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Diplomacy

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“It is about diplomacy! ” Hermione Granger gritted her teeth, trying to explain the concept yet again to her long time fiance, Ronald Weasley, in the living room of their flat. One would think he would understand by now. She had only been working in the Department of International Magical Cooperation for ten years. 

 

Ron had struggled to find a purpose following the Second Wizarding War. He decided against following Harry into the Auror program or even putting the effort into a Quidditch career. He was more interested in his newfound fame than any long term plans, drinking in the attention, even as the papers pestered him for insight into what came next. His future did come to him in a roundabout way, a mixture of chance and impulsive words.

 

“I’ve always been good at Wizard’s Chess,” He had slurred slightly at a reporter, buzzed and caught unawares leaving a pub from an afternoon watching Quidditch with Harry. “I’ll just do that.” He had chuckled and apparated home to the flat he shared with Hermione. Imagine his surprise when owls began arriving from Chess enthusiasts around the world and even the barely known Wizard’s Chess World Federation. His frustrated, haughty words had given him the opportunity to do something he loved, and also single-handedly revitalized Wizard’s Chess in the mainstream. 

 

“Neuenacht doesn’t deserve diplomacy,” Ron seethed in retort, pacing the room, “Bloody fucking Death Eaters.” After the fall of Voldemort, the Death Eaters, assisted by Karkaroff, fled Great Britain into Northern Europe to settle in the unplottable lands around Durmstrang. After two years of silence and tension, Lucius Malfoy reappeared to the rest of the world, Chancellor of their newly formed country, Neuenacht.

 

“They were recognized by the International Confederation of Wizards seven years ago. They are paying reparations and trying to reintegrate into society. It’s been twelve years, Ronald. The world has moved on,” Hermione sighed, tired of this recurring argument. A vote was a vote, and though Neuenacht’s acceptance was only by a slim majority, the process was the process. It had been a tedious process. Hermione was front and center as an intern for Penelope Clearwater, one of the British Seats in the ICW. Lucius had levied all of his previous political capital and cited his family’s assistance against Voldemort to further convince the world that his compatriots were previously misguided and now reformed. He was armed with many letters of contrition from former Death Eaters and sob stories of their lives that led them to darkness. He even used Severus Snape’s name to paint the Death Eaters as mostly secret resistance fighters. Hermione’s stomach had been churning. Upon completion of her internship, Hermione transferred quietly to the International Magical Office of Law. She had found her time assisting the diplomats tedious and pointless anyway.

 

International Confederation of blithering idiots is more like it. How can you defend them?” Ron fixed his wrath on her, moving to face her down.

 

“Oh, I’m not defending them. How could you even think that?” She grabbed his shoulders.

 

“You want me to offer them diplomacy! After everything they did, everything they took from us… Diplomacy!” Ron’s voice began to rise as he shrugged out of her arms, turning away.

 

“Stop. We’re not having another knock-down-drag-out about this. I can’t be the only one operating from a place of logic in this relationship. The world is what it is and you agreed to play their champion. I’m only saying that if you spout off about Death Eaters and Voldemort at the press conference, you’ll be the one looking like an arse and a child who can’t let go of the past.” Ron sputtered and Hermione cut him off again, “You think I want the world to forgive them? You know we searched for the Death Eaters for months after the Fall. Azkaban should be overflowing with those bastards.” She flopped dejectedly onto the couch. “But it isn’t. We don’t get to choose the world in which we live, only how we operate in it.”

 

“When do we leave for Italy?” Ron calmed, joining her on the couch.

 

“Kingsley is meeting us with the portkey in two days,” Hermione paused, dreading addressing the elephant in the whole discussion. “You know who it is, right?”

 

“Of course I know. His blasted face has gotten almost as much press as I have.” He stiffened.

 

“Would it be this hard if Malfoy wasn’t their champion?” She took his hand. 

 

“There is nothing that wouldn’t make this hard,” Ron turned her arm over, revealing to them both the scar Bellatrix had carved into Hermione twelve years ago. Hermione covered it again quickly with her sleeve, unwilling to get caught up in the reminder.

 

“He wasn’t the worst of them. He saved Harry and even when he was so young-” Ron exploded at her words, rising and upsetting the coffee table in front of them. Hermione flinched at the violence, scrambling to the other end of the room.

 

“Don’t you dare defend any of those bastards!” 

 

“Get yourself under control,” Hermione’s intense glare robbed Ron of his fire yet again. Unwilling to fully concede, he snorted disdainfully and turned for the door, slamming it on his way out.

 

This was what their pattern had developed into. Gone were the days where she matched his temper blow for blow. Sure, he riled her plenty, but she no longer showed up for the path of his self-destruction. The anger had been intoxicating in the early days and she had risen to meet it passionately for the first few years. She had to grow, though, and she had hoped he would as well. She couldn’t build a life on angry sex and mutual remorse. Now, she almost felt like his handler and loads of people treated her as such; Kingsley Shacklebot definitely did. That’s how she had gotten roped into this whole situation. He had approached her to join the expedition, pretending it was her previous diplomatic experience and her knowledge of International Wizarding law. She knew, however true those reasons may be, that he really needed her to help prevent an international incident with their Golden boy. Ron was a loose cannon and the world was beginning to see it. 

 

~~~~~~~

 

“This is too much, father,” Draco sighed, looking out a large bay window to the mountains rising behind the new Malfoy Manor. “It’s too soon and too much.” He had known something was coming when Lucius asked to see him in the library after breakfast.

 

“I’ve done my part, boy. None of us went to Azkaban and now we have a life again. We’re no longer huddled, desperate masses fighting among ourselves. We have a home and we have status. We’re getting back all we lost in those years of darkness. Now, pull your head out of your ass and do your part,” Lucius sighed at his grown son. “It’s a frivolous Wizard’s Chess spectacle. It’s not fighting for your life against the Golden Trio.”

 

“You say that but I know the stakes. It’s against Britain and against Weasley. Frivolous is not how I would describe this particular spectacle,” Draco turned a withering glare. “You’re missing work to have this discussion, oh illustrious Chancellor. If it wasn’t important you would have sent Theo for this pep talk.”

 

“I won’t bother talking you around then,” Lucius sighed and chuckled. “Neuenacht has already agreed on your behalf and the portkey leaves in two days. You will  be the challenger at the Wizarding World Chess Championships, and you will grind Weasley into the dirt for all of our sakes.”

 

“What..?” Draco sputtered. “This is ridiculous! I’m not a political tool to satisfy your need for conquest. You nearly ruined my life with your daft machinations-”

 

“Stop being dramatic, Draco.” Lucius cut him off. “You have always been a political tool, Heir, and better mine than the Dark Lord’s again. This has been your life from conception. We are pureblood wizards, regal and dangerous, descended from greatness and rising to greatness again. Are you to be a pawn or a king?”

 

“Actually, if we’re speaking in chess pieces, the queen is the most dynamic in terms of movement and strategy.”

 

“Then be a fucking queen, but you will do it in Italy against Weasley on a stage in front of the whole wizarding world. You are a symbol of The Neuenacht, and winning or losing reflects on our country.”

 

“I will win. Weasley is clearly on the way out if the papers are any indication of his temperament and state of mind. His game is admirable, but all the pomp and circumstance is clearly going to his head.”

 

“Great. Theo will be by later. There are press conferences and wardrobes and other little things for you to discuss. As you said, I’m missing work.” Lucius apparated swiftly away.


“Goodbye, father, and you’re welcome,” Draco muttered to the empty room. How did he..? I wasn’t going to do this. Draco growled, frustrated that his father played him quite so easily. He turned back to the window. Is this why he let me go into Chess in the first place? How many moves ahead would that have had to be?

Chapter Text

There had been no apology from Ron after their last fight, but he came home with her favorite takeout in a truce. A coldness had settled, but Hermione could see the internal struggle in her lover and best friend. The war had scarred them all and even she wasn’t immune from the memories and feelings dealing with Neuenacht brought to the forefront of her mind. 

 

Make your face a mask, she reminded herself, allowing her years of experience at showing only what was needed to kick in. Her job at the International Confederation of Wizards had taught her the game. Patronizing, stupid prats became opponents easily defeated with a simpering smile or a verbal toss on their asses. Misogynistic predators were easily flattered and then avoided. Quid pro quo had become her favorite game, easily sussing out the desires of even the hardest nut to crack and getting what she needed for her diplomat. She would never again be in the position of desperation and helplessness she felt under Bellatrix’s Cruciatus curse. However, something had changed inside when Neuenacht was accepted into the Confederation. Gone was her last hope of the universe righting itself, of justice for all her world had suffered. It had seemed the only thing left to take from her sometimes and Lucius Malfoy did so with his insufferable finesse and pureblooded dignity.

 

And now they were in Italy as part of a grand spectacle to prove that the world had recovered and grown past the Second Wizarding War. Hermione gritted her teeth behind her tense smile, standing next to Ron’s podium at the front of a sea of reporters from various wizarding papers. Just be cool. Diplomacy… Just don’t get riled up, she attempted to telegraph into her fiance’s brain. Kingsley had muttered international business excuses after the portkey trip and left, probably to distance himself from what Hermione knew would be a shit show. 

 

“I’m so honored to be defending my title on behalf of Great Britain.” Ron began, his own haughty and gracious mask in place. “I look forward to sending Draco Malfoy back to his unplottable little country in shame.”

 

“Draco Malfoy is currently undefeated. Aren’t you a little nervous?” A reporter from the Prophet began the questioning.

 

“No. He didn’t prove a challenge at Hogwarts on the Quidditch field, and there isn’t a bone in his ferret body that could come close to challenging me.” Hermione winced as Ron almost immediately deviated from the plan.

 

“That was over a decade ago. Does your opponent deserve such abuse?” A low, accented voice called from the back. Hermione struggled to identify his press credentials. She had gotten a dossier of the attendees well in advance and didn’t recognize the dark-featured newcomer.

 

“All Death Eaters deserve abuse.” Ron shot back, making a disgusted sound.

 

“Doesn’t that seem an insensitive statement considering all that Neuenacht has gone through to redeem themselves in the wizarding world?” The American reporter chimed in now.

 

“Neuenacht will never redeem themselves in the wizarding world. They shouldn’t even be allowed outside of Azkaban. The Wizarding World should look forward to a defeat rivaled only by the severe routing Voldemort took from us during the war. The players are, after all, the same.” 

 

“Sounds like you are using the past as a smokescreen to hide your apprehension.” Hermione was sure that was the unidentified reporter. 

 

“If he beats me even once it is to keep the world interested in the event.”

 

“This whole event has been planned as a show of unity. Are you opposed to peace among countries?” The American took control back.

 

“I didn’t fight for everyone’s lives to watch bloody Death Eaters wear their Dark Mark’s as badges of honor. There will never be peace while evil walks among us without fear.”

 

“Is this what this is for you? A battle of good versus evil? I thought we were playing Wizard’s Chess.” It was the same dissident from the back. This is a bloody setup, Hermione was internally panicking.

 

“Next question.” Hermione deflected, elbowing Ron before he could fall further into the trap.

 

“If you lose, will you quit?” Ron snorted at this question derisively in response.

 

“What really happened in Belgium? Is it true you turned the arbiter into a snake when he coughed at you?” The Prophet reporter was back.

 

“That was a misunderstanding that has been amicably settled.” Ron was clearly getting exasperated.

 

“Why was your price to play so high? Rumor is the Wizarding World Chess Federation had to enter into exclusivity contracts with most of our news outlets just to meet it.” A French reporter certainly wasn’t pulling punches. They didn’t even need the setup, Hermione grimaced.

 

“There is no shame in asking for what I am worth.” An angry flush was creeping up her fiance’s neck.

 

“Draco has waived his salary quite nobly. He is quoted as saying ‘Engaging a worthy opponent in Wizard’s Chess is its own reward,’” The French reporter followed up.

 

“You’re all here to see me.” Hermione stepped back quickly as Ron shoved the podium to the side violently. “No one was even interested in Draco Malfoy before this match was announced. Don't quote some puffed up-”

 

“And we’re done!” Hermione smiled sweetly to the crowd as she cut him off, quickly grabbing his hand and apparating them both away. 

 

~~~~~~~

 

“Aren’t you just glad to be out?” Theodore Nott Jr lounged on a chaise as Draco paced through the drawing-room of their suite in Merano, Italy. The borders of the unplottable Neuenacht had never been opened and travel was greatly discouraged for the residents. Trade agreements were finally in the works and Lucius was encouraging their government to move away from their symbiosis with Durmstrang. The goal was not to become another Hogsmeade. “Your last match was months ago and Russia was fucking cold. This place is practically a paradise.”

 

“I’m trying to think, Theo. Just go to the bar or the spa or anywhere else.” Draco sighed and rifled through some papers on the desk.

 

“You’ve read those match dossiers for the last few days straight.” Theo waved his wand and mumbled a spell, whirling the papers out of Draco’s grasp. Draco growled and whirled to face him. 

 

“You’re infuriating.”

 

“You should get your head checked if you don’t have them memorized by now.” Theo chuckled and let the papers drift back onto the desk. “Weasley’s off his rocker anyway. You saw the pictures of the rumble at his last game. He’s as hot-headed as ever and the Ministry can barely clean up after him. Unless he's had a lobotomy, I'm sure he's mucking up his press conference right about now, too.”

 

“His game is as solid as ever. If he’s acting nuts, it’s for show. And who gives a shit about the drama? Surely no one cares if he’s an ass. The whole world just wants to see Neuenacht go down.”

 

“He’s washing out and the world has a front-row seat.” Draco shot Theo an incredulous look. “Fine, we won’t underestimate him. It’s too important that we win to even take a chance on that.”

 

“I’m well aware,” Draco muttered going back to the papers.

 

“Weasley’s weakness isn’t in those papers, Draco. We both know that.” Theo rose to move to his side. "You’re Slytherin as fuck. You’ve never struggled to get under his skin. ” 

 

“It’s Wizard’s Chess, Theo. It’s not a blood sport. We're supposed to be reformed. I’m done playing games with peoples' lives.” Draco seethed.

 

"Everyone plays games, Draco. We were raised knowing that about the world." Theo exaggerated a sigh and then paused. "He brought Granger with him, too.” 

 

“She still goes by Granger?”

 

“No wedding yet, five years in counting. There’s something there to exploit, my friend.”

 

“The world is waiting to see how we play with others. What use would it be to win this tournament if we just proved to be the same Death Eater scum Voldemort made us?” 

 

“You’re already a media darling. The Prophet is eating up your redemption story. You are glamor and charm whereas Weasley has already made a name for himself in the press as an infantile diva and a loose cannon. Everyone knows he’s practically extorting Galleons from the Wizarding World Chess Organization to make his appearance this year.”

 

“You’re willing to take a chance on the press? Public opinion is a fickle thing.” Draco sighed. “I’m here to play Wizard’s Chess, the stakes be damned. I’m the best and I’m going to trounce Weasley, fair and square.”

 

“There’s that gorgeous ego we all know and love.” Theo chuckled, watching Draco’s resolve steady.

 

"Oh, fuck off." Draco threw up his hands, fixing his stormy stare on his longtime friend. "Aren't you tired of this? My life is exactly how everyone has planned it, and I’m the poster pureblood peacock again. I've even gotten everything I wanted since the war. I've fought for safety, security, a passable pureblood witch my mother likes, an heir, and a country I get to help build. And like clockwork, I have to pay for everything that makes my life livable, everything that I thought I had already earned. It’s back to everyone around me having ulterior motives and elaborately manipulative plans. Suddenly, everything is life or death again. When this is over, do you know what I'll be? A devastated and used boy who doesn't recognize himself, just like after the war. I just wanted to play Wizard's Chess. I didn't want to change the world." 

Theo left the room which was as much of an assent as Draco had hoped to receive. He sighed and ran a hand through his short blonde hair. How did I get here? Draco had thought it was all over for him after the last battle. They had picked the wrong side and nothing would ever be good again - not that much of his adolescence could be characterized as such. 

Neuenacht had seemed like a miracle and his father had given all the beaten and broken Death Eaters a new chance at life. Draco finished his 7th year at Durmstrang in a fog, waiting for the bottom to drop out. Somehow, when he returned to their village they had built a city and it only expanded from there. He got involved with some of his father’s secret international business dealings when Lucius was formally named Chancellor, and after Neuenacht was accepted into the ICW, he got involved in the government, trying to stay away from the unsavory parts. Around that time, he finally agreed to an arranged marriage to Astoria Greengrass and they had Scorpius a year later. 

Everything was fine, but he didn’t fit in Lucius’s world or even sometimes in his own family. He spent most nights cavorting with his friends at the pub. He got a name for being undefeated in Wizard’s Chess after many late-night games, and soon he faced new challengers every night. When Lucius had learned of his notoriety and frivolity, Draco was sure it would be over. Instead, the Malfoy patriarch had encouraged it in the name of morale and entertainment. The Neuenacht were overall a dour lot, scarred and naturally dark from the war and Voldemort, so it seemed prudent to liven things up. The mandatory Neuenacht pride rallies and secret police weren’t working. So Draco now had audiences and followers. Lucius shifted him full time to Wizard’s Chess, and the country sent him worldwide after the game had a resurgence of popularity. His life was fast and exciting, full of fame and a singularity of purpose. 

In the lavish hotel room in Italy, however, his sense of foreboding and fear was back. He knew it never should have left, but he had always had a knack for overlooking the suffering of others.

Chapter Text

“‘Ronald Weasley: Everything Wrong with Wizard’s Chess.’ Did you see these headlines? ‘Increasingly Erratic Champion Stuck in the Past.' This is exactly what I warned you would happen.” Hermione shoved a stack of newspapers across the coffee table in their hotel suite. This was devolving into an international incident much faster than expected.

 

“They love to hate me. It’s just a game.” Ron slurped his tea, barely taking his eyes off the Quidditch game he had projected on the wall. 

 

“This is not just a game! Wizard’s Chess is a game. What we’re doing here is solidifying diplomatic relationships.” Hermione huffed, twitching her wand at the projection and shutting off the game.

 

“‘Mione! The Cannons were making a comeback.”

 

“They never should have developed a streaming spell. It’s as bad as Muggle television.”

 

“Look, love,” Ron began, “It doesn’t matter. These papers have all been bought and paid for by Lucius Malfoy and other Death Eater sympathizers. Why else would they love Draco Malfoy so much and give me so much shit?”

 

“Probably because you throw podiums and act like an ass, whereas Malfoy keeps his temper and acts sportingly.” Hermione shook her head. She wasn’t sure why she was bothering or why she was even here. He never bowed to her expertise in these matters, despite his obvious naivete to the inner workings of politics. 

 

“‘Mione,” Ron softened the tone, moving to her side, “I’m so tired of us having this fight. Trust me. I know what I’m doing. I’m going to wipe the floor with the snotty ferret. Malfoy has always played whatever role he needed to get what he wants, but the world will eventually see exactly who he and the rest of Neuenacht are! As long as I hold the spotlight, I’ll get to keep reminding everyone of who those bastards are and where they came from.”

 

“Is that your plan?” Hermione spluttered for a second. “I… Is this really what all the drama has been about? It’s not going to work, Ron. The world wants to move on. You’re in over your head, and they won’t see anything other than temper tantrums and hate speech! You just need to keep your head for once in your life before your actions have consequences Kingsley and I can’t fix.” She rose and paced over to the window. 

 

“I can’t believe you. You still think you have to bail me out at every turn.” Ron began to redden at her belittling tone. “I’m not an infant. You really do think I’m completely stupid. I’m the best Wizard’s Chess player in the world and you still think I have the brain of a dopey teenager.”

 

“I know you’re not stupid, Ron, but Wizard’s Chess is not real life. You can’t manipulate pieces around a board and get what you want.”

 

“That’s what you do. That’s what you’re always talking about. Leverage and giving people what they want to get what you need. Using your superior intelligence to outthink the latest legislator and find loopholes in international law.”

 

“That is not what... I mean…” How in the world was he turning this on her? “That’s an oversimplification of what I do. I’m a professional! I’ve spent years training and studying. You can’t just listen to me vent after work and gain the finesse to work the press to your advantage. This is a mistake.”

 

“Then help me.” Hermione shook her head at his plea. “Why aren’t you on my side?”

 

“Of course I’m on your side!” She exploded. “But what the hell does that matter? The ICW has acknowledged Neuenacht as a wizarding country. Even our government voted to accept. Lucius Malfoy has rewritten history with his words and our own country wants to believe him.”

 

“Clearwater and Davies voted to accept? That’s… How did Kingsley let that happen?”

 

“What could he do? It was five years after the Fall. The Order was long disbanded. I felt the same way as you then, but what could I do? They wouldn’t even let me testify. The Supreme Mugwump deemed my experiences irrelevant and inflammatory. Why do you think I left Clearwater’s office? Politics is full of the gray areas between right and wrong. The truth is lost in perception and paradigm, and people want the past to be better than it was. Voldemort is gone and they want that to be the end.”

 

“But it’s not the end! How can it be the end for you? Your scar from Dolohov, your forearm, all the people we lost. I can’t just coexist peacefully after Fred’s death as if nothing happened. Besides, you have a better reason to hate Neuenacht than anyone and you’re talking about moving on. Your parents-”

 

“Not now, Ron. Not today. I can’t do this today. I can’t do this again.” Tears stung her eyes. She had never found her parents after the war. She went to Australia to retrieve them and they were gone. The house they had settled in was abandoned in a hurry and it smelled of dark magic and foul play.

 

“No, let’s do this today. We’ve been fighting this fight for years and you always stop it. We have to make a stand. Are you just another Death Eater sympathizer?” His tone was measured, the hatred almost scarier than the fury.

 

“Why are you doing this? It’s too late. I’m tired, Ron. I know what they are and what they did. No one listened to me then, the same way no one will listen to you now. I want peace in my life. I want to move on from the war. I want to create a new life with you, but we have to get past this.” Hermione reached out to take his hand.

 

“Well, I can’t.” He turned away, moving toward the door. “I don’t understand how you can. I’m getting some air.” Ron left. Hermione felt something settle into place that had been moving for years. The new hollow in the pit of her stomach made her feel suddenly sick.

 

~~~~~~~

 

Kingsley Shacklebot smiled for the cameras, shaking Lucius Malfoy’s hand jovially to kick off the gala portion of the opening ceremonies. 

 

“You’ve done well for yourself since we last met,” Kingsley said softly, ominously. “Your fashion sense is certainly less… peculiar. You're still hiding behind quite the mask though.”

 

“Isn’t Britain a bit overdue for a change of Minister? They were dropping like flies before you came around,” Lucius chuckled. “I missed your presence during the Confederation hearings.”

 

“Supreme Mugwump Akingbade felt I couldn’t maintain the decorum he required for the proceedings. He was most certainly correct.” Kingsley snorted derisively. “Despite the stability, these are still tenuous times for both our countries. I know we’re at least taking peace very seriously.”

 

“The recent press conference seems to say otherwise. ‘All Death Eaters deserve abuse?’ Quite the ‘soundbite,’ as the muggles would say. We are the Neuenacht and have long since shed the cloaks and masks of the past-” 

 

“You can cut the party line,” Kingsley cut the Malfoy patriarch off. “I don’t care.”

 

“And where is our delectably quotable World Champion? He missed the ceremonies I believe.” 

 

“He is… out of sorts today. Extensive portkey travel can affect anyone’s temperament, especially one who has lived through traumatic times like Mr. Weasley.”

 

“That would explain his track record of bad behavior in other countries. You’ll find us the last to condemn past mistakes. We look forward to putting all the past aside and engaging in a friendly tournament of wits.”

 

“How… magnanimous.” Kingsley sneered.

 

“Give Ms. Granger my regards. Perhaps she’ll save me a dance.” Kingsley scoffed at the Chancellor, departing to find Hermione.

 

~~~~~~~

 

“Where is he?” Kingsley tried to keep an even tone, cornering Hermione by one of the many artistic ice sculptures of various Wizard’s Chess pieces. She seemed to be pondering the Queen, a blank mask on her face and a glass in her hands.

 

“Kingsley!” She smiled sweetly, “No fucking clue. This is a disaster. Thanks again for inviting me. At least the drinks are good.” She hadn’t looked for Ron before the opening gala, just got ready and came. 

 

“It’s not all that bad,” Kingsley coughed nervously and fidgeted with his distinguished Minister dress robes. 

 

“How optimistic!” She grabbed another drink as a tray floated by. “They call these Firey God Fathers.”

 

“It’s just press. It all goes away when we win.” 

 

If we win,” She corrected, continuing sarcastically, “It won’t matter at all how Ron represents Britain or what the world thinks of us.”

 

“Hermione Granger, always seeing things through the eye of a shrewd fixer. I know things look bad, but we knew how that was going to go. That’s why we need you. You’re the only one who can get Ron out of his head and into the game.”

 

“Why even let me try to manage the press conference if you knew how this was going to go?”

 

“It could have been much worse. You got him out before it became more personal than just Death Eaters. Imagine if he had rehashed more details of the war.”

 

“How did we get on the defensive with all this? We bloody saved England.”

 

“We did. We were brilliant. But you saw the articles after Neuenacht joined the ICW. Voldemort as an extremist cult leader who forced normal citizens to do his bidding? Who wouldn’t rather believe that in a society that has revolved around the high value of magical blood and pureblooded elites having some divine righteousness? We saw this when he first returned. No one wants to live in fear so onward to desensitization, normalization, and acceptance. It’s a human process.”

 

“And so words become reality and the truth is minimized. Who imagined things would be this complicated after the Fall of Voldemort?” Hermione chuckled wryly.

 

“It doesn’t have to be complicated. We just move forward, focusing on peace, practicing tolerance.” Kingsley touched her shoulder affectionately. “We miss you behind the scenes. Clearwater is up for Supreme Mugwump and she is asking about you.”

 

“I’m perfectly happy in the law department. You know how I tired of catering to infantile demands and puffed up egos. Too much of that in my personal life,” she mumbled. Kingsley politely pretended not to hear.  “He thinks he’s playing his own political games. Ronald Weasley, the man with the subtlety of a Fire Crab.”

 

“Oh, Merlin.” Kingsley grabbed a cocktail of his own, spluttering at his first swig. “Is this straight Firewhiskey? How many have you had?”

 

“Like 3 or 4ish. There is amaretto in it, too.” Hermione defended weakly. 

 

“Switch to water, dear, the evening is just beginning.” 

 

“I’m a grown-ass witch,” she smirked, belying a bit of her concealed intoxication. “There’s Malfoy! He’s grown, too.”

 

“Good Godric, woman.”

 

~~~~~~~

 

“He’s up to something,” Malfoy was dressed smartly in a black suit with a silver vest. “Why else would he miss the ceremonies?”

 

“Relax, Draco,” Theo handed him a cocktail, sipping his own. “Granger is right there. He wouldn’t dream of trying anything without her.” 

 

“Is that her?” He watched Kingsley join her across the room. Her hair was in a severe and simple french twist, and she wore a black one-shoulder dress that curved with her in the right places. Draco was surprised at the multitude of right places.

 

“And not a Weasel in sight…” Theo elbowed him conspiratorially. 

 

“Whatever you two are doing, stop it.” Lucius sniffed his disapproval as he approached the pair. “Show some decorum.”

 

“Of course, Chancellor,” Theo nodded in deference. 

 

“How was your photo op with Kingsley Shacklebot?” Draco glowered stiffly, taking a large mouthful of the cocktail. 

 

“Productive. You should do the same when Mr. Weasley arrives. The world is waiting to see how your first meeting will play out.” Lucius smirked and Draco.

 

“If the press conference was any indication, he will lose his shit!” Theo chuckled.

 

“Decorum, Mr. Nott. We just talked about this.”

 

“It doesn’t matter as he isn’t here.” Draco reminded them. His eyes moved back to Hermione. “I hear their departure from the press conference was quite abrupt. Maybe she killed him. I should be so lucky.” He finished the cocktail.

 

“That would be quite a scandal,” Lucius mused.

 

“Go speak to her.” Theo handed Draco a second glass.

 

“That’s even better.” Lucius perked up, intercepting the drink. “But do pace yourself. And try and get photographed! It will set Mr. Weasley even more off-kilter.”