Year 0, Day 0, Hour 20:00
“I was under the impression that you rarely attend social events,” Hermione Granger comments just as her companion reaches for his wine glass. Her own hand is entwined in the chain of the locket that always graces her neck. “In fact, I think you said as much yourself … but with a few choice words, of which I think ‘swine’ was the most tame.”
Draco Malfoy glances up from the table, lips clamped together in an attempt not to laugh. “Normally. But I just can’t resist a free quality meal. Especially at the Ministry’s expense.”
The corners of her mouth turn up. “Who knew you were so cheap?”
“I prefer opportunistic.”
“Excuses. Admit it, you’re as excited about this project as any of us.” With that, she looks pointedly at the remaining guests at their table.
There are three others; each is an instrumental part in some facet of their preparation for the trial. The three—two witches and a wizard ranging from fresh out of school to three decades into the work force—had been virtually hand-selected. It’s in both his and Granger’s nature to seek excellence in their respective associates. Otherwise, what’s the point? There’s almost nothing worse, in his humble opinion, than being in the presence of someone who just jabbers on whilst you feel your brain cells killing themselves for mercy.
He can’t help but return her smirk. It’s true. If this project pans out, he will not only stand to inherit quite the profit thanks to his financial investment in the trial, but his actual career will benefit greatly. Being the only prosecutor with access to such memory technology will give him more of an edge than anyone in a courtroom would expect from someone like him.
And if it doesn’t, he doesn’t stand to lose much. As much as he dislikes thinking about the possibility of defeat or failure, it is something with which he is rather familiar. The only thing he really has these days is his job, which they can’t very well take from him when the trial is completely ordained by the MLE (the pigs are just happy that they don’t have to foot the entire bill). And his mum, but he’s more than completely sure she’s a secure thing in his life. If the Blacks are good for anything, it’s their undying loyalty.
“I must admit, Granger, when you came to me with this idea, I thought it was your most hare-brained yet.” He takes a long sip of the Riesling he and Granger had decided to split. One of the few commonalities they’d discovered through preparing for this was their taste in wine. In fact, she’d suggested it, as the “economical thing to do”, since a glass costs the same as half of a bottle. He’d decided not to remind her she wasn’t paying for the meal.
“Colour me surprised.”
“Oh my! I thought nothing could faze the great Draco Malfoy.”
“I said nothing about being fazed. ‘Surprised’ was the word.”
“And is that a good ‘surprised’ or a bad ‘surprised’?”
“Won’t know until the results of the trial come out, now, will we?”
“You do realize when those are coming out, don’t you?”
Five whole years. The joys of the scientific process, especially when combined with bureaucracy.
“A handful of patience is worth a bushel of brains.” She simply raises her eyebrow in response. He supposes she was valiantly trying to ‘dignify that with an answer’. “One of my favourite Dutch proverbs, you know. I particularly like the fact that it’s a bushel of brains, don’t you?”
He sniggers as she shoves his face to the side. “Oh, shut up, will you? Leave my hair alone.” He turns his head back to face her once she starts giggling.
A light cough brings both of their attentions across the table, where their youngest researcher sits with her glass raised. Miri smiles warmly at everyone. “A toast,” she begins, “to this wonderful project and this awe-inspiring team. It’s been an absolute honour working with such brilliant minds over the past few months. A huge thank you to Hermione for putting this group together and letting us be a part of this.”
“And to Malfoy,” Cameron quickly cuts in with a cheeky wink. “We really couldn’t have done it without your Gringotts account.” A solid thud sounds underneath the table, quickly followed by Cameron’s grunt of pain.
Hermione chuckles, and Cameron glares at Miri. “That was completely unnecessary. And okay,” he admits, looking back up at Draco, “we’re glad you’re testing the trial out for the Simmons case.”
“In all seriousness, you all should know this project would never have reached stage 2 without you, much less come to the actual trial.” Hermione raises her glass. “To Team Moneta.” She is rewarded with a number of sharp clinks against her glass and several excited faces.
Day 0, Day 0, Hour 23:00
Most of her life, Hermione has always thought being rich must be overrated. She’d always been happy with her middle-class life in her youth, and as far as she could tell, her parents were just as satisfied with their life.
Five minutes of lying in Draco’s bed, waiting to catch her breath, nearly completely changes that opinion. Nearly. She’s never been so comfortable in her life. It’s like lying on a cloud. A very fluffy cloud, with goose feathers and the softest sheets she’s ever felt against her skin and a warm body surrounding her.
Once her heart rate returns to something resembling normality, she takes a quick breath and climbs out of his plush bed. “I should really go. If I fall asleep here, I won’t want to get up until Friday.”
“Feeling less stressed, then?”
By the time she’s found her dress and heels and dressed enough for her trip through the Floo network, he is standing next to his bed. It’s unfair of him to say something so cheeky when she can barely get her words from her mind to her mouth. Apparently her wit and his nakedness are not meant to coexist. Especially when mixed with fatigue and wine.
She yawns and shrugs as she pulls the satiny sheath over her head, tugging it to the proper length just above her knees. “Sure.” She’s trying to will herself not to think about where they will go now. Will they continue along this path of (bad bad bad) flirtation, or is it one of those Thrill of the Chase things for him? A one-off, perhaps? She shakes her head in an attempt to get rid of those sorts of thoughts, ones that include almost inevitable hopes, which always seem to attract disappointment. With the trial beginning in the morning, she has bigger things to be anxious about. Like the future of her career or, more importantly, her research.
Hermione jolts. When she’d turned around to pull her shoes on, using the doorframe as support, he’d been standing several metres away. His sudden proximity is disorienting, to say the least. She glances over her shoulder at him, eyes wide. “Am I? Just tired, I guess.”
He chuckles low, placing open-mouthed kisses on her bare neck as he zips the back of her dress. Goosebumps remain in the wake of his soft lips.
She straightens her posture, slightly wobbly on unsteady legs and her pumps. “You know, this is highly unethical.”
He seems completely unfazed as his hands move to rub her arm, his face still dangerously close to her neck. “Do you really think I care about ethics?”
“Well, you should,” she says, turning around to face him, despite how red her cheeks must be. She knows she probably paints the perfect image of a deer in headlights.
“If you say so.”
She merely nods. “Um, well, I’d better go. Need to get a good nigh—” His lips cut her off, and she can’t help but lean into him. When she opens her eyes again, he is smirking at her. Never has she wanted to wipe it off his face more than in that moment.
“Good night, Granger. Big day tomorrow.”
She sighs, her mind veering back and forth between her recollection of the past hour and the pressure of everything she’s got to do tomorrow. She really needs to get a full night’s rest, which is looking tentative at best. “Right. Good night.”
Year 0, Day 1, Hour 9:00
The Memory Investigation office, nestled deep within the Ministry of Magic’s Department of Magical Law Enforcement, screams of chaos. Memos have been flying since six that morning, and the small office is filled to the brim with assistants, researchers, officials, and lawyers running back and forth to finish preparing for the meeting.
When Hermione walks in the door at precisely nine o’clock on this, the most important day of her life—or rather, career—she has to stop herself in the doorway for the first time ever and take a quick pause for breath. Today would be stressful, she’d always known, but she hadn’t quite envisioned this level of pandemonium.
She closes her eyes, sparing a short moment for sanity. Today marks the beginning of a change to her career. Whether said change will be positive or negative is up in the air, but the tentative optimist in Hermione is insistent on the former. Still, she’s on edge with frayed nerves.
Needing a moment of calm, she reaches for her locket. It contains still photographs of her parents, the very raison d’être for her passion for memory research and her involvement in the MI department. At times, that small pendant has stood as a tether to sanity over the past couple of years. Her eyes shoot wide open, spine stiff as a board, when her fingers graze bare skin.
“Shit.” Her whisper flies out on a breath, her mind racing with the possibilities of where she’d left it. It could be virtually anywhere. Christ, but it’s so unlike her to misplace something, much less something so valuable—even if it’s all in personal sentiment.
Before she can get carried away in mentally retracing her steps, Miri appears before her. The younger witch’s smile is wide with unadulterated excitement. “Are you ready for this, Hermione? We’re going to make a difference today.”
“Come on, the meeting’s starting.”
As she follows Miri to the conference room, Hermione does her best to gather her mental faculties. This is the last preliminary meeting before the trial officially begins this afternoon, but the Ministry still has the ability to stop it in its tracks if they suspect a single gear is out of place. She needs to be completely mentally present at that meeting, prepared to answer any and all questions the group of media representatives and Ministry officials would have. She can’t be distracted by something so seemingly trivial as a missing necklace.
Perhaps she just left it in her bag…
“All right. We might as well get started since everyone’s arrived.” Cameron stands at the front of the room, marking the beginning of the meeting. The noise dies out within seconds, though some tension remains. “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming.”
Miri nudges Hermione, who follows her to the front of the room near Moira. Together, the four of them stand as the researchers for an investigation called several different things. Officially, mainly for the purpose of the press, it’s called “Project Moneta”, taking the name of Ancient Rome’s goddess of memory. Most commonly amongst the researchers, however, it is referred to as “The Trial”. The MI office likes to throw around the words “harvesting” and “transplants” as well. Anything to sound like they know what they’re talking about.
This is actually, in all probability, the largest number of people that have ever congregated in MI’s small office. The Facilities department had cast plenty of Extension charms on the usually smaller room. Twenty officials from various departments of the Ministry, as well as a small number of reporters from the likes of the Daily Prophet and the Quibbler, sit around a half-moon table, their attentions focused on Cameron. He is, for all intents and purposes, the mouthpiece for the project. He and Miri are equally charismatic, in Hermione’s opinion, but Miri is often taken less seriously due not only to her age but that she looks evenyounger than her nineteen years. The girl often blamed her height, or lack thereof—what she likes to refer to as being “vertically challenged”. As much as the thought of that particular injustice makes Hermione bristle, she knows that battle is for another day.
“As you all should be well aware, today marks the end of the preliminary stage of Project Moneta and the beginning of the trial stage. Our team has spent months researching and preparing for this day, and we could not be more excited to stand here before you. If you’re unsure of what exactly Project Moneta is … well, you’ve likely strolled into the wrong meeting. However, I will humour you.” Cameron chuckles to himself quietly.
Hermione frowns and clears her throat, sending him a warning glare. She knows his tendency to joke around with virtually everything, and this is neither the time nor the place. The younger individuals may appreciate his attempts to lighten up the meeting, but the majority of the big-wigs are much more traditional and sober about things as potentially controversial as this study.
Her hand reaches for the chain around her neck out of habit and comes up empty once more. She grasps the neckline of her Ministry robes, grateful for something to hold onto despite her growing anxiety. Where had she put the bloody locket?
Cameron sighs quietly, a sign of—hopefully, thinks Hermione—his acquiescence. “You all probably know that the purpose of this project is to investigate innovations to memory investigation. Currently, the only memory technology we have apart from what we call First-Degree Recollection—that is to say, the recollection a witness gives of his or her own memory—is the Pensieve, often paralleled as Second-Degree Recollection. Although Pensieves have helped the MLE in leaps and bounds, the technology is still limiting and fallible.
“Team Moneta researched and developed this trial to test another manner of viewing second-degree memories. While we currently use Pensieves as the medium through which we view another person’s memories, we have reason to believe a much more efficient way to view them is to use our own brains as the medium.”
A hand shoots in the air. Dangling from it is a quill with which Hermione is irritatingly familiar.
“Yes, Ms Skeeter?” Cameron asks, his nose twitching a little.
“What … exactly does that mean? Using your brains as a medium.”
Cameron looks relieved as Moira steps up to answer. “It’s essentially an implant. Simply put, a memory is inserted through cutting edge technology—”
“And what technology might that be, ma’am?”
“I’m afraid that’s quite confidential,” Moira states. This is what Hermione loves about that woman: so matter-of-fact. Unfortunately, she also knows how wily Rita Skeeter fancies herself.
“Surely you can give some sort of information about it.”
Distracted from her anxiety by her disdain for the woman sitting in what looked more like a lime than a pantsuit, Hermione clears her throat, ensuring the attention will shift to her and away from Moira. “The thing about confidentiality, Ms Skeeter, is that it remains in confidence. You should be well aware of the Ministry’s regulations regarding such matters by now. We as the research and development team for this project are not in the position to offer the information you seek.” Rita turns to face Hermione, her nose turned up just so. “Now, if you are still interested in such information, you can take it up with our investors.”
“And they would be?”
Hermione can’t help but smile. It might be slightly triumphant. “Why, the Ministry itself, of course. They are rather tight-lipped about their new technologies, but not quite as much as the other investor.” Every guest in the room, looks expectantly at her, though Hermione really only cares about Rita’s reaction. “Mr Draco Malfoy.”
The explosion of conversation that erupts after that revelation is expected. The idea that two such prominent figures from the war as Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy could work in any capacity together still shocks the public. Even after nearly five years, his name sparks with controversy. Smears are not so frequent anymore, but neither are they yet obsolete.
Another hand rises, and Cameron jumps at the chance to answer a question not from one yielding a Quick Quotes Quill.
“Yes, thank you,” says the young reporter. “There has been a rumour of Draco Malfoy’s participation in the trial, but I thought it was not financial.”
Cameron nods. “You’re quite right. Mr Malfoy has been involved since the beginning of the preparations. He is the lawyer the trial will be providing information for.”
“Is that not a conflict of interest?”
“Not at all, considering he is not involved in any of the actual R&D—sorry, research and development. He is simply receiving the information as evidence for his case.”
“But if he stands to make a profit off of the technology…”
“I assure you, the MLE and the Minister have both been informed and have come to the agreement that Mr Malfoy’s participation as both an investor and lawyer using information from the trial is by no means whatsoever illegal or unethical. Any other questions?”
“You said the technology uses someone’s brain as a medium. Who will be participating as the medium in the trial?”
“To be honest, we’re more than impressed that this little tidbit hadn’t been leaked before now,” Miri pipes in, her excitement almost tangible.
Hermione stuffs her hands into the pockets of her robes in an attempt to hide how much they are shaking.
“Our first … ‘medium’, as you put it, will in fact be our very own Hermione Granger. Although, we’ve been using the word ‘proxy’.”
She forces herself to smile at the reporters and officials surrounding her. She needs to find that damned locket as soon as possible. Hermione can honestly not see herself surviving the day without it.
Year 0, Day 1, Hour 11:55
“All right there, Granger?” Hermione raises her head from her folded arms. Malfoy stands in the doorway to her office, which is truly more of a closet.
It’s been at least two hours of frantic searching and wracking her brain—and still no cigar. No locket to be found … anywhere. She has spent the last twenty minutes going through the pros and cons of postponing the start of the trial and popping home to search for it. The only thing that has kept her in place is the idea of telling the technicians and her superiors—and her team!—that she can’t go through with it because of a bloody locket.
His smirk falls a little. “I’ll take that as a ‘no’, then.” He strolls in, taking the only other chair in the small room. Hermione’s anxiety has been high all morning; being in a small space with Malfoy elevates it so much that she wants to pull every hair out of her head if it will just free the pressure. She can’t remember being this on edge around any other bloke in her life.
A groan escapes her. “I don’t think I can do this.” His eyebrows furrow, and her stomach clenches. She hadn’t realized how loud she’d said that.
“Did the meeting really go that poorly?” A bit of concern tinges his voice. The unfamiliarity of it distracts Hermione for a moment, causing her to look up into his face rather than the corner of the doorframe she’d been gazing at so intently.
She clears her throat. “Erm, no, it went fantastically, actually.”
“Then what’s the problem? I thought everything was in order.”
“It is. … I just—something’s not right.” She fists the collar of her robes once again. “I don’t know if I’m ready.”
He stands abruptly, and she jolts, startled. “What are you talking about, you’re not ready?”
She has nothing she can tell him by way of explanation. “It’s silly, really—”
“Well, what is it? Come on, out with it. I’m sure we can figure something out.”
“I lost my necklace!” she finally blurts. Her cheeks redden almost instantly with humiliation. She hasn’t felt this vulnerable in a long time, and certainly not in front of Malfoy. Or is it Draco now? Seriously, this—this confusion and uncertainty about their new boundaries—is the last thing she needs.
He looks perplexed. “A necklace? You can’t go through with months’ worth of preparation and research because you don’t have a piece of jewellery with you?”
Her gaze falls down to her desk, which is littered with stacks of paperwork about the very research she’s spent the last several months on. “I told you it was silly.”
“Merlin, Granger. I—wait.” He pats his robe once or twice, feeling through the fabric of his pockets. His hand emerges from one of the chest pockets fisted, and he empties it onto her desk, an old locket falling out of his grasp. “I told you not to leave anything behind.”
Hermione nearly screams as she leaps from her chair. “Oh, Merlin! Did I really leave it at your—oh, thank God!”
“I intended to give it back after the procedure. Though, if I’d known how important it was to you…”
“Oh, never mind that!” She grabs the locket and walks around her desk to where he’s standing. “Would you mind clasping it for me?” she asks, holding the chain out to him. She’s sure that her eyes are shining with the unshed tears that are nearly blinding her, but she can’t bring herself to wipe them away.
He simply grabs it as she turns with her back towards him, and her entire body sags in relief once the clasp has been fastened once again around her neck. She’s so overcome that she quickly turns in his embrace, determined while she’s still got the courage, and captures his mouth hard with her own, her thumbs rubbing along his cheeks. When she pulls away, she’s certain that she looks as dazed as he does, perhaps more so. “Thank you so much, Draco,” she says, never more grateful in her entire life. “I don’t know how to repay you.”
He smirks. “Well, actually going through with this thing would be a start. Someone convinced me to put a lot into this project, if you recall.”
She smiles, almost shy. “Let’s get this show on the road then, shall we? I just need to grab the last of the paperwork.” As soon as she’s compiled everything the technicians need, she and Malfoy leave.
“So, did you get released from that liability rubbish?”
She smiles up at him. “Of course I did.”
“Oh, and let me guess. You didn’t take a single one of my suggestions to heart.” He smirks. They had had a very long discussion—some would call it an argument—over how she should go about dealing with the mountain of liability releases the Ministry wanted her to sign. His suggestions had been for word manipulation to avoid it, and Hermione had argued for what seemed like hours that there must be a more ethical way.
Her smile falters. As it was, she’d had to resort to what she is now mentally referring to as “Malfoyian” tactics. Basically Machiavellian, but with a slight difference she had yet to pinpoint. His knowing smile doesn’t help matters.
By the time they reach the conference room, her nerves are significantly less on edge, leaving her almost relaxed. The stress she feels from the oncoming procedure pales in comparison to the past couple of hours. But that makes sense. She’s researched and planned and prepared for this moment for what feels like years but is probably months. She, Miri, Cameron, and Moira had explored every possible avenue, and she is as sure as is possible that this will work.
The room shocks her at first when they enter. Even after so long in the Wizarding world, magic and how limitless it seems still catch her off guard at times. Like this. The conference room has been completely changed and expanded. In place of the stiff tables, chairs, and presentation materials stands furniture much more fitting of a room in St. Mungo’s. The place looks sterile in its brightness alone.
She spots a Healer in the corner conversing with Moira, who offers a warm smile. Next to the two brunette women is a small assortment of phials, each filled with something silver and viscous. Hermione moves to nudge Malfoy towards Moira and the Healer, but when her elbow swipes through air, she looks up to see that he’s already making his way over. Taking larger strides than usual, she catches up with him just as he stops next to Moira.
Malfoy’s entire body is suddenly as stiff as a board, and he falls back one step. Just as Hermione is about to question what’s happened, she recognizes the Healer, and her eyes widen.
“What are you doing here?” Katie Bell’s voice sounds low. She looks like she can’t decide whether she should be angry or afraid.
And Moira looks simply confused. “Mr Malfoy is the participating lawyer,” she explains. “He’s in charge of the case and is here to brief Hermione on the memories—right, Draco?”
Malfoy nods curtly, his gaze riveted now on the phials on the counter.
Katie snarls. “Fine. You can brief her whilst I check her vitals. Hermione, if you’ll take a seat.”
Hermione strides quickly to the seat her former House-mate motioned towards and perches on it. As Katie begins her array of diagnostic and other spells, he begins.
“As you know, this case is charging a man with burglary, and these memories were procured from the Simmons family’s house elves—voluntarily,” he quickly adds with a raise of his eyebrow at Hermione. “The first two are from the head elf, who apparently had the most contact with the intruder. There are two more from others in the staff, and we’ll only be administering four today, per your own suggestions, Granger.” Hermione nods. She’s heard this all before, seven ways to Sunday. She thinks she could probably recite the details about everything—the case, the memories, the procedure. “Granger and I have done a walk-through in each of the memories in the MLE’s Pensieve, so there should be no surprises.”
Hermione nods her affirmation once more, and then Malfoy drags Moira towards Cameron under the pretence of some legal something-or-other the two need to be aware of. Katie visibly relaxes once he’s several feet away. Her posture is less rigid now, and the frown on her face relaxes.
“You know, he’s changed,” Hermione whispers.
Katie’s hands still. “That’s easy for you to say.”
Hermione doesn’t know how to respond, and so, for once, she keeps quiet. She figures it’s the smart thing to do, considering Katie is armed with an arsenal of pointy objects.
“I still have nightmares,” Katie mutters, her voice pained and eyes shining. “I took this job to see some familiar faces, you know. That, and I’m quite interested in the research you’re doing, Hermione.” Hermione offers what she hopes is a reassuring smile. “But suffice to say, I’ll be asking for another Healer to be assigned to you lot.”
Hermione can think of nothing to comfort the girl but to grasp her hand and squeeze. “I understand, Katie. I promise we won’t be offended if you can’t do this.”
“Pity, too. This really is great work you’re doing here.” Katie smiles at her then, a first for the day. “Well, you’ve got a clean bill of health. Looks like we’re set to start this.” She quickly summons the others over to Hermione’s chair. “Is this everybody, then?”
Cameron affirms with a yell before he locks the door, ensuring no interruptions. As the group gathers around her, Hermione begins to feel more and more anxious. Her knee begins to dance with anticipation.
“Nervous?” Hermione’s eyes dart up to see Cameron smirking, trying to contain his own excitement.
“Hardly,” she states primly. “Just ready to dive in and get this done with finally.”
Cameron simply nods, and she knows he doesn’t believe her. Well, it’s at least half-true. She couldn’t consider herself human if she weren’t the least bit nervous about sticking something foreign in her mind. The idea frightens her, but she’s also as excited as she’s ever been.
“I’ll assume that satisfies the vow of consent,” Miri says, looking at Malfoy, who nods. “Right then. Healer Bell, whenever you’re ready!”
Hermione can barely hold in her chuckle at Miri’s enthusiasm. She then looks up at Katie and nods with a small smile. The Healer gives her a vial of a purple liquid, explaining, “Just a sedative. You need to be asleep for the procedure.” She then summons the first of the four vials. Hermione nods and thinks to herself, Bottoms up, old girl.
What seems like seconds later, her eyes open to the bright lights of the conference room. Just as she’s about to ask what’s happened, her mind flits straight to a strange, new memory. She closes her eyes once more and tries to steady her breathing when she feels something akin to an old, heavy door opening.
Year 0, Day 3, Hour 19:00
Hermione sighs at the awkward silence and continues to stir her soup. Harry had certainly never hidden his feelings, and their dinner that evening is no different. Waves of disapproval seem to waft from his being, complete with a deep frown and an untouched plate.
“Harry, are you going to eat, or are you just going to glare at me all night?” she asks as she manoeuvres the spoonful of broth to her mouth.
He blinks, his eyes refocusing on her face. “I wasn’t glaring.”
“Fine. Are you going to eat, or are you just going to frown at me all night?” Semantics.
And with that, his frown deepens. She hadn’t thought it possible.
“We’re just worried, Hermione,” Ron pipes in from beside her, having decided to take a breath between bites for once. “Even Luna thinks the whole thing’s odd.” He adds with a whisper, “And that’s certainly saying something, isn’t it?” though not as low as he’d thought. Harry’s frown then does really turn to a glare, followed by a loud thud and Ron’s grunt of pain.
“I’ve told you all, you’ve got nothing to worry about! I’m perfectly fine.” She’s been trying to explain how safe the project is for months, as well as how instrumental, at least to her. Ron mostly accepted—she isn’t so delusional to think he truly understands—what she tells them, but Harry? The only word can she think of to describe his reaction is ‘resistant’. How much time he spends with Luna probably isn’t helping Hermione’s case in his book.
Luna’s reaction had actually been the most surprising to Hermione. It was, in fact, the first time she’d seen the girl so ill at ease. Hermione had half-expected Luna to be as excited about it as she herself was, but then again, she and Luna have never seen things the same way.
Harry lets out a grunt, which Hermione doesn’t know how to interpret. Just as she’s about to ask what he wants, because honestly, she’s sick and tired of all the brooding, sighing, and grunting, he cuts in, “Look, let’s just talk about something else, all right? There’s got to be something else we can talk about, right?”
“Erm,” starts Ron, “Ginny’s got a new bloke. Apparently he’s a reporter for the sports section of the Prophet and spends a lot of time around the team or something.”
“Glad to see we’ve moved the conversation onto bigger and better things,” mutters Hermione, “like gossip. I think the purpose was to pick something that’s going to lift Harry’s mood, not make it more sour, Ron!”
Ron looks at least somewhat sheepish. “Well, I don’t know what to bring up! The only people I see around besides you lot are my family. What else am I supposed to talk about?”
Hermione chances a quick glance at Harry. She thinks he looks mere seconds away from murdering the fish on his plate. Her gaze darts back to Ron. “Oh, I don’t know, what about the shop? How are George and Angelina doing? And Verity?” she hisses.
“Shop’s fine. We’re getting ready for that little anniversary party. Are you two coming, by the way?”
Harry nods. “Yeah, of course, mate.”
“Right then. I imagine you’ll be bringing Luna?” At Harry’s nod, Ron continues, “And you, Hermione?”
“Of course I’m coming.”
“Well, yeah. I’d have expected the moon to fall out of the sky first. What I meant was are you bringing anyone?”
Hermione blinks rapidly. “Oh.” She’d completely forgotten about a date. “Yeah, I probably will.” She has an idea of whom she’ll invite, though whether he’ll accept … that is a completely different question.
“Well, let me know if you need—”
She interrupts Ron mid-offer, “No, no. You don’t need to do that. Even if I don’t have someone to go with by then, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve gone alone, would it? No.” She smiles and barely stops herself from winking. “From what I hear, there’s someone who’ll be expecting to be your plus-one, Ron.”
He blushes a little but manages a toothy grin. “So, how’s Luna doing, mate?” he asks their other half. Hermione hopes that the mention of his newly betrothed will bring a little sun back into him.
And it does. Just enough. “She’s great. Helping her father out with the magazine still. She claims the readership’s been going up by a steady 300 hyatiwatts per month or something.” Hermione’s always found Luna’s oddities … well, at odds with her own hyper-logical personality, but she’d bear five million hyatiwatts of nargles if it means keeping that bit of sun in Harry. The logic could wait.
She spoons herself another bit of soup but can’t enjoy it, despite how delicious it’d been twenty minutes ago. Hermione’s never been able to enjoy a soup gone cold. Something of the flavour always seems to go with the heat, and even a solid Heating Charm never can quite do the trick. It never tastes the same. She supposes it’s the same with some things in life. Relationships, perhaps. It’s what had happened with Harry and Ginny years ago. They lost something of their very essence, and no matter how much either of them tried, everything else seemed to fall short.
“Have you two started planning yet—for the wedding?” she asked, setting her spoon down. Luckily, Harry has found a new soup, so to speak. This one was so much less heated in the beginning, and nobody had really understood the attraction. But whatever heat had begun between Luna Lovegood and Harry Potter two years ago has never waned; whether it’s increased was the couple’s secret to tell, but it’s obvious to most who care to look that the heat is constant. Hermione’s logical mind compared Ginny and him to the flame that burned hot and burned out quickly, but he and Luna are much more the flame that starts low but always burns, whether it increases or remains in stasis.
“She really wants a spring wedding, so it’ll probably be this time next year,” Harry answers, a smile tugging on the sides of his mouth. Hermione smiles and squeezes his hand.
Year 0, Day 3, Hour 20:00
“I still don’t see why we couldn’t be there, Hermione.”
Hermione’s eyes fall shut. She had hoped to avoid this conversation altogether, but it seems that Harry was just waiting until Ron left to really dig into her on the subject. There’s also the fact that they’re outside of the restaurant, away from the threat of causing a scene. Auror training has certainly honed his skills, but Hermione has always thought an Auror must be at least a little Slytherin. “Don’t be brave!” she'd heard a ranked Auror shout at his trainees once, which had certainly turned her for a loop.
“I’m part of the MLE, Hermione.”
“Harry, I realise that. There wasn’t the room.”
“Haven’t you heard of Expans—”
“We just wanted it small and quick, with only the necessary people there.”
“And Malfoy’s more necessary than me?” Hermione could almost hear the dual hurt and anger in his voice. Even after so many years as an MLE lackey and, later, an Auror, he takes almost everything as a personal offense.
“Harry. Stop this,” she says, grabbing his hand once more. “Malfoy had to be there to brief the case, and you know it. I obviously survived intact, no harm done.”
“I just still think this is a bad idea.”
“And I know why you’re doing it, Hermione.” When she simply looks at him in question, he continues, “It won’t bring them back, whatever you’re doing.”
“What are you talking about?”
“All this research you’re doing, this development where it really doesn’t belong … ” Harry says, taking ginger hold of the pendant around her neck and opening the locket. Her parents, not moving in their Muggle photographs, look back at him. “It isn’t going to bring them back to you or bring you back to them.”
She swallows, a lump having formed in her throat. “Nothing is absolute.” Hermione can’t bring herself to say the words that had been on the tip of her tongue: You don’t know that. It sounds so childish to her ears, petulant even. And there isn’t a single other thing she could say that would have born more proof to Harry’s claim. “Besides, this trial has nothing to do with reclaiming memories. It’s ab—”
“Yes, I know. It’s all about ‘better memory investigation’. I’ve heard your speech countless times, in person and on paper, Hermione.” He steps closer to her, and suddenly their height discrepancy is much more obvious. She has to hold her head back to an uncomfortable angle to even meet the level of his face, much less eyes. “But I’m afraid that you’re putting yourself onto a slippery slope.” He ignores the roll of her eyes. “Maybe if you weren’t so obsessed—”
Hermione’s jaw drops. “I’m not obsessed! What are you on about?”
“Really?” His gaze drops to her locket again. “Right, then tell me why you don’t wear any other necklace.” She can feel her cheeks heating, and she curses her utter inability to control how easily she blushes. “Or why you have an anxiety attack each time you misplace it?”
Her silence greets him.
“Hermione,” he says softly as he pulls her into a tight hug. “Just promise me you know what you’re doing.”
She nods and, muffled against his jumper, answers, “I promise.”
“And that you’ll ask for help if something goes wrong.” There’s no room for question.
She nods again, her eyes shining. “I promise, although nothing is going to go wrong.”
He smiles down at her, the first she’s received that night unsolicited. “Ever the optimist.”
“I prefer realist,” she says with a smile.