Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction based on characters from the Harry Potter universe owned by J.K. Rowling.
Fire in the Belly
Hermione sat on the porch of the Burrow. Rose and Hugo were inside with Fleur, and Ron was—well, somewhere. She leaned back, enjoying the rare moment of quiet. She tried to not think about work or the things that needed doing back at the flat or how Hugo was growing out of his clothes again.
She heard clomping, felt herself tense.
"Did you pack my book?" Ron asked through the screen door.
"No. You were going to pack your book."
"No, you said you'd do it."
She took a deep breath. "Read mine. I did pack that."
"I don't want to read yours. I want to read mine."
She counted to ten. Maybe he'd be gone by then or would conjure the blasted book and leave her in peace. This is how work was, too. Everyone at her, all the time. Couldn't anyone do for themselves anymore?
She turned to look at the door; Ron wasn't there. She sighed. In relief. Which was horrible of her. Was she ever pleasant to him anymore? She kept telling herself to try and then he'd come round with something else, and they'd be off again.
Bickering over nothing. She sighed again, this time because she knew she needed to do better.
If only she had a little time to herself.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I thought no one was out here." Harry stood at the foot of the stairs, little Lily on his hip. "She's been fussy. Walking helps. We've been around the house four times and I'm knackered," he said, and Hermione nodded in understanding.
Harry was an excellent dad. More hands on than Ron was, to be honest. But also more worried. Like at any moment his children might break.
But given his background, Hermione supposed this probably wasn't too surprising. He'd spent his childhood having most everyone he loved ripped away. Probably not something you just shook off and moved on from.
"Come sit," she said, patting the porch swing next to her.
He settled in and she played with Lily for a moment, letting the baby reach for her fingers.
"She's a beauty."
"Takes after her mom."
Hermione smiled. Lily did favor Ginny.
Harry leaned back. "Nice evening."
"Very. Nice dinner, too."
"Very. Molly outdid herself."
"Mmm." She took a deep breath and glanced at Harry. "Everything okay at the job?"
"Oh, yes. Well, you know. Same old same old. You?"
"Fine, of course." She looked away. "Although if something—anything—different ever happened, it would be a red-letter day."
He chuckled. "Your department isn't known for being quiet. But I guess compared to the old days...?"
They looked at each other and smiled. A game smile. A smile of two people who at one time weren't sure they'd make it out of their teens.
"But I'm fine. I'm happy," she said, as she felt her smile fading.
His was fading, too. "No, definitely. Very happy."
"I mean we got it, right? The happily ever after. Kill the bad wizard. Live a long, happy life."
"Well, longer than we might have." He grinned. "Who knows what the future holds?"
She smiled. "I miss those days, Harry." She realized she'd said that out loud. "I mean—"
"It's okay. I miss them, too."
They both sat, and he dandled his daughter on his lap as they stared out at the slowly darkening sky.
Danger used to come from the sky. It was something Hermione had never gotten over. She still considered the heavens suspect. Always would, she imagined.
The door opened, and Molly peeked out. "Oh, there you are, you two. Come inside. Ron can't find his book so I thought charades would be just the thing. We can't play without you."
"Brilliant," Hermione said as soon as Molly closed the door, not even trying to keep the rancor from her voice. "Charades. Which, apparently, they can't play without us."
"Beggars can't be choosers, eh?" He stood, hefted Lily onto his hip and held his hand out to her. "My lady?"
Laughing, she let him pull her up and escort her back inside.
Harry walked among the auror cubicles, smiling at those busy working, stopping to talk to others who weren't so engaged. He knew, no matter what it looked like, everyone in the group was fully occupied, but they all knew how to take a little time for themselves. They spent too much time in the field to worry overmuch about what happened when they made an appearance at the home office.
Except for Harry, of course. Ever since he'd been put in charge last year, he hadn't logged more than a handful of hours in the field. His days were made up of meetings, reports, more meetings, more reports, and general tediousness. If he was lucky, he might have the odd personnel problem to break up his day. If he was lucky.
Today, he wasn't lucky, so he was living vicariously through the tales of his aurors just back from dangerous, hair-raising missions.
He heard a low cough, saw Minister Shacklebolt standing with two Asian men wearing yellow and red robes. Shacklebolt motioned him over.
"This is the man I was telling you about, gentleman. May I present our head of the auror department, Harry Potter. Harry, this is Tenzing and Sonam, distinguished visitors to the Ministry from Nepal."
"Hello." Harry wasn't sure whether to bow or shake their hands, so he settled for a nod of his head.
"Ah, the famous one." Tenzing took Harry's hand in his and smiled. "Interesting."
"So much potential."
"Oh, Harry here has more than lived up to his potential."
Sonam gave him a somewhat pitying smile. "Of course. Tenzing meant no disrespect. You have, of course, gone very far for your system."
Sonam smiled. It was an annoying smile. Not unlike Snape's, only worse. Supercilious in an enlightened way. Like you wanted to get mad, but then felt guilty when you did. "Your system of magic. Rules and rote and"—he nodded at the wand in Harry's belt—"those."
"Wands, you mean?"
Tenzing shared a look with his colleague. "They are so small to be such pervasive crutches."
Shacklebolt had the fixed smile of a man who had gone through this sort of interplay all day. "Potter. Take them to lunch, will you?"
Tenzing bowed to him. "Your time and attention have been deeply appreciated."
"Good to hear. I'll leave you in Potter's hands. Enjoy the rest of your stay in London." Preferably far, far away from the Ministry was what Harry heard unsaid in his boss's voice.
Sonam studied Harry. "We know we have wearied the minister with our critiques of your...methods."
Tenzing smiled, a true smile, open and friendly. "It is in adversity that one grows. It is how one answers the challenging truth that defines character."
Harry led them out. "He's a good man. Full of character. He fought—"
"I did not mean to infer he was not a good man. But like all of you, he is stuck in place." Tenzing turned to Sonam. "I am not hungry. Are you?"
"I am not."
"We have meditations to attend to." Tenzing reached into a pocket that Harry didn't think had been on his robe a moment before. He handed Harry a lotus flower that let off a hint of fragrance, then folded itself up over and over into a circular business card. It was covered with some kind of writing he couldn't read—Sanskrit?
"For the questing mind, there are always places to go." Tenzing bowed.
"I don't understand."
"When the student is ready, the teacher appears." Tenzing smiled gently. "Although sometimes the teachers appear just a bit before." His look turned playful. "I am sure lunch would be delightful, but you have things to do, do you not? Important things?"
Harry tried to hide the truth: lunch with these two would have been the most exciting part of his day.
Tenzing's smile faded. "It is hard to have lived the bulk of one's life in your childhood." At Harry's look, he touched his forehead, where the lightning-bolt scar still showed. "You were defined by this for so long. Does it hurt?"
"Not anymore. Not once the darkness was purged."
Tenzing glanced at Sonam, then back at Harry. "Evil, you mean. Evil was purged, not darkness. It is one of the strange parts of your system that darkness is so maligned. You are losing a valuable resource if you equate it to evil." He shrugged. "But what am I? An old man who needs to be leaving."
"Why did you come here?" Harry opened the door, then followed them out of the Ministry. "You clearly think you're better than us."
"Better?" Tenzing's expression was playful. "More open, perhaps. There is an entire universe of possibilities out there. And yet you limit yourself to what you have here. I am only saddened at the waste."
With a bow they left him.
Harry saw Hermione coming out of the door they'd just left. She looked unaccountably liberated. "Who was that?" she asked.
"Visitors. Shoved off on me by Shacklebolt."
"Better you than me."
"You going to lunch?"
She turned and gave him a strange look. "I don't know what I'm going to do right now. I'll see you later." With a mysterious smile, she walked off.
He took a deep breath and went back inside. Maybe Ron was free for a bite.
Hermione read over the report Odyssia had given her. The young woman sat in the chair in front of her, looking like she hadn't slept in weeks. "This is not your normal work."
Odyssia perked up immediately, looking like a dog waiting to be kicked. "Ma'am?"
"There are typos and grammatical issues all over this report. More importantly, your conclusions seem to be, well, inconclusive. I'm used to something a bit more polished from you."
Odyssia looked crestfallen. "Oh, ma'am, I'm sorry. I read it over. Several times. I did."
Hermione studied her brightest investigator. She was not usually given to babbling out excuses any more than she was to making mistakes in reports. "What's going on?"
Odyssia looked down.
"You can tell me. You know I think highly of you. Is there a problem you're afraid to tell me about?"
"Oh, no, everything's fine." A gigantic yawn put lie to that statement.
Hermione let an eyebrow rise in a way that would have made Snape proud.
"Oh, ma'am, I'm sorry. I am. It's just, I wanted to be perfect and you know you're you, and you were part of them, and it's such an honor. And I'm young, and I know others questioned my assignment to this posting, and I just wanted to show that I could do—"
"Double the work?" Hermione smiled. "Do you have it on now? The Time-Turner?"
Odyssia fished it out from under her robe.
It looked just like the one Hermione had used third year. "You know, for something supposedly destroyed, there are an awful lot of those turning up." She smiled at her own silly pun.
"Give me that." She held out her hand, waited as Odyssia slipped it off and placed it in her hand. "I used one of these for an entire year. I hated it. You cannot sleep off two days in the few hours a night people like us generally sleep. Odyssia, you're fine the way you are. Whoever I was, whoever I knew, whatever you think of me, you don't need this to impress me. Just do a good job. Be yourself. I had to learn that the hard way. You don't need to."
Although to Hermione's credit, she was a lot younger than Odyssia when she learned this lesson. But she'd resist saying it to the younger woman. "Go on now. Go home. Get some sleep. Come back in the morning and redo this report."
"Ma'am, thank you."
"Go on." Hermione waited till Odyssia was out to study the Time-Turner.
She should take it right to the vaults. She should turn it in.
Right after her next meeting. That she didn't need to go to but would hear about if she didn't show up. Or the working group she'd somehow been signed up for. Where she and her colleague from Administrative seemed to be the only ones doing any work. Or the lunch she wouldn't get to eat unless she grabbed something and ate it on the run, because her assistant had booked her all the way through the day.
She should do the right thing. Like she did every day at this job. Every day at home. Every day since they'd brought down Voldemort.
It would be unthinkable to use it for her own pleasure.
She put it in her drawer—she would take it to the vault tomorrow.
Shacklebolt's assistant popped his head in. "You have a moment?"
"I was just going to the canteen."
"I just need you to give me some input for this." He smiled and sat down, and Hermione felt the last few minutes before her meeting slipping away. Brilliant—her stomach would growl all through the meeting, and she'd get a headache from not eating.
When he finally left, it was time to head off to the meeting. She went to look for her assistant and saw a note on her desk. "Gone to lunch."
She very slowly went back into her office and closed the door, leaning against it so no one else could come in.
It would be wrong to use the Time-Turner to get lunch.
It would be very wrong.
Except...maybe just this once? She walked back to her desk and took the Time-Turner out of the drawer. She heard a knock on her door and ignored it. Whoever it was went away.
She slipped the Time-Turner over her head, walked to a corner of her office that she never used, and turned the Time-Turner an hour back.
She was standing in front of herself. She—the other her—froze. Fortunately, she didn't reach for her wand or anything as dire as the warnings for use of Time-Turners said.
"You probably want to check Odyssia Fronagle's reports," she told her only slightly younger self. "Just...a thought." Then she walked out and tried to keep the time paradox headache that using a Time-Turner always gave her at bay.
As she left the building, she saw Harry with some men who looked like monks. She managed to weasel out of lunch with him after they left him standing on the curb. Not that she didn't enjoy lunch with Harry, but for now, she was determined to enjoy her extra hour—all by herself.