AN: Happy Thursday everyone! A quick WARNING before this chapter, I'm including a sensitive topic today that is necessary for the plot. There are a few mentions of underage relationships, but they DO NOT go into extreme detail and are past tense. I believe I have handled them in a sensitive way, but if anyone has any comments or complaints please feel free to talk to me in the comments or shoot me a DM. Other than that, I hope you all enjoy reading this chapter as much as I enjoyed writing it. Love to you all, and I'll see you next week!
Hermione was impressed by how quickly Theo learned. In her opinion, he was one of the smartest friends she had, and she was grateful that he could keep up with her. Harry and Ron were wonderful friends, but she grew exhausted when teaching them. She always had to slow down, repeat herself, and rephrase the same concept multiple times.
Theo could pick up a simple concept the first time she taught it, sometimes simply by watching. His artwork was incredible, some of the most beautiful designs she had seen, and she was excited to see what he could do if given the right tools.
Despite the pleasant time they spent together, she was disappointed when Theo told her he wanted to keep his apprenticeship a secret. She understood the opinions of his friends mattered a great deal to him, but he was so passionate while learning and seemed so excited to become a tattoo artist. She would be surprised if his friends would look down on him for it, even if they were Blaise Zabini and Draco Malfoy.
Maybe, she thought with a wry smile, having a retired Slytherin working in my shop will bring about a more diverse customer base. The thought of Parkinson sitting in her weathered leather chairs filled Hermione with amusement.
"What are you smiling at?"
Waving her hand dismissively, Hermione said, "Nothing important. Do you think you can watch over the shop for a bit? I don't have any appointments today, so the only thing you would have to do is schedule future appointments if anyone comes in."
"Of course," he said easily. "I don't mind at all."
"Thank you, Theo. I have a meeting with my friends and Parkinson." She grabbed her sweater from the back of the sofa and made her way to the door. "We're meeting here in the Alley, so I won't be long. Send an owl if you need me."
Theo tried not to look nervous. Not because he would be keeping an eye on Virago, but because he knew Hermione and Pansy were meeting to deal with Rita Skeeter's article. The thought of the women becoming friends during their scheming lunches was not something he thought he was prepared for.
Hermione made her way through Diagon Alley, dodging through clusters of aimless students and chatting adults. She smiled at the carefree atmosphere. They had earned the right to wander through the Alley. It was a freedom that so many had fought for, and she was grateful to see something good had come out of the war, even if it made her trip to The Quibbler publishing office take longer.
When she walked into The Quibbler's newsroom, she was surprised to find no less that ten owls perched on various surfaces.
"Are all of these people wanting to speak out against Skeeter?" She directed her question at Ginny was was sitting on top of a nearby desk and sorting through letters.
"Surprisingly, no. I would say half of them are her fans wanting us to back off our investigation," Ginny said with a roll of her eyes to show just how much she feared the threats.
"Is there anybody in the office?"
"No," Luna answered from her office doorway. "I was supposed to meet with someone, but they canceled. Ginny and I were going to try and sort through these letters and then go get dinner, if you would like to join us."
Hermione made herself comfortable at one of the desks and beckoned an owl over to her. It would take all three of them to sort through everything before dinner. She glanced around the newsroom and marveled at how big their project had grown.
It hadn't taken long for word of what Hermione, Ginny, Luna, and Pansy were doing to spread.
They had started by asking a few friends and old school mates to give them testimonies, but soon became overwhelmed by the number of people wanting to talk. Rita Skeeter had meddled in too many lives, and they were more than ready to talk.
Harry had been more than happy to stop by Hermione's office and discuss the numerous articles Skeeter had written about him; each one more horrible and reputation ruining than the last. It had pained Hermione to listen as Harry discussed them in a casual manner that was almost as upsetting as the articles themselves.
Hermione was scared to admit the excitement she felt with each new damning piece of evidence they gathered. She knew the Daily Prophet was a lying tabloid, but she hadn't quite known the extent, and she was eager to show the truth face of Rita Skeeter to everyone who would look. But this story, the one sitting across from her now, the one that had Pansy wearing a wicked grin, this one made Hermione incredibly nervous and threw the rest of their work out the window.
"You were sixteen?"
Her voice was a whisper, laced with horror and concern so thick that made her throat constrict against the words. As if speaking them out loud made them true.
"The first time, I was sixteen. We met several times over the next two years, but she seemed to lose interest after I graduated."
Hermione's stomach twisted as a wave of nausea came over her. She never could have imagined Rita Skeeter would stoop so low. Lies, sure. Exposed secrets, absolutely. But this?
"I'm so sorry, Colin."
Colin Creevy gave her a sweet smile. "It's alright, Hermione. I may have been too young to really understand, but I'm fine now." He frowned at his hands which were clasped tightly around his favorite camera in his lap. "I just want to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else."
Pansy rested a hand on his shoulder in a gesture that Hermione assumed was supposed to be comforting. "Of course, Creevy. That's why we're here."
Hermione gnawed on her lower lip and searched for the right words to say. "Colin, I understand if you would prefer to remain anonymous in Luna's article, and it will be entirely up to you how much, or how little, she writes." She smiled reassuringly and promised, "You are the one in charge here."
"Thank you, Hermione." He gave her his signature, cheek-splitting smile and said, "I would like to work with Luna to decide how much should be said."
"Of course. Why don't you go ahead and meet with her in her office. I need to have a word with Parkinson."
Pansy looked both unsurprised and bored by the idea of Hermione needing to speak with her. She leaned back against one of the printing tables and inspected her fingernails for nonexistent dirt. "What upset your delicate disposition this time, Granger?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "You're being too aggressive with Colin. This is different from everything we've been doing so far, and it needs to be handled in a completely different manner. You need to back off and let him go at his own speed. Let Luna and I handle this. Not to be blunt, but we have more compassion."
"Compassion isn't necessary when writing a news article. He's a victim, and Rita Skeeter is a predator," Pansy said with matter-of-fact firmness. "The article should express exactly that."
"I agree," Hermione said emphatically, "but we have to be careful with the way we handle this."
"Granger," Pansy cut in with a roll of her eyes. "Creevy is an adult."
"He is," Hermione interrupted. "When all of this happened, however, he was a child. While he may have handled everything well and seems well adjusted, not everyone Skeeter went after will be."
Pansy weighed her words for several moments before nodding. "Very well. We can let this progress at Creevy's speed, however slow that may be. Skeeter will get what's coming to her either way."
Neither woman knew just how right Pansy was.
The impact of the first article released was better than they could have hoped for.
Colin had decided not to put his name in the article, and despite Pansy's protests his name wasn't needed. The article was written and published by the war heroine Luna Lovegood, supported by famous Holyhead Harpies chaser Ginny Weasley and Golden Girl Hermione Granger. It was verified by the head of the Auror Department, Harry Potter. How could anyone doubt the truth of it?
The amount of owls that flooded The Quibbler office were overwhelming. Most were from citizens of Wizarding Britain demanding to know who the anonymous victim of the article was, out of concern of course. A few were from Rita Skeeter's more stubborn fans demanding they apologize and release a retraction of their claims. But the only letters the witches paid attention to were from the other graduated students that Colin had mentioned. There were a concerning number of them.
Any number of letters, in Hermione's opinion, was unacceptable. But as the number crept higher and higher, her rage grew in intensity, and her regrets vanished.
Rita Skeeter was undeniably a monster.
They released three more articles that each contained multiple interviews, anonymous or otherwise, that illuminated just how horrifying of a person Rita Skeeter was. They gave access to The Quibbler's flu system to the people they interviewed so that the reporters camped outside in the Alley were unable to see who any of them were. Luna sat with each of them in her office, letting them tell their stories and decide what went into the articles they wrote, and made sure they knew they were in control. The Quibbler became a platform for them to speak out and a safe place for them to meet.
Hermione was so proud of what they had accomplished, and so caught up in the whirlwind of activity, that she almost forgot how confrontational Rita Skeeter could be. She should have expected it but was still surprised when Skeeter tried to break down the doors of The Quibbler and demanded to speak with the writers gathered inside.
Hermione, Ginny, and Luna stood in the middle of the front office and stared at the enraged witch through the glass.
This would be a memory Hermione would definitely have to put in a pensieve for Pansy.
"Do you think she can break the door open?" Ginny looked faintly amused at the situation they were in, not at all intimidated by the reporter.
"I'm not sure," Luna said softly from beside her. "The glass is quite thick."
Ginny cocked her head to the side and considered the door. "True, but the door is shaking a little when she hits it."
Luna looked slyly at Hermione. "I think, in terms of breaking, the door will hold out."
"She's crying," Hermione observed dispassionately.
"The door wins," Ginny said and passed Luna a galleon. "Pitiful."
They watched Rita Skeeter silently crying on the other side of the door, none of them moving to either let her in or tell her to leave. They were surprised the witch would allow herself to be seen in such terrible shape in broad daylight. And in a crowded, public place no less. It was almost concerning.
"We should let her in," Hermione said. She tried to sound firm, but her reluctance was obvious.
Ginny sighed loudly and argued, "Hearing her cry will be worse than watching her cry."
"It might be satisfying to argue with her," Luna offered. "Shouting can be quite cathartic."
"Have your wands ready," Hermione said as she walked towards the door. "She seems unpredictable today."
Luna pulled her wand from her hair, and Ginny tapped hers nonchalantly against her leg. They both looked calm, but Hermione was confident they would be able to defend her faster than Skeeter could act.
Hermione opened the newsroom door and stared at the still crying witch outside. She opened her mouth to ask her to leave, but was interrupted by a finger shoved in her face.
"You bitch!" Rita's voice was a shrill screech and caused Hermione to wince. "Do you have any idea what you've done?"
Ginny was right, Rita looked pitiful. Her makeup was smeared around her eyes and running down her cheeks in splotchy, black rivers. Her teeth were bared and had a red lipstick stain across them. Her purple skirt suit was rumpled, and there were mud stains on her shoes.
Without thinking, Hermione said, "You look pathetic."
Ginny choked back a laugh behind her, and Rita stopped mid-rant as she stared in shock at Hermione.
"You heard me, Skeeter." Hermione looked at her in disgust and sneered, "You look absolutely pathetic. All it took was a few articles to have you sobbing on our doorstep like a reprimanded child." She turned her back on her and walked further into the office. "You have no right to cry."
"No right?" The tears had vanished, most likely an act or an appeal to their kinder natures. Rita advanced on them, face red with rage under her makeup stains. "You had no right to write the things you did! They were slander! Outright lies, and I demand you write a retraction and an apology."
"I don't think you are in any kind of position to be making demands, Skeeter."
Rita whirled on Ginny. "I should have known you were involved in this, you hateful cow! After Potter dumped you, I should have known you would try and find your way back into the spotlight." Her angry gaze turned to Luna. "And the clueless Loony Lovegood. There was no possible way you could have the intelligence to orchestrate this by yourself. It didn't take much for Granger to convince you to print such horrible lies about me, did it?"
"The Quibbler has never printed lies," Luna replied calmly. "We value the truth far more than the Daily Prophet."
Hermione stepped in front of her friends and forced Rita to focus on her. "It was my idea, Skeeter. If you must hurl your less than creative insults, they should be directed at me."
Rita's snarl was hardly intimidating and reminded Hermione vaguely of a cornered kneazle.
"Perfect little Granger," she sneered. "Did those pictures get under your skin? How unfortunate. It must be so difficult to have your reputation put at risk."
"Are you trying to insult me and feel pity for yourself at the same time?" Hermione scoffed. "How the mighty have fallen."
Rita sneered. "As if you are any better than me. Just a few pictures and a harmless article, and you decide to try and ruin my entire career? How mature of you, Granger. You're a real role model. A goody two shoes right to the end."
"Skeeter, your abhorrent behavior has gone unchecked for too long. You have thrown everyone's lives into the gutter for the sake of your own reputation, and we believe it is time you were held accountable." Hermione let her disgust show clearly when she said, "What we didn't know was that your articles were the least of your transgressions."
"Colin Creevy is a lair. I would never —"
"But you did," Ginny cut it. She twirled her wand between her fingers in a casually threatening manner and said, "You are a twisted, disgusting excuse of a human being. I wanted to put you in Azkaban and watch you rot, but my friends decided to let the public put you on trial. Lucky you."
"On trial?" Rita let out a forced laugh that had a slightly crazed undertone. "The public loves me. They have relied on me for years to tell them the important going-ons in our community, and they would never believe such blatant lies."
Luna cocked her head to the side and asked, "Then why are you so scared?"
Rita sputtered indignantly. "I'm not scared!"
"Yes, you are." Hermione sighed and ran a hand down her face. "I had thought that arguing with you would be satisfying, but it is honestly exhausting." She raised her hand to cut off Rita's further arguing and said, "Just leave, Skeeter. The articles are written, the truth is out, and we won't be apologizing. Face the repercussions of your actions with whatever small amount of dignity you have left."
"Which isn't much," Ginny said with a snort of derision.
Luna shushed her.
"I… I'll take you to court," Rita shouted, a shaky finger pointing at each of them in turn. "I won't let you do this to me."
"Please do," Hermione said and crossed her arms over her chest. "Save us all the time and trouble of taking you ourselves."
Rita let out a wordless cry of frustration and stormed out of the newsroom, shutting the door with as much force as she could on her way out.
The slamming of the door startled the remaining owls and sent them flapping about the room. The three friends stood quietly amid the chaos, scattered feathers raining down around them. Hermione couldn't resist a small, proud smile.
Ginny propped herself up on Luna's shoulder with one arm and grinned. "Well that was fun."