When he saw her again, he felt something inside him click. It always happened like this after a prolonged separation from either of his best friends. After long summer months in the muggle world, and after Christmas and Easter holidays they spent apart. After one of them would inevitably wind up in the hospital wing unconscious. And especially after Ron returned to them in the Forest of Dean.
He was nervous about seeing her again. Ron, who was now sitting by his side, had basically admitted the same thing just last night over a pint at the Leaky Cauldron.
Five years is a long time, after all, to be away. The places she had gone, the people she met, the things she experienced – well, they were bound to shape her in a way that would have been different had she stayed. He was afraid that the new grooves and outcroppings of her soul would no longer fit perfectly in the puzzle of their lives here in London.
He met her eyes as she entered the room; and she solidly gazed back at him and Ron; and her soul clicked with theirs. He almost audibly sighed in relief.
Almost. He held himself in check, as Hermione was currently standing at the head of the conference room at the Ministry of Magic. Minister Shacklebolt had just introduced her to the rest of the attendees as the head of the terrorist task force. She looked around the room, which was filled with mostly men, mostly middle-aged, and mostly looking back at her with apprehension. Harry smiled to himself as he saw her will more steel in her gaze, as well as her spine.
“Thank you, Minister Shacklebolt, and good morning to all of you,” she said confidently. Fourteen pairs of eyes focused on her. Harry knew most of the people in the conference room – representatives from various divisions of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, the Department of International Magical Cooperation, and the Muggle Liaison Office.
“I would like to introduce my team; we’ll be setting up a temporary office in the DMLE, as this case in ongoing.” She directed a nod to the man standing at her right side. “This is Agent Bennett Haydon, my second for this task force. Please direct all your communications to him if I am in the field or otherwise unavailable.”
She gestured to the imposing woman and stony-faced man on her left. “Agent Maria Velazquez, our muggle tech specialist. She’ll be working closely with the MLO and the Investigation Department to oversee surveillance on the muggle side. And this is Agent Simon Flynn, he’ll be the point person with the MLEP to coordinate our boots on the ground.
For the past year, my team has been tracking the movements of the terrorist group that calls itself Prometheus, which has been staging attacks on magical communities and places heavily trafficked by Wizardkind. Due to the nature of attacks, we believe that this is a joint effort by Dark Wizards and knowledgeable Muggles with anti-wizard agenda in order to destabilize communities, even entire countries. There’s been a spike of recruitment activity on the dark web following an attack on the French magical community La Rue Charme a month ago, for which Prometheus has claimed responsibility,” she continued, as she indicated to the map on the projector screen behind her. “Our intel has indicated that the group’s next target is London.”
When the meeting with the task force ended, and assignments and logistics were managed, Hermione was swept out of the conference room by a flurry of activity. Private meetings with the Minister of Magic, and then with the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot had taken up her lunchtime and early afternoon hours. She was then caught up – Harry assumed – with installing her IWP team into the vacant offices and conference room on the far side of the DMLE.
Harry had left his door open in the hopes that he could glimpse her walking through the department. But after the seventh interruption from pedantic ministry officials who thought an open door meant open visiting hours, Harry was forced to close the door to his office so that he could get his paperwork done.
By seven o’clock, he still sat behind his desk, finishing up his last report when he heard a knock on the door. Ron, most likely, as they usually ended up going to the pub around this time whenever they both had to stay late at the office.
“Come in,” he said, without looking up from the parchment on his desk. He heard the door open, and then quickly click close.
“Head Auror Potter.”
He glanced up at the door at the same moment that he stood, the back of his knees making his chair squeak in protest at the sudden movement. There she was, in her practical slate grey oxford and her functional charcoal pencil skirt. An easy smile was settled on her face, which was framed by a halo of dark caramel curls. She looked the same as the last time he saw her five years ago – simple, comfortable, and still so very-Hermione – that the familiarity of her presence made the smile on his face grow impossibly wide at the sight of her.
“Agent Granger,” he said, feeling an unfamiliar tightness in his throat as he greeted her. He made his way around his desk to where she stood, his Auror-trained brain noting that she only took one step into his office, and that she was holding her left hand behind her back, one of the few nervous ticks that she never could fully purge.
No matter. In four long steps, he had reached her, and she was throwing both her arms around his shoulders as his wrapped around her waist. He bent his head down to where the rebellious curls had escaped her no-nonsense bun, and he was greeted with the crisp apple smell of her favorite shampoo.
A memory flashed in his mind’s eye, of the tent in the middle of the woods, and her complaint that their canvass abode smelled too much like teenage boy. He and Ron promised, at the time, to be more mindful of cleanliness and personal hygiene, and to sometimes air the tent out. He didn’t fully understand her grievance, though, as the scent of sharp green apples cut through whatever musk he and Ron must have been giving off, and he really hadn’t minded that.
The memory of their temporary home, and the sudden feel of her in his arms, stirred something in his chest. He suddenly felt the weight of each day of her absence all at once.
“Oh Merlin, I missed you,” he said into her hair.
He felt her chuckle vibrate through his chest. She was rubbing a hand on his upper back, as she usually did whenever he was treated to one of her full-body hugs. “It’s good to see you, too, Harry.”
His body fought between the urge to crush her further into him – like a man who, upon his first sip of cool water, realized just how thirsty he really was – and the need to pull back so that he could get his fill of looking at her face.
Before he could decide, his door flew open once again, and his other best friend almost barreled into them. Ron must have also been keeping watch for her and saw her enter his office only minutes before.
His blue eyes twinkled as he surveyed his friends in front of him. “Hey now,” he said jovially. “Do you have one of those for me?”
They each opened an arm out to him, and for the first time in a long while, they were whole.
Ron pulled back from their three-person huddle, and he looked at Hermione with concern.
“What if we get married instead? Have seven charming, ginger kids, another rotten kneazle, white picket fence? Would that be enough to get you stay?” he asked.
Hermione answered with a wry smile. “Tempting, truly. But then I would have to unpack all my things, and it just feels like too much work, at this point.”
She, Ron, and Harry had just come back from the Leaky Cauldron, where they shared a last round of Butterbeer – followed by several shots of Firewhiskey – before she left for Madrid in the morning. Now they were sitting on the bare floor of her living room, passing around their second bottle of Firewhiskey of the night.
“What if I tell er-won,” said Harry, with a bit of effort, “that you were the one who really killed Voldemort? You’re the grill-who-lived. Then you’ll be the national treasure, and you won’t be able to leave the country at all! No one will let you go!”
“That’s a great plan, Harry,” she said. “Except there were witnesses to Voldemort’s demise. How are you going to get them all to correlate your story?”
Harry shot her what he intended to be a sultry look, but her reaction – a loud guffaw! – hinted that he might have missed his mark.
“All right, then, Agent Swot, if you still insist on leaving, we have condursh—cond—conditions,” he said.
“Yeah!” said Ron, pointing his index finger in her face. She swatted his hand away before the wayward finger poked her eye.
“Number one!” Harry yelled for no apparent reason. “We are your best friends. Doesn’t matter who you meet as you gallivant around the world, all secret agent-like. Doesn’t matter if you meet ol’ double-oh-seven himself, no one will ever take our place as your besht friends.”
“Yeah!” Ron cheered him on with gusto, despite now lying down on the floor with his eyes closed. Harry wasn’t sure if Ron actually knew who James Bond was, but he appreciated the support, nonetheless.
Hermione rolled her eyes, but her smile belied her outward annoyance.
“Number two!” said Harry, holding up two fingers. “Whenever Ron or I say something funny…which will be often (“Yeah!” Ron interjected from his spot the floor)…we reserve the right to owl you the hilarious quip, which you will then promptly respond with something about how clever we are, and how dull your life has become without us around.”
“Sounds reasonable,” said Hermione, solemnly. “It’s probably not going to take up too much of my time, anyway.”
“Good!” said Harry, obliviously. “Number…number?”
“Four,” said Ron, helpfully.
“Number four! You have to see us on all holidays, birthdays, and major life events. And minor ones, too, like, if one of us decides to get a tattoo.”
“That, I can’t quite promise, you know,” she said. “The training itself is going to take two years, and it will be in various places around the world. I’m not even sure where the first training grounds are. Madrid is just a meeting point before they whisk us off for the first module. And, I’m afraid, I probably won’t be allowed any visitors, on account of the whole secret-location thing.”
“Fine. On the occasion that you’re unable to see us for a holiday, birthday, or life event, then you will shimp-simply owe us a make-up activity of our own choosing the following time we see you.”
Hermione groaned. “You’re going to make me fly, aren’t you?”
“Whatever motivates you to come home, Hermione,” said Ron, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
“Well?” said Harry, with a pout. “Are you going to agree to our terms? Or am I to owl Draco to air out a cell in the Malfoy Manor dungeons for you so we can keep you with us forever?”