The broom landed hard, both passengers rolled along the dusty ground and skidded to a halt just feet away from the border with Turkey.
Ron's eyes stung and he sputtered on the dust cloud he was inhaling. Zaliha sat up and blew on the friction burns on her palms.
"You okay?" He sounded hoarse and coughed hard to try and clear his throat.
"Is time," she said before licking at her raw palms and then squashing them under her armpits with a wince, "cross now!"
He scrambled to his feet, drew his wand, and staggered over to heal her hands.
"Go!" She ordered, even more urgently.
"Sizin adınız nədir? Haralısınız?" An angry voice was shouting at them from behind Ron.
He spun around and pointed his wand at the Auror. A thick layer of dust fell from his hair as he did so and the man squinted to try to get a good look at his face.
"Auror!" Zaliha was shouting as she got to her feet and tried to stand between them.
"I can see that," Ron nudged her back with his shoulder so he could stay between them, "I s'pose my watch must be running slow."
"This man, Auror for Spain!" Zaliha shouted as she gripped Ron's shoulder and glared at the Nakhchivan Auror in a standoff with Ron.
"What are you doing?" Ron mumbled.
"He doesn't know who you are?" She glanced up at his hair, it was covered with sandy coloured dust. "You no look red haired."
"Oh, right," Ron stepped forward, keeping his wand drawn of the man who was doing the same, "Hoverkraftimin içi ilan balıgı ilə doludur."
Both the Auror and Zaliha stared at him and blinked.
Ron leaned in close to Zaliha to mutter out of the corner of his mouth.
"What are you going to do? You've been seen with me now?"
"You just say..." Zaliha paused to shake her head as she tried to put together what he'd said into English.
"My hovercraft is full of eels, yes, I know." Ron kept his eyes on the Auror opposite him. "My friend Luna told me it's the one phrase you need to know in any language. No matter where you are or what the circumstances, it'll buy you time."
"Mən sizi başa düşmürəm," the Auror said, shaking his head.
"He say he does not understand," Zaliha translated. "Siz Ingiliscə danışırsınızmı?"
The Auror shook his head.
"You," he pointed towards Ron with his wand, "English?"
"Spanish," Ron answered.
Ron decided to chance it and turned to step over the border.
"Dayanın!" The man shouted.
A spell flashed at the tip of his wand and Ron disarmed him at the same time Zaliha shouted and started talking to the Auror, desperately. The man argued with her and kept gesturing to Ron.
"Zaliha," Ron could step across to safety now, he could see the Portkey, "leave it, he's disarmed, don't cause yourself any troub-"
"Kömək! Aurors çagirin!" Zaliha screamed at the top of her lungs.
"What are you doing? shut up!" Ron said as he grabbed her arm.
The Auror seemed to be pleading with her in the same way.
"I tell him I don't believe he is Auror, he attack diplomatic Auror with immunity. He break law and I call for real Aurors to arrest him."
"Great bluff," Ron said, through gritted teeth, "but I'm not a diplomatic Auror any more and I don't have immunity!"
"He will let us go, he is scared," Zaliha said, "not important Auror. Gets border job. He afraid."
The Polkovnik was about to seal off all International Floos, just to save himself from having to spend the rest of the day on his knees listening to dross, when English suddenly started being spoken from the green flames in his office.
"...they would not get me a translator again. Here are my papers for the week, I have been sitting inside all day doing this. Maybe tomorrow they will give me somebody like they do with the Italian eh?"
The Polkovnik almost dove all the way into the fireplace and out the other end, into the Spanish Auror's lap.
"Excuse me!" the Spaniard said, looking offended. "I know you listen to private conversations but to interrupt..."
"You've been here all day?"
"What else could I do? You were no help!"
The Polkovnik pulled his upper body out of the flames and ran for the Minister's office.
"I wonder what could be wrong with him," the Spanish Auror said, grinning at the Spanish Minister for Foreign Liaisons.
"I wonder why he didn't wonder why we speak to each other in English," the Minister laughed.
Ron looked at his watch. He just had to make a run for it.
"Zaliha, I'm sorry," he said, springy on his toes, ready to have to take off away from them, "this is why I didn't want to get you involved. You'll have to go into hiding like Jal."
"They'll never get me where I go," she said, grabbing him around the wrist.
The Auror glanced at his wand on the ground and Ron took aim at his face.
"Don't do it," he warned.
A light breeze sent dust rolling along the ground, robes fluttered back, and more of the sandy coloured powder fell away from Ron's hair. A ginger coloured lock fell forward before his eyes and he knew it was like a red flag to the young Auror.
"Sizin adınız nədir?" The man said, edgily.
"He asks who you are, wants to know your name."
Ron puffed out his chest and stepped towards the man. He put his wand into its holder and looked down at the fearful Auror's face.
"You want to know my name?"
The Auror was wide eyed as he nodded.
"I am Ronaldo El Greco," Ron said, eyes appearing to flash as his pupils shrank in the light of the desert sun. "Look me up."
The Polkovnik and the Minister were pacing and talking in his office. They raised their voices, they became defensive and then aggressive, and every now and then an Auror would rush in to take another order or deliver a report.
The fireplace in the Minister's office blazed green and the head of Kingsley Shacklebolt appeared.
"Am I interrupting something?" He asked, smiling.
"Minister Shacklebolt," the Minister said, trying to appear composed, "we are not scheduled for a-"
"And we won't be," Kingsley said, handing through official papers with wax seals and signatures on it, "I am withdrawing our official presence from Nakhchivan and declaring relations between our countries as hostile. We have allied with the Greek Ministry and are sealing a deal with the Italian Ministry as we speak. If our alliance receive evidence from any source that you are committing Wizarding rights violations within your country we will investigate by force and oversee an election process. We will enforce the government the people of Nakhchivan choose and our Aurors will recruit and retrain within your justice system before withdrawing."
"This is declaration of war!" The man blustered.
"Minister," Kingsley said with a stern look, "this is an order for peace."
"All because your man lost his mind?" The Polkovnik said, furious.
"Speaking of our man," Kingsley looked at his watch and grinned, "any Nakhchivan citizen who voluntarily leaves with an authorised representative of the British government in the next minute will be repatriated on arrival in our country and any crimes you have committed against them will be brought before the Wizengamot. If found guilty you and any member of your government or Auror department held responsible will be apprehended and imprisoned at the pleasure of whatever country you set foot in outside your own."
The men were both shaking with rage and fear as Harry Potter's head leaned around the side of the fireplace, the place the eavesdropping Auror would usually be for international connections, and he smiled widely.
"Basically, you can't run and you can't hide," Harry said, "you have no option but to do better."
The door opened and a panting Auror stumbled into the office.
"Weasley!" It was all he needed to say.
Harry and Kingsley smiled and vanished from the flames.
The Minister roared with fury and the Polkovnik shoved the Auror aside and ran towards the border control room.
The Italian Auror looked at his watch and smiled.
Leaning over the table, towards the Bulgarian man he'd been bothering all afternoon, he mumbled something that finally made the surly Auror crack a smile.
"I just became the United Wizarding Nations Inspector."
The Bulgarian sat back in his chair and casually drew his wand, looking at the bored accompanying Auror, and cleared his throat.
"I just became your deputy and bodyguard."
"It was worth not going to the pole dancing club," the Italian man said with a grin.
"Speaking of poles," the Bulgarian rose to his feet and flippantly stunned the Auror as he rose to join them, "we should get Muzzy. It not a good time to be a Turk right now."
The Portkey on the Turkish border activated.
It was night time in Ottery St Catchpole as it arrived on the grass outside the garden wall of the Burrow.
Well of course she'd have stood in the vegetable patch in her slippers waiting for him, she was his mother.
And of course she'd have been there too, she was his wife.
"Why isn't she in bed?" Ron shouted as he pushed himself up from the long grass, inadvertently kneeling on a gnome.
He got to his feet and brushed himself down, looking at the warmly lit building behind the three bossiest women he knew, and smiled.
"Home sweet home."
Everybody was at the Burrow and food drink and endless conversation went on well into the night. Percy had got quite drunk and leaned heavily against George as he, rather emotionally, slurred how a house full of family and friends celebrating a political victory like a Quidditch win was like a dream come true.
"Its like you care about things," he swayed, "and I care about them too, and we're caring about them at the same time!"
"I'll never caaaaaaare enough to attend that dull as dishwater, 'young people in business' conference you keep bugging me about, Perce." George teased.
Ron talked out most of the events of the mission, rocking Rose against his chest, and was fed by his mother during every pause in conversation.
After things died down and people started yawning, Rose was handed over to Molly and Hermione went with Ron to St Mungo's to let his mind Healer look at his arms and examine his heart with some diagnostic spells.
"No problems at all," she smiled, "your Bedouin friend did a good job. Now go home!"
As soon as they fell out of the fireplace into their living room, they started kissing. Hermione pulled the dusty cloak off him and yanked his shirt over his head, too impatient to deal with things like buttons, and then started kissing his chest.
"This is my heart, it always has been," she whispered between kisses.
"You don't have to share anymore," Ron said as he pulled her flimsy cotton top off and kissed her behind the ear.
She lifted one of his arms and looked at it in wonder.
"It's totally different but...it's the same," she said, running a fingertip along one of the faint trails criss-crossing its way around his bicep. "I'd miss them if they were completely gone."
She kissed a vine of freckle free skin all the way up to his shoulder and then slid her fingers into his hair to pull him down to meet her lips.
"You really like them?"
She nodded, nose rubbing against his and eyes falling closed.
"I love everything about you, the scars, the freckles, the inability to gain weight," she purred as she unfastened his trousers and began to slide them down, "the long legs, that tight bum of yours, the... What are you wearing?"
Ron froze and remembered that he'd pulled his clothes on in a rush and left the loincloth on under his trousers.
She pulled his trousers right down to the floor and then stepped back to stare at him.
"You're dressed like a House Elf."
"That's racist...or species-ist, or something!" Ron said as he stepped out of the trousers as they pooled at his feet.
"Seriously, why are you wearing a used dishcloth?"
"The dirt isn't me, it's the desert and the mountain and flying and...stuff." Ron squirmed, feeling self conscious in the flimsy piece of material.
"You had to wear it for the healing ceremony?" Hermione was still staring at him as she spoke.
"Yeah, dunno why but...in fact I don't know who put it on me, I didn't like to ask."
She laughed and then bit her lip. Tilting her head as she stepped forward, she dragged her hands down his chest and let her fingers splay around his waist just above the slither of muslin, and pressed her hips against his.
"Um, what are you doing?"
"You," she leaned around him to look at the tight cloth across his behind, "you're like one of those paintings of old testament martyrs that hang in the galleries."
"Okay," Ron said, sounding unsure.
"It's sexy," she whispered as she hooked her thumbs around his hip bones and nudged his thighs apart with her knee as she slid her foot up his long leg.
"You find Biblical martyrs sexy?" Ron frowned.
"I find you...somehow...more naked."
"But you've seen me naked."
"Not like this," she said, shaking her head and biting her lip again.
"But I'm not naked naked, 'cause I'm wearing somethi-"
"A scrap of nothing covering your modesty," Hermione cut in and brushed her thumb across the fabric hanging between the crests of his pelvis, "just makes the rest of you even more...naked."
"Maybe this is why the old coot had me wear it, he knew mad women found it erotic!"
Hermione's face was almost alight with passion as she smiled up at him and exhaled in that way that made her chest heave and stir Ron's loins into life. Now it was Ron's turn to bite his lip.
"You're Old Testement naked," she said, grinding her hips against his and encouraging his hardening cock into life, "you've re-invented nakedness."
"You're," she said, rocking her pelvis against Ron's in such a way, he had to close his eyes and throw his head back, moaning, "neo-naked."
"God, stop saying naked!"
Hermione was putting the finishing touches to her pride and joy when Ron arrived and sat in the chair on the other side of the meticulously organised desk.
"My new filing system is almost ready to go," she said, placing a red crescent moon sticker on the corner of three index cards and then doing the same to corresponding folders, "and that's me done for the next six months."
"Just six, really?" Ron pretended to look surprised, but he really wasn't.
"I'll only come back at part time hours, I'll want to keep my hand in after all. Flexible hours while they're very young and then Ginny said she'll take them for three hours Monday to Fr-"
"Six months away," Ron reminded her.
"I know but there's nothing wrong with planning ahead," she said with a bashful smile.
"So what will I be having for dinner the first Monday after Rosie goes off to Hogwarts?"
Hermione tried not to smile at her husband's teasing.
"You'll be cooking for me and I want it to be a surprise so keep it to yourself, my love."
Ron chuckled and idly spun the chair around, staring up at the carved wood panelled ceiling. Hermione struggled out of her chair and put the files into the filing cabinet, then picked up the index cards. She turned back to look at her husband, still dreamily spinning around in the office chair, and sighed.
He stopped spinning and planted his feet down on the floor. He looked up at her through his fringe and half winced, half smiled.
"Well, we knew I was gonna lose didn't we?" He gave a one shouldered shrug.
Hermione fiddled with the index cards as she looked at him with sympathy.
"But you should have won."
"Yeah well, elections are great as long as the people who care about what you care about can be arsed to vote," he said, shrugging again, this time chuckling too.
"But I heard the turnout was the best it's ever been for the post of Foreign Minister."
"Yeah, lots of people do care...just not as many as the people who agreed with the campaign to re-elect that twat who should have just accepted his retirement instead of drawing this thing out for so long." Ron's smile faded.
"The old fogies are old, they'll all have to go sometime." Hermione took his hand and patted it with the index cards in hers. "They all voted that way just because they've always voted that way."
"And because they agree that we should only bother with the safety of British witches and wizards and let other countries take care of themselves," Ron added, bitterly.
"But you still have that offer from the United Wizarding Nations, that's a great honour for an Auror, especially one as young as you."
"As mum keeps telling me," he said with a grin, "I'm still a baby!"
"She'll have to come to terms with the fact you're not before this one arrives," Hermione said as she looked down at her enormous belly.
"I think she thinks Rose was conceived during our first time," Ron said with a snort, "isn't it us that're supposed to be in denial about them ever having done it?"
Hermione laughed and tugged his hand to coax him to his feet.
"Let's go and grumble about the old boys network," she said as she moved towards the door to her office, pausing to reach up for her cloak where it hung on the wall. "I just have to give the last of the index cards t-"
"Here," Ron said as he reached up for the cloak and held it open for her to slide her arms into.
"Thank you," she said, waddling through to her assistant who was sitting at her desk. "Right, I'm done, it's all yours. These are the last cards for the new filing system. You can Floo me any time you want to, if there's any problems."
"You trained her yourself, very well, for months," Ron said, rolling his eyes, "now come with me and start your bloody maternity leave, woman!"
"Mrs Weasley? Oh, you're leaving," the undersecretary to the Minister for Magical Law was walking towards Hermione's office with a roll of parchment in his hand.
"Oh!" Hermione flung her arms up and hurried as fast as her condition allowed, back into her office. "I signed it, I did, I have it for you!" She called from within.
Ron shook his head and called through to her.
"Look, I'm gonna save us the smooth Floo, it's gonna be packed out there in five minutes and we'll be at the end of a massive queue."
"Yes, I'll be right behind you, go and put your foot in the grate and wait for me," she called back.
Ron said goodbye to Hermione's colleagues and jogged away to make sure his heavily pregnant wife could have the safest and most comfortable journey home.
The undersecretary watched him go and then leaned in to mutter to the young woman filing away the index cards.
"He lost then. Hardly surprising is it? People don't want a Minister who had a breakdown."
"Here!" Hermione was flushed in the face as she handed over a scroll like the one the man was already carrying. "I knew there was something I'd forgotten. Don't you hate that feeling? I'm so glad you caught me before I left because that would have niggled at me al-"
"Your Floo?" Hermione's assistant reminded her with a smile.
"Yes, going, really am this time!" Hermione leaned over the desk and kissed her assistant on the cheek. "You're going to be brilliant, I know it."
She needed some help to right herself again and both women laughed before she bid the undersecretary goodbye and shuffled off after her husband.
"So, you're in charge for the next six months? We'll be working a lot together." The man looked back at the doorway Hermione had just left through. "Seriously, she must be worried."
"I mean, she's about to drop another kid with this bloke and he's not got a good track record of coping with failure. He's just lost another big battle and what's that going to do to his state of mind?" The man sat on the corner of the desk and folded his arms. "He just loses again and again and again, how could you keep bouncing back from that? If I made my name from failing all the time I'd be ashamed to tell it to people."
"Well, you are a lucky man," she said, rising from her desk, "because nobody will ever care to ask you for your name."
"What?" He got up from the desk and stared at her, in shock.
"My name is Zaliha, you'll be working with me every day for the next six months," she grinned and walked towards her new office, "and that wouldn't have happened if Auror Weasley had been a failure."
The undersecretary was dumbfounded, flushing in the face with embarrassment.
"Oh and, whoever you are," Zaliha said as she paused before closing the door on him, "don't ever sit on my desk."