It has been way, way, way too long, I know. But, here's another chapter, compliments of the incredible Binka Fudge.
Bored ,That's what I am, bored! Bored, bored, bored.
Can't you just enjoy it for Merlin's sake?
This had been going on for the last forty five minutes, ever since Fred had popped in, literally, to tell Hermione that as both he and George were taking the day off to visit Hogsmeade, in hopes of procuring the old Zonko's premises, she had the entire day to relax.
At first Fred had insisted that after the stressful events of yesterday, she must have a few hours lie in, but Hermione, a person to whom being lazy was a foreign prospect, had flatly refused. He'd even tried tempting her with breakfast in bed and a good book, his attempts failed miserably however when Ginny poked her head round the door, saw Hermione was still in bed ("But it's ten to eight!") and ran off to fetch Molly, a thermometer, and a bottle of pepper-up potion, convinced that her best friend was sickening for a summer cold.
It took both Fred and Hermione a good five minutes to persuade the amateur mediwitches that nobody was ill, and another ten for Fred to explain to his mother why he was in Hermione's room at all. ("Why couldn't you have just sent an owl like any normal employer? I don't see Minister Shacklebolt stopping by to give your father the day off!")
Ginny had then offered to help run the shop with Hermione, but to her chagrin was told in no uncertain terms that they would never leave a pair of green employees unsupervised. Hermione might have taken offence at this, but after her brief stint working at WWW, she knew how quickly order (If you can call it order) could descend into chaos.
Fred had finally escaped the trio of disgruntled women when George (my blessed saviour!) had shown up to inform him that if he dawdled any longer, they were going to miss their window at the estate agents, which would make them late for the property viewing, causing a rescheduling of their meeting with the representative of Magical Renovations Ltd, giving them no time for lunch before their solicitors appointment. ("And I don't care how hot your girlfriend looks in her pale blue, silky… short… floaty…Ow! Uh, in her pyjamas; I'm not missing lunch for anyone.")
And so it was that Hermione then found herself, at twenty past eight in the morning, a whole glorious Sunday stretching before her like a blank canvas, bored out of her impressively large mind. Mrs. Weasley had offered to cook her a sumptuous full English breakfast, with all the trimmings and then some, but she'd opted for a more modest bowl of cereal (stirred into mush), slice of brown toast (left to go cold) and glass of orange juice (refreshing chill now absent). If only Fred and George had let me go with them.
Aww, miss me already?
Ouch! And I thought you loved me.
Sorry, but I can't stand having nothing to do!
Why not create your own family of paper elf dolls?
Are you kidding me?
Paybacks a bitch, I'n' it?
Fred Weasley! Is that what today is all about?
Nah, that's just a bonus! I actually thought you might like some time to study for your NEWTs, or maybe even do a bit of 'research'?
I can't study, I can't concentrate, I need other things to distract me so I can fit studying around them!
Seriously? You're weird!
I'm a Weasley twin; I like weird.
Nice try. You're lucky you're cute.
She thinks I'm cute!
Huh? Oh! Well, the estate agent apparently.
He's looking at me in a 'how did I get landed with this berk' kind of way.
What about George?
No,… he seems fine with George. Maybe it's the 'ear' thing. Maybe he has sympathy for my war hero twin.
You're a war hero too.
Oh, I know, but it doesn't show. My wounds are all on the inside.
Aww, poor Freddie.
Speaking of wounds, does research count as studying?
Did you just call our connection a wound? Oh, well, I guess it is in a way, though I prefer to think of it as a minor side effect of my saving your life. Keeps me sane. And yes, research and studying are in a similar vein, but it doesn't matter anyway, I've got all I can from those books we bought and going over it again won't get me anywhere, I need more material.
Okey dokey, I'll call in a few old favors this afternoon and I should have some new leather bound friends for you by the time we get home.
And Hermione, I was joking about the 'wound' thing, you know.
I know, Fred, I know.
Ouch! Bugger that hurt!
Can't even have a conversation with my girlfriend!
Hermione laughed out loud suddenly, startling Molly, who was scratching out a list of what she needed from the grocers shop in the village. "Everything alright, Hermione dear?"
"Wha-?" Looking up, Hermione realized that she was distracted as Fred had been, they really needed to focus more or everyone would think they'd gone crazy. "Oh, uh, yes, thank you. I was just, uh, remembering something that George said yesterday at work."
"You're enjoying it then?" Molly smiled happily. "They're such good boys really, if a little over-enthusiastic."
"Yes, yes they are." Hermione smiled back distantly.
"And I'm so glad you and Fred have found one another." Molly added rapturously, bringing Hermione's contented thoughts to a screeching halt. What? But we've only been dating for two days! Her agitation grew as she heard Fred's laughter in her mind. You can laugh now, Fred Weasley, but your turn will come. Just wait until she's asking you when you're going to make an honest woman of me and when she can expect a horde of grandbabies! Ha! That shut you up. "I mean we were all so sure that you'd get together with Ron, but now that I think about it, you and Fred are so much more well suited than you and Ron ever were."
"Thanks for that, Mum." Ron spat sarcastically as he and Harry shuffled into the room, both clearly having just woken up. Hermione cringed at the sour look on his face.
"Oh, Ron," Molly trilled nervously. "Harry. Morning dears! Who's up for a full English?" She bustled around the kitchen, cracking eggs, slicing tomatoes and frying bacon with a few deft flicks of her wand.
"That'd be great, thanks, Mrs, er Molly." Harry answered brightly. Ron just grunted.
"So, what are you two up to today?" Hermione enquired hopefully. Please not Quidditch, Please not Quidditch.
"Quidditch." Ron told her shortly. Hermione flinched and Harry shot Ron a stern look. "Sorry, didn't get any sleep."
"How come?" Hermione couldn't help but show her surprise, she'd never known Ron to lose sleep, neither when he was excited for something like the Quidditch World Cup or Christmas, nor when the pressures of the Horcrux hunt were at their worst, when they were starving and freezing in a tent in the middle of nowhere.
"Nightmares." He looked annoyed if anything. "I suppose it's all just catching up with me. Woke Harry I was so loud."
"Well, it's not like I've never done the same to you, is it?" Harry joked and Ron snorted into the cup of tea his mother had just handed him.
"Why didn't you take some dreamless sleep potion?" Molly enquired exasperatedly. "I've always got a full stock of it, Merlin knows we've needed it the last few years."
"Dunno," Ron said. "Harry and I got talking."
"So you've been up all night too?" Hermione asked incredulously and Harry merely nodded in response. "Then why aren't you like a bear with a sore head?"
"Ah, well, I've had quite a bit of practice at surviving without sleep over the years," he grinned.
"That and Ginny snogged him just before we came down," added Ron, half disgusted, half amused.
"Ronald!" scolded Molly, her lips suspiciously twitching at the corners. Neither Ron, Hermione, or indeed Harry himself, were so discrete, they all burst into peals of laughter. Laughter that grew louder when a freshly showered Ginny swept in and poured herself a glass of juice.
"What'd I miss?" She asked smiling along with them, as though this were a common occurrence. And perhaps it had been, before the war, Hermione thought.
"Nothing much." Ron assured her, sniggering. "We were just debating on what put Harry in such a chipper mood this morning." And they all set off laughing again, both Ginny and Molly joining in this time.
"So… Ginny…," Hermione wheezed through her mirth, the others all becoming quiet to listen, both Harry and Ron wiping tears from their eyes. "Have you… anything special planned?" Ginny choked on her juice, turned beet red and stared at Hermione in open mouthed horror. "For today!" Hermione clarified hastily, purposefully ignoring Harry and Ron's querying glances.
Only last night after they'd all fled to the safety of their rooms when Molly had received both Bill's and Percy's owls declining her impromptu dinner invitation. Ginny had slipped in for a 'girly' chat, confiding to Hermione, 'on pain of Bat Bogey hex', that she intended to seduce Harry and take their relationship to the 'next level' as soon as she turned seventeen. Clearly Ron's teasing had reminded her of this and her thoughts had still been in the gutter when Hermione had posed the question.
"I'm, um, I was going to ask if er, if you wanted to go shopping," Ginny stammered, pointedly avoiding her mother's knowing frown.
"But Gin! You were going to play Quidditch with me and Harry! What's the point if there's only us two?" Blurted Ron incredulously.
"I don't remember you even asking me!" Ginny glared at him, all embarrassment forgotten. "And weren't you both supposed to be job hunting today?" Molly was now eyeing Ron expectantly from the stove as he, grumbling darkly under his breath, made a rude hand gesture at his smug sister under cover of the cereal box.
"Uh well," Harry looked nervously between the three witches, "Maybe we could all go together?" he suggested tentatively. "We'll be safer in a group and we can kill two birds with one stone."
"Why d'ya want to kill birds?" Harry's attempts at diplomacy went completely over Ron's head. "An' wha'd'ya need to mess about with stones for when you got a wand?" Ginny snorted inelegantly at Harry's expression and Hermione sighed.
"It's a figure of speech Ron," she said flatly, switching into teacher mode. "It comes from the Chinese 'yi shi er niao', which literally translates to -"
"In English, Hermione," groaned Ron, rolling his eyes.
"It means performing two tasks at the same time, preferably via one action," Hermione informed him coolly through gritted teeth.
"Urgh! Never mind!" he huffed impatiently, returning his attention to his heaped plate. Hermione hesitated, counted down from ten in her head and took a deep calming breath. She was finding it much easier controlling her temper these days when it came to Ron, and on the whole, felt much better for it.
"You've made a good point there, Harry dear." Molly beamed at him, but Hermione could see a glint of triumph in her eyes that didn't quite fit the casual tone of her voice. "We can all go to Diagon Alley together!" Ginny's horrified expression was back, she looked pleadingly at Hermione, shopping for the perfect 'ogle me' outfit with her mother of all people, not to mention her prat of a brother and the boy whom she was hoping to be ogled by, was not what she'd had in mind.
All five of them looked round in surprise at the fireplace, where Kingsley Shacklebolt's bald pate gleamed up at them from amidst the flames.
"Minister!" Molly shrieked in astonishment, dropping the frying pan and losing Ron's second helping of sausages to Crookshanks in the process ("Mum! My breakfast!"). Harry and the girls just stared blankly, until Hermione remembered what Molly had said earlier that morning about the Minister not popping round in person, and she cracked up. Ginny began sporting an uncontrollable smirk seconds later, and the boys, who hadn't been there at the time shrugged at one another in bewilderment.
"Morning, Molly," Kingsley greeted, his rich baritone quelling Hermione's giggles immediately, despite the tone of amusement it held. "And it's Kingsley, I've never been one for titles."
"Oh, yes, of course." Molly said, still a little flustered. "What can we help you with?"
"If you're looking for Dad, I'm afraid you've missed him, he left for work two hours ago," Ginny told him pleasantly, sparing her mother a glance before winking at Hermione with a mischievous air reminiscent of her twin brothers.
"Actually I've already seen Arthur, I was hoping to have a word with you three." He looked from Harry, to Ron, to Hermione and back again. Harry nodded solemnly, obviously unsure as to what the Minister for Magic would want with them, thinking that perhaps it had something to do with the number of laws they'd broken in the past year. But Kingsley merely smiled mysteriously before turning back to Molly and requesting permission to floo through to the Burrow.
"By all means." The words had hardly had time to register in the ears of the four now nervous teens before Kingsley was in front of them, wearing a poker face that gave absolutely nothing away. "We'll, uh, leave you to it then," said Molly, hesitating only a fraction of a second before hauling Ginny unceremoniously to her feet and shepherding her reluctant form into the family room ahead of her.
Flicking his wand twice at the door, causing it to momentarily glow a deep magenta color, Kingsley regarded the three of them appraisingly for some time, apparently lost for words. The longer they stood in silence, the more and more apprehensive Hermione became, until Harry, who it appeared couldn't take the tension any more, put a hand over his face and said "We're in trouble, aren't we?" He sounded defeated, as though he knew it was coming and he'd accepted the fact long ago. She didn't like this side to him, not at all. He'd always been the driving force, the one who got things done, despite the risks or the cost, but he'd been fighting Voldemort for most of his life, grown up doing it, and maybe now he was gone, her best friend had lost his purpose. It terrified her.
"Well," Kingsley paused, his head tilted as though he were in deep thought. "You did break into and steal from Gringotts Wizarding Bank?" Harry nodded in confirmation. "And did you or did you not, infiltrate the Ministry of Magic, attack several Ministry officials, and aid and abet the escape of a number of criminals awaiting trial?" Harry was half way through another nod when Ron smacked him on the back of the head and Hermione jumped to her feet with a shout of protest, her fists clenched in defiance.
"Those peoplewere not criminals!" she spat contemptuously, her eyes ablaze with fury. "Those trials were a farce! An absolute farce!" she stubbornly swiped away the traitorous tears now coursing down her cheeks while at the same time managing to maintain her scorching glare. Never before had she so openly challenged such an authority figure, not even Umbridge, preferring to 'sneak in the back door' as opposed to a 'full frontal assault'. But the muggleborn trials were too close to home, and the war had forced her to see that just because you write the laws it doesn't make you perfect. Besides, she'd trusted Kingsley and by the looks of things he was as blinded by the power of office as Fudge and Scrimgeour.
For his part, Kingsley Shacklebolt had remained outwardly calm, although the look of uncertainty (and was that awe?) in his eyes was not lost, on any of them. Harry looked half startled, half impressed, and only Ron had the gumption to intervene. "Hermione," he said quietly, touching her shoulder gently. "It's alright, he knows none of it was right." Hermione stood motionless, the adrenaline draining away as fast as it had come, then she dropped back into her chair and put her head in her hands.
"Be that as it may, Mr Weasley," Kingsley continued as though nothing had happened, avoiding looking at Hermione. "At the time, those laws were in effect and you all broke them."
"With bloody good reason," Ron muttered mutinously.
"So, as now fully instated Minister of Magic, the task of pardoning you-"
"Pardoning?" Harry interrupted disbelievingly. "But-"
"Thank you, Mr. Weasley." Kingsley smiled at Ron who'd silenced Harry rather abruptly. "Yes Mr. Potter, pardoning. Despite a serious lack of good judgment on your part, and that of your friends, it has been decided using the evidence found in the Hogwarts pensieve, written in your statements witnessed by Professor Minerva McGonagall and Healer Pomfrey, not to mention the extensive information provided by the portrait of Albus Dumbledore, that everything you did during the past eleven months will be expunged from your records under paragraph six, subsection G of the Code of War."
"Which is?" Harry asked, having successfully removed Ron's silencing spell.
"All actions, otherwise punishable by law, taken during wartime, that pertain to the saving of innocent lives, ending of the current conflict and/or restoring of the peace, are pardonable at the discretion of the subsequent governing body," smirked Kingsley, clearly having memorized this for their benefit.
"For the greater good," Harry grumbled under his breath with a frown.
"What of the goblins?" Hermione spoke timidly, as though in apology for her earlier outburst.
"Yeah," chipped in Ron, "I doubt they'll accept paragraph whatsit of subsection thingamy." He waved his hand in irritation. "I mean we snuck in under their noses, demolished half the bank, and nicked a dragon! They probably want our heads on a pike."
"One might think so," Kingsley smiled and sat down, either his presence in an official capacity was over, or his legs were getting tired, either way it made the others relax considerably. "However, once their representative viewed all our evidence, his ire abated and we managed to come to a satisfactory compromise."
"What?" Harry was bewildered, "Why would our evidence make a difference to them? And what sort of compromise?"
"It would seem that their freedom was increasingly restricted while the Death Eaters were in power. So much so in fact that a great number of them left the bank , declaring that the 'Wizards would have to manage their own gold'." Kingsley paused to pour himself a glass of juice, something that nobody found odd. The order members had family status in one another's homes after all the time they'd spent switching hideouts together during the war. "When they found out you were after a horcrux they weren't as ready to set a bounty on your heads. They don't like dark magic, the goblins." All four of them exchanged looks that clearly said 'who does?'
"And they looked rather satisfied when they heard it was Voldemort's. They aren't fond of Wizards at the best of times, but we were at least rubbing along together amicably enough before he took over."
"So what do they want?" Harry persisted.
"They're willing to allow you the freedom to continue dealing at Gringotts, as normal customers, if Harry forfeits his trust vault in reparation for the damage caused during the break in." Kingsley stopped, but the unnaturalness of his pause was blatant.
"And that's it, is it?" Harry asked shrewdly. "My trust vault?"
"It doesn't seem fair," Hermione put in. "I mean we were all three of us at fault, so why are they just blaming Harry?"
"This isn't a question of blame," Kingsley told her. "It's a question of gold. As neither you nor Ron have a vault, the only way they're sure to be paid is through Harry. And no," he turned to Harry with a look of deep apprehension. "Your vault is only part of it, they also want the new restrictions implemented by the Death Eaters revoked, and full rights to try the goblin who helped you."
"Griphook?" Harry was unnerved. "What does that mean, exactly?"
"In the normal course of events, all magical creatures, goblins, house elves, centaurs etc are tried by the Wizengamot, it's part of the treaty between the Wizarding and Goblin nations," Kingsley sighed. "They want an exception made in Griphook's case, one that will give the ministry no jurisdiction over his trial, or his punishment."
"And what is his punishment likely to be?" Harry pressed determinedly.
"Imprisonment, banishment, or… or execution." At Kingsley's last word Harry shot out of his chair and started pacing.
"No!" He yelled. "No! I saved his life, that's part of the reason he helped us, it's my fa-"
"He betrayed us!" cried Ron incredulously. "The git took the sword and left us to escape ourselves!"
"So we abandon him? When we got him into this mess in the first place?" Harry was incensed. "No Ron, we can't! I can't!"
"Harry's right." Hermione mumbled through her fingers, her eyes brimming with tears. "I didn't like him, but he did what we asked. We agreed to give him the sword if he helped us break into Gringotts. We never said anything about getting out again. And don't forget, if it weren't for him lying about the sword being fake, we might all be dead and Voldemort might never have been defeated." They all paused, the silence deafening, as Hermione's words, and the truth they held, sank in.
"From what I know of goblin trials from history of magic," Kingsley offered calmly. "They allow any and all witnesses." Harry and Hermione looked at him hopefully, Ron had his back turned, his head bowed in guilt, he'd forgotten, it was sometimes hard to remember that others had played their part when you were up to the eyes in it yourself. "So you could speak at the trial, but I have to warn you that all witnesses are considered neutral, so anything you say can be used against him as well as for him."
"Well, it's the best we've got," Harry said with a sigh.
"I reckon Bill might be able to give us some pointers on what to say that'll help," Ron looked nervously at his friends. "He's worked with 'em a long time and they're pretty clever, can twist your words if you let 'em" Hermione flung her arms round him and Harry smiled and gave him the thumbs up.
"Right, now we've got all that sorted out," beamed Kingsley, with not a little relief. "On to the real reason why I'm here."
"You mean that wasn't it?" groaned Ron, flopping back into his chair with mock exhaustion.
"I'm afraid not," Kingsley nearly laughed. "And I'd best make this quick or my new secretary will have my hide for messing up my schedule."
"Who is it?" Hermione asked interestedly.
"Yeah," Ron yawned. "Anyone we know?"
"Well, so long as it's not a toad in pink, I don't care," Harry smirked as both Ron and Hermione snickered.
"It's actually your brother Percy, Ron." Kingsley admitted. "We lost quite a few of the higher up personnel and he's one of the most organized blokes I've ever met."
"How come he never told us?" Ron wrinkled his brow in confusion. "You'd think he'd be dying to share the good news. You know what he's like."
"I doubt he's had time in the past few days since it happened. We've had quite a lot going on. Aside from the hundreds of laws and decrees we've had rescinded, we've been attempting to track down all the death eaters who escaped." There was no humor in his voice as he spoke now. "And that's why I'm here." Harry looked to Ron and Hermione, both of whom were as nonplussed as he was.
"We have very few aurors left since… since the battle at Hogwarts." He lapsed into silence for a moment and the others, who'd only ever known he and Tonks well of all the aurors, found it hard to breathe past the lumps in their throats. "I'm no good to law enforcement now, being Minister, so we're looking to recruit as many decent trainees as possible." He looked at the three of them expectantly.
"You're asking us?" Harry was stunned.
"You're joking!" Ron blurted excitedly.
"But we don't even have our NEWT's," Harry was trying and failing not to look too hopeful. "We didn't even do our seventh year."
"As to that, we're doing things slightly differently at the moment." Kingsley looked relieved at their enthusiasm. "Being an auror is as much about stamina, dedication, and perseverance as it is about acedmics, particularly at present. And judging by what you've achieved, not just this past year, but since you first started school, I'd say you've all earned the right to the title." Hermione took in the beaming smiles on her best friends' faces and felt a pang of loss. She couldn't do it, not this time; she couldn't follow where they lead. Aside from being tired of all the stress involved with fighting, collecting memories she'd rather not have, and never having any inclination to be an auror in the first place, there was Fred and their connection. How the hell would she concentrate on tracking and capturing Death Eaters if she couldn't have peace and quiet in her own head to think? I've got to find out what caused our bond and how to manage it, if not break it altogether.
Aww, don't say that, I'm getting quite used to knowing what you're thinking.
"Her-mi-o-ne." Ron's sing song tone brought her back to reality with a jolt, clearly he'd been trying to get her attention for some time.
"Sorry, I was woolgathering." She caught Kingsley's look of intense concentration out of the corner of her eye and involuntarily flinched. His attitude towards her was subtly different from before the battle, before she'd saved Fred. In fact, most people's attitudes towards her were different, if she didn't start paying attention and acting normal, she was going to end up as a new study in the Department of Mysteries.
"You alright?" Kingsley probed and, at her nod, Ron and Harry snickered.
"She's been given the day off work," Harry offered by way of explanation, Kingsley raised his eyebrows in askance and Ron obliged.
"She needs a full schedule or she shuts down." He dodged her playful blow. "Busy little bee, our Hermio- Oi!" succeeding in swatting him on her second attempt, she fixed a smug smile on her face and shared an amused glance with Harry.
"As I was saying," Kingsley plowed on, forcing his smile into submission. "Training starts two weeks from tomorrow. If you sign up, the course materials will be sent to you immediately so you can become familiar with them beforehand. And don't worry about NEWT's, you'll all be assessed at the start of the course to see what level you're at and what areas you might need more work in. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, so until you're all brought up to speed, you'll have to rely on the rest of the team to get by."
"I'm in." Ron could hardly contain his excitement. "Harry?"
"Yeah." Harry affirmed. "I'll need something to bring in the galleons now my vault's been emptied." Ron found this joke particularly funny, perhaps because now they were on an even footing, financially speaking.
"I don't think you need to worry about that, Harry." The boys looked confused, but Hermione was nodding.
"I did wonder," she said.
"What?" both Ron and Harry asked when the other two failed to elaborate further.
"You still have your Potter Family Vault," Hermione informed him.
"My,… my what?" Harry stammered.
"Your trust vault was just that, a trust, money set aside to get you through school," Kingsley explained patiently. "The majority of the Potter Fortune is in your main vault, one which you can only access after you come of age. I assume the letter of notification failed to reach you because of all the concealment charms and wards you were under around your seventeenth birthday." Harry was speechless, Hermione surveyed him sadly. To him, a boy who'd grown up with nothing, that vault must have looked like all the money in the world. She hadn't the heart to tell him that there was a good chance that the majority of Sirius' fortune was still his to claim, lying in wait in the Black family vault. "I'd recommend that you make an appointment at Gringotts to go over all this with the people who know." Kingsley suggested kindly. "Or you could come with me when I go to finalize the reparations contract for the break in this afternoon, they'll need your consent to empty your vault anyway." Harry nodded and smiled faintly. "Right, I'd best be off, I'll be back for you at around two, Harry. Oh, and I'll have three sets of auror training manuals sent over directly." He was out of his seat and almost to the fireplace when Hermione realized what he'd said.
"Two," she corrected. And when Kingsley turned she repeated it. "Two. Only two sets of training manuals." Both Harry and Ron gaped at her like fish.
"I'm not signing up," she almost whispered, looking into their eyes in turn. "I'm sorry." The disappointment on their faces was so heartbreaking, that tears threatened to form.
"Why?" Ron half shouted, half whined, as though with this one denial she was leaving the two of them forever.
"I don't want to be an auror, Ron," she sounded almost regretful. Why did he have to make things so difficult? "I've spent seven years doing an auror's job, and I'm tired, so very tired."
"Harry and I went through all that stuff too and we're doing it!" he snapped.
"Harry's doing it because it's all he knows, he'd go mad inside a week if he didn't know about every threat out there." She thumbed over her shoulder at the window to emphasize her point. "And with your chess brain it'd be a waste if you did anything else." Ron flushed at the compliment but still stood his ground. "I'm no good when it comes to high stress situations, I-"
"Oh come off it!" Ron spat. "Who saved us from the Lovegoods'? Who copied the Locket at the Ministry so they wouldn't know what we were after? Who lied about the sword being fake while Bellatrix -"
"RON!" Harry shouted, but he wasn't glaring at the irate redhead, his eyes were glued to Hermione's face, which from the cool clammy feeling that had stole over her, had presumably turned stark white.
"I… I…" Hermione stuttered, trying to hold back the sobs that were fighting to escape her throat.
"It's Hermione's decision, Ron." Kingsley's soothing voice, a gift from the gods if ever there was one, loosened the knot in Hermione's chest. "Deciding a vocation is difficult enough at the best of times and it's not to be taken lightly." He turned to Hermione. "Take some time. The offer is always open to you." The look in his eyes was back and the way he said 'you' sent a chill down her spine. "And if you find another department more appealing, I'm sure we'll be able to accommodate." With a brief tilt of the head to Harry and a flick of his wand at the door, which shimmered slightly, he was gone in a whoosh of green flames.
"Really, warding the door like that... I only wanted to check if- Oh no!" Molly had stopped short in dismay at the sight before her. Four whole packs of bacon, cooked and now cold on a serving plate, a fifth, already open, frying itself in the pan. "I knew it! I knew I'd left something running. Didn't any of you notice?"
"I'm going for a shower," Ron scowled and stomped out of the kitchen, ignoring his mother completely.
"Sorry, er, Molly, we were a little preoccupied," Harry said distractedly, still watching Hermione out of the corner of his eye. "Maybe you could um, make some quiches, or we could have bacon sandwiches for lunch?"
"Oh, Harry, that's a wonderful idea. You're such a good boy." Molly was back to smiling in an instant. "Would you go collect some more eggs from the chickens? And Hermione can pick some fresh tomatoes." She jabbed her wand at a closet beside the fireplace and two baskets zoomed out, landing on the table in front of them. "Maybe we should have sandwiches too, and I could bake some scones. It's a lovely day, we could make it a picnic, go down to the lake, enjoy the weather while we have it." She chatted on to herself as she pulled out flour, butter, and a rolling pin for the pastry.
As soon as they were outside, Harry having had to practically guide Hermione out the door and towards the chicken coop, she began apologizing. "Harry, I'm really sorry, I just can't-"
"It's alright." He said, patting her arm. "I get it. I can't say I wasn't disappointed, I mean we've been a team since, well, always, but it's not like we'll never see each other again, is it? It'll be like when you were in Arithmancy and we were in Divination. Urgh! " he gave a visible shudder. "Ok, bad example. How about when you were in the library and we were at Quidditch practice?" Hermione was close to laughing at this point.
"Oh Harry, thank you, for understanding and… well, just thanks." Her smile faded however when she remembered Ron's behavior and she turned away. "Recolligo." She muttered, sweeping her wand in a wide arc and tapping the basket, causing eggs to zoom from all corners of the coop and form a neat pile. "Right, tomatoes."
"Hey, that's a nifty little charm."
"Oh," Hermione looked down at the basket and shrugged. "I saw Professor McGonagall use it once when she dropped some books and asked her about it later."
"Think you can teach me?" Harry was smiling mischievously. "It'd come in real handy. Some of my chores would take seconds with that."
"Well," Hermione looked uncertain. Molly had insisted they do chores the muggle way, as 'whipping out your wands for everything' turned people lazy.
"Oh come on Hermione, please?" The puppy dog eyes rather lost their effect when he lost the fight with his smirk.
"Fine," she snorted with laughter. "But you tell Molly and I'll… I'll ask Fred and George to use you as their next test subject."
She explained the finer points of the spell, including the importance of focusing on your target and how saying it out loud left your mind free for this, as they headed for the vegetable patch, where Molly had installed some environmental charms to keep everything growing all year round.
"You'd make a great teacher, you know?" Harry told her as they picked the tomatoes by hand, apparently 'recolligo' couldn't gather attached objects ("As an African wizard stealing diamonds discovered when he caused a cave in.").
"I was actually thinking about being a professor," Hermione admitted. "I mean once I've done my NEWT's. In my careers interview, fifth year, I asked about being an Unspeakable, but I think Professor Trelawney was right when she said I was closed minded. You really need to be creative and able to think sideways, like Luna, for that. Besides, I don't think I'd feel comfortable there after… Anyway, for now I'm quite happy working with Fred and George. I mean some of the things they've come up with are ingenious, I'm learning so much."
"You might have found your niche already, at the shop," mused Harry. "I mean it's far from what anyone would've expected, but so long as you're happy, nobody can complain."
"Ron can," she sighed miserably. "It's so annoying. We get over one spat and along comes another. I wish we could just get on."
"I'll talk to him, explain-"
"Oh, no Harry, just leave it, you'll-"
"He's never been under the cruciatus curse," Harry persisted. "He doesn't know what it's like, I hope to Merlin he never does, but when you're so in pain that you'd do anything to make it stop, even accept death… It's no wonder you don't want to ever be in danger of that again."
"And you do?"
"Yeah well, you know me, I'm a glutton for punishment, aren't I?" he shrugged, then smirked. "Not to mention I have the worst case of Noble Git Syndrome on record."
"Harry Potter, you're a real prat, but I love you." Hermione shook her head, incapable by now of deciding whether to laugh or cry. "And I didn't turn Kingsley down just for that, although it was a big part of it. I was never interested in being an auror. I went through all that stuff for you, and the Weasley's, and my parents, and because it was the right thing to do. But Voldemort's gone, and the wizarding world is healing. I know there are still dark wizards out there, and there always will be, and Merlin forbid if anything like this ever happens again, I'll be the first to sign up, I just don't want to make it my whole life, if I can help it."
"Hmm, sounds as though you have a touch of NGS yourself. Maybe it's catching." She threw a split tomato at him and he laughed. "And at the risk of sounding like a total wuss, I love you too." Hermione made a noise between a laugh and a sob and buried her face in his chest, her arms so tight round his waist he was in danger of passing out.
"Sorry to interrupt, but mum wants that stuff for the quiches." Ginny was standing six feet away, regarding them with suspicion.
"Aww." Harry cooed, releasing Hermione and stepping towards Ginny. "Don't worry Gin', I've plenty of hugs to go round. And each one comes with its own dose of Noble Git Syndrome." Hermione snorted and Ginny smiled in her confusion. "I've already infected Hermione." He continued, stalking towards her, arms out stretched like a mummy. "Surely you want to catch the disease that is self sacrifice?" he adopted a persuasive tone. "Wouldn't you like to be a host for the medical mystery, true altruism?"
"No." Ginny answered flatly, but her eyes were sparking with mischief.
"You sure?" Harry paused just shy of her and pouted in mock disappointment. "We could all save the world, together, at great personal risk."
"As tempting as that sounds-" Ginny shook her head, keeping perfect poise, unlike Hermione who was covering her mouth to stifle her laugh "I have to decline. Harry?" he was staring at her fixedly, his eyes gleaming wickedly. "Harry? I said no, you stay away from me!" She backed off as though from a wild animal. "Keep that lurgy to your- AARGH! Harry! No!"
"We're healing." Hermione repeated to herself as she watched Harry spin Ginny round and carry her, giggling madly, back to the house.