Chapter 1: Opportunities

Ron couldn't believe how crowded the platform at 9 ¾ was. It seemed like this year everyone decided to show up at exactly the same time. Art was already moving away from them toward the train. Ron tightened his arm around Hermione.

"Head Boy," she said. "I'm so proud of him."

Ron nodded his agreement. Art had turned into a fine young man.

"It seems odd not to be going back with him," Hermione continued.

Ron looked down at her. "Regrets?"

She sighed. "No, not really. Assistant director for the Department of Mysteries isn't exactly something I could pass up."

"Well," Ron frowned, "you could have."

Hermione looked up at him and rolled her eyes.

"But I didn't want to. We've been over this. It's a wonderful opportunity. I'm lucky to have been offered it."

The train started moving then, and everyone still on the platform began to wave. Ron pulled his wand out as the train left the station. "You're sure there's no practical magic involved?"

Hermione let her head fall back and let out a frustrated sigh. "For the millionth time, no. I'm reviewing projects and consulting, I'm not doing any of the practical magic." She pulled out her own wand.

"So you'll be home for dinner, not out at all hours?"

Hermione smiled. "Six o'clock on the dot."

She was as good as her word. She was already home when he arrived back from the shop. Ron sighed with relief to see her reading The Daily Prophet in the parlor by the fire. He was also pleased to see that the only thing she was drinking was tea. Perhaps this new job wouldn't be so bad after all.

Ron couldn't help but have his suspicions when it came to the Ministry of Magic. After all the things they'd subjected Harry to when they were children, he just didn't trust them. He'd been upset when Hermione had first come to him about working for the Department of Mysteries. Once they'd broken up, he'd always harbored malevolent thoughts toward the Unspeakables, as though it was their fault Hermione had left him. He knew that wasn't really true, of course, but he resented them nonetheless. She hadn't remained an Unspeakable long after they got back together, but she'd continued working with the Department of Mysteries off and on as a consultant the entire time she worked at Hogwarts. Ron never liked it. The hours were awful and whenever she performed practical magic as an Unspeakable the physical toll was heavy, which Ron found to be completely unacceptable. Still, Hermione was Hermione, she wouldn't be told what she could and couldn't do. Once she was pregnant with Artie, however, she'd sworn off channeling large amounts of magic and her consulting was strictly research oriented during her pregnancy. She never said so, but Ron knew she missed working as an Unspeakable, so when Thomas Greene, Hermione's old partner, was named director of the Department of Mysteries and asked Hermione to be assistant director, she'd jumped at the chance. Both Hermione and Greene had assured Ron repeatedly that she would be supervising projects not performing them. Despite his better judgment, Ron relented and didn't protest when she accepted the job.

As he watched her read the paper, happy and healthy, her hair glowing in the firelight, he realized he'd made the right decision.

"So how was your first day on the job?" He asked as he stepped into the parlor.

"Ron," Hermione smiled as she set down the paper. "It was great. It's really nice to be back. There are some new faces, but a lot of people I've worked with before. I was a little worried about some of the staff resenting me for coming in as assistant director when I hadn't been with the Ministry the whole time, but I really didn't get that vibe today."

Ron sat down on the ottoman in front of her chair and leaned in to kiss her. "That's great, luv."

"So how was your day?" Hermione asked.

Ron set his hands down behind him, leaned back and let out a loud yawn. "Good," he said, looking at her. "But tiring. Seamus wants to broadcast concerts in addition to Quidditch and pulling together the magic for that is turning out to be rather complicated."

Hermione raised her eyebrows. "More complicated than Quidditch?"

Ron scrubbed a hand down his face. "Yeah, it's the sound that's so bloody difficult."

Hermione leaned back in her chair and considered the problem. She slid her feet into Ron's lap and he rubbed them without thinking.

"I see. The problem lies in channeling all the voices. With Quidditch you only have to channel the announcer." She bit her top lip. "That's tricky."

"Tell me about it," Ron grumbled, running his thumb along the arch of her foot. "Seamus and I have been weaving for days. We can get the picture and the lead singer, but none of the instruments and none of the back up singers. It's bloody frustrating."

"It sounds like you just need more people weaving."

Ron nodded, "But then you start to enter into the law of diminishing returns on your profit margin."

Hermione nodded. "Of course. Well, keep me posted. I can't wait to see how you work this one out."

Ron frowned and set her feet down. "Thanks for the vote of confidence." He started to stand.

"Hey," Hermione said, catching his hand. "I meant that. I wasn't being sarcastic. They used to say you couldn't charm a television set to show a magical broadcast, but you proved that wrong with Quidditch, now didn't you?" She stood and ran her hand up his chest. "You're clever, Ron. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

He snorted. "Right, I'm clever. That's rich coming from you."

She fingered one of the buttons on his shirt. "I've never made a million galleons with a clever invention."

Ron was beginning to be distracted by the places her hands were wandering. "That's because the government always makes you give your clever inventions away." He nuzzled her hair.

Hermione opened his shirt and placed a warm, wet kiss on his chest. "Then I guess it wasn't very clever of me to work for them."

Ron reached for the clip holding back her hair. "Cleverness and fiscal responsibility are two different things."

Hermione nodded as she continued opening buttons. "That's why you manage the money."

Ron sighed as she pulled his belt from the loops of his pants. "I manage the money, because you can't be bothered to notice when the bills come."

"I could pay the bills," she whispered against his stomach as she began unbuttoning his trousers.

Ron closed his eyes, determined not to lose his train of thought. "You have to open the post in order to pay the bills, luv."

"The post?" Hermione teased, as she slipped her hand into his pants.

"Yes," Ron moaned as her hand closed around him, "You know, parchment brought by owls, usually in the morning. Arrives with the paper."

"Right," she whispered, and lowered her mouth over him.

Ron couldn't remember what it was they were talking about.

Christmas holidays were rapidly approaching and Ron was once again faced with a gift crisis. Art was easy. He was due a new broom and Ron had already purchased the latest racing model. Hermione, on the other hand, was typically difficult. She didn't need anything and didn't seem to want anything, which left him to figure out something creative and special. Twice a year, on Christmas and her birthday, he went totally round the bend trying to pick a gift. He pulled the collar up on his coat and hunched against the cold, cursing the early snowfall. He'd just left Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. At least Fred and George were good for a laugh even if they were useless in the gift-giving department.

He stopped at the corner, unsure whether he should try Clayworth Rare Books or Pepall Custom Jewelry.

"Ron!"

He turned and was almost knocked over by Fred, who slid to a stop, his cheeks red and puffing. Ron felt a cold fist tighten around his heart.

"You've got to come back to the shop – there's been an accident, and Hermione's hurt." He put his hand on his chest, gasping. "St. Mungo's"

Ron took off at run for the shop. The doorbell clanged loudly as he slammed it into the wall. George thrust a pot of Floo powder at him and he grabbed a fist-full, scattering almost as much to the hearth. The last thing he heard as green flames engulfed him was Fred's shout to George: "I'm going with Ron – go get Art and Harry." A moment later, Ron stumbled from the hospital fireplace into the midst of chaos.

A lot of people seemed to be running. There was blood on the floor and two young men were being carried away using Mobilicorpus. A young witch in hospital staff robes approached Ron.

"Are you Mr. Weasley?"

Fred stepped out of the fireplace. "Ron?"

Ron looked at Fred and then at the young witch. "Where's my wife?"

"So you are Mr. Weasley?"

Ron nodded. A house elf was cleaning up the blood on the floor. A moment later the chaos stopped as though it had never happened. "Where's my wife?" Ron asked again.