It seemed to her that Professor Dumbledore had a profound love for Pensieve memories, if the stack in the cabinet was anything to go by. But she didn't complain about the nauseous feeling overcoming her body as she got sucked into the memory — how could she? Not when she was so determined to learn anything there was about him.
In the bright light shooting past the window of the Gaunt Shack, the wrinkles on the Headmaster's face looked more pronounced than usual. Shaking her head, she looked away to pay attention to the scene unfolding in front of her.
She hadn't expected Voldemort - no, Tom Marvolo Riddle, to be the son of a Muggle.
The old wizard next to her moved across the wood pavement, explaining the Gaunt family's connection with Slytherin and consequently, their ability to speak Parseltongue.
It was definitely strange - Hermione didn't find it offensive, per se. Instead, she found it fitting that the family could talk in the language of snakes. Wasn't that what they were? Attacking each other—outing sisters for pining over Muggle men—while still sharpening and showcasing the proud possessions that were the ring and the locket.
Not to mention that Tom Riddle Snr. wanted nothing to do with the family - if that scoff accompanied with the presence of his girlfriend wasn't already a sign.
"How did they end up together?" she asked curiously, once she exited the memory and went back to sitting in front of his desk.
A small silence stretched in between and he eventually answered, "I suspect that it was a love potion, which Merope took him off of in belief of him staying with her regardless, thanks to the pending birth of their child."
"But he didn't stay," she muttered as a guess and wasn't surprised when he confirmed it.
It was said to believe that if one was born due to the influence of a love potion, that child would never be able to experience true love.
Could that be the reason that drove the young wizard to the edge, eventually leading to him becoming a monster?
"There's something I must say to Miss Granger, if you'll let me, of course," he said eventually, looking quite apologetic for breaking her line of thought. She hesitated if only just slightly, but felt herself nod in consent. Hermione wasn't exactly sure as to how he was going to make that conversation happen.
She wasn't anticipating a sharp noise - ear deafening, but not painful. Confusion hit her as he stared at her with a twinkle in his blue eyes; long enough that she was able to drown out the continuous sound, straining to focus on the ticking of the old clock as an alternative.
Four minutes and thirty two seconds later — or, so she guessed — her ears welcomed back the comforting quiet and her mouth was open, slightly ajar in wonder.
Seemingly noticing her look, he gave her a small smile. "I used a special method of Legilimency that allowed me to talk solely with a part of your mind, the one filled with her unconscious."
A hesitant moment passed through them when she nodded, all due to Hermione carefully waiting for him to expand on his explanation. There shouldn't be anything so important that he would have to hide it from her, but still mention it to Granger.
"I admit I've forbidden her to tell you of anything that might play against the Fates even more than it already has."
Of course, he knew about her intentions on asking about her best friends and their future. She couldn't help but mentally pout like a petulant child at forever missing the opportunity to ask her mind about anything.
Don't be so sure, Granger muttered and Hermione tried her best to keep her expression neutral, ridding it of any surprise that might bring doubt to Professor Dumbledore's mind.
Eventually, he bid her goodbye and suggested she went to sleep, mentioning just how late it was. Hermione thought he was crazy—apologizing to herself for insulting the Headmaster—because there was no way she could fall asleep after that.
But it was eleven and it felt like the stars above her head were giving her piercing stares, glaring at her as though she wasn't allowed to walk around the corridors at that time.
Nor was Amos, but he was walking towards her, wasn't he?
Her lips quirked up tiredly, even if just a tiny bit, at the sight of him and her brows rose in surprise. "Hey," she greeted and moved to put her arms around him because she really, really needed a hug - one that could bring relief to her aching heart with the embrace of a familiar person.
His fingers—they suddenly felt colder than usual—wrapped around her wrists and she flinched at their closeness to her scar. He didn't seem to notice her reaction, mostly because he was busy dragging her to an empty classroom, causing Hermione to assume he wanted to snog her silly.
They carefully avoided the desks and moved around in the dark, stopping to the farthest side of the room. Her mouth opened to refuse, shaking her head. "Amos, I'm too tired for this. Why don't we just talk?" she offered with a hopeful expression.
The closeness to the window allowed her to hear the raindrops splatter against the glass and for a moment, she thought she'd misheard him. "Wha—"
"You didn't come home," he said, his tone accusing. Her brows furrowed together and she scoffed because of course, she didn't. But then again, he didn't know what happened.
"I'm sorry, Amos. Something happened at home - I . . ." she hesitated momentarily to think of what she could really tell him. "I got disowned."
"Your mother has already informed my parents about that," he bit back and his hold on her got glaringly tight; so tight that she found herself imagining yet another Tom Riddle waiting to curse her arm with a lifetime of killing and hate.
"Oh, how nice of her," she snorted despite herself, and had Walburga been there, she would've smacked her only daughter, tinting her cheeks with a harsh splatter of red.
She wanted feather kisses on those cheeks, not slaps.
"Hermione," he sighed heavily, as if she were tearing his patience apart.
"What do you want, Amos?" she asked, going for scathing but coming up tired. Staring at him just reminded her of disappointing yet another person.
"I need you to tell me why you're spending all the time with someone like Lupin," he immediately replied, his voice harsh as his nose scrunched up in distaste. Her heart lurched inside her chest, and she was pretty sure she'd come close to not breathing at all.
Please don't say anything bad.
"They say he's a werewolf, Hermione."
She immediately shrugged herself off his hold and crossed her arms, hoping it didn't become obvious of the defensive stance she'd taken for her best friend. "I don't know who they is, considering they're wrong and he's not a werewolf," she lied, jabbing her finger at his chest, no longer able to contain her anger.
"But tell me, Amos. While he is not one, what if there was a werewolf at school? What's so wrong with that?"
He squinted his eyes at her as though she'd asked him something that had an obvious answer - something he was sure she would agree with him. But the thing was that Hermione did not ask useless questions and surely didn't accept wrong answers.
"It's dangerous. Those creatures are disgusting, violent and shouldn't have the right to put the rest of us in danger."
His voice had a hard edge, so full of revulsion that she realized just how much she didn't know about him—she'd been so, so delusional to believe he could be the sweet, perfect boy she assumed he was—and before her mind could register her doing so, she clocked him in the face; a closed fist hook to the nose that had her wondering where all that energy had come up from.
Her knuckles came in contact with his nose, allowing a cracking noise to ring around the walls, and he moved away instantaneously once her right hand moved to grab back the wand she'd placed in her left hand.
"What the fuck?" Amos shouted, rubbing his nose and looking surprised, completely unaware of the growing fur on his body that she'd quietly hexed him with.
Oh well, he would figure it out as soon as he gained enough sense to realize that the fault wasn't in werewolves, but in his mentality.
"I clearly misunderstood what kind of person you really were," she told him angrily, breathing heavily at the sudden rush of emotions. "But do not think I'll accept this kind of behaviour from you. I'm done with you. Just - please, rethink about everything. Oh, and my family might not be like what you think."
She swirled on her feet, gripping the edge of the window in support, before moving towards the door. She paused briefly when he spoke up for one final time.
"Your father probably died because of you."
A bitter, cracked smile appeared on her face, even though he faced her back. "He definitely did." Overwhelming grief leaked in her tone, but she left before he could say anything about it. He had aimed enough shots through her heart.
It was all because of you! Those words echoed in her mind as Hermione doubled over, heaving into the sink, her body convulsed with tremors; choking and gagging on contents of her stomach.
No, it isn't, Granger tried to correct. Her attempts were futile and she shook her head frantically, desperate to slam every voice and sound out.
A hole was being created, too close to her middle, too close to yet another hole over her heart. She clutched her arms around herself in pain, sweating through the shivers that managed to seep through her chilled skin.
Hermione felt a warm hand in the middle of her back and for the first time that night, she welcomed the feel of comfort - one that she didn't have to beg for.
Eventually, she swayed on her feet and slowly slid to the floor, her hands abandoning the tight grip on the rim of the sink and her legs beginning to complain about the cold, dusty floor.
Through blurred eyes, she found James kneeling in front of her—messy, bed hair and crooked glasses on the top of his nose; she was sure he'd moved all too quickly to put them on—and he eventually sat by her side as she continued to breathe haggardly.
With the back of her hand, Hermione hastened to swipe away the tears that had leaked from the corners of her eyes.
Tonight, the nightmare—if it could even be called that simple, mere noun—consisted of loss, Tom Riddle, and one boy she could no longer find herself to like and eventually love.
She'd wanted to know what was so special about love — what made it just so different from liking to loving someone. Hermione had wanted to know what she was missing out on.
Now, she thought she'd been foolish to look for the answers, when too much was already going on in her life. What did she want? One more person to chance losing?
Stop acting like Harry, Granger admonished her, but Hermione did not know who he was and did not care to listen.
"Do you want me to go get Sirius?"
She continued to stare ahead and shook her head, already aware of the fact that he was out somewhere, a girl in his arms.
If that was how he was going to get his mind off Grimmauld Place, she didn't want to be the one to stop him. Not yet, at least.
His breath left like a whoosh and his fingers moved to caress her knuckles, the burn in her skin slightly dimming as he did so. His touch was so light that she could hardly tell it was there.
"You hurt your hand." It wasn't a question, but she still whispered a hoarse answer in assent.
"I broke up with Amos and I broke his nose too," she explained numbly and waited for her breathing to calm down, for her chest to stop gripping her heart oh, so hard and harsh.
"You did?" His voice held such a jovial tone and he hurried to clear his throat. "I mean—I'm sorry, why?"
A small smile slipped on her lips at the obvious dislike her best friend held for Amos and she let out a short laugh, though it slowly turned into something much bitter. "Let's just say he loves someone like my mother, but doesn't realize that werewolves are human, except for one day every month."
"Well, somebody better tell him that Walburga is much worse than any magical creature," he muttered and being unable to resist the sudden rush of adoration she felt for him, she turned towards him and scrambled to hold him in a tight hug.
"You're terrible," she joked, her voice muffled through his cotton shirt, but she knew he'd heard her regardless when she felt his chest grumble with laughter.
His hands gripped her waist and her veins throbbed with warmth and safety.
"Hermione, I need you to help me with Charms."
Her brows scrunched in confusion and she let go of him to study his expression. James was watching her with such a flustered, yet earnest look that managed to stop her smile from slipping off.
"You haven't asked for my help ever since first year," she reminded him, suspicion tinting her voice. She doubted he'd forgotten about being frightfully chased by her, right after she'd taught him the Levitation Charm.
Merlin, they'd grown so much.
"Uh—well, Remus has been so grumpy lately and you seem like you really need a distraction, so I," his voice cracked and he cleared his throat, scratching the back of his neck with a half-smile. "I thought this would be a good idea, but I mean if you don't want to, it's—"
"James," she stopped him, holding his face in between her hands and relishing the soft feel of his skin, "I'll be more than happy to help you with any class."
"Oh," he breathed, hazel eyes gleaming with a hidden emotion she couldn't quite decipher. "Right - of course. Thank you."
She laughed, suddenly feeling much lighter than she ever had for the past few weeks. Standing up and smoothing the wrinkles of her shorts, Hermione looked back at him and grinned. "No, thank you."
He followed to stand beside her and she couldn't help herself from ruffling his hair in gratitude, no matter how irritating he found the move.
"Cub, if you want to obsess over my hair, do it in your sleep," he complained, enhancing his enlarged ego and stupid arrogance.
Idiot, she thought fondly and wondered if Granger agreed with her.
Oh - yes, what an idiot, the subconscious followed with a strange tone.
A/N: Happy new year! I hope you have an amazing 2020, full of love, success and good health. I'm sorry for taking so long to update! I admit I wasn't so sure on how to progress with the relationship between Hermione and James, while still maintaining a good, interesting slow-burn. Other than that, I also wanted to insist on the importance of the lessons Harry went through in HBP. The movie totally avoided Tom Riddle's whole story and it really upset me. Please let me know what you think and if there's anything you want me to add.