Hermione was already having a bad day. Ron had left a terrible mess in the kitchen before rushing off to work — why couldn't he remember to cast a cleaning charm? — and the deadline for her latest article for Arithmancy Today had been pushed up by ten days. But when Colin Creevey turned up at her flat, white-faced and trembling, she knew her day was about to get worse.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"I— I didn't know, Hermione, I swear," he stuttered out, waving a Muggle folder. "I would never have done it if I'd known."
"Done what? Colin, calm down and tell me what's happened." Hermione steered him to the sofa.
"Rita Skeeter sent me an owl yesterday morning. Her regular photographer is ill; dragon pox, I think." Colin gulped and shook his head. "That doesn't matter. Anyway, she needed a photographer. I've done freelance work for the Daily Prophet before, so she thought of me." His expression brightened. "My photograph of Harry just after he defeated He-Who— uh, Voldemort was on the front page, remember? They paid me twenty galleons for it."
"Yes, I remember," Hermione said, impatient. "Now what's this about Rita Skeeter?"
"Oh, um, right. She's doing an article on Ministry officials who are going to a— a—" Colin went from pale to flushed in a heartbeat, and even though his mouth was moving, no words were coming out of it.
"Going to a what? Just spit it out!" Hermione considered shaking him, and her hands twitched at the thought.
Colin took a deep breath. "They'regoingtoaprivatesexclub," he said in a rush. "She wanted me to take pictures of the people going into the club."
"A private sex club?" Hermione blinked in surprise. "Are you sure?"
Colin gave a one shouldered shrug. "That's what she said it was. It's not as if there's a sign above the door. Anyway, I met Rita there, and we were watching the door. Each time a customer arrived, I took their photograph. Then— Then—" Colin turned white again and finally gave up trying to speak altogether. He thrust the folder into Hermione's hand as if it explained everything.
Inside was a single photograph of a shabby door with peeling blue paint and no other markings. To the right of the door, a burly wizard stood guard, ostensibly loitering under a gaslight affixed to the wall and watching as a couple approached him. The couple, clearly the focus of the photograph, had a short conversation with the doorman. Whilst they were speaking, a second couple walked into the photograph from the far right side, nodded briefly to the doorman and slipped through the door. The first couple concluded their conversation and then went inside as well.
"This is what you wanted to show me? It's three people having a conversation, and I don't know any of them," Hermione said, exasperated.
"Not the doorman, or the couple in front," Colin said. "Watch the couple in the background."
Hermione looked again, this time focusing on the second couple. The taller of the two wore a hooded cloak, but the woman's head was bare. Her long dark blonde hair gleamed under the light, and she turned to speak to her companion. At that moment, Hermione recognised her.
"That's Luna!" she said, surprised.
Colin looked sick. "It gets worse."
Hermione peered more intently at the photo. Luna opened the door and went inside. Her companion followed closely behind, and just as he stepped over the threshold, he glanced back at the couple talking to the doorman. The light from the club's interior fell across his face, and Hermione's mouth dropped open.
"I don't believe it," she said, staring at the photo. "The man with Luna is—"
"Severus Snape," Colin finished for her, dropping his head in his hands. "I told you it got worse."
Two cups of tea and several chocolate biscuits later, Hermione still didn't quite believe it.
"I wouldn't think Luna would go to a sex club, and certainly not with Snape." Hermione's nose wrinkled slightly in distaste at the thought. "Still, I suppose people will surprise you, especially about things like sex." She picked up the photograph once again and shook her head. "What did Rita say about this?"
"She doesn't know. At least, I don't think so," Colin answered. "I was taking photographs, and she was writing down names as people went in. There was a lull, and she decided to go round back and try to sneak inside. She told me to keep taking pictures, but when she came back a little later on, I just couldn't bring myself to tell her what I'd seen, so I told her no one else had turned up."
"Did she get inside the club?" Hermione asked.
Colin shook his head. "No. She'd told me she had a foolproof way to sneak in, but when she came back, she said there were wards in place that kept her out. She was really angry about that."
Hermione snickered. "Probably a charm to keep out bugs."
"What?" Colin asked.
"Oh, never mind." Hermione shook her head.
"If Snape finds out I took that picture, I'm a dead man," Colin said. "He'll think I was spying on him."
"You were spying on him; you were spying on a lot of people," Hermione replied. "And you have to tell him about this, and Luna, too."
Colin's mouth dropped open. "But why?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. How thick could Colin possibly be? "In case Rita's planning to try to blackmail them," she explained.
"Blackmail?" Colin squeaked out. "No! I told you, she's writing a story about—"
"Ministry officials," Hermione finished. "Yes, you said that, but while sex clubs may not be my cup of tea, as long as the people involved are consenting adults, they're not illegal. The only reason public officials are prohibited from going to them is because they're fodder for blackmail attempts, and the next thing you know some under-secretary is handing out secrets to prevent the public from knowing he likes to dress up as a chicken whilst being buggered with a bludger bat.
"You said Rita wanted photographs of everybody who went inside. Was she writing down just the names of Ministry officials, or was she writing down the names of everyone?"
"I don't know; I never saw any Ministry officials," Colin said. Then the penny dropped. "Oh. But if they're not illegal, how could she blackm—"
"Don't you think people might be embarrassed to have their names printed in the Daily Prophet as being patrons of that establishment?" Hermione interrupted. "And don't you think some of them might pay to avoid embarrassment?" Her eyes narrowed. "Why did you come to me with this, anyway?"
Colin shrugged and ducked his head. "I wasn't sure who else I should tell. You were in the Order of the Phoenix with Snape, and you always sorted things out for us at school. I thought you'd know what to do."
"Lots of people were in the Order, and we're not at school any longer," she pointed out. "We haven't been for over four years."
Colin just looked at her hopefully, and Hermione sighed.
"All right," she said. "You should talk to Luna first. Who knows? She works for The Quibbler; maybe she's doing her own exposé and that's why she was there."
"But why was she there with Snape?" Colin shuddered.
"I don't know," Hermione said, "but just sitting here isn't doing any good." Hermione took a pinch of Floo powder from her mantel, and tossed it into the flames. "Luna Lovegood's office," she called out.
When the flames turned green, she knelt down and stuck her head in the fire. "Luna? It's Hermione. I'm sorry to disturb you, but could you come through? Something's happened and... Well, I don't want to discuss it through the Floo."
A few minutes later, Luna Lovegood was sitting next to Colin Creevey on Hermione's sofa and looking thoughtfully at the photograph.
"That's not me," Luna said. "It looks like me, but it isn't. I was at The Quibbler last night, working on an article about a recent sighting of Blibbering Humdingers in Dorset."
"The likeness is too perfect for a glamour," Hermione said, taking the photo from Luna and examining it again. "It must be someone using Polyjuice Potion."
"If that's not Luna," Colin said slowly. "Maybe that's not Snape, either." His expression brightened at the prospect.
"Or it's really Snape with someone using Polyjuice to look like Luna," Hermione said.
Colin's face fell.
Hermione shrugged. "Either way, you're going to have to talk to Snape about it."
"But— But—" Colin stuttered.
Hermione gave him a stern look. "If Rita is planning on blackmailing Snape, would you rather be the man who warned him in advance, or the man who knew in advance and didn't tell him?"
"I'd rather be the man who didn't have to talk to him at all." Colin's shoulders sagged. "But I suppose you're right."
Tracking down Snape took longer than expected. None of them were certain where he lived, and he wasn't connected to the Floo Network. A Floo call to Minerva McGonagall yielded his address, but only after Colin, Luna and Hermione were subjected to a lecture.
"If you're planning to bother him with some sort of rubbish, I won't give you his address," McGonagall said sharply. "The poor man's been through enough. Even after the letters and the Pensieve memories Albus left to exonerate Severus, there are still people who don't believe Albus ordered him to..." McGonagall hesitated here, "to do what he did," she finished. "I won't see him harassed."
All three had to swear it was important and give their word of honour they had no intention of harassing Snape before McGonagall would part with his address.
Colin and Luna agreed with Hermione's suggestion that they had a better chance of getting Snape to agree to a meeting held in neutral territory. An owl was dispatched requesting that Snape contact them immediately at The Leaky Cauldron about "an extremely urgent matter of a delicate nature."
Hermione refused to go with them. She'd had enough of Snape to last a lifetime, and she'd never quite forgiven him for the remark about her teeth in fourth year.
"This really has nothing to do with me," she said firmly. "Colin wanted me to sort this out, and I've done my part. The rest is up to you two."
Luna and Colin were on their third cup of tea when the door to The Leaky Cauldron slammed open, and Severus Snape strode inside. He scowled as he scanned the room, and Colin flinched when Snape's gaze found him. Snape made his way to their table, and stood looking down at them.
"What is so urgent that you felt the need to disturb me?" he snapped.
"Would you care for a cup of tea?" Luna asked politely.
"Just tell me what you want, and I'll be on my way."
Luna shrugged. So much for the niceties. "Apparently, you and I went to a sex club together last night."
Snape's eyes narrowed. "I don't have time for puerile jokes from—"
"Colin has a picture," Luna continued, undaunted. "Although, it's not very flattering of either of us." She glanced at Colin. "Show him."
Colin's hand was shaking, but he held out the photograph. Snape snatched it from him, his expression incredulous as he looked it over. He frowned and sat down at their table.
Luna summoned another teacup from the kitchen, ignoring Tom's glare when it sailed past. She tucked her wand behind her ear, filled the cup from the pot on the table and placed it in front of Snape.
"Explain how you came to have this," Snape demanded.
Colin stuttered his way through the story, occasionally prompted by Luna to fill in various details. He explained Hermione's suspicion of Polyjuice Potion, and Snape gave a sharp nod.
"That's the most likely explanation," Snape said. "That's certainly not me in the photograph, nor apparently is it Miss Lovegood."
Luna shook her head and took another sip of tea.
"But if they used Polyjuice Potion, how did they get the hairs to use in it?" Colin asked.
"A healthy human being normally sheds approximately one hundred hairs each day," Luna offered helpfully. "It would be easy enough to summon stray hairs from the garments of someone who passed by on the street. I could probably get four or five with just one summoning charm, and I doubt the person would ever notice." She looked back at Snape. "We wanted to warn you that Rita Skeeter may be planning to blackmail you. Even if Colin didn't tell her what he saw, we don't know if she saw it."
"If she thinks she can blackmail me, I look forward to the attempt. It would prove very amusing." Snape tapped the photo. "I'm more interested in learning who has been masquerading as me." He glanced at Colin. "This is the club at the far end of Knockturn Alley?"
"Yes, but I've never said where it is, so how do you know?" Colin asked. His sudden suspicions about Snape's veracity were clearly written on his face.
Snape's frown clearly marked Colin as an idiot. "I was a Death Eater and a spy. It was my business to know a great many things. Now, back to the business at hand. What time did you arrive with Skeeter?"
"I met her in front of Borgin & Burkes at half eight," Colin answered.
"Is she expecting you to meet her again tonight? At the same time?" Snape asked.
"Yes, she wants to watch the place until she can finish her article."
"Then I'll arrive at the club promptly at 10:00 tonight," Snape said, fixing Colin with a sharp look. "I'll expect you to distract her so she doesn't notice my arrival, and under no circumstances are you to take my photograph."
"Distract her?" Colin gaped. "How?"
Luna tilted her head. "You want to find out who they are, so you're going inside the club."
Snape nodded once.
"How am I supposed to distract her?" Colin's voice was rising, and he was turning purple with anxiety.
"I don't know, Mr. Creevey," Snape snapped. "Use one of the Weasley twins' concoctions and vomit on her feet. Throw her against the wall and kiss her. I don't care how you do it, just do it."
"Are you going to use Polyjuice, too?" Luna asked.
"Kiss her?" Colin shuddered. "I think I'd do better with the vomiting."
"No, I have none on hand, and it takes a month to brew," Snape said, ignoring Colin. "That shouldn't be a problem, however. The doorman was obviously familiar with my doppelganger. He was allowed to pass without challenge."
Colin's attention was wrenched back to the conversation. "But what if it wasn't your double the doorman recognised?" he asked. "He didn't do anything to indicate which one of them he knew. Maybe it was Luna. Maybe you're supposed to be her guest."
Snape shook his head. "That's highly unlikely."
"But not impossible," Colin persisted. "And if I have to vomit on someone, you'd best get it right."
Snape rolled his eyes.
"You'll want me to go with you, then?" Luna asked.
Snape took in her bright face and the wand balanced behind her ear. "I don't want you to go at all, but it seems necessary," he said. "As soon as we're inside, you may leave; there's no need for you to stay."
Luna looked thoughtful. "I've never been to a sex club before, and I doubt I'll ever go again, so I expect I'll want to look around. I'm sure it will be very interesting."
Colin looked dumbfounded, and even Snape blinked.
"Interesting is not the word I would have chosen," Snape said dryly. "However, if you're going to stay, you mustn't appear shocked at anything you see or hear." He frowned for a moment. "Nor too interested, either."
Luna nodded. "How do you intend to learn who's been impersonating us?"
With a smug air, Snape leaned back in his chair. "I'm sure someone in that club knows their true identities, and I am an excellent Legilimens."
"And if our doubles are already there, or arrive while we're inside?" Luna asked.
Snape's smile was nasty. "So much better," he said. "We'll learn the truth directly from the source."
Using Colin's photograph as a guide, Snape and Luna transfigured their cloaks to match the garments worn by their impostors, and at precisely 10:00 p.m., they made their way to the club. As they approached the doorman, they heard a muffled shout from across the alley, then, "What are you— Get away from me! Not on my shoes!"
Snape smirked and turned his attention back to Luna. "Just nod at the doorman and open the door. Once inside, don't speak to anyone else, and don't wander away."
He glided forward, one hand resting lightly on Luna's back to guide her. Luna's muscles tensed under his hand, but she gave no other sign of nerves. They nodded at the doorman, and he gave them a bored nod in return. Then they were inside the club.
A pretty brunette witch wearing plain black robes accented with a red silk sash stood ready to collect their cloaks. When Snape indicated they would wear them, she merely smiled pleasantly and wished them a good evening.
The club was magically expanded and was much larger inside than out. Small tables were scattered throughout the room, and one group of tables was positioned to easily view the raised stage centred along the rear wall. A glance confirmed that a muscular wizard was having particularly athletic sex with a voluptuous witch for the entertainment of the customers.
Multiple doors lined the sides of the room, regularly spaced at six foot intervals, each door labelled with a number. Some numbers glowed with a bright yellow light, while others shone red. Interspersed among the doorways were dim alcoves shrouded with red velvet curtains, some parted and unoccupied, and others closed completely.
Witches and wizards were gathered at the tables or milling around the room. Some wore costumes or formal robes, while others were barely dressed at all.
A blonde witch wearing the same uniform of black robes and red sash approached them. "Would you like a table near the stage or near a particular room?" she asked.
"We'll take a table near the stage," Snape said, "but we'd also like to reserve one of the rooms."
The blonde smiled. "Private or semi-private?"
Snape looked intently into her eyes. "Private."
"Of course, sir," the blonde said. "I'll show you to your table."
They were escorted to a table, and once they were seated, the blonde pulled a card from her pocket and tapped it with her wand. She placed the card on the table and smiled. "May I bring you something to drink?" she asked.
"Not at the moment, no," Snape answered.
The witch nodded. "Enjoy your evening."
Snape waited until the waitress had walked away before speaking to Luna. "I could only get a quick glimpse into her mind, but our server doesn't know the identities of our impostors."
Luna picked up the card the waitress had left on their table and read aloud. "Love potions, lust potions — oh, they sell Polyjuice, too — invigoration draughts, stamina enhancers... The least expensive thing on the menu is a pain-relieving potion for one galleon. That's rather a lot for a single vial of potion."
"Overpriced." Severus sniffed. "It wouldn't cost more than three sickles to brew."
Luna turned the card over. "Number 14," she read. "What does that mean?"
"That's the number of the private room I requested." Snape nodded toward the doors lining the walls. "I hoped that once inside, you would change your mind about looking around and would wait there while I walk through the club. As it's private, you'll remain unobserved and undisturbed."
"And a semi-private room means I wouldn't be unobserved and undisturbed?" she asked, curious.
"A semi-private room caters to exhibitionists and voyeurs. Those are the rooms with the numbers in yellow; the private rooms are in red. If you stand very close to a semi-private room, the doors are charmed to allow you to see inside."
"I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but still I'd prefer to look around." Luna nodded gravely. "The human mind is very complex, especially concerning sexuality. I might not have another opportunity to see so many variations of what is essentially a basic mating ritual."
Snape stared at her for a moment. "You're a very odd woman," he finally said.
"Am I? I suppose so," she replied, her tone blithe. She looked over a passing customer and leaned toward Snape, her eyes wide. "Is his penis pierced? Wouldn't that hurt dreadfully?"
Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. "Come along, Lovegood. Let's take our stroll through the mating rituals and get it over with."
An hour later, Snape had a pounding headache. He'd used Legilimency whenever possible, only to learn the staff didn't care who the customers were so long as they tipped well, and most of the customers were too caught up in playing at perversion to yield any useful information.
Contributing to his headache was his efforts to keep Luna on a figurative leash. He suspected he'd have better results with a literal one, and there were several for sale, adding to his temptation. The enthusiastic — if rather pedestrian — bout of intercourse on the stage had given way to an act of male on male buggery, and now a leather clad dominatrix, her female submissive, and an extremely long whip were being showcased. Lovegood, to his vast relief, hadn't been interested in the staged sex acts, declaring them "non-spontaneous representations". She was far more interested in the observing the other patrons, and despite his earlier warning not to appear too intrigued, he'd had to steer her away from more than one set of grasping hands when she'd wandered in too close.
She'd been particularly fascinated by the nipple clamps, butt plugs, clitoral chains, and the other accoutrements of sexuality in use and on display. He was currently enduring an amazingly detailed commentary on the variety of dildos she'd seen, when she suddenly gasped and grabbed his arm.
"Look!" she exclaimed. "There we are."
Snape followed her gaze to see the faux Luna and faux Snape entering the club. He pushed Luna through the curtains of the nearest alcove and stepped in behind her. At their feet, moaning amidst the soft cushions, a group of five people formed a daisy chain of cunnilingus and fellatio. Ignoring an invitation to join in the fun, Snape and Luna peeked through the curtains and watched as faux Luna went immediately to the stage area, seemingly fascinated by the cracking whip and the shivering submissive. Faux Snape sat at a table near the entrance that was already occupied by a delicate featured young man.
"What now?" Luna whispered in Snape's ear.
Snape's eyes narrowed. "I'm going to Disillusion myself and go into room 14. I want you to make your way over to my counterpart. Don't draw attention to yourself on the way over. Tell him it's an emergency and you have to speak to him privately, then bring him to the room."
Luna nodded. "What should I do once we're inside?"
"Nothing." Snape smirked. "I'll take care of everything." With that, he tapped the top of his head with his wand and seemingly shimmered out of existence. A second later, the curtains fluttered open and then closed again.
Luna waited a few seconds, then slipped out of the alcove. She made her way over to faux Snape, glancing occasionally at her own counterpart, still standing transfixed near the stage.
In contrast to the real Snape's dour manner, the faux Snape was smiling widely and obviously enthralled with his companion. Luna moved closer and saw that the pretty young man had his hand in faux Snape's lap. She stopped, careful to remain far enough away to avoid seeing more than she thought appropriate. While this was an impostor, he was still wearing an exact copy of the real Snape's body, and while she might be the tiniest bit curious, it really wasn't proper to peek.
"I need to speak with you," she said softly.
Faux Snape looked up, clearly irritated. "I'm busy."
"It's an emergency, and I need to speak with you privately," she insisted.
"Emergency?" he repeated. He frowned, but tucked himself back into his robes and stood. "I'll be back in a moment; wait for me here," he told the young man.
Faux Snape followed Luna, but stopped only a few feet away from the table. "What's wrong?"
"Not now," she whispered, adding a note of urgency to her voice. "Someone might overhear us. Follow me."
She led him to room 14 and opened the door. "We can talk in here," she said.
Faux Snape huffed out an exasperated breath, but stepped inside. As with the club itself, room 14 was larger than it should have been, and was furnished as a plain but serviceable bedroom. The moment Luna closed the door, faux Snape fell to the floor with a thud, dropped by a silent Stupefy.
Snape shimmered back into view wearing a satisfied expression. Lazy flicks of his wand summoned faux Snape's wand, then a flask of Polyjuice Potion. Another wand movement had faux Snape wrapped tightly in magical ropes.
"Now we reverse the process," Snape said. "Disillusion him and then yourself, and wait for me here. I'll bring your impostor back."
Snape went straight for faux Luna. She initially resisted his demand to speak to her privately, but when he insisted it was an emergency, she reluctantly left the stage area and followed him. Once again an impostor entered room 14, and once again they were Stupefied and bound.
Luna reversed the Disillusionment spell on herself and on faux Snape. "And now?" she asked.
Snape summoned the second impostor's wand and flask of Polyjuice. "Now we wait for the potion to wear off."
He transfigured the bed pillows into chairs, and he and Luna sat down.
"What do you intend to do with them?" Luna asked.
"At the moment, I'm considering hexing them to within an inch of their lives and leaving them naked in the middle of Diagon Alley, but a great deal depends on who they really are. It's possible I'll be more creative," Snape answered. He gave her a curious glance. "Did you have your fill of observing the mating rituals?"
"Yes, I think so. People make it all far too complicated. Animals don't do that. Although, heliopaths have elaborate mating rituals that can last for months."
Snape snorted. "Do you actually believe in those creatures?"
"Why not? There are lots of things Muggles don't believe in, and those things exist. Why shouldn't the same be true of witches and wizards? I think it's terribly arrogant to presume we've already discovered all there is to discover."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "As reluctant as I am to admit it, you have a point."
Luna smiled. "Do you think Hermione was right, and Rita Skeeter intends to blackmail people?"
"Yes, for money and secrets. She enjoys power, and secrets are an easy way to obtain it."
"Is there some way to warn those people?" Luna asked, waving vaguely toward the club beyond the door. "Maybe we should make an announcement?"
"That won't be necessary," Snape said. "Rita Skeeter won't be blackmailing anyone. Not over this, at any rate."
"How do you know?" Luna asked, curious.
"Sometimes, Lovegood, it's best not to ask too many questions," Snape replied, his voice and manner suddenly curt.
Luna regarded him with obvious curiosity, but didn't seem offended at his manner.
Moments later, the Faux Luna began to ripple and shake; her hair shrinking and curling, and her body growing more rotund, straining the robes she wore to the point of bursting. A few seconds later, Faux Snape began to change as well, his nose and hair becoming shorter, the tresses turning an unmistakable shade of red. When the transformation was complete, Snape and Luna were looking down at Dolores Umbridge and Percy Weasley, still Stupefied and bound.
Snape's eyes narrowed. "Why would Weasley and Umbridge choose to impersonate us?"
Luna shrugged. "Opportunity? Umbridge had no reason to pick me, but I'm regularly at the Ministry on Quibbler business. She probably saw her opportunity and took it. I'll bet it was the same for Percy. Were you at the Ministry recently?"
"No, but I did encounter Weasley at Flourish & Blott's a few weeks ago." Snape glared down at Weasley. "He's going to regret impersonating me."
Snape looked back and forth between Umbridge and Weasley, one finger tracing over his lips. Then he smiled faintly. While Luna watched, perplexed, he summoned every galleon, sickle and knut Umbridge and Weasley had in their pockets, and sent them clinking onto the bed where they arranged themselves into neat rows according to denomination.
"Lovegood, take enough money from that lot to purchase two vials of Polyjuice from one of the staff, and bring the potion back here."
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
"What are we going to do, you mean," Snape said with a smirk. "We're going to kill three birds with one stone."
Snape moved through the shadows until he was almost upon Rita Skeeter and Colin Creevey. He paused to make certain they hadn't seen him, then stepped abruptly forward, surprising them both. Skeeter gasped and fumbled for her purse, while Colin jumped and squeaked out an oath.
Before Rita's wand could clear her purse, Snape already had her backed against the side of a building, his wand at her throat.
"Creevey," Snape said, his voice low but clear, "walk down to the next shop front and wait there until I call you."
Colin took one look at Snape's expression and didn't question or hesitate. He simply started walking.
"Now, Miss Skeeter, you and I are going to come to an understanding," Snape hissed. "You are going to hand over the list of customer names—"
"I don't know what you're talk—" Rita began, her eyes wide.
"Don't interrupt me. You know exactly what I'm talking about," he snapped. "In exchange for those names, I will generously allow you one photograph to complete your article."
At that, Rita's eyes sharpened, and she dropped the pretence. "Why do you want those names?"
Snape smirked. "I want them because you want them. I'm sure you had plans to turn that list to your advantage, but that's not going to happen. Comparatively, it's a small revenge, but it's long overdue. "
"Revenge? What are you talking about, Snape?" she asked in a shrill voice.
"Did you think I would simply forget that libellous article you wrote about me after my trial?" Snape's voice turned deceptively silky. "You suggested I avoided being sent to Azkaban only due to the intervention of — and I quote — "wealthy supporters of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named." Worse, you insinuated Albus was a doddering fool too stupid to realise that he'd harboured a traitor. You were careful to shroud it all with words like allegedly and supposedly, but the implications were very clear."
Rita frowned. "I was just doing my job. The public has a right to know—" Her mouth snapped closed abruptly when Snape took a step forward.
His face was an ivory mask in the dim light of Knockturn Alley, and stray sparks flew from the tip of his wand. For a moment he resembled nothing more than the Death Eater he had once been. When he spoke again, his voice was a bare whisper.
"Know what? That I did what I was ordered to do by Albus Dumbledore for the good of the war effort? That I was cleared by a unanimous vote by the Wizengamot? Those tidbits of information didn't make it into your article. Now, where is that list of names?"
Rita shrank back and pointed to the ground where her Quick Quotes Quill and the parchment had fallen.
"Is this all of them?" he asked, and Rita nodded quickly.
In the next instant, the parchment was ablaze. When it had disintegrated into ashes, the quill flew into Snape's waiting hand.
"Should you attempt to reconstruct the list from memory, I'll make certain you have no memory left at all. I'm sure Gilderoy Lockhart would enjoy having company at St. Mungo's." Snape snapped the quill between his fingers and tossed it to the ground before calling out to Colin.
Colin rushed back. "Sir?"
"You'll destroy all the photographs you've taken for this woman, save the next one, which will be a photograph of Dolores Umbridge and Percy Weasley bribing the doorman and entering that club. Do you understand?"
Colin boggled. "Yes, sir. I understand."
Snape nodded to the doorman as he re-entered the club, and went straight back to room 14.
Luna stood up as the door opened, her wand in hand. When she saw it was Snape, she lowered her wand. "Is everything settled?"
"Yes, everything is settled," Snape replied. He glanced down at Weasley and Umbridge, and dispensed with the magical ropes.
"You're certain we don't have to do anything once we're back inside the club?" she asked.
"I'm certain. In fact, I'd recommend you Apparate straight home. Dolores Umbridge has enough enemies to make it ill advised to go wandering about in her body. Remember to stand under the light so Creevey can get a good snap of your face." Snape frowned. "Her face."
Luna nodded. "Are we just going to leave them here?"
"I don't see why not," Snape said. "We'll leave them their wands; although I'll be taking their flasks of Polyjuice. They'll be safe enough in here until the Stupefy fades in another hour or so, then they can leave on their own."
"Then I suppose we're ready." Luna handed Snape one of the vials of Polyjuice.
They each bent and plucked a hair from the head of their former counterparts and dropped them into the vials.
Luna's nose wrinkled at the smell, but lifted her vial in salute. "To success," she said.
Snape looked exasperated, but imitated her gesture. "To success," he echoed.
They downed the potion quickly and waited for the change to take place.
The next morning, Snape rose at his usual time and prepared his breakfast. He was on his second piece of toast when the Daily Prophet arrived by post owl. He carried the paper back to his kitchen table, poured another cup of tea, and spread open the paper.
He smiled at the sight of the large headline: Ministry Officials Caught at Sex Club.
The photograph accompanying the article very clearly showed Dolores Umbridge and Percy Weasley approaching a door in Knockturn Alley, speaking with the doorman, then each handing the man a stack of galleons, which he promptly pocketed. Instead of entering the club immediately, however, both Umbridge and Weasley turned to face Knockturn Alley and looked right and left several times before opening the door and going inside.
Snape snorted as he read the article. Nothing ever changed, he supposed. It was full of Rita Skeeter's typically florid prose, calling for the resignation of Umbridge and Weasley, and implying that everyone in the Ministry, from the Minister for Magic to the lowliest clerk were all of "low moral fibre."
He admired the photo once more, then frowned and looked at it more closely. When "Umbridge" turned to the left, he could just make out...
He tossed the paper onto the table with a scowl. It wasn't really important, he reminded himself. He'd done what he set out to do, which was settle a score with Rita Skeeter and teach Percy Weasley a lesson he'd never forget.
It was entirely possible that he would be the only one to notice that Dolores Umbridge had her wand tucked behind her ear.