The office of Gob Strothers was in a state of disarray. Granted, it always was, but on that Tuesday, it was peculiarly disorganized, even for him. As usual, there was hit piece from a rather unknown tabloid regarding the Minister for Magic, and like always, damage control would be wholly necessary. Of course, the writer had no proof of the allegations, but it was always easier to warn the Daily Prophet than it was to let such a piece become their purported truth.
Hoping to control the narrative as well as he possibly could, Gob pressed his quill to the branded parchment before him. The words he desired to write ached to flow from his hand, but they did not. He cursed to himself. The inkwell that he had been using for weeks had finally dried up and to his annoyance, there was no more ink in any of his desk drawers. He rifled through each and every hidden compartment, careful not to bump into any of his many stacks of newspapers. Unfortunately, a knock on the door made him jump and papers scattered everywhere, anyway.
After a throaty scowl, he shouted, "Come in!"
The door cracked open and he looked up, expecting to see a meek Madelyn MacBain. She was, after all, his most frequent visitor as of late. However, he was pleasantly surprised. Sharp blue eyes stared back at him and the door slammed shut.
"Phoebe Humphries," he greeted her. "I must say, I didn't expect to see you on this fine morning."
The Auror wove between the many stacks of books and newspapers until she found the chair across from him. With her legs crossed and a smirk on her face, she replied, "Let's just say I had an interesting run-in with the Minister for Magic's husband this morning."
"Yes, it surprised me too." Humphries pushed her dark hair behind her ear. "You know that he and the Minister aren't living together right now? She's staying with Potter."
"Of course I knew that," Gob scoffed, quickly losing interest. He flicked his wand and all of the newspapers restacked themselves. "Is that what you came here to tell me?"
"No, actually." She cracked her knuckles, earning a grimace from Gob. "Weasley hexed his brother and tried to steal some merchandise from his shop, so naturally, I thought it might be an opportunity to coax some information out of him. Too self-righteous, that one. Couldn't get him to implicate her—not even in exchange for a lightened sentence. Confirmed that she did take off for a night, though. I thought that may be noteworthy."
"Did he say where to?"
She shook her head. "Might've been with Malfoy, might've been just getting away from the imbecilic drunk. Who knows."
"MacBain has been instructed to keep watch of her schedule." Gob chewed on the inside of his cheek, making a mental note to have a talk with the Minister's virtually useless assistant. "It seems she's not doing a very good job of it."
"It would be better for us if Granger doesn't feel any pressure," Humphries said, disapprovingly. "The more free rein we give her, the faster she's going to slip up."
The Minister for Magic kept him busy enough without being given free rein. Hermione Granger's constant disregard for her public image did provide job security, but if she lost her position, he lost his too. The missteps that she had already made would certainly keep him employed until the end of her time in office. "I'm not trying to lose my job, Humphries."
Humphries craned her neck. "What about a promotion?"
"What in Merlin's name are you talking about?" Gob was the top public relations advisor for the Minister for Magic. There was no higher position in his field.
"Well, if Granger's out of office, someone has to take her place," she elaborated, a conniving smirk plastered on her face. "Why not you?"
"Me?" Gob laughed. "You can't be serious."
"But I am! Imagine! The public already knows you. They trust you!" The excited woman was making wild gesticulations. "There isn't a more perfect candidate, Strothers. Nobody could compete if you were to run. Not with the way you understand the public."
"Understanding the public hardly makes me qualified to be Minister for Magic, Phoebe."
"It does, though, doesn't it? All you have to do is convince them that you'll do whatever they want," Humphries pressed. "You could have them wrapped around your wand. Just think about it for a moment. Really picture it. That big office, the spotlight, the gold. You could have everything, Strothers. But there's no chance if she's still in office. We have to get her out."
"I'm not convinced," he replied, boredly. "I'll indulge you, though. What exactly is your plan?"
Humphries grinned, mischievously. "Did you know that Rita Skeeter is an Animagus?"
Regret left a vile taste in Hermione Granger's mouth. Nearly an hour had passed since she had obliviated Lenore Thomas, yet it was not the elderly Seer's face that was burned into her brain. It was those of her parents.
Unlike her mother and father, Lenore had been expecting the Forgetfulness Charm. As the Head of the Department of Mysteries, she was more familiar with the spell than most. Still, she stared back at her attacker, vacantly, almost as though she did not mind what was to come. Hermione could not believe that she let her emotions run so rampant. Her recklessness was bound to catch up with her if she could not suppress such compulsions.
The creaking of her office door startled her. Her assistant peered inside, gauging the mood before she said anything. Hermione knew that she had been particularly touchy that day, but there was no reason to raise any suspicions. If she did not want to be suspected in the case of Lenore Thomas's lost memory, she would have to carry on with business, just as she usually would.
Madelyn offered a weak smile as the heavy door shut behind her. "S-sorry to bother you, M-Minister. I h-hope I'm not i-interrupting."
"I suppose it doesn't matter if you are. Work is work," Hermione replied, stiffly. "What do you need?"
The redhead bit her lip. "I know y-you're busy b-but Ardus C-Castle stopped by. He needs an update on the a-appeal he put in, if p-possible? He said he'll only t-talk to you. I tried to organize a m-meeting but he wouldn't take no for an answer..."
"Appeal?" Hermione frowned, opening her desk drawer and seizing the pile of unfinished paperwork that she had stashed inside of it. Leafing through pages, she asked, "Did he say what it was regarding?"
Madelyn shook her head. "He just s-said that he n-needs to see you immediately. I said no but he th-threatened to h-hex me..."
Then, as she realized that there was not a single appeal submitted by Ardus Castle, it became all the more clear that her visitor was not Ardus Castle at all.
Limerick's Libations had every type of wine and spirit imaginable. From the finest of honey meads to imported bubble bourbon, a witch or wizard could warm their stomach with anything they desired. Naturally, it was one of Ron Weasley's favorite stops in all of Diagon Alley.
The owner, Limerick Hornby Jr., was not someone that Ron would choose to befriend, but they saw each other so often that they had certainly become more than acquaintances. He was a pig-faced wizard, with an expensive wristwatch and perpetual five o' clock shadow, often adorned in robes that were far too loose or far too tight, but never properly fit. As Ron gave him a wave, he tipped his olive green pork pie hat.
Ron, exhausted after the bizarre morning, saw his favorite liquor perched atop a high shelf. Like always, it was far out of reach, and he was forced to use the rusty hand-crank to lower it. Bottles clanked together as the shelves revolved, only held in place by a poorly performed Sticking Charm that was likely cast by Limerick himself. He really was never all that good at magic.
"Good ol' Ogden's, eh?" Limerick said, gruffly, bagging the bottle with his coarse hands. The gold chains around his neck jangled with each movement. "Tough day?"
"Not keen on discussin' it, really."
Limerick nodded. "That'll be eight sickles."
Ron nodded and turned his pockets. After a quick trip to Gringotts, he had been able to withdraw a rather hefty sum from the guarded vault he shared with his estranged wife. Finding eight sickles had only proven to be a challenging task because there were too many Galleons getting in the way of his long, swollen fingers.
"Here ya go." Ron dropped the silver into Limerick's palm. "Thanks, mate."
"I'll be seein' ya soon, Weasley."
With his bottle of liquor in hand, Ron Apparated to 16 Gryffindor Drive. The wizard was still quite confused from his run-in with Phoebe Humphries, and as he collapsed onto the lumpy sofa, he reflected on her words.
"I'm not playing at anything. I just know to take the giant squid instead of the grindylow when I can."
The woman's intentions were obvious. For some reason unbeknownst to him, the Auror wanted his wife out of office. He and Hermione were not on good terms, and though he did not want to admit it, he wasn't sure if they ever would be again—yet it didn't matter. There was nothing that Phoebe Humphries could do to make him snitch. Ron did not remember much over the many years that they spent together, but he did remember how much Hermione's career meant to her.
"Do I look okay?" she asked, nervously, buttoning up her cardigan. "I don't look like a Muggle, do I?"
Ron shrugged. "So what if you do? Half your policies are supposed to improve relations with Muggles and Muggle-borns, yeah?"
"That's actually a really good point, Ron." Hermione was beaming, but the smile was gone as quickly as it came. "I hope everyone else sees it that way..."
"You'll do great," he reassured her, grabbing her by the shoulders. "You look beautiful. Everyone will think so, and if not, they're a bunch o' gits."
"Roooon!" Her eyes were tearing up. "You're too good to me."
"Only because I don't deserve you." He pressed his lips to her forehead. "Now you ready to win this bloody thing?"
She grinned. "Ready as ever."
Before Ron could reminisce any longer, he noticed movement from just outside his living room window. Frowning, he stood and peered through the glass. The hedges swayed with the wind while a wild, twitchy-nosed rabbit fussed beneath the great beech tree, eyes bulging as it looked for predators. Nothing was out of the ordinary.
Assuming that he had not gotten enough sleep, he settled back into his spot on the sofa and took a swig of Ogden's Old Firewhisky. Naturally, he was anxious after an interrogation. He had witnessed it hundreds of times back when he was questioning Death Eaters.
Alas, only a few moments later, he heard a heavy thud followed by a shout. "Oh blast!"
Certain that the interjection had not come from the rabbit, he jolted towards the window once more. "Oi!" he yelled, smacking the pane with his palm. A pointed periwinkle hat was visible amongst the hedge. "Oi! What're you doin' out there?"
The wizard looked up at him, wide-eyed, and Ron's jaw dropped. The trespasser was none other than Eldin Primpernelle.
Infuriated, Ron reached for his wand, but Eldin had let out a yelp and ran, yellow sparks flying behind him. Ron stormed towards the front door and opened it, knitting his brows together when Eldin was nowhere in sight.
"Primpernelle!" he boomed, walking out onto his front lawn. As he turned the corner, he shouted it again. "Primpernelle!"
Confused, he plodded along the hedge and circled to the back of the house. His eyes widened when he caught the tail-end of periwinkle robes. He darted towards them, but as he turned the corner for a final time, he saw Primpernelle only for a brief second. A sharp crack! pierced the air and the Auror Disapparated, leaving Ron to wonder what he was doing there in the first place.
Every witch in the eastern corridor grimaced as they saw the hulking, slouched frame of Ardus Castle. The wizard did, after all, have a bit of a reputation when it came to the way that he interacted with women, and especially those that were his coworkers. Little did they know, the person that appeared to be the Scotsman was far from it. In fact, many of the passersby had tried courting the man after the death of his late wife. They simply didn't know it.
"Mr. Castle?" The same petite redhead that had questioned him before had come back into the hallway where he sat upon an uncomfortable, wrought iron bench. "The Minister will see you now."
He scratched his head and followed the tiny woman to the Minister for Magic's office. While he knew that Ardus Castle had a notorious dandruff problem, he never expected to inherit it after a measly few swigs of Polyjuice Potion. Apparently, the wizard's body odor was a part of the package too.
The assistant beckoned him through the large door, raking her eyes over his features as he joined the Minister for Magic for their impromptu appointment. The look on the redhead's face said that she knew something was not quite right, but to his relief, she chose not to linger.
As soon as the two of them were alone, Hermione asked, "How did your meeting with Theodore go?"
Draco leaned against one of the bookshelves, careful to keep his distance for her nose's sake. "Theo was gone—is gone."
"What do you mean?" She tilted her head, cautiously.
"Exactly what I said," he replied. "I had a little chat with Pansy. Turns out she didn't just find the vase in Knockturn Alley as she so claimed. Millicent Bulstrode pawned it off on her."
"And what does that have to do with Theodore?"
"Millicent—she isn't the type to do something like that. Her dear old cousin may be, but Millicent is a homebody. Terrified of crowds ever since the war. Stays out of trouble and rarely leaves her house."
"She doesn't work?" Hermione asked, frowning.
"Her family is as wealthy as mine. Nobody ever expected her to work. So, assuming that she did not suddenly overcome her fear of public places, we have to infer that she wouldn't have just left. Someone put her under the Imperius Curse, and based on her situation, a relative is the most likely culprit."
"Geraldine!" the Minister breathed.
"That was my guess as well," Draco concurred. He took a few steps towards her and ran a hand through the shaggy, greying hair that he was not used to sporting. "Granger, this little mission of ours just became a lot more dangerous. It may be best if you polish your wand of it and let me do the dirty work."
"I will not!" she exclaimed, slamming her hands on her desk. "You brought me into this, Draco, and we're going to finish it. Together."
He closed his eyes. "Bulstrode isn't alone, you know. Everyone believes she's in charge of her little organization, and until today, I would've thought the same."
"Who is in charge, then? Not Theodore..."
"Theo? Merlin no," Draco scoffed. "Theodore was picked up by one of her followers after they came looking for Pansy and the vase. Odds are they'll torture him until he gives up my name. Then, I'll be next."
Hermione took a shaky breath, then began to speak slowly, as though she were trying to convince herself as much as she was trying to convince him. "Harry is on his way over there right now. This will be resolved before they even have the chance. He's very good, Draco. If he can get rid of Voldemort—"
"He isn't prepared. Not for these men." Draco gave her a dark look. He was not about to trust Harry Potter with his fate. "If he went in looking for a fight with Bulstrode and a few underage witches, he's going to get a nasty shock. He doesn't have you, Weasley, or Longbottom this time."
"But who, Draco? Who is so terrifying?"
He studied her for a moment, unsure if she was prepared for the truth. When they were young, she had been such a brave witch, but they were not teenagers anymore. They were middle-aged, they were parents, and most importantly, they were far too old to be dueling Death Eaters. The woman had done her fair share of sacrifice, and the more she knew, the more likely she was to risk her life again. Perhaps, he had already said too much.
Draco let out a heavy sigh. If he did not concede, she would press him until he did. For the sake of time, he decided to humor her. "Travers and Rowle."
"Oh, that's rubbish!" Hermione snorted. "They're in Azkaban."
"No," Draco corrected her. "Two Muggles are in Azkaban. Bulstrode paid off the guards to make the swap."
Her jaw dropped. "But they couldn't possibly be getting Polyjuice in there..."
"They don't have to. The guards will as long as Bulstrode keeps their pockets full."
Hermione massaged her temples. "Okay, so let me make sure I'm hearing you right. If Harry fails, we may have to worry about Iadeth Travers and Thorfinn Rowle."
"Hermione, like I said, you can get out now," he reminded her, squatting down to rest his elbows on her desk. "I'm an Occlumens. They won't find out about you."
"And like I said, I will not let you do this alone. They want it for a reason. Some part of Bellatrix's magic lives within that vase and if they asked Bulstrode to break them out of Azkaban to get their hands on it, it has to be even more dangerous than we thought. We have to get rid of it," she asserted. Leaning towards him she added, "This wouldn't be the first time I've had to run from Death Eaters to destroy Dark artifacts."
"You could lose your job," he pressed, softly, leveling his gaze with hers. "We could both end up in Azkaban."
"I already suggested we leave it in the ocean and you said no. Don't back out now."
"This is Azkaban we're talking about, Granger!"
"And last time it was possible death. The time before that it was certain death. I can handle whatever comes my way, Draco. I'm a grown woman," she snapped, folding her arms. "Besides, I've already done something that could send me to Azkaban."
He furrowed his brow, scratching his itchy scalp again. "I mean, seeing my collection is hardly more than a misdemeanor. I doubt you'd even have to stand trial. Probably just a few uncomfortable interviews with the Prophet."
"No," she said, shaking her head. "I've done something else. Something bad."
"What in Merlin's name are you talking about, Granger?"
Hermione's features were pinched together as she seemingly held back tears. She gulped and gestured a book on her desk. "Lenore Thomas. Head of the Department of Mysteries. She—she knew about your collection. She knew about us."
"She's a famous Seer. I can't say it surprises me. What about her?"
"Well I-I—" Hermione closed her eyes and pressed her palms to her forehead. "I obliviated her."
"You did what?"
"I panicked!" she exclaimed, throwing her hands up. "It was—she knew too much. I couldn't just let her have you arrested!"
Blood rushed to his ears. "Did anyone know you were going to see her?"
"My assistant," Hermione admitted, biting her lip. "She scheduled the meeting."
Draco groaned. "For being the brightest witch of your age, you sure seem to make a lot of poor decisions, Granger."
"Perhaps I do," she said, curtly, standing, "but all it means is that we're in this together now. Ministry and Death Eaters be damned."
"Only for you." Half-smirking, she got onto her tiptoes and drew her face close to his. It only took seconds for her to pucker her nose and pull away. "I can't do this. Why did you have to come as Ardus Castle?"
"It was the only Polyjuice I had!" he laughed. For a short moment, he had almost forgotten how serious their situation was. "I didn't realize it'd come with the stench and the dandruff."
She giggled. "Well, I guess we need to figure out where we're going to do this thing, then."
"I mean, I do have a bedroom, if you can give me a couple of hours to lose the creep-suit." He winked at her, though he had a feeling it did not have as much of an effect as it would if he had been his usual self.
"You know what I mean," she said, rolling her eyes. As per usual, Hermione Granger was all business when she needed to be.
"Right. Well, Pansy didn't give me any leads. She was a bit too focused on her husband being held hostage."
"Do you have any ideas? Any Muggle parks we might have luck in?" He did not like the idea of subjecting Muggles to the Dark Arts, but it seemed that Hermione was already practiced when it came to unlawful obliviating. "Somewhere outside of London."
She tapped her chin. "Hmmm... Well, there is this place in Wales."
"Wales is good," Draco replied. "As far as I know, the usual suspects haven't gone gallivanting around there since the nineties."
"Could you confirm that with Pansy? You could send her an owl from the Owlery before your potion wears off. We stopped tracking Ministry owls' whereabouts ages back."
"Doubt it. She isn't happy that I won't turn the vase over to Bulstrode and her lot," he confessed. "Thinks I ought to wipe my hands clean of it so they'll bring Theo back. She's always been a bit of a slow broomstick, but I didn't expect her to believe Death Eaters would just give a hostage back."
"They'd kill him, wouldn't they?" Hermione concluded, sadly. "If you gave them the vase, they'd kill Theodore."
Her eyes sparkled with melancholy. "I suppose we'll be going to Wales and hoping for the best, then."
"It's all we can do."
The pull of morphing flesh reminded Draco that he had a time limit. Her worried gaze was drawn to his hairline. "You're looking a bit blond, dear." She pulled her wand and gave it a flick. "This will get you by for fifteen minutes or so. You'll want to get out as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, your arm will keep you from Disapparating in my office. Sorry—wards."
Draco pursed his lips. Even after so many years, the Dark Mark still burdened him.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was a place for learning. Unfortunately, it was also a place for gossip. After the Daily Prophet made its afternoon rounds, Rose Granger-Weasley found herself surrounded by classmates, all of them blurting question after question. It was not the first time, and she highly doubted that it would be the last.
"He attacked your uncle?" a fourth-year from Hufflepuff giggled.
"Isn't he a drunk?" Mildred Spinnet chimed.
Alroy Finnigan nodded. "Explains why he didn't remember doing it."
Unable to take it any longer, Rose pushed her plate away, swung her legs over the bench, and stormed out of the Great Hall. Whispers dissipated the further she walked, so she kept moving until she accidentally shouldered a rather grumpy-looking Professor Macmillan. She mumbled an apology and turned down the familiar corridor.
Far away from any lunching students or professors stood a lonesome statue that Rose had come to know quite well. In fact, she had been visiting the statue every day since her friends were released from the hospital wing.
"Rosie darling," the buxom woman cooed, clasping her elegant, bejeweled hands together. "I'm afraid I can't let you in without the password."
The statue grinned and slid away from the wall. Stones rapidly moved one-by-one, until finally, a familiar green door with a silver knocker was fully exposed. Rose let out a sigh of relief and knocked.
A moment passed. Then, the door creaked open and a familiar pair of grey eyes were staring back at her. Rose offered a weak smile and waggled her fingers. "Just me."
Sharp, pale features softened and the boy opened the door wider. "Welcome back." He waved her inside, book in hand, before retreating to his bed once more.
She stepped into the small dormitory. "Afternoon, Scorpius."
His nose was already buried in the book again.
"Hey, Rose!" Albus exclaimed, grinning from his spot on his bed. He gestured a pile of sugar quills that were on the mattress beside him. "Want one?"
Sighing, Rose made her way across the room and accepted a bright pink sugar quill. She tore open the transparent plastic and placed the sticky feathers between her lips. "Thanks."
"Reckon you came down here to get away from all the rumors, eh?" Albus asked between licks to his sugar quill. "I saw the Prophet."
"I don't want to talk about it."
Albus shrugged. "Can't blame you." He lay on his back. "You know, I've gotten pretty used to this whole private dorm thing. Don't think I'll be able to go back to the dungeons after this."
"Must be nice," Rose grumbled, looking around the small room, which was decorated in Quidditch posters, bookshelves, and accented with blankets of emerald and silver. "I'm sure I'll have to listen to Mildred Spinnet and Bryony Wilson talk about my dad all night."
"Doubt it," Albus laughed. His lips made a popping sound as he sucked on the sugar quill again. "Bethany Zabini found out Scorpius likes her."
Suddenly, Scorpius was not so interested in his book. "Only because you told her!"
"She kept looking at you," Albus defended himself. "I thought she liked you back!"
"Everyone keeps looking at me. I'm the House laughing stock!"
"We're the House laughing stock," Albus corrected him. He tongued the quill again. "See, Rose? There are other things to talk about. Just mention Scorpius getting turned down in front of our entire Transfiguration class and I'm sure Spinnet and Wilson will find that to be much more conversation-worthy."
"Maybe," Rose mumbled, though a small smile had grown on her lips. She knew that Scorpius had once taken interest in her, but she was glad to hear he had let go of the notion. In a way, she felt bad for him. He and Bethany Zabini would have been a good match. "I'll bet Hugo ends up with a month's detention with all the hexing he's going to be doing today."
"Probably. Last time my brother said something about your dad drinking too much, Hugo made bugs shoot out his ears."
"I heard about that. Wish I could've seen it." Rose had never particularly liked her cousin, James.
"You ought to've. James was screaming like a first-year girl." Albus turned to look at his cousin. "Why did your dad need Cupid Crystals?"
Rose sighed. She had asked herself the same question. "I don't know for sure, but I'll bet they were for my mum."
"But they're married."
"I guess. I don't think she wants to be married to him, though. I can't say I'd blame her."
"What makes you think that? The whole Christmas holiday thing?"
"I dunno. Maybe. I think she's wanted to leave him for a long while now."
"You think she will?" Albus looked concerned.
Rose shrugged and bit into her sugar quill. "Doubt it. She's stubborn."
The line for the fireplaces was long, but after a difficult few days, Hermione Granger was far too exhausted to Apparate. Rather than risking a splinch, she impatiently waited behind the many antsy Ministry employees, many of which were surprised to see her. A middle-aged wizard that she did not recognize offered to let her cut in front of him, and though the offer was tempting, she declined.
After what felt like hours, Hermione finally took a handful of Floo powder and stepped into one of the many fireplaces. She shouted her destination and with a drop of the powder, she dizzily landed in the Potters' sitting room fireplace. Shaking the ash from her hair, she stepped out onto the rug.
The house was dark. The only sign of life was a screeching Della, who would continue raising a ruckus until Harry's arrival. Hermione finally understood why Ginny complained whenever her husband was gone. The bird was a menace.
Assuming that her sister-in-law had left (undoubtedly to escape Della's high-pitched cries), she slipped into the kitchen and made herself a cup of chamomile tea. Her mind was filled to the brim with terrible thoughts, and sleep was the only way that she would escape her many insecurities about the next day.
Tea in hand, she climbed the stairs and crossed the hallway to the spare room where Harry and Ginny had been gracious enough to let her stay. When she noticed that there was light pouring through the crack between the door and the carpet, she swallowed thickly and pulled out her wand.
Carefully, she flicked her wand and watched the door open before her. When it was just Ginny sitting on the bed, she let out a sigh of relief. She had been expecting the worst.
"You scared me!" Hermione admitted, tucking her wand into the inner pocket of her work robes. "I thought you'd gone out somewhere."
Ginny said nothing.
"Gin?" As Hermione got closer, she realized that her sister-in-law had a stack of papers on the bed beside her. She softly set her teacup on the corner bureau. "What's going on?"
The redhead looked up at her, eyes glazed over with an emotion that Hermione could not place. "I could ask you the same thing."
Hermione's eyes raked over the documents beside her, and she realized what it was that had made Ginny so upset. The younger witch had found the divorce papers.
"I thought this was just a trial sort of thing," Ginny whispered, "but you're divorcing him. You're really divorcing him."
With a heavy sigh, Hermione sat down beside her. Ginny grimaced as she felt the weight on the bed.
"I have to. We just aren't good for each other."
"And when did you plan on telling me?" Ginny hissed. "I'm letting you stay in my house and you're trying to divorce my brother? You have to know how this is going to affect him! He already drinks like a merman!"
"I haven't told anyone," Hermione grumbled, though it was not true.
Ginny narrowed her eyes. "You aren't a very good liar, Hermione. I don't think it's very wise of you to make it a habit the way that you have. Eventually, you're going to pay for it."
"I don't know what you're talking about," the brunette said, airily, though every alarm in her head was sounding.
"You may be able to play this game with Harry, but don't think you're getting one over on me."
Hermione fixed her eyes on the floor. Keeping up with her many charades was growing tiring. All she could do was hope that her world would become a bit more normal as soon as the vase was destroyed and her divorce was finalized. Life with Ron had been miserable, but at least it was predictable.
"When I first joined the Harpies, Mum wasn't very supportive, you know," Ginny said after a brutally long silence. "She thought I was absolutely loony. 'You could fall and die, you know!' I almost turned down the position just to stop all the Howlers she'd been sending."
Hermione wasn't sure what Mrs. Weasley had to do with her divorce, but she was happy for the change of subject matter.
"Harry and George kept telling me she'd come around, but it was Ron that convinced me to accept the offer in the end," Ginny continued. "Reminded me that Mum also reacted like that when I stubbed my toe when I was six, and when Fred put Muggle glue in my hair when I was eight. If it weren't for him, I might've ended up working for the Ministry or something else just as boring."
Hermione ignored the comment regarding her career choice. "You know, just because I want a divorce doesn't mean that Ron's a bad person. We just aren't good for each other."
Her sister-in-law had a calculating look on her face before she finally found the courage to ask, "Who is then?"
"Who is good for you?" Ginny asked again. "You come in late. You lie about where you are and who you're going with. You look positively giddy half the time and dreadfully stressed the other half of the time. The Hermione I know wouldn't be so happy about getting a divorce."
"Well I am," Hermione answered all too quickly. Ginny eyed her and she cleared her throat. "I mean, it's a new chapter, right? It will be good for everyone in the end. Ron will have time to work on himself. I'll have time to focus on my career. The kids might not understand at first, but once Ron starts getting better they'll realize it was all for the best..."
Ginny sighed. "I know you aren't telling me everything—but I do hope you're right." She sunk the heels of her hands into her thighs and stood. "I suppose I ought to go put a muffling charm on Della for the evening. I can't promise it'll stop her, though. Somehow she's loud enough to break through them until she begins to lose her squawk, and that won't last long. As soon as she sees Harry with a packed bag, she becomes a bit of a Banshee."
"I imagine it's quieter in here if you need to bunk with me."
Ginny stopped at the doorframe. "That's okay. Thank you, though."
"Any time. Thank you for—erm—everything, Gin. I mean it."
Ginny nodded. She wheeled around to walk out of the room, only to stop again and look her sister-in-law dead in the eye. "Hermione?"
"Before you do anything...rash, please just be sure it's what you really want to do. Ron is a git, but he loves you, y'know."
Hermione drew in a shaky breath. "I know."
The door clicked shut and Ginny's heavy footsteps could be heard heading down the hall. Exasperated, Hermione summoned her tea and took a long drink before setting it down on the nightstand. Hoping to forget about Ronald Weasley and cursed vases, even if only for a night, she charmed away the divorce papers and lay on her back, her wand set across her stomach and her hair haloing around the pillow.
Little did she know, a small beetle sat upon the windowsill, watching her every move.
Author's Note: Another long chapter. As you've probably noticed, this story has had a large mood shift, from slow and unsure to fast and risky. There are two symbols in this story (other than characters) that lead to each mood. Can you pick them out? One may be easy to place, but the other may not be as easy. Please leave your guesses in your reviews! I'd love to hear your thoughts.
On that note, thank you for continuing to read this, as I know it's been quite long and it will actually be quite a bit longer. I hope you're still enjoying it and I adore any and all feedback.
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