The Eye of the Beholder

Darting around the corner, Hermione panted in relief, clutching her chest. She was sweating slightly, feeling disheveled. The Great Hall had been filled to the brim with Ministry officials, Prophet reporters and photographers, all who wanted to chat with any of the Golden Trio about the war and the Battle and all the things they’d accomplished these past five years since. It was claustrophobic and she was tired.

Closing her eyes, she leaned against the wall, letting the cool stones soothe her heated skin. Gingerly, she bent down to rub her ankles.

“Heels were a mistake,” she said, grimacing at the pinching feeling in her feet.

Everything on her person was pricking and poking. The Annual Art Exhibition was a benefit to raise money for survivors affected by the Battle, families like Teddy and Andromeda’s who had lost everything. It functioned more like a fundraising gala than an actual art exhibition. The richest witches and wizards from all over Europe were in attendance, eager to purchase new art pieces.

And yet, they still insist on talking to me. Probably wouldn’t be as interested if they saw my one bedroom flat,” she thought to herself. Shaking her head, she pushed herself off the wall.

She wandered into the Entrance Hall, where makeshift partitions were placed throughout to showcase the artwork. Harry, Ron, and she had not attended many events like these, that honored Victory Day and the Battle of Hogwarts. Harry didn’t want them to center themselves in narratives about the war if it could be helped. She largely agreed, uncomfortable with even the attention she got from passersby at the Ministry when she was walking to and from other departments. The last public event she had attended like this one had been before the reopening of Hogwarts – the dedication of the Fred Weasley Memorial Quidditch Pitch.

Wandering through the partitions she looked upon the different pieces in wonder. Wizarding art had always fascinated her with the way it captured people’s actual likeness and mannerisms, moving and talking as they would in reality. What she hadn’t realized, having only really been exposed to the magical portraits at Hogwarts, is that all art moved. In this exhibition alone, playful deer ran across a landscape portrait of a grassy field, pages of a book turned leisurely as an imaginary breeze blew from the open window of a still life painting.

These weren’t really why she wanted to look through the exhibition alone. Now unencumbered with a crowd of eyes watching her as it was unveiled, she wanted to get a better look at the portrait of her, Ron, and Harry that had been painted for this event.

When Dean Thomas had returned from his studies abroad, he approached them with the idea of creating a portrait of them. Initially, they said no. Plenty of artists and sculptors had approached them, wanting to immortalize their likeness in one way or another.

“Maybe try doing a portrait of Luna or Neville,” Hermione had said encouragingly during their initial meeting. “We just really don’t want to glorify what we did. We were kids. There were a lot of wizards and witches that fought just as hard.”

Dean didn’t miss a beat. “That’s the thing. I know you guys. You should hear the mad things they say about you lot in Paris. You’d think you were superheroes.” Ron’s brow furrowed in confusion at the comparison. “I want to show people how you really are. I think it’s important that they see you aren’t Superman and Superwoman.”

They had agreed under the condition that the painting not be sold with the rest of the exhibition, but rather donated to the school. Dean couldn’t have agreed more. Once the terms were settled, Hermione was actually quite excited for it to be hung somewhere in the halls in which she had grown up. The thought that she would forever be encouraging students to not be late to class and giving them reminders about exams made her almost as happy as becoming prefect had.

Sitting for a wizarding painting was different than sitting for normal portraits, Hermione learned (not that she had ever done either). It was about capturing the essence of who they were so that the portrait would accurately reflect them. Dean accomplished this by chatting with them as he worked, telling them funny stories sometimes and at other times asking them deeply personal questions, catching them off guard. He wasn’t expecting an answer in any of it, his goal was to capture their emotions. Which was why, Hermione convinced herself, his eyes seemed to linger on her in these moments most of all. This, of course, did not explain the fluttering in her chest this caused.

Their portrait was furthest down the Entrance Hall, away from the commotion of the Great Hall. It was strange, even now, as she walked up to see the three of them staring back at her.

“Hello, Hermione! Look, Hermione, it’s you!” Portrait Ron exclaimed, his blue eyes looking between them both excitedly.

Hermione smiled politely as Portrait Hermione rolled her eyes and looked back at the book she was holding – Hogwarts: a History, her favorite, just like she had told Dean. Standing this close, she could see the individual freckles dotted along Ron’s cheeks and the wild stray strands of hair standing up from Harry’s head.

The work was breathtaking really. That it wasn’t a photograph would have almost been unbelievable to Hermione had she not sat for the portrait herself. They were depicted as their current adult selves, but were lounging in the Gryffindor Common Room in their favorite spot next to the fire, like they had when things were easier – before they began working through their grief, before they got adult jobs, and before romances faded.

Her eyes turned to the portrait version of herself, the real, and admittedly, vain reason she had wanted to view the portrait alone. There was something off about it that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. The details were right. There was the way her brown hair framed her face, curls flowing in all directions. Some of those pesky curls hung in front of her eyes. Frustrated, trying to focus on her reading, Portrait Hermione blew them out of her face, just like she would in real life. There was the way the painted light from the fire cast a soft glow on her dark skin. It was all quite pretty.

That was it, though. It was too pretty. Hermione furrowed her brows, taking a step back to get a better look. Ron and Harry looked right, life-like. Then there she was, too pretty, eyes alight with excitement at her book.

“Do you like it?”

She nearly jumped out of her skin. Dean’s deep voice reverberated off the castle walls as he chuckled.

“Goodness! You scared me. Yes, I do. It’s wonderful. Harry and Ron look so real. It could almost actually be them,” she said with a laugh as Portrait Ron swore, Portrait Harry having outmaneuvered him in the game of wizard’s chess they had commenced.

Dean raised his eyebrows, looking away from the portrait and at her. “You don’t think the portrait looks like you?”

Hermione blushed, realizing her mistake. “Erm, well it’s not that. She’s definitely me. I just think she might be a little too perfect.” She said the last part in a mumble, embarrassed by her own vanity.

Dean nodded thoughtfully, bringing his fist to his chin, looking back and forth from her to the portrait like he had many times when creating it. His dark coffee eyes studied the two carefully. “Hmm, I think you’re right about the likeness being off, but I wouldn’t say she’s too perfect,” he said finally.

She looked at him doubtfully. “Is there some fancy art term for it then?”

“No,” he said matter-of-factly. Then with a dimple that cut into his cheek as he smirked, he said, “I’d say you’re much prettier in real life.”

Hermione’s breath caught in her throat and heat crept up her neck. Memories of his lingering glances from his easel came back to her, the ones she had explained away as him trying to make sure he captured them just right.

It had been five years since the Battle of Hogwarts. Five years of time. Her parents were completely recovered. She had a job. Ron had moved on with Luna. Now looking at Dean, whose eyes searched hers with open sincerity, standing next to the portrait he painted of her with such care, she wondered if it was time to move on, too.