A Truly Advantageous Offer
James Grafton, Head of the Department of Mysteries, was completely gobsmacked. The blatant surprise evident on his lined face was almost comical.
"I've decided to accept the year in Rome." She repeated calmly. "It is a great honour and a wonderful opportunity to learn in one of the most beautiful and ancient places in the world. And the libraries..." She trailed off, smiling.
"Yes, yes, of course...I have no doubt it will be a marvellous opportunity in every way possible, I merely...forgive me, but I am surprised. You have steadfastly refused all offers from the Italians to date, despite any persuasion of mine. I cannot help but wonder what has triggered this change of heart." His lined face looked curiously at her as he scratched at his mop of thick white hair.
She smiled pleasantly at him, the smile not quite reaching her eyes as she adjusted the black robe she wore. "I...communicated with my closest friends, Mr Grafton, and I realised that this offer was very much to my advantage. I would be a fool to let it slide." No need to tell him it took a letter essentially telling me I wasn't a blip on their collective radar to help me make up my mind, she thought.
The old man's piercing blue eyes peered into her chocolate brown ones. The girl looked... numb, he thought. Something had happened. But it was not his place to press her.
"Of course, my dear," he said aloud. "I am pleased you have accepted this truly advantageous offer. I assume the salary and accommodation are to your liking?"
"How could they not be?" She replied simply. With an all expenses paid apartment supplied by the ministry on the stunning and exclusive Via Veneto, and a salary of 40,000 regine, the equivalent of 50,000 galleons, or 150,000 pounds sterling, the offer was more than generous. As a Ministry official, she also had the right to create international portkeys, something that was far more restricted in Britain.
"Quite," he smiled. "Furthermore, your employment in the Ministry of Magic will be awaiting your return, although something tells me the Italians may try to coax you into a more permanent arrangement whilst you are there."
She merely smiled politely and waited.
"Yes, well, very well, I shall convey your acceptance. When would you be willing to start? I am sure they would be willing to give you a few weeks to set your affairs in order..." he mused.
"That is more than generous, Sir. I am at their disposal as of the day after tomorrow. My belongings have been packed, my affairs are in order and I would be willing to take a portkey tomorrow." She tried to keep her voice steady as she said this. There would be no going back now, and she did not want to betray the slightest hint of nervousness, as that might lead to questions.
"Tomorrow? My word, you certainly are eager. Well, I shall so inform them if you wish, although I cannot help but ask you to delay your departure a few weeks. At least give the Department a chance to farewell you!"
Again she smiled, the warmth not quite reaching her eyes. "You are very kind, Sir, but I must insist. I am very...eager to begin this new phase in my learning."
Grafton frowned, his thick eyebrows knotted together. Yes, something was not right. The old man had a soft spot in his heart for the curly haired girl, who so loved her books and lived to learn. She reminded him of himself at a young age. Besides which, the girl had a heart of gold. Damned impossible not to like. Employer protocol be damned. Something was wrong and he knew, he couldn't explain how, but he knew, that someone or something had hurt her deeply.
"My dear, I hope I do not offend for inquiring into your affairs, but what has happened to change your mind? Forgive me, but I am concerned. I have grown...rather fond of you my dear."
She blinked at this somewhat emotional question from the usually gruff head of department. "Thank you for your concern, Mr Grafton, but I assure you I am well." I can't tell you, she thought, gratified by his concern.
"Yes, well, it seems you are determined, Miss Granger, and I shall convey your acceptance to Signor Martinelli immediately. He will be very pleased, I'm sure."
She smiled politely. I seem to be doing that an awful lot today, she thought.
"My dear, I hope you will forgive an old man his temerity, but I would be very pleased if you would write to me every now and then. I would be delighted to hear how you are settling in and what you think of Rome."
She couldn't help but blink again in surprise. "I...would be very happy to correspond with you Mr Grafton." And she meant it.
He smiled. "As I am now no longer your superior, please call me James."
She nodded and smiled, pleased and surprised. "Very well. Thank you, Si-James. Please call me Hermione." She turned to go.
"Oh and Hermione?"
She turned back. "Yes, James?"
Hermione smiled to herself as she left the Ministry of Magic for the last time. Well, at least the last time for the next year, she thought.
She had been so surprised that Mr G- James, that James, knew it was her birthday. It was truly touching to know he cared enough to look at her personnel file. She would write to him, she thought. He would make a very interesting correspondent. And he would not be able to tell anyone where she was, due to the Secrecy of the Mysteries, as it was called. It was a binding magical contract every Unspeakable signed, from the lowliest new recruit to the Head of Department, that they would not reveal anything which happened in the Department to anyone outside of it. There was a harsh penalty for breaking the contract, and a two year imprisonment paled next to the loss of magic for a year. She shuddered. In fact, her former colleague (now located in Rome), who had convinced the Italians to hire her in the first place had skirted very close to the edge of that contract in recommending her and praising her skills. The only thing which had saved him had been that he had not mentioned any departmental business, only her abilities.
Luckily, her new employment, as secondment of sorts and not a termination, fell into that wonderful category of "departmental business" and so James could say nothing. Not that she expected anyone to ask, but, still, better to be prepared. She would risk nothing ruining her new life.
It's time to let go, she thought. It's time to leave all those things behind which remind me of loss and start afresh.
With that thought firmly in her mind, she apparated to the Lupins' House and knocked on the door.
She heard several crashes and someone cursing. Tonks, she thought, grinning.
The door was flung open to reveal a pink haired young woman with a heart shaped face, grimacing and rubbing her left elbow.
"Wotcher, Hermione! Happy birthday! You're early. I thought we were supposed to meet you at the Three Broomsticks tonight? Merlin, is it that late?" Tonks gasped, hand on her mouth.
"No, no, dinner wasn't planned until seven. It's only just on four, now, Tonks. It's OK, I...just popped by for a little visit." She smiled nervously.
"Oh, that's alright then. Whew! Thought we were done for, Remus isn't even home from work yet. Come in, come in."
Hermione followed the pink haired auror down the cream coloured corridor and into the sitting room, where a blue haired little boy was currently chewing on the arm of the beige leather couch. He immediately jumped up on seeing Hermione and ran towards her. She swept him up into her embrace and hugged him fiercely.
"Hello Teddy, darling, have you been a good boy for mummy today?" She cooed, rubbing her nose against his soft cheek.
"Me goo'boy! Love aunty my'nee!" He shouted. His hair promptly turned brown and curly.
She smiled at him and gently set him down. "I love you too, sweetheart."
He beamed at her and ran back to the couch, picking up where he left off in his furniture feast. She shook her head ruefully, and turned to sit in the armchair across from Tonks.
The pink haired woman chuckled. "He's a handful of raw, boundless energy, and its bloody tiring, but I wouldn't change either of my boys for the world." She smiled dreamily, thinking of her family.
Hermione smiled. "You do have the two best boys in the world; Tonks- Teddy and Remus are quite the combination."
Tonks grinned saucily. "Don't I know it!"
Hermione cleared her throat. "Listen, Tonks, I was thinking, I think we ought to reschedule the dinner tonight, but, well, if it's alright with you, I'd love to have dinner with you and Remus here tonight? See, Harry, Ron and Ginny can't make it so I was thinking that there's no need to plan something quite so big."
Tonks blinked. "Mione, you know you're always welcome here anytime, but, well, it's your 21st birthday. Don't you think that deserves some sort of celebration?" Her eyes narrowed. "And what do you mean Harry, Ron and Ginny can't make it?"
Hermione shifted on her chair. "Well, I have some news that I'd like to share with you, Remus and Sirius. It's, well, it's complicated. Just...please? Will you please do this for me?"
Tonks looked at her, brow furrowed in thought. "Ok, love, we'll do it your way. Of course we can have dinner here. But I insist that you let me organise a cake- no arguments! 21 is a big day."
Hermione smiled crookedly at her. "As long as you don't bake it, I'm sure it'll be fine..."
"No, don't worry, there's this owl order bakery...hey! I resent that!" Tonks' hurt look was somewhat spoiled by the smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. A great cook, she was not, and both she and Remus - and everyone else, for that matter- knew it. She and Remus took turns making dinner and, as far Hermione knew, most people tried to visit on a Remus cooking night. It was generally...safer that way.
"Look, I'll owl Remus and you can floo Sirius from here. Oooooh, I know just what to do for dinner!" Tonks bounced out of the room excitedly to catch the family owl, Delilah. True to her name, she was a very beautiful owl with silvery white feathers and a single black mark above her beak. She was flawless, lovely and extremely temperamental.
Hermione shook her head as she heard Tonks pleading with Delilah to take the note to Remus. The bird must have eventually complied because the attempts to bribe her with chocolate seemed to have stopped.
She giggled suddenly. Even Remus' owl is crazy about chocolate, she thought.
She reached for her wand and with a quick incendio the fire was crackling merrily in the hearth. She grabbed the small floo jar and tossed a pinch of the green powder into the fire, shouting "Sirius Black's office, Ministry of Magic" before kneeling and sticking her head into the fire. The world seemed to twist and turn before she found herself looking into Sirius' office, where he sat scribbling away at something at his desk.
She cleared her throat, hoping to catch his attention. He looked up immediately, glancing first at the door, then at the fireplace, grinning broadly when he saw Hermione's head in the fireplace.
"Mione, love! To do what do I owe this very pleasurable opportunity?" He winked at her as he got up and walked to the fireplace, kneeling before her.
"Oh shush, Mr-I-have-a-girlfriend!"
"It's true," he sighed. "Alas, I am spoken for. Were I single, however..."
"You'd date a different girl every night and forget me entirely." She bantered.
He gasped and clutched his chest, as if injured. "I? Forget my Mione? You wound me, Madam!"
"Alright, you great buffoon, be serious for a moment- and DON'T YOU DARE spout any nonsense about always being 'Sirius'!"
He pouted at having his favourite joke denied him. "Fine, fine if you want to take all the fun out of life..."
Hermione frowned. He had unintentionally reminded her of just why she was making the biggest change of her life. Boring, brainy Hermione was no fun. Her friends had left her...None of that. She shook herself slightly and glanced at Sirius. He was frowning at her, puzzled.
"Love?" He asked. "You alright? Did I say something wrong? I didn't mean it like that..."
She smiled at the handsome man kneeling before her. "No Sirius, it's alright, I just remembered something I had to do later," she invented quickly.
He frowned once more - dammit, he knew her too well-, but let it go. "So what did you need to tell me?"
"Oh it's just about tonight. I decided I'd rather just have a little dinner at Remus and Tonks' place instead of going out tonight. Tonks is expecting everyone anytime from seven onwards, I think."
He frowned again, and really looked at her, his steel grey eyes boring into hers. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but something was wrong. He frowned worriedly, feeling very protective towards the girl who had stayed with him through countless nightmares and nursed him back to health on his return from the Veil. Something is definitely not right, he thought.
He recollected himself and smiled gently at the lovely young woman waiting patiently in front of him.
"I thought since it was your birthday, we were going out?"
"Well, yes, but as a few people can't make it, I thought it might be nice to have something a little smaller. Please say you'll come?" She asked anxiously.
"Of course I'll be there, love. I'll see you at seven." He smiled as her head disappeared from the fireplace.
Hermione stood up and stretched, dusting off the loose floo powder and picking up Teddy as she walked into the kitchen, where Tonks was making them a cup of tea. "Sirius said he'll be here about seven."
"Great!" Tonks muttered distractedly. She continued muttering to herself and poking at the kettle with her wand, waiting for the water to boil.
Hermione smiled to herself as she deposited Teddy in a chair at the table and walked back down the hallway, calling out to Tonks, "Don't worry about tea for me. I'm going home to get ready. I'll see you about seven!"
"Righto, Mione!" She heard back, before an almighty crash resounded down the hall, followed by a string of curses and muttering. Hermione chuckled to herself and apparated home.
Sirius remained kneeling on the floor as he wondered why on earth she wanted to cancel her 21st birthday dinner. Heck, as far as he was concerned, she should have been having the biggest party imaginable, dressed to the nines and looking absolutely gorgeous, having the time of her life. Come to think of it, Harry and the others should really have planned the whole thing as a surprise party. Ah, maybe that was what was behind the change of plan? He ought to floo Harry just to make sure.
Five minutes later, a worried Sirius sat behind his desk, thinking. No one had answered the floo at Harry's or Ron's houses. Or Ginny's flat. He had flooed WWW only to have Percy tell him that George had gone on holiday to France with 'the others'. Something was not right here and he needed to talk to Remus.
Just as he grabbed a quill to scribble a quick note, there was a knock on his office door. "Come!" he called. Remus strolled in, deep in thought. Speak of the devil...
"Padfoot, did you get an owl about Hermione's birthday tonight?"
"Actually, Mione flooed me just now. She told me it's only dinner at yours, now. I tried to floo Harry, Ron, George and Ginny, and all I got was Percy telling me George was in France with 'the others'. What the bloody hell is going on Moony?"
Remus frown deepened and he pulled a scrap of parchment from his pocket, handing it to Sirius.
Mione is here and asked if she could have her birthday dinner here with us and Sirius. Apparently Harry and the others 'can't make it tonight'. What the bloody hell is going on? Can you ask Sirius if he knows anything? Mione is here now and I don't want to say anything in front of her, she's probably upset enough. Of course, I told her she could have the party here.
I'm a bit worried, love.
Sirius frowned. "Harry and the others can't make it? What? Are they in France too? What the hell is going on here? They wouldn't miss her birthday, would they?" Both he and Remus had become increasingly concerned about Harry and the rest, and the way they seemed to be neglecting Hermione. She was lonelier and drawing more into herself every time he saw her. Oh, she still talked and laughed, but there were barriers now. She was slowly pushing everyone out. But surely, Harry and the others wouldn't go this far, he thought to himself. They just wouldn't... Would they?
Remus shook his head, jerking Sirius out of his thoughts. "I don't understand either, but it looks like we'll have to wait until we get home and ask Mione. I have a bad feeling about this."
Sirius nodded at his brother in all but blood. "You and me both, Moony, you and me both."