A/N: I'm SORRY! I know, I haven't posted anything in forever. I've been really caught up in school and stuff! I'll try to post quicker next chapter. Even though I've slacked off a bit on this story, I'd like to thank all those people who read this story, reviewed, and story alerted this! Thanks! Disclaimer: I don't own this. Wish I did, but I don't. ~Citrus
The past week had been chaotic. Chaotic wasn't even the right word. Hermione had felt cheated. Was this really the adult life? Drama, decisions, and love? Back during her first years at Hogwarts, she would have given anything to be an adult. Now, Hermione yearned to in Professor Mcgonagall's classroom, transfiguring a toad into a candlestick. Would there ever be a point in her life when she was content and happy? It seemed like Fred and George were, owning the busy shop, still young with energy and imagination. So had Bill, happily married, children on the way. How was someone to achieve those goals? At the moment, Hermione thought it sounded impossible.
Hermione needed to get away from the Burrow. What had once been her favorite place had transformed into a nightmare she couldn't escape from in a matter of days. But where was she to go? Home? No, she couldn't go home because her parents were in Australia, unaware of her existence. Hermione didn't want to get any further into that subject; she would deal with them later. Option one out of the question. Maybe she could go to the bookstore in Diagon Alley, Flourish and Blotts. There was so much variety, which meant endless subjects for Hermione to read about. But, if memory served, the deatheaters had burned it down during one of their raids. All those precious books… burned. Option two: terminated. Only one option left….. Neville's.
He had played his part well during the battle. His parents' would be so proud; his nanny was probably bursting with joy. Neville… such a sweet boy. He was unlucky, and very accident-prone. What a good friend he had been over the years. Maybe even better than Ron, Hermione's boyfriend. Surely he wouldn't mind if she stopped by. Stepping out of the kitchen door, she strode over to the brick sidewalk. After a few minutes of walking, Hermione stopped. Had it really not sunk in yet? For Merlin's sake, she was a witch. Why not apparate to Neville's? She pulled her wand from her jacket and apparted with a pop.
Hermione. That was the only thing on his mind. He couldn't get her out. It was like an itch he couldn't scratch. Hermione. There it was again. I'm losing my mind, Fred thought. He needed to be focused on the pile of papers on his desk. It turned out there was lots of other things to do than just invent things for the store (which was very disappointing for the twins). A count of merchandise had to be made, the twins' new inventions had to be brought to the ministry, the sales had to be calculated. If this was hard, Fred could only imagine the Minister of Magic's job. No one could pay him enough money to take over that job. Fred tapped the end of the quill on his chin, Well, I'd do it for Hermione… he'd probably do anything for her: provide her every need or want, murder for her, and even give her the shop. On second thoughts, George wouldn't be happy with that...
Verity, the only other worker at WWW, peaked her head brunette into Fred's office," George wanted me to tell you the deadline."
" You know, for the Ministry's approval of our new merchandise."
" Oh yes, when is it?"
" Tomorrow, but he asked if you could bring them in today," Verity said, and started out the door.
" Wait, where are you going?" Fred asked, stopping her.
" Well, George and I are going out for lunch."
" Lunch, or do you mean sneaking upstairs into our flat with my brother?" Fred smiled mischievously.
There was nothing more fun than to tease Verity. The tip of her nose turned bright red, as if she had the sniffles, and she talked quite loudly when she was either embarrassed or nervous. George always seemed to turn up, making her nose resemble a cherry while she was practically yelling at Fred. It was all very amusing to Fred, though George never quite approved nor encouraged. He was very protective of Verity, not like his past girlfriends who he didn't take seriously. That in itself coaxed Fred to tease Verity every chance he could; George's reaction was priceless.
Her nose was a light shade of pink," No, of course not."
"Verity, it seems that all the paperwork I left before my temporary leave was unfinished," Fred spoke with mock seriousness,"May I ask what you and George were doing for... hmm, about a week?"
" It's none of your business. Now I think you should kept your nose where it belongs," Verity said shyly.
" Well that doesn't sound in my nature." Fred smiled.
" Your poor mum, having to deal with the two of you. God! You are so like George!" Her nose was a bright red.
Fred winked, "We are twins, aren't we?"
" Yes, the famous Weasley twins. I should know, I work for you bloody two!'' Verity paused," Could you also drop off the things at the Ministry while we're gone?"
" Sure, no problem."
" Thanks, boss." Verity said as she saluted him.
Verity had been the last person Fred had wanted to work in the store. From the moment she had walked in, he had known she would be a problem. No, it wasn't her attitude or maturity (not that you need that, anyway). It was her beauty. She had long, honey brown hair, dazzling green eyes, and a glowing smile. Verity was exactly the girl George would fancy. Exactly the girl that would distract him from work. It had proven to be true in the past months, since their love had blossomed. Fred could only imagine what they occupied themselves with while he was away at St Mungos.
Fred smiled. He knew that Verity and George really loved each. She was just as big a joker as the twins. George had connected with her ( no surprise, George was always a better ladies man) on the first day. No way did Fred want to interrupt their little lunch date. They probably weren't even going to lunch. The two had the tendency to sneak into the flat (not that Fred minded, although he did get mortally disturbed when he saw them snogging on the couch). He made a mental note to avoid the flat the rest of the day, which George would have done if the circumstances were switched. Although, Fred never saw Verity as more than a sister. He shivered as he pictured Verity and himself upstairs in the flat.
Grabbing an overflowing box, he apparated to the Ministry, trying to keep his mind focused and clear of Hermione. Damn, he thought,this is going to be hard.
" So," Neville said as he led Hermione to the kitchen.
He was never really one for conversation, she thought. "Have you heard anything from school? Like them rerunning last year, so we can finish officially?"
This was an honest question; it had been on Hermione's thoughts lately. It seemed in place to have a repeat of the year before. From what she had heard, The Carrows were vicious and brutal. Surely the students couldn't keep one thought in their heads with all that fear they were cursed with. Poor first years, they must have been scared out of their wits. Mcgonagall would have the sense to hold back the students from their next year. Of course, this would have it's disadvantages too. The whole balance of one year leaving while another enters would be ruined. Perhaps they'd make one large group of first years, one repeating and the other new. Or maybe they'd fit two years of learning into a single school year, maintaining the fragile balance of leaving and entering students. The staff must be in chaos, quite similar to the current state of the Ministry.
" No….. not really." Neville fell into an awkward silence.
Hermione thought of another topic,"Lovely house."
This was no lie. It may have been smaller than the Malfoy Manor, but it was beautiful. Chandeliers hung from the ceilings, portraits cluttered the walls. Antique furniture were placed in some corners, making the house seem spacious, but not too empty. It was quite obvious wizards ( or maybe just the Longbottoms) had much more bold taste than muggles. There was no overall theme: browns, blacks, blues, reds, greens were everywhere. All the colors in the rainbow could be found just in the living room alone. Not a style Hermione would use, but it had a cozy feeling, very inviting. Hermione thought the house was perfect in every way, despite its age. She pictured herself living there with a big family. This was her dream house ( at least when the decor was changed).
Neville smiled," Thank you. I'll inherit it from Gran someday."
" How long has it been in the Longbottom family?"
" Well, I suppose for centuries. No one has really told me. Really, I have no idea about my family history."
Hermione tilted her head," Honestly?"
" Honestly." he sighed.
" Neville, I'm so sorry…."
" No, I believe that everything happens for a reason. I mean, I least I get to see them… and…. and….. I feel much more relieved."
" What do you mean?"
" Now that Bellatrix is dead, I feel loads better, safer."
Hermione's mind thought back to Mrs Weasley - who didn't seem like herself at all then- screaming 'DON'T YOU TOUCH MY DAUGHTER, BITCH!' It was terrifying as Bellatrix fell to the ground with the look of shock on her face. It was ever-sketched into Hermione's mind. To think that some deatheaters killed people for fun without a trace of guilt….. it was sick. They were sick. What kind of people killed the innocent with children and families? In a world of people so vulnerable and hopeful, who could tell them of the danger on the dark side. Neville was a victim of their wrath; Harry was too. They had witnessed the ugliness of earth, one of it's flaws.
" But...it's hard sometimes. I know I'd be different if they were around. I would have probably joined the Order….." he murmured.
" I understand." she said ,"But things will turn out for the best."
" I hope-"
" Is that a girl I hear in the kitchen? With my dear grandson, Neville?" asked a voice from the stairs. It had to be Mrs Longbottom.
" Gran! It's just Hermione!" Neville replied.
" Oh, even better!" she said, walking up to Hermione," Hello Miss Granger. Pleasure to see you today!"
" The pleasure's mine."
" You have such fine manners. Like little Alice Prewett. Goodness, Frank adored her. He always talked about her. Alice this and Alice that," Gran flicked her hands this way and that each time she would say 'Alice'.
Neville started," Alright, Gran-"
Hermione smiled. Harry had told her that Frank Longbottom had shared the boys dormitories with his dad, Lupin, Sirius, and Pettigrew. It was very ironic that Frank and James had been in the same year as did Harry and Neville. Frank was a quiet boy, Sirius had told Harry, very shy and even more clumsy. I suppose it's hereditary, thought Hermione. She had never met someone more clumsy than Neville Longbottom. To think that his father was also clumsy, it was very amusing to her. Although, Neville's Gran seemed good on her feet. Perhaps the gene skips women?
Gran laughed," I remember during Nev's first years of Hogwarts. He fancied you, alright. It was always Hermione this and Hermione that. Just like Frank with Alice! Oh, I thought-"
" Gran!" Neville yelled.
" Now grandson, don't talk to me like that. Anyways, Neville wrote letters to you but never sent them. It was quite adorable!''
" Really Gran, you should go take your nap."
" I already took my nap."
" Then… the flowers are looking parched! You should go water the garden!" Neville grabbed his grandmother's arm and pulled her for the door.
"Oh no, I couldn't… Hermione here, she wants me to finish the-"
" Goodbye Miss Granger!" she yelled, nearly out the doorway.
" Goodbye," Hermione grinned.
Neville stumbled back into the kitchen, his face considerably red, and murmured, " Sorry about that…."
Hermione struggled to hide her smile, "That's fine,"
Clunk! Fred fell onto the hard black floor of the Ministry. The box of merchandise lay a few feet away. He cursed quietly as he stood up. A few red eyed wizards stared at Fred as they passed. Those working at the Ministry were never quite friendly. Percy was the perfect example too.
" Aww, Mr Weasley!" boomed a voice behind him. It was Ludo Bagman, the man who had scammed the twins back in their sixth year. He was wearing robes of lime green.
Perhaps Fred could mention the money Bagman owed them? It had been three years since the Quiditch World Cup, but they had made a bet. The twins, had they lost, would've given Bagman the money... well, actually... maybe not, but a bet was still a bet! Surely thirty-seven galleons, fifteen sickles, and three knuts could fund for a new invention or two. Fred thought for a few moments, The money would be nice... that man scammed George and I. Maybe that would be too imposing, it had been three years after all.
" Ludo, hello." Fred replied shortly, before anything could slip out.
" How have you been, chap?" Bagman smiled," I heard about your joke shop. Sorry I haven't had the chance to stop in, the ministry has been a bit chaotic lately."
" Oh, it's going good I suppose. April Fools is on it's way, the biggest season of the year. We've got a whole bunch of new merchandise."
" I assume you'll be going to get them inspected?"
" Yes, sir."
" Good, I'll take you there. My niece works in that department. Just promoted to Head Inspector. Her parents are so proud."
" You have a niece?"
" Yes, I do. Audrey Mason, just graduated Hogwarts a few years ago."
The two walked to the busy Magical Objects Inspection floor. There were several happy looking witches and wizards walking around, all with bright and colorful robes. Ludo led Fred to the front desk, where a plump lady sat. She looked young, maybe thirty, but had wrinkles around the corners of her mouth and eyes. Fred immediately took liking to her; she seemed like a fun person. It seemed hard to come by happy people lately. The war had certainly taken a toll on the wizarding world. Fred was glad that it hadn't affected everyone.
" Mr Weasley, this is Agatha Jorkins. I'll leave you here with her to get your inspection set up." Ludo offered his hand to Fred and left.
Agatha stared at Fred a moment before saying," Alright, what have we got here?"
" Well, I've got some new merchandise from my store."
" Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes I suppose?"
" The one and only, ma'am."
" Ooh, I just love that store! It's fantastic! I'm honored to meet you, boy, " she laughed," What kind of new stuff do you have?"
" Hmm, I think we've got another new themed daydreaming potion, exploding quills, chocolate bars that make the consumer change into a pumpkin, and several other things I don't exactly remember. I'm sure they're all products parents will hate, as usual."
" Perfect! Here's a form you have to fill out. Once you've finished it, take it to the room down the hall, first left."
" Thank you." Fred smiled.
" No problem, but expect me to be at your store soon!" Agatha Jorkins laughed.
Fred filled out the form and walked to the room he was directed to. A rainbow of colors show through the window before stopping. The door flung open. He blinked.
" Come in, hurry!" said a voice. Fred walked in.
The room was larger than it seemed. The walls were mismatched, same as the furniture. In one corner sat a small desk, which seemed like it was never used. The rest of the room was covered by a large blue mat. A huge burn lay in the middle of it all, dead center. All sorts of bright colors was splattered here and there; on the walls, floor, and even on the ceiling. A tall girl materialized next to Fred. She wore a fitted black pencil skirt with a neatly tucked in turquoise silk shirt; over it lay deep purple robes. She had dark brown- practically black- hair that just reached her chin. Along with her shiny hair, she stood with an exotic look of olive colored skin and and dark eyes. Her most prominent feature, well, it was prominent: She was very long and lean. Fred practically dropped his box.
" Well, well, well. If it isn't Fred Weasley….."
Bloody hell! She's beautiful! he thought. Very different from the girl who had been a Ravenclaw in his year at Hogwarts. Audrey left the school with pimples, greasy hair, and crooked teeth. And now... she was certainly something. Fred wondered if George had seen her.
" I thought you'd show up here eventually. With your shop so busy and such."
"Oh, really? You actually paid attention in Divination? I never got into that class. Trelawney was a bit mental..."
" I agree, she was mental, but maybe I just looked at the list of appointments on the front desk."
Fred mentally slapped himself; he was already acting like an idiot. He didn't usually get all tongue twisted and nervous. Not even around Her-Fred was determined to stay focused. Staying focused was hard enough for him. While attending Hogwarts, it was nearly impossible to sit through a double potions class. He almost always received a detention. This flaw had developed worse and worse since his dropout.
"So, what have you got?" Audrey eyed the box.
"Just... merchandise. The usual."
Pulling a wand from her robes, Audrey conjured a piece of parchment, from which she read, " Any inappropriate, rude, disturbing items? No illegal curses, jinxes, or potions? Any items containing these will immediately fail inspection, staying so until checked again by ministry. I, Head Inspector, have the right to fail any items. Inspection should last up three to five days... blah, blah, blah, it goes on.
" It's a new system the Minister is testing. Very pointless, I think. Us inspectors don't need to inform wizards with useless information, they either pass or fail... and you never heard any of this from me, should anyone ask."
" Okay, I'll take these in for inspection. You can pick them up tomorrow."
Fred lingered at the door," Audrey," he asked," would you like to come to my mum's house for dinner?"
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