Coffee and Conversation

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Story Notes:
The Victims of the War Assistance Committee meeting runs long, not that Hermione is surprised. It runs long every month, and she doesn’t understand why they don’t just schedule it for two hours instead of one. They’ve never actually ended a meeting in an hour since the committee was formed over three years ago. She isn’t in charge, though. She just knows to never plan her own schedule around a one hour meeting anymore. At least it was a productive meeting this month, and she’s pleased that they’re able to do so much to help those still suffering the effects of the war. It’s nearly time for their annual fundraiser, which will help get enough galleons to finance their efforts for the year, so the planning is started and a majority of tonight’s meeting was spent discussing various ideas of what to do this year.

There still isn’t a firm decision, but it does seem to be narrowed down between some type of informal amusement event or a more formal charity auction of some sort. They’ll have to decide next month so that they can get the sub-committees formed and actually get the arrangements made in time, but she knows they’ll accomplish everything necessary because they always do. Besides, Andromeda Tonks and Narcissa Malfoy are the founders of the committee, and Hermione knows that neither sister will allow their project to fail. The committee has already helped improve things for those with medical conditions that require them to stay at St. Mungo’s permanently as well as funding a new form of mental health healing that is new to the wizarding world. The latter is a suggestion that Hermione had introduced, so she’s proud of how well it is going so far.

The corridors of St. Mungo’s are quiet when Hermione leaves the meeting room. She’s a straggler, always tidying up her notes before leaving the conference room, so the other committee members are already gone. When the doors to the lift open, there’s already an occupant inside, and she smiles in recognition. “Justin, how are you?” she asks, stepping inside and pushing the button for her own floor. “It’s been ages since I’ve seen you.”

“I’m doing well, Hermione. And yourself?” Justin is wearing his healer robes proudly, smoothing them out as the lift goes down.

“I’ve been well. I see that you’ve finished your training?”

“Yes. I completed training nearly six months ago. I’m working on my own now.”

“Congratulations. Are you enjoying it?”

“It’s exhausting some days, but I love it.” Justin grins as he moves his fingers through his curly blond hair. “Mum is bragging to everyone that I’m a doctor, but I’ve tried explaining the difference between a healer and a Muggle physician, and she still doesn’t listen, so I’ve given up.”

“I’m sure she’s very proud of you.” Hermione shrugs a shoulder. “At least there’s a Muggle equivalent for your parents to use for polite conversation. My parents just say that I work for the government doing paperwork because they can’t explain that I’m an Unspeakable and spend my time doing research on charms, artihmancy, runes, and the brain. Their friends seem to believe I’m a clerk or some such office worker.”

“Your research is extremely informative,” Justin says. “It’s a shame that your parents can’t brag about how clever and inspiring their daughter is.” He looks at her. “It was your paper on the effects of Crucio on the mind that actually drew me into studying with the new mental health healer here at St. Mungo’s. While my specialty is charm reversal, I find it fascinating how you were able to correlate the mental retreat of victims with the amount of time spend under the effect of the curse.”

Hermione ducks her head and feels warmth spread over her cheeks. “You’ve actually read those reports? Goodness, I’m sure they weren’t very exciting. That issue is close to my heart, though, and I’m pleased that it inspired you to do further research. Perhaps you’ll be able to find a way to help reverse the effect on the victims suffering permanent affliction from that horrible curse.”

Justin scoffs. “The reports were not dull or dry at all. Your passion comes through even with the most technical of data. I don’t know if I’m clever enough to help find a cure for something that significant, but I am working with Healer Matthews on the project during my free time. That’s how I came across your reports. I know that a majority of what happens in the Department of Mysteries is classified, but I was pleased to see that the Minister is more forthcoming with information that can assist the general public.”

Before Hermione can reply, the lift arrives at her floor. Justin holds the doors and allows her to exit first. “Quite the gentleman,” she says. “Your mum taught you well.”

“A Finch-Fletchley always allows a woman to enter a room first, and he always holds the door.” Justin winks. “I’ll be sure to tell Mum that the lessons have been noticed and helped me to impress a beautiful woman. “

She snorts. “Now you’re just laying it on a bit thick.” She pulls the strap of her bag further up her shoulder and glances at the door before focusing back on him. “It’s been nice seeing you,” she says sincerely. It has been nice, and not just because he’s been complimentary and almost flirtatious. While he has matured into a rather handsome young man, she likes that he’s able to hold a conversation about their work without having his eyes glaze over.

“I’m actually leaving work now. Would you like to go for a coffee?” He rubs the back of his neck and smiles slightly. “I find myself reluctant to watch you walk away, and I’d like to continue our conversation, if you’re willing.”

“A coffee?” She isn’t sure if he intends the invitation to be that of friends catching up after several years of brief casual conversation or if he means for it to be a potential date type of event, and she isn’t very well going to ask for clarification. Whichever option, she finds herself nodding. “That sounds lovely.”

“Brilliant! There’s a Muggle place just down the street that has excellent pastries,” he says, removing his healer robe to reveal that he’s wearing Muggle trousers and s button up shirt that both appear to be rather expensive. He looks handsome, and her attention lingers on the way he fills out the dark blue shirt. He uses a shrinking charm on his robe so he can put it in his pocket before taking her arm and leading her out the front doors. “I had a case arrive just at lunch, so I spent my break straightening out a man’s arms instead of eating.”

“As a Healer, you should know that skipping meals isn’t healthy,” she scolds. “If you’re likely to work through lunch, you should set up a schedule with a mate who can remind you to eat. The only time that Harry and Ron actually get to nag me is at meal time because I’ve given them permission to do so or else I might not stop working in order to take a break.” She doesn’t mention that the arrangement is just for lunch and that she often works through dinner because she knows that would weaken the point she’s trying to make.

“I bet they enjoy having the opportunity to hassle you about it, too.” Justin laughs. “Fine. I’ll work out an arrangement where Hannah and Ernie are allowed to pester me daily at lunch time. Does that suit you?”

“Yes.” She smiles smugly. “At least neither of them is likely to send you a Howler shrieking about eating fish and chips instead of burying yourself in research. They’re much nicer than my boys.”

“You obviously don’t know them very well if you don’t think Ernie will take advantage of this chance to torment me.” Justin sighs. “Perhaps I’ll just ask Hannah since she’s likely to be much nicer about it.”

“Ernie would never torment you.” Hermione rolls her eyes. “I’ve heard the stories, Justin. I know he helped you during the war. Did your parents really not know about it?”

Justin arches a brow and smiles. “You’ve asked about me?”

“Don’t let it give you a big head. I was concerned about all of the members of Dumbledore’s Army, and I was surprised to see you at Hogwarts following the battle,” she admits. “I asked Neville, and he told me about Ernie filtering information to you through Aberforth.”

They reach the coffee shop, so he doesn’t answer until they’ve got their order and are sitting at a small table in the corner by the window. He discretely casts a charm around their table to give them privacy to talk without being overheard. “Neville is a big old gossip,” Justin says, picking up their conversation where they left off. “I’d try to warn Hannah, but, alas, I’m afraid it’s too late. She’s head over heels for the man.”

“I believe the feeling is mutual.” She sips her coffee before taking a bite of the pastry she ordered. It’s delicious, just as he promised. “Besides, it isn’t gossip if it’s true, is it? Gossip is generally mean spirited or telling tales that are supposed to be secret.”

“Well, there’s nothing secret about it,” Justin says. “My parents had no idea about the war as I knew they’d remove me from Hogwarts and possibly force me to attend a Muggle boarding school in Switzerland that my uncle had attended. Scotland is cold enough for me, thank you very much, so I wasn’t about to give them a reason to do that. And, yes, Ernie did keep me abreast of what was happening in this world while I was away during the summer after sixth year. If not for him, I’d have been rounded up by Snatchers when I tried to board the train to Hogwarts. Since I didn’t wish to involve my parents, I just hid out and tried to avoid Snatchers. My adventures were rather dull compared to some of the others, especially Dean, so there isn’t much else to tell.”

Hermione reaches across the table and moves her fingers lightly over the scar on his jaw down to his neck. “That doesn’t look very dull to me,” she murmurs, looking into his eyes and biting her lip before pulling her hand away.

“I think we all have scars, don’t we, Hermione? Some are physical while others are mental.” Justin reaches up to touch the scar. “I forget it’s there more often than not these days. My mum had kittens, though, and my father found it distasteful that a Finch-Fletchley had a war wound received while running away. Of course, he eventually relented when he understood the complete story, but it took time before my parents didn’t view it as betrayal for my never informing them of the truth of what was happening in this world.”

“My parents still don’t trust me,” she admits quietly. “I was able to locate them and return their memories, but they still flinch if they see my wand, and it’s awkward if I spend too much time around them. They love me, of course, and they pretend that they’re fine, but I know the truth.” She still isn’t proud of what she did to them without their consent, but it was the safest choice for them, and for her, and she knows she’d make it again if necessary.

“They’re alive, and they probably wouldn’t be if you hadn’t done what you did.” Justin is so matter-of-fact about it that she appreciates it. “You were the largest target of all, Hermione, outside of Harry. You did what you had to do, and I’m grateful that you had the courage to fight alongside him. We know that there’s a good chance that the war would have played out differently if you hadn’t been involved from the start, you know? Personally, I take particular pleasure in the fact that a Muggleborn is credited as a heroine in the ‘second great war’ because it so annoys those prejudiced Purebloods and Halfbloods who still believe we’re inferior but never committed to following Voldemort.”

“Those are the worst,” she says, making a face. “At least those who were firm enough in their convictions to follow Voldemort were standing up for what they believed, regardless of how crazy and wrong it was. Those who believed the nonsense but were too cowardly to fight for it are just sickening.”

Justin nods his head in agreement before finishing off the first of two pastries he’d purchased. “So, since we’re being nosy and discussing gossip about each other, is your interest in the effects of prolonged Crucio on the mind stemming from the Longbottoms or your own experience at Malfoy Manor?”

Hermione blinks at him before taking another sip of coffee. Finally, she says, “A combination of both. My experience was brief, all things considered, but I could feel my mind wanting to shut down and retreat as she continued torturing me. After everything was over and the dust settled, when I was able to think about the experience without causing nightmares, I became interested in researching it.”

“Apologies, Hermione. I didn’t think before asking,” Justin says. “Not a very gentlemanly thing to do, I’m afraid. Mum will be disappointed that I put my foot in my mouth around a beautiful woman.”

“That’s the second time you’ve said that,” she mutters, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “I’m not beautiful, and why would your mum be so concerned?”

“Yes, you are, and she’d be worried that I’d lost my chance at wooing you,” he tells her smoothly. “She’s been pestering me about finding a woman who can tolerate my long work hours and Muggle lineage in order to eventually produce grandchildren that can be spoiled rotten and paraded around in her society circles.” He grins at her. “Seeing you enter the lift seemed like a sign. I used to fancy you back at school, but my hair wasn’t red enough to get your attention back then. However, I’ve heard you’re off redheads now, so I thought it might be worth a shot seeing if I be able to fancy you again. Not that I’m ready to discuss our children’s names yet, but I do think they’d be rather adorable.”

“You---Justin!” She gapes at him for a moment before recovering. “You can’t just bring up hypothetical children when this is the first real conversation we’ve had since sixth year.” She fusses with her coffee cup and taps her foot against the floor. “Don’t look so smug.”

“I’ve managed to surprise you. I’m allowed a moment of smugness.” Justin smirks at her. “It might be the first conversation, but I think it’s going well enough that I was going to suggest we go out for dinner soon. After that, we would date and see if things continue to go well. Sex would happen at some point, of course, and I have a feeling that would go extremely well, so you’d be a fool to let me go once you know how much pleasure I can give you in bed as well as out. And you’re not a fool by any means. So, yes, eventually adorable children with long curly hair and mischievousness that drives us batty.”

“You have it all planned don’t you?” Hermione shakes her head, reluctantly starting to smile because he’s so confident that she can’t help but be amused. “What if I refuse the dinner invitation now that I know your cunning plan to seduce me with your conversation and sexual techniques?”

“You won’t.” He grins. “You’re curious now, and you want to know more about me. You like intelligence and confidence, after all, and I can also understand things that you go through that not many others can because we’re both Muggleborns. I can see in your eyes that you have questions you want to ask, and that means you’ll accept my invite if only to get answers to those.” He studies her a moment. “There’s also the fact that you’re attracted to me, Hermione. You’ve stared at my mouth several times, admired the way my robes fit across my shoulders, and you like my face, scar and all. You want to kiss me, but you’ll wait until after the first date just because you want to prove a point, so that means there’ll be a second date because I really want to kiss you, too, even if it means being patient because you’re stubborn.”

“This is a lot of trouble to go to just because your mum is pestering you to date and give her grandchildren,” Hermione says, not bothering to deny his points because he’s right. He’s very observant, and she likes that even if it means he’s got the upper hand right now.

“God, do you think I’d be risking humiliation by nattering on at you just to please my mum?” Justin shakes his head. “This is about being grown up and no longer being a schoolboy who’s afraid to go after what he wants.”

“Well, you’re wrong,” she informs him primly before finishing her coffee.

“About what?” He frowns and some of his confidence seems to fade away.

“The kissing.” Hermione stands up and leans down to press her lips against his. It’s a chaste kiss, just a quick meeting of lips, but she pulls back feeling rather smug because he’s just staring at her in surprise.

“What was that for?” Justin asks. “Not that I mind, feel free to kiss me anytime you feel the urge, but I didn’t expect it.”

“I might be stubborn, but I’m not foolish.” She picks up her bag and smiles down at him. “Send me an owl, Justin. We’ll go to dinner later this week and see what happens.”

“I’ll owl you as soon as I get home,” he says, having recovered from his surprise now. “I think Delilah would make a good name for our daughter.”

She laughs, leaning down to press a kiss against his jaw before she ruffles his hair and walks away. “Let’s just focus on dinner now. One step at a time.”