Disclaimer: All things HP belong to JKR; all I own are lots of debts (and Annabel and the other characters you don't recognize.)
Author's Note: For my very dear Anne U., who requested a fic about H/Hr working at the Ministry.
When Hermione Was Wrong
"Hard at work, I see."
Hermione looked up at the sound of Harry's voice. "Oh, hi, Harry."
"Are you too busy to have lunch with me?"
She glanced at the clock on her desk to realize with surprise that it was lunchtime. "Let me just finish this up quickly and then I'll be free."
"I'll wait for you by the lift," he offered.
She agreed with a smile and a nod. "I'll be just a couple minutes, Harry."
Hermione turned back to her work, a slight smile lingering on her lips.
She and Harry had fallen into the habit of having lunch together once or twice a week since they were both working in the Ministry-Harry as an Auror and Hermione in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. It was never planned in advance but either she or Harry would suggest lunch. Sometimes, one of them would be too busy on any given day but somehow, it never failed that they would have lunch together at least once a week.
And, although she never quite admitted it to herself in so many words, her lunches with Harry usually ended up being the best part of her day.
Finishing up her work, Hermione quickly put her assignment aside and stood up, grabbing her cloak and her bag as she did so.
"Lunch with your Harry again?" Hermione's co-worker and closest friend at work, Annabel, asked.
"He's not my Harry," Hermione answered automatically. "But, yes, we're having lunch."
Annabel shook her head a little, giving an exasperated sigh. "Tell me again why you and Harry aren't dating?"
"We're just friends," Hermione said, repeating her usual refrain. Just friends. She had said it so often that the words only caused the slightest twinge of pain. Just friends. The words had stung at first-because she knew, in some mostly-unacknowledged corner of her heart, that she could care for Harry as so much more than just a friend if he ever wanted her to-oh, who was she kidding? She did care for Harry as so much more than just a friend. She knew it, even if she rarely acknowledged it in so many words. It was a knowledge that could hurt her if she allowed it to-but she didn't. It was the sore spot in her consciousness that she avoided prodding-and with time, time and resignation, it was no longer painful to the touch.
Just friends. No, the words didn't hurt. It was simply one of the immutable facts of her existence, as undeniable as the rising and setting of the sun.
Annabel snorted a little. "So you keep saying. But honestly, if Harry ever talked to any other woman the way he talks to you-even if he so much as looked at any other woman the way he looks at you, she'd start planning their wedding."
"That's not-what are you talking about?"
"It's not so much the way he looks at you so much as it's the way he doesn't look at anyone else. Whenever you're around, Harry stops noticing that any other woman exists."
"Harry notices everyone and everything," Hermione protested, rather lamely, although she knew it was true. It was one lasting legacy of the War, that Harry was always aware of his surroundings.
"Notices, maybe, but he doesn't really look at any other women, just you."
"I have to go," Hermione blurted out. "He's waiting for me. And you're wrong," she added as she turned and left-oh, who was she kidding-fled. She fled as if she could somehow outrun the tentative beginnings of hope at Annabel's words-hope she'd never allowed herself to feel before, hope she still could not quite allow herself to feel.
Because Annabel was wrong-had to be wrong-or, at the very least, was reading too much into their friendship. Because if there was one thing Hermione knew, it was Harry-and she knew that Harry had never, would never, think of her as anything other than his best friend.
Just friends, she reminded herself as Harry turned to smile at her as she approached.
"Busy morning fighting for truth and justice?" he asked lightly.
She sternly quelled the little flutter of reaction at the sight of his smile as she gave him a teasing nudge with her shoulder. "Some people actually have to work for a living," she quipped, falling into their customary banter. (She was the only person who could-and did-tease Harry about his money, for the simple reason that she didn't care how much money Harry had-unlike Ron, who still felt some lingering discomfort with the knowledge that Harry was much wealthier than the Weasleys. And aside from that, Hermione knew perfectly well that Harry cared very little about his money and worked as hard as anyone.)
"Hey, it's hard to be a rich layabout," he protested with mock offense.
She laughed. "I'm sure it is. How lucky for you that you seem to have a natural talent for it."
"What can I say? It's a skill," he said lightly before asking, his tone changing, "Busy morning?"
"Not more than usual. Say, when is Ron supposed to get back?"
Ron was away at a Quidditch camp with the Cannons.
"This weekend, he said," Harry answered. "Any preferences for lunch?"
"No, you can choose," Hermione said lightly. See? She found herself thinking as she started telling Harry a story from the Division meeting that morning. Annabel was wrong. There was nothing different, nothing in Harry's treatment of her to suggest that anything had changed about their friendship.
They chatted easily, idly, as they walked to lunch, falling into occasional silences as well. It was comfortable, their silences as much as their conversation, as it always was between them.
"How was your morning?" she asked later.
"It was fine; I was mostly doing a lot of paperwork."
His answer was smooth and yet-Hermione frowned slightly-his lips had tightened almost imperceptibly.
"What is it, Harry? Something annoyed you, I can tell."
He gave her a rather wry smile. "It's getting harder and harder to keep anything hidden from you. Are you sure you can't read minds?"
"It's not telepathy; it's only that I know you." She hesitated and then said, "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to. I was just wondering if I could help."
He reached over to touch her hand briefly with his in a gesture that was meant as an apology. "I didn't mean that. It was a joke, that's all. As for what happened, I was called in to a meeting this morning with the Department Heads and the Minister of Magic."
"Oh, what did they want?"
"It was about the Magical Summit in Paris next month. They want me to go."
"And you don't want to," Hermione finished for him.
Harry grimaced. "I hate these official functions, you know, having to smile and shake hands with a whole bunch of dignitaries and I know the Ministry is only doing it because of my fame, because it impresses those people who can go home and tell people that they met Harry Potter."
She gave him a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry. But you know, it might be interesting to be able to meet and talk to the leaders of each country."
"But I'm not a bloody politician or a diplomat and I don't want to be either."
"Still. I think it could be interesting. Denmark's new Minister of Magic is likely to be there and from what I've read, she's in favor of some interesting reforms, has spoken about rights for centaurs. And I've heard that Italy's new Cabinet Minister on Magical Law Enforcement is a very well-informed and eloquent speaker and this Summit is a great opportunity to meet and talk with him."
Harry gave her an arrested look. "Say, Hermione, why don't you come with me?"
"I haven't been invited and I'm not likely to be either. If the Ministry did want a representative from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement there, they'd probably send Tolly McCrink or someone like him," she said, referring to Bartholomew McCrink, the Head of the Department.
"So? I'll just suggest to someone at the Ministry that you should be invited too and you will be."
"Well, yes, that's true," she conceded.
"Come on, Hermione," he said with one of his cajoling smiles, "come with me. You'll actually enjoy yourself and if you're there, I'm less likely to say something stupid or die of sheer boredom."
"Honestly, Harry," she chided, trying to resist the appeal of his smile with her usual success-that is, failing entirely. "You won't die of boredom."
"I notice you don't disagree that I'm likely to say something stupid," he huffed with mock offense.
"That's because I've decided that you saying something stupid is unavoidable," she quipped.
"Hey, I'll have you know that my skill with words is so renowned that Minister Taft-Carter himself asked me to attend the Magical Summit," he shot back in a tone of exaggerated hauteur, mimicking Percy at his stuffiest.
She laughed and he joined in before sobering to reiterate, "Seriously, Hermione, come with me. They mostly just want me for the formal dinner in the evening so I was planning on taking the Floo in to Paris just before that but if you come, we could go earlier and spend the day wandering the city. We could go to the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore," he added cajolingly.
"All right, I'll come," she relented, giving in-as she'd known she would. And then he thanked her
with the smile that was the real reason she gave in to Harry's requests, that real, sweet smile that brightened his
eyes and never failed to make her want to smile too. That smile that she sometimes thought she would do almost anything
to see-- but then she cut off the thought, ruthlessly suppressing the little flutter of her heart in reaction to his
smile. Just friends, she reminded herself yet again, before she changed the subject.
Just friends. That was all and that was enough..
As Harry had said, it hadn't been at all hard to get Hermione an invitation to attend the Summit. A few words from him to any Ministry official and Hermione was called into Tolly McCrink's office and told that she had been added to the delegation from Britain.
And so it was that a few weeks later, Hermione opened the door of the hotel room the Ministry had agreed to pay for, to see Harry, dressed in the formal suit he kept just for these official functions.
"All ready?" he asked with a smile, adding as his gaze quickly took her in, "you look nice."
"Thanks. You don't look so bad yourself," she said teasingly.
"What can I say, I clean up well," he quipped.
She laughed. "Come on, pretty Harry. Let's go to a party."
The formal dinner was being held in the banquet hall of the hotel and she felt Harry automatically tense a little as they entered, seeing the heads that turned to look at them-at him, really-as usually happened whenever he entered a room.
"I'll give you fifty Galleons if you give me a plausible excuse to skip this," Harry offered, only half-facetiously.
Hermione laughed, giving him a subtle nudge with her elbow. "Don't think like that, Harry. And short of some sort of international disaster happening in the next couple hours, I don't think you're getting out of this."
"Oh great. What good are you, then?" he quipped.
"Now, Harry, be nice," she chided him softly before they were greeted by Minister Taft-Carter with his customary effusiveness for Harry.
And that was their last opportunity for a private conversation as Harry was, predictably, kept busy greeting the rest of the British delegation and then the others before they all had to sit down for the formal dinner.
Seating arrangements being what they were, she wasn't seated next to Harry-who, as usual, got a seat of prominence in the center of the table-but after she automatically noted where he was sitting, she turned to greet her neighbor, Giovanni Lucca, who worked in the Italian Ministry of Magic, and almost before she realized it, found herself engrossed in one of the most enjoyable conversations she'd had for a while. Signor Lucca was an oddity in that in his years in the Ministry, he had worked for a total of five different departments, rather than staying in only one department as most people did. He was a career Ministry official and appeared to be able to do just about everything well. That much Hermione had already known. What she learned now was that he was also a very engaging conversationalist, combining an old world courtesy with an incisive mind and a surprisingly self-deprecating sense of humor.
All in all, she could hardly remember when she had last enjoyed a conversation at one of these formal events more.
It wasn't until the second course arrived that there was something of a lull in conversation as people began to turn their attentions to the food and Hermione automatically glanced at Harry to see how he was enjoying the evening.
Or not enjoying it, as the case was. Harry was seated next to the French Minister of Magic and she could see, although she knew no one else would be able to notice it, the utter boredom he was hiding behind his polite mask.
Even as she watched, his mask faltered for a moment as he glanced upwards, as if appealing to the Fates for a reprieve, and she saw he was nearing the end of his patience, about to give one of his terse answers that had earned him something of a reputation for aloofness. Except she knew perfectly well that if the French Minister of Magic got that impression, it would cause a minor diplomatic tempest as the British Ministry was currently trying to wheedle the French into making a few concessions in their policies on foreign-made (which somehow affected mostly British-made) potions and spells. And needless to say, offending the French Minister of Magic was high on the list of things the British Ministry specifically wanted to avoid doing at this juncture.
She straightened and lifted the hand that held her fork in a subtle but rather awkward motion, just enough for the light from the nearest candle to glint off the fork. And Harry looked over at her, his attention caught as she'd known it would be by anything remotely unusual happening in his peripheral vision.
He shot her a look, a subtle question in the set of his eyebrows.
She gave him a sympathetic look even as she made a slight motion with her head to indicate the French Minister, widening her eyes a little as she did so.
And that was all.
As she'd known he would, he understood. His lips tightened into a subtle grimace of resignation and then he gave her an almost imperceptible nod, before he turned back to the French Minister.
She could only see Harry's profile now but she watched as he smiled at the French Minister and gave her what she knew would be one of his stock noncommittal answers. The French Minister returned his smile and resumed her discourse with renewed animation.
And Hermione spared a moment to feel sorry for Harry. She knew how much he disliked this sort of thing but he was also better at it than he thought-which meant that she really couldn't imagine that the Ministry would stop asking him to come to these formal functions as Harry hoped they eventually would. But then Harry himself was barely aware of and cared less about his relative success at these diplomatic functions, mostly because a large part of it was due to something he hadn't the slightest inkling of- the difference his smile made. Unsmiling or when he assumed his polite mask, Harry could look rather aloof and off-putting. Harry was never going to be one of those people who thrived in crowds or who enjoyed meeting new people. She of all people knew the depths of his loyalty, the kindness of his heart, but she also knew his habitual-and by now, instinctive-reserve that had people sometimes mistaking him as cold or arrogant. But his smile-even the polite smile he used at these events-made all the difference, giving him an undeniable charm when he directed his smile at someone in particular, as he'd just done with the French Minister.
She returned her attention to Signor Lucca, hoping that Harry would manage to enjoy at least some of the evening. She would hate for him to be miserable, especially when she herself was enjoying herself so much.
More than two hours later, Hermione was not feeling quite as cheerful about the evening. With the formal dinner over, the guests were now mingling while the after-dinner drinks were being circulated.
She maintained her polite smile by dint of will as she wondered just how much of a furor would be caused if she not-quite-accidentally spilled her drink on the Spanish Deputy Minister of Magic or stepped on his foot. She had deliberately sought him out for conversation because she had heard he'd been instrumental in championing some of the latest reforms in Spain regarding the punishment and rehabilitation of former Death Eaters. She'd heard some vague scuttlebutt that he was something of a ladies man but hadn't paid it much heed as she had little interest in that sort of gossip and anyway, she'd assumed that she-not being a beauty-would hold no interest for a ladies man.
Apparently she didn't need to be a beauty. She only needed to be young, single, and female. So instead of a conversation about reform, she was being treated instead to some rather fulsome compliments and a litany of his own accomplishments. Worse, she couldn't even pretend that his accomplishments were as false as his compliments; he really had been very successful so he had some reason to be vain. Not that it increased her enjoyment of his conversation but it was enough that she hoped that soon, he would run out of his stock of compliments, enabling her to redirect him into an actual discussion about his reforms.
Of course, spilling her drink on him or stepping on him would, no doubt, end the compliments but it would also eliminate any chance she had of getting any real information.
Hermione suppressed a sigh, trying to look appropriately interested while at the same time as unreceptive of his flirtation as she could.
When she felt a hand touch her waist familiarly, an arm going around her back for a moment. And she relaxed, her body somehow recognizing his presence even before she heard his voice.
"Minister Fuentes, what a pleasure to meet you," Harry said smoothly, shaking Sr. Fuentes' hand.
Sr. Fuentes' eyes widened. "Oh no, Sr. Harry Potter, sir, the pleasure is all mine."
Harry's fame had its usual effect of depressing any pretensions to vanity in others, Hermione noted with a spurt of amusement. And his deliberate touch of her waist had served to quell Sr. Fuentes' tendency to flirtation too.
"I'm very much interested in these reforms you've been implementing in Spain, sir," Harry continued. "I was hoping to be able to discuss them with you. The preliminary results from the first wave of reforms have been quite encouraging, I understand."
Hermione turned to glance at Harry, surprised in spite of herself at his apparent knowledge of the subject. She knew that his lack of interest in politics meant that he generally didn't keep up with these sort of reforms as they happened and the reforms in Spain had occurred in the last year. So the fact that he knew about the preliminary results was-
She stilled, a memory from a couple months ago winging back to her. The Magical Law Enforcement Department's monthly newsletter had reported on the reforms and the preliminary results a few months ago. She had just read the report when Harry had stopped by to suggest they have lunch and she had talked about the report with some enthusiasm.
And he still remembered it now, months later.
This was why she loved him.
She smiled at him, for once entirely forgetting to hide the depths of her real feelings for Harry, and he glanced at her. Their eyes met and held for a long moment, a moment in which she forgot to breathe and the rest of the world seemed to fade away…
And then he blinked and turned back to Sr. Fuentes and she returned to the present with a mental jerk, reminding herself sharply where she was and who she was. Harry's best friend.
With her usual mantra in mind, she turned back to Sr. Fuentes and managed to concentrate on what he was saying about the reforms. He was, once he stopped trying to flirt, obviously intelligent and their conversation was just as interesting as she'd hoped.
"Thanks for joining us, Harry," she said as Sr. Fuentes left them a little while later. "I was getting annoyed at his refusal to talk about anything serious."
"Well, even I've heard of his reputation and you're a pretty woman, so I thought it might happen. Anyway, I could see that you were getting frustrated," Harry responded.
She smiled, sternly trying to quell her flutter of pleasure at being called pretty by Harry. And her heart was warmed, too, by this reminder of just how well Harry knew her. "He'll never know that you saved him from me spilling my drink on him."
Harry grinned at her. "Only spilling your drink? I rather thought you were going to pull out your wand and hex him."
"I thought about it but I didn't want to start a war," she quipped.
"I'm sure the Ministry thanks you," Harry said with mock gravity before adding more seriously, "What do you think are the chances that we can sneak out now instead of waiting for all the formal goodbyes?"
"Do you really want to?"
"If you'll remember, I wanted to sneak out within five minutes of getting here so I've really been very patient."
"Well…" Hermione glanced around. The formal portion of the evening was over and a quick look confirmed that people were by now mostly engaging in informal conversations. "All right, we can just leave now," she agreed.
"Thank you," Harry said fervently. "Let's go for a walk, huh? Get some fresh air."
She smiled. "That sounds nice."
And so they left, skirting around the edge of the room and out the door, moving quickly to avoid Harry being hailed by anyone.
She slanted a glance at him as they left. "Harry, how did you remember all that about the reforms in Spain?"
"You told me about them, remember?"
"Yeah, but I didn't think you were that interested and it was months ago."
He shrugged a little. "You were interested in it," he said simply as he held the door open for her and then followed her out into the night.
Hermione smiled to herself, her heart flooding with warmth. They were just friends-but being Harry's best friend meant a lot.
It was a pleasant night out and they strolled in a comfortable silence for a little while.
"What were you and Giovanni Lucca talking about over dinner?" Harry asked. "It looked like you were enjoying yourself."
"Oh, I was. He really was so interesting to talk to! He's worked in the Ministry for so long, in so many different capacities, you know, so his perspective on the reforms enacted by the new Minister were really fascinating." She went on, recounting what Signor Lucca had said with energy.
Harry listened and made a few comments at intervals but after a while, she glanced at him in the light from a streetlamp to see that he was watching her with an odd little smile on his face and she stopped, suddenly a little self-conscious.
"What is it? I'm going on and on, aren't I? You should tell me to be quiet."
He blinked. "What? No, it's okay. It's just…" he paused and then blurted out, "You're adorable when you get so excited."
He was looking at her like… She couldn't identify his expression-didn't dare identify his expression-but she didn't think he'd ever looked at her that way before. She felt herself blush, her cheeks heating.
"You're adorable," he repeated simply-as if it were an undisputed truth and not an unprecedented compliment.
Funny, how his matter-of-fact tone somehow made the words so much more powerful.
"I…" She had the vague thought that she should try to laugh it off, say something casual and friendly and…
A light breeze blew a strand of hair across her face and he reached up to tuck it behind her ear in a gesture so casual she could tell it had been unthinking. And the simple touch ensured that she lost her breath and her ability to speak at least for a moment.
She really needed to…
The rest of the fuzzy thought was lost forever as he bent and kissed her. A quick, fleeting brush of his lips against hers that was over almost before she'd realized it was happening. Finally. Harry had kissed her.
An impulse? A mistake? She tried to search his eyes but it was too dark for her to see his expression.
And so she did the only thing she could think of-she kissed him. She rose up on her toes, cupping his face in her hands, and she kissed him.
His response was immediate, unmistakable-and exhilarating. His arms went around her, flattening her body against his, and the kiss exploded.
And she forgot where they were, forgot that they were supposed to be just friends, forgot everything else except that this was Harry and she loved him. So she kissed him with all the emotion, all the passion, she'd hidden for so long, kissed him with all the love she felt for him.
She had no idea how long it was before the kiss gentled and then ended as he drew back, kissing her nose lightly before he rested his forehead against hers.
"Wow," he breathed a little shakily.
They were silent for a few minutes as their breathing and their heart rates gradually slowed and some semblance of coherence returned to her.
"What happened? I thought… I thought you would never see me as anything other than just your friend."
"You thought I would…" He broke off and then confused her by laughing.
She smiled in spite of herself. "What's so funny?"
"I thought that you didn't see me as anything more than your friend. You always seemed so determined to keep things… safe… just friendly between us."
"I tried to be so careful. I didn't want you to know or see how much I cared because I knew you didn't love me like that and-"
"You think I don't love you?" he interrupted her. "Hermione, you-you're the most important person in my life! How could I not love you?"
"Oh Harry, I love you too!"
His eyes widened, shock flaring across his face. "You do? Really?"
She managed a somewhat wobbly smile, forcefully reminded of Harry's vulnerability. He cared about people so much but he still found it hard to believe that other people could care about him too. "Harry, you're the most important person in my life. How could I not love you?"
He gave her a shaky smile as she echoed his own words but said nothing for a moment and she could see him visibly struggling to think of something to say before he finally settled for sighing, "Hermione…"
Just her name. She vaguely wondered just how many times he had said her name before-but never like this. There was so much emotion-love, wonder, gratitude, tenderness-in his tone that it transformed her name into the most touching endearment she'd ever heard.
He loved her…
She felt rather as if she'd stumbled into a dream world. She had been so sure for so long that Harry could never see her as anything more than his best friend, had resigned herself to life as Harry's best friend so much so that she'd even convinced herself the thought didn't hurt-much.
She had been so wrong…
He kissed her again, more deliberately this time, his lips lingering on hers for a long moment before she parted her lips and the kiss deepened, spun out into a leisurely exploration of mouths…
Her arms slid around his neck as Hermione gave herself up to the kiss, the feel of him, the warmth of him, the taste of him… Being wrong had never felt so right…
"Ready for lunch?"
Hermione looked up with a smile at the sound of Harry's voice, her heart lifting-as always-at the warmth in his eyes and his smile. "You have perfect timing. I had just finished up with something."
"I try. Come on, I'm hungry."
Hermione stood up, grabbing her bag as she did so.
"It's nice enough outside that you probably don't need your cloak."
Annabel had looked up at Harry's arrival but didn't say anything, aside from a rather pointed glance at Harry before meeting Hermione's eyes. She didn't roll her eyes-- but Hermione knew Annabel well enough by now to know that she'd wanted to.
And Hermione suppressed a smile. Annabel had been so sure that Harry's behavior showed that he thought about Hermione as more than just his best friend.
Annabel looked up again from her work.
Hermione deliberately laced her fingers with Harry's as Harry dropped a quick kiss on her temple.
And Annabel's eyes widened, her lips parting slightly in surprise.
Hermione smiled. "You were right," she said simply.
And then she and Harry left for their lunch, hand in hand.
Leaving Annabel to stare after them for a moment before she turned back to her work, a smile tinged with just a little bit of smugness playing on her lips. Harry and Hermione were finally together-and it was about time.