Hermione nuzzled Tom’s warm shoulder and shifted to relieve the tension of her numb legs and bum. Tom shifted too, to hide his painful arousal.
“Sore?” he murmured.
“The floor feels like ice. Why didn’t we cast a heating charm?” She murmured back. “My dress is…I am not used to dressing up and well… ’s not very practical for frigid floor sitting.”
Tom lifted her to sit sideways and entirely in his lap before casting a heating charm around them. It boggled his mind how out of it he was suddenly acting. The witch called Hermione was spectacularly distracting. He ran his hands up and down her back, enjoying the luxurious fabric of her gown and the decadent feel of her soft but wildly strewn curls. Luxury and decadence were something Tom didn’t have much in his life. He was a brilliant wizard and a stellar student. But Tom Riddle was also a poor orphan in times when the world was dangerous and apathetic for poor muggle raised orphans. Everything he called his own was carefully and creatively crafted, transfigured or plain pilfered out of used and functional things. His clothes, books, personal effects, all were literally held together by his magic.
The girl in his arms, in a dress like that though, was a different kind of sorcery altogether. She chased away a deprivation within him, her bewitching softness dichotomous with his harsh edges, her rich presence filled up the empty coffers of his soul. To have her in his arms felt indulgent as sin. Not practical, she said?
“Your gown is bloody perfect. Never wear anything but these softly floating impractical dresses Hermione. All your robes should be acromantula silk!” he pronounced.
The little witch looked over his face to see if he was being serious. She snorted at his earnest expression and Tom suppressed a grin at the decidedly unladylike sound.
“That would work! Dueling in a flouncy skater dress and heels, flying on a broomstick in a cocktail dress and Ostrich feather hat, digging soil for mandrake roots in a tight sheath and silk stockings, potioneering in a ball gown,” she giggled at the image of a sneering Snape berating her about how the diamanté crystal trimmings in her dress were reflecting light on his precious flubberworms and spoiling them for potions.
Tom cracked a smile.
“However,” Hermione continued “If you agree to occasionally wear your head boy badge and haughtily threaten me with punishments, we could come to some sort of an understanding about my dress choices. Within reason of course.”
At this Tom Riddle outright laughed. No one ever asked for punishment from him, threatened, reasonable or otherwise. Especially the poor sods unlucky enough to have gotten or witnessed a punishment at his hands or wand even once. Hermione didn’t know anything about those though. He decided it was best to keep it that way for as long as he could.
“Hmmmm. But I don’t know much about punishing pretty little girls. What would I do?” he asked innocently.
“Ha!” Hermione slapped his shoulder, “I knew it. If you were the real head boy, you wouldn’t have to wonder about it. Merlin knows Percy Weasley has a parchment full of possible detentions and teacher’s timetables with free time slots to assign detentions always on him. He keeps adding and removing stuff from it too. Just to spice things up.”
Tom made a face.
“This Percy Weasley again. Sounds like a real winner.”
“Winner? Sorry to disappoint honey, but we hate him.”
“Oh, we do?” he smirked while wondering at being called honey perhaps for the first time in his life.
Tom was sure he would have hexed anyone else to the moon and back if they had the audacity to call him something that ridiculous. From her mouth though, its felt like belonging somewhere at last.
“Yes. I like you better as my head boy.” Hermione whispered, coy, with a little smile playing on her lips.
Tom playfully bumped her nose with his and gave her another toe curling kiss.
“Even if I don’t have this fabled list of detentions?”
Hermione snaked her arms around his neck and played with the short hair at his nape. A serious look entered her shining eyes. She shifted nervously.
“You will not punish anyone else like that. Only me. You can even make a list if you like.”
“Is that so? What will happen to the hapless students I catch breaking school rules? I do have a reputation you know. Most of them refrain from indulging in their natural state of stupid if they know I am around.”
Tom’s eyes flashed with glee as he said the words about students being afraid of him. He did enjoy his reputation and never let a chance go to reinforce it. The witch scrunched her eyebrows and looked him over again.
“Seriously though. You are not the real head boy. Who are you?”
Tom considered her words for a few silent moments before finally going where his brain didn’t want to go before.
He had known this was a possibility when he conducted his blood magic experiments using the journal horcrux. Blood and soul magic could have far reaching affects, even across time or reality. The power of a soul was unprecedented, bordering on supernatural. Magic using pieces of one’s soul was wholly uncharted territory, owing to horcruxes being inherently evil and completely banned. Tom didn’t have any preceding data. What he did have was hunger for knowledge and power, a pathological need to breakdown everything to bare bones, and an uncanny ability to survive his more fatal escapades.
Hermione Granger, magic’s beautiful gift to him, not exactly being of his time was a possibility he needed to accept.
“What’s today’s date Hermione?” he asked quietly.
Hermione amusedly looked at him.
“The Yule Ball ended hours ago, so it must be after midnight. Which makes today the twenty fifth of December. Christmas of 1994.”
The moment she said the words, something shifted in the air around them and Hermione, still sitting in his lap, began dissipating from reality.
“It’s the first of December 1944 for me. You’re in future. My future.” Tom told her while frantically trying to clutch her to him.
Her physical body was mostly gone. Ghost hands tried to touch his face and failed.
Tom fumbled with his pockets and pulled out a vial filled to the brim with a poison green potion. He downed the potion in a huge gulp, closed his eyes and said an incantation in parseltongue. When he opened them again, his eyes were red with the slit pupils of a reptile. His nose and temples changed shape slightly, protruding and forming membranes to detect heat signatures of the living and the dead. The world appeared as a swirl of heat and cold, the hottest spot still being in his lap, a humanoid silhouette trying to hold on to him. Tom blinked and his pupils rounded again. And though the color remained red, his cornea literally trebled in rods to grant him crystal clear vision with color and wave perception surpassing humans. This lesser known sight function from a small group of snakes, combined with his ability to sense magic, let him sense things not quite of his dimension. Even then, he could barely see Hermione now.
“You’re too far back. How can I be your-“
“I can’t die. My aging will slow.” He cut in, while reaching out to the full capacity of his magic, trying to hold on to the witch with all his might, “I’ll find a way to find you again. I promise Hermione.”
“How?” whispered a wholly disembodied voice.
“Just wait for me.”
His voice wobbled.
“Please…” He whispered to the ether.
She was gone.
She was gone.
He could still smell her heady scent. But she wasn’t there anymore.
His chest ached with pain he’d never felt before. Hermione’s soft hair had slipped away from his fisted hands, leaving nothing but a sensory memory. A night in her presence and now she was gone, taking with her all the new feelings she brought out in him. He stared at his empty palms. A drop of water landed on one.
Tom sprang up and did a revelo to see if anyone was around. With his reptilian eyes, he could sense and see Madame Rosemary at her desk. He could see an elf moving in a wall. He could see the cold cloud of a ghost, Peeves, based on how it was trying to upend Rosemary’s quill boxes. He could see rodents under the floor and a bird nest in a nook on the rafters. No one else. No sign of Hermione Granger.
Tom hissed another series of sounds and his eyes and face went back to his completely human self.
Then came rage. Enough to sink him down to where his demons lived. He tried to hold onto sanity, even by a thread because if Tom gave in and unraveled, a precipitous burst of his uncontrolled magic might destroy everything within reach.
He needed to channel the destruction and fast.
Tom looked around and his eyes landed at the Muggle Studies section of the Library in front of him. Rows of insipid Muggle books didn’t make the cut of things he wanted to hold on to. They would take the fall for him.
He walked to the nearest bookshelf of the seldom used section, heavy with the weight of dusty books. Reaching within arm’s reach, he raised his hands and let go. The cast iron rivets holding the heavy wooden rack to the floorboards were sheered right off as the entire rack got shoved back. It crashed into the shelves situated right behind it. The second rack was thrust into the next one with the force of Riddle’s power and it’s weighted momentum, cascading into the next, till all five racks full of nonsensical books filled with inaccurate information on blending with muggles, went crashing with a huge bang, generating a dust cloud that impressed even Peeves. The wizard pulled his power back just in time to save the next section on magical beasts and creatures.
The ruckus and exertion of his magic didn’t make a sufficient dent into the chaos within Tom. Before he could find another victim, Madame Rosemary came running from the back of the library. The bespectacled librarian gasped as she took in the rubble of books and tall racks along with the Head Boy standing just off it.
“Clean up in aisle 5!”
Madame Rosemary gaped in confusion.
Tom pointed his wand straight at the woman and cast an obliviate, followed by a wand wave and a confundus, trailed by a swish and an imperio.
“You were clumsy as usual and made a mess.”
Rosemary nodded in faint contrition and repeated, “Oh dear! I was clumsy as usual and made a mess.”
“Clean it up now.”
“Of course. Oh dear! I would need help for the torn floorboards.” The librarian shook her head and took out her wand to start clearing the wreck.
Using an unforgivable helped him pause the downward spiral of his anger more than pushing bookshelves did. Tom Riddle wrenched control back from red haze and started running a montage of memories in his head, one by one, precisely in order. It was a useful trick that always helped in time of desperation.
Four years old and the first time he understood sly comments from the matron and his peers at the orphanage, being stigmatized for being a freak in their eyes. Five years old and going hungry for two days straight as a punishment for an uncontrolled burst of magic, the pangs of hunger in his stomach, the cramps and nausea. Seven years old and the cruel beating from three bullies who were scared of him when they discovered him talking to a garden snake, bleeding almost to death by the time he was discovered. The exact times his housemates had heckled or hexed him for being an orphan, a mudblood, poor or small, until he demonstrated that his magic surpassed all, and proved beyond doubt that he was the heir of Salazar Slytherin, subjugating once and for all the hateful elites of Hogwarts.
The set of memories did their job, turning impotent helplessness to cold ruthless anger.
Tom Riddle overcame everything fate threw his way. He’d never cried over spilt milk. He wasn’t about to start now. He wanted Hermione. Time took her away. So obviously Tom would beat time into submission and get her back.
Leaving Madame Rosemary to her long night of hard work, Tom grabbed his satchel and stalked out, wishing for even just one hapless fool to be out during curfew. After all, target practice on the living was much better than target practice on inanimate books. He liked books. People though, were just tools and he decided to put his personal set of tools to work.
As soon as he was out of the doors, Tom turned and lifted the imperius from Rosemary. The confounded witch straightened her glasses and looked around. She saw Peeves, shook her head in mounting frustration and threatened the ghost with a disciplinary hearing with the headmaster. Peeves laughed in her face, upended two more bookshelves and winked out, manic laughter trailing his exit.
Tom didn’t care about the poltergeist’s antics or the librarian’s plight. He practically ran to the dungeons. Reaching the Slytherin dorms, he roughly shook Abraxas and told the barely awake boy to wake up the others and meet at the abandoned dungeon chamber they used for their secret meetings. Reaching there ahead, he cleaned the seldom used blackboard at the back of the room and wrenched it from its dank wall. The wall did not want to give up the board and Tom had to force it with a potent burst of his magic. The castle, recognizing he was Slytherin’s heir, gave in and let the board go. Tom levitated the board to the front and brightest part of the dark chamber and transfigured a chair into a stand to situate the board to his liking. Then he started chalking up a complex equation on the board.
His ‘knights’ trooped in, disheveled but alert. Good. He needed them awake for this.
“Conjure desks. Summon parchment and quills. Sit down and pay attention.”
Abraxas summoned a stack of parchment, quills and ink they kept in the classroom.
“Are we learning a new spell My Lord?”
Mulciber. Zealous in his loyalty, but not the brightest of the bunch. The thick stack of parchment in front of Abraxas rolled itself tightly and swatted Mulciber on the head, before separating into individual pages. A page fell in front of each of the seven Knights of Walpurgis. The rest floated docilely to Tom and waited a foot away.
“I don’t have time for foolish questions. Now, we are going to have a lesson on arithmancy. And then we are going to solve a problem.”
“But I haven’t taken Arithmancy this year.” Whined Mulciber.
“I have. Aren’t any good with it!” supplied Dolohov.
“I don’t like solving equations. Sounds like something a lowly accountant would do.” Lestrange put in his two knuts.
“Exactly My Lord.” Nodded Dolohov “Why not imperius a swotty Ravenclaw to solve our problem?”
“Or get hold of a Gryffindor and then torture them to it.” Snickered Avery, “Poor sod won’t be able to solve it and we’ll practice all the lovely curses we’ve been working on. Win win.”
The neat parchment placed in front of each wizard stirred again, rolled onto itself and reared with the head of a King cobra. The parchment snakes bit the noses of Dolohov and Avery, drawing blood and shrieks. They went around the necks of Lestrange and Mulciber, squeezing till the two were sputtering and purplish. The paper snakes hissed threats to Nott and Black till the two picked up their quills and started copying Riddle’s work from the black board. Abraxas Malfoy, the only one who hadn’t whined at the prospect of extra studies, was spared. His parchment sat on his desk innocuously like unprovoked parchment was supposed to sit. He picked up his quill to start copying too.
“Now that I have your due attention, I’ll say this once again. Once!” At this Riddle stared malevolently at his knights, making sure they knew he was serious. The knights gulped, fear crawling up their spines, finally understanding how furious their Lord really was.
“Arithmantic equations have been used in the past to calculate the variance of time, not with much success I must say. The main issues being lack of data on time travelers and events linked to their travel. The theory is simple though. In a static timeline, if a witch or wizard were to travel back in time, was unseen by anyone, refrained from doing so much as blink an eye, she or he can return to their time again, unscathed and without damaging the events of their timeline. If however, they were to do anything mundane like eat food technically from the past, answer nature’s calls or pluck a flower, they cause minor changes in the sequence of events. These changes may or may not snowball into major catastrophes, based solely on dumb luck. If the traveler is seen or heard by other people from this past time, people, days, dates or events might be wiped out and chaos would ensue.”
“Everyone looks at time travel with fear and uncertainty. They get swept up in the mysterious nature of time and do not think to work around it. For example, I know it is possible to travel in time and let everything change in return to keeping one or two things constant. It is the nature of the equation here. We could decide what to keep constant and what to let go. What would affect the outcome and how to figure out the odds of something happening to the best of the variables.”
Riddle turned to the board and wrote down two words.
“We are going to work on the equation I wrote, add integral variables, and solve the differentials that arise. In plain english, I’ll divide you in groups of two, give a small part of the larger equation to each group and then we will all solve our parts. Later I will integrate the solutions and take it further.”
Abraxas’ pale hand rose up timidly.
“What exactly is this equation we are solving My Lord?”
“We are solving the hitherto unsolvable problem of the time traveler’s paradox. Through arithmancy.”
Abraxas paled some more but nodded in acquiescence.
“Begging pardon” Alphard Black broke his silence, “But it is unsolvable isn’t it? For a good reason too.”
Riddle appeared pensive for a moment before going on to write down parts of the equation on the board.
“Yes. There is good reason it hasn’t been solved yet. But that shouldn’t stop me, now should it? I will find a solution. We will, together. It is imperative that we find a solution. Imagine being able to travel in time. Imagine the advantage of knowing what’s to happen before it does. Imagine being able to change things. Make them go our way. Is that a good enough reason to try?”
Various versions of assent came from all the knights as they bent over their parchment and started writing what Tom had written on the board.
“Let us start with basic arithmantic equations and go from there. And gentlemen, you should know that you are working to prove your worth in this group. Fail me and you won’t get another chance. Talk of this to anyone else and the end of my wand would be the last thing you’ll see.”
Somehow, all of his knights knew Tom wasn’t joking or exaggerating the threat to life. They bent their heads to their parchment and started working on the paradox of Time.