Chapter 1: A Passing Breeze Filled with Memories
It was snowing when Hermione made her way toward The Leaky Cauldron to meet Ron for lunch. She wasn't sure why she had suggested lunch. That was stupid. Her stomach was knotted in a tense ball, which was only made worse by the letter she'd just received at work. The owl that brought it looked about ready to drop when he'd arrived, so she knew he'd come a long way. She'd given the poor bird two treats and some water before she sent him to the owlry.
She had recognized Viktor's handwriting on the envelope, firm thick strokes with a quill, the writing of man who knew what he had to say and said it well. She hadn't spoken to him or corresponded with him since last summer at the World Cup. She couldn't imagine why he was writing now, and clearly that owl hadn't been in England. She could only guess he was writing from Bulgaria, which was unusual, since he'd been living here and playing for an English team for several years now.
It was the contents of the letter that made her decide to walk from the Ministry building all the way to The Leaky Cauldron rather than Apparate. She needed the time to clear her head and decide how to approach Ron with this new information. As if what she originally had to tell him wasn't awkward enough, now there was this. When it rains, it pours, Hermione thought, or in this case drops great loads of snow. Why the hell am I out in this?
She stamped her feet and shook snow from her cloak before hanging it on a peg in the entranceway of the bar. She was trying to get all the snow out of her hair when she spotted Ron tucked away at a corner table staring at a menu with a pint of ale in front of him. She made her way over to him, jostling past the lunch crowd.
When he saw her, he stood and pulled out a chair for her, kissing her as she moved to sit down. "You're frozen," he said as he came out of the kiss.
"I decided to walk," Hermione said. A large teapot was floating around the room. She picked up the cup in front of her and held it out. The teapot sailed toward her and filled it.
"In the snow?" Ron asked. "What on earth for?"
Hermione took a sip of her tea and cleared her throat. "To clear my head, I suppose."
Ron sat back in his chair and looked at her for a moment before saying, "I don't like the sound of that. What's happened?"
Hermione pushed her damp hair off her forehead. "Well, I'm thinking of taking a sabbatical from the Ministry, and I need to go to a funeral."
Ron looked alarmed. "What? Who died?"
Hermione shook her head. "You don't know him."
Ron took a swallow of his ale. "All right, start at the beginning."
The waitress came over then and asked if they were ready. Ron ordered bangers and mash; Hermione asked for a Cornish pasty with mushy peas on the side. When the waitress left, Hermione turned back to Ron.
"Let's just go in order of events alright, otherwise, we're going to get bogged down."
"Alright then," Ron said and took another swig of ale.
"Professor McGonagall, or I guess I should say Headmistress McGonagall, wrote me yesterday. Something rather unexpected happened at Hogwarts."
"Are you talking about Binns?"
"Yes, you knew?"
Ron laughed, "Harry told me. I can't believe the old windbag finally passed over."
Hermione smiled and sipped her tea. "Well, it's left them in a bit of a lurch coming as it has in the middle of the school year."
"Yeah, Harry said right now they just aren't teaching History of Magic, but that's no solution."
"Right, they need a history professor."
Ron laughed. "Maybe they'll get one that's alive." He stopped laughing suddenly. "Hang on, you aren't thinking of taking the job, are you?"
Hermione raised her eyebrows and sipped her tea.
"Really?" He shook his head. "I could see you teaching Transfiguration or Charms, but History of Magic? Won't that be dead boring?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "It was only dead boring because a dead man taught it. I think I'd rather like it actually. I've had loads of ideas ever since she suggested it."
"What made McGonagall think of you?" Ron asked.
The waitress brought their food then.
Hermione poked at her mushy peas with her fork. "I ran into her at the Ministry a few weeks ago. We talked for awhile and I mentioned that I had considered teaching at some point."
"I didn't know you were interested in teaching, " Ron said around a mouthful of mashed potatoes.
"I've been toying with the idea for awhile now. I can't reasonably continue being an Unspeakable forever, so I've been thinking about my next move." She continued pushing the peas around on her plate.
Ron laced his fingers through hers. "I thought we were working on your next move."
Hermione dropped her eyes. "I know, but it isn't happening, and I'm wondering if my job isn't part of the problem, I mean in addition to the actual problem."
Ron rubbed his thumb along hers. "The healer said it might take awhile, it hasn't even been six months."
"Still," Hermione said, looking up at him. "I need to do something else in the meantime." Self-consciously she ran her other hand along the scar on her side. When she realized that Ron's eyes were following she moved it. "It's just a sabbatical, I'll finish out the year at Hogwarts and then, if I want to go back to the Ministry, I can."
Ron nodded. "All right then. Who died?"
Hermione sighed. "Todor Golakov."
"And that is?" Ron asked as he raised an eyebrow and unlaced his fingers from hers.
"Viktor's best friend. The funeral is in two days in Sofia." Hermione ran her finger along a groove in the tabletop and waited for the inevitable onslaught.
"Sofia, as in the city in Bulgaria, Sofia?"
"Yes," she nodded.