Notes: Just a little bit of writing to get things moving. Probably crap.
Disclaimer: The HP universe does not belong to me; I am just borrowing.
Lesson One: Concrit
"Normally I think it rather unfair to critique a play's actors. Often a poorly written script will mask the skills of even the most talented actors. But not only was 'S.P.E.W' horrendously written, it was also atrociously cast. Did you recognize its star, 'Harry Potter'? Neither did I."
Seething, Hermione Granger crumpled up the Hogsmeade Times before pitching it into the fire. She was usually strictly against wasting paper — after all, newspaper had more uses than even duct tape — but she would never be capable of bringing herself to reuse any piece of paper that contained words written by him.
The flames curled around the black-and-white photograph attached to the article, framing the angelic face of the infamous critic Voldemort. In the photograph, one eyebrow was quirked in amusement, and his pale lips were pressed together as though stifling a derisive snigger. His dark hair was just long enough to fall tantalizingly across his forehead in dark waves. He was wearing a simple black sweater, probably of the finest cashmere.
She had never met Voldemort, but she had known of him long enough. He had gained fame as a scathing journalist and blogger, going by the name Tom Marvolo Riddle Jr., and Hermione was ashamed and disgusted to admit that she had once avidly followed his work. Back when she and Ron had been a thing, their routine had been to sit in bed at night with their laptops, poring over the latest entries on his blog together or chuckling at his comments on other blogs. She had even, humiliatingly, followed his twitter account.
Then, apparently bored with the world of reporting, Tom Riddle Jr. had turned his attentions to the art world. Admittedly, Hermione had never thought she'd venture into the art world either, but lo and behold somewhere on the way to law school she had realized that championing the rights of oppressed people was more important than making money as a top-barrister, which she had been intended to do practically since birth. It was these unexpected forays into the world of art for both Hermione and this critic that were causing all the trouble.
She was known for her lack of creativity (her friend Harry never ceased to be amused by her attempts at drawing) so when she had unveiled her very first script, everyone around her had been nonplussed, to say the least. She was also confused. It had just sort of happened, though — one night after The Breakup with Ron, she had been lonely, and she may or may not have even taken a hit at the otherwise untouched bottle of vodka that Ginny had left in her flat. Hermione Granger, once perfectly and totally in control, had apparently had a Meltdown.
So she'd woken up the next morning on her carpet, her laptop digging into her cheek and her cat, Crookshanks, perched atop her head. One hand had been clutching a nearly empty vodka bottle, the other cramped and in extreme pain from being slept on. And in a state of utter and total confusion, she had looked at her screen to find one hundred pages of a script written.
Naturally the script was focused on the unfair treatment of illegal immigrants. At first, Hermione had deemed the script a fluke, and had forgotten about it. It wasn't until Harry was snooping on her computer one day (something about proving that she watched porn; she hadn't really asked why) and found the script that it was revisited.
Fast-forward to one year later, and while she was no richer, thinner, or less single, she was technically a playwright. Her play was mostly a cast of her friends (and okay, so maybe she had threatened a few of them — notably Harry — into playing various parts), and had been put on at the small Hog's Head theater for free admission (donations accepted, of course going to the cause of illegal immigrants). While her parents and friends had all told her it was a 'moving' and 'important' piece, the play's embarrassing lack of success had spoken for itself.
And now, this critic was adding insult to injury. The pain was so much worse considering she had been Tom Riddle Jr.'s fan. She had looked up to him, had laughed to herself on the metro when reading his scathing articles, and even had fantasized about one day meeting him and impressing him with her sparkling wit — never mind the fact that she usually completely clammed up around handsome men. Mysteriously, in these daydreams she also tended to look much more like one of the hottest fashion models — for example, Ron's sister Ginny — and less like...herself.
Her mobile ringing distracted her from her dark musings, and Hermione opened her archaic flip phone.
"Hermy, I vill be there in ten minute," grunted Viktor before hanging up abruptly. Viktor was a world-renowned footballer whose personality did not line up with his status at all. Viktor preferred peace and quiet and really kept to himself. Hermione had met him at Hogwarts during undergraduate, as he had been drafted for the football team, which her best friend Harry had been on. They had dated for a few years but things had never really worked out. Nowadays, they frequently met up whenever he was in Hogsmeade.
They were still good friends and she enjoyed spending time with him. And at the end of the night, they could have a good shag and then they wouldn't have to call each other for six months. No hard feelings. Really. It was easy, if a bit boring, and it was safe, if a bit unfulfilling. It wasn't a relationship, but it was all she had currently going for her.
She knew she didn't need to impress him, so she didn't even bother getting dolled up. Remarkably punctual, Viktor was knocking on her door exactly ten minutes later, carrying a bouquet of red roses and wearing his usual scowl.
"The traffic in this city is the vorst," he complained as Hermione hastily set the roses in her coffee maker (she owned no vases) before locking the door. Crookshanks' reproachful stare was the last thing she saw before locking up. Viktor's car was an impressive, gleaming dark red Firebolt and was waiting, badly parked, outside of Hermione's building. If Viktor ever thought their disparity in wealth was strange, he never commented on it (thankfully).
"It is, I suppose. I never notice because I always take the metro," she replied vaguely. They reached Viktor's chosen restaurant. He had learned years ago not to choose expensive places because Hermione insisted on paying her share but could not afford entrees that cost more than a month of rent. So when they pulled up to the fancy Three Broomsticks, Hermione rounded on Viktor. "Viktor, I told you—"
He held up his hand.
"I haff something I vant to discuss vith you, Hermy," he said firmly. Her stomach did a little flip-flop as he parked and they went inside the warm restaurant. White twinkle lights covered every possible surface, giving the place a warm, rosy glow. Hushed whispers assaulted them due to Viktor's fame as they were led to one of the coziest tables in the place and Hermione began to fear that Viktor was going to do something rash.
The bile was rising in her throat and she couldn't take it any more. As Viktor was perusing the menu, Hermione yanked it from his grasp. "Ve need to choose the wine!"
"No, we need to have you tell me what the hellis going on," Hermione hissed, glowering at him. "Why the roses, and the fancy candlelit dinner?"
Viktor was looking uncomfortable.
"Vell, I vanted to—" he began, but something caught Hermione's attention.
"Is that Tom Marvolo Riddle?" someone cried out in a greeting.
As though in slow motion, Hermione's head turned as she took in her arch nemesis entering the restaurant. As usual, he was wearing his plain but stylish clothing with great insouciance; he nonchalantly raked a pale, angular hand through his hair as some society person or other accosted him.
"Hermy, I am trying to—"
"Hold that thought, Viktor," she said darkly, not taking her eyes off of the newest patron of the Three Broomsticks. She rose from her seat, stalking towards the man who had humiliated her in front of the entire city of Hogsmeade.
"Actually, I go by Voldemort now," jested Riddle with a sensuous, baritone laugh. He was shaking the hand of a blonde man with a pointed face—Hermione recognized him as a socialite named Lucius Malfoy. She had gone to school with his son, Draco, and considering the many times that she had bee bullied by Draco, she would have thought Lucius would know her immediately. Of course. Leave it to that snob to forcibly forget who I am. Hermione reached the two men, fiercely ignoring the sense of how piteous she looked compared to them, in her scuffed trainers and threadbare denims.
"Hello, Voldemort," she began politely, pasting on a tight smile. The two men glanced between each other.
"You know...this...person, Riddle?" Lucius asked, looking down at Hermione with disdain.
"He knows me well, considering he ripped my play to shreds," she said lightly, trying to keep the notes of rising hysteria out of her voice. It would not do to lose her cool in front of him. She had expected he might laugh her off or offer some disparaging remark about her play, but all she got was a blank look.
"You wrote a play? You hardly look like you can read," he said innocently, raising his eyebrows in exaggerated surprise. Hermione's eye twitched as she stared up at him, totally unprepared for this sort of comment. No one had ever dared to question the intelligence of Hermione Granger. Perhaps she was not gainfully employed at the moment, but that was mostly due to her refusal to apply anywhere less than top-notch. She had been first in her class everywhere, and she was not going to have this — this — jerk insult her like this.
"My play was an important and moving piece about the treatment of illegal immi—"
"Blah, blah, blah," interrupted Riddle boredly, making a talking gesture with his hand and rolling his eyes. "Did your mummy tell you that?"
Hermione pressed her lips together, happily imagining tying this man to the train tracks and letting the metro run back and forth over his body all day.
"Er, excuse me, Mister Riddle—did you want to take your seat now?" The maitre'd had tactfully interrupted them, and was escorting Riddle away to a private dining room along with Malfoy, leaving Hermione to stew where she stood. Belatedly, she realized everyone was staring at her and Viktor was looking more than humiliated. With a sigh, Hermione returned to their table.
"I-I'm sorry," she stammered. "He insulted my play, and, well..." she exhaled hotly before looking up. "What were you saying before?"
Viktor's dark eyes cast about the room, and Hermione frowned. "Well?" she prompted uneasily. Viktor was shifting in his seat for a long moment; she could see he had prepared a speech.
"I am tventy-eight, Hermy," he began uncomfortably.
"...And?" She shot him an I-can-count-you-know sort of look.
"And I vant to marry soon."
The bile that had been on the rise on the way into the restaurant was pooling in her mouth, and Hermione clapped her hand over her lips. Viktor seemed oblivious to her distress; at the moment he seemed thoroughly focused on picking a stain out of the white linen tablecloth as he continued. "You are so smart, Hermione. I never told you, but I vas alvays thinking of you, even after ve broke up."
There was a rare, shy sort of smile forming on his lips as he spoke that was helpful in pushing the bile back down. "I like that you are not like all of the other girls. I like how...how do you say? ...Spirited you are." He finally looked up and his smile broadened. "I do not vant for a trophy vife — I vant for you. Vat do you think, Hermy?"
"I-I think I have to go to the loo," she replied feebly, and rose, trying very hard to block out the way Viktor's face fell. He looked crushed. Hermione sprinted across the restaurant, not even stopping when she knocked over a chair, inciting the anger of several impeccably dressed socialites.
The bathroom was fancy, with golden embossed wallpaper and stalls that were actual rooms with real doors. Hermione stumbled into one of the rooms and crouched over the toilet, dry heaving until she had emptied her stomach with horrible retching noises. Finally, she sat back against the wall, covered in a sheen of cold sweat, trembling slightly.
At first blush, this seemed entirely unexpected, until Hermione took the chance to reflect on the past year. How many times had Viktor invited her on an all-expenses-paid trip to visit his family in Bulgaria? At the time, Hermione had always brushed it off as Viktor feeling sorry for her. He was always trying to give her money — she'd caught him trying to pay her electric bill on several occasions, and every time Hermione had ever innocently remarked on wanting something, she usually would receive it the next day from Viktor. This was the only reason she owned a M. Malkin handbag, and naturally she had quickly learned to never make any comments on wanting anything. So whenever he invited her anywhere, she assumed it was due to him feeling bad that she never went on vacations anywhere.
And hadn't they mysteriously stopped being friends when she had entered an official relationship with Ron? And then 'randomly' Viktor had contacted her again after her breakup with Ron... He had also always gotten unreasonably upset whenever Hermione had reported hanging out solely with Harry. Why hadn't she seen it before? All this time, she had thought she and Viktor had simply been using each other, but now she knew he had seen their time together far differently.
"I am an idiot," she said aloud, banging her head against the wall behind her just as she heard the bathroom door swinging shut.
"Yes, considering you're in the men's room, whoever you are," agreed a smooth, cultured voice coming from outside the stall. Hermione paled. She sprang to her feet, flushed the toilet, and threw open the door to find Voldemort looking amused and a little disgusted. A rush of a delicious combination of cologne, peppermint, and soap greeted her nose — far preferable to the unfortunate funk of bile that she had left in her wake.
"You're in the ladies' room, actually," she said coolly, crossing her arms over her chest. Wordlessly, Voldemort opened the door to the bathroom and pointed silently to the very prominent gilded Gentlemen sign on the door. Hermione swayed a bit on her feet in shock as Voldemort released the doorknob, letting the door swing shut and smirking broadly at her. The way his lovely lips curved and the way his elegant brows arched momentarily distracted her. He was literally a perfect specimen — photographs hadn't done him justice.
"This is embarrassing for you," he remarked lightly, apparently pretending to stifle his smirk. "I promise to pretend it never happened, for your sake." His words destroyed her lust and she was filled with rage — rage at herself for her own idiocy, both at the moment as well as at her situation with Viktor, and rage at Voldemort and all of the myriad ways he had humiliated her.
"You're too kind," she spat. Voldemort sniggered at her vitriol, and that was apparently Hermione's last straw. As she was leaving, she swung the door open with such gusto that it smacked into Voldemort. She left the men's room, smirking to herself at his cry of pain.
Unfortunately, now she had to confront Viktor. He was waiting at their table, outwardly looking no different from usual. He had apparently chosen the wine, and had poured a glass for her. Guilt surged through Hermione as she realized she was truly behaving abhorrently. Here Viktor had gone to all this trouble for her, and she was busy vomiting and getting into arguments with certain jerks.
"Are you feeling vell, Hermione?" Viktor asked, rising from his chair as she approached. Hermione gave him a sheepish grin.
"Sorry. Must be coming down with something," she explained. Her face flushed as Viktor pulled out her chair for her. "You really don't have to do that, Viktor," she said earnestly. Viktor ignored her.
"Are you still vanting the vine?"
"Yes, of course," she said, and gripped her own glass. "Look, I just need some time to think about...what you were saying."
Viktor was looking at the tablecloth again. He cleared his throat.
"I understand," he said cautiously, "so ven I return from training next month, ve vill talk about this again then."
The dinner was awkward after that. The unanswered question hung in the air between them and even though they had agreed to not discuss it for the rest of the evening, Hermione still felt like she was tiptoeing around the most volatile and finicky mine in the history of weaponry — why did everything suddenly seem to be related to marriage? By the time they were finished, Hermione was positive that they were equally exhausted. Instead of their usual post-dinner shag, Viktor had simply dropped her off. She had thanked him awkwardly for the dinner and the flowers and he'd driven off into the wet night.
Crookshanks hardly looked remotely sympathetic to her inner turmoil, but apparently was mollified when presented with extra dinner. Hermione sat on her threadbare couch with her ancient laptop and a mug of tea as Crookshanks perched on the couch next to her, purring loudly every time she scratched him behind his ears.
She wanted someone to talk to about this, but she was at a loss. Things had never quite normalized between her and Ron, and so understandably every time either of them mentioned a date or prospective relationship, the other became irrationally upset. Harry was as useful for relationship advice as a potato, and said about as much when asked about anything of a remotely personal nature. Ginny had the most extreme reaction possible for any given situation and tended to tell everyone within earshot (which was quite a lot given the potential volume the Weasley girl could reach) any time Hermione had anything interesting happen to her (luckily this was a rare occurrence).
Desperate to avoid any sort of decisionmaking on her relationship with Viktor, Hermione found herself wandering to Voldemort's twitter.
Writer of SPEW actually drowned mountain troll? It all makes sense!
Furious, ashamed, and humiliated, Hermione immediately went to his blog, where the results were no better.
On January 13th, 2011, Voldemort wrote:
Tonight at The Three Broomsticks*** I ran into the writer of "S.P.E.W." and found myself utterly moved.
I can safely say that now I find "S.P.E.W" to be an inspirational piece. The writer appears to be of the Troll species, which demonstrates the autobiographical nature of the story of illegal immigration told in S.P.E.W. Truly, it is inspiring that this young female (?) Troll had the courage to flee Middle Earth and come to our humble little city of Hogsmeade illegally. I rescind my review; even as I write this my eyes are glistening with tears yet unshed for her (?) bravery. Not only is she an illegal immigrant, but thanks to an insider report recently obtained, she is also mentally retarded. The trials this young Troll has faced make her (?) an inspiration to us all.
***Oh, and on a less amusing note: the tripe at Three Broomsticks is abhorrent, as is the caviar.
"Oh, no he did not," said Hermione darkly, glowering down at her screen even as tears of embarrassment pricked her vision. Her intelligence was all she had left, and he had insulted even that. Was nothing sacred?
Crookshanks' tail swished as his large, yellow eyes followed her actions. It took a few minutes of quality time with the search engine, Accio, but soon Hermione had located Voldemort's address. After that all she needed was a box of sugar from her cabinet and she was marching down the road to Voldemort's posh flat. She had contemplated introducing Ron's baseball bat to Voldemort's car, but deemed it too obvious. No, sugar in the gas tank was far better...
Hermione was filled with a cold, cruel sense of purpose as she reached the row of heartbreakingly expensive townhouses where Voldemort lived. All exquisitely upkept, with naturally the highest real estate value in all of Hogsmeade. The price was so high that it was, in Hermione's opinion, akin to selling one's soul.
"Number Seven, Horcrux Drive..." she muttered to herself, scanning the mailboxes for the proper address. The light was on at number seven, signifying Voldemort was indeed at home. Hermione was still so enraged and embarrassed that she marched right up to the front door and began tapping the doorbell in quick, short intervals for maximum irritation. She was grinning with catlike satisfaction when she heard swearing and footsteps on the other side of the door, and immediately she bolted to the sidewalk, where his black Avada Kedavra was parked. She pried open the gas flap unceremoniously and waited for the door to open.
Voldemort's tall, lean frame was silhouetted by the warm golden light coming from inside. He had clearly been in the middle of relaxing, for he wasn't wearing shoes and his dark waves were looking a bit rumpled. He was even wearing glasses.
"Whoever had the gall to ring my doorbell so obnoxiously—" he began loudly, leaning casually on the doorframe, when he spotted Hermione standing on the street and his expression brightened. "Oh, the drowned mountain Troll. How's Middle Earth?" he asked pleasantly.
"Fantastic. We have sugar," said Hermione with a sweet smile, holding up the box. A flash of confusion crossed Voldemort's face before he paled significantly, his eyes going wide and his jaw hanging slack for a moment. He recovered quickly, and simply smirked at her.
"Go ahead — do it," he goaded softly, so that she could barely hear him. Hermione bristled indignantly.
"What? I heard you're obsessed with your car. Why are you encouraging me to destroy it?" she demanded, waving the box as she spoke so that a spray of sugar flew from the box. Voldemort shoved his hands in his pockets and regarded her with pure amusement.
"I can always purchase a new one, you know. You, however, cannot simply purchase new morals. Your precious illegal immigrants put together that exquisite engine that you are so keen on ruining. How does that make you feel, Miss Troll?"
Hermione promptly dropped the box in self-disgust. Didn't think of that. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
"Look," she began desperately, "what do I have to do to get you to stop humiliating me through every existing portal? I'm the laughing stock of Hogsmeade now, thanks to you."
Voldemort looked thoughtful for a moment. The way his gaze roved so thoroughly over her form made her skin prickle with warmth.
"I would have thought that simply walking around looking like that would have been damaging enough, but I suppose you're correct. Everyone in this city agrees with my opinions."
"Except for me," Hermione said heatedly. Voldemort smirked at her.
"Yes, true," he agreed before heaving an exaggerated sigh. "Did it ever occur to you that the sort of people who go to see plays in Hogsmeade are not the sort of people who give two shits about illegal immigration? You're preaching to a deaf congregation."
"That is exactly why it is so important—" she stopped when Voldemort held up a pale, angular hand.
"No, that is exactly why it cannot succeed. Hogsmeade is a city full of wealthy citizens who have moved away from London because they value the idyllic nature of Hogsmeade. This city is clean, prosperous, and peaceful. The crime rate is astonishingly low while the standard of living is astonishingly high. No one who lives here is interested in sitting through two hours of interpretive dance on the problems of people continents away...especially as the citizens of Hogsmeade happen to benefit from said people's problems."
His words hit home, and Hermione's cheeks burned in embarrassment.
"I have to get my message out somehow," she sputtered.
"No, you just want a bit of success so you can pat yourself on the back that you've done something 'good' so that when you do finally use your impressive degree to get a real job, you can wash away the guilt by remembering your 'moral' and 'positive' contribution to supposedly important issues."
Voldemort paused, letting his words sink in. "Before you ask, let me point out that this paradigm is as old as the political science degree. Recent graduates have a short interim between their expensive education — paid for by their parents, of course — and their fancy business or law job — usually acquired through family connections — which is often spent doing unpaid service in another country, or something similar. These kids work in third-world countries for a year or two, post pictures of themselves posing with underprivileged children, and then they can go home and pluck up their corner office with no guilt."
Hermione opened her mouth to protest, but no sound would come out. Because Voldemort was right. Wasn't it true that just last month, her uncle had offered her an impressive job at his accounting company? Didn't she have a million offers waiting like that from various people, any of which she could take the moment she decided she had tired of being poor and 'creative'? Weren't her parents just begging her to go to law school, just begging her to let them pay for the whole thing?
"I will not use my connections or something like that. I want to make a difference — and I'm going to do it. Some way, or somehow," she vowed, more to herself than Voldemort.
"Sure you are," he replied vaguely in a placating and condescending tone. He pushed away from leaning against the doorframe. "Now, are you done threatening my engine? Because I rather like that car."
Hermione's embarrassment at her actions came in a surge.
"I...was never actually going to do it," she said rather lamely. Voldemort's smirk was very knowing.
"I know you weren't," he simply said before grasping his doorknob. "Good evening, Miss Troll."
He shut the door.
Hermione stared after the closed door in thought before sprinting up to it and knocking for the second time that evening. Voldemort threw the door open, looking rather cross this time. She was hit with a burst of his scent and was momentarily paralyzed, yet again, by his lovely eyes.
"Yes?" he asked in a clipped, terse tone.
"I was never actually going to pour sugar in your gas tank," she began carefully, "but I will write a play that you cannot possibly pan. And it will be about illegal immigration. And everyone..." she paused for dramatic effect, her eyes glittering, "...will see it."
A smirk was slowly forming on his lips.
"I look forward to it," he replied simply. Hermione gripped the door so that he could not shut it before she was finished speaking.
"And my name is Hermione Granger," she added. Voldemort was laughing now.
"You'll always be Miss Troll to me. By the way...next time your famous footballer boyfriend asks you to marry him, try vomiting in the ladies' room instead. I hear they're designed with bulimic socialites in mind, so they're better equipped for vomiting purposes." Hermione's jaw went slack and she released her hold on the door.
"H-how did you..."
Wordlessly he held up his fancy FlooPhone; the web browser was open to The Daily Prophet. There was a squashed, blurry photo of her running away from the table at the Three Broomsticks, leaving a verifiably heartbroken Viktor in her wake.
"Your engagement's made the front page," he said innocently. "Now, for the last time — good night." Just as he grasped the doorknob, she heard a camera flash going off behind her, and Voldemort shot her a grin. "Welcome to the world of fame, Miss Troll," he added ominously before the door clicked shut.