It seemed that Tom had made out a will and left his million Galleons to her. Under Gringotts' law, however, one could not inherit if one were responsible for the decedent's demise.

On the other hand, as slayer of a Dark Lord, Miss Hermione Granger was entitled to claim the spoils of victory, which in this case included not only the vault with Riddle's million Galleons, but also the vault containing Voldemort's effects, held in trust after his so-called 'defeat' at the hands of the infant Harry Potter. Voldemort's 'Life Stone' had not been extinguished a decade before - it had only dimmed considerably - and the Goblins had never really considered him dead. How differently Tom's return might have played out had they been kind enough to inform him of this fact.

How differently Hermione's life would play out, now! With not one, but two million Galleons filling her vaults - about 500M pounds sterling - she did not need to worry about securing a job at the Ministry when she graduated. Oh, she earned straight O's on her OWLs and her NEWTs, of course, but then she shocked everyone by disappearing from Wizarding Britain. In fact, she disappeared from Britain altogether.

Hermione had always been fascinated by the way magic was able to defy the laws of Muggle physics - especially her Time-Turner from third year - so she enrolled at the University of California, San Diego, where she earned her undergraduate degree in the Muggle science of Physics. Her senior thesis concerned the fundamental relationship between space, time and gravity.

Preferring the sunny climate, she remained in California, earning her doctoral degree in Theoretical Physics from California Polytechnic University several years later. It was there that she met her future husband, a football player, ("American football - the real football," he always teased her.) and together they had two children, a son and a daughter. Neither were magical, so Hermione was never forced to divulge her secret abilities to her husband.

After his death, some sixty years later, Hermione Granger, assuming her maiden name once more, surprised everyone when she resurfaced in her native England. She applied for and was quickly granted a Research Fellowship in the field of Temporal Studies within the Ministry of Magic's Department of Mysteries. Her work concerned Time-Turners, of course.

Rumors of Hermione Granger's end, more than a century after her husband's were merely that - rumors. Curiously, her death was never officially noted in any of the Ministry's various magical recording ledgers and her continued existence remained somewhat of an enigma from that time forward - except to the Goblins, of course, for they could monitor the Life Stone on her vault and it always remained glowing brightly.

Fin.
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