A/N: hey guys! So this was originally a oneshot but I have been enjoying the kind of gangster/bad guy au recently, like with Over the Hills and Far Away that I decided to expand this. I have had a lot of inspiration from various places so I definitely want to call those out, specifically the show Peaky Blinders, the podcast Crimetown, and the book the Poisoner's Handbook. For instance, in this chapter, Tom's trial details come from Crimetown and mob boss Raymond Patriarca. Also, I am not a historian, so all of my research is pretty cursory. If any of you notice any glaring errors either for the time period or the location, please drop me a note!
I really hope you enjoy the story. You can follow me on tumblr (nauticalparamour) where I post sneak peeks, story updates, and answer questions! Please let me know what you thought of chapter one and be on the lookout for chapter two soon!
New Orleans, 1921
To many, Hermione Granger was just an ordinary shop clerk, with an ordinary life. They didn't pay much mind to the girl who measured and weighed whatever it was that they were trying to buy when they came in to Ollivander's Pharmacy, a little shop nestled into a busy street. No, they were usually far too busy with their own issues to even realize that with a few grams of powder, she could kill them all if she wanted.
She never expected what her life was going to be like. She'd grown up in New Orleans, the daughter of a surgeon and her mother stayed at home with her. It had been a bit of a charmed life, until her mother killed herself in the bath. It had been a shock to Hermione, who had never seen any evidence that her mother was unhappy. Her father limped along for another year, before dipping into the habit of taking laudanum, leaving him a husk of the man he was before. He'd lasted another year after that, before he died himself, leaving Hermione a penniless orphan.
Being a teenage girl, she knew that the likely course of action was to find work in a brothel. It was quick money, but difficult work, and Hermione didn't think that she would take very well to it. She didn't want to sell her body to anyone, but she wasn't sure that there would be any other options.
That was when Mr. Ollivander had swooped in. He was a kindly old man who ran a pharmacy, and he'd bumped into her at a bookshop once, while she was perusing a book on chemicals, the same book that he apparently needed. They got to talking, and before long, he had given her a job offer and an advance to set her up in a little flat while she worked for him. He promised her that he would teach her all her knew about chemicals and the like, and Hermione had jumped at the chance. She'd always enjoyed school and learning, but after she'd turned ten, her parents had pulled her from school, leaving it up to her father to give her instruction after work. She had always enjoyed reading through his anatomy books.
As it turned out, Hermione was quite apt at chemistry, and she'd settled into working at the shop quite easily. She had a very precise method, which Mr. Ollivander was thrilled about, because it meant no wasted product, especially considering that some of the chemicals and medicines were very expensive.
Before long, Mr. Ollivander was leaving her alone to run the shop by herself, in order to give himself some breaks, seeing as he was getting older. Hermione was capable enough to fill prescriptions by herself and keep everything well stocked, she did well with the customers, and any spare time she had was spent pawing through Mr. Ollivander's books to read every bit of information she could about the different chemicals they were selling.
She could tell you just about every ingredient in Daffy's Elixir and how it worked to cure you of ailments of the stomach, and noticed that it was quite frequently prescribed with laudanum. She could describe the exact shade and consistency of tincture of opium when the drug was precisely so strong as to kill a grown man. She had studied the pictures of cherry red skin of someone who'd consumed a toxic dose of cyanide salts. And she could easily calculate the weight of arsenic needed to kill a person immediately or over a period of weeks. Hermione Granger knew about twenty methods to kill someone without detection, and all of them were right there at her fingertips in the pharmacy.
And it fascinated her.
To know that she held so much power in her hands, and no one gave her a second glance, well, it was a bit intoxicating, to know what other people didn't. They would come in, get whatever it was that they wanted, and then forget her face forever. And she, well...she would go on learning as much as she could.
That day was much too hot for any particular study, though. Her hair was piled up on top of her head, sticky tendrils glued to the back of her neck thanks to too much humidity and sweat. The tiny fan that she had behind the counter with her was providing no relief except to move the stale air around the room, and rustle the pages of her paper in a comforting rhythm.
She was engrossed in the story of Tom Riddle Jr, who had been on trial for months for the murder of his father, who was a very wealthy man. It seemed as if the whole city had been fascinated with the trial, if only because of all the players involved. Tom Riddle Sr, the victim, had been a very wealthy man in charge of a shipping industry. Tom Riddle Jr had been given to an orphanage, despite his father's wealth, on account of the fact that he was born out of wedlock. Through the years, he'd gained a lot of notoriety for being a gangster. Half of the city thought he was scum, while the other half appreciated all the things that he did for the community - well known for sponsoring children's school fees, and buying Christmas turkeys for some of the poor.
Hermione thought that was probably just a well thought out publicity stunt, though, having been an orphan herself, she wondered if perhaps he honestly cared.
The breaking news today was that the defense had presented their star witness, who seemed to have an airtight alibi for Tom Riddle Jr. She understood that the witness was a priest by the name of Slughorn, who testified that Riddle had been with him at the time of the murder, in a completely different parish, for the baptism of Riddle's godson, a baby by the name of Lucius Malfoy. Slughorn told the court that it was impossible for Riddle to have committed the murder seeing as Slughorn had been with him the whole day, and that their hostess, Mrs. Abraxas Malfoy, would be able to corroborate that fact.
Hermione had snorted when she read that. Well, Riddle couldn't have found a better witness to give his alibi, in very French, very Catholic New Orleans. She couldn't think of a jury alive that would doubt the word of a man of the cloth. She supposed that was exactly what had happened, too, seeing as Riddle was acquitted by the jury not long after Slughorn gave his testimony, and was allowed to leave the courthouse a free man.
Pity that the newspaper didn't print any photographs - from every description of him, it sounded as if Tom Riddle was a very handsome man.
Shaking her head, Hermione noticed the time, and finally put her paper away. Just because they hadn't been particularly busy that day did not mean that she would complete some of the orders that they had put in. Pulling out the big book of orders, Hermione opened up to where she left off, her fingers running down the page over Mr. Ollivander's neat handwriting until she found the next open order. It looked like Hepzibah Smith's monthly iodine tincture was needed.
Hermione turned and ran her fingers over all of the neatly labels, smiling at the brightly colored glass until she found the iodine salts that she was looking for. Placing a thin piece of paper down on the scale, she re zeroed it carefully, before opening the bottle and carefully pouring out the required quantity, filled with a sense of satisfaction when she found it nearly balanced on her first try. She made her correction before picking up the paper and pouring the salt into the liquid, mixing the two together furiously, until it made a dark brown liquid that always managed to stain her fingers. Hermione poured that into the bottle before restoppering it and labeling it for pick up the next morning.
She worked the way down the list, keeping meticulous notes for Mr. Ollivander to review, unbothered, until she noticed that she had a customer. Hermione looked the other woman up and down. "Hello, can I help you with something?" She asked delicately. While Mr. Ollivander's was a well respected shop, this woman looked like she would probably have a private doctor.
Her blonde hair was perfectly curled in huge rolls, perfectly coiffed and pinned, covered by a small hat, and a tiny veil. Her clothing was certainly well tailored, a slim fitting skirt and blouse that complimented the woman's rosy skin tone. She lifted a glove hand to raise the veil from her face, and spoke from red painted lips. "Hello, yes, are you Miss Granger?" She asked, looking rather nervous.
Hermione narrowed her eyes at the woman, wondering just what business this rich (surely) woman could possibly have with her. "Yes, I am," she confirmed quietly, before setting down her pen and crossing her arms defensively.
Once her identity was confirmed to the blonde woman, Hermione could see her shoulders sag in relief, as though a weight had been lifted from her. "Wonderful," she said dispassionately. "You see, you came well recommended to me by my friend, a Mrs. Susan Smith. I have a...little problem that she thought you could help me with." The woman looked up at her, and underneath her perfectly made up face, Hermione began to see the cracks of her facade. Just below powder, you could make out the shadow of a dark bruise on her eye.
Hermione felt her stomach sink, when she realized just what she was asking. When Hermione had agreed to help Susan Smith poison her husband, she had promised herself that it was going to be a one time thing, never to be repeated. Honestly, Hermione couldn't believe that she'd actually agreed to help Susan in the first place, except for that it was clear that she was a battered woman, and that her husband wouldn't stop hurting her until he was gone. Hermione was still haunted by the look of her split lip…
She gave the woman a regretful look. "I'm sorry Mrs.?" She inquired after the woman's identity.
"Oh, how silly of me!" She said, extending a hand. "Mrs. Daphne Pucey." She shook Hermione's hand graciously.
"Mrs. Pucey, I am sorry, but I am sure that I cannot help you with your little issue," Hermione told her feeling rather awful. Hermione had always thrived on helping people when she could.
Daphne looked crestfallen by her pronouncement. "But, you see, my husband...and Susan was positive that you'd be able to help me, the same way that you helped her."
Hermione smiled sadly. "It's just...it was a one time thing when I helped Susan." She nibbled on her lower lip. Even though she felt horrible to know that Daphne was having marital issues, Hermione did not want to get a reputation as some kind of murderess. Just because she knew how much arsenic would kill a man didn't mean that she wanted to go around abetting murder. That wasn't the kind of person she was.
To her dismay, Daphne started to cry. "Oh, please, Miss Granger. You simply must help me. You don't understand, my husband, Adrian, he is awful. He hits me all the time, invents things that I've done to wrong him, he drinks heavily," she whispered, mindful of the Prohibition the country was under. "He isn't the man that I married, and I do not think that I will live much longer. It's only a matter of time before he snaps."
Hermione let her eyes trace over the bruise that had obviously darkened Daphne's skin, and she could already feel her resolve begin to break. "Couldn't you go to the police or try to get a divorce?" She offered, feeling rather unhelpful. Hermione couldn't condone murdering someone if she hadn't explored all of the alternates first.
Daphne shook her head sadly. "Unfortunately, Adrian's father is on the police force, so it likely wouldn't go anywhere. And that means that a divorce is out as well," She said wringing her hands together in obvious concern. "Please, Miss Granger, won't you say that you'll help me?"
Sighing, Hermione knew that she was going to say yes. "I will help you, but you mustn't tell anyone that you came here. The shop owner is a good man and doesn't deserve to have his good name run through this business...so, you and Susan should stop offering helpful advice," she scolded, determined not to have a line of unhappy housewives out her door looking for undetectable murder.
"Oh, I won't, I promise," Daphne said, pulling out her purse. "I can pay you, whatever it costs, just let me know."
Hermione narrowed her eyes. "Yes, of course you would pay to purchase rat poison," she made eye contact with the woman, wanting her to understand that they couldn't talk about it openly. "Now, how big would you say that your rat problem is?"
Daphne nodded eagerly, her sea green eyes quickly filling with mirth. "Oh, about this big," she held her hand up over her head, indicating around six feet tall. "And about this wide," she used her hands to approximate her husband's lean form.
Hermione was able to quickly estimate just how much Mr. Pucey would weigh. She wanted to correctly calculate a dose that would be fatal without question, but the heavier he was, the bigger the dose would be, and the more obvious the taste would be to the person being poisoned. Still, you didn't want to give him the opportunity to recover from it either. "My, that seems like a significant rat problem," Hermione mused aloud to Daphne.
The blonde giggled, perhaps feeling giddy now that her problem was going to be solved. "Yes, I'm afraid it would eat me out of house and home," she quipped. She brought her white lace covered fingertips up to touch the bruise on the top of her cheek bone, perhaps subconsciously.
"Well, Mrs. Pucey, I think that I have just the thing for your rat problem. A little arsenic should do the trick." Hermione turned to face all of the dusty bottles behind the shelf. Her fingers quickly found the one with the pink glass, and tiny little print before pulling out a fresh sheet of paper and a scale. Daphne watched with rapt attention as Hermione carefully weighed out the proper dose of the greyish powder, perhaps just as amazed as Hermione that such a small amount of the substance would be enough to stop her husband from breathing. That it was so thought of as innocuous that anyone could just walk into a pharmacy and purchase it.
Once she'd measured out the required amount, Hermione transferred it into a small bag that Daphne could carry it safely in. "Now, Mrs. Pucey, often times, this poison can taste very bitter, very metallic, and rats have such a keen sense of smell, you know?" She told the other woman conspiratorially. "So, you will want to be careful what kind of food you put it in. You wouldn't want to tip the rats off to poison. Might I suggest a morning coffee?"
Daphne was sharp enough to catch on to what Hermione was saying, and nodded gratefully for the tip. "Oh, of course, that's a splendid idea," the woman agreed. "And no one will find out about...how I've dealt with this rat infestation?" She asked, obviously not wanting any of the heat or fallout to come back on her.
"No, there is no way currently to prove that you used rat poison, so your secret is safe with me." Hermione said, knowing that there were some rumors about so called medical examiners in New York City who were working on ways to determine murder by poison, but there was no such test in New Orleans at that time. It was better for her as well, seeing as she didn't want suspicion to fall back on her, once two wives had murdered their husbands with arsenic that she sold them.
Daphne's eyes were welling up with tears once again, and she gave Hermione a watery smile. "Oh, how can I ever thank you? You have no idea what this means to me," she opined, sincerity in her voice.
Hermione gave her a tight smile. "No need for any thanks, Mrs. Pucey. I know how embarrassing it can be for a good housewife to have a rat infestation, and I am just happy to help you," Hermione told her. "However, I think that it would be best if we kept it between us. I'd rather you never mention my name again, and that is how you can repay me."
The blonde blushed, but nodded in agreement. "Of course. Thank you again. I won't forget this," she promised, making Hermione wince, before she turned and left the pharmacy, poison safely tucked away in her purse.
Once her customer was out of the shop, Hermione looked at the ticking clock on the wall and realized it was time for her to go. Jotting down a note about selling the arsenic as rat poison in the book, Hermione sighed once again seeing the evidence of her crime right in front of her eyes. Just like the last time that she had helped Mrs. Susan Smith, she told herself that that was going to be the last time she was ever party to a crime. Hermione was not going to become known as some kind of poison mastermind who could help you get rid of all your little problems.