Disclaimer: I own nothing. Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling. Blah blah blah. should just put a blanket disclaimer on the site for all the idiots that could possibly believe we actually own these stories or make any kind of a profit.
A/N: While reading this chapter, I implore you all not to panic :P All I will say is, have faith people. Also, this thing is probably going to larger than I originally intended, and include a lot more characters. Fair warning to those who just want to read about Harry and Hermione.
An Unconventional Affair
Tuesday night saw Hermione pop into existence outside the home of Ginny Weasley, the youngest editor in the history of the Daily Prophet. Ginny had only been editor for the last year, taking on the post only days after her twenty-seventh birthday, but already she had proven herself more than capable of doing the job. Under her leadership, she had revolutionised the Daily Prophet, taking it from an old fashioned newspaper under the thumb of the Ministry of Magic and turning it into a paper that appealed to a wide range of readers and one that would not bow under the pressure of the Ministry. To some - primarily those within the inner circle of the Ministry - this made her somewhat of a trouble making radical, but to the majority of the wizarding world she was seen as a beacon of light in an otherwise corrupt system.
Thus, Hermione was a little apprehensive about meeting Ginny. She had never met the witch before, but everyone in the wizarding world knew who she was, and Hermione couldn't help but be a bit intimidated by her.
Hermione cast her eyes up at the ominous dark clouds that loomed overhead as she raced against the heavy wind towards the modest cottage Ginny Weasley called home, nestled in what looked to be a very precarious position on the edge of cliff in the south of England overlooking the English Channel. As soon as Hermione neared the structure, she could feel the magical protections working to keep both the cottage and the cliff side safely secure against rain, wind, and any other earthly elements that might seek to claim them.
The door opened before Hermione could raise a hand to knock. Ginny Weasley ushered her in quickly with a friendly smile on her round pleasant face, nicely framed by her short flame red hair. Hermione felt the warmth of the cottage hit her as soon as she stepped through the door, a very welcome sensation after the freezing night winds.
'Hermione Granger, I assume?' Ginny asked, as she shut the door and bolted it, both physically and magically.
'Yes, hi,' Hermione said.
'Nice to finally meet you,' Ginny said, holding out her hand. Hermione shook it. 'Luna wanted to do the interview, but I told her to go home and rest up. She really didn't look well. She is a tremendous assistant though, a brilliant writer herself, and my best friend. What can you do?' The way Ginny smiled, dimpling her cheeks, made Hermione feel immediately relaxed.
'It's no problem.' Hermione gestured to the many locks and bolts on Ginny's door. 'Expecting trouble?'
Ginny laughed. 'Oh, a witch in my position cannot be too careful.' Before Hermione could ask more, Ginny changed the subject. 'I know you came for an interview, and we will get to that, but unfortunately my brother is here at the moment. We can wait until he leaves, or if you don't mind…?'
'Erm…' Hermione didn't get the chance to think of an answer, before a casual voice called out from behind her.
'Way to ruin the surprise Gin.'
His voice was like velvet, and Hermione felt something inside herself, some deep womanly place, squirm at the sound. She turned to find him leaning nonchalantly against the doorframe, a roguish grin on his handsome face. The colour of his hair perfectly matched his sisters, but his was wet and slicked back from his head to just about reach the back of his neck. One strand had fallen to the side of his face, and for some reason Hermione just wanted to tuck it behind his ear. What was wrong with her?
'Hermione,' Ginny began, with that long pained sound only a sibling could bring out, 'meet my brother, the oh so famous, oh so handsome, Captain and Chaser of the Chudley Cannons, Ron Weasley.'
Ron grinned. 'Such a fine introduction. Although not really necessary, right Hermione?'
'Oh, erm.' Hermione blushed, because she had no idea who he was. Quidditch was not exactly her cup of tea. That said just looking at the wizard made it clear that he was a star. He had the poise, the dress sense, and the good looks that, coupled with enough skill, would make him instantly famous.
Ginny laughed, ever perceptive. 'I don't think she has a clue who you are baby brother.'
Ron raised his eyebrows in surprise. 'Is that true?'
'Sorry,' Hermione said, blushing. 'I'm not a fan of Quidditch.'
'Ah, well.' Ron stepped away from the door, thumbs hooked in the pockets of his jeans. 'No harm done. Mother always says I can be too big for my britches sometimes. A little reminder that to some I'm no more famous than a rock won't hurt me now, will it Hermione?' He smiled, baring his sparkly white teeth.
Hermione felt her stomach do flip-flops. She loved the way he said her name. 'No, I suppose not.' Did she always sound like an eleven-year-old girl, or was it just the effect this Ron Weasley had on her?
Ginny cleared her throat. 'Should I leave you two alone?'
'No need,' Ron said, answering Ginny. 'I'm going to head off, although I wouldn't mind a quick word with Hermione.'
'Sure, okay.' Ginny went to kiss her brother on the cheek. 'Say hi to mum and dad for me.' She pointed to the room from which Ron had emerged and said to Hermione, 'I'll be through here when you're ready.'
'Okay,' Hermione replied, not entirely sure what was going on. Why did Ron Weasley want to talk to her exactly?
'So you're the new Transfiguration prof at Hogwarts?'
'Oh, yes, I am.'
Ron stepped closer to her. 'I was never very good at Transfiguration,' he said, and then put one hand on her shoulder, and the other on her waist. Hermione stiffened in surprise as he leant over and whispered in her ear, 'perhaps you could give me some private lessons?'
Hermione found herself struggling to breathe. She swallowed heavily. 'P-private lessons?' She felt stupid just repeating what he had said, but she had no idea what else to say.
Ron chuckled in her ear, then pulled back to look her in the eye. 'I'm asking you on out on a date, Hermione Granger. What do you say?'
'Erm.' Hermione fumbled for words. A date? With her? No one had ever asked her out on a date before, and certainly not a famous person. Not that Hermione cared about such things as being famous. She just never expected someone famous would ever consider her and all her plainness, when they could have any number of glamorous and beautiful women. And yet, here was Ron Weasley, asking her on a date.
'I'll pick you up Friday night,' he said, and before she could even think to form a reply, he kissed her cheek, patted her bottom, and was out the door.
Hermione wasn't sure how long she stood in the hallway, but eventually she turned to look at the door, out of which Ron Weasley had vanished. What was going on? Had she stepped into some bizarre world in which she was desirable?
Her senses came back to her all of sudden. She raised a hand to her cheek, which felt so hot she was sure her face must be bright red, and it was. She thought she should feel offended that Ron had so casually assumed she would agree to date him, not to mention the way he had kissed her and touched her bum, and yet she did not. In fact, she felt giddy about it. Flattered. Something she had never, ever experienced before. Something she almost thought she never would experience.
'Hermione?' The voice of Ginny cut through her thought-laden mind, and she turned to see the red haired witch standing in the doorway. 'You coming?'
'Oh, yes, sorry.'
Get a hold of yourself Hermione, she thought, as she followed Ginny into what was clearly her living room. So some guy shows an interest in you for once and you go all ditzy like a teenaged girl? No. Pull yourself together. You're Hermione Granger, mature and sensible professor of Hogwarts.
'Have a seat,' Ginny offered. Hermione took a quick glance around the room first, noting the unmade fireplace, big enough to operate as a part of the Floo Network, and the complete lack of windows. The only light came from above, shining on the ceiling in a cross crossing pattern. Books and bits of parchment covered most of the furniture in the room, but Hermione managed to find a place to sit on the sofa by moving a few books aside.
'Nice place you have here,' Hermione said, trying to be polite.
Ginny laughed in a self-deprecating way. 'Yeah, sorry about the mess. I guess I need to find some time to tidy up the place. Easier said than done with my schedule.'
'It's bleak,' Ginny cut in. 'It didn't used to be, but I've got to be careful these days. There are people out there that would see me removed from my position as editor of the Daily Prophet, by any means necessary. I have to be safe, which means extra locks and protections, almost paranoid methods of privacy, and most importantly, easy, secure, and untraceable methods of escape.'
Hermione felt her blood run cold. She couldn't imagine living her life that way, and yet Ginny spoke so calmly about all of it, as if it was all perfectly normal. Hermione had a sudden thought, and looked at the fireplace again. Untraceable and secure methods of escape…
'Yeah, that is what you think it is. Although off the grid, sorta speak. It's not connected to the official network.'
'Should you be telling me all this?'
Ginny smiled. 'I trust you.'
'Why? I mean, thanks, but why?'
'Dumbledore trusts you.' Ginny shrugged. 'That's good enough for me.'
'Are things really so bad in the Ministry?'
'Yes, and getting worse.' Ginny pulled a chair free of debris over to sit in front of Hermione. 'But we're not here to talk about me.' She summoned a blank bit of parchment with a flick of her wand and magicked a quill out from behind her ear. 'So tell me Hermione Granger, have you always wanted to be a professor of Hogwarts?'
On a hillside outside Little Hangleton, the House of Gaunt stood abandoned, but for the presence of three figures. One of those figures could trace his birth back to this little broken down hut, loathe though he was to admit it. His name was Tom Riddle, and he was a well-dressed and pleasant faced man in his mid forties, with short brown hair and long limbs. The other two figures did not know the significance of the house, only that it was where Riddle chose to hold his clandestine meetings.
The first figure was named Severus Snape, and he stood by what remained of the front door, now no more than a broken slab of wood with rusted hinges. He watched with his emotionless black eyes as Riddle spoke to the other, much younger figure, Draco Malfoy.
Right now he felt sorry for the young wizard in front him, being given his first real task as a member of Tom Riddles secret organisation. Some amongst their ranks liked to call themselves Death Eaters. Snape supposed it was ominous enough to match the evil in Riddle's heart. Yet Snape did not sense any evil in the heart of young Draco Malfoy, only sadness and an eager need for approval.
'And so you understand the need for this task to be accomplished, don't you Mr. Malfoy?' Tom Riddle spoke softly, as was his way. 'It must be done well. Without suspicion. Perhaps an accident. With no way of being traced back to me.'
Snape could see Draco shaking slightly as the enormity of what was being asked of him settled in, his silver haired head bowing as if under the weight of the task. Snape thought for a moment that Draco would refuse - was almost sure of it, in fact - but then the young wizard tightened his fists at his sides and took control, long enough to say the fateful words that would change his life forever.
'Yes sir, I will do it. I will kill Ginny Weasley for you.'