War Paint

By: Provocative Envy


(September 14, 1992)

She had been back at Hogwarts for two whole weeks before she found the time to investigate the mysterious black book.

It was small, slim, about the length of her hand; the leather cover was soft, the sewn-in binding was crisp, and the thick vellum pages were empty. Tom Marvolo Riddle was printed in ancient, flaking gold leaf across the front.

He had been a Slytherin, a prefect, and head boy in 1944.

She had checked.



"Madam Pince," she asked, voice light, "do you happen to know of any books that focus on the subject of—well, of cursed books?"

The librarian frowned.

"If you're trying to imply, Miss Granger, that any of my books are cursed—"

"Oh, no, of course not," Hermione hastened to interject. "I was only curious, you see, if there were any curses that could be…hidden. In books, specifically. Perhaps in the Restricted Section? I'm rather certain that Professor McGonagall would furnish a permission slip if you would be kind enough to point me in the right direction."


(September 21, 1992)

She had found nothing.

A seemingly endless list of revealing spells had done absolutely no revealing to speak of, and there had been no anecdotal evidence, no historical context, to lend any sort of credence to her suspicions. All she had was a feeling—sharp and sure, deep in her gut—that this book was not what it appeared to be.

It was as if it was alive, which was preposterous, but she refused to discount the way it seemed to beckon to her as it sat on her desk, warm and sweet and oddly, eerily friendly—the way her fingertips tingled with a sudden, inexplicable urge to pick up a quill whenever she traced them down its spine.

It wanted to be talked to.

It wanted to be written in.

She just could not fathom why.



"I've drawn up study schedules for the two of you," she informed Ron and Harry at breakfast. "You really shouldn't be leaving all your work till the last minute—it will only stress you out."

Ron took a large bite out of a cranberry-orange muffin, chewing vigorously as he rolled his eyes.

"Great," he muttered, glancing at the color-coded calendar she set in front of him. "Just what I wanted. Another schedule."

Harry forced a smile.

"Thanks, Hermione," he said, avoiding her gaze. "This looks—efficient."

She beamed, even as she felt a rapid flash of irritation—there for a moment, and gone the very next.


(October 1, 1992)

She gives in on a Thursday, concluding that her only hope of discovering the book's secrets is to actively interact with it. She reasons that it's a book, that it can't very well hurt her—and sits down at her desk.

Hello, she writes in neat block letters, embarrassment and determination waging war inside her head, because, really—what did she think was going to happen? My name is Hermione.

She watches, expectant, as the words linger and set on the page—but then they fade, ink dissipating, disappearing, and new text appears in slightly uneven, spider-thin script—

Hello, Hermione, she reads, brow furrowed, my name is Tom. It's a pleasure to meet you.

Her mouth falls open—

And she slams the book shut.



"Why do you have to antagonize Malfoy like that, Harry?" she asked, picking up a dull yellow sponge and squeezing out the excess water. "You knew Snape was going to find out."

Harry scowled and turned away from the trophy case.

"He's a git," he said. "You heard what he said about Ron and Ginny—"

She sighed.

"Yes," she said patiently, scrubbing at the glass, "and Lockhart was rather quick to take points, in case you forgot. But you shouldn't have—"

She broke off.


She cocked her head to the side, staring at the name on the plaque.

"Special Services to the School," she recited, tone skeptical. "What do you think that means, Harry?"

He peered into cabinet.

"Dunno," he shrugged. "Who's Tom Riddle?"

She pursed her lips.

"That's a very good question."


(November 14, 1992)

She ignores the book for well over a month before deciding to try again.

I have a few questions for you, Tom, she begins, crossing her ankles beneath her chair.

There you are, he writes back. Thought you might've gotten scared.

She wrinkles her nose.

Why would I have been scared?

Well, meeting like this is awfully strange, he replies. But I'm harmless, I promise.

Something like unease prickles at her skin.

You said you have questions?

She hesitates before answering.

Yes. How old are you?

Sixteen, but I've been stuck in here for a rather long time, so I feel much older.

She chews on the end of her pen.

Stuck? How do you mean?

His response takes longer this time.

I was a bit too ambitious and mucked about with the wrong book in the library, is the short of it. Next thing I knew, I had become a…shade, I suppose. Like a ghost.

She arches an eyebrow.

Was this book in the Restricted Section?


Sounds like Dark magic, she observes pointedly.

Oh, it was, he says. But don't worry, Hermione—I learned my lesson.



Tom Marvolo Riddle was easy to talk to—he was charming and funny and always responded to her with alacrity, imparting wisdom and wit in equal measure.

She should have been desirous of his friendship.

She should have craved his attention, if not his affection.

She should have adored him—every aspect of his character was practically preternaturally perfect, after all—and yet—and yet

She did not trust it.

She did not trust him.

She avoided any and all discussions that might have linked her to Harry, to Ron, to the Weasleys or to Dumbledore or even to her own parents; she leafed through yearbooks, wrote to the Ministry for public records, searched tirelessly for an answer about who, exactly, Tom Riddle had become.

He had graduated from Hogwarts in 1945.

He had applied for the Defense Against the Dark Arts teaching position.

He had taken an unlikely job—menial in nature—at a shop in Knockturn Alley.

And then he had vanished.


(April 19, 1993)

He broaches the subject of her reticence on a Monday.

You don't like me very much, do you?

She stares at her inkwell, brass hinges locked open, rippling liquid surface all reflective charcoal swirls on honey-thick obsidian—

I don't know you, she writes back warily. You're a stranger.

We've been talking for months.

Yes, she concedes, but you're…evasive. You manage to say quite a lot without saying anything at all.

Several minutes pass before he responds; she counts them, second by second, studies her unpolished fingernails and follows the spangled silver hands on her wristwatch.

How old are you, Hermione?

Perturbed—and unable to articulate why—she glances furtively around the nearly empty common room.

Thirteen, she replies. I'll be fourteen in September. Why?

You seem older. Can I ask you where you found my diary? I feel a bit silly for not inquiring sooner.

She settles back into a crimson velvet armchair; she curls her feet up and under her legs, reaches for a tartan wool blanket, and lays it across her thighs. She thinks. She dismisses the idea of lying. She bites her lip. She thinks. She responds.

Someone dropped it in my bag. During a rather ridiculous altercation between two grown men in a bookshop. I think I know who it was—not a lot of suspects if it was intentional, which I emphatically believe it was—and that's actually why you might have thought that I was being…distant. It's simple, though: I cannot begin to understand his motives—the man who gave me your diary, I mean—until I begin to understand what you are and what you can do. Does that make sense?

She holds her breath.

Very clever of you to be cautious, Hermione. I think, if you gave me a chance, that we might be able to become quite good friends.

She uses the feathered tip of her quill to scratch at her ankle.

You want to be friends, she writes, skeptical. You currently reside on an impossible plane of existence, and you want to be friends.

Very much so, he replies quickly. If we were friends, you might be more inclined to help me figure out how to leave this 'impossible plane of existence'—and I suspect, Hermione, that if anyone could do it, it would be you.

She feels a thrill of—something slip between the notches of her spine, electric and anxious, excitable and curious.

You do realize that you'll have to be a lot more forthcoming with information about who you are and what you were really doing if I agree to help you.

His handwriting is messy as he responds—

Consider me an open book.



She'd had to beg McGonagall to give her access to the large, dusty tome that Tom had finally divulged the name of—'Secrets of the Darkest Art'—and she could barely focus on her conversations with Harry and Ron and Neville as the Hogwarts Express barreled down the train tracks and straight through the Scottish countryside.

"You won't be around for the summer, then?" Ron asked, tearing open the package of his chocolate frog.

"No," she replied, apologetic. "Sorry. Mum and Dad are taking me to Prague for the rest of June and most of July, and then—well, I've got a project, actually."

Harry pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose.

"A project? For school?"

"Blimey, 'Mione," Ron interjected, spewing crumbs over his lap. "You're doing schoolwork over the holiday? Why?"

She blushed madly.

"I—it's interesting, Ronald," she said. "There are so many facets of modern magical theory that are either misunderstood or—or misrepresented entirely, and I've only recently come across something rather extraordinary that really merits further research—"

"Ah, damn it, Harry, I got Bathilda Bagshot again," Ron groaned, holding up his chocolate frog card.

Harry barked out a laugh as she clenched her jaw.


(August 2, 1993)

She realizes what he did after she reads about horcruxes. She asks him bluntly—

Who did you kill?

Her muscles are taut and shaky, like harp strings plucked into a furious vibrato; her handwriting is barely legible.

It isn't that simple, he responds instantly.

Seems simple enough. Tom Riddle killed someone innocent, split his soul in half, and made you. You're a horcrux.

Yes, he confirms, all of that is true. But it wasn't intentional, Hermione. Can I show you?

She gapes at the diary.

You're a literal figment of the vilest, most loathsome form of Dark magic to ever exist. Why would I—

Her pen is abruptly jerked away, as if by an invisible hand, and his writing begins to frenetically fill the rest of the page.

Why do you think I told you the name of that book, Hermione? I wasn't trying to hide anything from you. I thought that you were rational and intelligent and open-minded; I thought that you would ask me for an explanation, at the very least, before declaring war on my past and demanding answers to questions that you don't even know enough about the subject to properly ask.

An angry, doubtful flush creeps up the back of her neck.

You can't unintentionally make a horcrux. It isn't possible. Intent and force of will are significant components of magic—your soul didn't trip down the stairs and break itself into pieces. You did it on purpose.

How much do you know about the Chamber of Secrets?

Her eyebrows snap up, almost to her hairline.

It's a myth.

No, Hermione. It isn't.

She swears that she can feel him smile—grimly, smugly, darkly—right through the pages of the book.



She turned fourteen, and started to notice Ron.

She noticed the pale, light-brown freckles that dusted his jawline and the lean, wiry strength of limbs that he had yet to completely grow into; she noticed that he had broad shoulders, even if they were still a bit round, and gorgeous, pastel-blue eyes that were always bright, always laughing, always wide with awe when she said something he didn't quite understand.

It was inconvenient.

It was distracting.

It was mortifying, too, especially when she had to watch his ears glow red and his speech turn incoherent after Pansy Parkinson began to wear her skirts two inches too short.

She ignored the situation, ignored the confusing tangle of feelings—jealousy, despair, and ridiculous, outrageous insecurity—and woke up early, ate breakfast alone, took a long, lonely walk through the castle—until she found herself outside of an empty girls' lavatory in a dead-end hallway off of the largely unused second floor.

She hadn't known there was a ghost there.


(February 19, 1994)

It's snowing when she musters up the courage to talk to Tom Riddle about Myrtle.

I know who you killed, she writes.

Then you also know that it was an accident.

I fail to see how unleashing a basilisk is in any way accidental.

Unleashing him wasn't the accident.

I don't believe you.

Then why are you writing to me? I've offered, more than once, to show you my memory of what really happened. You've refused.

A silver sliver of moonlight peeks out from behind a layer of fog.

Myrtle was…fond of you. Did you know that?

I was always kind to her, he replies immediately.

I wasn't accusing you of anything.

That's refreshing.

She grits her teeth.

Did you feel badly at all? About her death?

Badly enough that I didn't want it to be for nothing, he says.

What does that mean?

A flurry of snow settles in melting, miniscule flakes along the collar of her grey wool coat.

Tom? What does that mean?

Why haven't you told anyone about me?

She pretends that she can't feel her heart swoop and startle and sink, like a leaded, dead-weight anchor—

Why would I? It isn't as if you can do me any real harm—not in your present state, at least—and I happen to find your predicament rather fascinating. I did a bit of reading over the holiday, and from what I understand, horcruxes are not normally so…interactive.

She adjusts the knot of her scarf; her breath is coming out of her mouth in untouchable, ice-white clouds.

There is nothing normal about a horcrux to begin with, Hermione. Surely you know that by now.

The wind picks up.

She shivers.



The mess at the end of that school year—with Sirius Black and Professor Snape, with a full moon and a helpless Lupin and Scabbers the rat—no, no, Peter Pettigrew, he had been a person, he had been a man, full-grown and twitchy—and it had made her wonder.

It had made her think.

A murderer and a traitor and a scoundrel had been hiding in plain sight. He had been living in Ron's bedroom, in Hogwarts, and no one had suspected a thing.

Her first night home, snug in her childhood bedroom—all petal-pink walls and gleaming white wainscoting, a pair of neatly organized bookshelves and a spindly-legged escritoire—she spent an hour studying the front cover of Tom Riddle's diary.

Tom Marvolo Riddle.

It was a unique name. It was an odd name. It was memorable, it was interesting, and there was something prickly about it, something that itched at the marrow of her skull and had done so since she had first laid eyes on it.

She fished out a spare sheet of paper.

She clicked the end of her ball-point pen.

She tried Greek and German and French, Latin and Spanish, Gaelic and Portuguese and Italian, even—she substituted Thomas for Tom, removed Riddle entirely, rearranged letters and eliminated duplicates—dolor mel timor—pain honey fear—

She finally saw it as her eyes were burning with exhaustion and the sky was blossoming into muted velvet lavender.

Tom Marvolo Riddle.

Mal roid Voldemort.

Aim lord Voldemort.

I am Lord Voldemort.

She dropped her pen.


(July 22, 1994)

She mulls over what to say, who to tell, how to destroy him—weeks and weeks and weeks go by, and she keeps the diary in an outer pocket of her satchel, sturdy, scuffed brown leather shielding her from the visual reminder that she had been fooled and duped and lied to for nearly three full years.

She doesn't feel betrayed, not exactly, but she feels stupid, humiliated and ashamed that she had not caught it, had not recognized that he was not just another puzzle with a missing piece.

She confronts him on a Friday.

Hello, Tom, she writes, tapping her feet against the plush ivory carpet that covers her bedroom floor.

Hermione, he returns. Are you having a nice holiday? I haven't heard from you in ages.

My holiday has been fine, she says. It hasn't rained in a week.

How fortuitous.

Indeed. I've a bit of a funny story to tell you, though.


Yes. You see, I was reading about anagrams the other day and had the most distressing realization.

It's awfully easy to rationalize a realization.

She grimaces.


You were saying?

She listens to the shrill, melodious chirping of the sparrows outside her window.

Tom Marvolo Riddle: I am Lord Voldemort, she writes slowly, carefully, deliberately, staring, unblinking, until her vision is blurry and the words have been soaked into the page and into his psyche and then she waits.

What is a Lord Voldemort?

She goes completely still.

Don't pretend you don't know.

I'm not pretending anything. What is distressing about a frankly incomprehensible reorganization of the letters of my name?

Her head swims, ear drums drowning in a brittle, blue-grey wave of apprehension.

I'm going to give this diary to Albus Dumbledore. There's no point in lying.

I don't understand. What is it that I'm lying about, Hermione?

Nausea stirs in the pit of her stomach. It is possible, of course, that he had not yet conceived the idea of Voldemort at sixteen—

Two years ago you said that you were stuck. In this diary. What did you mean?

I meant just that. I'm stuck. I made an error while I was creating the horcrux, and my personality, my thoughts, my memories up until that day—they're all preserved, indefinitely, with this book as my only corporeal link to the outside world.

Her hands are trembling. She stands up. She goes into the kitchen. She fills a burgundy World's Best Dad coffee mug with tap water. She presses her forehead against the cool ceramic tile of the island counter. She returns to her bedroom.

Can you do magic? she asks, desperate.

No. I can't do anything, Hermione. I can open up my mind, show you what I remember—but nothing else. It's like purgatory, but lonelier. You're the first person I've spoken to in almost half a century.

She reads his response and it is like needles and paper cuts and subtle, sugarless jabs of caffeine singing in her veins and she is not sure, suddenly, what to believe.

He is an enigma.

Enigma, gamine, name, game, in in in—

He is a mystery.

Mystery, stymy, rest, yes, yet yet yet—

When I get back to Hogwarts, I want to meet you, she says.

She is a liar.

Liar, lair, ail, air, la la la—

I thought you'd never ask.

She takes a sip of water; it's lukewarm.

She is terrified.



School started.

She turned fifteen.

The Triwizard Tournament was announced and Viktor Krum began to follow her around the library and Ron made a spectacle of himself in front of Fleur Delacour and—

She still didn't tell anyone about Tom Riddle's diary.