A/N: first attempt at modern Tomione! I should clarify, I know that Lolita has nothing to do with healthy romance, but this is more of an experiment, a pretty dark experiment, to be fair. I hope you enjoy it. Also, warnings for some dubious consent along the way and underage stuff. This story takes place in the 90s, if anyone was wondering. I've changed some details from canon, including Hermione's mom's job. There will be some tie-ins with the books here and there, but that's about it. Please give it a try!
Her mother had gotten herself a new lover. He was younger than her by a good ten years, but that was probably the appeal.
His name was Tom, or that's as much as she got from her mum. She wouldn't introduce him to her daughter until she got to know him better. Safe to say, he was in his late twenties and he managed a bookstore. Hermione's ears perked up at that. Mum's boyfriend could come in handy. She loved books so much, she'd be willing to put up with him even if he was awful.
Hermione did miss her dad sometimes. She didn't get to see him so often anymore, as he was always travelling on business and when he wasn't, he usually spent time with his new wife. He was getting on with his life.
It didn't matter, she supposed. Ever since the divorce, she had mostly focused on school. Prior to their separation, her mum and dad had decided their daughter would go to public school, since she had the marks and qualifications for it, but as a single mother, Jean Granger thought it was safer and less expensive to have Hermione attend a very good state school. Hermione wasn't bitter about the less prestigious prospects, since her main goal was getting into Cambridge at eighteen. The rest was just a distraction.
Some people might've called her a swot, and they did. But she genuinely loved learning. It was her haven, her refuge. Sitting up in her room with a good book could fill up the loneliness left behind by a shattered marriage and a slightly absent mother.
Besides, she had just turned fifteen. She didn't need her parents anymore. She was almost grown up.
"Oh, hon, could you turn that off? I see enough bodies at the hospital as it is. We're trying to have dinner."
Hermione took one final look at the TV screen. The seven o'clock news was talking about that dead woman again, the one who had been found ice-cold in her own bed with a scarf in her mouth. So far, no suspects. She turned it off and joined her mother in the kitchen.
They ate in silence for a while, Jean watching her daughter carefully, waiting for the right moment to ask her something.
"Sweetheart...how would you feel if I asked Tom for dinner, one of these days?"
Hermione shrugged. "Haven't you already gone out to dinner with him?"
"I meant here, in our home."
"Oh. Well, that'd be all right. I don't have a problem with it, if it makes you happy." It sounded a little practiced to Jean's ears, because it was. Hermione had been dreading this conversation for a while now, so she'd prepared for it by rehearsing some appropriate responses. Her feelings aside, she wasn't going to stand in the way of her mother's happiness.
"I want you to be happy as well, love," Jean said, reaching out to take her hand.
Hermione smiled a brittle smile. "I am. The house's too quiet anyway. We could use some new blood."
Her mother smiled lovingly. She adored her daughter's precocious manner. Hermione always had a clever answer for everything. She was such a brave girl.
"All right then. Next Tuesday, I'll ask him over."
Hermione arrived back from school a little breathless. She'd missed her bus and had to make the journey home on foot. The reason was that she'd stayed overtime in the Chem Lab to finish up her extracurricular project. She was going to write a paper on it too. Her professors had encouraged her to try out for a young scientist's grant. It would look wonderful on her resume and it would also give her a boost for her future academic career. She was contemplating receiving the congratulatory letter in the mail and she entirely missed that, not only was it Tuesday, but it was also seven o'clock and her mother was sitting with someone in the living room. She waltzed past them absently, dropping her schoolbag in the hallway and taking two stairs at a time.
"Hermione, sweetheart! Tom's here!"
Hermione froze on the steps. Her mother's voice sounded cross. And no wonder! She'd completely forgotten about the family date. She groaned under her breath and made the journey back downstairs. She looked a fright. Both her school blouse and her fingers were stained with ink, her stockings were torn at the knee, her skirt was crumpled and her hair was a giant, untamed mess.
"I – sorry, I lost track of time at school," she said as she turned the corner into the living room.
She stopped and took her mother's new beau in.
He was...well, he was unexpected. A tall young man with a regal profile, a pair of full lips, and a sharp jaw line. Handsome, no doubt, but not her mum's usual type. Her mother opted for kind and sturdy-looking men who were hoping to settle down. Tom seemed...aerial. His beauty was strange and cold, almost as if he were removed from earthly things. She couldn't picture this man settling down to start a family. She also couldn't picture him working in a bookshop.
"Hermione, this is Tom Riddle. Tom, this is my daughter, Hermione. She's in year ten at school. She's an excellent student."
Hermione felt a little awkward at her mother's concise description of her person. But she supposed she wouldn't know how to introduce herself any better.
Tom glanced at her with something akin to boredom, but it wasn't the rude kind of boredom of young people, but rather the disinterest of adults who don't care about children. There was something in his gaze, though. Something weighted and shrewd. She didn't know what to make of it. Was he wondering how much of a bother she would be, as Jean's daughter?
"Hi," she said, feeling stupid.
A beat, and then he leaned forward and offered his hand. "Hello, Hermione."
She frowned. Was she supposed to cross the room and shake his hand? Her mother's pointed gaze said yes. But why didn't he get up and come to her? It was only polite, after all.
Hermione sighed and marched in his direction. She'd taken off her shoes at the door and she felt downright silly walking in her stockings. But it couldn't be helped. She resented her mother for this, even though it was her fault she'd been late.
Tom gripped her hand tightly, almost as if he were trying out her endurance. Hermione didn't wince, although she had to grit her teeth. Men were such physical beasts. His palm was warm, however, and when she let go, she still felt the ghost of his fingers on her wrist.
She must've imagined that. She didn't want to like him any more than she had to. He seemed like the type who'd want her out of the way, anyway. She'd be happy to oblige.
"Hermione, dear, what happened to your knees?" her mother asked with mild concern.
"I, er, tore them when I was coming out of the Lab. Happens to the best of us. I'll just get a new pair."
She tried not to feel too embarrassed as Tom's eyes were now trained on that particular spot too. She really wished she hadn't been late.
She thought she sensed disapproval in the crease of his brow, but if he had something to object about her apparel, he'd have to stuff it, because he wasn't her dad.
"Well then, you should go change so we can sit down and eat, what do you think?" Her mother wasn't really asking.
Hermione nodded obediently. "I'll be down shortly. It was nice meeting you...Tom."
"Are we parting?" he asked, the corners of his lips lifted up in the replica of a smile. "You will see me again when you come down."
"Uh, right. My mistake," she rectified, trying not to colour. He was already making her feel stupid. She hated being made a fool. She was just trying to be nice.
"Charming daughter," Hermione heard him say perfunctorily once she was up the stairs again. She disliked him already.
The dinner was an incredibly dull affair. Hermione and her mum usually found a lot to talk about when they ate together, but with Tom at the table, the conversation was strictly adult-oriented. Hermione mostly sat in silence, trying not to sulk, because that was bad manners. She moved her peas around her plate listlessly as her mum recounted some hospital anecdotes from the previous week. Jean Granger was a professional nurse and one of the best in the staff at St Bartholomew's. Her stories would usually keep Hermione on the edge of her seat, as there was always a bit of excitement in a hospital. But with Tom there, Jean had turned into a giggling schoolgirl and was only telling him the most inane gossip about her co-workers and patients. He seemed to lap it up, however, as he was completely engrossed in what she was saying. His eyes never once looked away from her face and he kept nodding sympathetically every time he was required.
Hermione had to admit, they looked perfect. He seemed to be hanging on her every word and she was clearly besotted with him. But it was so strange. This was nothing like her sensible mum who'd always kept her guard up until she was sure she'd found the right one. "After all, I don't want a repeat of your dad," she'd often say. She supposed Tom was the right one.
This was a good thing, wasn't it?
So why did she feel a strange chill in the air? Like something was terribly wrong?
She was probably being paranoid. Her mother was glowing. When was the last time her mother had glowed? She deserved this.
Feeling guilty about her thoughts, Hermione offered to pick up the plates and make some coffee. Jean smiled gratefully at her daughter.
"I'm so lucky, aren't I? To have such a wonderful girl?"
"Oh, yes, she's perfectly well-behaved," Tom agreed heartily.
Hermione dumped the plates in the sink and cast a glance over her shoulder. Perfectly well-behaved? Who did he think he was? Mary Poppins?
Their eyes met, by accident, just as he was whispering a sweet nothing in her mother's ear. She felt a deep shiver run down her spine. For half a second, he had given her the kind of look he would probably only give her mother. But no, it had only been her imagination, playing tricks again. He was completely focused on Jean. Why on earth would he look at a gawky fifteen year-old anyway? Not that she'd ever want him to.
Hermione snapped out of it and focused on taking out the coffee service. He'd soon be gone and she could go up to her room and bury herself in her books, where everything was safe and normal.
She looked over her shoulder again, but Tom was only staring at her mum.
"We should do this again sometime," Jean suggested shyly, giving him a small peck on his way to the door.
Tom smiled a perfect smile, the kind that made her knees go weak and her cheeks flush with heat. He knew how to work her so well.
"I'd love to, Jean."
When he got out in the cool night air, he looked at his blue thumb. It was stained with ink, from where he'd shaken the girl's hand.
What a strange apparition she had been. Plain, yet entrancing; clumsy, yet proud; innocent, yet something more.
He stuck his thumb in his mouth and tasted her stain. Just when he'd lost hope of ever escaping his dreary confines...he'd found someone special.