Claim: #25 - Days after the war, Rita Skeeter interviews the trio about their victory
Pairings (if any): Gen
Summary: The trouble with being a hero is you can't avoid talking to the press. Like the proverbial bad penny, Rita Skeeter pops up again in the days after the final battle. Can she be trusted this time?
Warnings (if applicable): None
Author's Notes: As ever, I am grateful to beta PigWithHair for her help in editing the script and feeding in story ideas.
The Fourth Estate
'Well I'm against it!' Hermione faced Harry and Ron, hands on hips. 'I just don't think we should have anything to do with that woman.'
Harry shrugged. 'We don't really have a lot of choice.'
'There's always a choice, Harry. We could just say no.'
'Kingsley would rather we didn't. Right now, people are on our side—'
'I should hope they are!' Ron looked affronted. 'We just won a bloody war, for Merlin's sake.'
'Well, they are, Ron, and Kingsley wants to make sure it stays that way, which means people have to be told the score. And like it or not, that means talking to the Prophet. It is our daily newspaper.'
'My problem,' muttered Hermione through gritted teeth, 'is not with the Prophet. It's with that … woman.'
That's it, then,' said Ron, 'we talk to the Prophet, but we tell them to send someone else. We must have some influence.'
'Already tried that,' said Harry. 'There isn't anyone.'
'There must be,' said Ron and Hermione in unison.
'Apparently not. The hacks who toed the party line and pumped out all that poisonous rubbish about blood purity have been sacked. Most of those who stood their ground and defied the Death Eaters are either dead or in St Mungo's. The editor is editing the paper from his sickbed. And the only person they can spare to come here and talk to us is Rita Skeeter.'
'Bloody woman must be Teflon-coated,' muttered Hermione.
'Tef— what?' Ron looked confused.
'Sorry, Ron, it's a Muggle thing. It means nothing sticks to her.'
'Seemingly,' said Harry, 'she dropped out of sight when things got nasty.'
'I'll just bet she did.'
'Claims to have been writing a book.'
'So how are we going to play it?' asked Ron.
'Tell the truth,' said Hermione, 'then we can't be tripped up later.'
'Fair enough,' said Harry, 'but there's a lot of stuff we just can't talk about.'
'Word's already got round that was us who raided the Ministry and disrupted the trials,' said Ron.
'Yeah, so we can talk about that, but we can't mention the locket, which is the reason we were there. There are only four people, apart from us, who know about the Horcruxes and Kingsley is adamant that not a word of that must get out.'
'It's common knowledge that we raided Gringotts and escaped on a dragon.'
'Yeah, but, again, we can't say what we were after.'
'This is going to be tricky,' said Ron. 'and she's bound to want to know what we did in the months between the Ministry and Gringotts. If we can't mention Horcruxes then there isn't much we can tell her.'
'Nothing at all,' said Hermione. 'Nor about the Chamber of Secrets and the Basilisk teeth, either.' She gazed fondly at Ron. 'How about this: we were given a mission by Dumbledore; it was secret then and it's still secret now and we're sorry, but that's how it's going to have to stay.'
'She won't like it,' said Harry.
''Well, she can lump it,' muttered Ron.
'Shame….' added Hermione.
'Ready, dears?' Rita Skeeter, bleached hair as rigidly permed as ever, looked at Hermione, Harry and Ron across the table in a Ministry conference room. Fluttering her eyelashes behind jewel-encrusted spectacles, she smiled at Harry. 'It's so good of you to spare me your time; I know you must be very busy. But this,' she glanced round the conference room,' seems so formal. Why don't we all go to the Leaky and do it in comfort?'
'Well, we—' began Ron.
'No thank you,' said Harry, firmly, 'we'll stay where we are.'
'If we must, then. The fixed smile never wavered as she reached scarlet-tipped fingers into a crocodile-skin bag, took out a parchment and placed it on the table in front of her. Reaching back into the bag, she looked up at the trio. 'You won't mind if I use the Quick-Quotes Quill, will you? It saves so much time.'
Ron's and Harry's objections died in their throats as Hermione spoke first. 'No, that will be fine.'
Ron and Harry looked at Hermione in amazement as Rita took out a long green quill and sucked on the end.
She placed the quill over the parchment. 'Testing … this Rita Skeeter, Chief Correspondent of the Daily Prophet.'
Her face turned to stone as the quill wrote quickly across the parchment:
Aging hack Rita Skeeter, whose casual disregard for the truth has ruined many a previously spotless reputation –
Grabbing the quill, she stuffed it back into her bag and glared at Hermione. 'Very clever! I suppose that was you?'
Hermione raised her eyebrows, assuming an air of injured innocence. 'I've got an idea - why don't you just use an ordinary quill, and write down what we actually say?'
If looks could kill, Hermione would have died on the spot, but Skeeter reached into her bag for another quill.
'Tell you what,' continued Hermione, spreading out a parchment and picking up her own quill, 'I'll write it down too, and then if there's any question later about who said what we'll be able to compare notes, won't we?'
Hermione weaved her way through the lunchtime crowd in the Leaky Cauldron to where Harry and Ron were poring over a copy of the Daily Prophet. 'Is it in?'
'Yes.' Harry folded the paper and passed it to Hermione. 'It's more or less what you'd expect. We're on page four.'
Hermione made a space on the table and opened the newspaper in front of her.
'It's mostly about Gringotts and the battle at Hogwarts,' said Harry. 'She's gilded the lily a bit – apparently we soared off over Diagon Alley with the cheers of well-wishers ringing in our ears, which is not quite how I remember it.'
'She's been quite kind about you though,' said Ron, 'which is a bit surprising after that stuff with the quill.'
'Here.' Ron pointed to a paragraph near the bottom of the page:
Attractive, brown-eyed Granger, 18, has said that she intends to return to Hogwarts....
'And she hasn't invented stuff to fill the gaps?' asked Hermione.
'Er … not so far.'
'How d'you mean?'
'Look down at the bottom, underneath the article.'
The missing months – a pretty girl and two healthy young men on the run together for months on end – could it really have been as innocent as we are led to believe? Don't miss straight-talking Rita Skeeter in tomorrow's Prophet!
'The cow! How could she, after everything—'
'I don't see what she can write,' said Ron, 'after all, she doesn't know anything about the time we were away.'
Hermione gave Ron a pitying look.
'When did a lack of facts ever inhibit Rita Skeeter?' asked Harry.
'She'll report gossip, rumours and innuendo,' said Hermione, 'and we all know there have been plenty of those. And then she'll embroider what she's got with the products of her own unpleasant imagination.'
'Anything to sell copy,' said Harry.
'Just watch,' added Hermione, 'it'll be Granger in Love Triangle, or Heroes Fight Over Two-timing Temptress … or Three-in-a-bed Sex Romp.
'Three-in-a-bed—?' stammered Ron.
Hermione glared at Ron. 'Wipe that thought from your mind.'
'The question,' said Harry, 'is what we're going to do about it. If there's anything we can do.'
'There were even some bits and pieces in this article that we didn't tell her,' said Ron, brandishing the Prophet. 'I don't know where she gets it all from.'
Both boys looked at Hermione, who had gone very quiet. 'I think I do,' she said, looking around the table. 'You ready for another, Ron?'
'Er, yeah.' Surprised, Ron finished his drink and passed his empty glass to Hermione, who spun round and placed it rapidly upside down on the window sill.
'Hermione nodded meaningfully towards the up-ended glass, where a large beetle with markings reminiscent of spectacles was scurrying frantically from side to side.
'Surely there's no way she'd do that again—'
'Well, if not then that's just an innocent beetle, isn't it,' said Hermione, nodding toward the upturned glass.' It shouldn't be too hard to find out.'
'Heard any more about Skeeter?' Harry looked quizzically at Hermione.
'No. Odd that – you'd think we'd have heard something, after two days.'
'Don't look now,' said Ron, 'but McLaggen's just come in … with his girlfriend.'
'Too late, they've spotted us,' muttered Hermione, 'and it looks as though they're coming over.'
With a thin, blonde girl in tow, McLaggen forced his way through the busy lunchtime crowd.
'Well, if it isn't the famous trio!' He was as loud as ever.
Harry looked up. 'Hello Cormac, Malandra.'
'Hello indeed. It must be great to have friends in high places, Potter!'
'I have no idea what you're talking about.'
'No, of course you haven't.' McLaggen grinned. 'Who did you get to pull the Prophet article for you?'
'What article would that be?'
'All the juicy scandal that we were promised about you three and your, er, arrangements….'
McLaggen looked at his companion with a self-satisfied leer. Malandra smirked.
Hermione put out a hand to restrain Ron, who was threatening to get out of his seat and thump McLaggen. 'There was no article,' she said, icily, 'because there was no scandal.'
'Oh, yeah? So what was that stuff about how Rita Skeeter was going to spill the beans?'
'Well, you'll have to ask Skeeter that, won't you?' said Hermione sweetly. 'She's a freelance, not a staff reporter, and the way I heard it the article didn't appear because she simply didn't file any copy.'
'She was probably warned off.'
'By a bunch of heavies from the Ministry, I suppose,' said Harry, his voice heavy with sarcasm. 'You're living in the past, McLaggen.'
'And like Hermione said,' added Ron, 'there was nothing for her to report'. He looked pleadingly at Hermione, muttering, 'Let me hit him – just once?'
Hermione shook her head.
Malandra coloured slightly as McLaggen squeezed her buttock. 'Come on Mal, let's get a drink.'
'The truth will out!' McLaggen threw back over his shoulder as he and Malandra headed off towards the bar.
'Not if it's depending on Rita Skeeter, it won't,' muttered Hermione.
Hermione made her way over to Harry and Ron at their usual table in the Leaky Cauldron.
'Okay, what's so urgent that you drag me away at this time of night?'
'We thought you'd need a break,' said Ron. 'Too much studying is very bad for a young woman.'
'That's all very well, but you're not going back to school to take NEWTs, are you?'
'He's pulling your leg,' said Harry. 'We thought you'd want to see this.' He passed her a copy of the Daily Prophet.
'This morning's paper?'
Harry shook his head. 'Tomorrow morning's. That's a proof copy hot off the press twenty minutes ago. Look at page two.'
Hermione opened the paper and read.
Writer An Unregistered Animagus
Reporter Who Transforms into Beetle Charged After Six Days in Specimen Jar
Author and freelance correspondent Rita Skeeter has been charged with failing to register as an Animagus, a spokesman for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement confirmed late last night.
The Prophet understands that Skeeter, 56, who is unregistered but transforms into a beetle, is being held at a secure Ministry facility. She was apparently delivered to Ministry offices in her transfigured state in a specimen jar, by an unidentified member of the public who also left a note describing the charm that had been used to prevent her re-transformation. 'Unfortunately,' explained the spokesman, 'she spent the first four days in somebody's in-tray. We get about half a dozen of these a week, and no-one can remember the last time one turned out to be genuine.'
When a revelatory spell confirmed that the specimen was not a genuine beetle, officers of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad sent for a specialist from the Improper Use of Magic Office licensed to perform a retro-transfiguration. The specialist declined to carry out the operation, however, without the presence of Aurors and it was a further forty-eight hours before the Auror Office could make anyone available. 'There are still Death Eaters on the loose,' explained the spokesman. 'It would be foolhardy in the extreme to force the retransfiguration of an unregistered Animagus without serious firepower on hand, and the Auror Office, as you might imagine, is very busy.'
Skeeter is the author of a controversial book, The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, which has been described by critics as 'A scurrilous and unwarranted attack on the reputation of a great and honourable wizard' and 'A hatchet-job based on lies and innuendo'.
Skeeter has written for the Daily Prophet. Editor Piers Groman said, 'This is a family newspaper. If Ms Skeeter has been breaking the law to eavesdrop on private conversations then she won't be writing for us again.'
'Four days in somebody's in-tray – that's appalling,' said Hermione, in voice that belied her words.
'Yeah, and then another two days waiting for the Aurors,' said Ron, with a huge grin.
Harry tutted. 'Service standards aren't what they were. Someone should speak to Kingsley about that. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall when they re-transfigured her, though.'
'Yeah, me too,' said Ron. 'And the indignity of it – handed in anonymously in a jar. I wonder who that was?'
Hermione grinned. 'What do you think you'd be if you were an Animagus, Harry?'
'A dog, I reckon.'
'No, he was big and floppy. Too easy a target. I'd be some sort of terrier – small and fast with sharp little teeth.'
'And what about you Ron?'
Hermione laughed. 'In your dreams!'
'Okay then, what would you be?'
'Oh, I think I'd be a Kneazle. Nobody fools a Kneazle.'
'Anyway,' said Harry, draining his glass and getting to his feet, 'it's late.'
'Yes, we should be off.' Ron and Hermione got up as well.
'I'll see you two tomorrow, then,' said Harry.
Hermione looked up at Ron with a quiet little smile as she linked her arm into his. 'Come on then, stallion….'