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FIC: Infinite Design: Truth and Mendacity (PG-13)

Title: Infinite Design: Truth and Mendacity
Type: Fic
Prompter: rayvyn2k
Creator: mundungus42
Beta(s): Mr. 42, lifeasanamazon
Rating: PG-13
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): EWE, RPF, occasional WTF.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: Hermione has always loved comic books. She goes on holiday to a comic book convention. Snape has been writing and/or illustrating comics under a pseudonym for years and is the featured guest at the Con (SS & HG or SS/HG).
Summary: Salvador Maltings, reclusive author/artist of Infinite Design, an award-winning series of graphic novels, submits the following proposal an alternative-universe origin story for one of his series's most popular characters, featuring his own death as a plot point. His in-book self's inspiration? A woman named Hermione Granger. How much is truth and how much is fiction?



Bill-

Per your numerous requests, I'm sending the first pages of the script for Mendacity's stand-alone volume (an origin story, of a sort). I've also included the rest of Hermione's short story with some notes on how I plan to adapt it. The prose is overwrought, the dialogue is too long, and the symbolism is heavy-handed, but as you can see it translates quite elegantly, and it dovetails neatly with Mendacity's character arc while leaving numerous possibilities for further exploration.

As I said before, I'd considered wrapping up Infinite Design in volume five, but I believe that this volume is the best thing I could do for the series. It's a badly-needed expansion of the world and characters, which I feared were growing static. We'll also discuss potential crossover appeal with other audiences at lunch next month.

My only concern, if you can call it that, is that of libel for including so many well-known people as characters (I trust myself not to sue). However, they are all public figures, all events referenced have been widely reported, and having consulted legal counsel about this matter in strictest confidence, I am convinced that their depiction falls under fair use. But do let me know if you think that any of the real people referenced might take offence – I'm hardly the best judge.

Sincerely yours,

Salvador Maltings


Infinite Design: Truth and Mendacity

Page 1 Panel 1
Black background, against which the margins of a panel, filling the top third of the page, invisibly fade. A single candle flame in the centre of the panel is seen lighting a pale face surrounded by wild curls. The candle throws the normally gentle, heart-shaped face of Mendacity, Bearer of Facts, into striking chiaroscuro.

Caption: Truth can be a slippery notion.

Page 1 Panel 2
We see the base of the candlestick next to Mendacity's book of facts. The book lies open on an ancient-looking wooden surface, which is stained and pitted, but the words are illegible. Next to it lies a wooden wand, gracefully carved with vines and leaves.

Caption: It's easy to be possessed of facts, but it takes more than that to discover truth.

Page 1 Panel 3
Mendacity's fingertips ghost over the rim of a shallow dish, whose silvery contents shimmer in the dim light. The rim is set with runes and other esoteric symbols in metal. The imprint of her fingers is visible on the dusty surface.

Caption: And should one have the wisdom to recognise a truth, there is no guarantee that this truth is the only truth.

Page 1 Panel 4
Mendacity wraps her fingers around the wand's handle. The texture of the wood is smooth here, indicating that she has held this particular object many times before.

Caption: Truth can also be a matter of perspective.

Page 1 Panel 5
Mendacity closes her eyes and, using the tip of the rod, draws silver strands from her temple, which stick to the rod like bits of candy floss.

Caption: Hindsight...

Page 1 Panel 6
Mendacity deposits the strands into the shallow bowl, which ripples with white light where the silver strands touch the surface.

Caption: and foresight....

Page1 Panel 6
A close up of the liquid in the bowl, on the surface of which a dying man's face can be seen. He is lying on his back on dirty, ancient-looking floorboards. He has strong, distinctively ugly features- sallow skin, a large hooked nose, thin lips, and greasy black hair. He wears strange, old-fashioned, buttoned-up black garments. His eyes are wide with terror, and his hand is clapped to his neck, but blood seeps out from between his fingers. His yellow, uneven teeth are bared in a rictus of pain.

Caption: bring insight.

Page 1 Panel 7
The panel is completely black.

Mendacity: Nox.

Page 2 Panel 1
A half-page panel along the top of the page. We look obliquely down from the girders of a cavernous exhibition hall packed with booths and people. Along the frame's diagonal are row markers emblazoned with SAN DIEGO COMIC CON, the famous eye logo, and booth numbers. Scattered chaotically through the crowded hall are enormous signs and fantastic displays: DC, Marvel, Hasbro, Playstation, giant Lego creations of Star Wars characters, an orange Nickelodeon edifice, a false cement citadel for Walking Dead; other popular properties circa 2013. The overall impression is one of chaos and impenetrable crowd.

Page 2 Panel 2
Superimposed over the upper right corner of the panel is a double-width panel. On the left hand side is a close-up of a woman's face. She is on the pretty side of ordinary, with wild brown curls, atop which sits a red beret. She appears to be Mendacity, Bearer of Facts, but she is actually a nearly identical woman cosplaying her at Comic-Con. Her eyes are wide and brown, but her mouth is compressed into a determined line. She is looking to the right, and some distance away is a door leading out of the hall, but between her and the door is a sea of people (Storm Troopers, Naruto headbands, a Homer Simpson head). The Vertigo Comics booth is clearly visible behind her, as is an empty signing table with a nameplate that says “Salvador Maltings, Infinite Design” on it.

Caption: (In Copperplate, as all observations from her POV) There's nothing for it.

Page 2 Panel 3
The woman is advancing through the crowd (incl. a group of Sailors Moon flashing Vs, Captain America, a child in a Ghostbusters costume) with her arms wrapped tightly around her. She is scowling. Her name badge is askew, but visible. She is Hermione Granger, she has a Professional Guest badge, indicating that she is not involved in the production of comic books but knows people who sell or market them well enough that they were willing to procure a badge for her. More details of her letter-perfect costume are now visible- Mendacity's trench-coat, her “I <3 Libraries” t-shirt, the red Book of Knowledge. Also visible are two non-costume elements: the official Lichtensteinesque swag bag slung over her left shoulder, and the handle of the mysterious wand from Page 1 sticking out of an interior pocket of her coat. These details are clearly visible, but not highlighted.

Caption: This is my last chance to see him.

Page 2 Panel 4
Hermione squeezes around a group of people taking a photo of Sephiroth. We see all the details of her excellent Mendacity costume- studded belt, ripped jeans, and steel toe boots. A BUZZZZ emanates from her pocket.

Caption: The only way is forward, and nothing will stop me.


The face of Hermione's mobile phone, a current model touchscreen. Generic New E-mail announcement from Dr. Alan Lautner, subject “Brian Porter Bio 100 Grade.”

Caption: Except perhaps that.

Page 3 Panel 1
Hermione has stepped to the side of the aisle next to a fantasy art booth and has her phone held to her ear, her other hand pressed to her opposite ear. Behind her a Daenerys Targaryen in a nude bodysuit admires a painting of a dragon.

Hermione: I understand it's awkward for the department, wouldn't it be more awkward explaining why we changed a student's failing marks to passing because his uncle is a politician?

Page 3 Panel 2
Hermione has edged along the row of booths and is now standing in front of Ellora's Cave Publishing by a display of books that are obviously erotic in nature. The crowd in front of her seems even more densely packed than it was before, with people in Doctor Who t-shirts, Avengers cosplayers, and an Adam West-era Batman and Robin.

Hermione: No, that's not what I want, but he only attended half my lectures, failed all the tests and exams, and didn't contact me until I was already on holiday, three months after his marks were recorded.

Page 3 Panel 3
Hermione gazes at the slightly-less-distant door to the lobby, eyes narrowed.

Hermione: Of course he wouldn't have told you any of that.

Page 3 Panel 4
She leaps into the river of people, just behind a bearded man with an enormous backpack.

Hermione: This really isn't a good time, Alan.

Page 2 Panel 5
Hermione is buffeted between backpacks, classic superhero t-shirts, and a group cosplay of Fullmetal Alchemist.

Hermione: Yes, of course the little shit is entitled to a reasonably swift resolution, but after three months, a week's delay isn't going to make any difference.

Page 3 Panel 6
At last, she reaches the door, which is manned by a pair of people in red security shirts.

Hermione: You were the one who practically forced me to go on holiday.

Page 3 Panel 7
But when she looks through the door to the lobby, which is bright and sunny compared to the fluorescent lights of the exhibition hall, she sees that the lobby is every bit as crowded as where she's come from. Her face has fallen.

Hermione: I'll forward you the unedited version of our e-mails so you have something to tell his mother. That's all I can do for now.

Page 4 Panel 1
Half page (top) of Hermione riding an escalator up out of the crowded lobby, seen from above. The space is beautiful in an early 1990s kind of way, all glass and white-painted metal. A large Comic Con eye logo hangs in the upper left of the frame, and the escalator ascends to the right, where Hermione is sandwiched between a Starfleet officer in command red snogging with Harley Quinn, and life-sized No Face from the film Spirited Away. His mask looms eerily behind her, but she is flicking through the convention programme. There's another BUZZZZ from her pocket.

Caption: Salvador Maltings's panel starts in five minutes, but he only left his signing at the Vertigo booth five minutes ago. I can still make it!


The face of Hermione's phone shows an e-mail from an Emmaline Porter with the subject line “Brian Porter's Grade Change.”


Reaction panel of Hermione's scowling face.


Hermione shoves the phone back into her pocket, flushed with anger. The words “tap tap” appear above her shoulder.


Hermione turns to find No Face silently offering her a handful of what appear to be gold-wrapped chocolate coins.

Page 4 Panel 6
Hermione gives No Face a rueful half-smile, not entirely happy but appreciative of the effort to cheer her up.

Hermione: No thanks.

Page 5 Panel 1
At the top of the escalator is a woman in a green volunteer shirt. Behind her are dense crowds and Rapunzel posing for pictures amidst her impressive tresses.

Hermione: Excuse me, where's Room 9?

Page 5 Panel 2
We see the volunteer's hand gesturing beyond the hallway to a brightly-lit room where the tops of canvases on display can be seen through the glass doors.

Volunteer: It's on the far side of the Sails Pavilion. Just follow the line until you get to the end.

Caption: The end? There weren't queues for the comics panels on Thursday or Friday.

Page 5 Panel 2
One third panel across the top of the page showing Hermione walking determinedly past the queues for autographs and for portfolio critiques in the Sails Pavilion, the most brightly lit room in the convention centre. There are many groups of cosplayers posing for pictures because of the excellent light, most noticeable in the background is a group of people in TARDIS costumes.

Caption: All right, so the Fables panel was crowded, but they've been publishing for over a decade and they've won loads of awards. Sal won his first Eisner for Infinite Design yesterday. Surely he can't have become so popular overnight?

Page 5 Panel 3
Hermione looks into the dimly lit hallway off the Sails Pavilion. Two green-shirt volunteers stand on either side of a door marked Room 9. There is a retractable belt barrier blocking access to the door, behind which, a queue two or three people deep stretches off down the hallway and around the corner.

Caption: Bugger.

Page 5 Panel 4
We continue following the queue from Hermione's POV. Most are dressed in street clothes, though there is a Jack Sparrow, a Spiderman, and a Tim Burton Alice.

Caption: I was told that there were two different events running concurrently: one for people who wanted to see movie and television stars, and one for people who are actually interested in comics.


We continue down the line from Hermione's POV. There are two women dressed as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson handcuffed together, but there are also several people dressed as Castor and Pollux from Infinite Design.

Caption: I suppose this is one downside of comic book movies breaking box office records. I
should be grateful that more books will be written.

Page 5 Panel 6

Caption (upper left hand): The only thing to say is...

Hermione is at the end of the queue. Around the outline of her hair and beret, we see an incredibly beautiful woman with a movie-star body dressed as a steampunk version of Mendacity. She has perfect chestnut ringlets, enormous brown eyes with thick, long eyelashes. She wears a corset around her slender waist with hearts and books embroidered in horizontal bands, a stiff crinoline under her short skirt, lace-up, knee-high boots with gold antiquing, and her trench coat is sleeveless, revealing elaborate tattoos on her arms and fingerless black lace evening gloves. Her red beret has a white ostrich plume sticking out of it and is trimmed with copper and gold filigree. The book of knowledge has a stamped leather cover with bronze hinges and metal lettering. Steampunk Mendacity (Veronica) is looking directly at Hermione with an expression of delight on her face.

Veronica: HI!!!! Oh my God, I LOVE your costume!

Caption: Bugger.

Page 6 Panel 1
Wide angle shot of Hermione and Veronica in line.

Veronica: I love seeing a textbook-accurate costume. You look exactly like Mendacity!

Hermione: Thanks. Your costume is nice, too. Where did you find that corset?

Page 6 Panel 2
Close up of Veronica, running her fingers over the elaborate embroidery. She is heartbreakingly lovely.

Veronica: I made it. I'm a costume designer and do commissions. Do you cosplay in any other fandoms besides Infinite Design?

Hermione: Erm, I don't really cosplay. I just love Mendacity and I owned most of these things already.

Page 6 Panel 3
Close up of Veronica handing Hermione a business card for her Etsy store.

Veronica: Well, I'm glad Sal managed to tempt you to the dark side. My name's Veronica, by the way.

Hermione: I'm Hermione.

Veronica: Cool! Are you British or Australian?

Hermione: I was born in Britain but live in Melbourne. You've got a good ear.

Page 6 Panel 4
Hermione and Veronica pose for a photograph. Veronica's smile is huge, and her arm is around Hermione's shoulder. Hermione looks more than a bit reticent, and her phone buzzes again.

Veronica: I watch a lot of British telly. What do you do?

Hermione: I teach science at university. Sorry, I've got to get this.

Page 6 Panel 5
The face of Hermione's phone answering a text to Alan. “Told BP we'd meet next week. The Mother is your problem.”

Veronica: Isn't it, like, six in the morning in Melbourne?

Hermione: The chair's an early riser, and the problem child likely never went to bed. Teaching would be so wonderful if not for the students.

Veronica: Heh. You sound like Sal.

Page 6 Panel 5
Close up of Veronica, grinning mischievously.

Hermione: Oh! Have you seen him before?

Veronica: He did a signing at Comickazee last year when Vertigo released the second volume in hardcover. He cut the Q&A short when someone asked him what would happen to the series if he died.

Hermione: What does he look like?

Veronica: Yummy. Imagine Neil Gaiman with less fluffy hair, Adrien Brody's nose, and Benedict Cumberbatch's cheekbones.

Page 6 Panel 5
Another wide-angle shot. Many more people have joined the line behind Hermione and Veronica.

Hermione: Is it just me, or should the queue be moving?

Veronica: Maybe the Masculinities/Femininities panel went long?

Woman dressed as Sherlock Holmes (several people in front of Hermione and Veronica): How can the room be full?

Woman dressed as John Watson (handcuffed to Sherlock): They didn't let anyone in!

Man dressed as Spiderman: Why'd they stick him in Room 9? His panel was packed last year even before Showtime optioned the book!

Page 7 Panel 1
The queue disperses, leaving Hermione and Veronica standing alone in the hallway. A couple dressed as Martha Jones and the Tenth Doctor pass by in the foreground.

Veronica: Well, that sucks.

Hermione: I can't believe it. Sal's the primary reason I came to this bloody circus and now...

Veronica: Do you like cartoons?

Hermione: I suppose.

Page 7 Panel 2
Veronica smirks at a despondent Hermione.

Veronica: Don't be so enthusiastic. You might hurt yourself.

Hermione: I'm English. This is enthusiastic.

Veronica: Come on. We'll catch the end of Cartoon Voices in Ballroom 6 and stay for Quick Draw.

Page 7 Panel 3
Hermione follows Veronica down the hallway toward the Sails Pavilion. A toddler dressed as Princess Leia is having a tantrum while Boba Fett tries to calm her down Veronica holds out her programme for Hermione to read. It is folded open and Veronica is pointing out the panel description to Hermione.

Hermione: What's Quick Draw?

Veronica: An epic game of Pictionary played by comics legends: Sergio Aragones, Scott Shaw, and a wild card. Last year I saw Katie Cook. Today, we get Stephan Pastis. It's my favourite panel at 'con. Trust me, you'll love it.

Page 7 Panel 4
A panorama of a large ballroom with a raised stage at the front, where the panelists' table sits. Hermione and Veronica are sitting next to one another in the second row. Veronica is pointing towards three men, one of whom is sitting at the table (Sergio) and the other two, who are talking in front of the table. There are large projection screens on either side of the panel. On one of the screens is a doodle of a moustached man in a sombrero waving to the crowd.

Veronica: The guy with the big moustache is Sergio- he's amazing. Fastest cartoonist in the world. The one in the aloha shirt is Scott, who animated for Hanna-Barbera, and the guy in the denim shirt is Mark Evanir, who's moderating and gives the panel their drawing prompts.

Hermione: Where's the Pastis bloke?

Veronica: No idea.

Page 7 Panel 5
Scott and Mark lean their heads together to speak. Both are frowning, and Mark is looking at something on Scott's mobile phone. A projection screen is visible behind them, and Sergio has drawn a picture of the two of them making eyes at one another with little hearts floating around their heads.

Veronica: Looks like they don't know, either.

Page 8 Panel 1
Mark Evanir stands at the front of the frame with a cordless microphone. Scott has taken his place at the table next to Sergio. Sergio has drawn a picture of a man in a backwards baseball cap passed out among a pile of beer bottles. Scott has drawn the same man being eaten by crocodiles. Hahaha and Applause hang over the audience.

Mark: Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to say that Stephan Pastis has been unavoidably detained.

Audience: [boos, catcalls]

Mark: However, I've found another sucker- I mean volunteer- to take his place. He's on his way. In the meantime, I have the dubious honour of introducing two of your Quick Draw artists, Sergio Aragones and Scott Shaw! Gentlemen: draw a famous character doing something he's never done before.

Page 8 Panel 2
A split screen of Scott diving into a pile of money like Scrooge McDuck fills Sergio's side of the screen while Sergio grinning toothily with half a moustache appears on Scott's side.

Hermione: Do they do this for a whole hour?

Veronica: Yup. Brilliant, isn't it?

Hermione: Remarkable!

Page 8 Panel 3
Another split screen shot of Captain America looking chagrined as his shield becomes embedded in a Frisbee golf goal on Sergio's side, and Aquaman sitting on a rock in the ocean and singing to a passing pirate ship on Scott's side.

Mark: Ladies and gentlemen, our third panelist is here. Fresh from his Eisner victory tour and his packed-to-the-rafters panel, please welcome the creator of Infinite Design, Salvador Maltings!

Page 8 Panel 4
Close up of Veronica and Hermione, identical expressions of shock on their faces.

Page 8 Panel 5
Close up of Mark winking at Hermione and Veronica.

Mark: Your lucky day, girls.

Page 8 Panel 6
Hermione sits stock still, her eyes wide and her lips parted in amazement. Veronica's fists are balled next to her face as she squeals with excitement.

Veronica: (across the top of the frame) EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!

Caption: I can't believe it. This can't be real. It has to be a dream.

Page 9 Panel 1
The top quarter of the page is taken up by a wide-angle shot of a man in black jeans and a black turtleneck walking onstage, waving to the crowd. We are too far away to clearly see his face. We can see Mark, Sergio, and Scott applauding and the silhouette of Veronica jumping up and down in the front row. She is not alone in standing and cheering, but Hermione is still clearly in her seat.

Veronica (however much of this will fit across the bottom of the panel in one or two lines): OH MY GOD IT'S FUCKING SAL MALTINGS NO FUCKING WAY IS THAT SAL MALTINGS AND OH SWEET BABY JESUS I AM GOING TO DIE RIGHT ON THE SPOT AND IT WILL BE HIS FAULT BUT I WILL DIE HAPPY AND EXPRESSING MY LOVE FOR THE MOST AMAZING COMIC EVER AND HE'S SO FUCKING GORGEOUS I CANNOT EVEN BECAUSE NO NO I JUST CANNOT EVEN. CANNOT EVEN.

Hermione: [tiny lettering] ...That's Salvador Maltings?

Page 9 Panel 2
The bottom ¾ of the page is Hermione's pale face, her eyes wide, her hand over her mouth- at least an order of ten more shocked than in the previous reaction shot with Veronica. Obviously, there's something more than excitement over seeing Sal Maltings going on. The rest of the smaller panels on the page float above Hermione's face below Panel 1.

Caption: Impossible.

Page 9 Panel 3
A close up of Sal, giving a thin-lipped but genuine smile as he receives his applause. He is identical to the dying man from Page 1, only very much alive.

Page 9 Panel 4
An image similar to the one in the bowl on Page 1 Panel 6, showing Sal holding his hand to his throat as he bleeds profusely.

Page 9 Panel 5
An extreme close up of scars just visible above Sal's turtleneck collar.

Page 9 Panel 6
An extreme close-up of the dying man's forearm, where a distinctive tattoo of a snake coming out of a skull's mouth is visible.

Page 9 Panel 7
An extreme close-up of Sal's forearm, where the sleeve of his turtleneck has been pushed up to his elbow. There is a discoloured patch of skin in the exact location of the tattoo.

Page 10 Panel 1
Extreme close-up of Hermione, centred on her eyes. Sweat has begun to bead on her forehead.

Caption: I saw him die.

Page 10 Panel 2
We see Sal lying on his back upon ancient floorboards, eyes focused on something above him, with silvery strands pouring out of his eyes. The tip of a wooden wand identical to the one on Page 1 is pulling one of them off his face.

Page 10 Panel 3
A younger version of Hermione, whose face is dirty and scratched, her hair wild, and who has a livid scar just below the collar of her shirt, deposits the silvery strands into a flask with her wand. Her face is grim and determined. There are two people with her whose faces aren't visible, one kneeling behind her, his face outside the panel, and the other kneeling on the near side of Sal with his back to the audience. All of them wear clothing that can only be described as robes.

Page 10 Panel 4
This panel (black background, as in Page 1) stretches across the bottom of the page, and panels 5-7 float above it. The subsequent panels float in the space between panels 3 and 4. Hermione is in the arms of a red-haired boy about her age while another young man whose face we cannot see kneels next to Sal's lifeless body, his head bowed. The flask is entirely filled with glowing silver liquid.

Page 10 Panel 5
Twelve-year-old Hermione, surrounded by other students in school uniform/robes looks on in horror as Sal blasts a handsome man with a red beam of light shooting out of his own magic wand. It appears to be some sort of officially sanctioned duel that the handsome man has lost. Sal has a look of feral joy on his face, his smile revealing crooked, yellow teeth.

Page 10 Panel 6
In classroom filled with bubbling cauldrons, Sal looks scornfully down at a teenaged (still student) Hermione as tears of humiliation leak out of her eyes, her hands clasped over her mouth. Jeering faces of her fellow students appear around her. His arms are crossed across his chest, and he is wearing a different black robe with buttons down the front, and his hair is longer, though it does him no favours, lank and greasy as it is. The overall impression is one of calculated cruelty towards young Hermione.

Page 10 Panel 7
A green beam of light shoots out of Sal's wand, blasting the lifeless body of an old man high into the air and over the crenellated edge of a castle's tower into the evening sky. The dead man wears purple robes, has a long beard, and his appearance is that of a stereotypical wizard. Two young men, one with white-blond hair (his wand is drawn) and one with black hair (partially concealed in shadow) watch in anguish.

Caption: He was dead, and I was glad.

Here ends the script sample. I hope it's intrigued you enough to keep reading the rest of the short story on which it is based, though you'll soon see that I have done substantial trimming for this treatment. But there are strong bones here, and more than enough material to work with. An embarrassment of material, one might say. I have added notes and various explanations throughout.

Two things you'll need to know before reading on: when “Hermione” knew “Sal,” he was a wizard named Severus Snape, and both he and Hermione are hiding their powers to live among regular people- “Muggles” as they are called by the magical people (I hope to come up with a better name- alas some jammy bastard came up with “Mundy/Mundane” first). The writer has browbeaten me into promising that I'll continue working on the script as long as there's a chance Vertigo will publish it, so if you find it too outré for them, for God's sake, let me know sooner rather than later.

PS You're buying lunch this time. I plan to order lobster.



“Thanks for coming, Sal,” Mark was saying, gesturing for Sal to sit down next to Scott.

“Of course,” said the voice that Hermione knew all too well. “I look forward to calling in the favour early and often.”

Hermione shook her head in an attempt to drag her fractured focus back to the panel.

Sergio drew a caricature of Snape with devil horns and a pitchfork holding a scroll out for Mark to sign. Snape retaliated by drawing Sergio being spanked by Granny Groo.

This was so unexpected that Hermione laughed in spite of herself.

“Holy crap,” said Veronica softly. “I had no idea he could do that. I mean, we know he can draw, but I didn't know he could cartoon!”

“Now, some of you may be pleasantly surprised to see Sal holding his own against this august panel,” said Mark as Sergio and Scott drew themselves making faces and rude gestures. “But I sat next to him at the Eisners last night, and his running cartoon commentary was nearly as enjoyable as hearing Brian Bolland being roasted by his peers. My only disappointment was not having the pleasure of seeing him make fun of himself while he was accepting his own award. So fasten your seat belts and get ready for some competitive cartooning. First up, we're going to play New Jobs. Audience, give me a profession other than proctologist or gynaecologist.”

A few people still shouted out both banned professions, but before Hermione had the chance to think of anything, Mark had already ordered the panel to draw Spiderman as an interior decorator. Scott drew Spiderman gesturing proudly at a spider's web window treatment, Sergio drew a couple looking outraged to find that all their paintings had been mounted on the ceiling, and Snape drew an ancient-looking desktop computer with cobwebs hanging from it.

“What's that you've got there, Sal?” asked Mark.

“Spiderman's true calling: web design,” said Snape in a deadpan.

Mark led the audience in an exaggerated groan.

“Oh my God, he puns!” squeaked Veronica. “In public!”

Hermione's phone buzzed. She reflexively pulled out her phone to answer it, but turned it off instead.

Mark led the panel through several rounds of superheroes in unfortunate jobs, and before she could scold herself from getting distracted from the mystery of Snape's survival, she was laughing along with the rest of the crowd. It was shocking how easily what she knew of Severus Snape was incorporated into this funny, preternaturally gifted man. Except for the slight problem of him being dead, of course.

[Cutting the next four paragraphs -SM]

When Mark introduced a man who had drawn comics during the silver age to guess a mystery word from the panel's drawings, Hermione smiled to see the impatient scowl she remembered all too well when the guest failed to guess the word. And when he decided to take a different tack, Hermione felt a flash of recognition in the swift, sure movements of his clever hands.

Impossible though it may have been, it had to be him. There was no other explanation.

Finally, the guest shouted out “Amazing,” which was the mystery word, and the crowd burst into applause.

While the guest gamely endured two more rounds of increasingly difficult words, Hermione pondered the potential ramifications of Snape's survival. It was obvious that he was in hiding. But surely someone who wished never to be found again wouldn't be foolish enough to appear at the most-watched pop culture convention in the world? Unless he didn't know he was Severus Snape, of course. There was only one way to find out.

Finally, Scott managed to push the guest into saying “Probability” by drawing a pictogram of each syllable, and Mark turned to the audience.

“Audience, I need a magic word or superhero catchphrase.”

That was it!

“Avada Kedavra!” screamed Hermione as loudly as she could.

“All, right, abracadab-” began Mark, but he wasn't able to finish his sentence because Snape leaped over the table, off the stage, and threw Mark to the side, his wand aimed at Hermione's throat.

Hermione barely had time to register this before his eyes widened in recognition. He slipped his wand up his sleeve so quickly that Hermione nearly doubted he'd drawn it at all. And then he pushed aside the people seated in front of her, seized her face and kissed her fiercely.

She squeaked in shock as cheers, whistles, and catcalls erupted around her, and Snape continued to mash his thin lips against her mouth, his hands pressed firmly against her cheeks holding her in place. She tamped down her desire to punch him in the sternum, to stop the angry, punishing kiss. After what felt like an awkward eternity, Snape broke the kiss and threw his arms around her.

“You unspeakable little fool,” he hissed in her ear, his hand reaching inside her coat and plucking out her wand from its hidden pocket. “You'll get this back once we've had a friendly little chat.”

He bit the T of the ultimate word off so violently that Hermione started, and a moment later, he'd released her, panting, and pasted an insufferable smirk on his face.

The crowd continued to cheer and howl, but Snape sauntered back to his seat at a leisurely pace, sat down, and raised an eyebrow, as if daring anybody to comment.

Hermione could feel Veronica's eyes, Mark's eyes, everybody's eyes boring into her, and for all that she felt like melting into the ground for being so stupid as to yell the killing curse at one of the deadliest wizards in the world. But the bastard had taken her wand!

Well, if Snape could act like Mr. Mysterious Past, then so could she. She gave an apologetic shrug at Mark and gestured for him to continue with the panel.

He gave her a withering look that clearly said, Oh, MAY I?, but turned his full sarcasm on Snape. “Friend of yours?”

“From a long time ago,” said Snape noncommittally.

Sergio sketched a schoolgirl with curly hair eagerly presenting an apple to a disapproving looking Snape, and the audience burst out laughing. The picture was a little too close to the truth for Hermione to find much amusement in it. Scott Shaw's response, altering his Aquaman picture to feature a bushy haired mermaid on a rock singing to a scowling pirate Snape, was only slightly more flattering.

“All right,” said Mark. “Dragging this panel back on track, Sergio, I want you to draw Groo. Scott, draw Barney Rubble. Sal, I want you to draw Iron Man. Audience, I need something scary besides the idea of being kissed by any other members of our panel.”

The audience laughed and shouted out suggestions while the panelists lowered their heads over their work like chastised schoolboys, and Veronica's hand clamped around Hermione's forearm.

“The HELL?” asked Veronica, her voice tight and nearly squeaking.

“I didn't know!” said Hermione. “When I--, when we knew each other-- well, never mind, it's not important.”

“Not important?” This time she did squeak. “He just snogged you silly in the middle of Quick Draw! That is not a thing that happens!”

“I noticed,” said Hermione drily. “Please, I need to think.”

The rest of the panel passed in a blur of absurdity, and before Hermione knew it, her hands were pink and tender from applauding the artists, who came in front of their table to sign autographs and joke with their fans.

When the panel was over, Veronica steered Hermione to the edge of the stage and whispered “Go get him, Tiger!” in her ear.

Snape was glowering at a young man who was attempting to show him his portfolio. His expression changed little when his eyes fell on Hermione. He nodded for security to let her up on stage.

She mounted the stairs and met his sour look with one of her own. “Tired of me already?”

“I was tired of you ten years ago,” he grumbled. “Come on, let's get this over with.”

There were disappointed noises from his fans who were converging on the stage. He paused next to the wings and scowled at her. “Are you coming or not?”

Hermione caught Veronica's eye, who gave her a beseeching look. She had several issues of Infinite Design out in one hand and brandished a silver pen in the other.

“Sir, I mean, Sal, wait!” Hermione called in a loud voice. Her face reddened at having called a man who had just kissed her “sir,” but she was satisfied to see his expression darken. He might have her wand, but he was the one who needed something from her, and he was going to have to bloody well play nicely.

Mark caught his eye and waved him over to the front of the stage. “Before you go, would you mind signing the one you did of the dog peeing on Iron Man? Someone's offering to give $400 each to the Comic League Defence Fund and the Humane Society if you do.”

“And there's someone you really should meet,” said Scott, whose arm was around the shoulder of a bespectacled elderly man with an irascible smile beneath his moustache.

Snape sighed and glared at Hermione. who sat down in a chair just offstage and gleefully watched Severus Snape be nice to his fans and colleagues.

When the room managers had decided that the informal meet and greet had gone on for long enough, the professionals allowed themselves to be ushered backstage, and Snape jerked his
head at Hermione to follow him into the corridor.

Hermione wasn't sure what she expected the backstage areas to be like, but she was slightly disappointed that they looked exactly like the public areas, but with fewer interesting costumes and more people in red security shirts blocking corridor access.

Snape led her through a maze of corridors, finally turning towards a dead end. There was a sign next to the door that read “Artists' Lounge,” and he held open the door with exaggerated courtesy.

The room was vacant and contained a number of chairs and large tables where plastic food platters sat, bare but for a few sad leaves of lettuce. Food wrappers and empty Coke cans were strewn everywhere. Snape Vanished the rubbish with a wave of his wand and offered her a bottle of water that had fallen behind the plastic bin of ice.

However, as she reached for it, his hand closed around her wrist, and he brought his face inches from hers.

This time, Hermione did not try to suppress her reflexes.

Legilime- AAAUGGH!”

The spell was interrupted as he let out an inarticulate bellow of pain as Hermione ripped her wrist out of his hand and struck his face with the heel of her palm, following it up with a vicious kick to his knee. She barely had time to register the satisfying thump as he hit the floor, because his wand had bounced to the floor, and she pounced on it, rolling the length of the table and shooting off a quick Stunning spell at him.

He attempted to swat it away with her wand, but instead of sending the Stunner back at her, the angry red light turned purple, then blue, and then burst into gold and silver stars.

He swore loudly, then fired off a nonverbal spell at her, which she deflected. This time, however, instead of sparks, the scent of roses filled the air, and all potentially negative remnants of the spell vanished.

Several other volleys were similarly unsuccessful. It wasn't until Hermione's Incarcerous exploded into comedy noises that she realized Snape was laughing.

“Truce, Granger,” he said at last. “Our wands refuse to fight. I don't see any reason we should continue trying to make them do so.”

“I won't fight if you don't,” she said. “I came here to talk in good faith. You were the one who tried to psychically assault me. You probably fried my mobile, too.”

“And you physically assaulted me in return,” said Snape, still walking towards her. Hermione scuttled around the far end of the table to keep as much space between them as possible.

“It was self-defence,” she said hotly.

“Very well, if you think I'm so dangerous, why don't you Apparate away and report me to the authorities?”

“I don't think you're dangerous,” said Hermione. “I think you're an even more arrogant twat than you were when you were a teacher, and if you keep coming closer, I will defend myself.”

Snape raised his hands in a gesture of surrender, a move that was somewhat undermined by the fact that her wand was still in his hand, and sat down at the table. “I'll stay here then, shall I?”

Hermione took the seat at the far end of the table and kept his own wand trained on him.

This seemed to satisfy him, because he began to dab his split lip with a paper serviette.

“That was not the attack of a woman unaccustomed to physical violence.”

“It wasn't an attack at all,” she said. “It was defence.”

“But you don't dispute that you've fought with your hands before.”

“I should say not,” said Hermione. “It would rather defeat the purpose of learning a martial art not to practise it.”

“Yet you've let your defensive magic atrophy. Had you made such a sluggish effort in my Defence Against the Dark Arts class, you would have failed the lesson.”

Hermione gave him a thin smile. “I don't do magic anymore, and fortunately for me, I'm not in your class. And fortunately for you, I haven't yet reported you to Magical Law Enforcement for illegal mental tampering.”

His eyes narrowed. “And the reason for this magnificent show of self-restraint?”

“I want to know what you're doing here.”

“As you'd know if you bothered to read your programme, I'm promoting my award-winning comic book, obviously. The more salient question, Granger, is why you are here.”

“I'm attending a comic book convention,” she said. Two could play at the game of Unhelpful Answers.

Snape scowled. “Who sent you?”

“The chair of my department.”

“Magical Law Enforcement?”

“Natural Science,” she said. “And I know why Salvador Maltings is at Comic-Con. I want to know why the late, lamented Severus Snape is living in America and writing comic books.”

“Severus Snape is dead,” he said in a flat voice. “Besides, all the major comics publishers are in America. You teach?”

“Basic science at university, yes. Why comics?”

“Why Muggle science?”

“I asked you first,” she said, Summoning the bottle of water he had dropped and taking a sip. At least his stubborn wand allowed her to do that.

“I've been drawing stories since I was old enough to hold a pencil.”

“Why did you stop?”

“Because art was a Muggle pursuit and I was a half-blood in Slytherin house. Besides, I was good at Potions. Your turn. Why science?” [Muggle pursuits are seen as declasse by older magical families. This aspect will likely be cut- SM]

“I moved to Australia to take care of my parents. I needed a job, and I was always good at science. I started as a lab technician, and they found out that I was also good at tutoring, which paid for my masters degree.”

“Methodical. Tedious. Lets you revel in the sound of your own voice. Suits you.”

“Likewise.”

This earned a smirk. “But none of this explains why you are on holiday at a comic book convention.”

“Because I love comics,” she said, gesturing at her costume. “Obviously.”

He looked at her in disbelief. “I never saw you with a comic book in six years at Hogwarts.” [Hogwarts = magic school -SM]

“I didn't read them in class, obviously,” said Hermione. “I only ever showed my collection to Ginny Weasley, and she didn't understand how I could prefer Muggle comics, whose drawings didn't even move, to Martin Miggs, Mad Muggle.”

If Snape noticed the wistfulness in her voice at the mention of an old friend, he chose not to comment.

“So,” said Hermione. “You faked your death, moved to America, and found fame and fortune as a comic book writer.”

“There was nothing fake about what you saw, Granger,” said Snape. “Had I not had numerous contingency plans and been infernally lucky, I would be dead. But it's obvious why a man with my past would choose to live as a Muggle. What's less obvious is why one of the heroes of the people would do so.”

“I told you, I'm taking care of my parents. They're Muggles, as you may recall.”

“Surely magic would make that easier rather than more difficult.”

“They've rather lost their taste for magic, I'm afraid,” said Hermione, who was surprised that her words sounded remarkably normal, for all that this was the first time she'd uttered this particular story to another person.

“They were never targets during the war,” said Snape, frowning. [It will be clear from a number of memory panels that Hermione and Snape were on opposite sides of a magical civil war. -SM]

“I didn't know that when I cast a Memory Charm on them and sent them off to live in Australia,” said Hermione. “Once the war was over and I explained what I had done and why, they didn't want anything to do with me.”

Hermione got the feeling from the look of anger that briefly appeared on Snape's features that something similar had once happened to him. “Then they are fortunate beyond their own deserving that you're willing to care for them in spite of it.”

Hermione laughed bitterly. “Even though it's probable that the neurological anomalies were exacerbated by my spell? My parents aren't perfect, but I don't believe they're wrong to have severed contact.”

“If they've severed contact, how is it that you're their caregiver?”

“Fidelius Charm.” Her voice broke on the second word, but she cleared her throat and kept speaking. “They know they have a Magical daughter that they've disowned. They just don't know it's me.”

[The Fidelius Charm operates by hiding a piece of knowledge inside a person called a Secret Keeper. The rest of the world forgets about this fact unless it's revealed to them by the Secret Keeper. It's all much easier to show in images, frankly. -SM]

Only Snape's sudden stillness indicated that he recognised the importance of what she was telling him. “What exactly is the Charm hiding?”

“More than I'd originally intended,” she admitted softly.

He gave her an impatient look that was so familiar that she couldn't stop the story from spilling out, even if she'd wanted to.

[This section will be done in flashbacks and with a reduced number of characters, so you needn't worry about which character is which. I laid the groundwork for this on Page 10. -SM]

How she'd coaxed Draco Malfoy to be her Secret Keeper because she knew he wouldn't care if he never saw her again and wouldn't try to talk her out of it. How long she'd worked on the precise wording of the secret so as to minimise the effect on her parents' fragile minds, and how well the magic had worked until she returned to England to find her closest friends didn't remember her. How she eventually came to realise that “family” had a much broader definition than simply relatives by blood, and that any person who became sufficiently close to her would eventually fall prey to the effects of the Fidelius Charm.

“But I owe them more than I can possibly repay,” said Hermione, scrubbing tears from her cheeks. “Ensuring their safety, comfort, and happiness is the least I can do.”

When she finally ceased speaking, he regarded her in silence for several long moments. “When will it be enough?”

Hermione let out a shuddering breath. “I don't know. I suppose I'll just know.”

Snape rose and began to pace the far length of the room. “Doubtful.”

“How did you? Know, I mean?”

He sighed impatiently. “The decision to end my work as a double-agent was rather taken out of my hands when the Dark Lord made an attempt on my life. It took some time before I recognised the sensation I felt at starting all over again as happiness, and once I did, I didn't have any particular desire to give it up. If you're wise, wiser than I ever was, you won't let it get to that point.”

“Well, I'm sorry, but I haven't had the advantage of someone attempting to kill me recently!” said Hermione sharply, standing.

Snape whirled on her, slamming his hands on the table, his teeth bared, but then the door to the Artists' Lounge burst open, and the No Face she'd seen on the escalator entered the room.

“Sorry! Sorry!” came a muffled voice from within. “I don't mean to interrupt, but I need somewhere to warm up for my panel, and someone was sleeping in my dressing room.”

To Hermione's surprise, the voice was cultured, British, but not quite familiar enough to place.

“This is a private conversation,” began Snape icily, but he stopped speaking abruptly when No Face lifted his robes and mask, revealing a slightly red-faced but unmistakable Loki of Asgard.

Merlin on a Unicycle, it was Tom Hiddleston. In his costume from The Avengers. Circe, was he always that tall?

“Of course you can share the room,” said Hermione, giving Snape a sharp look.

Hiddleston glanced at Snape. “If you're sure I won't be intruding.”

“Not at all,” said Hermione before Snape could say anything. “I'm afraid there's no food or water left, though.”

“Not to worry,” said Hiddleston, unstrapping a water pack from his back and drawing Loki's spear from somewhere inside No Face's voluminous robes. “I just need to do a quick vocal warm up and run a few lines. I'll be gone in ten minutes. Possibly less.”

Snape sighed. “Fine.”

Hiddleston favoured them with a dazzling smile. “Thanks. I'm Tom.”

“Hermione,” said Hermione, shaking his hand. “And this is Sal.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” said Hiddleston. “I'll let you two get back to your discussion.”

He went over to face the corner of the room and began to declaim in a loud voice. “One hen! Two ducks! Three squawking geese! Four Limerick oysters! Five corpulent porpoises!”

Snape gave Hermione a dirty look and walked over to sit near her. It did not escape her notice that Snape kept his wand trained on Hiddleston. She pointed her wand at Snape under the table, just in case.

“So,” said Hermione. “You think I should just give up on my parents.”

“What I think is immaterial,” he said. “But sooner or later you're going to have to fully live with the consequences of your decision and realise that one-sided self-deprivation is no meaningful atonement whatsoever.”

“Ten lyrical, spherical, diabolical denizens of the deep who haul stall around the corner of the quo of the quay of the quivery, all at the same time,” boomed Hiddleston.

Hermione felt her cheeks redden. “And I'm to believe you found a more meaningful way of atoning?”

“I put everything into neat little issues and volumes,” he said, crossing his arms.

Hermione stared at him in surprise, and she felt as though a key had turned in a lock. Parallels between Infinite Design and their shared history began pouring out of her.

“Merlin. Castor and Pollux were Fred and George Weasley,” she said, remembering the horrible look on Geroge's face when they had buried his twin, and how Castor's murder had spurred the Accountants of Hell to rebel.

“Such a waste of potential, chaotic though it was,” said Snape softly.

“The Leith police dismisseth us! The Leith police dismisseth us!” said Hiddleston.

“And the death of Father Time. That was-” she swallowed hard, remembering how similar he had looked to their late Headmaster.

[That's the old man flying off the tower on Page 10- SM]

“Albus,” said Snape. “I've not followed news of the Wizarding World for years, but I saw that Potter named his son for him.”

“And for you,” said Hermione.

“I'm surprised you let him, given how you feel about me.”

“What a to-do to die today at a minute or two 'til two!” said Hiddleston. “A thing distinctly hard to say and harder still to do!”

“I wasn't consulted,” siad Hermione. “And even had I ventured my opinion, nobody would have remembered it. Wait a minute, was the B plot in 'Toil and Trouble' Robert Louis Stevenson homage or a shout-out to Remus Lupin's inability to snitch on Sirius Black while he was teaching?”

“A little of both,” said Snape, sounding smug. “You have read my work, haven't you?”

“At least a dozen times. Don't change the subject. Lethe is obviously Professor Lockhart- I never forgave you for humiliating him during Duelling Club, you know.”

“Yes, your schoolgirl crush was rather blindingly obvious.”

“And I doubt I will ever forgive you for that comment about my teeth.”

“I don't recall it.”

Hermione snorted. “You wouldn't. Oh! And the time Cerebrus was put on trial- was that about Buckbeak the Hippogriff?”

Snape sighed. “I think I preferred you when you were threatening to hex me.”

“Humanity!” shouted Hiddleston, reading off an index card. “Look how far you’ve fallen! Lining up in the sweltering heat for hours. Huddling together in the dark like cattle!” He paused. “I don't like the word 'cattle.' It's not a very Asgardian-sounding word.”

“Perhaps 'beasts?'” suggested Hermione.

“Huddling together in the dark like, BEASTS! That's much better!” he said, making a note on the card with a pencil.

“Of course,” said Hermione, turning back to Severus. “And don't tell me that Apollo was based on Draco Malfoy!”

“Very well, I won't.”

“I actually thought I liked him! That's appalling!”

“No, it's Apollo.”

This made Hermione stop short. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

“I'm not the one hiding behind a Fidelius Charm,” said Severus, crossing his arms.

Snape's smug look was rather spoiled by a look of unadulterated shock as Hermione's wand flew out of his hand. Hermione had no time to savour his expression as Snape's wand zoomed out of her hand.

Both of them turned to stare at Hiddleston, whose was aiming his staff at them with one hand and holding their wands in the other.

“I believe I've heard enough,” he said in a clipped voice. “I don't know who you are, but I do know you're neither of you registered with the Magical Consulate and you have both been in blatant violation of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy.”

“I didn't know the God of Lies and Mischief cared about the laws of Midgard,” said Snape, somehow managing to muster an impressive amount of disdain.

“That's because I'm not Loki- I'm Tom Hiddleston.”

Hermione met Snape's eyes. He gave a small nod of his head, which made Hermione suspect Snape wished her to stall for time.

“But you weren't at Hogwarts,” said Hermione.

“I went to Beauxbatons,” said Hiddleston. “I'm a goodwill ambassador to the French Ministry. I'm not usually asked to round up rogue spellcasters at comic book conventions, but you can't shout out an Unforgivable Curse in a popular panel and expect it to go unnoticed.”

Snape gave Hermione a nasty look.

“It's not as if I actually cast the curse,” she said defensively.

“What are you going to do with us?” asked Snape.

“I'm supposed to detain you until I determine if you're a threat,” he said, running his fingertips over each of their wands in turn.

“And what if we are a threat?” asked Snape in his most dangerous voice.

“Then I'm to use this,” said Hiddleston, holding up what appeared to be a thermal detonator.

Hermione felt her mental fandom circuits begin to overload. Thankfully, Snape saved her from having to say anything.

“A Disillusioned Incarcerous Locus,” said Snape thoughtfully. “I haven't seen one of those in years.”

“I'm surprised you know what it is,” said Hiddleston. “They weren't widely used during the war, and usually by the other side. The spell to make them died with their creator.”

“What if I told you that I was their creator?” said Snape.

Hiddleston narrowed his eyes. “I'd call you the worst kind of liar.”

Snape slid gracefully to his feet, confidence oozing from every pore. “Am I?” he asked. “You've clearly read about the war. Take a good look, Hiddleston, and tell me I'm not who I claim to be.”

Hiddleston's face paled, and he threw the object at Snape's feet. There was a sound like a bell tolling, and an iridescent sphere surrounded Snape, who looked none too pleased.

Hermione was surprised to find Hiddleston staring at her with unnerving intensity. “You're Hermione Granger, aren't you? The war hero?”

“I was, yes.”

He nodded. “I've read about you. Do you actually believe this man is Severus Snape?”

“I do,” said Hermione. “If you were a fisherman, I'd say you've unwittingly hooked Moby Dick.”

Hiddleston sank into a chair looking utterly shaken. “What on earth is he doing here?”

“You might read your bloody programme,” growled Snape.

“He writes comic books now,” said Hermione. “Brilliant ones, actually. He won an award.”

If anything, Hiddleston looked more confused. “If the Wizengamot knew you were still alive...” he began, but stopped himself. “But they don't.”

“No, they don't,” said Hermione, in whose head an idea was taking root. “And I only made a fuss to get his attention so we could talk things out.”

“You're willing to vouch for him?” asked Hiddleston doubtfully.

To her surprise, Hermione found that she was. “Yes.”

“But firing off offensive spells where any Muggle could see,” said Hiddleston, frowning. “By all rights, I should let the Americans know you're here.”

“No Muggles did see,” said Hermione, pulling herself up to her full height and praying her memory for Shakespeare wouldn't fail. “If justice be thy plea, consider this: that in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation.”

“Bugger,” muttered Hiddleston, running his hand through his hair.

“We do pray for mercy,” said Hermione. “And that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.”

Hiddleston lowered his head to his hands. “That's not fair.”

“I have spoke thus much to mitigate the justice of thy plea,” said Hermione firmly.

“A Daniel come to judgement,” said Hiddleston, giving her a small smile. “Yea, a Daniel.”

Hermione felt her knees wobble. “Art thou contented? What dost thou say?”

Hiddleston raised his head and looked from Hermione to Snape and back to Hermione again. “I am content,” he said, tossing Hermione her wand.

“Most rightful judge,” said Hermione, smiling.

“May I ask what in the name of buggery just happened?” said Snape, scowling as the sphere surrounding him disappeared. He caught the wand Hiddleston threw at him.

“Hermione knows my weak spot, I'm afraid,” said Hiddleston, smiling sheepishly. His expression hardened as he looked at Snape. “If I hear so much as a reference to dragons in your writing, so help me-”

”Obliviate!” shouted Hermione. A red beam shot out of Hermione's wand, and hit Hiddleston squarely between the eyes. His eyes widened in surprise for a moment before his eyelids drooped and he crashed to the ground.

Hermione tucked her wand into her trench coat once more and gave Snape an impatient look. He hesitated only a moment before concealing his wand up his sleeve.

Hermione took Loki's staff and pulled gently at the curved top, which slid off easily, revealing a cedar wand. She clucked her tongue appreciatively, quickly replaced the top of the staff, and laid it next to Hiddleston on the floor.

“What are you-” began Snape.

“Just play along,” said Hermione, seizing Hiddleston's water pack, sitting on the floor next to him, and propping his head up against her leg.

“Tom,” she said, patting his face gently. “Wake up.”

He let out a moan, and she put the water tube in his mouth. “You have to drink, Tom. You fainted!”

Hiddleston's eyes fluttered open. “Where am I?”

“The Artists' Lounge. You said something about warming up for a panel?”

“No,” said Hiddleston, shaking his head as if to clear it of fog.”There was something else.”

“There was someone else,” said Hermione. “A man and a woman, but they both left when you fainted. Something about liability, they said.”

“What did they look like?” asked Hiddleston.

“He was dressed up like a Starfleet officer,” said Hermione, recalling a couple from earlier. “And she was dressed as Harley Quinn.”

Hiddleston sat up with a growl. “I remember them!”

“You don't want to exert yourself,” said Hermione, offering him the water tube once more. “You could be dehydrated.”

“I can take some Pepper- uh,” he said, shaking his head again. “I mean, I'll be fine.”

“Wonderful,” said Hermione. “In that case, would you mind signing my programme?”

Hiddleston managed to smile. “I'd be happy to. To whom should I make it out?”

“Veronica,” said Hermione, smiling.

Hiddleston pulled a marker from his pocket and signed the proffered programme. “Well, it's nice to meet you Veronica, and thanks for taking such good care of me in my time of need.”

“My pleasure,” said Hermione. “I'm a big fan.”

Hiddleston's smile widened. “That's so kind of you. Well, I'm afraid I have to go to my panel now. Thanks for your help, Veronica!”

“Any time,” said Hermione, holding out the card for Veronica's Etsy shop. “And if you ever need any costumes for fun, I hope you'll contact me.”

Hiddleston absently slid the card into his pocket. His gaze was still slightly unfocused. “Thanks again,” he murmured, slipping out the door of the Artists' Lounge.

Hermione turned to find Snape staring at her with a look of unflattering disbelief.

“What?” she asked defensively. “I had to do something.”

“You know, I based Mendacity on you,” said Snape. “I had no idea how accurate I'd made the portrayal.”

Hermione felt her face colour, but she managed to keep herself from grinning broadly. “Is that meant to be flattery?”

“That depends on how you feel about Mendacity,” said Snape.

“I think that's obvious,” said Hermione, gesturing at her costume.

“Perhaps,” said Snape. “Well, I believe we're done here.”

“Are we?”

“Here? Absolutely,” said Snape, holding the door open for Hermione once more. “Altogether? Not necessarily. In fact, I should rather take you for dinner tonight.”

Hermione stopped short in the doorway. “Are you asking me on a date?”

“Partially,” said Snape, “but mostly because I'm meeting Bill Willingham for drinks tonight and I have a new idea for Mendacity's origin story that I'd like to pitch to him in your presence.”

“What if he doesn't like it?” asked Hermione.

“I would recommend one of your remarkably precise Memory Charms.”

Hermione threw back her head and laughed.

She automatically put her hand in her pocket to check the messages on her phone, but she stayed her hand and instead held it out to Snape.

When his fingers closed around hers, unexpected warmth flowed through her that bore a suspicious resemblance to the feeling of being happy.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this was enough.

The End

Notes: Hermione cajoles Hiddleston into letting them go by reciting part of Portia's “Quality of Mercy” speech from Shakespeare's “Merchant of Venice.” The Bill to whom Severus is writing is Bill Willingham, who writes, among other things, the incredible comic series Fables. I'm indebted to Neil Gaiman, who had the kindness to publish part of his script for Sandman, and I used his format to write Severus's script.
Tags: 2013 summer fanwork, fic
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