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Contrary to what he had believed in his twenties, and even his early thirties, Mycroft Holmes was coming to discover that there was such a thing as too much work.

In order to prepare for the negotiations with the Croatian government, he’d had to skip breakfast and lunch. Due to the drastic time-zone jumping he’d been required to navigate, he hadn’t slept more than three straight hours in as many weeks. The beginning of a migraine was throbbing behind his left eye, his brother was avoiding his calls, and he simply did not have the time to listen to the nattering of a ancient official from a government that, according to most of the global population, did not exist.

Mycroft tossed back the last dregs of his cold, excessively sweetened tea, and contemplated, for the nth time, who he could trust to take over the position of Non-Magical Liaison to the Ministry of Magic. Certainly not the Prime Minister, whose predecessors had had the unenviable task of keeping such an unbelievable secret from the general populace.

No one came to mind, not anyone that would be suitable in the long-run, at least. There were few he knew could probably manage it, but did he really want to give himself another ulcer worrying that the secret would, in fact, remain a secret? Not particularly.

Thus, he found himself in front of his Kensington home’s largest fireplace, awaiting the arrival of the doddering old wizard who would spend the next hour blathering on about how marvelous everything was on the magical side, and how splendid their economy was doing post-war, and how absolutely peaceful everything was now that they’d celebrated their somethingth anniversary without major conflict.

Well, hurrah for them. Some governments were still working on that, and didn’t need it rubbed in their faces, thank you very much.

While he waited, not catching up on much needed sleep, nor tucking into the repast his housekeeper had been keeping warm for last hour, he flipped through his mental catalogue of sufficiently trustworthy people who could succeed him, with very little hope that this would be the last of his meetings with the representative from the magical population of Great Britain.

The warm yellow light of his study abruptly flashed green as the fire became a temporary doorway. He stood to greet the Liaison, and received a surprise.

The person that stepped out of the fire was definitely not Caradoc Glossup, the insufferable wizard he’d been having biannual meetings with lo these many years. Instead, a woman, who looked about ten years his junior, stood straightening her outfit and brushing the ashes from her sleeves.

Her hair was pulled back into a knot at the nape of her neck, but small, frizzy tendrils escaped here and there to give a general impression of controlled chaos. Her robes(bloody awful things, he had a ceremonial set of his own that he refused to even contemplate wearing) were navy blue, expertly tailored, and accompanied by a crisp cravat of cream silk at her slender throat.

Her face was resolute, a pleasantly blank mask of professionalism that he recognized well.

She was also, he noted, with no small amount of surprise, rather pretty, in an understated, buttoned-up sort of way.

Oh dear, he thought, as he felt his heart-rate pick up almost imperceptibly.

“Good evening,” she said, and strode over to grasp his hand in a firm, quick shake. “I’m Hermione Granger, the new Muggle Relations Director. You must be Mr. Holmes.”

He returned her greeting automatically, still recovering from the surprise. “Indeed, I am. Charmed.”

Her unexpected giggle, poorly stifled behind her neatly manicured hand, coaxed a small but genuine bubble of amusement to form in his ribcage. “Something funny?” he asked.

She waved her hand with a sheepish tilt of her head. “Nothing, nothing. Just a silly joke I’ve heard wizards tell a million times.”

Mycroft briefly wondered if his accidental jest had been the set-up or the punch line. It was impossible to tell, really.

"Please, do sit down," he offered, gesturing to the chair opposite his own and waving away her thanks as he returned to his own seat.

As the witch sank into the plush leather armchair, she let out a long sigh, an unmistakable sound of release of the tension she’d probably been carrying with her all day. Apparently, work stress is an ill that crosses the most disparate of cultures. She settled into the thick cushions of the high-backed chair with a contented wiggle, and propped her feet next to the warm fire.

His lips quirked at her obvious enjoyment. “Comfortable?”

Her cheeks, refreshingly clean of makeup, blushed a charming, pale pink. “Sorry. Not very professional of me.”

“Not to worry," he assured her, resisting the unusual urge to pat her hand where it lay on the arm of the chair. "May I take it that your schedule was as full as mine today?”

The beleaguered roll of her eyes spoke volumes. “Probably fuller, I’d guess. All day, it’s been discussions with the Romanian Dragon Keepers for more funding, which we simply do not possess, and a delayed Floo conference call with the school, and somehow, even after all that bother, I still managed to get myself roped into chairing the Veteran's Affairs Committee."

"Veteran's affairs?"

Her arm fell from where she'd been gesturing grandly and her eyes sparkled mischievously as she met Mycroft's surprised gaze. "I don’t look much like a war veteran, do I?"

It was true, she didn't look much like any of the men and women he had met who'd fought in recent wars, but there was something about the way she carried herself, even relaxed in her seat as she was, that reminded him somewhat of his brother's army doctor.

They shared the same proud, stalwart bearing, the stillness of body, and sharpness of mind of someone who'd seen and done many things most would hardly contemplate, and lived to tell the tale.

"It takes all kinds, Ms. Granger," he said, simply, and pulled a wheeled cart, laden with china, closer to their chairs. "May I offer you some tea?"

Glossup had always insisted on a shared cuppa, regardless of the hour or brevity of their meeting. Mycroft usually spent the entire excruciating 10 minutes the man took to prepare their cups itching to snatch his mother's second best tea set from where it floated about its business in mid-air.

Ms. Granger merely accepted gratefully, and allowed him to pour them each a steaming cup. After he passed her saucer into her hands, he lifted the cloth napkin from the plate of biscuits and other sweet things he'd requested.

“Are those...chocolate Hobnobs?" she asked, surprise colouring her voice.

"That they are." Mycroft forced himself not to shift uncomfortably. He'd been so busy this week, and today in particular, that he'd completely forgotten to mention to his housekeeper that he'd need a tea tray prepared until that day at noon. Where, normally, she'd have supplied them with homemade treats, she'd had to make do with his not-so-secret stash of sweets.

"My goodness, I've not had one of those in ages!" Her lips tilted in a small, nostalgic smile. "I always used to fill up on them when I'd come home from school. I can never find them in the wizarding part of London."

Mycroft paused in the middle of taking a scalding sip. His brain replayed her words, analyzing, connecting. "Your parents are not..."

She swallowed her mouthful of tea quickly and saved him from his indecision. "Wizards? No, I'm Muggle-born. It finally occurred to the Ministry that the Muggle-Wizard Liaison should have some prior knowledge of Muggle culture. Fancy that.”

Mycroft couldn't help but chuckle at the barely restrained frustration aimed at her superiors. "How very logical of them."

"Exactly! I mean, many of us who aren't born to muggles avoid the non-magical part of London almost completely because they simply don't know enough about the city or it's inhabitants enough to function without giving it all away." She stopped, and sighed, her eyes unfocused with recollections. "It's such a shame, really. I know some of them would love London, if they just got used to it, and to the people."

Her voice was so earnest, disappointment warring with optimism when she spoke of her society, one that, he'd gathered, resisted change like the stubbornest of mules.

"’What is a city but her people?’" he murmured, unsure of how to offer comfort to this interesting stranger.

"Coriolanus," she said, quickly, the unhappy resignation leaving her eyes in favourite of pleased recognition.

Mycroft rattled his cup and saucer in surprise. "You know the play?"

"I do. Bit of light reading a few Christmases ago."

Mycroft blinked, stunned at her nonchalance. That she would be familiar with a grim Shakespearean tragedy, an unpopular one no less, and call it "light reading," with perfect recall of small passages spoke volumes of this woman's intelligence.

"I'm sorry, I've been babbling a bit, haven't I?" she said, and shifted under what Mycroft suddenly realized must be an uncomfortable scrutiny.

"Not at all," he insisted. "No need to get down to business right away."

With a grateful smile, Ms. Granger plucked a biscuit from the plate and took a small bite before placing it on the edge of her saucer, and setting the whole lot back on the tray.

Tenuously, a few stray crumbs clung to her bottom lip. Mycroft quickly flicked his eyes away from the sight of her tongue swiping them away, his gaze moving aimlessly around their little corner of his study, finally settling on her primly crossed ankles.

...Ankles hugged by brown leather boots, sturdy, low-heeled and, oh God, eminently sensible.

Swallowing hard, he attempted to slow his rapid heartbeat by thinking of anything other how well-supported her arches must be in her tasteful, but practical footwear—

Good grief, Mycroft, get a grip, he admonished himself.

Tea safely set aside, Ms. Granger clasped her hands together and beamed brightly. “Well, shall we make a start?”

“Yes, let’s,” he agreed, eagerly.

From an inner pocket in the front of her robes, she pulled a small suede pouch tied with a ribbon. Drawing her wand from up her sleeve, and aiming it at the bag, she murmured a few words that caused it to swell to about the size of a laptop computer. Untying the thin ribbon, she pulled out a few rolls of beige paper.

Mycroft noticed her visibly shift from friendly, relaxed teatime, to somber business meeting. It was rather impressive, really, the change in posture, expression and tone of voice.

“Now,” she began, “I’ve been looking at Glossup’s session reports, and I’m afraid we have a lot more to cover than I’d originally thought.”

Ms. Granger launched into a brief history of the recent developments in culture, economy and government of the magical population of Great Britain, occasionally referencing charts and graphs carefully penned on long pieces of old-fashioned parchment.

Apparently, things weren’t quite as peachy as the picture Glossup had painted.

Certainly, they were better off than they had been at the start of the new millennium, but the tension between “pure-bloods” and muggle-born witches and wizards, like herself, was far from dissolved, especially considering the increasing number of magical children being born to non-magical parents.

Her anecdotes about the Ministry’s attempts to integrate more technology into the daily lives of wizard’s were quite amusing in their catastrophic melodrama.

While she spoke, at length, expressive hands doing a large part of the talking, Mycroft didn’t bother to take notes. They’d have to be destroyed after the meeting anyway, and he found he wouldn’t have wanted to, even if he could. He was too busy watching her expressions change with the force of her strong emotions: Pride, exasperation, hope and regret, all were present as she talked of her society with both love and frustration.

Her passion and sheer efficiency were simply breath-taking, they really were. Or, at least, they were to Mycroft, who had no use for anyone who hid their intelligence to live up to the arbitrary ideals of femininity or some such nonsense.

Despite his absorption in her monologue, Mycroft found himself absentmindedly kneading the spot above his left eyebrow where his headache threatened.

“Would you like me to take care of that for you?”

He started out of his uncustomary reverie. “Pardon?”

“Your headache,” she explained, glancing at his hand where it was still pressed against his brow. “I could fix it, if you’d like.”

He shifted in his seat, embarrassed to have shown his distraction so blatantly. “I’m fine, but thank you.”

“Are you sure?” she pressed, “it would only take a couple of seconds, I promise.”

Reluctantly, Mycroft considered the path his evening was likely to take, if he let the headache brew much longer; Sitting in a darkened room with a heating bag smashed on his face until morning didn’t sound appealing in the least, he could admit. “Well, if it’s really no trouble…”

Ms. Granger’s immediate smile was dazzling. She sprang from her seat, moving closer to his seat while drawing her wand from her sleeve.

With gentle but precise pressure, she used one finger on the underside of his chin to tip his face upward. Mycroft was abruptly hyperaware of her proximity, and the softening flesh of his jowls, a sign of his advancing age that he studiously ignored every morning in front of his bathroom mirror.

Ms. Granger didn’t appear to notice, or, more likely, care. She was completely absorbed in placing the tip of her wand on a spot on his temple. With cutting consonants and well-modulated vowels, she spoke a few words that sounded close to Latin.

He’d expected the spell to hurt, like a shock of electricity or perhaps a flash of heat. Instead, he felt a mild warmth, and a tingling similar to the tightening of skin from an abrupt change in temperature, but more localized, pulsing.

Within moments, it was over, and Ms. Granger tucked her wand back into her sleeve as she sat back down.

“There, how’s that?” she asked, picking up her tea once again.

Mycroft squeezed his eyes briefly and noted the absence of the white aura that had been clouding part of his vision for hours. He was completely pain-free. “Much better. Thank you.”

“Not at all. Did you enjoy your first time?”

If he’d still been drinking tea, he would have choked. “I—What?” Very smooth, Mycroft.

Her gently curved mouth and placid eyes didn’t reveal whether she had any idea how her question could be interpreted in a different setting. “Your first time having a spell performed on you,” she explained. “I can always tell when someone’s inexperienced.”

“Ah. Well, as in other things, I’m sure it only gets better with practice. Was it good for you too?

Ms. Granger actually did choke, on the last piece of her Hobnob, though she covered it well enough that he wasn’t sure whether she’d been covering a laugh or had genuinely coughed on the dry biscuit.

Mycroft’s stomach sank when he realized how ridiculous he’d sounded just now. Wonderful, just splendid, Mycroft. Please, do continue making an absolute prat of yourself in front of this lovely, brilliant woman.

Ms. Granger had one more chart to show him, one tracking the increasing demand for more post-secondary education programs. Her fervour as she discussed the program she had supervised made it easy to forget his prior unease. The success of her campaign to raise the attendance of apprenticeship programs was admirable, especially among the demographic of young women, who apparently tended to marry young and stay at home.

“It drives me mental,” she railed, “the looks of horror I get from the old warlocks of the Ministry when I tell them I’m not married with a passel of children in tow. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! It’s just…why is it necessary?”

Mycroft grimaced sympathetically. “Sadly, your old-world relics are not so different from ours. The amount of times I’ve had to sooth bruised egos after my aide has put someone’s wandering hands back in place is tremendously discouraging.”

She rolled her eyes and shot him a stern look. “I hope you don’t scold her too badly.”

“Oh, goodness, no. She receives a pay raise whenever it happens. Just because I cannot put a Member of Parliament in a headlock doesn’t mean she shouldn’t.”

Ms. Granger had a beautiful laugh. It was infectious in it’s joy, and even the Ice Man himself couldn’t resist it’s pull. (Not that he was doing his reputation of stone-cold severity any favours today.)

Once their quiet laughter petered out, Ms. Granger tucked her scrolls of parchment back into her satchel and shrunk the whole lot back to pocket size. “Well, I suppose I shouldn’t keep you any longer.” She stood, and tugged her robes back in place, briskly. “I’d better be going. I look forward to our next meeting.”

Plucking a glass vial from another pocket in her robe, she pulled out the stopper and tossed her Floo powder into the fireplace. With a short wave, she started to name her destination, but Mycroft, on a foolish whim, leapt to his feet to stop her.

“Ms. Granger?”

She turned back, tilted her head questioningly. “Hermione, please.”

His heart, previously (rather fancifully) thought to be hardened from infrequent use, gave a treacherous thump. “Hermione. Don’t you think that, with the major developments that are underway, it might be a good idea for the Liaison to the Wizarding World to understand a bit more about the intricacies of your culture?”

She blinked. “You think so?”

He swallowed, and hoped that his motive wasn’t as transparent as he felt. “I do.”

“Well, Mr. Holmes, I—“

“Mycroft, I insist.” Excellent job, Mycroft, why don’t you interrupt her every time she opens her mouth, hmm?

“I quite agree, Mycroft.”

He rocked back on his heels, frankly surprised at her enthusiasm. “You do?”

“Absolutely. In fact, I think it would be quite beneficial for you to visit one of our city centres.” Hermione briefly pursed her lips, then darted her tongue out to wet them. “Perhaps I could give you a personal tour?”

Well, now. That was quite out of his job description, but his hopeful happiness soared. “I’d be pleased to accompany you.”

Hermione grinned happily and tucked a twist of brown hair behind her ear. “Why don’t I take a look at my schedule, and I’ll be in touch.”

“Should I inform my housekeeper to be on the lookout for an owl?”

“No.”

“No?”

“I think an email would do well enough, don’t you?” Her eyes sparkled with sly mirth.

“It would, indeed.” From his jacket pocket, Mycroft pulled a small square of stiff paper. “Here, take my card.”

“Thank you. Until next time, Mycroft.”

With a sunny smile, and a turn of her flat, solid heel, she was gone.

Mycroft sank back into his chair and stared into the fire, still flaring with licks of acid green.

Perhaps he could spare a bit of time for the Wizarding World after all.