Well my friends I thought I should let you have a little New Year Chapter in advance.
As always thank you for your lovely comments and reviews, you really are tooooooo kind :-). As ever my sincere apologies for any errors glaring or otherwise... and just enjoy...
Despite a certain air of déjà vu, there was also something very different this time, about Hermione's arrival at the Ministry of Magic with Lucius. Admittedly it was much later in the morning, instead of arriving for work and scurrying to their offices, witches and wizards were congregating about the black marble halls, meeting for lunch or just taking a mid-day break. Whether it was because things had changed in her own life or because some people now viewed Lucius differently she wasn't sure. Their presence together of course, still raised the odd eyebrow from some, encountered a disapproving stare or caught a curious glance from others but on the whole, no one really paid them much attention at all. Fortunately, on this occasion, as they made their way across the foyer to the lifts, they did not encounter an angry Ronald Weasley, in fact they didn't encounter anyone.
Hermione leaned forward, pressing the button for the second level of the Ministry, casting a quick glance at the man at her side. He looked supremely arrogant and equally as elegant, just as he always did amidst those famed marbles walls. Hermione however couldn't suppress a rather rueful smile.
"Lucius Malfoy visiting The Department of Magical Law Enforcement…. willingly." She said quietly, her own tone a little scornful as she teased him, squeezing his arm with that reassuring affection all of her own.
That rueful smile of hers and playful words, were met with an equally teasing sneer, his nostrils flaring and the usual raised brow.
"Hmm, I am not sure that is exactly the word I would have chosen; however, I find saying no to the Ministry's Head of Wizard Welfare and Rehabilitation, practically impossible."
His gloved hand came to cover hers, returning the affectionate squeeze. Even if they had no idea what the Minister Of Magic wanted to discuss with them, he felt a lot more relaxed about lunch with Kingsley Shacklebolt than he had a probing interview with Rita Skeeter, the encounter still making his flesh crawl.
"That's what I like to hear Mister Malfoy." The twinkle in her brown eyes took on a more mischievous inflection, one which was returned by the Dark Wizard.
"I am not sure Harry will be here." She said returning to actual subject in hand.
"But I can leave him a note, instead of sending him an owl. We have time to pop by."
Lucius was still getting his head around the "we" part, and the way Hermione used it now. Now that Draco and Astoria knew about his personal relationship with Hermione, now that they had confessed their own feelings to each other, and now that Hermione was going to stay at the Manor, everything seemed somehow official. There were no plans for any more front page news headlines, but these things had a habit of getting out, especially if Rita Skeeter had anything to do with it, for the time being however their involvement was to remain firmly behind the well protected walls of Malfoy Manor.
Hermione knocked politely on the solid door to Harry's office, it slowly began to open before her and she poked her head arounds its retreating weight.
"Hey you, is this ok are you busy?" She asked smiling broadly at her old friend as he rose from behind a pile of books on his desk.
"Hermione, of course. I am ever too busy for you?"
He rose quickly from his chair, moving to greet his old school friend, catching sight of Lucius Malfoy a short distance behind her, he exchanged an inquiring glance with Hermione, but the presence of the dark wizard did not diminish his warm welcome for her, nor did it prevent their usual warm hug. Taking a step back, but with an arm still caught around the young witch, he extended his hand to Lucius.
"Mister Malfoy, how are you?"
Lucius respectfully removed his leather glove, taking Harry's smaller hand in his own and shaking it firmly.
"I am very well thank you."
Hermione couldn't help but notice his smile was a little nervous, she wasn't sure if it was meeting Harry again or the fact he was in an Aurors office.
"I had offered to wait in Hermione's office whilst she came to see you, but arguing with her is not a good option."
There was an odd little moment of shared knowing between Harry and Lucius Malfoy. The former Death Eater wondered if perhaps his innocent remark had shared too much with the man who probably knew her better than anyone else. Oddly, but to his delight and his amazement, the young man, who had caused so much trouble in his former life, laughed, genuinely laughed. It wasn't polite mirth, but open amusement.
"I'd rather fight Dark Wizards than argue with Hermione."
Harry realised what he had said and to whom he was talking.
"No offence" He met Lucius Malfoy's penetrating grey eyes, looking a little sheepish as he apologised for his slip of the tongue.
This time it was Lucius who laughed, perhaps not quite as heartily as the younger man, but with genuine amusement.
"None taken Mister Potter, in fact Hermione was just mocking me as we got into the lift, about my being in the offices of Magical Law Enforcement…. willingly…... was her choice of words."
There was another of those shared moments between Harry and Lucius, both men glancing at Hermione who was doing her best to look totally innocent of any accusations.
Those odd little inflections the younger wizard had noticed in his friend's voice at the weekend had today, with the presence of Lucius Malfoy, drifted into something else. He didn't miss the twinkling smiles that passed between them, or their easy manner they shared. She had told Ron at the weekend that Lucius and Draco were now her friends, but her friendship with the older of the two Malfoy's at least, from what he could see, seemed somehow different. It wasn't even like the friendship they shared, he couldn't quite put his finger on it. Perhaps it had something to do with the work she did, the things they'd had to share, from what little he knew or understood about her work, he realised that it would change the dynamics or any friendship; yes that must be it.
"What brings you to the Ministry today Hermione?"
"Well I do work here Harry."
Despite her words, Harry could tell by her sarcastic tone that she was teasing him now, a teasing he was only too happy to return.
"Oh of course I remember now, not skiving in Azkaban this week then?"
Strangely even as an Auror and with a Dark Wizard in the room, Harry was conscious of his words to Hermione, but her noticed Lucius Malfoy took no notice of his reference to the prison he had once been incarcerated in. He also noticed the, dare he say, warm smile, that crossed his face as Hermione wrinkled her nose at his leg-pulling.
"As you well know Harry Potter I am still working with Lucius and staying at the Manor."
It still felt rather strange hearing her address Draco's father as Lucius, and even more odd at how she referred to Malfoy Manor after everything that she had suffered there. He felt a sudden rush of pride for his long-time friend. After the war, she had talked of turning her back on the wizarding world, and now here she was taking it by the scruff of the neck and almost turning it on its end, with her courage, her determination and her foresight, not to mention her aptitude.
"Which brings me on to the reason why I am in your office at least, I got your owl yesterday and if nothing has changed, then lunch on Wednesday is fine."
Harry was brought firmly back into the room with her brisk and efficient tone.
He nodded, a little like Lucius Malfoy, he wasn't going to argue with her, even if anything had changed, which fortunately it hadn't.
"Are you still okay to come to the Manor?"
There it was again, Harry began to get a little annoyed with himself that he couldn't put his finger on what it was. Maybe Wednesday would bring him his answer.
"Yes, no problem at all, nothing has changed, and it would be nice to get out for lunch." He almost said, even if it is Malfoy manor, but stopped himself just in time.
"Excellent. Which brings me on to the reason why I am here at the Ministry."
Hermione was in full efficient work mode now. No one could say Harry wasn't dedicated to his job, but his brain did not work in the same well organised business-like way Hermione's did. Hearing her adopt the tone he had known since childhood, brought a warm smile of its own to his lips.
"I got an owl from Kingsley yesterday too."
She noticed Harry's brows rise behind his round glasses.
"He invited Lucius and I for lunch."
There was that tone again.
The brows remained raised, she didn't elaborate on the fact he wanted the details of their interview with Rita Skeeter or that he had something he wanted to discuss with them. The raised brows being replaced by a rather quizzical look which now appeared on Harry's face, one that Hermione didn't miss.
"What is it?"
"Oh, nothing honestly, I might have got my days mixed up, you know me and interdepartmental memos, but I could have sworn that the head of MACUSA is visiting for a few days this week, and I thought her visit started today."
This was just typical of Harry, he was totally unfazed, by the arrival of such prestigious dignitary visiting the Ministry, Hermione couldn't believe that Harry didn't know all the details, and that he passed it off so nonchalantly.
"HARRY!" She all but shrieked at him, causing him to jump a little.
"What? I am not much better than you, I am not always here, and if I am, as you can see I am buried under a pile of books and papers, unless it involves me directly these things kind of pass me by."
"HARRY!" This time the shriek of disbelief was even louder.
"These things!" Her tone was steeped in utter disbelief.
"Sorry." He said somewhat guiltily.
He did get Hermione's point or rather her shriek. The visiting Head of the Magical Congress of the USA, these things? But her visit really didn't involve him, well not directly, he was certain that at some point Kingsley would stop by with her, but it wasn't an official appointment on the Wizarding Calendar.
"I am sure it's probably later in the week." He offered even more sheepishly, finding himself glancing at Lucius Malfoy, almost looking for an ally.
Clearly the importance of the visit, whatever the reason, was not lost on the tall blonde man whose presence, still now, dominated even his large office, his reaction however was thankfully more contained than Hermione's, his reasoning more logical.
"The Minister said his diary was clear today Hermione, I am sure a visit from the head of MACUSA would hardly have slipped even Kinsley's mind. As Mister Potter says, it is more than likely later in the week."
Hermione viewed both men sceptically, feeling a little as if she were being ganged up on, but in truth she knew exactly what Harry was like, she often applied one of her mother's favourite sayings to her best friend, he would forget his own head if it wasn't screwed on. She had to admit he had got worse as they had gotten older, it really wasn't even so much that he forgot them, just to Harry some things really weren't that important. She wasn't sure she could really apply that logic to the Head of MACUSA, but then as he said if it didn't directly involve him, it just passed him right by, whomever it was.
Hermione also knew that Lucius was right, Kingsley could be a little forgetful from time to time, but that was because he had so much going on in that brain of his. But he would hardly have forgotten a meeting with the head of MACUSA, especially as he had only seen with her the previous week.
Harry was improbably grateful for Lucius Malfoy's rational intervention, although glancing at Hermione, she didn't look entirely convinced or particularly pleased with either of them, like it was somehow their fault. What didn't go unnoticed by the younger man, was how Lucius Malfoy spoke to her, clearly Hermione and the older of the two Malfoy's had developed quite a strong bond whilst working so closely together. It reminded him a little of the way Professor Dumbledore had once indulged and spoken to him, that paternal guidance he had inferred. Lucius Malfoy was of course old enough to be Hermione's father, he after all had a son in their same year at Hogwarts, but his harsh and haughty aristocratic tone, whilst still clipped, was incredibly soft and placating, laced with an almost intimate indulgence.
A thought occurred to Harry, a thought he quickly brushed to one side.