Madelyn MacBain scanned the day’s itinerary for the fifth time. The Minister for Magic was going to be extraordinarily busy, which meant that she would also be extraordinarily busy. Assuring that Hermione Granger followed her schedule was more than a full-time job. On some days, it was a near impossible feat.
She pulled her glossy red hair into a tight bun and stood up from the oak desk in her small, windowless office. Her heels clacked down the hallway, echoing loudly against the black floor tiles as she made her way to see the Minister. She earned several nods of approval as she passed by other Ministry workers; they were mostly assistants like herself. To them, she was a role model. Working for the Minister for Magic was meant to be an honor, but deep down, Madelyn found it to be more stressful than anything. The woman she once looked up to had been making more mistakes than she could count, and covering for her was becoming increasingly difficult. She hardly ate, she hardly slept, and every time that someone had something bad to say about Hermione Granger, she snapped at them.
Fortunately, expensive concealer and pale foundation covered the deep bags under eyes, so when she waltzed into the Minister for Magic’s office, she looked just as professional as she did on her first day. Overwhelmed by nerves, she simply placed the itinerary on the large, bejeweled desk and held her hands behind her back, waiting for a reaction.
“Busy today, are we?” the Minister for Magic pointed out, looking over the schedule. She stretched and the sound of her cracking spine filled the cold, empty air. “Hearing, hearing, meeting, hearing, meeting, lunch meeting, hearing, meeting—Merlin’s beard! I suppose I shouldn’t have worn these shoes today.”
Madelyn gulped. “I c-can arrange a-another pair for you, if y-you’d like.”
Hermione shook her head and waved off the notion. “It’s all the same. I just hope things slow down after this since I’ll have the kids back home soon.” She stretched again. “Am I reading this one right? Drunk potion-making?”
Madelyn nodded. “He was trying to make a Beautification Potion, but started a fire instead. Aurors claim that the kitchen table was absolutely destroyed.”
Pursing her lips, Hermione set the itinerary back onto her desk. She laced her hands together. “So a man sets fire to his own kitchen table and our Aurors decided that was worthy of their resources? Somehow, I can’t imagine the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement would have signed off on an arrest like that.”
“I don’t know, M-Minister. Those were a-all the notes that I was given.”
Hermione nodded. “Well, I suppose I shouldn’t be late. What’s the first one again?” She peeked at the itinerary and cracked her neck. “Oh, of course! A fourteen-year-old girl cast ‘aguamenti’ because she got thirsty at a Vicious Ventus concert. No Muggles, even! Surely a magnificent use of my time.”
“Minister, a-are you o-okay?” Madelyn asked, her voice small. She had noticed that the Minister had been particularly tense, but never had she seen her as irate as she was in that exact moment. “You just seem upset.”
“Upset?” Hermione scoffed. “Annoyed is a better word for it—annoyed that the rest of the Ministry holds hearings for these absolutely ridiculous ‘crimes’.” She made air quotes. “I ought to be going. It’s a bit of a walk to the lift and down to Courtroom Six.”
With that, she stood and briskly walked out of her office.
The Department of Magical Law Enforcement had been staying active. Phoebe Humphries had taken it upon herself to distance the department from the Minister for Magic, because in her opinion, they were one tax cut away from having to perform a mass layoff. Unfortunately for her, Harry Potter had been getting in the way.
“It’s a waste of time, Phoebe,” he insisted, following her down the dimly lit hallway. “You can’t keep going on these missions without me and then forcing the paperwork on me later. It makes us look unprofessional!”
Her sharp blue eyes bore into him as she stopped in front of the lift. “I’m second-in-command for a reason, Potter. If you don’t trust me, fire me.” With that, she stepped onto the lift and held it open. “Coming?”
He clenched his jaw and joined her. As the lift jolted to life, he hissed, “I trust you, Phoebe. And I get why you’re doing it, but I promise you, it isn’t solving anything. We can’t keep bringing in people for harmless misdemeanors. It goes against all of my principles—and the Minister’s!”
“Ah yes, your best friend, the Minister,” Phoebe snarled, crossing her arms. “She would know best, wouldn’t she?”
“Drop the sarcasm,” he growled. “I’m serious, Humphries. No more senseless arrests. I can guarantee if she has to spend one more day overseeing these pointless hearings, she will be laying off Aurors.”
“Is that a threat?” Phoebe looked him up and down.
He shook his head. “I know Hermione Granger better than anyone. If she sees injustice, she’ll put an end to it—especially if that injustice robs her of her precious time. She already has enough on her plate.”
The lift jerked to a halt on the fourth floor. Two witches shuffled onboard and exchanged glances, mildly aware that they had interrupted an argument.
After a long morning of aimless meetings and trials, Hermione Granger was wildly incensed. The Ministry determined it was inappropriate to press charges against a fourteen-year-old girl for being dehydrated, and like the other cases that followed, the defendant walked free. Hermione found herself glaring at Phoebe Humphries and her brother-in-law a number of times, wondering what the Department of Magical Law Enforcement was thinking when they made such pitiful arrests.
The evening before, her husband had taken the bed before she had stepped out of the shower, leaving her to curl up on their uncomfortable couch. He spent an absurd amount of time on the sofa, which led to the development of a number of dips and crannies. One would never notice them until they decided to lay down on it. By the time that Hermione woke up, her neck and spine were so stiff that her usual spells proved to be futile.
“Another one,” she grumbled, thumbing through the paperwork. “Mr. Huckabee—”
“Y-yes, Minister!” The middle-aged defendant was as anxious as he was ardent to answer her. He had a large gap between his buckteeth and though he had tried, there was no way to hide his massive ears under his sandy blond hair. The awkward man did not belong in a courtroom.
“Mr. Huckabee,” Hermione repeated, lacing her hands together, “from what I’ve read, you were trying to brew a Beautification Potion and it did not go as planned. Is that right?”
He scratched the back of his neck. “Well, M-Minister, yes. Th-that’s right.”
Hermione pursed her lips. “You apparently had a few drinks before doing this. Were you aware that it is technically against the law to brew potions while drunk?” She shot a meaningful glare in Phoebe Humphries’s direction.
Jedidiah Huckabee frowned. “I d-didn’t, ma’am. N-not until M-Ms. Humphries informed m-me.”
“I figured as much,” Hermione mumbled. “And Ms. Humphries, as it was you that demanded Mr. Huckabee’s arrest, may I ask how you knew of the illegal activity? Considering that he was alone at the time of the incident, you must have heard about it at a later time?”
Phoebe’s face flushed. “Well, he was talking about it quite openly.”
“Where?” Hermione demanded, hurriedly flipping through the parchments in front of her. “I see nothing in the paperwork about the location of the confession.”
“At the Leaky bloody Cauldron,” Phoebe spat, leaning back and crossing her arms. “Look, Minister, I’m here to do my job and my job is to report crime. He committed a crime and he confessed in front of a room full of witnesses. The arrest was warranted.”
A warning was in Hermione's gaze. “Ms. Humphries, as I’ve told you and Mr. Potter before, I am of the opinion that these kinds of arrests are a waste of the Ministry’s time, as well as the defendants’ time. How many of these cases have to be thrown out before you stop filling out the paperwork? Do you feel good about robbing Mr. Huckabee of his time? Does it make you feel important?”
The Wizengamot stared at her, awestruck by the Minister’s lack of professionalism. Everybody knew that she hated pointless trials, but never had she so openly expressed it during one.
Phoebe ran her tongue over her teeth, her fury emanating off of her. “Minister, I believe it’s up to the Wizengamot to determine if we’re wasting anyone’s time. Can we get to the facts?”
“Alright, then, Ms. Humphries. Let’s get to the facts,” Hermione retorted, loudly straightening the parchments in front of her. “First fact: Mr. Huckabee had four bottles of Nickermann’s Dragon Ale. Second fact: he was home alone. Third fact: he brewed a potion—a Beautification Potion, to be more precise. Fourth fact: the potion went awry, just as it could have done if he were not under the influence of alcohol. Fifth fact: Mr. Huckabee incinerated his own kitchen table. Sixth fact: his confession took place in the Leaky Cauldron in front of a number of witnesses, including Ms. Humphries. Seventh fact: Ms. Humphries ordered Nelson Melman to arrest Mr. Huckabee in his home. Eighth fact: Nelson Melman himself refused to be here as it was not an adequate use of his time. Now, did I miss anything, Ms. Humphries, or was my summary to your liking?”
Phoebe coughed. “No, you didn’t miss anything.”
“Wonderful. Does anyone here have anything to add before we put this to a vote?” Hermione asked, her hand on her gavel as she looked around the courtroom.
Phoebe put her hand in the air. “Yes, Minister. I think we ought to be asking why he was brewing a Beautification Potion.”
“I don’t see why it’s a necessary detail.”
“Well, I would like to know,” Phoebe argued. “Mr. Huckabee, how do we know you didn’t have negative intentions with that potion?”
Hermione scoffed, but Phoebe had the right to ask. She had, after all, ordered the arrest.
Mr. Huckabee shifted in his seat as the panel of Ministry members stared down at him, awaiting his answer. He was a simple man, spending most of his time tending to his beloved Snargaluff plants. Never did he think he would be on trial before the Minister for Magic.
“Mr. Huckabee, if you would please answer the question so we can be done with this frivolous hearing,” Hermione asserted, shooting a dark look in Phoebe’s direction.
He cleared his throat. “I-it was for me.”
“Excuse me?” Phoebe asked, leaning forward in her seat. “We are expected to believe that you were brewing a women’s potion for yourself?”
His face flushed. “Well, you may not have noticed, Ms. Humphries, but I’m not the most attractive man. I-I asked a f-friend out and it didn’t go so well. I suppose I had a few too many drinks and got thinking it must’ve been because of, well, my f-face, ma’am. I remembered making the potion in school a-and thought I could r-remember it but I must’ve missed an ingredient or added one too many.”
Hermione clenched her jaw. “Are you happy with that answer, Ms. Humphries? Now that you’ve humiliated the defendant, can we finally get to the vote?”
“I suppose so,” Phoebe drawled.
It surprised nobody when the Wizengamot determined it was best to drop all of the charges against the Snargaluff farmer. Most hearings ended that way as magical crime was at an all-time low and reported crimes were mere misdemeanors. Hermione was tired of her time being wasted in courtrooms.
As the Wizengamot left the room and Jedidiah Huckabee was freed, Hermione pulled her childhood friend aside. “Harry, we need to talk.”
“I know,” he grumbled. “Hermione, I know you’re upset but you need to stay calm in the courts. Everything will be fine, okay? Ron will get over it—”
She furrowed her brow. “Ron? I was talking about Humphries. These arrests she’s ordering—well, let’s arrange a meeting.” Her eyes followed the last members of the Wizengamot as they filed out of the large, bronze door of Courtroom Two.
“I already talked to her,” Harry said. “I’ll chat with her again.”
“I just don’t know how this is slipping through the cracks, Harry,” she murmured, crossing her arms. “You’re the Head of the Department. Not her.”
He gritted his teeth. “So I’ve told her.”
Rubbing her temples, Hermione apologized. “Look, Harry, I’m sorry. I’m not trying to pry, I just can’t have anyone thinking that we’re tyrants here. There’s enough of that in the Muggle world. I’ve worked hard to flush the corruption out of this place and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“I’ll take care of it, alright? I promise.” He lightly touched her upper arm. “Hermione, are you okay? Ron said you ran off and now you seem so stressed all of a sudden. Then there was the dinner fiasco and all the articles.” He took a deep breath. “I just worry.”
“It’s nothing, really. Ron and I just need to figure some things out.”
“Ginny and I have plenty of space if you need somewhere for the kids to go while you two get it sorted,” he offered. “It has to be a lot what with his drinking and—”
“I’ve got it,” Hermione cut him off. “Honestly, Harry. We’ll be fine.”
He nodded, though he did not believe her. “Well, I’ll worry about Humphries. Just take care of yourself. I’m here if you decide you want to talk, okay?” With one final pat to her shoulder, he pushed open the bronze door and padded down the long corridor.
Hermione exhaled. There was no lying to Harry.
Ron Weasley had decided to take a bit of a break from working on his precious dung bomb. The deep depression of a failing marriage was taking its toll on his psyche and after failing at the marketing task that George had given him, he could not fathom another disappointment. Instead of working, he lay on the sofa, chugging firewhisky and enchanting Hugo’s toys to fight one another.
His stomach growled and he let out an annoyed sigh. He had finished the last of the prepackaged Cauldron Cakes and in order to buy more, he would have to go to Diagon Alley. He dropped his wand and swung his feet over the edge of the sofa. Drunkenly, he staggered towards the ice box and opened it, unsure what was inside. When he saw that there was virtually nothing, he groaned.
He plodded back to the living room and retrieved his wand from the floor. As his stomach growled again, he Apparated to the men’s restroom of the Leaky Cauldron.
Disoriented both from Apparating and his drunkenness, Ron stumbled out of the men’s bathroom and looked around the pub. It was a rather familiar sight. A messy-headed woman was behind the bar, scrubbing pint glasses with a dirty rag. Several regulars that could be wizards or could be squibs were sitting alone at their respective tables, eating the same meals that they ordered every day. It was the type of place that Ron pictured himself in when he was older, drinking and eating as much as he desired.
He sat down at a table in the corner and watched the waitress drop the rag and the glass that she had been cleaning. With a roll of her eyes, she trudged towards him.
“What can I get ya?”
“One of them roast beef sandwiches,” he replied, not even looking at the menu on the table. “Extra mustard.”
She furrowed her brow. “Did you not see the menu, sir? We don’t serve sandwiches.”
“Not since I’ve been workin’ here.”
He nodded, remembering that he once yelled at Hermione for not bringing him a sandwich when she visited the inn. Suddenly, he felt a pang of guilt. He was certain that they served them.
“I guess I’ll need to be lookin’ then,” he muttered. “Can I have a few minutes?”
She rolled her eyes again and went back to the bar. He felt her eyes on him as he looked over the menu, trying to determine what he wanted to eat. After several minutes, he waved her over and pointed to the game pie.
“I assume you’ll be wantin’ a drink with that, Mr. Weasley?” she presupposed, craning her neck as she scribbled down the order.
“A brandy would be nice,” he admitted. “Could you make it a big one?”
She nodded. “Absolutely, sweetie. After that whole thing with your wife and that handsome Death Eater of hers, who could blame ya for all your drinkin’?”
“What’s that s’posed to mean?” he asked through gritted teeth.
She shrugged. “I mean, not many women look at their husbands the way she was looking at that Malfoy bloke. The least a man in your position would do is drink a little.”
“Can you just get me the bloody brandy?”
With sadness in her eyes, she placed her frail hand on his. “Of course, pumpkin. It’s on the house.”
The day moved slowly. By the time that the Minister for Magic was finished with the final hearing, it was nearly eight o’ clock in the evening. Tired from the long workday, she Apparated home.
Ron was not in either of his usual spots in the house. He spent most of his time on the sofa or at the kitchen counter, so when Hermione saw that he was nowhere to be found, she was understandably confused. She called for him and walked down the hallway, her heels clacking against the hardwood floor as she made her way towards the bathroom. It was empty.
“Ron!” she called again, approaching the staircase. She yelled upwards. “Ron?”
When nobody responded, a small smile crept onto her face. After pulling off her shoes and her jacket, she twirled her wand. The shoes landed neatly beside the front door and her jacket hung itself up beside her favorite dragon-skin purse.
Her stomach growled, but she simply hushed it with a sustenance spell. Eager to enjoy her time away from her husband, she waltzed into her study and locked the door behind her. Immediately, she felt less stressed. The study had a way of doing that. She sat down at her desk and opened her old Arithmancy book, smiling as she thought about her visit with Draco. A teenage wizard stared back at her, wide-eyed.
Before she could even pull the picture out of the book, she heard her name being called. She rolled her eyes and closed the cover as Ron pounded on the door. He never left for long. Suddenly, she felt silly for thinking she could have an evening alone. Her husband always returned home, even if it was just to drink.
Defeated, she trudged to the door and opened it a crack, her dark eyes meeting Ron’s. “What do you want?”
He scratched the back of his neck. “Look, Hermione, I—I’m sorry.”
“For?” she asked, crossing her arms. She did not believe that his apology was genuine. Ron was notoriously selfish and remorse was an emotion that only empathetic people could feel. Hermione knew that he wanted something in return. She just didn’t know what it was.
“Well, y’know, the gala. I was an arse.”
She nodded, stiffly, still unconvinced. “Yes, you were. Thanks for that.”
He stared at her, taking in every line of her face. “And d’you have somethin’ to say to me?”
“I already thanked you,” she said, coldly. “What else do you want?”
“Oh, I dunno, Hermione!” he shouted, throwing his hands up in the air. “An apology, maybe? For running off? For the restaurant? The gala? The Malfoy thing?”
“I have nothing to be sorry for. I haven’t done anything wrong.” While she knew that was not entirely true, she did not feel that she needed to justify herself to her foul husband. His apology was nothing more than a way for him to wrestle her into admitting guilt. She was too clever to fall for it.
“Are you serious?” he scoffed, towering over her. “You know, I don’t think you were even at a motel the other night.”
“Well, you would be wrong, then, Ronald,” she spat, even though it was a lie. “You know, usually when you come to apologize to someone, you’re not supposed to begin accusing them all in the same breath.”
“I’m not the only one that’s done wrong here, Hermione,” he said, venom in his tone. He bent over, bringing his face dangerously close to hers. “Excuse me for wanting to know what my wife has been doing behind my back.”
She leered at him. “No worse than what you do right in front of me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he growled, balling his fists.
Hermione sighed, taking a step back. “The kids are going to be coming home for holiday soon. We can’t act like this in front of them. They can’t see you like this.”
“Like what?” he asked, narrowing his eyes. “They can’t see me like what, exactly, Hermione?”
“Oh Merlin, Ron, you know exactly what I mean. You’re drunk, you’re tetchy, you’re irresponsible, you can’t keep the house tidy. It’s bad for the children, so you need to quit it. While they’re here, you need to behave.”
He stared at her for another moment, the severest form of pure hatred in the depths of his azure eyes. Before he could say anything else, Hermione shut the door in his face and locked it.
“You’re sleeping on the sofa again tonight!” he shouted, the closed door muffling his voice only minutely. “It’s your turn to deal with all the backaches!”
Hermione stretched her spine and went back to her desk. As she buried her face in her hands, she wondered if her brother-in-law and Draco Malfoy were right. Perhaps, she needed to reevaluate their holiday plans. Perhaps, she was wrong to let Ron be around their children at all.
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