Disclaimer: I am not J. K. Rowling, ergo I do not actually own these characters despite how much I love them.
A/N: For those of you who are reading my other WIPs, I apologize for taking time away from those to start this one. Unfortunately, those darn plot bunnies were attacking and I was left utterly defenseless by my muse.
That being said, this story is going to be a bit different from any of my others. It's a post Marriage Law fic that is very (very, very) loosely inspired by the British comedy series "The Thick of It" that I recently discovered thanks entirely to my brother and his love of Hulu. It is not a comedy, however, nor is it action-packed. It will be a bit of a roller coaster of emotions as it is a story about beginnings and endings, about misconceptions and absolution, and about love and loss.
I thank you for reading and look forward to hearing your feedback.
"It is remarkable that such delicate flowers should here adorn these wilderness paths." - Henry David Thoreau
"Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got til it's gone..." - Joni Mitchell
- Chapter 1 -
Hermione glanced up at the sound of someone knocking on her open door. When she saw one of her junior administrators poking her head in the doorway, she raised her eyebrows in silent question.
"Hey, boss," the woman smiled, "I just wanted to let you know that I'm heading out to meet Julian for lunch. Oh, and Mrs. Potter is here to see you."
"Thank you, Marie," she replied, setting down the file report she had been reading. "Enjoy your break. I have a feeling that those committee meetings this afternoon are going to be horrid."
"Oh, I definitely will enjoy it," the blonde smirked, holding up her left hand and brandishing the gold band on her ring finger. "I'm getting divorced!"
Hermione snorted and shook her head. "Off with you, then. And tell Ginny she can come in."
"Aye, aye, captain," the younger witch saluted before disappearing from sight.
"See ya, Dawlish!" called Ginny's voice.
"Ah, ah, ah," Marie shouted back. "That'll be Zeller to you in approximately half an hour!"
With a groan, Hermione leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes, and rubbed her forehead as she thought about all of the reports that would have to be edited to reflect surname changes.
"Hey, you," Ginny stated, smiling as she shut the office door behind her. "You look like you could use a day off."
With a sad snort, the brunette opened her eyes again and forced a smile. "I could use an entire year off."
"No," her friend smirked, adjusting the chubby baby on her hip as she stepped forward to the extra chair. "You would go bonkers with nothing to do for that long."
"Yeah, well, I'm going to be stark-raving mad by next week at this rate," she muttered morosely. "Kingsley couldn't have stepped down at a worse time."
The redhead shrugged as she sat down and set the gurgling child on her lap. "I think Dawlish – er, Zeller – would disagree with you. Along with a hundred other couples."
"I suppose," Hermione grumbled as she straightened a stack of folders on her desk. "However, Marie knows just how precarious the future of our werewolf legislation is with the administration change. It was set to be approved by the Wizengamot on the seventeenth, but now that half of the governing body are being replaced…ugh, who knows? Now we have all these committee meetings and inquiries into all of our policies to verify that no underhandedness was involved. And since Kingsley was a vocal proponent of most of our legislation changes – including the werewolf rights – a number of our measures are likely to get the axe."
"The House Elf Protection Act?" her friend asked curiously.
"Scheduled for review this afternoon."
"Ugh," Ginny moaned. "I'm really sorry, Mione. But you're alright?"
The older woman pinched the bridge of her nose and shrugged. "To be perfectly honest, I don't know. I would like to say my position is safe, but Kingsley did appoint me to this post. They've already reshuffled International Magic Cooperation and tossed out McLaggen based on his affiliations. And poor Amos – he just resigned yesterday instead of dealing with the insult of being demoted from Department Head back to just heading the Beast Division."
"But Robards likes you," the redhead protested. "He even considered proposing to you, you know, when he heard that you were still unattached. He consulted Harry on it, but before he could act on it, you announced your engagement."
Hermione raised one eyebrow in disbelief. "You can't be serious."
"I swear it on Jamie's life," she replied.
The other witch glanced down at the pudgy baby chewing on the over-sized buttons of his mother's robes. When a pang of sadness settled in her chest, she breathed in a quick breath and resettled her gaze to her desk. "Well, that certainly puts a different spin on things."
"Doesn't it?" Ginny laughed. "You could have been Mrs. Minister of Magic Gawain Robards."
"But I've never even spoken to the man," she mumbled. "I only met him a few times at Ministry functions and your wedding."
"Men are funny that way, Mione. They don't have to talk to you to fancy themselves in love with you."
"Now he's in love with me?" she scoffed.
The redhead frowned and shook her head. "I don't think quite yet. He respects you, though, and holds you in very high regard. I wouldn't be surprised if he gives you a promotion."
"That would be nice," she exhaled, looking at the ceiling. "Until he makes a folly large enough to rival the Marriage Act and finds himself on the street. I'm barely under the radar as it is now. Any higher ranking and I'd be frantically scouring the job postings instead of just perusing them during my moments of weakness."
Ginny sighed and nodded. "They really did a number on Kingsley in the Prophet, didn't they?"
Her friend glanced at the corner of her desk where that morning's edition of the Daily Prophet had been cast aside. The headline "Shackle Shacklebolt?" stood out in thick, black lettering.
"It wasn't even remotely his fault," Hermione muttered, picking at the edge of her desk. "The Department of Magical Census and Population Services published that report on lowered birth statistics, and because everyone freaked out, some idiot over there proposed the Marriage Act. When it was sent to the Wizengamot, it passed by a majority and Kingsley just stamped his approval. It's not like he came up with it in some diabolical scheme to enslave women in domestic servitude.
"And I seem to recall the Prophet – and quite a percentage of the population – being much more supportive of the initiative three years ago. Doesn't look like it now, though," she finished with a snarl.
After a few minutes of silence, Ginny adjusted her son and awkwardly cleared her throat. "And what about you?"
"What about me? You know that I've never been a fan of it. I nearly got sacked for protesting that it was some diabolical scheme to enslave women in domestic servitude three years ago, remember?"
"I know that," the younger witch said slowly, "I just meant that the Act's been repealed, and today they're granting marriage dissolutions left and right. Are you and Severus going to sign the papers?"
Hermione let out a long breath and closed her eyes briefly. "I don't know. We haven't discussed it yet."
"You haven't discussed it yet?" she repeated in disbelief. "It's been the topic of the country for nearly a fortnight, and now that it's finally the fifth of October, you can't not hear about it!"
"I know," the other witch mumbled, rubbing her neck. "But Severus and I… well… we don't really talk much outside of our appointments."
"No offense, Mione, but that just sounds depressing. You've been married nearly three years and you only see each other once a month."
"Maybe," she shrugged, leaning her head against the back of her chair. "But it worked for us, Gin. It wasn't meant to be a real marriage emotion-wise, but a mutual agreement to keep the both of us employed and in good standing with the Ministry. It was awkward as hell at first, but… I don't know… I've gotten used to it at least."
"Gotten used to it?" the redhead responded with an arch of her eyebrow. "That doesn't speak very highly regarding his performance in the sack."
Hermione snorted and then took in a deep breath. "That's not what I meant."
"So the sex is good, then?"
She sighed and gave a small shrug. "It's not bad."
"Now there's a glowing recommendation if I ever heard one."
"Shut up, Gin," she smirked. "I mean, it isn't mind-blowing or anything like that, but it's… well, it's comfortable."
"My boots are comfortable," Ginny mocked.
The brunette shook her head. "If you weren't holding a child, I would throw something at you right now."
The mother held her babe to her chest. "That's why I lug him around everywhere. Makes me smile while serving as a shield - multi-purpose is the only way to go these days."
When Hermione's smile did not quite reach her eyes and her laugh was brittle, Ginny sobered her expression. "Are you okay? Should I not have brought him?"
"I'm fine," she stated quickly. "And I am glad that you brought him. He's gotten so big."
"And heavy," the redhead lamented. "Would you like to hold him?"
"Of course you can!" Ginny exclaimed, standing up and carefully delivering the child over the desk and into her friend's arms. "You are his honorary aunt, for Merlin's sake."
"Hi, Jamie," Hermione cooed softly when the baby looked up at her with a surprised expression on his face. When he smiled and then started tugging at the ends of her hair, she winced briefly and glanced at her friend. "He has your eyes… and your grip, I think."
The younger woman laughed vibrantly and tugged at her wrinkled shirt. "And my temperament, unfortunately. He was a nightmare to put down last night. I'm surprised he's behaving so well at the moment, actually. He's started teething I think."
With a giggle, the other witch detached the tiny hand from her curls and smiled brightly when Jamie wrapped his miniature fingers around her own.
"So, not mind-blowing, eh?" Ginny muttered, perching on the edge of the desk.
"You're like a dog with a bone, Gin."
"Well someone has to be," she grinned as she folded her arms to her chest. "Clearly, your current husband isn't."
Hermione tossed her a look of moderate irritation. "I don't have any complaints in that aspect of my marriage, so I don't see why you should."
"You don't actually have a marriage, Mione," she corrected. "You have monthly appointments."
The witch sighed quietly, but offered no rebuttal as she played with the baby on her lap.
"Is there a reason why you haven't requested the papers?"
Hermione glanced up at her in mild surprise and then chewed on her bottom lip.
"If you don't want to say, Hermione, you don't have to," Ginny explained when she noticed the hesitant expression on her friend's face. "I mean, I was just curious since the whole reason you worked out this arrangement with Snape was to bide your time until the law was repealed and then make a clean break."
"Well, yes, it was," she nodded slowly, "when we thought the law would be quickly repealed. But when a year went by and there was no sight of common sense on the horizon, we realized that it was entirely possible that we might have children before it was abolished. So we decided that, in the event of there being children or a pregnancy, we would renegotiate the arrangement."
"Hermione, are you pregnant?"
With a nervous smile, the woman shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. I haven't performed a test since the last time we –"
"Had comfortable relations," Ginny smirked.
"Would you let that go? Merlin." She groaned, which caused Jamie to reach for her mouth.
The redhead smiled as she watched her son giggle as her friend pretended to gnaw on his fingers. "When will you find out?"
Hermione pulled her mouth away from the baby's fingers with a small pop and looked up at the younger witch. "Tomorrow night is our night. We'll check then."
"Well, I guess I'm not sure which outcome I prefer," Ginny sighed. When she saw a sad light enter her friend's eyes as she watched Jamie look about the room with curious eyes, she walked around the edge of the desk and knelt down on the floor beside the chair. "Hermione, you are going to be a great mum when it happens. And it will happen – with the right man. You're my best friend, and I just want to see you happy…with as many children as you can stand, with a husband you love and who loves you more than life itself. You deserve so much more than a…a business arrangement or whatever it is you have currently."
Blinking back tears, the brunette straightened in her chair and cleared her throat. "You are seriously messing with my head right now. They're definitely going to sack me if I break down in tears in the middle of a review committee."
Her friend snickered and rocked back on her heels before reclaiming her son who was beginning to fuss. As she bounced him gently on her hip, she fixed Hermione with a quizzical gaze. "You don't love him, do you?"
"What? Who? Severus?"
"No, Argus Filch," Ginny sniggered. "Of course I mean Severus."
"No," she shook her head, wrapping her arms about her waist as she became acutely aware of the loss of the baby's happy warmth. "I don't think so."
"No? Or you don't think so?"
"Is there a difference?"
Ginny frowned and cocked her head. "I think there is."
"I don't see it," Hermione muttered, standing up from her chair and shoving files into a leather messenger-style bag. "I'm sorry, Gin, but I need to go prep for this meeting."
"You can't do lunch?"
The brunette shook her head rigidly. "If I eat, I'll likely vomit on somebody, and that won't go over well."
"You're nauseous?" Ginny asked, wide-eyed, as she gathered up her diaper bag. "You think maybe – "
"It's not morning sickness," Hermione interrupted. "It's just nerves. I'm about to defend six years' worth of my blood, sweat, and tears to the new Department Head who is looking to prove that I've made it where I am by riding Kingsley's tarnished coat tails."
"You're going to be fine," the taller witch smiled, touching her arm gently. "I'm willing to bet dear old Gawain's put your name on the 'Do Not Throw' list."
With a snort, Hermione rolled her eyes. "Oh, goodie. More sodding coat tails."
"You never know – maybe he'll end up promoting you all the way to Mrs. Minister of Magic," Ginny winked. "After all, he and the now former Mrs. Robards were the very first couple to sign dissolution papers this morning."
"I really don't need to be the Minister's wife, thank you very much."
The redhead shrugged. "Why not? You're already the Headmaster's wife. It's really the only logical progression."
"I'm not even divorced yet and you're already planning my next wedding," she scoffed as she walked out of the office, "to a man practically old enough to be my grandfather, for Merlin's sake."
"Well, I didn't get to plan your last one," Ginny pouted, following her out. "You were my Maid of Honor. It's only fair to return the favor."
"Hey," Hermione grumbled as she warded her door. "You were my witness."
"All I did was sign a piece of paper," she sputtered. "No fancy dress, no dancing, no flowers, no fun –"
"And no fuss," the older witch added. "That was the point."
Ginny sighed as she adjusted her hold on Jamie. "Well, next time there better be some fuss. You owe me fuss."
The brunette rolled her eyes as she quickly scribbled a note on Marie's desk. "So you've already picked out my new husband and planned our wedding – are you deciding the names of our children as well?"
"If you'd like," she smirked. "I don't want to intrude at all."
"I'm sure." Hermione straightened and then glanced at her watch. "Gin, I really have to go now."
Her friend nodded and held out her squirming child. "Kiss the baby's head for luck!"
With a smile, Hermione placed a quick kiss on top of Jamie's downy head and then sped away down the corridor.
Sighing, Ginny placed her son back on her hip and slung the strap of her bag over her shoulder. "Alright, kiddo. Nobody's got time to eat with us today it seems. Daddy, Grandpapa, Uncle Ronniekins, and Auntie Mione are all busy. We'll just go home, have a grand, old time by ourselves, and when Daddy comes home we can tell him our news then. Sound good to you?"
When Jamie squawked and reached a hand for her mouth, she kissed his fingers and began walking in the direction of the lifts. "You're going to be an excellent big brother, aren't you?"