Thursday morning Hermione awoke bleary eyed with a stuffy nose and one hell of a headache. When she checked the mirror, it was obvious by her puffy face and red nostrils that she had spent most of the night crying.
She showered and went to work with glamour charms to cover most of it. She fed Crookshanks his breakfast and checked the Muggle weather.
“Surprising… rain in London,” she commented to Crookshanks.
With her coat and a cup of coffee, she locked up and walked to work. Every morning for Hermione Granger had gone this way for the last four months. After the fallout with Ron, Hermione finished school living with Harry and Ginny. All were thankful it was only for a month; her living with them had put a damper on Harry and Ginny’s love life.
Then she moved into her Muggle flat, which was still extremely bare, even more so now due to the packing she had done the night before. She hadn’t had a single visitor, other than Harry and Ginny. She hadn’t used the stove, aside from reheating her delivered pizza. After all, she had no one to cook for; it just wasn’t worth the effort for her alone. She didn’t have a couch; a lone recliner in front of her telly was all that occupied her wasteland of a living room. Her bedroom held only her bed, which was rarely made, and a wardrobe.
She wore the same basic thing everyday: white bra, white knickers, jeans, a plain colored t-shirt, and her trainers. Every day. The only difference in her day-to-day appearance was the color of her t-shirt. Her hair was always in a pony or bun. She washed it; towel dried it (even though she knew that contributed to its frizziness); and pulled it right up on top of her head. She never bothered with makeup, though if she had she might have acquired one of those illusive dates. She felt no need to fix herself up. She had no one to look good for.
Unlike many of her peers, Hermione chose to live a fairly Muggle life. Her apartment was devoid of talking mirrors, or enchanted brooms. She did everything the Muggle way and found great pleasure in doing so. This was mainly because if she did it by magic, she would have found herself with even more idle alone-time and if she had anymore of that on her hands she would need to go ahead and move to St. Mungo’s.
Rather than Apparate or use Floo powder, Hermione chose to go to the Ministry the Muggle way, by tube. She found the metro calming and it intrigued her, the busy lives of oblivious Muggles. They had no clue of the war that had raged in the Wizarding world, of the lives that were lost. They lived believing magic was something found in fairytales.
As she sat watching a dapper looking gentleman in a dark blue suit reading his morning paper, she wondered what he would do if she pulled out her wand and levitated his reading material above his head. Thoughts like those often gave her a small smile and lifted her spirits, if only marginally.
Due to her choice of transport, she always had to use the Visitors entrance but this didn’t bother her at all. She went about her workday as dutifully as she had gone about taking notes and studying at Hogwarts. She ate lunch alone, on the street watching energetic Muggles in their shiny cars. If she were lucky, Harry, Tonks, or even Ginny would stop by and ask her to join them.
Hermione felt like she lived in purgatory; neither in heaven nor hell. She didn’t feel she had a place in the Muggle world or in the Wizarding world anymore. She felt invisible. If someone had told her she was severely depressed, she would have scoffed and made some tart reply. She never realized that there was, indeed, a dark cloud hanging over her at all times, blocking the sunshine from her life. In fact, that cloud had been present since the day she cursed Ron. It hung about weighing down her heart like a Dementor’s fog. It seemed nothing could cut through that darkness and return the joy to her eyes.
She had yet to be sent on a real assignment, real meaning dangerous. This that she was now assigned to would be her first and last ‘real’ assignment. She already worked out that, aside from transferring information, she wouldn’t work; or rather, she wouldn’t be allowed to work.
Remus was right. The Malfoys were most certainly not hurting for money. No doubt, they didn’t like giving hefty amounts to the Ministry due to taxes, but they were by no means going into the poor house. Granted, they had lost most of the respect and social standing with the wizarding community they had once had, but as always, large amounts of money could easily buy respect.
They, unlike many of the other Pureblood families, weren’t having issues with their business arrangements and transactions. It didn’t hurt matters any that the Malfoys continued to associate and do their dealings with the less than reputable members of society.
No, Hermione was quite sure that Draco would be adamantly against his wife working. Hermione had never lived a lifestyle like the Malfoys were used to living, but she knew that men like that were highly offended by their wives being employed. It insulted their masculinity, their ability to provide and be the head of the house. They may have been at the top of the darker society, but they still had an image to maintain on all fronts.
If Hermione worked, goodMerlin, the wizarding world might actually think she needed to. There was no way that would be admissible, not by the Malfoys anyway. Aside from reasons of reputation, it was completely pointless to work when you had as much money as those people did. A wife’s employment was to spend those vast fortunes.
She would make the most of her final two real workdays. She would miss Harry fiercely, and Tonks as well. They were the only Aurors she had much contact with on a day-to-day basis. The others were always out in the field. Hermione, being the junior member, had to do all of the tedious book research and paper work. Sometimes, she suspected that this had not so much to do with her time in but more to do with her general work ethic.
After all, who didn’t know how good Hermione Granger was at researching, taking notes, and studying? Even so, it only helped to reinforce her feelings of uselessness.
She wanted desperately to have a purpose again. Harry no longer needed her to outwit Death Eaters and Dark Lords; when he did need help, he was surrounded by far more experienced Aurors than she.
This was part of the reason behind her acceptance of the mission. She wanted to be useful to the Wizarding world again. She wanted to do something with her life, something other than filing paperwork. She wanted to influence the world, to change it for the better.
The other part was that, she honestly had no valid reason to turn it down. She didn’t, truthfully, have anyone in her life: no family or boyfriend; and her friends were so busy she rarely saw them outside of the office.
Hermione walked up to her cubicle and looked at her desk, it -like her home- was completely bare, save the one picture from sixth year at Hogwarts of her, Harry, and Ron, all smiling brightly at each other and the camera.
Better times, she thought sadly.
She looked around the bustling office; everyone was busy. Most were chatting animatedly amongst themselves; others were rushing in and out. Hundreds of paper airplanes zipped around the ceiling, occasionally crashing into one of the taller men who stood too suddenly. Owls swooped in delivering mail.
A large group had formed in the meeting room and she could see Lupin standing at the head of the table again. She narrowed her eyes when Harry’s face became visible through the glass window that she was looking. He was standing and visibly arguing with Lupin, who was hanging his head in defeat. Harry stormed out of the room, his face red with anger and his hands running through his hair.
Hermione wanted to chase after him and find out what was the matter, but instead, she sat at her desk and waited. She knew the work would arrive soon. It always did.
Sure enough, she had not been sitting two minutes when a paper airplane zoomed into her cubicle and landed smoothly on her empty desk.
Hermione unfolded the memo and read the note.
When you arrive and get this, please proceed to Moody’s office. Your instructor will meet you there.
- R. Lupin
Hermione stood and gathered her things up again and made for Moody’s office.
Upon reaching the mad man’s workroom, she found him to be absent and an elderly woman in his place.
“Professor McGonagall?” Hermione asked, as she looked at the very familiar black, feathered hat before her.
The woman turned around.
“Oh, Ms. Granger! It’s been far too many years!” She stood and hugged her former student tightly.
“Are you my… etiquette… instructor?”
“Yes, dear,” the woman smiled at her.
“Wow, not what I was expecting… what are we doing today?”
“Oh, I’m taking you back to Hogwart’s. We’ll work there today and tomorrow. I really shouldn’t be gone from the school all day, you know,” the professor smiled and started leading Hermione to the Atrium.
“It’s been so long since I’ve been there,” Hermione said in a whisper with a smile.
She was extremely excited to be returning to her school. It felt like going home after a great many years away. If anything could lift the darkness of her depression, it would most likely be a holiday at Hogwarts, if only she were able to take that holiday. It would have been even better if Dumbledore was still there but times change, war had come and people had died.
Hermione stepped into one of the outgoing fireplaces and tossed down her powder, saying clearly, ‘Hogwarts’. The only fireplace on the network was in the Headmaster’s office now.
She stepped out and examined the room, which was almost the same as it had always been. She felt the warm glow of nostalgia wash over her and smiled involuntarily.
“Ah, Ms. Granger, it’s been too long,” a familiar voice said, and Hermione spun around half expecting to see the old man standing there with her. Instead he was smiling, twinkling, at her from his portrait above McGonagall’s desk.
“At least Potter didn’t come along for the reunion,” another voice added bitterly.
Hermione couldn’t help but laugh as she looked over at her old potions professor’s scowling portrait.
“It’s good to see you, Professors Snape and Dumbledore,” she replied with tears glistening in her eyes. The two former headmaster’s looked back at her, one smiling brightly the other glaring.
McGonagall stepped out of the fireplace behind Hermione.
“You would never believe what I have to deal with from those two all day, worse than the first-years they both are,” she muttered as she rounded the desk and took a seat, smiling at Hermione.
Hermione chuckled and looked at the two pictures again. Dumbledore continued to smile at her warmly; Snape only stared. Finally, he huffed, turned and stalked out of his portrait; his robes billowed behind him even on canvas.
“Oh, Severus, you really must lighten up,” the elder man said with a chuckle.
McGonagall only shook her head and waived her hand at one of the chairs for Hermione to sit.
“So, Remus told me of your…upcoming assignment,” the headmistress finally broke the silence.
Hermione could only nod.
“Are you sure you want to go through with it? I imagine he’s asked you several times but… are you… sure?” she asked.
“Yes, Professor, I’m positive. I’ve thought about it a great deal and…I’m doing it. Too many people have sacrificed their lives,” she said as she glanced up at Dumbledore, “for us to sit by and let another Dark Lord rise.”
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows and absentmindedly stroked his long beard.
“It won’t be the same if it comes, Ms. Granger. Never will they be as bold as Tom was. They’ll hide in the shadows, biding their time. They’ll attack in the darkness through manipulation and influence. They won’t be so bent on the death of one young boy. They won’t be afraid to work slowly,” Dumbledore said cryptically from his picture and smiled at the girl again, bringing fresh tears to her eyes.
“Oh, Albus, enough of that rubbish. You can’t know anything for sure,” McGonagall said as she turned to look at the old headmaster and shake her head at him.
“Quite right, Minerva, quite right. Nothing is written in stone,” he winked at Hermione. “Perhaps Ms. Granger will accomplish a great deal with a small amount of effort.”
He smiled at her knowingly before walking out of his portrait too.
“He’s always filling my ears with that nonsense, silly riddles, making predictions from a portrait. It’s like he never died, I tell you,” the old woman mumbled to herself as she shuffled through parchments.
Hermione ginned as she watched her former professor; the woman had aged quite a bit since Hermione had last seen her.
She glanced around the room again, taking in the relics that remained after all those years: Gryffindor’s sword; Fawkes’s perch; Dumbledore’s pensieve; a large black cauldron, embellished with two large S’s; old Phineas Nigellus’ portrait- they all brought back memories, both good and bad.
“It feels so good to be back here. It’s the only place I felt I had a place. The only place where I felt whole.” Hermione sighed, fighting back the tears that threatened to fall again.
The headmaster looked up at her and smiled sweetly.
“Perhaps you should apply for a teaching position when one opens.”
“Oh…” Hermione’s heart skipped and she grinned at the thought; but then she stopped and remembered her earlier thoughts, “I’m sure I won’t be working anymore after… but if anything changes, I would like nothing more. Being an Auror isn’t quite… what I wanted for myself.”
“All right, dear. Just remember you’re always welcome here.” She shifted one final stack of parchments before clasping her hands and looking thoughtfully at the girl before her, “Now, where to begin, tell me what you know of formal etiquette, please.”
“Well, elbows off the table, don’t talk with your mouth full, silverware goes from the outside in, don’t interrupt… general… manners I suppose,” Hermione said, remembering the childhood lessons her mother had taught her so many, long years before.
“Well, there’s a lot more that you must know. A family like theirs is almost always formal. Even family dinner will probably be formal-”
“What, you mean when it’s just me and Draco and his parents… it will be a formal dinner?”
“Yes, most likely…”
“As in… suit and dresses formal?”
“I have never dined at Malfoy Manor, Ms. Granger, but I would assume so.”
Hermione sighed and rested her forehead on her palm.
“Posture is very important. At dinner, at parties, in public, you must carry yourself well. Stop slouching. Back straight, sit up, chin up, shoulders back. That’s the first thing you should work on because it is the hardest to correct.”
Hermione immediately dropped her arm and righted herself by the professor’s instructions.
“Good, now stay that way. At formal gatherings everyone will address Draco as Lord Malfoy, because of his title,” she said the word with disdain, “and you as Lady Malfoy. However, at casual and family gatherings I’m sure they go by given names, if they don’t they are truly the most arrogant, pretentious lot I’ve ever seen.”
Hermione snorted at that.
“Do not do that again, Ms. Granger.”
The whole of Thursday continued in this manner and by the time Hermione floo’d back to her apartment she was exhausted. However, she was certain she could pull off this whole ‘Lady Malfoy’ thing and well at that.
Friday was the same as Thursday except McGonagall sent Hermione back to the ministry at three pm with a hug and a wish of luck. Hermione made her way up to the Auror department in search of Lupin or Harry. Their offices were empty, as was the meeting room.
Curious, Hermione began searching the rest of the floor. After being unable to find anyone that could tell her of either man’s whereabouts she decided to check in with Shacklebolt.
She approached the Minister’s office and immediately heard Harry yelling.
She hurried to the door and knocked.
“Enter,” came Kingsley’s deep voice.
She slowly pushed the door open, praying the Malfoys weren’t inside. She sighed in relief when she found only Harry, Remus, and Mad Eye with the Minister.
“Ms. Granger, I’m glad you’re here. We were just discussing you.” Kingsley motioned to a chair for her to sit in.
Harry paced in front of the window, his hands tugging at his hair. Hermione shook her head at him; he’d pull it all out by the time he hit thirty if he kept up that habit.
“I still don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.” He furrowed his brows and shut his eyes tightly, as though trying to fight away the headache he had, no doubt, pulled upon himself, “I don’t think it’s a good idea, Kingsley. Something could happen and we’d never know…” Harry said turning to face the Minister again; he was obviously bordering on hysteria, his green eyes were wide and darted almost as wildly as Mad Eye’s magical one.
“I think she is fully capable of taking care of herself, Potter. I don’t think Malfoy would subject himself to marrying a Muggleborn if he was just going to turn around and lock her in the dungeons or torture her,” Kingsley replied.
Hermione’s eyes widened.
“If you’re trying to talk me out of it, Shacklebolt, you’re on the right track,” she told him after a moment and smiled mischievously.
“Please… continue then, Kingsley,” Harry said and waited hopefully, missing entirely the grin and sarcasm in the woman’s voice.
Kingsley shook his head and turned away from them. When he didn’t attempt to dissuade Hermione, Harry began his frenzied pacing again.
“Are you still sure about this, Hermione?” Remus asked her.
“Yes, I haven’t changed my mind and I’ve had time to think about it… that is unless Kingsley has anymore disturbing images to impart upon me.” She looked at Kingsley with a smile.
Mad Eye watched her closely for several minutes, his crazy eye examining her and spinning madly. It was unnerving and finally, she looked at him.
“Mad Eye, please stop.”
“Sorry, Granger. I think she’s fine for the job, Potter. She’s not scared. Maybe things will work out better than expected.” Mad Eye looked to Harry.
Harry turned, his mouth hanging open, let out a scoff of frustration, threw his hands in the air in exasperation, and stormed out of the room, slamming the door in his wake.