Title: Down the Rabbit Hole
Summary: Four years after the defeat of Voldemort, Hermione finds she has another chance to defeat him again. This time, however, she faces a much different enemy than the monster.
Author's notes: This can be a stand-alone as it is now. However, eventually I think it's going to be much longer.
"This isn't safe, Hermione," Tonks said, as she set the wooden cask down on Hermione's desk. It was glowing slightly from the numerous protective charms and wards set upon it. "I wish you didn't have to muck about with this kind of thing."
Hermione did not receive many visitors to her office. Even her colleagues stayed away as much as possible. The name 'Voldemort' never ceased to bring a shudder to those hearing it, even now. Tonks was on duty. Just doing her job.
Hermione tapped her wand on the cask, removing the first of the charms. "Someone has to, Tonks. Might as well be me."
"Yeah, I know," Tonks replied, stepping away from the desk. "You're the expert and all."
Her limp was more noticeable today, Hermione noted absently. They all carried scars from the last battles. Some were more visible than others. "That's me. You needn't stay, Tonks. I set up my own protective wards when Donaphin sent me word they'd detected something."
"You sure? It's not like I've a great deal to do." She smiled as she said it, but it was a sad one. Tonks was one of the few survivors of the Order of the Phoenix. Since her injuries in the last month of Voldemort's reign, she'd ridden a desk more than a broom.
Hermione stopped what she was doing and walked around to place a hand on Tonks' arm. "Thank you for the offer, but it's something I need to do alone. Likely there's no real danger, since this horcrux was broken long ago, but there's no sense endangering you."
Tonks was one of the few people from her 'life before' with whom she still spoke, and Hermione liked her as far as she liked anyone these days.
It had been four years since Ron had died in the final confrontation with Voldemort.
Three-and-a-half years ago, Harry had died suddenly, the victim of a slow-acting, hidden curse released when he broke the final horcrux.
Three years ago, Ginny Weasley married Neville and they moved to Paris. She owled Hermione every Christmas, but that was about as much contact as they maintained.
It had been two-and-a-half years since she'd spoken to any of the remaining Weasleys.
Two years ago, Hermione had been promoted to Director of Special Projects in the curse-breaking division of the Department of Mysteries. She was the top expert, even at her young age, in her field. She specialized, of course, in Voldemort studies.
She had to be the specialist. There was no one else left who could.
"Right-o, Hermione. Look, why don't you come round to dinner this Sunday? Remus would love to see you, and it's been far too long since I saw you out of work." Tonks’ hand reached for the doorknob.
"I'll see if I can, Tonks," she lied. "You're right; it has been too long." Hermione couldn't face the idea of stepping into the house at Grimmauld Place, even though she knew it was a beautiful home now, and not a derelict shambles. It simply would hurt too much.
Hermione lived for her work. It was all she had left.
As soon as Tonks closed the door behind her, Hermione returned to the task at hand. Within the cask was Voldemort's journal. The horcrux within had been destroyed, of course, but all relics related to Voldemort were systematically examined, especially after Harry’s death. Some lingering magical energy had been detected within it, and so it ended up in her office for any curse breaking or research work she deemed necessary.
She found it highly ironic that she knew more about Voldemort and his magic than she did about any of her old friends. She conquered him again every time she broke a curse or unraveled one of his more complex works.
He really had been a brilliant wizard. That she could never deny.
The last of the protection charms disintegrated with a tap. No magic flared out at her; there was no ominous humming. Doniphan overreacted, as usual. She opened the lid and reached in carefully. Just because the journal hadn't required such elaborate protections during transport didn't mean it was safe.
She'd been waiting to get her hands on it for a long time, and as her fingertips traced the cracked leather cover, she flashed on Harry and Ron faces. She remembered the smell of the infirmary, the softness of the bed sheets as she listened to Harry tell the story of what had happened in the Chamber of Secrets.
God, she missed them. They'd been her dearest friends, through thick and thin, and the ache that wrenched her when she thought of them hurt as badly as it had right after she'd lost them. She squeezed her eyes closed and took a deep breath, banishing her memories.
Picking up the journal, she lifted it out of the cask and laid it on her desk. She had something upon which to focus, a problem to solve. She would prevail once more against the evil that had stolen so much from her.
Hours passed. Hermione easily lost track of time, even with the real-time magical window installed expressly for her by her superiors. She'd sifted layer-by-layer through the diary, searching for hidden curses within the brittle, water-stained pages. The moon shone down through the window and Hermione pressed on.
By Saturday afternoon, Hermione was thoroughly frustrated. Nothing had worked. The spark within the ruined journal remained elusive. She threw down her wand in disgust and took up a quill instead. She doubted this would work, but she had to try.
Dear Lord Voldemort, you bloody wanker, she wrote. The ink glistened on the old paper, but did nothing else. Hermione rolled her eyes and put her head in her hands.
When she looked up the ink had vanished.
She rubbed her eyes and looked again. As she did so, a spidery, barely visible scrawl faded into existence.
I beg your pardon? it read.
Hermione pushed away from the desk with a screech of chair legs against wood. How in Merlin’s name could this be? The horcrux had been destroyed. This was- well, it was remarkable. And frightening. And thrilling. She picked up her quill again.
Who are you? she wrote.
It took a longer time for the ink to sink into the paper, and even longer for a jagged, barely decipherable response.
I’m afraid I don’t recall.
Hermione stared at the words, trying to puzzle out whether this was a trick or a malfunction.
What is your purpose? she wrote.
I don’t remember. I’ve been in here a very long time, but I can’t remember why.
Hermione took a deep breath. What she planned to do was risky, perhaps even foolish. However, there might be no other way to get to the bottom of this mystery.
Can you show me who you are? she asked.
Several moments passed before a reply appeared.
I shall try.
A sickly white glow emanated from the journal. It pulsed out, enveloping Hermione. It pulled her, but it wasn’t nearly strong enough to bring her through. She jabbed her wand at the center of the journal, boosting the energy of the charm as she did so. There was a bright flash of light, and she fell through the portal, as if into a Pensieve.
When she opened her eyes again, she stood in a dimly lit room lined with shelves from floor to ceiling of books. In the center of the room was a large wooden desk with candles providing the only light. A young man sat behind the desk. It was Tom Marvolo Riddle. Lord Voldemort himself.
Hermione remembered what Harry had told her of his encounter with this particular memory made real. The curious expression on Riddle’s face, and the fact that he stood when he saw her and gave her a small bow, did not quite jibe with any of the accounts Harry had shared with her.
“Welcome, Miss,” he said, and his voice was polite, if rather vague. “I would- I’m supposed to show you something. Or tell you something.” His brow furrowed in confusion. “I’m afraid to say I’ve no idea what, and the door disappeared some several years ago, so I couldn’t find it if I tried.”
He made no move from his place behind the desk, but Hermione kept her wand out and at the ready anyway. She watched him a moment. She’d seen pictures of him at this age, before the horcruxes had warped his physical appearance as much as his soul. His skin was pale, almost ghostly, but he was a handsome figure. Too handsome by half.
“Tell me who you are,” she demanded. This was curious. It seemed this version of Voldemort suffered from amnesia. Or pretended to, at any rate.
“I’m sorry I cannot. I- I don’t remember, you see. I’ve been here a very long time, but all I can recall are the words of the books within this room. Though some of them are losing their words, and I’m afraid I shall lose the memory of them, as well.”
“You’ve no idea who you are or what you’re doing here?” He didn’t seem to be faking his consternation, but Tom Riddle had been known as a charmer and a liar.
Tom shrugged. “I wish I could say I did, but I can’t. It’s rather disconcerting, believe me.”
“And when you say your books are losing their words, what exactly do you mean?”
He picked up a book from the floor. It was ancient, the leather bindings shredded with age. He opened it and the parchment pages were devoid of words. “That’s what I mean. The room’s become smaller. There used to be a window, a long time ago. And a door, of course.”
‘The spell, whatever it is, must be degrading after all this time,’ Hermione thought. So here she was, in a room full of knowledge with a young, amnesiac version of Voldemort. She could find out a great deal, if she played her cards right. She intended to do so.
“Pardon me,” he said, interrupting her thoughts. “But who are you? Are you a professor?”
“A professor? So you remember something, after all?” she said, raising an eyebrow and pointing her wand in his direction.
“No, Miss. I- I’m in school? I think?” He looked baffled, and then he frowned. “It vexes me that I can’t recall, but this was my school. So are you a professor or not? You’re older than I, so you can’t be a student.” His dark eyes flashed, and that was more like the Voldemort she’d heard and read about.
“I’m Professor Granger,” she said, and then she took a gamble. “And you’re called Tom.”
“Tom? Am I, really?” He sneered slightly and then his face smoothed out again. “That’s such a- common name. How do you know?”
“I’m a Professor,” she said with authority. She could muster up a great deal of authority when necessary. “I can help you. With the books, I mean.”
She wasn’t sure why she’d offered him help. She didn’t mean to help him one bit. But if he was harmless, she could learn a great deal from him before the magic leeched out of the journal completely.
“I don’t need help. I would like the words back in my books, though.” He glanced at the shelves, and for a moment, he looked lost. “They’re all I’ve got, Professor. I should like to keep them, if I’m to stay here.”
“Of course. I shall do what I can. Find all the books without words and when I return, we’ll examine them. I’ll take stock of what’s left intact.”
“Then you’ll be coming back?” He looked eager, and not at all in an evil way. “I should like that. It’s been- I know I’ve seen people here, but it’s been such a very long time.”
“I’ll be back.” Hermione brandished her wand before her, willing the spell that brought her here to reverse. She needed to get out of here, to regroup and strategize about the steps to take next. “Good afternoon, Tom.”
He sat back down, and Hermione could have sworn he looked forlorn. “Good afternoon, Professor.”
The light of the spell pulled her away once more. She stared at the journal lying open on her own familiar desk. How long had this fragment of magic been trapped in that room, with the words hemorrhaging from his books? She shuddered and then rubbed her temples. Her head ached, but what could she expect after no sleep and little food and an encounter with her mortal enemy?
She stood, stretched, and headed for the door. She needed a break. But she would be visiting Mr. Riddle again. Oh, yes. She would capture all the information she could from him. She would find out what he knew and how he knew it, and she would discern how his mind worked. Then she’d destroy the journal, and kill him again, with a great deal of pleasure.
She smiled, and it wasn’t a pleasant smile. She had Voldemort – even if this vestige of magic was a pale reflection of the monster she’d fought – at her mercy. If her head would stop hurting, she’d be in a fine mood indeed.