Title: Courting Hermione Granger
Author: Keira Marcos
Beta: Chris King
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Alternate Universe, Angst
Author’s Note: This story contains brief, non-explicit discussion of potions abuse, attempted sexual assault, and sexual harassment, adult language, off-screen murder of original characters, off-screen domestic violence and adult situations but no explicit sexual content. As always, your non-consensual beta is undesired.
Summary: Hermione Granger’s return to Britain after years abroad causes a stir in the British Ministry of Magic but it’ll be Harry Potter’s courting overture that will change her life.
Harry Potter, the Earl of Gryffindor, settled into his seat in the Wizengamot. It was rare that the Ministry required that the full body sit so he figured today was going to be a political nightmare for someone. He glanced towards his father. Sirius Black was in his box, looking every inch the Earl of Blackmoor. It wasn’t all that common actually so Harry straightened in his chair and tried to remember what was meandering around in the rumor mill. There’d been a closed-door meeting with the Director of the DMLE and the Head Unspeakable yesterday, and he was surprised, as Head Auror, not to be included in it. Still there were plenty of things that happened in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement that were none of his concern—above his pay grade as it were.
He watched his father stand, leave his box, and walk across the floor to the presentation platform. Harry wondered if he was about to declare a blood feud. They shared alliances across the board, but nothing had come up lately to escalate a conflict to that level, so this had to be Ministry business. He would’ve been briefed before the session if the matter impacted his magical house. His father was the Head Prosecutor even if he typically delegated the prosecution of crimes to his deputies.
“Good afternoon,” Sirius murmured and placed a pair of reading glasses on the bridge of his nose as he arranged his parchments. “First, I apologize for the short notice on this hearing. Chief Warlock, due to the nature of the situation I must request that all underage wizards and witches be removed from the room.”
Harry watched as the heirs were escorted from the room. Men in the House of Lords often brought their heirs to Wizengamot meetings. He’d sat in his father’s box many times over the years before he’d claimed his own title at twenty-one. A few in the audience were also escorted from the room, and the doors were pulled shut then sealed. His stomach lurched. They only locked the doors for serious crimes—murder, rape, or the use of the Unforgivables. He’s never been a jurist in a high crime trial. The other members of the Wizengamot were paying keen attention at this point.
“It is my duty to lay charges of criminal stalking, potions abuse, harassment, intimidation, and physical assault against Ronald Bilius Weasley. Other charges are pending.”
The Minister for Magic’s son. Harry blinked in surprise. He barely knew the man despite the fact they’d been in the same year at Hogwarts. Weasley had sorted into Gryffindor, and Harry had sorted into Ravenclaw. He watched as Ron Weasley was removed from his seat beside his father and placed in the defendant box. Harry shared a glance with Neville Longbottom, who was on his immediate right in the Longbottom box. Neville shook his head so he didn’t know anything either. Neville had been in Gryffindor though he wasn’t friends with Ron either—they’d fought like cats and dogs throughout their time at Hogwarts.
“I call Miss Hermione Granger to the stand.”
It was like getting punched in the gut. He understood, then, why he’d been excluded from all the meetings and why his father hadn’t told him in advance what was going to happen. Harry had a little crush on Hermione Granger and had since she’d returned to Britain just six months before. She’d only been at Hogwarts a handful of weeks before she’d transferred to the International Academy of Magic. It had been rumored that Gryffindor had been horrible to her. The Ravenclaws had been furious when they’d found out that Dumbledore had refused to allow her to be resorted. They knew she’d have come to their house—she was, after all, touted the world over as the Brightest Witch of the Age. When she’d received her second mastery, she’d left her position at the ICW and governments all over the world had romanced her. Croaker, the Head Unspeakable, had traveled abroad six times to gain her favor.
Hermione shed her cloak as she entered the witness box, displaying a lovely figure in a modest but fashionable dress of dark red. Her hair was up in a simple French twist, and she wore a single pair of diamond earrings. Harry had wanted her the moment he set eyes on her as an adult, but he’d been content to stand back and watch her get settled—to see if a man from abroad would come trotting along behind her. She’d been pursued by many since she’d returned to Britain but hadn’t even agreed to have tea with a single wizard as far as he knew. He didn’t know why. He’d been trying to figure out how to invite her to lunch without looking like a git for months.
“Miss Granger,” Sirius began. “If you’d state your full name and position within the Ministry for the record?”
“Hermione Jane Granger, Director of Research in the Department of Mysteries,” Hermione murmured as she pulled off a pair of red dragon hide gloves. She put them on the ledge of the witness box and focused on Sirius as she spoke.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you actually do in the DOM. Would you care to explain?”
“I supervise and facilitate all magical research endeavors in the DOM. I oversee all researchers—no matter their field—in the pursuit of knowledge. For instance, one of our biggest projects is a cure for lycanthropy. We’re very close to a management system that would allow those cursed to live healthy lives—even during the full moon. We’ll be ready to test the system inside the next year and already have four volunteers. It’s very exciting work, and I’m privileged to be working on research that can have a positive impact on our society.”
“It sounds amazing,” Sirius said. “Can you tell me how you came to meet Ron Weasley?”
“I met him when we were eleven actually. I was sorted into Gryffindor at Hogwarts, but many of the children I sorted with quickly began to resent me for just being me.” Hermione frowned. “The Hat said it placed me in Gryffindor because it was brave to come into the magical world as a Muggle-born witch. To me, it wasn’t bravery but an insatiable desire to know everything I could about being a witch. I was so excited to find out about magic and to know, finally, why I was so different from my Muggle peers. Hogwarts was beautiful, and I fell in love with magic from almost the start, but I didn’t fit in there either. I tried to get resorted, but it was against the school bylaws. I was used to cruel children, but I wasn’t used to cruel children with weapons. I was hexed four times in the first week. About a month in, I was pushed down the stairs—just the last set—and I broke my arm. I don’t know if Professor McGonagall ever figured out who did it, but I insisted on going home. I was at the International Academy of Magic a week after I broke my arm. It wasn’t as beautiful as Hogwarts, but at least I was safe.”
She blushed at the murmured conversation and Harry noted many in the room looked absolutely furious. His gaze flicked to Dumbledore and found the elderly wizard shame-faced.
“Do you know who pushed you?” Sirius questioned.
“I didn’t at the time, in fact, I didn’t know until recently—when Ron shouted at me that he wished he’d killed me when he pushed me down the stairs at Hogwarts.”
“Tell us how you came to be reacquainted with Ron Weasley.”
“A couple of weeks after I moved to London, I received an invitation to dinner at the Minister’s house. His wife came to my office personally to invite me—I was pleased, really, to have her come see me like that so I said yes. I’d been in their home only a few minutes when Percy Weasley offered me a formal apology—for what happened at Hogwarts. He’d been a prefect in Gryffindor, and he said he felt he hadn’t done enough to protect me. I accepted his apology and that’s when Ron realized who I was.”
“Did he apologize as well?”
“No, he didn’t,” Hermione answered. “Four days after that dinner, Ron Weasley used the inter-office memo system to ask me to have lunch with him. I declined.”
“You certainly don’t owe him or anyone else a reason for saying no, but are you willing to discuss your reasons here in court today?”
“He was a cruel child,” Hermione said after a few seconds of thought. “I didn’t know if he was the one that pushed me at the time but I suspected it. He’d called me mudblood and a nightmare earlier that day because I’d refused to do his Charms homework for him. His father was the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister at the time, and he used that to make other children do what he wanted—threatened them with being expelled from Hogwarts and/or getting their parents fired at the Ministry. Regardless, he was a cruel child, and I wasn’t interested in finding out if he’d turned to be a better adult.”
“But it didn’t end there.”
“No, he sent me many notes. I declined every invitation and ignored the ones that were just commenting on my appearance or…” She blushed furiously. “The sexual stuff.”
Sirius picked up a box and placed it on the table beside him. “I won’t make you repeat all of it, Miss Granger, but the body does need to know the basic content of the notes you were sent.”
“Of course, Lord Black.” She averted her gaze, and her reddened cheeks darkened further.
“On May 2nd of this year, you received the following note from Mr. Weasley.” He took the parchment to her, and she accepted with trembling fingers.
“Yes.” She bit down on her lip. “I should read it?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
Hermione looked down at the paper and tears welled in her eyes. Harry curled his hand around the arm of his chair to keep himself seated. “It’s the worst of the lot for the sex stuff,” she admitted and cleared her throat. “Granger—you look utterly shaggable in that blue dress. I want to come down to your office, bend you over your desk, and fuck your tight little arse.” She closed her eyes briefly and brushed a tear from her cheek. “He signed with his name and position—Ron Weasley, Deputy Director of the Department of International Magical Games and Sports.”
“In fact, he signed every single note and letter he sent you with his name and job title, did he not?”
“Yes,” Hermione murmured and handed the parchment back to Sirius.
“Chief Warlock, there are seventy-three such notes—sexual in nature—in this box. They’ll all need to be logged into evidence. I hope you’ll agree that Miss Granger need not read them for the court.”
“Are there any that directly threaten violence?” Dumbledore questioned.
“Not in this set,” Sirius said. “I’ve separated the threats out in a different evidence package.”
Harry watched his father bundle a large stack of parchment, perform a spell that would bind it together. Little thuds were heard all over the room as the evidence package was mass copied and delivered to the members. He didn’t touch the one that landed in front of him. The cover labeled it exhibits A 1-73.
“These are the invitations to lunch or dinner,” Sirius said and dropped a large stack on the table in front of him. “He contacted her most work days over the last seven months. Totaling one-hundred-seventy-one. They range from politely worded requests to all but ordering her to go out with him. I submit to these to Wizengamot as exhibits B 1-171.” He performed the spell, and the letters were bound. “Miss Granger, can you tell me about these invitations?”
“They arrived most mornings around eight,” Hermione said. “I would immediately decline the offer. Sometimes he would send back an insult or a message suggesting some sort of sexual encounter. I threw away the first few responses—he called me a stuck up bitch once and insinuated that I was frigid often.”
“Yes, I have those in a separate pile,” Sirius said.
He distributed the evidence package and Harry just pushed it back from him. The entire situation was making him sick, and they hadn’t even gotten to the potions abuse or the physical assault. He looked towards Ron Weasley and found him lounging in the defendant’s box looking bored and utterly unconcerned. Harry supposed Ron thought that his father would get him out of the mess he’d made.
“It’s, at this point, a good time to note that the reason that all of Ron Weasley’s correspondence has his name and position on it because he sent every single piece of parchment sitting at his desk in the Ministry.” He dropped another stack of parchments on the table in front of him then reached into the box and pulled out another. “This stack are insulting responses to being rejected. I submit these to the Wizengamot as exhibits C 1-87.”
Harry rubbed his face with one hand as another exhibit packet hit his desk.
“This last exhibit packet are the threats.” Sirius paused. “Miss Granger?”
“I’m fine, Lord Black,” Hermione murmured. “I can read the ones you picked out.”
“There are four,” Sirius said. “That I believe need to be addressed in testimony. The rest are quite generic or in the same vein as the four I deemed the most severe. Those four will be on the top of the exhibit package. I’ve copied the text onto a separate piece of parchment for Miss Granger.” He retrieved the parchment and took it to the witness stand. “Mr. Weasley signed each of these threats with his name and title. I want to make it clear, ladies and gentlemen, that he threatened another employee while on the job. This is, in itself, a violation of several magical laws and a breach of his employment contract.”
Harry noted for the first time that Weasley looked concerned.
Sirius returned to his table, bound the final packet with a flick of his wand submitted it. “Exhibits D 1-51.” He went to the podium. “Miss Granger.”
Hermione took a deep breath and shifted in her seat. “Date July 1, 2007—I watched you today, smiling for that bastard. You never smile for me, you frigid twat. I should come down there cut that smile off your face. He wouldn’t think you pretty then, would he?”
Harry had never, ever known the Wizengamot to be so quiet. Even the audience was shocked mute.
“For the record, do you know who Mr. Weasley was talking about? Who wouldn’t think you were pretty then?” Sirius questioned.
Hermione blushed. “July 1st is the day of the second quarterly review of the DMLE for the year. I attended the first meeting of the day as part of my job in the DOM. It was led by Head Auror Potter. I assumed that’s who Ron was talking about because I probably did smile at him. It’s pretty hard not to smile at Head Auror Potter.”
Harry shifted in his seat, and several women in the audience laughed.
“It’s no wonder,” Sirius said. “I excel at parenting. I take credit for all of the Earl of Gryffindor’s good parts.”
Hermione smiled then. “I’m sure, Lord Black.” Her gaze dropped to the parchment, and her smile fell away. “July 25, 2007—Who do you think you are? You don’t know what’s good for you—someone needs to teach you a lesson. It’s like you don’t get it. Little mudbloods like you—should be grateful to be wanted. Keep telling me no, you stupid little girl, and I’m going to ruin you.” She lowered the parchment and took a deep breath. “Maybe I’ll just kill you. Cut you from your slit to your throat.”
“I feel like I should apologize to you for making you say it,” Sirius murmured.
“I understand the necessity, sir,” Hermione said.
Harry understood, too. It would be hard for even the staunchest blood purist in the room to ignore such ugly and foul words coming out of the mouth of a beautiful and young woman. It was working because even Lucius Malfoy was glaring at Ron Weasley and he made a habit of kissing Minister Weasley’s arse. Arthur Weasley’s only daughter was married to Lucius’ heir, and they shared a grandchild.
“Do you remember the circumstances that led to this note being sent to you?” Sirius questioned.
“Earlier that day, Mrs. Weasley came by my office and invited me to Sunday dinner. I declined. I couldn’t imagine sitting through a meal with Ron. After I had declined, she said that Ron would be disappointed because he’d be asking her to invite me. I told her that his personal interest was unwelcome.”
“How did she take that information?” Sirius questioned.
“She was shocked at first,” Hermione said. “Then angry on his behalf—she said that I should be grateful that her son wanted to give me the time of day. Then she stormed out of my office. A half hour later, I received the note from Ron. It was embarrassing that he’d used his mother that way. I can’t imagine what he told her to get her to come to my office and invite me to a family dinner.”
Her gaze dropped to the parchment, and she bit down on her bottom lip. “October 1, 2007—You’re not as smart as anyone thinks. I’m tired of your stupid games. You’re going to let me fuck you, or I’m going to get you fired.”
Harry noted that her cheeks were flushed bright red. He wondered if it was the coarse language or the content itself. She was a beautiful woman so he didn’t think she was a stranger to such crude interest no matter how inappropriate it was.
“Was this particular threat in response to something in particular?”
“Yes, I used another wizard to run interference for me, and it really irritated Ron since he couldn’t use his position as the Minister’s son to intimidate the person in question.”
“Was this wizard aware of his part in the situation?”
“No, he had no clue,” Hermione bit down on her lip. “But the next day, the Head Auror was sent on assignment to Paris quite unexpectedly. I would find out later that the Minister had changed the perimeters of the mission so that Lord Potter was required to go abroad and supervise the arrest of a suspect.” She took a deep breath. “He came back injured, and I received another note from Ron several hours before his return to Britain.” She looked down at the parchment. “October 28, 2007—If you keep giving him the attention I want—I’ll kill him.”
“You took that to be a threat against the life of the Head Auror?”
“Yes, I requested a meeting with Director Shacklebolt and Croaker. That’s when I found out that Lord Potter’s injury in Paris was friendly fire, and there was some speculation that it had been done on purpose. Croaker suggested I try to get Ron to confess to plotting a conspiracy against the Head Auror. I agreed to do it.”
“Last night you activated your emergency beacon. Will you explain the events that led to that?”
“Over the last four months, I’ve been apparating to my flat so Ron wouldn’t know where I lived. I had a temporary flat when I first arrived but once I was settled, I purchased my own place. Yesterday afternoon after work, I went shopping on Diagon Alley and let him follow me to my flat. He…” She took a deep breath. “He pushed me into the flat before I realized how close he was and grabbed a handful of my hair. He shoved his wand into the small of my back. Based on the healer’s report, I know he stunned me and while I was unconscious he gave me a lust potion. I woke up because he was trying to undress me.”
“You recovered from a close range stunner in just a few minutes?” Sirius questioned.
Hermione hooked her fingers into a chain around her neck and pulled a gleaming medallion into view. Even from his place across the room, he could see that it was a Diana charm.
“For the record, you’re wearing a Diana medallion,” Sirius said.
“Yes, I’ve been wearing it since I was fourteen.” She tucked the necklace back into the collar of her dress. “It woke me and defended me. It also neutralized the lust potion I’d been given. I activated my emergency beacon—three Unspeakables showed up and arrested him. I was taken to St. Mungo’s for an evaluation but was eventually released early this morning.”
“For those of you who aren’t aware, the Diana medallion is a goblin created device charmed to protect a woman’s chastity. They were quite popular in the past as a gift to young witches under the age of consent,” Sirius said. A teeter of shock went out through the audience. “Miss Granger, may I ask why you’re wearing one?”
“All witches who attend the International Academy of Magic are inducted into the Headmistress’ coven—we remain members our entire lives. Near the end of my third year at the Academy, I was given an introductory seminar on ritual magic so that I could take my place in her coven and during that course we were educated on the matter of magical marriages. I found the idea of a magical marriage romantic and enthralling. I asked so many questions that eventually Headmistress Voltaire agreed to meet with me in private to discuss the matter in full.
“After several weeks of meetings and after she believed I understood the ramifications fully—she took me to Gringotts, and I was allowed to request a device to help me guard my chastity. I settled specifically on the Diana because it not only protects my body but my magic. I am immaculate, Lord Black. I’ve never even been kissed. It is my wish to enter into marriage unknown to any man. The Diana won’t even allow a male healer to run diagnostics on me because such spells interact with my magical core which the goblins consider an act of magical intimacy.”
Sirius looked down at his parchment, his cheeks ruddy with temper. Harry could just imagine what was running through his father’s head at that moment. The very idea that so innocent a woman could be subjected to what Ron Weasley had done to her was enraging. Several men in the House of Lords looked ready to blow—Gerald Greengrass’ magical aura was drifting on his skin in a horrific display. Harry looked at Ron Weasley then and found the man smiling. Harry’s own magic swelled inside him, and his box rattled. His father turned toward him in alarm, and Harry took a deep breath. He pushed his magic down and conjured a glass of water with a flick of his fingers.
“I have no other questions at this time, but I do reserve the right to redirect.”
“Yes, of course,” Dumbledore said and waved a hand towards. “Mr. Forst, the floor is yours.”
Harry watched the family lawyer for the House of Weasley stand and walk to the presentation platform. Harvey Forst was actually a real bastard. Harry had always wondered why someone as seemingly nice as Arthur Weasley would employee such an utter arsehole.
“First, I petition that the charge of potions abuse be struck from the record as it isn’t illegal to dose a Muggle-born witch with love or lust potions in Britain.”
The shouts of fury were deafening. Dumbledore had to activate the silencing spells on the audience levels to regain order.
“It’s outrageous to be certain,” Forst said smoothly. “But the law is the law.”
Sirius stood from his place at the prosecutor’s desk. “Chief Warlock, I’ve not charged Mr. Weasley with potions abuse against a witch, no matter her blood status. I’ve charged him with dosing a Ministry employee with a behavioral modification potion while she was discharging her duty. Ministry records will show that Miss Granger was actively working on a joint investigation between the DOM and the DMLE when Mr. Weasley attacked her.” He smirked at Forst. “The law is the law.”
Forst glared at him. “Stalking a Muggle-born witch isn’t a crime either.”
“Again, he wasn’t charged with stalking a witch, Muggle-born or otherwise. He was charged with stalking an employee of the Ministry. He sent every single scrap of parchment I entered into evidence from his own desk while on the job and while Miss Granger was engaged her own work. He stalked a Ministry employee, he harassed a Ministry employee, he threatened to murder two Ministry employees—one of which happens to the Head Auror.”
Forst exhaled sharply and turned to the podium where he lined up his parchments. “Miss Granger, it is your testimony that you’re a virgin?”
“Yes.” She frowned at him. “Though it is not a requirement of my job so I’m unsure why that is a concern.”
“The medallion you’re wearing broke both of my client’s arms.”
“He should’ve kept his hands to himself,” Hermione returned tartly.
“Why should we believe you?” Forst questioned.
“I don’t care either way,” Hermione said. “I am, however, concerned about your intellectual abilities. If I were unchaste, I wouldn’t be able to wear a Diana medallion. Goblin magic is nothing to trifle with. I’m surprised you didn’t know that.”
Forst flushed with what Harry figured was embarrassment.
“You rejected my client because he was cruel to you as a child.”
“That was one of the reasons, yes.”
“Did you tell him that?”
“No, because it was none of his business why I wasn’t interested in him. I didn’t owe him an explanation of any kind. A gentleman would’ve taken my initial rejection gracefully, and he would not have continued his pursuit of me.”
“Why did you reject him—beyond his childish behavior at Hogwarts?”
Hermione frowned, and her gaze dropped to her hands. “I…” She turned to Dumbledore. “Do I have to answer that?”
“Yes, I’m afraid that you do, Miss Granger,” Dumbledore said kindly. “And please remember the witness box is spelled for honesty. If you try to be evasive, the magic of the box will pressure you for a full answer.”
Hermione nodded and looked out over the courtroom before focusing on Forst. “My parents recently celebrated thirty years of marriage. They have this amazing and romantic relationship—they’re partners, equals. They read the same books and love to travel to new places. They are the best of friends and still after all of these years—passionate lovers. I want that, Mr. Forst. I want a true partner in life and in no single way did I think your client could meet that standard.”
“In truth, Miss Granger, you never bothered to get to know him.”
“He has terrible table manners,” Hermione snapped, clearly exasperated. “He hasn’t read a book since Hogwarts, he said so the night I had dinner at his parent’s home. He only has the job he has because his father is the Minister for Magic. He skates through life doing as little as possible. I took twelve NEWTs, Mr. Forst, and your client apparently managed to leave Hogwarts with one. He’s crude, uncultured, barely educated due to his own laziness, and a bully.
“Besides he didn’t want a relationship with me—he wanted to sleep with me. He made that clear from the start, and I saw no reason to let him believe it was a possibility. I am unavailable for such things, Mr. Forst.”
“That’s rather an old-fashioned stance to take, Miss Granger, in this day and age.”
“Perhaps it is, but it’s my choice, and I honestly don’t care what people think of it. I didn’t make the decision to please anyone but myself. Headmistress Voltaire said that some men would see my stance as a challenge—that they would seek to seduce me or force me. I’m not challenging anyone, you see. I just set the standard for what I would and would not accept from the man who wants my love. I took ownership of myself and my future.”
“Did you tell him about the medallion and your decision to wait until marriage for sexual congress?”
“No, it was none of his business,” Hermione said.
“Why did you agree to try to entrap my client?”
“Entrap?” Hermione questioned.
“You were going to get him to admit to plotting the murder of a high-ranking Ministry official, Miss Granger. That’s entrapment.”
“It was my mission to get him comfortable or alternatively angry enough to admit he had knowledge of what had happened to the Head Auror in Paris. It seemed an odd coincidence that he would make such a threat after Lord Potter was sent off unexpectedly on a dangerous mission. I, personally, don’t think your client is smart enough to plan such a conspiracy but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a part in it or overhear something that could lead to the culprits.”
“Why did you return to Britain, Miss Granger?”
“The British Ministry of Magic offered me the best position, salary, benefits, and my own directorship directly under the Head Unspeakable. Plus, I have family here, and my parents wanted me to return home.”
“My client seemed to think you were having some sort of relationship with Lord Potter.”
“I don’t have a relationship with Lord Potter outside of work where we honestly rarely cross paths. His duties as Head Auror put him in a variety of situations that take him out of the Ministry.” She relaxed in her chair and stared pointedly at Forst then raised an eyebrow at him that reminded Harry so much of Minerva McGonagall that he briefly questioned the girl’s parentage.
“What do you think of him?” Forst questioned.
“Lord Potter?” Hermione asked and even as Forst agreed turned to Dumbledore.
“Yes, you have to answer,” Dumbledore said with a sigh.
“Right.” Hermione pursed her lips. “Because Lord Black does, in fact, excel at parenting, his oldest son is polite, gracious, and apparently an above average dancer. He conducts himself with honor and integrity. But I think the most important thing I know about Lord Potter is that on the occasions we’ve had an opportunity to speak—he listened to me and looked me right in the eye when we spoke. He took me seriously and didn’t treat me with a token politeness that I’ve often encountered from other men employed by the Ministry. He’s never questioned my ability to do my job and has, when needed, deferred to me in matters that I’m considered an expert on. Unlike a lot of wizards, he doesn’t seem to feel the need to subjugate others to demonstrate his authority.”
“So my client had reason to be jealous of him in regards to his pursuit of you.”
“I imagine most wizards believe they have a reason to be jealous of Lord Potter, and it has nothing to do with me. I’m sure your client has a great many petty little reasons to envy a man who’s smarter, more powerful magically, titled, wealthy, and better looking. Witch Weekly has listed him among the most attractive men in Britain for the last seven years—every week. He and Lord Longbottom tradeoff for the number one slot depending who wears the tightest trousers that week.” She paused at the laughter that caused in the audience and shrugged when Forst scowled at her. “They even had a poll about the beard—seventy-percent of their readership have voted yes on his keeping it.”
Harry wondered what she thought and figured he’d probably shave if she didn’t like it. He refrained from touching his beard and shared a look with Neville, who merely smirked at him. He both adored and hated his godbrother at that moment.
“Miss Granger, will you answer the question as it pertains to you personally.”
She frowned at him and took a deep breath. “Ron Weasley is inferior and even if he hadn’t degraded and insulted from practically day one of his pursuit of me I wouldn’t have agreed to date him.”
“My client is a pure-blood.”
“So what?” Hermione questioned. “Look, I know people in Britain put a lot of stock into so-called blood purity, but that’s ridiculous. I don’t care about his barely forking family tree.”
Harry burst out laughing and held up a hand when nearly all of his peers turned to stare at him in shock. He’d never been the one to disrupt proceedings—not even as a child. But his laughter was contagious because Neville started laughing and Lucius Malfoy, of all people, joined him. He got a hold of himself but not before most of the House of Lords had given in to his amusement. He took a sip of water. “My apologies. I have no excuse.”
“It’s quite all right, young man,” Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling with his own amusement. “It’s not often we see you laugh at all.” He motioned towards Forst. “You may continue, Mr. Forst.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re quite…contrary?” Forst demanded.
“Yes,” Hermione said and smirked.
Harry bit down on his lip and beside him, Neville Longbottom coughed roughly into his hand.
“And that doesn’t bother you?”
“That you think I’m contrary?” Hermione questioned. “Why would it? I’m not in your employ, and I didn’t even know you existed before today. You make no contributions to my life personally so your opinion of me has no bearing on my circumstances.”
Be still my heart, Harry thought in utter delight.
“Not worried you’ll have a problem finding a husband?” Forst snarked much to Harry’s surprise.
Dumbledore shifted forward and lifted the orb to dismiss the question but Hermione Granger just glared at him and responded, “I receive on average twenty invitations a week from various wizards in Britain, Ireland and France because of those silly articles in the International Times. I don’t have a problem finding wizards to date, Mr. Forst. I don’t even have to look.”
“I can’t see how you would, Miss Granger,” Dumbledore said and pointed his orb bedecked scepter at Forst. “That is enough personal questions, Mr. Forst. Her opinions have no bearing on your client’s vicious and untoward behavior and honestly, my boy, it’s getting you nowhere.”
“I’m just trying to establish that my client had the right to view the Head Auror as competition and that his vague threat was done out of personal jealousy and not as part of some far-reaching conspiracy. I just have one more question.”
“One,” Dumbledore cautioned.
Hermione scrunched up her nose in distaste.
“Do you find Lord Potter attractive, personally, Miss Granger?”
“Yes, of course, I do. He’s beautiful. I can’t hardly keep a thought in my head when he walks past my office in his field gear. Who knew dragonhide could do that for a wizard? Last month, for some unknown to me and amazing reason, he came down to my department in full dress robes. I nearly hexed my left pinky finger off because I was in the middle of an experiment and he just strolled into the room with Croaker. Who does that?” She sighed. “Also, I love the beard—I voted six times in the Witch Weekly poll.” She paused and exhaled. “But to answer your real question, Mr. Forst. It is profoundly arrogant for your client to assume he, in any single way, could compete with the Earl of Gryffindor on any field of play. If they were in competition, Ron Weasley lost the day Harry Potter was born.”
“You bitch!” Ron Weasley surged up out of the defendant’s chair, and Harry realized with some horror that the man hadn’t been secured for trial. Weasley climbed over the box in a burst of movement and launched himself at the witness stand.
Harry apparated straight into Weasley’s path and pinned him to the floor with a gleaming goblin blade, straight through the man’s right shoulder. “Wand!”
His aurors converged on the two of them, and one jerked a wand holster and wand from Weasley’s wrist. Harry pulled his knife free, holstered it with a flick of his wrist and held the injured wizard down until suppression cuffs were placed. He came to his feet, aura radiating around him in his fury. He turned on the two aurors who’d escorted Weasley to the defendant’s box. He glared at them, and black scales flicked out over his cheek bones and while copper ones spread down the sides of his neck.
“You’re both relieved from duty.” He turned to Dumbledore, took a deep breath, and forced his animagus form down to make the scales retreat. “Chief Warlock, we’ll need to take him to St. Mungo’s for treatment before the hearing can proceed. I respectfully suggest we recess until after lunch.”
“Agreed, Lord Potter.” Dumbledore halted the proceedings with a wave of his hand, and transcription quills came to a stop. “We’ll reconvene in three hours.”
* * * *
“And what the bloody fuck were the three of you thinking?” Harry demanded. “You let a researcher go undercover and allowed her to be put in danger of being raped or murdered! There wasn’t even any goddamned surveillance in place!”
Shacklebolt sighed and exchanged a look with Croaker. “I’m afraid to say that I didn’t believe he was a serious threat to her magically. He lasted a week at the Auror Academy, Harry, and despite the fact that she’s researcher—she was trained as a Hit Witch by the ICW.”
“You’ve got blood on your shirt,” Sirius said from his place leaning in the doorway of Harry’s office.
Harry frowned at his cuff and with a hiss of displeasure, jerked off his formal robe and cravat as he headed towards the wardrobe he kept tucked into the corner of his office. He pulled off the jade green waistcoat, draped it over the chair then removed the white shirt to reveal a form-fitting layer of black dragonhide. The armor was tucked into wool trousers and cupped over his shoulders, leaving his arms bare. He snatched another shirt from a hanger in the wardrobe with a frown.
Both aurors slipped past Sirius and into the room. They stopped a few feet from their boss and waited.
“Procedure for placing a defendant in detainment for trial clearly states that they are to be secured to the chair to ensure the suppression of their magic. He could have apparated out of that bloody room for the love of Merlin due to his status as an employee! If he weren’t so arrogant to believe that being the Minister’s son was going to get him a pass, he’d be at-large thanks to you two.” He jerked on the shirt but didn’t button it. “Explain yourselves.”
“I have no excuse, sir,” Finnigan said. “I…I’ve known Ron Weasley since we were eleven, and I let that interfere with my duty today. The letters he sent her…I’d have never believed him capable of something so foul. He’s always been rather aggressive in his pursuit of women, and now I have to wonder how many women he’s basically bullied into sleeping with him. I was so shocked by the content of the trial that I forgot he wasn’t secure.”
“Corner?” Harry questioned as he unfastened his belt to tuck in his shirt. He looked up and found the man staring at the floor. “Auror Corner. Explain yourself.”
Corner scowled at the floor. “I’ve never taken that git seriously. He’s a waste of magic, sir. He’s a half-arsed wizard and coward. I admit to being shocked by Miss Granger’s testimony on several levels. I was pretty mad, standing there thinking about how he talked to her. She’s…she’s…” He exhaled sharply. “Saving herself for marriage and he treated her in the basest way possible, and that’s not even taking the murder threats into account. My own temper distracted me. As for not securing him to the chair—as I said I’ve never considered him much of a threat magically, and I made a mistake.”
“You’ll both make formal written apologies to Miss Granger in writing for having no regard for her safety today,” Harry informed them as he walked away from the. He retrieved the shirt he’d discarded, unfastened his cuff links and focused on them. “Desk duty for a week. Dismissed.”
They both left after murmuring their agreement.
Sirius snorted as he shut the door. “I think they’re afraid of you.”
“They have every reason to be,” Croaker said. “And your precise apparition is a thing of beauty, lad. My thanks for keeping my girl safe today.” He grinned. “I think that should keep you at the top of that list in Witch Weekly for the next quarter.”
Harry snorted and tucked in his shirt. “If one more little girl asks me to sign that silly magazine.”
“You’ll sign it just like always,” Sirius said, amused, and threw himself into a chair. “So, she thinks you’re beautiful. Told the whole planet so. There was a reporter from the International Wireless in the court today.”
“Why?” Harry asked in confusion. “You had to invite them.”
“Arthur Weasley isn’t an evil man, Harry,” Sirius said. “But his wife leads him around by the short hairs more often than not. I had to make it impossible for him to interfere and pardon his son for what he’s done. That young woman deserves better—she put herself at great risk to seek out information regarding a threat against you. Grown man or not, you’re always going to be my boy. I owe her an incredible debt, and I’m going to put that arsehole under Azkaban for what he’s done to her and for what he tried to do to her.
“After I do that, you’re going to draft laws to give her and other Muggle-born witches the protection they deserve because Forst was right—if she weren’t a Ministry employee, not a single damn thing Weasley did to her would be illegal. The House of Lords adores you, lad, almost without exception. They’ll get behind a witch’s rights bill if you lead it.”
“And those that hate you are petrified of you,” Kingsley said cheerfully. “Congratulations, by the way, you finally accomplished a partial transformation.”
Harry flushed. “It wasn’t on purpose, Kingsley. I was so furious that I almost shifted entirely into my animagus form which would’ve been a nightmare because I’d have probably ripped Ron Weasley limb from limb. People knowing I’m a dragon and people seeing it are two entirely different things.” He pulled on his waistcoat, fastened the shining black buttons then tied his cravat. “Exactly how long was she going to endure his behavior?”
“She said she thought he was a harmless fool until you were injured,” Croaker said. “She came to me the moment she heard you’d been hurt in the field as she’d received the note a few hours before. I should’ve had surveillance on her, that’s my fault. We kept it contained and out of the Auror Department because we’re pretty confident one of your own is intent on killing you.”
“I got cursed in the back, Croaker,” Harry snapped. “I know I’ve got a problem in my department, but I really don’t like to be left out of the loop based merely on the fact that I’m attracted to your main witness. More than half the single wizards in this building want her.”
“Yeah, but none of them are looking at her like they want to make her a Countess, and you are, lad. It’s not a secret to anyone—least of all Ron Weasley.”
“So he targeted because I want her,” Harry said. “It’s not the first time. You know what happened with Susan Bones.” He slouched down on the sofa near the door. “He abused her for months. Finnigan’s right—it probably isn’t the first time he’s done this to a witch. If he used his father’s job to get things from kids at Hogwarts—then he’s quite accustomed to using his privilege to force people to cater to his wants.” He turned to his father. “I need you to refocus his attention—squarely on me. Take her out of the equation as much as possible in the next round of testimony.”
“I can do that, but it will be uncomfortable for you, lad,” Sirius said. “It’s not really how a man of your station should reveal his intentions to a woman.”
“I thought I’d go down to her office and speak with her first,” Harry admitted. “I’ve been a real idiot about this situation, and I might as well own up to it.”
* * * *
A knock on the frame of her door caught her attention, and she looked up. Her cheeks heated, and she hated herself for blushing. “Lord Potter.” She stood up from her desk and put down the quill she’d been using. “I…”
“Could we speak in private?” he questioned.
Her stomach tightened in a mixture of excitement and apprehension. “Yes.” He stepped into her office and pulled the door closed behind him. She bit down on her lip. “I was sitting on an honesty hex! I tried to avoid saying it, seriously.”
He laughed and flushed. Then ran a hand through the gorgeous mess of his hair. “May I sit?”
“Yes, tea? I just had a service delivered, but I was finishing off a note to a friend in Paris about a proposal…you don’t care.” She waved towards a small table and two chairs. “They always send enough for two. I usually munch on it all afternoon.”
“Tea would be great,” Harry murmured.
He pulled her chair for her and Hermione tucked into the seat with a fleeting smile. “Thank you, Lord Potter.”
“Harry,” he said. “Please call me Harry, Miss Granger.”
“Hermione,” she corrected. “I insist. How do you take your tea?”
“One sugar,” Harry said and shed his robe. He folded the robe across the back of his chair and sat. “Have you recovered physically from what happened yesterday?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” she assured. “The biggest hit came to my pride, I think. I can handle myself better than that.” She removed the tray cover and displayed a plate of chicken salad sandwiches. “I can order you something different if you prefer?”
“No, this is fine,” Harry murmured. He accepted the tea she offered across the table. “In fact, I often get this same arrangement from the kitchens.” He served himself and sat back in the chair. “I think you’re beautiful, too.”
Hermione took a deep breath. “Stupid honesty hex.”
He laughed. “I came down to apologize to you.”
“Oh, you needn’t…” She trailed off when he merely raised an eyebrow at her. “What for?”
“First, for the fact that my people failed to secure him, and you could’ve been hurt during his outburst. Second, I feel I should take some blame for the fact that Ron Weasley has pursued you so ruthlessly since your arrival.”
She frowned. “I don’t understand.” She put down the cup and took a deep breath. The very idea that he might have somehow been involved in what Ron was doing made her stomach hurt.
“He makes a habit of pursuing women I want,” Harry said bluntly.
Hermione’s teeth clicked together so that her mouth didn’t fall open in a foolish fashion and she stared at him. “You…I mean…I.” She huffed. “I’m a brilliant and generally articulate woman. You reduce to me a ninny on a regular basis.”
He grinned. “I find you equally distracting which is why I avoid you in meetings when I have to look like I’m actually smart enough to be Head Auror.”
“You’ve never asked me out.”
“At first, I was trying to let you get settled in Britain. I figured that you had a man already, and he would be following you back to Britain in short order. I don’t know how you aren’t already married.”
She shrugged. “It’s no problem finding a wizard as I said but finding the wizard proved to be sort of a trial. I haven’t had a date in over a year—it was really frustrating putting up with the disrespect. Headmistress Voltaire was right—every single wizard I’ve told has taken my goal to save myself for marriage as a challenge or worse, an insult to their pride.”
“I find you fascinating, and your desire for a magical marriage is lovely. I’m neither challenged nor insulted by it. In fact, for many it will make you even more attractive. I was foolish with myself, you see. Had I really understood the sort of gift I could’ve given myself with a ritual marriage, I’d have never lost my virginity in a broom closet at Hogwarts of all places.”
“That doesn’t sound…” She paused. “Romantic.”
“It wasn’t the worst experience I ever had, but I regret it—for myself and the witch in question because I was the only lover she had until she married and because of our foolish behavior in that broom closet she wasn’t allowed a ritual marriage. Her husband wasn’t upset, but she came to care deeply. Neither one of us had been taught even what a magical marriage was. When my dad…well, I got the sex talk that summer and I had to admit that I wasn’t a virgin. He was very upset with himself for not realizing that my relationship with my girlfriend was that far along. That’s when he told me that one of the components of a ritual marriage was at least one person in the marriage had to be a virgin.”
“You didn’t ask me out when it should’ve been obvious I didn’t have a boyfriend moving with me to Britain.”
“You realize that all outside correspondence entering the Ministry goes through the DMLE,” Harry asked.
“It didn’t take long for me to become very aware of how much attention you garner from men. It only grew worse after you won the Aristotle in March. It also became well known that you were vigorously rejecting every single offer. I guess I was just trying to figure out how to get your attention in a way that was respectable but also demonstrated my serious interest. I know what it’s like for people to pull at you from all directions—they don’t know you, most don’t care about getting to know you.”
“Why are you admitting this?”
“Because my father is going to put me on the stand this afternoon and I’m going to have to explain to practically every magical person on Earth that you drive me crazy and that the real reason that the mission in Paris got rearranged is that I requested it so I could…” He blew air out between his lips. “I’ve been searching for a courting gift. My first overture.”
“For me?” Hermione asked in shock.
“Of course for you,” Harry murmured. “Who else? I haven’t looked at another woman since I set eyes on you, and Ron Weasley noticed from the very start.”
“Did you find it?” Hermione questioned.
“Yes,” Harry said. “But I don’t want…I’d never want to pressure you or make you do something you’d rather not because you’re stressed. Today isn’t the day to discuss this, and besides, I can’t deliver my own gift. It’s a violation of the courting protocols.”
“Right, I haven’t read much about those,” Hermione admitted. She bit down on her lip and concentrated on his face. He was literally everything she’d ever wanted, and he was offering her a beautiful, time-honored tradition. She was half in love already as ridiculous as that sounded even in the confines of her own head. “But I’ll be fully educated on the subject when you’re ready to make your first overture.” She paused. “Which is…welcome. I look forward to it.”
He relaxed and picked up his sandwich. “Great, now I’ve just got to endeavor to keep as much dignity as possible while telling the whole planet I’ve spent the last six months manfully pining for you.”
She felt her face heat in a blush.
He watched his father put on his reading glasses as Harry got settled in the witness box. Forst had declined further questioning of Hermione Granger in the wake of his client’s outburst. Ron Weasley was back in the defendant’s box—bound and sullen. Harry knew that his parents had visited him in the holding cell before the trial was resumed.
“Let’s just get this first part out of the way, shall we?” Sirius asked wryly. “Why did Minister Weasley rearrange the Paris mission for your inclusion?”
“It was done at my request though I asked him to keep that to himself for a couple of reasons, chief among them that I was already aware of a problem in my department and I’d started taking a more personal interest in cases dealing with the sale of illegal potions ingredients. The black market is a serious problem, and it’s also ripe for bribery and corruption issues among law enforcement in many countries. I believed that I was in the way of someone, so I figured I’d get in their way a little more. I took a reductor curse in the back so I feel pretty good about my progress. I don’t leave my house without armor on so while I had the breath knocked out of me—I wasn’t as injured as it was believed at first blush. My field partner, Lord Longbottom, evac’d me while I was unconscious or honestly I might still be in Paris. I have three teams on the ground there working with people from the ICW and the French Ministry of Magic. I was quite irritated to wake up in Britain.”
“You had a secondary reason?”
“Yes, I’d been searching for something, and a friend from Paris contacted me to tell me that he had located the item in question.”
“And that item was?”
“I can’t say,” Harry admitted. “It’s been sealed for presentation per the courtship protocols and the contents are considered a secret for the House of Potter until such time the package is accepted and opened.”
“And for the record, who is the intended recipient of your courting overture?”
“Hermione Granger.” He ignored the excited noise the crowd generated and waited for Dumbledore to silence them. “She was unaware of my intentions when she testified this morning. I had a discussion with her before we returned to trial as I felt revealing that to her in this setting would be inappropriate.”
“Was Ron Weasley aware of your intentions?”
“I’d hope not,” Harry said mildly. “If he did know my intentions then his behavior over the last six months certainly meets the burden to declare a blood feud. He’s lucky to be in custody, honestly. I can’t be the only wizard in this room who’d like to rip him to pieces on a dueling platform for his foul and immoral behavior.”
“But he clearly had figured out you were interested in her.”
“Yes.” Harry nodded with a grimace.
“Tell the court about your interactions with Ron Weasley.”
“I think I’ve been failing to meet his expectations since we were eleven years old,” Harry said. “I was sorted into Ravenclaw—the first of Earl of Gryffindor to do so ever. It upset a lot of people, but I remember Ron being particularly put out with me. He did make an effort to be friends with me, but we had nothing in common and his hostile interactions with my godbrother, Neville Longbottom, eventually caused me to avoid him as much as possible. He found fault with my study habits, my lack of interest in Quidditch, and was always quick to point out when I was featured in the newspaper or in a magazine.
“After Hogwarts and the war, we were enrolled in the same section at the Auror Academy. I excelled at the academy, which was not a surprise, I’d basically been in some sort of magical combat training since I was twelve. My summers were full to the brim with tutors in dueling, combat magic, and the like. I was told the prophecy shortly after my eleventh birthday. I entered Hogwarts knowing it was my fate and my duty to end Voldemort. I didn’t have time to play games. I didn’t have the luxury of forgetting for even a day that Voldemort was lurking in the shadows waiting for a chance to resurrect himself. You’d all be living in a different world if I’d allowed myself to be anything less than what I am today.”
“And over the last few years? How have your interactions been?”
“We had a…physical altercation about four years ago. I let my temper get the better of me, and we fought. He made a heavy-handed pass at the woman I was dating. I would later find it wasn’t the first time he’d done so. After she and I had broken up, she told me he never looked her way again. I don’t have an explanation for it as I didn’t bother to ask him why cornered my girlfriend and groped her. I just…”
“Kicked his arse, it’s no secret, lad,” Sirius said much to everyone’s apparent amusement.
Harry just rolled his eyes at the laughter his father managed to cause. “Yeah, something like that. I regret it.”
“Why?” Sirius asked in a shocked tone.
“I let my temper get the best of me, as I said. The mature response would’ve been to call him out and ruin him on a dueling platform. Had I done so, he wouldn’t have been in a position to potion and attempt to rape Hermione Granger.” Harry sat back and shrugged. “He’d probably still be in St. Mungo’s.”
“Chief Warlock, I protest the use of the word rape,” Forst said. “It’s completely out of line with the charges filed against my client.”
“I don’t care what anyone else calls it,” Harry said coolly before anyone else could. “Love potions are rape. Lust potions unless consumed recreationally and consensually are rape. Sex happens between two consenting adults, Mr. Forst. Lack of consent equals rape. Period. Intimidating a witch into a sex act is rape. Threatening a witch with the loss of her job that results in sexual contact of any sort is rape. It’s what he was trying to do to Hermione Granger. I will be investigating to see if he’s done such in the past and if he was successful—we’ll all be back in this court on another day to see him punished for it.”
“I have no further questions at this point but reserve the right to redirect or recall at a later point,” Sirius said.
Forst fidgeted as he got settled on the presentation platform. Harry watched him dispassionately. He’d testified as an auror many times with Forst as a defense attorney. They didn’t have a good track record on the civility front. Forst cleared his throat. “You don’t like my client, do you, Lord Potter?”
“I don’t, and I can’t say that I ever have. But I don’t remember feeling particularly hostile toward him until the incident with Susan.”
“Yes,” Harry answered.
“You were punished professionally because of that fight, were you not?”
“I was suspended from auror duty for a month,” Harry said. “I took Susan on cruise—I wouldn’t call it a punishment looking back on it. Lounging around on a ship in the Mediterranean with a beautiful woman wasn’t exactly a hardship.”
Forst frowned at him. “What fault did you have in my client being removed from the Auror Academy?”
Harry considered that. “I don’t believe I had anything to do with that, Mr. Forst.”
“During that first month of training at the academy, Lord Potter, you faced all of your other peers in a dueling competition. Any auror trainee who couldn’t stand their ground with you for five minutes was eventually washed out of the program. Were you not aware of that?”
“I was aware. In fact, the Academy still uses to me to thin out classes in that fashion. I usually go in after the first month of training. Frankly, if they can’t handle five minutes on a dueling platform with me throwing charms at them, then they have no business being in the field. They’d just get themselves killed.” Harry shifted in his seat. “But it’s not my fault he failed out of the academy. I disarmed him within in a minute with a first-year charm, Mr. Forst. In fact, I never use anything in those duels that isn’t taught in the first five years of Charms class at Hogwarts. He did just enough to work to stay in Hogwarts while we were at school. He shouldn’t have even been admitted to the academy—he didn’t meet the educational requirements. He and several others were granted spots due to experience during the war.”
“You say that like you don’t agree.”
“Ron Weasley’s war experience consisted of hiding behind his mother’s skirt,” Harry said and exhaled sharply when his godbrother laughed. His statement caused a little buzz of amusement throughout House of Lords and the audience. “It’s well-known that Mrs. Weasley was vehemently opposed to any of her children fighting. She managed to keep the youngest two out of the fight entirely.”
“You were offered the hand of Ginevra Weasley at one time, were you not?”
“I was, yes,” Harry said. “But I declined because she was in love with someone else. I wanted no part of a forced arrangement, and her mother was prepared to do exactly that because she wanted her daughter to be the Countess of Gryffindor. I don’t know that she cared what either of us wanted in regards to that. I declined the contract and eventually had to make a vow on my magic just to get some peace on the subject.”
“So you have a problem with the Weasley family.”
“No, not at all. In fact, I’m the principal investor in Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. The twins make me a lot of money. I know the oldest son, Bill, quite well as he has worked for me on several occasions through the bank. The second oldest son, Charles, was instrumental in taking care of me when I was forced into and trapped in animagus form for several weeks a few years back. I regularly donate to the dragon preserve he runs as a result.”
“Yes, your animagus form,” Forst said. “You’re a Peruvian Vipertooth—the first dragon animagus in four hundred years in Britain.”
“Yes, but there are ten of us on the planet that we’re aware of. Frankly, there are probably more in Britain. The process is magically taxing, and many people don’t invest themselves in finding their forms. Professor McGonagall says it boils down to laziness. But perhaps it’s deeper than that—I think a lot of people are genuinely afraid of what they’ll find if they look too deep inside themselves.”
“Were you afraid by what you saw?”
“No,” Harry said with a laugh. “Not at all. I already knew what I was going to be. I’ve always had a fire burning in my belly, so to speak.”
Forst blew air out between his lips. “Were you aware of Mr. Weasley’s interest in Miss Granger before you decided to make a courting overture?”
“No, but it wouldn’t have dissuaded me.”
“Because what he wants isn’t and never has been important to me.”
“And if he’d succeeded in getting her to date him?”
“It would’ve been a shame. She’s a brilliant woman, and I would’ve hated to see her waste time with a man like Ron Weasley. Though considering her general disposition, it would’ve been a short-lived relationship.”
“A man like Ron Weasley,” Forst questioned. “If you’d explain what you mean by that, Lord Potter?”
“He’s lazy, entitled, thoughtless, uses his father’s name to get ahead, and is three times as cruel as an adult as he ever managed to be as a child. He thinks the world owes him a living and when he doesn’t get his way he runs to his mummy for help. It would be funny if it weren’t so pitiful.”
“You’re the youngest Head Auror since the inception of the DMLE,” Forst pointed out. “Do you think you earned it or was it merely given to you because of your reputation?”
“I believe I earned it,” Harry said evenly. “I have Masteries in dueling and magical law—both of which were certified by the ICW. I spent five years in the auror ranks where I worked upwards of seventy hours a week on a regular basis. When I was in the field, I had the highest capture rate and the highest solve rate on cases for four years running. My biological parents sacrificed themselves for me, and I never let myself forget that—I live every single day with as much honor as I can because I owe them that. I’m in public service because I believe it’s where I can contribute to society in the best way possible. I took my seat on the Wizengamot to serve the greater good as the men of my line have been doing since the time of Avalon.”
“Some might say that the salary you draw from the Ministry should go to someone else who is just as deserving who needs a job when you don’t even need to work, Lord Potter.”
Harry flushed and took a deep breath. “I don’t draw a salary from the Ministry, Mr. Forst. I never have. It’s part of my employment contract—every single sickle I would earn in my position is redirected into the DMLE’s armory. It provides body armor for my aurors, and it ensures that our communication system is regularly maintained by the goblins so that my people aren’t left in the field alone in a dangerous situation.”
Forst frowned and looked down at his parchment. “The base salary for the Head Auror is fifteen thousand galleons a year. You donate all of it?”
“Yes, I’ve never taken a salary from the Ministry—not even when I was a field auror.”
“I don’t understand,” Forst admitted.
“Most don’t,” Harry acknowledged. “But as you’ve already said—I don’t need the money. I have a vast estate that more than provides for me. It’ll provide for my family when I have one.”
“Do you honestly intend to court Hermione Granger?”
“I’ve already said so,” Harry said.
“She’s a Muggle-born.”
His gaze narrowed and copper scales shimmered on his throat briefly. “So was my mother, Mr. Forst, so do be careful what you say next.”
Forst flushed and cleared his throat. “There are those who would think such an action on your part unnecessary due to her blood status.”
“I don’t honestly care,” Harry said mildly. “It’s between her and me, you see. The rest of you—what you want or think is utterly unimportant.”
Forst glared at him. “I would think a man of your station would know better than to say something like that.”
“I would think a man of your station would know better than to have an opinion about the methods by which a nobleman conducts his private business,” Harry said coolly. The men in the House of Lords shifted in their seats and Forst paled. “I’ve never let public opinion sway me from what I deemed the proper course of action. It’s not how I was raised.”
“Many were very upset when you announced in the prophet that’d you’d not be entertaining any marriage contract offers,” Forst said. “Several men in this room have made it clear that they believe you should marry a pure-blood witch.”
“Yes, several men in this room believe that nonsense. There used to be more of them—they’re dead.” Harry smirked. “Or in Azkaban. I’d cut my own head off before I’d take the opinions of a blood-purist seriously but you know that already, Mr. Forst.”
“Lord Potter,” Dumbledore said sternly. “That was entirely out of line.”
“It won’t happen again, Chief Warlock,” Harry murmured but didn’t bother to look chastised. It would’ve been insincere.
“Mr. Weasley was right to assume you’d have no respect for his claim of Miss Granger, correct?”
“Claim?” Harry questioned. “Could you phrase that little more offensively? It takes a stunning amount of ignorance for a man to believe he has the right to treat a woman like property.”
“Answer the question,” Forst demanded.
“I’ve never taken Ron Weasley seriously—he’s a waste of magic. So, no, I wouldn’t have had any respect whatsoever for such a ridiculous claim had he been brave enough to actually say it to my face. If he had, I imagine our circumstances would be quite different today.”
“How?” Forst questioned, his confusion appeared to be genuine.
“I would’ve certainly questioned the matter with Miss Granger and your client’s dishonorable behavior would’ve come to light much sooner.” He paused and glanced briefly at Weasley. “I’m not above taking another vacation.”
“I find that an offensive thing to say, Lord Potter.”
“I find you an offensive thing to exist,” Harry returned evenly. “I’ve known Death Eaters with a better disposition.”
“Lord…” Dumbledore frowned. “No, you’re right, of course. I, too, have known Death Eaters that were quite pleasant compared to Mr. Forst. Amycus Carrow, as dark as he is, can hold a stimulating conversation on practically any subject.”
“His theories on runic magic and magical communion are intriguing,” Harry agreed.
“Chief Warlock!” Forst exclaimed in shock.
“You baited him, Mr. Forst, and you know it. Don’t poke a dragon, young man, it’s just a dreadful idea.”
Forst frowned at his parchment. “Did you know about Miss Granger’s chaste state when you decided to offer a courting gesture?”
“Then why offer her something so old-fashioned?”
“She wasn’t exaggerating about the kind of attention she garners here and internationally. Upon her arrival, I had to reassign additional support staff to the mail room to prevent the slowdown of processing incoming correspondence to the entire Ministry. There were several hundred letters over the first few months addressed directly to Miss Granger.
“Professionally, no single person in the Ministry receives more correspondence as an individual. We had to develop a new system to handle the personal correspondence she receives. Due to her efforts regarding her personal security—communications from strangers, no matter their purpose, are filtered through the Ministry system. We use intent verification spells to review materials so while I didn’t know the content of her personal correspondence I did know she was garnering a lot of male attention. It also became apparent she wasn’t entertaining anyone on a personal level.”
“And that led you to select a courting overture.”
“I’ve never been particularly worried about standing apart from my peers. The courting process is an honorable choice, and while it might be old-fashioned, I’ve yet to encounter a single witch who’d be offended to be approached in such a manner. Due to my position in the Ministry and in the Wizengamot, it’s important to that I conduct my personal relationships properly especially when it comes to other employees. It’s a matter of consent, and I’d never want to think for a moment that I was in a relationship that wasn’t a hundred percent consensual.”
“How likely is that to be a problem?” Forst asked.
“Considering your client apparently had no problem using his position in the Ministry and his social position to bully a woman into having sex with him—I think it should be a concern for us all. The fact that he was so comfortable that he used our communication system to do it—speaks volumes not only about his confidence but about the misogynistic culture in the Ministry itself.”
“I don’t understand,” Forst said.
“Buy a dictionary,” Harry returned.
Forst glared, but Harry just raised an eyebrow at him which caused several men in the House of Lords to laugh.
“How does it feel, Lord Potter, to be indulged like a child no matter your age?” Forst finally demanded.
Harry’s gaze narrowed. “I don’t honestly ever being remember being indulged as a child. It’s true I do tend to get away with behavior that others do not, but I’ve always believed that was just merely an expression of gratitude.”
“Gratitude?” Forst questioned.
“For killing the Dark Lord.”
“I met my fate, Mr. Forst, and there are those who are grateful that I did so.”
“I have no further questions,” Forst said with a sharp exhale.
Harry just shifted slightly when his father returned to the podium.
“First and foremost, lad, I spoiled you absolutely rotten,” Sirius said gravely.
“I earned all of those presents,” Harry protested and laughed when even Dumbledore snorted. “I’m sitting on an honesty hex.”
“Which actually only proves my point,” Sirius said. “For the record, when is the last time you spoke with Ronald Weasley?”
“When his father made us apologize to each other for fighting,” Harry said. “I do wonder if we’d be having this trial today if Ron Weasley had been taken in hand years ago and taught to respect anyone besides himself. He doesn’t even have the most casual respect for his own family. Every single threat, every single demand for sex was done with complete disregard for Miss Granger.” He motioned towards the stacks of letters in front of Dumbledore. “But moreover? There sits a pile of disrespect he’s heaped on his parents, his family. How ashamed they must all be—to have his immorality displayed here today and he doesn’t even seem to care. This is how he honors his father? I’d put a piercing charm through my own heart before I’d do such a thing to you.”
Sirius cleared his throat. “I have no further questions.”
* * * *
A part of her never expected Ron Weasley to spend a day in jail for what he’d done to her but Hermione hoped that he’d be found guilty of at least conspiring with someone else to kill the Head Auror. He’d have definitely gone to Azkaban for that.
It shocked her to the core to watch the Wizengamot vote—guilty on all charges. When it came time for sentencing, Neville Longbottom, the Earl of Greenwood, hammered on anyone who made the appearance of suggesting no jail-time.
Harry Potter stayed silent in his box next to his godbrother and casually wrote something on a piece of parchment every single time a member of the Wizengamot, from either the House of Lords or the Lower Ancient Houses, stood to argue against the ten-year sentence Lord Longbottom was lobbying for. The first time he made a note the person speaking stuttered to a stop, flushed, and sat down after just thirty seconds of silence.
After nearly two hours of discussion, Dumbledore used his orb to quiet the assembly and focused on Harry Potter. “Lord Potter, you’ve not stated your position on sentencing.”
Harry set aside his quill and folded the piece of parchment he’d been making notes on and tucked it into inside pocket. “I don’t know, yet, how many women Ron Weasley has abused. I may not ever have an exact number, but I do know that I don’t trust him to act with honor. Has he potioned other witches who work for the Ministry? Did he do it at Hogwarts? Did Hermione Granger’s refusals push him over the edge or was she just the last in a long line of women he targeted for his own sexual gratification? Many of you who have advocated for him serve community service have daughters. Some younger than Miss Granger, some a bit older but every single one of them would be vulnerable to the threat of him. Or worse, men just like him who are watching these proceedings and wondering exactly how much they can get away with.
“I believe that we have a greater justice to serve here today, and it’s not all to do with Miss Granger and her experience. We have an opportunity to send a message to the people of Britain that we will not tolerate this sort of behavior, at all. That no man, no matter his position in our society or in the Ministry itself, is above the law. We can also speak for the women of Britain—we can tell them that crimes against them will be met with proper punishment and that we are all resolved to protect their right to say no without fear of reprisal.” He cleared his throat. “Moreover, gentleman, as a society we’ve already failed to protect Hermione Granger once and I didn’t go to war at sixteen to live in a country where this kind of behavior can be treated as trivial.”
– – –
A week after Ron Weasley was sentenced to ten years in Azkaban, Amelia Bones became the Minister for Magic and the Earl of Blackmoor himself meandered down to the Department of Mysteries and very carefully placed a lovely carved wooden box in front of Hermione Granger. A testament to his research, Hermione thought, the box was made of vine just like her wand. There were different ways to open a courtship but in having his father deliver the first gift, Harry was making it clear that there was absolutely nothing idle about his romantic interest.
“For fuck’s sake, Granger, open it before we all expire from the suspense.”
Hermione frowned at Croaker. “Don’t ruin my moment, you terrible old man.”
She huffed and refocused on the box. She trailed her fingers over the Gryffindor coat of arms carved into the top of the box and took a deep breath. The first gesture said a lot, really, about the wizard making the courting offer. Most, she’d read, offered jewelry of some kind, but she hoped for something more than a demonstration of his wealth which was well-known already. Hermione flicked up the lock and half of her department leaned forward to peek.
The stasis spell radiated around the box as she lifted the lid off and spilled out around her. A book lay snug in the box, and Hermione picked it up carefully then opened it to read the title.
“Oh.” Hermione stared. She put it down and took a deep breath to settle herself.
Hermione turned to her assistant. “It’s The Art of Magic by Myrddin Emrys, first edition.”
“Oh.” Penelope Clearwater sat down abruptly, and everyone in the room stared at the box in shocked wonder.
Hermione noted that even Lord Black was surprised. She picked it up again and removed the piece of parchment underneath it and returned the book to the stasis box with shaking hands. She unfolded the paper and blew air out between her lips. “It’s a certification of authenticity by Gringotts.”
“At this point, lass, I’m supposed to ask you if you accept the overture,” Sirius murmured.
She nodded then touched the box with trembling fingers. “Yes, of course, I accept.” She exhaled and rubbed her face. “He’s a menace, honestly. We should probably confiscate the rest of your male children—there’s no telling what they’ll turn out like!”
Sirius grinned, offered her an elegant bow and left.
* * * *
Harry was at his desk pretending not to be a nervous wreck which might have worked better if half the division wasn’t at their desk staring at him through the big glass windows of his office. They’d all watched his father retrieve the overture and leave with it. Despite the fact that she said his courtship was welcome—if he’d made the wrong choice with the overture she’d have every right to reject it. Maybe he should’ve gone with the more traditional offering. Was she expecting jewelry? He’d never seen her wear much in the way of necklaces or even bracelets. Her wand holster was practical but attractive. She wore small earrings and once he’d seen her wear a little gold heart locket. Was a book the cliché choice? He exhaled sharply and threw his quill, looked up and found his father leaning in the doorway.
“Put me out of my misery, please.”
“Oh, lad,” Sirius said with a laugh. “Of course, she accepted.”
His aurors burst into applause, and Harry just slumped back in relief. “Thank fuck for that. I was going to have to go train with the ICW for a decade otherwise.”
Sirius laughed. “She was shocked but thrilled with the gift. I admit to being a little startled myself—how on earth did you find it?”
“Rare book dealer in France—I’d put out a few feelers looking for something unique. I’d say he delivered.”
“More than,” Sirius agreed. He pulled a watch from his pocket and checked the time. “I have to go—have a meeting but it went really well, and she was a little overwhelmed by it but in the right way.”
* * * *
An hour later, Hermione Granger requested a security escort to Gringotts, and she wasn’t all that surprised when the Head Auror appeared. She slipped into the lift and exhaled sharply as the doors closed on them. It was ridiculous how nervous he made her. She held the box close to her chest, her fingers tapping gently against the wood.
He exhaled sharply and shoved his hands into the pockets of his coat. “You like it?”
Hermione turned to stare at him. “You’re ridiculous. Like it? You realize this is the only copy of this book in existence, right? And there are only five verified third editions left.”
“I didn’t, no.” He shrugged. “It was appropriately priced based on the protocols.” He laughed briefly when her mouth dropped open. “I do come from an ancient and noble family, Miss Granger.”
“Hermione,” she corrected. “Please.”
“We’re at work,” Harry said.
She laughed. They walked to the apparition point, and he offered his arm. Hermione slipped her hand into the crook of his arm, and they disappeared with a flash of magic. They appeared in a private office in Gringotts, and a goblin entered.
“Razel, pardon us for disrupting your day without an appointment.”
“You’re always welcome, Lord Potter.” The goblin motioned them to sit in a pair of chairs in front of a large desk. “I’m pleased to see your first overture was well-received.” He turned to Hermione. “How can I assist you, Miss Granger?”
Hermione put the box on the desk. “I need a high-security ward, of course. And the most advanced preservation spells possible. It has standard travel and display protection charms on it already, but I can’t read it in the way it is currently protected.”
“Do you need a translation spell as well?” Razel questioned as he wrote.
“No, sir, but thank you for asking.” Hermione pulled her gloves off as the goblin picked up the book. “Please take your fees from my vault.”
“There are no fees,” Razel said as he opened the box. “Lord Potter insured the purchase through Gringotts, and it is our duty to help secure it. I need to retrieve a few things. I shall return shortly.”
Hermione glanced briefly at Harry as the goblin closed the box and left his desk. She watched him leave and pulled off her gloves. She twisted the leather together then dropped them into her lap.
“I make you nervous.”
“Very,” she admitted. “For a variety of reasons.”
“Care to share?” He questioned.
She looked towards him and found him slouched down in his chair, chin propped on his fist. “You’re just not like anyone I’ve ever met before. It’s not about the ridiculous fame you have to live with or the titles.”
“My war record?” Harry questioned.
“Merlin, no, I have no problem with what you did during the war.” She bit down on her bottom lip. “It’s probably a mixture of things—attraction surely but there are other things.”
“You’re out of my league,” Hermione murmured and blushed when his eyes went wide with shock.
“The most interesting part of that statement—is that you actually believe that.” He frowned. “Please tell me this is not about your blood status.”
She shrugged and picked up her gloves. “I hear it every single day, you know. Shortly after the trial, two wizards in the Ministry café stood right behind me and said it was a shame Ron Weasley went to prison because of a frigid mudblood.”
Harry blew air out between his lips. “If you give me their names—I’ll earn myself another vacation.”
Hermione laughed outright and shook her head. “No, that’s okay.”
The goblin returned at that moment and after a few minutes, the goblin returned with a stave. Hermione removed her locket at that point and opened it.
“I have a goblin store.” She put the necklace on the desk. “I’d like the security ward attached to it as I’ll be storing the book in the locket for additional security.”
“Excellent choice,” Razel murmured. He took the locket and began to work.
Within a half hour, they returned to the Ministry, but Harry led her down into the Hall of Mages instead of to the lift. She loved the way her hand felt in his. Many of the portraits on the wall spoke—greeting him by name as they walked. He nodded to each but didn’t stop until the portraits were too old to move.
“This is Elizabeth Gryffindor nee Morris. During that time, Muggle-borns were called munborne. She married my many greats grandfather, Draven Gryffindor. She was regarded as one of the most brilliant minds of her day. They had one son named Godric.” He moved them to another portrait. “This is Rowena, Baroness of Ravenclaw and Godric’s wife. Rowena was the daughter of a pure-blood and a Muggle-born. In fact, the Ravenclaw title was not magical, but one set down by the Muggle crown.
“Godric and Rowena had several children. One son, Colin, married a half-blood witch named Victoria.” He tugged her towards another portrait. “This is her. She pursued and earned four different masteries after leaving Hogwarts and was internationally known as a spell crafter. They had one son, Niall, who married a pure-blood witch named Emalia. This is her.”
Hermione stared at the witch. “She’s busty.”
Harry laughed. “Very much so.”
“They had a daughter named Imogen who married Edmond Peverell. They had three children—Antioch, Cadmus, and my direct ancestor Ignotus. Ignotus had a single child, a son.” He moved down the hall to another portrait. “This is Iolanthe Potter nee Peverell, Ignotus’ granddaughter. She married Hardwin Potter, a Muggle-born wizard from a poor family who lived in Godric’s Hollow.”
“Yes, she died in childbirth, unfortunately.” He guided her down the hall, and they stopped in front of a portrait of his mother. She was surprised to find it still. “This is Lily as I’m sure you know. A Muggle-born witch, known as the brightest witch of her generation. Shortly before her death, she became the youngest person ever to gain a mastery in potions at an international level. She’d decided to pursue a second mastery in charms, but the war stalled that ambition. Lily stood between me and the darkest wizard of our time—gave her life and generated the first successful defensive ward powered by family magic.”
Hermione looked up at him. “If you’re after proving a point, I think you’ve done it.”
“It’s not about making a point,” Harry said as he stared at his mother. “It’s about acknowledging where I come from and who walked this world before me. I stand here, the last of my line, with an overwhelming and unreasonable burden on my shoulders.” He focused on Hermione. “The first time I saw you—as an adult—you were standing in the atrium in a lovely yellow dress. You were frowning at the statues.”
Hermione laughed. “I hate that display.”
“It’s offensive,” Harry agreed. “But there you were and for a few minutes, I didn’t realize who you were. The fact is I stared at you for a ridiculous amount of time, completely enthralled with the mere look of you. Finding out who you were was not a detraction.” He pulled a watch from his pocket and checked the time. “I should return you to work before I get a snotty memo from Croaker.”
Hermione laced her fingers with his as they entered the lift. “I’ll work on my issues.”
“Well, not all your issues. I find that whole thing you do where you carry too much, always forget your quill, and glare at Croaker in meetings pretty charming.”
She laughed. The moment the lift opened, Croaker shouted her name.
“Don’t yell at me, old man, I work sixty hours a week!” Hermione exclaimed.
Harry released her hand and leaned back against the wall. “Dinner tonight?”
“Dinner,” Hermione agreed. “I should be finished with work by six.”
“I’ll send you a note if I catch a case,” Harry murmured as she slipped out of the lift.
Hermione pointed her finger at Croaker as the doors shut. “You are a constant source of misery.”
Croaker laughed. “Have fun on your little date?”
“It wasn’t a date! And yes! I had fun!” She rolled her eyes and closed her office door on her boss’ laughter.
* * * *
“Do you often reserve private dining rooms?” Hermione questioned as the waiter left with their orders. He closed a pair of doors behind him, and they were enveloped in a privacy charm.
“I always request private dining in magical establishments—room or ward based. My father didn’t allow me to be seen in wizarding public until I was nearly five years old and even then I was restricted almost exclusively to the Ministry building. Every year he gave the Daily Prophet a single picture of me which they published on the front page. After I could write, my Dad asked me if I wanted to write a note for the paper. I said no at first, but I sent one with the picture when I was six. It became a tradition that I honored until I started Hogwarts. He did a lot to control my fame, but frankly he was never going to fully succeed because of both the curse I survived and the prophecy. Of course, the prophecy wasn’t common knowledge until Voldemort was resurrected.”
She shifted her wine glass a bit. “My Dad didn’t allow me to come home to Britain during the war. When the news broke that Voldemort had returned—I wrote them a letter begging them to leave Britain and explaining why. They refused, but they came to Rome over the summers and during the holidays. I have to think that he’d have worked to keep me out of the country even now if the war was still going on.”
“You’re an only child?” Harry questioned.
“I can’t fault him for his protection of you. The war was a terrible situation eighty-seven Muggle-borns were killed outright merely because of their blood status. It was a short and brutal war that I don’t know that I’ll ever get over. I’m not sure I’m meant to ever get over it—doing what I did.”
“You asked if your war record bothered me…I take it you’ve encountered people who were put off by it?”
“There are some who see no difference between murder and a righteous kill,” Harry allowed. “I make those people uncomfortable. I think mostly because I’ve never apologized for the war and my part in it.”
“You have nothing to apologize for,” Hermione said, and the doors opened. The food was arranged quickly, and the waiter disappeared without a word. “He’s quick.”
Harry laughed. “Well, you’ll find wizards will be reluctant to socialize with you. It’s old-fashioned and kind of terrible, but he worked quickly and hardly spoke to you out of respect for me.”
“For your claim,” Hermione corrected and laughed when he blushed. She reached out and touched his hand. He moved slightly and laced their fingers together. “I read two different books on the protocols. I actually appreciate a lot of it. I’ve gotten a lot of unwanted attention both before and after the trial. Croaker had to reassign two women in my department because they said my views on physical chastity and marriage made them uncomfortable. One told Croaker that she felt like I was judging her.”
“Judging her how?” Harry questioned.
Hermione shrugged. “I know little of her circumstances except the fact that she’s a single mother. Her man died in the war, and she was pregnant. I hope she doesn’t think I hold that against her, at all. I envy her the child, and it’s terrible that she lost her lover that way. I don’t think her relationship was wrong or elicit. The other witch that told Croaker she couldn’t work with me…”
“Because of me,” Harry guessed. “You mean Cho Chang, I suppose.”
Hermione sighed. “Yes, of course. She was furious over the courting gesture by the way. I mean she’s been a complete pain in the bum all week even though she’s been moved out of research and into field position that she’d been requesting for over a year anyway. I know she’s your ex.”
“Cho doesn’t qualify as an ex-girlfriend no matter what she might say. We had a very brief sexual affair during the war. She broke off that arrangement after a month. She said she wasn’t going to let herself emotionally invest in a walking dead man.”
“That terrible girl,” Hermione exclaimed. “She actually said that to you?”
“Almost word for word. I was seventeen, and I have to admit it was like getting punched in the face. I could handle being used for sex but being told I wasn’t worthy of love because I was probably going to die was wretched. After the war, she tried to come back around, but I can’t hardly stand the sight of her, and I told her as much. But I’ve been told more than once that discussing past relationships on the first date is a terrible thing to do.”
She grinned and picked up her wine. “Okay, what’s your favorite book?”
* * * *
She stayed out way too late for a work night but having Harry’s undivided attention was addictive. He took her home which was honestly a new experience. She’d never had a wizard actually walk her to her door. Magical travel was convenient and most often she apparated wherever she needed to go. He’d suggested the walk like maybe he wasn’t ready to end the evening any more than she was.
Hermione turned to him. “This the part where I usually have to fend off a heavy-handed advance.”
“This is normally the part where I do my best to make my date deeply regret not inviting me in to spend the night,” he admitted, and she couldn’t help but laugh.
She held out a hand, and he curled his larger one against hers. He drew her close and she took a deep breath. Being this close to a wizard had never not been a problem for one reason or another, but the medallion didn’t stir against her skin as he pressed his bearded cheek to hers. He smelled fantastic—clean, male, and utterly delicious.
“You are so lovely,” he murmured.
Hermione’s throat got a little tight, and she closed her eyes. “Are you seducing me, Lord Potter?”
“A little bit every single day,” he confessed. He took a deep breath and took a step back from her. “I have to go to Paris in the morning, but I’ll be back on Saturday. I’d like to see you.”
“Okay, it’s my shopping day with my mother, but we’ll be done by late afternoon. Can you navigate the Muggle world?”
“Yes.” He released her hand. “And even dress myself to boot.”
“You tease, but that’s rare for someone raised in the magical world.”
“I wasn’t,” Harry said. He watched her mouth drop open. “I even went to Muggle primary school. In fact, all of my siblings have gone as well. The youngest just started Hogwarts. It’s one reason it was so easy for my dad to hide me because you’re right—most magicals don’t know how to do even basic things in the Muggle world.”
“Then we can meet at the library at King’s Cross around five? I have some books to return, and they have a lovely courtyard.” She paused as she reached for her door knob. “Do try to keep from getting cursed in the back this time.”
He laughed. “I will. Now go in and set your security so I can go home and endure an interrogation from my younger brother who thinks he’s an adult.”
He was just thirty minutes early, but he was hoping she’d arrived early, too. He wasn’t disappointed. Harry stopped to watch her. Hermione was seated on a bench in the courtyard—she was dressed as casually as he’d ever seen her in jeans and a white blouse that fell off one shoulder. Her hair was loose, another first, and fell past her shoulders. He started to move, but a group of people joined her. He almost drew his wand because she looked mildly horrified at the sight of them but then she just frowned and did that hand waving thing she did when she was frustrated with Croaker in meetings.
Harry kept his pace casual as he crossed the courtyard and took a deep breath when she looked his way and smiled brightly. She closed the book that was still in her lap and stood. She pointed her finger sharply at the five people around her and then walked toward him. He noted that her visitors didn’t follow. He took the hand she offered, and she moved in close for a hug. He liked how comfortable she was in his space.
“I’m a little early.”
She blushed. “So was I. I thought I’d successfully escaped my family, but my mother caved and told my aunt I was meeting a date at the library, and she talked the whole lot of them into coming over here.”
Harry laughed. “My family is honestly no better. You can probably expect a visit from my mother within the week.”
“We had lunch yesterday,” Hermione said and laughed when Harry groaned. “She kidnapped me from my office and hexed Croaker when he tried to complain. It was pretty amusing. I like her a lot.”
“Yeah? Good, I picked her out myself.” Harry grinned when she laughed. “No, but seriously, I picked her out. She was working with the DMLE at the time, and I saw her in the Ministry. I thought she was really pretty, and I figured I deserved a pretty new mom since my first mom was beautiful. So I followed her all the way to her office, sat in the chair in front of her desk and told her I thought she was beautiful and then informed her seriously that my daddy needed a wife.”
Hermione laughed. “Oh, Harry.”
“Meanwhile, my dad is frantically searching the Ministry, and she had no idea who I was. So we were chatting, and I asked her about her mum skills.”
Hermione leaned into him and shook her head. “I bet your dad lost his mind.”
“He came to the DMLE to report me kidnapped, and they escorted him right into the Head Auror’s office where I sat interviewing said Head Auror for my vacant mother position.”
“How old were you?”
“Six.” Harry shrugged. “She lectured my father sternly about losing track of me, and I invited her to dinner. Six months later, they married, and I got a mother plus a one-year-old baby brother. Atticus is pursuing his mastery in law and using my flat as a place to fall. He wanted to live on his own, but our parents were very opposed to that so he moved in with me.”
She bit down on her lip. “If you hate my family—I just won’t invite them to any of our future stuff.”
“You know—parties and stuff.” She blushed, and he touched her face carefully.
“Are they going to come on our date with us?” Harry asked. “Because that’s certainly going to determine how I feel about them.”
She laughed and glanced over her shoulder. They all waved at her. Hermione groaned. “I’m really sorry in advance.”
Harry laughed and wrapped an around her waist. “Have you been with them all day?”
“Well, my Aunt Karen and her daughter Chloe went shopping with us. Then we met Dad and Uncle Richard for lunch. Reading is a big thing in my family so we ended up going to a bookstore after lunch which I snuck out of to come meet you with my mother’s help. But she’s a pansy and confessed my whereabouts to all these people who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to intrude on my date.” They stopped in front of her family. “Harry, these two people are my parents, I think. Maybe I was adopted. Doctors Ryan and Hannah Granger. Mum, Dad, this is His Grace the Duke of Avalon.”
He rarely used the Muggle title he’d been granted by the Queen after the war, and there was a slight twitch of shock from her family as he offered her father his hand. “Sir, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Your Grace,” Ryan Granger said. “It’s an honor.”
There was something in the older man’s eyes that told Harry he meant that in a way that only another soldier could. “I greatly prefer Harry.” He turned to her mother and Hannah Granger offered her hand. “Ma’am.”
“Your Grace,” Hannah Granger said faintly. She blushed when he raised an eyebrow. “Harry. I…Hermione didn’t tell me who she was meeting.”
Harry laughed and focused on the people he hadn’t been introduced to.
Ryan Granger cleared his throat. “This is my brother Richard, his wife Karen, and their daughter Chloe.”
They stood there for a few seconds saying nothing then Richard Granger said the goodbyes for his family and herded both his wife and daughter away.
“What was that?” Harry asked and turned to Hermione.
“My Dad and Uncle are squibs,” Hermione said. “Neither my Aunt Karen or Chloe know about magic—Uncle Richard didn’t think it was fair to tell Chloe when she didn’t get a letter. She was already quite jealous of me already.”
“Your looks?” Harry questioned.
She blinked in what he figured was surprise. “No, I won a lot of awards for academics when we were younger and as she far as she’s concerned I was invited to a very special and exclusive school abroad to study.” She turned to her parents. “Well, since you’re here and I’m already planning my vicious revenge—you two might as well come to dinner and finish earning your punishment.”
Harry grinned and shrugged when Ryan glanced his way. “I was going to let her pick the place. I rarely have to make reservations, you know, because of the thing.”
“You mean the dukedom the Queen bestowed on you?” Ryan asked wryly. “Good Lord, man.”
“It was kind of startling. I tried to say no, but I was informed that doing so would insult the Queen, and I didn’t want to be rude to an elderly woman. So I let her confer a title on me on international television. And it’s a duchy, actually.” He grinned when the older man just huffed a little under his breath. “Which really only means that when someone in the magical world ticks Her Royal Highness off—I get summoned and politely berated then depending on how irritated she is—I either file charges on her behalf with our government or duel them for being an idiot. It’s kind of tedious.”
Hermione sighed. “That’s what you get for saving the world.”
“No good deed,” Harry agreed. “Let’s get some food. I chain apparated from France, and I’m starving.”
Two hours later, he was fairly convinced he was going to keep her parents if she eventually dumped him. Though he was certainly going to invest himself in winning her heart, his track record with keeping a witch long-term wasn’t good. Most had no ability whatsoever to handle his fame or in some cases his desire to work in what most considered a lower class job.
They ordered dessert and Hermione abandoned him to her father in favor of the ladies room. Her mother had gone with her. Harry picked up his wine and sat back in his chair as the older man set aside his own and focused on him.
“Royal Navy?” Harry questioned.
“Hermione told me you were a dentist.”
“I’m an oral surgeon. Hermione tends to tell magical people a simplified version of what we do because magicals, on the whole, don’t get it. I began my education after I was injured in the service, met Hannah in school and…” He waved a hand. “I kept track of the war mostly because I was very concerned about my daughter. She was already gaining international attention for that fantastic mind of hers. I worried, incessantly, that she’d be targeted because her very existence destroys practically any argument a pure-blood could make about squibs, half-bloods, and Muggle-borns. When I agreed to send her to Hogwarts, I told her it would be easier to pretend to be a Muggle-born than to be the daughter of a squib. Of course, when she turned seventeen, she marched her little arse right into Gringotts and claimed her great-grandfather’s estate.”
Harry laughed. “You know, most people still call her a Muggle-born because they assume that she’s only slightly related to Hector Dagworth-Granger—related enough to claim a dormant estate. I admit, I thought the same and I never bothered to investigate the matter. No one really questions the goblins concerning such things, at any rate, she told me on our first date that she was his great-granddaughter.”
“How long have you been dating?”
Harry barely managed to keep his mouth from dropping open and just frowned into his water glass as Hermione slipped back into the chair beside him.
“Is something wrong?” Hermione’s gaze darted between them. “Daddy, did you say something rude and inappropriate?”
Ryan laughed. “Why do you automatically blame me?”
“Because I know you, and you always say inappropriate things.”
“I just asked Harry how long the two of you had been dating,” Ryan said then frowned because Hermione paled.
He put down his glass. “I guess I don’t know what to ask you, Hermione. Have you changed your mind? Because if you have, I’d prefer in an immediate and blunt truth than a soft blow three months from now.”
Her hand settled on his. “I haven’t changed my mind. I promise. I was going to tell them today at lunch, but I couldn’t discuss it in front of Aunt Karen and Chloe.”
“It’s been almost a week,” Harry said.
“I spent the whole time you were gone reading the book.”
He stared at her then laughed. “Hermione, that book is around two thousand pages long.”
“I know. I’m going to read it again more slowly. I took two days off work because I couldn’t concentrate for wanting to read it.” She bit down on her lip. “I mean…seriously.”
“It’s a good thing I already knew you were kind of crazy,” Harry said wryly then focused on her father. “This is our second date. On Monday, I made my first courting gesture and she accepted.”
Ryan’s mouth dropped open, and Hermione blushed. “Hermione Jane, this is not the sort of thing you keep to yourself. What if I had said something inappropriate?”
“Depending on the content, I would’ve probably laughed,” Harry said and shrugged when Hermione huffed. “When I fall off that pedestal you’ve got me on—you’ll have to take me to St. Mungo’s if I break anything.”
“What’s a courting overture?” Hannah Granger asked. She pointed a finger at Hermione. “No, dear, I’d like a short answer.”
Harry laughed when Hermione huffed again. “The courting protocols were established in the thirteen hundreds instead of arranged marriages that were quite popular in Muggle world. Magical compatibility and emotional connection are crucial in the creation of marriage bonds. The first overture is a display of wealth and a demonstration of knowledge.”
“What sort of knowledge?”
“Knowledge of the person to be courted. Honestly, most wizards make a safe choice—jewelry of some kind. If you watch a woman for long enough, you’ll figure out which stones and metals she prefers. For instance, I know your daughter likes small earrings, and what few rings she wears are thin and simply designed. She likes pearls and diamonds in very traditional settings. Her wardrobe is stylish and modern but modest for a woman her age.”
“So your first overture was pearls?”
“It would’ve been if I hadn’t had the chance to work with her on several cases,” Harry said. “In fact, I did pick out a string of pearls but in the end, I made a different choice. I bought her a book.”
“A book,” Hermione repeated. “He gave me a first edition, handwritten copy of The Art of Magic by Myrddin Emrys. It’s over twenty-five hundred years old.”
“A demonstration of knowledge,” Ryan agreed. “I see your point. So, Hermione, that’s the book you were reading all week when you should’ve taken at least an hour out of your day to come tell us that you were being courted by a peer?”
“Maybe,” Hermione said. “But you were the ones who thought it would be a bit of fun to come meet my date at the library.”
“True enough,” Hannah said with a soft smile. “Okay, so how does this courting thing work?”
“He basically asked her to consider marrying him, Hannah,” Ryan murmured.
“We’ll date for six months,” Harry said when her mouth dropped open. “After which I’ll make my second overture. Then at the year mark, if I wish to continue the relationship my third and final overture will be a ring and home.”
“Traditionally, the pursuing wizard or witch purchases a house, yes. In fact, in wealthy noble families in Britain, a house to the bride is always included in the proposal. My adoptive father married when I was six and part of his proposal was a country cottage. They spend most of their time in the city, but she does like to spend the summers at the cottage or if she gets angry at him—she packs up all the kids and makes him stay in London.” He grinned when Hannah laughed. “You should’ve seen his face the first time she packed Atticus and me up. She was five months pregnant with our sister Aster. We were gone a whole month. He sent flowers every single day.”
“What if she doesn’t wish to continue the courting?”
“She can end it at any time and isn’t required to give a reason,” Harry said. “But per the protocols, I’m in the courting process for a full year unless she says otherwise. It was a way of protecting witches from wizards who’d be tempted to enter the process to get unchaperoned and ultimately intimate access to a witch.”
“Unless I violate the protocols,” Hermione pointed out.
“But I can’t see that happening. You’re a rule follower, probably from the cradle.” He grinned when she blushed and her parents both started to laugh. “What we’ve agreed to do, is get to know each other in what amounts to an exclusive dating situation.”
“With intimate access,” Hannah said.
“Traditionally that is the assumption, but that is not possible in…” He trailed off because Hermione shook her head slightly. “Oh.”
“Oh, what?” Hannah asked and looked between them. Then she frowned. “Hermione. Are you still wearing that thing? You said you’d take it off!”
“Can we not discuss this here?” Hermione asked, her voice broke.
Harry noted that her hand was shaking. He picked up her hand laced their fingers together. There were a few seconds when he was unsure if he had the right to do what he wanted then he stood. He helped Hermione stand and picked up the messenger bag she’d had for the library which he shouldered.
“It was a pleasure to meet you both.”
He shook her father’s hand with his free one and with a respectful nod towards her mother got Hermione out of the pub before she burst into tears in public. Harry led her into a small alcove where a symbol was etched into the stone in such a way that only a magical person would see it and apparated them both to the hallway in front of her door.
She took a shaky breath and bit down on her lip. “I’m such a mess.”
“You can tell me as little or as much as you want,” Harry said. “No pressure at all, Hermione.”
She brushed her fingers over a set of runes and the door unlocked. “Come inside.”
Harry put her bag on the sofa and shoved his hands into his pockets as he looked around the flat. Comfortable furniture and books—lots of books. “Your mother was upset.”
“Very upset,” Hermione admitted. “Butterbeer? Or ale?”
“Neither, but for future reference, I’m not a drinker as a rule,” Harry admitted. “I have a lot of magical power, and it can be dangerous to lose control.” He watched her hesitate then he caught her hand again and led her to the sofa. He sat down and relaxed when she sat down with him and shifted so she was pressed against his side.
“Thanks for getting me out of there so quickly,” Hermione said.
“Your mother has a problem with the medallion?” Harry asked in confusion. “I didn’t anticipate that.”
“My mother gave me the sex talk when I was thirteen.” She frowned and took a deep breath. “She was very honest about intercourse and the mechanics. Of course, I’d already gotten a thorough education on sex, but I didn’t tell her that. She said that virginity was a social construct that serves no purpose in the modern world in her opinion—it’s just a way of controlling women.”
“So you didn’t tell her about the medallion?”
“No, not at first, in fact, I was nearly twenty-five before she found out about it. I was dating a wizard named Marc. My parents came to visit me in Rome, and I introduced them to Marc. They adored him—he was Muggle-born and brilliant. Mum thought he was definitely the one, and I admit at the time I thought he was, too. We had a lot in common, and I believed we were on the same page. I told him that I wanted to wait until marriage and that I was a virgin. A year into our relationship, he asked me to marry him, and I said yes.”
He actually had already known she’d been engaged, briefly. It had been in her employment records as the wizard she’d almost married was a co-worker at the ICW, and they’d had to be separated professionally after the breakup.
“A month after he put the ring on my hand, he ordered me to take off the medallion.”
Harry took a deep breath. “And?”
“I refused, and he broke up with me. He said it was stupid and that he couldn’t imagine how any wizard would want a magical marriage because the idea of being stuck with the same woman for life was a nightmare.”
“Arsehole,” Harry muttered.
“So I was single again, and I didn’t tell my parents why. I just told them that we realized we weren’t meant for each other. Then it happened again. And again.” She blushed and turned her face into his shoulder. “And finally, I confessed to them that I was wearing a Diana medallion. My mother didn’t know what it was, but my father knew, and he was so shocked, and he immediately asked me if someone had tried to hurt me sexually. I assured him that wasn’t the case then there was a big discussion about whether or not I was afraid of men or afraid of sex. My dad understood my desire for a magical marriage—his own parents had one, but he felt it was terribly old-fashioned.”
“And your mother?”
“She was horrified, and it was just one more reason for her to resent magic and the magical world in general.”
“But she does understand that this is a choice you made, right?”
“She said that Headmistress Voltaire brainwashed me,” Hermione said dryly. “Finally, I got tired of listening to my mother complain about the medallion so I told her that I’d remove it.”
“I can go memory charm them,” Harry said and grinned when she laughed. “Kidding.”
“I’m tempted,” Hermione murmured.
“I’m not any of those boys you were involved with before,” Harry said against her hair. “And I hope my intentions are very clear.”
She nodded. “You had your dad deliver the overture. I actually did read the whole protocol.”
“Good,” Harry said and slipped away from her. “I should go. Before I see your parents again, do write me a list of things I’m not allowed to accidently tell them.”
She laughed. “Not your fault.” Hermione stood and walked with him to the door.
He pulled her close, and she hugged him back with no hesitation. He counted it a win. Harry let his fingers curl briefly into the material of her shirt. “I’m utterly enchanted with who you are, and I have the utmost respect for all of your choices.”
He waited until the locks snicked into place before he left her door. The lift doors were opening, and he took a deep breath when her parents came out of the elevator. The last thing he wanted was to get involved in whatever argument might be brewing between Hermione and her mother, but he didn’t apparate away.
“Is she upset?”
Harry didn’t know how to answer that question without showing his own irritation. “My father taught me to make my own decisions, to honor my word, and to own my actions.” He focused on Hannah Granger as he spoke. “I make every effort every single day to be a son he can take pride in. He, in turn, respects my choices.”
“And you’re saying that I don’t respect my daughter’s choices?” Hannah asked.
“That’s not for me to determine, ma’am. As to your question, I think the best word to describe her current state is…frustrated. Please excuse me, it’s considered rather crass to linger outside a woman’s door.”
Hermione’s startled laughter drifted through the door. He grinned and turned on his heel as he apparated away.
Hermione opened the door and stared at her parents. “You don’t, by the way.”
Hermione huffed and walked away from the door. She threw herself on the couch and stared moodily at her empty fireplace. “I think maybe I didn’t tell you about the courting because he’s amazing and he makes my stomach hurt—just the sight of him. And I don’t know how to deal with it or him, really. But he’s practically everything a witch could want and he’s looking at me like I’m the only one on earth for him, and I don’t really know what to do with that either.
“And he’s the first wizard to express serious and thoughtful interest in me who genuinely doesn’t resent the medallion. He willingly entered into a celibate yearlong courting process because he thinks I’m worth it.” She bit down on her lip. “Mum, you’ve always told me that I should be independent and strong—yet the one time I make a decision you find intolerable you act like I don’t have the right to make it.”
“What if you pick the wrong wizard?” Hannah demanded. “You’ll have no way out of the marriage, Hermione.”
Ryan cleared his throat. “Hannah, a magical marriage would fall apart in an abusive or destructive situation. Granted, such couples never bond again not even if they eventually remarry but it’s not a permanent marriage. Additionally, I’m not above killing a wizard for mistreating my daughter.”
A little pop sounded, and Hermione turned to stare at house elf. She was wearing a red wool dress and tiny boots. Her green hair was wrapped up in a cute little bun.
“Well, hello.” The elf’s blue eyes sparkled with magic and cheer. She’d rarely seen one look so healthy and happy. “What’s your name?”
“I be Star,” the house elf said proudly. “I takes care of the Earl of Gryffindor and all of his mess.”
Hermione laughed. No wonder she looked so healthy—Harry had magic to burn and more than enough to give a house elf a very robust bond. “How can I help you?”
The elf held out her hands and a tray popped into place. “Master Harry send me and cheesecake.” The platter appeared in her hands and Hermione could only stare at the chocolate cheesecake.
“Good lord,” Hannah said. “I think I want to marry him.”
“Chocolate is best,” Star said. “Master Harry favors elf-made wines because they not be dangerous for his magic. Would you like some from his private cellar?”
Hermione took the tray and set it down on the table. “Oh. Hmmm. I’ve never had elf-wine. It’s pretty hard to come by. Which do you recommend?”
“Red goes best with chocolate,” Star decided and a bottle popped into her hand which she deftly opened. “You call Star if you need anything.” She disappeared with a little flash of light.
They ended up at her kitchen table.
“Tell me about him,” Hannah said after she’d finished a modest piece of cheesecake. “And try not to do anything too terrible so you don’t lose your source on this cheesecake.”
Hermione laughed and sat back with her wine glass. “He’s twenty-seven years old, never married, and the Head Auror in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. In the magical world, he’s the Earl of Gryffindor, which is a magical title that is several thousand years old. The House of Potter is the last surviving house of Avalon, which is why the Queen fashioned his Muggle title as she did. There is some speculation that he descends from Arthur Pendragon himself, but it’s unproven due to loss of historical records.
“He’s the oldest of five children—four boys and one girl. In order of age, Harry, Atticus, Aster, Orion and Aries. He’s adopted as his godfather adopted Harry when his biological parents, James and Lily Potter, were murdered by Voldemort in 1981. Just short of his eighteenth birthday, he defeated Voldemort in a six-hour duel and ended the second blood war that started in 1994. He’s impatient with laziness in his department, brokers no corruption of any kind, and would rather punch a blood purist in the face than have a conversation with them.
“Harry’s regarded as one of the most eligible bachelors in Britain and was ardently pursued by the ancient and noble families for marriage. He stood up in front of the Wizengamot and viciously denounced the marriage contract practice and promised to start a blood feud with the next person who offered him a bride for sale. His speech was published internationally and within a year reported contract marriages fell from seventy-three percent to just twenty percent the world over. He introduced sweeping changes to the marriage laws in Britain as the Earl of Gryffindor and advocates for women’s rights.
“Last year, he dueled and maimed for life a wizard who attempted to potion his sister, Aster, into a marriage. Well, the wizard gave her a fertility potion and a lust potion. Fortunately, she realized she’d been potioned and sought immediate medical attention. Harry took off the man’s wand arm at the shoulder. They were able to put it back on, but it’s useless.”
“Why didn’t the family file charges?” Hannah questioned.
Hermione frowned into her glass and sighed. “Because Aster is a half-blood and there is no law against what the wizard did. If he’d actually slept with her there would’ve been a host of legal moves her father could’ve made but none of the charges would’ve involved rape.”
“That’s bloody outrageous,” Ryan muttered.
Hermione nodded and touched her medallion. “Still, he was soundly punished for it, and Aster Black recently announced her engagement to an American wizard who moved here last year as part of the ICW’s British embassy. I’ve worked with him a few times, and he’s a good wizard. But back to Harry. He holds masteries in International Magical Law and Dueling. He regularly participates in dueling competitions and has represented Britain internationally for the last five years.
“He has a lovely snowy owl who delivers his mail and sometimes sits on a perch in office and barks at people who have pissed him off. He’s a parselmouth which is a wizard who can speak to snakes which some people look on as a dark gift. He’s had a few semi-serious relationships but if rumors are to be believed they fell apart because the witches involved couldn’t handle the scrutiny. Susan Bones, his last serious girlfriend, told me that it was like dating royalty and that she couldn’t handle the attention he received from other witches. There was no hint that he was unfaithful, but her jealousy drove them to have several ugly arguments. They’re friends now—which she says is for the best.”
“You know a lot about him,” Hannah mused.
“Well, it’s hard not to. The witches in my department spend a lot of time talking about him, and they did before the courting gesture. Now, it’s like I have a spy network. I knew how his case went in Paris before he filed the reports with the Director of the DMLE.” Hermione picked up the bottle of wine and poured herself some more. “It’s non-alcoholic, but you can’t really tell.”
“It’s good,” Ryan said. “I’ve never seen elf wine—that bottle is probably worth a thousand galleons.”
Hermione grimaced. “Yes, I’m sure. I try not to think about how much money he has because I can assume he’s had to deal with witches who only think about the gold in his vault.”
* * * *
The issues in his department were more frustrating than anything else as he’d worked hard over the years to eliminate the kind of corruption that had practically sprung up overnight. After his last trip to Paris, he had everything he needed to arrest two of his own aurors, and it was disheartening, to say the least. Aurors in Britain made a decent living—more than enough to support a medium sized family on a single income. He’d grown up with money, so maybe he’d never understand the lengths some people would go to get more of it.
The door to his office opened, and he looked up. Hermione was standing there with a bag of takeaway in her hand. “Hey.”
“I floo’d hoping you’d like to have lunch, but your brother informed me you were at work. So, I brought lunch to you.”
He motioned her in and allowed himself the pleasure of giving her a once over while she was pulling off her coat. Hermione was easily one of the most attractive women he’d ever met—she had an elegant and timeless look about her. Like pearls. He thought about the strand of pearls he’d purchased and wondered if he could get away with giving them to her for Yule. He wasn’t restricted on the present front when it came to the protocols, but the last thing he wanted to do was give her the impression he was trying to buy her affection.
“Did you enjoy the cheesecake?”
“It was incredible,” Hermione admitted. “My mum wants to marry you.”
Harry laughed. “Well, in her defense, I am a great catch.” He opened the box she presented him with and groaned. “How did you…Atticus?”
“He did point out that you’d sell at least two of your siblings for a good chicken curry,” Hermione admitted.
“The twins are pains in the arse,” Harry said. “Born under a full moon and overflowing with mischief. I’d happily trade them for a chicken curry.”
“I ran into Percy Weasley in the Atrium,” Hermione said. “It was awkward, to say the least. He blames me for what happened to Ron. He didn’t say it, but it’s obvious.”
“He blames me more, and he did say it to my face,” Harry admitted. “Molly tried to force the twins to buy me out of their business. I agreed to do it to give them some peace, but they’re refusing to give into her demands. It’s a big mess actually for the entire family—more so for the fact that Molly is clinging to the idea that Ron was unjustly punished.”
“I expected some kind of communication from her actually.”
“Her husband ordered her to leave you alone and sealed the order with family magic,” Harry explained. “Because you’re right—you’d definitely be a target of her ire if she had a choice in the matter. He’s a product of her household so, in the end, she only has herself to blame for raising a son who believes himself entitled to whatever and whomever he wants.”
“He didn’t have to do that.” Hermione frowned. “Those kinds of orders are a burden on a family magic.”
“True but he told my father that you’d suffered enough abuse at the hands of his family. The rest of his children have been ordered to treat you with respect or face disownment which is why Percy was awkward. It’s probably second nature for you to be polite and greet people you know but it would be best if you didn’t when it comes to Arthur Weasley’s children—for their own sake.”
Hermione nodded. “Right.” She concentrated on her food for a bit but didn’t eat any of it. “It’s like we’re all being punished for what he did, and he honestly doesn’t care about his family. You were right, you know. He dishonored his father and wasn’t bothered at all by it being exposed. He didn’t even look concerned until it became apparent that he’d at least violated his own employment contract.”
“Did you work things out with your mother?”
“She doesn’t like the medallion and never will, but she’s agreed to keep her opinions to herself. She does appreciate that it protects me from unwanted contact, but she says that limiting my relationships with men in the past has ill-prepared me to deal with the more intimate aspects of marriage.” She bit down on her bottom lip. “Does it bother you? My lack of practical experience?”
“No, not at all.” He sat back in his chair and stared at her. “I don’t put any value on a witch’s virginity beyond the fact that it would allow me to have a magical marriage which is truly lovely. But I decided to court you before I knew you were one. I’m not a virgin, and I don’t have the right to expect it from my wife. Does that make sense?”
“Yes,” Hermione murmured. “I guess I am nervous about it in a distant sort of way. I’ve never even thought about it.”
Harry leaned in. “Wait, you mean the medallion prevents masturbation?”
Hermione blushed furiously, nodded and averted her gaze. “Yes, as I said in court. I’m immaculate.”
“That’s…” Harry exhaled. “Wow.”
“I knew going in what it would do—they spared me no details. I could and have been tempted to remove it in the past because I know that I could put it back on as long as I’m not touched intimately by a man but I was never so tempted to actually do it. Does that bother you?”
“No, as I said, I respect your choices regarding the medallion. I’m just surprised by the level of purity it requires. I’ve never researched that particular device or anything similar. My sister wears discretion ward. My father was furious, and I have to admit we were all a little stunned. It’s shameful but we counted on our social and financial power to protect her, and it was a mistake. She ended up being a target instead. Speaking of, I don’t believe your threat profile has increased due to your association with me but do be careful with your security.”
“Contrary to available evidence, I’m very capable of taking care of myself,” Hermione said. “I won’t underestimate someone again—no matter what opinion I have about their abilities or intentions.”
* * * *
Sirius Black found his oldest son in the dueling room he kept in the basement of the London manor house. Harry was wearing a pair of linen trousers and was steadily trading blows with a projected opponent from the dueling generator.
“Got a lot of energy to burn?”
Harry huffed and kicked his sparring partner in the chest. The projected wizard hit the floor with a thud and disappeared. “You could say that.” He fiddled with the tape on his hands and ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. “I’ve got two corrupt bastards on my payroll. I submitted charges to your office. The packet is probably already sitting on your desk. They’re lucky I’m not hunting them for sport.”
“I’m courting a woman who is so chaste she doesn’t even masturbate?” Harry questioned, and his father’s mouth dropped open. “Right. Did you know the Diana medallion was that restrictive? Because I didn’t. I should probably read up on the damn thing.”
“Did she witness some sort of abuse?” Sirius questioned. “Honestly, Harry, Diana medallions were forced on witches by their fathers. It was rare that the medallion was worn of their own free will, especially after the age of consent. Are you concerned?”
“Yes and no.” He went to the cooling cabinet and pulled out a bottle of water. “She wouldn’t be the first virgin I’ve slept with. I do wonder if she witnessed something or had some subconscious fear of sexual intimacy at play when she first put on the medallion. I met her parents yesterday by accident—they were at the library when I arrived to pick her up.”
“What do you think?”
“They’re interesting people—sharp, sarcastic like her. Her dad is former military, and it shows. Her mom is a true English rose. She and Hermione could pass for sisters easily.”
“Are you regretting starting the courting process?”
“No, not at all.” Harry took a long drink of water and picked up a towel from the table near the door. “I knew exactly what I was getting into and even before the trial I didn’t consider the courting protocol a guaranteed path into her bed.”
“Then what’s going on?”
“I don’t have the best track record when it comes to women,” he finally said. “I’m already stupidly invested in her, and I really wasn’t kidding about going to Rome for a decade if she told me no. I’m ridiculous over here.”
Sirius laughed. “Oh, lad.”
Harry flushed and shrugged. “I was thinking last night after I returned home that part of me was content to want her from afar. But now I’ve put myself out there in a huge way and if I crash and burn—it’s not going to be like all the times before when no one really blinked an eye when one relationship would end and another would begin.”
“Love is pretty much the most reckless thing you can with yourself,” Sirius agreed. “But the rewards are astounding, and I honestly don’t think you’ve made a mistake with this. She’s lovely. Just try not to be a git.”
“Easier said than done,” Harry said wryly and grinned when his father laughed.
The first multi-departmental meeting they were both in since they began courting had to do with the corruption in the auror department which had spread out into the DOM and the DOR. There were seven individuals in total, two from the aurors and one in her own department the other three came from the Department of Regulation. Hermione had read the brief, more disheartened than angry. She’d worked with them all and felt betrayed. She couldn’t imagine how Croaker felt to find out the Director of the DOM was a dark and corrupt bastard.
She was seated opposite of Harry at the table. He was taking notes with a phoenix feather quill, and he’d worn an air of frustration since he’d entered the room. The Chief Warlock was seated on one end of the table, and the other end was occupied with Amelia Bones. It was the first time she’d been included in such a meeting but due to the investigation, she’d gone from third in command in the DOM to second as Croaker had been made Director of the entire DOM. The report on Steven Lesley, former Director, was thorough and utterly damning.
“Miss Granger, will you have any problems taking the role of Head Unspeakable permanently?” Minister Bones questioned.
Hermione hesitated. She’d come to Britain to be a researcher, but she considered the other people in the DOM and realized that none of them were actually prepared to hit the ground running with the job. “The duties are not all that different from what I did with the ICW, Madam Bones. I’ll need a week or two to adjust my research schedule and do some rearrangement on the management of resources in the department. Mr. Lesley wasn’t inclined towards new magical innovations and as a result, the Unspeakables are a bit behind on that front compared to the Auror Division. We’re supposed to host a contingent of Americans. Their Magicorps is sending four agents which are the equivalent of the Unspeakables and Aurors combined.”
“I can take two of them,” Harry murmured as he wrote. “They’ll be here for six weeks, correct?”
“Yes, starting January 1st. We could switch out—three-week rotation so they get the full experience. It’s my understanding that the American Ministry of Magic is considering separating their law enforcement agency into different departments.”
“Ambitious since they have four hubs and forty-two branches,” Harry said and looked up from his parchment. “The rotation is fine. You can pick first—I frankly don’t like the look of any of them.”
“Nepotism appears to be a bigger problem for them than for us,” Hermione agreed. “You can have their minister’s son first. Perhaps he’ll be civilized by the time he rotates down to the DOM.”
“Or maimed for life.”
“Same difference,” Hermione said and waved her quill as she opened her journal. “You can have the witch, too.”
“Oh, come on.”
“Don’t be sexist.”
“It’s not sexism—she’s nineteen, earned three NEWTs, one of which was in Household Charms.”
Hermione smirked as she wrote. “Exactly, why should I have put with her first? I mean the whole reason she’s coming at all is she can chase you around the Ministry. Just be the best arsehole you know how to be the entire time and by the time she’s rotated to the DOM, she’ll be kind to me out of pity for my circumstances.”
“Right. That leaves you with their Head Auror, who is sixty-three going on a hundred from all reports and his grandson, who looks about twelve in the file they sent.”
“He just graduated the New York School of Magic in June,” Hermione said. “If he gets out of hand, I’ll just smack his nose with a rolled up copy of the Prophet.” She turned to the Minister. “I should be fine overall. I’m not really happy to give up a pure research position, but I’d rather do the job myself than watch someone else do it badly.”
“Right.” Bones glanced between them. “This is a pleasant change. We should’ve put an attractive woman in the position years ago.”
“That is incredibly unfair,” Harry said mildly as he wrote. “Lesley was unreasonable and difficult to work with every single minute he was awake. He actually lobbied last year to have his budget cut so he could work less and often routed cases to my department because he didn’t feel like overseeing them.” He paused. “Though, if he were attractive it would’ve made the meetings slightly more pleasant.”
“Agreed,” Shacklebolt said.
“I always thought he smelled funny—come to find out he didn’t believe in taking baths. He cleaned exclusively with charms as he felt using water was too Muggle,” Hermione said as she rearranged her parchments and focused on Harry’s father. “So, Azkaban shouldn’t be too much of a trial for him in that respect.”
“Unfortunately, we might have a hard time keeping any of them in the country much less in Azkaban,” Sirius said. “The ICW is preparing charges against all seven for the violation of several international laws regarding the trade and sale of restricted potion ingredients—among them centaur liver. Hunting centaur is an international crime against magic, and Charles Oliver has already been linked to the wholesale massacre of an entire herd in Romania. I expect to receive notification from the World Court today regarding him. The others are still being investigated. We’ve had to give the ICW portkey records and the travel records for all seven of them.”
“I’m not sure I’m on board with them ending up in Apollumi,” Croaker said. “Why should they get a luxury prison accommodation?”
“There’s nothing luxurious about Apollumi, Croaker,” Hermione murmured. She set aside her quill. “It’s true the conditions are spotless. In fact, each prisoner is housed in an entirely white room. They’re given a mattress and a toilet. Their meals are delivered three times a day by magic. They see one person, the guard on their cell block, once every twenty-four hours but he or she doesn’t speak to a prisoner unless they appear ill.
“They are monitored remotely otherwise. Prisoners in Apollumi live in complete isolation until they die or are released. Frankly, most of them go insane within a year of their sentence. In fact, less than one percent of people sentenced to Apollumi for more than a year come out of it sane enough to live a normal life. The rest end up in an ICW monitored asylum for the insane in Rome called Olympus. Their rooms at Olympus are two square meters bigger—and if they aren’t too insane, they get to interact with other crazy people.
“Oliver is probably the only one they’ll want to keep unless the others are involved in the centaur hunting,” Hermione said as she reopened her journal. “The others will probably be tried, sentenced, and returned to us for imprisonment. Only genuinely dark wizards go to Apollumi. To give you reference, while Voldemort would’ve certainly qualified to go to Apollumi—none of his followers would’ve per the standards set by the World Court in 1978.”
“You know a lot about Apollumi,” Sirius said. “Why?”
“I lobbied for its restructuring due to inhumane treatment,” Hermione said. “Punishment shouldn’t come at the expense of our own decency. I don’t agree with the Dementors in Azkaban, either. It’s torture. Muggles don’t sanction the torture of prisoners much less structure their facilities to ensure it. We don’t heal or rehabilitate convicts in the magical world so when they get out of jail—if they get out of prison—they’re often four times the threat they were going in. Then we’re forced to detain them again or in some cases they’re killed during capture. It’s not the mark of a civilized and enlightened culture.” She flushed. “My apologies, I apparently still carry around that soap box and will get up on it at the least provocation.”
Dumbledore chuckled. “It’s a thoughtful and compassionate soap box, so I believe most will forgive you for it. I do agree with you that rehabilitation has a place in our prison system, especially for those who don’t have a life sentence and will one day walk amongst us again.” He turned to Harry. “What do you think, young man?”
“I think some people get exactly what they deserve,” Harry said and sat back in his chair. “Though there are plenty in Azkaban who are getting twenty times what they deserve because of the Dementors. We should’ve turned over the management and security of Azkaban to the goblins when they offered fifty years ago. Voldemort never went near the bank during the war. I’ve always wondered how many of his own followers he would’ve successfully taken out of Azkaban if the goblins had been in charge of it.”
“You have to be a special kind of crazy to start a war with the Horde,” Hermione said.
“It’s just slightly less foolish than a land war in Asia,” Harry agreed and grinned when she laughed.
“Maybe you could draft a proposal for the Wizengamot for the goblin management of the prison.”
“Or, alternatively, you could write a proposal, and I’ll present it,” Harry countered.
“That hardly seems fair, Lord Potter.”
“Life rarely is, Miss Granger,” Harry returned dryly and laughed when she pointed her quill at him. “If you want to duel—let me know. Half a dozen people in my department are convinced you can kick my arse.”
“Oh, I could. You’d never hurt me, and I’m not above breaking your leg,” Hermione said and stacked up her parchments as his mouth dropped open. “Stop looking so shocked—any number of healers at St. Mungo’s could fix it for you.” She turned to Croaker. “You’re to deal with Cho Chang regarding my new position. If she continues to be such a harpy, I’m going to transfer her to the Department of Creature Regulation. Maybe she’ll be more comfortable among her own kind.”
Croaker sighed. “How is her behavior my problem?”
“You’re the brand new Director of the Department of Mysteries, and I shouldn’t have to put with a verbally abusive employee because she erroneously dumped the savior of the wizarding world and he hates her as a result.”
“I am averse to her presence,” Harry agreed. “But if she’s escalated to verbal abuse then you need to file a formal complaint. It’s a violation of her employment contract.”
“If I filed a report every time a pure-blood in this building called me a mudblood, we’d have to hold a job fair to replace twenty percent of the people who work here,” Hermione informed him. “It’s only gotten worse since the trial which is one reason why I tolerated his behavior for months. It was easier than dealing with the fall-out. Penelope told me this morning that it’s gotten worse for others in the building, too, because of me. Because I got uppity and reported a pure-blood for bad behavior.”
Amelia Bones sighed. “This has to stop, across the board. I’m sure it’s no better for half-bloods in the building if we ignore Potter’s circumstances. He has a history with blood purists, and they leave him alone as a result. Options?”
“Make the word mudblood taboo and put a punitive stinging curse in the ward matrix for the building,” Harry suggested and grinned when Bones just nodded thoughtfully. “I was kidding, but I’m totally on board with implementation.”
“I’m not,” Hermione said and sighed at the looks of shock she received. “Just how many times do you think a pure-blood would have to be punished by the wards before they followed a Muggle-born employee out of this building and avenged themselves? As much as I would enjoy it in the short-term, the benefits would be shallow and ultimately cause resentment.”
“Okay, then the only other option is an education campaign,” Harry said. “Implement classes at Hogwarts regarding genetics and magical potential. We’d probably have to hire a professor from another country to teach it. We gather reading materials relating to the nature of magic. Then make the best of the lot required reading for every Ministry employee no matter their position. It won’t eradicate the issue, but if approached in the right manner it could make the sort of behavior currently happening in the Ministry extremely unpopular and unacceptable. They’ll learn to keep their mouths shut to avoid being socially ostracized for not being enlightened.” He paused. “Or, I could go through each department and force every blood purist in the building onto the dueling platform with me.”
Dumbledore snorted then burst out laughing.
* * * *
Hermione wasn’t all that surprised when twenty books appeared on her desk with a note from Minister Bones asking for her input on additions to the Employee Education Program she created shortly after their meeting. She’d already read four of them so she made notes for each of those and tucked them inside each book and sent them to Harry, who was next on the reading list.
Cho Chang had taken the changes in the department about as well as Hermione had expected and had thrown a huge fit in the middle of the conference room when it had been announced. Croaker had been startled by the behavior as she’d never acted out in front of him before—she’d saved that for her co-workers. He’d been forced to reprimand and suspend her for a week. In the week she was gone from work, she filed two complaints with the Office of the Minister—sighting unfair employment practices for promoting Hermione over someone with more work experience in the department. Both complaints had been rejected since Bones had been responsible for Hermione’s promotion.
She and Harry had lunch every day—though they rarely were able to leave the building. He often ended up in her office since it was more private than his own and the two times she’d come up to his during working hours it had been like eating on stage because his office was full of windows. Due to his caseload, there had been no evening dates, but she found the lunch dates had really helped her settle into the courtship. She’d also learned a lot about him—good and bad. They had a few very different opinions regarding politics, but that was to be expected as he’d been raised by a peer and his politics had been shaped by personal experience in the war. He was pro-death penalty, and she was vehemently opposed.
Fortunately, their disagreements were more a huffy exchange of ideas rather than a full blown argument. He was a thoughtful debater, and he listened to her point of view no matter how offensive he found it. She tried to do the same though she felt he was better at it than she was. When she’d expressed that he’d said he had a lot of practice listening to disagreeable shite in the Wizengamot.
“Ah, you’re always working.”
Hermione looked up from the schedule she was filling out and found Lady Isobel Black standing in her doorway. Harry’s step-mother was indeed a beautiful woman and the one or two times she’d seen them interact she knew he adored her and while he called her mother instead of mum it wasn’t said with anything less respect and love.
“Isobel, as I’ve told you twice,” she pulled a hat off her blonde head as she came into the room. “I’m shopping for a new dress, and you’re coming with me.”
“Oh, but…” She glanced around her desk.
“You’ve worked seventy-two hours this week, I asked Croaker.”
Hermione blushed. With Harry so busy at work she hadn’t had much to do in the evenings so she’d worked instead. “I have a new position.”
“I heard. Congratulations and all that rot. Come, get your cloak. I have an appointment for us both in Paris. Our portkey activates in twenty minutes.”
“An appointment with who?” Hermione questioned.
“Oh.” Hermione stood up and went for her cloak. “Seriously? Head to toe or just a dress?”
Isobel grinned. “Head to toe, dear.”
* * * *
“Your wife stole my witch and took her to Paris,” Harry said dryly from his place in his father’s doorway.
Sirius looked up. “You picked her out.”
“I can’t say I regret it but come on—it’s Friday night, and I spent the last six hours clearing off my desk so I could leave on time for once.” Harry came into the office and threw himself into a chair in front of his father’s desk. “What are you doing?”
“I’ve finished the statement of charges against Charles Oliver. He admitted during questioning that he was the one that cursed you in the back, and he intended on killing you so he’s facing attempted murder charges as well as everything you’ve submitted. The ICW isn’t happy because an attempted murder charge against a peer trumps their charges regarding the centaurs.”
“So we try him for his crimes here, sentence him then give him to the ICW for trial. They can throw him in their prison for whatever term they decide then they can send him back to Britain so he can spend his golden years in Azkaban instead of their mental health facility.” Harry shrugged.
“I’ll let them know that’s an option—it’s a good one. It allows them to prosecute their case and keeps him in custody for life. He’s a dangerous arsehole and has no business among us. If they decide to kill them, then I won’t protest it but the World Court rarely hands down a death sentence, and he certainly deserves it. He admitted to killing over a hundred centaur.”
Harry sighed. “And an attempted murder charge trumps that?”
“Even international law considers the centaur a creature,” Sirius reminded. “Right or wrong this is the system we have to work in. He’ll be punished for his crimes against them, Harry, one way or another. I won’t let him get away with it.”
* * * *
“So, I think we’re in a bit of trouble,” Isobel said as they stopped in front of a book shop Hermione had been steadily guiding her towards since they’d left the dressmaker.
“I noticed them,” Hermione murmured as she looped her arm through the Countess of Blackmoor’s. “I’m pretty sure they followed us from the bank. We can go into the book shop and use the floo to call the French aurors.”
“If they followed us from the bank then they waited outside the dress shop for three hours,” Isobel said and took a deep breath. “That’s a level of commitment that implies that they have a serious plan.”
“You purchased the portkey from the bank in London?”
“No, Sirius made it for me, but he would’ve recorded the creation with the portkey office in the Ministry.”
“Then they’re probably British,” Hermione said as she urged the older woman into the bookstore. “Fortunately, we’re not on unfamiliar ground.” She pulled the door shut behind her and locked it with a flick of a dead bolt. “Mr. Bertrand!”
“Hermione Granger,” Louis Bertrand said with a wide grin as he stood from the counter in the back of the bookstore. “How’s my favorite young mind?”
“A bit distressed,” Hermione said. “Can you activate your wards? We have a couple of wizards following us, and it’s concerning. This is Lady Isobel Black, the Countess of Blackmoor.”
Bertrand glanced between them, drew his wand, and left his counter. He went to the front of the shop, activated a series of runes on the door and glanced out the window. “Two men. One in a badly tailored brown suit?”
“Yes,” Hermione agreed. “He stands out like a sore thumb in this district.”
“Well, you ladies go back to my office, and I’ll call the aurors.” Bertrand shooed them back into his office.
Once the door was closed, Isobel pulled a small compact mirror from her purse and opened it. “Sirius Black.” Her husband’s face appeared after a few seconds.
“Hello, beautiful. Harry’s a right mess because you made off with his witch.”
Isobel smiled. “He should’ve asked first.” She took a deep breath. “I’d like you to promise not to have a fit.”
Sirius frowned and in the background she heard her oldest son ask what was going on. “Is there a problem?”
“Two wizards followed us from the bank, lurked outside the dress shop for three hours, then followed us for nearly twenty minutes through the magical district before we took refuge in a bookstore. Hermione knows the owner and he’s launched his wards. We’re in a shop called Bertrand’s.”
“Louis Bertrand?” Harry asked in the background.
“Yes, Louis Bertrand,” Isobel confirmed. “He’s calling the French aurors.”
“Why haven’t you activated your emergency portkey?” Sirius demanded.
“Because it goes to one place and Hermione couldn’t come with me,” Isobel reminded tartly. “She’s not been added to our wards.”
“Right, I should’ve done that before you two went off to Paris,” Sirius sighed. “Granger?”
Hermione took the mirror when Isobel offered. “Lord Black?”
“How secure is your location? How well do you know this Bertrand?”
“He’s my mentor for both of my masteries,” Hermione said. “In fact, he prolonged his retirement from the ICW as a war mage just to teach me. We’re in very good hands, sir. I wouldn’t be casual or foolish with your wife’s safety. We’re both of the belief these two men followed us from Britain.”
“Right.” Sirius frowned. “Harry, go to the portkey office and see who accessed my records. I filed your mother’s portkey creation about an hour after I made it this morning.”
“They’re going to stay in that bookstore, right?”
“Of course, Harry, we’re behind war wards,” Hermione said. “Louis will kill them both if they breach his wards. He’s utterly intolerant of such rudeness.”
* * * *
Two hours later, Harry found himself the guest of the Département Magique de la Police as they had two British citizens in custody. He was kind of stunned at who they turned out to be. Harry sat down in front of the pair of them and opened the file that his French counterpart had given him.
“Before we get started, I should tell you that stalking a woman in France is a violation of three different laws. Because you’re both employees of the British Ministry of Magic and failed to declare yourselves as such with the bank upon your arrival—the DPM is preparing ten different charges against each of you for your unseemly behavior.” He focused on the first of them. “Give me a stellar reason, Mr. Smith, for stalking and upsetting my mother.”
“I wasn’t…” Zacharias Smith flushed and closed his mouth.
“Not my mother then?” Harry questioned. “Then you’d best have the perfect excuse for stalking Miss Granger else we’ll be meeting on a dueling platform, and you’ll leave it in a body bag. Your unseemly attention is a violation of the courting protocols.”
“It wasn’t personal interest,” Smith exclaimed in disgust. “She’s a Muggle-born for fuck’s sake. You might not have a problem with that, Potter, but I do. Her employment at the Ministry is an embarrassment, and she’s taken a job that plenty of pure-bloods are more than qualified to have. She’s been a problem since her arrival—throwing around her education and acting like she’s better than the rest of us. Everyone knows she’s responsible for that new program that Bones is forcing on us.”
“That was my idea actually,” Harry said. “The thing is that I’m the one who’s really embarrassed to work with a bunch of ignorant, backward twats so I’m trying to educate you lot for my own benefit. What was your purpose here?”
Smith shrugged. “Just thought we’d give her a scare—she needs to be reminded that she’s inferior.”
“And yet, you and Flint are the ones in custody,” Harry said and stood.
“You aren’t going to question me?” Marcus Flint said with a frown.
“No, because you’re an idiot. I’m surprised on a regular basis that you can form sentences. I wasn’t, however, at all surprised to learn that your parents were brother and sister. I don’t know how you got a job in Creature Regulation when you obviously have mountain troll blood yourself.” He closed the file and picked it up as the Head Auror for the DPM entered the room. “You can keep them, Head Auror Arnou.”
“You realize once we question them that they’ll be automatically sentenced to ten years each for violating the treaty between our two countries. Are you sure you don’t wish to claim diplomatic immunity for them?”
“The two women they stalked and were planning on attacking in some fashion happen to be my mother and, if I’m very lucky, my future wife. You can put these two under your prison if you desire.” Harry handed the man the file. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, if I don’t bring my mother home shortly my father will come here, and these two will beg you for a prison sentence.”
* * * *
Hermione put her shopping bag down in a chair next to her front door and turned to Harry. “I’m so sorry.”
“You have nothing to apologize for,” Harry murmured.
“Your mother could’ve been hurt or killed because of me,” Hermione snapped.
“Not true—because of Smith and Flint. And my mother is more than capable of defending herself. She was Head Auror for ten years before she finally left that position due to the birth of the twins. She fought in the war—often at my father’s side or my own and killed more than her share of Death Eaters in the end. She wears her title well and conducts herself fit for her station but don’t mistake her for one of those simpering helpless witches most of my peers are married to.”
Hermione looked away from him and took a deep breath. “I think returning to Britain might have been a mistake.” She flinched at his sharp exhale. “I’d honestly forgotten how terrible and backward people are here. Abroad, no one even bothered to take a guess at my blood status. I grew comfortable with being a witch and being respected for my abilities rather than actively resented for them.”
He took her hand and pulled her close. Hermione allowed herself the luxury of breathing against the side of his neck, her lips almost touching his skin. They fit together perfectly and being near him made her want things she’d never wanted before—not even from the man she’d agreed to marry.
“I want you,” he murmured against her hair. “But if you leave Britain, Hermione, I can’t follow you. I have a duty here that transcends any personal desires. If you’re not going to be happy here, then you owe it to yourself to go and find that happiness elsewhere.”
Her fingers curled into his shirt, and she shifted closer. “Harry.” She turned her head slightly so that her nose brushed against the line of his jaw. It felt outrageously intimate, and she shuddered slightly. “I don’t want to leave you.”
“Don’t make the choice mine because I am a selfish man,” Harry said.
“I feel like I’m on the edge and that any moment I could fall.”
He inhaled against her hair. “I’ll catch you.”
“I’m not afraid of loving you.”
“You’d be one of a few that can say that honestly,” Harry murmured. “Do you fear my touch?”
“My mouth on yours?”
“No.” She let her head rest on his shoulder.
“My body on yours? In yours?”
She shuddered. “Harry, are you trying to tempt me?”
“Not at all.” He rubbed against the small of her back. “I just…I don’t know how to say it.”
“Don’t try to make it more or less than what it is,” she suggested.
“I don’t normally have a problem discerning a woman’s physical interest in me,” Harry admitted. “You’re a mystery and all the moves I’d usually make are off the table.”
“That doesn’t sound like a complaint like it normally does,” Hermione murmured.
“Because it’s not a complaint. I’m just out of depth here, and I’ve come to realize that I might have been something of womanizer which is disconcerting.”
Hermione laughed and pulled back from him so she could see his face. “You’re not a womanizer. Trust me if that were the case I would’ve already been told. In fact, the first thing I heard about you was that you were unlucky in love.”
“A nice way of saying that I can’t keep a witch because I’m famous and in a public service job. The daughters of my peers might find my title and money suitable, but my choice of careers is crass by their estimation.”
“Well, they’re idiots anyway,” Hermione said and grinned when he laughed. “I’ve never been more tempted by a wizard than I am you.” She touched the medallion and took a deep breath. “Tea?”
“Tea sounds lovely,” Harry agreed, and they parted. He followed her into the kitchen and took a seat at the table when she waved a hand toward it. “Tell me about Marc Corey.”
The change of subject to her former fiancé was a bit startling, but she adjusted. “He’s an American, Muggle-born as I stated already and he worked in R&D with me at the ICW. He’s funny, articulate, and well-read. We were friends before things took a romantic turn. The relationship was comfortable, and I trusted him. At first, it seemed like we were perfect for each other. What I felt for him was sweet but not particularly passionate. In retrospect, that is a terrible thing to admit. We dated for several months and one night he offered me a pretty little ring that looked perfect on my finger, and I agreed to marry him.”
“Maybe I put too much pressure on him, or just the idea of meeting my expectations was more than he could take. When he ordered me to take off the medallion, it was like he was just desperate to end it. Desperate to destroy the barrier the medallion created between us.”
“It’s not a barrier,” Harry said. “At least, I don’t see it as some sort of wall between us. It merely removes temptation. It’s taken sex off the table which isn’t the hardship some men make it out to be. I’ve used sex in the past to create intimate connections with women—connections that proved to be easily broken. I invested myself sexually first and let emotional investment come after. It often didn’t.”
Hermione brought the teapot to the table and retrieved a tin of biscuits. She sat down as he poured the tea. “My parents were so happy when I came back to Britain. They would be hurt and disappointed if I went back to Rome.”
“But you want to go?”
“No,” Hermione said and shook her head. “I might have been treated well professionally in Rome, but I was lonely. I missed my parents, and I missed the rain. Even tea wasn’t the same. And you might play a small part.”
“I gratified to hear that,” Harry said. He plucked a biscuit from the tin. “My dad isn’t upset with you. My mother is always getting herself into terrible situations. She was kidnapped three years ago.”
“I heard—you and Lord Black tore down the man’s house to get to her.”
“He should’ve been reasonable,” Harry said. “Honestly, we asked him very politely to surrender and return her post haste. He declined, and he foolishly had his wards rooted in the foundation of his house. And it disintegrated rather than fell down. We didn’t want to risk hurting her with debris.”
Hermione shook her head. “Still, I feel responsible for endangering her. Odd thing, though, Smith asked me out during my first month at the Ministry.”
“More curious than odd since he told me that he wasn’t interested in you personally.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’s not interested in me at all,” Hermione said. “At least not in a genuine romantic way. He implied that I would make a suitable mistress.”
“What an arsehole,” Harry muttered.
“Oh, he wasn’t the only one,” Hermione laughed when Harry scowled. “Theo Nott told me the same thing. It appears that his marriage isn’t quite as fulfilling as everyone believes. I offered to castrate him, and he went away.”
“His wife might appreciate your generous offer,” Harry said. “He’s pretty much a waste of magic. They had an arranged marriage—his family money and her good name.”
“That’s terrible,” Hermione grabbed another chocolate biscuit. “But I imagine that happens a lot in Britain. Even if the contracts are unpopular—people are pressed together by their parents and social obligations.”
“Yes, I see it all the time,” Harry murmured. “The last domestic call we had was a pair of newlyweds. Her parents kept saying how they were just perfect for each other, and they couldn’t understand how everything went wrong. But it didn’t matter, really, because their daughter was dead and her perfect husband went to prison for it. His solicitor argued in court that it was just marital discipline that got out of hand.”
“Well, of course, they were in denial. Otherwise, they’d have to admit that their choice led to their daughter’s murder,” Hermione said.
Nearly an hour later, Harry found himself at the door of her flat. He’d never wanted to kiss a woman more in his life, but there was no frustration just a little buzz of excitement because he felt like one day he would get to kiss her. Hermione came close for a hug before he could, and he inhaled deeply against her jasmine-scented skin.
“I’m not afraid of loving you, either,” he murmured and trailed his fingers through her unbound hair.
The first formal party of the Yule season happened at Malfoy Manor and Hermione found herself on Harry’s arm for the event. Neither one of them wanted to be there, but they had a strategy in place to get through the evening without dying of boredom or insulting someone on a criminal level. She’d learned that Narcissa Malfoy was Lord Black’s cousin and that Lucius Malfoy had worked as a spy during the war. An undertaking that had nearly killed him and cost him his left leg though she’d have never known it to look at him. He was currently dancing with his wife, and his movement was elegant, practiced.
Harry had reluctantly abandoned her in Ginevra Malfoy’s company when his mother had requested a dance. The redhead was quite heavy with child and looked exhausted despite her cheerful disposition.
“I was surprised to hear about the courting gesture.”
Hermione focused on Ginevra—there was nothing calculated in her expression. “I was, too.”
Mrs. Malfoy laughed. “Harry’s always made his own way—even when he was very young.”
“The first Earl of Gryffindor sorted into Ravenclaw,” Hermione murmured. She glanced at Harry—he was a graceful dancer. Isobel Black was laughing.
“I don’t blame you for what happened with Ron,” Ginevra blurted out. “His behavior was appalling, and he deserved what he got. My mother has gone off the deep end, but we’ve got her in counseling. I can’t say it will help because she’s always been a bit mentally off. Probably since the first blood war when she lost her older brothers.”
“War damages people,” Hermione agreed. “I don’t hold your mother responsible for Ron’s behavior. She blames me, I guess.”
“She does,” Ginevra confirmed. “But my dad is handling that situation the best he can. Ron has done a lot of damage to our family, but she doesn’t or maybe can’t see it that way. I don’t know what it would take to make her see reason. It honestly doesn’t help that Harry’s so interested in you.”
“Because she wanted you to marry Harry Potter.”
“Yes, in fact, she tried…” She sighed. “As a child, she practically spoon fed me stories about the Boy-Who-Lived. I remember being fourteen and her telling me how much I looked like Lily Potter.” She rolled her eyes. “Honestly, what man would want to shag a woman who looks like his mother?”
Hermione laughed briefly and took a sip of her wine. “A pervy one?”
Ginevra burst out laughing just as her husband joined them.
“What has you so amused?” Draco asked.
“Something naughty,” she admitted and leaned into him. “My feet hurt. Take me away from this terrible party.”
Draco grinned and buffed a kiss against her temple. “Let’s find you a place to sit.”
The music changed, and Harry slipped through the crowd to join them. He slid an arm around her waist and sighed. “I’ve danced with my mother and with Narcissa. I believe we can escape at this point.”
“Really? Because I see Lord Savage headed straight this way.”
Harry frowned. “He’s been trying to talk to me all night. The inappropriate old git.”
“What’s he on about?” Draco questioned.
“Introducing me to his granddaughter who will be finishing Hogwarts in May.” Harry sighed. “She looks like a child.”
“She’s at least seventeen,” Hermione said with a grin. She took another sip of wine. “The only way he’d be in violation of the courting protocols would be if he actually offered you a contract, right?”
“Right,” Harry agreed.
“Lord Potter,” Savage said brightly.
Harry frowned. “Lord Savage.”
“Please excuse us,” Draco said with a grin towards Harry. “My wife needs to sit.”
Harry sighed as they were abandoned and shifted closer to Hermione.
“I was hoping you’d come to lunch on Sunday, Lord Potter. I’d like to introduce you to a few members of my family while they’re in town.”
“With apologies, Lord Savage, I’ll be in Geneva on Sunday as I’ll be testifying in the World Court on Monday. I’ll be gone most of the week, and once I return, I’ll be traveling to Black Island with my family.” He glanced towards Hermione. “You’ve met Miss Granger, have you not?”
Savage’s smile tightened. “Yes, of course. We were introduced earlier in the evening. I find myself continuously surprised by your…reluctance to do what is expected of you, Lord Potter.”
“Funny, I spend most of my time irritated by the fact that people I barely know seem to think they have the right to make decisions for me. My own father hasn’t attempted to make a decision for me since the day I killed Voldemort.” His gaze narrowed. “As he realized I’d earned the right to live my own life. Perhaps you don’t agree.”
Savage flushed. “Does it ever cross your mind, young man, that there are plenty of people in Britain who wouldn’t thank you for killing their Dark Lord?”
“Yes, of course, it has. I make a hobby of arresting them.” He leaned forward slightly. “Should I put you on that list?”
Hermione sighed when Savage stormed away. “Well, at least he won’t be throwing his granddaughter at you.”
“Between you and me, he’s already on that list,” Harry confided as he guided her toward the exit. “He’s a dark bastard with a history of suspect behavior. I’m pretty sure his conclave regularly performs dark arts, but we’ve been unable to locate his ritual space. He’s probably secluded it under his bloody house which is protected by the noble protocols unless I can charge him with a crime of some sort. He likes to invite me to his house to rub my nose in it, really, because I couldn’t use any evidence I gathered there during a visit to arrest him since the search would be illegal no matter what I saw.”
“Peers get away with a lot in Britain.”
“Including murder on more than one occasion,” Harry agreed. “One reason why people are so put out with me and my career is because I’ve exposed a lot of that privilege and damaged their ability to hide behind the protocols. The last person who tried to hide behind the protocols to protect them from the law—I spent six months investigating. I eventually arrested him for tax evasion of all things then I was able to basically destroy him. He’s serving a twenty-year stint in Azkaban for criminal assault, larceny, and the ritual sacrifice of a house elf.”
“That sorry git,” Hermione muttered as Harry helped her put her cloak on. “Did you want help ruining Savage? I could add him to my research schedule.”
Harry laughed. “Discreetly.”
* * * *
Harry had been so ready to leave Geneva by the end of his testimony that he’d stepped out of the World Court building, walked straight to the bank, and took a group portkey. He hated them because he preferred to travel alone but he was done with Switzerland for the time being. He’d gone home to shower then had trotted off to the Ministry to see her. He wasn’t due to work until the next day so he didn’t bother to go up to his own department. The main floor of the DOM was empty when the lift doors opened, but he followed the sound of conversation all the way to Hermione’s new office.
The door was opened so he stopped just short of entering and cleared his throat. Penelope Clearwater shot right up out of her chair and with a blush mumbled something and left. Hermione blew air out between her teeth.
“How do you look like that in jeans and a jumper?”
Harry laughed and came into the room. He pulled the door shut behind him. “Good genetics? Where is everyone?”
“Probably being interviewed by the DMLE,” Hermione admitted. “They finished with Penny and me already.”
“What happened?” Harry asked.
“Cho Chang.” Hermine ran a hand through her hair which wasn’t up in the careful little bun she always wore at work. “She threw a big fit about case assignments and drew her wand on me.”
“Are you okay?” Harry questioned in shock.
“Yes, of course, but you might as well know she lost her mind and tried to crucio me.”
Harry’s mouth dropped open. “Pardon me?”
“Right. The curse hit me but she’d apparently never cast it before, and it failed. I’ve already been checked over by three different healers and your father.” She stood up from her desk. “Croaker stunned her into a wall and broke her arm which had to be fixed before she could be questioned. She screamed at me that I’d ruined everything.” She motioned towards her chair. “Sit, please.”
Harry frowned but walked around her desk and slid into her chair. He huffed in surprise when she crawled into his lap and buried her face against his neck. “Pretty scary?”
“Very,” Hermione admitted. “I’ve never had anyone try to curse me like that. Before you read the transcripts of my interview, I’d like to tell you something else.”
“Okay, I’m listening,” Harry said.
“So, on Monday, Cho cornered me in the ladies room of all places and told me I should end our courtship because I had no hope of making a man like you happy. She said I was stupid to even say yes to begin with and that the novelty of a virgin bride would wear off then I’d just be one of those women stuck in a marriage with a wizard who couldn’t be bothered to be faithful.”
“I hope you didn’t take her seriously.”
“No, I…I told her off. Then the case she was working on wrapped up yesterday so in an act of genuinely petty revenge I assigned her to a research trip to Bulgaria.”
Harry snorted. “Hermione.”
“I know, but she was terrible to me. I was tired of looking at her smug, stupid face so I thought—I’ll just send her disagreeable bum to Bulgaria for six months. As soon as I finished the case assignment announcements, she flipped out. She started screaming at me that I’d ruined her plans and that I was evil and that she hated me. Then she drew her wand and tried to crucio me. If she had an ounce of magical talent, she would have succeeded because we were all too shocked by her outburst to even respond until after the curse had already hit. It felt like a stinging curse more than anything else. She’s still at St. Mungo’s as far as I know.”
“Did she say anything else?”
“She said you were demanding sexually and that I had no hope of keeping you satisfied in bed.” Hermione blushed furiously and looked down at her hands.
“First and foremost, she and I had a brief entirely sexual affair when I was seventeen. I was basically a walking erection, and all we had in common was sex. I’m not proud of that relationship. I had others that were similar, I’m not proud of those either but I learned along the way to be a lover and not a greedy boy who finds getting into a woman’s knickers a challenge. Additionally, I’ve never once been unfaithful to a partner. It’s just not the kind of man my father raised me to be.” He sighed. “All of that’s in your bloody interview, isn’t it?”
Hermione laughed. “Yes, I’m sorry.”
“Not your fault.” He shifted her on his lap and sat back a bit in the chair. “The whole thing is kind of weird actually. I’d have thought her too smart to throw out an Unforgivable. Successful or not she’s going to Azkaban for life.”
“I agree that it seemed completely outside of her normal behavior. I’ve suggested she be checked for curses or behavioral modification potions,” Hermione said. “I like this—sitting in your lap.”
“I don’t hate it,” Harry admitted and grinned when she laughed. “While I was away, I read a book on the Diana medallion.”
She focused on him. “Why?”
“Because you’ve worn it for more than a decade and I was curious about it,” Harry admitted. “It had the power to wake you up from a point-blank stunner. I find that particular ability fascinating, and I’m curious about how that sort of magic might be used to protect and defend my aurors in the field.”
“I’ll look into it,” Hermione said. “Because you’re right—that would be a good thing for our field personnel. Did you have any questions?”
“Mostly I was curious about the freedom I’m given in touching you.”
“It depends on me a lot if I’m conscious to determine whether or not I’m in a dangerous situation,” Hermione admitted. “There are a series of intent charms embedded in it that can act as a warning for me. For instance, it warms up when I’m in the same room with you. It has since we were introduced.”
She grinned. “It’s just telling me that you find me attractive.”
Harry huffed. “Handy.”
“But also, it’s a gentle warmth, so I know you’d never hurt me. It vibrated every time I got near Ron Weasley.”
“Because he was dangerous to you.”
“Yes. I’m really glad that the functions of the medallion weren’t brought up during his hearing because it would’ve caused me more grief if wizards knew I could walk into a room and pick out the ones capable of hurting me.”
Harry frowned. “Who else?”
Hermione flushed. “Harry.”
“Hey, just…” He sighed. “I won’t go off half-cocked, but if there are men that I work with capable of rape or beating a woman, I’d really like to know.”
“No one in the auror department that I’ve encountered gives me that kind of warning. Percy Weasley didn’t use to set it off but now every single time I pass by him the medallion hums with irritation. He definitely blames me for his brother’s downfall and the way his entire family has been treated because of it.”
“They should’ve realized he was a dark bastard before he did so much damage,” Harry said. “None of that is your fault, and I’ve already had two private complaints filed about Ron that have nothing to do with you. He’s guilty of basically blackmailing at least one witch in the Ministry into having sex with him. I expect there to be more.”
The door to her office swung open, and Neville stared at them hard. “Right. Chang was placed under the Imperius sometime in the last twenty-four hours. We’re checking all Ministry personnel for the spell. Both of you haul arse upstairs for testing. If you resist, I’ll stun you both silly.”
“I think he means it,” Hermione said conversationally.
“He’s always very serious about stunning people,” Harry agreed.
* * * *
After they had been checked, Harry took her home and after a thorough inspection of her security reluctantly left her to check in with his family. Hermione wandered around her flat after a long shower, mulling over what had happened with Cho. The woman’s hostility towards her wasn’t manufactured, but someone had used it to their advantage. In finding someone who already hated her, it was easy for the culprit to manipulate Chang into attacking her. She was fortunate that the other witch’s personality went towards cruelty rather than a final solution or she’d be dead. She doubted that Chang would’ve failed with a Killing Curse as those didn’t require half the intent or skill that the crucio did.
She knew the Auror Department would investigate heavily to figure who cursed Chang and why—two Unforgivables lay at the feet of the person who directed Chang’s movements, and that would get the attention of the ICW if not investigated properly. She trusted Harry’s people to get it right, but she couldn’t help the way her mind raced around the problem and the looming threat. She doubted that whoever did it would be content to accept Chang’s failure. If it had been a failure—maybe torture had been the end goal rather than her actual death. She was sure that the DMLE would figure that out soon enough.
A knock on her door jerked her free of her thoughts, and she walked to it. A check revealed Lord Longbottom on the other side of her door. She knew him barely despite the fact that he was Harry’s godbrother. They’d been given a lot of leeway on socializing with family and friends during the beginning of their courtship. She opened the door.
“Neville, please. May I come in?”
“Yes, of course,” Hermione stepped back and let him enter. “Has there been a development?”
“Yes, and I needed to ask you a few more questions. As you know, the Head Auror has stepped back from the situation to avoid any appearance of impropriety, but I did just finish interviewing him, again, and he suggested that I ask you something in particular.”
“Okay,” Hermione said and motioned him to sit. “Would you like some tea?”
“No, but thank you.” Neville sat down. “I’ll be blunt as I know that is your preference—Cho Chang was directed to destroy you, and we can thank her nature for the route she took. The person who cast the Imperius on her wasn’t fully in control of her and as a result, she did have some free will in the situation. Enough free will to prefer torturing you over killing you, it seems. She won’t be charged due to her own cursed state, but she has been transferred permanently out of the DOM. I’m unsure where she’ll land on the job front as they were still discussing that when I left to speak with Harry.”
“Okay. It seems like she’s being punished for being cursed, though.”
“She’s being removed from the DOM for the content of her interviews while the curse was suppressed. Croaker says he won’t allow her to work in his department, and he’ll probably be questioning all of his people shortly to do some in-house cleaning on that front. As to why I’m here, specifically, I need a list of people in the Ministry who make you uncomfortable.”
“Uncomfortable,” Hermione repeated. “In what way?”
“Wizards you’ve rejected, witches who’ve expressed negative opinions about your job placement or your social life. More to the point, Miss Granger, give me a list of people you’d never want to be alone within a room.”
“What will you do with this list?”
“I’ll investigate them very quietly. No one will know where the list has come from. I’ll be treating you in this part of the investigation as a confidential informant.”
Hermione took a deep breath. “Some of them would just be…men who have what I consider an inappropriate sexual interest in me.”
“Okay, let’s break it down. List the threats first.”
“Theo Nott, Percy Weasley, and Michael Corner.” She bit down on her lip when Neville’s eyes went wide at the mention of a fellow auror. Hermione touched her medallion. “Percy blames me for his brother’s circumstances. I overheard him say to one of his friends that I was a frigid mudblood who needed to be taught her place.”
Neville made a note. “Nott?”
“I feel like I’m only safe from his heavy-handed passes because I’m wearing the medallion. I was careful to never let him get close to me before it became known I was wearing it. A few days after the trial, we shared a lift, and he told me that I shouldn’t depend on a trinket to keep me safe. He offered to be my benefactor and said that he doubted Harry was serious about the courting offer. He hasn’t even looked in my direction since Harry made his overture.”
She could tell he was struggling to keep his face neutral. “He’s never spoken to me directly but he watches me, and I’m uncomfortable around him.”
Neville nodded. “My grandmother wore a Diana medallion until she married.”
Hermione relaxed slightly. “She told you how it works.”
“Right, well, the medallion tells me that Michael Corner finds me attractive but it doesn’t feel exactly violent. It’s just intense, and I’m profoundly uncomfortable around him.”
“And Corner’s attention is unwelcome.”
“Very,” Hermione admitted. “I don’t know why I consider him a threat, but it might boil down to my own inexperience and his…” She blushed and averted her gaze.
“Lust?” Neville questioned. “His intent is lustful?”
Hermione exhaled sharply and nodded. “Just…don’t write that down. I don’t know if Harry is going to see your list.”
“He’s not involved in the case, but he will have access to the file at all times. Harry takes his job very seriously and is very detail oriented on the supervision front.” Neville sighed. “But he’s already got a problem with Corner because of what happened in court. Corner spent a week on desk duty with Boot, and they haven’t been trusted with any significant cases since. I won’t put his name down at all, but I’ll investigate him personally. If I consider his interest in you a problem, I’ll warn him off personally. But you’re beautiful so men are going to find you attractive and that won’t change no matter your relationship status.”
“Admiration feels different than frank sexual interest,” Hermione admitted. “My medallion’s a little warm right now, so I know you find me attractive, but it’s a distant sort of thing.”
“Well, I’m married,” Neville pointed out.
Hermione laughed. “You’d be surprised how often that isn’t an issue at all for some wizards. Okay, so back to your list. As far as people I don’t trust—I’d have put Cho Chang on that list even before she cursed me because she’s been horrid towards me since I was hired and even more so after Harry’s personal interest in me became known. I don’t make female friends easily and never have—that being said, Lisa Turpin and Su Li both of whom work in the DOM don’t appear to like me, and I avoid their company. I’m friendly with the rest of the department—Penelope Clearwater and Morag McDougal are my closest work associates.
“Demelza Robins—I had an altercation with her at Hogwarts, and she avoids me now. Victoria Frobisher was in Gryffindor, and she ignored me while I was at Hogwarts. Faye Dunbar was a former dorm mate. She avoids me as well, but I don’t think she dislikes me.”
“Maybe, like many of us, she’s embarrassed that she stood by nothing while you were nearly killed. You downplayed what happened on the stairs in court, Miss Granger. You fell down two flights of stairs, and only a timely shifting of the stairs prevented you from breaking your neck. After you were gone, McGonagall never let us forget you, you know. I remember once in sixth year Transfiguration, she asked a question not a single person in the class could answer. She snidely told us that she imagined you’d have the answer if you were there.”
Hermione blushed. “I didn’t…I didn’t know that.”
“We deserved it. We certainly didn’t have the right to forget about it and because Ron never confessed what he’d done—Gryffindor was never once in the running for the house cup the entire seven years you’d have been there. The last day of school every year, she asked the person to confess and when he didn’t—she took five hundred points from the house.”
“No wonder so many of you resent me,” Hermione said pensively.
“Oh, it’s not resentment. It’s mortification,” Neville admitted. “Merlin, when it was announced internationally that you’d taken home ten OWLs—Dumbledore told the whole school and every single Ravenclaw stopped talking to Gryffindor. They even forfeited their quidditch games against Gryffindor to avoid us for all of sixth year.”
“Harry’s never mentioned this stuff.”
“Well, it’s…our shame and not your problem,” Neville said.
“Headmaster Dumbledore sent me yearly letters,” Hermione said. “He always began with an apology then congratulated me on my academic accomplishments. He arranged my interview with the ICW and my introduction to Louis Bertrand—Dumbledore said we were kindred spirits, and he felt that Louis would be the perfect mentor for me. He was right.” She cleared her throat. “I don’t consider any of those witches a threat, but I’m probably not a good judge as I wouldn’t have considered Cho a genuine physical threat before today. Lavender Brown isn’t speaking to me—she hasn’t since the trial.”
“She fancies herself in love with Ron Weasley—they were a couple at Hogwarts, and she thought he’d marry her. He didn’t, and he refused to claim the child she had despite the fact that a paternity spell proved the boy was his. Arthur Weasley had to claim the child himself—not as a son but as a grandchild, but Ron was never forced to do right by her or the child when it comes to money. In fact, I’m entirely confident that the George and Fred Weasley pay her child support.”
“Just when I think he couldn’t be a bigger…jerk,” Hermione said. “Okay, so the only threat outside of Cho on the witch side of things would be Romilda Vane. She threatened me two days after Harry made his courting overture. I know he dated her a few years back, briefly, and that he dumped her at a party, but I don’t know the specifics—I’ve never cared to learn.”
Neville sighed. “Merlin, that girl.” He slouched back in the chair he was seated in. “She tried to sleep with Atticus Black. She denied it, but Atticus was prepared to take a vow on his magic. Harry’s very protective of his siblings but probably most especially Atticus. He was so excited to get a baby brother. He carried him around for days after the adoption. Lady Isobel had to put charms on both of them to keep him dropping the kid.”
Hermione laughed. “That’s adorable.”
“Also, I think unlike the rest of Lord Black’s children—Atticus is the most like Harry.”
“Because Lord Black adopted him, too.”
“Yes, I think so. Merlin knows the man’s never once made a difference between his children even if the youngest five would tell everyone that Harry is the favorite. The relationship between Sirius and Harry is very special—maybe because of James and Lily Potter, who Sirius adored beyond reason. He clung to Harry after their deaths and Harry clung right back. There was really no separating them and the Ministry tried. But Sirius’ grandfather, Arcturus, came down on the Wizengamot like a ton of bricks when they tried to bully Sirius into giving Harry up. The Black family rallied around them, and that family has always had a lot of power. Perhaps too much power by the thinking of some but in the end, Harry stayed with Sirius, and he grew up prepared to meet an unspeakable fate.”
“Did Cho tell you why she didn’t kill me?”
“Yes,” Neville said. He put away his notebook and stored the quill with a flick of his wrist. “She wanted to ruin your life.”
“Ruin.” Hermione rubbed her arms with both hands. “Is that really all about her brief relationship with Harry? That seems, I don’t know, pretty extreme for the circumstances. I would’ve expected something like this if the situation was related to Ron since my accusations put him in prison.”
“What about situations or individuals abroad?”
Hermione frowned. “Nothing personal. I worked a few high profiles cases as a researcher, but I wasn’t involved in arrests or prosecutions. The most prominent would be the High Guard Coven. I deconstructed the ritual they were caught performing and that research was instrumental in the conviction of all seven witches.”
“I’ve read the case file. You aren’t mentioned by name and didn’t testify so while the work was outstanding, I don’t think it would be the root of this situation. I have two schools of thoughts basically—it’s about Ron Weasley or it’s about Harry.”
She nodded. “Fantastic. I’m sure he’s going to take that well.”
Harry appeared in her office shortly after the work day began. He threw himself down in the chair in front of her desk and stared at her.
“Are you here for decoration? If so, I’m not mad.”
Harry laughed. “You.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Romilda Vane.”
“Oh, her. She ordered me to break up with you or she’d make me pay for it. Whatever that means. I offered to meet her on a dueling platform so she could air her grievances and she ran away like a child.”
Harry frowned. “She tried to shag my little brother.”
“Atticus was six months out of Hogwarts, and she freaked him out—completely. He was a shaking mess and threw up before he could get the whole story out. He thought I’d blame him. We had to give him a calming potion. If a wizard had upset him like that—I’d have destroyed him. Her? All I could do to her was break up with her. Our mother, however, has been avenging herself regularly ever since. I can’t imagine what she thought she’d accomplish by threatening you. I wouldn’t touch her again if she were last the woman on earth. My dad was tempted to file charges against her for assault, but Atticus begged him not to.”
“Sexual assault?” Hermione questioned.
“No, she smacked Atticus when he rejected her—busted his mouth open. He couldn’t hit her back—not even to defend himself—so she hit him two more times before Aster came into the room. Romilda tried to say that Atticus touched her inappropriately.” Harry sighed. “Atticus is gay, Hermione. He wouldn’t go near Romilda or any other witch for love nor money.”
Hermione frowned. “I want to kick her arse.”
“You’d have to get in line behind half a dozen people. Regardless, he managed to come out of the closet in the middle of that mess which only made him more upset because he was worried that Dad would be furious. Which resulted in a huge family meeting where my father very seriously told us all that he could not care less about who we wanted to shag as long as we were happy and loved. So Aster, who was fifteen at the time, immediately blurted out that she was dating a boy from Slytherin.”
Hermione burst out laughing. “Oh.”
“You should’ve seen his face.” Harry laughed and sighed. “Regardless, it was a huge mess and whatever Romilda might think there is no single way she’d ever be welcomed back into my life or family. If I started dating her again, my parents would’ve put me in St. Mungo’s. I’m going to tell my mother about this. She hasn’t gone out of her way to punish Romilda lately so she’s due.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Yes, of course, but why would you deny my mother the opportunity for some petty and ultimately rewarding revenge?” Harry questioned.
Hermione started to protest then shook her head. “You’re right. Romilda brought that on herself.”
* * * *
Hermione was called up to the Auror Department shortly after lunch, which she’d had to eat alone. Most of the Ministry was emptying out for the holiday as it was Christmas Eve. She was making a mental list of things to do before she went to her parents as she left the lift. Percy Weasley was coming out of the main conference room, red-faced and obviously furious. She tried to get out of the way, but he came right at her. Careless of the aurors moving in their direction, Hermione drew a gleaming goblin-wrought copper stave and shoved the crystal bedecked tip right up under Percy’s chin before he could speak.
Weasley threw up both hands and backed up. Since he was nearly six inches taller than her, it was a bit comical.
“I’m really fed up with people not respecting my boundaries,” Hermione said. “This is your only warning, Percival. You don’t speak to me, you don’t come near me, and you don’t attempt to touch me.” She shoved the stave against his skin, and blood trailed down the crystal. “I underestimated that waste of flesh, blood, and magic you call a brother—I won’t make the same mistake with you. Understood?”
“Understood,” Percy said tightly.
She let the stave drop slightly and wiped the blood on his robe. “You were leaving, correct?” He skirted around her and darted into the lift. She lowered her stave and looked around the room then focused on Neville. “Lord Longbottom, I’m a bit early for my appointment. I hope that’s okay.”
Neville grinned at her. “I’d never say otherwise.”
She holstered the stave and walked past him into the conference room. The table was full of parchments so she sat down in the chair that seemed the most distant from Neville’s case file. “How can I help?”
Neville shut the door. “Cho Chang’s dead.”
“What?” Hermione asked as the blood drained from her face.
“Her core shattered, and she died. It was practically instantaneous so she didn’t suffer. We haven’t seen someone have a core failure during a curse removal since the war. Harry’s at St. Mungo’s interviewing the medical staff to ensure that there was no malpractice.”
“But?” Hermione questioned.
“Her parents insisted on the best, and most experienced healers attend to their daughter, and there was a curse breaker brought in from Gringotts.” Neville sat down. “The last time we had this happen it was with a person cursed by Voldemort himself. Whoever cursed Chang is powerful.”
“At least a sorcerer,” Hermione murmured. “There are less than a hundred of those in Britain and even fewer mages.”
“There are three mage level employees in the Ministry. Two of them are in this room, and the other is Harry. Frankly, if you weren’t the victim many would assume you the culprit.”
“Percy is a sorcerer level wizard.”
“Yes, I had him take a vow on his magic that he didn’t curse Cho in any fashion—he was furious, but he made the vow. The rest of the people at that level are already being gathered. Harry and I completed vows before he went to St. Mungo’s—we did it front of the entire division.”
“You want me to do the same.”
She nodded. “I’m not offended.” She stood from the chair. “Let’s get this over with then so you can get back to work. I’ll make my research team available to you, of course, once they’ve been vetted for issues.”
He opened the door, and she noted that most of the men and women in the department were standing right where they had been when she’d entered.
“Just a standard vow,” Neville instructed.
Hermione drew her wand. “I, Hermione Jane Granger, do solemnly swear on my magic that I did not curse Cho Chang with the Imperious. So mote it be.” She lit her wand with a little flick then holstered it then turned to Neville. “I did, however, hex her mute about four months ago. But it only lasted an hour.”
Neville laughed. “Thank you, Miss Granger.”
* * * *
Harry accepted the report from the healer without looking at Cho’s parents. His brief relationship with her after Hogwarts had been a major source of contention between himself and Xian Chang for years. With Cho dead, they’d been able to harvest a magical signature, but it was severely corrupted and would provide only a partial match. It was enough, however, to tell them that their suspect was male.
“Your opinion, Healer Dearing?”
“The caster was male with a fully matured magical core. I’d put him no higher than sorcerer, but he invested a great deal of power in the curse—he would’ve had to. Miss Chang had a lot of untapped magical power of her own, and she is from an ancient family so there is family magic to consider as well. He subjugated her with sheer force. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that he is currently magically exhausted or very near it. We’d at first estimated she’d been under the curse as little as twenty-four hours but upon study, it’s clear that he held her in his thrall for upwards of a week.”
“And you’re sure about the gender of the caster?” Xian questioned. “My daughter was at odds with a female co-worker.”
Harry sighed. “Xian, Cho cursed Hermione Granger with a crucio.”
“Perhaps she was merely trying to free herself from the Imperious that Miss Granger placed on her,” Change said evenly. “I want her investigated, Potter.”
“Won’t be necessary,” Neville said from the doorway of the healer’s office. “I just had Miss Granger take an oath on her magic in front of the entire auror division regarding Miss Chang, which she did with absolutely no problems. Moreover, Miss Granger was not your daughter’s co-worker, she was her boss. I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Chang, but I’m not going to allow you to damage the reputation of a brilliant and hard-working woman because your daughter was a jealous little girl who caught the attention of someone like-minded. I interviewed her before the curse breaking started, when we had the curse subdued, and Cho wasn’t at all apologetic for what she attempted to do. If anything, she was disappointed that she hadn’t hurt Miss Granger.
“Lord Potter isn’t leading the investigation into your daughter being cursed, at any rate, his sole purpose here at St. Mungo’s is to determine whether or not your daughter died because she was cursed or because someone failed to do their job properly.”
Chang flushed with anger. “And your results, Lord Potter?”
“I’m still conducting my investigation, Mr. Chang. I’ll have to review her entire chart and interview everyone involved with the curse breaking. You’ll be notified before I file my final report with the Ministry. Neville, I’ll put a copy of this file with your casework regarding the curse.” He made to leave, but Xian Chang cleared his throat.
“This is your fault. My daughter is dead because of you and your foolish attachment to that inappropriate witch. Concessions were made for your own blood status—we were all prepared to overlook your father’s choice as we thought you understood your duty to our society.”
“I’ve sacrificed enough for magical Britain, Mr. Chang, and I don’t care if you agree. Cho’s death is not my fault. I’m trying to be respectful, as I know you’ve suffered an immeasurable loss, so now is certainly not the time for you to pick a fight with me about something that is absolutely none of your business.”
Harry left before Chang could respond—it wouldn’t be to anyone’s benefit if they rowed in the middle of St. Mungo’s. Ten minutes later, he’d made a copy of the autopsy for Neville and was brooding in his office. He’d hoped to have a private dinner with Hermione in the evening since she had plans with her family and he had plans with his own well through Boxing Day but that wasn’t going to happen.
His brother, Atticus, was sitting in his office when he finally made it back to it. “Hey.”
“I heard about Chang. Are you okay?”
“Fine,” Harry murmured and patted him on the shoulder as he passed. He sat down at his desk. “We haven’t been on good terms in years.”
“But she was special to you once,” Atticus pointed out.
“Yeah.” Harry frowned and sighed. “Her father blames me for the whole mess. Apparently, if I’d rolled over and married a nice pure-blood girl as they wanted then Cho would’ve been safe.”
“They act like you owe them your entire life,” Atticus murmured and stretched his legs. “Like you didn’t sacrifice enough? The bloody wankers. Heard it, on good authority, that your witch carries a stave.”
“She does though I’ve never seen it,” Harry said. “I wasn’t here when she pulled it on Percy. I think she’s about reached her limit on the ginger front.”
Atticus grin. “Good thing you’re not one then.” He checked his watch. “I have dinner plans, but I can cancel them if you need me.”
“No, go ahead. This is probably the last date you get before the parents descend on the poor guy.”
Atticus nodded and stood. He pulled on his coat but paused. “Do you know why?”
“Why so many of the older families want you to marry one of their own? Why do they care?”
“Because they want to convince themselves that I fought the war to protect them, that my values aren’t all that different from their own, and that they don’t really owe their lives to the son of a Muggle-born witch. But most of all they want to be able to say—Even Harry Potter prefers a pure-blood witch. They’d like to erase the history of my entire line—so they can continue to wallow in the belief that being pure of blood equals magical power. Witches like my birth mother and Hermione are living examples of how stupid their beliefs really are.”
“Well, most of those people aren’t at all rational. Xian Chang was prepared to argue with me basically over the corpse of his only child.”
* * * *
Harry tripped over Atticus’ boots on the way to his front door. He cursed under his breath, picked them up and tossed them in the cupboard as he reached for the door at the same time. His wards weren’t giving him any warnings so he opened the door without even checking to see who it was. Hermione raised an eyebrow at him.
“You look a mess.”
Harry had no excuse. “I’m allowed to look a mess in my own flat. My brother is trying to kill me with strategically placed shoes.” He held out a hand and pulled her through his wards. “I thought you were going to be at your parent’s first thing this morning?”
“Well, I didn’t get to see you last night what with everything that happened and I…” She swung the gift bag she had in her hand. “I took a chance that you hadn’t made it to your parent’s house, yet.”
“I’m an hour late,” Harry admitted. “I’ve already gotten two irritated floo calls from the twins—I just tossed presents at them through the floo both times, and they left me alone. It’s amazing how easy a pair of eleven-year-olds are to distract. I’ve got two more presents left for each of them so that should buy me at least another hour.”
He led her into the kitchen. “I was just about to make tea.”
“With his boyfriend. I’m endeavoring to mind my own business, but I already threatened to maim the kid for life if he breaks my brother’s heart so…ya know.”
Hermione laughed. “Harry.”
“Atticus is sensitive,” Harry protested. “Regardless, I do have a present for you, but I’d like to couch it with the reaffirmation of your knowledge that I’m entirely crazy about you.”
She laughed. “Okay. I’ll take some tea then.”
Shortly they were seated on the sofa in the large living area that took up most of the space of the flat. He brought out the carefully wrapped box and placed it in her lap.
Hermione eyed at him. “You’re nervous.”
“I was really glad that the protocols prevented me from delivering my first overture,” Harry admitted. “I’m not good at this part of things with women. I always tend to make the wrong choice then someone is disappointed or hurt, and I’m confused. It’s a mess.”
“I won’t be disappointed or hurt,” Hermione promised. She unwrapped the box carefully and paused when the box resembled the box her book had been delivered in—complete with crest.
“It’s not my second overture. It’s too soon for that per the protocols.” Harry bit down on his lip. “It’s just a tradition for gifts to be presented this way from the Earl of Gryffindor.”
“Okay,” Hermione murmured and unlatched the lid. She opened the box and took a deep breath. “Oh.” She touched the shining Tahitian pearls in varying shades of gray, black and silver strung on a platinum chain. “It’s perfect. This is what you had picked out before the book?”
“Very,” he admitted with a laugh.
She smiled. “Well, it’s not a bad look for you, and I love them.” She took them from the box, and he helped her put them on. “I wanted to get you something unique—so I reached out to a friend in Singapore.” She picked up the bag she’d brought and offered it.
Harry pulled the tissue paper from the top of the bag, and shimmering light flowed out of the bag. Carefully, he picked up the glass box—a fire box. He took a deep breath. “Hermione.”
“I wanted you to be…I know some people in Britain have a problem with the fact that you’re a parselmouth, but I don’t so I thought the best way to tell you that was to…”
“Give me an elemental serpent,” Harry said. “I…wow.” He shifted the box in his hand to so he could see the shining ruby egg in the fire bath.
“She’ll hatch sometime in February.” She bit down on her bottom lip. “Have I made a mistake with this?”
“No, love, not at all. No one has ever given me anything so perfect before. My family doesn’t make a big deal about me being a parselmouth, but I can’t say even my father would be so accepting that he’d buy me a snake. I can’t wait to meet her.”
* * * *
Hermione figured it was a mistake to wear the pearls to her parent’s house, but she honestly didn’t want to take them off. She’d spelled her medallion invisible to avoid a discussion about it, but her cousin had made a big deal about the missing boyfriend and the pearls. Her parents had been kind of startled by the gift and her easy acceptance of it, but there was something about the necklace that spoke to her and nothing it was saying felt wrong or weird.
“Chloe told us you’re seeing a peer, Hermione.”
Hermione focused on her maternal grandfather and tried to smile, but she mostly wanted to kick Chloe. “Yes, Harry and I work together.”
“In your hush-hush government job,” Chloe said, but it sounded sarcastic and like she didn’t believe it at all.
“Yes, he’s in a different department, but we sometimes collaborate on projects.” Hermione looked towards her father for support. He’d always been good at deflecting her mother’s parents regarding the magical world, but he was in a deep conversation with his brother. “But I can’t talk about it.”
“And why hasn’t he come around for Christmas?”
“He has a large family—he’s the oldest, and the youngest of them is just eleven. He promised to spend the day with them since they’ve been at school since September and haven’t gotten to spend time with him. Harry’s family is very important to him.” Hermione poured herself some more wine. She was going to end up in her old bedroom too drunk to apparate, but she didn’t care.
* * * *
Orion and Aries had gotten new brooms for Yule so, of course, they were tearing about the sky above Black Island like a couple of idiots, but Harry had checked the safety spells himself on the brooms before he’d let them leave the ground. He took a sip of his butterbeer and curled his toes into the sand under his feet. They’d been coming to the island, which was just off the coast of Rome, for as long as he could remember for the Yule holiday. For much of his childhood, it meant complete and utter freedom. He didn’t have to worry about being recognized or kidnapped by some dark wizard.
But for the first time, ever, he really wasn’t relieved to be there. The island had become a haven of sorts from people outside of his family, and now one of those people included Hermione, who couldn’t be added to the wards unless she married into the family. It was his father’s only real restriction for the island. Family only. Harry respected the policy as it had kept him safe for a very long time and he could relax on the island completely but he missed her.
“So, Hermione gave you a snake for Christmas.”
Harry glanced at his sister, Aster, as she sat down in the sand beside him. “Yeah, an unhatched elemental serpent.”
“Quite a departure from Susan Bones, who suggested you have your parselmagic suppressed.”
“And honestly, she was the kindest about it,” Harry admitted and shrugged when his sister looked his away. “It’s an ancient but misunderstood gift in Britain. I’ve never bothered to educate anyone about it but…”
“You didn’t have to even think about teaching Hermione Granger about it,” Aster said with a grin. “Mum loves her by the way. I know she’s not said because she doesn’t want to influence you one way or another but if you weren’t dating her—our parents might be trying to adopt that woman.”
Harry laughed abruptly. “Miss Lucas?”
“Yeah, but we talked over the floo a few minutes ago. He deeply regrets his international portkey and claims he’d have rather flown Muggle back to New York.”
“They can be daunting for the inexperienced,” Harry said. “The first time I took one out of Europe, I threw up for a half hour afterward. Crossing an ocean with a portkey is hellish, but a Muggle flight would be worse because it would be hours instead of minutes.”
“I agree. I was thinking of joining Lucas in New York after Boxing Day.”
Harry sighed. “Aster, Dad isn’t going to be on board with you taking an international trip like that.”
“I just turned eighteen, Harry.”
“Well, you’ll always be his little girl, and I think he’s still on the fence about your relationship moving so fast anyways.”
“He met and married our mother in a period of six months. I’m a honeymoon baby!”
Harry thought that Aster might be an oops-we-should-get-married baby, but he’d never say it aloud. “Lucas is a good man, but he’s five years older than you, and you’re barely out of Hogwarts. Don’t you want to get out there and explore the world?”
“I want to explore it with him,” Aster said. “I start my apprenticeship with the bank on January 15th. I’d like to meet Lucas’ parents before that, and this is a good time to do it. We’ll be really busy all of next year between my new job and his studies.”
Harry sighed. “If Dad pitches a fit—I’ll take the portkey with you and escort you to meet Lucas.”
“You’re the best big brother,” Aster decided. “The best in the whole world.”
“Don’t kiss my arse. Go get our brooms. It’s in our best interests to wear the twins out so they’ll pass out after dinner otherwise they’ll make us play that cut-throat version of Cluedo they invented.”
Aster stood and dusted off her butt. “I was stunned twice the last time we played for guessing wrong.”
“Buying them wands was the worst decision ever,” Harry said. “They make the Weasley twins look like prancing unicorns.”
* * * *
Eventually, the guests dwindled down to just her Uncle Richard’s family. Hermione was content to play with Chloe’s daughter, Sophie, rather than involve herself in whatever discussion was going on in the kitchen. The baby was just twenty-two months old and adorable. Chloe’s unwed pregnancy had been a shocker but more so for the fact that she refused to marry the father for reasons unknown to Hermione.
Chloe came storming out of the kitchen at that point and snatched Sophie up. She glared at Hermione. “Show me magic.”
“What?” Hermione questioned, and both sets of parents joined them. She turned to her father. “What’s going on?”
Ryan sighed. “Sophie had an incident this morning when she was eating breakfast. She summoned her spoon from the floor.”
Hermione’s mouth dropped open. “Oh.” She huffed. “I told you all it was a mistake not to tell her even as an adult now look at her—she looks petrified.”
“Hermione,” Chloe said, and her eyes welled with tears. “Is it dangerous? Is it going to hurt my baby?”
“Magic is dangerous, yes, but no it won’t hurt her. Magic is very protective of children—do you remember the summer after we turned eleven and we fell out of the tree in the backyard because we were arguing over who got to sit where?”
Chloe nodded. “We…I thought we bounced a little, but you told me I was silly.” She scowled. “Hermione!”
Hermione laughed. “I’m sorry, but I’d been told not to tell you about magic because you didn’t get a letter.”
Chloe sat down on the sofa. “Please, show me magic.”
“Okay,” Hermione said. “Just…it’ll be fine, I promise. I’ll bring you books on raising a magical child, and I’ll show you the magical world when you’re ready. There is a magical school she can go to when she turns eleven that will help her.”
“You’d do that for me?” Chloe questioned. “We’ve haven’t really gotten along in years.”
“Because we’re too different, and I’ve had to keep eighty percent of my life a secret from you,” Hermione said. She unholstered her wand, and Chloe’s mouth dropped open. “Okay, let’s start with something simple.”
Hermione pointed her wand at the Christmas tree. “Accio the silver bell ornament.”
The ornament flicked off the tree with a dash of magic and sailed across the room. Hermione caught it with her free hand and put it on the coffee table in front of them. She slid off the sofa and with a glance towards Chloe, transfigured the bell into a bird shape. Then she transfigured it again, into a real bird. The bird hopped around the table briefly before Hermione stilled it and canceled the transfiguration. She banished the bell back to the tree and looked at Chloe. Her cousin was clutching her daughter tightly.
“How is magic dangerous?” Chloe asked.
“As much as a wand is a tool,” Hermione began. “It’s also a weapon. We’re taught early to control our magic through the use of our wand so I don’t have accidental outbursts like Sophie has and will continue to have. I had quite a few when we were younger.”
“Why is magic hidden?”
“Because Muggles tried to destroy us,” Hermione murmured. “Over a hundred thousand magical people were killed before we developed the ability to hide from Muggle society.”
“Witch burnings,” Chloe said and pulled Sophie closer. “Those were real witches?”
“Sometimes and sometimes they were just unfortunate Muggles who angered their neighbors for one reason or another.”
“What else is real?”
“You mean like vampires?”
Chloe gasped. “What? Seriously.”
“Yeah, but they are heavily regulated. Let’s see—unicorns, centaurs, and dragons—all real. Werewolves are real as well but again they are regulated heavily to keep Muggles safe. Ghosts…most ghosts are actually magical people and sometimes they haunt Muggle places out of boredom.”
Chloe laughed. “Really?”
“Really. In fact, one of my jobs is to capture and relocate ghosts if they cross the line and actually allow Muggles to gather credible evidence that they exist. I work in a department for the Ministry of Magic that investigates the unknown and the unspeakable.”
“And your boyfriend? Is he a wizard?”
“Yes,” Hermione said. “A very powerful one and he’s in law enforcement. He was raised in a magical family.”
“Can you do anything fun?”
“I can turn into an animal,” Hermione admitted and bit down on her lip when Chloe’s eyes lit up. “I’ll show you, but I’m not going to give anyone, not even Sophie, a bloody ride. I’m serious.” She stood up from the floor and walked to the center of the room. “No, we should go outside.”
“Probably a good idea,” Ryan said.
Hermione opened the French doors and pulled her wand. “I’ll cast a warming charm to cover the patio so we don’t have to load ourselves down with coats.”
“Now, that’s handy,” Chloe said excitedly.
Hermione took a deep breath after she cast the charm and holstered her wand. “I’m an abraxan which is a winged horse.”
“A pegasus?” Chloe asked in shock.
“That’s the version that made it into Muggle mythology,” Hermione agreed. She let her magic gather, and she shifted with a rush of light.
“Holy shite, Hermione.”
“Pony!” Sophie cried and held out both hands.
Hermione crossed the patio carefully and kept her wings close to her body. She nudged Sophie with her nose and the baby giggled. She backed away and shifted back.
“That defies everything we know about mass and energy,” Chloe said. “Honestly, that’s just…”
“Confounding,” Hermione agreed. “Worse? I’ve seen witches and wizards alike shift into insects.”
They returned to the house, and Chloe sat back down on the sofa. She bit down on her lip. “Why don’t I have magic?”
“The same reason you have blue eyes instead of brown,” Hermione said, and she watched her cousin relax. Chloe was in medical school and focusing on the science would calm her cousin down. “There are plenty of theories about magical ability and how it’s passed on to people. Magical genetics is a new field, but nothing sound has been produced out of the research so far. There is a spiritual force to magic as magic itself is intelligent. Dad and Uncle Richard are basically squibs, which is a person born without magic in a magical family. They were the first in generations in the Dagworth-Granger family.
“They were hidden in the Muggle world because frankly it’s considered shameful to have a squib child for many older families. Ours was no different, but the rest of the family basically died out so I was the last of our magical line.” She caught Sophie’s hand when the baby waved it at her. “But now there’s Sophie. I’ll set up a trust fund for her in the magical world so she’ll have a presence. I inherited a large magical estate when I turned seventeen. I even have a few houses though nothing in Britain. If Sophie wants to go to Muggle university, her trust will pay for it. You’ll get a monthly stipend for her care. I couldn’t do it before because of the rules of the estate. I can’t even give our parents money.”
“But Sophie is magical,” Chloe said. “Thank you, Hermione, I mean that. Things have been difficult, and Brad isn’t paying child support despite the court decision because he drinks his money away. His parents have threatened to sue me for custody because I only have a part-time job and go to school. But Brad’s father is a drunk, too.”
Hermione sighed. “If they actually file a lawsuit, contact me immediately, and I’ll have Harry take care of it. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement has an entire division dedicated to the protection of magical children. He can make sure the case goes away and even spell them to go away to protect Sophie.”
“He’d do that for you?”
“He’d do that for her,” Hermione corrected. “He takes his duties very seriously.” Sophie crawled out of her mother’s lap and into Hermione’s.
Hermione laughed. “No.”
“Pony!” Sophie demanded and bounced in her lap.
“Adorable but absolutely not.”
Harry returned to work after Boxing Day as crime didn’t care about Yule. He also had the unpleasant duty of informing Xian Chang that his daughter had been basically murdered. Chang arrived nearly twenty minutes early, without his wife, and came to Harry’s office rather than going to the conference room where most meetings with the public took place.
“Sit, Mr. Chang.” Harry returned to his desk. “The wizard who cursed your daughter with the Imperious also cursed her with a core destruction spell that was set to activate if someone attempted to break his control over her. It was hidden deeply in her magic and undetectable until after it was activated. It was likely a measure undertaken to ensure she couldn’t be questioned regarding his identity. When we tried to get his name during her brief interview, she passed out cold and once revived couldn’t remember the question Neville asked her.”
“Murdered then,” Chang said.
“Yes, he will be prosecuted for murder as well as the use of an Unforgivable once captured. We are the midst of interviewing wizards here at the Ministry, but Neville has also requested and received a list of guests from the Malfoy Christmas party—your daughter attended that event, and she might have been cursed there. That night, I took note of the fact that she had several glasses of wine, and she may have been more vulnerable to threat due to that.”
“She’d been drinking a lot lately,” Chang admitted. “Upset about work, about you.”
Harry rubbed his face and pushed down the frustration. “She wasn’t prone to such behavior. I’ll let Longbottom know—it might have meaning for his case.”
“She loved you.”
“No, Mr. Chang, she didn’t,” Harry said and took a deep breath. “She loved Cedric Diggory, and I was a poor replacement for him. His death during the war broke her heart, and she used me to grieve. After the war, she used men to forget about him, but it was ultimately impossible. He was the love of her life. She knew that I wasn’t going to settle for a loveless marriage—existing in the shadow of a dead man. She deserved better and I’m sorry her loss made her so bitter and lonely, but her death is not my fault. It’s not Hermione Granger’s fault either.”
“Granger.” Chang glared. “That witch should’ve never returned to Britain. She has no place here.”
“Magical people like Hermione Granger are the future of Britain,” Harry said. “You get older every day, Xian. Your opinions about blood purity are outdated and ridiculous. They are at odds with reality. Magic is growing and changing every day, but people like you would have our society languish in the past instead of embracing the future. You’d be the death of us all if you had your way.” He stood, and Chang stood with him. “I’ll be forwarding my findings to both Lord Longbottom and Minister Bones—you’ll be contacted when you can make funeral arrangements.”
“My daughter will go home to China,” Chang said. “She deserves a proper resting place in the family crypt.”
* * * *
“She’s just twenty-two months old but likes to be read to so I told my cousin that I would buy her some magical story books,” Hermione said as they entered Diagon Alley. “I also want to check out the toy store if we have time.”
“We should. My caseload is light, and I told Neville I was taking the rest of the day unless something terrible comes up. I was told I couldn’t work more than forty hours this week regardless.”
“Croaker said the same thing so I took three projects home,” she admitted, and he grinned.
“I do most of my reading at home for the job—it’s quieter, and I get more accomplished. It must be a relief not to have to tip-toe around her anymore.”
“We talked out a lot of our issues,” Hermione said. “We were close as children but after I received my letter and went away to school things changed. It changed more and more since I didn’t come home to Britain for so long and I didn’t visit often ever after the war. I wasn’t here when Sophie was born, and Chloe resented me for that.”
“But you’re both in a better place, now?”
“Yeah, I think so. We still have things to talk about, and she’s angry at her father for thinking she couldn’t handle being told about magic because that decision caused a lot of hurt feelings between the two of us. She was very upset when I didn’t go to medical school as we’d planned as children. She told me yesterday that she thought she’d get her friend back when we started university.”
Harry winced. “Ouch.”
“I know. I feel like a complete git. Uncle Richard can’t seem to apologize enough, but I do understand what he was trying to do. Both he and my father were heartbroken learned they wouldn’t receive letters though in all honesty, they aren’t squibs.”
Harry stopped walking. “What?”
“My dad and uncle are fraternal twins, their mother was an Unspeakable, and she was tortured—crucio’d. When she was rescued, they discovered she was three months pregnant.”
“Their cores were shattered during their gestation,” Harry murmured. “That’s a high crime today, but it wouldn’t have been back then. It’s nightmarish to think about. What happened to your magical grandparents?”
“They were killed by Death Eaters six months after I was born. At least they got to meet me, and I’d already had several bouts of accidental magic so they knew their legacy would continue on in me.” Hermione smiled. “And now Sophie.”
“Did you want me to start a case file regarding her biological father and his parents?”
“Yes, I don’t know the whole story, but I trust that Chloe isn’t lying about it. I want Sophie to be safe.” Her fingers clenched in his. “This isn’t an abuse of our relationship, right?”
“No, of course not, I handle most, if not, all investigations into the situations of Muggle-born children that come to the attention of the DMLE before and after Hogwarts. Of course, I spent an entire year giving the Director of the Education Department fits before he just gave in and did what I wanted. They had no procedures in place for the safety of those children and accidental magic that required Ministry clean up wasn’t even investigated. But come on, if a kid throws one of their parents through a wall then we have a problem that needs to be addressed.”
“Agreed.” She smiled as he opened the door to Flourish and Blotts.
It was her favorite store on the Alley, but she concentrated on buying books for Sophie and two titles for Chloe that would help her get comfortable with the magic that was part of her child. Harry added a few titles from the children’s selections—books he remembered from his own childhood then they went to the pet store. It was Harry’s suggestion, and he often gave magical kittens or crup puppies to Muggle-born children because both could pass for Muggle animals and more importantly such animals were protective of their owners. Chloe had agreed to a puppy.
“Pick up some owl treats if you don’t mind,” Harry motioned towards the display. “Hedwig prefers pork ones.” He ran his hand through the litter of bouncing puppies in the large pen in front of him. “Mr. Forth is a responsible and licensed breeder—his animals are always healthy, and they never sleep in the store. He takes them home every night where they have the run of a large property.”
“His owls aren’t caged.”
“He doesn’t really own the owls,” Harry pointed out. “They come here to get adopted. Most are born in the wild, and when they’re ready to be part of a magical family, they come in here and perch until they’re picked. The adoption fee is for feeding the ones that remain. That’s how he came to have Crookshanks, but that cat has refused to go home with every single person who’s tried. He’s been here since I was twelve. He’s half-Kneazle, so he’ll probably live over a hundred years. Maybe his magical person hasn’t been born yet. My mum tried to adopt him just to give him a home and a garden to play in. He stayed for a week but didn’t bond with us and came back to the store.”
Hermione laughed. “Where is he?”
“Probably around the corner sitting on the counter. Did your cousin have a preference for gender?”
“They’re all fixed, right?”
“Yes, I’d usually suggest a female because of Sophie’s age. They’ll have a very maternal sort of connection. Crups are protective of their owners already.”
“A girl is fine,” Hermione agreed. She disappeared around the corner.
Harry looked over the crups and focused on a smaller female who was a bit away from the rest of her litter mates. She was staring at him intently with bright blue eyes. “Okay, so there you are. You could’ve just said.” He picked the puppy up and she barked at him. “Right. You’re already a Granger, aren’t you?”
He walked around the corner and found Hermione petting Crookshanks. The cat was wallowing on the counter, purring so loudly that several owls had moved away from the counter. “The monster likes you, huh?”
Hermione grinned. “He’s perfect. I think he wants to come with me.”
“Well, he hasn’t drawn blood,” the shopkeeper said cheerfully. “You can take him as a trial. I’ll send you a refund if he comes back to me.”
“Great,” Hermione agreed.
He helped her cart Crookshanks home with all of his stuff then they headed over to her parent’s house to meet Chloe and Sophie. Harry wasn’t all that surprised when Chloe’s parents were there, too. He kept the puppy in the magical carrier so Sophie wouldn’t get over excited during the assessment.
The moment the baby saw him, she made a happy sound and reached out with both hands. Since she was straining out of Hermione’s arms, Harry took her. Sophie rubbed her face against his cheek and giggled, he assumed his beard tickled.
“She’s never…” Chloe trailed off. “Well, there is that lady at the library that she absolutely adores.”
“Doris Freely,” Harry said. “She’s magical—got fed up with us all in the 60s and decided to live in the Muggle world as a librarian. She actually had my job at one time. Total warrior.”
“She has to be eighty,” Chloe protested.
“Closer to a hundred and twenty actually,” Harry sat down at the table. “But I wouldn’t duel her given a choice. She’s a point of contact for Muggle-born children, so I’m glad Sophie has already met her.”
“Me,” Sophie said and bounced against his chest.
“You’re a problem,” Harry told her seriously, and the baby giggled. “No, really.” He put her up on the table and turned to Hermione. “You didn’t tell me she had mage sight.”
Hermione’s mouth dropped open. “How…are you certain?”
“She sees magical auras. That’s the only thing that explains her attraction to magical people. You’re her favorite, right.”
“Since they met,” Chloe said. “I used to get so jealous. It was like I wasn’t even in the room when Hermione arrived.”
“Well, babies like shiny things and Hermione is very powerful. We probably look like huge fireflies to her.” He turned to Hermione. “Can you project your aura?”
“No, and when I tried to learn, it gave me terrible headaches.”
“Okay.” He closed his eyes, and a gold shimmer appeared on his skin.
“Sophie sees that?” Hannah questioned. “No wonder she wanted you to hold her.”
His aura faded. “Magical people will be very attractive to her, and it’s a problem.”
“Why?” Chloe asked.
“Because we’re people just like everyone else—there are good wizards and bad wizards. Any crime that a Muggle could commit a magical person could commit with better success. It’s not my intention to scare you, but I put a wizard in prison last year for inappropriate behavior with Muggle children. He would take them off the street, take pictures of them, and memory charm them. They had no idea they were being used to create a collection of…you know.”
“Oh, I hope you put that foul git under Azkaban.” Hermione huffed.
“Well, first I hunted him for sport across three countries then I had to duel my counterpart in Romania for the privilege of putting him in prison. I think his was a token effort as we all agreed he deserved to be with Dementors, and they don’t use Dementors in Romania for their prison.”
“What’s a Dementor?” Chloe questioned.
“A soul eating demon-like creature that induces a nightmarish existence for their own pleasure and nourishment. They destroy happiness when they feed,” Harry said. He drew his wand and focused on Sophie. “Okay, have you cast on her Hermione?”
“No, I showed them some transfiguration and did a warming charm on the patio, but I didn’t point my wand at her. I know that’s dangerous at her age.”
“Magic,” Sophie said and clapped her hands. “Pony!”
Hermione flushed. “No pony.”
Harry laughed. “You showed her your animagus form?”
“Yes.” Hermione sighed. “It was certainly a mistake.”
“Can you turn into an animal?” Chloe asked.
“Yes, a Peruvian Vipertooth,” Harry said absently as he pulled a bag from his trouser pocket and resized it.
“A snake?” Hannah asked.
“A dragon,” Hermione corrected. “Highly magical people end up with highly magical animagus forms. “
“Can we see it?” Chloe asked.
“No, I’m sorry,” Harry said as he pulled a small box from his bag. “My form is dangerous, and I’d never risk exposure in a Muggle area. Also, I’m about three times the size of Hermione’s form. You don’t have room here for me.”
He opened the box and pulled out a tiny mithril bracelet. “This a magical limiter. It will, gradually over a period of about a year, mute her mage sight. When she’s older, she can be taught to subdue it on her own, but right now it’s a distraction and dangerous. It will make going to school tough for her. Most magical children with mage sight get diagnosed with attention deficit disorders because of their magical response to everyday things. I can’t tell you how many Muggle-born children I’ve found with this problem who have been drugged into submission as a result. This bracelet will grow with her. She won’t chew it, or try to remove it.”
Chloe nodded. “Okay, Hermione said I could trust your judgment, Your Grace.”
“Please call me Harry,” he said.
“Hawwy,” Sophie said and patted his chest. “Me.”
He laughed. “Demanding already, are you? Good, you should always insist on a man’s undivided attention.”
“Me.” Sophie nodded. She held out her hand. “Pretty.”
Harry obligingly put the bracelet on her left wrist. “Very pretty. This is special magic.”
“Magic,” Sophie nodded, and she yawned.
“It’ll make her a bit sleepy until her magic adjusts to the bracelet. She’ll probably nap more over the next week,” Harry murmured. He turned to Hermione. “You should go ahead and set her up with a magical healer at St. Mungo’s so she’s appropriately vaccinated. She should’ve already had her dragon pox potion. There’s no need to make her take all those things at eleven like you did. Moreover, the healer can document the appropriate Muggle paperwork so she doesn’t have to take shots that do her no good.”
Hermione made a face. “True. I drank six potions a day for an entire month before Hogwarts started.”
“She’s already had several vaccinations,” Chloe said. “They won’t hurt her, right?”
“No, of course not, but they’re just…useless. Her magic probably burned them out within hours of her getting the shots,” Hermione said. “Magical people don’t get sick from the same things. In fact, the only real illness we have in common is the cold. Though we have a cure for that. Unfortunately, potions don’t work on Muggles.”
“It would certainly pave the way for integration if they did,” Harry said. “Announcing that we could cure cancer at the same time that we announced that we were magical would be quite a feat.”
“The ICW has over a thousand researchers investigating cancer and viruses like AIDS,” Hermione said. “We can’t hide forever, and you’re right, having a gift would be an excellent way to come to the world stage.” She turned to Chloe. “I’ll find her a healer, and we’ll set up a day to introduce you to St. Mungo’s. You won’t be able to enter the magical world without me until we’ve registered you with the Ministry and gotten you an access ring. The ring will allow you to see magical places and enter St. Mungo’s and Diagon Alley on your own.”
Sophie slid off the table and huffed against Harry’s chest before closing her eyes.
“Let’s do the scans while she’s asleep,” Hermione suggested.
“Good idea,” Harry murmured. “Cast a cushioning charm.”
Hermione stood and drew her wand. She made a little cloud of magic on the table in front of Harry silently, and he shifted Sophie on to it.
“What will you check her for?” Chloe questioned.
“Core development and because I’m establishing a case file for her, I will have to do a health scan.” Harry pulled a leather covered folder from his bag, opened it, and set up a transcription quill. “This will allow me to monitor her from afar. If one of the children with a file in the DMLE is injured or has a bout of accidental magic, my badge will activate, and alert me to the situation. I won’t investigate minor injuries or magic but if she has a significant injury—an investigation will be automatic. If she lashes out magically at an adult—that adult will be thoroughly interrogated. Hermione told me that you’re worried about her father and his parents.”
“He’s a drunk and so is his father. Irene, his mother, is no better,” Chloe said flatly. “I can’t—won’t trust them with my child. I didn’t marry her father because of them and because Brad, who had been sober for years, got roaring drunk when I told him I was pregnant. I couldn’t have that kind of man in my baby’s life.”
“No, I don’t blame you,” Harry murmured. He cast several charms at once with a few sweeps of his wand and the quill started to write in the file. “Oh.”
“Wow,” Hermione murmured and leaned against him. “Harry.”
“Congrats,” Harry murmured. “You’ll have to register with the Wizengamot.”
“What?” Ryan questioned.
“Sophie’s birth must have woke our family magic,” Hermione said. “I haven’t had myself tested in a while because I was tired of the disappointment. The Dagworth-Granger family is ancient, but I thought our family magic was gone.”
“Just asleep,” Harry said. “It’s lovely. She’s fully entrenched. Take a step back.” He turned and performed a charm on Hermione as soon as she separated from him. “The legacy is rich and you both have the hook. Looks like mage sight is a familial gift. If you had a traumatic or powerful event, you’d probably develop it.”
Hermione made a face as he ended her charm. “No thanks.”
He laughed. “At your age, it would be a nightmare to learn to control, but you’re brilliant so you could handle it.” He returned his attention to the results and reviewed what the quill had written. “She’s a bit underfed.”
“What?” Chloe asked aghast.
“Not your fault, you’re not giving her enough sugar,” Harry said. “Magicals burn it differently than Muggles, and you’ve probably been instructed to limit her sugar intake.”
“Yes, I don’t allow her any sweets. Has it hurt her magic?” Chloe asked.
“No, not at all. The baby food you give her has carbs and fats so her magic has been using that. Allow her to have some ice cream daily and Hermione can bring her some magical snacks that are made for babies. It’ll balance out her nutritional needs.” He picked up the quill and made a few personal notes. “She has some emotional distress. As she witnessed arguments or fights among family members?” He paused when there was no answer and lifted his gaze to stare at Chloe Granger.
“I can’t really…” She sighed. “The only thing that I can think of is that sometimes Uncle Ryan and Dad get really loud during football matches on the telly. She doesn’t like it so I always take her out of the room.”
Harry nodded and made a note. “Hermione, you have an issue with sensitive hearing, right?”
“Yes, even as a child,” Hermione admitted. “I hate quidditch games as a result. The crowds are so noisy. It’s terrible. One of my worst memories in school was taking apparition lessons. Some of those kids made no effort to be quiet about it.”
“I don’t recommend you remove her every single time she’s exposed to an upsetting noise because she needs to develop some tolerance for it, but if she cries, then the distress has reached a level she can’t tolerate, and she might have an accidental outburst if the distress is prolonged.”
“Okay,” Chloe nodded.
“Hermione, I’m going to register you as her magical guardian. You’ll have to file the parchments on that within the next forty-five days. Otherwise, I’ll be automatically listed.”
“What’s a magical guardian and why does she need one?” Chloe asked.
“All Muggle-born children are assigned a magical guardian as they enter the magical world. They are a point of contact between Muggle parents and the magical world. If Sophie gets sick at Hogwarts, Hermione would be contacted. Hogwarts, our magical school here in Britain, is highly guarded and protected from Muggles. Not even your access ring would allow you within fifty kilometers of the campus. We work hard to keep the children as safe as possible. The school is surrounded by a magical forest that is guarded by a herd of centaur. It has the most advanced wards of any other magical place in Britain. As the Duke of Avalon, I’m the defacto magical guardian for all Muggle-born children as they enter our society unless they have a magical relative like Sophie does. It allows me to protect them and, if need, be remove them from bad homes.”
“What do you mean bad?”
Harry grimaced but closed Sophie’s file and placed it in his bag. “Last year, I removed a first year Hogwarts’ student from her Muggle grandparent’s custody because they tried to beat the magic out of her. I put them in jail and placed her with a magical family in a foster situation. They adopted her over Yule. I’m no longer her guardian, but she’ll remain part of the House of Avalon her entire life. It’s my duty as a peer.”
A half hour later, Harry was on the floor with Sophie and the crup puppy that Chloe had named Iris.
“That’s your man, huh?” Chloe asked in a low tone as they left the den for the kitchen. “Wow.”
Hermione blushed. “Chloe.” Her cousin laughed along with both of their mothers. “Don’t objectify him.”
“Lord, it must be hard not to,” her aunt muttered. “He looks like a wet dream.”
Hermione huffed but accepted the mug of tea her mother pressed into her hand. “He’s very accomplished and honorable.”
“Good with kids, too,” Hannah said wryly. “And I must say his taste in jewelry is nothing short of amazing.”
Hermione touched her pearls. “He told me he was terrible at gift giving before he gave me these. I can’t imagine what sort of wretched women he dated before me that he actually worried about giving me pearls.”
“Not any sort of woman I’d want to know,” Karen said. “You need to get your nails done, dear. They look a disaster.”
Hermione glanced at her hand frowned. “Oh.” She put her tea cup to the table and pulled out her wand. “I just haven’t updated my spells.”
Which is how she found herself doing all three of their nails in short order. Her mother, who hadn’t known the spell would work on her, was kind of peeved at first. Harry found the four of them with their shoes off admiring the shiny red polish Hermione had charmed on them a half hour later.
“I liked that little French thing you were doing to your feet over the summer.”
Hermione grinned. “It took forever to perfect that spell for my toenails. I wrote an article for Witch Weekly about it.”
“I know, my mother and Aster practiced on each other for weeks afterward and tried to practice on me—I had to run away. Are you wearing your badge?”
Hermione pulled a slim red wallet from the pocket of her dress and flipped it open. “Of course, why?
“Because mine just went off.”
Hers started vibrating and threw off a gold glow. Hermione sighed. “Great.” She reached for her boots, but Harry knelt down and picked up her socks. “Thanks. Any ideas on what’s going on?”
Harry shrugged and activated the charm to lace her left boot as he slipped on the right. “Not an emergency but any time they’ll want us both on scene—it’s not good. They only call the Head Unspeakable out to scene investigation if there is a secrecy issue. Like last year when we had to memory charm a hundred and forty-two people at a Muggle-born’s wedding reception because one of her magical guests got drunk and stunned the groom.”
Hermione chuckled. “I read about that.”
“You laugh because you weren’t the one that had to clean up that mess.” Harry helped her stand then pulled out his badge. He pushed his magic into it. “Okay, I’m getting coordinates for Wales. You?”
Hermione stared at her own badge, rubbed her thumb over the location beacon. “Yes, Wales. They’ve included Creature Regulation. Are you getting that?”
“It’s probably a bloody dragon.” He stored his badge, held out his hand she took it, and he turned to her mother. “It was nice to see you again, ma’am.”
“Next time you come, I expect cheesecake,” Hannah declared as Hermione summoned their coats.
Harry laughed. “Of course.” He turned to Hermione. “You or me?”
“You.” She turned to Chloe. “This is apparition. I’ll give you a better demonstration later.”
They disappeared with a swish of magic.
“That man is hot like fire,” Chloe said after they were gone. “And he looks at her like she’s the only woman alive.”
“I know,” Hannah said. “You know—she’s honestly kind of clueless. She probably was genuinely bewildered when he asked her out that first time.” She held out her hand in front of her. “But the manicure is great.”
* * * *
It turned out to be a unicorn. The small village the unicorn had wandered into had been evacuated for a gas leak and those who had seen the animal had been memory charmed. Since harming a unicorn was a crime against magic they were on the fence about how to contain and transport the animal without stunning him. Hermione listened to them make suggestions for about fifteen minutes—Harry, Neville, and a man named Elroy Klinker from Creature Regulation before she cleared her throat. They all turned to stare at her.
“Or I could just go over there and lead him onto the transport platform.” She waved a hand over herself. “Virgin maiden here, at your bloody service, gentlemen.”
Harry laughed. “Okay, but if he gets hostile with you be prepared to apparate out of his way. Being stabbed by a unicorn can’t be any sort of fun.”
Hermione nodded. “Right.” She turned to face the animal. “The thing is that I didn’t take Care of Magical Creatures in school—I read the textbooks, but the class wouldn’t fit in my schedule so I had no practical lessons involving magical animals.”
“In that case, Neville, do you mind retrieving Hagrid? I really don’t remember the unicorn lesson all that well.”
Longbottom nodded and apparated away. He returned shortly with the COMC teacher from Hogwarts. Hermione remembered Hagrid from her first night at Hogwarts, but not much after that as his class wasn’t available to first years. The half-giant smiled at her.
“Hello, Hagrid. How are you?”
“Fantastic.” He looked toward the unicorn. “Well, then, look at that gorgeous beast. Timely, the stallion the Hogwarts herd died over the summer. Can I have him or has someone already made a claim, Harry?”
“We were going to transport him to the sanctuary in Ireland, but I don’t see why we can’t transfer him to Hogwarts instead especially if your herd doesn’t have a leader. Klinker?”
“I prefer Hogwarts over Ireland,” Klinker agreed. “The facility at Belfast is a bit crowded, and the current administrator doesn’t respect the herd like Hagrid does. I’ll reset the transport platform.” He walked off towards the large wood disc.
“All right then, Miss Granger, you’ll need to approach him with caution. If he finds your magic intrusive, he’ll warn you off, but I’ve never known one to attack a maiden witch. That bein’ said he’s in a foreign environment and out of sorts.”
Hermione nodded. “Yes. Okay, could I test my magic against his from a distance?”
“How?” Hagrid questioned.
“I could make the grass grow under his feet?” Hermione asked.
“Good thinkin’, lass.”
Hermione drew her wand and knelt down on one knee. She shot the spell across the ground, leaving a trail of bright green grass that spread from her to the unicorn nearly fifty meters away. The stallion snorted and lowered his head. He brushed his nose through the grass then focused on her.
“All right then, you’ve got his attention,” Hagrid said. “Take a few steps towards him and see what he does.”
She took six steps before the unicorn started walking towards her. Hermione stopped and waited. The animal trotted a bit but slowed as he got close to her. His skin had a faint glow, in the evening light, and she reached out hesitantly to touch him. The animal rubbed his face against her hand and snorted. After a few moments of petting, she turned towards the platform and the unicorn followed. He hesitated briefly at the edge of the wooden disc but then gamely stepped on to it.
Hermione stepped off the other side, and the containment field launched. The others moved into the secure and activate the platform, but she turned and continued to pet the stallion while everything was set.
“Okay, you can step back, Miss Granger,” Klinker said. “Hagrid, I’ll take you back to Hogwarts and take down the containment.”
“Appreciate it, Elroy.”
The disc activated and Klinker left with Hagrid.
“Great,” Harry said.
“What?” Hermione asked.
“Colin Creevy,” he said and motioned towards the road leading to the field they were in, and she saw a man with a camera standing there.
“Ah, probably my fault. He was in the Cauldron when my badge activated,” Neville said then sighed. “Well, at least he doesn’t have any embarrassing pictures to put on the front page this time.”
Hermione huffed. “Except for me and a bloody unicorn.”
“The whole world knows you’re a virgin,” Neville pointed out. “Well, the entire magical world. So a picture of you and a unicorn on the front page of the Daily Prophet is just going to be charming.”
It was, in fact, quite charming. She sent a copy of the paper to her parents because it amused her and went about her business despite the conversation and a few sly remarks she received from co-workers.
Registering her cousin’s magical guardianship and confirming that the Dagworth-Granger family magic had woken caused quite a bit of excitement and no small amount of horror since it became known practically overnight that she was the daughter of a squib and not a far distant relation of Hector Dagworth-Granger. What had happened to the Dagworth-Granger twins turned out to be no secret at all, and the fact that Hermione was the daughter of one and her very magical cousin was the granddaughter of the other garnered both negative and positive attention. Though practically every blood purist in the Ministry was quick to point out that Hermione’s father wasn’t a genuine squib, but the son of two purebloods who had his magic destroyed by dark magic.
Hermione had responded to that nonsense by publishing her family tree going back two hundred years in a full page ad for the Daily Prophet. Her paternal grandmother had been a half-blood, and her paternal great-grandmother had been a Muggle-born. She wasn’t going to let anyone white wash her lineage to further their cause. The fact that her family magic had woken up and claimed her and her infant cousin caught the international attention of several researchers who dedicated themselves to the study of family magic so Hermione had gamely filled out several questionnaires.
But the situation got out of hand when a French researcher used the attention she was receiving to announce that there was no such thing as a Muggle-born witch or wizard. He claimed to have proof to back it up. Investigations in over a thousand so-called first generation magicals had proven that every single one of them had a magical ancestor. Thus, he declared any magical person with two magical parents a pure-blood and everyone else was half-blood. Two different countries in the ICW issued arrest warrants for the wizard, but France told them both to kiss their arse.
Now, she’d been called before the Wizengamot to explain DNA and genetics to a bunch of people who didn’t even know what a battery was. She’d been lecturing herself for two days to keep it simple. She took a seat at the table she’d been given after Penelope helped her put down all the parchments she’d gathered. The older woman abandoned her to her fate, and Hermione couldn’t blame her.
Albus Dumbledore offered her a twinkle-eyed smile and Hermione glared at him much to the amusement of the audience gathered in the upper tiers of the room. “Good morning, Miss Granger.”
“Good morning, Chief Warlock.” Hermione set aside her quill.
“Before we get started, it’s been requested that you make a vow on your magic to present the facts with as little bias as possible.”
Hermione drew her wand. “I, Hermione Jane Granger of the House of Dagworth-Granger to solemnly swear on my magic that I will answer questions regarding the research gathered by Étienne Tremblay factually and with as little bias as possible. Additionally, I want it noted for the record that I care so little about blood status that there isn’t a device on this planet that could accurately measure it. So mote it be.” She performed a lumos charm and sat down.
“Yes, thank you.” Dumbledore shifted the pile of parchments in front of him. “The members of the Wizengamot have submitted questions so we can have some organization during this inquiry. The first question—what is DNA?”
Hermione looked at Harry, who just shrugged. “The letters DNA stand for deoxyribonucleic acid, and it is a molecule. A molecule is a group of atoms held together with chemicals. A macromolecule is a very large molecule. The three major macromolecules, DNA, proteins, and carbohydrates, are the essential components of all life. Humans, animals, plants, etc.” She felt like she’d lost about half of them so she stopped and looked at Harry for guidance. He grinned and drew a box in the air in front of him.
“Oh.” She blushed. “DNA is basically a building block for life, Chief Warlock.”
Dumbledore relaxed. “It crosses my mind, Miss Granger, that perhaps your wealth of knowledge is often a hindrance for you in the magical world.”
Hermione blushed. “I…”
“That’s not an insult,” Dumbledore said hurriedly. “You must find us frustrating is what I mean to say.”
“No, sir,” Hermione said. “Not at all. Magic is beautiful, and I made a choice a long time ago to embrace the culture that goes with it. I wish…” She bit down on her bottom lip. “I often wish that I could show magical people the world outside of our communities not because I think the Muggle world is better but because I fear for you. There is so much about the Muggle world you don’t know and while our isolation keeps magic a secret it does create a large group of people who are unprepared to deal with the technology that exists outside of our world.”
“Is it really so dangerous?”
“Yes. More magicals die in accidents in the Muggle world every year because they don’t know basic things like traffic rules than any other way including broom accidents. And it needn’t be that way—there are plenty of Muggle-raised people in the magical world that could correct that if we were allowed.” She cleared her throat. “But we aren’t here about that issue.”
“No, but I do believe it to be connected.” Dumbledore looked down at his parchment. “Can you explain genetics?”
“Genetics is the study of genes. Each parent provides half the genes of their natural offspring. These genes determine such things as eye and hair color, height, skin tone, and general appearance which is why children often resemble their parents. In ancient families—these genes can lead to familial traits like for instance the Malfoy family’s well-known white blonde hair. Mr. Tremblay has posited that magic is also a genetic trait.”
“You’ve reviewed his research study. In your learned opinion, is Mr. Tremblay right?”
Hermione took a deep breath because she knew what she had to say was going to be shocking to some and a relief to others. “No.”
The audience sort of lost it so she sat back and said nothing else while Dumbledore regained control of the room. Some of the peers were shouting at each other and at her. In the end, it took Dumbledore ten minutes and three concussion hexes to silence everyone.
“I would remind you all that we agreed to trust Miss Granger’s judgment regarding the research from France,” Dumbledore said. “If you would explain your answer, Miss Granger, we are all prepared to listen without interruption.”
“The study itself is unsound and does not address the intelligence of magic nor does it explain the vast statistical anomalies in its own data.” She pulled a stack of parchment toward her. “For instance, subject forty-one in his study was the first magical person born in his line in fifteen hundred years. Statistically speaking, Chief Warlock, it makes no sense he was the first out of seven hundred and twenty-two individuals to be born with magic if the gift itself is strictly a matter of a genetic lottery.
“Moreover, Mr. Tremblay doesn’t even attempt to explain the existence of squibs. His study ignores genetic mutations, the impact of incestuous breeding and finally he has declared us a separate species from Muggles without any sort of evidence to back up his claim.
“We know, from the research of Hedwig Fromm and Allen St. Clair, that magic is an intelligent force. Mr. Tremblay’s research makes absolutely no reference to this established fact. At most, I believe his research indicates that magical potential is coded into our DNA, but the ability to access that magic is determined by forces outside of the realm of science.”
There was a bit of a disruption in the second tier of the audience and a wizard stood. He glared down at her. “I must protest.”
“And who are you?” Dumbledore questioned.
“Étienne Tremblay. I won’t have my work maligned by this girl.”
Hermione shrugged when Dumbledore looked her way. She relaxed back in her seat as the older wizard was escorted down from the audience. He was placed at the empty table next to her. He was younger than she’d assumed—perhaps no more than five years older than her. Blue eyes, blond hair, tall and lean. She supposed plenty of women would’ve found him attractive, she didn’t.
“Miss Granger, do you have any questions for Mr. Tremblay?”
She stood and walked her table and moved to the center of the room. “Mr. Tremblay, do you have a scientific explanation for this?”
She shifted her animagus form without another word and the entire room stilled. She flicked her wings and magic sparkled around her. Hermione shifted back but for a few seconds, her wings shimmered on her back in translucent magic.
“Every animagus in this room can tell you that they met their spirit animal in meditation prior to their final transformation. How does your study address the intelligent spirituality of magic?”
Tremblay said nothing.
“Okay, one final question—how many Muggle-born witches and wizards did you encounter that did not meet the criteria to be included in your study because they didn’t have a magical ancestor?”
Tremblay’s face went sheet white. He stood. “You’ll regret this! You should’ve been my ally in this, Miss Granger.”
“I have no desire whatsoever to be any more or less than exactly what I am. Denying what we are is a fool’s path. If we don’t learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it.”
“I don’t understand,” Tremblay said.
“Tom Riddle had a Muggle father and a squib mother. He’d have bought your theory wholesale—ate it up like candy because he believed himself superior to everyone. He denied his true ancestry and in the end nearly destroyed us in his campaign to hold blood purity as the highest standard. He lied to his followers, convinced them that he was a pure-blood because he was told and made to believe that to be anything else was wrong and inferior. He was taught to hate, to destroy, and to make war to enforce an ideal existence he couldn’t meet himself! Well, I don’t know about you, Mr. Tremblay, but I’d rather go to my grave with mudblood carved on my forehead than walk Voldemort’s path on this earth.”
* * * *
“You know, it’s a good thing you’re courting that young woman,” Sirius murmured as Harry slipped into his box. The Wizengamot was on a break, and Dumbledore had brought Hermione up to his level for a conversation. Most of the members had activated privacy protocols on their boxes, his father had before he’d even waved Harry over.
Harry looked at Hermione. “That’s the first time I’ve seen her form.” He leaned on the wall of his dad’s box. “But what did you mean about it being a good thing?”
“A chaste bride with ancient family magic who is magically powerful and brilliant? If you weren’t courting her, she’d probably have contract offers piling up on her desk by the end of the day.”
“She received more than enough attention when most of that was unknown,” Harry said and frowned. “She doesn’t like it any more than I do, you know.”
“Considering how many wizards she rejected, I have to agree.” Sirius smiled. “You should go stake your claim—remind the men in this room that she’s yours.”
“Dad.” Harry laughed, but he left the box and walked across the floor as Hermione came down the side stairs of Dumbledore’s platform. She took the hand he offered with a smile and stepped down off the last step. “You okay?”
“I didn’t expect Tremblay to show up.”
“Really?” Harry questioned. “A lot of people respect your opinion. Some of the leading scholars in Europe are here today.” They walked back to her table, and she turned to face him.
“Are you…” She laughed suddenly. “Harry Potter.”
She leaned into him and laughed some more. “You’re terrible.”
“I am not, and I have three years worth of Witch Weekly to prove it.”
“You don’t,” Hermione said and laughed some more.
“Okay, not literally in my possession but I could look them up in the Ministry archive.”
She shook her head and sighed. “If you’re finished making sure everyone remembers that we’re courting—the Chief Warlock is going to restart the session when I take my seat.”
“Yeah, I’m about done,” Harry agreed and touched her face. “For the record, your form is gorgeous. We should go up to Hogsmeade over the weekend, and we can fly together.”
“I’d love that,” Hermione admitted. “And I’d like to see Hogwarts again. Would that be okay?”
“I can’t see how it wouldn’t be. I’ll speak to Dumbledore.” He released her and stepped back then pulled out her chair. Once she sat Dumbledore rung the first bell, and Harry went back to his box.
Dumbledore rung the second bell, and everyone grew quiet. “Miss Granger, you have the floor.”
Hermione stood. “Thank you, Chief Warlock, I believe Mr. Tremblay’s work is just the beginning of the discussions we need to have on the issue of the origin of magic and our own place in the magical world. I propose that we host an international research effort to investigate these matters, not because of the issue of blood status but because I believe we owe it to ourselves to embrace magic fully as a people as that is where our future as a people will begin. We use magic to shape the world, but we must acknowledge that magic shapes us, too. We can’t continue to sit idle on these issues, and we deserve to know the truth.”
“We’ll take the matter to a vote without discussion,” Dumbledore said.
Hermione sat down and relaxed as eighty-seven percent of the Wizengamot voted to fund the research. It felt like a victory. From the audience, Étienne Tremblay glared at her.
* * * *
The Atrium wasn’t overcrowded by the time the left the Wizengamot as Hermione had taken her time packing up the materials she hadn’t even needed. She’d expected more of an issue with her request, but Dumbledore hadn’t allowed debate at all which had surprised her.
Tremblay reached out for her the moment he was close, but Harry snatched the man’s wrist and put him on his knees with a hard twist.
“Are you out of your damn mind?” he demanded.
Everyone around them came to a stop. Hermione took a deep breath, but she said nothing.
“I insist on speaking with her,” Tremblay said and tried to pull free from Harry’s grasp.
“Touching and speaking are two different things in Britain, Mr. Tremblay. If you want her attention—make an appointment with her office but under no circumstances are you allowed to touch her. Understood?”
“What gives you the right to demand such a thing, Potter?” Tremblay questioned as Harry released him and he stood.
Hermione and Harry exchanged a glance, and she sighed. “Mr. Tremblay, we’re courting. If you’re unfamiliar with the courting protocols, I suggest you go away and come back after you’ve educated yourself.”
Tremblay looked between them aghast. “Courting? Are you serious? You’re the brightest witch of the age, and he’s a cold-blooded killer.”
“Oh, fuck off, you ridiculous twat,” Hermione hissed.
Tremblay reared back in shock, and Harry burst out laughing. He pulled her away before she could draw her wand and but noted out of the corner of his eye that Penelope Clearwater shot a tripping jinx at the man as she passed him. Tremblay fell flat on his face, and Penelope glided like a dancer into the lift with them.
“Well done,” Harry murmured.
Penelope grinned and holstered her wand.
Twenty minutes later, they were seated at her big table in the experimentation lab with a cup of tea, and Harry was on the stool beside her.
Croaker came to the door of the room and grinned. “You called the Senior Researcher of the Paris Magical Institute a ridiculous twat.” He pulled a chocolate frog out of his robe pocket and tossed it in her direction. “Queen of the DOM for the week.”
She caught the frog and opened it with a grin as their boss walked away. Her co-workers groaned.
“What’s that get you?” Harry asked in amusement as she beheaded the frog.
“No one’s gotten a whole week since 1984,” Hermione said and laughed when Penelope put her head down on the table and groaned. “As to what it gets me? No clean-up for any experiment I run for the entire next week. Everyone saves their really experimental and messy projects for the day they get to be Queen or King. The kind of stuff that can’t be cleaned up easily with magic.”
* * * *
“Tremblay called me a cold blooded killer in the middle of the Atrium,” Harry said. He was in his father’s private office in Black Manor, and it was the middle of the night. He was only a little be ashamed to have gotten his father out of the bed.
“And your lady called him a twat,” Sirius said with a laugh. “It was all over the Ministry in minutes. Word is that Tremblay has requested to be part of the research team Hermione has permission to create. In fact, hundreds of people all over the planet have reached out to Bones since in the inquiry—they all want to be involved in her project.”
“The origin of magic,” Harry murmured. “It’s ambitious, and I think even the people who voted no are fascinated. They’re the ones that are always tight-fisted with Ministry money.”
“It’s not the first time someone’s called you a killer.”
“No,” Harry agreed. “Not the first but this felt different.”
“Because he was implying that I’m not good enough for her—that she deserves something that I can’t provide. But what he really meant was that she needs someone like him—an academic.”
“Tremblay really isn’t in a position to determine what Hermione Granger needs and whatever she might need she certainly wants you. And that was evident to anyone paying attention today. I think the two of you are on the same page but if you’re concerned, ask her.”
“I don’t want to look like an insecure git,” Harry said and rubbed the carpet in front of him with the toe of his boot.
“I have it on good authority that making yourself vulnerable can be attractive,” Sirius said.
“You’ve got to stop listening to your wife,” Harry said and laughed when his dad just grinned. “I.” He took a deep breath. “I’m in love with her.”
“Oh, lad, I already knew that,” Sirius said quietly.
“What if she doesn’t or won’t feel the same?” Harry asked then exhaled sharply. “How do I move on from that?”
“There was a girl at Hogwarts—I thought I’d just die if I couldn’t have her. She was so lovely and bright. I loved to hear her laugh and often followed her around like a lovesick puppy. Our seventh year, she took my hand and led me down an empty hall then right into a broom closet. Then she told me her parents had signed a betrothal contract for and she was to marry Amos Diggory after Hogwarts. Then she asked me to kiss her.” Sirius grimaced. “I asked her why she wanted me to kiss her if she was engaged to another and she said that she knew I loved her, and she wanted to know what it was like—to be kissed by someone who loved her because she didn’t think Diggory ever would.”
“Elizabeth Diggory?” Harry questioned.
“No, her name was Dorcas. So I kissed her because it was all I’d ever wanted and I hated what her parents were doing to her. But after that, we couldn’t seem to stay away from each other and more often than not we’d meet in that closet and exchange sweet and mostly innocent kisses. Then it was time to leave Hogwarts, and she was to be married over the summer. She begged her parents to cancel the betrothal. She told them that she loved me and wanted to be with me instead, but her father wouldn’t have it because my parents were trying to financially disown me at the time. They’d prove unsuccessful as my grandfather had named me his heir when my father wasn’t paying attention. Regardless, Dorcas…the night before she was to marry she killed herself.”
Sirius cleared his throat. “Honestly, I’d have killed her parents and Amos Diggory if your father hadn’t been there to calm me down. I hate few people in this world the way I do William Meadows and Amos Diggory. As far as everyone else is concerned, Dorcas was killed by Death Eaters. That’s the story their money bought them.”
“Were you lovers?” Harry asked quietly.
Sirius shook her head. “Not in the full sense of the word. Her betrothal contract prevented it. She was magically bound to enter the marriage a virgin. But, Merlin, I loved her. I’d have run away with her if she’d agreed but she wanted to believe her father would relent and not make her go through with it. But she was wrong, and I lost her—I think maybe I always knew I was going to I just never thought it would be that way. I threw myself into the war after that and auror training. I didn’t think about her. I was reckless with myself, had indiscriminate sex with anyone willing, but I gave them nothing of my heart. I couldn’t risk it again; wouldn’t take that chance again. Then you were born, and James brought you out of the room and put you in my arms. I was protesting the whole time.”
Sirius grinned. “I just knew I’d drop you and Lily would murder me, and James said, Shut up, Padfoot, and hold your godson.” He sighed. “And I looked at you and fell in love all over again. I was so mad at your father for that. I didn’t want to love anyone ever again. Then your parents were murdered, and all I had left was you—Peter had betrayed us, and Remus had been killed trying to capture him. I’d have torn Britain apart to keep you, and soon enough anyone who thought they could take you from me learned that well enough even if I had to get my own grandfather involved. What I’m saying is that love and loss go hand in hand. Do I still love Dorcas? Yes, but it’s a bittersweet love. Isobel set me on my arse, honestly. I was in over my head with you and my grandfather had just died. I had to take the title unexpectedly, and my kid was mum shopping.”
Harry blushed. “Well.”
“You told her I was lonely,” Sirius said then. “And I don’t think I realized I was until she told me what you said. Her husband had died, and she had a small baby at home. Maybe we were both looking at each other like we’d found a solution to problems we were afraid to acknowledge. It felt like business then it felt like love and nothing like the sweet love I had for Dorcas. You don’t love the same twice, and that’s normal. Give this relationship everything you got, Harry, because if you don’t, you’ll regret it.”
Harry rarely summoned her to his office in an official capacity so when the note came through the memo system she was a little startled. Hermione didn’t know how often Croaker had met with the Head Auror when he was the Head Unspeakable so she refilled her self-inking quill, grabbed her leather binder and went upstairs. Harry was seated at his desk, in field gear which equaled dragonhide from the head down. Even his hood, which was currently down, was dragonhide. It didn’t bode well for whatever was on his plate. He looked up as she made it to the entrance his office and he motioned her inside but returned his attention the parchment he was writing on.
“I’ve been tasked with doing background checks on all the people who have applied to be a part of your research team.”
“Oh.” She nodded. “Okay, I hadn’t even thought about that honestly. I’ve been reviewing their qualifications, and I’ve already put nearly forty on my no-list due to their lack of a proper academic background.”
“I’d thought as much as I would prefer to be given a list of who you’d like to bring to Britain versus what the Minister’s forwarded me. Have you been pressured to make any political choices, yet?
“No, Madam Bones said she wasn’t going to bow down to any of that. I can give you ten names right now, and I’ll have another ten by tomorrow afternoon. Ideally, I’d like to choose at least twenty from abroad to supplement the team I already have in place. They’ll be divided over several disciplines from Charms to Potions. I’ve not found a historian that I like yet, but that position is a priority for me. The ICW awarded me a grant this morning—twenty-five thousand galleons a year for the next five years to fund the project. Donations are also pouring into the vault I set up at Gringotts for the project. We’re rearranging space downstairs to host our guests, and I’ve had Gringotts prepare a list of available properties for rent or purchase for the people who’ll be invited to come.”
Harry nodded and made a few notes. “Great. I need to warn you that I’m going to be extremely thorough concerning these background checks. Both because these people will have access to the deepest reaches of the Ministry and because they’ll be working closely with you. Madam Bones has granted me veto power over any choice you make if I consider them a threat.”
Hermione frowned. “This mixture of personal and business is probably going to result in our first fight.”
Harry laughed. “Probably, but I’ve got magical instincts at play in here. Tremblay’s disrespect aside the courting protocols demand a certain level of behavior from me. It’s my duty and my honor to protect you no matter our circumstances.”
“I did agree to it,” Hermione said. She opened her binder and drew out a blank piece of parchment. “I’ll give my first list now. You realize that I have about five hundred people to go through, right?”
“Yes, but we don’t have a deadline here, and you deserve to have a team that is just as dedicated to the truth as you are.” He paused. “That being said, Hermione, I can’t allow Tremblay’s inclusion in this project.”
“He was the first name I put on my no-list,” Hermione said. “His bias has already caused the creation of a deeply flawed premise that many people want to swallow whole and accept as the entire truth despite how he outright ignored the work of every prominent magical theorist the planet over. I understand his frustration. Often the work of Muggle-borns in the academic fields is overlooked or dismissed. He was attempting to destroy the stigma attached to being born to Muggle parents, but he did it with dishonesty. I can’t tolerate that. We all deserve to know the truth of our origin.”
“Have you started responding to the people you’ve dismissed from consideration?”
“No, not yet.”
“I suggest a form letter. Don’t make it personal to each one as that will cause more headaches and probably formal protests.”
Hermione sighed. “Croaker already told me that I should make every effort to keep the team balanced on blood status to avoid backlash.”
“I hate that it has to be a consideration, but some of the major opponents to Tremblay’s research didn’t even read it because he was Muggle-born. They proclaimed it bias garbage immediately. I admit to finding his premise fascinating, but you’re right about his work being incomplete but more so, willfully incomplete. He ignored anything that argued against what he wanted to be true.”
* * * *
Hermione turned several times on the dress platform, admiring the way the blue suit nipped in at the waist and flared out in a full skirt that ended just above her knee. “I like it a lot.”
“It fits you very well, Miss Granger. I have a matching hat and cloak.”
Hermione grinned. “Mr. Beau, are you trying to turn my head?”
The older man laughed. “Let me get the hat.”
The hat was adorable so she bought the whole outfit and new shoes as well. She’d purchased most of her clothes abroad, but Penelope Clearwater had gently pointed out that she might want to patronize some of the shops in Diagon Alley besides the bookstore so that people could get to know her. He gave her a small shopping bag after the purchase was complete and she meandered down the street. She’d already been to the bookstore to pick up the magazines she subscribed to and had delivered there instead of her home address.
The tea shop had a patio inside an environmental ward so she sat down at a table with her things and ordered a light lunch. Hermione pulled out her leather binder and opened it to the section she had prepared on the candidates for the project. She’d been able to eliminate over a hundred people so far because of they didn’t have the education requirements that she and Dumbledore had discussed with Minister Bones. The waitress brought her food and disappeared again. It was the kind of service that Hermione appreciated.
Three applications into the section she’d put together for the Americans, she ran across a name she didn’t expect to see. Marc Corey. She hadn’t thought about the man she’d almost married often since they’d separated. He’d left Italy within three weeks of their break-up and hadn’t written her since his return home. He was immensely qualified for the team which rankled. She sighed and hoped that Harry would veto the choice as she put him in the ‘yes’ section. At one time, she would’ve considered Marc her very best friend, but he’d destroyed that friendship and the sweet, simple love she’d had for him.
The chair across from her scraped loudly against the cobblestone, and she looked up to find Etienne Tremblay staring at her. He had a piece of parchment fisted on one hand—the form letter, she assumed.
“I demand that you give me a position on the Project Origin.”
Hermione closed her binder, shrank it, and slipped it into a pocket. “Mr. Tremblay, you’ve received your answer. Feel free to lodge a complaint with your own Ministry or Minister Bones but my decision is final. I won’t have you involved in the project. Your bias makes you absolutely unsuitable, and I won’t have the work we’re going to do tainted by your dishonesty.” She signaled the waitress and the young woman came immediately. “Could you pack up my lunch to go, please?”
“Of course, Miss Granger.” She picked up the tray she’d brought out and left.
Hermione stood and gathered up her purchases. She shrank everything and slipped them all into her work bag as Tremblay glared at her silently. “I don’t appreciate your intrusion on my lunch break.”
“This is not over,” Tremblay seethed.
“If you don’t leave me alone, Mr. Tremblay, I’m going to file a complaint with your government.”
“You think my government would even listen to you? You’ve caused my country a great deal of embarrassment.”
“You did that,” Hermione corrected. “You’re a liar and a fraud.”
Tremblay drew his wand.
Hermione’s stave shimmered into her hand, and she took a step back from the table. People all over the café patio scattered, several chairs were knocked over. “Go away, Mr. Tremblay.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” Tremblay hissed. “So what if you’ve got a staff.” He scoffed. “You probably can’t even cast a bloody cheering charm with it.” He pointed his wand at her. “Diffindo!” The curse went wide and hit the chair she’d left.
She whipped her stave through the air and hit him with a stream of magic. He was thrown completely free of the patio and hit the street with a thud as she pulled her badge from her pocket and activated it with a push of magic. Twenty seconds passed before four Unspeakables appeared in a rush of apparition around her. Two aurors appeared next. She wasn’t at all surprised when Harry dropped into the Alley with a shuddery wave of magic.
“Are you all right?” Penelope Clearwater demanded as she hurried toward her boss.
“Yes, I just need Mr. Tremblay arrested.” Hermione sighed as Harry headed her way. “Fantastic.”
“Oh, he’s wearing the dragonhide.” Penelope fanned herself and Hermione sighed. “What did Tremblay do?”
“He tried to curse with me a severing charm.” She motioned towards the chair. There was a hole the size of her fist in the chair she’d been seated in. “He’s got terrible aim. I didn’t even have to shield myself.”
“Loser.” Penelope started towards the aurors. “Boot, arrest him for the attempted murder of the Head Unspeakable.”
Harry reached her at that point and only glanced briefly at Tremblay before focusing on her. “Are you all right?”
“Fine,” Hermione said and frowned. “Apparently, shopping is a terribly unlucky activity for me.”
Harry laughed, but it was a weak one since he was staring at the back of her chair. He said nothing when Michael Corner came over and retrieved the chair for evidence. “You’ll have to give a statement to Boot.” He exhaled sharply. “How long have you carried a stave?”
“It was a gift from my mentor after I achieved my first mastery,” Hermione admitted. “It was made specifically for me.” She held it out to him, and Harry hesitated only briefly before taking it.
“It’s lovely, powerful,” Harry murmured. “Why did you pull it instead of your wand?”
“Intimidation,” Hermione admitted. “Tremblay’s the first wizard I’ve ever come across that didn’t back down when he saw it.” She glanced toward the crowd of her people and his. Tremblay was still on the ground, unconscious. “They’ll probably have to take him to St. Mungo’s. I stunned him.”
“Boot, take him to St. Mungo’s for treatment. He got hit with a mage-level stunner. He’s not waking up anytime soon without help.”
Three hours later, she was being interviewed by Director Shacklebolt in the large conference room with her boss at her side, and Harry was observing with Terry Boot, who hadn’t voiced a complaint about his case being intruded on by the head of the DMLE.
“Mr. Tremblay was upset not to be included in Project Origin and demanded that I place him on my research team. I told him he wasn’t welcome on the project because he’s dishonest and a fraud. He drew his wand. I drew my stave, but he didn’t take my ability to use it seriously. Then he fired a severing charm at me but missed. So I stunned him.”
“You broke five ribs and his left hip,” Shacklebolt said. “With a stunner?”
Hermione shrugged delicately. “I didn’t mean to break him. I did hold back significantly as to avoid throwing him into the building across the street from the café. I could’ve. I regularly stunned targets in training upwards of a kilometer. My history is no secret, Mr. Shacklebolt. Tremblay had to know I was trained by the ICW as a Hit Witch. I worked in the field for three years before I took on a supervisory role while I pursued my second mastery.”
“You held back,” Shacklebolt repeated. “Right.” He sat back in his chair as the door opened and Lord Black entered.
Hermione offered him a little wave.
Sirius Black sighed. “The French Ministry is demanding Tremblay’s release due to his diplomatic immunity. St. Mungo’s finished treating him for his bone fractures, and he’s being escorted here by their representative to discuss the situation.”
“I’ll be damned,” Croaker snapped. “He can’t attempt to kill one of my bloody employees and get away with it, Lord Black!”
“If he does have diplomatic immunity, it’s a problem for us legally. We’ll have to file charges against him through the World Court,” Harry said.
Harry was lounging at the far end of the conference table, looking dangerous and furious. Hermione figured he’d never, ever looked more attractive and also she was sure she had a dragonhide fetish, but it wasn’t her fault. The door opened again, and Tremblay entered with a man that Hermione had only ever seen in newspapers coming out of France. Elouan Theriot was a former French Ambassador and ICW representative that now stood as the head of the Département Magique de la Police.
“Harry.” Theriot rounded the table, and Harry stood. The Frenchman embraced him like a long-lost relative.
“Elouan, I’m surprised to see you here.”
“My government has hopes that you will not kill this fool for his transgressions against your lady. That being said, I’m not personally opposed to such a thing. He is no gentleman, and as you know, I have no time for such men.”
Harry laughed. “Sit and tell us why we should entertain the idea of diplomatic immunity for a scholar who has no official role in your government, isn’t here as an ambassador for your country, and who tried to murder a high-ranking official in our government out of petty jealousy.”
Theriot sat. He steepled his fingers together and appeared to consider Harry’s words. Then he shrugged. “I have nothing. He is married to the daughter of a powerful politician in my country, and even his father-in-law does not enjoy such immunity. The world would be better off with him. But I’ve been instructed to bring him home, more or less intact.”
“Those instructions do give us room to discuss compensation,” Harry said then turned to Hermione. “What would you like?”
She raised an eyebrow and hummed. “His library. The whole thing. Every single book. He has one of the biggest and most respected collections on the history of magic in Europe.”
Tremblay’s mouth dropped open. “Absolutely not!”
“Or you can kill him,” Hermione continued without missing a beat. “While his attempt was badly executed he did try to kill me and even if we accept his diplomatic immunity—you could follow him back to Paris and per the courting protocols challenge him to a formal duel. Then, of course, he’d be at your mercy because he can’t even aim a cutting curse of all things. It’d be like shooting fish in a barrel.”
“You’re kind of perfect,” Harry confided.
“Kind of?” She scoffed and laughed then she turned to Tremblay. “I mean it. I want your entire library. It’s the only thing I will accept in compensation for your terrible behavior. Well, other than your painful and gruesome death which would result in me getting all of your assets so that works, too. Either way, I get what I want, and I don’t care if it means you go in a hole in the process.”
“I love you,” Theriot said with delight.
“I’ll end you, Elouan. Keep your Frenchness to yourself,” Harry warned, and the Frenchman laughed.
“I would gladly take you both,” Elouan said with a wink and grinned when Hermione blushed. “So lovely.” He turned to Tremblay. “Well? Do you have a death wish?”
“You can’t allow this,” Tremblay snapped. “My father-in-law…”
“Is a savvy politician who is very aware of the damage you’ve already done his reputation and career. I’ll be surprised if your marriage survives this mess, Etienne. Do yourself a favor and make peace with Potter. You’re entirely in the wrong in this matter, and if they went the formal route, you’d end up in front of the World Court with no viable excuse for your loss of temper. Look at her!” Theriot said in disgust. “She looks like an angel. They’ll feed you to a bloody dragon for your foolish attempt on her life.”
“Fine.” Tremblay continued to glare at Hermione. “Do you think they’d care at all what I did to you if you weren’t Potter’s piece of arse?”
Hermione flushed and stood abruptly from the table everyone else stood with her. “I’m finished being polite about this, Mr. Tremblay. You’re just dumb, and I don’t have to put with idiots.” She picked up her binder and turned to Harry. “I want every single book he has in his collection up to and including the textbooks he used at school.”
Harry sat back down as she left the room without another word and focused on Tremblay, who looked so furious that he was breathless. Theriot pushed him back into the chair, and everyone else returned to their seat silently. He turned to his father and found him writing. “Dad.”
“Magical contract,” Sirius murmured. He set aside his quill and focused on Tremblay. “Personally, I’m completely on board with my son following you back to Paris and killing you on a dueling platform. Minister Bones is particularly enamored with Hermione Granger so even if she weren’t personally involved with my son you would pay dearly one way or another for what you attempted to do. I’d also like to throw you in Azkaban, and let’s be honest, I could do it. It wouldn’t take much to convince your government and your father-in-law that it would be best for everyone, including your own wife, if you just disappeared for a few decades.” He passed the parchment he’d been writing across the table. “A basic binding contract regarding the compensation Miss Granger has requested. Frankly, a standard wergild for a noble house is a million galleons so you’re getting off easy.”
“She’s not from a noble house,” Tremblay snapped.
“She is, in fact, a member of a noble house. Due to the courting protocols that she and my son are magically entrenched in, she is a member of the House of Black. If she marries my son and becomes the Countess of Gryffindor, she’ll be the Lady of the House of Potter. Either way, you’ve attempted to murder a noble woman and in Britain, that is a high crime. Your apparent ignorance of those protocols is not my problem.”
“Maybe I’d prefer to duel.”
“I know I do,” Harry said, and everyone focused on him. “I’m more than willing to rip you limb from limb. It would make my week.” He slouched down in his chair and shrugged when Shacklebolt sighed.
Tremblay’s gaze dropped to the contract, and he picked up the quill Sirius had placed on top. “It’s taken me fifteen years to create this library. Some of the books are incredibly rare.” His hand shook slightly as he read then he signed it with a defeated slump of his shoulders.
Theriot stood. “Lord Potter, if you’d accompany us to Paris—I will oversee the packing of the library, and you can bring it back to Miss Granger personally.”
* * * *
By the time he returned from Paris, it was nearly six in the evening, but it didn’t surprise him to find her still at her desk. He put the archive trunk down near the door and sighed at the look of her. She looked exhausted, upset.
Hermione glanced towards the trunk and took a deep breath. “I…” Tears spilled down her cheeks.
Harry walked around the desk, picked her up and took her to the sofa she kept near her floo. She curled into him and buried her face against his neck. He hated that she was so upset but relieved that she was comfortable enough with him to cry.
“I had a small life in Rome,” she whispered. “I had my job and a few co-workers to trade ideas with. My mentor sheltered me from the politics of the ICW. In fact, I left because he retired. I didn’t want to be there without Louis. Then I came here, and Ron Weasley just took up where he left off. It was like there was something about me that he wanted to destroy from the moment we met and even after years of separation it remained with him. And Tremblay? He doesn’t even know me, and it’s like my even living is more than he can tolerate it.”
“Some men derive their power from subjugating others, especially women. So when they encounter a strong, independent woman they lash out because they can’t handle it. Tremblay can’t be the first time you’ve encountered that in academic circles.”
“No, but I’ve never had a colleague attempt to kill me because they were threatened by my intelligence. There’s always politics involved in research and spell creation but this?” She sighed and lifted her head. “I’m a mess.”
“You’re amazing,” Harry murmured and brushed a tear from her cheek.
Hermione’s gaze connected with his and for a few seconds she didn’t move then she leaned in and brushed the softest, sweetest kiss he’d ever known against his lips. Harry remained still as he could, his fingers curling into the material of her dress as she breathed against him.
“Was that okay?” She asked.
“Perfect. Your medallion isn’t supposed to allow it.”
Hermione blushed. “Well, I’m wearing it of my own free will so I can make adjustments to it as I see fit.”
“So you had it adjusted so you can be kissed?”
“Just by you,” Hermione admitted. “I had your account manager do it because he has your magical signature on file.”
“Hermione,” he whispered, shock and pleasure warring in him. “You didn’t have to…”
“I wanted to.” Her blush deepened. “I’ve never wanted to kiss anyone before you.” She touched his face. “You made a big gesture for me, and I wanted to make one for you.”
“Theriot was right, you know. You look like an angel.” He rubbed his thumb over her bottom lip. “I need you to know that…Merlin.” He took a deep breath. “I love you.”
“Harry.” She moved closer to him instead of away so he relaxed.
“You had a close call today and when the alert went through the Ministry that you were calling for backup on your bloody lunch break…” He sighed and turned his face against her neck. He inhaled deeply in her skin. “What have you done to me?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “But whatever it is, I don’t regret it.”
He laughed and relaxed. He brushed his lips against the line of her jaw and she trembled. “Okay?”
“Yes, I mean there are limits…” She took a deep breath.
“Hey.” He touched her face and turned her head so he could look her in the eye. “Tell me you didn’t make this change because you think I’m going to get impatient.”
“No, of course not. I’ve never let a wizard push me around on that issue, and you wouldn’t be an exception. I just wanted…to kiss you.” She trailed her fingers over his cheek and through his beard. “You tempt me.”
“It’s good to know I’m not alone in that particular situation,” Harry murmured. “Kiss me again.”
She took a deep breath. “I really don’t know how, you know.” But she wrapped her arms around his neck and moved closer.
She brushed her mouth against his again, and he responded. It felt like a luxury, and that wasn’t something he’d have ever thought about a simple kiss. He pulled her into a tight hug when she lifted her mouth from his.
“I don’t want to be a tease,” she admitted against his cheek.
“You aren’t,” Harry assured. “Thank you for trusting me.” He glanced towards the trunk he’d brought from Paris. “Where are you going to put the library? You realize it’s close to forty thousand volumes.”
“Oh, we created a space for the project and the library will be the foundation of our collection.”
“You don’t have to give these books to the department, Hermione. This is your compensation.”
“I’m not gifting them to the Ministry. They’ll all be marked as my property, but there is no reason not to make the collection available to my research team.” She ran her fingers down the front of his waistcoat which was dragonhide. “Why are you in field gear?”
“I spent the morning embarrassing recruits at the Auror Academy,” Harry admitted. He grinned when she laughed. “Well, if they can’t handle a friendly duel with me then they definitely don’t want to work for me.”
“Makes sense to me.”
Her ex-fiancé was apparently practically perfect. Harry had records from all of his employers and his school records from the New York Academy of Magic. Marc Corey was a Muggle-born wizard raised by a single father. He’d done well in school and had won a place at the International Academy for his mastery work. He held a mastery in Spell Crafting and had been on the short list for the Aristotle that Hermione had eventually won. He met all the qualifications for the project which Minister Bones had signed off on. Harry wondered how Hermione felt about Corey’s desire to be a part of the project.
He sighed and sat back in his chair. The very idea of her former fiancé being in Britain was irritating, but he wasn’t an insecure boy. Moreover, he’d never been the sort who was interested in competing for a woman’s time or attention even if that meant walking away. Susan Bones had played that game with him—tried to make him jealous often. It always backfired because he found her behavior disrespectful. She never cheated on him as far as he knew but she had flirted with other wizards to the point that they fought over her behavior and his inability to be jealous over it.
Marc Corey’s name went on his ‘yes’ list mostly out of pride and the fact that he couldn’t find a single thing in his background that gave him pause. He felt mature about it—irritated but mature. He sent a memo down to Hermione with the decisions. There was only one ‘no’ in the first batch. He was sort of hoping she wouldn’t question it but if she really wanted the witch in question—he’d have to tell her his reasoning. It wasn’t a pleasant situation, and they didn’t often discuss the seedier parts of his work.
Ten minutes later, a memo from Hermione hit his desk. She wanted a specific reason for the ‘no’. Harry sighed and stood. It wasn’t a conversation he wanted to have over the memo system because it was sordid. He used the lift and made the trip down to the DOM easily enough. Hermione was in her office, as he’d expected. He leaned on the door frame for a few seconds watching her. She was reading and taking notes. Harry cleared his throat, and she looked up then smiled.
“Hey, you didn’t have to come down.”
“It isn’t the sort of thing I want to write down for the official archive,” Harry admitted. “All of my official correspondence is automatically archived—yours, too, now that you’re the Head Unspeakable.”
“Oh, right. I sort of forgot.” She motioned to the chair in front of her desk.
Harry sat and stretched his legs. “Cassandra Hope is a sex offender.” He watched her digest that. Her shock was kind of amusing no matter how ugly the situation was. “She potioned three different men into sexual relationships. She’s never been convicted of a crime because it’s not illegal to use lust potions in the United States.”
Hermione exhaled sharply. “Wow. I had no idea.” She shifted the book in front of her around. “I was hoping that you’d be an insecure git and say no to Marc.”
Harry laughed. “Hermione.”
“He’s academically qualified,” Hermione complained. “And quite brilliant in his own right. It’s very irritating.”
“If you think you can’t work with him…I can change my mind officially.”
Hermione huffed. “No, that wouldn’t be fair. We didn’t work together after we broke it off because he went straight back to New York. He was very angry with me, but I assume he wouldn’t have expressed interest in the project if he was still furious with me. That being said, I’m perfectly okay with any sort of male territorial display you might like to indulge in upon meeting him.”
“You’re adorable,” he said with a laugh. “Let me know if he doesn’t play nice.” He stood. “I’ll try to put some sort of note on the lists when they come down regarding the ones I can’t say yes to. If it’s sensitive—we’ll have a meeting.”
* * * *
In the end, between Harry’s background checks and her own educational requirements—she was able to pick twenty researchers to bring from abroad from a mixture of backgrounds. Hermione had submitted her final list to Madam Bones and let the Minister’s office extend the invitations. After Tremblay had tried to kill her, the Minister had insisted that all official responses yes and no went through her. Hermione had only gotten one letter of complaint personally since the policy was put into place. She couldn’t imagine how many Madam Bones had gotten. In the end, she’d put Marc on a list of alternates. It was her luck that he was chosen when her selection from the US turned down the placement due to an unexpected pregnancy.
She spent as much time with Harry as she could leading up the arrival of the Origin team and they’d both worked to create a schedule that guaranteed time together barring any emergencies of their departments. No less than three lunches a week and two dinner dates. Hermione rationalized that she was getting more of his time than anyone else, but she still missed him stupidly when he wasn’t with her. What she felt for him was nothing like the quiet, sweet affection she had for Marc so at first it was confusing and uncomfortable. She wasn’t ready to say the words and Harry, to his credit, hadn’t pressured her at all.
She wore her new blue suit with a pale grey silk blouse and her pearls for the opening conference for Project Origin. The jacket nipped in at the waist, and she’d paired the outfit with a pair of strappy black heels that made her legs look fantastic. The best part about magical shoes were the built in comfort charms. Harry was leaning against the wall in the back of the room. He’d had a Wizengamot session earlier in the day so he was in a full suit complete with a cravat. She had to admit she loved the look on him.
Hermione touched her pearls as she stepped up to the podium and ignored the flash of cameras in the back. “Good morning and welcome to Project Origin. Together we are embarking on a research journey that will hopefully give us answers to the ultimate question—where does magic come from? We will explore the nature of magic, the use of magic, and test the established limits of our magical existence. Thanks to generous donations and the support of the ICW we have the funds to run the project for the next ten years. As requested by the ICW, there will be quarterly reports produced and distributed outlining our successes and failures as we work. Will we succeed in finding the origin of our magic? I have no way of knowing that, but I believe our journey will be worth it even if we ultimately fail. I want to thank everyone who has come together here in Britain to work with me on this project. I look forward to getting to know each of you over the next few years.”
She looked toward the group of reporters. She’d agreed to take a question from each of the five reporters who had been granted access to the meeting. Hermione exhaled and offered them what she hoped was a warm smile. She hated the press, really. More so because she and Harry couldn’t even take a walk down Diagon Alley without ending up in the social column of the Daily Prophet.
“I’ll take a single question from each reporter—Rita, the Daily Prophet can go first.”
Skeeter stood and offered Hermione a cunning smile. “Lovely pearls, dear. Are you concerned about the project failing to produce results?”
“No, I’m not concerned at all. Knowledge is found in success and failure.” She touched the pearls. “And the pearls were a gift.” Hermione refrained from rolling her eyes as several more pictures were taken. “Daphne Greengrass, Witch Weekly.”
“How does it feel to lead such a large and important project, Miss Granger? It’s quite an accomplishment for a woman in Britain.”
“I’m grateful that I’ve been entrusted with such an important endeavor. I know there are people who have a problem with my placement as the lead of Project Origin both due to my gender and my blood status but I’ve never allowed the circumstances of my birth to hold me back nor will I ever allow anyone to make me ashamed of the fact that my parents are Muggles. My parents are frankly brilliant and accomplished people who raised me to believe in myself. I happen to think they did a pretty great job.” She turned to the next reporter. “Williard Appleby, Wizarding World.”
“Thank you, Miss Granger, there have been some complaints about the choices you made for your research team. What do you say to that?”
“Every single person who was chosen for Project Origin met the academic requirements determined by the British Minister of Magic and approved by the ICW. Each individual also went through a very thorough background check to ensure that we were bringing ethical people who could be trusted to treat the research as honestly as possible. While blood status is the last thing I did consider—I ensured that there was a mixture of individuals from pure-blood to Muggle-born. They come from various backgrounds and countries so that each person chosen offers the project a unique perspective. Did I make everyone happy? No. Do I care? No, because there is no single way I could’ve made everyone happy and stressing myself out trying would’ve been unproductive. This is our team. I do have alternates chosen to take the place of any individual who has to leave for one reason or another. In fact, I’ve already had to make one replacement due to a change in someone’s personal circumstances. This is a long-term situation so I can expect people to come and go over the next decade.” She focused on the next reporter. “Scott Jefferson, Magical Times.”
“Good morning, Miss Granger, there has been some speculation that you have not focused on the religious ramifications of Project Origin. Have you considered the worship of the Lord of Magic and are there members of your team that are devout?”
She hesitated because she hadn’t expected such a question. The worship of Zir was considered grey by many in Britain. “I did not question the participants regarding their religious leanings, but it would be a mistake to ignore the impact of Zir on magic and our magical existence. There is no doubt that he exists even though he has not appeared before us in over a hundred years. Anyone who has achieved the animagus transformation can attest to the existence of the Lord of Magic. I make no claims regarding the rest of the team and wouldn’t even if I knew their religious beliefs, but I personally am devout in my worship of Zir.”
A twitter of shock drifted through the room and her gaze centered on Harry. He just inclined his head, and she relaxed. They hadn’t discussed it, but he had an animagus form so even if he wasn’t religious he couldn’t deny the existence of Zir. “Chris Mackey, Magical Research Monthly.”
“Well, honestly, Miss Granger, my original question pales in comparison to the one I must ask. Do you feel that your worship of Zir will hinder you here in Britain?”
“I’ve never let the ignorance of others hinder me, Mr. Mackey. This will certainly not be an exception to that rule. Life is entirely too short to let others make you unhappy. I want to thank you all for coming today but your time in the Department of Mysteries has come to a close. Lord Longbottom will be just outside the door to escort our guests from the press from the department.” Daphne Greengrass hesitated and shot Hermione a pleading look. “Yes, Miss Greengrass?”
“I’ll be crucified by my readers if I don’t ask this—where did you buy the suit?”
Hermione laughed. “Crawford Beau on Diagon Alley. His storefront is just down from Flourish and Blotts. He does require an appointment.”
Greengrass waved as she was herded out by her fellow reporters.
* * * *
Hermione shed her jacket as she entered her office and put it on a chair as Harry followed her in. He shut the door and cupped her hip as he pulled her close.
“That was quite a bombshell you dropped,” Harry murmured.
“Is it a problem?” Hermione questioned.
“No, not at all. I wouldn’t say I’m devout, but I have a conclave, and I practice ritual magic, so I do acknowledge Zir and offer him the respect he is due.” He pulled her closer and pressed a soft kiss to her mouth. “You did very well.”
“Thanks.” Hermione wrapped her arms around his neck with a smile. “You look great. I love this whole thing you do when you go to the Wizengamot.”
He laughed. “Those gits have a dress code, you know.”
“I didn’t know, but I appreciate it.” She grinned when he groaned a little. “It really works for you.”
“I should let you go so you can get all these people settled.”
“Yeah, but they can wait.” She grinned when he laughed. “Dinner tonight?”
“I can arrange that. Got something in mind?”
“Let’s get takeaway and hide from everyone,” Hermione murmured and smiled when he quirked an eyebrow at her. “A girl can get fed up with getting her picture taken.”
“Is this the part where I apologize for being famous?” Harry questioned.
“Merlin, no.” She sighed. “I guess that’s been a problem for you, right?”
“Yeah, and frankly you’re the first woman I’ve dated who has a somewhat similar public profile to mine.”
“I’m not…” She flushed, and her mouth formed a small ‘o’.
“Oh, love, you are very well known in your own right. When is the last time you had to introduce yourself to someone who didn’t already know your name?”
“I guess a year or more,” Hermione said. “I really didn’t think of it that way. I got sort of famous against my will.”
“And that circumstance I know very well,” Harry murmured. “And I’m totally on board with hiding from everyone. I’ll send a memo down when I’m done, and you can let me know what you’re in the mood to eat.”
“Great.” She rose up on her toes, and he met her halfway. He always kissed her so soft and sweet—like he had nothing better to do and nowhere to be.
“Walk me to the lift.”
“Sure,” Hermione agreed.
Her people and the newcomers were out on the main floor when she left her office. She held Harry’s hand all the way to the lift, and she noted with no small amount of amusement that most of them were watching him. The new people only knew Harry Potter by reputation which didn’t do him justice as far as Hermione was concerned. She’d heard a lot about him before she’d returned to Britain and not once had she heard how bright he was or how devoted was to his family. He had a dry sense of humor and a lovely courtly manner that spoke of his upbringing in a noble household.
He brought her close as the doors opened and pressed his cheek against hers. “Try to avoid getting cursed.”
She laughed as he stepped back. “You do the same.”
“Only someone with a death wish would point their wand in my general direction,” Harry said and leaned on the wall in the back of the lift. The doors closed with a little swish of magic.
Penelope appeared at her side. “I love it when Wizengamot is in session, and they all run around suits.”
“I know,” Hermione said with a laugh. “It’s like being in a production of Pride and Prejudice.”
Two hours later, she had most of the research team settled in with assignments and had given them a tour of their space. Since they weren’t employees of the British Ministry officially, there were parts of the DOM they didn’t have access to so they’d made changes to the warding of the department to allow for limited movement of the research team based on their needs for Project Origin. Marc had accepted his assignment without discussion, but she didn’t believe he would hold his silence for long.
Hermione sat down at her desk and checked her memo box. There were two from Harry. The first letting her know he’d caught a case that required he leave the Ministry then a second letting her know he’d returned but that he’d probably be on the job for an extra hour. She agreed with the hour wait and suggested Indian food. A response came after a minute agreeing with the food choice. She dismissed everyone at five o’clock, but Marc lingered. Hermione wanted to push him off, but the conversation was going to happen whether she wanted it to or not.
“I was hoping we could have dinner and talk,” Marc said as he followed her into her office.
“I have dinner plans already.”
“Of course, we’re courting,” Hermione said and turned to face her ex. He was grimacing. “What?”
“I can’t believe you actually agreed to such an old fashioned and archaic ritual. The courting protocols were disbanded in the US over a hundred years ago. You said when we were in Rome that Britain was backward in a lot of ways. I guess I just didn’t believe it.”
“I’m honored by Lord Potter’s attention, Marc. He’s a great wizard and a very good man who treats me with respect.” She sat down at her desk. “What did you want to talk about?”
“I was hoping you’d give me another chance,” Marc said. “I’ve missed you, Hermione.”
“Marc, I haven’t seen you in three years.” Hermione sighed. “And I’m involved with someone else. My relationship with Lord Potter is serious. I expect his second gesture within the next month which I will accept.”
“What could you possibly have in common with a cop? I never thought you’d be the kind of woman attracted to fame and money.”
Hermione flushed with fury. “Get out of my office, Mr. Corey. You’re here to do a job, and that is all I want from you—work.”
“You won’t be happy with him, but it really doesn’t matter because that medallion you’re wearing will run him off like it has every man you’ve ever dated.” He turned on his heel and stalked out.
Hermione exhaled sharply and after a few minutes of silence packed up her work bag. Harry sent a final memo down telling her that he’d pick up the food and meet her at her flat which definitely worked for her. She went to the apparition point in the DOM that she rarely used and left the Ministry with a little bang. By the time Harry was knocking on her door, she’d changed into a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. He’d come out of his suit sometime between the opening of her project and his arrival on her doorstep.
“You look irritated,” Harry said as he shed his wool coat.
“Marc,” Hermione said and took the bag of food into the kitchen.
When he followed her, he’d shed his trainers and socks. She stared at his feet for a few seconds, and he curled his toes.
She laughed. “You’ve got nice feet.”
“One of the first charms I learned was a pedicure charm,” Harry admitted. “My mother has a real problem with people who don’t maintain their feet.”
“We had a whole conversation about that,” Hermione said. “When we were in Paris.” She brought the food to the table and grabbed some soda from her cooling cabinet. “My mum is fascinated by the cooling cabinet. When I first moved into this flat—she explored the whole place and made me show her how all the magical appliances worked.”
“You’re cute when you procrastinate,” he told her. “What happened with Marc Corey?”
“He suggested we have dinner and discuss reconciling,” Hermione blurted out and sighed when Harry frowned. “I reminded him that I’m being courted and that we hadn’t seen each other in three years.”
“And he said?” Harry questioned.
“He made some comments about how backward and archaic the courting protocols are and said it didn’t really matter because the medallion would run you off like it has every other man.”
“You didn’t mention he was an arsehole,” Harry pointed out.
She laughed. “I didn’t realize he was so bitter about the medallion. It wasn’t a secret, you know. I told him when we were still just friends, and he still pursued me romantically. In the end, it felt like he considered himself entitled to sleep with me because he’d be so patient for so long.”
“You know that protocol requires that I respond to his behavior,” Harry said.
“I know, and that’s why I told you,” Hermione sighed. “I just really hoped he’d be more mature about everything. I’ll report the matter to Croaker as well. There are no rules against fraternization in the DOM, but I am basically Marc’s boss. It sucks, honestly.”
“I’ve never been fond of that part of the job,” Harry confided. “Last year, I had an eighteen-year-old straight of the academy try to…” He waved his fork and flushed. “Reprimanding a teenager for making a pass at me ranks right up there with one of the more awkward moments of my career.”
Hermione grinned. “You poor thing.”
“She transferred to the Department of Muggle Affairs as soon as she could and hasn’t looked me in the eye since. I felt really bad, actually, but the girl tried to crawl into my lap.” He sighed when she laughed. “She also offered me a special favor.”
Hermione’s mouth fell open. “Oh.”
“I have no idea how to do that,” Hermione blurted out, and Harry choked on the mouth full of soda he was attempting to swallow. She laughed and summoned some napkins from the counter. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s fine,” Harry said as he accepted the napkins. He wiped his mouth and beard with a sigh. “Did you want to talk about the sex thing?”
“Thing?” Hermione questioned. “What part of the sex thing?”
“Your inexperience appears to be an issue for you,” Harry said. “It’s not an issue for me. It’s crass to say this but if this goes where I want to go—you wouldn’t be the first virgin I’ve gone to bed with.”
Hermione blushed. “I…” She patted her cheeks. “I’m at quite a loss actually.”
“It’s fine, I promise,” Harry said with a small smile. “I get it—that you’ve had a great deal of grief on this issue. I’m not going to turn around one day and attempt to change our circumstances.”
Hermione slipped out of her chair and into his lap. She threw one arm around his neck and quirked an eyebrow. “I guess I can’t blame her for wanting to sit in your lap, it’s my favorite place to sit.”
“She took off her top.”
Hermione huffed. “I’m going to curse this girl silly. What’s her name?”
Harry laughed. “You’re better looking.”
“That helps a little,” Hermione said. “I’m really irritated with the Marc thing.”
“His suggestion was disrespectful,” Harry said. “And I imagine you’ve gotten used to not being approached by men.”
“Yeah, it’s one part of the courting protocol that I found a relief,” Hermione said. “Even my incoming mail dropped by fifty percent which made me realize that quite a few wizards I was corresponding with weren’t exactly interested in me professionally which is insulting.”
“If you give me a list, I’ll send each one of them a note telling them how terrible I think they are.” Harry grinned when she laughed then cleared his throat. “So, I’ll speak to Corey in private, and I’ll keep my end of things as non-threatening as I can, but my reputation proceeds me.”
“I understand.” She bit down her lip. “I loved him once, and it hurt when he walked away from me like that didn’t matter at all. It was like he was saying that his physical gratification was the most important part of our relationship.”