Chapter One

Hermione Granger stared at the Help Wanted section of her latest scientific periodical. Oh, it wasn't so crass as to label itself as Help Wanted. No, the world of academia had a kinder term for it. Advancement Opportunity sounded much more civilized, perhaps even dignified. Frankly, she thought, her eyes skimming over the carefully worded advertisements, she didn't care what it was called, as long as it rescued her from the drudgery that her position at the Ministry of Magic had become.

"Potions assistant... entry-level Arithmancy position... great Godric, who in Hades would want to hire a Seer?" She shook her head, disappointed by the offerings. A mug of tea in her hand, she slouched deeper into the couch and debated subletting her flat and making a break for Aruba. Just as she'd decided on what fruity beach drink she would try first, her Floo flared and she heard the familiar voice of her best friend.

"Harry!" she exclaimed, setting aside both her tea and maudlin attitude. She motioned for him to come through the Floo, and immediately cast a soot repelling charm on his casual robes. "How was the day of the Auror Who Lived to Do Paperwork?" she asked, a teasing smile helping to chase away the last of her unhappy thoughts.

"Ink stains, Hermione. Ink stains!" Harry held up his right hand, which was, indeed, covered in blotches of several different colours of ink. "Forms filled out in triplicate. By hand. With different colours for different violations. And Merlin help you if you make a mistake! You have to start all over!" He shuddered and collapsed on the sofa next to Hermione.

"Poor Harry," Hermione sympathised, trying not to laugh. "Working you to the bone, are they?"

Head flung back, eyes closed, Harry merely grunted. "I did get to break up a hexing altercation in Diagon Alley," he said, perking up a little. "And I even got to stun one of them."

"See? There you go!" Hermione patted his thigh, knowing that all Harry really needed was a friendly ear. He loved his job as an Auror, even though he tended to struggle with the more mundane aspects of it.

"Tell me about your day," he asked after a few moments of companionable silence. "Get any paper cuts?" He brandished his wand, spinning it skilfully between his fingers. "I can talk to those parchments for you. Persuade them to go a little easier on you." He waggled his eyebrows, causing her to burst into laughter.

"Harry Potter, Saviour of the Indentured Filers," she teased. "My hero!" Her laughter faded quickly, though, as she was reminded of the tedium and frustration of her day. The Head of Magical Sports had rejected her findings, even though they were backed by solid, verifiable evidence. Her assistant had managed to make a serious error in a different project, setting them back by days. And, worst of all, the coffee shop around the corner had been out of her preferred latte. Well, the last one probably wasn't very serious. And wasn't job-related. But still. She'd needed that caramel latte in the worst way!

"I'm thinking about quitting," she said quietly, and then waited for the explosion.

The expected volley of shouts and arguments never materialized. Instead, Harry only nodded. "I've been waiting for this," he admitted.

Her jaw gaped. "I only decided today!"

"Yes, but you've been miserable for months," he pointed out.

It was true, she realized. She'd stopped enjoying her work. Stopped bringing it home because she wanted to. And started dreading returning to work after a weekend of freedom.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," she sighed, picking up the periodical again. "I still want to research. It's what I'm best at, really. But I have no idea where I want to work!"

Harry plucked the periodical from her grasp and studied the positions available. "Oi," he said, frowning. "Just don't take a Potions assistant job," he instructed. "I'll have nightmares about you working for Snape."

"He was cleared," she reminded him curtly, snatching the periodical back. "And he's the best Potion Master in the UK." Thinking about it a little more, she sighed. "You're right, though. I wouldn't want to work for him. One of us would end up in Azkaban for murder."

"Murder Most Foule," Harry agreed, grinning. "But I'd break you out. Promise."

"Oooh! And then we could go on the run together again!" she exclaimed, warming to the idea. "Wouldn't that be lovely? We could camp! You know I'm a dab hand at cooking," she teased, eyes sparkling.

Harry clutched his stomach in remembrance. "Right. I'll leave the rescuing to someone else. But surely there's a reasonable job opportunity in here somewhere," he said, picking up the periodical from where she'd tossed it on the coffee table. "I'm guessing you don't want to be a secretary."

She snorted.

"Or a Cleanser of Chemical Concerns?"

"Is that code for cleaning laboratories?" she wondered. "I think I'll pass on that one, too."

"Huh." Harry was studying the periodical, squinting through his glasses. "This one looks like it might be up your alley. Wanted: Dedicated Researcher to Assist Independent Project. Must Live In." He paused. "Sounds kind of suspicious, actually. Why would they need to live in?"

Hermione shrugged. Reading over his shoulder, she pointed to the advertisement. "Look at the salary!" Chewing her bottom lip, she continued the back-and-forth game they were playing with the periodical. "That's tempting."

Harry frowned. "If money's a problem," he began, but was swiftly interrupted.

"You will not support me with your inheritance money," she scolded. "It's for your children, not for their spinster honourary aunt."

"You're hardly a spinster," Harry pointed out. "You're not even twenty-five! And I don't have children!"

"You will," she said, patting his arm. "Once you grow up and kick Ron out of your place, that is," she added, holding back a smirk.

"Oh, Circe," he said, covering his face with his hands. "He had friends over last night. Trashed the place. And he's still sleeping it off. Alone, I hope," he finished with a shudder.

She shook her head. All three of the Golden Trio had had some adjusting to do after the war, but Ron was apparently still stuck in the "party for we might die tomorrow" stage of development. And while she didn't begrudge Ron his fun, she also completely understood why Harry showed up at her flat more often than not.

"I should go," he said. "But do me a favour. Don't apply for that job unless you do a little research first. I'd hate to see you being held under the Imperious Curse in some former Death Eater's family home, being forced to search for a new and legal alternative to the Cruciatus."

"Yes, Dad," she teased, rolling her eyes before giving him a strong hug. "Don't worry. I'll thoroughly vet any prospective employers. Good enough?"

His slight hesitation was just long enough to tell her that Harry would be using his Auror clearance to investigate her job options. But it was useless to argue with him. Since the war, he'd become increasingly protective of her, though he did his best to keep from irritating her. And it turned out that she rather enjoyed having a brother figure in her life, now that they weren't fighting the forces of evil on a daily basis.

As he disappeared into the Floo, she read the advertisement again. Summoning a quill and parchment, she worded an inquiry. After all, it couldn't hurt to look into the "potential career advancement", could it?

Her Owl returned after a suspiciously short length of time. The note he carried was short, polite, and singularly unhelpful.

Please forward a resume. Concerns will be addressed should your application be deemed suitable.

The scrawled signature was undecipherable, but the letterhead on the parchment and seal on the same were not. One of the oldest legal firms in the wizarding world was handling the simple matter of hiring a researcher.


More intrigued by the secrecy surrounding the job than the actual job (about which she still knew next to nothing!), she replied immediately, enclosing a resume listing her rather impressive O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. scores and her numerous commendations from the Ministry of Magic.

Only two days later (two days of unsatisfying work with unintelligent persons who kept their jobs only because it was considered too much work to train newer, more qualified persons), an Owl arrived, informing her that her application had been successful, and that she was invited to the offices of Griswald, Birkins, and Grotts to go over the necessary work in three days time.

Plenty of time to conduct a little private research, she decided, and determine if the job was worth the bother of quitting at her current place of employment and letting go of her flat. Though she wouldn't have to let the flat go completely, she thought. She had a feeling that her departure would provide an ideal way for Harry to rid himself of Ron's presence at 12 Grimmauld Place. Ron wouldn't be able to refuse, as he'd be saving a home for Hermione should her job not pan out. And with the rules she'd set in place, he'd be unable to carry on with his carefree existence. All in all, perhaps it would be best if she took the job, no matter what she discovered in her research, she thought with a smirk. Ron being forced to evidence a little maturity would be payment enough.

"The editor of Thinking Minds won't give me any information on the person who placed the advertisement," Hermione complained, coming dangerously close to whining. "They claim that all communication has been through Griswald, Birkins, and Grotts."

Harry shrugged, but his demeanour was far from casual. "I haven't found any information, either," he said, taking a large bite of the chocolate cake Hermione had made for pudding. "I never even made it past the general receptionist at the law firm."

She poked at her dessert, frowning. "Why all the secrecy?" she wondered. "I understand intelligence espionage. After all, it's incredibly difficult to claim ownership of ideas. I understand the need for discretion. But at this level?" She frowned. "I'm beginning to think that you might not have been far off the mark when you warned me about working for a former Death Eater on some nefarious plot to take over the world."

Harry pushed his plate away, his cake half-eaten. "I don't like it," he said. "If you're still set on keeping your interview appointment tomorrow, I'm going with you."

"Another pair of eyes and ears isn't a bad idea," Hermione admitted. "Though I don't know if they'll let you in to the actual interview."

He shrugged. "Even if they don't, I can still poke around and try to weasel information out of someone. After all, there's bound to be at least one Potter groupie working there, right?"

Hermione rolled her eyes. Though it was probably for the best that Harry had accepted the culture of simpering fans that had once driven him nearly spare, she still couldn't believe the blind devotion that so many people in the wizarding world showed him. It wasn't as if he were perfect, after all, she thought, grimacing as he burped in what he apparently thought was a discreet fashion.

"Just as long as you don't throw your weight around too much," she conceded. "After all, it's not as if I'm defenceless, or incapable of ferreting out the information myself."

He nodded once, and attacked his pudding with renewed zeal.

"This way, please." A middle-aged witch dressed in impeccable, if conservative, robes gestured for Hermione to follow her. She was alone, having lost Harry somewhere in the foyer to a group of gaggling witches. With any luck, he'd found the right simpering woman from whom to coax information.

She walked through a second reception area, this one manned by an even older and more stern-looking witch. She merely nodded, though, and Hermione was bustled into an opulent office and seated in a comfortable chair.


"Yes, thank you," she agreed, hoping that whoever she spoke to would be more forthcoming with information if they were sharing tea. A moment later, a dignified wizard in what looked to be his ninth decade entered the room and greeted her politely.

"Miss Granger," he said, and seated himself behind his desk. "It's good of you to come in for this meeting. I have a list of questions from your potential employer, if you don't mind?"

She set her tea aside. "Of course."

For the next thirty minutes she answered questions about the care of rare text sources, obscure details about magical creatures, and precise instructions for the brewing of potions. By the end, she was frowning and trying to figure out what exactly her employer was working on. It all seemed very involved; much more involved than a simple research assistant. Curiosity piqued, she waited eagerly for the next question.

"Since you've done well on the first batch of questions..."

Hermione gaped. First batch?

"We'll continue with the more personal queries."

With a flick of her wrist, Hermione warmed her tea with a non-verbal charm. The interview was obviously going to take some time. When she glanced back to Mr Grotts (she'd finally managed to read the name on the diploma hanging behind him), he smiled for the first time since he'd entered the room, and gestured to his own teacup. She repeated the charm.

"Much better," he said after taking a careful sip. "And I'll add wandless, silent magic to your list of impressive credentials."

She nodded, relieved that his demeanor was thawing, at least a little. The second set of questions lasted just as long as the first, and by the time he drew the interview to a close, she was no closer to knowing anything about her potential employer, or the work that she'd be doing for him. Or if it even was a him! What she had surmised from the numerable questions was that discretion and privacy was of the utmost importance.

Which really told her nothing at all.

When Mr Grotts stood, indicating that the interview was at its close, she remained seated. "I was wondering if I might ask a question or two of my own," she said in response to his surprised expression. He sat back down, looking much less comfortable.

"I appreciate that your client wishes for his work to remain private," she said.

Mr Grotts nodded, now appearing decidedly uneasy.

"Do I have any assurance that I am being hired for strictly legal activities, or am I to simply hope that my employer is above board? Am I to know why it is necessary for me to live in? Since privacy is an issue, will I be allowed to contact my friends? Are my hours strictly scheduled, or, since I would be living in residence, would I be expected to be available at all times?"

"Miss Granger." Mr Grotts set down his teacup. "I cannot offer you absolute proof of my client's intentions, as I do not make a practice of employing Legilimancy. I can, however, tell you that my client comes from a very old family—"

"Pure Blood?" Hermione interrupted, her heart sinking. Harry had been right. And the job had sounded so promising!

"Yes, Pure Blood," Mr Grotts replied, frowning slightly at the interruption. "You will pardon me for saying so, but it isn't a crime."

"Of course not," she said guiltily. "It's just that..." Her voice trailed off.

"Yes, yes. The War has not done us any favours," he said. "Still, I would expect someone of your obvious intelligence to approach the situation with an open mind. As I was saying, my client comes from a very old family, and one that has been typically concerned with the welfare of marginalized peoples. I don't believe that you will be faced with ethical disparities in relation to the work he expects of you."

Well. That was something, at least. At least, it was if she trusted the lawyer...

"There are several reasons for you to live in, the first reason being that the estate is heavily warded to avoid detection." He paused. "The wards were put in place by Albus Dumbledore himself, in order to protect the occupants."

This would be good news, if she could be assured that she shared Dumbledore's opinions on who should be protected. Unfortunately, as more and more of the wizard's machinations came to light after the war, she was no longer certain that he could be trusted implicitly. In fact, she was quite certain that he could not. He could have had any number of reasons for protecting, well, whoever it was that he'd protected.

"As for communication, I don't imagine that my client will have a problem with Floo calls or Owls. Due to the remote location of his estate and the heavy wards, physical visits will be less frequent. As long as you maintain the privacy he requests about his work and person, you will be allowed a great deal of freedom, I'd imagine."

That seemed somewhat reasonable. Especially since she was now finding herself inordinately curious about the person Dumbledore had protected with such extreme wards. Damn it! She knew she'd take the job, if only to have a bit of mystery to solve.

As if sensing her capitulation, Mr Grotts leaned back in his chair. "I will forward the findings of this interview to my client and await his instructions. I imagine that we can expect a decision shortly—he is most anxious to further his projects."

This time when he stood, Hermione did as well.

"Thank you for your time," she said properly, and shook his hand. "I'll look forward to hearing from you."

"Are you sure about this?" Harry asked for what Hermione suspected might really be the hundredth time.

Slipping the last of the books she simply couldn't live without into her trunk, she sighed and closed it firmly. "Yes, Harry. I'm sure." With a wave of her wand, the trunk was reduced to an object which could easily fit inside her purse.

"It's bound to be a bit of a strange situation, I'll grant you," she said. "But I do have my wand, and you know that I'm capable of defending myself." When Harry nodded reluctantly, she continued. "And I promise to Floo call you every Sunday."

"And Wednesday," he said. "Don't forget. An entire week is too long. And if I think something is fishy, I reserve the right to come storming in with a team of Aurors."

"You're overreacting," Hermione complained. "It's just a job!"

"In an unknown location! With a wizard who still hasn't told you his name!"

Well, yes. There was that. Mr Grotts had indeed contacted swiftly after her initial interview, informing her that she had been hired and could start immediately. She'd given her two weeks of notice at the Ministry of Magic, only to be marched back to her office and supervised while she cleared it out. Two weeks of paid vacation, however, were not to be sneezed at. She hadn't used them, of course. She'd spent three days packing up her flat in preparation for Ron to sublet it from her, and she was now on the brink of departure into the unknown.

In between fits of fevered sorting, she'd attempted to wheedle more information from Mr Grotts, but had been politely rebuffed at every turn. A permanent port key had been delivered by Owl only an hour earlier, and the few tracing charms she'd had time to attempt had revealed absolutely nothing.

"And you'll Floo call tonight, please," Harry said.

Rolling her eyes at the fact that he phrased it as a statement instead of question, she nodded shortly. As over protective as Harry might be, it made good sense to maintain regular contact. If the port key malfunctioned or she met with foul play, it would be best to have someone at her back.

"I'll miss you," Harry said, his voice curiously rough, when she'd finished fiddling with the few remaining objects on the fireplace mantle.

"Oh, Harry!" she cried, and threw her arms around him. "I'll miss you, too! But just think! You won't have to listen to me go on and on about the morons at the Ministry. And you'll have Ron out of your space. And we'll talk often, and..."

"And you're babbling," Harry said, smirking just a little. "You're going to miss me, too."

"Well, of course I am!" She tucked her head against his shoulder and smiled as he held her firmly. Not for the first time, she wished that they'd been able to develop romantic feelings for each other. He was her dearest friend, a wonderful person, and Merlin, the man knew how to hug, she thought as his hand tracked gently up and down her back several times.

"The port key is set to activate in two minutes," she said, and this time it was her voice that was suspiciously rough. "I'll Floo call this evening, after I've settled in."

She felt a stab of unease as she slipped the permanently charmed port key necklace over her head. She couldn't remember the last time she'd risked so much on a venture she knew so little about. Was she making a terrible mistake?

"You'll be fine, love," Harry said, dropping a quick kiss on her forehead and then stepping back swiftly so that he wouldn't be unintentionally dragged along when the port key activated.

She felt the familiar swirl of magic in her navel and gave Harry one last look before closing her eyes for the journey to her new adventure.

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Author's Notes

Characters from the Harry Potter series are the property of J.K. Rowling. They are used without permission and not for profit.

Next Up: Hermione meets her new employer and is reminded of why portkey travel and wards don't mix.

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