This was my exchange fic written anonymously for angeepang's request in the dmhg fic exchange a couple of months ago. Now reveals happened and I figured that I'd post it to here since Bracelet updates are a bit slow lately. This one is five parts and about 21k words in total. Hope you like.
Would you prefer an art or fic gift?: Fic please
Song, Poem, or Quote (title/original creator): Mine is a Mark Twain quote from The Czar's Soliloquy -- There is no power without clothes. It is the power that governs the human race. Strip its chiefs to the skin, and no State could be governed; naked officials could exercise no authority; they would look (and be) like everybody else - commonplace, inconsequential.
Describe your ideal gift in as few words/keywords as possible (plus rating): Rating I'm flexible on, though NC-17 isn't really my cup of tea I wouldn't NOT read it. I'd like something funny that takes place after DH (EWE of course). I really just have this scenario in my head of Draco and Hermione in Diagon Alley (or anywhere) clothes shopping; separately and they run into one another or together from the start I don't care.
Dealbreakers (absolute no-no's): I hate curse words when they come out of Draco OR Hermione's mouths. It just never seems in character to me. Cheating!Jealous!CompleteIdiot!Ron is another I'm not too fond of, and Dark!Harry and GirlyGirl!Ginny too.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. Don't tell me you thought I did. JKR does. I am in no way affiliated with her, Bloomsbury or Warner Bros. I'm earning absolutely no money on this as my bank account will tell you. :) The prompt is written very loosely based on a quote by Mark Twain, thus proving that there are many people more famous, richer (and sometimes infinitely more dead) than I. I will have to deal with that.
Warnings: Conversational references to sex in non-explicit terms, mild language and the occasional extremely strange minor character.
Summary: Sometimes you're a hag in a nymph's body, and sometimes you're just a witch trying to hide the nymph in you...
Notes: A world of thanks to spikespetslayer and margotlefaye for being two of the coolest witches around and also for bearing with my constant whining and doubting and giving me such good advice. Also thanks to a few others who took the time to give me some much needed pointers in my time(s) of need. You know who you are. Written based on a Mark Twain quote from The Czar's Soliloquy: There is no power without clothes. It is the power that governs the human race. Strip its chiefs to the skin, and no State could be governed; naked officials could exercise no authority; they would look (and be) like everybody else - commonplace, inconsequential.
Hermione took a deep breath and tried to calm herself down. No reason to be upset. So there were a few minor setbacks. She had known there would be when she had refused the preferential treatment offered her after the war as one of the heroes. She had known she would have to work her way up from a nobody to a somebody and she had predicted that it might mean working a lot of nights and having to prove herself to people who didn't believe she was really the Brightest Witch of Their Age.
She hadn't quite predicted that it would mean answering to the Biggest Git of Their Age.
It hadn't started quite like that. At first, her job had been almost pleasant. It had been long hours and low pay, but she had begun on the road towards making her voice heard in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. She had figured that she would have the experience and the contacts to truly make a difference in the rights of house elves and other oppressed species within maybe a year or two.
No such thing. She had now been here eighteen months and the only change she had been allowed to make was which brand of coffee she had to make for her bosses.
Initially it had just been her and the one boss in this subdivision, a rather unlikeable old wizard who was rather set in his ways and not very interested in listening to her proposals. As unpleasant as he had been at times while lecturing her on 'the way of the world' and how she needed some 'life experience' to 'temper her idealism', he had been something she could endure.
Then about nine months ago he had arrived to occupy a position alongside her own. He hadn't wanted to be there and quickly made it very clear that if he had any choice he wouldn't be. But he hadn't any choice. The Malfoys' case had finally made it through the system and they had—of course—gotten off the hook with no more than a fine, a prolonged holiday abroad for Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, and some forced 'correctional work' for Draco Malfoy, who had refused to leave the country until people forgot about their crimes.
Instead of doing any work, though, he decided to make friends with the boss. It wasn't a hard thing for him to do, because although the old bigot didn't give one whit for the rights of those poor creatures he was put here to manage, he cared a great deal about money and power and that was something the Malfoys still had in abundance. Unfortunately.
Hermione might have been able to ignore it if it wasn't for the fact that Malfoy not only did not do any work but he kept accepting work with unreasonable deadlines, finding ways to dump it on her and making sure she barely had time to sleep, let alone anything else. Hermione had known that complaining to her boss would be futile though, so she had gone over his head and complained to the head of the department.
The boss had been reprimanded and as petty revenge—no doubt to 'temper' her—he had promoted Draco, even giving him his own little office. This gave him the ability to boss Hermione around without any repercussions whatsoever. And he did. Whenever he could. Smiling about it as he did it.
Naturally, Hermione had looked into whether the promotion, ludicrous as it was, was against Ministry regulations. Unfortunately, it wasn't. As long as her boss stayed within the budget of his department, he was free to manage all personnel as he saw fit. This included inventing new positions for convicts who got off on bossing other people around.
She had complained to Harry about the bad luck that was Draco Malfoy being put in her department and just from the look of his red ears she had known that it hadn't been coincidence before he had even opened his mouth. "I'm sorry, Hermione," he had said, "but I knew that you would be able to handle him, so I actually talked them into putting him there…" She had been hard pressed not to throw a tantrum right then and there, but Harry, possibly the Most Arrogant Auror of Their Age, had stubbornly maintained that her neither quitting nor being in tears counted as him being right in making this call. "Besides," he'd added, "he'll be gone once his year is up, then I'm sure everything will return to normal."
Trying to explain to Harry that Malfoy now had the power to keep her back in this thankless and futile position for yet another year by giving a false review of her performance before he went on his merry way (and how that prospect made her want to go on a killing spree) was futile, so she kept her mouth shut. But she had been considerably frostier towards Harry since then. When he asked her how long she planned to keep that up, she'd just replied, "Until his influence on my life is gone," and had walked off with her nose in the air.
Of course, that was somewhat shooting herself in the foot as she hadn't really had either time or opportunity to make any new friends in the Ministry and now she had no one to share her preciously sparse free time with.
"You're awfully quiet, Granger." It was that annoying drawl of his interrupting her thoughts.
"Forget it!" she hissed. "I am not spending my entire weekend cataloguing the minor acceptable differences in newts sold in Britain just because you feel like it!"
"Oh, and what else are you going to do? Shag that red-haired loser of yours?" he asked, putting on his cloak three hours before he was supposed to go home. Again. "Maybe if you do your job I will give you a nice review in two months."
His smirk was positively evil and they both knew he had absolutely no intention of reviewing her in any manner that would allow for a promotion. Merlin, she would be lucky to even keep her job once he was done lying through his teeth.
The most annoying thing was that he didn't even seem to be doing it because he hated her. No, he did it because he could and it amused him to be a total prick.
"I can't do it this weekend, Malfoy," she argued, pushing the stack of papers back towards him. She misjudged the force of her push, though, and sent her ink well over the edge, spattering the dark liquid on Malfoy's impeccable grey silk robes. Her eyes widened in horror at the irreversible mess. Ink stains weren't easily Scourgified or otherwise cleaned, and the ink the Ministry used was of a more lasting kind. There went her next many, many weekends. There was no way Malfoy wasn't going to seize on an opportunity to punish her.
Because he could.
He looked down on the mess she had made on his expensive clothes. "You're going to pay for that," he observed.
Oh, she was sure she was. She considered whether this career was really worth this. She could just walk away and find a perfectly nice, idealistic job—perhaps working for the Daily Prophet—that didn't require her to work fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, answering to a former Death Eater, for slave wages.
But then he'd win. She couldn't let him win. If she just endured for another few months he'd be gone.
Just a few months. She could do that...right?
His thoughtful expression suddenly turned into a rather menacing smile. "Yes, that's it. You're going to pay for a new set of robes. And not the rubbish kind you're wearing either, but ones like these."
Hermione stared at him. His robes probably cost more than she made in a year. "You have a hundred more just like it!" she argued. "You probably weren't even going to wear it ever again."
His smile widened and she was once again confirmed in her belief that he was completely and utterly evil. Evil was the lack of conscience or remorse, right? It certainly fit. "Aren't you and your lot all about principles?" he asked in a silky voice. "Well, it's the principle of the matter, isn't it? You destroyed my property, so you need to compensate me. And since I'm not really interested in any other form of compensation you might offer, money is the only option, isn't it?"
Great. She had sort of counted on eating, but now that probably wouldn't be an option for a while. And here she hadn't thought she needed a diet. "How much?" she groaned.
He looked thoughtful. "Come to think of it, I'm not in the mood to go buy new robes, so you do that instead."
"I can't buy robes for you."
"Sure you can. Madam Malkin has my measurements."
Hermione suppressed another groan. "Colour and fabric like this one?" she dully asked.
"Now, why would I want robes like ones I already had? Have a little imagination."
"Fine. Green with purple polka dots it is."
She couldn't help but take some satisfaction in his horrified expression.
He looked her up and down.
"And you'd think it was good taste too, wouldn't you?" Hermione gaped with indignation. Before she could retaliate though, he waved his hand dismissively. "Like I would allow someone with your poor sense of fashion to even try and buy me robes. Just stop tossing ink at me and give me those numbers by Monday!"
She fought down an urge to roll her eyes. "Weren't you going somewhere?" she asked, more than eager to get rid of him, if only for a few hours.
He looked down his robes. "I was, until you decided to make me horribly late. Now I will have to cancel." He sauntered off into the office that he hadn't earned.
Now Hermione did roll her eyes but somehow managed to hold her tongue. It wasn't worth it. Just a little bit longer and he would be gone. Just a few months.... Suddenly something occurred to her.
"I really can't do it this weekend," she called out. "I have that thing."
His form was back filling his door frame, now wearing another robe. A blue one. Peacock. Fitting. "Then cancel your thing. I need those numbers."
Hermione stared. "You keep a change of robes at your office?"
"Well, I have to with such clumsy people around me, don't I?"
She shook her head, shaking off the very disturbing reasons why he would be keeping extra clothes in his office since he certainly never worked late. "I, uh, I can't cancel the thing because it's the mandatory thing that everyone has."
"Oh. Right. That." He frowned. "Funny, I knew that, but somehow I didn't think of you going.... No offense, but you really aren't the type to be where there's actual fun to be had."
No offense indeed. Hermione ground her teeth. It was true that she wasn't exactly a social butterfly—she didn't have the time for that—but she hated the way he always made digs at her appearance and her dedication to work. She couldn't afford to wear expensive robes and she didn't have the time for much outside of work, that was true, but at least she had a goal, a purpose in life. He didn't. Sometimes she even felt sorry for his empty way of life, but he would usually cure that with one of his glib remarks.
True to form, he began sniggering. "You'll be dressing up as a hag, won't you? You are quite possibly the only female on this planet who wishes that she'd been born sporting a hump and warts."
She glared at him, not deigning to answer. Of course she wished for no such thing. Just because she didn't preen all the time didn't mean she didn't have her moments of vanity! She had just learned not to show them around the office since Malfoy unerringly seemed to spot them and find something new to disparage about her looks every single time. It wasn't that his opinion mattered, but since he was the only one who seemed to notice any change at all, she had just decided not to bother anymore.
He waited for a second to hear if she had a reply, but when she didn't, he just shrugged. "Fine, have it by Tuesday, then," he said, closing the door to his office. She couldn't imagine to do what since it was almost certainly not work. Maybe he needed a nap; after all, it was such a hard life to be rich and coddled by everyone.
The dark-haired girl, even a stranger to herself, smoothed her hands over the silvery flimsy fabric that only reached her mid-thighs. It was too short, really. It hadn't seemed that short when the salesman had shown it to her at the store. This combined with the straps leaving her shoulders bare and the neckline that plunged to show a generous amount of bosom made her feel naked. Or it should make her feel naked. Really, it just made her feel like the woman in her mirror was naked. She, herself, felt strangely detached from that person. The woman looking back at her didn't feel real.
She gingerly touched one perfect glossy black curl and stared into her emerald green eyes.
She really doubted anybody actually had that colour eyes. Even Harry didn't have such clear green eyes and everyone always remarked on those. It felt strange to have the wrong colour eyes staring back at her. Unsettling and exhilarating at the same time. It felt as if she was someone else, someone who might do anything she liked because people had no expectations of her.
She felt free.
She touched her much too pretty face. It felt strange to run her fingers over her skin, the familiar feeling not matching what she saw in the mirror at all. Her features were much too regular and her skin had a flawless look and a mother-of-pearl sheen to it that certainly was nothing like what she saw each morning as she stepped out of the shower. She probably shouldn't experiment too much, though, or she might end up poking an eye out.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Hermione," she burst out. "It's not like it's that different from Polyjuice Potion!"
She was a nymph. She had actually wanted to be a hag; Malfoy had called that one right, albeit for the wrong reasons. At the shop, however, the owner had made a fuss about how it was a pity to let her youthful attributes go to waste and how much easier it was if the costume matched the body type. He had actually ended up refusing to let her have a hag costume, saying he took pride in how well it fit and it wouldn't fit at all. It was ridiculous. She didn't really mind being a nymph, except there'd probably be 300 other nymphs or other ridiculously beautified female costumes present, and they'd probably think she was like them.
From her experience, she knew that she was nothing like the witches who would be going as nymphs.
She had much more in common with the hags.
But now the hags would think she was a nymph.
Hermione frowned. She wasn't making much sense. Besides, this was about going as what you weren't, and she certainly wasn't some vain, beautiful, absolutely brainless nymph. Perhaps it would be nice to try to be one for a change. Nobody would really know anyway unless she found a reason to stay all night. This silly Ministry thing might be mandatory in order to impress some French diplomats currently housed by the Department of International Magical Cooperation, but they didn't specify how long she had to stay or how much she had to mingle.
She turned back to the mirror to marvel at how complete the disguise was. She supposed that was why it had to somewhat resemble her own looks; so she wouldn't feel much differently than she looked, since it was only a glamour and didn't actually alter the body the way Polyjuice Potion did. Not that anyone would be feeling her, but, nevertheless, it was a nice detail.
She almost hadn't wanted to go at all, contemplating rare diseases that might get her excused. Malfoy had almost called that one as well. There would be many people present that she knew, but the invitation clearly stated that only spouses were allowed to share their identities until midnight, so… essentially she'd be alone. She didn't like being alone.
But everyone else would be alone as well.
Yet, as it turned out, everyone else wouldn't be a hag trapped in a nymph's body.
She was going in circles and this was moot. She was determined to prove herself a useful and worthy employee so she could finally get her promotion and going to a dumb party was the least she could do to prove her dedication.
It was time to go.
The masked ball was held in some old, stately mansion. She shuddered to think of the amount of pureblood snobs that would be present, but when working for the Ministry, one could hardly avoid diplomats. Or pureblood snobs. The two were pretty much interchangeable, she had learned. Good thing she hadn't wanted to become a diplomat because war hero or no, she certainly didn't have the pedigree for anyone to consider her for that position.
Sometimes she really did wonder if it was worth it to go through all this. Maybe she should just have accepted the higher position when it was offered. Maybe, in time, she could have convinced people that she belonged there.
Except reality said that no, she couldn't. She was young, she was female, she was idealistic, and she was Muggleborn...they would have completely disregarded everything she said, claiming eight kinds of ignorance. She needed to prove that she belonged in a position where she could make a change, and this seemed the only way to do it.
She handed her invitation to the vampire at the door, wondering if he was real or in costume. He waved his wand, making the invitation disappear and she was now officially an attendee. The presence of a wand suggested that perhaps he was in costume. The hungry look, however....
She decided to move on.
She was pointed towards a huge, open ballroom, where people were left to freely mingle. There were some doors off to the sides to what Hermione assumed to be the owner's personal rooms. Some of them seemed to be open to those that preferred a little more peace and quiet, though.
She had to remember that.
The place was a crush, and she soon discovered that she probably hadn't been too far off in her estimate of nymphs, Veelas and similar much too pretty costumes present. No two were the same, though, and just looking at people was an interesting pastime that almost made up for not knowing who anyone was. Also, there was the constant guessing game of who was in costume and who was really just another species. After all, they had only been able to make costumes mandatory for Ministry employees.
The most interesting costume was a Quintaped. Well, either it was a costume or it was someone's pet. Bringing a pet with a notorious taste for human flesh didn't seem very likely—or safe—though, so she decided to settle on it being a costume.
She was so intrigued by her own personal guessing game that after a few hours, when the crush was at its worst, she forgot where she was going and barged straight into someone.
Arms reached out to steady her and she looked up into the most incredible blue eyes she had ever seen. She lost her breath and just stared as the eyes widened slightly in surprise. Then the corners of the beautiful blue eyes crinkled in amusement and she realised what she was doing.
She was ogling something that was just a part of a costume. Those eyes were just about as real as her own too-green eyes and as she shot a second look, she found that on closer inspection, they were really too much. They might have been made of glass for all the realism and appeal they now held to her.
Embarrassed, she took a step back and frowned as she tried to make out this wizard's disguise. He was tall, but not overly so. He was lean and definitely hadn't felt pudgy when she had collided into his chest. He was tan and had light brownish hair that fell just short of getting in his eyes. Of course, his features were impossibly handsome. Again, it was artificial and held no real appeal. It was like looking at some portrait or perhaps a Roman sculpture—aesthetically pleasing, but not with any real depth behind the outer shell.
Of course, she didn't know who was behind the outer shell, but whoever it was was wearing a disguise, same as herself. She surmised that the real man was probably the direct opposite of his costume: Pale with dark hair and eyes and rather plain to look at.
Yet as for what the costume was… She let her eyes run down his length, and she honestly couldn't tell what he was supposed to be.
"Like what you see?" The man was amused at her curiosity. Well, let him. She wondered whether she might know this person since his voice seemed slightly familiar. She hadn't really given any thought to whether one's voice had also been changed. She supposed not, since a glamour only changed the visual.
"What are you?" she bluntly asked.
He raised an eyebrow, betraying some arrogance. Well, half the people here were arrogant. "You mean you can't tell?"
She shook her head. "No…"
"Oh," he said, now raising both his eyebrows. "She likes to be clever, then."
"Well, am I right?" She raised her own eyebrows. She could be arrogant, too, if need be.
His lip quirked, also reminding Hermione of someone or something. "To the man at the shop's great chagrin, you are. Completely. I'm just a man."
"Well, that's dull." Hermione was really getting into character. Normally she would be more polite, but why should she? Going to a costume party as 'just a man' was dull.
"Perhaps. But it was what I wanted to be for the night. No elaborate devil, creature or famous wizard appealed to me."
Hermione personally thought that the devil she had noticed when entering was quite interesting to look at. More interesting than a man, no matter how appealing his features were. "So…what?" She took in the trousers he was wearing. "You want to be a Muggle?"
Again he looked slightly taken aback at her bluntness. "Want to be a Muggle?" he mused. "Well…they do have it easy, don't they? No fuss about blood and all that to lead to wars and politics and endless boring squabbles."
So, he was hardly Muggleborn since he didn't seem to know that they had similar problems out there. He sounded mostly bored with the issues, though, meaning that he was hardly an idealist for or against any of the issues. Just another wizard more interested in living his own life than making an impact on others' lives. Nothing wrong with that, she supposed.
"The fuss is only what you make of it," she replied, sounding as neutral as possible.
He shook his head sadly. "That fuss is only a small part of it. There was a time when dating a non-pureblood would have earned me eternal disgrace. I actually considered doing it anyway once back then, but I wasn't very brave so I ended up deciding against it. Now…I wouldn't say people don't care anymore, but 'eternal disgrace' has pretty much lost its meaning in the vortex of the war and the…impact…it had on some of us. Mixing blood is suddenly such a trivial thing and yet people seem to go on and on about it as if it matters one way or the other."
Hermione blinked at the very candid words from the stranger standing in front of her. "You were…on the losing side…" she slowly said. Anyone trying to live up to the old pureblood standards would have had to have been either siding with Voldemort or staying neutral, but the bitterness in his words…he hadn't been passive back then. It wasn't a great shock, though. There were a lot of people that she had to see every day that had made the wrong decisions back then. The world wasn't black and white and she had long since learned that people did things for many different reasons, not all of them good or evil. It didn't mean that she had to condone siding with a mass-murdering psychopath, but keeping the hate alive just didn't work.
He shot her a cautious glance, grimaced and then sighed in resignation. He seemed to have picked up on her censure. Some things she didn't hide very well. "I was a kid back then," he murmured. "I didn't have a side. I did what I was told to do."
Hermione rolled her eyes at the weak defence. "The war was won by kids, you know."
He nodded, looking slightly absent-minded. "Yeah, they weren't me though. I told you already, I wasn't very brave. I would never have gone against my parents. I would have done whatever they asked me all the way. Even if it killed me."
She thought about that for a second. "Perhaps that's not a lack of bravery," she finally said, feeling magnanimous. "Perhaps that's just excess loyalty." She realised she meant it, too. You could hardly fault someone for loving their family and wanting to protect them. She, herself, had done some slightly questionable things over the years to help her family and friends.
Strangely, he burst out laughing. "I've never been accused of being excessively loyal before, but thanks. It's a small step up from being called a coward." He looked at her assessingly. "You're not what I expected."
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "You have expectations of people that run into you?"
His eyes slid down her form, telling her that clearly he did. That was the problem with being a hag in a nymph's body. People expected you to be a nymph and Hermione had no idea how to do that—or rather, she had an idea that she didn't really want to be one.
"So, what's your name?" he asked.
She shook her head. "You know I can't tell you that."
His lip quirked again in a way that Hermione had a feeling she should remember. "Just give me any name, then."
She considered. "Lethe."
"That's a strange name," he observed.
"Well, it's the name of a nymph." She crossed her arms, feeling like a very dorky nymph who actually knew a little bit of ancient mythology. Mythology didn't exactly rate very high in the wizarding world, but that didn't mean they were ignorant of it. They just saw it a little differently than Muggles and had their own versions of certain myths and Hermione had found it quite fascinating to compare the two. Not only that, she could probably write a thesis on the social, religious, and cultural influences behind every single similarity and difference in the Muggle and wizarding societies of today and God, was she being dorky now no matter what her costume was.
He tilted his head. "What kind of nymph?"
She had to give the short version or he'd catch on to the dorkiness. "She works in the Underworld. Those who drink from the river of Lethe earn oblivion from their mortal lives."
Something flashed in those fake blue eyes. "I think I'd like that very much."
At first Hermione didn't quite understand, but suddenly she realised what he meant and opened her mouth to protest that it wasn't an invitation and there certainly wasn't going to be any drinking of any kind. Then she saw the hint of amusement in his eyes and the line of his mouth. Was he making fun of her? She frowned.
"You're not used to this," he said, sounding wondering. "You're not used to being flirted with."
She blushed, hoping the glamour at least hid some of her embarrassment. Time to change the subject. "And what may I call you?"
He shrugged. "What's a common Muggle name?"
"John?" she suggested.
He winced. "Not quite as pretty as Lethe, is it?"
"I thought you said Lethe was a strange name."
"It is, strange but still pretty."
Yeah, yeah. He had to say that. "John is common but...common," she replied.
"And that's what I asked for, isn't it?" His eyes sparkled with amusement. "You don't want to be here," he suddenly added.
The statement took her somewhat by surprise. "Um, sure I do. We're having a perfectly pleasant—"
"I don't mean talking to me. I mean here at the party. Come on." He grabbed her hand and began pulling her off towards a door.
"What are you doing?" she asked, not quite sure if she should object or not. She probably should, but what exactly was he going to do that could be so bad at a huge party like this?