Disclaimer: Ahem! I do not, never have done and never will own the Harry Potter series. They are the property of Bloomsbury and, apparently, Warner Bros. No money is of course being made. Thank you.
Thanks to: Everyone who reviewed.
Special Thanks To: IP82 who proved to be a strong wall to bounce ideas and chapters off of.
It's not that I'm a workaholic, it's rather that I like to tread the precarious line between boredom and fear - Nigella Lawson
Chapter Five: Of Rivers and Buildings
Hermione eyed the piece of gnarled parchment before her. She screwed her nose up at the unbelievably optimistic cash flow forecast. It was apparent to her that the business was going to fail; there was no reason why she should allow Gringotts to lend them money. If there was one thing Hermione hated more than anything else, it was people wasting her time.
After flinging the parchment into the fire, she heaved herself out of her chair. She quickly glanced at her immaculate desk and made sure everything was perfect. Biting her lip, she moved her golden 'Chief Executive of Gringotts' name plate slightly to the left. Once satisfied, she flicked a spec of dust off her shoulder and made straight for the bathroom.
The murky grey walls were lined with portraits of old and celebrated goblins. Garfield the Grey stared down at her with his beak-like green nose, Rhubarb the Regal followed her down the corridor with his icy stare and Mottard the Mangy licked his lips at her. She shuddered and quickened her pace. The corridor turned this way and that like a snake. It grew narrower and narrower as she hastened down it when at last the sign: 'LAdiz ToLeTT' appeared to her right. She hated how sexist the goblins were; the idiot who had built the cramped excuse for a lavatory clearly did not think a woman would ever use it.
Hermione sighed as she caught sight of her reflection in a cracked, stained mirror. Her bushy brown hair was tied up in a tight bun which was smattered with silvery stands of hair. The bags under her eyes had grown more prominent as she worked into the early hours of the morning and her skin had become pale through lack of sunlight. She glanced down at her loose fitting robes and knew it hid an unattractive body. It was at times like these that she wished she had friends – real friends. They wouldn't allow her to forget meals or work fourteen hour days. No, thought Hermione, tearing her eyes away from the mirror, I don't need friends. All they do is abandon me.
She stared straight ahead as she marched back down the corridor to her office. She glanced at a nearby grandfather clock. Quarter past nine, most people had gone home. She wondered for a moment what Ron might be doing. Did he have a family and children of his own? Was he tucking them in bed? The bronze doorknob became a pink freckly face with a shock of scorching red hair. Her heart pounded but she shook her head violently. Quickly, she turned his head and flung the door open.
"Good evening, Miss Granger."
Hermione's heart missed a beat but sighed in relief as she caught sight of the familiar features of the Minister for Magic. She took her place at her desk, but not before sending him a dirty look.
"What do you want this time?" she asked wearily.
"Would I be optimistic in thinking that I'm going to be invited to sit down?" asked Vallidus. Hermione waved nonchalantly at the wooden chair on the other side of the table, eyes fixed resolutely on the piece of parchment in front of her.
Vallidus snubbed the proffered chair and conjured his own black leather armchair. "I see this post has kept you hard at work. However, I am rather curious to know what keeps a woman in her thirties at the workplace after hours."
"I've got too much work to do," said Hermione, perching a pair of half-moon reading glasses at the end of her nose. "Hmm, another unexpected fluctuation in the Prewett account…" Over the past two years Hermione had noticed the meagre Prewett account increase unfathomably in size. She knew it was her duty to investigate but did not want to involve herself in the Weasley's affairs again…
"Pardon?" said the Minister, not quite hearing the murmur.
"Oh! N-nothing," spluttered Hermione.
"Have you heard the news? Harry Potter has returned once more." Vallidus seemed to be fighting the urge to sneer.
Hermione stopped writing, her expression hardened. He was alive? Had the Daily Prophet actually got something right? The implications raced through her mind as her face grew more and more steely. "I don't care," she lied.
"I find that difficult to believe. I spoke to him recently and he seemed well. He had a wife who bore him a child. He now lives at Hogwarts where he is the Headmaster."
Hermione slowly picked up her quill again and shakily began to write once more. She could not show a shred of emotion, as Vallidus would take it as a sign of weakness. "Clever Minister, very clever. Make him Headmaster before the public call for him to take your place."
Vallidus' lips thinned. "Do you miss him? Do you want to see him?" he whispered.
"No," said Hermione coldly, looking up at him for the first time, "he ran away like a coward. I've been fine without him all these years and I can live quite happily without ever seeing him again." She placed the piece of parchment neatly on her outbox and readjusted the pile, making sure all the edges lined up.
"But he saved your life," sneered Vallidus, "don't you at least owe him a thank you?"
Hermione snorted derisively and said, "Where was he all these years? He's the reason why everything's fallen apart. I mean look at the Weasleys! Look at the Order! There's nothing left of them! Who cares if he saved my life and killed Voldemort? He's a coward for running away and I can never, ever forgive him for that. Now what do you want from me?"
"You were born with a brilliant cunning-"
"Cut the crap and get to the point, I'm really busy," she snapped sharply.
Vallidus' eyes narrowed slightly. "The Ministry wishes to acquire a loan from Gringotts."
"What will this money be used for?"
"Private Ministry projects in the Department of Mysteries, the details of which are top secret. Hence why I'm asking you. The official documents require more detail than I am able to privy. The loan must come directly from the top."
"I'm sorry but I can't help you," said Hermione mechanically.
"It's in your best interests that you do," hissed Vallidus, his voice laced with venom.
"It's against Gringotts policy to give you any sort of money off the record. It'd break hundreds of regulations, not to mention the code of conduct. I'd be setting a horrific example to the others if I gave you even a knut without filling out the form…"
"The funny thing about institutions such as Gringotts is that they are very much like building blocks. Remove the block on the top and the rest of the structure stands strong. People, however, are more like rivers. They widen as they go downstream but the most important thing is the source. Without the source, they'd soon dry up. Remember who your source is; remember who allowed you to climb the ladder so quickly…" The threats were clear as the waters of a highland spring. She pursed her lips. Rules were a web of safety, without them, society would fall freely.
"How much do you wish to borrow?" she asked through gritted teeth.
"That's my girl! 100,000 galleons."
"The money will arrive in the Department of Mysteries' donation account in the morning." He nodded curtly, a satisfied smile creeping onto his face, before making to leave. "And I'm not your girl," she added as he closed the door behind him.
She bit her lip in frustration as she filled out the Gringotts donation form. She hated how he was able to manipulate her into gaining favours. She hated how her job was never secure. And now she hated that Harry was able to become Headmaster instantly, a job she had secretly desired since leaving school.
She made three copies of the form and decided to keep one for herself for future reference. Her hand bearing the piece of parchment slipped into the bottom drawer before touching a cool, smooth rectangular object. Quickly she scooped it out of the drawer.
Smiling up at her was a black-haired bespectacled boy with brilliant green eyes and a lighting bolt scar. Near him was a tall, gangly red-haired boy and in between them both, with an arm around either one, was herself. Her hand shaking, she turned the picture frame. The words 'best friends forever' were written at the back in scruffy handwriting.
Memories struck her like a rush of blood to the head. She closed her eyes as she remembered the first time Harry and Ron had accepted her; the first time she had ever had friends. She remembered how devastated she was in third year when Ron wouldn't speak to her. She remembered how anxious she was in fourth year when she thought Harry and Ron would never speak to each other again. She remembered the feeling of ice gripping her heart at the news that Harry and Ginny were dead. Her eyes began stinging as she thought of how she had thought she could never be happy again. Her hand trembled violently. A single pearly tear ran down her pale face and dropped onto Harry's smiling face. Another followed behind it and covered Ron's. She squinted down at the photo again. Harry and Ron's faces were a blur, only she was clearly visible. Her fists tightened into little balls. Grabbing the photo she hurled it into the fire. As the embers engulfed the picture, she pulled out a fresh piece of parchment. Reminiscence or no, she had work to do.
Harry walked up to the door behind which was Hermione's office and sighed. Do I really want to do this? Despite his growing doubts, Harry knew he had to speak to Hermione; simply ignoring her was out of the question. I bet she'd be quite happy ignoring me…
He sighed and knocked on the door. "Come in!" he heard and entered.
"Listen Minister I can't – oh!"
Harry slowly entered the large, neat office and closed the door behind him. He found Hermione staring at him, an eagle-feathered quill hanging limply in her hand.
"Hello, Hermione," he said quietly.
"H-Harry," she stuttered. She blinked before drawing herself up importantly and wiping the surprise from her features. "I'm…busy."
"So I see," replied Harry tensely, pointing to the pile of parchment. "Can I sit down?" Hermione gave him an unfathomable look which he took as a yes. "How are you?"
"Fine," she said coolly.
"You don't look fine. What have you done to yourself?"
"None of your business."
"Well it is my business if one of my f-"
"Don't say it," hissed Hermione angrily, "we're not friends."
Harry leaned back in his chair. "I see. I understand you might be a little upset, angry even-"
"Upset! Angry!" cried Hermione, all calm forgotten. "You run away for twenty years, come back and expect me to hug you and say 'well done, Harry' do you? I'm not a damsel in distress, Harry! I've moved on with my life, so has everyone else, and it's about time you should too."
"So this is how you feel," said Harry calmly. "Strange, I thought our friendship was stronger than this…"
"Don't pull that with me, Harry. If you really thought our friendship meant so much, you would've stayed. I can tell you've changed, I don't know what it is, but you've changed. You're not the same person who saved my life."
"Nor are you," said Harry quietly. "You've gone back into your shell. You wake up, go to work, go home, then go to sleep if what I'm told is true. Is that the life you want? Are you happy with your isolation?" Hermione's eyes narrowed and Harry could tell he had hit a nerve.
"I have a highly stressful job, Harry. If that means I'm in the office for long hours, then so be it. Life's not all fun and games." Harry laughed dryly.
"Don't tell me life's not all fun and games. Just because I haven't been cooped up in an office with no outside contact, it doesn't mean I haven't been working. Yeah, I know about your secluded life, I do have ears. And d'you know what I think? I think it's a shame to waste all your talents counting gold all day long. The Hermione I knew wanted to do 'something worthwhile'."
"This is worthwhile," said Hermione. Lie.
"What if I give you a better offer? What if I offer you the job of Arithmancy Teacher? Clearly if you think this is worthwhile, then passing on your knowledge to children must be off the scale."
To his surprise, Hermione chuckled bitterly. "So is this how it is? Poor, lonely Hermione has a 'dead-end' job so super Headmaster Harry swoops in to the rescue? Thanks, but no thanks."
"Listen, this isn't some sort of charity…"
"I'm not Ron, alright. I'm not going to hop from one job to the other simply because some guy I used to be friends with jumped out of his hidey hole and said 'surprise'." Harry sighed. It was quite obvious he would not be able to change her mind.
"Fine, let's not be friends. How about we're associates, or allies? If you need help, you call me and if I need help, I call you. I don't want bad blood between us." Hermione considered his offer for a second.
"Fine," she said quietly. "Now I don't want to be rude but I'm really swamped at the moment."
"Ok, ok, I'll go. It's not like I don't have work of my own to do either…bye."
Harry got up and went to the door. He opened it when he heard, "oh and Harry…" He turned his head and found Hermione looking at him strangely.
"Nothing," she finished lamely. He shrugged his shoulders and closed the door behind him.
The next morning, Harry opened his eyes suddenly. His eyes darted around the room. He grabbed his glasses from his bedside and put them on.
A small house elf stood at the foot of his bed frozen in shock. Its small mouth was slightly open and its great bat-like ears drooped like a dog. Suddenly it snapped out of its statue state and bowed so low its ears swept the floor. "I is sorry Headmaster Harry Potter sir; I is not knowing you is here sir."
Harry raised his eyebrows and asked, "what's your name?"
The house-elves large eyes lit up with admiration and were practically trembling with awe. "I is Slapper, Headmaster Harry Potter, sir."
"Err, you can go now, Slapper," said Harry groggily. Slapper bent over one more time before vanishing with a loud 'crack'.
Harry peered down at his watch and groaned. It was already late morning and he had only just woken up. Cursing time he hurried to his wardrobe, pulled on his usual navy robes and rushed down to his office. Impatiently, he flicked to the right page in his Daily Planner and peered down at his scrawny handwriting.
"Oh dear, I've got to go Herbology Teacher hunting," muttered Harry. Professor Sprout had finally retired from Hogwarts in order to pursue her retirement dream of growing as many species of magical plants as she could, a record currently held by Phyllida Spore.
"Headmaster duties getting the better of you?" said the snide Phineas Nigellus from his portrait.
"No, I just think it'd take a long time that's all," retorted Harry more forcefully than he had intended. To his frustration, Phineas cackled.
"Don't mind him, why don't you use the White Pages?" said Armando Dippet kindly. "You can find one in the library if I remember correctly."
"Oh, thanks," said Harry. He shot Phineas one last glare before making for the door.
"No, Harry," called Dippet, "in your personal library." Phineas laughed louder until a portly woman dressed in a golden robe walked into his portrait and slapped him around the head.
"Where is it?" asked Harry. There were only two doors, one to his personal quarters and the other was the exit.
"See that piece of wall over there?" said the portly woman. "It's a door pretending to be a wall. Just stroke it and it'll open easily." Harry did as instructed and found himself in a room the size of his bedroom packed to the brim with books. Where's the stupid White Pages, thought Harry. Without warning, he was lifted into the air and thrown across the room. After landing in an unceremonious heap, a thin white book fell on his head. He cringed in pain and rubbed the source of the throbbing gently.
"Yeah, magic helps everyone," muttered Harry sarcastically. He picked up the offending book and marched out of the room with it. To add salt to his wound, he caught most of the former Heads sniggering at his misfortune.
"It always happens the first time dear, don't worry," assured the portly woman.
Harry picked an eagle feather quill and wrote 'Herbologist' into it. The alphabet appeared as his writing sunk into the page. On a whim, he circled 'L'. A list of names appeared. He scanned through them, searching for English sounding names. Loatingil, Lombre, Longbottom, Lourdes, Louxe… He suddenly stopped and went back two names. Not believing it, he circled the name for more information. It was him: 'Neville Longbottom, Master Herbologist of ten years. Location: Stoneleigh. Availability: Largely unavailable.'
Harry jumped to his feet, grabbed a fistful of floo powder and said, "Stoneleigh." Unfortunately, as he whirled through the fire, there seemed to be three floo-enabled fireplaces. Harry bit his lip and chose the middle one.
Suddenly, it felt as if he had slammed into a wall. Floating in pain was disconcerting. "Name?" said a voice.
"Harry Potter," wheezed Harry, clutching his stomach.
"Name the item my mum used to give me at St. Mungo's."
Harry sighed, luckily that moment in St. Mungo's had remained imprinted in his memory forever – it was the first time he had ever truly felt sorry for someone. "Sweet wrappers." Suddenly Harry was spat out of a fireplace and landed face down on the floor, his glasses skewed and his robes sooty.
"I can't believe it, Harry, I thought you'd forgotten about me after all these years but here you are. Sorry about the security system, you're lucky I was in today!" Harry clambered to his feet and found himself shaking hands vigorously with Neville Longbottom.
Neville had not grown since he last saw him but had certainly gained some weight. While his portliness did indeed show through his robes, he carried himself with an air of confidence and dignity. This startled Harry more than anything. He peered around the small room. The chairs were broken and the table knocked over. Light poured in despite the moth-eaten curtains and layers had built up on what little furniture there was.
"This is…homey," said Harry sceptically.
"Well, let's say I don't spend much time here," chuckled Neville.
"Why not?" Harry had not imagined that growing plants would have led to lengthy hours away from home.
"It's not just growing plants in the garden," said Neville, reading Harry's expression. "There're meetings all over the world to attend, of course. Sometimes I have to travel abroad to actually find the plants and my clients could be anywhere."
"I don't make money growing plants," laughed Neville. "It's mainly with potion making that the big money comes in…"
"Potion making!" Harry would never have bet even a knut that Neville would brew a single potion after fifth year.
"I know," said Neville, smiling in understanding, "I couldn't believe it either. Apparently I'm not half bad at making potions without Snape looming over the cauldron. I got an E at OWL and an O at NEWT. Pissed Snape right off. If he ever knew I was making a living brewing potions…" Harry grinned, imagining his old Potions Master spluttering like a baby.
"Yeah, I'd pay good money for that. Listen, you heard that Professor Sprout retired?"
"Yeah, she spoke to me about it a few months ago. Congratulations on getting the Headmaster job, by the way, you really deserve it."
"Thanks a lot. Can you do me a favour? I really need a Herbology teacher – one that knows how Hogwarts works."
"I dunno, Harry," said Neville uneasily.
"Please, Neville," pleaded Harry. "The pay is good and not unpredictable – you don't have to rely on clients. 5000 galleons a year without question and bonuses as you get more responsibility. You get to use Hogwart's extensive and top class facilities to carry out any research you want to and you get to pass on your knowledge to the next generation of budding Herbologists."
Neville was not half as stubborn as Ron. He sat pensively, the crackling fire reflected in his eyes. Harry knew to give him his space and waited patiently. "Will I be able to supply my existing clients if I need to?"
"I don't see why not – as long as it doesn't affect your duties."
"Okay, I'll do it," said Neville finally. "It's not like I haven't been thinking of applying anyway."
"Great," said Harry happily. "The Ministry will deal with the administration but for now, I've called a teacher's meeting and we're both very late. If you'll grab my robes, I'll use a Portkey taking us straight into the castle." Neville nodded and took a piece of Harry's sleeve with the tip of his finger. Harry retrieved a Portkey from his robes and in seconds, they were in the deserted Entrance Hall.
Harry ushered Neville towards the Stone Gargoyles guarding the staff room. He muttered the password ('Sweet sorrow') and they stepped into the long panelled room. As he had expected, a long, rickety table had already been erected and all the dark, mismatched wooden chairs but two had been filled. Harry sat at the end of the table, near the large wardrobe, while Neville sat next to Anthony Hardnett - much to the displeasure of the hawk-eyed, grizzled man.
"Sorry I'm late," said Harry briskly, "but I had to close the position of Herbology teacher today." There were some unconvinced faces on the table, but none came up with a retort. "I'm sure you've all met Ron Weasley by now, I appointed him Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher." Nodding of heads met this. "And that is Neville Longbottom – he's the new Herbology teacher."
"I don't know about the rest of the staff," drawled Morgan McAllister, a tall, thin man with a short goatee, "but I see a correlation between your new appointments. It seems to me that you are on a mission to employ all your old school friends." Ron narrowed his eyes and Neville raised an eyebrow. Some of the staff looked as if they agreed with the Head of Slytherin.
"I employ the best," said Harry slowly, looking McAllister straight in the eye. "If that means that I appoint old friends, I don't care. If it means I have to employ my worst of enemies, I don't care. Ron has years of Auror experience and is one of the best out there. Neville is a master of his craft and has travelled the world studying magical plants. I think you'll find them quite qualified."
"Can the same be said for you?" asked an old man Harry recognised as Sandy Plaine – the Care of Magical Creatures teacher.
"Pardon?" said Harry, but he had a vague idea of what Plaine was talking about.
"Well let's see," said McAllister sarcastically, "you seemingly disappear when you turn sixteen, you return twenty years later and get appointed Headmaster almost straight away even though you're only in your thirties and there's no evidence of any specialist subjects you have." A murmur of agreement greeted this.
"Listen here," began Ron angrily but Harry stopped him with a raised hand.
"You're perfectly right," said Harry calmly, "you don't see any evidence of my right to become Headmaster. You see no special abilities. I don't blame you for questioning me – in fact, I would've been disappointed if you didn't. Firstly, my specialist field is Defence Against the Dark Arts-" McAllister snorted.
"I don't think a few lucky escapes from the Dark Lord count. Personally, I'd say your special ability is fleeing." Ron was now fingering, what Harry hoped, was his wand under the table and most of the staff was flitting between Harry and McAlister eagerly.
Harry knew what type of man McAllister was – all talk no action. He had seen it all before with the likes of Malfoy and Zacharias Smith. The Potions Master was evidently fishing for a demonstration but Harry would not award it to him. He was too old and experienced to fall for such an immature trick. "If, one day, you come face to face with the Dark Lord, I'm sure you'll be singing a different tune."
"Pretty difficult now that he's dead," said McAllister but he saw an odd look in the man's grey eyes.
Harry chose to ignore the snide comment. "I don't think I have to remind you that what goes on in staff meetings stays secret. If any of you tell another soul about what I'm about to tell you, you'll be fired within the hour. You've been warned.
"One of the main reasons the Minister chose to appoint me was because of my history with the school." Harry reached his hand into thin air and brought thoughts of his loyalty to Hogwarts to the forefront of his mind. In the blink of an eye, a ruby encrusted sword appeared in his hand. Harry placed it on the desk, making sure not to scatter the pieces of parchment lying around. He hated showing a room full of people something that made him stand out even more than before but he knew this was the only way of convincing the staff.
"Wow, you can summon a pretty sword," sneered McAllister. He clapped sarcastically. Binns, who had been floating monotonously beside Ron throughout the exchange, gaped at the sight of the sword. Other than Ron, he seemed to be the only one who recognised it.
"Perhaps Binns will be kind enough to explain the significance of this 'pretty sword'," said Harry.
"This is the legendary sword of Godric Gryffindor," he said, voice still having the power to bring sleep despite his apparent excitement. "It is said that Gryffindor hid the magical sword he used to defeat Slytheirn with. Only his true heir was able to summon it when his or her love for Hogwarts was paramount." Harry could bet that Binns had never been met with such interest and wonder at anything he had ever said in his life – or death.
"So you mean-"
"-Heir of Gryffindor-"
"I'm not really surprised after all Harry's done," said Neville sagely.
"Any other objections to me being Headmaster?" asked Harry wearily. None, not even McAllister, raised objections.
The rest of the meeting was quite standard. Harry discussed the new changes he was going to implement and invited those who objected to them to raise any alternatives. As expected, most of the objections came from McAllister, but, eventually, everyone agreed that change was good.
As everyone trickled out an hour later, Ron and Neville decided to stay behind. Once Binns had finally floated through the wall, Harry spoke up. "So how'd I do?"
"Surprisingly well," said Ron, "I would've expected you to duel with that idiot McAllister, though. You know, just to prove how good you are at Defence."
"That would've been the easy thing to do," said Harry wistfully. "But I don't think knocking out the Head of Slytherin would've done any good." Neville nodded in agreement but Ron shrugged.
"Your call," he said. "Just don't underestimate that guy. I've heard some pretty nasty stories about him. They say he was one of the main potions providers for You-Know-Who. He learned directly from Snape and everything. The only reason why he was appointed is because he was an old family friend of McGonagall's."
"He's all talk no action," said Harry astutely, "but I'll look out for him just in case."
I'm afraid the story will only be updated weekly for now on thanks to the pressures of real life. (Oh and I'll be grateful on Economics student's opinions on doing Economics at University)
Please spare a moment to drop a review, leaving your thoughts and OWL rating for this chapter. Thank you.
To Be Continued…