No words can express how sorry I am for the long delay in a new chapter-at this stage I am sorry to believe that you are all use to it! Real life has been difficult the past year and needed my full attention. I'm not fully happy about this chapter so I am interested in hearing what you all think, I had to cut it as it was getting very long. I would hope to have the next chapter up by next month but I am in final year so my exams and coursework take priority!
A huge thank you to everyone who has reviewed, favorited, followed or read this story. You guys are my inspiration and I will never abandon this story I love it too much! A massive thank you to the wonderful Irnbru who gave me some much needed italian names! I hope you all enjoy this story, I love hearing what you think should happen next and do take it into consideration. I never expected Hermione and Sirius to be feeling the way they do so soon but thats what the people want…now read and enjoy and please review or PM me is you have any questions suggestions or comments!
Apologizes for any grammar or mistakes.
Chapter Thirty-Three Surprises
As Sirius left Malfoy Manor for his day with Ted and Astoria, Hermione was sitting in the main boardroom that the Ministry used when dealing with internal issues and meetings with visiting dignitaries. She had been escorted to this room once she had arrived at her office and asked to speak with Mr. Allan. Instead of seeing her boss she had been lead to this empty room and left to wait for the last thirty minutes. The letter she had received at Malfoy Manor had not mentioned any meeting so Hermione was confused as to why she as waiting in in this particular room.
Hermione was still furious that her decision had been changed. The Ministry had publicly signed a treaty with the giants after the Second War to ensure they would be on their side in any future battles or remain neutral. To allow those foul hunters free reign would not only be immoral but highly illegal. If the Ministry was seen going back on their agreement with the giants, then similar agreements they reached with other magical creatures might also be at risk. Hermione had composed a list of what she had to say to Mr. Allan and Kingsley when the door of the room finally opened. Hermione stood, her mouth open to already comment on how unfairly she was being treated when she stopped in shock. No words came to her when she saw who all was entering the room.
Amos Diggory smiled awkwardly at Hermione as he led the group into the room and took one of the seats at the furtherest end of the long table, the furtherest away from Hermione she noted. As the Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation, Mr. Diggory had no business to be involved with an issue pertaining to Magical Creatures unless" Hermione was interrupted by the loud voice of her boss.
"Miss. Granger surely you can answer a simple yes or no question without one of your long winded answers. Did you or did you not say no to a simple hunting request that would have brought the Ministry in some much needed gallons?" Mr. Allan looked very smug at Hermione as he trapped her into answering the question. Hermione now had a better understanding about how Harry felt back in fifth year when he had been backed into a corner by the Ministry at his hearing. Unlike Harry though Hermione was older and much more use to people looking down on her and trying to catch her out. She could see that the outcome of this review had already been decided no matter what she said.
"I denied a hunting request that would result in the Ministry breaking it's own law and possibly starting a war." Hermione replied. At her words a number of the gathered Heads began to shuffle their papers or whisper to one another.
It was Auror Baratheon who spoke next, promptly cutting off any response Percy or Mr. Allan had to Hermione's calm statement.
"Now lass what's this about war? I think it's fair to say we've all seen enough of such things, some of us more than others aye?" Hermione was surprised at the gruff Scottish accent that came from the man but his words shocked her more. The way he had directed his question and the look in his eyes told Hermione that he was on her side and that he wouldn't allow her to be bullied.
"Yes Auror Baratheon I believe our poor world has seen more than it's fair share of war and that is one of the many reasons I denied the giant hunters access to the Reserves. We have promised the giants land and safety in return for their cooperation. If the Ministry is seen going back on their own agreement, than what is to stop it from doing the same to the other magical creatures we have reached similar agreements with after the Second War? Do you think the Volturi will quietly sit back? Or that the the Elves will let it slide? No, I did what was right and I stand by my decision. If the Ministry agrees to the hunter's request than the past five years of improving wizard relations with magical creatures will have been all for nought." Hermione spoke passionately as she pleaded with all the men and women in the room. She knew that many of them had a low opinion of her, they viewed her as less than dirt, but she didn't care at the moment. Right now she wasn't pleading with them for her reputation or for her job, she was pleading with them to ensure the safety of species she had sworn to protect.
"Typical overdramatic response Miss. Granger but at least you admitted that you rejected the hunter's generous request." Mr. Allan cooly commented. "I think its in the Ministry's best interest to immediately correct Miss. Granger's mistake."
Some of the gathered Department Heads nodded their heads in agreement as they looked at the details of the hunter's request before them. While some of them didn't agree with going back on their word and essentially breaking their own Treaty, they recognized that the amount of money that the hunter's were offering was desperately needed as the Ministry still felt the cost of the War five years on.
"Agreed Mr. Allan, the Ministry can not afford to turn up its nose on such an offer and I will send for the hunter's immediately. We may have some work to do in order to sooth their egos but that can be done easily enough I'm sure. Perhaps throw in an offer for hunting in the hippogriff reserve?" Percy stated calmly as Mr. Allan nodded his head in agreement. Hermione tensed with anger at what she was hearing. It was bad enough that they were going to break their agreement with the giants without offering the reserve as an extra bonus. Before she could stop herself, Hermione spoke.
"You can't do that!" Hermione yelled loudly, causing everyone in the room to jump in surprise. Percy and Mr. Allan both began to turn red as their authority was being called into question by Hermione. "You can not allow those, those butchers access to the hippogriff reserve. That is suppose to be a safe sanctuary for the care and breeding of hippogriffs. Harry Potter set it up for Merlin's sake! I know most of you have little to no respect for me, but you worship him! Why are you trying to destroy his work? Why are you trying to destroy the Ministry's image? Do you wish for the masses to turn against us once more? Or are you all just so easily blinded by money you honestly can't see what you are proposing to do is wrongits inhumane!"
Throughout her little speech Hermione stalked from one end of the room to the other, her emotions causing her hair to look wilder. Her previous plan of remanning professional and poised flew out the window as she realized how foolish the men and women before her were acting. As she continued to mutter and stalk from one end of the room to the other, she looked more like a caged lioness with little sparks of electricity in her wild curls than the devoted Ministry employee. As the Department Heads watched in shock, the shy and quiet girl they knew was transforming into the fierce warrior they heard about during the Second War.
Hermione was mumbling to herself, "law clearly states"
Having had enough, Mr. Allan stood up. The review meeting was not going as he had hoped. He could see a number of Department Heads begin to look unsure about their decision and that was precisely why he did not want Miss. Granger informed of the meeting. An informed Miss. Granger, was a prepared Miss. Granger and he could never win against that.
"Miss. Granger!" Mr. Allan roared, causing most of the gathered Heads to jump once more. Hermione paused mid-step as she became aware of her surroundings once more. Looking at the purple face of her boss and the shocked faces of most of the Department Heads, Hermione realized that she did not do herself any favors and that she probably aided Mr. Allan in his campaign against her more than anything else. Hermione turned to face the table properly once more and straightened herself up.
"Now are you quite done making a spectacle of yourself so we can continue?" Mr. Allan asked. Taking a seat once more, he didn't wait for an answer and turned to Percy and nodded his head. Before Percy could speak though Hermione once more spoke up, her tone once more professional and calm.
"What is to be my punishment then?" Hermione steeled herself for the response as she looked around the room. She could guess what was to happen from the calculating faces that started back, only finding sympathy in the faces of Mr. Diggory and Dean Thomas and anger in the faces of Cuthbert Mockridge and Auror Baratheon. For a second Hermione wondered why they were angry at her when she noticed that they were directing their hard glares towards Percy and Mr. Allan.
Percy was staring at Hermione as if he had never seen anything like her before. Those who usually stood before the Department Head's Review Board tried to ignore the fact that they were there to be punished for their actions, most tried to apologize, beg or bargain their way out. Percy met Hermione's eyes and nodded his head. He would be straight with her, other than her childish rant, Hermione had acted professionally and he would do the same. Percy knew Samuel wanted to keep her in the dark but Percy knew that if they continued to treat her differently to how they would treat any other Ministry employee they would have their own investigation and review to deal with.
"Under normal circumstances Miss. Granger, a Ministry employee called before the Review Board has limited options open to them. They are usually fined, forced to work extra hours with no pay, suspended from work, demoted or fired. The Review Board would usually allow a mistake like yours to be corrected with a fine or extra hours as it would be seen as your Department Head at fault for allowing a secretary to do work they themselves should have completed." At this Percy and a number of the Department Heads, including Mockridge and Auror Baratheon, looked at Mr. Allan with disgust. The man didn't even have the grace to look ashamed as he stared proudly back.
"However Miss. Granger," Percy began as he looked once more at the young witch before him. "Your situation is far from usual. You are the brightest witch of the era, your NEWTs broke all records including those once held by Albus Dumbledore and Tom Riddle. It is understandable for Mr. Allan to expect that you could handle some limited authority and it was you that sought to abuse said power. Mr. Allan has also provided us with a list of your past indiscretions over the years, of which there is thirty-six. In light of Mr. Allan's accusations and your admittance the Board is now to debate the issue privately before voting on your punishment. We ask that you kindly vacate the room so that we can deliberate." Percy nodded his head at Hermione and opened the door with a wave of his wand. Hermione looked at all the men and women once more and walked to the door. Just before she left the room, she turned to face Percy.
"You just stated that I'm the brightest witch of the era, that my results have never been achieved and that they broke the records held by two of the greatest wizards in our history." At Hermione's declaration of Tom Riddle being a great Wizard, a number of people spoke up. Hermione held up her hand to silence them. "Yes I know what I said and you'd be fools to ignore the fact that while Riddle was pure evil, he was highly intelligent and if he hadn't gone down a dark path, he could have been Minister of Magic or Headmaster of Hogwarts. The point that I am trying to make is that you recognize my intelligence yet the Ministry has repeatedly chosen to ignore using it. I have petitioned this very board numerous times for a different role in the Ministry in which I could be of more value. Perhaps the Department Heads Review Board should review why the brightest witch is a mere secretary instead of wasting its time on this farce." With that Hermione left the room and closed the door with a wave of her hand. She knew what the Review Board would decide, she didn't have to be the brightest witch to figure out that.
Hermione walked over to the uncomfortable chair that appeared outside the door and silently summoned an empty box. Hermione thought of her small desk and silently summoned all her personal effects, her documents and paperwork and her recently handed in reports that she had placed on Mr. Allan's desk. If he thought he could get her publicly fired and still get her to do his work for him, he had another thing coming. Hermione sighed as she looked down at the small brown box that held nearly four years of her employment. They weren't enjoyable years, she hated working for a pig like Mr. Allan but she was glad of all the things she had been able to achieve due to her boss being so lazy and afraid to actually work. Hermione had been crucial to the Ministry's successful treaties with a number of Magical Creatures and her recently passed, or Mr. Allan's as far as the public was concerned, law regarding werewolf rights was her biggest achievement and why she felt prepared to leave her position. She had achieved everything she had intended to when she entered the Ministry at nineteen years of age.
As she looked down at her watch, she realized that the Board had been debating her issue for at least ten minutes. Hermione had to smirk as she imagined how frustrated and annoyed Percy and Mr. Allan must be as they realized it would not be as straightforward as they thought. No doubt Dean and Mr. Mockridge were trying to argue in her favor, possibly joined by Auror Baratheon although Hermione had no idea why he seemed to support her.
As fifteen and then thirty minutes passed, Hermione began to think of Ted and what he would be doing now. She hoped he was enjoying his day with Astoria and wouldn't cause too much trouble. She would have to immediately begin to look for work in order to ensure Ted wasn't taken off her. She didn't care what her next job entailed as long as it provided her with a steady income. Ted was everything to Hermione and she would die before she allowed someone like Madame Hudgens take him away from her. Thinking of Ted caused Hermione's thoughts to stray towards the other man in her life, another unexpected one.
Hermione could feel herself blushing just at the thought of the older Marauder. She knew when she returned this evening Sirius would demand they talk about their kisses. Kisses. Hermione and Sirius Black had kissed and more than once. The first time Hermione had thought Sirius would try to pass it off as a 'caught in the moment' thing but they had kissed again at Malfoy Manor and there had been no real 'moment' that they could blame it on. Both kisses had Hermione blushing, she had never been kissed with such passion before. Hermione knew that she shouldn't but she couldn't help but hope that she would be able to kiss Sirius like that again, and soon.
When Hermione realized that she wanted to kiss Sirius again she nearly fell out of her chair. She couldn't all the signs were there. Hermione loved spending time with Sirius, she loved hearing his sharp bark of laughter and watching him play with Ted and she loved arguing and bantering with him. When an image of Sirius smirking and winking at her appeared in her mind Hermione knew.
She had feelings for Sirius Black.
Hermione put her head back against the wall and as she looked up at the ceiling she wondered if those feelings were reciprocated.
Sirius looked around the boutique in awe. He had entered what appeared to be the second floor of the boutique from the fireplace, the room was Astoria's office judging from the white desk that held three photo frames. One photo had her and a smiling Draco, another a picture of her and her older sisteryes he'll be perfect, especially as Mr. Draco is so busy. I'll gather Dipsy and Bobby and have the material brought up here. Do you wish to start in your office or one of the dressing rooms?" Lipsy asked as she turned her attention to Astoria. Astoria just smiled as she realized that Sirius was in shock at seeing so many house-elves in the store working, no doubt wondering if Hermione knew about them. Astoria looked down at Lipsy, her best worker and confidante. Hermione had introduced them nearly three years ago and it is thanks to the small elf that Astoria became so successful so soon.
"I think we should start in here, I don't want to cause a fuss. I need to show Sirius around though and go speak with some of our patrons. I want to show Sirius how great our boutique is!" Astoria said with a warm smile. Lipsy returned the smile and nodded, she walked to the door but before she left she snapped her fingers and a soft white blanket appeared over the sleeping Ted.
The use of 'our' when Astoria described the boutique was not lost on Sirius and he couldn't help but wonder if Hermione's liberal beliefs had spread to her friends. Astoria walked over to Ted and silently waved her wand over him causing Sirius to walk over to her.
"I'm placing a surveillance charm over him, that way while we're downstairs if he wakes up we'll know. I'll ask Bobby or Dipsy to stay in here with him just as an extra precaution." Astoria explained to Sirius as she began to look at various papers on her desk. Apparently a number of witches had requested personal appointments with the namesake of the boutique.
"The house-elves?" Sirius asked as he watched the young witch look over her schedule. Astoria looked up at him confused for a brief moment before awareness entered her bright green eyes.
"Of course! I'm so sorry Sirius, I feel like we've had you around forever and that you've seen everything already. I'm sure you're aware of Hermione's feelings in regards to house-elves?" At Sirius' nod, Astoria continued. "Well my sister Daphne and I always felt similar to how Hermione did but due to our social circle we could never be as vocal as Hermione. After the War Hermione carried quite a bit of influence and with Harry's support, they were able to get some rights for house-elves. Any elf that wished to be free could register with the Control of Magical Creatures Department and the Department would find a suitable place where they could work and live. If an elf wished to still have a master but get paid or have a day off or learn to read and write they could do that too through the Department. Over the years all that work really feel on Hermione solely as nobody else in Hermione's department wanted to get involved as it was 'too' liberal for them." Astoria scowled as she thought of all the hard work her friend has had to do over the years. Sirius was also thinking of the intelligent witch. He remembered the first time he had heard about Hermione's feelings about house-elves and was amazed that she had succeeded in achieving her goals.
Although nothing really should surprise me about Hermione anymore. She's an amazing young woman. Sirius thought.
"Would you like a quick tour around the boutique?" Astoria asked as she shuffled her papers neatly on her desk. At Sirius' eager nod Astoria smiled and quickly checked on Ted again before she led him out the office doors. As Astoria closed the door, two house-elves approached her. The male had a large amount of black silk in his arms, while the female carried dark blue silk.
"Dipsy, Bobby! Thank you so much! If you could please place them in my office while I show SIrius around?" Astoria kindly asked the house-elves who smiled brightly and nodded their heads in agreement. "Thank you! We wouldn't be long, if you both don't mind waiting in the office with Teddy? Thank you." Sirius watched as the two house-elves ran into the office despite their heavy burdens. He could tell that they were eager to get Ted. There was just something about the child that had everyone adore him. Astoria laughed softly as she watched her employees run to watch her nephew. She looked over at Sirius and seeing his warm smile Astoria realized that Sirius was even more handsome than she had originally thought. Her earlier thought of Hermione's love life passed through her mind once again as she scrutinized the older wizard. When Sirius looked over at her, Astoria could do nothing but smile brightly.
"Well as you've probably already guessed, that there was my office and we are on the second floor of my boutique. I mainly do scheduled personal appointments up here, mainly rich witches looking their wedding dresses to be designed in order to ensure it's a one of a kind! That's why most of the rooms up here are empty, they are mainly changing rooms, designing rooms and the sewing rooms where the magic really happens." Astoria smiled as she pointed out each room to Sirius. Sirius looked in the mentioned sewing room and noticed a few house-elves working on some white fabric. Astoria quickly explained to Sirius that she designs everything in her boutique and that while she tries to sew the dresses when she can, with her limited time and high demand, the house-elves do most of the sewing now.
Astoria's Boutique was the only all white building in Diagon Alley. The storefront and window displays were all pure brilliant white, with Astoria's Boutique in flowing black script above the door. There was two large windows, the right window held a beautiful emerald dress wrapped tightly around a plain mannequin. Silver fairy lights lit the display, caused the window to look as if diamonds were sparkling around the simple, yet beautiful dress. The left window held a mannequin dressed in a beautiful wedding dress. This display was simple, nothing in it but the dress. Both windows had light white sheets behind their displays, showing the inside of the store but only just.
Through the two wide white doors and into the store patrons are left to wonder through two levels. Astoria guided Sirius around, taking him outside so he could see the store front and where it was on Diagon Alley so he would know how to get to the boutique easily from the main street. As they entered the store once more, Sirius noticed the small line of witches off to the side. There was a pure white cover over the few witches and Sirius realized that they were waiting to enter the store. At his look Astoria explained how the store could get too busy and therefore too difficult to manage if they let everyone in at once.
"This way, each witch gets her own personal assistant when she enters the boutique and while they are waiting outside we give them a catalog of what we have to offer so they have an idea of what they're looking for before they even enter the store." Astoria explained as she handed Sirius a copy of the catalog. As he flipped through the pages and pages of elegant dresses and robes he noticed a few familiar faces among the models.
"I've seen these women before. Hermione has photos of them in her home." Sirius said as he opened the catalog to a group page. Astoria looked down at the page and smiled warmly.
"Of course she would. They are her close friends too. That stunning woman there is Fleur Weasley, you probably know her husband Bill from the Order," Astoria pointed to the petite blonde witch who radiated beauty even on paper. Sirius nodded his head, thinking back to the photo of Bill's scarred face smiling as he had an arm around his beautiful wife and stunning daughter. She next pointed to the tall dark haired witch with a pixie hair cut and stunning green eyes. "That is my sister Daphne and this was her last shoot for me. Now that she's married and expecting her first baby she doesn't want to model anymore. I told her that none of that stopped Fleur but when my sister gets something in her head you can't convince her otherwise." Astoria smiled warmly and Sirius noticed more and more similarities between the two sisters before his attention was directed towards the other tall dark haired witch in the photo. "That is Millicent, she was a Slytherin with Daphne and Draco. The poor dear had a horrible time at school due to her size and acne. Hermione helped her out with her acne and she got more confident in her appearance. Now she's a highly sought after model but she always makes time for me and my business. She married Blaise's cousin Matteo two years ago in Italy." Sirius smiled as he recognized the young woman from one of the photos in Hermione's photo album. The last woman in the photo was a blonde with a dreamy expression on her lovely face.
"That's Luna isn't it?" Sirius asked as he knew the young woman's face from the various photos in Hermione's flat. He could also vaguely recall a flash of blonde hair that night he fell through the Veil at the Ministry. Astoria nodded her head and after a while they put the catalog down and moved further into the boutique and away from the main entry. Astoria was explaining to Sirius how after Hogwarts she attended a muggle fashion school in Paris for a year before she opened up the Boutique.
"I wanted to ensure that my designs were something new and nothing that the Wizarding World had ever seen. It was Hermione that suggested I attend a muggle school as she pointed out that our fashion was considerably dated compared to what muggles currently wear. I think that's one of the reasons I'm doing so well. I've been able to incorporate modern muggle fashion into traditional robes." Astoria warmly smiled at Sirius as she pointed out one piece that would have fitted in at a muggle store if not for the ever changing color. Sirius was impressed at Astoria's talent and business savy. She wasn't the typical pureblooded socialite and that made Sirius like her more. She had a sharp mind and an even sharper tongue. As she caused Sirius to bark with laughter once more, he could understand why his young cousin was so captivated by her. Astoria Greengrass, the future Mrs Malfoy, was full of surprises.
Astoria waved over a young blonde woman called Gabrielle. Sirius found her bright cerulean eyes and warm smile very enchanting, much like the woman in the catalogue. Astoria and Gabrielle noticed Sirius' inquiring gaze and softly laughed.
"I am 'er sister Monsieur Black. My name is Gabrielle Delacour and I am Astoria's fashion photographer." Sirius found himself nodding dumbly before her caught himself. Gabrielle's french accent reminded him of another petite blonde he heard about during an Order meeting a lifetime ago.
"You're related to Bill's wife right?" Sirius asked as he handed Astoria back the catalog he was still holding. Gabrielle nodded as she held out her hand for Sirius to shake.
"Oui! I was with 'er when she was in ze tournament with Monsieur Potter. Hee is the one who saved me from ze 'orrid lake." Gabrielle said softly as Astoria frowned at the mention of Harry. Sirius just nodded again as he thought back to the Twi-wizard Tournament. He had been living rough then and hadn't been able to keep as close an eye on Harry and his tasks as he liked but he remembered fishing a discarded Daily Prophet from the bin. It had a photo of the second task with Harry on the front page as he helped a young blonde girl out of the lake with Ron by his side. Sirius was hit once more by just how long he had been gone when he looked at the young woman who stood before him now. Doing the maths quickly in his head Sirius realized that Gabrielle must be no older than 17 at the most.
Before Sirius could ask anymore questions Lipsy came over to the trio and spoke softly with Astoria before handing her a letter. Astoria nodded her head at Lipsy and looked closely at the letter before turning to Sirius.
"Lipsy said that a Gringotts owl just delivered this letter. It's addressed to you and I recognize Draco's handwriting." Astoria said as she handed over the letter. Sirius thanked her softly as he took it and opened it. He noticed that Lipsy had left and that Astoria and Gabrielle were talking about the next season's photo-shoot in order to give him some privacy. Sirius smiled slightly at their kindness before he prepared himself for whatever it was he was about to read.
Bill, Kingsley and I have been discussing your unusual situation with the goblins all morning. Father had delivered some surprising news which I believe you are somewhat aware off and it has forced the goblins hand. We need you to come to Gringotts as soon as you can as there have been some developments, both good and bad.
Sirius looked up from the letter and caught Astoria's eye who paused her conversation with Gabrielle.
"I have to go over to Gringotts, do you mind looking after Ted? I'm not sure how long this will take." Sirius asked as he placed the letter in his pocket. Gabrielle and Astoria nodded, with Astoria telling him to take the floo as it would be quicker and he'd have more privacy. Sirius nodded as he walked up to her office once more. He was surprised to see Ted asleep but was happy that the he didn't have to explain to the child why he was leaving him once more. He hoped that the business in Gringotts wouldn't take too long and he would be back before Ted awoke.
As SIrius stepped into the flames and clearly called out "Gringotts" he knew in the pit of his stomach that things wouldn't be that easy.