Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine. If they were, I would be busy rewriting the epilogue, not writing fanfiction. :D
A resounding crash woke Ginny from her dream. She scrambled out of bed and grabbed her wand before she rushed out the bedroom door without stopping to throw on a dressing gown. She crept stealthily towards the kitchen where the crash had originated from. Ginny supposed a bit of Harry's paranoia had rubbed off on her. Although there hadn't been any attacks by dark wizards in ages, her heart felt as though it was about to beat through her chest as she kept her eyes open for any sign of an intruder.
The kitchen lights were on. Ginny tightly grasped her wand, ready to hex anyone she did not recognize. She took a breath to steady herself. Feeling prepared to deal with anything, she marched into the kitchen.
Where she found her flat mate, Hermione Granger, perched on top of the worktop as she ate ice cream directly from the carton. That was most unlike her, as she was the sort to insist on not eating from the container. Her wand was lying right next to her, clearly having been used only moments before to charm the broom and the dustpan that was cleaning up a couple of broken bowls on the floor.
"Sorry," her friend said, looking sheepish. "I didn't mean to wake you."
"Well you did," Ginny replied more harshly than she intended. She rolled her eyes. "And from a rather pleasant dream at that."
Hermione pointed her spoon at Ginny. "Stop right there. I really don't want to hear about another one of your dreams about Harry."
That earned her another roll of the eyes from Ginny as the other witch moved to stand in front of her. "You've become a right prude in your old age. I used to be able to tell you anything."
"That was before I lost all hope of you outgrowing your habit of over-sharing. Honestly! I did not need to know the specifics of how Harry likes his blowjobs! Of course, I threatened to hex you. Anyone would. Ron agreed with me on that one there. He said that it would be perfectly justified for me to hit you with a year of silence jinx and even asked that I cast one on Harry as well."
"What did Harry say?" Ginny asked curiously.
"Nothing. He wisely kept his mouth shut."
"That's disappointing. So much for having a boyfriend credited with saving the world if he can't be bothered to defend my honor when I'm not present."
Hermione snorted. "Saving the world is one thing. When I showed up that night, poor Ron looked ready to murder Harry. Seems that you're not the only one who has a problem with over-sharing." She rolled her eyes as she took another bite. "I really felt sorry for Ron after I learned what he had been through before I got there. He made me promise that I would never be late for another one of our get-togethers ever again."
Ginny flushed. "Oh that. That was my idea. I thought perhaps if you and Ron had something to commiserate over…"
"Horrible idea. You shouldn't have done that. Ron had trouble enough accepting that you were in a—shall we say an adult relationship?—with Harry. Having Harry give him all the details…it makes me wonder if you're really all that fond of either your boyfriend or your brother. Next time you need a cunning plan, you had best come to me," Hermione informed her with a snotty little shake of her head.
"Stop that. You're not allowed to mock me like that, not after you woke me up from one of the best dreams I've had in ages. Which was about me replacing that prick Sanders as the first string Seeker for my team, I'll have you know. I don't only dream about Harry."
"Since when?" Hermione crammed a large spoon full of ice cream into her mouth.
"Since always! Merlin! Something has turned you into a bit of a shrew tonight. What's to blame?" asked Ginny.
"Bad night out," Hermione replied succinctly.
"If I have a habit of over-sharing, you have the equally bad habit of keeping all the good details to yourself." Ginny pulled up a kitchen chair and plunked herself down. "Go on. Share. You were supposed to go out with Seamus tonight, right?"
"Yes," said Hermione. "He had planned a lovely night out at our favorite restaurant. Unfortunately, your brother and your boyfriend showed up."
"Oh dear," Ginny interjected.
"With my father in tow," Hermione added. She sighed deeply and returned to finishing off her ice cream.
"Ouch. I wouldn't have expected that."
"No," Hermione agreed, "seeing how it was a wizarding restaurant and all." She took another large spoonful, taking her time to really savor the taste, which led Ginny to conclude that she must be running low.
"Can't say that I blame you then for needing the comfort of some ice cream tonight." A thought occurred to Ginny. "Hang on. That's not the one I bought you're eating, is it?"
Hermione sneered at her, before holding the carton up so Ginny could see the label. Ginny breathed a sigh of relief. Hermione was eating the nasty sugar-free, fat-free junk that she called ice cream. Ginny marveled at her flat mate's ability to scarf it down without gagging.
"Good," said Ginny. "I can forgive you for waking me up, but not for finishing off the normal stuff that I buy."
"Because that would be the worst sin a flat mate could commit," Hermione said snidely.
"Exactly. And might I add that I don't see how that can count as comfort food when all the comforting elements have been removed from it." Ginny's opinion was roundly ignored by her friend as usual. Hermione never did listen when anyone tried to get her to eat normal food. At least, Ginny reflected, Hermione wasn't going on about how she was raised on sugar-free treats and how they were so much healthier. She decided it was best to move on.
"So what did the favorite men in your life do this time?" asked Ginny. She was burning with curiosity. It must have been bad if Hermione was upset enough to gorge herself the way she was doing right now.
"The usual," Hermione said with a wave of her hand. "They invited themselves to sit down, and my dad remarked how Seamus couldn't be much of a man if he hadn't dared meet my parents yet. Never mind that we were going to have dinner with them tomorrow night…"
"Going to? You're not any more?" Years of knowing Hermione had taught Ginny how to pick up on the subtle inferences in the other witch's conversation.
"Well I am. He's not. It looks like I'll be by myself for the picnic your mum's got planned for Saturday too. Harry started reminiscing on how Seamus used to be rather suspicious and distrusting of him. Mind you this is from back in fifth year and only at the start of it, at that." She rolled her eyes. "You know how Harry gets when he's feeling particularly paranoid. Seamus bailed out when Harry began to wave his wand along with his hands while talking. When I got home, there was an owl waiting for me from him saying that he thinks it best that we call it off." Hermione leaped up from her seat and began to pace around the kitchen as she ranted to Ginny while somehow still finding the time to continue eating. "Honestly! Is it too much to ask that they meet the wizards I'm seeing with an open mind?"
"They just want to make sure that whoever you're seeing is good enough for you," said Ginny soothingly. She would have tried to pat the other witch on the back, but she was afraid that might make Hermione choke.
"Please. Their standards are too high. There's no wizard out there who is good enough for me if you go by what they think. Did you know that my father actually had the gall to ask one of my old boyfriends if he was a eunuch? And when the poor thing didn't answer, he said that he would let Harry and Ron continue the interrogation? And those prats began rolling up their sleeves and talking about needing to take this one outside! Honestly!" Hermione stomped her foot. "And I rather liked Seamus too, you know. He was a good bloke to have fun with."
"Not to mention the fact that you sort of have a thing for wizards with accents."
"Do too! I can't blame you for Seamus. His brogue is rather charming, isn't it? So was Oliver Wood's. And you can't argue that Viktor Krum didn't have an accent, Herm-own-ninny."
Hermione shuddered. "Stop that. I thought I put that particular mangling of my name behind me."
"I'm your friend. I won't let you forget it." Ginny smiled as she thought of a remark that would cheer Hermione up. "And last but not least, let's not forget my brother. He speaks the dialect generally referred to as 'stupid prat'."
Ginny's smile was answered by one appearing on Hermione's face. "Yes, I suppose he is," she said. "That must be why he gets along so well with my dad and Harry. They're all stupid prats."
"Yes, yes, of course," said Ginny dismissively. "Though I must say, I have to agree with them in this instance. If Seamus was put off by one of Harry's rants—and it must have been a milder one at that if you weren't all thrown out of the restaurant—then he really isn't good enough for you."
Hermione's spoon hit the bottom of the carton at the exact moment Ginny finished her remark. She threw up her hands in frustration, letting the empty container fall to the floor. "That is it! I expect sympathy from you, not to hear that you agree with those fools," Hermione exclaimed, glowering at her flat mate. "Just for that, I am getting out yours and finishing it off too!"
Ginny gaped at her friend as Hermione lunged for the freezer. She finally went into action when Hermione started rummaging around for the good ice cream she had bought. She tried to pull the other witch away from the freezer, knowing that Hermione wasn't the sort to make idle threats. Unfortunately, she wound up pushing Hermione back to the spot where her wand had been left, and then the struggle was really on.
The bowls Hermione broke earlier weren't the only casualties of the night.
Hermione grimaced as she stepped into the lift. She silently promised herself that one day she would hunt down the person responsible for the brilliant idea to line the damn thing with mirrors. Hermione knew she looked awful. Anyone would after having a bloody terrible evening like she did last night. She didn't need to look at a damn mirror at the start of her day to figure that one out. Thankfully the mirrors weren't the magical sort, otherwise Hermione would have been stuck with decades of bad luck from smashing them all in. Magical mirrors were like clockwork when it came to making snide remarks about her appearance.
Though when it came to her love life, Hermione was already serving out a sentence for bad luck. For what transgression, she didn't know, but her relationships never lasted more than a couple of months. Inevitably, she would have to introduce the poor sod to her parents, and then the trouble would really start. It was bad enough back when it was only her father who would scare away all her suitors. Now that her best friends were acting as the brothers she never wanted, it was a small miracle that Hermione could even find a wizard brave enough to go out with her.
Originally Hermione had been happy when her father had finally made his peace with her friends. She remembered that moment well; she and Ron had called it quits, having come to the conclusion that they were better off as friends. At dinner, her dad had bonded with Harry and Ron as her both of best friends declared that they felt as though she was the older sister they never had. That was a good memory. What wasn't a good memory was when she introduced Oliver Wood to her parents a couple months later. Both of her best friends had shown up, and between them and her father, they had given Oliver hell.
She sighed. Ever since that night, all the wizards she started seeing met a similar fate. The alliance to keep Hermione innocent and pure for the rest of her life by scaring off all the wizards she meets because she won't let us send her off to a convent was still in full force to this day. Her mum had tried to intervene on her behalf several times but to no avail. When those three got together, they all lost what little sense they had to begin with.
Hermione stifled a yawn as the doors opened, the lift having arrived on the floor that her office was on. She trotted out and headed right, nodding to a couple of the reporters she was friendly with. It was funny, when she thought about it, the directions life could take. She would have never expected to work for the Daily Prophet, given her interactions with the newspaper in her younger years. Initially Hermione had started out working at the Ministry after the war. Time and time again, however, she ran into unnecessary roadblocks whenever she tried to introduce a policy change. Fed up with such bureaucratic nonsense, she fled to become a reporter with the Daily Prophet, where she specialized in skewering the Ministry at every turn. It was a job only Hermione could do. Her best friend was in line to eventually become the next head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and she personally knew the Minister of Magic. She didn't really have to worry too much about efforts to silence her. Finally Hermione was beginning to feel that she was making a difference; if she wasn't making things change, then at least she was putting a large spotlight on various problems that Wizarding World had ignored for far too long. With Hermione as one of its star reporters, the Daily Prophet was no longer the Ministry's mouthpiece.
That, in and of itself, was an accomplishment Hermione was proud of. She reminded herself of that fact whenever she was waylaid by another reporter looking for information about one of her friends. The connections that kept her safe from reprisal also made her a target of her co-workers, particularly those working on the gossip column. Thankfully they did not work on the same floor as her, and Hermione also had a secretary capable of keeping those twits at bay.
"Good morning," her secretary chirped as she walked through the door. Hermione winced. That was the bad thing about Evie, her secretary. She was always chipper in the mornings. Normally Hermione didn't mind that, as she was a morning person herself, but sometimes Evie was a tad much when Hermione was feeling under the weather
"Good morning, Evie," Hermione replied. She looked at the door to her personal office and frowned. She didn't remember setting any appointments until later today when she was supposed to have her first meeting with an annoying prat she could no longer avoid. "Did I have a meeting scheduled this early?"
"Your eleven o'clock dropped by early," Evie answered. "He said that something came up and so he decided to stop by first thing this morning to see if you could fit him in."
"Lovely. Just what I wanted to hear." Hermione rolled her eyes. "Sorry you had to deal with him so early."
"No worries. You didn't have any other meetings scheduled this early in the morning so I showed him in to your office and told him that you should be here shortly."
Hermione groaned. "Oh that will be the perfect start to the day."
"Oh I know!" Her secretary leaned forward in her chair and gestured for Hermione to come closer excitedly. "He is quite fit, isn't he? Is that why you had him scheduled so close to your lunch hour originally? Hoping that perhaps your meeting would run late." She winked at Hermione broadly. "Can't say I blame you for trying."
"You young lady have been reading too many of the wrong sort of novels," Hermione said sternly. "And looks aren't everything. I'll have you know that wizard in there has a personality as charming as that of a blast-ended skrewt." With that, she marched in to her office, ready to face her doom.
"Malfoy," she said frostily. She walked over to her chair and sat down.
"Good morning to you too, Granger," the pale, blond wizard replied. "I see that your manners haven't improved over the years."
"And I see that you're still avoiding the sun like the plague. Tell me, are there any vampires in your vaunted family tree?"
"Pleasant as always. It's times like these when I wonder why I didn't seek out your help sooner." He paused. "Oh wait, that's right, I did but someone always said that she was too busy. Your head has grown ever since leaving the Ministry, now hasn't it?"
Hermione clenched her jaw. "The reason why I wasn't able to pencil you in earlier was because I simply do not have time to sit down with you just so you can insult everything about me."
"But I haven't done that." Malfoy was handsome, and his smile was simply gorgeous, but it would take a man much more handsome than him to make Hermione forget the history between them. "I simply remarked upon the rather abbreviated greeting you gave me."
Hermione sighed. It was true that she was the one who had started being unpleasant. It was also true that Malfoy had appeared to change after the war. Every year, he consistently led his peers when it came to donating to Wizarding charities. He had even started a fund to provide for widows and children of Aurors who died in the line of duty. Hermione had been horrified to find out that the Ministry made no provision for an Auror's family, and she would have never known of their plight if Malfoy hadn't highlighted it the way he had. She took another deep breath. If she was completely honest with herself, putting off this meeting was her way of putting off accepting the fact that it was time she gave Malfoy a second chance.
"I'm sorry," she said tersely. "It hasn't been the best of mornings, so it cuts against the grain for me to call it good."
"I'll accept your apology if you will accept mine for having to change our meeting time without any notice," he said, inclining his head gracefully at her. She nodded in response. "Very well then. Shall we get down to business?"
"Yes of course." She glanced over at him. "Should I consider this on the record or off the record?" she asked.
"Off the record for now, please."
"I'll still need to take notes," she said slowly. "I will not reveal anything you tell me but…"
He waved her concerns aside. "Frankly, Granger, if you chose not to take notes, then I would know that you weren't taking me seriously, and I would be leaving shortly. The issue of various Ministry departments being so open to outside influences is too important to—"
"Hang on. Do you mean to tell me the whole point of this meeting is so you can complain about Ministry officials continuing to take bribes? That's ludicrous! I happen to know that your father—"
"You would do well to remember that I am not my father." He leaned forward in his seat as he fixed his stare upon Hermione. A shiver ran down Hermione's spine. The cold, steel gray of his eyes conveyed that Malfoy intended to be taken seriously at all costs.
"No, I am not my father," he continued, "and I do not hold with many of his beliefs or practices. In any case, I was not alluding to the sort of petty bribery my father indulged in. He merely bribed officials to keep our family out of trouble and to ensure his investments paid off. I was referring to the systematic bribery engaged by one particular department in the Ministry to stop other departments from interfering in their business or even knowing what it is they do."
"I'm sorry. You've lost me there. Could you try being a little less cryptic please?"
"I see. Let's try another approach. Which department would you say is in charge of all the rest?' he asked.
"The Department of Magical Law Enforcement, of course," she replied.
"I would say it's the Department of Mysteries. Because there is no oversight whatsoever of said department."
Hermione's brow furrowed as she pieced together what he had said. "Are you saying that the Department of Mysteries has been arranging things so that no one keeps track of their experiments?"
"That is precisely what I am saying."
"Do you have any evidence?" she asked skeptically. The whole thing sounded like something the Quibbler would print. She would need solid evidence before she could write an article, much less convince her editor to put it in print.
"Precious little, outside of example after example of coincidences that benefited that department."
"Enough to start a serious investigation though?"
"Plenty," he said emphatically. He began to relate what he knew about the situation as Hermione scurried to take down what he said. Several times she stopped him in order to ask questions, although he rarely could give an answer to them. They continued in such a manner for some time, with Hermione growing more excited by the minute. Thank Merlin Malfoy had decided to come to her with this information, instead of going to someone he knew better such as Nott. Suddenly some of the more confounding decisions that had come out of the Ministry while she worked there weren't so inscrutable any more. That was especially true when Malfoy commented on how former Unspeakables had been inserted into strategic positions in every other department. Before either of them realized it, two hours had passed.
"That's all I know, I'm afraid," he said, stopping abruptly.
"What you've told me has been plenty already. You knew a lot more than you let on," said Hermione, and she was rewarded with a genuine smile from Malfoy.
"It wasn't just me," he admitted. He bent his head down as though he was feeling shy. "My parents have been involved with influencing the Ministry for years, and my mother warned me to watch out for that particular department in my own dealings with them." He paused to consider his next words. "I realize that you're under no obligation to do so, but I would appreciate it if you would keep me updated on anything else you manage to find out about this. I would be willing to help you out as necessary, in return," he offered.
"Yes, yes," she replied absently. Whenever Hermione was approached to do an investigative piece, the requester inevitably wanted to be informed of all developments. She generally complied with such requests. Her informants had already done her a favor by choosing her to give their information to; unless she had reason to suspect they had ulterior motives for wanting her to pursue an investigation, she would see them from time to time to let them know what she had discovered.
Then a brilliant idea hit her. Maybe the wizard in front of her could help her out with something else as well. "Are you busy tonight, Malfoy?" she asked hopefully.
He shook his head no, his eyes questioning what she had in mind.
Author's note: Thanks for reading. Any review you decide to leave will be cherished. :) Hopefully I'll have the next part up shortly.