A/N: A law school AU for our favorite gang. A few twists, probably. Unapologetically cheesy. Plenty of fun. Reviews are always appreciated.
"Three towers, one of them a little taller than the other three. Some sort of odd - " Hermione raised a hand and twirled it around a bit, thinking. "Odd, ghostly light coming from the tallest one."
"Hmm," said Ginny, followed by the sound of tin clanking and the clatter of pencils sliding over one another. "What color?"
"That's not that helpful, you know."
"More whitish than bluish."
"So, the color of my front door?"
Hermione turned her head from where she'd been staring at the ceiling - painted a depthless blue and spotted with constellations and nebulas and swirled, lazy chains of stars - to the door of her friend's apartment.
"That has green in it," Hermione said, looking at the bright door. "No green."
"No green," Ginny assented, and the pencils clattered again. Hermione's eyes slid lazily from the door to the wooden shelves next to it, lined with plants of all types - towering orchids that brushed the shelf above them; sweet little succulents in various pots and mugs, some of which Hermione knew she'd given her as a gift, which she'd be insulted about it she didn't know how highly Ginny valued her plants; aloe plants with leaves like arms draping gracefully to the floor; bursts of colorful carnations and little rosebuds.
Her friend collected plants like spare change. They were slowly spreading beyond the shelves to other surfaces in the apartment. Hermione had found a cactus in the toothpaste drawer when she'd spent the night last week.
"Ron should build you some more shelves," Hermione said.
"Yeah," her friend replied. "He's been so busy, though."
Her boyfriend, Ginny's brother, had accepted a rigorous internship with one of the companies that made people's jaws drop when you showed them your key card. He'd bought a new briefcase and went around proclaiming he was just a month away from promotion to a full-time employee, but as he was only halfway through business school, Hermione quite doubted he'd be receiving an offer. It was good for him to have something to do, though.
She settled into her friend's faded pink couch that she'd spotted in a junkyard and readjusted the knitted yellow pillow beneath her head. Ginny's taste was eclectic - nothing in the apartment matched, and most of it was covered in murals and half-finished drawings, not to mention the plants - but the faint smell of brown sugar and her friend's welcoming presence made it the closest thing to home she'd ever known.
The scratching of the pencil was quite comforting, and had Hermione not been anxious for the result of the sketch, she might have fallen asleep to its rhythmic sound.
"I saw the guy again," she said quietly.
"The one with the ivory skin and the pretty amber eyes?"
"Just his face."
"You never see anything more than his face. It's getting disappointing."
"He looked upset."
The scratching stopped, and Hermione saw her friend reach for a lump of charcoal out of the corner of her eye. The previous sketchbook page whipped like a gunshot, and she started a new drawing.
"What kind of upset?" Ginny prodded.
"Disturbed," she said. "Like he'd just seen something terrible."
"Give me more."
"His eyes were stretched out wide, and his mouth was shaking like a fault line."
"Poetry," Ginny hummed. "I do so love your descriptions."
"I'm just telling you what's in my mind. Why does this help, anyway?"
"One, it helps me with ideas for my capstone. Two, it helps you vent when you talk about these ridiculously vivid hallucinations."
She could hardly argue with that.
"His hair spilled over his forehead like…white ink," Hermione said quietly. "And the circles beneath his eyes were the color of wine. And it seemed like something was in the distance that he didn't want to see."
Hermione stood abruptly and meandered over to the kitchen to help herself to one of the cookies her friend had made, and opened the cabinet.
"Want tea?" she called out.
She pushed aside a New Years 2002 mug with baby's breath spilling over the top to get her friend's request, as well as a bag of Earl Grey.
"I'm thinking you should dye your hair again," Hermione said when she returned with two steaming mugs, settling into the couch and curling her knees up to her chest. She tried to crane her neck to look at the sketchbook, but Ginny just moved with her. Resigned, she sipped her tea and immediately wished she had waited for it to cool.
"I agree. What color?" Ginny asked.
"It was red two months ago." It was currently the electric green of a broken glow-stick. Her friend cycled through boxes of hair dye like she cycled through men. Only the plants stuck around long enough to grow roots in her life. The plants, and Hermione. They'd been friends too long to even consider what it would be like without one another. The aspiring law student with pristine brown curls and a caustic attitude was closest friends with the messy art student whose hands were more often covered in paint than not. And it worked better than most things in their lives. It made sense.
"Not red like a fire. Red like rust."
"Alright," Ginny said, her brow furrowed in concentration. "I was going to get a new tattoo, too."
That was another thing that differed between them - Ginny's dusky skin was covered in a dozen little delicate tattoos, where Hermione's was only marred by an embarrassment of freckles.
"Your beautiful face."
"Maybe of this beautiful face, then?"
Ginny turned her sketchbook, and Hermione's breath caught at the perfect rendering of her vision. A man who stood on the edge of insanity. On the brink of desperation. Starving for something - anything.
Hermione had had the dreams for years, but she'd never had anyone to talk to about them. Not until she met her freshman roommate, Ginevra, who rubbed her back when she woke up covered in sweat and didn't judge her for the strange, strange things she said in her sleep.
The dreams had gotten worse recently. There was a lot more blood. A lot more hatred.
When Hermione had moved to Cambridge on a law fellowship, Ginny had applied to a prestigious art school nearby. They'd drive each other mad if they lived in the same place - they'd proven that over the years at school - but they spent plenty of time with each other.
"Exactly right," she nodded.
Ginny flipped the page back. There was the castle - the one she kept seeing, and the odd bluish light in its tallest tower.
"I like this one," Ginny said thoughtfully, tore it out of her sketchbook, and taped it to the wall along with the rest of the sketches that Hermione had dictated to her - women with silver hair and blood on their knuckles, fire like rain, people strangled by dark ropes, the large castle with its turrets. And, over and over again, the man with the amber eyes and the silky smirk. "Reminds me of a Disney movie."
"It's a bit nicer than the one next to it," Hermione agreed - that one was a redheaded boy, though clearly dead, smiling broadly.
"One day, we'll figure out how these are all connected."
"They're not connected," Hermione said. "They're just dreams."
"Everything is connected," her friend said solemnly, pulling her shock of green hair into a bun. "The artist in me sees a common theme."
"Loss," Ginny said. A chill raised the goosebumps on Hermione's arms, and she huddled closer into the pillow. "Desperation. And - magic."
"Magic," Hermione said, rolling her eyes. She had a case brief sitting on her desk at home. The only magic would be if she'd be able to finish it before her 8 am.
"Magic," Ginny replied. "Both the ordinary sort, like walking in the rain and not getting a drop on you, and the real sort. The witches in swamps and trade your soul for wings sort."
"You're crazy, Gin."
"Maybe," her friend said dreamily. "But I'm not the one who travels to some other world every time I sleep."
Hermione glanced at the face of her Rolex and frowned, fidgeting in her front row seat. 8:01. Riddle was late. If he didn't show up to class today, she'd spent all night working on that case brief for absolutely nothing, and she was going to be quite peeved.
She reached for her agenda in her bag and sighed heavily through her nose at the amount of appointments today. She had an interview for a law clerk position, lunch with her friend Harry, and studying for a copyright law final until eight, when she was going to Ginny's art show downtown.
She was startled as the door banged open, and even more startled at who strolled through.
The man. The desperate one with eyes like fire and skin like porcelain. Or at least a very convincing lookalike.
She reached for her phone mechanically. She had to take a picture of this - she had to show Ginny. She felt a surge of disappointment when she realized her phone was dead. She'd forgotten to charge it last night.
It was him. She was so sure it was him. He was dressed in a smart grey button-down and navy jeans, and he wore clear glasses that made him look like a Vogue spread, but nonetheless - it was him.
He dropped a worn leather bag on the front table, braced his hands on it, and smiled.
"Good morning, Ethics of Criminal Procedure II," he said in a voice like slowly-melting butter. (Hermione blushed immediately after the phrase crossed her mind. Was she Paula Deen now?) "I am not Professor Riddle, but this is now my class. This hour - the whole hour - you are mine. Close your laptops and notebooks. If you can't pay close enough attention to remember what I say, you don't deserve to be in this class."
"Who are you?" a girl next to her said, voicing Hermione's clamoring thoughts.
"Not important," the man said. "Who are you?"
Taken aback, the girl said, "Pansy."
"Good morning, Pansy," dream-man said pleasantly. "A man has been shot with a silver bullet in the base of the spine. He's spread-eagled on his back porch and a ring of salt is spread around his body. What was the cause of death?"
"Me?" Pansy asked.
"Is there anyone else I'm looking at?"
Whispers erupted, but with one heated sweep of his gaze around the lecture hall, noise stopped completely.
Hermione sat up in her chair, remembering to breathe again. It had to be a coincidence. Perhaps she was just imagining how much he looked like the man she'd seen weeping and laughing and staring at demons for twenty-three years.
"The bullet," Pansy said. "Obviously."
"Wrong," the man said. "Anyone else?"
"Dehydration," a voice spoke up from the back. "From the salt."
"Creative, but wrong."
"Fell and hit his head."
"Hypothermia," Hermione said.
The man's liquid copper eyes found hers, and she could hardly believe that she was staring at a nightmare made flesh.
"Rock salt from melting snow," she said. "Bullet probably leftover - usually they don't take them out of the base of the spine. A disabled veteran. Fell out of his wheelchair. Couldn't get up. Died of exposure."
"What's your name?" the man asked.
"What's yours?" she challenged.
The class whooped in appreciation, and her heart pounded when he flashed her that silk-smooth smirk that Ginny had drawn countless times. After an eternity, his burning gaze turned to the rest of the class.
"Professor Riddle asked me to fill in his class. I'm a former student. I work for Ollivander and McGonagall."
The most prestigious law firm in Britain - the one she dreamed of working for, someday. Its corporate offices were one big, glass tower in London, and you could see directly through to the other side - see people running about and presenting cases and flipping through powerpoints.
"I'm not sure when your professor will be back, but all coursework is postponed for the foreseeable future," he said. "Let's get to work. I'm working on one of the most difficult criminal cases of this century, and I'd like fresh eyes. I'd make you all sign confidentiality agreements, but you're at Cambridge law, so I trust you're smart enough to know I'll sue you for more than your mother's grave is worth if you breathe so much of a word of this to the press. Clear?"
He took the utter silence as consent, and turned to the board. He picked up a bit of chalk, fingernails scraping the metal, and screeched a large letter "D" onto the board.
"The main motivator for one-third of the crime in London," he said, turning around. "What is it?"
"Desperation," said a student.
When the class fell silent, he shook his head. "I expected more from Riddle's students, honestly." He turned to her again and pointed the chalk towards her face. "You - smart aleck. Any idea?"
She frowned. She didn't much take to being called names.
"No," she said, crossing her arms.
"Don't give me that look, front-row," the man said. "I know you. You're probably here on a fellowship from your 4.0 bachelor's degree, renting an apartment with your perfect boyfriend. You haven't been drunk in at least three years and you only drink filtered water from Norwegian springs. At night you cry because of how dead all your accomplishments make you feel."
Hermione couldn't even think for the rage that swelled up in her. He was uncannily right about a lot of that, but that didn't mean she was some priss - he didn't know her at all, and yet he was making some sort of rash judgment. "How can you say that? Who even are you?"
"I get it, front-row. You think I'm wasting your oh-so-valuable time. I get paid more than your trust fund's worth in a single year, so my time's infinitely more valuable than yours. So I'll say it again. Answer. My. Question."
She swallowed to dislodge her tongue from where it was sticking to the roof of her mouth. There was only one way to get him to stop eyeing her like a particularly tasty meal that he'd love to rip to shreds: to play his game.
"Delusion," she guessed.
"Correct," he said, smiling again in that odd, knowing way of his. "Delusion. We think ourselves on top of the world, we humans. We think we are magic. And so we do the impossible, and we think we'll never get caught. But us - it's our job to end those fantasies. To stop the magic. To cut the melody off half-way. When you think about it, we rather suck, don't we?"
"Sounds like you made this guy up," Ron said through a mouthful of fries. Harry had a last-minute thing with the UN Ambassador and so couldn't make lunch. That was her friend, though - quite a hero complex, out there saving the world doing who-knew-what. Lucky for her, Ron was free, and they met at their favorite cafe downtown.
Hermione popped a cherry tomato into her mouth, but she had the dignity to finish chewing before she spoke.
"I swear. He drilled us on impossible crimes for an hour to prepare us for whatever case he's working on. He insulted most of the class. He had us riveted. I hate him for it." She kindly left out how thoroughly he'd insulted her. Lawyers were always observant, but how did he know about the boyfriend thing? About the alcohol thing?
"I know you," he'd said. A creeping sense of foreboding overtook her and she glanced over her shoulder, pulling at the sleeve of her sweater, curling into herself.
"He never said why he took over for Riddle?"
She shook her head. "He just said he'd see us Wednesday. He didn't even give a real name."
She was going to look him up, but she felt rather stupid searching "irritating man with eyes as riveting as a car wreck and impeccable GQ style."
"Didn't you say he works for Ollivander and McGonagall? You can probably find him on their database."
"That's a good idea," she said. She had to know more about him - especially since sketches of him were plastered all over Ginny's wall.
"Hey," Ron said, taking her hand. "He's just some pretentious recent graduate having a grand time messing with students. Don't let him get under your skin."
She hadn't told Ron about the dreams. She never would. He was far too practical to understand.
"How's the internship?" she asked, changing the subject.
"Good as ever," he shrugged. "They mentioned making new hires this week. I think it's coming."
Hermione smiled what she hoped was encouragingly and made a silent note to pick up one of those Fast and Furious movies he liked so much and a bottle of red for them after work on Friday when he most certainly did not receive that promotion.
"Can I borrow your phone?" she asked. "Mine's dead."
"Sure," he said, pulling it out of his pocket. She slid out of the chair and walked out onto the quiet cobblestone street. She dialed a number she had memorized and leaned against the brick of the cafe. It rang hollowly a few times before going straight to her friend's chipper voice. You've reached Ginevra Weasley, art student at the Institute. For business, feel free to call my studio at…"
Hermione impatiently pushed the 1, and left her whispered voicemail. "Gin. It's me. My phone's dead, but I'll be with Ron for the next hour, so call me if you get out of the studio. I need to talk to you. Something — "
She froze immediately when she saw him again. There — across the street. His hair was a bit longer on the top than the sides, and it blew in the breeze as he walked. His leather bag was slung over his shoulder, and he was looking intently at something on his phone screen as he walked into the coffee shop.
She watched as he slid his phone in his back pocket, reached for the door, and held it open for the few people behind him, smiling brilliantly.
He turned to look at the street, and when their eyes met he gave her a pretentious little wave.
The chirp of the voicemail cutting her off shocked her out of her stupor, and she waved back, but he'd already went inside.
So she hadn't made him up. He was real — opening doors for people. Ordering coffee.
Not wanting to even consider the implications of that, she walked back into the restaurant and handed Ron his phone.
"Everything all right?" he asked.
"Yeah," she breathed, smoothing her hands on her jeans. And then, one more time, to convince herself: "Yeah."
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