A/N: Even though she has no idea that this happened... this is for NeonDomino. She will probably be shocked and horrified to see what I did with her Mafia!AU that she listed on the Monthly Prompt list for February (I think?).
So this was supposed to be a Mafia!AU and it kind of turned into a Victorian Underworld sort of a thing where Tom Riddle and Albus Dumbledore are rival gang leaders. Oops.
Things you should know- The 40 Thieves were based on the 40 Elephants which was a real gang of thieves that was made up entirely of women. They are usually described as being allied with the Elephant and Castle gang (which operated from the 1920s-1940s), but the 40 Elephants can be traced back to the 1850s, and there is some evidence showing that they might have existed at the end of the 18th century. They really did use the train systems to do hit-and-run style assaults on department stores in other towns. One of their most famous leaders, Diamond Annie, wore rings on her fingers as a sort of alternative to brass knuckles. (I would imagine that one of the reasons the 40 Elephants were so successful, for so long, is that because it was extremely difficult for women to make and retain money in Victorian England.)
Two of the most infamous, dangerous criminals in the London Underworld were the Kray twins in the 1960s-Ronnie and Reggie. I took that as a jumping off point, which is why most of the men in here are known by diminutives... like Tommy Riddle.
Falcon Love: I can't believe I forgot this part. They have put up with my whining, and send them this story in chunks, and discussions about the London Underworld of the 1870s, and whether or not ice cream was available for poor people. I so don't deserve them.
This is just a one-shot. Sorry?
The streets of Piccadilly were so wide that Hermione felt exposed. She preferred the narrow alleys of Southwark where it was easier to hide and easier to evade pursuers. Horses and carriages bustled along the thoroughfare, and she carefully moved her skirts to the side to keep them clean. Her black wool serge walking suit was severe and neat—all the better to not attract attention. Minnie said that it was better if they appeared plain and drab.
"Never look prettier than the mistress of the house, Hermione," Minnie had lectured. "You'll never even get a foot in the door, that way."
Getting a foot in the door was all Hermione needed. She smirked to herself as she continued down the avenue. Then she shook her head and focused on the task at hand. The 40 Thieves gang worked smart, and anyone who didn't remember that would answer to Minnie... even Hermione. She might be a little too old for boxed ears or a sharp slap, but Hermione wasn't willing to bet on that. Minnie ruled them all with an iron fist and she expected her girls to succeed.
Carefully, Hermione pulled the slip of paper out of her reticule and glanced at the address. The 40 Thieves were bold, but they stayed away from St. James' Square and its aristocratic residents.
"Stay away from the peerage," Minnie cautioned them. "You harm one of them and they'll hunt us to the ends of the earth."
The house that Minnie had selected was near Piccadilly, or as near as a commoner could get—no matter the amount of money they might have to throw around, and disgustingly rich. This was supposed to be a routine operation, just like any number of positions that one of the 40 Thieves secured on a regular basis, but this was Hermione's first time. She'd proved herself as a pickpocket and a thief, but this was the big test. Could she pass herself as a lady's maid in one of the fashionable houses of London? Could she infiltrate into the household of an elite without being detected, without giving herself away?
Being the leader of the 40 Thieves, Minnie did her best not to show favouritism to Hermione. She had tried to treat her just like one of the girls... one of the gang. If Hermione failed, it would reflect badly on Minnie, and she could never let that happen, or she would lose control of the gang. Hermione's fingers tightened on the satchel that held her fake recommendations. Carefully sprinkled among her recommendations were lower level aristocrats; no one too flashy, or too prestigious. A baronet here, an honourable there, and they wouldn't be able to resist.
"They'll never be toffs, but they want to be," Tonks the Forger explained with a wicked grin. "They won't be able to resist bragging to their friends about how they have Lady So-and-so's lady's maid."
"What if they ask me about one of them?" Hermione had asked worriedly.
"That's the easy part," Minnie sniffed. "Most of them have their lives published in the papers. Tonks keeps track of all of them. She makes sure that whoever you used to work for is now Vicereine of India, or retired to the country or something. It gives you a good excuse for staying in London."
With a deep breath, Hermione marched up to the side entrance, the servant's entrance, and rapped sharply on the door. A pinch-faced maid answered the door. She eyed Hermione suspiciously.
"Yes?" She demanded.
"I'm here to see Mrs. Hopkirk," Hermione announced.
"Oh, after the lady's maid post, are you? Aren't we all la-di-da," the maid sneered looking Hermione up and down. She held the door tightly. "You can just wait here. I'll see if Mrs. Hopkirk is free."
When the door slammed in Hermione's face, she decided that if it were at all possible, she was going to pin everything on that miserable little haybag. It would serve the wretched thing right, and it would amuse Hermione to no end to stand by and look properly shocked as they dragged her off in irons. The door opened again just as Hermione was imagining the look on the maid's face when they took her away protesting her innocence.
"Mrs. Hopkirk will see you," the chit all but growled.
The maid led Hermione into a small office-cum-parlour off of the kitchen. Hermione curtseyed politely the way Poppy had taught her.
"Ma'am," Hermione murmured deferentially. She kept her eyes focused on her shoes and tried to look industrious and as though she contained high moral fibre.
"Name?" Mrs. Hopkirk asked.
"Nora Wellstone, ma'am," Hermione lied promptly.
Hours of drills in her persona ensured that she wouldn't fumble and make a mistake.
"Why did you leave Lady Anderson of Broughton?" Mrs. Hopkirk asked after several moments of silence.
"Their daughter's season was over, and they were returning to Lincoln, ma'am," Hermione explained.
Mrs. Hopkirk hummed under her breath in agreement. "Your recommendations are impeccable."
"I wouldn't know, ma'am," Hermione replied. That, at least, was the truth. Hermione hadn't a clue what counted as an 'impeccable' reference. Tonks did though, that's what Minnie paid her to do.
Another hour of inane questions about people that Hermione had never met before in her life and Mrs. Hopkirk finally appeared to be satisfied.
"Mr. Fudge has recently been elected as a member of Parliament," Mrs. Hopkirk explained as she led Hermione up to Mrs. Fudge's rooms. "Mrs. Fudge is expected to entertain and also to attend functions. You will help to make sure that Mrs. Fudge is wearing what is fashionable and proper. Look through her wardrobe and let me know if there is anything that she absolutely cannot wear in public."
"Of course," Hermione murmured and fought the urge to roll her eyes. She would be far more qualified to counsel Mrs. Fudge on how to dress as a lightskirt, but she doubted that opinion would serve her well.
Then again, the actresses and the entertainers attempted to copy the fashionable styles as well as they could afford to do. Maybe that would be enough.
The little pinch-faced parlour maid's name was Marietta, and she was a right blower. Any time she even thought that Hermione might possibly be thinking about shirking her duties she was running off to Mrs. Hopkirk and tattling like the little prig she was. Hermione longed to meet Marietta on her home turf, with her rings winking on her fingers; a couple of swift punches and Marietta would learn to keep her sauce-box well and truly shut.
"What are you doing?" Marietta demanded suspiciously.
Casually, as though it were of no consequence at all, Hermione stopped going through Mrs. Fudge's drawers and turned to look at Marietta with one brow quirked.
"I happen to be doing my job," Hermione said in a cold, crisp voice that she'd learned from Minnie. She looked Marietta up and down. "Funnily enough, I don't recall any parlours on this floor, so I would say that I'm doing better than some at the moment."
"You're pawing through the Missus' things," Marietta whispered, unable to contain her glee.
Hermione snorted and rolled her eyes. "Well, of course I am. Mrs. Fudge especially asked me to find her pearls, didn't she? She forgot where she laid them and she asked me to help as I happen to be her lady's maid. Maybe I ought to tell her that they should check your room since you feel so free to wander in and out of rooms you have no business being in."
Marietta sputtered indignantly for several moments before she turned and stalked off. As soon as she had left Hermione heaved a sigh. She carefully palmed the pearls, which had been in her pocket and marched off to find Mrs. Fudge.
Later, once Mrs. Fudge was carefully packed off in a hired carriage with Mr. Fudge, Hermione dropped a couple vague hints in Mrs. Hopkirk's ear.
"I really don't know what she was up to, I'm certain it wasn't anything wrong, mind you, but Lady Adelia, the Countess of St. Withies never would have stood for a parlour maid wandering about on the family's floors. Why, what if someone saw her," Hermione murmured in a carefully contrived tone of worry and concern.
"Oh dear," Mrs. Hopkirk said. She wrung her handkerchief.
"I've already said something to her about it," Hermione continued with a soothing smile. "She was upset, naturally. Everyone wants Mrs. Fudge to be an asset to her husband."
"Of course," Mrs. Hopkirk agreed.
Three days later, when Hermione stuffed her hidden pockets with a fortune in jewels, Mrs. Hopkirk remembered Marietta's unfortunate wandering ways. The fact that Hermione had hidden Mrs. Fudge's pearls in Marietta's underwear drawer ensured that the Fudges blamed Marietta and sacked her immediately. Unfortunately for Hermione's sense of melodramatic justice, Scotland Yard was not called because the Fudges didn't want to publicize their embarrassment.
The next day, Hermione slipped out of the house under the auspices of fetching smelling salts from the corner apothecary for her mistress. She walked down the street with a bounce in her step and a smug smirk on her lips.
"Hermione?" A voice called.
Stiffening only slightly, Hermione ignored the voice and continued walking. She needed to get out of Piccadilly altogether and back where she belonged; where she felt safe.
A hand reached out and grabbed her elbow, pulling her about. A groan of frustration bubbled up within her. Ronnie Weasley. Of all the gents to cross paths with right now, he was the last possible person she would choose. He was a nice enough bloke when he wasn't sauced to the gills, but he wasn't the sharpest knife in one's garter, either.
"What are you doing here then?" He asked with a frown.
"None of your business, Ronnie," Hermione snapped. "Now let me alone."
"Here now," Ronnie whined. "Is that anyway for a girl to talk to her fella?"
At that Hermione turned to glare at Ronnie Weasley. "You are not my fella," she hissed at him. "The last time I checked, you were that dollymop Lavender's fella. Now let me go!"
"Aw, don't be like that, Hermione," Ronnie wheedled.
"Miss, is this ruffian disturbing you?"
Both Hermione and Ronnie turned to look at the person that had interrupted them. He was tall, even taller than Ronnie, and sleekly dressed... like a toff. His suit jacket was unbuttoned revealing a dark green silk waistcoat and a beautifully engraved platinum watch and fob that made Hermione's fingers itch. His hair was so dark a black that it was almost blue and it waved off his face with just a hint of pomade. His eyes were the deepest blue she had ever seen save for a pair of sapphire earrings she'd lifted from a whiny matron. Hermione took all of this in with just a glance, and made her decisions in an instant.
"Yes sir," Hermione told him in an earnest voice, staring up at him with wide, innocent-seeming eyes. She wrung her gloved hands and let her eyes drop. "I've been sent on an errand for my mistress, and she'll be ever so displeased if I tarry."
"You stay away from her," Ronnie growled at the toff and tried to insert himself between them. "She's none of yours."
"It sounds as though this young miss would rather that you stay away," the toff retorted in smooth, cultured tones.
"I ain't afraid of you," Ronnie snarled, stepping closer to the toff.
"You should be," the toff replied coolly.
Once the men were focused solely on one another, Hermione slipped away and hurried down the street. She couldn't afford to get caught now—not when she had a fortune in jewels hidden on her person. Once again, she longed for the narrow alleys of Southwark. She could have darted easily down one of them and been lost to pursuers in an instant. Now, she had to hope that Ronnie would keep the toff's interest long enough that neither one of them could catch up to her.
Quickly, she made her way to one of the omnibus stops, and thanked her luck when the horse-drawn bus pulled up mere moments later. She paid her fare and hurried to the back of the bus. Once she was seated and the bus took off, Hermione let out a small sigh of relief. No one was sitting next to her, and she felt safe enough to relax slightly. With a grin, she put her hand into her pocket and pulled out the toff's watch and fob.
The beautiful engraving was a work of both art and skill—platinum wasn't as malleable as other precious metals, and it was a harder medium to work in than either gold or silver. Hermione examined the fob, which was also platinum. It was an intricate, delicate piece, which was a snake form in a variety of loops. Hermione had never seen anything like it. Her fingers caressed the fob for just a moment before she opened the watch itself.
The cover lifted smoothly, and Hermione had to bite back a gasp so as not to attract attention. The numbers on the dial had been picked out in tiny emeralds and more emeralds interspersed with diamonds marched around the watch face. She snapped the watch shut and slipped it back into her pocket. It wasn't part of the Fudge haul, which Hermione would have to turn over to Minnie to be divvied up among all of them. It was separate. Hers.
Running into Ronnie Weasley was just the sort of thing to put a damper on Bas' good mood. The chit Ronnie had been propositioning had been dressed in a hideously unflattering dress, but for all that he could see that she was a delicate-looking thing, and Bas had suffered a momentary lapse in good sense. He still couldn't figure out what had possessed him to march over and try to defend the gel's most likely questionable honour. Maybe it had been her eyes… he remembered her eyes, a deep, rich brown shot through with strands of gold.
"What are you doing, Bas?" His older brother Roddie asked curiously.
Surprised, Bas looked down to realize that his fingers had automatically gone to his waistcoat. He stared at the naked spot where his watch and fob had been and growled under his breath.
"Fucking Ronnie Weasley," he snarled.
"You know that I try to stay out of your personal life, Rabastan, but Ronnie Weasley? Really? You could do so much better," Bella protested.
Bas didn't even dignify that with a response—he just glared at her. Cissy, Bella's sister, snickered behind her hand and he turned to glare at her, as well.
"You should see your face," Cissy gasped out between giggles.
"He stole my fucking watch," Bas snapped furiously.
"Don't worry, brother," Roddie reassured him. He clapped Bas' arm and looked into his eyes. "We'll make the little lion cub pay."
Bella and Cissy took turns offering inventive suggestions as to what Roddie and Bas might do when they finally caught up with Ronnie Weasley.
The most beautiful casino in London was Pandemonium, which was owned and run by the Lestrange brothers. Hermione had never been inside, of course, since only gentlemen were allowed past its august doors. Most people she knew referred to it as the Snake's Pit because the Lestrange brothers had a long history with Tommy Riddle, and Riddle's Snakes often frequented Pandemonium.
It was one of the places that the Lions were forbidden to frequent, and one of the few that Ronnie Weasley whinged about on a regular basis. Hermione thought the outside architecture was beautiful, and she was willing to bet that the inside was incredible. The Lestrange brothers never did anything by half.
Absently, Hermione let her thumb slide over the watch that she kept in her pocket. Minnie had been more than willing to let her keep her little prize, especially after Hermione emptied all of her secret, cleverly hidden pockets and the pile of jewels on Minnie's desk had grown and grown.
"You there… girl!" A male voice called imperiously.
With the ease of long practice, Hermione ignored the voice and kept walking. As she walked, she quickly slid her hands into her other pockets and started sliding rings on her fingers. Hermione was just in time because as soon as she'd slid the last of her rings on, somebody grabbed for her elbow. She whirled about and danced out of range of their fingers.
Unfortunately, he had company. Hermione's back collided with a solid wall of muscle. She looked over her shoulder and saw piercing dark blue eyes that were unsettlingly familiar. She spun on her heel and turned to see the man that had tried to save her from Ronnie Weasley—the owner of the dark blue eyes that had been haunting her dreams.
"This is Ronnie Weasley's girl?" The man behind her scoffed.
Hermione whirled to glare up at him. She flexed her hands in the folds of her skirt.
"I am not Ronnie Weasley's girl," she hissed up at him.
"Good," her would-be saviour said in a voice that oozed satisfaction.
"What?" Hermione turned back to him, utterly confused. Why would he care about whether or not she was dating Ronnie?
"Ronnie wants you," he said. Then his lips curved in a predatory smile and he eyed her up and down.
"What Ronnie wants and what he gets are two very different things," Hermione snapped.
"You're my woman now," her would-be saviour decided.
"Sorry, I didn't catch that." Hermione stared up at him in shock.
No one in Southwark had tried anything on with Hermione in a long, long time; at least… not since she'd managed to take down a handsy Lion who'd gotten fresh with her one too many times.
"You're my woman," he repeated. He smirked at her. "Make sure to tell Ronnie that if he touches you again I'll break every bone in his body."
"I'm nobody's," Hermione retorted. She clenched her hands tightly, making sure to keep her thumb on the outside so she wouldn't break it… again.
"Come on, pet," he wheedled. "Think of what I could offer you."
"Nothing I want," she scoffed derisively.
When he went to grab her arm again, Hermione let her right hook fly and she managed to clock him good right on the jaw. The flashing rubies on her rings tore open the flesh on his cheekbone, just like she'd meant them to, and she smirked in satisfaction.
"Nobody touches me, unless I want them to, toff," Hermione sneered at him. She jerked out of his hold and made certain that she'd moved away so that she was out of the reach of both men.
The toff didn't react as Hermione expected. He spit blood on the sidewalk and pulled out a green silk handkerchief to press against his cheek. He looked her up and down and grinned.
"You've got a fire in you, girl," he told her. "I like it. Just remember to pass along what I said to Ronnie. You do that and I'll get you a set of rings in emerald."
Hermione considered that for a minute. "I'm still not your girl," she said at last.
"As long as Ronnie Weasley thinks you're mine, that is all that matters," he countered.
"Emeralds?" Hermione asked.
"Once I know that you've told Ronnie Weasley, they're yours," he promised.
The idea that she could get Ronnie to leave her alone was tempting. Even Lavender's jealous rages hadn't been enough to get him to back off.
"Alright," Hermione agreed with a nod. "I'll tell him I'm your girl." She paused and frowned at him. "What's your name?"
He smirked at her then—even though his cheek had to ache like the devil. "Tell him you're Bas' woman."
"Bas?" She repeated the unfamiliar name with a frown.
"Aye. What's yours?" He asked her then.
"Hermione," she replied.
He snorted at that. "Aren't you the proper lady? Now, I've got to go, sweeting. Do you have a kiss for your fella?" He asked and waggled his eyebrows at her.
"No, but I've got another fist of rings," she threatened and waved them at him.
The other man snorted again. "You sure know how to pick 'em, Bas."
Bas glared at him. "You're one to talk. Your woman is worse."
The other man smirked. "She is, isn't she?"
They were both proper bedlamites, that was certain. Hermione edged away from them a bit more. When they turned to head toward Pandemonium, Hermione fled.
"Hey, Gin!" Hermione called.
Ginny Weasley paused and turned to look at Hermione. Her red hair was pulled back off of her face in a bun, and most of it had been hidden under a modest cap, and she was dressed in a stiff black dress. Hermione smirked at her friend.
"Your turn for lady's maid?" Hermione asked.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Well, we can't all get promoted to leading a travel crew, now can we?"
"Aw come on, Gin. If you do well, Minnie will let me add you to my crew," Hermione encouraged her.
Ginny perked up at that. "Do you really think so?"
"I know so," Hermione replied confidently. She paused and bit her lip. "Listen, Gin, can you do me a favour?"
"Hermione, I've tried," Ginny replied with a sigh. "I've told him over and over again that you aren't interested. It's Mum. She encourages him because she likes you better'n Lavender."
"Tell him…," Hermione paused again and gathered her courage. "Tell him I'm Bas' woman now, and Bas says that if Ronnie touches me again that he'll break every bone in his body."
Ginny stared at her with wide eyes. "What?"
"You heard me," Hermione said drily.
"Are you mad?" Ginny demanded. She snorted to herself. "Of course you are. Hermione, Rabastan Lestrange is a Snake."
Rabastan Lestrange. Hermione's insides lurched and she felt faint. She had just punched Rabastan Lestrange… one of the most notorious, infamous criminals of London's underworld. He'd started out as one of Tommy Riddle's boys, the Death Eaters, and had worked his way up the ranks right alongside his older brother, Rodolphus.
Once the Lestrange brothers had proven themselves and their loyalty to Riddle, they had been given permission to open Pandemonium. There were rumours was that Malfoy had floated them the capital to build it, but there were other rumours that the Lestrange brothers had the capital themselves, but no one knew where from. Their private lives were an enigma, but their loyalty to Riddle was unswerving.
"What does it matter if Bas is a Snake?" Hermione asked.
Somehow, Hermione felt that if she kept referring to him as 'Bas,' he couldn't possibly be the same man as Rabastan Lestrange. Bas was the pretty toff who had laughed at her when she'd knocked him for six. Bas had told her that she had fire—and that he liked it. Bas couldn't be Rabastan Lestrange who gutted a man for spilling wine on him.
"Do you really need to ask, Hermione?" Ginny huffed impatiently.
"We aren't Lions, Ginny," Hermione retorted with a sneer. "We're the 40 Thieves and the Lionsgate gang doesn't dictate anything to us."
"You try telling Harry that," Ginny countered.
"It's none of Harry's concern," Hermione growled.
That was the furthest thing from the truth, and both women knew it.
"He's your brother, and he's not going to be happy about you taking up with a Snake," Ginny reminded her.
"He'd better keep his bone box closed unless he's stopped tupping that vicious little doxy," Hermione pointed out.
"As far as I know, he's still seeing Cho," Ginny said with a shrug.
"All I'm asking you to do is to pass along the word, Gin," Hermione sighed. "If anybody on the street sees Ronnie grab my arm—they'll run straight to Bas, and we both know he'll keep his promise."
"Fine, I'll tell Ronnie you're proper taken, but you have to know that this is going to get ugly," Ginny replied.
"I know," Hermione agreed.
Ugly wasn't quite the word, but it was close enough. Ronnie had tried to engage her in a huge screaming match outside of the Lionsgate station, but Hermione had ignored him completely, and in the end it appeared as though Ronnie was either raving mad or having some kind of fit. Regardless of which it was, the next day one of the street children brought her a package and doffed his cap to her.
The package was plain brown paper, but Hermione took it back to hers before she opened it. She certainly wasn't stupid enough to open it on the street if it was what she thought it was. Inside the brown paper was a small box. Hermione jerked her hands back as though the box might bite her. The box was a rich, brown mahogany that had been burnished to a high sheen, and decorated with silver. A silver cartouche on the top of the box was engraved with an ornate 'L'.
Bloody buggering hell.
No matter what sort of lies she might tell herself, Hermione knew what that 'L' meant. Bas was Rabastan Lestrange: co-owner of the Pandemonium, notorious rake, and one of Tommy Riddle's Snakes. And she was his girl. Sort of.
With shaking fingers, Hermione carefully turned the key that was in the jewellery box's lock. The lid lifted silently on well-oiled hinges. A soft gasp escaped Hermione's lips. A pale green velvet lined the box's trays and sitting in those trays were ten platinum rings with eye-watering displays of emeralds. There so many different cuts that it took Hermione a moment to mentally catalogue them all. Each emerald was peerless in cut and colour—the green so deep that there was the merest hint of almost blue at the centre.
The familiar itch, the urge to take, to own, didn't come, and Hermione smirked to herself. She didn't have to take these rings. They were hers. They had been given to her. Carefully, she tried the rings on. They fit. Hermione wondered if he had convinced someone to tell him her ring size. Or perhaps he had managed to find the jeweller that she had hired to resize her ruby rings? Hermione caressed a ring whose band was made of entwining snakes with her finger and sighed.
"Are you ready?" Hermione asked with a grin.
Ginny nodded. "I'm nervous though," she admitted. "I've never been in one of the travel crews before."
"It's just like Harrod's here," Hermione encouraged her.
"Just like Harrod's," Ginny repeated to herself.
"And you remember where to meet?" Hermione asked.
"King's Cross Station," Ginny replied.
"Good. You'll be fine, Gin. I'll see you there." Hermione gave her a little wave and then headed out.
King's Cross was bustling, but Hermione wove through the crowds easily. Today she was dressed smartly, but conservatively in a dark grey traveling suit. She was supposed to look like a young woman of modest means; wealthy enough to travel, but only just. Hopefully, most people would assume that she was one of the thousands of girls that flocked to the City to work in the factories, and she was taking a trip home to her family.
The camouflage they used depended on the situation. Traveling on trains and infiltrating the upscale department stores in Manchester required that they dress a bit better than they normally would. Molly Weasley, Gin's and Ronnie's mum, worked as a seamstress for the 40 Thieves. She was the one that sewed all the hidden pockets into their clothes.
The women who were part of the 40 Thieves gang were all well-trained. None of them nodded or greeted each other. They strode by, ignoring each other, as though they were complete strangers. Hermione handed over her ticket and boarded the train for Manchester. She took a seat and pulled out a book. Some of the women brought sewing or knitting, but Hermione was a menace with a needle and positively dangerous with knitting needles.
Once they arrived in Manchester, they melted into the crowds on the train station. All of the women knew that their objective in Manchester was Kendal's department store. Hermione walked along quickly, ignoring the people in the streets.
Some might have considered it dangerous; to go to another town and work on another gang's turf, but the 40 Thieves had never had any problems. They preferred quick assaults—bring in a crew on a train, work a department store, get back on the train and head back to London. Their girls never got caught, never interfered with local gangs, and stayed out of other people's territory. Marks on the streets were ignored when they were in another city.
No one even noticed Hermione as she entered Kendal's. She dawdled here, perused there, and the clerks ignored her. When she noticed a clerk watching Ginny with a frown, she decided to distract her.
"Excuse me; do you have these cravats in green?" Hermione asked with a winning smile.
The clerk hurried over to show her a selection of cravats in various shades of green. There weren't any that were that perfect, deep emerald green colour that Bas… Rabastan… preferred. Hermione felt the fabric and hummed to herself.
"There is something new, miss," the clerk said deferentially. "It's called a tie. Would you like to see them in green?"
"Yes, thank you," Hermione agreed.
The ties were similar to a cravat, but sewn differently. They had several lovely ties in different shades of green. Hermione examined them all carefully and finally choose one that had the deep emerald green colour with thin silver stripes.
"This one," she said.
"Very good, miss. Shall I wrap it as a gift?" The clerk offered.
"Yes, thank you."
As the clerk bustled off toward the counter, Hermione turned about casually. Ginny was already gone. With a sigh of relief, Hermione strolled over to the counter and waited while the green silk tie was carefully wrapped in tissue paper and placed in a long, thin box.
"There you are, miss," the clerk said with a smile.
With the box tucked under her arm, Hermione turned and left the department store, and headed back to the train station. She appeared to be any other shopper and attracted no attention.
A series of sharp raps echoed off the door. Bas sighed and patted his companion's cheek.
"Sorry, love," he said with a wry grin. "Business before pleasure and all that."
The prostitute pouted at him, but she put her clothes back to rights and scuttled out of the room. Most women knew better than to cross the Lestrange brothers. The only exceptions to that rule were Roddie's woman, Bella, and the mouthy little chit that ended up in his dreams far too often for his liking. Bas sighed again and stared at his ceiling before he called out.
"Uncle, your presence is required on the floor," Draco said with an apologetic grimace.
Bas frowned at his nephew. "Where's Roddie?"
"Uncle Roddie is already on the floor, sir. He's the one that told me to fetch you down," Draco explained.
"What the bloody hell is going on?" Bas demanded.
"It's… erm… it's a Lion, Uncle," Draco admitted.
Bas smirked. "Ronnie Weasley?"
"No, it's Harry Potter." Draco's shoulders were rigid with tension as he waited.
"Albie's young protégé?" Bas asked curiously. "Why on earth is he here?"
"He says you defiled his sister." Draco rolled his eyes as he recited Potter's grievance.
Everyone knew that there wasn't a girl in Bas' bed that didn't want to be there. Once or twice there had been some pretty spectacular catfights for the honour. There were men that liked taking unwilling girls, but Bas had never been able to figure out why. He liked his women willing and creative in the bedroom.
Slowly, Bas dressed. He made sure to take his time and to dress as formally as possible. Once he was ready, he sauntered down the stairs with Draco on his heels. His gaze automatically went to his brother who smirked at him, and then to Lucius, Cissy's man, who was standing next to Roddie. Lucius rolled his eyes exactly as Draco had, and Bas had to bite back a laugh at how alike the two were.
Standing defiantly with his legs spread apart and his arms crossed over his chest was Harry Potter. He'd come to the Snake Pit dressed as a Lion with a truly hideous combination of a saffron-yellow waistcoat and a scarlet cravat. Pandemonium had a dress code, and Potter had come dressed appropriately, determined to meet them on their terms… or at least that was the impression that Bas received.
"Can I help you, Mr. Potter?" Bas drawled as haughtily as he could.
Potter's nostrils flared and his face flushed and Bas smirked at him.
"You can stay away from my sister, you Snake bastard," Potter spat furiously.
"I wasn't aware you had a sister," Bas countered with a frown.
Roddie and Lucius both moved to flank Bas.
"Perhaps we could discuss the virtue of your sainted sister elsewhere?" Lucius suggested with a cold smile.
Stiffly, Potter nodded and then followed them into a private room off of the floor.
"Now, what is this about?" Roddie demanded. He scowled at Potter. "Bas hasn't touched any of your damn Lions."
"I have no desire to board a fireship, by Jove," Bas muttered and shuddered lightly.
Potter sputtered at the insult. "Don't you dare speak that way about Hermione!"
"Hermione?" All three men echoed in surprise.
"She's your sister?" Bas asked with a frown. "Ronnie had his little fit over a week ago… why are you only coming to me now?"
"Is the girl expecting?" Lucius guessed.
Bas' frown grew darker. He might call Hermione his woman, but it had been more of a lark than anything else—a way to infuriate Ronnie Weasley, which had worked marvellously. Yet somehow… the idea of another man touching Hermione… lying with her… made him want to punch things.
"NO!" Potter burst out. He glared at Bas again. "Unless there's something you want to ask me? Maybe for my sister's hand in marriage?"
"Why are you only coming to me now," Bas repeated.
A dull flush covered Potter's cheeks and he mumbled something. Roddie started to snicker and Lucius was smirking. Bas glared at the both of them and then turned back to Potter.
"I beg your pardon? What was that?" Bas asked.
Potter sighed. "She's out of town," he admitted.
"Who? Hermione?" Bas began to smirk himself. "You were afraid to confront me when she might find out about it? Who's to say I won't tell her all about it, Potter?"
Potter scowled at him then. "You hurt her… and they'll never find your body, Lestrange."
"I don't hurt my women, Potter," Bas sneered at him.
"Maybe not physically," Potter agreed. "You hurt her feelings and it'll be no different."
"Is old Albie willing to give you a long enough leash to do that?" Roddie asked with a feral grin.
"Dumbledore has nothing to do with it," Potter retorted stiffly.
"We'll see, lad," Roddie retorted. "You'd better run along before the old bastard finds out you've slipped your collar."
The fulminating glare that Potter sent their way ought to have singed their hair, and the slam of the door echoed in the room. The three men exchanged glances and all three of them shrugged helplessly.
"Perhaps you ought to have a chat with your woman," Lucius suggested as tactfully as he could.
"Might do that," Bas agreed.
"Heard you went out of town, sweetheart." Bas' quiet voice echoed in the narrow alley.
Her heart pounding with nerves and adrenaline, Hermione pivoted on her heel and eyed her supposed man narrowly.
"Might have done," she replied.
"Not to get away from me, I hope," he teased her, moving so that he was standing close enough to her that she could feel his body heat.
"Don't be stupid," Hermione snapped.
Bas' lips stretched into a lazy smile and he brought up one hand to tug at one of her curls.
"That's my girl," he murmured softly.
It was on the tip of Hermione's tongue to snap at him angrily that she was most definitely not his girl… except for the fact that she was.
"I got you a present," she muttered with a scowl.
Bas threw his head back and laughed. It was rather a nice laugh. Under other circumstances Hermione might have appreciated it… maybe even liked it.
"What did you get me, sweetheart?" He asked with a genuine curiosity.
Hermione slipped a hand into one of her many pockets and pulled out the long, thin box. Bas eyes widened in surprise and he accepted the box with a little half bow. He opened the box and fingered the silk of the tie for a moment, a small smile tugging at his lips.
"The sales clerk said that it's called a tie," Hermione explained with an earnest expression. She looked at the tie for a moment and then looked up at him. "It's a new thing."
"I've heard of them," Bas assured her, which seemed to be the right thing to do. She seemed to relax and nodded at him in satisfaction. "You chose the colours?"
"Of course," she huffed at him.
This woman! She was as prickly as a cat sometimes, but he was almost compelled to make her spit and hiss because he rather enjoyed the fire in her eyes when she did so.
"Thank you, Hermione, for my present," Bas murmured.
A delicate blush spread over her cheeks and she ducked her head.
"It was nothing," she muttered.
Bas clucked his tongue, which made her look up at him in surprise.
"It was something," he argued. Then he grinned at her. "Shall I give you a kiss as a thank you for my present?"
"A kiss?" Hermione blinked at him and frowned.
"Certainly. Don't you give people kisses as a thank you for a present?" Bas teased, expecting to hear her deny it vehemently.
"I…," Hermione stared at him.
How could she tell him that she didn't get presents? How could she explain her childhood… how Minerva had taught them that they must steal what they needed because no one was ever going to just give it to them. Even the emerald rings had been a payment for keeping her end of the bargain, and not a true present.
"Alright," Hermione whispered finally.
"I'm sorry, what was that?" Bas stared at the girl in front of him, blushing and refusing to look him in the eye.
There was a part of him that wanted to know every single name of every person who had ever received a thank you kiss, or any other sort of kiss, for that matter.
"I… if you want t-to kiss me," Hermione stumbled over the words and then blushed a brilliant red.
"Oh, sweetheart, I always want to kiss you," Bas assured her. When her startled eyes darted to his he winked at her.
When she screwed her eyes shut and tilted her face up toward his, Bas wasn't sure if he should be insulted or not. He brushed her cheek with his knuckles and waited. Her eyes fluttered open and she frowned up at him.
"Was that it?" She demanded.
"No," Bas said. "I'm just getting started."
The first press of his lips to hers was awkward and stilted. She stood stiffly, and resisted when he tried to pull her against him. Finally, he gave up and pulled away. Hermione eyed him suspiciously.
"That wasn't awful," she said with an air of surprise.
Bas snorted. "I should think not." He paused and looked her over. "I could do even better, if you trusted me."
Before he was even done speaking, Hermione was backing away from him, edging further into the alley. Bas fought the urge to sigh loudly. He held up the necktie and made himself grin at her.
"Every time I wear this, I'll think of you," he told her.
Another blush and another ducking of her head, and then Hermione turned and disappeared into the alley.
Part of being a good thief was the ability to blend in wherever one went. Minnie had spent years helping to teach Hermione what she needed to know to survive. No one really knew Minnie's background, but that was true of a lot of people in their business. Hermione suspected that Minnie was either somebody who'd been born into a good family, and then been cast out for some reason, or she'd been around them. Regardless of the reasons, Minnie had done her best to secure a thorough education for both Hermione and Harry.
Reading and writing had been handled by Minnie herself. There was a courtesan that taught them maths, a milliner that taught them French, and an actress that taught them Italian. The streets of London had taught Hermione ethics of a specific sort. Both the courtesan and Minnie had taught her to speak like a toff, which was useful in a variety of situations. Speaking well meant that their ladies' maids were the ones that were usually hired.
It also meant that Hermione could infiltrate proper establishments. No one looked twice at her in the bookstore, or one of the public tea houses. On one of Hermione's rare days off, she would often go to a bookstore, purchase a book, and then go to a public tea house to read in peace and quiet. Hermione loved the freedom of being able to sit by herself in public without dragging Harry along as a suitable escort.
"I was hoping to run into you."
Frowning, Hermione looked up from her book. She didn't recognize the man in front of her at all. He was slender and elegant looking. His pale blond hair was carefully brushed back from his face and pomaded. Carefully, Hermione noted what page she was on and snapped her book closed. She set it on the table and turned toward him shifting her weight. The blond toff's eyes narrowed and he shifted on his feet slightly in response to her movement.
"Were you?" Hermione asked. Her eyes flicked to the green cravat he wore, and she realized that he was a Snake. "Do you have a message for me?"
He grimaced at her. "After a fashion. Keep a tighter leash on your guard dog."
"My what?" Hermione's brow wrinkled in confusion. "I think you've mistaken me for someone else."
"You are Hermione," he interjected impatiently. "You're Bas' woman."
That was rapidly becoming annoying. Hermione wondered if she could convince people to start calling Rabastan Lestrange 'Hermione's man'. She rather doubted it. She scowled at the blond Snake who just smirked at her.
"You have that much right, at least," Hermione admitted reluctantly.
"Your brother stormed Pandemonium," he explained with a slight sneer.
"Did he?" Hermione kept her voice light and carefree.
"He threatened Bas," he continued. He paused and frowned at her. "That was a stupid thing for him to do. Dangerous even."
"He what?" Hermione winced at the sharp tone, which drew several scandalized glances.
"Just… tell him to be careful," the blond warned her.
"Who are you, that you are so interested in my brother?" Hermione asked with a frown.
"Draco," he replied. He paused then and shook his head. "It isn't your brother that I'm worried about, but rather Bas. He's… family."
"Fine," Hermione sighed. She picked up her book and stood. She glared up at Draco. "I'll take care of it."
There were several bars and pubs that were considered neutral ground where both Snakes and Lions could mingle together without a fist fight. Normally, Bas didn't feel an overwhelming urge to rub elbows with Lions, but… for whatever reason… he had decided that perhaps he might start. He dressed the way he had when he was fighting his way up the ranks in the streets; black trousers and a rough linen shirt with a nondescript waistcoat over it. His only concession to his allegiances was a dark green cap pulled low over his eyes. He sat at a quiet, out-of-the-way table and nursed a pint.
At one of the other tables, Harry Potter was carousing with a group of Lions. Their loud, raucous laughter drifted over the bar. When his woman, beyond furious, entered the pub Bas turned so that he could watch her. She hadn't noticed him yet — her eyes were only for her brother — and the fire that burned in them made his pulse race.
If Bas' eyes hadn't been trained on his woman, he might not have seen the way her right hand twitched, but he was and he had done. The solid thwack of a throwing dagger hitting the wall mere inches from Potter's head resounded in the suddenly silent pub. Potter turned to glare at whoever had thrown it, and when he saw his sister standing there he turned pale. Bas wondered idly if Lestrange men were created with the desire to choose dangerous women.
"Hermione," Potter squeaked.
"As you can see, Harry," Hermione purred with a feral smile, "I am still capable of protecting myself."
"I didn't think that…," Potter protested.
"Obviously," Hermione cut in with a growl.
"But 'Mione," Potter tried again.
"Do not." Hermione's hand twitched again and Potter visibly flinched.
A careful glance around the pub proved interesting. Several of the men present had flinched right along with Potter. Apparently, his woman was feared and respected in this neighbourhood. The warm glow of pride spread through Bas' chest. He knew without even glancing in the mirror above the bar that he wore the same smug smirk that Roddie wore when Bella was on a tear.
Slowly, he stood up drawing attention. His woman frowned at him, and he smiled winningly at her.
"What are you doing here?" She demanded with a suspicious glint in her eye.
"I was thirsty," he said with a cavalier shrug.
Somewhere behind him someone snorted in amusement, and Hermione's eyes narrowed in rage. Her nostrils flared and she glared at everyone in the pub. Then her sharp eyes slid back to him.
"Harry has decided that our relationship is none of his bloody business," Hermione snapped. She paused to glare at her brother. "Haven't you, Harry?"
"Hermione," Potter tried to protest again. After a brief, non-verbal argument that involved glaring, eyebrow arching, and indignant huffing, on both their parts, he sighed heavily and turned to scowl at Bas. "Your relationship with my sister is none of my business," he snarled.
Hermione bestowed a radiant smile on Potter that Bas found himself envying. He had no idea that Hermione's face could light up that way, and he began to plot ways to make her turn that smile his way. She moved toward Potter and Bas had to give the man credit for not flinching when Hermione leaned toward him. She kissed his cheek before turning to look at Bas.
Silently, he held out his hand to her. She moved across the pub and slid her hand in his—a very public statement that couldn't possibly be mistaken. Bas smirked at Potter who looked as though he'd sucked a lime.
"Care to join me for some ice cream, Hermione?" He asked her.
Hermione frowned up at him. "I thought you were thirsty."
"I was," Bas agreed. "But now I'd like to take my girl out for ice cream."
Hermione continued to frown up at him. Bas smiled at her and leaned down to whisper in her ear.
"Trust me," he breathed against her skin.
"Alright," Hermione agreed after a moment.
No one could make Hermione do something she didn't want to do. That was what Bas loved about her, but he found it frustrating as well. Rabastan Lestrange, devil-may-care lover of women—who had once had two of the most sought-after courtesans in all of Paris get into a fist fight over who would enjoy his company that evening—now found his pulse race and his palms sweat when his recalcitrant woman deigned to brush her lips against his. He was completely and utterly undone by flashing brown eyes and a mean right hook.
"Are you well, Bas?" Hermione asked curiously.
"Fine, love," Bas promised. He took her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing the tips of her fingers.
Several weeks ago, Hermione would have given him a strained smile and extricated her fingers from his. Now she was content to let him hold her hand and stroke her palm with a finger. Bas fought the urge to grin like a loon. Riddle's Snakes did not run around grinning like loons.
There was a slight change in the air that made the hair rise on the back of Bas' neck. He automatically spun and pushed Hermione so that she was standing behind him.
"Bas? What are you-," Hermione began in a confused voice.
A flash of silver in the sun and then Bas was staggering back and pain blossomed in his shoulder. Hermione's smaller frame was there and she was pushing against him, keeping him upright. Quickly, he scanned the area, looking for the threat. He glanced at Hermione and she was already assessing the three men that were moving closer to them.
"Run," he muttered to her.
Hermione jerked her head around and glared at Bas.
"No," she snapped.
"Hermione, please," he gritted out between clenched teeth.
"I am not leaving you," she hissed up at him. The gold flecks in her eyes seemed to glow. "I'm going to kill every single bloody bastard that comes near us."
When Hermione started throwing knives, Bas saw green sparkling on her fingers. She was wearing the rings he'd given her. He grinned at that and then turned to deal with someone who was trying to get far too close to his woman.
The two of them fought together as though they had done it for years. Hermione guarded his back like a demon. Bas saw more than one man fall with one of her daggers in his throat. Pain throbbed dully in his arm, but he ignored it to focus on the here and now. No one was going to get anywhere near Hermione. Once the alley was empty of everyone except the two of them, he let himself slump toward the ground. Hermione was safe… he could let his guard down now.
"Bas!" Hermione dropped to her knees next to him and shook him. "Bas!"
Hermione's worried face swam in his vision. He raised a hand and touched her cheek. She pressed her face into his hand and he felt the press of her lips against his skin.
"Hermione," he sighed.
"Bas!" Her voice rose almost to a shriek and he could feel her shaking him. He tried to focus on her face and he frowned when he realized that she was crying.
"Don't cry," he commanded her. As usual, his woman completely ignored him and began to cry even harder.
"Don't you dare die on me," she sobbed. She shook him again, jostling his shoulder and eliciting a groan. "Damn it, you bastard. I was starting to like you!"
The familiar footfalls of his brother echoed in the alley and Bas sighed in relief and let his eyes close. Hermione was safe now. Roddie would never let anything happen to her.
"Rabastan Lestrange!" Hermione's voice was hoarse from crying. "If you die on me, I'll kill you!"
There was the sound of scuffling, and Bas thought he heard a grunt of pain and a muffled curse, but then his blood loss caught up with him and he lost consciousness.
When Bas woke up, he stared at the ceiling above him. He was in his bedroom. The familiar warm weight of a woman was pressed up against his side. There was an arm thrown across his waist and a thigh that was uncomfortably close to certain parts of him. He turned his head, frown already in place, to tell whoever had tried to crawl into his bed that they should leave before his woman caught them there. He had a fairly strong feeling that his woman wouldn't share.
Brown eyes watched him warily. Hermione's hair was loose around her shoulders in a riotous, curly mass that he longed to bury his hands in. His gaze zeroed in on her cheek where the skin was a virulent purple and yellow bruise.
"Who the fuck did that," he snarled.
He tried turning awkwardly in the bed because Hermione was still clinging to him like a limpet, but finally he gave up the fight as a lost cause. Frustrated, he scowled at her.
"He didn't mean to," Hermione told him softly. She bit her lip and looked up at him through her lashes. "I was… I wouldn't let go, and your brother and Mr. Malfoy were trying to take you, and I… panicked."
Bas managed to turn around and glare at his brother. "So you punched my woman?"
Roddie glared back at him. "Of course not! She kept moving, and I didn't dodge her quickly enough."
"Stop moving," Hermione protested. Her hands were touching his bare skin, pushing on his chest. "The doctor said that you had to stay still."
Bas glanced at his brother and mouthed Doctor at him.
"Snape," Roddie explained.
With that explanation, Bas let his woman arrange him in his bed to her satisfaction and then settle back down next to him, the sweet warmth of her pressing against his side. Roddie smirked at him and Bas threw him two fingers when Hermione was distracted by fluffing his pillow.
"I'll just leave you two alone," Roddie announced. He turned and shut the door behind him.
Bas shifted so that he could watch Hermione's face. She wasn't looking at him and a delicate blush was spreading down her neck.
"So… you're starting to like me," Bas began carefully.
"Maybe." Hermione's fingers brushed the bare skin of his torso and he shivered. She jerked upright in his bed and stared down at him with worried eyes. "Are you alright? You aren't getting a fever, are you?"
"No." Bas wound one hand in her glorious hair and smirked at her. "I just like it when you touch me."
Hermione's eyes widened and she stared at him. The flush grew darker. "I like it when you touch me, too," she whispered. She frowned at him then. "You don't touch me very often."
"You don't like to be touched very often," Bas reminded her. He stroked her unbruised cheek with his thumb.
"It's alright if you touch me," Hermione offered. She looked at him through her lashes again. Bas propped himself up on one elbow and smirked at her.
"Is that right?" He asked.
"A little," she amended. Then she smirked at him. "Sometimes."
"What about right now?" He asked and tugged on a curl that brushed against her cheek.
"Now might be okay," she agreed.
"Good to know," Bas murmured before he pulled her close.
Tentatively, he pressed his lips to hers. This time, Hermione moulded herself against him, and kissed him back, her lips moving against his. When he touched his tongue to her bottom lip, she opened to him. With a groan, Bas poured everything he'd been feeling for months into his kiss. When they finally broke apart, Hermione was staring at him with wide eyes.
"Do you always kiss like that?" She demanded.
"Only you," Bas told her honestly.
"Good," Hermione said. The fire that he loved flashed in her eyes. "Keep it that way."
End Note: When I originally posted this, ShayaLonnie had not yet DONE THE THING! Now that she has, you must know that Bas sent Hermione's rings in a genuine Victorian Mahogany box. Because he's classy like that. Only the best for his woman.
If you haven't checked out Shaya's Reclamation of Black Magic-RUN, do not walk! So good! I can't give any spoilers, but this story made me gasp out loud, squeal, bounce in my seat, and other stuff. You lot have NO IDEA what she's going to do to us. I can't wait!