Minister Granger collapsed into the large, cushioned chair at her desk. The press conference drained more of her limited energy than expected. Clips of her voice already rang through every interface system in the building.
-will find him.
-doing everything we can.
Yes, Auror Harry Potter is missing.
Four days. The Boy-Who-Lived last reported in four days ago. His fiancee, Minister Hermione Granger, had been a nervous wreck for three days, eight hours, and approximately forty-four minutes. When Harry missed the first check-in, Hermione knew the likelihood he was simply detained was high. The mission required a deep cover, one that couldn't simply be broken for every four-hour check-in. As the second check-in passed, the worry started deep in her gut. Harry never missed two in a row. Never. With each missed check-in, her worry grew, interfering with her own duties. The rumor mill started spiraling shortly after twenty-four hours adding one more thing to her ever-growing to-do list: find the Prophet's source inside the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. The press conference came after days of articles calling for a response to the rumors and speculation that the Boy-Who-Lived was missing in action.
Running her hands over her face, Hermione attempted to rub away the worry, fear, and exhaustion. A knock, a specific one she was all too familiar with, came at her door. One two. One two. Normally, she rolled her eyes at the child-like pattern she'd heard for years, but just then, it sounded like her own pounding heart echoing through the office. Ba-bum. Ba-bum.
"Come in, Ron," she permitted.
He quickly complied, closing the door again. As it latched in place, the ever-present silencing and security charms reactivated.
"You look like shit," he commented flatly as he slumped into a chair propping his feet on the corner of her desk.
"Always the flatterer," she muttered glaring at his feet before turning back to the papers laying before her. There was so much paperwork and reports to sort through, but after the day she'd had, Hermione could barely read the words in front of her. Her head already pounded to the point of tears only exasperated by the emotion swirling in her heart.
"Alright, you're going home," Ron announced after watching her struggle to read one page for nearly twenty minutes. He pulled the paper out of her hand, setting it back in the stack she'd pulled it from.
"I have work to do, Ron. Just because Harry is missing doesn't mean I stop being Minister."
"Maybe not, but you can't work like this. You're in no shape to be here. Everyone would understand."
"And let the prophet run with the headline 'First Female Minister Too Emotional to Work.' She choked out a bitter laugh at the story the paper would surely run. "They'd have a hay day. They already forced us to admit Harry is missing, which is one other thing I need to sort out before that source gets one of our people killed."
Ron's expression softened, and the pity in his eyes made her want to scream. "Hermione, your fiance is missing."
Her eyes drifted to her ring, spinning it slowly. For four days, she attempted to separate the Minister concerned for an agent from the fiancee terrified for her lover. The two halves were beginning to converge.
"The world's problems don't have to be resolved today," Ron assured her. "I think you deserve a day off. And Harry'd kill me if he came back to find I let you work yourself into a trip to Mungos. Again."
She rolled her eyes, picking up the closest stack of papers to hide behind. "It was one time, and I was dehydrated."
He snatched the paper from her hand, slapping it onto the desk again. "That's dragon shit, and you know it."
With a final exasperated sigh, she consented and paged her assistant to inform him she'd be out the rest of the day and to hold her messages. The sympathetic look he shot her nearly made her fire him on the spot. Rather than traipsing through to the main corridor as she normally did, Hermione and Ron took advantage of the personal floo line in her office. A perk of being the Minister.
The flat was quiet as it had been each day she came home for the last week. The only thing Hermione hated more than coming home while Harry was on assignment was coming home while he was missing on assignment. She missed his warm smile and welcoming kiss, longed for their quiet evenings watching television and having dinner together. Hermione hated the quiet of their flat without Harry.
After two failed attempts to use her telephone, Hermione took pity on her friend and phoned in a delivery order for her favorite Chinese restaurant. The close proximity to the restaurant would be what she missed most when she and Harry moved into their house the following year after their wedding.
Before the food even arrived, Ron pushed a large glass of wine into her hands and shoved her to the sofa. The old friends settled into a comfortable evening. Ron did his best to keep her mind occupied flipping through the channels on her television until he found a remotely interesting movie. He poked fun at the actors drawing a laugh from her occasionally. They made it through two movies and a whole bottle of wine when Ron bid her goodbye. With one last sympathetic look and hug, he apparated home, and the flat fell silent again.
A cold emptiness settled deep in Hermione's chest. With a sigh, she raised the high-security wards she always used overnight. After refilling her glass, she settled back on the couch to watch the news. The wine started serving its intended purpose, leaving Hermione relaxed and hazy as she dozed off on the couch.
The wards dropped around the flat, waking Hermione instantly. There was one person in the world capable of dropping her night wards. She apparated into the foyer, too impatient to walk the thirty meters over, and there he was leaning against the wall. Harry was absolutely filthy, and she had never seen someone look so wonderful.
Hermione threw herself into his arms, causing him to stumble back against the door for support. She knew she should be more careful, at least until she knew if he was injured, but the need to feel him safe and solid in her arms was overwhelming. Before he could respond though, Hermione pulled back and smacked him on the shoulder.
"Four days, Harry James Potter!" she shrieked at him attempting to blink back tears. "You've been gone four days!"
And then her mouth was on his, hard and fierce. The fear and anxiety of four days of constantly worrying poured into the kiss. She didn't care about the filth and grime he was still carrying from the last four days. It didn't really matter where he'd been or what had happened. They could sort that out in the morning at the Ministry. He was safe and home. That was all Hermione cared about. After a long moment, she pressed her forehead against his relishing the feel of him. But the smell of him caught her nose and made her eyes water with more than tears.
"You smell like a sewer," she teased with a smile.
"Probably because I've been in one for two days." His voice was flat and vacant, sending a chill through Hermione. She pulled away to look at him properly. His cloak was gone, and the clothes he still had wouldn't be far behind. A sleeve of his shirt had been ripped away at the elbow, and the knee of his trousers was torn, the lower half stained with blood. His glasses sat crooked and cracked on his nose. Mud, sewage, and blood covered nearly every inch of him. The amount of blood concerned her the most.
"Harry." He continued looking straight ahead above her head, breathing shallowly. "Love, look at me." She turned his face toward her. His eyes were on her, but his focus was miles away. "Do you need to go to Mungo?"
He slowly blinked, refocusing on her, and shook his head before pulling her to him again cradling her head against his chest. A tremor ran through him shaking her body as well. Pressed against his shirt, the smell was almost overwhelming, but she held herself still knowing he needed the contact. He always did after a bad mission.
After a full five minutes, Hermione decided she really ought to check him over for injuries herself. "Come on, let's get you cleaned up."
Shuffling him into the bathroom was not an easy task. The last time she'd seen him this devoid was after the Battle of Hogwarts. For days, he sat and stared without moving, without speaking. It was three days before she convinced him to even eat. She couldn't help but wonder what could cause this sort of reaction from him again.
After starting the shower, she made quick work of shedding her own clothes. Showering together after particularly bad missions was a common occurrence now. After the first one, Hermione found it much easier to simply join him. In the last six years, they had developed a routine.
She eased the remains of his shirt off. A large blue and yellow bruise stood out against the pale skin of his stomach. Small cuts crisscrossed his arms and chest, angry and red. A whimper pressed through his lips as she gently probed at what looked like a glancing incendio to his shoulder. After a quick kiss near the wound, she guided him out of the remains of his tattered trousers and pants then helped him into their shower. The water was too cool for her liking but Harry's preferred temperature particularly considering the various open wounds he had.
After a moment of holding him under the warm water, she reached for the soap, lathering it and massaging it into his scalp. He let out a pained hiss when her fingers grazed a cut on his head. Blood and mud swirled down the drain as she tilted his head under the spray.
Halfway through, his knee buckled, leaving her supporting most of his weight. The knee in question was swollen to twice its normal size and nearly black from bruising. Hermione was almost certain he must have ripped a ligament or two in the joint. Mungos wasn't going to be optional anymore. When she pressed a kiss to his bruised collar, the last bit of his hold snapped, and the injuries weren't the only thing weighing on them as the anguish set in sending them both to the shower floor. His arms held her tightly to him sobbing. The heart-wrenching sobs he let out reverberated through her, breaking her heart. Sitting on the tiled floor, Hermione was extremely thankful for the never-ending warming charm on their water as a normal Muggle water heater would have run cold long ago.
He tried to apologize, but she shushed him and reached around to turn the tap off. "Let's just get you to bed, okay?"
With a great deal of effort, the pair picked themselves up from the floor moving into their bedroom. After a quick-drying charm, she helped him into his favorite flannel pants and a soft shirt before changing into her own pajamas.
Under her breath, Hermione cast a quick diagnostic charm over him. To say he was beaten was an understatement. His collar bone was fractured. The cut on his head was accompanied by a concussion, and the spell confirmed the burn on his shoulder was an incendio. Her suspicions about his knee were also confirmed. Both his ACL and MCL were ripped along with a gash on his lower leg. She wasn't entirely sure how he'd stood on it for so long. The healing bruise on his stomach was the least of his injuries despite taking up a good portion of his right side.
"Harry," she started softly lacing her fingers through his hair. "If we don't get you fixed up soon, it'll-"
"It's already been three days," he cut her off. His eyes finally showed some kind of emotion even if she couldn't quite place it. "It can wait until I get a few hours of sleep and hold my fiancee for a while."
"If you won't go to Mungos, at least let me immobilize your knee and collar until we do." He nodded his consent knowing she wouldn't let it go otherwise, and she went to work setting things and handing him various vials.
Once she was satisfied he'd make it well enough until morning, Hermione crawled into their bed, guiding him to lay against her, his head tucked protectively into her chest as he listened to the steady beating of her heart. Questions swarmed her mind, demanding to be asked. But her heart simply wanted to be still and relish in the comfort his presence brought.
"I'm submitting my resignation tomorrow," he abruptly informed her. She lifted her head to look at him, but his eyes remained on the closet door across from him. "Effective immediately. I want out."
Hermione mused for a moment. Thwarting dark witches and wizards consumed Harry's life since they were children. It never made much sense to her that he would want to continue as an adult. There were so many other things she could envision him doing that didn't involve going missing for nearly a week to come home filthy, injured, and shattered.
"Any ideas what you want to do?" she asked softly stroking his hair, carefully avoiding the cut at the top of his head.
"I want out completely. No Ministry, no magic."
"Bit hard when your fiancee is the actual Minister of Magic, don't you think?" she teased lightly, trying to pull some type of reaction from him. Her efforts were rewarded with a breathy chuckle.
"I'd come visit you, of course," he promised. Harry pulled away propping himself on his elbows to look at her. The look in his eyes was easy to place now: terror.
"I'm serious though. I think I wanna go to Muggle university. Do something just totally away from the wizarding world. Be known as Minister Hermione Granger-Potter's husband, and that's it."
She nodded, enjoying the idea of that. Harry never wanted the fame and glory that came with who he was. Something far away from the wizarding world seemed like a logical option for him, and she loved seeing him embrace the Muggle side of their lives.
"We'll have to start sorting out how that will work," she offered helpfully. "There must be some way to make your Hogwarts records work for university."
"You know," he started, the terror from before now replaced with a mischievous twinkle the Marauders would be proud of. "I've heard girls always marry their fathers. Maybe I'll become a dentist."
She lightly smacked his arm, chuckling along with him. Content, he settled against her again listening to the last of her laughter.
The quiet flat felt cozy unlike the last four nights of anxious panic. With his weight against her, Hermione felt settled in her soul in a way she never was when she didn't know where he was. Excitement filled her knowing she would never have to suffer that fate again. However, it also reminded her that something serious happened this time to cause such a shift in him. Something they needed to talk about.
After several peaceful moments, she finally asked, "Will you tell me what happened?"
Instantly, he stiffened against her, hands digging into the back of her shirt. She regretted forcing this on him so soon.
"He used a killing curse. I haven't heard one since the forest. When Voldemort- when he-" A sniffle interrupted his sentence, and Hermione kissed his head to convey her understanding. She knew all too well.
"It's the first time since and I panicked. Hermione, I just froze there. And it let them get the jump on me."
"What about your emergency portkey?" she asked, trying not to sound accusing. But there was also a reason each Auror was required to keep one on their person at all times when undercover.
"I honestly forgot about it," he admitted. The old American penny still lay unused in his trouser pocket. "My mind just shut down once I heard that incantation. When I got away, I bolted. I still don't know how the whole thing got blown."
"That doesn't matter. It just matters that you're safe, and you're home." She pressed another long kiss to his head thanking anyone and everyone that he was safe.
"I was so scared I wouldn't make it back this time. I was scared that was the end for me and I would never see you again. I don't ever want to be in that position again." He buried his face into her chest breathing in the comforting scent of their lavender detergent. It was a scent he'd come to always associate with her.
"I can't say I'm unhappy about that. I hate your job." He hummed his agreement. The last few days of being on the run finally caught up with him along with the crash of the stamina potions and Muggle energy drinks. Before long, Harry drifted into a deep sleep leaving her alone to her thoughts.
After the second failed check-in, Hermione made it her personal mission to learn everything about the undercover operation, pulling rank on his superiors to get the files. Being assigned to Harry, it was certainly an important case but also not an overtly dangerous assignment. A pair of stray death eaters hiding in a small village in Eastern Ireland, low ranking enough during Voldemort's reign she hadn't recognized the names at first. The assignment was supposed to be quick and easy, a week at the most. Yet it somehow derailed completely leaving the Ministry scrambling to find their missing Auror.
In the comfortable quiet of their room cocooned in his warmth, Hermione allowed herself to fall apart for the first time that night. During each of those four days, she stood resolute and determined at the Ministry, only allowing herself to cry in the privacy of their home. The Minister had to put on a brave face for the community that was terrified and still reeling from war. She hadn't been able to reveal her own worry except in that room clinging to his pillow and the lingering scent of him. The sobs came again that night as the tension finally released her. It was a true testament to how tired Harry was that her choked sobs and tremors didn't wake him. Once she cried herself dry, Hermione too drifted into sleep, the last few days of worry and putting on a brave face catching up to her.
Late morning sunlight beamed through the window the next day as Harry stirred. He immediately regretted the fact Hermione was not still curled up with him but instead sitting on the edge of the bed lacing up her boots.
"Well this is very out of dress code, Minister Granger," he teased, gently moving to sit behind her, well aware his knee was still something of a mess and the numbing charm had worn off in the night. But he also couldn't help the wave of affection and desire the stirred in him, realizing she was dressed in one of his flannel shirts. His fingers ran the curve of her spine over the warm flannel material.
"Because today the Ministry can manage itself. We're going to Mungos." She straightened, having finished with her laces, but Harry seemed to have other ideas about their morning. His lips found her neck, exposed due to the ponytail she wore, and kissed their way up to the hollow of her ear. He wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her back to his chest.
She reached back and purposefully pressed a finger into his injured knee. He hissed in response clutching a fistful of her shirt in pain.
"You play dirty, Granger," he gritted into her shoulder.
She only hummed in agreement and released his knee. "Thought you liked when I played dirty."
"Not like that," he groaned, laying back on the bed. She couldn't help the smirk as she crawled over to him. It had been a long four days after all. Swinging a leg over his hips to straddle him, she pressed her hands up the length of his torso carefully avoiding his broken collar bone. Her hands landed on either side of his head holding herself up.
"What about like this?" Her breath danced across his lips before she captured them with her own. His fists clenched the fabric at her hips, pulling her closer. Before he could deepen the kiss, she pulled away holding herself arm's length above him. "After Mungo. And possibly a press conference. "
He groaned, letting his hands fall heavily to her thighs. "You go into the Ministry, and I won't get you back the rest of the day."
She pressed a brief kiss to his lips again. "We'll do it at Mungos then," she murmured against his lips. "Promise. "
With another quick kiss, she swung off him and disappeared into their bathroom.
Harry thought about their conversation from the previous night. He hadn't intended to discuss quitting his job so soon, not before talking to his superiors at least, but he felt the need to address it again now that the adrenaline had worn off and he was rested.
"I meant what I said last night. I'm quitting my job."
"And I'm going to throw a party the second you do," she called back from the bathroom around a mouth full of toothpaste.
"You aren't upset then?"
The water cut on as Hermione rinsed, leaving Harry to wonder for an agonizing thirty seconds. "You know how much I loathe your job. I've lost count of how many rows we've had over it. Why would I be upset?"
"Because we were supposed to be the 'Ministry Power Couple'," he said sarcastically using air quotes around the titles that had been bestowed upon them. The Prophet just loved to hand those out. "Minister and eventually Head Auror surging the Ministry into a new day after the war, and here I am fudging it all up."
"What on earth made you think that's what we were supposed to be?"
"Everyone says it. I know you hear it around the Ministry as much as I do."
Hermione sat in front of him on the bed and took his hands in hers. They were calloused from years of quidditch and wand work, a comforting feeling she'd come to love over the years of holding them.
"But it isn't what makes you happy," she explained simply. "So that isn't what makes me happy. Screw what anyone else thinks. The only thing we should be doing is whatever the hell makes us happy. I think we deserve that, don't you?"
He marveled at her and the way she had of calming his darkest worries and insecurities.
"Does that mean I can go back to snogging you then because that's what would make me really happy."
She laughed at the attempt backing away when he tried leaning in again. "After Mungos. Right now you need to get dressed unless you want me apparating you there in your jammies."
After a slow go of it, Harry and Hermione apparated to the private office of the head healer for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Healer Addison Chase barely looked up from her morning paper as the couple appeared. This was not her first go at patching up Auror Harry Potter, and she knew it very well would not be her last.
Her eyes drifted back to the paper as she sipped her morning coffee from a Pride of Portree mug. "You know the drill. Check-in with Jeff to get a room. I'll be by shortly."
"What, you aren't amazed with my miraculous return?" Harry asked knowing his healer never was.
"No," she said with the impassiveness of someone who never doubted she would be seeing him again.
"Don't jest," Hermione chided, pulling her forever childish fiance towards the door. "Let the woman enjoy her morning coffee."
The healer shook her head at the pair as they exited the office. She was indeed very relieved to see Harry Potter alive and standing.
Half an hour later, Addison recited her standard lecture about not coming in immediately and how he must learn more healing charms if he insisted on always injuring himself. Harry gave his typical comments on how he'd be fine if people would just stop trying to kill him. And Hermione rolled her eyes at the familiar banter between patient and doctor as she sent out patronus messages to friends to inform them of Harry's safe return.
"So I can go home soon, right? I've got some unfinished business I'd like to handle." He shot his fiancee a wink he was sure he'd get smacked for later.
"Mr. Potter, we have some of the best healers in the world and even they cannot accomplish the feats you are asking for. Now make yourself comfortable. Ligaments are tricky business."
Hermione couldn't contain the snicker at the look of petulance on the great Chosen One's face. Oh, if only The Prophet and Witch Weekly saw him now. As Addison finished the initial order for potions, a knock came at the door.
"Minister." Adam, Hermione's assistant, popped his head in the room. "They're ready for you."
"I'll be right there. Thank you, Adam."
As promised, Hermione scheduled the press conference in one of the conference rooms at the hospital. Her flannel and jeans had already been transfigured into a classic suit and heels.
"I'll be right back. Don't give the healers too much trouble." She pressed a quick kiss to his lips, pulling away before he could mess up her hair and lipstick.
"I make no promises. Don't give The Prophet too much hell."
"I make no promises," she repeated to him with a soft smile.
The press conference was short, perhaps not even worth having as the statement she gave could have been a memo.
"Yes, Auror Harry Potter is alive and being treated. There will be no questions at this time." And with a final pop, Hermione vanished from the prying eye of the press and returned to Harry's room.