Two days later, Hermione was back at work bright and early. She’d spent most of her weekend getting her apartment back and settled into. She’d purposely kept herself so busy that she hadn’t had time to even think about Draco and his ultimatum.
When she walked into the Auror department on Monday morning, she was assailed by raucous clapping and cheering from every Auror present. Tonks pulled Hermione into a huge hug, beaming. Gary, who looked fully recovered, clapped her on the back while Neville cheered, “The Hunters AND the curse makers at once! That’s our Hermione!”
Harry came out of his office to see what all the commotion was about. He broke into a smile as he saw Hermione and realized how uncomfortable she was with all of the attention. He beckoned her to come into his office.
“Don’t be too hard on her, Potter!” Tonks called, grinning broadly.
Hermione practically ran into Harry’s office, eager to escape the suffocating praise. Harry shut the door behind them. Once they were both seated, Harry began. “First off, I want you to know that Bryce Goldberg is suspended for three weeks without pay for striking you,” he said, pushing a piece of parchment across the desk to her as proof.
Hermione barely glanced at it. “So, do I get an apology from the Minister?” she asked cheekily, leaning back in her chair.
Harry smiled ruefully. “I wouldn’t hold your breath. But there’s a press release scheduled for this afternoon, if you’d like to speak at it.”
Hermione shook her head. While there was nothing she liked better than solving cases, she preferred to let the Auror Department as a whole take the credit.
“Okay,” Harry said easily. It was his job to speak at the press conferences on behalf of his department and he didn’t mind a bit. “Now, as to your job...”
Hermione couldn’t help scooting to the edge of her chair anxiously.
“Managing to bring in not one, but two hostile crime groups at once is something no Auror has done before,” he said, smiling at his best friend. “You’ve been promoted to a Senior Auror like Kingsley and Tonks.”
Hermione gasped. It was unprecedented for an Auror as young as she to attain such a high rank (well, except for Harry, of course).
Harry went on. “You’ll have the first pick of cases, as well as a desk in the Senior Aurors’ office, instead of out there in the bullpen.”
“Thank you, Harry!” Hermione exclaimed, unable to believe how much she was being rewarded. The logical side of her brain, however, was suspicious of Harry’s sudden change of heart and led her to question, “Is this your doing or the Minister’s?”
Harry turned slightly red and he seemed to fidget a little. “Well...it was the Minister’s. He wanted to reward your efforts of yesterday.”
Hermione frowned, looking at Harry warily. The last she’d heard, the Minister wasn’t exactly very pleased with her.
With the air of wanting to get it over with quickly, Harry handed her a piece of parchment with times and Ministry rooms on it. “This is the schedule of the trials,” he explained. “You’ll need to attend the ones that are circled so you can give testimony to put away the criminals that were arrested Friday.” He still looked nervous, and Hermione simply couldn’t understand why.
Then she glanced down at the parchment. The circled trial dates were mostly names she didn’t know, but she did recognize Lorelei’s name on there, along with August and Dmitri. More interesting, however, were the dates that weren’t circled. The Hunters were on the list of trials that Hermione was not expected to attend. Consequently, the trials for the Hunters were at the same times as the ones from Lorelei’s group. Her eyes flew up to Harry’s. “I’m not to attend the trials for the Hunters?” she asked, her voice hard.
Harry flinched at her angry expression and reached for an opened letter on his desk. He summarized the contents for her. “Minister O’Bannion appreciates your assistance in arresting these dangerous criminals,” he said dully. “He also appreciates the dedication you have put forth thus far in your career and sees great things for you in the future. Your help is needed to put all of these criminals away for life.” Harry looked up guardedly. “The word ‘all’ is underlined.”
“He wants me to put the Hunters away,” Hermione stated bluntly, feeling cold all of a sudden. “This promotion is a bribe. He wants me to keep quiet about their contribution to Lorelei’s capture so they can focus on the bad things they’ve done!” she realized aloud.
Harry flushed but said, “In a nutshell, yes.”
“I can’t do that!” she cried, standing up angrily. “It goes against everything that I—and you—believe in! I would have died without them!”
Harry went from looking ashamed to frustrated. “Oh, come off it, Hermione! These aren’t exactly choir angels we’re talking about. We’ve tested their wands, and every single one has used the Cruciatus Curse in the past six months! By that alone, they’re already condemned. You don’t need to testify to their transgressions, you just need to keep quiet about what they did yesterday.
“You can’t ask me to do that, Harry,” Hermione said quietly.
And then, with the air of one playing the trump card, Harry said softly, “Do you think that Malfoy’s excuse of ‘Everyone in my family has an M on their wrist’ fooled anyone? Do you think that the Aurors and the Magical Law Enforcement Squad missed the fact that the Hunters reappeared at Malfoy’s house? We know that he’s their leader, without a shadow of a doubt. As easily as he was pardoned, he can be unpardoned.”
“You’re threatening me?” Hermione gasped, still standing.
“I’m only passing on what the Minister has said,” Harry said.
Hermione could tell that this was only upsetting him because he didn’t like upsetting her, not because it was morally wrong. The thought made her feel even sicker.
“The trials start next week, so you don’t have to let me know this second what you decide.”
“What exactly am I deciding?” Hermione asked, trying not to show how upset she was.
“Whether you’re going to do the right thing and stick with the Ministry on this, or whether you’re going to stick up for the Hunters and humiliate yourself in front of the Ministry officials,” Harry said, wincing slightly at the impact that he knew his words would have.
He watched Hermione’s face fall and tears spring to her eyes.
“Since the trials start Monday, let me know by Friday what you’ve decided. You might as well take the week off,” he said, trying to ignore the crushed look on his friend’s face. “The Minister doesn’t want you speaking about this to the other Aurors.”
Hermione took one more, tear-filled look at Harry before she fled his office. For the better part of a half-hour, she hid in the bathroom, allowing herself those minutes for mindless self-pity. In effect, she was being forced to choose between Harry and Draco...and between the Aurors and the Hunters. There was simply no way for her to have both.
“I’m not going to get emotional about this,” Hermione sniffed, wiping her eyes and nose carefully. “I’m going to go home, relax, and I’ll think about this later.”
And that was how, twenty minutes later, Hermione Granger was pacing around the kitchen of her apartment, not relaxing, and thinking about exactly what she didn’t want to think about. She grumbled to herself as she paced, muttering about men and how ridiculous her situation was. She was oblivious to the fact that Romeo, her cat, was following her around the kitchen closely, his blue eyes focused intently on the uneaten ham sandwich that his mistress held in her right hand.
“You know what?” she said, stopping suddenly. Romeo crashed into the back of her legs. “I’m going to visit Fred and George. I am not going to think about this now.” Romeo let out an indignant meow as he ruffled his fur. “I’m sorry, Romeo,” Hermione cooed, bending down to rub his ears. She pulled a piece of ham from her sandwich and fed it to her feline friend. The cat purred happily.
After changing into jeans and a t-shirt, Hermione flooed to the Leaky Cauldron. She waved to Tom as she passed the bartender and made her way to Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. The shop was nearly empty on this fall Monday morning. School had just begun, meaning that Hogwarts now held the bulk of the twins’ customers.
Hermione heard her name in surround sound as Fred and George popped up on either side of her.
“It’s great to see you!” Fred exclaimed.
“We haven’t seen you in months,” George said, an uncharacteristic frown on his face.
“I know, I’m sorry,” she muttered, looking down unhappily. Even in the presence of her cheerful friends, the gravity of her situation weighed heavily on her shoulders.
The twins picked up on Hermione’s depression and immediately sprung into action. “You need one of our patented Daydream Charms,” Fred said, grabbing one of Hermione’s arms.
“No,” Hermione protested. “I do not need—”
“Yes, you do,” George interrupted, grabbing her other arm and marching her over to the large display of Daydream Charms. George grabbed one off the shelf and pushed it into Hermione’s hands. “Here you go, free of charge.”
“And we’ll know if you don’t use it,” Fred said, trying—and failing—to look ominous.
Hermione sighed and tucked the box into her purse. “Any chance you have any sort of ‘decision-making’ charms back there?”
“What’s going on?” Fred asked. The joking ceased as he and George noticed how genuinely unhappy she really was.
The only customer in the shop left and George quickly shut the door behind him, changing their sign to “Closed for Lunch.”
“Come on upstairs and eat lunch with us, Hermione,” Fred coaxed. “If I know you—and I do—you haven’t told anyone what’s bothering you. That’s not healthy.”
Coming from the inventor of Nosebleed Nougats and Fainting Fancies, Hermione thought that it was a bit hypocritical for him to be talking about healthiness, but she made no protest as her friends led her upstairs to their apartment.
While Fred moved around in the kitchen getting out teacups, plates, and sandwich-making materials because it was “his turn,” George and Hermione sat down at the table, which George had hastily cleaned off moments earlier.
“So....?” he cajoled.
“I really don’t want to talk about it,” she moaned, letting her head hit the table with an unceremonious thud.
“Then I shan’t push you,” George said gaily, realizing he’d have a better chance persuading her once Fred returned. He pulled out his wand and waved it in a looping motion. A deafening bell sound rang loudly throughout the room. “Oi! Garçon! We’re hungry!” he bellowed.
“Bugger off, I’m hurrying!” Fred shouted from the kitchen.
Though Fred and George were hilarious, Hermione found it difficult to concentrate on them. She stared off into space absentmindedly.
Fred was theatrically arranging cups of tea on the table and George was eagerly starting on the sandwich he’d been served when Hermione asked the twins thoughtfully, “If you had to choose between the Ministry of Magic and your morals, what would you choose?” She was suddenly desperate for an outsider’s opinion.
George choked on his sandwich in a fit of laughter. Fred pounded him on the back enthusiastically and answered, “My dear Hermione, do you not remember mine and George’s rather epic escape from Hogwarts in our 7th year? I’d say we would choose our morals over the Ministry any day!”
“Screw the Ministry, Hermione,” George said, coughing. “They may mean well, but ultimately they’re out to protect their own image and that’s all. You need to be true to yourself.”
“O’Bannion isn’t the worst Minister we’ve ever had, but he’s just like the others, worried about how he looks more than what he does,” Fred continued.
Hermione was amused by the fact that even years later, the twins still carried one side of a conversation seamlessly between them. “Yes, but without the Ministry, I don’t have a career,” she said ruefully, taking a thoughtful bite of the sandwich Fred had made her. “Your marketable skills don’t require the Ministry, but mine does.”
Fred frowned thoughtfully, but George spoke up. “Your brain isn’t just good for tracking dark wizards on behalf of the Aurors, Hermione. I’m sure there’s plenty of other jobs you could do.”
“You can’t let the Ministry force you to choose between them and your conscience. You’ll never be happy if you do.”
They had a point, Hermione realized as the conversation turned silly. Up until this point, she’d let herself think that she was alone in this situation, that she was the only one who had ever had to make a hard choice when it came to the Ministry. But she wasn’t. Fred and George had gone through this too, and they’d made it through all right, right?
She ducked as a biscuit thrown by Fred went flying over her head towards George. She was wrong to get so down on herself. She was a Gryffindor, and had been top of her year when she graduated from Hogwarts. She could handle this. She could handle anything.
With a grin on her face, Hermione dug into the delicious cold chicken sandwich and joined in the twins’ conversation with gusto.
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