Summary: Have you ever woken up and realised that the life you're leading is not the life you wished you had? Hermione finds herself in a difficult predicament and realises that in order to achieve real happiness she has to make some difficult sacrifices.
Rating: T (do I do hold the right to perhaps change it to M in the future)
Disclaimer: Everything you recognise belongs to our Queen JKR. I just borrow her wonderful characters and make them do things they don't necessarily want do.
Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.
It was the middle of July and the country was suffering under an unexpected heat wave. Throughout the nation people were seeking out the comforts of the beaches. Long traffic jams on the motorways to the coasts were the result and many were instead stuck in scorching temperatures inside their cars, with their windows rolled down and whining children in the back seat. Every night people longingly watched the weather forecast, desperate for just a drop of rain. But every night they heard the weather man or woman tell them that the next day would be as hot as the one before. A hose pipe ban had been put in place throughout most of the country and green lawns had changed into dry, dead shades of yellow.
Hermione Granger looked up from her paperwork and a frustrated groan escaped from her lips as she knocked over her half empty glass of water. She casually flicked her wand and the shattered glass repaired itself before refilling itself with ice cold water. Her hazel eyes drifted across her office. She had been Head of the Department for a few months ago. The promotion had come as a surprise, especially since she had not applied for it. She had needed a few weeks to find her place but now that she was all settled in she couldn't think of doing anything else. The job was near enough perfect. Her office door was wide open, giving Hermione a clear view of her staff working. She had an open door policy and liked to be accessible to her staff. Most of the witches and wizards were seated behind their desks, doing paperwork. Some chairs were empty and Hermione did not envy the poor sods that were forced to be outside today. The Ministry had air conditioning and was a welcome retreat from the heat outside.
"Miss Granger?" spoke a voice and she was roused from her musings to find the wizard standing in her door way. A broad smile spread across Hermione's face as she recognised Kingsley Shacklebolt. He had been Minister of Magic ever since the Final Battle and had made some significant changes to how the Ministry was run. Hermione liked working for Kingsley. He was fair, honest and, like Hermione, he liked to get things done. They had a mutual understanding.
"How can I help you, Minister?" Hermione asked as she offered one of the black leather chairs across her desk. The tone of her voice was a mixture of formal and friendly and she waited for Kingsley to change the intonation of their conversation. When he sat down and pressed his fingertips together she knew he was here for a work related reason and Hermione sat back in her chair.
Kingsley's dark eyes swept across Hermione's face. It was hard to believe that only four years after the war, and three years after finishing Hogwarts, Hermione Granger was now Head of the Department. Kingsley had always preferred Hermione over her friends Harry and Ron. She was less erratic and more logical. She was far more mature than her friends, even now. "A rather unusual request was made to me this morning, Miss Granger."
Hermione furrowed her brow. "What sort of a request?"
"That is precisely the reason I am here," Kingsley answered slowly. "I decided it was best that I discuss this with you in person."
"It has been brought to my attention that someone has requested your help in dealing with a rather sensitive matter," Kingsley said and Hermione thought he sounded strangely descriptive. She leant forward and folded her hands on her desk. Her hazel eyes were fixed on the Minister's face. Even now that he was in the highest, most powerful position within the Wizarding world, Kingsley still chose to dress in his familiar and distinctive blue robes. "And it is not the nature of matter but more the person who made the request that made me decide to speak personally to you."
"Minister, exactly what are we talking about here?" Hermione asked curiously. She could not think of a reason, or a person for that matter, who would ask for her assistance. As Head of the Department she was overseeing every action her employees undertook, and even now there was still plenty to do. Trial dates for convicted Death Eaters looking for an appeal or who had chosen to share information in the hope they would be released from Azkaban early were the order of the day. She had only yesterday faced Rabastan Lestrange in court as he gave up the names of those who had once conspired with Lord Voldemort. By tomorrow her paperwork would have increased as the Auror Office was tracking the suspected witches and wizards today.
"A divorce," said Kingsley and Hermione felt deflated.
"A divorce?" she echoed.
"One of significant interest to society and, above all, the Daily Prophet. One of the parties has asked for your expertise and assistance during court proceedings," Kingsley explained and watched the puzzled expression on Hermione's face. "The divorce will be dealt with in front of the Wizengamot, with both parties asking to be heard."
"Minister, if you don't mind me interrupting," Hermione began and made a hand gesture towards the department outside her office. There, behind the desk nearest to the door sat a blonde witch, her reading glasses perched on the tip of her nose. "Perhaps this is a case you should be discussing with Dorothy McKinley? She has handled the last three divorces and she is quite familiar with the etiquette required in dealing with, shall we say, more privileged families."
"I am well aware of Mrs McKinley's abilities, Miss Granger," said Kingsley and there was something dismissive about his words. Dorothy McKinley had only recently dealt with the high profile Greengrass divorce. It had almost become a trend; now that the war was over a lot of the pure blood marriages had fallen apart. The war had changed people. Kingsley swallowed. "Perhaps I should have stated that the client involved specifically asked for you and only you."
"Very well," Hermione sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. "But I am afraid that I will need some time to familiarise myself again with the rules and regulations regarding divorce, Minister. It has been a while since I last pleaded a case in front of the Wizengamot." Her voice trailed off and the look in her eyes became distant. The last time she had stood in front of the full court was when she had testified on events that took place during the war. Her account of events had helped put many Death Eaters away.
"You have one day," spoke a voice from the open door and Hermione's eyes snapped up. She knew that drawling voice.
There, in the door way of her office stood a man she had last seen in court. But he had not been there to plead a case. He had been there as an accused, dressed in the striped suits distributed by Azkaban prison. His silver blonde hair had been unkempt, his eyes bloodshot and there had been dark rings around his eyes. Lucius Malfoy only stood here because she, Hermione, had testified on his behalf. She and Harry had spared him and his family time in Azkaban. Her eyes swept across the man's appearance. His blonde hair was kept in a neat pony tail and he was dressed in immaculate black, expensive robes. A large silver ring sat around his middle finger and he walked with his cane. Hermione knew it contained his wand. She straightened her spine and felt the hairs in the back of her neck rise up.
"Good afternoon, Mr Malfoy," she said politely though the venom could be heard in her words. Her eyes found Kingsley. She was not sure whether to be revolted or shocked. "I take it this is the client you were referring to, Minister?"
"Indeed," answered Lucius before Kingsley could answer and he gave Hermione a curd nod. "I think we can take it from here, Minister. Thank you." His tone wad dismissive and Kingsley stood up. Before closing the door behind him he turned to look at Hermione and she sent him a helpless look. He answered her gaze but Hermione could not tell what his eyes were saying. When the door closed it was just her and Lucius Malfoy and she gestured to the same chair where Kingsley had sat mere seconds ago. Lucius Malfoy showed no intention of sitting down and instead scrutinized the books in the bookcase against the wall.
"How may I help you?" Hermione forced herself to remain friendly and watched as Lucius turned around. His cold grey eyes found hers briefly before turning away from her. He stalked across her office with the arrogance she had always known him to have. Her eyes followed him, aware of what he could be like. She bit back a snappy retort and counted to ten before speaking. "Mr Malfoy, what is it I can do for you?"
"As you may have heard my wife has requested a divorce," Lucius said without making eye contact and Hermione stared at his back. She thought it rather rude he did not look at her but she reminded herself that some people had not changed their views even if the war was over. To Lucius Malfoy she was still a Mudblood, which made his request to see her all the more strange. "I wish for someone to deal with these events in an appropriate manner."
"I see," Hermione said with a cold voice. She felt no remorse for Lucius Malfoy's predicament. In fact, she could think of a about a dozen reasons why Narcissa Malfoy should have divorced her husband many years ago. She reached for a new roll of parchment, dipped her quill in her ink pot and began writing. Without looking up she started asking questions. "And exactly what is you want me to do?"
"To see to it that proceedings take place in an order that is acceptable," said Lucius slowly and Hermione heard him turn around. She did not remove her eyes from the parchment and continued writing. "My wife… she had requested a quick court hearing and wishes for things to be resolved urgently. I want you to see to it she does not lay claim on property that does not belong to her but also that the Malfoy name is not tainted in the Daily Prophet."
Hermione's eyes snapped up and she cocked her head in curiosity. "Pardon me for my bluntness, Mr Malfoy, but may I ask why you have asked for me to represent you during the divorce proceedings? I am not a solicitor nor am I appointed to deal with divorces. I have qualified staff that are very much capable of dealing with your requests and maintain the level of privacy expected."
"Miss Granger, have I not made myself clear?" said Lucius sharply and Hermione's jaw dropped at the rudeness. Lucius stared at her in a way only a superior could stare at something he considered less than worthy. Her heart hammered in her chest and she lowered her hands into her lap, clenching them into fists. She was less than impressed and silently cursed Kingsley for putting her in this situation. Lucius' grey eyes narrowed. "You will represent me and you will do so in the manner I ask of you."
"Very well, Mr Malfoy," Hermione said and picked her quill back up and scribbled something else down on the parchment. "What is it you want me to do?"
"Meet me at the Manor tomorrow night at 8 pm. Do not be late. I do not appreciate to be kept waiting," Lucius said arrogantly and searched Hermione's face for a hint of disapproval. He found nothing. If he was disappointed by her lack of defiance he did not show it. "We will discuss the proceedings tomorrow." He started for the door and opened it. Hermione watched him step outside and she suspected he had somewhere else to be. There was a certain urgency to the way he left. He turned and cast her a quick look. "Good afternoon, Miss Granger."
"And to you," she muttered under her breath and he was gone before she could say something else.
With a frustrated groan Hermione threw herself back into her chair and ran her fingers through her hair. There were so many things she had wanted to say. She had never liked Lucius Malfoy. He was perhaps one of the few wizards who had not changed their attitude since the fall of Voldemort. He had everything to thank her for. Hermione suspected he would not have lasted long in Azkaban. He owed her for the life he was still allowed to lead. Others, better men than him, had not been allowed to live at all.
She stood up, took her wand out of her drawer and stored it up her sleeve. She walked out of her office and onto the department. Her hazel eyes looked around, searching for a familiar face in the crowd. She found the blonde witch sitting at the desk by the window. She was gathering some files and just stood up when Hermione reached her. When she turned around blue eyes instantly found hazel brown and a smile spread across her attractive face.
"I was just going to drop these off at the Auror's Office," said Astoria and showed Hermione the case files that were due to be assessed for court within the next few weeks. Hermione walked along with her towards the elevators and there they waited. Astoria cast Hermione a sideways glance. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"As a matter of fact there is," Hermione answered and was relieved to find the elevator was empty. She and Astoria stepped inside and simultaneously reached for the handles. The handles closed and the lift began to move backwards before dropping down. "Has Draco said anything to you about his parents getting a divorce?"
Astoria sighed and rolled her eyes. "I wondered what his father was doing here."
"I take it he told you then?" Hermione asked curiously. She had been working with Astoria for the last year, ever since Astoria had transferred from another department. Astoria had married Draco just seven months ago in a lavish ceremony at Malfoy Manor. She had invited Hermione but she had been unable to face the haunting memories the Manor held and she had missed the wedding. Against Malfoy tradition Astoria had insisted that she wanted to continue her job at the Ministry. Draco had accepted her choice but Hermione knew that Lucius was not as supportive. Astoria and Hermione had found a mutual friend in each other. Their friendship seemed strange to many who first saw them together; they had different backgrounds but Astoria had never supported Voldemort and she had changed Draco. Hermione had even grown to like him in some way and their mutual 'hellos' in the corridors had changed into full conversations though she had yet to accept a dinner invitation. She knew Draco understood. It was something neither of them spoke about.
"He has mentioned it," Astoria said and at that same moment the elevator came to a stop and the doors swung open. Both witched stepped out into the Atrium. It was busier than normal and Hermione suspected that many Ministry employees normally working away from the office were actually inside today, seeking out the comforting air conditioned offices. She and Astoria made their way towards the next set of elevators that would take them to the Auror Office. "Apparently Narcissa spoke to him about it last week. You know how Draco and Lucius don't particularly get on these days."
Hermione didn't answer. She could not blame Draco for holding a grudge against his father. Had it not been for his cowardice weakness, Draco would not have endured half the things he did. He had done many of the things asked from him merely to please his father and to prove himself to him. It had been Narcissa who had eventually saved her son. "How does he feel about it?"
"He hasn't talked about it much, to be honest. I think he is just glad that his mother is finally finding the courage to walk away," Astoria said and she looked at Hermione. "If you ask me, Narcissa should have left Lucius years ago. That man possesses the ability to ruin everybody's life simply by existing."
Hermione grinned. "Yes, I think that is a pretty accurate observation of Lucius Malfoy."
"Anyways, enough with this talk about divorce. How are things coming along for the wedding?" Astoria asked with a beaming smile and her gaze dropped to the diamond engagement ring on Hermione's left hand. Hermione absentmindedly twisted it around her finger now that Astoria looked at it and stared at the elevator floor. "Have you and Ron picked a date yet?"
"Ron wants a winter wedding," Hermione said and shook her head. The subject of her wedding was something she reluctantly talked about. She wasn't quite sure why. Whenever someone mentioned it she became rather reclusive and tried to avoid the subject. "Merlin knows why someone would possibly want to get married in the snow."
"I think it's rather romantic," Astoria sounded dreamy and Hermione looked at her in surprise.
"You have actually met Ron, haven't you?" she asked and suppressed a snort. "Ron Weasley and romance are not particularly a good combination."
Astoria didn't answer. The doors swung open and they had arrived at the Auror Office. To their surprise it was strangely quiet and they made their way through the desks until they reached the office of the Head of the Department. The golden sign on the door said HARRY POTTER and Hermione stuck her head around the door. Harry sat behind his desk, looking busy as he rummaged through a stash of paperwork. She smiled at the sight of his work being as much about paperwork as her own.
"Hey." she said and his head snapped up, Bright green eyes sparkled behind his glasses and his face lit up. "You haven't seen Ron around have you?"
"Last time I saw him he was just getting ready to meet with someone in the Cauldron," Harry said and Hermione detected the hint of disappointment in his voice. Harry enjoyed working outside, hunting down those who had taken so much away from him. She had never known anybody more devoted to their job than Harry. "An informant, I think. Said he had information about where Rodolphus Lestrange is hiding."
"If you see him before you go home, just tell him I'll be running late, OK?" Hermione said and glanced at Astoria. "I have received a request that needs dealing with urgently." She paused and a memory popped back into her head. "Are you and Ginny still going to Molly and Arthur for tea tomorrow?" When Harry nodded in confirmation she groaned. "Listen, this bloody thing Kingsley's given me will take up the best part of this week, I reckon. I won't be able to make tomorrow."
"I'll tell Ron when I see him," Harry said and then his eyes fixed on Astoria. "Are those the files I asked for?"
"Yes," Astoria answered with a smile and stepped into the office. She handed the files to Harry and he took them with a groan of displeasure. "I took the liberty of going through them and see what pieces still need adding. Most of them are complete apart from the top two. I can do them for you if you want."
"Thanks Astoria," Harry sounded genuinely grateful. His eyes searched the blonde witch's face and then came to a rest on her stomach. "By the way, I heard through the grapevine that congratulations are in order?"
"Wait, WHAT?" Hermione said and she smiled when she watched Astoria caress her stomach in a way only an expecting mother would. "You're pregnant?"
Astoria grinned sheepishly. "I take it Draco couldn't keep his mouth shut," she answered and a dark pink blush appeared on her cheeks. "Yes, it's true. I'm pregnant. Only eight weeks so it's all fairly delicate still."
"You should talk to Ginny," said Harry and he grinned. He took would soon be a father again. Ginny was expecting their second child. "She can't stop going on about how wonderful it is to be a mother. I tell you, I admire you women. There is no way I could through to the torment of child birth. Thirty six hours it took James before he finally graced us with his presence. I sure hope that his brother or sister is a little less lazy."
Hermione sighed and left Astoria and Harry to talk babies. She made her way back across the department towards the elevators and waited for the doors to open. As they slid closed and the elevator began to move, she found herself feeling alone and overwhelmed by the events of today. The arrival of Lucius Malfoy had stirred memories she had kept safely hidden in the darkest depths of her mind. Memories she did not usually think about but now, with the knowledge she would have to face Malfoy Manor tomorrow, they began to creep back to the surface. As the doors swung open and revealed the Atrium, Hermione could hear Bellatrix Lestrange's horrific cackle in the back of her head.
It was late by the time she got home that night. The apartment she shared with Ron was shrouded in darkness and she quietly closed the front door behind her. She softly made her way to the bedroom and found Ron asleep on his side, wearing nothing else but a pair of black boxer shorts. He had left bed side lamp on and she watched him for a moment. She had barely seen him in the last three days. They seemed to pass each other like ships in the night these days. With a sigh Hermione stripped off and climbed into bed. It was too warm and she lay on her back, with her hands folded behind her head. She stared up at the ceiling and took a few deep breaths.
She had spent most of the night sitting at her desk, wondering what she was going to do about Lucius Malfoy and his divorce. Only Astoria knew and she wished she had someone else to talk to. But she had vowed her privacy to Lucius. She had managed to work out a plan to handle the divorce and had written a whole scroll of parchment with things she wanted to talk to him about tomorrow. With a frustrated groan she rolled onto her side and stared at the picture frame standing on her bedside table. Her parents smiled back at her and subconsciously Hermione's lips curled up into a smile. She hoped they were proud of her, wherever they were.
The delivery owl dropped the Daily Prophet on her desk and she placed the few coins in the small pouch attached to its paw and watched it fly off into the distance. When Hermione picked up the paper she felt her heart drop. The front page was largely taken up by a picture of Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy and the large title that screamed MALFOY DIVORCE. She groaned in frustration and sank down into her chair.
"So much for privacy," Hermione sighed and stared at the picture. Lucius looked his arrogant, usual self. Narcissa on the other hand seemed almost withdrawn. She stood slightly behind her husband and her eyes were fixed on nothing in particular. There was a sadness to her, something Hermione couldn't quite explain. She looked up when there were footsteps outside her office and found Kingsley standing in the door way.
"You saw the paper then?" he said slowly and Hermione nodded. "Sounds like someone had a word with Rita Skeeter."
"I can't believe they hired that troll again," Hermione ran her fingers through her hair. "This is just a brilliant start of the day."
"And it's going to get even better," Kingsley said and Hermione's eyebrows shot up. "Lucius Malfoy had just sent me an owl informing he wants to change the time of your meeting."
"Really?" Hermione sounded hopeful.
"Yes," Kingsley looked almost apologetic. "He is expecting you at Malfoy Manor as soon as possible."
Hermione stared at the newspaper with Lucius Malfoy's arrogant face and shook her head. "Great."