Hello, and welcome to chapter 43!

As always, there is extra content on my blog, thebuescherproject. The dress, etc. should be put up some time today.

If anyone can spot the quote in this chapter, you get pretty much every respect point I possess.

Also, I'm having a very hard time with writing at the moment- I've not writer's block, per say, simply writer's constipation. I have the whole story planned out from here, its just sitting down and banging it out that I find difficult at the moment. So, please, be gentle. I did have a lot of fun writing this chapter, though. And, I live in Cincinnati, so no harm on my hometown is meant.

Oh, and of course, multiple points to my beta, Inness, for just being alive.

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Hermione was very quickly changing her mind as to whether or not she really wanted the American's support. Not because of anything that they had done to her, personally, or that she found fault with their thick, engraved invitation. But because at the moment, she was stripped to her skivvies with Parvati rapid fire changing the color of her dress which was in need of a ruffle-removal spell.

Narcissa, as though she was reading Hermione's mind perfectly, deftly shot a charm at the hem of her black, taffeta gown. Actually, it might have even been a bit of mind reading, from Narcissa's wink. Hermione could not determine whether to be freaked out at her soldier's legilimensy or simply grateful that the offending ruffles were gone.

"I think you're ready," Parvati mused, looking over her victim's body.

Looking into the mirror, Hermione nodded in assent. "Looks rather nice..."

Parvati beamed, and replied royally, "We think so."

"Your hair," Narcissa reminded gently, tugging on a few curls.

Hermione sat down on the small pouf in front of Parvati's bed and submitted her head to the trauma she would inflict. Thankfully, instead of trying to tame her mane into an updo, Parvati and Narcissa combed a specially formulated serum through her curls, letting them flutter and rest over her shoulders. Her eyebrows were systematically attacked next, requiring a high strength cooling charm.

The metaphorical clock struck a quarter to seven as Severus rapped gently on the bedroom door.

"I'm almost ready," called Hermione, her eyes closed with Parvati apply a thin line of dark eyeliner.

He coughed conspicuously, "The portkey is set to leave soon."

"She knows," Narcissa replied as she finished the cushioning charms on Hermione's high heeled shoes.

A bit more gently, Hermione called, "I'll be out in only a second."

She smiled, letting Narcissa help her with the catch on her bracelet. The simple line of round diamonds, courtesy of said Malfoy matriarch, were cool and dazzling against her pale wrist. "Thanks for letting me wear this."

"Of course," anwered Narcissa. "You simply must look your best for meeting the president."

Hermione smiled at Narcissa's blase reply. "Severus is waiting," she directed to Parvati. "Thank you for helping me, but I really must go now."

Parvati smiled almost predatorally, her even, preternaturally white teeth gleaming in the dusky light, "Any time."

She opened the door, shot a smile back at Narcissa and started down the hallway. Her footsteps were cushioned in the thick pile of the rug and left little round divots from her spiked heels. At the top of the stairs, she peeked around the corner and tried to get a glimpse of her date for the night.

He stood rather impatiently at the door, a dark cloak draped over his arm in neat folds. Before he could notice her presence, she snuck another look. Oh, man was he in full bloom tonight... Black, slim cut trousers pooled only slightly over unassuming black boots and Severus wore a black brocaded waistcoat.

The rustle of Hermione's taffeta skirts drew his attention upward and she started down the stairs carefully.

"Your hair," she whispered, coming to the bottom of the stairs.

Severus smiled, a quick quirk of his thin lips. "I lengthened it."

Her fingertips lit against the smooth, neat coif, pulled back tightly at the nape of his neck. "You look more like you used to. Not that I mind, of course... I did tell you that I'd had a crush on you for years."

Inclining his head in affirmation, Severus ran the back of his hand over the smooth tautness of Hermione's stomach in her dress. The neck dipped low across her strapless bodice and pulled tight about her thin waist with a length of black fabric. Following the simple lines of the bodice, the skirt draped down gracefully and bustled slightly in the back.

"You look lovely," he whispered into the side of her neck, placing a gentle kiss to chase his words.

Hermione giggled nervously, "You said you liked my black dress... from Slughorn's Christmas party."

"I realize, Pearl, that I find you intoxicating in whatever happens to be on or off your boy."

A warm rush filled Hermione's lungs and she leaned into his mouth, letting him explore and taste and hope that he didn't realize that they were standing in the foyer of the Order's interim Headquarters.

At length, he pulled away raggedly, fussing with his sienna colored cravat and messing up the simple, neat knot. "Portkey is about to activate."

Severus held out the engraved parchment invitation which had only just begun to glow violet.

"Yes... can't keep the American Government waiting so that we can have a-" Hermione's words were abruptly cut off as they were hooked from inside and bodily wailed through the space-time continuum.

As their knees slammed against a deeply padded surface, Severus looked up first and quietly retorted, "What would we be keeping them waiting for?"

Hermione glared, but gratefully accepted his gentlemanly hand up from the cushioned ground. "Are you ready for this?"

"As ever," he replied stiffly, offering Hermione one frock coat encased arm.

As they left the transportation room, a small, unassuming gentleman set up with a station in the hall requested their wands for weighing. Grudgingly, they handed them over.

"Next time someone goes to England, we'll have to make sure that they pick up another shipment of replacement wands from our source," Hermione muttered darkly.

Severus considered, "I'd only just gotten used to this one."

"I know," replied Hermione. "I should have thought to bring a spare with me."

They filtered into the atrium and joined the throng of people entering a room to the far end of the building. The tall, tray ceiling was illuminated a pale yellow, showing off the beautiful scenic frescoes. Hermione clung almost indecently to Severus' arm as they moved through the atrium and to the double doors. A queue formed and one by one, the couples were announced as they entered the ball room.

"Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay DuValle," the announcer called, no need for an amplification charm.

Another gentleman was taking down the names of the guests as they queued, "Might I have your names?"

Severus spoke quickly, cutting off Hermione's sudden mounting fears, "Mr. Parrish MacNeal and his wife Mrs. Nicola Ravensdale."

A curt nod and a thank-you and he was to the next couple.

"Madame President will know it is us," he assured, stroking his hand down her bare shoulder and to her exposed star tattoos. "She will seek us out. Until then, we are humble scholars; you translation charms and myself as a curse breaker."

Hermione nodded, her heart beating quick in her throat as they were presented.

An attendant appeared to their right, almost as if by magic, and inquired, "Would you please follow me to your table?"

The couple exchanged looks quickly, then acquiesced. Hermione and Severus wound around and through the scattered round tables to a dias at the end of the ball room, behind it a great wall of glass which looked out upon a wide terrace and the expanse of a city far below it. They were seated on comfortable gold and champagne colored striped chairs with a good vantage of the whole room. In front of their plates were only blank place cards, but to Hermione's right was an engraved card with the name of the Madame President.

Hermione quickly jabbed Severus in the side with her fingers, pointing at the card at the next place setting. He remained saturnine and silent, but wrapped his hand around hers to give it a squeeze. To his right was a tall, portly gentleman with whom Severus began a conversation and silently encouraged Hermione to engage a comely woman across the table in her own manner.

Thankfully, they had been one of the last people to arrive so within moments of their seating a harp player began to strum to signal that the Madame President would be entering the room. Taking a cue from the rest of the room, Hermione stood up as she entered.

"Madame President Hillary Rodham Clinton," bellowed the announcer. Madame President smiled kindly at the applause her entry granted. Dressed in midnight blue, she cut a swath down the center aisle and to the head table. A gentleman with a shock of white hair on the other side of Madame President's vacant seat pulled it out for her to sit, thus ending the standing ovation.

"Rather tedious, if I might say," she intimated to Hermione. "All this pomp and circumstance."

Hermione swallowed, then said, "One might imagine."

"But you're British," Madame President chided jovially, "and if there's anything I know about the British is that the whole country lives on soccer, ale and pomp."

"One must always make allowances for respect where respect is due, Madame President," Severus interjected, calmly unfolding his linen napkin and draping it across his lap.

Madame President's companion with the white hair guffawed, "Only too right."

"And who am I making the acquaintance of?" asked the President, holding out her right hand for Hermione to shake.

"Nicola Ravensdale, ma'am," replied Hermione with a little bob of her head. "And this is my husband, Parrish MacNeal."

They shook hands, Madame President's eyes sweeping over the twenty some stars branded on Hermione's arm.

"Bill," she said, turning to her companion, "These are our friends from Britain. They're staying in the Midwest at the moment, am I right?"

Severus nodded, "Cincinnati."

"Been there more than I'd like to," rejoined Bill. "Boring place."

Madame President chided, "Cincinnati got you elected in '92."

"Doesn't mean I want to retire there," grumbled Bill, opening his menu.

"But you are settling in well?" questioned the President, glancing to Hermione as she joined her husband in browsing the menu.

Hermione nodded, catching onto the blatant subterfuge in the air. "We are, but before long we expect to be back in Britain."

"Roast beef," Madame Clinton pronounced. "I expect that following dinner and the opening dances, that we could possibly slip away undetected for more... frank conversation."

As way of answering, Hermione ordered the shrimp.

Severus gave a brief, side long look at the President and ordered the beef as well.

When they had sufficiently settled into their meals, Madame President addressed the Potions Master, "I take it you are an expert in the field of the detection and disablement of the Dark Arts via potions?"

He inclined his head and finished chewing. Swallowing, he replied, "I am. I have worked for many years in the field. Since before you were in office, Madame President."

"I find that we are having trouble with a few relics of a dark nature from our revolution," she intimated. "I would wonder after you were re-settled in Britain if you would consent to returning and helping my team disable them."

Hermione gaped a little, pressing her fingers to Severus' thigh. He seemed not to notice but instead answered thoughtfully, "Madame President does me a great honor. But I regret at this time, my presence is needed in England."

"Of course," the blonde woman conceded. "You will require time to re-settle. After that, though, your presence in the United States would be appreciated."

Growing tired of the garbled political talk that Severus and Madame Clinton were engaging in, Hermione asserted, "Perhaps if we could utilise the full power of the United States' intelligensia in our current endeavor, he would be much more willing to return the favor."

A bit of a sparkle graced the President's eyes and she replied, "The United States will always help a colleague in need."

"These artifacts," inquired Severus, "might I ask of their nature?"

Madame President's husband spoke up, "We're affected by a malicious spirit, one of a man by the name of Benedict Arnold. He has taken the lives of countless troops over the years, his last victim being a Corporal on leave from Afganistan."

"We have heard of your prowess with the eradication of the Dark Arts even here, Professor," continued Madame Clinton.

He nodded, sending a look to Hermione. "How long would the assignment take, in the best estimation of your team currently handling it?"

"The head of our team personally requested you. By their estimate, it would take one of your brewing skill level four to six weeks to complete," she replied. "I cannot impress on you the importance of the work I require."

"I believe I am well aware," answered Severus, ending the subject and spearing a roasted potato.

Hermione and Severus turned then to speak to the rest of the table and enjoy their meal as a string octet began to start their playing for the evening. As the sounds of Handel filled the ball room, people finished their meals and began lingering over their coffee. In Severus' hand was a demitasse of strong black espresso, which he sipped complacently, if not happily, as Hermione indulged in a chocolate mousse in a thin dark chocolate cup.

After several songs, the President's husband stood and offered his hand to his wife. She smiled prettily and took his hand, a certain youth coming over the politician. Her midnight blue gown sparkled in the light of the ball room and from the city lights out beyond the terrace. They shared a comfortable, unpretentious dance to the general applause of the room.

"I don't know how to do this," Hermione whispered frantically, gesturing at the couples that were filling the floor.

Severus' dour expression lightened momentarily, "Nor I. Together we shall make a shambles. But we shall do it with such authority that everyone will stare at us to learn the step."

She stifled a laugh, but took his hand when offered. Her skirt pooled on the floor behind her a few inches and the fabric rustled beautifully over the marble floors. With Severus' arm holding her up, they descended the dais to take their place among the swirling, dancing couples.

Enchanted, a beautiful Saint-Saens piece began to play and into Severus' arms she was drawn. Whether it was the feel of his warm, spare chest pulled to hers or his hand grasping posessively at the small of her back, Hermione know that in this moment- different than any other moment she had experienced with him- that she was irrevocably lost.

She knew she loved him; but that was easy. Loving is the easy part, she realized as she let him propel her around the floor. Hermione had loved before. She loved Harry, platonically at least. Even Ron she had loved, at least enough to sleep with him and date him. But that didn't mean she wanted to marry any of them.

Severus, though...

Her thoughts were swept away by the increasing complexity of the dance.