The Sugar Quill
Author: Mrs Weasley (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Best Man 2: The Search for Snape  Chapter: Chapter One
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Summary: Hermione is starting a new job...but recent events have made her think about relationships...

Disclaimer: These characters belong to JK Rowling, except for a couple I've added.

Author's Notes: This story is for all the people who reviewed "The Best Man" and asked for a continuation of the story. If you haven't read The Best Man, you need to know that it is set 8 years after Hogwarts. Harry has just married Ginny, Ron and Hermione have just got back on speaking terms after six years of not speaking to each other, and Malfoy kidnapped Harry the night before the wedding and was prevented from carrying out his evil plans by Ron, Hermione, and Ron's colleagues from the Magical Law Enforcement Squad. Oh yes, and Hermione's about to take up her new job as Transfiguration teacher at Hogwarts. Hope that's clear, though it would probably be easier to go and read The Best Man first!

The Best Man 2: The Search for Snape, Part 1.

Hermione gave Professor McGonagall a rather tired smile. "It's fine, I'm sure I'll be very comfortable here," she assured her, looking around the room.

"I hope so. Well, I'm sure you'll want some time to settle in. I'll see you at dinner." Professor McGonagall nodded to her newest member of staff and went out, closing the door behind her.

Hermione walked over to the small arched window, set in the thick stone wall, and looked out across the grounds. The lake was rippling slightly in the autumn breeze, and she could see Mumble, Hagrid's successor, raking leaves off the distant Quidditch pitch, but Hogwarts looked strangly empty without any students. Tomorrow, the first day of the new term, things would be very different; it would also be Hermione's first real day as a Transfiguration teacher.

Hermione turned back, and looked at the boxes and trunks of her possessions which stood in the middle of the bed-sitting room. She had intended to unpack and arrange her belongings before dinner, and go to look at her new office downstairs, but now she was suddenly too tired to bother, and instead she flopped down on the bed for a short rest. The last few days had been stressful - clearing out her London flat, getting the proofs of her new book corrected, visiting her parents, travelling to Hogwarts and then having that long introductory meeting with Professor McGonagall...she just wanted some peace and quiet before getting down to work.

Being back at Hogwarts again was already bringing back a lot of memories, even though so much had changed. No Dumbledore, no Hagrid, no Snape...being here reminded her of so many people, but most of all, of course, it reminded her of Harry and Ron, and all the times they had shared together here.

Harry and Ginny had invited her to come to dinner next Saturday. It was only a short walk from the school gates to their home in Hogsmeade, and Hermione was looking forward to seeing them for the first time since their wedding. The wedding - what a dramatic weekend that had been! Disaster had been so narrowly averted - Hermione shivered as she thought about what might have happened if she and Ron hadn't managed to find Harry and get him back in time for the wedding. The fact that she and Ron hadn't spoken to each other for six years hadn't seemed to matter so much during that crisis.

She hadn't known what to expect, really, on meeting Ron again at the wedding. They had both held a little aloof to begin with, prepared for hostility, avoiding talking about anything important. But, by the time they had rescued Harry, at least they were talking again. During the ceremony, when everyone else's attention was focussed on Harry and Ginny, she had looked sideways at Ron, looking intent, serious and older in his unfamiliar suit and tie, with the flower buttonhole she had pinned on to his lapel herself. She had been very matter of fact about doing that, and concentrated on gazing very hard at her fingers fastening the flower and the pin, but she had been very conscious of his nearness, his breath just above her head, and most of all, the familiar smell of him which brought back memories so vivid she had to steady her face before moving away, and remind herself that many things had changed for both of them.

At the wedding reception, she had watched Harry and Ginny start the dancing - faces close together, clearly wrapped up in each other for the moment. Mr. Weasley had touched her arm and asked her for the first dance.

"I shall dance with Ginny next, I hope," he had said, "but Harry has first claim on her now. And you're the closest thing I have to another daughter."

Unexpectedly, tears had stung Hermione's eyes. "You have two daughters-in-law," she had pointed out. "Susan and Penny."

"I know, and they're both delightful, but you're an older accquaintance, Hermione, and we've missed you." There was a brief silence between them before he had said, "We don't want to lose touch with you again, Hermione. "Come and visit us whenever you want. It's too quiet here, now all the children have left home."

"I'll come," Hermione had promised, touched by his concern.

She had danced with Remus Lupin, with Harry, and then with Neville, who seemed delighted when she told him she had accepted McGonagall's offer and would be his colleague next term.

After Neville, she had been taking a breather when Percy Weasley approached her, pompous as ever, greeting her as though she were a foreign dignitary. He had made polite enquiries about her books before launching into a long monologue about his work at the Ministry. Hermione had smiled politely. She liked Percy - though he was pompous, there was no malice in him - and he was Ron's brother. She whiled away the time trying to prevent Percy from treading on her feet, and noticing he would soon have a bit of a Ministerial stomach if he didn't watch out. Too much time sitting in offices, and too much Ministerial dining. Not like Ron, who was always dashing around the country, arresting warlocks, investigating illegal activities -

It was then that she had been startled by the unexpected appearance of Ron himself at Percy's elbow, tapping him on the shoulder. "Hullo, Perce. Mind if I cut in?"

Percy, not stupid, had looked quickly from his brother to Hermione before saying graciously, "Of course not - Hermione, it was a pleasure, please excuse me -" and moving away. Automatically, still taken aback, Hermione had put her hand on Ron's shoulder and let him steer her into the dance, while he joked about rescuing her from Percy, and she tried not to think about how much it disturbed her to be touching him again. It must have affected Ron too, because the first comments he made didn't make much sense, but they had both pulled themselves together and started talking about Harry's kidnapping and Malfoy's arrest. Ron had told her that he would have to leave first thing the next morning to report to the Magical Law Enforcement Squad on the whole incident. They had agreed that she would go to the M.L.E.S. offices on the following Tuesday to make her statement.

"Ask for me at the entrance, and I'll come and find you, and show you around," Ron had offered.

Back in London, and standing outside the M.L.E.S. building the next Tuesday, Hermione had had a serious talk with herself. "I'm just going to make my statement," she had told herself. "And if I can behave in a friendly way towards Ron, so much the better. All our friends are sick of us not speaking to each other. If we can act like friends again, it will be much easier for everyone. That's all there is to it. That's all he wants as well, I'm sure."

But he had seemed pleased to see her, she thought. When she had asked at the reception desk, the young wizard there had jumped to attention and spoken into some gadget, and five minutes later Ron had appeared from a side-corridor, a welcoming smile on his face. "Hermione, you got here! Come to my office. Martin, could we have some coffee, please?"

The young wizard had jumped up, muttering, "Of course, sir," and hurrying off.

"Sir?" Hermione had asked quizzically, raising her eyebrows.

Ron had looked faintly embarrassed. "It's just the hierarchy, you know how these places work." He had ushered her into a large office. He hadn't changed in some ways, she observed - the office was just as untidy as his area of the boys' dormitory at Hogwarts had ever been.

She had made her statement, signed it, sipped coffee and chatted for half an hour, about the case, about the wedding, about nothing in particular. It had been pleasant, but as she left, she couldn't help thinking again how much they had changed. Here he was now, with his Grade Three squad leader status and his big office, giving orders calmly to his subordinates, and here she was, an honoured guest, a well-known author, just about to become Transfiguration teacher at Hogwarts. Six years ago, though...

She had been an earnest student, fired up about her research, trying to find out all she could. Ron had mocked her ambitions, but he had been such an eager trainee himself. She remembered hoping that the M.L.E.S. would live up to his expectations, and knowing that it would be tough. He had poured out the details of his training to her when they were both poor students, sharing cups of coffee in cheap cafes on rainy days. There had been rides on buses, walks in the park and get-togethers with old schoolfriends at The Leaky Cauldron. There had been inexperienced but affectionate kisses, and warm embraces, and a little silver necklace with a cat pendant... There had been quarrels, and fierce hugs of reconciliation, but not much serious thought about the future.

Then Bill had died, and so had the boy in Ron. He had become a bitter, angry stranger she didn't know. In that last quarrel they had both said things they didn't mean. He didn't know how to let her in to comfort him. He wanted to be alone.

They had both been alone for a long time.

This Ron wasn't that Ron. And she wasn't the same Hermione.

He had said, that day at the M.L.E.S. building, that he would probably see her at Harry and Ginny's house some time, that he would be coming up to Hogsmeade soon, but he hadn't given a definite date. Hermione wondered what "soon" really meant.

She was roused from her thoughts by the clanging of a bell. Surprised to discover that it was already dinner time, Hermione ran a comb through her short, tousled hair and hurried downstairs. The Great Hall seemed odd with all the student tables empty, and only the staff gathered around the top table. Hermione was greeted warmly by those of her colleagues who hadn't seen her yet, and Neville Longbottom, beaming broadly, waved her to an empty seat next to him. Eager and infinitely likeable, Neville chattered about Hogwarts news as Hermione ate.

"So, are you looking forward to tomorrow?" he asked her.

"I think so - I'm a bit nervous, of course, but I think I'll enjoy it once I get used to it."

"Minerva's very pleased you agreed to join us."

Hermione gave a little smile. "I'll never get used to calling Professor McGonagall Minerva. It sounds so odd. So, I hear you're the Head of Gryffindor House now, Neville, as well as Potions master?"

Neville blushed. "Yes, actually. You know, you could be Head of Gryffindor if you wanted to. You were a Gryffindor too, and I'm sure you'd be much better than me -"

"No, no," Hermione said hastily. "I'm sure you do a great job. Prof - Minerva told me you were very popular with the students."

Neville blushed again.

Remus Lupin, sitting opposite them, leaned forward. "So, Hermione, do you know any more about Malfoy and Lockhart's trial? When is it going to start?"

"I'm afraid I don't know anything more than what's been in the 'Daily Prophet'," Hermione told him.

"Oh? I thought perhaps you would have heard some more details from Harry, or Ron -"

"No, I'm afraid not."

"I suppose you'll have to be a witness at the trial, won't you?" Neville asked.

"Yes. But I haven't heard when it will be." Hermione wasn't looking forward to the experience. She hadn't forgotten the hate and fury in Malfoy's eyes that night, when they had prevented him from carrying out the Resurrection Charm, and she hadn't forgotten the sorry spectacle of Gilderoy Lockhart, shabby, pathetic and reduced to playing the role of Malfoy's henchman. She did not relish the thought of facing them across a room at the Ministry. It would be difficult for Harry, too, but the others would be there - Leander, Alex, Bernard and Ivan - and Ron. She wondered if Ron had found out any more about Malfoy's plans - about the people who might have helped him. What about Severus Snape? Where was he now? Was he really involved in the same Dark Arts circle? And would Malfoy's arrest stop others from trying to cause more trouble?

As the meal reached the dessert and coffee stage, Professor McGonagall tapped her cup to get the attention of her staff. "Now, I know that you all have a lot of preparation to do, but I will need to have a staff meeting tomorrow morning, straight after breakfast, to finalize timetables and discuss the changes for this year. Then you may have the rest of the day to complete your planning before the Hogwarts Express arrives with the students."

Remus Lupin flashed a smile across the table at Hermione. "Look out, Hermione, this is where the real work starts."

Hermione smiled back. "I don't mind. It feels good to be back."

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