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Chapter 2: 2. External
A wind gust whipped at her hair and slapped it in her eyes. She struggled with her grocery bag, clutched tightly and her messy mane. She practically tumbled face-first as the door gave way with her insistence and she leaned heavily against the inside of it, catching her breath. The day had been agonizingly long and she was so ready to be holed up at home with her assigned reading.
She’d returned to the Ministry after exactly three weeks leave and happily joined her fellow trainees. Her progress report pleased her and at lunch she indulged with Harry in the break room.
“That’s so wonderful, Harry! Top marks! I’m so proud of you!”
He blushed slightly, “I was worried it’d be like school was, but I’m satisfied.”
“Harry, don’t be so modest! You’ve worked hard and now look at your reward!” she beamed from head to toe.
“Let’s see then!” he yanked her report from her hand and quickly read over it. His smile got bigger and brighter,
“Congratulations, Hermione!” he handed it back and crossed his arms over his chest.
It was her turn to blush, “Thank you.”
“Thank yourself, you earned it.” he grinned.
“Likewise!” she countered.
“Ah, Tesh! Where’s your’s, give it up!” Harry teased and held out his hand palm up.
Aleazar Tesh, an extremely tall and quiet gentleman. He graduated Hogwarts a few years ahead of them from Ravenclaw and took break, starting the program when Harry and Hermione did. He looked intimidating as hell. His black hair and dark eyes were soft to those that knew him. He had a way of standing over you without a word and it was enough to make your thoughts feel totally exposed. He was a gentle soul and honesty was his top quality. Though he could knock you for a loop during drills if you weren’t careful. He was lightning fast and even rivaled Harry in skill, though his self-confidence needed tuning. If Hermione couldn’t work with Harry, she eagerly chose Tesh.
Tesh hesitated, looking over to Hermione sheepishly, “All right.” he submitted and handed it to Harry.
Harry looked up in confusion, “But you haven’t opened it yet?”
Tesh shook his head, “No. Go on, I haven’t the stomach.” he winced.
“Merlin’s hat!” Hermione exclaimed and stole the envelope from Harry, promptly opening it and snapping the report straight.
She read aloud,
“Mr. Aleazar Tesh has displayed remarkable competence and valor. His test scores are outstanding and we are proud to have him on our team. Furthermore we would like to take this opportunity to include letters of recommendations and wish him continued success as he is formally passed to his next phase of training.”
The room erupted in hoots and praise, causing several to slap him on the back.
He looked down, furiously embarrassed. There was no denying compliments while under Hermione’s watch.
“Let’s celebrate.” Harry suggested. He was answered by Tesh’s shy smile and Hermione nodding approval.
“Grab Loremish and we’ll hit up The 3 Broomsticks when we’re done today.” Harry suggestion was received well but Tesh timidly asked,
“I really don’t like to slack off during the week. Maybe my house on Friday? When the week is completed?”
“An excellent idea!” Hermione grinned, “Small gathering though. Correct?”
Tesh nodded, “Just you, Harry and Loremish. Julia as well, of course.”
Harry nodded firmly, “Appreciate the invite, mate!”
They filed out of the break room and returned to post test reviews.
Hermione put away her groceries and grabbed her pile of mail. Taking a steady breath, she sifted through and sorted two piles. Priority and personal. Bills sorted, she pushed them away and flopped out her legs straight.
“I thought muggles received loads of junk mail!” she huffed and re-tied her ponytail. Sitting straight again, she arched her back to stretch and aimed to tackle the other pile.
Tesh sent a note for Friday’s gathering at his house. He proposed dinner and drinks.
Harry’s was to make sure she attended with him.
Her parents sent love and praise for her report.
Ron’s she scooted aside.
Ginny invited her for tea/shopping soon and to catch her up on events.
Another owl from Ron.
She pushed back from the table and flicked her wand at the stove. She worked the easy incantation for a light pasta dish and the ingredients flew from the cupboards and icebox, prepping themselves. She headed upstairs to a shower.
With some loose pajama pants and an oversized sweatshirt, she spelled her hair dry and padded barefoot back downstairs.
The dish being complete, she waved her wand wide and cleaned up.
She sat with her plate cooling, picking at her salad, pushing Ron’s notes around with her forefinger lazily. Stabbing her fork in the salad she unfolded the first.
“Mione, come to my Mum and Dad’s for supper.”
The second note read,
She quickly grabbed her quill and ink that sat in the middle of the table and scratched out her response,
‘Sorry, Ron. I already ate, but really I’ve studying to do. Thank you for the invitation, I do appreciate it. Give your parents my love if you would, please.
She winced, letting a slight hiss out of her mouth. It sounded horrid! She couldn’t bring herself to send him her love?
She grabbed the note again, but set it back down.
She didn’t want to send him love.
She didn’t feel it anymore.
With a constricted feeling in her throat, she sent off the note as it was. Flotsam spread his wings and swooped away into the sky. She watched as he grew smaller until he was but a speck to her eyes. She cleared her throat and went back to her salad, Crookshanks rubbing circles around her ankles.
Friday came quickly and Harry wandered around Hermione’s bedroom, plucking at random articles of clothing.
“You ok in there, Hermione?” he called out at her bathroom door.
She emerged dressed in black skinnys, flats and a cowl-necked dusty, gold sweater. Her hair was in a messy bun with a quill still stabbed in it.
He grinned, shaking his head but offered his arm.
“What?” her quizzical sideways glance made him clear his throat,
“Nothing.” he stated innocently.
As they descended the stairs she asked, “Where’s Ginny tonight?”
“She’s up visiting her parents this weekend. I’m dropping by Saturday, if you’d like to come along.”
She stopped to stand in front of him at the door. She sighed loudly and grabbed his arms,
“Sit for a moment. We need to talk.”
He obediently sat on the sofa and she joined him,
“Harry, I know that I really should be having this conversation with Ron, but I can’t just yet.”
She inhaled sharply,
“I’m not going with you Saturday nor am I for a long while. I’m still trying to get myself sorted… My feelings sorted. I don’t want to cause irreversible harm to anyone, including myself when I say this.” she shot upward and paced the room twice before she faced him again,
“I’m not in love with Ron.”
Harry sat quietly, searching her for any sign of emotion. All he saw was her blunt conviction.
He slapped his hands on his knees and stood,
“That settles it then?”
She looked away, “Trust me when I say this, but yes, it’s settled.”
“All right then.” he shuffled his foot nervously, “What can I do for you now?”
“Oh, Harry. Just support me. Of course Ron too, but don’t let him handle such a blow alone. I suspect he’s been feeling me pull away for some time. When I talk to him it may not go as well as I hope. I plan to do it soon.”
He nodded and she fell into his arms as he cradled her small frame. She pushed off, took a deep breath and exhaled with finality.
“We should be off then.” she offered her arm to him in mock-chivalry.
Tesh’s home was located on the far end of Closter Lane in the alcove. Directly next to his generous 3 storey Victorian, the private dock extended out to the lake behind it.
Standing on the porch, Hermione sucked in air, tasting the clean, sweet scent of the wildflowers that wafted to her in the breeze. Tesh swung the door wide, smiling,
“Harry! Hermione!” He grabbed them and shut the door. The robust smells smacked them stupid for a moment.
“Merlin’s great, crusty boxers! I hope that’s dinner!” she exclaimed, then immediately slapped her hands over her mouth.
Everyone but Harry roared with laughter. Harry dropped his jaw and stared at Hermione like she just flashed everyone her bum. Harry’s expression caused extended giggles and Julia hunched over holding her stomach, while Loremish wiped at tears in his eyes.
Nursing a stitch in her side, Julia drug Hermione out to the back deck. A round table was set for dinner for five. Fairy lights twinkled all along the deck’s railing and on the umbrella that hovered magically over the table. A large candelabra was set in the middle of the table, dripping black wax slowly from 12 candles. The cloth, chairs and dishes were in black and deep blue with the flatware sparkling bright silver as it reflected the light.
Julia shoved a glass of red wine in Hermione’s hand and leaned on the railing.
“Harry won’t answer my questions, so that being said…” she sipped from her glass, “Is it true?” she asked casually.
Hermione blinked for a second in confusion, then she leered at Julia, “Is what true?”
Julia threw her head back in a quiet, sultry laugh, “My trick almost worked.” she sipped again, “I was hoping there was only one thing to tell! Obviously you’ve several whats that may or may not be true!” she winked.
Hermione clicked her tongue and sipped from her glass.
“Ah, my slippery friend! I’ll out myself. No need to play games.”
Julia waited patiently, sipping her almost empty glass.
Hermione sighed heavily, “I separated from Ron. About a month ago. I’m fine. No details beyond that, I’m afraid.”
Julia raised an eyebrow and stared at Hermione more pointedly.
Hermione huffed, “I’m doing well, better in fact.”
Julia somehow managed to raise her brow higher.
“I’m having ‘the talk’ with him soon. I don’t love him anymore.”
Julia finally nodded abruptly and came to Hermione putting a firm hand on her arm. “Now that’s sorted. Take a breath and finish your wine, so I can get it refilled. I need someone to catch up with me.” she smiled wide and Hermione returned her smile eagerly.
Julia Bloodstone was one of the most gifted witches that she knew. She understood mannerisms, tones of voice and a person’s character within seconds of laying eyes on them. She was tall, about 5’10, with pale green eyes and short, cropped bleach-blonde hair that had random purple chunks in it. She was blunt and kind and extremely sensitive to others. Her intuitive nature was a blessing to those she called a friend. It was award winning in the interrogation exercises. Everyone swore she was a legilimens. She came from a long line of purebloods in America, Massachusetts.
The Auror-study team of the five had been placed together after initial assessments, based on personality and strengths. Kingsley wouldn’t dream of separating Harry from Hermione. Adding Loremish, Julia and Aleazar, he was sure would produce a team to be proud of. He worked with them personally.
Loremish Smithe was a brute, no way to candy-coat it. Being a half-blood, he submerged himself in sports to work off the frustrations of his classmates being slightly cautious of him. He managed to hide his magic well, though he grew up in a dominantly muggle town just on the outskirts of main London.
He and Harry hit it off immediately, but became close to Tesh because they both were large in stature. Loremish’s dirty blonde hair and ordinary blue eyes were deceiving. He was a fierce protector.
“I’m starved!” Loremish shouted as he came outside, slapping his hands together and stealing Hermione’s glass from her hand.
He drank it empty, refilled it, then proceeded to drink it halfway before he handed it back to Hermione, smiling.
Everyone now seated at the table, conversation flowed freely. Hermione became distant, the hum of their voices lulling her to distraction until she couldn’t decipher individual words.
Julia reached under the table and grasped her Hermione’s hand without looking at her. Hermione blinked rapidly and reached for her glass. Grinning behind it, she whispered to Julia.
“His sister wants to go on an outing for shopping and tea…. And I’m sure dishing out of secrets. I’m letting it cross my mind which I do first. Talk with Ron and break it off clean or tell Ginny.”
She shook her head, “It’s occupying my thoughts something horrid.”
“May I make a suggestion?” Julia whispered back.
“Tell Ron first.” she pointedly stated, “It’s not fair if he’s the last to know his own business.”
Hermione nodded in agreement.
“Who knows thus far?” Julia asked.
“Just Harry and now you.”
“Good. Get to it before the weekend is over. You’ve got too much riding on your career to lose focus.” she stopped and held out her hand to Hermione, “Let me finish.”
Hermione nodded her assent.
“You are never one to bring home along with you to work. I commend you. Let’s just not tempt fate. Besides, you’re distracted and that just plain sucks a big one. You need some resolution now. I can see it, almost smell it, Mione.”
“Huh!” Hermione blurted and set her forehead on Julia’s shoulder, giggling. “Blast it!” She sat straight and poked Loremish on her other side,
“Refill that for me!”
He refilled her glass distractedly, plunked the bottle back on the table and pat her knee as he talked over Tesh to Harry loudly.
“A bit of a hangover is what you need, my brother! Just pop the question already! Not like you’re up each others asses. She’s independent enough, a real professional athlete and you’re sure to both be able to make it work, for fuck’s sake!”
“Hermione disagrees there!” Harry retorted, making all three men look to her.
“Harry should finish his training. Ginny is committed too. All I think, as Harry’s nearest and dearest friend that I do know what’s best. Ginny isn’t going anywhere far from him. They should be absolutely sure before getting married.” Hermione defended her take it the subject.
“But, Hermione! Seriously? What difference will that make? Nothing is going to change between that pair of love struck fools! It’s beyond their control of it!”
“Maybe you’re right.” Hermione sighed.
“I know I’m right!” Loremish elbowed her and turned back to Harry.
“And when I’m right - I’m right!”
“What’s that?” Julia exclaimed suddenly.
Harry’s sheepish grin was comical, “I’ve already got the ring.”
He cautiously lifted his right hand and opened his fingers, revealing a small gold box.
Hermione clasped her fingers over her mouth in surprise!
“Tomorrow?!” her muffled voice came across the table to him.
“Yes.” he smiled.
“But I have to be there!” She blurted.
“I’d really like that, Hermoine.”
“I’ll be there!” she rushed around the table and practically bowled him over in a crushing hug. “You can count on me! You know that you can!”
He laughed and commented, “For a minute there, you sounded like Darth Vader.”
Loremish lost it completely, slapping the table and coughing. Leaving Julia and Tesh to look at each other and shrug.
The night wrapped up smoothly at just after eleven. Harry apparated with Hermione back to her house and bid her goodnight.
“I’ll be here about noon, lunchtime.”
She smiled at him, hugging him roughly, “I’ll be ready.”
“Ill owl Molly to set an extra seat for you.”
Her smile fell. Her smile fell so suddenly, he regretted his last statement.
“I’m sorry.” he fumbled with his hands, then shoved them in his pants pockets.
“No! No, no no! Harry I just had a thought, but I’ve worked it out now! It’s all right! It’s going to be just fine, I promise!”
She checked Crookshanks’s food and water dishes. Flotsam was puffed on his perch in the kitchen and only spared her a lazy glance.
“Ruddy crow.” she soothed at him affectionately.
Her nightly ritual held no comfort. Tomorrow, after lunch; she would tell Ron that it was over.
The mention of Darth Vader was a one time thing, owned by SW, George Lucas and is in no way mine. Any HP characters you recognise, I don't own- JKR all credit there.