War Paint

By: Provocative Envy

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Author's Note: Barring any major personal disasters, the next installment should be up tomorrow afternoon. If you care for immediate notification of the status of this fic, however, you're welcome to follow me on tumblr.

xoxo

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(July 6, 1996)

Dolohov's curse leaves a scar.

It is angry and pink and puckered, still waxy, still tender, and it stretches from just beneath her breasts to about an inch above her navel. Tom traces the outline of it with his tongue, eyes glittering and rage palpable—but he is gentle, uncharacteristically so, when he leans up to kiss her, the pillow of his bottom lip catching the saliva-slick top of hers, sticky and warm and sweet, like a mouthful of honey.

"I am going to kill whoever did this to you," he says, tone casual. "As soon as I get out of here."

She pushes him away.

"Wait, what? Get out of here?" she repeats. "How, exactly, are you going to manage that? I haven't found anything that would indicate it's even possible, not without an outside vessel, and I've been looking for years."

He shifts backwards on the bed, mattress creaking under his knees. His expression is smug.

"We'll find something eventually, though, won't we?" he says, running a soothing hand up and down her bare leg. "That's all I meant, Hermione, there's no need to look at me like that."

She bunches emerald green sheets between her fingers; they're satin, shiny and smooth, and they flow like water over the grooves and ruts and trenches of her knuckles.

"How am I looking at you?" she asks.

He laughs, reaching up to tuck a strand of her hair behind her ear.

"Like you don't trust me," he answers, rubbing his thumb across the delicate point of her chin. "Which is ridiculous, isn't it?"

She twists her body, leans over him so that she can pull the curtains closed around his four-poster. She ties the sash into a knot—a trefoil, underhanded and simple, a loop inside of a loop in triplicate.

"Ridiculous," she agrees firmly.

And then it is dark, pitch-black and quiet, and she thinks she might be drowning—in them, in this, in him.

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(interim)

Summer went by in a tempestuous haze of sex and deception; she ignored Harry and Ron and Viktor, left letters unanswered and bruises unexplained—she avoided mirrors, told Dumbledore that she was reasonably confident that Tom Riddle already had a plan, a way to reanimate himself at sixteen years old, and that she was not sure that she would be able to stop him.

In response, she was taken to meet a man named Horace Slughorn, was instructed by Mad-Eye Moody to bring up the subject of horcruxes over Jasmine tea and fennel-cheddar scones; Slughorn had spent ninety seconds babbling nervously before he lit a lace-trimmed handkerchief on fire and informed her, in a somewhat squeaky voice, that he would be ecstatic to reclaim his teaching post at Hogwarts in the fall.

"You are my best and most secret of weapons, Miss Granger," Dumbledore said on the last day of August. "And you have done an admirable job with Tom. What I am about to ask of you, however—what I am about to explain to you—you cannot come back from. Do you understand?"

She said yes, and her world began to crumble.

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(September 5, 1996)

Dumbledore speaks with Slughorn.

She then finds out that Voldemort had made more horcruxes—one prior to the diary, four more after, and one much later, on accident, the night he killed Harry's parents.

She finds out that Tom Riddle had murdered his own father and infused an old family heirloom—from his mother's side, the Gaunts—with the very first piece of his soul.

She finds out that it was a ring, solid gold and cracked onyx, and that Dumbledore had already destroyed it, turning his own hand into something shriveled and mostly dead in the process.

She finds out all of this, and she thinks about losing her virginity in a tangle of limbs and lies, thinks about Harry believing that he could beat Voldemort, that all it would take was six syllables and five, four, three seconds of bright green light, two words and a single curse and he could be defeated.

She thinks about how naïve Harry is, how he isn't aware of what he's doing—even as he comes to her for more lessons in Legilimency—and how he isn't aware of what she's doing—even as she disappears for longer and longer stretches of time, returns with unkempt hair and laugh lines that don't quite match the sadness that lurks in her eyes—and she thinks about how he will never be aware, cannot be aware, because she is clever and he is brave and she thinks, she thinks, she thinks she knows what Dumbledore is not saying when he talks about the final horcrux, the accident, and she hopes and wishes and prays that she is wrong, that she has misunderstood the subtext of their conversations—but she has not.

She has not.

She has not, and she feels betrayed, wants to scream at Dumbledore and tell Harry the truth and throw Tom Riddle and his toxic fucking diary into the bottom of the fucking lake, straight into the gullet of the giant squid, wants to let the grindylows get their grimy little claws into its pages and just—just fucking—just rip, just tear it into shreds and scraps and slivers so small and so waterlogged that there is not even the barest hint of a chance that they will not disintegrate—

She hates Tom Riddle, she hates Voldemort, she hates Dumbledore, even, and it hurts, it aches, it inspires within her the most appalling desire to destroy

She does not know herself.

It is the worst part.

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(interim)

Autumn arrived with a biting breeze and a mosaic of falling leaves—they were red and orange and yellow, filled with veins of brown and spots of black, crunching comfortably beneath the soles of her boots.

She turned seventeen; Tom fucked her fully-clothed over a table in the library, teeth lodged into the back of her neck as he rolled his hips, belt buckle clattering in the hushed silence of the Restricted Section. Afterwards, he took her to the seventh floor and showed her how to access the Room of Requirement.

"It adheres to Gamp's Principle Exceptions, obviously, but it's a rather remarkable hiding place if you know what to ask for," he said, slinging an arm around her waist and planting a kiss on her cheek.

Meanwhile, Harry had unearthed a Potions textbook of dubious origin, Ron had decided to try out for the Gryffindor quidditch team, and Draco Malfoy—

Draco Malfoy was exhibiting some very odd behavior, indeed.

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(December 31, 1996)

Nine minutes before midnight, Tom mentions the cave.

"The orphanage—they used to take us to the ocean. They thought it might, I don't know, bolster our spirits, or something. And this was before I knew about magic, before I knew that I was different—properly different, I mean—and I wasn't…well-liked, I suppose you could say, by most of my peers."

He pauses, looking thoughtful and bitter and nostalgic, almost, which—

"Anyway, I was not particularly popular. I hadn't yet learned to harness my magic, didn't even know that my magic was there, and I could make things happen, just by virtue of wanting them badly enough. The other children found me strange, I think. They were rather afraid of me."

The fire sizzles, embers popping and crackling and hissing against the cast-iron grate; the clock on the mantle reads 11:53.

"At the ocean, though, there was this cave—about fifty feet above the beach, maybe, nestled in the cliffs. I'd always noticed it, but it wasn't until this girl, Amy, and her friend, Dennis—they were being…malicious, and I was—frustrated, and I wanted to scare them, just to wipe those stupid bloody smiles off their faces—I wished for them to disappear, Hermione, and I was staring up at the cave as I did it, and they—they went there. It was the first time I had any sort of tangible proof that I might be capable of extraordinary things, the first time I realized that I was, in fact, better—and they were terrified. It was perfect."

She squirms in his lap until the blanket that's covering them falls to the floor.

"There was a girl—Emma, was her name—who used to make fun of my teeth," she says, turning around so that she's straddling his thighs. "When I was seven, she took the last available swing at the park, and I was—I was seven, I didn't know any better, but I—I made her fall. She broke her arm in three places. No one would believe it was my fault, either, no matter how many times I insisted. I cried about it for days. My parents…I think they thought I was having hallucinations."

His muscles jerk, just for a moment, and she knows that he has recognized the implication of her story; she is a muggle-born, a mudblood, an abomination

He catches her gaze.

And then he lurches forward, kisses her fiercely, tastes like cinnamon toast and espresso liqueur, and she feels him harden beneath her, the tented placket of his trousers grinding against the steadily dampening front of her knickers—

"Tell me, Hermione," he pants into her mouth, breath swirling and misting and moist, "has that Voldemort fellow been stopped yet? In your time? I can't imagine that you're very safe with him still hanging around."

The clock announces the hour with a flourish—ringing and rhythmic and dull.

Twelve chimes pass.

She counts them all.

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(interim)

She returned to Hogwarts in mid-January.

Draco Malfoy was on the train with her, two inches taller and twice as pale. His scowl upon seeing her in one of the only remaining compartments was ferocious.

"Surprised you didn't stay at school for the holiday," he spat. "You're Dumbledore's pet now, aren't you? How ever did he keep you fed and watered from so far away?"

She rolled her eyes, rummaging through her satchel for Tom's diary.

"It's called magic, Malfoy—perhaps you've heard of it?" she retorted.

His glare intensified, but he stomped off without bothering to reply.

When she got to the castle, she immediately went to see Dumbledore; she told him about the cave, told him that she was positive that Tom Riddle would have hidden a horcrux there. He listened patiently, presented her with a lemon drop and a satisfied pat on the shoulder before sending her off to the Great Hall for supper.

She was twenty minutes late.

Ron didn't notice, not really.

But Harry certainly did.

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