This is an AU where Hermione doesn't attend Hogwarts…but she still needs to meet Harry- so be warned of character manipulations and blatant un–canon-ness. (Fair warning so don't review to complain or something like that.) It's fan fiction- that said the only things I own are the plot; the characters Jerome Ashby, Susie Forther, and Dr. Fairholm; and the Society for Magical Species Preservation. (Also be warned of subtle political overviews, though what is present may not actually represent the views of the author.--U)

.x.x.x.XI IX.x.x.x.

The magics they had been aware of for years seemed to swell and grow- to light happily even though it seemed subdued. Harry couldn't figure out what was happening, and Ron only mumbled about more of a tickle- him being so used to magic he rarely sensed it unless it was truly powerful.

The dark haired man mused quietly to himself as he looked into the distance out their office window. If they only knew what this power was they could seek it out for help. Merlin knows that it wasn't a threat- having actually soothed their unrest once before and warned them from danger during some of their escapades though it wasn't truly present.

He sighed and leaned forward on his elbows, contemplating the remnants of his thoughts and worrying that, with his mind so distracted, he would never get this work done and never finish cleaning up the wizarding world.

Ron grumbled behind Harry, causing him to laugh quietly and lean back as he rubbed his eyes and pushed away his report. They were both antsy, having received the ultimatum that they were finally getting the last member of their working triad and they couldn't put it off any longer. He scowled as he stretched, arching his spine over the back of the hard chair he was seated in and looking over his shoulder to see if Ron was doing anything productive while he grumbled.

Harry grinned because that only confirmed the redhead wasn't.

Ron had taken to stretching out ungainly upon his desk chair, head thrown back at an almost painful angle as he played with a quill and mumbled to the ceiling. Harry shook his head and returned to his paperwork, but then a clear mumble from Ron drew him back to his partner and raised his ire- stupid higher ups.

"Who d'ya think our partner is?" Was mumbled around the muggle pencil the redhead pursed between his lips.

Harry glowered.

He and Ron had been partners since they were still in school- though their friendship started out rather awkwardly. They had completed Hogwarts surviving attacks together- Ron an excellent tactician and loyal friend – to go in to the trade school for Aurors as partners and they came out of that as partners.

And now their Foreman wanted to add a third to balance out the team.

Harry was well aware that most regular teams consisted of three trained wizards that balanced each other out in combat and in representation- one focused on strategy, one for field skill, and one to watch everyone's back and to wax diplomatic in undercover missions (or at the parties, Harry grinned at his recollection of some poor sap when his diplomat had gotten drunk). But he and Ron were just fine, because of his almost celebrity status (what are you talking about…almost?- Ron's indignant voice rung though his head) they really had no problem working the crowds at parties or sweet talking some naïve teenage girl into giving them information- really, he wondered why all the Death Eater's employed the young bimbo's at their cover jobs, most of them didn't give a fig about their wages because they simply wanted to find a rich husband to take care of them while they sat on their ass the rest of their life giggling during tea time with their friends.

Harry snorted.

"You really have to stop doing that mate, if someone didn't know you they'd think you have multiple personality"- he gasped dramatically, his hand over his heart and almost falling off his chair as he acted- "Maybe they'd believe that Voldemort's soul is in you!!!"

Harry glowered before the smile found victory on his face and he whacked his best friend across his head.

They grinned and joked around, laughing together and waiting with little trepidation for their newbie to arrive- they could always make him do the paperwork.

There was an alarm at their door, and Harry and Ron rushed to clean up their mess and remove the silencing spells from their cubicle, straightening up their papers and getting quills in hand to look busy just as the knock came at their door and their foreman poked his head in. He gave them a critical look over before he stepped in.

The tall bulk that made up Kingsley Shacklebolt intimidated many, and as he gazed suspiciously around the office Harry was hard put not to let his gaze drift away- it was only because the man had been raised in war times, it wasn't because he actually was suspicious of his favorite pair of workers.

He nodded before he spoke in his gruff voice - an accident years ago had damaged his throat – "I escorted your partner here." He turned to the door and waved a hand, the clip of heels on linoleum greeted them before their new partner walked into the room.

She was sharp looking in an office suit of dark blue, her hair pulled up into a chignon and her eyes intense as she lifted an eyebrow in suspicion. The dark heels they had heard were polished and black, leading up to dark stockings on long legs.

Harry felt his eyebrows lift, and he made certain that his mouth didn't gape as he…well…gaped at the new arrival beside their boss.

"Hot damn," Ron whispered beside him. "I think you could hit me with a jelly legs and I wouldn't note the difference."

Harry couldn't help it- he laughed.

Kingsley cleared his throat and Harry broke his chuckle off while Ron blushed and the new comer shifted her briefcase into her left hand while reaching out with her now free right – small - hand. "The name is Hermione Granger, I do hope we can get along."

Harry and Ron both shook her hand with smiles on their faces, chatted a bit with Shacklebolt and then all three watched him leave.

As soon as they were in the silence of their office again Hermione sighed and sat down at the cleared desk pushed against the far wall. Immediately she placed her briefcase on it and opened it up- piles of parchment and sticky notes and folders – an engorgement charm – being moved to sit neatly on her desk or in her drawers.

Ron shrugged when Harry looked at him, both settling in their chairs and looking about awkwardly to start their conversation. "Sooo…"

She turned on them quickly, her chair spinning as she sat straight like she was under the firing squad. The way her eyes flashed startled Ron into silence and her nose twitched before she sighed and spoke. "Do I want to know what you two were doing before we arrived?"

Harry felt his eyebrows rise before he grinned and poked Ron in the side, the redhead squirming under her disproving glare and the tickle from Harry. "We were working on our mission assessment."

She snorted before Harry noticed she was fighting a laugh, but she held it in successfully and turned around holding her hand back and snapping her fingers when they only looked at her stupidly. She spoke exasperatedly, "I'm not always going to offer to do your work, but this will be a good review for me on your work ethics and a good demonstration for you on my efficiency- now hand over those reports and give me a synopsis."

Harry and Ron grinned and quickly went over their mission, watched her examine their reports before editing them and rewriting, and then settling into their office to talk.

Their newbie wasn't that bad.

"Bloody Hell!" sounded the exclamation from Susie Forther as she stormed down the hall and almost knocked Harry and his coffee over. He stumbled when she turned on him just after he'd regained his balance, her eyes blazing and her hair mussed like a kitten rubbed the wrong way.

He held in his snicker. Susie was a little spitfire who didn't get the good jobs (and therefore the experience to rise above apprentice status) because she couldn't control her wand- this just made her more of a spitfire eager to prove herself and trump others in the practice duels. That generated little sympathy for her tendency to be a bad sport and play dirty. Still, he didn't want her drawing her wand when his hands were full.

"Your little missy is a hellion!" Hermione?…my little wha-? "I don't care that she got an Order of Merlin First class! It should be illegal to look at someone like that when they only messed up one form! Graar!!" She went to pull at her hair again…

"Ahh, Susie…" she turned mad eyes upon him, "I don't believe Miss Granger would turn on you for something so simple…"

She snorted, "Shows what you know, I swear, I just misspelled the name of the curse and she goes A-wall! They should fire her."

She huffed and paced away, scaring half the other employees in the process of her dramatic exeunt down the hall. Doors opened cautiously after she'd passed and Harry gave a little timid wave before shaking his head and walking to his office.

A snickering Ron greeted him there as Hermione stormily went about packing her things for the end of the day- she was taking work home again.

Ron lit up when he entered and shouted out a happy greeting. "You should have seen Hermione rip Susie a new one! It was awesome!"

Hermione huffed but gave Ron a wry smile, her eyebrows quirked before she sighed and flopped into her chair. "That woman needs a warning sign on her back."

"Nah," Ron stated easily, "then it would be too late; we'd need to stamp it on her forehead."

Hermione huffed again before mumbling something under her breath and Ron turned to Harry. "Susie went bloody murder over filling out the victim statement for that Death Eater case, and Shacklebolt was at his wits end- then Hermione comes in- understand the situation- and BAM!- Susie is getting yelled into the ground!"

Hermione blushed and covered her face.

Harry gaped- Susie wrecked a Death Eater case? Cases with bad filing had to be recalled and then reprocessed; with a dark magic family all the evidence was now gone and the case would be bust.

"I shouldn't have done that." Hermione sighed as she stood and stretched her back, popping it into place as she looked around in thought.

"What? - Why not?! It was brilliant!" Ron exclaimed.

She groaned and threw them a tired look, "My job is to maintain secure relationships on the team, and during desk duty that extends to the whole office. I was out of place."

Harry sighed before shaking his head- "Hermione, Susie has always been a liability to that, and I dare to hope she might finally get fired."

"That's the point Harry, she has a lot of information."

Ron snickered. "Nah, she's a trollop who still doesn't know how to file a report, nothing special. And Kingsley stopped me in the hall with an amazed look in his eye."

Hermione gave him her incredulous and disbelieving look- patented to make Ron feel stupid until he explained himself and it worked every time.

He shifted and scratched his head as he smiled. "No one's been able to talk to Susie when she's got something in her head, she just overpowers them. You'll be famous come tomorrow!"

"Joy," emerged the dry response, though Hermione still looked faintly worried. Harry smiled and pulled her briefcase out of her hands and placed it firmly on her desk. "Come on, Ron and I are going out- you should take a break."

She looked at him in shock, and he covered his guilt at not inviting her before (though they'd been a team for more than a few months now) by smiling and listening with relief as Ron chimed in.

He smiled when she threw her hands up on the air and gave up her protests (that's the research for the next case!).

They made it a Thursday night thing from then on.

A fierce intense light seemed to engulf her body and focus entirely on a place that wasn't here and now but the hopeful future and downfall of the remaining dark ranks. "I was part of the renowned researching healers; able to find and cure and seek and discover anything and everything ever noted." She smiled grimly, her aura firming and condensing and causing Harry – who had always been more sensitive to magics than Ron – to shiver and balk. "But now…now it got personal."

She nodded her head slowly and decisively as if confirming this fact with herself, for that was the only person that mattered, and abruptly left them standing there gaping after her.

"Harry, did you…?"

Harry shook his head to clear it and turned to Ron. "Yeah, that's what we've been feeling…I can't believe we felt her magic all the way from the Americas!"

Harry found himself amused at his exasperated partner as she tried to reason with Ginny, the Weasley daughter had her sights set on some male and was ready and raring to go catch her prey. He snickered as he listened to the brunette explain that you couldn't blatantly treat them like meat.

"Oh and what experience would you have?" Ginny huffed as she crossed her arms, and Harry's brows rose as he caught the veiled insult. He winced as Hermione drew herself up and persisted.

"Just stop approaching people from behind- it throws them off guard. You need to mingle where he can see you and then approach him so he knows how you act, and how he should react."

Ginny puffed out her cheeks with a pout and a glare before she stomped off to talk to her friend, Harry noting that she maneuvered so she laughed and flicked her hair a few feet to the front side of her target.

He grinned.

"I'm surprised she actually listened to you- she's been man hunting here for years the same way."

His partner gave him a small sly look before taking a sip of her water and surveying the room. "Silly girl still didn't get her man- but she doesn't realize that she can't do anything to get him."

He gave her a confused look. "What d'you mean?"

She laughed and shook her head, "Harry, she's after you."

He sputtered and spit out the sip of water he'd just taken from the glass in her hand. She laughed again but quietly dragged him to a more secluded part of the room, avoiding curiosity and watching people's reactions as she was trained to. He blushed and stuttered, looking around before her comforting hand was on his shoulder and he was slumping to lean against a convenient wall- did she always know what to do…?

"It's okay Harry; I don't think you'll have that much trouble fighting her off."

Harry sighed and mopped a hand down his face, wondering if…say what? "How do you know that she can't get me?"

She laughed again, Ron spotting them with a drunken wave before he returned his attention to the smiling Lovegood at his arm. Harry furrowed his brow and grabbed Hermione's water when she offered it, her smile wry and her eyes sparkling. "Harry, you are not interested in the things she's showcasing at this party."

He swallowed the water quickly before he choked. "I am so!"

She blinked with wide eyes up at him, before she giggled – something feminine he hadn't heard her do before that left him even more stunned – "I didn't mean it that way," she sighed and patted him on the shoulder comfortingly, though he glowered at the sparkle in her eye. "I meant that you are not interested in having a grand time in a crowd; showing off your latest jewel, drinking until you can hardly remember your own name, getting all that attention…" she smiled kindly and looked at Ginny (who was finally flirting with the man Harry had thought she'd been interested in).

"How do you…do that?"

She smiled and laughed, trying to take back her water though he gave her an expectant, playful, smile and held it away from her. She pouted in good humor before she turned her attention back to the party. "I know her type Harry." She turned melancholy for a second, but then she smiled and scrunched up her nose. "Ginny doesn't know you, so she is trying to get you the way most men are caught- they want fun loving party girls to share a spotlight with."

"Ginny's not that bad…"

"I didn't say it was; I'm just saying that's not what you want."

She made another attempt for the water now that he was marginally distracted, but his attention rapidly zeroed in on her and he finished it off in one swift swig. Her stunned look of defiance (Her Oh-no-you-so-did-not-just-do-that look) quickly dissolved into a huff.

He grinned. "So I want a boring buzz kill who hides in the dark."

Her glare turned violent and he stumbled back a bit, wondering what had set her off. "No, you want someone like your mom." Her face softened and she smiled. "You want someone who doesn't need to be in the spotlight, but like your mother someone who can't help but interfere when she sees something wrong because she is as compassionate as that. You want someone to talk to, to dream with…" she suddenly came back to herself and blushed, the color lighting up her usually fair skin and an awkward smile twisting her lips as she pushed some brown curls behind her ear from where they'd fallen over her cheek.

He simply gazed at her, at a loss. "How do you know so much about my mother?"

She blushed again, twiddling her fingers since he still had the remains of her drink in his own. "It's what I do Harry." She huffed, her normally prim collected exterior coming over her again. "Besides, your mother was a powerful woman that did great things when she wished to."

She sniffed and turned back to scan the party, and Harry watched this with some awe and a slight shame- he'd never been interested enough to wonder what his mother had done on her own…only worried about his parents together and how that had happened and gotten the biased view of a marauder who liked to break the rules.

He took in a deep breath and faced the crowd, his tongue feeling oddly thick and his voice small as he swallowed. "Do you think she'd be proud of me?"

She turned to him, and her eyes had softened to the point where he wondered if he wasn't wearing his glasses and was looking at glowing ambers (he pushed them up the bridge of his nose, just to make sure), "Harry, your mother would be proud of anything you'd done…" she licked her lips and tentatively smiled before it blossomed into a full out grin, "but I have no doubt that where you are now, working to keep people safe, would have brought tears to her eyes and pride to her heart."

She gave him a pursed smile, her eyes watery as she patted him on the shoulder before turning to leave.

"There's something so hard about always trying to prove yourself."

Ron smiled, leaning back easily into his chair, "especially, sometimes, when you don't know how to do it."

Harry's heart broke as he watched Hermione tear and nod with a self deprecating laugh, watery and choked off. She wiped her eyes and sighed, "I ran away you know."

"Wha-?"

She smiled at her hands, twiddling over her lap and business skirt. "I wanted to find out everything I could of this new world, I had Snape for a guide you see- and he wasn't very forthcoming." She snickered as Ron uttered a loud 'Bloody Hell!' in agreement before she continued. "And I read so much, and then I read between the lines. The war was still going on, and my parents would be at risk."

There was a solemn pause before Ron shifted and sighed, his face contrite and sorrowed as Hermione didn't bother to look up. "You read between them lines pretty good."

She smiled wryly. "I did I think, but not well enough. I talked my parents into investing in the practice they were looking at in Massachusetts. It was great. I got a new start and my parents' business boomed- all away from the threat of Death Eaters." She sighed heavily, a weight to her shoulders she was usually so upright under. "But then they were attacked."

There was their silence, and Ron shuffled before sighing again and rubbed his hands together, thinking and warming them. "I don't really know what I would do if I lost mine."

She laughed, clearer now though no less disparaging. "I know what I'd do. I'd go crazy and search for any way I could avenge them, search for a way to make their mark on the wizarding world because those bloody officials don't care about the mudblood's family. I'd show them that they'd made it personal, and a mudblood can fight back just as well as any pureblood."

Harry swallowed and closed the door.

He absently greeted Tonks as she approached him, her glaring bright hair enough for him to identify her in his peripheral vision as he searched the stacks for his partner. Ron had shuddered and offered a flimsy excuse to avoid the library, so he was stuck in the large library rumored to have an engorgement charm on it- though it was actually one floor of the ministry building the library had stairs and level extending higher than three Hagrids.

Tonks happily greeted her partner as Remus came around a stack. The weathered man smiled as he greeted her – they had a beautiful relationship off duty – and greeted Harry joyfully, having formed a bond with him during the year he'd served as DADA professor. "I never thought I'd see you in the library, Harry."

Harry gave a weak chuckle and strained his neck to look around a table full of researchers in case Hermione was holed up behind them. "I'm not actually using the library, my partner is."

Remus' face cleared and slight awe dawned upon it, Harry giving him a quizzical look before Tonks laughed and whacked her love on the shoulder. "Remus here is amazed at your little spitfire. He actually looked up her profile before speaking to her."

Harry laughed before looking at Remus with some expectancy, wondering how his newer partner could create that look on such a well traveled and cultured man.

The werewolf grinned. "You better make sure you keep her as your partner Harry, with her credentials I don't think she'll remain anonymous for long- everyone will want to work with her."

"She is a rather good partner."

Remus shook his head as Tonks looked on in confusion. "Harry, she graduated Salem with the highest marks in centuries, from all the alumni on record. Then she went into independent research and presented her thesis to gain entry in the medical research ward in Canada. Her application thesis was used to cure Neville's parents to the state they are in now."

Harry gaped, easily recalling his first encounter with Neville's mentally handicapped parents- due to extended exposure to the Crucio spell. He also easily recalled Neville's happy acclamations when the rumors of a cure circulated the wizarding world- and then meeting Neville's parents when they were wholly in their right mind.

The two gentle individuals retained all their self identity and awareness, but their reaction time in panic situations was rapidly decreased from their previous auror status. It was a small price to pay considering they now had a son and a booming business with a greenhouse full of (expensive) rare potions ingredients and endangered plant species.

Tonks gasped and then laughed, "WOW! And here I thought she simply sat there and observed people- I heard she was more of an observational researcher!"

Remus shook his head, lifting his head subtly and scenting the air as he continued speaking. "That charming young lady wants to make the world right, has been trying ever since she was at her witching academy; that hands on research you spoke of is her actually participating in werewolf and other 'lower' cultures- she writes papers and petitions for their rights, supported by firm evidence."

Tonks and Harry both regarded him with some solemnity, watching as his nose twitched and then he regarded them with hard eyes. "She's in the left wing." Tonks sighed and placed her hand on his arm to offer apology for making light of Hermione's work, the werewolf just grimly smiled before turning to go. "Say hello to her, for me, won't you."

Harry offered a weak confirmation as he watched the now solemn team leave the library. He pressed his teeth together and took off to the left wing, making his way around others researching spells and potions, nodding to the few he knew but avoiding conversation.

Remus had only gotten his position working under the ministry due to the sudden civil rights movment of certain powerful sects of the population- the awareness of curse discrimination and race as well as gender were suddenly under scrutiny as employers were forced to hire according to representative statistics. Females and half bloods were more likely to get jobs now, though it was a slow thing. Harry hadn't thought of how Hermione would have been so qualified that she would have been accepted for her field position so readily.

The person who had found the cure for Neville's parents had never proffered their name to popular society and had left many to speculate about what a powerful and humble wizard it had been- remaining in anonymity rather than taking credit for the brilliant work. He wondered if she had done other things and not been given credit for them while others clamored to prove the research was theirs.

He sighed as he turned around a set of stacks- coming to an abrupt halt with wide eyes as he spotted his partner. She looked very at home in the musty forgotten corner of the library- surrounded by books on runes and their cultural uses as she walked down the aisle with fond familiarity before finally spotting the book she wanted on a higher shelf.

Her hair was down from its usual up-do, large curls surrounding her and flowing to her waist as she stretched her hands above her head to retrieve a tome. Her business jacket was resting easily over the back of her chair, at a table covered in notes and open anthologies- her white blouse was plain and simple, pulled from being tucked into the waist of her straight black skirt. Her heels were slipping out of her shoes as she stood on her tiptoes, and Harry wondered if anyone had ever seen her looking so undeniably feminine while still converying such a sense of unyielding drive.

He knocked on the stack next to him as she retrieved her book and her happy eyes turned to him- gold. He smiled and gestured to her jacket- "Ron got a lead we should check out, but he was too chicken to enter into the 'library of doom'"

She blushed and laughed, her cheeks flushing beautifully in embarrassment at her obvious joy at being in the so called 'library of doom' before she was efficiently cleaning up her area and slinging her jacket over her shoulders (Harry briefly wished he could help her put it on- if only to brush his fingers over her graceful neck as he pulled her glossy hair out from under the collar).

They left with Hermione happily flipping through her notes while she walked, trusting him to guide her by her elbow as he contemplated the enigma they had received on their team.

"I saw the ministry officials - this was after the mass murder of a bunch of muggles - they simply bullied witnesses that were aware enough to speak up and then proclaimed that the murderer had committed suicide: Case Closed. Then they left." She made a broad and absent minded sweeping gesture, her eyes glazed and far away. "There was no thought for our retribution, our justice. We weren't worth it. The facts were pushed under the rug and glossed over in the wizarding world- if no one knew about them there was no point in saying anything. So I quit my job and applied to work with a team- I should be able to do more if I could place these occurrences in the limelight." She laughed a little withering sound- her eyes dark and shadowed.

"Are you positive that was why, I mean are you certain this was a political cover up to ensure the Minister's reign?" Harry felt his heart seize up in his chest, the curious feeling of his ribs contracting from held in energy- though he knew that wasn't physically possible.

She smiled- wry and bitter and not a smile at all. "Harry, I watched them obliviate muggles and then silence the media." She gave a weary sigh and flopped back into her chair, abandoning all the stoic pretenses she needed to maintain outside of their closed office.

Harry sighed as well, pinching the bridge of his nose and then cursing before putting his glasses back on. "It shouldn't be happening- we are working to make the public aware so our job can be easier, informants won't give for a threat they don't see."

She smiled and snorted. "I know," she rolled her chair over to her desk, leaning on it and staring at a picture of her parents resting on the smooth oak, "that's why I need to get to the bottom of this."

Harry shook his head, feeling a rising power in him that he hadn't felt since he was at Hogwarts and working to keep all the school safe. He smiled firmly, his hands leaning on the edge of her desk as he got her attention. "No, that's why we need to get to the bottom of this- it's a team thing now."

Ron's face was dark and solemn as he stared out the window of the communal coffee room for the investigation and infiltration unit- the coffee in his hands forgotten as he stared out into the dismal grey London weather. Harry watched the steam rise from the utilitarian white mug, wishing he could forget as easily as the smoky heat dissipated.

Hermione sighed and slid off the table, using a spell to check the door again to make sure no one was attempting to use the room while they held their impromptu get together. It had become second nature to all three of them to use shield spells and silencers when they met- though Harry wondered if it was only because Alastor Moody had rubbed off on them and that they weren't verified in their suspicions.

Harry felt Hermione's magic swell before it roughly deflated, her eyes darting between the two of them before she gave up and made her way to the coffee machine- taking out two mugs and preparing him a cup along with hers.

He smiled at the gesture.

"If it's true then we have a mole." Ron spoke heavily from his perch upon the window sill, Harry knowing that he wished he'd taken up smoking instead of listening to all the things it did to your lungs and having to settle for coffee, though it did little to settle your nerves save for a comforting heat in your hands.

Hermione growled, and stirred in some firewhiskey. Her stoic face greeted them as she silently passed Harry his spiked coffee and offered the flask to Ron- he regarded it stolidly before reaching for it and pouring some into his own cup.

Harry sighed and leaned over the heat, taking a deep breath and feeling the bitter caffeine and sharp liquor flowing through his throat and lighting up his senses. "But we go through so many checks and a balance to get our jobs…maybe it is someone who was fired recently or someone who holds a grudge due to family in the system?"

Hermione shook her head, her hands smoothing over her loose bun and fixing some pins to tighten it. She gave up with a growl and picked up her coffee. "I looked in the old files, and no complaints or notes have been made on anyone's profiles that would indicate this." Harry paused and wondered if it was considered normal for the diplomats to go through employee files. She looked at him with a sly face, as if knowing where his thoughts were going on the political rights scale, and then she continued. "I think it's someone who entered the profession and then defected unobtrusively."

Ron growled and his ears went red, his hands clenching around the ceramic mug enough that his knuckles turned white and his reckless stood out in stark contrast. "I think I should feel betrayed, but there's something ringing true about this."

Harry nodded, placing his cup down and swallowing his just taken sip. "Yeah, our system is set up for this type of thing- we'd never know if one person – or even a whole team – went apostate on us."

Hermione clenched her teeth and closed her eyes.

Harry and Ron both gave her sharp looks, recognizing that face for when she really didn't want to say something though knew it should be out in the open. It wasn't the look she'd worn when she had to tell them what she'd done to get her Order of Merlin (that had been simply reluctant in the face of seemingly undeserved praise) - no, this was the look she'd worn when she needed to tell them the Death Eater released because of Forther's folly had attacked some muggleborns and became an absconder.

She looked at them with glaring eyes, her coffee swishing in the cup due to her shaking hands. "The other teams think we are the mole- the famous Harry Potter who always knows what to do, the equally famous Ron Weasley who can strategize more than ten moves ahead of them all, and the newbie Hermione Granger who shouldn't have gone through school so quickly and is- though this is rather implicit – one of the muggleborns who holds a grudge with the government."

Ron cursed and turned fully to the window. "It's funny that those blokes are working in the government- especially with all the new hype about all that equality bollocks."

She snorted, her eyebrow raising as she quirked a smile, "Down boy, this woman happens to be one of those who spent years raising awareness about all that equality bollocks."

Ron stammered and blushed, his coffee mug rising to his lips to cover his smile as the easy teasing settled his nerves. Hermione smiled softly at him, and Harry grinned as he realized she knew Ron needed to be settled by the familiar- the two of them had bonded in a sibling like manner as Hermione was a single child and Ron often felt ignored by the rest of his siblings. They paid attention to each other and assured their connection with gentle teasing and well mannered barbs- so far he had never seen them truly angry at each other.

He watched them for a second before the alarm guarding the hall tripped and they all went into action: Harry quickly disabled all their security charms as Hermione went about fussing with the coffee machine and resetting the actual security charms- Ron settled casually into a chair before he realized he still had the firewhiskey in his hand.

Their colleague, Susie's partner Jerome, gave him a secret indulgent smile before Ron had the chance to magic it into miniature and place it in his pocket. The Weasley blushed but cooperated and put some in a mug for the man's coffee.

He smiled and gave a jaunty wave over his shoulder as he left with his coffee, spiked though no one else would suspect it of the stoic aristocrat.

Harry broke out laughing when the interrupter was a safe distance down the hall and the trio could make there way to their own office amidst giggling and good natured taunts.

Harry smiled as he nodded to Luna, tilting his head so she continued walking down the hall to find her Ronald. He watched her go with a dark light to his eyes, wondering if she had felt such an urge for vengeance when her mother died or when her father got attacked.

He sighed; if that hadn't happened Ron wouldn't have rescued him or fallen in love with Mr. Lovegood's daughter. Luna would probably just say that all things fell into place and that the sky was beautiful, Harry snorted out a laugh before he smiled and straightened.

He smiled as he retrieved Hermione, watched her twirl the quill around her fingers and fiddle with the parchment she was supposed to be working on. She certainly looked like she was working, but Harry had known her long enough to recognize that particular light to her eyes as the one she got when she had drifted off topic and was contemplating a new argument for the rights of some disenfranchised creature.

He grinned before sneaking up on her. "What poor soul are you planning to rescue now?"

She jumped before smacking him, her face flushed and her eyes sparkling madly as she scowled. "Shouldn't do that, might not know if I have my wand ready." He simply smiled and she mumbled something about him being 'incorrigible' before straightening and looking at her quill. "There was a case about some thestrals in Bulgaria, since many can't see the animal their natural habitat has been encroached upon for the natural resources."

Harry looked at her, astonished that she actually found out about these things when no one else seemed to publish stories or talk about it.

She blushed, taking his look the wrong way as she rose to defend herself. "We have plenty of resource elsewhere, so there is no point going for those resources now. And if we restore some of the land already destroyed by development the herds might migrate- it will safeguard future generations and maybe preserve the possibility of thestrals in research of death magics."

Harry held up his hands in surrender, "Makes me wish I would do more than simply donating that useless stuff to the charities I support."

She gave him a curious laughing look. "Don't be too sure, I'm one of those who use your money to get my way in these things you know." He laughed and pulled her up, complaining about being hungry and that they should just leave since Ron wasn't going to be bothered leaving Luna's side.

She grinned and allowed him to drag her out for lunch.

He should donate another sum of his useless stuff to the Society for Magical Species Preservation then.

Harry growled and smacked away the insistent papers; they were glaring at him (he was sure) and waiting for him to write down their failure of the mission. Hermione sighed from where she leaned against the side of his desk, her hands holding an open folder as she examined and then reexamined and then cursed.

Ron grumbled and shifted in his chair, the aches of their mission settling into his bones and keeping him from a restorative nap. "That was bloody awful."

Hermione huffed, "It's embarrassing, everything is here and everything was going great- someone gave them a tip."

Harry raised his eyes and gave his teammates a tired look- bags under his eyes and fingers rubbing his temples. Hermione gently pulled his hands away before reaching into her bag and puling out a small vial, shaking it before dripping some onto her fingers and then taking over rubbing his temples. "We shouldn't have pushed so hard, we can't survive if this happens- it's a waste of energy."

He sighed as the crisp scent of mint and orange reached his nose and the warmth of her fingers heated up his skin. Ron reached over to grab some of the oil and Hermione smiled at them both as she watched them for a moment.

Harry shifted.

"I ran into Susie on the way here." Hermione spoke and Ron grimaced. "She was particularly happy at my failure, though she did rant about me being a liability to the team and that she would have done a better job." She gave a brief sardonic smirk before she spoke to Ron. "I do believe she has a crush on you Mr. Weasley."

Their redheaded friend spluttered before they finally laughed, the tension of the mission easing away as they rested for what little time they had before they would be sent out again.

They would get the traitor, they had to.

Tonks giggled and ruffled his hair, stumbling around as Remus watched on in fond amusement; they had cornered him on his way home from the building and he had to put up with their antics before they started their serious talk, he could see Remus gearing up for it.

Harry sighed as Tonks finally settled and turned to Remus.

"Hermione is special Harry."

He gave them a weird look before slowly nodding his head.

"The guys around the office are harassing her." Tonks said simply.

"WHAT!?" Harry thundered his face rapidly reddening.

Remus sent his love an exasperated look and she giggled nervously before he spoke, "Harry, she's a female, and a muggleborn, in a powerful position. The boys are giving her a hard time but she wouldn't put up with that kind of harassment." He hesitated and looked about before sighing and continuing. "I think she's just used to putting up with it. The guys tease her in the halls and mess with her stuff- she does her outright best to ignore them but you can see it in her body language."

Harry sighed and mopped a hand down his face, wondering if Hermione was just used to putting up with it or if it was something else she would label as maintaining the peace amongst the office.

Tonks snorted. "Men! You don't understand us at all. Hermione's like that because she had relationship trouble a while ago- apparently she wasn't woman or witch enough for some stupid wizard and he cut her down. She should have done more than hex that ass." She squeaked at her confession and covered her mouth; the two men gaping at her as she stumbled and tried to recover from her typical blunder. She gave up and sighed. "A woman fights back against that type of thing but always wonders if it's true you know?" She offered a weak smile and Remus recovered and hit the epiphany as he hugged his love, murmuring a reassurance in her ear even as he sent a glowing intent look at Harry.

He got the picture.

Look after Hermione better.

Harry felt his magic light his veins, the hum of the earth rise up as he grew angrier- and perversely also angrier at himself for his lack of control. Hermione smacked him on the shoulder lightly, she taking the moment to steady herself just after that as she swayed on her feet. He brought his hand to her elbow and watched as Forther gaped at her partner.

The dirty feel of battle magic rested in the air, and Harry cursed as Ron struggled to levy himself up from the ground where he'd fallen after a concentrated stunner spell to his legs. They glared at the useless witch, her stumbling and blubbering not helping as they worked to fight off Jerome Ashby.

Harry cursed as Hermione stumbled again before righting herself. Ron worked his way over to them and stood with his hands on his knees as he panted for breath and they regarded their opponent with cold eyes.

"How quaint is this?" cooed the apostate. Jerome laughed as he regarded them coolly and played with his wand, sure of his upper hand. "The little mudblood can actually still stand. Is wonder boy having a difficult time holding your weight dear?"

Hermione hissed and glared. "You encouraged Forther didn't you? She was the perfect little diversion as you undermined all our work."

Ashby tutted before he sneered at his partner, "Hardly, she was so forthright on her own- she needed no encouragement to make a heel of herself." Susie sobbed and crumbled into a little ball, rocking and muttering. "Females really shouldn't be in such positions, but she did serve her purpose. The rest will be pleased that I finally damaged the golden trio, especially the little savage."

Ron growled and stood closer to Hermione's side- his arm raising and his emergency wand slipping into his fingers from its hidden holster. Hermione drew out her back up wand as Harry acciod his from the pocket of their opponent; their sudden united front ignited the battlefield again.

Hermione went to her knees as defense, making sure to get Forther under her cover shield and blocking spells. Ron and Harry surged forward on offense, spells and shouts flying back and forth as they covered each other with the occasional spell thrown in from Hermione- Ashby crumpled under their combined salvo, his form twitching as he tried to block the blood flow from a cut to his thigh, his face snarling and dirt streaked as Harry restrained him and Hermione slowly stood.

Ron was moving his jaw, trying to get it to snap back into place on his own before Hermione came over and cracked it loudly. He winced but mumbled a 'thank you'. She murmured her response and walked over to him, repairing his glasses and tiredly smiling as she gave some field treatment to the bruise forming on his temple. Simply stopping the blood flow and numbing the wound allowed for no further damage in such a sensitive area, and he nodded at her as he pushed Ashby to Ron and took out his wand to check her side.

She gritted her teeth as he prodded the cut, and smiled grimly as he performed the numbing charm and then the clotting charm- she might have a scar with a gash that size. Harry gritted his own teeth, ignoring the stabbing pain it sent up his hyperaware senses. He was angry that one of the ministry's had damaged one of his.

They gathered together silently, the battle heavy upon their shoulders as they watched Susie stumble over to their group to stand and tremble and wait. Hermione muttered the spell with a glare in her direction, the broken woman trembling and flinching away from her to stumble into Ron and almost knock him over due to his unsteady legs.

Susie sobbed and opened her mouth to say something just as their contacts arrived- fastest response he'd ever seen from the calling spell. Harry gave Hermione a questioning glance to which she only winked and smacked away helping hands- "Susie needs to go see Dr. Fairholm, Ashby should be taken into a holding cell until reports are handed in…the rest of us need a portkey to the offices."

The squad that had arrived shared unsure looks before one smiled awkwardly and gave them the portkey, an activation spell quickly spoken before the trio was in the secured arrival room and sighing as they set out to seek their office and Shacklebolt.

Remus stopped in the halls as they walked past, firming his lips and following them to their office where they floo called Shacklebolt and settled in to write their reports. "You lot are the most stubborn I've ever seen." Their werewolf mentor snarled as he gently fussed over Hermione- for she had become his little darling.

Harry snorted and then hissed and closed his eyes against the pain, his hands gripping his quill as an ink blot appeared on his report.

Ron murmured a sleepy argument before smacking his lips and drifting off.

Hermione uttered a relieved laugh and settled into her chair under Lupin's fussing. "That went well."

Harry smiled as Lupin reluctantly laughed and Shacklebolt entered the room for a verbal statement.

Harry grinned as he found her in the library, her hair once again loose and clothes in disarray. He knocked on the stack, as was his custom, before he approached. Hermione looked up and smiled at him, and he took the seat across from her and leaned forward with his forearms on the table, watching his fingers and waiting until he knew what to say.

She waited patiently and set her book down- a soft thud in the otherwise silent wing of her sanctuary.

Harry blushed as he recalled Remus interrogating him and then ripping him apart for being a coward. But Remus seemed to forget all the prodding he'd needed to ask out Tonks, and Harry wasn't even certain Hermione was receptive like Tonks had been.

She was bloody brilliant and one hell of a woman- the only question was whether or not she'd put up with him on an intimate basis instead of simply as a team member. He swore that if this was what love was he didn't want to feel it again- that only meant she had to take him now or he'd be forever miserable without the fluttering in his stomach and anxious feeling in his chest, knowing that he could feel this way, but never desiring to have another love after her, would be torture if she declined. She was too good to let go.

"Hermione," he licked his lips and looked up, his throat suddenly dry as he stared into her beautiful eyes as she waited for him.

She smiled and blushed. "I swear I didn't put the newt in the water cooler."

Harry was stunned before he laughed; the swimming newt had scared a few of the other workers (one secretary had even fainted)… "I know you didn't do that, but I'm also sure you have a good idea who did." Her eyes widened and she blushed guiltily. "But that's not what I need to say."

She grew solemn and reached across to table to hold his fumbling hands, her eyes liquid with worry and comfort. He smiled and turned his hand around to hold hers, half hoping that it would help him keep her. "I know it hasn't been long, we've been partners for little more than a year…"

Her eyes watered suddenly and she was looking at the side, "I'm sorry, I'll get transferred right away. I don't want to interfere with your dynamics."

Harry gaped before he spluttered and tried to back track, wondering where that had come from and holding her hands tighter as she went to move. "We still want you on the team." He stated firmly, watching her eyes as she looked at him in surprise and then blushed.

"Sorry." She mumbled in embarrassment. "I got removed from a team because the team dynamics didn't work…after a large mission…I just thought…"

And Harry tilted his head to watch this suddenly shyer Hermione- was this because she'd been discriminated against and pushed aside due to her heritage? Her gender? Was this behind all her gusto or merely a part of it? He loved her just the same. He wanted to reassure her.

"I wanted to ask you to dinner."

She blushed and her lips formed a little 'o' as she gazed at him with wide eyes. And Harry blushed and smiled before tugging her hand up to his lips and kissing the back of it.

"I wanted to take you out for dinner and then walk along the canal, maybe go to that heritage festival and wile away the night with conversation and laughing." He gave her a hopeful look as her face softened and her blush deepened.

She stammered before she cleared her throat, eyes intently searching his as if looking for a joke. Harry just leaned forward more and steadily gazed back. He wanted no doubt from her that he wanted her- he wanted to know her and love her and cherish her. He wanted to balance the woman with his partner.

She let out a soft 'yes' before she smiled and turned her head down as she bit her lip.

Harry grinned and reached across the table, his thumb soothing her lip as she gasped and stared at him before flushing.

He drew his hand away, keeping his hold on her remaining one as she went to return to her research. She gave him a curious look that he only grinned at, causing her to laugh and return to her work one limb deprived- she didn't seem to mind.

Harry settled and watched her, deciding that he loved his work partner and could only love the woman more.

They were balanced and they were perfect.

...XI Notes IX...

I hope you enjoy it, the pairing isn't very in your face so I kind of like it. Though I am recognizing this pattern in my writing.

Nonetheless, I posted it. Hints of government instability and job politics.

Review Reply: I hold no remorse for my AU, as I warned you in the summary and then at the beginning of the story. If it didn't interest you, you shouldn't have bothered reading or reviewing.

As to brunettes; I received many comments about Harry not being brunette, so I changed this. Brunettes: having dark or brown hair.
Hope this is more satisfying.