Most Charming Smile
Chapter One: Gutsy Girls Finish First
It had seemed to Romilda Vane, upon her arrival in King's Cross Station, that the best place to monitor the platform traffic was from the Muggle side. On the pretense of waiting for her friends, Romilda had perched herself on a bench and whipped out the latest issue of Witch Weekly. Just like everything else in print, the magazine was full of advice about defending oneself and one's home against Death Eaters and personal anecdotes- including, of course, the exploits of Harry Potter. Romilda smiled her most mysterious smile and peeked casually over the top of Witch Weekly, scanning the crowd for a sign of The Gorgeous One.
"Romilda, darling, what are you doing?"
Suddenly, the view of the train station was blocked by the figure of a woman, clad in magenta with her hands on her hips. Romilda moved the magazine away from her face (it had been nearly touching her nose) and gazed up at her mother. Before she could protest, the magazine had been tugged from her hands and stuffed out of sight in her mother's overlarge dragon hide handbag.
"Do try to be careful when you're on the Muggle side of things, darling," Lucilla Vane trilled, patting the moving magazine cover. "I would much prefer to get on the platform already, it's not nearly as safe here--"
As her mother continued rambling on to no one in particular, Romilda spotted him-- him! Harry Potter himself! He looked exactly as he looked in the Daily Prophet, The Quibbler, Witch Weekly and Young and Magical. Romilda jumped up from the bench and looked eagerly around her mother, quite forgetting to disguise herself behind the magazine. Harry Potter was flanked by two suited men— bodyguards, no doubt-- who accompanied him through the barrier and out of sight.
"I've just seen Audrey," Romilda said hastily. She snatched Witch Weekly out of her mother's purse, slung her book bag over her shoulder and made a dash for platform nine and three quarters. Her startled cry of "Darling!" and the sudden squeak of wheels from behind indicated that Mother and the house-elf were following with the trolley. Romilda plunged forward through the barrier without waiting for them.
For a moment, Harry Potter seemed to have vanished. Romilda stood on her toes, scanning the crowd.
"Romilda!" her mother panted, coming to a heel-clicking halt. "Do not stand on your shoes that way! You'll crack them!"
Romilda dropped down and looked balefully at her mother, who continued in a shrill voice, "They aren't even real leather, I do not know why you wanted them to begin with, but they simply won't last if you stand on them like that. It bends them, darling."
With a sigh that was half exasperated, half adoring, Romilda's mother patted her daughter's cheek. She began to herd Romilda towards the train, motioning for their house-elf, Bop, to follow with the trolley. Romilda momentarily forgot that she had been pretending to wait for her best friend when Audrey Brockman herself appeared out of the thick steam.
"It's certainly smokey here today," she commented, by way of a greeting. "We must be upwind or something."
"It's not smoke, it's steam. And we are downwind."
"Whatever. Don't be so smart."
Romilda grinned. "Nice to see you, too."
"It always is," Audrey replied tartly.
Romilda turned back to her mother, who was speaking sternly to Bop and gesturing at her daughter's trunk. She didn't seem to notice that Romilda was hugging her and patting her hand, attempting to drag the trunk off of the cart and into the train. With a quick "Oh, goodbye, Darling, goodbye! Have a nice term!" Romilda's mother vanished in a flash of magenta, taking Bop with her. The unattended trolley began to drift drunkenly backwards, but Romilda let it be and followed Audrey's blond head through the packed train.
About halfway through the train, Audrey ducked into a compartment, dragging her trunk behind her. Romilda followed her in and was greeted by several people at once. The Sorting Hat might prattle on about how divided the school was, but Romilda thought it was a bit unfair of the Hat not to consider the fact that some students did maintain friendships outside of their houses. Diversity was one of the top priorities of the Charms Club at Hogwarts; in fact, it was practically the entire purpose of the group. She raised her hand to greet the club members before her, smiling at her own open-mindedness.
Romilda had joined the Charms Club in her second year after reading an article about it in Young and Magical. Well, to be honest, it hadn't been an article about the Charms Club specifically. It had been an interview with Celestina Warbeck, who had gushed about her first love-- the president of the Charms Club in her Hogwarts days-- whom she had written her first hit song about. Romilda had rushed to join the club immediately after that. Though the presidents of the Charms Club since Romilda joined had both been girls, Romilda had remained in the club. Not long after the YM interview, Witch Weekly had done a piece on diversity, praising Hogwarts for hosting the Triwizard Tournament and for offering a "hip selection of clubs and societies" that encouraged inter house mingling.
Yes, thought Romilda, looking about the compartment. We are a hip society, aren't we?
Romilda's usual group had accumulated, as hip and diverse as ever. There was Halimeda White from Ravenclaw, Erin O'Brien, a Hufflepuff, and Erin's boyfriend Marcus Dyakov, also a Ravenclaw. Audrey and Romilda represented Slytherin and Gryffindor. They were only a small sample of the Charms Club roster (though, admittedly, quite diverse.)
"Hello, Audrey, Romilda," piped up Halimeda, who was already buried in a magazine-- Fashion Seer, it looked like. "I hope you both had nice summers."
"Oh yes," Audrey replied. "My family went to the World Cup in Japan. Fascinating country. Japanese cuisine has always interested me."
Romilda snickered to herself. Clearly, Audrey had been reading her mother's issues of Gilda Lachoix's self-titled magazine. The June 1996 issue, to be exact, had bluntly stated "Japanese cuisine is interesting". It was all about magazines with Audrey Brockman; the girl had no shame. Gilda Lachoix was essentially the female counterpart of Gilderoy Lockhart, though her spectacular breakthroughs pertained more to fighting dust bunnies and dinner parties than to dark forces. Although, Romilda had found that Lockhart and Gilda Lachoix did have strangely identical suggestions on the removal of garden gnomes. In the Harry Potter issue of the Quibbler, Romilda had learned that there was alarming evidence suggesting that Gilderoy Lockhart and Gilda Lachoix were actually the same person.
"-- well he isn't a Prefect, is he? He's probably around here somewhere."
"There's probably not enough room for any of us in his compartment anyway, he's probably surrounded. Did you see his bodyguards?"
"I bet they're Aurors."
Erin, Halimeda and Audrey's conversation suddenly came into focus. Romilda snapped her attention to them immediately. They could only be talking about Harry Potter and his entourage. Romilda had wondered where he had disappeared to.
"We could invite him to sit with us," she said sharply, casting meaningful looks at her friends.
Erin leaned in conspiratorially. Halimeda giggled and clapped a hand over her mouth as if giggling was uncharacteristic of her. Audrey's face took on a dreamy expression, contemplating being in the company of Harry Potter. No one made a move for the door, but Romilda knew her proposal was golden.
"Harry Potter is in sixth year," said Halimeda in a hushed voice.
"Halimeda is right," Audrey responded at once, sounding as though she were an expert on the subject. "He's a celebrity and he's a sixth year. He only dates older women."
Romilda rolled her eyes, and Erin looked momentarily downcast. The train was nearly at full speed now, and they had left the train station behind. Harry Potter, wherever he was, must be nearly settled in his compartment by now. It was time to take action. Romilda abandoned her seat, checked her reflection in the glassy window, and charged to the door. Struck by a sudden fit of the nerves, she turned back to her silent friends.
"Er. . . Come on, then. One of us has got to invite him."
Audrey was at her heels in a flash of perfect curls. "I'll ask him," she said firmly, whipping out a tiny cosmetic mirror from a pocket in her robes. "Gutsy girls always finish first."
That is so YM, Romilda thought jealously. She was the Gryffindor, not bloody Audrey. Oh well. Romilda would be sure to get a word in once they had him in their compartment.
Without waiting for any further comment from anyone, Romilda stepped out into the corridor and began to peek carefully into the left side compartments while Audrey took the right. Sooner than anticipated, Audrey let out a squeal and stopped. Romilda turned to see her beckoning with a wild flurry of hands. Erin pointed unnecessarily at the compartment they had stopped in front of and mouthed "He's in here!"
Audrey reached out her hand to open the door, and then drew it back in another flurry of movement. She raised her eyebrows at Romilda and looked at the door. Erin tapped her knuckles impatiently on her lips. Halimeda suddenly materialized behind them and leaned between Audrey and Erin to peek into Harry Potter's compartment.
"Harry Potter and the Amazing Technicolor Owl," she giggled.
"He's sitting with that Ravenclaw, Loony Lovegood," Erin explained quietly in response to Romilda's frown, simultaneously shushing Halimeda.
"Have you asked him yet?" Halimeda whispered.
"You ask him!" Audrey challenged.
Romilda sucked in a breath. "I'll do it!" she announced.
Somehow, her fingers found the door handle. A surge of courage (or was it adrenaline?) coursed through Romilda's chest, and she threw the door open with a bit more force than was necessary. Letting the courage (or was it true love?) guide her, Romilda stepped into the compartment of Harry Potter. She turned confidently towards him, willing herself not to crack an unattractive smile as her eyes passed quickly over Loony (who was wearing the strangest glasses Romilda had ever seen), and said boldly, "Hi, Harry, I'm Romilda, Romilda Vane."
She took a breath, fluttered her eyelashes just a tiny, tiny bit, and forced herself to continue with her quest-- despite the fact that she had just spotted a third person in Harry Potter's compartment. Well, it was really more like a third of the third person. Romilda couldn't tell whose backside it was, but there was definitely someone underneath the seats with only his bum showing. Romilda felt instant sympathy for poor Harry-- after all of his achievements, he couldn't even find anywhere to sit.
"Why don't you join us in our compartment? You don't have to sit with them," she said delicately with her well-practiced smile of mystery.
"They're friends of mine," Harry said, much to Romilda's surprise.
Surely he couldn't mean it. Well that settled it, he was just too noble and kindhearted for his own good. It wasn't that Harry Potter couldn't find anyone to sit with, it was simply that he took pity on people of lesser status than himself. After all, he did have his own group of friends-- friends who supported him in all he did and helped him fight off the agents of evil when they invaded areas of the Ministry so secret that they might not even exist. . . ! Romilda wanted to run to him and declare her undying love for him! She wanted to praise him for not succumbing to the pressures of being cool by ditching Loony and Mr. Bum (whom Romilda suddenly realized might be Neville Longbottom. The irony of this was not lost on her). Instead she said coolly, "Oh. Oh. Okay."
"Abort!" Erin squeaked the moment Romilda had closed the door. She didn't need to; Audrey, in typical Slytherin fashion, had abandoned ship as soon as Romilda had introduced herself. Halimeda had followed her almost immediately after Harry refused the invitation. To her credit, Erin had stayed to the end, but her bravery could not stand against a fit of the giggles. Shrieking like a banshee, Erin tore back to their compartment in a most unflattering manner.
The tension was so high by the time Romilda had returned to her seat that she almost felt the need to cast a Bubble Head Charm just to relieve her ears of the pressure. Even Marcus was staring at her, though he seemed more skeptical than expectant. Erin looked like she might burst with laughter and Halimeda was shaking silently from behind Fashion Seer.
"Perhaps you need to work on your mysterious smile," Halimeda managed at last, dropping her magazine and laughing without restraint.
Romilda couldn't help giggling herself; it was actually rather funny now that she thought about it. She had definitely been snubbed by Harry Potter. They had all been snubbed by Harry Potter. Perhaps she hadn't spent enough time in front of the mirror with the mysterious smile.
"What in Hades is an Amazing Technicolor Owl?" she demanded at last, sending Halimeda into fresh peals of laughter.
"Never mind that," interrupted Audrey. "Your approach was all wrong. Zero subtlety. He was going to decline the moment you asked."
"Oh, what would you have done, stood out in the corridor and wet yourself?" Romilda retorted. "Or, better yet, pulled a real Slytherin and run off to hide?"
"Play nicely," Erin warned. Bickering always made her anxious.
"I wasn't going to take a shot at her House," Audrey returned. Instead, she pulled out Witch Weekly and held it aloft for all of them to see.
"Is that. . . the next issue?"
Romilda couldn't believe her eyes. Witch Weekly was always published on Sundays and distributed on Mondays. The copy that she had herself was supposedly hot off the press. Her father had jumped through hoops to have it delivered to their home a day early, the minute it was printed. How was it possible that Audrey already had the next weeks issue?
Romilda was torn between envy and awe, so she settled for a dropped-jaw expression.
"I know," said Audrey dramatically, nodding at Romilda's expression and looking like she couldn't believe her own luck.
"How did you get that?"
"That can't be the next issue! Show us the date!"
"Ooh I'm so jealous!"
When the buildup of excitement was too much to take, Audrey spoke. "My cousin Ruby is working for their astrologist now. Ruby was a Divination whiz if you recall, she graduated the year we started. Witch Weekly gave her a sort of apprenticeship, and she's going to send me the advance issues as soon as they're printed." She emphasized the last words with a catty smile pointed at Romilda's bag, where the current Witch Weekly had been hastily rolled up and stowed.
"How can it already have this week's news in it?" asked Marcus suddenly. All the girls turned startled looks on him, and he shifted awkwardly away from them. "My mum reads it," he mumbled, and pulled a textbook from his bag on reflex (this was Marcus's usual back up plan in case socializing went awry.)
Halimeda took the magazine and opened it very carefully to the back area where news stories were usually listed. "It's all blanks here," she announced, leafing through several empty purple pages. "Perhaps they write out all of the rest of it and then squeeze in the news at the last minute?"
Tuning out of the chatter at once, Romilda threw a betrayed look at her seriously outdated magazine before settling back to analyze the past ten minutes. She was thinking again about Harry Potter, who had actually spoken to her. "They're friends of mine." Four whole words, plus punctuation; five if you wanted to count "they're" as two words. Okay, so maybe four and a half words. Not to mention the nonverbal communication, which, according to Young and Magical was vital to understanding the opposite sex. She tried to recall the exact tone and inflections Harry had used in his four and half word sentence to her. "They're friends of mine." What had he been trying to say?
On the one hand, he had sounded defensive. This made sense considering all of the things Romilda had read about Harry Potter. He was a very private person, which was completely understandable. Many celebrities were like this. However, he had not been rude, had he? He had been given an opportunity to escape Loony Lovegood and Neville Longbottom, and he had gone out of his way to not be rude to them. Romilda wished she could've told Harry that there was no need for him to defend his choices to her.
"They're friends of mine."
The words had moved into her mind and made themselves at home. The only problem with this that Romilda could find was that the more Harry repeated himself in her head, the easier it was for her to invent her own version of Harry's words. She didn't do it on purpose, but four and a half words quickly turned into full heartfelt confessions that hadn't yet happened.
". . . I didn't bring it out so you could check your horoscope." Audrey's disdainful voice cut into Romilda's fantasizing.
"It's not that big of a deal, I just like to keep informed, thank you! Just let me peek!" Erin held her hands out for Witch Weekly.
"Oh come off it, these are the horoscopes for next week, you'll just forget them." Audrey was refusing, probably for no reason at all.
"Audrey, you're being such a magazine Nazi." Halimeda was flicking impatiently through Fashion Seer with a knowledgeable look on her face.
"You never make any sense, d'you know that Halimeda? Never." Audrey looked right at Romilda and handed her the coveted advance issue of the most popular modern magazine for witches. It was folded over to an article with the title "Summoning the Man of Your Dreams: A Witches Dating Guide."
"What's this rubbish?" Romilda asked with a raised eyebrow of well-practiced apathy.
"The Nazis were like Death Eaters in Muggle-land back in the '40s," rambled Halimeda in a vague way. "So when I call you a magazine Nazi, I mean that you're oppressing us all with your miserly magazine sharing."
"Enough with the Muggle trivia!" Audrey said loudly.
Halimeda looked up with a sheepish smile, not remotely perturbed by Audrey's tone. "Just a fun fact."
"Here's a fun fact for you. We just had an encounter with Harry Potter, The One Not Yet Chosen For Witch Weekly's Most Charming Smile Award But Will Be Someday. Granted, it did not go that well, but that was just a test." Audrey looked around impressively. "It totally validates this article, you see."
Romilda didn't see the connection. "How can our being turned down possibly validate an article about Summoning the Man of Your Dreams?"
"Read the first part," instructed Audrey.
Clearing her throat, Romilda read from a section titled The Tall, Dark Introvert, "'Gutsy Girls finish first, but this does not mean one should simply stroll up to a wizard and introduce herself,'" she read. "'While tall, dark strangers are shown to be six times as sexy as your average wizard, they are not nearly as approachable.'"
"Possibly because tall, dark strangers are about six times more likely to kill you these days," grumbled Erin.
"'While tall, dark strangers are shown to be six times as sexy as your average wizard, they are not nearly as approachable,'" Romilda continued. "'According to a Witch Weekly poll, modern wizards are currently favoring the quiet but self-confident witch. So, if your wizard is a TALL, DARK INTROVERT (see the What Type is Your Wizard? chart on page 22), mix a little mystery and intrigue into things and watch the effects. Be reserved. Play hard to get! (See page 24 for more on approaching TALL, DARK INTROVERTS.)'"
A contemplative silence filled the compartment as the girls absorbed Witch Weekly's advice. Romilda rubbed her chin absently. Yes, perhaps she had been a bit too forward; too much mysterious smile and not enough mystery. It was certainly something to consider-- the magazine had been correct when it predicted that the Tall, Dark, Handsome One wouldn't respond to a bold and open invitation. Harry Potter just needed to be worked on a bit, but not so much that he noticed he was being worked on.
Audrey spoke first, her chin lifted and posture straight, gazing down her nose at Romilda. "If you're going to go after Harry Potter, I think you're going to need to reinvent yourself," she said.
"It isn't a matter of if," Romilda replied saucily. "It's a matter of how."
She had always wanted to say that.
A/N: Kudos and applause for sveltskye, who handles my runaway commas, run-on sentences and awkward passages over at the Sugar Quill. Thanks also to Laurelism for the formatting help, and to A.J. for being a big pain .