Author's Note: This story was inspired by a graphic done by Clytaemnestras on tumblr. FFnet seems to like to destroy links so I will just tell you to go to her tumblr (of the same name) and look in the graphics section. She did a lovely graphic of TMR as an artist and Hermione as his muse that I saw one day while browsing the Tomione tag over there, and it really stuck with me. I had two ideas for where this prompt could go, and I may end up writing the other one as well anyway. This is a big change from my typical story format — at least, it seems that way, to me. Please review and tell me what you think. BUT more importantly, go to Clytaemnestras' tumblr and tell her how amazing she is for letting me use her idea, and how lovely her graphics are! I love perusing her tumblr to look at them :)
Also, as always, so much love and thanks to wingedmercury for beta-ing my crappy stories!
(Oh, and thanks to Nerys, who came up with the charming nickname for Lucius that I use in this story.)
Disclaimer: the HP universe does not belong to me; I am just borrowing.
She had answered the ad because she'd needed the cash. The artist was offering enough money for her to purchase this term's textbooks and more, all for her to sit around for a few days looking gloriously normal. This artist did not want beauty, symmetry, or perfection in his model's features: he wanted 'real.' And real was certainly something Hermione could be.
Still, as she dressed on that rainy August morning, she had a niggling feeling that wouldn't go away in the back of her mind: was this wrong, in some way? Was it immoral to take off one's clothes in front of a man for money? She told herself it had nothing to do with sex: he needed a subject for a painting; he did not need an object of desire. Hermione stood, naked, in front of her mirror, the grey morning light illuminating the worst of her body. She had never had any confidence — if anyone who knew her found out that she was doing this, they'd not believe her.
She'd seen the ad three weeks ago, after trawling the Daily Prophet in search of opportunities for quick cash that were honest and respectable. She had a job at a bookstore, but it only covered rent and food, and the last bit was being siphoned off to pay for her imminent student loans. Funds were low, and she needed to buy books soon.
The number had first caught her eye; it had been a considerable sum. Then she'd read the description and dismissed it immediately. She was hard-up for money, yes, but that didn't mean she needed to shed her clothes. With a scoff, she'd tossed the paper in the rubbish bin, dismissing the idea, she had thought, for good.
But as the fall term had approached she had come to realize that this would be her most costly term yet, at least for books. That and the tuition had spiked recently. She despised asking her parents for money, and so her thoughts had returned, reluctantly, to the paper still in the rubbish bin.
After getting her last bank statement, Hermione had swallowed her pride, fished the paper out of the bin, and called the number, telling herself he'd probably already found a model anyway. After all, he wanted someone who looked normal — that part had been crystal clear. He — er, at least, she somehow assumed it was a he — had specified that he did not want anyone who was in remarkable shape, particularly tall, slim, or curvy, or of attractive countenance. He just wanted a person, one you'd see on the street. And that, obviously, would not be hard. Everyone wouldn't mind coming into a considerable bit of money, all to sit there doing nothing and looking...normal.
A woman with a rich, throaty voice answered the phone in sultry tones, piquing concern in Hermione.
"This is Voldemort Studio — can I help you?"
"Er — yes — hi," she began, her face reddening though no one was there to see it. "I just...er...I saw your ad in the Prophet from a few weeks ago, and was wondering if you were still searching for a model?"
She scrunched her eyes shut, holding her breath and waiting. If they'd already found a model, it'd mean good and bad things: for one, she wouldn't have to shed her clothes. For another, she'd have to find some other way of making quick money.
Alternatively, she could drop out for the term and work full-time, but the thought of taking a break from her education — the thing that mattered most to her —was appalling and simply not going to happen.
"Oh — yes. We are still looking. Our last contender was too conventionally pretty," said the woman. "Have you modeled before?"
"No... I'm not exactly model material," Hermione replied uncomfortably, catching her reflection in her bathroom mirror across the hall. No, she was not model material at all — hadn't life taught her that more times than necessary? She told herself that she still slept alone for a reason.
"...Good. When can you come to the studio?"
The time was set for that afternoon, and Hermione nervously stood before her mirror, smoothing out her frizzy hair that was all the worse in the August rain and humidity. Oh right, she remembered. Primping was ridiculous — she was answering this ad and being chosen because she didn't have nice, shiny hair like the models in the glossy magazines.
Hermione braced herself, patted a disgruntled Crookshanks on the head, and left her flat. The oppressive humidity was smothering, and the rain was such that even with an umbrella she didn't manage to stay dry.
Voldemort Studio was a fifteen minute walk away, on Hogsmeade's High Street. It was settled in a repurposed flat above a coffee shop and boutique. By the time Hermione reached the door, she was clammy from the heat and her jeans and shoes were soaked from the rain. Normal it is, she thought wryly, shaking out her umbrella and stepping inside the little door.
There was a dark hall and a flight of stairs. To her left was a set of mailboxes. Hermione left her dripping umbrella in the corner and started up the stairs, which creaked and groaned their protest at her weight on them. Her stomach was churning. You can always back out if it seems fishy, she told herself vehemently.
A beautiful woman, voluptuous and dressed in sleek black, appeared at the top of the stairs.
"You're Hermione Granger?" She sounded impatient. "You'll do perfectly. Hurry up."
Hermione obediently hurried up the stairs, though she shot the woman a glare when her back was turned.
The studio was one large room, with floor-to-ceiling Palladian windows lining the wall facing out onto High Street. Paper screens stood in front of them for privacy. A small dais made of wood and painted black sat in the center of the room, with a mauve silk cloth draped over it. A few feet away was an easel and stool and a little table with oil paints. Off in the corner was a series of enormous canvases.
Hermione began to study them. She was not exactly an artist — in fact, she could barely manage a stick figure — so she was not qualified to judge art. In a strange and terrible way, they were the most beautiful things she had ever seen. The paintings were not beautiful in the traditional sense, and yet, Hermione found them riveting. They were depictions of bodies as they truly were, with all of their scars, pockmarks, dimples, and discolored flesh.
"He is a talented man. You'll sit for him for five days — longer if he needs it. If so, you will be recompensed for your time," explained the woman. In the light of the studio, Hermione could see her features: heavy-lidded dark eyes and full, sensuous lips, and wild black curls trailing to her waist. "I am Mr. Riddle's assistant, Bellatrix."
Hermione reached out her hand to shake it, but Bellatrix turned abruptly. "Mr. Riddle — the model is here!"
A door in the corner opened, revealing a tall man dressed all in simple black clothes. His hair was dark and wavy and his eyes were clever and swarthy. He was the loveliest man she had ever set eyes on.
"What are you doing just standing there? Get on the platform," he snapped without preface. Hermione jumped, her face flushed, and she considered supplying a sassy retort but shut her mouth. He was paying her, after all. She dropped her purse on a chair against the wall and hastily climbed on the dais, while Mr. Riddle and Bellatrix observed her. "Without your clothes," he drawled, looking disgusted with her.
"You could have said that," Hermione snapped before she could stop herself. Mr. Riddle ignored her, however, as he stalked to the easel. "Is...are we going to be watched?" She glancing at Bellatrix, who remained in the corner, watching Mr. Riddle with an expression close to rapture.
"Bellatrix, go into my office," Riddle dismissed. Bellatrix shot Hermione a venomous look, but all the same slunk to the door through which Riddle had entered. Now they were alone, and Hermione could not avoid disrobing any longer. It seemed too soon — wasn't there to be some sort of introduction? "Your clothes, girl," he ordered.
"Yes, sorry," Hermione stammered, her cheeks flushing as she toyed with the hem of her shirt. It was both a relief and a bit offensive that Riddle seemed so unbothered by the fact that she was about to take off her clothes. Feeling confused, defensive, and off-balance, Hermione lifted her shirt, thinking of nothing but of the first-edition texts she would get to order for her seminars for the first time in her life.
"You're not being paid to strip; you're being paid to be naked," said the artist tightly. He looked up from his palette, on which he was mixing colors, and narrowed his lovely eyes at her.
Hermione said nothing but shimmied out of her denims and knickers, unable to look anywhere but at the floor now. She stood on the dais, completely stark naked, her cheeks flaming and her posture stiff and tight.
"What sort of pose should I do?" she asked, hating herself for her quavering voice. She forced herself to pretend that she didn't notice she was naked, and made eye contact with Mr. Riddle. He was silhouetted by the light streaming in through the window, and it made his eyes all the darker. A shiver ran down her spine as her mouth went dry. It just figured that he'd be inhumanly beautiful.
"Doesn't matter. I'm just mixing colors now. Don't talk anymore."
Hmph. Well, he was just a tad irritating. That made her feel better. If he'd been kind, she'd probably have fallen for him, and history demonstrated that when the men she fell for saw her naked, things tended to fall apart.
Mr. Riddle was grimacing as he studied her. "You're a bit too pretty, but I suppose every exhibition needs balance," he muttered. Hermione's eyes widened.
"I-I'm not pretty," she stammered. Riddle sighed loudly as he added more white to a pink-ish mixture, looking quite put-upon.
"Don't worry, you're in no danger of becoming the next supermodel," he reassured her with a smirk. Hermione found herself grinning in spite of herself. She tensed when Riddle rose to his feet, holding his palette, as he began circling her, looking thoughtful.
Her face burned; he was standing behind her now, studying what she could only assume was her bum. No one had ever looked at her naked form this openly — not even her! She was struck with the ridiculous urge to demand what he thought of her body, or perhaps order him to stop looking. But he'd already told her to keep quiet, and if he was bothering to paint her, it was clear he found her to be as normal as he wished.
Tom circled round the girl — he hadn't yet bothered to learn her name — studying and searching for all of the main colors he would need. Her skin was pale, with sparse freckles. She had a slim waist but wide hips, and narrow shoulders with frizzy hair hanging about them. Her body was perfectly average, even a bit chubby on the bottom, but the problem was her face.
She wasn't conventionally pretty, but she was compelling. She had brown eyes that glimmered with intelligence and wit, and an appealingly wide mouth and round cheeks. In an unexpected way, she was lovely.
I'll just have to paint her body and not include the face, he thought as he narrowed his eyes in concentration. The colors on her body were nice, too. That was another issue. The flush on her cheeks, neck, and collarbone was a soft pink that almost matched the pink in her nipples. Her breasts were average-sized but full and pert, same with her bum.
It was too late to send her away; she was already naked, and those eyes...he longed to paint those eyes. Without being conscious of it, he sat back at his easel and began trying to mix the right brown for the eyes. No...it wouldn't be one brown.
"Look at me," he ordered sharply, and looking indignant at being ordered, the girl finally looked at him. Her eyes were dark but, in the path of the meager light from outside, they were luminous, with glimmers of honey and flecks of gold.
He had to paint them now. "Sit down on the dais. Doesn't matter how. Make sure you are looking at me," he ordered in clipped tones as he adjusted his easel, the better to see her. She'd never belong in the exhibition he was currently working on, but he'd certainly have more invitations in the future. And perhaps he'd done enough paintings for that exhibit, anyway. He wasn't the premier artist of Hogsmeade for nothing.
The girl had settled into an awkward, seated position, with one arm propping her up and her legs curled behind her. This was good — it showcased the subtle curve of her waist — but he would have preferred to see her in some sort of reclining position...
He could do two paintings, of course. Then he'd get to further explore the fascinating curves of her body and the enticing shades of brown and gold in her eyes. Already his hands were sweeping across the canvas with a stick of charcoal, outlining the overall shape of her figure. He did swooping, curving lines for her hips and legs and wild curlicues for her bushy, curly hair.
"I thought you were painting," she said, having cleared her throat. Tom shot her a glare around his easel.
"You start with a charcoal drawing, then do an underpainting in burnt umber, then paint. No more questions."
The drawing did not take long, but Tom anticipated that the painting would take longer. The lines of her body were simple, but those colors... Already he was beginning to think he'd mixed the wrong shade of pink. It was just slightly off...
About an hour passed, and Tom had finished the underpainting as well. He rose from his stool. "Bellatrix will pay you for your time at the end of the painting. You may go now. I will see you back here tomorrow at nine in the morning." He paused, turning back to her. "Do not be late."
It had been a strange afternoon, and Hermione returned to her flat feeling off-kilter. She went out with Harry and Ron and listened to them blather on about the latest football game, but she was quite preoccupied, and did not say much.
When she got home, she found herself looking up Voldemort Studio on Accio. Apparently, he had been voted the best rising artist of the year by the Prophet and his paintings were auctioned to various collectors for exorbitant amounts of money. He was listed as being worth quite a bit himself, and had become internationally renowned.
It wasn't for nothing, either. His paintings never depicted pretty things and yet, just as the ones she had seen in the studio, they were fascinating. He had a certain touch of brutality to his art that made her shiver, though art had never aroused so much emotion in her before. He painted people, buildings, and nature, and had some abstract work. All of it was riveting.
However, he certainly had a fair number of rumors circulating about him. One blogger had mentioned that she'd heard from an anonymous source that he'd spent a few years in an asylum. Another insisted that he'd been in prison in Albania, though for what, no one knew. He was immersed in a cloud of infamy that made his art that much more compelling.
His beauty was another aspect of his fame. One couldn't be so beautiful and not gain some amount of attention, after all. Hermione stared at the black-and-white photographs from a recent exhibit, unable to tear her eyes from his smooth, pale lips and sharp, angular cheekbones.
Before she went to bed, she stood before her mirror, naked, recalling his words and trying to see what Riddle had seen. You're a bit too pretty. It wasn't meant to be a compliment, and she shouldn't have been so pleased by it.
The thing was, she was a young girl, and she'd never been told she was pretty. She hadn't realized how much she'd wanted to hear it.
Hermione was always punctual, and so, she turned up at Voldemort Studio precisely on time. Before she'd gone inside, she had found herself digging around her purse for the unused lip gloss she'd gotten from Ginny, and slicking it on her lips. It was a plain color, and it was stupid for her to feel such sudden vanity, and yet, she did it anyway.
She went inside and was overcome with a feeling of frivolity that she didn't like to have. She rubbed the gloss hastily off her lips at the last moment with a Kleenex and hurried up the stairs.
Today, Riddle ignored her mostly. He did not respond at all when she greeted him and instead sourly jabbed at the dais: an order for her to hurry up and undress.
"You could stand to be a little kinder," she said stiffly, not making any move to undress. Riddle did not look up from his canvas.
"You are getting paid an admirable sum to sit around and twiddle your thumbs. You could stand to be a little more grateful," he snapped back at her, mostly occupied with mixing colors. Feeling huffy and indignant, Hermione stood rooted to the spot, considering just walking out. The hell with this prima donna artist. She was going out on a limb here, and she didn't need to deal with his issues.
"Well, I don't need your money, or your attitude." She felt flushed and angry and she found herself storming out and onto the humid street, the door banging behind her. She'd just have to buck up and call her parents and ask for money...
The guilt sank in again, like stones in her pockets, and she found herself standing stock-still on the street as people pushed past her and wove around her. She couldn't decide what was worse: bugging parents for money at her age, or getting paid to put up with some nut-job's attitude for money at her age. She had thought that at twenty-five, things would be different than this. She had thought she'd be closer to finishing school and closer to meeting the love of her life... She hadn't thought things would be like this.
"There you are," came an increasingly familiar baritone. Hermione glanced behind her to see Tom Riddle approaching her, turning heads on the street from both men and women. He didn't look like he belonged on the street; it seemed too plebeian and common for him. It wasn't just his beauty — out here in the world she could objectively identify that she had probably seen men just as handsome as him before. It was in the way he carried himself: so regal and with such compelling command. That air of cleverness and disdain turned his handsome features into something else, and Hermione wondered if other people saw that too, or if they just saw another astonishingly handsome man.
"You came after me?" She couldn't help but feel surprised as Tom came to stand before her, towering over her. He looked quite grouchy, and up close she realized there was a smudge of pale pink paint on his cheek. "Come to apologize?"
Tom looked completely mystified.
"No," he said slowly, looking at her as though she had lost her mind. "I was hoping you had calmed down enough so you'd come back and I could continue painting. Why on earth would I apologize?"
She couldn't decide whether to hit him or laugh at his confusion, so she compromised and hit his arm with her purse as her lips twisted into a grin.
"Right — the infamous artist Tom Riddle doesn't need to apologize to anyone," she said sarcastically.
"Glad you're finally catching on."
What shocked her was that he was clearly not kidding.
"I — I — oh, go away. I don't want to pose for you. It's degrading and embarrassing. I'm sorry for wasting your time," Hermione snarled, jumping as a rather angry old man prodded her with his umbrella. She then realized that they were still in the middle of the sidewalk and street traffic was parting around them.
"Degrading and embarrassing? It's art." He paused, regarding her. "Fine. Don't pose. No money for you, though, as you've left me with a wasted canvas and wasted paints." He turned on his heel and stormed back up the street to Voldemort Studio. Hermione felt faint. Had that really just happened?
"Get out of the bloody way!" complained a mother, very pregnant and pushing a double pram. Hermione rounded on her, prepared to snap at her, but faltered at the last second.
"Sorry," she muttered, and stepped aside. Clearly she was losing her mind. Posing for deranged men; having batty rows on the street; and now yelling at pregnant women? I need a holiday, Hermione thought unhappily as she wove her way back to her flat.
When she returned to her flat, Ginny was waiting for her.
"Oh my god," she greeted emphatically, tossing aside several shopping bags and leaping to Hermione to throttle her in a very tight hug. "I have had the worst day," she began immediately, relinquishing Hermione and snatching her purse to fish out her keys. Without a pause, Ginny let herself into Hermione's flat as she chattered on. "Harry and I had a horrible row and I think we've broken up. That idiot's so bloody hush-hush about his own life. I'm practically dating a stranger! He never tells me anything and then gets all upset if I don't know about something, like I'm supposed to be like him and be all James-Bond about his life and spy on him or something to figure it out!"
Ginny tossed her shopping bags onto Hermione's threadbare sofa, nearly squashing a very displeased Crookshanks in the process, and began fixing herself a kettle of tea. "And when we have sex, he's always worried he's hurting me, and I've told him I've dated bigger, and then he gets all huffy about it —"
"Ginny, I posed nude for an artist but he isn't paying me because he insulted me and I got upset and walked out," Hermione blurted as she sat down at her kitchen table. Ginny froze and burned her hand on the whistling kettle.
"WHAT!?" she shrieked. She ran her hand under cold water as Hermione considered playing it off as having said something else. "I'm sorry, I just think I heard my best friend of fifteen years — the geeky bookworm who never shuts the hell up about women's rights and Our Bodies Our Selves — say she posed naked for some bloke for money!" Ginny stared in complete shock at Hermione.
"I needed money, and I saw the ad in the Prophet, and he's quite a famous artist," Hermione explained, massaging her temples.
"Hermione, if you needed money that badly, why didn't you just ask me?" Ginny's voice had gone uncharacteristically soft, and she placed her hand on Hermione's shoulder.
"I don't like owing people money."
"Well, I don't either, and you know I know how that feels. Hermione, how many times did you lend me money you didn't even have when I was just starting modeling? I owe you so much! It would make me happy to give you money!"
"You're very sweet, Ginny, but you know I can't." Hermione sighed. "He's the artist Tom Riddle, and founder of Voldemort Studios."
Ginny's face lit up.
"Oh, I met him at some do for charity last month! He's a premier artist — wait, he was going to paint you?" Now Ginny looked thunderous, and, remarkably, quite a lot like her mother. "Hermione Jean Granger —"
"— Don't use my full name like that! —"
" — You march right back there and apologize! Herm, it's not just the money — this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Tom Riddle is really famous! And he's so talented." Ginny paused, a far-off look on her face. "And so dreamy."
"Oh, so now that you know he's famous, it's not something to be embarrassed about?"
Ginny glowered at her.
"Herm, when you first told me, I was picturing some skeevy bloke in his parents' basement paying to leer at your tits! This has nothing to do with that, though. Tom Riddle is a venerated artist; it would be an enormous privilege! Most people pay him to paint them!"
Hermione was feeling rather foolish now. Ginny sighed at the murderous look on her face and, shaking her head, turned back to prepare her a mug of tea. "Oh well." She paused and turned back to Hermione briefly. "Did he really see you naked?"
"Yes. And he said I was too pretty, or something," Hermione said, avoiding Ginny's shrewd eyes.
"Ah. I see. This all comes back to your rubbish self esteem," Ginny sighed loudly as she sat down at the table. "Hermione, when are you going to listen when people compliment you on things beside your brain?"
"Well, I'm not pretty. That's okay, because women don't have to be pretty —"
"Hermione, you are gorgeous, and you know I'm brutally honest, so just shut up and accept the bloody compliment!"
Hermione fidgeted. "Remember how I spent ten years worrying Harry wouldn't like me? Well, it was because he was best friends with you, and I felt like — even though I'm clearly fabulous — I just couldn't compete! I mean it, Hermione!"
Hermione met Ginny's eyes now, and felt oddly teary.
"I didn't know that. You shouldn't have felt that way; Harry has only ever had eyes for you."
"And Cho. And I have the sneaking suspicion that given half the chance, he'd bang Fleur's little sister. But that's neither here nor there, because given half the chance, I'd probably bang Gabrielle too," said Ginny matter-of-factly.
Hermione choked on her tea. "Anyway, maybe the whole reason you felt insulted was because you couldn't believe that a handsome bloke might actually find you to be as gorgeous as you actually are!"
"Or maybe I felt insulted because he insulted me."
"Well, what did he say?" Ginny asked patiently.
"He told me to be grateful because I was getting paid to do nothing! And he barely even acknowledged me! It's pretty bloody hard to stand on a little platform and take off all your clothes in broad daylight!"
Ginny nodded sympathetically; Hermione got the feeling that Ginny, who stood around essentially naked in various 'fashionable' contraptions for a living and enjoyed it, was probably humoring her. "Oh well," sighed Hermione. "I'm just going to swallow my pride and ask my parents for money for books."
"You're not using the other paintings?" asked Lucius in a rather pinched voice. The wealthy entrepreneur was always (correctly) terrified of offending him,but Lucius was also quite accustomed to getting his own way. "But the Reality exhibit is fascinating! Women's magazines from all over the world are coming to write pieces on the shifting ideals of beauty and how the beauty of real bodies is being upheld —"
"I don't paint ugly people because they're beautiful," snapped Tom, wishing dearly that he could simply hit Lucius. Unfortunately, that would warrant him an arrest for assault and battery, though surely the authorities would sympathize...
"Why are you trashing that exhibit, then? You're nearly done!" Lucius was clearly aghast.
"I have a new subject, and these paintings are much better. And the sooner you leave, the sooner I can finish it."
Bellatrix showed Lucius out, leaving Tom blessedly alone in his studio. For a rare five minutes, it was sunny in Hogsmeade, and the yellow glow of the late summer sun warmed the studio, casting over his half-finished canvas.
Golden-brown eyes stared back at him, the brows furrowed, the soft, full lips twisted into a grimace of disgust, the brown curls crowding the cheeks. His hand hovered an inch away from the canvas. He could touch her. Almost.
He had a strange moment — later he'd wonder if he could have possibly been possessed — where he pressed his bare hand against the canvas, and smudged the still-wet paint. That was the good — and bad — thing about oils; they took forever to dry. He pulled his hand away and the colors ran together in streaks of pink, gold, brown, and black. But, the eyes were the first thing he'd painted — he'd not been able to resist starting with the best part — and were dry, so they remained static in a chaos of blurred colors and shifted contours.
It was beautiful. Those eyes did not belong to some little swot from London — they belonged to a dancer, a lover, a mysterious woman from the far East with veils and jewels. They belonged to a witch. And yet there they were, those clever, enticing eyes, set into an innocent face. That girl had been a study in contradictions — one minute, she was shy and insecure; the next, she was belligerent and stubborn. Hard eyes and soft lips. A strange, underlying belief in herself shone through a veneer of insecurity.
Against the wall, obscuring the old canvases of ugly bodies, lay a dozen finished pieces, all ready for the upcoming exhibit. They had progressed over the past few days, and though Tom's hands and eyes ached with exhaustion, he was pleased.
The first painting, he'd had the charcoal drawing and underpainting to go on, and so he'd merely had to improvise on the colors. The girl was in that self-conscious seated position, her posture tense with self-awareness of being naked in front of a man — perhaps for the first time, even.
The next one, he'd focused on how she'd looked, facing away from him, looking back over her shoulder at him. It had been an ink drawing — his favorite medium, though his least popular — with jagged, overlapping confused lines. The secret was that it had been a single line — he'd not lifted his pen from the page until the contour drawing had been completed. However, it had had a pulpy, first-year-art-student feel, and it had not captured her.
Frustrated with himself, he'd done the composition again, this time in oil. He had blurred it, so that it looked like a photograph taken with a long exposure, or a shot of a portion of a film in slow-motion. Her brown hair was tinged golden, like her eyes, in the sun and she looked quite surprised, her lips parted.
But it still didn't look like her. The girl in these pieces had all the same features, and yet, it wasn't that girl. It wasn't that witch.
Tom Riddle never gave up — he found himself trying again. He discarded that over-the-shoulder pose, deeming it too cliché. She wasn't a conventionally pretty girl; she deserved different treatment. The painting and drawing looked too much like some sappy sodden young man obsessed with his first girlfriend, and that was not the case here. Tom had never been obsessed with a girl; he didn't obsess over people, because the truth was that he didn't like them very much. He never felt similar or connected to people and far preferred to be alone. People were irritating; people were stupid.
The girl in the painting was a person, but the girl who had posed for him was...not. She was something more — something worth looking at — though he still did not know why.
She would not leave his mind, but it was not out of love or something similarly absurd. It was rare to find a person who was not outwardly beautiful and yet still just as captivating. Why was she so compelling to him? What was it? He knew it was in the eyes, but how?
He could not capture it.
Five days had passed, and in that time he'd produced a number of paintings and drawings, yet none of them came close.
None except for this one, the one before him now. With the streaks through it, it was savage and ruined, and yet, those eyes at the center were the perfect center of a perfect storm. In those eyes he had said everything about this girl.
"Sorry about 'Lucy'," sneered Bellatrix, her stilettos clacking against the wooden floor as she walked from the stairwell. Tom did not respond; he sat before his painting, regarding it.
"It's finished," he said, finally looking at her. Bellatrix shrieked her delight and tottered over to him.
"Oh, Tom, it's so gorgeous. It's your most breathtaking one yet." She paused, looking at him rapturously. "...Whose eyes are those?" she asked slyly. Tom realized that Bellatrix's eyes were brown as well. She probably imagined it was of her.
"Not yours. A girl's eyes."
"Oh." Her voice had gone flat. Bellatrix sulkily stalked over to the telephone. "I suppose I'll call the venue and let them know you've got a new exhibit."
He stared at the eyes as he listened to Bellatrix sweet-talk the curator of the Hogsmeade Gallery. "Oh, Tom," she said, coming into the studio with her hand over the green phone, "What's the new name of your exhibit?"
Tom paused. He stared at the eyes. What could he call it? No single word seemed to explain this girl, with the dark eyes and the wild hair and the cleverness she seemed to radiate. This girl...
"Witch," he said simply. Bellatrix arched her plucked brows at him, waiting for him to change his mind, before accepting the name.
"He'll call it 'Witch,' now," she said into the receiver as she returned to the office.
It was late October. It had been months since Hermione had met Tom Riddle, the artist. Her parents had lent her the money for books, and now Hermione was working on paying them back. Ginny had also gone on a quest to increase Hermione's self-esteem, but it was with minimal results. So Hermione had gone on a few dates and gotten a new haircut, but at the end of the day, she was still Hermione Granger, Swot and Spoilsport Extraordinaire.
Then something funny happened.
She was walking with Harry, Ron, and Ginny to the pub down the street one crisp night, her scarf wrapped tight round her neck, listening to Ginny make sport of Ron's recent 'dry spell' with girls, when Harry had suddenly let out a shout of surprise.
"Hermione, that's you!"
The group stopped and looked to the billboard where Harry was pointing. On the billboard was a set of dark eyes, paint smudged round them, and in simple print below, the word: "WITCH." Beneath that, it was a date set for early November, and beneath that, in smaller print, 'Hogsmeade Gallery.'
"Those are a pair of brown eyes, dear," said Ginny patronizingly, patting Harry's arm. Ron sniggered, but Hermione felt an odd tightening. There was something familiar about them... Harry shook his head.
"It's totally Hermione. Look! Those aren't just any brown eyes. They're Hermione's eyes," he insisted. Ginny rolled her eyes, sang something about Harry needing a drink, and ushered her boyfriend into the pub. Ron followed, studying the billboard, and as a consequence slammed into the doorframe, earning shrieks of laughter from Ginny, who was already inside.
For a moment, Hermione stared at the billboard, the hairs on the back of her neck prickling. She shook her head and followed her friends inside.
But she hadn't forgotten about it; it lingered at the back of her mind during work and her classes. One day, on her way to a seminar, she was passing by the Hogsmeade Gallery, and on a whim she went inside.
The Hogsmeade Gallery had been renovated recently, and had made the transformation from a crumbling, old, traditional building that Hermione had quite liked to a sleek steel affair with a gleaming vestibule and glossy surfaces. She didn't like this one. It seemed cold, impersonal, and too modern for Hogsmeade.
"Can I help you?" demanded a snotty receptionist.
"I just want information about the Witch exhibit," Hermione replied defensively. The receptionist looked at her curiously for a moment, looking like she'd had a case of deja vu.
"Right. I'll get the handout for you," she said vaguely, seeming dazed. She reached a small podium and handed Hermione a glossy pamphlet with a rather jumbled, messy, and yet still lovely line drawing on the cover in black-and-white. The receptionist studied the cover and then her suspiciously, before Hermione took the pamphlet from her.
"Thanks," said Hermione uncomfortably. She left without another word, feeling like she'd missed a step on her way up the stairs. Outside, she stood at the top of the stone steps and stared at the pamphlet.
The drawing was of a girl, looking back over her shoulder, with bushy, wild hair and wide dark eyes filled in with ink. She tried to determine where one line ended and another began, but it almost seemed that it was one continuous line. Her hands shook.
When she squinted, it sort of...looked like...
Hermione opened the pamphlet to see a black-and-white photograph of Tom Riddle, next to a paragraph of text about the painter's new up-and-coming exhibit at the Hogsmeade Gallery. It was set for November. Hermione rapidly scanned the text, looking for something about it. It was only mentioned that initially, the exhibition had been about the reality of the human body, but in late August, Tom Riddle had changed the exhibit.
Her heart was pounding like she'd run a marathon. Hermione fished in her coat pocket for her mobile with a shaky hand. Was it possible...? The girl on the pamphlet stared at her from a world of monochrome chaos, a continuous line of unexpected beauty. It was her, and yet, it wasn't her. She didn't look like that. ...Did she?
"This is Harry," answered Harry shortly.
"Oh! Hermione! Sorry about that," said Harry sheepishly. "I didn't look at the caller ID because I assumed you were Aunt Petunia. She won't stop calling me about this stupid party she's hosting. Needs me to help clean, apparently."
That was so like Harry, to answer the phone anyway, knowing that Aunt Petunia — a nasty woman who had, along with her husband, borderline abused Harry during his childhood — wanted something from him. Hermione rolled her eyes at his compulsion to do things for even the people he didn't like.
"Are you at the shop? Could I stop by?"
"Of course! Are you alright, Hermione?"
"I'm fine. I'll see you in a bit."
Hermione hung up and hurried a few blocks across town, to where Harry worked part-time at a sporting goods store. When she got there, Harry was in his bright-orange polo that he had to wear for the job, and was being accosted by a group of the silliest girls that Hermione had ever seen. They were probably no more than thirteen and were giggling as they asked Harry about shin guards. From the looks of it, the store had apparently sold out of the pink ones.
"No pink shin guards? A travesty indeed," greeted Hermione dryly, after Harry had finally freed himself from the girls' clutches. They left the store giggling, shoving at each other, and looking back compulsively at Harry.
"They come in here all the time. Last week it was for pink golf balls," Harry groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. Hermione grinned. Harry still had no idea that girls found him irresistible — he still seemed to think that he was eleven years old: awkward, short, and skinny, with taped round glasses and ill-fitting clothes.
Well, actually, surveying Harry, some of that was still true. He still had the worst glasses, they still were broken, and he was still very awkward. She smiled wistfully until she remembered the reason she'd come by, and she retrieved the pamphlet from her purse and shoved it at Harry.
"Hey, it's you!" he said immediately. "Who did this — wait a minute..." Harry fell silent as he read the pamphlet, and then his jaw went slack. Over the past couple of months, Ginny, who had never been capable of keeping a secret, had informed Harry about Hermione's little episode at Voldemort Studio.
Harry looked up. "Hermione, this is getting a bit weird," he said plainly. Hermione nodded. "There is no way this isn't you."
"But it's an idealized version of me," Hermione argued, "So I think maybe it isn't me..."
Harry looked dubious.
"No, that's the thing: it looks exactly like you. He got that suspicious look you have sometimes down perfectly." He frowned, bringing the drawing closer to his face to inspect it better. "Is that all one line?"
"I think it is. It's good, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but a bit creepy, too. Those eyes were totally yours, too. It's the same exhibit, right?"
Hermione and Harry looked at each other uncomfortably as they both realized: the girl was her. A thrill of shock electrified Hermione. He had painted and drawn her anyway.
"I — I don't know what to do. This has never happened to me before," sputtered Hermione. Harry snorted.
"Right, well, I don't think it's happened to too many people before, ever." Suddenly, Harry looked stern. "If he starts stalking you, though..."
"He won't, Harry. The man hated me," said Hermione pragmatically. There was no way Tom Riddle had been interested in her — if anything were to explain the paintings, it was just that she was a girl he'd met and wanted to paint. Probably the exhibit was all about various girls he'd found fun to paint for one reason or another. "There are probably dozens of other girls in paintings in the exhibit, and they just happened to choose the two of me for the billboard and cover."
She told herself this repeatedly, and yet... She left Quality Sporting Supplies feeling dazed. It wasn't a feeling she had too often, to be honest, and she didn't quite like it.
As the days passed, an idea began to take shape in her mind: she could go to the exhibit. She could go and find out why he had drawn her. It couldn't hurt, right? Maybe it wasn't even her. Maybe it was some other girl who happened to look like her. It couldn't be her...right?
The night of the exhibit, Hermione wore her nicest outfit and dressed with trembling hands. She stood before the mirror and smoothed out her blouse. She turned around and looked back at her reflection over her shoulder, mimicking the pose on the cover of the pamphlet. The resemblance was striking, even now; it took her aback yet again. Shaking her head, Hermione donned her coat and folded the pamphlet inside her purse, carrying it like a talisman. She hadn't told anyone else she would be going — this, she needed to do alone.
The Hogsmeade Gallery glimmered in the late Autumn evening, strung up with lights, radiating bewitching music. Hermione approached the building and stood outside the door, mustering her courage. She wasn't timid, or fearful, but her heart was beating a steady tattoo against her throat and her palms, in spite of the cold, were clammy.
Drawing in a deep breath, Hermione grasped the steel handle of the glass door, and pulled.
This opening had different energy than the ones he'd had in the past. Entrepreneurs and socialites hurled themselves at him, clutching mod, artistically-shaped flutes of Veuve Clicquot and gushing about his work, like always, but there were many people who had come out of curiosity. Around him, he watched them stop and stare at the paintings and drawings, silent and bewitched...
The door squeaked and Tom looked and nearly dropped his own still-full flute of champagne. He wasn't often surprised by turns of events. People were predictable, and he was smart enough to see patterns in the worst of chaos. Yet she again had surprised him. The girl stood in the doorway, looking quite out of place amongst the glitterati, and yet, in a room surrounded by her likenesses, she was, in reality, more at home than anyone else here.
The music softened; Tom watched her awkwardly pay the cover fee, clumsily accept a flute of champagne, and hover by the first painting of the exhibit.
Hermione was grateful for the iciness of the glass as she clutched her champagne. A sleek blonde directed her to what was supposed to be the first of the pieces.
She nearly dropped her glass.
It was the only painting she'd posed for at all. There she sat, on a wrinkled swath of mauve silk, her shoulders tense and self-conscious, her cheeks flushed. It was certainly realistic; he had not glossed over any of her flaws at all. There they all were, in photographic quality, for the world to see...
She should have known, and yet, she found tears stinging her eyes. She was humiliated. Throughout all of her awkward teenage years, nothing had ever compared to this. Her bit of belly fat — there it was. Her unshaven mound was there too. Her chubby thighs and too-small breasts were there too. Hermione blinked furiously.
"Perfect title for the exhibit. She's enchanting," she heard someone say. Fury burned. How dare they mock her! All of her insecurities, out in the open. They couldn't possibly mean it. In this painting, she was as enchanting as a pile of manure. Red hot hatred burned acidly in her veins.
"I love how she's sitting, too, like she's nervous. So realistic," agreed another woman. "It's so nice to see a different version of beauty."
Different version of beauty? That's just a nice way of saying I'm ugly, thought Hermione viciously. Tom Riddle was merciless. Incensed, she turned to the next painting.
It was the line drawing that had been on the cover. Now, she knew for certain it was of her. It was definitely meant to be the moment he'd called out to her, and she'd turned. Even in black and white ink, her surprise was impeccably rendered. The next was a painted version, much more realistic and yet of a much more dream-like quality. The pen-and-ink drawing had been an image of surprise and freshness; this was romantic. The girl in this piece was beckoning, and Hermione somehow forgot about the first nude painting.
She moved on. The next piece was of her standing in a shaft of grey light, sopping wet from the rain. It must have been from when she'd first gone into his studio. It had been done in watercolor, and he'd left the paint running down from her to add to the wet, dripping quality. In the next piece after that, only her shoulders were bare, and she was looking stubbornly ahead. She'd been posing nude, then, and he'd been about to tell her to sit down.
The strange thing was, as the pieces went on, they looked more and more like her. And yet, at the same time, they were increasingly lovely. By the time she reached the tenth piece, the nude painting and even the line drawing seemed crude, clumsy, and untrue.
The last painting in the exhibit was the one of her eyes. The full painting was magnificent, and took up a large portion of the last wall. It stood alone. Her eyes were outlined crisply, of nearly photographic quality, but the rest of her features swirled into a chaotic whorl of color, swelling and undulating about her eyes.
Hermione pressed a hand to her mouth in shock as she listened to the other patrons discussing the painting. She's beautiful. Bewitching. Look at the passion and intelligence in her eyes. She had never heard such things said about herself. It did not seem like reality.
It was too much. Hermione handed her untouched flute of champagne to one of the sleek blondes hovering about in designer suits, and exploded out of the gallery. Her emotions were as confused and chaotic as the colors of the last piece. This man, this Tom Riddle — she wasn't sure he even knew her name. Why had he painted her? What had happened — and how had he captured her so accurately, yet made her so lovely? She could hardly breathe.
She'd just go home, she decided. She'd go home, and occupy her mind with work on her thesis, and she'd have tea and cuddle with Crookshanks and she'd forget all about this. This was happening to another Hermione Granger in a parallel universe; it was not happening to her.
On the last stair she paused and looked back at the Gallery in a moment of clarity. And there Tom Riddle was, standing at the top of the stairs, looking down at her. The air was electric. Hermione opened her mouth to speak...
"Riddle! Come inside; the Prophet wants a photo," bellowed an inebriated blonde man with slicked back hair, wielding a cane.
"Go inside, Lucius," ordered Tom coldly. The man looked affronted but followed orders and left them alone.
Hermione stared up at him, observing him in his black suit, with his dark hair and dark eyes. She found herself climbing the stairs toward him, slowly.
"Why did you paint me?"
The question hung in the air between them.
"Why did you come?" he parried.
I had to, she thought. Perhaps that was the answer to her question as well. How odd a thing life was, that it could connect two vastly separate people in such a curious way. And, moreover, how odd that a man like Tom Riddle could so clearly see her to her very core, and could so neatly display that on a canvas with nothing more than a few daubs of paint. He seemed so disconnected from the rest of the world; he seemed to stand above everyone else; like a rogue, lone but not lonely god, disinterested and disengaged, seeing and analyzing and judging.
And there she was, anxious and obsessive and careful and studious. Not beautiful, like him. But he'd made her beautiful — how, and, more importantly, why?
Tom stared down at the girl, his eyes roving over her face. She was, in fact, all he'd looked at for the past three months, yet he'd not actually seen her since that day she'd stormed out of his studio. How strange, that they'd only known each other for two days and yet she had consumed him so.
"What's your name?"
"Hermione. Hermione Granger." He watched her run her tongue over her lips and swallow; her mouth must have gone dry. She blinked and her lashes swept down and then up again, revealing again for him those enticing eyes. In the frosty air, he could admit to himself, finally, that he'd wanted her, all this time. She didn't know it, but he'd filled sketchbooks with more sketches of her, all imagined and improvised. He wondered if his imagination were as accurate as it always seemed to be.
He was determined to find out. "I should go," she said suddenly. "I've got loads of homework to do and I've got work all of this week." She halted, looking uneasy. "...Thank you. I guess." She turned and hurried down the stairs, and he watched her go for a moment. Behind him, the exhibition was roaring on, the sound of cameras flashing, glasses clinking, and people laughing and cheering, with the backdrop of a soft, haunting melody. He was a success, as always.
But he hadn't yet gotten what he'd wanted.
In the cold night air, he went down the steps after her, and she stopped to turn and look back at him; the music grew fainter as the night seemed to swallow them whole.