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Key to Her Heart

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August 3, 2002 London, England -- Calloway Book Shop

Hermione Granger had spent most of her life in and around bookstores and libraries. Among books was where she felt most at ease, and that’s why she visited this store - her favorite store- at least twice a month. It’d been a little bit since she could afford a trip; a trip to the bookstore for her required as much or more budgeting than a vacation sometimes. She knew she’d leave with at least five books, and probably quite a few more if Alex had found something she liked.

This store in particular was a Muggle shop, and she loved just escaping away into the cozy shelves in Muggle London and forgetting all about her troubles in the Ministry. She wasn’t normally one to resort to that sort of escapism, but she’d really been feeling the stress of her job lately.

After school, she’d been bombarded with job offers from the Ministry, St. Mungo’s, even from as far away as France. She was exhausted of being in the public eye. She’d been paraded around as Harry Potter’s best friend for far too long, and she was ready to reclaim her life as just Hermione Granger, the bookworm. She was surprised, and a little intrigued, though, when the offer came in from the Department of Mysteries.

Ever since the Battle of the Department of Mysteries in her fifth year, she’d never really been keen on the idea of working in the dark halls shut away from the world on the lowest level of the Ministry. Something about the place didn’t sit right with her, and she honestly just didn’t like the idea of not being able to talk about the work she was doing with her loved ones.

But then she found out what she’d be doing for the department.The new Minister, Kingsley Shacklebolt, had decided that the research being conducted in the Department of Mysteries wasn’t documented well enough. They went through interns quite frequently, and as not many people enjoyed working in the vaults, their documentation of experiments and research findings were all over the place. There was no filing system, and it was nearly impossible to find records any further back that a few months at any given time, especially since the research programs had been restructured by the new Ministry.

That was where Hermione came in. Most of the research from before the war had been destroyed, either in battles or by Death Eaters, no one could be quite sure. However, from 1998 onward, there were plenty of experiments taking place which needed a place, and a system. Hermione would be creating that system.

It was something of a dream for her. It was no secret she spent most of her academic career hidden away in the Hogwarts library, but she’d never imagined that one day she’d be responsible for creating a filing system as diverse and complex as the one she envisioned for the department. It was just the thing she needed to break out from under the shadow of her best friend. And it had seemed like such a dream job until she discovered the truly immense scale of the project.

She would be the leader of the project, responsible for filing all completed research projects, papers, and experiments complete with dates, section name, and a label which would tell anyone who pulled the file what the threat level of said project had been. She pulled quite a bit from the classifications of magical creatures when creating the threat labels, and she even scheduled visits to Oxford and other libraries just so that she could get an idea of how best to organise these massively diverse collections.

It had taken her a year to create a system that worked, and another six months to tweak the design and figure out what magic she would need to make her design work. But now, finally, she had started the cataloging and filing process. She had help from some of the interns once or twice a week, but for the large majority of her time at work, she was alone.

Which is why she needed a bookstore trip. She hadn’t had a lot of time for hanging out with friends and just being with people the last couple of months, and while she didn’t necessarily want to be social, she didn’t want to go from the silence of the archives to the silence of her flat, either.

She sighed, thinking about how lonely her flat had become these days. She and Ron had broken up just a few months after the end of the war. They were so much better as friends, in her opinion. When they were a couple, they fought more, things were more tense, and she was just generally unhappy. They’d decided that they valued their friendship more than any sort of relationship and decided to end it. Lately, he had been in America, supporting George with a new franchise of Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes opening in New York.

Harry and Ginny were around when they could be, but as an auror and professional Quidditch player respectively, the two barely had time to see each other these days, let alone get together with Hermione. She wrote them when she could, and of course they all had birthdays and holidays at the Burrow. But it’d been a month or so since she’d been able to see any of her friends in person.

That was to say, she hadn’t been able to see any of her wizarding friends. Hermione’s disdain for the post-war spotlight had led to her basically abandoning Wizarding London. When the time came for her to find her own place to live, she had decided to instead expand her horizons and move into a little flat in Muggle London. She was close enough to the Ministry to not be inconvenience, but far enough away that she could really disconnect at the end of the day. It was in this little section of town, which was full of little shops and tearooms, that she found Alex and Calloway Book Shop. It was the most adorable storefront, only three blocks down from her flat. She could almost see it from her balcony. Nestled between a cafe and tailor, and Hermione could never resist stopping by the cafe for a cup of tea after binging on books for a few hours, usually with Alex joining her.

Alex had quickly become one of Hermione’s closest friends. He was a few years older than her, and basically ran the bookstore, which belonged to his grandmother. The two had spent countless hours over the past few years discussing various novels that they both enjoyed, new releases from their favorite authors, and Alex had even taken to holding back books that he knew Hermione might like. He made her feel at home in the little shop, and it was as much a place for her to relax and hang out with her friends as it was to stock up on new books for pleasure reading.

Hermione smiled as she pulled the door open to the little bookshop, inhaling the familiar scent of leather and paper. There was a small entryway into the shop, where there was a stack of baskets, as well as newspapers from the day before that the store kept as reading material for the patrons. Hermione grabbed her basket before heading into the main shop, looking for Alex automatically. She spotted him behind the register at once and made her way over to him, leaning on the counter.
“Well look who the cat dragged out of the bed. You look like hell. Rough night?” She asked, noticing Alex looked quite a bit more dishevelled than normal. Alex looked up and immediately grinned at her, despite looking like he hadn’t slept properly in a week.

“Hermione! It’s about time you showed up. Been a minute since you’ve been in, hasn’t it? I’ve got a pile of books to show you!” He said, his excitement at seeing her overpowering his exhaustion. “More like a rough month, if we’re being quite frank. Me Grandmum’s been hospitalized for the past two weeks, so I’ve been running the store, and getting her legal matters in order, and helping me mum get her housing situation straightened out… it’s been a mess.” He shook his head. “Long story short, I need help in this blasted store, so I’ve finally put out a help wanted ad.” He told her.
“I thought you were against selling out?” she asked, frowning. She hadn’t known his grandmother was in such ill health, and it seemed as though they were preparing to lose her. “If you need anything, Alex, let me know. I may not be able to help much, but you know I’ll try my best.”

“That’s very sweet of you.” he told her, smiling weakly at her. “But anyway, let me show you these books. I’ve been dying for a distraction, and since someone is never home…” He trailed off, directing a pointed glare at her.
“It’s not my fault I work all the time!” She laughed, setting her basket down and coming around the counter as was their usual. She spent as much time behind the counter as in front of it. There had even been times that she’d rung up customers while Alex was dealing with other matters.

Hermione had just settled onto her stool, looking over the first stack of books that Alex had handed her when the bell over the door chimed. She looked up, expecting to see perhaps one of the regular Muggle customers she was accustomed to seeing, and instead, was very confused when she saw a face that she hadn’t seen in a couple years looking back at her.

Theodore Nott was standing before them, clutching a flyer and looking very nervous about being in a Muggle shop. Not that she blamed him, of course. The man had probably never stepped foot in a Muggle shop before today. She took in his appearance. He’d filled out a little since school. He was no longer the stringy, wiry boy he’d once been, but instead looked a bit more rugged. She could tell by the way his long sleeve t-shirt stretched that he worked out now, and while it didn’t look like he normally kept a beard, he wore a well-developed five o’clock shadow.

He blinked when he saw Hermione behind the counter, and she saw in his eyes a flicker of what she assumed was apprehension. She watched his face with a little frown as he looked back towards the door, maybe deciding whether or not it was worth it to just turn around and walk back out.

“Can I help you?” Alex asked, looking the man over a little hesitantly. That seemed to solidify Nott’s courage and he moved forward, looking down at the flyer in his hands.
“Yes, I saw this flyer at the cafe next door? It says you’re hiring, and I was wondering how I’d go about applying?” Nott asked, making a point to ignore Hermione.

Hermione could barely believe her ears. “Wait,” She said, before Alex could respond. She wasn’t able to process what was happening. “Theodore Nott is wanting to apply for a job here? You’re aware that this is a Muggle shop, yes?” She asked, cocking her head to the side.
Nott glanced over at her, then back to Alex. “Um, does she… work here?” He asked, awkwardly.

“Hermione, do you know this man?” Alex asked, looking over at her.

“I went to school with him,” She told Alex. “At Hogwarts. I don’t work here, Nott, but I am here quite frequently.” She said, trying to keep the hostility out of her voice.
“So he’s a wizard.” Alex nodded, looking over at the other man. He extended his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Alex Calloway, and I run this shop basically by myself. If you don’t mind, we could have a bit of an informal interview right now if you’d like?” He asked.

Nott looked over at Hermione, then looked back to Alex. “Theodore Nott. The pleasure is mine. I’m more than happy to have an interview.” He nodded, almost looking relieved. “If you don’t mind my asking, Alex, are you a squib?”
Alex chuckled, shaking his head. “Oh, no. My younger sister was a Hufflepuff. Everything I know about magic, I know through her. And Hermione, of course. Do you mind if Hermione sticks around for your interview? She knows this store forward and back, so I’m sure she’ll have something to add every now and again.”

“I-” Nott met Hermione’s eye, and there was a sadness there that was so profound that it made her look away. She wanted to know what had brought this man here, and what had caused him to act so differently than he had in school. “Sure. She can stay.” He said, quietly.

“Perfect,” Alex said, chipper as ever. “So, first question, then, Theodore, what brings you to Calloway? You said you found the flyer in the cafe next door?”

“I did.” Nott said. “I’ve actually been looking for a job for a few months now, but I haven’t been able to find a position in the Wizarding World, and it’s really hard to find an entry level position this time of year in London.” he told him with a little laugh.

Hermione chimed in at that, frowning. “No one will hire you? Is it because of your connection to the Death Eaters?” She asked, not really thinking about what she was saying.

Nott’s spine stiffened, and he looked down. He obviously hadn’t wanted Alex to have that information. “Yes, I believe so.” He said, almost robotically.

“So you sided with the Death Eaters during the war, and now you’re wanting to work in a Muggle shop? Something doesn’t line up here.” Alex said, looking between the two  of them.
Nott sighed, rolling his shoulders back before lifting his eyes from the floor. “I sided with the Death Eaters because my father was one of the Dark Lord’s most loyal servants. It was join or die. I actually did the Death Eaters more harm than good in that last battle. Which may be a contributing factor as to why I can’t find a job in the wizarding world.” He shrugged.

Hermione looked up at Nott’s words, and she found herself strangely protective of him. “The wizarding wars had more victims than just Muggles and Muggleborns.” She said softly, to both men.

Nott’s eyes darted to met hers. Hermione was shocked by how much of herself she saw mirrored in his eyes at that moment. All the hurt she’d suffered in the war- the torment, the torture, the countless sleepless nights and nightmares and just pure agony. All of that and so much more was laid bare for her in those eyes, and for a moment, it was as if she was seeing into his soul.

“You have no idea how right you are about that, Granger.” He murmured, his voice almost too soft to hear.

Alex looked between the two of them, seeing the exchange there, but seeming to know that it was probably best not to say anything about it. “So, why don’t you give me your phone number, Theodore, and I’ll call you and schedule a more formal interview. I’ve actually not slept very much at all this week, and I feel like I really want to give you a proper chance.” He said, nodding and giving Nott a reassuring smile.

“Oh, sure.” Nott said, surprised by the offer. He moved forward, grabbing a pen and jotting down his information on a notepad by the register. “I’m pretty much available whenever, so just let me know.” He told him, reaching out to shake his hand again.

Alex shook and nodded, “I will,” he said, smiling. “I’ll reach out in the next couple of days.” he told him with a nod.

And then Nott just turned and walked out of the building. Hermione let out a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding. “Hire him.” she said, almost at once.

“I’d already planned on it,” Alex said, watching his friend’s face carefully. “You weren’t friends with him, were you?”
“Sometimes, I wish I could save everyone from that damned war. And sometimes, I get a chance to help the victims, even if they weren’t the kindest people.” She told Alex. “No, Nott and I weren’t friends. But…” She looked up at Alex with a slight frown. “I think we could be?”