Author's Note: Two updates in one year! My god, I'm on a roll. Kidding. Anyway, the start of this chapter is a bit of a jump, but I cut out some stuff because it was boring. Enjoy, and please review!
It was nine thirty seven AM, and Hermione had to be at Gladrags for her shift in twenty-three minutes. She was currently the colour of Ron's beloved plucky football team, the Chudley Cannons, and her hair was strangely flat and so shiny it was reflective. Her teeth were blinding. She looked absurd.
It was perfect for her plan.
Crazed, and filled with an almost religious zeal, she stood in front of her wall in her bedroom, which had previously been bare. It was now partially covered in newspaper clippings, local tabloid cutouts, and printouts from various social networking sites—all things about her.
She took a black marker and drew a line down the wall, marking all pieces of news up to this morning.
"This plan is literally going to get you killed. Just so you know," Ginny said matter-of-factly, impressively still looking gorgeous even though she had been awake the entire night.
"It's mental, and it's not going to work," Ron added from Hermione's bed, covered in crumbs from various snacks, his voice thick with sleepiness. "No one's gonna pay attention-"
"—And you're just going to get yourself killed, like Gin said, or at the very least, you'll lose all dignity," Harry interjected, looking bemusedly up at the wall.
"I am orange and shiny, Harry. I have no dignity left," said Hermione darkly. "Now, Ron—you're going to write those Tweets?"
He gave a loud snore, which she took as an affirmative, and turned brightly to Ginny. Ginny rolled her eyes.
"And I'm going to gossip wildly about you and make up as many horrible rumors as possible," she said dully. Hermione beamed at Ginny and turned to Harry, who was hiding his face in his hands.
"And I'm going to make that website," he croaked. "Hermione, I took one semester of web design, which I only passed because you did all my homework. This website won't even work, probably. I don't even remember how to make a link!"
"The worse it is, the better!" Hermione said cheerfully. "As long as the intent is clear."
Her mobile chirped; Hermione darted to it.
Regulus: So when did you want to meet? ;)
But she'd got another message as well.
Voldemort: There's someone I'd like you to meet. When are you done your shift today?
One person Hermione had not informed clearly of her plan was perhaps the most integral to its success. Twenty minutes later, Hermione, panting and desperately out of breath, met this person behind Gladrags, surprised that she had even showed up, let alone done as requested.
Lavender Brown was bearing three large, overstuffed duffel bags, looking remarkably like a pack mule. Astoria surreptitiously joined them, her clever gaze darting about the alleyway, in search of paparazzi.
"It's not safe here—I've seen them hide in the skips," she said under her breath, and led Hermione and Lavender inside.
"I brought everything you asked for," Lavender said bemusedly when they entered the darkened hall. She dropped the bags. "What is this for, anyway?"
Astoria cut Hermione off before she could respond.
"You're a bit of a style icon," she said smoothly, as she rummaged through the bags, and produced a glittering dress that looked several sizes too small, even for Lavender who was slender as a model. She held it up and swooned. "Oh, this is perfect."
Lavender was not fooled, and snatched the dress away.
"I know I haven't got "classy" style like your type," she snapped at Astoria. "And I guess you think I'm stupid, but I'm not."
Astoria looked to Hermione with arched brows just as Lavender turned to Hermione as well. "You just hate me because Ron likes me better," Lavender seethed, "and I guess belittling me makes you feel better about that. Fine, whatever you need to do, you can do it." She paused. "But this obviously has nothing to do with me being an icon or whatever, so what is this really?"
Hermione felt like she'd been punched in the face. Astoria made a show of cringing, like she was watching a sporting match.
Hermione met Lavender's eyes, thinking back to Seamus and Dean's party. That had been mere days ago and already she'd completely forgot about her angst about Ron, but at the time, her jealousy and hurt had been more than palpable. And even though Lavender had never done anything wrong—she merely had been the subject of Ron's attraction, nothing more—Hermione had treated her poorly. In fact, she'd always been dismissive of Lavender and Parvati, believing them to be lesser than her. A knot of shame tightened in her belly, and she relented.
"Forget about Ron," she said dismissively. "You're right, in a way, but this isn't about Ron. I really do need your help. In fact, you're probably going to be the most valuable resource of all. It'll be awkward, though—but it's for a cause."
"A cause?" Lavender prompted.
"A human rights cause," Hermione clarified nervously.
"Oh, that's what this is? I wondered," Astoria interjected. Hermione blinked at the frosty blonde.
"I explained everything over the-"
"I wasn't listening," she dismissed with a bored wave. "Go on."
"I've been the subject of a lot of media attention recently," Hermione explained to Lavender, who snorted. "And at the same time, I've been trying to find a way to draw attention to issues that are important to me. I wrote a play about immigration rights-"
"—God that must have been dull as f-"
"—Well, it apparently was," Hermione sniffed, shooting Astoria a glower, "because it was completely panned. I was told I didn't know my audience. So I took this job to try to get to know my audience."
"And now you're abandoning the play, because you found a better way of getting attention?" Lavender guessed. Hermione nodded, but Lavender was scowling at her.
"You realize you're totally exploiting Viktor for this, right? In just the way that you never cared about Ron's feelings, you're just ignoring how Viktor might feel-"
"That's just it," Hermione interrupted. She grinned. "Viktor is completely on-board."
This was only a teensy, tiny lie, but whatever. She'd tell Viktor later.
"...O-oh." Lavender deflated. And then, abruptly, her eyes began to gleam with a determination that was normally only seen when she was trying to get Ron naked. "We need to make you look like the most ridiculous, lowest of the low, sleazy, conniving bitch there ever was," she breathed. "That spray tan is an excellent start."
"I can't even bear to look at her," Astoria agreed. The two women surveyed Hermione critically now.
"I can work with this," said Lavender as she circled Hermione, looking thoughtful. "But who will do PR?"
"Harry's making a website, Ron will be tweeting from various accounts, and Ginny will be gossiping with other models," Hermione said, feeling slightly self-conscious when Lavender began poking at her bum. Lavender snorted again.
"Um, puh-lease. Ginny Weasley's the worst gossip there is. The most salacious thing she'll be able to come up with is, like, 'Hermione's got bad breath,' or something. Plus, there's too much evidence that you guys are best friends."
"You need more people," agreed Astoria. "Old schoolmates, old boyfriends."
"Parvati and I will handle PR," Lavender said, straightening. She looked to Astoria. "You will handle costume."
"Naturally. I also may know of some other gossip resources," Astoria said cryptically, looking at her mobile.
"We'll need to rope people in unknowingly. Cedric Diggory has already been linked to both you and Viktor separately, so he's ideal," Lavender said. Hermione looked puzzled.
"I know he's been linked to me—the whole ridiculous pregnancy debacle—but what about Viktor? Do you mean because they're both footballers?"
Curiously, Astoria and Lavender glanced between each other warily.
"Er, yeah, sure," Lavender said, as Astoria avoided Hermione's eyes. "Anyway, I'm going to get in touch with Parvati and make some plans." She paused. "But how are you going to use all this attention?"
"Don't worry about that part—I've got that covered."
She thought of Regulus Black's business card, slightly crumpled from being in her bra, and now stowed in her wallet.
The efficiency with which Lavender worked her magic was shocking, and made Hermione all the guiltier for her assumptions of Lavender—and Parvati—all along.
By noon, there were so many rumors about her on the internet gossip pages that she couldn't even keep track of them all.
Astoria was as professionally adept in dressing Hermione horribly as she was in dressing Hermione stylishly. Lavender's clothes were all the more useful because they fit so tightly on Hermione, and Hermione ended her shift at Gladrags that afternoon by leaving through the front doors in enormous, fake-diamond-studded sunglasses; snakeskin stiletto open-toed boots that were ridiculous both for the height and width of the heel as well as for the weather; a fur-trimmed parka; and an apparently very expensive purse that Astoria insisted was only carried by tacky footballer wives and their ilk.
She had to hail a cab; there was no way she could walk in the bloody boots. As soon as she closed the door, her mobile pinged with a new alert.
Footballer Fiancee Too Fancy for The Floo Line
It was accompanied by an image of her entering the cab in a motion that could only be described as a crab-walk, which she had been forced into thanks to the boots. Hermione had to overcome the initial burst of horror and remind herself that this was her intent, and found herself smirking as she read the brief blurb.
Fiancee of footballer Krum, previously frumpy, has got a makeover and a new attitude with it! Apparently her highness no longer takes public transportation or walks, now that she has had her account directly linked to Krum's...
The blurb already had got fifty comments in the last ninety seconds, and Hermione could not help but hope that this initial burst of hatred was just the magic of Lavender and Parvati stirring the pot. There was something uncomfortable about knowing that that many people hated her so thoroughly, without prompting.
OMG she thnks her arse is liek five times smaller?!11
Look at that whore. This is the state of our young women today: no real heroines, no real role models for our girls to look up to. Shame.
Ganger luks beatiflu how dare u she is flawless
Wowowow from frumpy to tacky as fuck she has never looked good maybe if she lost some wait it would be better
Hermione abruptly put her mobile away and sat a bit lower in her seat.
Tom glanced at Minerva, who was polishing her spectacles and scowling at him.
"Do you ever stop trying to manipulate people, places, and things?" she asked wearily.
"Yes, sometimes I take a break from nouns and focus on adjectives," he retorted. His witticism only earned an eye-roll from Minerva, and Tom took the moment of peace to furtively check his mobile. Social media was on fire with Miss Troll's latest transformation, and Tom could only assume this was part of some ill-advised plan on her part to start some sort of idiotic revolution. "And I'm not manipulating anyone. I just happened to realize you two would get on spectacularly."
"No." Minerva stared at him levelly. "No, there's something in this meeting for you."
"I never said there wasn't any advantage for me. I just said I wasn't manipulating you."
Minerva studied him carefully. Lesser men would have been cowed by that flinty gaze, but Tom simply arched his brows at her. In time, Hermione would grow to be very much like Minerva—shrewd, ambitious, clever, a force with which to be reckoned, but perhaps burdened by her own righteousness—and he could see that now, in the way Minerva was currently studying him. Hermione had cast the same look upon him often.
"I Accio'd her," Minerva said flatly. "The girl's an air-headed imbecile."
"The one thing she's not is an air-headed imbecile, actually," Tom conceded. "Foolish, naive, too righteous, socioeconomically tone deaf, strident, painfully innocent—yes, absolutely—but airheaded moron, no."
Minerva quirked an eyebrow at him suspiciously.
"That was almost respectful for you. She must be special." Minerva pulled up her mobile and displayed a rather heinous image of Hermione entering a taxi with all of the grace of a buffalo on stilts, her skin fluorescently orange in the grey Hogsmeade winter weather; her clothes, several sizes too small, sparkling and gleaming cheaply. "However, evidence suggests otherwise."
"Have you no patience?"
"For you and your ways? No."
In an explosion of noise, Hermione entered their little cafe, paparazzi trailing after her.
An awkward stain darkened her trousers, and although it was nowhere near her crotch, and was likely just from melted snow or a spilled water bottle, it was clear it would be construed as she had wet her pants. Her hair was oddly flat and almost grotesquely shiny, like she was trying to personify an oil spill, and plastered to her face and head; yet rebellious strands were already beginning to defy gravity, and were coiling, spring-like, up from her too-conditioned mop. She was also violently orange, and the spangled top that was visible beneath her open parka was too small, too short, and too low-cut, showcasing a tummy bulge and surprisingly impressive cleavage.
Beside him, Minerva, whose dress sense was best described as 'Puritan', stiffened.
There was a righteous gleam in Hermione's eyes as she joined them, and when she sat down there was a nauseating rush of a sweet, cake-like perfume that even teeny-bopper twelve year olds would have deemed 'too much.' She beamed at him and held up her mobile, showing a torrent of acidic tweets about her just in the last five minutes.
"I assume this is part of some plan," Tom drawled lazily, scanning the tweets. Hermione nodded vigorously. He glanced at Minerva, who was apparently torn between immense horror and painful curiosity. He was dying to play his card now but he had to wait, or else it'd not be believable. "Miss Troll—Hermione, rather—this is an old colleague of mine, Minerva McGonagall. She's a brilliant barrister—and perhaps the most successful female barrister in Hogsmeade. She too has a passion for various human-rights pursuits." He paused, checking to see if his careful flattery had been at all successful, but it would take a bit more than his usual methods to flatter Minerva, who remained stiffly unmoved. "Minerva, this is Hermione Granger. She wrote a play on immigration issues a month or so ago, which was shown locally and—er—covered by me."
"He completely trashed it," Hermione said matter-of-factly. "It was perhaps the best thing he could have done for me."
Minerva still seemed to be trying to process the notion that this orange shiny thing could speak, let alone read or write. Hermione didn't wait for Minerva's approval, and turned back to Tom now. He felt a twinge of surprise.
Something was different about Hermione.
Not something on the outside—something on the inside.
There was an energy electrifying her that he'd spotted, faintly, at various moments since becoming acquainted with her, but before, it had been a mere flicker. Now it was a current running through her continuously, lighting her up like a city. "Now what was it you wanted? I've a meeting with Regulus Black, you know, so I've not got all day."
He could not have planned it would go this perfectly: the effect of Hermione's words was incredible. Minerva's eyes widened, making Tom again think of a very startled cat, and her sleek head jerked to look at Hermione in shock.
"Regulus Black, you say?" she asked curiously, self-consciously patting at her tight chignon.
"Yes, he's one part of my plan," Hermione explained. "Do you know him?"
"I was the one who put him in prison," she said. "Of course I know him."
Hermione, far from looking shocked, horrified, or disgusted, merely looked intrigued.
"I read about his stint in prison. Insider trading, wasn't it?"
Minerva began divulging the particulars of the case, boring though they were, as Tom sat in horror and shock…
And, admittedly a little, tiny, absolutely inconsequential bit of lust.
He had not expected this of Miss Troll.
But there was no doubt about it—Black's record had no impact on her intent to meet with him. Tom shifted in his seat, attempting to mentally regroup. It was quite jarring to be foiled by someone who looked like an illiterate ooma-loompa, especially when you were not someone accustomed to being foiled by anyone at all.
She hadn't intentionally foiled him, though—he was certain of it. No, she had merely done the thing properly, and had researched the man on her own, and clearly was putting aside any moral objections in favor of accomplishing her goal.
It did sound a bit…familiar…didn't it?
"For someone banging on about a human cause—humans who suffer at the hands of the elite—you'd think you'd be disinclined to work with a man who did prison time for what some might call one of the more elite crimes," Tom remarked when he noted a pause in their discussion. Both women looked at him in surprise—apparently they'd forgot he was there.
"But the people I'm championing don't suffer at the hands of people like Regulus Black. They suffer due to a faulty legal system," Hermione said bluntly. "I'm appealing to people like Regulus Black precisely because of the elitism and power they have access to."
"It's a smart move on your part, though I can't see what's in it for Black—and I assure you, Miss Granger, he only does things that suit his personal goals—much like someone else we both know," Minerva said, leveling another frosty stare upon Tom.
"Oh, I don't really care what his goals are, as long as I achieve mine," Hermione said loftily. Abruptly, though, her expression changed to one of puzzlement. "He did mention wanting to hear more about working at Gladrags, though, last time we spoke."
"Gladrags? The department store?" Minerva's keen mind was already working so hard Tom could practically hear the gears whirring.
This meeting had, clearly, been a terrible idea. It was a train suddenly veering quite off the tracks he'd so cleverly laid down, and steaming smoothly towards his own destruction. The only thing worse than Regulus Black on his scent would be Hermione—and all of the publicity and attention that came with her—on it, and Minerva McGonagall would be a poor addition to the mix as well.
Good god—was he actually perspiring?
"Yes, my only guess is that he's interested in getting more on certain clientele. The Malfoy family shops there quite often, and I'm sure they're not exactly innocent of insider trading either," Hermione said darkly, though Minerva merely nodded absently, still deep in thought. "Goodness, is that the time? I've got to go," Hermione said now, rising from her chair and stumbling backwards, clearly still unaccustomed to the contraptions masquerading as shoes on her feet.
Tom and Minerva watched her crab-walk out of the café, and Minerva turned to him.
"Judging by the look on your face, that was not…ah, what was the wording you used? To your advantage?" she guessed, peering over her spectacles. Had she a tail, it would have been swishing slowly, amusedly.
"Judging by your behavior, you don't find the girl to be...ah, what was the wording you used? An air-headed imbecile? Tell me, do you judge all books by their covers? Is that effective, in your work as a defense lawyer?"
"You're annoyed," Minerva observed further, looking as close to delighted as he'd ever seen her. God but he despised her sometimes.
"Hardly. I don't like being ignored by two attractive women, it's true—"
"—Oh, don't pretend to flatter, it doesn't suit you," Minerva snapped. "I must admit, I dislike the notion of Black skulking round Miss Granger," she admitted, narrowing her eyes.
"Mm," Tom agreed, sinking in his seat a little.
"You're right about her. Quite bright, but quite innocent," Minerva continued. "And in a position of such sudden, strange power…" she shuddered. "I can't even decide what Black's motives might be—there are so many possibilities. She's now connected to so many important people. There are really endless ways he might exploit her."
Tom abruptly had the image of Hermione trapped in a web spun by Rita Skeeter, by Krum, by Grindelwald, by the Malfoys, even by him, with Black as an enormous spider creeping toward the center of that web, but that didn't feel quite right.
And he wondered if, rather, it was more he, the Malfoys, Krum, Skeeter, and even Grindelwald were at the center of a web of their very own making—and Black and Hermione were the spiders, advancing toward their powerless, wriggling, bound, mostly unaware bodies.
"Date?" she asked dumbly.
"You haff said we would date," Viktor pointed out.
"O-oh, right," Hermione squeaked as the cab flew over a pothole. She was racing on her way to meet Black in a shoddy part of town, close to the Shrieking Shack. Ginny had informed her that this was an extremely cool part of town, and although it was dodgy, the real estate was highly coveted—and highly priced.
She was meeting Black at his townhome.
"Ven vill you be ready? Ve could go out to dinner," Viktor continued, but something had caught her eye.
They were passing by the warehouse in which she had been given her makeover yesterday, and the thin, sad, bedraggled-looking girl who had been assisting Skeeter—Winky, Hermione recalled—was surreptitiously entering the warehouse, clutching a large brown paper bag.
Something struck her...she could not precisely say what made her do what she did next, beyond a gut-level instinct that she'd never really had reason to develop or listen to.
"Hold on, Viktor, I'll call you right back," she interrupted, with only a minor flash of guilt, and hung up on him. "Pull over for a moment!" she demanded, not worrying about being rude—the worse of a passenger she was, the better, really—and as soon as the cab had screeched to a stop, she tumbled out of it.
The door shut behind Winky. Hermione tossed her heels inside the cab. "I'll be right back," she said, and on freezing, bare feet she picked her way along the sidewalk.
She tried the door, but it was locked. She knocked, then, and waited, dancing in place for warmth. At long last, she heard footsteps on the other side.
"Yes," came a muffled, high-pitched voice.
"Hello, it's Hermione Granger, from yesterday," she began crisply, feeling increasingly ridiculous. Why had she gotten out of the cab, anyway? A lightning bolt of inspiration had struck her—it had seemed a necessary thing to do a moment ago—but now she couldn't say for sure why.
"Ma'am is no here now," Winky replied, fearfully. Hermione heard an additional click—a deadbolt, for sure—and then heard Winky no more.
The cabbie leaned on his horn and she, feeling especially irritable, considered giving him a rude, well-known hand gesture in response. It wasn't something Normal Hermione would do, and was absolutely something that Trashy Hermione would do, but she had the feeling she ought not draw attention to the fact that she was here, at this warehouse, with no reasonable explanation, Trashy Hermione or not.
Plus, she was already late for her meeting with Black. Sighing, she picked her way back to the cab—and just as she was stepping off the curb, her foot slipped, and she sliced her heel on a shard of broken glass.
"Seriously?" the cabbie muttered. Hermione grimaced and threw herself into the cab, cringing in pain. "Not on the seats! Not on the seats!" he insisted, as she haplessly pulled off her faux-fur coat and wrapped it around her foot.
I hope Black is ready for me, she thought wryly, as they continued on. She looked back at the warehouse but then they rounded a corner and she saw it no more.
"Here we are," said the cabbie, sounding highly relieved that this journey was over. Hermione paid and hopped out of the cab and onto the empty street.
For all of the grunge and grime around it, this street definitely had been touched by the wealthy. Nicer cars lined the street almost audaciously, and the faces of each brownstone were well-tended and decorated. Regulus' home, number four, had some very new-looking plants lining the steps up to its door, a reminder of the fact that he'd been away until quite recently.
Her gut twisted with anxiety—despite the bravado she'd shown about Regulus during her meeting with Riddle and his friend Minerva, she was concerned about Regulus, and the fact that he'd been in prison—no matter what it was for—was worrying. Plus, even without the prison stint, something in her gut told her he was bad news.
But why trust her instincts? She had just observed a moment ago that she'd never really had reason to use her instincts before. How much stock could she really put in them?
She stood there on the sidewalk, one foot still clumsily wrapped in the coat, caught between her choices, but before she could back out, the front door opened, and Regulus appeared, a cigarette and a glass of whiskey in one hand, his mobile pinned to his ear with his shoulder.
"Got a date, I'll call you back," she heard him say slyly, and then he was beckoning to her, his dark eyes taking in the sight of her absurdly-bandaged foot, her spray tan, her crop top.
Something about what he had just said made her think of Viktor. That's right, I told him I'd call him back.
She guessed that Regulus had meant it just as much as she had.
"Hardly a date," she called from the sidewalk. Regulus snorted.
"Well, I don't know—you did dress up. You wore your best bloodied-fur shoe," he reasoned.
Hermione walked up the steps, and cast a last glance back at the street. It appeared empty.
"Don't worry, I happen to know most of the paps 'round here," Regulus assured her, slinging an arm behind her to shut the door, effectively forcing them closer, and forcing her inside. "No one's waiting for you."
And somehow, as the door clicked shut, that didn't make her feel much better at all.