This story follows on from my story 'Nil Desperandum'.Hope's all grown up in this fic. It's set about 4 years after she's left Hogwarts...
This is the last fic I'm going to be writing in this universe, but it's spawned a multitude of plot bunnies in my beta readers, so brace yourselves! The good news is that the fic is all but finished (all 85,000 words of it!), so there's no excuse for me not posting a couple of chapters a week.
Endless thanks to my wonderful betas and friends, and especially to Alphie, without whom this never would have developed beyond a germ of an idea in my head.
Hope cursed creatively, but there was no getting out of it. Her parents rarely asked her to help out with her sister, and as they had so reassuringly reminded her, it would only be for one evening. It was just that the particular evening that her dad had planned on whisking her mum off to some Ministry function or other in Edinburgh wasn't convenient. It wouldn't do at all.
She sighed, and mashed her breakfast cereal into a repellent mulch. She'd been looking forward to going out that night. It had been ages since they'd all had a get together. Robert had been working in Cairo, and he'd only been back for a couple of weeks. She'd barely seen him. She hadn't seen Cora much since Robert'd got back either, although she supposed that was only to be expected. The two of them were simply nauseating these days.
All this romance business really was too much. She'd had a gutful of it when she'd been dating Julius Flint back at Hogwarts. Flint had been pretty decent on the whole, but Hope was of the firm belief these days that men were just too much bother. She'd much prefer a good book.
She let her spoon fall and pushed the bowl into the centre of the table. She wasn't hungry anyway. Her mum had said that her friends were perfectly welcome to come over and stay as well if they wanted. There was enough room to fit everyone in, and they could socialise as well in the cottage as they could in London. Apparently.
The invitation was some salve to Hope's injured social life, but the bottom line was that Holly wasn't old enough to be left overnight on her own, so something had to give. And that something was Hope.
Hope was far from convinced, but she supposed that if she absolutely had to look after her sister, then this offer was better than nothing, as long as Holly actually went to bed and left them alone. Not like last time when a bottle of wine had been transfigured into a chicken and it had taken them forty minutes to catch it. Hope was certain she'd never been that much bother to her elders when she was eleven.
She ticked them off on her fingers: Robert would be happy to be in Hogsmeade because he could combine that with a visit to his parents the following day; Cora was surgically attached to Robert's lips anyway, so it went without saying that she'd be there; and Matthew… Matthew…
It would be fine, she told herself repeatedly. She hadn't seen him for at least four months, and Christmas would be as if it had never happened. They were adults now. They could be civil. She was sure she could mange that. Mostly.
With that thought in mind, Hope reached for her wand and her coat, and Apparated into thin air.
Work was busy as ever. Hope loved her job, but sometimes it was a little too hectic even for her liking. She'd followed her dad into the Ministry, and had passed her basic training as an Auror the previous summer. However, unlike her father, she didn't even contemplate undercover work: being an Auror was simply part of who she was.
She was now in her two years of advanced training under the supervision of Kingsley Shacklebolt, and the work was as varied as she could have ever wished it to be. At this particular moment in time, she was involved in researching and assembling a case about a rumoured Dark Coven in the Tintagel area, and it would certainly mean a trip down to Cornwall with Kingsley early next week to quiz the local residents, magic and Muggle, about the shift in seasons that the Muggle newspapers were reporting. Then, if all went well, they could smoke out the group.
There were ancient maps of underground passageways beneath Tintagel itself, and Hope was completely absorbed in studying them, wondering where – if they existed at all – a group of Dark Witches and Wizards would assemble. It had to be somewhere covert, and she reasoned it had to be near the core of the castle itself. Magic had always been stronger there. She had a good vibe about this.
The voice made Hope jump and bang her knee painfully on the underside of her desk. So much for constant vigilance! Cora perched on the desk edge and smiled down at her friend.
"No more so than usual," Hope shrugged at her best friend. "Who are you, anyway? I don't think you've been home in over a week!"
Cora's pretty face blushed, and her eyes fell. "Oh, well… you know how it is. I've hardly seen Robert for months. I only got to go and visit him once in Cairo, and I've really missed him."
"You don't say," Hope teased.
Cora kicked her. "You'll know exactly what I'm on about when you fall in love."
Hope snorted. "No chance. Tried that with Flint. Got the t-shirt. Don't want to even think about so-called romance again. It's only sex anyway, isn't it?"
Cora smiled and shook her head. "You've not found the right man yet, that's all. Julius Flint, gorgeous as he is, would never have worked for you. You're far too similar."
"I'm glad it didn't," Hope admitted honestly. "I get on far better with Julius now than I ever did when we were dating. I even got a formal invitation to his birthday party. 'Miss Hope Potter and guest.' Personally, I'm thinking of going along with my copy of 'Hogwarts: A History'."
Cora laughed. "You're terrible," she said. "Give some poor man a chance, will you?"
"What for?" Hope asked. "I'm perfectly happy as I am. I've got my friends, our flat, my cat and a brilliant job. A man would only get in the way. He'd be like a fashion accessory that no one really wants. I don't know about you, but I really like my independence."
Cora shook her head, but didn't press the point any further.
"Anyway," Hope said, changing the subject, "since we can't go out tomorrow, are we still on for dinner and a few drinks at my parents'? Matthew owled this morning to say he'd be getting there about eight when his shift at St Mungo's finishes."
"Did he?" Cora's face lit up. "Well, that's definitely progress."
Hope narrowed her eyes and glared at her friend. "I don't know what you mean," she said firmly. "Matthew and I are getting along just fine."
"If barely speaking to the poor lamb since Christmas is your indication of 'getting along just fine', I'd hate to see what your version of an argument is," Cora teased. "What happened? You never did say."
"It's fine!" Hope said, with a firm finality. She didn't want to discuss this. "If it hadn't been okay, he wouldn't have agreed to come along. There really isn't a problem."
"Good," Cora smiled and jumped back down from the desk, "because Robert and I have decided that it would do the two of you a lot of good to get together and talk things out. You can do that much more easily without us there."
Hope's mouth went dry. Cora wasn't saying what she thought she was saying. Anything but that. She said a brief prayer to any deity who might happen to be listening, but it seemed that they were all out to lunch.
"We won't be there tomorrow night, Hope," Cora said gently. "It's time you sorted this out with Matthew. You're too good friends to let something silly come between you."
Hope's stomach fell. She felt sick. Cora couldn't do this to her. She was supposed to be her friend.
"Corona Maguire, don't you dare…"
"I have to," Cora said apologetically. "It's been awful with the two of you not speaking. I wouldn't be a proper friend if I let this go on any longer. He misses you, and I know you miss him. Like you said yourself, you might not need romance in your life, but you definitely need your friends. Sort whatever it is out with him. You need to."
She squeezed Hope's hand and with a regretful smile, she left the office and wandered off, presumably back to her own part of the Ministry rabbit warren.
Hope slumped in her chair, staring blindly at the map of Tintagel. This couldn't be happening. This was a complete and utter unmitigated nightmare. She had to babysit Holly and talk to Matthew alone. No way. She'd cancel.
She grabbed a sheaf of parchment from her desk drawer, dunked her quill in her ink well and then paused. What could she say that wouldn't make it sound like she was deliberately trying to get rid of him? She didn't want to hurt him more than she had already.
There was no way out of this. Friday night would happen. Her head hit her desk and she banged her forehead audibly on the table.
"Careful Potter!" Kingsley's voice boomed from the office next door. "You need to keep the brain cells you've still got left."
Friday night arrived all too soon for Hope's liking, and it was with a heavy heart that she Apparated to Hogsmeade with her overnight bag slung across her back. She let herself in through the garden gate and pushed past some overgrown bushes to the back door.
"It's only me," she called as she let herself into the kitchen.
It was always strange being home again these days, Hope reflected. It was nice but definitely odd at the same time. Every morsel of her belonged here, yet it wasn't quite home any more the way her flat was. Her mum had obviously been baking earlier in the afternoon, and the warm aroma of biscuits or muffins still curled temptingly in the air and made her stomach rumble.
She dropped her bag beside the sturdy kitchen table and went into the hallway.
"Mum? Holly?" she yelled up the stairwell. "Anyone home?"
"You're early!" a familiar voice exclaimed from the top of the stairs and her mother emerged from the gloom, smiling widely. Hope grinned back, and bounded upstairs to give her mum a hug.
"You've lost weight," her mum remarked with a raised eyebrow. "Are you sure you've been eating properly? Kingsley's not working you too hard, is he? I know he can be a bit of a slave driver."
Hope laughed and rolled her eyes. "Honestly, Mum!" she protested. "You and Granny say that every time you see me. If it was true I'd have shrivelled away to nothing years ago. Kingsley's just an old sweetie, anyway, as you well know. I'm heading down to Cornwall next week, doing a bit of reconnaissance."
"Nice time of year for the Cornish coast," her mother mused. "You should try and have a bit of a break while you're down there. It's good musing territory when you're all wound up about something; miles upon miles of windswept craggy wildness. All that sea air would be good for you."
Hope shot her mother a suspicious look. It was uncanny sometimes the way her mother appeared to read her mind with such ease. If it hadn't been for the fact that she knew better, Hope would have assumed her to be practised in the art of Occlumency.
"Come and give me a hand," her mum said, changing the subject swiftly. "Holly! Your sister's here."
Hope followed into her own bedroom, where the bed was partly made, and obediently took up one end of the sheet, smoothing it over the bed and tucking it in easily. She made a start on the clean pillowcases.
A slight figure appeared in the doorway, and Hope smiled a greeting at her younger sister.
"Hi, Squidge," she teased, and her sister stuck her tongue out in a grotesque retaliation. "Mind the wind doesn't change, or you'll be stuck like that."
Holly hopped into the room and balanced precipitously on the arm of Hope's old armchair. The Weasley red hair was evident in all three women in the room, but whereas Hope's and her mother's were vibrantly bright, Holly's was far darker, lingering somewhere between mahogany and auburn. Her eyes, too, had none of the Potter green, but had settled to be a curious light hazel, almost amber in the sunlight.
Holly was due to start Hogwarts in the Autumn, and Hope felt a brief pang when she thought of it. After her own terrible start to her school years, she'd loved every moment of the time she'd spent there. What wouldn't she give to do it all again? Holly was amazingly lucky.
"We should be back early enough in the morning," their mother chattered on, "so you can get back to whatever it was you should have been doing, or you can all stay for lunch if you want. There's loads of food in the pantry for tonight, and some biscuits. I know how much Robert loves those, so I did some extra. Help yourself to anything you need. You could put the spare bed for Cora up in here, and the boys can either bunk down in our bed, or on the sofas downstairs."
Hope felt her face start to blush and desperately willed herself to remain normal.
"Thanks, Mum," she said quickly. "I'm not sure if anyone's staying yet. They might just be here for the evening." She certainly hoped that Matthew wouldn't be there for long. Without the others being there to dilute his presence, the evening stretched before her like some instrument of hideous torture. In fact, she'd have preferred several rounds with the Cruciatus curse to an evening one-on-one with him.
"Right then," her mother smiled, plumping up her pillows and dropping them on the bed. "You can sort it from here. And don't forget to feed your sister!" Their mum turned to look at her younger offspring. "As for you, young lady, I expect you in your room no later than nine tonight. You can read, but you're not to be back downstairs until tomorrow morning. Do as Hope tells you."
"Even if she tells me to jump out of the window?" Holly said in mock-horror.
"You'll bounce," Ginny retorted, with an entire lack of maternal affection that made Hope laugh and Holly grump.
"I'll make sure the owls are fed. Anything else you need me to do, Mum?" Hope asked, following her mum back through to her parents' bedroom. Her mother checked through the bag, and continued adding various garments from drawers and the wardrobe.
"Not really, dear," her mum answered. "Obviously Granny and Grandpa are just at The Burrow if you run into difficulty, and we're staying at TreeTops where we went for our anniversary last year. Unless it's absolute life or death, I suggest you try your grandparents first, or it may well become life or death when I get my hands on you!"
Hope giggled. "It's all under control," she said. "Holly's not that bad. Usually."
Her younger sister raised her eyebrows. "Want to bet?"
"I do," her mother said sternly. "This is Hope's evening she's giving up for me and your dad. I don't want to hear a single complaint about you or from you. Do you understand me?"
There was a long pause, and a quiet, "Yes, Mum."
Ginny clicked the clasp on her bag shut and turned to hug and kiss her daughters. "Dad's going straight there from work. Are you sure you're going to be all right?"
"We'll be fine!" Hope repeated again. "I won't feed her to wild Hippogriffs this time."
Their mother smiled at them. "Be good!" she warned, and with the softest of pops, she vanished.
The two girls looked at each other, impish mischief mirrored on each face.
"Biscuits?" asked Holly.
"Too right!" said Hope, and they raced down the stairs, bumping and jostling to see who could get to the pantry first.
By the time the door knocker rumbled a purr, Hope was flushed from cooking, and Holly was playing wizard solitaire at the kitchen table. The plate of biscuits had been demolished to a tiny rubble of crumbs. Hope wiped her hands on her apron, and trying her best to ignore the churning feeling in her stomach, she went to answer it.
She twisted the door knob, fumbling slightly with the catch, but finally got it open. The door swung back into the hall, revealing a tall young man, of about her own age, with slightly shaggy brown hair that flopped relentlessly into his eyes. He pushed it back and his dark eyes met her for the briefest of seconds before he looked away again.
Hope swallowed. This was awkward.
"Hello," she croaked, managing a half-hearted smile.
"Are you sure you're happy with me being here?" he asked hesitantly, gesturing that he could go if she wanted.
Perhaps it wouldn't be quite as bad as she was expecting. Matthew was still Matthew, hardly the fictional stranger she'd allowed her imagination to turn him into for the past few months.
"I'd have told you where to stick it if I wasn't," she replied, standing back to let him into the house. "You should know me well enough to realise I'd have had no qualms about that."
"True." He reached into his bag to extract a couple of bottles of wine. "I brought these along. Should I hide them from Holly this time?"
Hope couldn't help chuckling. "Mum's threatened her with hideous eternal torment if she misbehaves," she explained, leading the way back into the kitchen where she had an assortment of pots and pans bubbling violently on the stove. She lifted a lid and stirred the contents vigorously with a wooden spoon.
"Smells nice," Matthew commented, dropping his bag next to where Hope's own bag had landed earlier that day. Hope tensed. His green canvas bag strap entwined itself with her lurid floral one. She wished he'd put it somewhere else.
"It's only spaghetti bolognaise," she said shakily. "Don't get excited."
"Yeah, Hope's cooking is always pretty grim," Holly added from the far end of the kitchen table. "Can't we get someone to deliver pizza instead?" Her cards exploded into a plume of blue smoke and she coughed violently.
Matthew rolled his eyes at Hope and leaned conversationally against the chimney breast and watched her as she cooked.
"What time are the others due to get here?"
"They're not," she said quietly, hoping her sister wouldn't overhear. She glanced up at him, and held his gaze. His eyes were anxious and uncertain. "I'll explain later," she whispered, jerking her head in Holly's direction. "We're okay, you and me, aren't we?"
Matthew nodded, and reached across to rub her shoulder in their old friendly gesture. She flinched.
He froze, clearly uncertain. Hope forced a laugh. The awkwardness bubbled to the surface and she could see him watching her, entirely bewildered by the situation. He was weighing up his options of what to do next.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, carefully touching his hand with her own. "That was stupid of me. Don't go."
His hand relaxed under hers, and he smiled at her. A proper, genuine smile.
"And miss out on this gorgeous dinner? Do you think I'm mad?" He turned to the table and sat down next to Holly, requisitioning her cards for a game of exploding snap.
Hope breathed steadily, trying to calm the stampede of her heart as she tended to her cooking. What had got into her? She needed to be calm and adult about all of this, not as nervous as a hatful of pixies. Matthew hadn't meant any harm by his gesture; so much was obvious by his reaction. She had to learn to accept him at face value again. Christmas had gone, and nothing like that would happen again. Ever.
She conjured the spaghetti out of the saucepan, twirling it expertly in the air and letting it tumble lightly onto the plates. The sauce followed, and without further ado, the plates whisked themselves off with the dancing cutlery to adorn the table. She slid into the seat next to Holly, and tried to behave normally.
"Nice weather we're having," she began brightly, and inwardly cringed. Surely she could have come up with something better than that? Holly looked at her, her eyebrows raised.
"Is it?" Matthew said, attacking his food with gusto. "Can't say I'd noticed much really. That's the worst of being stuck in St. Mungo's all day. You never really get to see what it's like outside, although I suppose you could say the same about the Ministry with that awful weather system they have."
"Don't get her started on that!" Holly piped up. "Can't we talk about something fun like Quidditch? Please?"
"Or the gorgeous Perseus Jones," Hope butted in, with a wicked twinkle in her eye. "Have you seen him play yet, Matthew? He's the new Chaser for the Magpies, and I swear every female under ninety was drooling madly all the way through the last match. I didn't even see them catch the Snitch. Hell, a Bludger could have hit me in the face and I'd not have noticed that either. Thigh muscles to die for!"
"You'd look silly with his thigh muscles," Holly remarked, twirling another forkful of her spaghetti. "They'd make your legs look enormous."
Hope choked, and tried to whoop in a breath. She coughed hard again, and Matthew obligingly thumped her on the back.
"Thanks!" she gasped, tears streaming from her eyes. "Quite right, Holly. I think I'll keep my own."
"I'm going to play Quidditch at Hogwarts," Holly announced, blithely unaware of the amused looks that passed between her sister and Matthew.
"Are you now, Hols?" Hope said, using the childhood nickname that her sister detested. "Who says you're going to be good enough? You know they hardly ever waive the no first year rule."
"They did for you and Dad," Holly retorted, flipping her hair back over her shoulder. "Dad says I can handle a broom as well as anyone, and he should know. I won't need to break the rules to get chosen either."
"You might not have to," Matthew said, winking at Hope. "If you end up in Hufflepuff they don't know one end of the broom from the other, so you'll be a total prodigy."
"Better that than Slytherin," Holly said airily. "They only ever win when they're cheating."
There was a sharp intake of breath, and both adults moved swiftly, pinning the younger girl between them.
"Of course we do, Holly," Hope purred softly.
"We eat small girls like you for breakfast," Matthew murmured, licking his lips in theatrical pantomime.
Holly's eyes widened. "I'm not that small."
"You will be," Hope grinned wolfishly. She whipped her wand out of her jeans pocket, and pointed it at her sister. "Let me see. Shrinking charms…"
Holly squealed, and dived under the table, scrabbling her way across the floor to the other end. The red hair re-emerged, only to dart out of the door and the sound of feet thudded their way up the stairs. A door clashed, and the house went silent.
The two adults looked at each other and burst out laughing.
"Well, that's got rid of her," Hope grinned. She Summoned a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses from where Matthew had left them on the kitchen work surface.
The cork popped, and she had just begun to pour when the blur of reds ran back into the kitchen.
"You can shrink me if you want, but you're not going to stop me eating," Holly panted, grabbing her plate and vanishing back upstairs again before her elders had a chance to do anything to her.
Hope bit her lips, trying her best to stop laughing, but it was no good. It burst out of her in a deep belly laugh, and Matthew joined in. She couldn't help looking at him. It felt good to be back with him like this again. Not that she'd ever admit it, but Cora had been right; she had missed him.
He cocked an eyebrow at her. "So, Robert and Cora have stood us up? It's just you and me tonight?"
Her insides lurched, but she lifted her head defiantly. "Have a problem with that, Belford?"
"No, but I wonder if I should go soon. It's been great to see you, but we don't want to rush into things here. Small steps are always best."
She sighed. "Matthew…"
"It's okay," he said, beginning to get to his feet. "I do understand. How about a drink next week after work when Cora and Robert can make it?"
"No!" Hope exclaimed.
"Really?" he sounded mortified.
"Don't be a bloody wet lettuce, Matthew Belford," she said. "It's a Friday night, and I'm damned if I'm going to spend it listening to my little sister snoring while I sit home like an elderly maiden aunt and knit socks. Let's have some fun."
"You think we can be civil enough? We could divide the living room into two equal zones and shoot hexes at each other if you want."
"We're friends aren't we?"
He nodded. "Definitely."
"Well, why can't we have a bit of a laugh? We were supposed to be going out tonight, so let's do something. It's a shame to waste it."
"We could play a game, I suppose," Matthew set tentatively.
"But not chess," she groaned at exactly the same time that he did. They laughed and she added, "Let's go for something more original."
He raised an eyebrow, and Hope thought rapidly about what she had stashed away in her bedroom. "My uncles gave me a prototype to test out," she said thoughtfully. "It's been sitting here since Christmas morning, and I've not touched it. It's a sort of mini-pensieve, except it doesn't store memories for future use. There are some game cards with it, I think."
"Let's get this straight," he said, taking a nervous slurp from his glass of wine. "You want us to test one of Fred and George's prototypes?"
"I like living dangerously," she smiled.
"I'm not averse to the odd bit of risk myself," he replied with a grin, " as long as it's not going to turn me into a canary or divest me of the odd appendage."
"Who knows what it'll do. Isn't that half the fun?"
"It depends on what appendage comes a cropper. An arm I can live without…"