The Sorting Ceremony, the welcoming feast, the Headmistress' speech… Even the first classes he taught had been overshadowed by Harry and Hermione's row. Harry's initial week as a teacher had passed without a single word between them, not so much as a glance. Miserable, lonely, and angry. At least he had the company of his old invisibility cloak, and the Marauder's Map with him. He did, though he would never admit it, sometimes stare at Hermione's dot on the map as it traversed through the castle. Most of the time, she was still in her office, probably grading the hundreds of papers she already had assigned her poor students.
Even catching up with Hagrid, who had gathered that he and Hermione weren't on speaking terms, was an unpleasant chore consisting of getting scolded for "acting like a wee child" and "forgetting who your friends are". He had of course not been interested in hearing Harry's side of the story - unlike Neville, who seemingly hadn't heard Hermione's side of anything. The new Professor of Herbology was happy to have his old classmate at Hogwarts, especially as Harry's celebrity rubbed off on him in the eyes of the castle's young occupants. Not many of Neville's lessons passed where his students didn't interrogate him about their adventures as youths, Dumbledore's Army, or the Battle of Hogwarts.
Ron had responded to Harry's first owl, asking how Hermione was doing, revealing that they still had not spoken either. But Harry, not wanting to reveal anything himself, pretended to forget that particular line of inquiry and instead asked about the ministry, the Aurors, and Decima. When he wrote to Ginny and her family, he included drawings he had absentmindedly doodled while thinking of them, such as a sloppily penciled Hungarian Horntail that roared soundlessly as it magically chased a stick-figure Harry flying around on a broom. He wasn't keen on drawing himself, but he wanted little Harry to learn something about his namesake in a fun and personal way.
Writing to Decima was harder. They weren't really close, but he figured he should write something. So he asked her how she was doing, said he missed her, wanted to meet her (careful not to make it sound romantic), and told her to keep Ron in check while he was away. Not really expecting an answer, but it felt good to do his part, at least.
He left the chilly September morning of the Owlery to make his way to his rather comfortable classroom, for the first time to teach the seventh-graders. He had decorated his classroom after drawing inspiration from his old professor Remus Lupin, who used to leave mysterious and sometimes spooky objects out and about. Hanging from the ceiling were several cages filled with exotic and dark magical objects, while a large blackboard was being drawn on by enchanted chalks, leaving white traces that formed magical creatures.
The students had been given cozy chairs and bigger desks than most other classrooms, made possible by Harry's spell to make the room slightly larger, something he was quite proud of. Even Hermione would be proud of him for that, he thought, before reminding himself he was still angry at her.
'Good morning, Professor!' a young brunette Hufflepuff had walked in, almost half an hour early for the class. Harry wasn't surprised, though. It was a common occurrence here for him; students came early and left late from his classes. McGonagall had already complained about it more than once, and Harry was sure the oddity had nothing to do with the quality of his lectures.
'Clarell, sir. Myrna Clarell. Do you mind if I come a bit early? She smiled while holding her books tight to her chest, before her cheeks reddened when she realized what she said. Harry laughed it off, to her apparent further embarrassment.
'Not at all, Miss Clarell. Sit where ever you'd like.'
Save for the intermittent rattling of the cages above them and the occasional timid entrance of a few more students, they sat in silence. Harry, reading through the third grader's essays on Boggarts while doing his best to ignore the stares of Miss Clarell, couldn't help but noticing that it, all of a sudden, was in fact too quiet. And what happened to the bright morning sunlight? A swift wave of his wand lit the candles around the classroom, providing some ambient light and dancing shadows. Expecting equally confused looks from his students, he found… nothing? Empty seats, no sign of a single student having walked in at all. Where Miss Clarell had just sat, staring at him longingly, was an untouched chair and desk. Harry managed to utter a soft "Miss Clarell?" as a cold shudder traveled the length of his spine. He was sure more Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors had taken a couple of seats as well; had the all just went up and left? Surely, he would have heard that.
'Professor? Is everything all right?'
Harry was snapped back to a filled classroom bathed by the autumn sun. Students, including the just missing Myrna Clarell, sat staring oddly at him as if he had just appeared out of thin air. Which he might have done, for all he knew. Suppressing the urge to ask his students if they had seen anything… out of place, he instead decided the matter would have to wait. But who could he ask? Hermione was out of the question. McGonagall? It didn't feel right to lay personal concerns on the already too busy Headmistress. His old friend Neville would listen, though what insight could he give that Harry didn't already know? The answer was already clear to him. How would his red-headed friend react when Harry visited out of the blue?
'Yes, thank you, Miss Clarell. Shall we begin, then?'
'That will be all for today, I'm afraid. Remember, next time I expect all of you to be able to differentiate between general Anti-Jinxes, and specific ones. You will prove this with a two page essay, and showing me, one at a time, that you master the Standard Anti-Jinxes non-verbally. Dismissed!'
A sad sigh spread across the class, though Harry did not know whether it was for the homework or the fact that their time was up for now. It brought a smile to his face. Several girls were giggling in the back of the classroom, while a Mr. Edmonde Elmbrigg approached him, the proud lion of Gryffindor adorning his robes.
'Sorry, Professor. I was just wondering if you could excuse me from the two page essay this week. See, I have Quidditch tryouts to hold soon and I just don't have time for another two-pager so early in on the season -'
It was a bold move, he had to admit. This blond-curled little devil was trying to appeal to Harry's known love of Quidditch, and famous disregard for schoolwork.
'Let me stop you right there, Mr. Elmbrigg. You're a chaser, correct?'
'Yes, sir, Professor.' He answered dutifully.
'And have you scored on Slytherin, yet?'
'Many times, sir!' he glowed with pride.
'And have you won the Quidditch Cup?'
'Two times running, Professor!'
'Then of course, my boy!' he said, doing his best imitation of a certain Professor Slughorn.
'Really?! I mean - I don't have to do it?' he grinned, seemingly not believing what he was hearing.
'No Star-Chaser Quidditch-Captain Gryffindor-Hero has to do a two-pager so early in on the season, what was I thinking?!' Harry rhetorically asked, laying an arm around the boy who now held his chin so high he practically embodied the lion sewn onto his chest.
'Thanks, Professor. I knew you'd understand!'
'Think nothing of it, dear boy. You'll do a four-pager! Shouldn't be a problem, should it?' he said, a sly smirk covering his face end-to-end.
Edmonde laughed, until he realized what his professor had said. The rest of the classroom burst into laughter as Harry's words sunk in, while the Quidditch Captain stood there, frozen in silence at the consequences of his failed attempt.
'And don't you ever try to weasel out of homework again, young man. Ten points from Gryffindor!'
'Professor! I'm sorry, I didnt -'
'Alright, Mr. Elmbrigg. Five points to Gryffindor, for the sheer audacity of your effort. I can respect that, at least. Now go, all of you. I'm sure you lot have things to do and places to be at. Shoo, shoo!' he rushed them out.
A single piece of paper floated through the air as the Hufflepuffs and the Gryffindors scooted out of his classrom, falling slowly towards the stone floor. His old Quidditch reflexes did not let him down as he quickly snatched it out of the air, reading it with some curiosity.
"He's quite handsome, I agree." It read. "I wouldn't mind not defending his dark arts, IYKWIM." Harry had no idea what that acronym meant, but knew it probably wasn't good. Nor was it meant for him to read. He pocketed it up while shaking his head. Girls. Would he ever be rid of them?
As if the gods were mocking him, his girl troubles would only worsen the moment he stepped out of his classroom. Someone crashed into him, causing his glasses to fly far away and them both to fall hard to the ground.
'Watch it, would you?! Accio glasses!' they shot back into his hands and he put them on his nose. The face of Hermione formed as his blurry vision became clearer.
'You watch it, mister.' She responded accusingly.
'Oh, it's you. Not here to apologize, I expect?'
'Me?!' she heaved herself up from the floor, collecting all the papers and books by hand. Harry gentlemanly tried to help her, but she smacked away his hand. 'Why on Merlin's beard would I apologize? What's that then?' she said, picking up the note Harry had just read. 'Handsome? Dark arts, if you know what I mean?'
'I was going to throw that away, Hermione. Why do you know those letters, anyway?' he grabbed it out of her hands and cast Incendio on it non-verbally.
'I don't care. I know the girls fancy you already, that's all they talk about after your classes. And before.' She blushed as Harry looked at her. 'Some of them were and still are friends with your girlfriend Decima, you know. She graduated just last year, I believe.'
Harry could not believe this was what they were talking about, all this time later, having not spoken in such a long time. It didn't matter too much though, he had missed her voice, and her presence. He felt his anger at her waver as he wanted to correct her.
'She's not my girlfriend, Hermione. She's my friend. And I don't care if the girls fancy me or not, I'm their Professor, and they are far too young. Oh don't give me that look!' he added as he knew Hermione what Hermione was going to say. 'Decima had graduated and she's an adult!'
'Well you still slept with her, and you were her boss!'
'That's none of your business, especially not now!'
'And what's that supposed to mean?' she folded her arms. Several students had gathered at the ends of the corridor, afraid to come any nearer. Hermione's books floated in the air above her head.
'You made yourself quite clear, Hermione. You don't want me around you, and you don't want to be my friend. So don't be.' He looked back and forth between the groups of students at either ends. 'Go on, then. You'll all have classes I assume. We're done here.' He stormed off, leaving Hermione and her irrational opinions to herself.
The castle was full of vibrant energy. Students screamed, laughed, kissed, and studied all over the place. Nearly Headless Nick and the other House ghosts greeted Harry as he walked the halls, keeping an eye out for any trouble, but really just enjoying being back where he belonged. Once or twice, a brave student tried chatting him up or asking him if it was true that he had tricked "that cocky Quidditch Captain", yet Harry mostly ignored them and let the students live their lives separate from him, while out an about. His old friend Neville taught in the greenhouses, and Hagrid was busy scaring a bunch of firsties with far too big monsters for their age. McGonagall worked in her office, while Hermione… Hermione grew angrier, and angrier. Harry heard more than once that she was taking out some of her frustrations on students that "lacked discipline" with their schoolwork. Had they still been friendly, Harry might've told her off. But he did not want to do so.
Then it hit him. Ron. He rushed to his office on the second floor, past hollering students and confused paintings.
'Harry? What are you doing here, mate?!' Ron embraced him as Harry stepped into his old office. Nothing much had changed, except one or two new faces. Harry gave a quick thought to his odd behavior earlier in the day, but decided against bringing it up. After all, nothing strange had happened since, and perhaps it had just been a result of stress and bad sleep.
'I wanted to see you, you ol' grump. Haven't seen you in ages, have I? Alright, Jack?' he asked as his old employee walked past them, responding with an incoherent grumble.
'It's only been a week, mate. I just wrote to you, too. Funny timing, innit? How's everything at Hogwarts? Hermione and you behaving?' he looked more curious than he probably wanted to portray, but Harry didn't mind.
'Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that.' Ron eyed him suspiciously. 'We haven't really spoken since the train. Well, except another row just the other day…'
'What?!' Ron yelled out. The rest of the Auror's heads popped out of their cubicles. 'I mean - what? Why? What happened?'
'She's still angry - pissed rather, that I kind of, you know, disappeared for a while. And she said some stuff she shouldn't have said.'
'Like what?' Ron looked completely dumbfounded by this news.
'Well, stuff like that I'm alone, that little Harry and Ginny don't want me in their lives, and neither does she.'
'She did not! No, not Hermione. My Hermione said those things?' Ron said, almost discussing the matter loudly with himself. Harry wasn't sure she in fact was his Hermione any longer, but led that slide for now. 'I'll write to her. I'll make her see sense, don't worry Harry.'
'No need, no need. I just wanted to see you, Ron. I - uh, I missed you. Hogwarts is pretty much the same though.'
'I missed you too, mate. Blimey, and you're allowed to visit here? Don't you have classes?'
'Allowed? Merlin's beard no, I still have the map and the cloak. I'll be back before anyone realizes. Lunch, for old times' sake?'
Of course, Harry wasn't back before anyone realized. The lunch led to a couple of butterbeers, and soon enough half the Auror office was in on a lovely catch-up, with Harry learning all about the latest goings-ons at the ministry. Apparently, a small group of ex-Death Eaters had accidentally revealed themselves in Dublin, causing a minor scandal and some injuries before the Aurors got there. Decima acquitted herself well, as did Ron. Averbo got injured and had spent the whole week at St Mungo's, though it wasn't life threatening. John and Sophia had started dating, while Linus had tendered his resignation. Quite a busy week, by all accounts. Busier than it ever seemed when Harry worked there, for sure. It wasn't until many hours later when Decima reminded Harry that Hogwarts was a place that existed that Harry thought of his duties at the school. Decima gave him a little kiss on the cheek before he left, already finding himself missing his old colleagues more than he thought he ever would. At least he wasn't missing his old workplace, he thought.
As soon as he came back through the secret entrance, Hermione. Arms crossed, glowering at him, with Professor McGonagall standing next to her.
'Potter. I never imagined I would ever, ever, scold you again for wandering about the secret entrances as if you were a child. You are a Professor now, Potter. Act accordingly, or I will put an end to that.'
Harry nodded to his Headmistress, who turned to walk away as Hermione blushed slightly when her and Harry's eyes met.
'I didn't tell, if that's what your wondering.'
'Yeah? Why should I believe you?'
'Because, I don't care if you leave.'
'So what're you doing here?'
'I… I was worried, if you must know.'
'Where were you?'
'I met Ron. And Decima.'
That shut her up quickly. The stubborn Transfiguration's Professor turned from him and stormed off. He couldn't help but feel a slight twinge of guilt. Damn his conscience, he thought. Hermione deserved that.