Disclaimer: At the end, as at the beginning, Harry Potter belongs to JK Rowling.
A/N: Well, here it is, the last chapter of The Arithmancer. Never fear, though, because this is not the end of the story. Far from it. Hermione will have more adventures to come with Harry, Ron, Ginny, and, yes, even George as she continues into fifth year.
Chapter 1 of the sequel, Lady Archimedes has been posted on my profile page. Chapter 2 will go up next Saturday, and updates will continue every two weeks after that. I wish I could keep it as a weekly story, but my schedule is too busy this fall to do that.
Breakfast was a solemn affair. Everyone had seen the disaster last night, even if they didn't know the full story. Dumbledore told them, though. He told them how Cedric and Harry had fought for their lives and paid a heavy price anyway. He also said what the Ministry didn't want him to say: it was Voldemort. He was back. Dumbledore spoke of strength in unity and international cooperation and all that, but truly, Hermione was worried that the Cassandra's truth of the dark lord's return was undercutting his whole argument.
It was with a heavy heart that Hermione packed her bags to go home on the Hogwarts Express as arranged, not because she would be safe and sound in France for the next year or three, but because all her friends wouldn't be, and because she wasn't likely to be visiting Hogwarts again. However, before she left, Fred and George approached Harry after breakfast and asked to borrow the Marauder's Map, reminding her that there was one last bit of unfinished business to take care of there…
Except that it seemed Ludo Bagman was no longer on the grounds. The trio had meant to approach him after the Third Task and confront him about the money he owed them, but they couldn't find him on the Map.
"This would be a lot easier if it could point out one name," said Fred as he flipped through the pages.
"I'm working on it," Hermione said, to their surprise. "I'm not surprised he did a runner, to be honest. Wait, look there!"
"You found him?"
She pointed to the front cover of the Map, where the names of Bill Weasley and Filius Flitwick appeared, along with some goblin-looking names like Gornuk. "No, but look, the construction team is still at the Quidditch pitch. And Bill. Maybe they've seen him."
George shrugged: "It's worth a shot."
Down on the Quidditch pitch, a team of wizards and goblins were tearing down the maze and moving the parts on a sledge down to the river. Bill was there, among others, and to Hermione, it looked like he was disassembling the spells that made it fold into four dimensions in a controlled fashion. She also noticed Fleur was there, observing the work…with a particular eye towards Bill. Interesting.
"Oi, Bill! What's up?" the Twins called.
Bill turned around and waved. "Fred, George, Hermione? What are you doing here? Don't you need to make the train?"
"We have time, Bill," Hermione assured him.
"We were wondering—"
"—if you knew what happened to Bagman," the Twins said.
"Seems to have skipped town."
"We had something to settle with him last night."
"Bagman?" Bill said. "No, no one's seen him since they hauled Cedric to St. Mungo's. The goblins have been pretty mad about it, too."
"Oh, why?" Hermione asked innocently. She felt Fred and George nudge her, as if trying to warn her off, but before they could leave, a trio of goblins approached them, seeming to pop out of nowhere. They were only four feet tall, but they looked fierce and clever, and they carried long knives, and Hermione didn't fancy a confrontation with them. She saw Bill watching carefully for any trouble.
"What business do you have with Ludovic Bagman, wizards?" the lead goblin asked in an accusatory tone.
Fred and George looked even more averse to a confrontation than Hermione felt, but she answered, "Er, he owes us money, Mr…"
"You may call me Gornuk. These are my associates, Bogrod and Nagnok. How did Bagman come to be in your debt?"
George finally bucked up the courage to answer: "We placed bets with him at the Quidditch World Cup."
"Thanks to our Hermione's arithmancy skills, we won big," Fred added.
"But he never paid us," George said.
"Well, he paid us, but it was in leprechaun gold."
"And he wouldn't talk to us since."
The goblins growled faintly. "A very familiar story," Gornuk said. "Very familiar." Hermione, George, and Fred didn't quite have the nerve to ask why it was familiar, but Gornuk answered anyway: "It might interest you to know that Ludovic Bagman borrowed five hundred galleons from us to run that book of his at the Quidditch World Cup, with the promise to pay us back after he would, and I quote, 'rake in the galleons'."
Hermione groaned, and Gornuk raised an eyebrow at her. "Bagman's an idiot," she said. "I could tell just by looking that book was no good. He calculated the odds all wrong. How much did he lose?"
One of the other goblins, Bogrod, produced a small ledger: "We didn't bother asking, but when we confronted him that night, he only had one hundred eighty-six galleons, seven sickles, and eighteen knuts on him, which we confiscated at once. Due to his long-time gambling habits, he didn't have much gold in his vault, but we confiscated that, too, which amounted to thirty-one galleons, fifteen sickles."
Hermione was surprised they could just take his money like that. But then, the bets were cash and probably under the table, so maybe it made sense. "Which still left him owing you two-hundred eighty-one galleons, eleven sickles, and eleven knuts," she calculated. "Then there's the combined four hundred sixty galleons, three sickles, and twenty-seven knuts he owes us, if we hold him to it, plus however much else he lost, so he could be in the hole close to a thousand galleons."
The goblins stared in surprise.
"Hermione's arithmancy skills," George said with a grin.
"Hmm. Quite," Gornuk replied. "Then, in order to pay his debts, Bagman proceeded to bet us one hundred galleons, at ten-to-one, that Harry Potter would win the Triwizard Tournament."
"But Harry did win the Tournament," Hermione said, ignoring the obvious ethical problem of him being a judge.
Gornuk growled again: "Harry Potter drew with Cedric Diggory, witch. That's not a fair win in our book. Bagman has dug himself in deeper, and he hasn't two galleons to rub together, so you won't be getting your money anytime soon."
"Okay, we understand," George said diplomatically.
He started to pull Hermione away, but he wasn't quite fast enough. "Don't you have bankruptcy laws in the wiz—er, magical world?" she said.
The Twins were nudging her again, and Bill was frowning, but she waited to hear Gornuk's answer: "You mean to seize a debtor's assets and sell them to pay a portion of his debts? Of course. However, the bankruptcy must be ordered by a court, and the only court in magical Britain is the Wizengamot, which would never allow a goblin to file against a wizard." Then, the goblin got a greedy look in his eyes. "A wizard could, though…"
At that point, Bill stepped in. He cleared his throat and said, "That would require a solicitor, which costs money."
The trio immediately became less interested in that idea. However, the goblin who hadn't spoken yet made a suggestion: "Perhaps we can come to some kind of arrangement to cover the fee, since we are on the same side in this, after all?"
"And be on the hook for it if they lose the case?" Bill said. "Nice try, Nagnok. Sorry, guys, I don't think there's anything you can do at the moment."
"Oh, well, thanks, Bill," Fred replied.
"Yes, thank you," Hermione said. Then, to the goblins, "I'm sorry we couldn't come to an agreement, sirs. Is there any way we can contact you if our situation changes?" She doubted her parents would put up money for a solicitor, but it was good to keep her options open.
Gornuk's eyes narrowed suspiciously: "You know where to find us, witch."
Gringotts. Right. "Of course," she said. "Oh, and it might interest you to know that Ludo Bagman's time on the run will be less pleasant for him than you think."
"Really? Why should that be?"
"Well, when I saw this…" She had to be careful how she worded this to the builders. "…most impressive maze, I was reminded of some old muggle literature with similar themes. There was a certain author who took a much darker view of it. Very dark stuff. Very scary stuff. And with that in nind, before the Third Task, I had my elf, Dobby, slip a certain book into Bagman's travel bag."
Somewhere in England
Ludo Bagman sighed and he sat down in his magical tent. A year or two living out in the woods like this, raiding muggle stores for food, maybe find a muggle job, save up some muggle money, and he might be able to show his face in the magical world again. He opened up his travel bag to retrieve his essentials, and a book fell out.
That was odd, he thought. He didn't remember buying this book. It was a large, thick volume printed on muggle paper—professionally printed. The title read The Complete Works of H. P. Lovecraft. But underneath it, a subtitle had been penned in, looking for all the world as if it had been printed that way: True Eyewitness Accounts of the Paranormal.
"Huh, I didn't know muggles did paranormal," Bagman said to himself. "Oh well, at least I've got something to read out here." He laid back on the mattress and opened the book.
Fred, George, and Bill all laughed, and even the goblins gave a guttural chuckle once she got the point across. "Very clever, Hermione Granger," Gornuk said. "For a witch. Good day."
Fred and George were still chuckling as they walked back to the carriage statement.
"I'm sorry you couldn't get your money back," Hermione said. "That was your seed capital for your shop."
"Well, it's not so bad," George said. "We've made about half of what we lost back in sales over the past year, and we should be able to ramp up production next year. We'll make it work."
"Besides, that was a brilliant prank, Hermione," Fred said.
"Yes, we usually go for over-the-top, but we can appreciate one that's subtle, understated, and still powerful," George added.
"Wouldn't it be great if a book was all it took to send Bagman running back in terror?"
"Bit of a long shot, probably, but still…"
"Well, a little bit of leverage goes a long way," Hermione agreed. "Dos moi pas sto, kai…well, you know the rest."
The weather was almost annoyingly sunny and cheerful on the ride back to London. Hermione, Harry, Ron, and Ginny found a compartment on their own. Ginny leaned her head on Harry's shoulder, which Harry seemed contented with, but he was less complacent about the goings on at the castle.
"Did you see Snape wasn't there this morning?" he said.
"Yes, I noticed," Hermione said.
"You think he was up to something?" said Ron.
"The way Dumbledore was talking last night, it sounded like he was going back to Voldemort."
"Don't say his name!" Ron hissed. "Especially now he's back!"
"Honestly, Ron, it's just a name. Dumbledore was saying it all last night," Hermione snapped. "You think he's going to be a spy again, Harry."
"That's what it sounded like. In the Pensieve, Dumbledore said Snape turned spy 'at great personal risk', but he didn't say why."
"You think he's not really on our side?" Ginny asked.
"Well, Snape's a big enough git to be evil," Ron said.
"But Dumbledore trusts him, right?" Ginny retorted.
"He does, but I don't get why. Snape hates me. He hates my family. He always favours the Slytherins, and he's best mates with the Malfoys. He sure doesn't act like he's on Dumbledore's side."
"Maybe it's a cover," Hermione said. "He needs to act like a pureblood supremacist to get back in with the Death Eaters."
After Dumbledore's speech, and getting away from the school, Harry felt freer than he had before, and he was able to tell his friends all the details of what had happened last night. The fact that he knew Cedric would live also helped, despite his horrific injuries. His friends were shocked, of course, but Hermione was proud of how Cedric and Harry had got out alive with a few well-chosen spells—mostly her spells. However, she was very worried about Voldemort taking Harry's blood. She didn't know much about dark rituals, but she knew that was bad news.
"Now, I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop," Harry said when he was done.
"You mean for Voldemort to come after you?" Hermione said worriedly.
"Well, that, but also for Rita Skeeter to write about the Third Task."
Hermione grinned: "Oh, Rita Skeeter won't be writing about the Third Task. In fact, she won't be writing anything at all for a while."
"How do you know?" said Ron.
She pulled her jam jar from her pocket. "Because it'll be awfully hard for her to write from the inside of a jar."
Harry, Ron, and Ginny gaped at her. "You're kidding!" Ron burst out. "There's no way…"
"Nope. I caught her on the windowsill in the Hospital Wing last night. I put an Unbreakable Charm on the jar so she can't transform. If you look closely, you'll notice that her antennae are curled like her hair, and she has jewelled markings that resemble her glasses."
Harry's eyes widened. "I saw a beetle buzzing around Hagrid and Madame Maxime at the Yule Ball."
"Exactly," Hermione said. "Probably the same beetle George pulled out of my hair that night. And the same one that was crawling on me after the Second Task. And I wouldn't be surprised if she had a front row seat to that vision you had in Arithmancy class. I wouldn't be surprised if Malfoy even knew she was there."
"Very clever, Granger."
The compartment door had slid open, and Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle walked in, looking more arrogant than she had ever seen them.
"Speak of the devil," Hermione said.
"So you caught one reporter," Malfoy said. "Big deal. And Dumbledore's on your side, Potter? Well, good luck with anyone else."
"Get out," Harry said.
Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle leered. "You know, it's a shame what happened to Diggory," Malfoy said. "Lost his wand and his wand arm. It's hard to sink lower than that. Imagine being a proper pureblood one day and a squib the next. But that's what you get for being a Goody Two-Shoes."
"I said get out," Harry repeated. All four of them bristled and grasped for their wands.
"Just wanted to tell you you've picked the wrong side, Potter! I warned you. I told you on day one that you shouldn't hang out with riffraff and vermin like this."
"Malfoy, I'm giving you one warning," Hermione interrupted, her voice cold. "I've learnt a lot over the past year. Leave now, or I will make you regret it."
"Shut up, mudblood! You'll be the first to go. Well, second if you count Diggory—"
Malfoy had started to draw his wand, but he dropped it and instantly clapped his hands to his mouth, moaning in pain. A moment later, there was a loud bang as Crabbe and Goyle drew their wands and were cut down by hexes from all directions. The two goons were unconscious, but Malfoy was still moaning as he scrambled to pick up his wand.
"Oi, trouble here?" Fred and George poked their heads into the compartment.
"Ooh, what the hell did you do?" Malfoy said through clenched teeth.
"Only what my muggle parents do for a living. And oh, look, I didn't even need my wand arm," Hermione said cheerfully, holding her homemade wand in her left hand. Her tone turned much darker as she added, "Never mess with a child of dentists."
"Ooh! You'll pay for this, mudblood! Ooh! Ooh!" Now outnumbered and still in pain, Malfoy fled, leaving his goons behind. Fred and George immediately dragged them out of the compartment.
"Blimey, what did you do to him?" Fred asked.
"I drilled his teeth full of holes," she said. All the Weasleys grimaced and automatically covered their mouths with their hands. "It hurts a lot, but it'll be very easy to fix once he gets home."
"Wow, Hermione, I didn't know you had that in you," Ginny said.
"Child of dentists," she reminded her. "Causing people pain in the mouth is in my blood. I just thought it was time I embraced it."
"Scary as ever, eh George?" Fred said.
George just whacked him in the arm. "Mind if we had a private chat, Hermione?" he said. He was making it ambiguous whether he meant just him or both of them, but Hermione rose and followed.
As it turned out, George meant just the two of them. He led her to a compartment that was mysteriously empty. Of course, they had plenty of ways of achieving that.
"Fred's run off?" she asked.
"Probably talking to Angelina. Those two are shameless lately," he said.
"I just wanted to say, I thought all the stuff you did this past year was incredible. I mean, just that explosion at the First Task would've been enough. It's not fair that Harry got all the attention."
"I'm sure Harry would agree with you. I thought I got my share of attention, though."
"Well, you're pretty hard to miss, o Great Arithmancer," George said with a grin. "Give you a place to stand, and you will move the earth!"
Hermione giggled. "Just call me Lady Archimedes," she said. "…Or whatever the feminine form is. I'll have to look it up."
He laughed in return. "Brains and beauty…" he continued.
Hermione rolled her eyes: "George, you can skip the smooth talk."
"Um…" He looked a little lost having his train of thought derailed like that. "Okay…I guess I wanted to say that I still like you—I mean, you can enjoy a good prank and even play one once in a while, and how many girls can even claim that much?"
"There are some. Alicia can."
"Alicia's not my type. She can prank, sure, but it doesn't come naturally to her."
"It doesn't come naturally to me, either."
George laughed so hard his eyes started to water. "Yeah, pull the other one," he gasped.
Hermione was taken aback. She wasn't a natural prankster. In primary school, she had been a regular goody two-shoes, and she wasn't ashamed to admit it. She was never good at April Fool's Day, and she never pulled a decent prank until…until two months into her first year at Hogwarts, when she sent the Twins into the nightmare world above the Great Tower. And she'd never looked back.
"Okay, maybe it does come naturally to me," she admitted.
"What, you didn't know? Come on, you actually put up with Fred and me—enough to hang out with us and team up on some trouble-making. Enough to go to a dance with me. Honestly, how many other girls would really put up with me?"
It might've been a rhetorical question, but Hermione thought about it anyway. Once you removed the Slytherins, girls who wouldn't be able to take it, like Hannah Abbott, and the larger group of girls like Lavender, who just wouldn't put up with it—at least wouldn't put up with it completely unfiltered—the list started to get pretty short. "Not many, I suppose," she said. "Maybe Susan Bones in my year. I don't know as much about the other years."
George shrugged: "Maybe. I don't mean to step on anyone's toes if there's someone else at Beauxbatons you didn't mention—"
"No, there's not. I'm pretty well unattached. I get what you're going through. I do. The number of boys who, one, can hold an intelligent conversation with me, and two, don't get scared off when I cause a thermite explosion and burn my eyebrows off—"
"You burned your eyebrows off?" George gasped with glee.
"Yep. Didn't even get in trouble. Much. I'll tell you when Fred comes back. Anyway, there are surprisingly few of them. You and Fred are by far the best at keeping up with me of any boys I know. Well, except for maybe Harry and Ron, but can you imagine me with either of them?"
He laughed again. "No way. With Harry, you'd wind up in a death match with Ginny, and with Ron, you'd just wind up punching him."
"More or less." She took a deep breath. "Look, I still like you, too, George."
"Eep!" She squeaked as he snaked an arm around her waist, and she braced herself with a half on his shoulder. "Is this really necessary?" she said breathlessly.
"Hermione, you may be brilliant, but you still have a lot to learn."
"Like when was the last time you really did something impulsive."
That was an obvious invitation, and phrased as a challenge like that, she took it before she could second-guess herself. She pushed herself up on her toes and kissed him. "Like that?" she said.
"Something like." George leaned towards her, but she held him back with his hand.
"What?" he said, sounding put out.
"We can…Look, maybe that was too forward of me. It's one thing to kiss…here…on the train. It's almost like under the mistletoe. I still don't want to get involved any more than that, though."
"Because we still have the same problem as before," she snapped. "And I don't want things to get more awkward between us. If we were at the same school—if we could even stay in the same country, it would be different, but we can't."
If he were Fred, he might have been crazy enough to suggest dropping his seventh year and following her to France, but George was smart enough not to be that impulsive and, more importantly, to know that suggesting it to Hermione would probably end with his teeth being hexed full of holes like Malfoy's.
"I'm not trying to push you away, George," Hermione said. "But I don't want to lead you on, either. I like you too much to—No, that's not what I mean." She stopped and thought for a minute. What did she mean? What did she want? "Look, I'm not good at this romance thing, okay? I'm only fifteen, and I'm not ready to commit to something where we'll barely see each other for the next three years—and now, with Voldemort back, things are even more uncertain. But I do know that I don't want to start now and force this to be a summer fling. I like you enough and respect you enough that if we get together in some way, it should be…well, it shouldn't be defined by some arbitrary date on the calendar."
"Whoa, I'm sorry, Hermione. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable—"
"No, it's fine, George. The temptation's there for me, too, and that's precisely the trouble. I just think that if we're both still unattached when I graduate, we can try it, but until then, we should keep on as friends and not hold off if someone else good or even better comes along."
George took a deep breath, unsure whether to apologise again or just agree and move on. He decided on the latter. "Alright, maybe I did get carried away a bit," he admitted. "Friends for the duration, then," he said, offering his hand.
Hermione shook his hand. "For the duration," she agreed, trying to ignore the ominous tone the words held.
"Good. Now come on. You need to tell me and Fred about your dangerous experiments."
Hermione walked slowly down the platform at King's Cross, not as excited as she was in previous years. She was weary from the events of the past thirty-six hours, and sobered by the dark prospects for the days ahead.
Her parents noticed her mood at once when they spotted her. "Hermione, is there something wrong?" Emma asked. "There's no teacher here to explain things this year, so that should be a good sign, right?"
"Well, I managed to not almost die again this year, so that's a plus," she said. "The news isn't all good, though. I have a lot to tell you, but there's one thing I need to do first."
"Hermione, what is it?" he mum pressed. "Are you in danger?"
"Not right now. And not at Beauxbatons. But it's still pretty bad…You remember that evil wizard who killed Harry's parents?"
"Oh no!" her dad said.
Hermione's eyes started watering. "He kidnapped Harry and Cedric in the Third Task yesterday. They both got out alive, but it cost Cedric an arm and a leg, and no, that's not a figure of speech."
"My God!" Emma said.
"I know. And the Ministry…augh! I'll tell you about it later. There's something else I need to take care of first."
They drove down to the Leaky Cauldron, where Hermione approached Tom and requested a private room. Once inside, she removed her jam jar from her handbag and held it up to the light.
"What's that?" asked Dan.
Hermione grinned at them. "This—" She rattled the jar a little. "—is magical Britain's most infamous gossip columnist."
Emma gasped. "Hermione Jean Granger, you didn't!"
"Turn her into a beetle? No. I only caught her. She did that to herself—illegally, I might add."
"She's the one who wrote that nasty article about me in January. She screwed over some of my friends, too. I thought it was time I got her back." With that, she unscrewed the lid and shook out the jar, also drawing a homemade wand with her other hand. "Come out, Rita. It's time we had a little talk."
Immediately, the beetle grew and morphed into a dishevelled-looking witch in green robes, elaborate curled, and jewelled glasses, who glared murderously at Hermione.
Hermione was un-fazed: "Mum and Dad, Rita Skeeter. Rita, these are my parents, Daniel and Emma Granger—the dentists."
That didn't intimidate Rita Skeeter, even though it probably should have. "You can't use magic outside of school," she pointed out.
Rita's wand flew into Hermione's hand. "They can't tell who did it at the Leaky Cauldron," Hermione told her, leaving off the fact that this particular wand was also supposed to register as accidental magic and thus go unnoticed.
"Hermione, you can't just kidnap a reporter!" Dan said. He tried to grab for her wand but she held him back long enough to explain.
"I didn't kidnap her. I made a citizen's arrest."
"Citizen's arrest? Ha!" Rita said.
"Rita, here, is an animagus—she can turn into an animal. And she's not registered with the Ministry. That's illegal in itself. She also used her ability to spy on people. That will get her jail time. Remember what I said Azkaban, the wizard prison, was like?"
"Azkaban? With those horrible dementor things?" Emma asked.
"The very same. Nasty place. And you know how I feel about dementors. Massively inhumane by muggle standards—at least post-Dickens. She'd probably wind up there for at least a year if word got out that she was an animagus."
"Ha! You think you can tangle with me, girlie?" Rita said. "I'll slash up your reputation quicker than you can say 'touched in the head'."
"Hey, don't talk to our daughter like that!" Dan said, but Hermione held up a hand to stop him.
"It's fine, Dad," she said. "I anticipated you might say something like that, Rita, so I'm not going to break the story…" She drew a piece of parchment and the large, acid green quill she had found in the Room of Requirement last year from her handbag and set it on the table. "You are."
Rita laughed again. "You think you're so smart? Even with a Quick-Quotes Quill, you could never master my inimitable style."
Hermione frowned. "It writes sensational dreck. How complicated could it be?"
"You don't know a thing, do you, Miss Granger? There are a hundred different styles of 'sensational dreck'. A Quick-Quotes Quill must be calibrated to the user's style by extensive use and practice. After a while it'll automatically take notes in your personal style instead of verbatim like a Dictaquill."
"Wait, that's what a Quick-Quotes Quill is designed for…You mean all that sensationalism didn't come from the quill? It came from you."
"Well, of course, Miss Snippy. Why would you want a quill that automatically took inaccurate and sensationalised notes? That would never sell."
Hermione was suddenly feeling very boxed in, and Dan and Emma were getting worried. This woman was clearly a brilliant professional, and the last thing they needed was her going after their daughter.
"Look, I'll show you. My quill even writes in my handwriting." Rita pulled a small notepad and another acid green quill from her robes and said, "My name is Rita Skeeter, and I will crush you like a bug. There. Read it and weep."
She tossed the notepad over, and Hermione caught it. It said, Brilliant special correspondent Rita Skeeter tears down the house of secrets and lies built around muggle-born witch Hermione Granger with her characteristic sharp wit and cutting investigation…
"Ms. Skeeter, I'd like to apologise for our daughter," Emma spoke up. "She can be very headstrong, and sometimes she takes it too far—"
"Mum, wait," Hermione interrupted.
"Hermione, I'm trying to—"
"Wait, Mum, please. I know this handwriting."
"Rita, did you ever lose a Quick-Quotes Quill while you were at Hogwarts?" Rita's face fell at once, and Hermione grinned: "I found it. Ahem, quill?" Her own Quick-Quote's Quill sprang to life on the parchment. "My name is Rita Skeeter, and I am a very bad person." The quill wrote, and she took the parchment and showed it to Rita, still keeping her wand trained on her. "Read it and weep, Rita."
Dear readers, I have punctured many an inflated reputation with my sharp wit and savage quill, but the weight of my own indiscretions has grown heavy on my soul, and I must come clean.
It was the same handwriting.
"What do you want?" Rita said, shocking Dan and Emma.
"Don't publish anything for a full year, starting now."
"Hermione, that's blackmail," Dan scolded.
"Dad, if I let her go, she'll go on to commit more libel. If I send her to prison, it'll be a human rights violation. I'm hoping maybe she can learn some new habits, and it'll end up better for all involved. It's not pleasant, but I have thought about the risks. For one, it would cost her a lot more to expose me than it would cost me to expose her. For another, blackmail laws are pretty loose in the magical world—a lot like libel laws, as it happens. I checked. By the standards of the magical world, I'm not, strictly speaking, getting anything out of this deal, so I'm not even sure it counts."
"Human rights violation?" Rita muttered, unfamiliar with the term.
"That doesn't make it right," Dan said.
"Dan," Emma said softly. "Maybe we should go along with her."
"Well, we don't want this woman going off on Hermione again," she reasoned. "And we also know how horrible that prison is. I don't know if I'd go along with it normally, but soul-sucking demons are a lot worse than anything that's going on here. It's not an ideal solution, but it might be the best one for everyone."
"But that's—" He trailed off at his wife's stare. "Hermione, are you certain you can't get in trouble for this?" he tried.
She shook her head: "Worst case, a moderate fine, and that's being generous with the wording of the law. And if Rita takes my deal, we'll never have that problem."
"Well, then," Emma said, "I think, given the state the magical justice system, this is the best way to go."
"I suppose so," Dan said.
"Thank you," Hermione said. "So, what'll it be, Rita?"
Rita Skeeter was surprised and a little confused. These people—muggles, no less—were taking it as a given that sending her to Azkaban was worse than kidnapping and blackmailing her—which it was, in her opinion, but to not even question it…But if it kept her out of prison, she wasn't complaining. "Alright, Miss Granger, I don't like it, but you've got a deal. No publishing for one year."
"Thank you, Rita. I'm glad we could come to an agreement," Hermione said. "Here's your wand back. And don't try anything. You've seen what my spells can do, but I assure you you haven't seen my worst. You may go." She opened the window.
Rita nodded curtly, transformed, and flew out the window as fast as her wings could carry her.
"Good. Now that's solved," Hermione said.
"Right…" said Dan. "Now, I think you need to be telling us about what horrible things went on at Hogwarts this year."
"Alright, Dad. Better order some dinner, and you'll probably want some drinks, too. It's a long story."
A/N: Terebradent: stylised from the Latin for "drill teeth".