The front door closed in a jerky motion and the only customer in Cranville Quincey's Magical Junkshop wandered out back on to Diagon Alley.
Hermione sighed deeply as she wandered back behind the till. Her hand drifted listlessly over the odds and ends displayed on the counter.
It amazed her how she could feel both frantic and incapable of motion day in and day out. Hermione grabbed the artifact she had been trying to disassemble before the customer had come in.
Hermione Granger was perfectly capable and competent, thank you very much. She had even been called “the brightest witch of her age” by one of the Defense Against the Dark Arts professors who had lasted less than a full year at Hogwarts. She graduated top of her class, with 12 NEWTS, all Os, with glowing recommendations from professors.
Hermione had even excelled after Hogwarts. Post-graduation she had gone abroad and gotten a Mastery in Alchemy from the foremost expert in the field. She had worked in the Magical Research Department of the Sorbonne. In her post-mastery work, she had gained the equivalent of a Mastery in experience in Magical Artifacts and Ancient Ruins.
That was why, 10 years out from her Hogwarts graduation, she was mystified at how she ended up tending the till at Cranville Quincey's Magical Junkshop. She hadn't thought she would be Minister for Magic by 27. But she had thought she was destined for more than this. Much to her dismay though, Magical Britain had been even less welcoming and more discriminatory than she had ever expected.
Sure, there were no outright bans on Muggleborns working in the Ministry. But only a token few ever progressed past Junior Undersecretary. The few that made it higher were the worst sorts of kiss-ups. The only one from her year who she had heard of was Justin Finch-Fletchly. He had been promoted Assistant Deputy in the Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee two months ago.
The last time she had seen Justin, he was drunk in the Leaky Cauldron. She had overheard him bragging to a busty blonde about how his boss had recently let him take notes in a meeting with the head of the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes. The head of the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes was Sally-Anne Perks. Perks had been a Hufflepuff in their year. Perks had been forced to repeat 4th year because she failed all of her classes but Divination. Perks was also pureblood whose father was a childhood friend of the Minister.
Even at 17 Hermione had known that as a Muggleborn she was not in a position of power in Britain. She had gone abroad for her Mastery and apprenticed under Nicolas Flamel in France. Headmaster Dumbledore had made the apprenticeship possible by writing her a glowing recommendation. After her Mastery, her work at the Sorbonne had opened prominent doors for her at other research institutions.
She had planned to spend the rest of her life away from Britain. After France she had considered going to Russia. She had heard interesting things were happening in the Hermitage.
However, family responsibilities had called. Her parent’s health had declined rather precipitously three years ago. She had no other family or support system that could help her care for them, so the responsibility to care for her parents fell on her shoulders.
She returned, albeit reluctantly. At first she was even happy to be back in the UK. She couldn’t say she missed the rain, but she had missed a good cup of tea. And there was something about coming home.
“Ouch!” Hermione saw the blood bloom from the nick she had made in her thumb when the artifact she was tinkering with slipped slightly out of her hand. She brought her thumb to her mouth, wiping the coppery blood off her skin with her tongue before healing herself quickly. She cleaned off the streak of blood that had gotten on the object. That’s what she got for tinkering with her mind on something else.
Her mind frequently seemed on other things these days. Primarily her mother and how she could escape this dead-end job.
The first month back in the U.K. had been a whirlwind. She had burned through her savings, trying to get her parents settled. Her father had been diagnosed with cancer shortly after her arrival home. With the bills and the time spent in the hospital, her parents could not maintain their dental practice. She had helped her parents sell their practice and moved in with them to try to help with everything. Then it was a constant stream of activity, ferrying her father back and forth to doctors' appointments, trying to make sure her mother was remembering to eat, and ensuring all of their bills got paid.
She had applied to jobs, but the first 50 resumes she had sent out got no replies. She thought it was a fluke at first. She had done her Mastery with the foremost expert in Alchemy. She had written papers in four different disciplines, all of which had been warmly received by the academy.
After three months of no replies and a nearly empty bank account, she had asked Neville Longbottom, a friendly acquaintance from Hogwarts, if he knew what was happening to her applications.
It had been Neville who had explained how deep the prejudice in Britain ran. He told her that despite all of her academic credentials and experience, she wasn't considered a “fit” employee for most of the positions she was applying for because she did not meet the one unwritten requirement. She didn’t have magical parents.
Hermione had been so angry that she had had to physically remove herself from the conversation and forced herself to walk the five miles back to her home instead of apparating just to give herself time to calm down. When she got home several hours later, she was still furious and her magic had lashed out, causing her to accidentally brake several plates. She had made herself to take a calming drought to get through the rest of the day.
When another month of applications had still yielded no results and her bank account actually hit zero, Hermione had become desperate. She swallowed her pride and asked Neville if he knew anywhere, literally anywhere, that would hire her. He told her that his second cousin was hiring someone to keep the till at Cranville Quincey's Magical Junkshop.
That had been three years ago. Every 6 months or so she would send out a flurry of job applications, but nothing ever came of them. In between the flurries she conducted her own research, wrote papers, and cursed the backwards blood purity ideals so deeply entrenched in Britain.
Her father died a year ago, and things had only gotten harder. So she stayed put, making sure that she had enough to cover her rent, her mother’s medical expenses, and food.
It made for a rather lonely existence. The only people she regularly spoke to were her mother, who was more often than not unresponsive or incomprehensible, the rotation of nurses that the muggle are service provided, and customers.
She rarely spoke to Regus Quincey as he had little interest in the shop he had inherited. She most frequently spoke to Cranville Quincey, the original proprietor. Quince, as he liked to be called, was a ghost. She thought it rather sad that her closest friend had not been alive for 25 years.
Hermione was jolted from her daydreaming by the bell on the door jingling as someone pushed it in rather forcefully. Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil walked in the door, engrossed in their own conversation and talking at an elevated volume.
“I heard he was coming back so he could finally make use of his title” said Lavender, raising her eyebrows. “Lord Black returned almost 8 years ago and has been serving as the Potter proxy.”
“That would be interesting,” Parvati replied, “we haven’t had a Potter in the Wizengamot in over 25 years. I heard that he was offered the position of Minister!”
“I don’t think he would be Minister, Shacklebolt just got the position 2 years ago. But I did hear that there was a chance that Potter would be elevated to Duke of Slytherin for his battle against You-Know-Who.”
“Duke of Slytherin? I thought all the nobility titles died out years ago!”
Lavender finally noticed Hermione behind the counter and made a startled gesture.
“Hermione Granger? I heard you were in...Spain was it? Studying something?”
Hermione made a grimace she hoped would pass for a smile, “France studying Alchemy. I’ve been back in the UK for three years now.”
“Oh...and you work...here?” asked Lavender, eyes widening.
The grimace pulled down at the corners of her mouth more, “yep.”
Neither Lavender nor Parvati had ever treated Hermione with anything that approached kindness in her 7 years as their roommate and classmate. Hogwarts had not been a fun place for Hermione. When she entered at 11 she had hoped that a new environment with more understanding peers might be just what she needed after a primary experience that had left her friendless and bullied. Unfortunately, that had not been the case. The only difference between her muggle and magical peers had been that the magical ones were able to physically hurt her more.
Parvati and Lavender exchanged a look that Hermione interpreted as laced with smug contempt.
“Well, that’s nice” said Parvati, glancing around the shop in poorly concealed disdain.
“Is there something you two are looking for specifically?” Asked Hermione, eager both to end this conversation, and to get them out of the shop as quickly as possible.
“Oh, well Mrs. Weasley mentioned that you might have back issues of Witch Weekly” said Lavender.
Hermione gestured them over to the back wall that was lined with bookshelves which were stuffed to the brim with books and magazines. “Witch Weekly is in the far left bookcase on the second shelf from the bottom. We don’t have every old issue, if you want a specific issue I would go to Flourish and Blotts, for a fee they can owl Witch Weekly and get you a copy if you know which issues you want.”
The other women navigated the crowded display floor back to the bookcase Hermione had indicated.
Hermione returned to her book as she heard Parvati and Lavender sort through the magazines, cooing and talking in low voices to each other about what they were finding.
Hermione briefly wondered whatever had happened to Lavender and Ron’s relationship. From what she could recall, they had dated casually 6th and seriously 7th year. And Lavender had just name dropped Mrs. Weasley. But Lavender didn’t have a ring around her finger and Hermione couldn’t recall seeing any wedding announcements in the Prophet.
Hermione dismissed her curiosity about Lavender’s love life and flipped the page on her book.
After about ten minutes the women made their way back to the counter, several Witch Weekly’s clutched their well-manicured hands.
They had gathered all the issues that had any mention of Harry Potter on the cover. The oldest one must have been at least 25 years old and had a baby Potter being carried by a scowling Sirius Black. The newest issue must have only been a couple of months old and had Potter dodging camera flashes outside a nightclub in Wizarding New York.
Parvati and Lavender dropped their purchases on the counter and Hermione began ringing them out and putting the issues in a bag.
Parvati watched as Hermione deposited the payment in the till.
“So do you just work here then?” Parvati asked.
Hermione attempted to conceal a wince.
“No. I also publish academic papers from time to time. And I make some of the merchandise found here in the store.” Hermione replied, going for a cool and unconcerned tone, but managing to sound slightly waspish.
“Oh. Anything we would have read?” Parvati had a look on her face that indicated she doubted that would be the case.
“Probably not,” Hermione admitted. “I’ve mostly published in academic journals.”
“Oh, well” said Parvati, pressing her lips together in a repressed smirk.
Hermione bit her lower lip in an attempt to physically hold back a response. She had nothing nice to say to these women, and all she wanted in that moment was them out of the shop so she could return to tinkering in silence.
Her success in academia was largely anonymous. Hermione published under a pseudonym, in part because when she had first submitted her papers under her real name they were all rejected. Just because the Continent had less blood purity prejudice didn’t mean that plain old misogyny didn’t have a home there. When she began using the nom de plume of “H.J.G. Smith” things had gone smoothly for her. Her pen name was both anonymous and androgynous. It had the added benefit of not being identifiably muggle. Plus Smith was her mother’s maiden name, so it wasn’t a huge stretch.
While her work was notable and garnered interest in speaking engagements, she never went to conferences in the UK. And recently she hadn’t had much time to go to any conferences at all.
Her most recent paper had been about the use of elemental offensive magic as a means of subverting traditional shielding methodologies. While it had attained note in the academic community, it had only made her enough money to pay a fourth of her rent. Hence the side job.
“Are you seeing anyone?” Lavender asked, making no effort to control the interest in her voice.
Hermione allowed herself to roll her eyes a little and hummed under her breath, wondering how little she could say without being outright rude. Her response a few years ago would have been that she was focusing on her career right now, but given her current circumstances, that hardly made for a believable answer.
Hermione settled on a version of the truth. “At the moment my focus is on my family, my father passed away recently and I’m helping my mother out.”
She had no desire for Lavender to take the tale of her woe, or worse, the tale of Hermione putting on airs, back to the old Hogwarts crew. One of the reasons Hermione liked working at the Junkshop was that none of her classmates ever entered. There were at most 4 regulars, and most of the clients tended to be above 100.
Parvati and Lavender made perfunctory sounds of sympathy as Hermione finished ringing them out, handing Parvati the bag of magazines.
“Well, thank you for stopping in” Hermione said with a forced smile.
Parvati looked like she wanted to linger, but Lavender pulled Parvati towards the door with a wave and a “Tootles!” over her shoulder to Hermione.
Hermione rolled her shoulders, trying to release some tension that had built up there, and reached for the artifact again.
Hermione momentarily pondered the return of Harry Potter and then dismissed it.
Harry Potter was a legend in wizarding Britain. He had been called “The-Boy-Who-Lived” after surviving the murder of his parents by Lord Voldemort as a baby. His godfather, Sirius Black, had then gotten custody of him.
Black whisked Potter off to France, where he was raised away from the wagging tongues of the British press. It was said that Black trained Potter to be a warrior, that he was militant about the boy’s security, and that he had even dabbled in dark magic to ensure his ward was protected.
There had been other rumors too, that Potter had been somehow changed by Voldemort’s attack, and that Black had taken him away not for the protection of the child, but to protect the populace from Potter.
Potter hadn’t returned to the UK to attend Hogwarts, a fact that the Daily Prophet had lamented almost weekly for more than twenty years now.
Instead, Potter had been tutored by the best in all fields. Rumor was that even Dumbledore flooed over to Potter’s home once a week to teach him magical theory and alchemy. At 18 Potter had received dual Masteries in both Defense Against the Dark Arts and the Dark Arts. He had then accepted a job at MACUSA as an Auror and moved off to New York.
Tales of his exploits had reached across the ocean, and about once a month the Prophet would have a front-page story about Potter. Inevitably Potter would have taken down a wannabe Dark Lord, thwarted a dragon smuggling ring, or saved a train full of schoolchildren. The distance made the stories seem more daring and romantic. He had been promoted to Head Auror about 6 years after he started at MACUSA.
Hermione finally managed to pry off the front of the artifact she was examining and smiled at her success. She examined the interior peering in to the artifact at the small runes carved on every interior surface of the object. She reached for her wand that she had been using to keep her hair out of her face and ran it over the artifact, performing a series of diagnostic charms.
The artifact looked like a small pyramid. The gold of the object was tarnished, and it looked like it had passed through many hands to get where it was now. It had been part of the estate of a wizard originally from Mexico that the executor had recently sold to the Junkhop. Regus Quincey had been unable to identify it. So it had fallen to Hermione to identify and price it.
The last diagnostic charm glowed light yellow and then red before blinking out. Hermione frowned. The yellow meant that it had the capability to store magic, but only a limited amount, and the red meant that either to construct it initially or to use it properly required blood magic.
“Something spark your interest?”
Hermione jumped as Quince floated up through the floor to look over her shoulder
Hermione glared at the ghost. “I wish you wouldn’t do that when I am working on a potentially dangerous object.”
“Well, everything in this death trap is potentially dangerous,” muttered Quince. “My great-grandson has been doing an atrocious job keeping inventory moving.”
“Then you should tell him that and not bother me with it.” Hermione returned her focus to the pyramid.
“Those runes aren’t ones normally used in Europe” remarked Quince, fiddling with a pocket magnification tool and examining the pyramid over Hermione’s shoulder once more.
Hermione brushed her thumb along the flat of the cover she had pried off. “No, but they don’t appear to be Latin American in origin, which would have been my guess given the previous owner.”
She reached to her right and opened a drawer, grabbing a pen and a piece of parchment.
“I don’t know why you insist on using those infernal muggle contraptions” said Quince, his ghostly lips pulling down in a frown.
“As I have told you a hundred times, quills are messy, you need ink, and I simply do not have the patience. Besides, I already caved and stopped using printer paper.” Hermione jotted down a few notes, and then turned pack to the pyramid.
Quince, obviously wanting to avoid an argument they had rehashed multiple times, changed the subject. “What did those young ladies want?”
“To bring me misery” responded Hermione, still distracted by the pyramid.
“I thought they were in to buy magazines.”
“Oh, that too.”
“I heard them talking about someone, Putter? Potter?”
Hermione glanced up at Quince, frowning slightly. “Potter. Harry. ‘Boy-Who-Lived.’”
“Ah yes. I remember something about him. From before” Quince was young for a ghost, Hermione had learned. Because of that, the research told her that he had the clearest recall of the life he had when he was alive and his ‘dead-life.’ When ghosts aged, they would start to forget. They tended to forget their ‘dead-life’ first, but they would also forget things from their time alive. Mostly feelings, but sometimes other things too.
“Yes, he would have become famous shortly before you died” Hermione frowned, trying to do the mental math. “Maybe a couple of months before?”
“Yes. I remember now. That You-Know-Who bloke. He died?”
Hermione continued to frown. “Yes, I believe so. I think there was some remnant of him banished maybe ten years ago? But the newspapers never went into much detail about it. I think Potter might have done that too.”
Quince raised his ghostly eyebrows, looking more quizzical than usual. Quince always looked slightly quizzical, or maybe puzzled was a better description.
Hermione could tell he had been tall in life. He had bushy eyebrows that were frequently drawn together, trying to work out the puzzles that came in to his shop. His lips were thin and he was all hard angles, from his sharp cheekbones, to his boxy shoulders, to his pointy elbows.
He was dressed in robes slightly too large for his lanky frame that had lots of pockets. In life the pockets had held odds and ends used for examining objects and artifacts. In death they held translucent versions of the same tools. He and Hermione had experimented with the accuracy of his ghost-tools. They had both been shocked to find out that despite their translucent state; they were as accurate as the tangible versions. When he had held up his magnifying tool to Hermione’s eye though, it had not worked at all.
Hermione shrugged in response. “I never really kept up much with that. He was gone by the time I entered the wizarding world.”
“They were dark times, before, during the war.”
Hermione looked more closely at Quince. He seemed unhappier than usual. “I read the books. It was bloody.”
“Huh. Yes, bloody is right. I lost an apprentice in an attack on Diagon.”
“I’m sorry. I had no idea.”
“It was very long time ago.” Quince sighed.
Hermione was quiet, not knowing what to say. She had never seen Quince in this sort of mood before, sad, introspective.
“Well, what were the chits saying about Potter?”
“Oh, uh, apparently Potter is coming back to Britain.” Hermione responded, happy to be back on surer footing. “He was an Auror in the States.”
“And do they think they’re going to catch him? He’d be a big fish. He’s titled, and at least when I was around the Potters had more money than you could shake a stick at.”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “I don’t know. I’m sure they’d like to. Last I knew Lavender, the blonde one, was dating someone from school. No idea about Parvati though.”
“You should try to catch him.”
Hermione could not contain a disbelieving laugh. “Catch him ? Highly unlikely. We will not be running in the same circles. Not in the same universes.”
Quince tapped his long fingers on the pocket magnification tool he still held, looking contemplative. “You never know. I’d always heard the Potters had brains. Perhaps he’s inherited them. Or at least a love for women with them.”
Hermione scoffed. Her focus returned to the pyramid that rested on the counter in front of her. “Nonsense.”
Hermione shook her head to dispel the thoughts of Potter. It was a waste of brain space; it wasn’t like she was ever going to meet him anyway.