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Plan B

Chapter Text

Giving up never felt so good.  

Harry was flat on his back in the yard of Grimmauld Place.  He’d inched his way across the yard all afternoon keeping his head in the shade of the tree while the rest of him soaked up the warmth of the sun.  Currently, this had him half in the dirt of the long-neglected rose bushes.

A contented hum came from behind him where Ron had been strategically lying within the thin shadow of the tree trunk for the few hours they’d been outside.

They lay in silence for a bit longer, Harry catching and releasing his snitch, contemplating how high the invisibility charms reached above Grimmauld Place, whether an undetectable extension charm could be applied to partially open space, what would happen if you cast an undetectable extension charm in  outer  space, and then whether he should attempt to revive these rose bushes and whether a small doghouse in the corner of the yard would be if not in good taste at least humorous albeit a bit dark.

Harry heard the faint yet distinct pop of apparition telling him someone was ‘round at the front door. There were very few people who could apparate directly to Grimmauld Place though so he didn’t bother getting up. A whole building between them and it’s not like the row of townhouses had little alleys between for the sound to float around the house. He didn’t think that he should have actually been able to hear that pop of apparition. Maybe it was one of those quirky things that had come with owning magical property. They’d come across a few odd things since moving in a couple years ago. 

The back door swung open and still, neither man moved to look to see who it was. Harry thought he may have just heard Ron snoring.

“Is this really what you’re going to do with your time now that you’ve quit?”

Her heels scraped against the brick steps and Harry could see without looking how Hermione must now be standing on the edge of the patio in her work clothes, a few curls loose, arms crossed. She was probably leaning forward just the slightest bit, wanting to get in their faces about it but also not wanting to get her heels stuck in the grass.

Harry peeked open an eye, slightly tilting his head over. He was right.

“You’re just going to lay about,” she said.

“Yep,” Harry said. He knew she’d been itching to give them the ‘You’ve got to do something with your lives!’ speech. She held out until Friday so far - a whole (work) week. Not bad, actually.

“Isn’t that called being a gentleman of leisure?” Ron asked.

“It’s called wasting your life.”

Ah, there it was.

“Not necessarily,” Harry argued. He didn’t really plan on doing nothing with his life, but he also wasn’t going to waste an opportunity of having a go at Hermione. “If someone’s life ambition was to lay about doing nothing, then they’d have accomplished all they wanted in life simply by doing nothing.”

“Mate, what?” Ron rolled his head back to try and look at Harry upside-down.

“Besides,” Harry continued, “can I really waste my life? I mean, this is kind of a second life, really. I fulfilled my first life’s duty, can’t I waste the second?”  He was pretty sure he heard Ron mumbling something that sounded suspiciously like “Oh Merlin, not this again.” Harry stifled a chuckle.

“Harry, of course you can do anything you want to with your life,” Hermione sighed. “I just think you can do better than lying in the yard playing with a snitch all day.”

“Oi, we haven’t been doing this all day!” Ron objected.

“Yeah, we started on the other side of the lawn.”

Hermione sighed loudly again, took off her heels, marched across the lawn and peered down at the pair. Before she could get another word out, Ron reached up and pulled her down onto the grass between them.

“Just relax for a bit, Hermione,” he said.

As she settled in between them, the trio sprawled out like three points of a star, heads together, Harry felt his magic settle a bit more within him. Rarely did his magic bother him or feel out-of-sorts; it never felt wrong or as if something was missing, but it always felt better when they were all together. Spend enough time with people, make them your family, and your magic grew accustomed to it, he supposed.

Harry dropped the hand holding the snitch to his side and reached out his other arm. Half-way extended, his fingers brushed up against Hermione’s and they linked their hands together. He knew without looking that she was doing the same on her other side with Ron.

It had been the three of them together against the world for so long. Now it was still the three of them, but against nothing.

Chapter Text

Harry was fairly certain he would never win a game of chess - wizarding or otherwise - against Ron Weasley. So instead of playing to win, he played to delay, block, and out-manoeuvre his best friend. Today that meant they were going on their second hour of playing.

Instead of playing in the library, they were in the front room where the open windows occasionally allowed a breeze to sweep through. The daylight was beginning to fade but neither of them made a move to cast a Lumos. Harry had no inclination to move from his very comfortable position in his chair, one leg hanging over the armrest. If asked, he’d bet Ron was so concentrated on the game that he hadn’t even noticed the fading light. He didn’t normally put this much effort in to games with Harry - he always called them easy wins. Today though, Ron had been contemplative the entire afternoon.

“Bishop to B3.”

Harry stared at the board on the table, looked over to the second board to its side, glance up to the board hovering mid-air, then back to the one between him and Ron.

“Knight to AA5.”

“I’ve been thinking of helping George at the shop,” Ron said, glancing between the boards. “Bishop to AAA3.”

Harry watched the grumbling chess piece float up to the board for a moment before Ron’s statement fully registered.

“Wait, what?” He slid his leg off the arm of the chair and leaned forward.

“I moved my Bishop up here - see? He can-”

“No, no. What did you say about George’s shop?”

“Oh,” Ron said, flopping back in his seat. “Well, I was thinking of helping George out at the shop. He hasn’t been complaining exactly, but I’ve heard him mention more than once that it’s a lot of work managing the shop now that he’s - now that it’s just him.”

Harry was ignoring his pawn (which was rudely reminding him that it was his turn) and staring across the table at his best friend. His oldest friend, if you weren’t counting Dudley. And he didn’t.

“Doesn’t he have other people working at the shop?” Harry asked.

“Well, yeah, but they’re just employees. I mean, he’s not really got a real manager. He’s managing, but he doesn’t want to. He can’t keep the shop running and keep production going all by himself.”

Harry listened to Ron as he explained how George was actually wanting to get back into production again - not just replenishing their stock but inventing too. The lone twin had barely wanted to go back to the shop after everything.

As Harry listened, he thought about how so many things between them had never changed through the years. Here they were, playing chess by the fireside like they had for years. Between all that time though, slipped between their games, flying matches, dinners at The Burrow, going out for drinks, late night talks about anything, everything, and nothing all at once… Between those moments shared together, Ron had changed. Grown. Moved on from some things and chosen priorities for himself. Harry had never really paid attention until now.

Looking across the table at his best friend, Harry saw how he had grown up. Sure, he’d lost that last bit of baby fat and had a stronger jawline than he did in school. He’d kept fit, grown a bit more, but there was also something in his eyes that had changed since they were boys. Ron didn’t carry the weight of their past along with him, but there was the shadow of it all swept in the corners of his eyes.

Harry hadn’t given it a second thought when they both left the DMLE. They had talked it over casually and came to the same conclusion. They had each had enough and wanted out. When it was happening, Harry had actually tried not to laugh. It looked rehearsed, with how in synch they were as they handed in their notices, dropped their badges and walked out of the office. He hadn’t really wondered why Ron wanted out. He still didn’t know why, but working at the shop seemed to make sense for Ron.

“It’s not like running a shop’s ever been my dream or anything - don’t think George would even let me be part owner. But it’d be a good job, stable… keeping things in the family, you know?” Ron shrugged as he finally met Harry’s gaze across the table.

Harry sat back in his chair, thinking that he had no idea what it took to run a shop. He wasn’t sure Ron really did either for that matter. The thought of it was completely unappealing: having to stand about behind a counter, waiting for people to come to him with whatever they needed. And being the boss on top of it… You’ve got people relying on you, managing schedules, dealing with unexpected incidents - well, that he could do. So could Ron.

Ron was great in a pinch: quick on his feet when he needed to be, too kind to work people unfair hours like he knew his uncle had. All those moving parts, Harry thought as he stared at the third chessboard floating between them.

“You’ll be brilliant, Ron.” Harry smiled as Ron ducked his head, hiding a grin. Despite the dimming light, Harry could swear the tips of Ron’s ears were darkening. “Sounds like George really does need the help, and keeping it in the family seems like the right thing to do.” He stood up, abandoning their game, and squeezed Ron’s shoulder as he walked by.

“I’m grabbing a butterbeer, want-”

“Yeah.”

“Curry tonight?”

“I’ll owl the order.”

Chapter Text

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Harry stood up from his favorite armchair, now with it’s back to their suspended chess game, and set down his takeout to investigate the noise coming from the front of the house. It sounded like the front door being slammed over and over again. That odd internal alarm system had gone off letting him know Hermione was home, but she was usually so… well, not quiet, but not like this either.

He popped his head out into the hallway to see both exactly and not at all what he had been expecting. Hermione, clearly straight from work in her standard professional straight-laced outfit, slamming the front door shut only to have the door swing back open. She slammed it again, the door opened. Slam! Open. Slam! Open. The witch was shutting the door so furiously her hair was coming loose, and her bag was half off her shoulder, bringing her robe with it.

This happened about half a dozen times before Harry intervened.

“Woah, watch it, Hermione! That door’s really...old,” he said without much conviction. He put himself between the witch and the wooden door, grabbed the handle and closed it with a gentle click. When it stayed shut, he turned to grin at Hermione, who huffed and stomped away.

“I’ve had it!” she yelled to nobody in particular.

“Oh c’mon Hermione, you were slamming the door after all. You know it’s temperamental. And it’s not like it’s locked you out recently.”

“I was not talking about that asinine door,” Hermione growled, whipping her head around at Harry following behind. She threw her bag down in the hallway before walking into the living room.

Ron hadn’t moved from his spot on the couch. Harry picked up his takeout and sat back down as Hermione flopped down next to Ron.

“I just quit.”

Ron and Harry froze, both with their forks halfway to their mouths. Hermione - their Hermione, who worked over sixty hours a week, always bringing work home with her, who barely took breaks for Sunday dinner at the Weasleys - could not have said what she just said.

“I blame the two of you,” she added.

“What?”

“What did we do?”

“No, I don’t,” she continued with a sigh. “I blame the awful, terrible lack of accountability, no working structure that makes any sense. There is no standard flow of information, nobody knows who’s making decisions and they’re so steeped in bureaucracy that it’s impossible to untangle the web of ridiculous out-of-date laws that exist!”

“Sure,” Harry said while Ron hummed in agreement around another bite.

Hermione rolled her head on the back of the couch to look at them. “Can’t we just burn the ministry down and make them start all over again?” she asked in an exhausted tone.

“I’m pretty sure we were fighting to avoid that not long ago,” Harry said as he thumped Ron’s back, who was now choking.

“Yes, but they were wrong and I’m right,” she whined.

“Pretty sure that’s the argument you always use.”

Hermione groaned in response, snatched up the extra to-go container on the coffee table and dug into her dinner. Her voice was small when she spoke again and Harry’s heart ached a little to hear it. “I thought I could change it, you know? Work from the inside, see what made the clock tick. It’s just no use. It’s too big.”

Harry stared at Hermione and tried to see her anew like he had this afternoon with Ron. She had always been the one keeping them on track, only resorting to extremes when it was the only course of action. Or when it was The Right Thing To Do. If Hermione was quitting - if the Ministry had broken her down that much… It must be more poisonous than they ever imagined.

“Wait, so did you really quit then?”

She turned her head to Ron and nodded.

“Bloody hell. But you were always working-”

“Sixty, sixty-five hours on average.”

“You bring work home with you-”

“Both good arguments for quitting,” Harry supplied.

“I used to find parchment under the pillows because you’d been working in bed!”

At that, Hermione cringed slightly with a side-eye glance at Harry who was distinctly taking a drink as if he wasn’t hearing about his two best friends’ past - sometimes present - romance.

“Well, as Harry said, those were all contributing factors as to why I quit!”

“But I thought you did those things because you loved your work.”

“I did- I tried…"

The room went silent. Harry watched each of them straighten and pull away from each other ever-so-slightly. Hermione sighed, now playing with her curry more than eating it. Harry took another drink, now wishing he had something a bit stronger than butterbeer in his hand.

“It was just too frustrating at work,” she said. “I got tired of being the only one who cared and being shot down at every turn anytime I tried to get anything done. They wanted me to be there and not do anything other than make the department look good, go to parties, cut ribbons and make appearances.” She set down her fork and made a pleading look to her best friends. “You’re sure we can’t burn it down?”

Harry began laughing, not sure if she was actually serious or not. Ron rolled his eyes and began eating again.

“Maybe we should let some trolls loose inside instead.”

“Find another dragon to ride in and tear the place apart.”

“Thestrals would be good - half the people won’t be able to see what was causing such a ruckus.”

“Maybe Luna’s got another Erumpent horn.”

“I’m sure George has enough fireworks to do some significant damage.”

Their ideas got more and more ludicrous until they were all in a fit of laughter, unable to speak. The food cold, Hermione now lying on the floor, Harry lying with his legs hanging off the arm of his chair again, Ron swiped the last of Hermione’s uneaten dinner as they caught their breath.

“I really thought I could change things,” Hermione mumbled. Harry turned his head to see her brow furrowed.

“We did.”

She gave him a sad smile that told him it wasn’t enough for her, what they had done. They did what they needed to do at the time, but Hermione had spent most of her life deciding she was going to do good in the world. One accomplishment wasn’t going to be enough for her.

Harry rolled off his chair onto his feet and walked over to the sidebar in the corner of the room. He poured three glasses of Firewhisky and floated two over to Ron and Hermione. Walking back to the middle of the room, he raised his glass.

“To Ron and his new start at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, to Hermione and her complete and utter lack of a job, and to none of us knowing what the fuck we’re doing. Welcome to team Plan B, Hermione. Cheers!”

He downed his drink in one with the others, smirking at Hermione’s coughing fit afterward.

“Wait! Ronald. Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes?”

 

.+*.+*.+*.+*.+*.+*.+*.+*.+*.+*.+*.+*.+*.+*.+*

 

Chapter Text

Hermione’s first day liberated from her dementor-wearing-a-unicorn’s-skin job had looked promising to Harry at first. Even if she called waking up at seven in the morning sleeping in, followed by making everyone breakfast, she had stayed in her pajamas until noon. Hermione had never really been one for lying about, even on holidays.

This had seemed like fairly good progress until the afternoon. Ron and Harry watched her dart about the house for a couple of hours and they held little hope that it would end soon. She was a bit like a freight train, gathering up speed as she went.

They decided to go out flying before her steam built up and she exploded. Or worse, pulled them into her frenzy of cleaning and chores and whatever else she was doing.

Once more, Harry was thankful for his stint as an Auror. If only because they had learned a modified Disillusionment charm that allowed them to still see each other while otherwise concealed. It had mostly been meant for teams to use on stake-outs and other investigative work, but as a civilian, it meant being able to fly all over muggle London without worrying about breaking the Statute of Secrecy or the unrelenting photographers for hire of the magical world.

They made it out to the country and decided to further delay their return by stopping for chips and pints. Touching down and safeguarding their brooms under charms - another useful trick from the Aurors - they ducked into a muggle pub.

Only half way into their pints, Harry felt that odd internal alarm go off. He really needed to ask Molly and Arthur about that.

“Mate, what’s wrong?” Ron asked, grabbing for a few chips.

“I think there’s someone at Grimmauld.”

“How do you- Ow! Bloody coin!” Ron jumped up from his chair, and reached into his pocket, flinging a glowing Galleon on the table. Harry ignored the warmth of his own coin in his pocket and reached for Ron’s - still glowing but now cool to the touch - on the table.

“Kings,” he read. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Harry threw the coin at Ron’s chest, his own chair scraping against the floor as he stood.

“Oi, that’s not the one you owe me,” Ron said, grabbing his beer to take one last gulp. Harry signaled to the bartender, left some muggle bills on the table and made his way towards the back entrance.

“We’ll see about that. Not sure what he wants yet,” Harry said lightly but his tone wasn’t fooling even himself. He could hear how loudly his boots were pounding against the floor and his heart rate had picked up. Whatever Kingsley had to say was likely not going to be good.

“You know what he wants,” Ron argued from behind him. “Unless… Hey, why’d she only send a message to me? Do you not have your coin on you?”

“I’ve got it on me,” Harry said as he pushed open the back door and cut the charm on their brooms. “But clearly I have a higher pain tolerance than you do,” he added with a smirk.

“Higher pain tolerance, my arse,” Ron grumbled, grabbing his broom. “Fly or apparate?”

“Or maybe it’s deadened nerve endings you know, since I-”

His sentence was cut short by the loud irritated pop of Ron’s apparition.

Harry was still laughing when he landed on Grimmauld’s front walkway behind Ron who was clearly shaking his head as he opened the front door.

------------------------------------------------------------

“Ronald! Harry! There you are! Look who’s come to visit…” Hermione was barely concealing the irritation in her voice in front of the Minister for Magic who was standing in their living room.

Harry had never noticed how low the ceilings were in Grimmauld Place before now. Kingsley Shacklebolt was standing strategically away from the chandelier in the middle of the room but still turned cautiously to see the ex-Aurors entering the room. He must have had to duck to get through the doorway, Harry thought. That and about how there was no way he could ever invite Hagrid over for a cuppa unless they stayed outside.

“Ah, good to see you, lads!” Kingsley’s jovial voice boomed through the normally spacious-feeling room and Harry’s stomach dropped. He was using his Minister voice, which did not bode well.

“Kings, good to see you,” Harry said flatly as he walked forward to shake hands.

“Sir,” Ron followed with a nod and handshake of his own.

“Come now, none of that,” Kingsley responded, his voice taking a slightly more normal register. “We’ve known each other long enough and given all that’s happened in that time… Well, I like to think that on some level we’re all friends, right?” He turned to look at Hermione who had up to this point been wringing her hands behind his back, throwing worried glances between the three men in the room.

She smiled and opened her mouth to say something, but Harry cut her off before she could.

“Have a seat, Kings. Can I get you anything to drink?”

“Oh no, thank you, Harry,” he said as he sat, taking up the entire loveseat by himself. Across from him, Harry took a seat in his usual chair, Hermione placed herself on the arm of the chair, and Ron stayed standing in an “at ease” pose on his other side. Kingsley’s eyebrow quirked the slightest bit and Harry noted the slightest bit of satisfaction within himself at the reaction.

“To what do we owe the pleasure?” Harry asked, leaning back in his chair and resting an ankle on the opposite knee. In the back of his mind, he was aware that he could either look like a git, a smug bastard, or an idiot sitting like this.

“Ah, well,” the Minister cleared his throat and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. Harry wondered if they, The Golden Trio, were making him uncomfortable. He wondered if he should worry when the feeling of satisfaction in his chest grew until he saw Hermione straighten up even more and decided it was fine. “I’m here to speak to all of you. Nothing bad or nefarious, I assure you.”

“The last time we were all in the presence of the Minister for Magic together, it was not an altogether enjoyable experience,” Hermione said with a touch of frost in her voice. “Please forgive us if we’re a little on edge, despite the obvious difference in circumstances.”

Kingsley nodded, dropping his head for a moment. The grandfather clock in the hallway began ringing out the hour, the resonant chime floating into the silent room. When he looked up again, his Minister mask had been removed.

“I’m really here to check in, in service as a friend.” His statement was met with silence and Harry guessed Hermione had given him a questioning look when he added, “Who happens to be Minister, yes, and with members of the Wizenmont and public who are curious to know what is going on behind these doors… But truly,” his gaze shifted to Ron and Harry, “I wanted to give you a few weeks to cool off, relax, gather yourself, whatever it was you needed to do but I had planned on checking in on you anyway. You two made a large statement by leaving the Aurors and it’s got people speculating, which is not what we need right now. Hermione, when you turned in your notice just as unexpectedly, I decided sooner was better than later.”

Hermione wiggled on her seat a little and from the view in the corner of his eye, Harry wasn’t sure it was discomfort due to her choice in seating arrangement or the Minister’s words. Hell, she could have gotten well past halfway to convincing herself she’d made a mistake in quitting in the time they’d been gone. They shouldn’t have left her alone for so long the day after she’d made such a huge decision.

“With all due respect, sir,” Ron cut into his thoughts, “you know how little any of us care for anyone to know anything about our private lives that we don’t share ourselves. We’ve worked hard to establish that over the past few years, going so far as to protect our families as well. We’ve all put in our time. That time’s ended, we’re moving on.”

Harry heard Hermione let out a quiet sigh of relief, and he had to agree.

“Look, your resignation letters were clear; Hermione, I’m sure yours will be as well. I’m not here to beg you to come back - really! I want all of you to be doing meaningful work - however you define that for yourself. If that happens to be at the Ministry, of course, I’ll be chuffed, but… I want you to know you have my support, whatever you choose to do next. With a few exceptions of course.”

Harry could practically hear Hermione thinking ‘No burning down the Ministry then…’

When he got no response, Kingsley hoisted himself from the couch. “Alright, well, I’ve been, I’ve checked in, I’m sure I’ve been seen coming to check in, for which I apologize. But I mean it,” he said, stopping to look each of them in the eyes for a moment. “Just because you’re not at the Ministry anymore doesn’t mean I can’t help out or can’t be here for you.”

He shook Hermione’s hand, then Ron’s. As Harry got up, taking his turn in the good-byes, Kingsley stopped him from turning out of the room.

“I can see myself out. Back alley still a good Apparition spot?”

“It is,” Harry nodded. “Just double check before you do and don’t forget to look up.”

“Constant vigilance,” the Minister winked before walking out of the room.

He didn’t have to duck after all, Harry noticed as he left. Yet he was sure that doorway wasn’t normally tall enough for a person of Kingsley’s stature. Hearing a groan, he turned to see Hermione slumping down in his chair, hands covering her face.

“What are we going to do?” she cried, her hands muffling the words.

Harry and Ron shared a glance and answered together, “Nothing.”

“Except you,” Ron continued, pointing a finger at Harry “are going to pay me the Galleon you now owe me-”

“Not a chance!”

“What?! Kingsley was here, in our house-”

“Checking in. Not asking us to come back.”

“You-” Ron open and shut his mouth, followed by grumbling something out of his breath that sounded suspiciously like ‘cheeky smartass.’

“And you,” Ron said, rounding on Hermione, who’s slightly amused expression was dashed with the rest of his proclamation, “are going to learn how to relax.”

Chapter Text

Hermione’s second day as a newly unemployed individual began much like her first. She managed to get up half an hour later, but she blamed this mostly on Ron and Harry keeping her up the night before.

After Kingsley left, Ron decided drinks and dessert were in order. Hermione’s arguments that they hadn’t even had dinner fell on deaf ears. Ron insisted on breaking up her routine and apparently food was the first line of attack.

Therefore, at seven thirty the next morning, Hermione woke up to her stomach rumbling and her tongue feeling like a shag carpet. Rolling out of bed, thankfully alone, she made her way to the loo and fixed herself up just enough to feel more like a witch than a hag. With her robe and wand, she made her way down to the kitchen.

 

*+.+*+.+*

 

Eggs done and sausage frying, Hermione held her warm mug of tea while watching the pancakes began to bubble. Hermione loved to be the first one to wake up. Even in school, she was either the first of the trio to the breakfast table or else she stole some quiet moments in her room while waiting for Ron and Harry. Life was so much more peaceful in the mornings. 

On weekends Hermione had time to savor the quiet, sure to not be interrupted since her roommates consistently slept in. She would make herself tea instead of coffee, sipping while reading the newspaper. Eventually, she either made breakfast or left everyone to fend for themselves -- usually resulting in Ron or Harry going out for pastries.

Today she fell into her weekend routine. Except that it wasn’t the weekend. It was a Thursday. She was saved from dwelling on that thought as Harry wandered into the kitchen.

“Morning,” he mumbled. His voice was low and gruff, still stuffed with sleep. Out loud, Hermione would never admit to anyone that she found Harry’s morning voice endearing. Sometimes it struck her as amusing, how incongruous it was with his looks, with the boy she grew up with. Other times she had to turn away, embarrassed that her best friend could make her blush.

“Morning!” Hermione returned, busying herself with pulling out pumpkin and orange juice from what she and Harry called the fridge but Ron referred to as the cooling cabinet.

Setting the juices down on the counter next to the eggs, she looked up to see Harry sitting at the table, head lying on his crossed arms. He mumbled something, of which Hermione understood nothing.

Instead of answering when she asked him to repeat himself, Harry slumped out of the seat and walked straight over to their coffee station. As soon as it was done, they moved all the dishes to the table. Hermione summoned plates and silverware but not before Harry grabbed a sausage sans utensils.

Done with his first cup of coffee at the same time she was done with her second cup of tea, Harry glanced over and smiled for the first time that morning.

“Morning,” he said, the smile lingering in a half grin. His voice was still morning-ish but less gruff than earlier.

“Finally awake, then?” Hermione laughed. Harry only hummed an affirmative as he poured himself another cup of coffee.

At the same moment, Harry and Hermione looked towards the kitchen door. The heavy, fumbling footfall coming from behind the door could only mean Ron was about to burst in.

The door swung open and only the miracle of magical housing could explain how it didn’t slam against the counter as the redhead walked inside. Ron looked almost surprised to see them both there, then also confused, then quickly resigned to the situation as he walked over to the table and flopped down.

“What’s the rush? Worried we wouldn’t leave you any food?” Harry teased.

“Nah, it’s just… I got up and couldn’t find-” Ron cut himself off, glancing up at Hermione across the table, then shifted his eyes to Harry. “Just felt like something was off is all,” he finished, shaking his head. Ron didn’t even bother with his own plate, piling on the last of the eggs and sausage onto the platter with the pancakes.

Hermione cringed inwardly, hoping that it didn’t show on her face. She still loved Ron dearly, she always would, but there were some things that defied explaining. Such as how one could possibly find a myriad of things endearing in a person then seemingly overnight be embarrassed by association by all those same things.

Hermione noticed Harry trying to catch her eye and he nodded at her. A second later, the plate next to Ron’s hand (which had recently been holding the sausage) disappeared. Hermione slipped her wand out of her robe pocket, and with a flick of her wrist under the table, the egg bowl disappeared.

One by one, items began disappearing off the table, into the sink or back to the fridge. Ron remained completely oblivious until Harry sent off the second bottle of juice and there was a clanging in the fridge. Ron looked up in the direction of the noise while Hermione started laughing.

“Oh, C'mon!” Harry cried. “You always put the orange juice on the right!”

“You know, it’s problematic to rely on absolutes like that,” Hermione replied.

Ron looked between the two of them, the fridge and then shrugged and finished what was left on his plate.

“Oh, problematic…” Harry grumbled. “You did that on purpose. The orange juice always goes on the right- and don’t even try to tell me I had the orange juice. It was the pumpkin,” he argued, to which Hermione began laughing even harder. “People are creatures of habit. It’s actually smart to rely on patterns.”

“Oh really? You know, with knowledge like that, you should be an Auror!”

“You two are so weird,” Ron said, carrying his plate over to the sink. He set the dishes to washing and shuffled back to his seat at the table. “Ugh… if you keep cooking like this every morning Hermione, I’m going to have to start training again.”

“How you two haven’t gained any weight since you’ve stopped working is beyond me. You eat just the same!”

“We’ve been flying…” Harry said.

“That’s not nearly the same.”

“Who’s to say we haven’t been working out here at home? You’ve not been home, you don’t know what we’ve been getting up to every day,” Ron said.

“Yes but I’m fairly certain that’s not true. You know, one day your metabolisms won’t run as fast. You’ll have to watch your weight eventually.”

Hermione watched as half of Ron’s face scrunch up in contemplation and she was nearly sure he was picturing his own father in his mind’s eye and drawing unfavorable comparisons. Deciding this was as good a time as ever, Hermione stood up from the table, sending her mug to the sink and made her way to the door.

Harry and Ron may spend their days sitting around doing nothing, but she wasn’t about to.

 

*+.+*+.+*

 

“Hermione’s home,” Harry said from the small writing desk in the corner of the living room.  

“Mate, that’s getting creepy.”

Seconds later the front door opened and closed, and Hermione was standing in the doorway, bags in hand. What kind of shopping and errands Hermione had to do, Harry had no idea but they had taken up the better portion of the day. He never seemed to have as many errands to run as she did. Then again, when he had been an Auror he’d never really had much time to do anything other than work, train, eat, sleep, occasionally see friends. Maybe he could start catching up with people more now that he has the time…

“Did you know, there are so many fewer people in Diagon when you go in the middle of the week,” Hermione exclaimed as she set down all her bags and began rummaging through one of them. “I had an entire conversation with Effy and got exactly what I needed without being interrupted by anyone else even once!”

“Effy?” Ron mouthed to Harry, who shrugged his shoulders.

“And then I actually stopped in with a bunch of the vendors,” she continued, finding the book she wanted and slamming it on the table, “to get groceries instead of going to the market.” She stood up and sent a few of the bags off to the kitchen. 

Harry was beginning to get a better picture of what the errands entailed, but he was struggling to find any interest in any of it.

“And then I stopped in and had tea with Hannah since I was there,” she said, walking over to them with the selected book in her hand. “Well, Hannah and Millicent.” She flopped down on the couch.

“Millicent?”

“Yes, Millicent Bulstrode.”

“Bulstrode?! You didn’t…”

“Well, she was already there when I went to see Hannah and it wasn’t like I could turn out after I’d already gone over. Apparently, they’re good friends - have been since Hogwarts. I had no idea, did you?” Hermione turned to Harry, who was still seated at the writing desk even though his quill was down.

He shook his head without a word. He wasn’t actually sure he could point out Millicent Bulstrode in a lineup if he was asked. Harry was fairly certain she had been a Slytherin but couldn’t recall if she’d even been in their year. Come to think of it, the only Slytherin names he was sure that were in their year at Hogwarts were Malfoy and Parkinson. And they were probably married to each other by this point. There had been that Zabini bloke, but was he their year or older? Pucey was older… Whatever happened to him? Probably some second-string Chaser for a semi-pro team.

“And you’re going?!”

Harry’s focus was pulled back to Ron and Hermione as he found himself standing and moving closer to the two. Just in case.

“Well, of course, I’m going! It would be rude not to. Besides, it seems like it would be a very good networking opportunity. I’ve no idea what to-”

“Networking opportunity,” Ron grumbled. “What does that even mean?”

“Harry, you should come with me.”

“Where, exactly?”

“To Millicent’s... Well, I don’t remember what she called it exactly - weren’t you listening? But the point is that there will be a lot of other wizarding professionals there. It’s a chance to meet people we may not otherwise. Neither of us knows what we’re doing next-”

“Who could possibly be connected to Bulstrode that you would want to meet?!” Ron interrupted.

Hermione sighed and rolled her eyes. After giving Harry a look that said ‘We’ll talk about this later’ she announced she was going to go read in the library. As soon as she was out of sight, Ron groaned, hiding his face in his hands.

“Why do you keep picking fights with her?” Harry asked. “You can’t possibly have a real problem with Bulstrode - we don’t even know her! You know better than to judge-”

“I know, I know,” came Ron’s muffled cry. He dragged his hands down his face and looked up at Harry, still standing in the middle of the room. “I don’t know why. I know it’s not my business anymore, I just… It’s just hard. Having her around and not…”

Harry sat down on the table in front of Ron, not meeting his eyes. He hated being in the middle of them. When they had first broken up, things had been awful in the house. Hermione had made every excuse to be away and even stayed at her parents' house for a while. When they were all so busy with work it had been easy to be distracted. Harry wondered how much either of them was really over their failed relationship, as Hermione had put it. But he’d said he wouldn’t take sides, and he was sticking to it.

“You need to talk to George about working in the shop,” he said. “Soon.”

Ron just nodded, staring at the carpet until Harry finally got up and went back to writing letters.

Chapter Text

Ron stepped out of the floo in the back of WWW’s and shivered. While he appreciated the usefulness of George’s Fresh Step extension for the floo, he could never get used to the soft wave of static that washed over him as he passed through the spell. Out of habit, he knocked one boot onto the other to shake off soot that the magic had already cleared away as he stepped into the shop.

 

He gave a curt nod to a couple of witches about his age at the back of the store. They giggled as he passed, though whether it was because of his presence or because of the section of the shop they were in (and the products kept there) he wasn’t sure. Ron was here for a reason though, and he marched directly to George’s office.

 

He knocked on the door and immediately stepped to the side of the frame, clear of the doorway. When there was no response, he started scanning the shop floor for any sign of red hair. With how limited the number of customers there was on a weekday morning, it was unlikely George would be out helping customers though. Not if he really had as much paperwork to do as he made it sound like. Ron gave Quinn a smile when he caught her eye from where she stood behind the counter. She smiled back and nodded when Ron pointed at the office door with a questioning look. He knocked again, louder this time.

 

“Come in!” he heard, muffled by the door.

 

“Absolutely not. Come open the door.” Ron heard footsteps on the other side and didn’t move until George was taking up the open frame.

 

“So sore, Ronikins! I told you I wouldn’t test any more products on you without you knowing,” George said with a smile so beamingly innocent that it had to be practiced.

 

“Multiple times, in fact.” Ron closed the door as he stepped into the room, making a quick visual scan of the room for anything out of place. The office was cluttered and products were always in and out in various testing stages, which made it difficult to suss out potential chaos. But it was a habit Ron didn’t think he’d ever break at this point. “Took me two days to get all that gunk out of my hair and a full week for the smell to finally disappear.”

 

“Well, lucky for you that one’s gone back into the lab,” George said as he walked back to the chair behind his desk. “So! What can I do you for, little brother? Is your life so leisurely that you’ve finally time to come to see little old me?”

 

Ron tried to keep in his sigh as he sat down, but it came out anyway while he folded his hands together and rested his elbows on his knees.

 

“Look,” George continued, “I know I haven’t been to dinner the last couple weeks but I really have been busy. I was going to go see Mum for tea tomorrow, she didn’t need to send you in to check on me-”

 

“Mum didn’t send me, George.” When Ron finally lifted his eyes, he could see the slight disbelief on his brother’s face, but the issue wasn’t pressed.

 

“Well if you’re not here to send a report back, you may need to make this quick. Us poor working sods don’t have all the time in the world to waste.”

 

Ron sighed again as he watched George lean back into his chair. For all that he was trying to look relaxed, it was like he was trying to cast a shield around himself without using magic. His eyes were still sharp, trying to watch for any of Ron’s tells. He tilted his head just enough to put forward his one ear so that he wouldn’t miss anything. Ron didn’t think George even knew he did it. His own brother was on guard against him. Ron dropped his eyes back down to his hands and couldn’t bring himself to begin the small speech he had prepared.

 

“Ronnie, is everything alright?”

 

When he looked up again, George was leaning forward on his desk. Head still tilted, but guard dropped and replaced with an air of concern. Damnit, this isn’t what he needed. George needed to be open to listening, but Ron didn’t need his pity. He didn’t need to be taken care of - well, maybe he did. They both needed it.

 

“Nothing’s wrong,” Ron shrugged. “But I can’t stand not working anymore.”

 

“It’s only been a few weeks, hasn’t it?!”

 

“Yeah, but… it’s not enjoyable when there’s no end in sight. It’s not like a vacation when you know you’ve got something to go back to. There’s nothing to keep busy with! Hermione’s somehow got plenty to do, but she always has. She wants to do more than she’ll be able to fit into one lifetime… Harry doesn’t need to work. He’s got a house already, vault full of gold, the best broom, any date he’d like if he wanted it -”

 

“Wait - so what is this about, Ron? You’re bored? You’re jealous of Harry? Pretty sure last time I checked you’re sitting pretty for a while there, I’m sure the Aurors would take you back if you’re that desperate for something to do, you’ve got a place to live and there’s no way Harry’s asking for rent-”

 

“No, no, it’s not that. It’s not any of that. It’s… I want some things for myself. I want… eventually, I want my own house, my own family… my own life put together from choices I made because I wanted them, not just because it’s what was expected or convenient or…”

 

“Or somebody else’s choice.”

 

“I have made all my own choices,” Ron said, looking George directly in the eyes. “But I want to make them for me . Not anyone else.”

 

George only nodded for a moment, staring at some invisible point between them, then scratched at the scar on the side of his head. “So what do you want to do, then?” he finally asked.

 

“I know I don’t have a mind for inventions like you do,” Ron said, attempting to ignore the look of confusion on George’s face while still looking in his direction. “And I don’t have any experience in a shop, but I know I can lead a team of people and while I’m thick enough to have gotten my fair share of A’s in school, it turns out I pick things up pretty quick on the job. I won’t ask for anything unreasonable, and I’ll start out stacking boxes if you want, but I thought maybe you could use some help here. Someone to wrangle this paperwork you keep complaining about so you can get back in the lab.”

 

When Ron shifts his gaze from George's shoulder back to his face, he can see the old familiar glint. Yet for the first time in a long time, it doesn’t look like it’s going to fade away as soon as the joke is over.

 

“Are you really sure that’s what you’d want? This is… shall we say different? from anything you’ve done before, mate. Are you sure you won’t get bored? You won’t be running about-”

 

“I could use a bit of boredom in my life.”

 

At George’s skeptical look, Ron raised his hands as he sat back in his chair.

 

“Just not as much as I’ve got now.”

 

“A month,” George says as he nods, holding his hand out across the desk. “I’ll give you a month, and if you still want more and we haven’t killed each other, we’ll talk about it then.”

 

“Agreed.”

Chapter Text

“But Harry, you said you would go --”

“I’m not sure that I did, Hermione.”

“You implied it then.”

Harry raised his eyebrows and looked down at Hermione standing next to him, teacup in hand, where she stood in her robe as he was making eggs.

“Okay, fine. I implied that you were coming with me - that I was making you come with me!” she amended as he began to open his mouth “when I told you about it last week.”

Harry huffed, piled the fluffy eggs on a platter, cut the flame on the stove and carried their breakfast to the table. He sat down, held out his hand for his coffee cup floating over after them, went to take a drink, then remembered he’d already finished his first cup. As he stared at his mug, he wondered if it was worth attempting arguing with Hermione before his second cup of coffee, whether he should accuse her of addressing him while not in a sound state of mind, and then wondered if he had a caffeine problem if he couldn’t function without it.

Harry smiled when his cup was suddenly full again and took a sip while eyeing Hermione across the table.

“I don’t know why,” he said, “but your coffee always tastes better than mine.”

“Just like your eggs always taste better than mine,” she returned. “Same method -”

“-different results.”

There were about eight seconds of companionable silence before she renewed her plea.

“Harry, please,” she said, putting down her fork. “I can go alone, and I will, but I’d really rather not. Besides, Hannah said she’d like to see you outside a quick hello at the pub. Neville might be there. Even Millicent thought it would be good for you to be there.”

He snorted at that, but she continued before he could interrupt.

“And not for any self-serving reason I could find. She didn’t even really say anything specific about you, just the benefits of the event overall. Though… after Hannah brought up your name she did drop the names of a few non-profit organizations that will be there. She said she thought you should see what the wizarding world has been up to outside the Ministry.” Hermione stretched her hand out to take hold of Harry’s. “I don’t think she’s wrong.”

Harry looked away from her earnest face down to his half-empty second cup of coffee and sighed. He shouldn’t allow himself to talk to Hermione at all before his second cup of the morning.

“Besides,” she said, picking up her fork, “what’s the worst that could happen?”

Later, Harry decided that none of them - nobody in his immediate group of acquaintances - should ever use the phrase ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’

Strictly speaking, what had happened was likely not the worst thing that could have happened. Nobody died so in Harry’s estimation what happened wasn’t a true disaster. Then again, their scale of rating disasters was a bit skewed from the average person so they probably weren’t the best judge.

Harry and Hermione had only been there about ten minutes in which time they had been getting the lay of the land. They were in a multi-purpose event room inside a hotel situated in the wizarding part of London. The building was a bit old, but it hadn’t lost its glamour. There were marble floors, crown mouldings, and all the structural decorations seemed to be geometrical.

“It’s art deco,” had been Hermione’s succinct response to his musings. The description registered with Harry as he remembered her using that description for other things he had liked in the past.

When they entered the room, Harry’s eyes had caught on the gold columns, etched with leaf-like patterns climbing up to the arched ceiling where golden light was pouring through the paned glass despite the gloomy wet weather outside.

The room’s warm light shone down on everyone and everything in the room - namely the somewhat kitschy booths of vendors and companies there to advertise themselves to the “social club for wizarding professionals.” The booths formed a square in the middle of the room while around them people were mingling, enjoying snacks and drinks provided by tables in each of the corners. There seemed to be a mix of people either wearing robes or semi-casual outfits which Harry reasoned made sense as it was just after work on a weekday. Exactly what day it was he wasn’t sure, but that hardly mattered as what this crowd meant was a distinct lack of stuffy old Ministry workers trying to talk him in circles around whatever they wanted him to support them on.

A gal who looked like she was just out of Hogwarts wearing a black dress and a pin that designated her as an event assistant was just finishing explaining the map and itinerary she had given Hermione when Harry’s observations of the room were interrupted.

“Oh, bloody fuck.”

Wondering who could manage to sound so posh while cursing, Harry turned to see none other than Draco Malfoy.

Draco Malfoy wearing his robe open, standing with his hands in his pockets likely to show off the bespoke suit underneath. Harry thought that it had to be made for him, with a fit like that. He had never seen a vest fit so perfectly, taught across his chest yet not straining a centimetre even as Malfoy leaned back, looking up towards the ceiling. Judging by the scowl on the blonde’s face, whatever he was looking at wasn’t good but Harry was completely uninterested in finding out what was causing Malfoy distress as he played a game of “spot the difference” with himself.

It was impossible to say that the Draco Malfoy standing in this room was entirely different from the one he had known at Hogwarts. Sure, they saw each other in passing at the Ministry on occasion, attended a lot of the same functions when Harry was dragged to them, and he may have sometimes unintentionally spared a lingering glance whenever “the perpetual bachelor L. Draco Malfoy” got his picture in the Profit - usually in the society pages. Which Harry did not read, thank-you-very-much. The paper just seemed to be left open to those pages on the kitchen table or in the library whenever Malfoy was in them. What those pictures and the distance of a whole ballroom and a crowd between them failed to convey was just how much taller Malfoy had gotten over the years. Harry could see even from this distance that Malfoy had a few inches on him. The pictures also failed to ever highlight the length of Draco’s neck; the gentle curve of which was disrupted only by his prominent Adam’s Apple, which was a feature Harry was now realizing he found quite attractive…

“Harry!” Hermione shouted as she shoved his arm, pulling him away from his thoughts in just enough time for him to step back while Malfoy marched passed them. Malfoy hadn’t even looked at them as he passed. Bloody git. Not evening paying attention to where he was walking. He could have run them right over!

“Well, he wouldn’t have if we were evacuating like we’re supposed to!” Hermione said as she began pushing at his arm again. Harry realized he must have been thinking aloud and before he could begin worrying when that had started, her words snapped him into the present.

“Evacuating?”

Harry looked around the room. There didn’t seem to be any fires - apart from a few still sparkling indoor fireworks at the WWW booth. What he could see was that everyone was moving their way towards the doors behind them. He pushed through in the opposite direction. The only other person doing the same was a head of platinum blonde hair. Harry looked up.

“Arthur in Avalon…” he muttered.

In the centre of the arched ceiling was a large, beautiful, likely antique, crystal chandelier. Surrounding the finery was a swarm of pixies.

In what passed for a formation from such chaotic magical beings, they were all flying in a single direction around the chandelier like a cyclone of fish you see in nature documentaries. Through small pockets between the blue buggers, Harry could see that the chandelier didn’t appear to be harmed. In fact, there seemed to be some kind of protective shield around it - likely a permanent spell. The beasts hadn’t penetrated it - yet. Looking closely, Harry could see the softest wobble in the fixture.

Making sure to stay out from underneath the swarm, Harry manoeuvred to the side, turning the corner of some booths in time to see Malfoy, wand outstretched just as he was about to cast.

“WAIT!”

Harry watched as if in slow motion as Malfoy’s head turned toward him, the spell still falling from his lips, eyes widening as he saw Harry now sprinting towards him. All Harry could hear running through his head was his instructor from the Magical Beings course during Auror training:

Destructive creatures… bent on chaos… they can deaden spells meant to harm them, or absorb a fraction of any spell cast at them, increasing the power of the spell… add their own magic to make the spell worse… best to outwit them…

Harry collided with Malfoy’s solid form, upsetting his balance and his aim, and both men tumbled to the floor. Auror muscle memory still intact, Harry fell to shield Malfoy. His wrists stung as he caught himself, palms slapping the floor on either side of Malfoy’s head. Hearing the sure sound of booths being destructed behind him, Harry dropped to one elbow, covering his neck with one hand in a feeble attempt to protect his spine as pieces of wood and colourful banners flew by.

Breathing a bit heavier than he’d like, Harry took a deep steadying breath. Then another because the air was suddenly filled with a sent he couldn’t place… It was like an echo of a sea breeze with just a hint of something floral, vaguely familiar as if he had dreamed about it before… It was calming. The strength of Harry’s magic never failed him in moments like this, but with each breath he swore he could feel it reinforcing itself within him.

Harry opened his eyes and realized how close he was to Draco Malfoy, whose clear blue eyes were staring back at him. He didn’t look away, caught watching Harry. No longer wide in surprise, his eyes were… open, exploring. They weren’t shuttered or stern as Harry was so used to seeing when they passed each other in the Ministry hallways. Malfoy always seemed so in control, so exacting. Even now Harry could feel his breathing was steady underneath him. He wasn’t surprised or scared. His eyes were searching, flitting between looking into Harry’s eyes, scanning his face, lifting ever so slightly to Harry’s scar before dropping down to his lips.

“You have new glasses,” he muttered.

“IMMOBULUS!”

Harry startled slightly at Hermione’s shout and he suddenly remembered why he was currently in a plank position over Draco Malfoy. But before he could crane his neck to asses the damage, he was being shoved away.

“Get off me, Scarhead. Bloody Gryffindor, making a mess of everything as always, trying to be the hero…”

“What happened?” Hermione practically shouted as she jogged over to them.

“What happened was that Potter --” Draco began, cutting himself off when he looked up from dusting off his robe, finally seeing the destruction around them. Half of the booths nearest them were in pieces. Others had entire chunks blown out of them. Fliers and banners were still falling like confetti while the swarm of pixies slowly floated down from the ceiling, practically petrified.

“YOU!” Draco rounded on Harry, who was starting to pick himself off the floor. “Look what you did!” Draco shoved his pointed finger against Harry’s shoulder, knocking him back to the ground.

“Me?! This wasn’t me! This was you! If I hadn’t had stopped you, it could have been worse!” Harry scrambled to his feet. “What were you even trying to do, blow them up? A lot of good that would have done!”

“Well, I had to do something--”

“Boys.”

“-- I couldn’t just let them tear down a precious antique chandelier!”

“As if you wouldn’t have blown the whole roof off the place!”

“Boys!”

“Why are you even here?”

“SHUT UP!”

Harry and Draco, now standing practically chest to chest while shouting at each other snapped their heads towards Hermione.

“Let’s take care of this now, and if you still feel like it later, you can resume your shouting match afterwards. Alright?”

Harry sighed, nodded, and moved away to start cleaning up the mess. Malfoy simply gave a curt nod, a stiff pull to the bottom of his vest, and turned the other direction to assess the damage.

An hour or so later, they all joined everyone else who had been at the event in the hotel’s lounge. Millicent Bulstrode, who it turned out was one of the organizers along with Malfoy of all people, had arranged for everyone to get a free drink by way of apology and attempt to keep the event going. While the hotel was still looking into how the Pixies had gotten in, Malfoy had assessed what true or irreparable damage had been done. However, Harry wasn’t sure how much he was still supposed to be at fault.

“Thank you so much for your help,” Millicent said, greeting them as they joined everyone else in the lounge. “I’m sure it would have been far worse had you not been here.” Harry was sure he heard Malfoy scoff, but when he looked over, his face was completely passive. “Just tell the bartender you’re with the group and your first drink is on us. I think everyone’s had their first round so far,” she said with a bit of a grin, sparing a glance around at the increasingly loud crowd.

“Oh, thank you, Millicent,” said Hermione. “This was such a good idea! A wonderful way to save the event, though this has to be putting you over budget.”

“Well, it’s worth it if people are able to make connections. That was the true point, after all.”

“Besides, if we run up enough of a tab at the bar, maybe they’ll let us come back,” Draco added. “Although I’m not sure they’ll ever allow you back in here,” he said, looking down at Harry with a smirk.

Biting his tongue, Harry rolled his eyes as they all walked over to the bar. He watched as Millicent and Hermione chatted, thinking they made a bit of an odd pair. What could they have to talk about? Looking about the room he realized he still didn’t really understand what it was they were supposed to be doing here. ‘Making connections’ is what Millicent had said. Whatever the original intent was, it looked like a party now.

Harry ordered his drink last. As he leaned in to leave a tip, he told the bartender that if anyone came for a second, to put it on his tab. He still didn’t know what networking was supposed to be, but he knew a couple of drinks always got people talking. Besides, he wanted the event to be a hit. It seemed important to… people. And maybe he felt the tiniest bit guilty over tackling Malfoy when he probably could have stopped the situation in a way that was less destructive. Not that he could think of what that would have been.

Picking up his drink, Harry turned and leaned against the bar resting both elbows on the counter. He was surprised to see Malfoy still standing next to him, looking at him with a contemplative air again.

“Cheers,” Harry said, awkwardly lifting up his glass a bit.

Draco just hummed in reply and took a sip of his drink.