Hermione hoisted herself onto the teetering ladder, balancing herself and the box of empty bottles that she had crammed in her arms.
"Let's see," she muttered as her eyes grazed across the top shelf, trying to find some vacant space for the beakers that she was carrying.
"Hermione, do you need some help?"
Hermione turned slightly, and looked down to see who was kind enough to offer her some help. She couldn't help the bright smile that graced her lips upon spotting Forster Lords below her.
Forster was a frequent customer at Slug & Jiggers Apothecary where she had been working for the duration of her sixth year summer.
"No, I'm fine." She assured as she spotted an empty nook in the corner. She quickly angled herself onto her toes and leaned over to slide the box onto the shelf.
"You should move the box a few more inches to the left," Forster assisted when it became quite evident that Hermione had lost sight of the empty space, and was randomly shoving the box onto the shelf with hopes of catching the empty nook.
Hermione took his advice and she successfully managed to pack the empty bottles away without inflicting injuries to Forster or herself.
Satisfied, Hermione stepped down from the rickety ladder, using Forster's shoulder for support.
Once firm on the ground she looked up at the lanky six foot four man, and flashed him a quick smirk.
"Shouldn't someone taller than five foot be handling the packing?" he asked, jokingly.
"Hey! Not all of us are born giants. Some of us are cursed with average human height." Hermione teased as she wiped off the stale dust that accumulated on her hands from handling the old boxes.
This banter between them was a regular happening, so neither of them were surprised when Forster childishly stuck out his tongue as a response to her jab.
"So Lords, what brings you around here?"
Forster raised a finger to indicate that Hermione should give him a minute, and then he shoved his hand down into his pocket and fished around for a bit before pulling out a crumpled receipt.
Hermione grimaced as she gingerly took the parchment that was soaked from Merlin knows what, and proceeded to smoothen it out.
"Yvonne flooed me, and told me that my order was ready," he explained, referring to her boss.
Hermione's brow furrowed as she scanned the receipt, trying to decipher the smudged ink. It was quite tough to understand the scribbles.
"Can you please give me a second?" She requested, going into work mode as she made her way over to the counter to find the store's copy of the order.
Forster flashed her a guilty grin, and followed her to the front of the store.
Luckily, the order was the third one in the pile, so Hermione was able to locate the order number, and get him his potions within minutes.
"So where is Yvonne? Doesn't she work on Thursday with you?" Forster asked innocently as he shelled out the money.
"She was feeling under the weather so she just popped into the tea shop for a warm beverage. She should be back in about five minutes, why?"
"I just needed to place a massive order for St Mungo's," he paused as he cast a critical eye over Hermione, and then he said, "Can you place it for me?"
Forster was a potions researcher for St Mungo's, and chose to personally order and handle all the ingredients he used for his potions. But, this didn't leave us with much free time, so he was constantly in a rush.
Hermione shook her head at Forster's hopeful question, "I'm sorry, only full time employees can place large orders."
"Fine," he sighed dejectedly, "I'll wait."
"Here is your change, Mr. Lords. The order was seventy-two galleons and twenty-four sickles."
Forster collected the remaining coins that were on the table, leaving five galleons as a tip for her.
"Thank you," Hermione said, with a smile, as she slipped the coins into the money pouch that she wore on her hip.
"So, Hermione when do you go back to school?" he conversed as he tapped his foot against the ground in anticipation for Yvonne's return.
"September first, actually. I'll be leaving work in two days because of that," she replied with a grin.
"Ah, yes." Forster muttered, "Hogwarts I believe. Aren't you going to your seventh year?"
"Yes, I'm Head Girl actually." Hermione admitted proudly.
Forster straightened up, forgetting his race against time for a moment, and pulled Hermione's hand to his lips so he could give it a kiss as he yelled, "Congratulations, my dear!"
Hermione giggled softly and admitted, "You're one of the few that knew."
"Well then, I am absolutely honored!"Forster exclaimed, "Though I am not surprised to be honest, you are the first school girl that I've seen working here. So, that must show your potential, doesn't it?"
Hermione blushed at the comment. Yvonne had told her that she had been making an exception by letting her work for the summer, because she usually only had employees who were graduates, but she trusted her to handle the potions with care.
"Well, am I invited to the party?" he teased as he ran a hand through his graying hair, and waggled his brows.
Hermione shook her head, and was about to deny having a party at all when the bell chimed on the door, and a group of students walked in, promptly followed by Yvonne.
"Hello Lords, good to see you." Yvonne called out in a congested tone, sending Forster a quick grin, then she turned to Hermione, "Would you help those kids for me before you finish up your shift and leave?"
Hermione nodded, and made her way, slightly limping, over to where a group of fellow students were huddled around the hangover section.
"How can I be of service to you?" Hermione asked cheerfully once she reached them.
To her shock the five men who greeted her were Draco Malfoy, Gregory Goyle, Adrian Pucey, Marcus Flint, and a lost looking Vincent Crabbe.
"Well, well…if it isn't the savior of the Wizarding World herself!" Draco drawled immediately as he tossed a bottle of hangover potion in the air, "It's about time you serviced me. Someone finally put you in your place?"
His cronies chuckled, and Hermione even saw Pucey doing a thrusting motion with his hips.
Hermione glared at the Slytherins, and snatched the bottle away from Malfoy before he could break it.
"Do you need some help or not?" she rephrased, not liking the sexual connotation that Malfoy took from it.
Despite the fact that she and the men in front of her had fought on the same side during the impromptu war that occurred in her fifth year summer, they still had not come to a mutual friendship as she would have wished for there to be.
Draco smirked and sidled up into her personal space.
"Tsk, tsk Granger," he muttered, "Is that the type of manners you have with your customers? No wonder this store is deserted."
Then he paused dramatically and said, "Or maybe the smell of your blood had them running in the other direction."
Hermione sucked in a breath at his insult, and her retort came quickly.
"Actually," Hermione hissed, "people just left when you walked in. You see, Draco,some people are just not amicable with Death Eaters. You understand, don't you?"
Draco had never taken too kindly to being referred to as a Death Eater especially since he had proven himself innocent during the war, and Hermione wasn't surprised when his cheeks flushed red.
Still, he was not the one to act out rashly to her insult, rather it seemed that her jab hit home with one of his cronies instead. Flint, who still wore the mark on his arm, reacted without thought and he lunged, trying to tackle her. Hermione dodged it with ease and Flint would have gone flying right into the display board for their new sobering potion had Blaise Zabini not grabbed him in time.
Hermione's eyes widened in surprise at the new person's presence since she had not even heard the Italian enter the store, let alone creep up behind her.
Blaise Zabini was another boy from school. To be honest all she knew about him was that he was Slytherin, and an acquaintance of Draco's, and neither of these was shining qualities in her eyes. Feeling extremely outnumbered, and uncertain if Yvonne could even see them through the shelves, Hermione pulled out her wand as a response to the Slytherins yanking theirs out as well.
"Enough," Blaise hissed at the same time, and the four boys froze, causing Hermione's mouth to drop open in shock.
Blaise steadied Flint onto his feet and then he turned to Hermione, who immediately drew her wand to his chest.
She watched as his eyes flickered over her and then quickly back to her face, and he didn't seem fazed by her skilled wand pointed at him.
"Do you work here?" he murmured instead in a husky voice that Hermione had never heard before.
She cautious lowered her wand and raised an eyebrow in his direction.
"Yes, I do. Do you have a problem with that?"
The cocky Italian just smirked and shook his head,
"No, but we do need a case of hang over potions, and another of sobering potions. Can you get that for us?"
Her eyes narrowed at him for a fraction of a second, calculating if this was some ploy to get her to turn her back on them. But, she deduced that Zabini's request was a sincere one so she just nodded in reply.
Then just to irk the group Hermione cast a dramatic sweeping glance at them.
"I need to see some sort of proof that you're seventeen before I can do that."
She held out her hand with a smirk and made a grabbing motion.
"You are well aware that we are seventeen, you pompous bloody idiot." Draco growled looking ready to pounce.
"No," Hermione replied coldly, "No, I am not awareof that. In fact, because of your childish tendencies I've always wondered if you are really my age. So…"
Draco started to utter a quick retort but Blaise raised his hand to stop his words.
Then Blaise placed his wand into Hermione's hand, and her fingers automatically glided across the surface to feel the incision that was grooved into every adult's wand.
"Fine," she said slapping his wand back in his hand once she felt it on the wood, "Go up to the counter and pay. I'll get your potions for you."
As she was turning to go Pucey sniggered and yanked two coins out of his pocket.
"Here," Pucey said dropping two galleons in front of her feet, "go treat your weasels to a real meal."
Hermione growled softly at them, not bothering to stoop slow low as to pick them up.
"Thanks." She muttered sarcastically even though she wanted to jab those coins in places that only Pucey's mother had seen.
Everyone, save for Blaise, laughed and walked to the counter. But just as they were about to walk out of her sight, Hermione levitated the galleons up and flicked the money at them. One hit Pucey's shoulder and the other smacked Draco in the back of his head.
"Come back soon!" she called out in a sweet laced tone.
She grinned as she watched Blaise hold back his friends, and then she walk away from them and towards the storage cabinet without a backward glance.
It took about five minutes to get the Slytherins to leave. They were all snarling and grumbling as they shuffled out of the store. Well except for Zabini, he just gave her this look before he left, and she gladly ignored it.
Once she was sure that they were out of the apothecary, Hermione gratefully made her way back to the counter. Surprisingly, Yvonne was leaning against it, staring intently at her. It took no genius to realize that she had seen the whole exchange.
"Ah Hogwarts drama…" Yvonne muttered not at all embarrassed at being caught. "Sorry, but I didn't feel like interrupting your little lover's spat, Hermione."
Hermione grinned at the older woman, knowing that it was obvious that the term 'lovers' could never apply to any of those barbarians.
"I handled it, didn't I?" She replied curtly.
"Very well." Yvonne conceded.
"My shift is up. See you tomorrow okay?" Hermione said as Yvonne handed Hermione her satchel which she automatically pulled over her shoulder.
"One day down, and one more to go before your final pay check!" Yvonne sang as she waved her away.
Hermione laughed in agreement as she stepped out of the store and apparated to her parent's home.
Hermione's landing wasn't quite as smooth as it usually was. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that she landed on someoneinstead of the solid ground that was outside her parent's home.
"Oof" she muttered as her heels wobbled on a surface that was suspiciously similar to firm thighs, and then she promptly fell into Fred Weasley's lap.
"Hello love!" Fred cried, giving Hermione a grand hug, "Thanking for dropping in."
Upon realizing the pun in his words Fred let out a loud guffaw, "Get it? Droppingin? Because you fell-"
"I get it Fred!" Hermione muttered as she smacked Fred across the chest which caused his 'companions' to snigger.
It wasn't much of a surprise to see George, Harry, and Charlie sprawled along with Fred outside her house.
"To what do I owe this pleasure?" she asked sarcastically as she crawled out of Fred's lap and onto her feet.
"Can't a friend pop in to say hi every once in awhile?" George asked as he tugged her down to drop a kiss on her cheek.
Hermione raised a brow but grinned none the less and accepted the kiss from George, and the ones that followed from Harry and Charlie as well.
During the war she and the twins ended up bonding when they were grouped together to create new spells. The three were well known as the creative brains of many of the war time operations and had become friends during their 'special' projects.
They managed to become really close that 5th year summer of the war. But when the war ended Fred and George went abroad as part of Shacklebolt's reconstruction plan and Hermione didn't see them throughout her 6th year. Yet when they came back four months ago Hermione and the twins were still as close as before.
"Fine, fine come on in." she muttered as she unlocked the door to her suburban childhood home.
The boys ambled in with ease as they stretched themselves out. She didn't bother to ask how long they had been waiting outside for her because she really didn't mind making them wait. Upon entering, they quickly settled in taking up every available space in front of the tellie.
Hermione followed them into the sitting room and perched on the edge of the sofa upon which Fred was sprawled out.
"Aren't you going to get out of those stuffy robes?" Harry asked quickly as he snagged the remote, "They look positively stifling."
"Later." Hermione muttered with a casual wave of her hand. She rolled her eyes when Harry didn't even bother to respond as he was enraptured with the rugby match on the tellie.
"You look about ready to leave this place." Charlie commented as his gaze focused on her trunk which was already packed and waiting in the foyer.
She followed his glance to her trunk and tilted her head as she pondered her answer.
"Not exactly…" she drawled as she went through her mental to-do list, "I still need some help for packing."
Hermione hadn't had the time to pack away the book cases that she had placed around the living room to hold her many books. She would need to pack away her books alongside her collapsible bookshelves before she could officially say that she was done.
Her immediate response was unison of groans. The minute Hermione said that they knew that they were going to be the ones to help her with this and that meant no rugby match.
"The books, boys. I need you to help me with the books."
All four boys looked over at the massive bookshelves and they groaned again.
"You didn't pack this early on when you used to stay at The Burrow." Harry argued.
"I didn't bring so much with me because it was Christmas break and half my stuff was in Hogwarts," she retorted, "But, look all you have to do for me is levitate the books into the bags over there and then dump them in my trunk."
"Nothing else?" George asked with a frown as he cast a hopeful glance at tellie where his favorite player Brian O'Driscoll was on the field with his Irish team.
"That's all." She assured. "Come on guys, think of this as a way to repay me for putting up with you guys when you kept popping in this entire summer."
They grumbled but nonetheless they got up and began doing as she asked.
Hermione shook her head at their antics and waltzed into the kitchen.
"We bagged some leftovers for you." Harry told Hermione as he followed her, dropping a bag of Molly's food onto the counter.
Harry smiled and leaned against the counter before asking, "How was work?"
They could hear the Weasley boys muttering levitation charms and it wasn't long before George was yelling and laughing and Charlie was demanding to be set down.
Harry and Hermione both ignored it.
Hermione glanced over her shoulder as she dropped her bag onto the kitchen table, and shrugged her work robes off.
"I'm grateful that tomorrow's my last day." She admitted as she pulled out five butter beers, and balanced them with skill as she tugged out some leftover pizza from her fridge to scarf down.
"I'm glad to hear that."
Harry never understood why she insisted on working during her Christmas breaks and summer ones, but respected her need to keep herself busy if that was what she wanted. Harry yanked one butter beer from her grip and popped it open, not bothering to help Hermione with the rest. He then hoisted himself onto her marble counter, squirming around to get comfortable.
She rolled her eyes but didn't comment on it. She was used to being treated as one of the guys and such lack of courtesy didn't faze her.
"So who's to blame for you guys crashing at my house? Molly or the lovesick fools?"
Harry grinned and patted the counter under him, offering her a seat beside him. "Aw Hermione! Do we need a reason to visit you?" Harry asked as he leaned over to snag a bite of her cold pizza.
Hermione snorted in amusement and stuffed the slice into her mouth before he could finish it off.
Harry jumped off the counter to get a slice for him and another for her, and on the way back he plucked up her mail as well.
"You really do not want to hear about what's going on at The Burrow." Harry admitted.
"Tell me anyway."Hermione said as she took a sip of Harry's beer.
Harry grimaced, and as he padded through Hermione's mail he also told her about the catastrophe over at The Burrow,
"The couples-" he started, referring to Ginny and Neville, and Ron and Parvati, "-have decided that getting it on in the bedroom is overrated, and thus they decided to give us the pleasure of having a special peep show in every general room in the Burrow."
"Exactly, so after seeing Ron slobbering all over Parvati's face -well you've seen Ron kiss someone, right? He learned his technique from a bull dog or something. So much spit and-"
"I get it." Hermione muttered curtly, casting a dark glare in the boy-who-lived-twice's direction.
Harry smirked, as much as he loved Ron, his love life had been the butt of Harry's jokes for a long time.
"But, I didn't even tell you what I saw Neville doing to Ginny-"
"You're right! I don't want to know about The Burrow."Hermione interrupted.
Harry chose to stuff his pizza down his throat at this point so Hermione picked up the conversation.
"I still don't understand why you don't crash at Grimmauld Place or at the twin's apartment." Hermione grumbled as she hopped off the counter to take a peek at Molly's leftover's, wincing when shots of pain tingled up her weak leg that had be damaged in the war. "Why always my place?"
Harry didn't dignify that question with an answer. It was true that they could always go to the joke shop or his house but they never did, because Hermione's place was the best out of them all. Sure it was smaller and extremely muggle, but they loved it here so they always came.
"So did you tell anyone else about your Head Girl thing?" he asked.
Hermione whirled around, and shushed Harry before peeking cautiously into the living room to make sure no one heard.
"Yes, a customer at work today. And, can you please speak more quietly? Do you want Fred to hear and tell Molly, who will try to get me to come to the Burrow for dinner?" she growled.
"No...I was just asking!" Harry exclaimed. "You're so dramatic Hermione."
"Dramatic, paranoid. To-may-to, To-mah-to." Hermione sang as she peeked into the room again.
As she did so, Charlie caught her eye and he yelled,
Harry chuckled when Hermione physically jumped at the sound of his voice and quickly dragged her into a hug, dropping a kiss on her hair.
"You're so adorable sometimes." He admitted as he took out the butterbeers for the Weasleys.
"Shove it." was Hermione's sincere reply.
Hermione hugged her parents one last time, assuring them that she would reach King Cross Station safely. Her parents usually dropped her to the train station but work wasn't permitting them to do so this year, and thus Hermione would use magical means to get there.
Making sure that no one ,except for her sobbing parents ,was watching Hermione raised her wand and summoned the Knight Bus. It was mere seconds before the huge purple bus careened onto her street bouncing over a Hummer and coming to stop in front of her.
Hermione stepped into the Knight Bus which was extremely full because it was September 1st.
"Bye mum, dad!" she called out as the dangerous monstrosity's engine sprang to life again.
She stood there long enough to smile at her waving parents before turning around and quickly made her way in, her head bowed down so as to avoid any stares that were sure to come.
" Hullo Mione!" Stan, the conductor, exclaimed, "Where to?"
"King Cross Station," she muttered as gave him a warm hug. "How are you doing Stan?"
"Good." He said enthusiastically as he stretched onto his toes to catch sight of a seat for her.
"It's pretty full isn't it?" she commented as she looked over the sea of heads that were present there.
"No problem, you can sit up front in the conductor's seat."
Stan grinned and started to lead her to his seat which was unfortunately towards the front of the bus. So, by the time she managed to sit the entire bus was whispering about her presence.
Hermione had become quite the IT-girl after the war two years ago. She, like Harry, had never quite gotten used to the fame, and she took to ignoring her 'fans' at any means possible.
"Back to school then?" Stan asked, his face contorting into a frown as he noted the stares that Hermione was getting as well.
Hermione consciously titled her head so her hair would mask her face from everyone's view. People were always intrigued by the scars that were littered across it. The ones that she was too proud to mask with a spell.
Hermione looked up at him and waited as the bus squashed between two building before she answered,
"Yes, it's my final year."
Stan grimaced as he let go of the railing to scratch the back of his neck.
"I haven't seen you in while, Hermione."
Hermione blushed and looked down away from his gaze. During her 6th year Christmas break Hermione used to use the bus everyday to get to and from her house to the bookshop where she had worked that Christmas. Those constant trips had led to a sweet friendship between her and Stan, especially since the trip took a good half an hour every day.
But, when she learned how to apparate she stopped using the Knight Bus, and unfortunately only conversed with Stan through the limited letters that they exchanged.
"I am sorry about that. My job took up a lot of my time." Hermione pleaded.
The bus stopped again and Stan went to greet the passengers while Hermione waited.
When he came back his reply was curt, "I know, but it would be nice to see you around sometimes."
Stan's words were sad, but the soft smile on his face showed Hermione that he wasn't that upset.
"At least we write to each other." Hermione supplied with a responding grin.
Stan was about to reply when a group of people ventured to the front of the bus, their faces green from the effort.
"Hey!" Stan yelled, well aware that they were approaching to bother Hermione, "Stick to yer own seats, mate."
"But! I wan-" he was cut off by another passenger,
"You're my idol!" the other yelled to Hermione as Stan stood to shoo them off.
"There's nothing to see here. Bugger off!" he announced.
After a few seconds of sulking and rapid flashes from various cameras the group was off, and now everyone on the bus was well aware that they had royalty riding with them.
"You were saying?" Stan asked as the bus driver, Ernie, sniggered with his Jamaican head that hung on the rear view mirror.
Hermione tuned out the whispers and desperately tried to recall what they had been speaking about.
"Oh right!" she remembered, "We were speaking about the letters. Which reminds me, you, by the way, are rubbish at replying to letters." Hermione brought up, causing Stan to smile again. "You better reply to all my letters while I'm in Hogwarts, you hear?"
"It's a pity that you're going off again," he admitted in a slightly higher pitch, "I got used to seeing your on the bus every once in awhile. I'm going to miss the beautiful scenery."
Hermione melted when she heard his words and began to stand to give him a hug.
At that point the bobbing head on the bus's mirror decided to make its presence known.
"Whatcha saying, man!" the head sang, "Ma sexy face ain't good enouf for ya now, man?"
Hermione laughed at the head, her dimples flashing prettily.
Then Ernie Prang, the driver, cackled as he swerved around a little old lady on the street.
Used to his antics, Hermione just grabbed on and rode it through. People on the rest of the bus weren't as used to it, and thus retching sounds and screams could be heard from behind.
"King's Cross!" Ernie announced coming to a nasty stop in front of the station.
Stan gave her a forced smile, and went to retrieve her bags for her as she waited for the rush of the crowd to leave the bus, grateful that none of them were willing to stay on the bus for even an extra second, and thus did not come up to meet her.
Once Stan had arrived back with her bags she quickly bid farewell to Ernie, and stepped out of the bus.
"I'll see you soon." Hermione told Stan as she gave him a hug.
"Sure, Sure." Stan replied and then stepped back onto the bus, before the bus shot away, Hermione heard the head say,
"Take a picture, man. Dem be sticking around longer than she."
She shook her head and started to drag her trunk towards the entrance of the train station eager to get onto the train and off to her final year of school. But, luck wasn't on her side because just as she was about to run through the wall separating platform nine and ten she heard a high pitched scream that sounded distinctly like her name and then she was tackled to the floor.
"Gerroff me!" Hermione tried to yell through the fabric that was muffling her mouth.
"Oh Merlin! It's really you…."
"HEY! Get off!"
"….Oh gosh. Oh gosh. Oh GOSH! It's…"
"Can you hear me?"
"…HERMIONE GRANGER! I am honored. …."
Hermione's nose wrinkled as she stared at the bouncy girl on her.
"Hey…" she called out trying to get her attention.
" …Bloody Hell, I'm flabbergasted."
The fan's friends were slowly crowding around her and Hermione was quickly feeling claustrophobic, and she couldn't reach her wand because the fan's knees were pinning her arms down. They were also demanding autographs and retelling the story of the war which was shocking due to the fact that they were surrounded by muggles.
"Can you get off of me, please?" Hermione asked, already sounding exasperated.
"….and look at all your scars! I thought they were fake but look!"
The girl tried to trace her finger down the paper thin scar that cut through her eyebrow and grazed past her left eye, but before she could touch Hermione the girl was lifted off of Hermione's chest and tossed aside.
She heard someone berating the crowd and Hermione knew that she too should get up but she was still trying to breath normally again. Suddenly, she was hoisted right onto her feet by none other than the guy from the apothecary - Blaise Zabini.
Looking around, she saw that the crowd had dispersed and she let out a sigh of relief.
"I hate when that happens." She muttered as she leaned over to grab the handle of her trunk, but he was quicker than her and he managed to lean over, grab the bag and push it into her grip before she could even blink.
Hermione looked up at the Slytherin in confusion, but all he did was send a quick aloof nod in her direction, and then proceeded to walk through the barrier without a backward glance.
Hermione followed after him, but once she came out on the other side of the barrier he was already gone.
She had been planning to hunt him down to give him a formal thank you when she felt thick arms tug her into a hug.
She swung around and reciprocated the bear hug from Harry.
"Harry! How are you?" she exclaimed as she pulled back to be able to see his face.
" How does it feel to be back, Miss Head Girl?"
Hermione smiled softly, "It feels bloody good."
And, as Harry lured her into an easy conversation she completely forgot about the mysterious Blaise Zabini.