When he wakes to stretch and roll over, the bed beside him is cold. It's strange, he thinks, that this would be one of his favorite parts of their relationship - the lack of his lover in his bed. But this is a symptom of that which he loves most about her, so he gets up and putters around in the kitchen, producing two cups of tea, and carries them to the library. He hears her hushed words as he opens the door, placing the tea on the table next to her. "Who is that?" The head in the fireplace asks. "It's so dark I can't see a bloody thing."

"It's alright, Kingsley," she replies, smiling in his direction and going for the tea. "It's Mycroft."

They continue their discussion about recent mutterings of unrest from the giants, which he ignores, sending emails and tending to his own part of the country. It is 4:30 by the time she finishes writing out reports (with a quill, he'll never understand that bit) and takes them to the owl perched in the corner. "Coming back to bed, love?" She asks, and he follows her out.

It is nights like these that he takes comfort in knowing he is not the only person in this relationship who will consistently choose Queen and country over all else.

It is his first week on the job, and he refuses to look unsteady. One slip up and he will end up like his predecessor: a corpse in the Thames, burned badly, fingernails and eyeballs missing. When he receives a meeting request from a minor official in the defense department, he accepts it without worry.

Later that week, the woman walks into his office. He can quickly tell that she is no small player. She is young, not even thirty, but it is written all over her that she has seen battle, that she is made of nails. He quickly decides not to underestimate her.

"Hello, Mr. Holmes, I'm Hermione Weasley." She flashes her pearly whites, and her handshake is firm.

He upgrades her from "keep an eye on" to "possible ally."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Holmes. I'm sure you understand why we didn't have time to ease you into this, after...well."

He is unsettled, and he can't stop it from showing for the first time in years. "Dear god, are you insane or am I?"

"Possibly both of us," she laughs, trying to ease the tension. "I've certainly done some insane things in my time."

She fills him in on the most practical things as quickly as possible - apparition, owl post, the fact that the fireplace in his office is hooked up to the floo network. He is convinced to put his head into the fire only after she does, and he sees her empty office on the other end. She assures him he can step straight through, as well.

"Don't worry, though, Mr. Holmes. I also have a completely normal mobile that I'm quite capable of using. Please don't think I've never progressed past the 19th century."

He is shocked - that was exactly what he had been thinking - and he hopes it doesn't show .

He upgrades her status as she walks out, with another shake of the hand and an amiable smile, to "tentative ally."

They have a working lunch once a week. Some weeks are filled with decision making, other weeks things are slow and they relax.

He learns that she has two children, that she married her school sweetheart when she was young. He finds that he had deduced her correctly in the beginning - she had played an integral part in the Second Wizarding War (she says minor, which is how he knows she had been important, because they both occupy minor positions in the government).

Surprisingly, he finds himself telling her things as well. He has never been attached - he has never found a woman who understood that she would never come first (she pats his shoulder in sympathy). He suspects his brother is a drug addict. His mother is disappointed that neither of her sons has bothered to settle down.

He collects facts about her, not letting himself forget a single thing, but it's the first time in his life that he feels like his subject has been cataloging him as well.

Sherlock has overdosed.

He is in his office when Anthea calls him with the news. He should go to the hospital straight away because things do not currently look good.

He panics. He starts thinking of the best doctors he can call in, things that can be bought or manipulated quickly to save his brother. Anthea is the queen of understatement - if she said "doesn't look good," she meant "he'll need a damn miracle."

Or Magic, his brain spits out.

He has thrown the powder into the flame and called for Hermione's office before he can think what he could possibly say, the best way to ask to get what he wants.

"Mycroft?" He has startled her - this is the first time he has used the floo powder.

"Sherlock. He's overdosed. Hermione, he's dying." He hasn't yet said or even thought the d-word, and it feels like a train has hit his chest.

She abandons her lunch, and doesn't spare a single glance for the red headed man sitting across her desk from her, still halfway biting his sandwich.

"Where is he?" She is all business and he appreciates it like a man dying of thirst appreciates water.

"St. Bartholomew's."

She flings open her office door and gives orders he can't hear to her secretary. The red-headed man's eyes open wide, and he starts shouting about muggles not being allowed. Mycroft is unsure how far he is going to take it, because Hermione cuts him off. "This is not open for discussion," she bites off, iron in her tone, and comes to crouch close to the fire. "Mycroft, this is what I need you to do." She says it soothingly, and they both know that this is what he's good at, not just giving orders, but taking them. "Your brother is going to disappear. I'm going to need you to make it so he was never there in the first place. Ring my mobile once you've done that, and I'll bring you to where he is, alright?"

Manipulating and buying silence is something he can do. "It's going to be alright," she says and ruffles his hair. When she stands up again she is all business. "Off you go. Time is of the essence."

After Sherlock is out of danger, and doing very poorly his first week of rehab, Mycroft absorbs the fact that he now owes someone a very big favor for the first time in years. His fireplace flickers, and Hermione's head is on the grate, asking to come through. When she steps out and brushes herself and her large bag off, she wastes no time. "Evening, Mycroft. I'm going to do something slightly illegal, and I need your flat to do it in."

"Yes, of course, I do owe you one," he says drily.

"Mycroft, you don't owe me anything." She doesn't seem peeved at him - she seems to get the way his brain works. "I did what could because my friend needed help. That's all." He likes to worry about Sherlock, who has no friends, but he realizes that he hasn't been close to anyone since university. He wondered when that changed without his noticing. "And now, I can do something else. There is a potion that might make it easier for Sherlock, but I'm not supposed to give it to you. Neither of you are magical. And I can't exactly brew it at home. Ron would go spare. It was hard enough trying to explain off my ability to get a healer to work on a muggle, as it is."

"And he's an...auror, yes?"

"Yes. I doubt he'd turn me in, but I wouldn't want him to feel like he had to."

So, she comes home with him, and makes a concoction in a cauldron (maybe she isn't stuck in the 19th century, but the rest of the lot must be), and she bottles up a clear liquid.

"It's enough for a week. I'll have to come back soon and make more."

He doesn't say that she is always allowed at his place, potion or no.

She says he doesn't owe her, and he believes that she feels that way, but he feels like he does. And anyway, he feels like he has a friend again, so, debt or no, his services are at her disposal. She needs very little - in the same way that he needs very little. So when she needs help catching a wizard named Moriarty, he knows he must stop at nothing to get the information Hermione needs. This has always been part of his job - gambling everything he's got to get what he needs. He does it without a second thought.

When the papers start turning against Sherlock, when Moriarty morphs in to Richard Brooke, he realizes that Sherlock is not the only one who has met his match. Moriarty is crafty and has magic to aid him in his scheme. Still, Mycroft links up with Hermione and they do what they can. When it is not enough, but Sherlock has won anyway, throwing himself off the building with his elaborate plan of (not)dying, Hermione looks at him with tired eyes. "I'm sorry," she says, and he knows it is not some diplomatic platitude. "If we had only been faster-"

"Moriarty had everything covered. It's not your fault."

"Still, I want you to know that I did everything I could."

"I know you did." He loves the novelty of having a friend who is just as powerful as he is. When she says she did everything, she means it.

"So what now?"

"Sherlock will be tracking down Moriarty's henchmen. We have a few leads, but we could use help."

"Of course," she says.

It is good to know that he is no longer alone.

They continue their work for the next year and a half, feeding information to Sherlock as he travels the globe. One lunch a week becomes two or three, and the occasional dinner in one of their offices. It is during one of these dinners that she tells him that Ron has figured out the she is not actually a minor ministry official, and he is upset that she won't tell him what she does.

"He actually tried to pull my file, would you believe that? He saw the usual cover story, and found out that anything deeper than that was classified. I thought he was going to have an aneurism." She laughs. "I think he's just mad that I outrank him."

"I'm sorry you have to deal with that, Hermione. Honestly, I feel responsible."

She looks at him and laughs. "You shouldn't. Moriarty was a problem for both of us. As always, we do what we have to do. You understand that, don't you? We'll always put running the country over everything else."

He did nothing but clink his cup of tea with hers.

He is gratified when Hermione rings in the middle of the very early hours of the morning - he likes knowing that she knows she can go to him. "Mycroft, I need help," she says as soon as he lets out his groggy greeting.

"Anything," he says instantly, and blames it on the fact that he had only gone to bed precious few hours before. He does not want to recognize that he would truly do anything for her and he's glad she's given him the excuse.

"It's Ron. He was tracking a lead on a dark wizard in Australia. There was a huge fight and he's been injured. They've shut down the international floo while that madman is still on the loose. Damn it, when he needs me the most he's half a world away."

Normal wives would be told to wait, that he was in the best hands, that they would be kept notified. But Hermione is not a normal wife, and Mycroft is very comfortable with the fact that, since so much is expected of people like them, greater privileges can be afforded them as well.

"Hermione. It's going to be alright," he says quietly, in a soothing voice he won't admit to having used since Sherlock was small.

"Thank you," she exhales.

He thinks for a second and says "I can have a plane ready to go in an hour. Send me the location of the nearest airport to where you need to be, and I will get you there."

"Mycroft, you're amazing," she lets out a sob.

"Don't thank me yet," he chuckles. "The flight will probably be hellish. I don't exactly have time to get you the Queen's private jet, you know. Get your things together. I'm sending a car for you now." He hangs up and immediately calls for the car. He instructs them to wait, in case it takes longer for her to drop her children off than she expected, then arranges for the plane and a car on the other end.

When she sends a text to let him know that she has arrived safe, he admits he is in love with her.

When he stops to think about it, he realizes that in this case, in this very specific case, sentiment could be an advantage. After all, it was their connection that saved Sherlock's life in the first place. She was not a damsel in distress, not one to be used against her will.

He does not allow himself to elaborate on these feelings. She is married. He is not from her world. But he doesn't beat himself up for having them, and he considers that progress.

When Sherlock is allowed to come back to his real life, much of Mycroft's spare time is spent monitoring 221B Baker Street. He is worried that their reunion won't go well, and while he doesn't think either of them would use the gun he knows is in the house, he chooses not to take the risk. One night he stays in the office late and checks on the surveillance. He sees the two of them snogging like teenagers on the sofa. He chokes a little, then immediately turns it off and texts Anthea to downgrade their surveillance for all of their sakes.

There is a knock at the door, and he calls "come in!"

"Mycroft, you look like you've seen a ghost."

"Hello, Hermione. Well, I think I've just witnessed my brother get his very first boyfriend."

"He and John wised up, then?"

"They did, right on the couch below the camera. He did it on purpose, I know he did. John may be blind, but Sherlock must know where every single one is placed." He pours himself a drink, and offers Hermione one, too. She accepts, and they sit in the chairs in front of his desk.

"Sometimes I wish I'd done like Sherlock and waited until I found someone I was completely compatible with." She says it, not in a funny way, but sounding wistful.

"Is that why you're out at this time of night?"

"Catching my breath." She sighs and takes a drink. "Just wandering the city and looked up and I was only a block away. Figured I'd give you a reason to take a break."

"What happened, Hermione?"

She puts her forehead in her hand and waits a long second. "He just doesn't understand. He wants me to talk to him about my job. Which is ridiculous! I don't ask him about his every case!" Mycroft doesn't mention that he knows she pulls his case files sometimes - he can read it in the lines on her brow when he's on a particularly nasty one. But he understands (and matches) her need to be in control, to know everything, so he lets it go. "I love my job. I'm well suited for it, and I get to work on making things better. I just wish Ron would understand. He thinks I'm keeping things from him. And of course I am! I have to! But it's not about us, you know. It's not my home life! I can't believe he'd doubt that I love him." One drink turns into four, and they are laughing about stories from school. She is telling him about when her and Ron were friends, and the trouble they got into. As she downs her fifth, she starts laughing again. "I'm going to have to choose, aren't I? Ron or the job?"

"You might." He takes her glass but doesn't refill it.

"I think we both know what I'd do."

He calls her a car. He knows he won't exactly be making things better by sending her home late, more than a little drunk, but the fallout will be worse if she does not go home at all.

He tries not to think about what her choice might be.

She texts him a thanks for the night before. He notices the absence of any words assuring him that she and Ron were doing any better. He instructs Anthea to find a decent flat toward the center of the city and furnish it well. He doesn't know if he'll need it, but he wants to be prepared.

The flat sits empty for 6 months. She comes to their work lunch one day with bags under her eyes - she had stayed the night on her sister-in-law's sofa. "It was even more awkward because she didn't seem to understand that we're through. She just kept talking like we'd be over it soon. I think Harry knows better, but he never says a word against her."

"You shouldn't be staying on a sofa, Hermione." He tests the waters, deciding on how best to offer without seeming presumptuous.

"It's not as if I've got any other place to go. Jobs like ours aren't exactly conducive to having friends."

"Hermione. I'm your friend. And it just so happens I own a flat that is sitting empty. It isn't too far from your place in Diagon, so it should be easy for you to see your children."

"Oh, Mycroft, I couldn't possibly-"

"But you could. It's convenient, I have no use for it, and until your finances are separate, it will be hard to justify a place anywhere near as nice as this one."

"I, well-"

"You've always been there when I needed you. Let me help you for a change."

"Alright, Mycroft. Alright."

She carries one bag, and he grabs the other two from the trunk. "It's up on the 8th floor." They ride the lift up in companionable silence, and when they get off, she looks around.

"By on the 8th floor, did you by any chance mean to say that it IS the 8th floor?"

"Well, yes, but-"

"And this hasn't been owned by your family long, has it?"

He has the decency to blush slightly. "Of course it has," he begins.

"There is not a single personal thing here. Posh, old money family like yours would have old photos tastefully displayed, nicely kept antique furniture. Everything in here is new."

She doesn't seem angry, but he still defends himself. "I wanted to be ready, just in case."

"How long?"

He looks away for just a moment. "Six months."

"Mycroft, that's-" she looks away, too, and clears her throat. "That's very sweet. Thank you."

The divorce is brutal. The whole family is on his side, and given that her other best friend had also married into that family, things were not great for her. But they split custody evenly, a week at hers, then a week at his.

Though Mycroft feels bad for her, he is secretly thrilled. They spend more time together. His flat is only a five minute walk away, and some nights he will gather up his files and go around to hers for takeaway while they work. It is an amiable existence.

They text and email more often, too, as if increased physical proximity had opened the channels of communication even wider. Several times throughout the day he will stop and look at his phone and smile, firing off an answer of "yes, I'll get the food on my way," or "no, that particular prisoner is currently being interrogated."

He is happy, but he still doesn't allow himself to plan for the future.

"Have you got anything on for Christmas?" She asks as she sips her tea and reads over the report an owl just swooped in with.

"Actually, yes. John has somehow managed to talk Sherlock into doing Christmas, actually doing it properly, over at theirs. I've got some things on that won't really allow me to go visit my mother for any extended length of time, and she'd never let me stay for just a day. What are you doing? Spending it with the children?"

"No, actually," she sighed. "I'm quite busy, too, and Ron didn't seem like he was going to stand down on taking them home for Christmas. I'll get to see them a few days before and do presents, but nothing actually on Christmas."

"You should come with me."

"Oh, I couldn't possibly intrude," she blushes. It seems obvious to him that she would actually like to go. She had been very isolated lately and it shows.

"Sherlock wouldn't be alive right now if it wasn't for you. For that reason alone John will worship the ground you walk on," Mycroft laughs, and makes a mental note to tell John just enough of what had happened. "Come on, say you'll come. I couldn't possibly bear the idea of you sitting here all alone and peaceful while I'm suffering through my brother's company."

She laughs and tilts her head back, rubbing out a cramp in her hand. "Yeah, alright. It sounds like...well, not fun, but it sounds like I shouldn't make you go alone."

He is surprisingly thankful.

"So who is she, really?" John asks them when they're alone in the kitchen. "I don't believe for a second that she's an admin in the defense department."

"What she is is classified," Mycroft answers, indulging in another of the cookies Molly had made.

"Okay, I get that. But what's she to you?"

Mycroft hesitates, then smiles the smile that he knows puts John off - the 'I know everything about you, now run along' smile. "She is a friend of mine, and she's going through a rough time, so I'd appreciate it if you were kind to her."

"I wouldn't do anything else, Mycroft, you know I wouldn't." He pulls off the kettle and goes about making multiple cups of tea. "I'm surprised how good Sherlock's been to her."

"Well, she did save his life once."

"Really?" John asks tightly - still touchy on the subject of a dead Sherlock, he sees.

"Yes. The last time he overdosed. If it wasn't for her...intervention...it's unlikely that he would have made it."

"Well, I owe her one, then, don't I?" John walks over to the door and lets everyone know that tea is ready. When she comes in to pick up a cup, she smiles at him and grabs a chunk off his cookie. He wishes he would let himself deduce the interaction.

They stay in this holding pattern for another half a year. Things are good, and he doesn't push. After all, he has never been this close to a person, he has never felt this deeply for anyone else. What do ordinary people do when they feel this way? He doesn't bother to find out.

Then one night, he is packing up his things and preparing to head out. She walks him to the door, and kisses him quickly before shutting the door, leaving him standing, bewildered in the hall.

They've only added kissing, and not much more than that, to their previously existing friendship when one of the most awkward moments of his life happens. They are sitting on the sofa, very close together. He has his laptop open, and she has parchment sprawled over the arm of the sofa and the end table and the coffee table, and a stack on the other side of him (and he loves that she occasionally reaches over, pressing fully against him, to grab one of them).

There's a knock on the door, and she leaves him on the couch, going to answer it. He watches as she gasps and steps into the hallway, not closing the door all the way, but enough so that he can't see what's going on. He strains his ears.

"Ron, why are you here?"

Ron is harder to hear - he's definitely drunk, though.

"We've been through this, time and again."

Ron seems to be pacing, if the footfalls are anything to go by, and he's getting louder. "We can't just throw away years like this!"

"Ron, go home. This is ridiculous. You're drunk."

He hears Ron protest that he is not drunk, but he also hears him stumble, falling into the door. The door bangs all the way open, and she manages to catch him, but he zeros in on Mycroft, still sitting on the sofa as if nothing is wrong.

"Well, isn't this just fucking cozy." Ron slurs. "Who the hell is this?"

"Ron, this is Mycroft," Hermione says calmly. "Remember, from work?"

"Oh, yes, of course," he spits. "How could I forget the wonderful and perfect Mycroft?"

"Please don't do this," she says, and puts a hand on Ron's arm.

"Is this why you left?!" He yells. "Is this why you were so secretive?"

"I'm not sure what you're insinuating, but-" Mycroft begins, attempting to take control of the situation.

"You know damn well what I'm insinuating," Ron says, pointing a finger at him.

"Mycroft, don't, you'll only wind him up," Hermione pleads.

"No, Mycroft," Ron says mockingly. "Please do!"

"Ron, there's nothing between us, just quit it," Hermione says, and then seems to realize that she's made a mistake.

"I think now would be a good time to take my leave," Mycroft shoves his laptop into the bag, and is incredibly grateful that there were no files to gather.

"No, wait," Hermione says, and she goes to grab his arm, but somehow Ron beats her there.

"You hear that? There's nothing between you," he slurs, and Mycroft can't stand to let the man touch him.

"I know that, thank you," Mycroft grabs the man's shirt, and Ron is predictably startled, letting go of his sleeve. At least this part can be controlled. "But if you think you're the only person to ever see how amazing Hermione is, then you're even less intelligent than I originally gave you credit for."

He shoves Ron backward and is out the door, down the stairs. (That is how he knows it is bad, because when was the last time he had taken the stairs when there was a perfectly functioning elevator?) He is halfway down the block before he realizes that he has forgotten his umbrella. It's a shame, because it looks like it will rain soon.

Hermione sends him three texts the next day. He only answers the one about work - he is still professional, and he still has a country to run. The following day, he receives a picture from her: his umbrella, sitting next to the couch where he'd left it. The following text says "You'll have to talk to me eventually. I'm holding your umbrella hostage."

He replies "I could have a replacement within five minutes."

His phone dings. "Yes, but this one is yours."

He decides to go and take it back on his lunch break. After all, he technically owns the flat, so of course he has a key. But when he walks in, she is sitting in the arm chair that faces the door, umbrella in hand.

"What are you doing here?" He asks, surprised.

"Working from home today," she replies flippantly.

"No," he says, taking in her outfit, "You've clearly just come from work. How did you know I was coming?"

"Magic," she replies. He rolls his eyes. Much later he would find out that in this case, magic didn't mean that whole sphere with which he was unfamiliar. This time, magic meant Anthea.

"Yes, well, I've just come to collect my umbrella." He doesn't approach her, but she doesn't seem as if she's very willing to relinquish it.

"This isn't the only thing you left."

"What else is there?" He does a quick inventory of everything he'd ever brought to her flat.

"Me." She stares him down, and he is suddenly angry.

"You can't leave something you never had." He does his best to come off calm and collected, and hope she can't see through him.

"Look, Mycroft, I didn't mean it and you know I didn't. I said something in the heat of the moment that I shouldn't have. Haven't you ever done the same?"

"No," he replies haughtily and she snorts.

"Regardless, I really didn't think that trying to explain what we are to a drunken Ron was really the best course of action at the time." She gets up and walks over to him slowly. "What was I supposed to say? How was I supposed to explain that I've spent the last seven years falling for you? Even though I was married? Even though you've never bothered to have a girlfriend?"

She is upon him, umbrella in hand, and he could, should, just take it and walk out.

"Then what are we?" He decides to push. "If we're not nothing, then what are we?"

"Everything," she says, and pulls him in for a kiss.

He throws his umbrella onto the sofa and closes the door behind them.