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Saving Souls & Healing Hearts

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Hermione Jean Granger slipped off her sandals so she could curl her feet underneath her as she attempted to get slightly more comfortable in her desk chair. Her office was entirely quiet except for the steady scratching of her quill against the parchment and the sound always seemed to lull her into a half meditative state.

At this exact moment, Hermione had very few complaints. Sure, there was the barely read letter from the Ministry currently resting in her wastepaper basket that was an annual source of annoyance, the permanent headache that pounded around her temples, and the slightly melancholic air that hung over her like a shroud; but other than that she was perfectly content with her life.

The Hermione Granger of seven years ago, the one trying to live post-Battle of Hogwarts, could not say the same thing. Hermione shook her head slightly as if not allowing thoughts of the past to linger. I am content, she reminded herself. It had become a mantra.

The listlessness that had plagued her in the years post war had finally abated somewhat. She now had all the challenges her mind could handle as she researched essentially whatever she pleased. The thirst for knowledge had quieted down some of the louder voices that haunted her dreams, and sometimes her waking hours, as her mind was focussed on breaking down and solving complex problems and theories. She wouldn’t claim to have an extensive circle of friends but she had somewhat of a social life and a few close companions. She had a house that she adored that was filled with books. She wasn’t attached to the Floo Network but there was one in the village so she could fire call her family members when she wanted to.

Hermione briefly paused her writing to try and remember the last time she’d spoken to Harry. The last time couldn’t be that short chat 5 weeks ago, could it? Hermione tried to think back. Surely Ginny would have owled in outrage if that was the case. Hermione glanced wearily at the pile of mail on the shelf behind her desk. The post was notoriously slow out this far but surely she’d have noticed a letter from the Potters? Hermione went to rise but dismissed the thought. No, she’d have sent a howler, no doubt.

With another head shake Hermione went back to her research. She had two different books and three scrolls all hovering around her eye level over the dozens of papers she had spread across her desk. She had just begun a new research project, after having her last one conclude perfectly on schedule with a new spell of her own design. She had filed the spell with the Patent Office of the Ministry four days ago and just yesterday heard word, from one of the few in her social circle, that the spell had already made its way across the pond and to St. Mungos. Hermione was inordinately pleased, as that had been her intention of the spell, but pleasure only occupied the mind for so long. For Hermione, it seemed to only last for half an outing out with her colleagues and neighbours. She had returned to her home that night, by far the soberest one of the group, and was already pulling books and spare bits of parchment with an idea for a new project.

Hermione shifted in her seat again before unfolding her legs and tucking them underneath herself the other way. She spent most of the time in her office and was used to basically living in this chair. The office was rather grand. The desk where she currently resided had her back to a wall of windows that provided beautiful natural light for reading. The entire side of the office was floor to ceiling bookcases. She had them handmade by local muggle who had tried, multiple times, to install a ladder system for the 12 foot tall bookcases. She had waived him off repeatedly and although he looked sceptically at the Brit he had abided by her wishes. The far side of the office, away from the entrance, was her potions lab. It was spread across three grand tables which held 5 different cauldrons. There was a ward that split her office in half that protected the desk side from the smells and sounds of her potions brewing; although more often than not Hermione lowered the ward as she found the sounds as soothing as she did her quill. The remainder of the office, along the opposite wall, was what she, and anyone who had ever stepped foot into her office, affectionately dubbed the bowling lane. It was the length of the wall and the floor was done in a lighter hardwood than the rest of her office so one could clearly see where it resided. The entire stretch was warded and protected to guard against all kinds of magical mishaps. It was, in essence, where Hermione tested her spells.

Yes, Hermione had no complaints. She had her home and her office, her work and her friends. She was definitely content. Her quill paused and her hands shook lightly. God, she tried so hard to be content. When was it ever going to be enough?

A tap on the window startled the witch and her hands, in a hair trigger response, had her wand in hand faster than she could blink; an owl hovering outside the window tapped its beak against the glass again.

Hermione sighed and shook herself. Clearly she had gotten too close to thinking of her past if she was that jumpy. Her wand was slid back into the sheathe attached to her forearm and a casual wave of her fingers opened the door for the owl to fly in. She made some room amongst the papers on her desk and the owl landed gratefully. Barely another finger twitch and a small container of owl treats and water appeared; the large tawny owl hooted in appreciation and he stuck out his leg for Hermione to take the letter.

She didn’t.

The owl hooted again but Hermione was stuck staring at the red wax seal on the envelope; she knew that seal all too well. The ornate letter H stood out as it was surrounded by four animals; a lion, a snake, a badger and an eagle. Now Hermione’s hands really were shaking. She finally took the envelope simply because the owl raised its head from the water and seemed to be eying her curiously; the witch drew the line at being judged by an owl.

The seal mocked her so she flipped the letter over; there was no address. Just her name. “Nope.” Hermione looked at the owl. “Not happening.” With a wave of her fingers Hermione banished the letter and it disappeared from her hand; after a second thought she swished her fingers again and the unopened pile of mail from behind her vanished as well.

The owl titled its head. “That kind of letter is an at home with an aged Cachaça kind of adventure. So if you were told to wait for a response you’re just going to have to wait.” The owl tilted its head even father and Hermione scowled. “I don’t have to explain myself to you.” She stood, slipped her feet into her sandals, and stormed from her office without a second glance. She waved her hand over her shoulder as she marched down the hallway and reset the wards in place around her office.

She actually very rarely walked this way out of the building; there were anti-apparation jinx’s in place on the building in general but each office allowed for the owner of that office to apparate in. But that would put her at her home in a second. Hermione needed more time to process than that.

Instead she planned to walk out of the research and administration building. The Ministry owned the building but it wasn’t for any specific purpose. Countless and various different professionals and consultants held offices and completed their work at the approval of the Ministry. The secretary and guard on duty seemed a little surprised to see her but they both merely smiled in greeting. Hermione wasn’t sure if they were surprised to see her leaving on foot or surprised the infamous workaholic witch was leaving in the middle of the afternoon. Before she stepped out of the building she waved her hand and instantly transfigured her outfit; lightweight material robes of a light aquamarine colour became short nylon shorts and a white tank top. Her hair, now chopped off to just barely brushing the tops of her shoulders, was pulled back into the tiniest ponytail she could manage. Her slip on sandals had been replaced with bright yellow running shoes.

When she finally stepped outside the humidity, that had taken Hermione at least a year to grow accustomed to, struck her instantly after being so long in her apartment and her office; both with spells to regulate the temperature. Hermione tried desperately to let go of her stress as she looked out into the city that had become her refuge.

The Ministry building she had just stepped out of was one of the very few buildings around that were taller than two stories. The inside, which was impeccably looking, did not match the slightly haggard appearance of the outside. Like all of their buildings the paint was chipped and the buildings were simply built squares for convenience and space; not style.

Hermione stepped out and stretched her legs a little before starting a light jog. She kept to the edge of the paved road having learnt her lesson three years ago that the rules of the road meant little here. There were barely any cars on the road; usually only pickup trucks Hermione thought might be older than her. Instead the norm was bikes. Countless motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles clogged the streets. As Hermione jogged past the town supermarket there were easily 25 two wheeled vehicles parked out front.

Hermione’s muscles finally loosened and the witch picked up her pace a little. She had started running soon after the war and now years of working her muscles had given her a lean, athletic runners build. Walking and running had been an enjoyment on her previous travels; in this town it is a necessity.

She quickly got off the main road and that was the end of the pavement; trodden down dirt and clay was now the road. It was barely over the width of one car; but bikes and mopeds weaved in and out of each other with ease.

The witch had worked up quite the sweat now; she didn’t usually run in the middle of the day and the sun was beaming down on her without mercy. Her skin had tanned remarkably while on her travels but years of South American sun exposure had turned her otherwise pale British skin a lovely tanned, caramel colour. She still couldn’t pass for Brazilian but she didn’t stand out as much as she used to.

Hermione continued her jog, her endorphins kicking in and bringing the first smile of the day to her face, and she headed for a different neighbourhood. The entire town was relatively poor, as this entire state of Brazil was, but the people were friendly and helpful and Hermione thrived on the entire atmosphere of it. Her neighborhood might be magical but no one ever looked twice at the Golden Girl; at least not for those reasons.

The houses thinned briefly and Hermione jogged along of stretch of grass, mostly dried up and dead from the heat with no one taking care of it, and soon her magic registered crossing the wards that kept the muggles from their neighborhood. To most it was unnoticeable but Hermione physically felt the difference in the ward like she was running through slightly thicker air. The houses picked back up again on the other side and now Hermione smiled and nodded or waved at the fellow witches and wizards she saw out and about on their day.

The one story houses were all small and simple rectangles, longer than they were wide, and side by side to each other. Simple wooden slat fences with large gaps or low built brick walls separated the houses from each other and the street. For the most part the windows were simple open holes with no glass or screens; Hermione drew the line somewhere and had hers warded against intruders as well as bugs. Most of the yards, the small patches that there were, were dirt and not grass. The grass was too hard to maintain and while those in the magical neighborhood part of Ariquemes could have used magic the locals simply had no reason to bother. Throughout the dirt road Hermione passed dozens of children running or playing soccer and her smile returned at the sight. This was what she had done everything for; to be peaceful and free and happy. It made everything worth it.

Hermione finally reached her house after a 30 minutes run. The hair that had escaped the short pony tail had plastered to her sweaty face and her tank top was sticking to her back. “I do not believing my eyes!” Hermione was smiling at the thick Brazilian accent before the sentence was even finished. She leaned her thighs up against the brick wall, that did not even reach her belly button, and smiled at her neighbor.

Their houses were both tight to this side of the property line while the outside, narrow piece of property that ran along their houses were on the opposite sides. Hermione could, and frequently did, lean outside of her kitchen window and pass fruits and treats to the woman’s various children reaching out through their window to her. “What don’t you believe?” Hermione smiled at the slightly younger than middle-aged woman. She was wearing simple, brown leather sandals and a bright pink, very light material dress that flowed down her slender but curvy frame and reached half-way down her thighs. Her black hair was pulled away from her face in a no non-sense bun and multiple bangles jingled from her wrists. Her face was round and warm and the laugh lines around her eyes and mouth punctuated her humorous nature. Although perhaps it was the constant groaning from any of her 4 children who thought their mother was not funny at all that kept Hermione laughing.

“I can’t believe to see minha branca not working! Are you very sick?” Larissa Sousa stopped waving her wand against her front porch, which she had been sweeping, and eyed her essentially 5th and oldest child.

“I’m not sick, thank you very much. Can’t I take an afternoon off?” Hermione chuckled.

“Aye, you could. Buts it’s, how you say, inédito?”

The younger witch rolled her eyes playfully. “It is not unheard of.”

Larissa pointed her finger at Hermione in a gesture she was very familiar with; having seen it used on herself and the woman’s children nearly daily. “It has no happened before. So tell me what’s happened?”

Hermione could see the genuine concern behind the playful glare and Hermione simultaneously felt the urge to flee and spill to the kind woman she considered family. “Nada aconteceu. Apenas uma carta de casa. [Nothing has happened. Just a letter from home].”

Larissa eyed the younger witch carefully. She knew there was many secrets the foreign girl had not shared. She had no desire to push, but she wished that she could erase the darkness she sometimes saw shadowed in her eyes. Instead she gave her an affectionate smile. “At least you no longer destroy the Português.”

Hermione laughed and Larissa considered it an accomplishment. “You mean like you butcher Inglês?”

The woman gasped and started cursing in rapid fire Portuguese but Hermione merely laughed harder and waved the woman off and she headed for her house. “You is coming to dinner here tonight! The kids would love to see their branca and you has no excuses!”

Hermione waved again to let the woman know she had heard her and she waved her fingers in a complex pattern to release the locks and wards to let her into her home.

Her running shoes were slipped off and kicked in the general direction of her shoe rack and she padded barefoot across the beige tiled floor. Her entry way, like most Brazilian homes, led right into the kitchen. It was, after all, the heart of a home. Hermione’s kitchen was neat and well-kept but simple. She had a nook underneath the window where she ate most of her meals as her three seater, wooden kitchen table was usually full of books and parchment and, like now, unopened mail. She opened her refrigerator and pulled a bottle of water free while waving her fingers; a package of breakfast sausages and a carton of eggs flew from the fridge and landed gently on the counter where they began unwrapping themselves. A copper pan unhooked itself from where it hung over the sink and dropped gently onto the stove; another flick of her fingers and the stove had lit and a slice of butter flew from the still open fridge and landed in the pan.

Confident her breakfast/lunch was well in hand Hermione headed further into her house, passed her home office/potions lab, and into her bedroom. With a flick she banished her sweaty clothes to a hamper, her wand sheathe, which she had rendered invisible when she changed her robes for clothes, to the dresser and headed for the shower.

With gentle water pouring over her Hermione tried to let go of the stress that had punctured her since the owl had arrived with her mail. She couldn’t fathom why Hogwarts, she assumed McGonagall, would send her post suddenly out of the blue now. A part of her, the witch who had fled Great Britain after the war with nightmares and PTSD wanted to burn the letter and forget its existence. But the other part of her, the inquisitive, logical and rational girl that had led her to even become the brains behind the Golden Trio, knew she would not be satisfied until she knew all the facts contained within the letter.

When she stepped out of the shower a quick drying charm was used on her body but not her hair. While it was shorter and easier to manage than when she’d been a teen it still required some work. She lathered a conditioner and hair care potion, one of her own design, onto her fingertips and massaged it through her brown locks. Her hair was a few shades lighter than it was when she left Britain, also attributed to the sun, and it was at least now not the constant annoyance it was once.

The witch pulled on another outfit, a long billowy skirt and another tank top, left the sheathe but placed her wand in her back pocket and headed back to the kitchen where she could smell her food. Just as she was plating her simple meal a slight flutter of air turned her head to the window and brought another smile to her face. “There you are. I was wondering where you’d gotten to.”

An elegant and proud bird now perched on the window sill; a white-necked hawk. Its body and head were pure snowy white but its wings were a shimmering slate grey. The bird hopped a few times to get further inside the house and with one flap of its wings it glided up and onto the witch’s shoulder. The sharp talons, capable of ripping through its prey, gently gripped the witch’s body with only enough pressure to remain balanced. Hermione ripped a piece of sausage in half and finger fed the bird. He cawed gently in her ear and Hermione, once she wiped off her greasy fingers, stroked him gently underneath his beak. As always, Hermione felt slightly more at peace in the birds presence. “What have you been up to, Oz? Hmm?”

After he had stolen another piece of sausage he took off from her shoulder and landed on his perch across the room. It was a simple wooden structure that mimicked a slight tree; Larissa’s oldest son had made it for her. Oz preened his feathers while she ate and then Hermione set the dishes into washing themselves in the sink.

With nothing else to distract her Hermione settled at her kitchen table and pulled the post towards her. Well, I guess there’s a few more things to distract me. The first piece of post was skimmed and then banished to the trash; it was simply a receipt from the Patent Office at the Brazilian Ministry. The next two letters followed the way of the first; one was a notice from her office building concerning an explosion last week and another was from the wizard who had caused the explosion promptly apologizing for disrupting any other persons work. The last few were junk advertisements. Well, that killed 4 minutes. Seeming far braver than she felt Hermione snatched the final letter and used her wand as a letter opener quickly so she didn’t have to face the Hogwarts seal. The parchment was thick and high quality and one glance at the clear, concise handwriting let Hermione know she had been correct about who had mailed her. Feeling as if the life she had finally settled into was about to be rocked the witch started to read:

Dear Ms. Granger,

I hope I find you in good health and pleasant straights. I have forthwith respected your wishes and have such refrained from writing you before now but circumstances have changed and now I feel I must.
I will admit, firstly, that I have kept an eye on your travels and your exploits. I do not think you will begrudge me that. I am of course proud of all that you have accomplished. I have read your research and your publications and delighted when news of the completion of your Masteries reached me. I have even read a few things which you did not claim responsibility for (but I have read a great many of your essay’s and I like to think I can recognize my favourite students works even hidden behind an alias).
All of this brings me to the point of me finally breaking my silence and sending an owl to find you. I have finally admitted, or dare I say been coerced into claiming, that I can no longer continue to fulfill the roles at Hogwarts of both Headmistress and Transfiguration Professor. In truth, had you been more readily available I might have admitted this sooner. Hermione, there never was, nor I doubt there ever will be, anyone I would rather hand over my title of Transfiguration professor to than you.
I know you said you did not want to come home and I respect your wishes. However, I also felt it was my duty to present you with all of your choices. Teaching is a pleasure but it is also a gift; one I know that can be mutually beneficial. I know that you could do many amazing things for the students of this school. But I also believe that the students could do something amazing for you in return. You have a talent for learning and teaching and every professor who was honoured to have you in their class, including myself, knows this.
This is me formally offering you the position if you so desire it. It is May 24th as I write this (as I do not know how long it will take my owl to find you) and either way I respectfully ask that you send your answer by June 30th so I will be able to fill the position if you decline. However, I truly hope you will consider the offer.
I kindly await your return owl.

Kind regards,

Minerva McGonagall
Headmistress

Hermione heard a warning caw from Oz and glanced up at the owl that had flown through her open apartment window and landed on her table after clearly following her home. “Well. Shit.”

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

Laughter and thumping footsteps reverberated around the household and Larissa shouted warnings over her shoulder in Portuguese. “An animal pack those ones are.” She huffed to the younger witch seated at her table and sipping cachaça.

Hermione smiled beautifully. “I think they’re precious.” Matheus, Larissa’s 14 year old, ran past the two older witches and swooped down to kiss Hermione’s cheek on the way out the front door.

Seconds later Danilo, Matheus’s 12 year old younger brother, sped by after his sibling yelling, “What is pre-sous mean?”

Algo que você não é jovem! [Something you are not, young man!]” Larissa screeched after her sons. Hermione simply laughed harder and swallowed the remainder in her glass. Still shaking her head at her sons’ antics Larissa nodded her head at the empty tumbler. “Again?”

“No, no again.” Hermione teased. After chuckling she corrected, “Another. And no I would not like another. I may not have far to go home later but I do need to work in the morning.”

Larissa scoffed. “Says who? The way I sees it no one but you would know if you no work tomorrow.”

“Exactly.” Hermione deadpanned. “I would know.” She sighed. “Besides, my work is all I have.” Hermione was unprepared for the slap that assaulted the back of her head.

Chega com essa história de ter pena de si mesma! Agora, diga-me, por que essa carta de casa te deixou tão nervosa? [Enough of that pity party right now. Now tell me, why did this letter from home get you so worked up?]” The Portuguese was rapid fire and Hermione felt properly chastised.

“Não quis dizer isso. Eu sei que tenho sua família, é só… [I didn't mean that. I know I have your family, it's just…]” Hermione sighed and looked around the home she knew as well as her own to avoid Larissa’s gaze. It was remarkably similar to her own, just a little more worn down, a little less tidy and a lot more lived it. There were signs of children and life everywhere. “É apenas…e-I jus…I don’t know, Issa. I left Britain for a reason and now…people are asking me to come back. My family has always asked me to come back."

“Well. Is the reason you left gone now?"

Hermione looked up startled. “What?"

“You left for a reason. Is reason gone now?”

Hermione tried to give the question the appropriate amount of thought. Finally she reached for her glass and rolled her eyes when it was empty. Larissa was already waiting with a refill. “I don’t know.”

Larissa arched an eyebrow. “Minha branca-”

Hermione cut the older witch off before she could start a full lecture. “I mean I really don’t know. I left Britain because, well, I didn’t feel safe there. I couldn’t breathe. Everything reminded me of the war. I couldn’t see the good things anymore. I saw death and destruction everywhere I went. I left because I needed to see new things. Things where I hadn’t seen gore and blood and bodies.” This was the most Hermione had ever talked to her about the war. She looked up into the beautiful, dark mocha features that were patiently waiting without judgment. “I had to leave because I couldn’t be there.”

“Well,” the woman put her hand on Hermione’s gently, “then there is answer.”

Hermione was, by all accounts, brilliant; and she looked at the woman utterly confused. “Huh?”

“You left because you could no stay. You were, uh, ghosted?”

Hermione gave a wry grin. “Haunted.”

“Sim, haunted. You was haunted. So, you go back. Test it. Easy.”

“Test it?”

Larissa smiled like she would when teaching one of her children their schoolwork. “Sim. Go back and see if you can breathe. If you can see things else the death and the bodies. See good things. If you can, its time you go home. If you can’t, you no ready.”

Hermione stared at the woman like she was having an epiphany; which she likely was. She was only jerked out of her reprieve when small hands slapped down on her bare thigh. Hermione grinned and scooped up the little toddler. “Como você está, minha anjinha? [How are you, little angel?]” She cooed. Lorena, Larissa’s youngest, was wearing a little sundress and her curled, black hair was split and pulled into pigtails.

The three year old giggled as she stood on Hermione’s legs and was supported by strong hands under her arms. Hermione bounced her legs a little and she giggled again. “Branca, de novo de novo!”

Hermione rolled her eyes but heeded the little girls request and bounced her again. “Couldn’t your sons have taught her my actual name?”

Larissa grinned. “You the only white girl they ever seen. That is your name.”

Hermione scowled again. “Just for that, I’m stealing your daughter.” Hermione stood and hitched the toddler to her hip.

“No, not that one, she’s the only one I like!” Larissa laughed as she followed the duo out the door.

Hermione watched the two boys point and fawn over Oz in the sky before she whistled sharply. The hawk glided lower and lower in circles before landing on the brick wall between their houses. The boys had been taught by Hermione not to run over to the predator bird. Instead they approached cautiously and waited for Oz to spread a wing for them to stroke.

Lorena wiggled incessantly until Hermione set her down and she ran over to her brothers and the bird on slightly unsteady legs. Matheus picked up his sister and carefully held her wrist steady so she could pet the bird too.

Hermione watched the children and her familiar and a sinking feeling nearly overtook her. “I have nephews and nieces I’ve never met in person before. Did you know that?” Larissa shook her head at the translation. “Afilhados e afilhadas. I think you were right. I think I have to try.”

“Good.” Larissa watched her children with a laser gaze that would be appropriate on the bird they were playing with.

“You know Oz won’t hurt them.”

“Pshsst. I is making sure my demônio children don’t hurt him.”

Chapter Text

Hermione was once again seated at her desk but this time there was no steady scratching of her quill. There were no levitating books to be read or research to sink into because Hermione Granger was, for once, not working. She was stalling. The witch cursed her lack of Gryffindor courage and rose from her chair to tinker with her potions across her office.

She had a Wolfsbane potion near the end of brewing that she didn’t fiddle with other than to check on it. The Potions Master of the Ministry was currently on holiday and Hermione graciously offered to brew the complicated potion while he was away for the three registered werewolves in the region who required it.

In the cauldron beside it Hermione had one of her experimental potions brewing. So far, everything had gone according to plan and the lime green, thick liquid was in a brewing stasis. Her plan with the potion, if it worked, was to be used in conjunction with one of her spells to help promote mental growth in magically damaged brains. Hermione leaned over and wafted the scent of the potion towards her nose; it smelt quite like its closest predecessor with a hint of a few other things. Those “other things” Hermione hoped would lead to breakthrough. The next table held the cauldrons with her regulars; Headache Away potion and a Dreamless Sleep draught. Hermione had tinkered with the Dreamless Sleep to get rid of some of its more addictive qualities; an addiction was the last thing she needed.

Hermione chopped a few ingredients with experienced hands that wielded a knife as effectively as a wand and measured out a few vials for her kits but she was frustratingly on top of her work and there was little do to.

It had been 5 days since she decided to take Larissa’s advice and return to Britain to see how she felt about it. 5 days of imagining and she had done absolutely nothing about it. She knew it was slightly more complicated than just jumping into the nearest Floo; there was a rather important fire call she had to make first. That was the part Hermione was dreading.

A hoot from behind her broke her reverie and Hermione groaned. “You’re becoming a pain, you know.” Hermione turned and glared at the owl perched in her window. “I’m going to tell Oz to get rid of you.” The nameless owl tilted its head, seemingly in challenge and Hermione groaned. She would never hurt a bird; even if it had taken to following her around and judging her for her lack of courage.

“Fine. You know what, I’ll go call right now.” Hermione snapped and for the second time the owl “chased” her from her office. Hermione headed down to the common room of the office building where there was a Floo network set up. It had Ministry restrictions on it so one could not actually travel, but they could make a call.

Hermione burst into the room cursing about the owl and startled the woman, who in turn startled Hermione, who was already perched half in the fire. The Brazilian woman pulled her head from the fire and smiled in Hermione’s direction once she gathered herself and recognized her. “Com licença, senhora Granger, você [Mistress Granger, pardon me, do you]-”

Hermione held up her hand to stop her and gave the witch an extremely apologetic look. “I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have barged in, please continue your call. Mil desculpas! [I’m so sorry!]” Hermione apologized again to the bemused woman and fled the room back to her office intending to have a very serious conversation with a rather indignant owl.

Several hours later found Hermione still in her office and still not being productive. The owl had given up and flown out the window for wherever he spent his time when not bothering Hermione after the witch blamed him repeatedly for her seeming like a wreck in front of a colleague. Hermione had serious plans to complain to McGonagall about him when she finally spoke to her. At the rate it was taking her to make this first fire call she might not have to worry about that until next year.

Hermione looked down at the papers on her desk and found that she had been absentmindedly doodling. It wasn’t a rare occurrence; the witch often found ideas and theories scribbled down wherever without clear direction from her mind. But this wasn’t a theory:

First Years- Teach Soto Tri-Point Theorem as well as Anglers Wrist Pose
Second Years-Must elaborate on Bashara Spectrum of Irregularity together w/ Jones Quartet Laws
Third Years- Include history of Balta Perspective Spells which gave rise to traditional human transfiguration

She was making bloody curriculum plans. Hermione seemed to find some spine in the words she had written and she stuffed the paper into her robes inner pocket and apparated to her home. She changed out of her work robes and into a simple outfit. Before she could chicken out again she stepped out the door of her home and whistled sharply for Oz. He seemed to know when she called, wherever he was, and he floated down to her shoulder by the time she had made it to the end of their dirt road. She stroked him absentmindedly and tried to draw strength from the bird. He tapped his beak against her skull several times and Hermione chuckled. “Don’t hurt that brain, boy, it’s what feeds you.” She turned and continued up another road smiling at the few people she saw, who were used to her walking with a hawk on her shoulder, until she came upon the building on the corner.

It was larger than any of the homes around but it was still only one story. Hermione usually giggled at calling it a building because it had no walls at all. There were a few brick pillars that held the roof over its head but otherwise it was completely open. It had no signage anywhere; it was a just given that people knew what the place was. The immediate corner closest to the roads intersection held a pool table and the rest was just tables until the bar along the back; also along the one, somewhat half wall they actually had.

Andressa’s was the only bar in the magical part of Ariquemes; and she kept a pretty steady clientele. Andressa, the fifty year old owner was behind the bar and she caught sight of Hermione before she’d even crossed the threshold of the place.

“Granger.” Andressa seemed surprised to see her but pleased. She was almost frighteningly tall for a woman and her frame was just as lean, but more muscular, than Hermione’s. She had a bright orange billowing dress on, in the style most local women from Brazil wore, but unlike the other locals her black, and slightly greying hair, was buzzed almost entirely off. The woman could be just as gruff as her many burly regulars but Hermione knew the woman had a sweet spot for her. Her English was impeccable, the best the Brit ever heard outside the Ministry, and she suspected the woman had spent time outside of Brazil.

With a final caw Oz took off from her shoulder and flapped steadily back into the sky. When Hermione took her eyes from him she saw Andressa had poured them each a shot of cachaça; all before Hermione even made it to the bar. When she finally slid onto a bar stool Hermione clinked shot glasses with the woman and threw back the hard liquor with ease. “What are you doing in my bar in the middle of the day in the middle of the week?” Her voice was demanding but Hermione could sense her genuine concern.

“Family.”

Andressa looked up sharply from where she’d been cleaning the bar with a rag. “Larissa and the kids okay?”

Hermione smiled at the miscommunication. “They’re wonderful. I meant my family in Britain.”

Andressa went back to wiping the bar before she cleaned up their empty shot glasses. “I see. So have you come to drink or is there something I can do for you?”

Hermione nodded her head back towards the woman’s office. “I was hoping I could use your Floo.”

The Brazilian paused. “You can branca, but…if the Ministry comes sniffing around-”

“No, no. Sorry. I don’t intend to go to Britain. I just need to make a call.”

Andressa scoffed and flipped the rag over her shoulder. “I told you, whenever you want, you don’t have to ask.”

“I know.” Hermione admitted. Andressa suddenly smiled like a Cheshire cat.

“Ahh, I see. You’re stalling.”

“I am not.” Hermione huffed. “Can’t I talk to you because I haven’t seen you in a few days?”

Branca. Get your ass in my office and talk to your family. Sort out whatever is going on. And I’ll have a glass waiting for you out here. M’kay?”

Hermione huffed again but slid off her bar stool. “Pushy, pushy.” Hermione opened the door to the office and cast a privacy spell once she was in. Andressa’s office was where she usually made her calls. It was more cramped than the office building’s common room but there was much quicker access to alcohol when it was over.

Like everyone Hermione had ever seen Andressa kept her Floo powder in a pot beside the fire place. The witch tried to ignore the fact that she was shaking when she threw the powder in. When the flames turned green and shot high Hermione got down on her hands and knees. Speaking clearly she intoned, “The drawing room, The Potters Place.” Hermione then began the uncomfortable sensation of sticking her head into the spinning fireplace while her legs remained stationary on the floor.

When Hermione blinked the ashes from her eyes she was looking into an expensive, but tastefully decorated, drawing room; the only room of the house Hermione recognized. Hermione briefly took in the hardwood floors and the comfortable leather furniture before her eyes were locked on the child inquisitively peeking around the corner of an ottoman.

As she always did when she caught sight of the young boy with the messy black hair and the bright green eyes Hermione broke into a wide grin. “Hello, James. Do you remember me?” Hermione always had the fear when she called that he wouldn’t.

But to her relief James smiled back and crept around the ottoman further. “Aunt ‘Mione.”

Hermione was about to respond when she heard quick footsteps, from someone who was clearly close enough to hear, and suddenly a tall and thin but athletically built woman with dead straight, long red hair was standing behind her son.

“Hermione?”

“Hullo, Ginny.” Hermione looked up in hazel eyes that were both furious and relieved.

“Little man, go and find your daddy please. He’s in the back.” Ginny ran her fingers through her sons hair before he scampered off and left Hermione to face the wrath of a furious redhead.

Ginny stalked to the fireplace in quick steps and threw herself onto the footstool conveniently beside the fireplace. “What the bloody hell Hermione!” Ginny hissed. “What in Merlin’s name is wrong with you? Do you have any bloody idea how worried we’ve been?” It seemed Ginny wanted to get all her yelling and swearing out before her son returned. “You know Harry hates it that he can’t get in touch with you so we trust you to do it. Do you know how long it’s been since you’ve contacted us?! Do you? We’ve sent two letters! Harry was about to contact the Ministry!”

“Ginny.” Something about the brunettes defeated voice cut through the redhead’s furious rant.

“Oh Merlin, are you alright 'Mione? Why haven’t you called us in so long?”

“I don’t have an excuse.” Hermione was on the brink of tears. “Except for the last week or so. I…I was scared.”

“Oh honey.” Ginny looked like she was ready to climb through the fireplace to comfort her. It was both during her rages and her soothing moments that Hermione could clearly see Molly Weasley. “What’s happened?”

Hermione was saved replying by running footsteps and suddenly her best friend, her brother, had charged into the room. “Hermione?” He looked like he always did. He had clearly just been around the house as he was in muggle jeans and a jumper. His hair, as unruly as ever, was a little shorter than she’d last seen it but overall he looked well and happy. Well, other than the concern blazing through him.

“Harry.” Hermione breathed. Ginny slid over and made room on the footstool for her husband to sit and Harry leaned his elbows on his knees so his face was more down toward her.

“Hermione are you alright? Has something happened?”

“Something has happened, but it’s not necessarily bad.” Hermione quickly finished when the wizard looked like he was ready to grab his wand and leap into battle. Hermione was always filled with such warmth when she saw her family; it usually wasn’t until after the conversation that the guilt kicked in.

“Tell us, 'Mione.” Harry’s voice was gentle. “We’ll help in any way we can.”

“Well. The thing is. See…”

Ginny lost patience first. “Hermione. We can’t help if we don’t know what’s going on.”

“McGonagall has offered me the position of Transfiguration Professor.” Hermione blurted. Husband and wife had two totally different reactions.

“Are you going to take it?!” The redhead screeched.

“Do you want me to have a conversation with her about not respecting your wishes?” Harry interjected over his wife.

The brunette sighed and shifted her legs around before they fell asleep; and to give herself a moment. “No, Harry, that’s not necessary. I’m actually…”

“Oh my god, you’re considering it!” Ginny exclaimed again and Harry put a hand on her arm.

“Love, don’t push. Just tell us, Hermione.” His voice was filled with such affection and comfort. Knowing he would respect her decision either way was what let her continue.

“I am considering it. Just in the hypothetical.” Hermione quickly clarified. “I just…I can see myself doing it. I can picture myself as a professor.”

“So can I.” Harry’s green eyes displayed nothing but trust and respect.

“I just…don’t know if I can actually do it. Not teach. I mean actually come back to Britain…and to Hogwarts.”

“I understand that completely, 'Mione. What are you thinking?” He knew his sister well enough to know she already had a plan.

“Well, I think I should come visit.” Hermione looked up at the married couple; Ginny seemed to be trying to contain her excitement but was practically vibrating on the stool and Harry looked both thrilled and concerned.

“Hermione, you know you are always, always, welcome to visit here whenever you want. You don’t have to even ask.” He hesitated as if trying to find the words. “Are you sure you’re ready?”

“No.” Hermione was frank. “That’s why I’m doing this. I won’t know if I don’t come back and try it.”

“Then we would love to have you come home.” Harry smiled.

“You’ll stay here, of course.” Ginny didn’t even give the brunette an option. “When were you thinking?”

“Well, I figured I should give you both some notice. But I’m not currently working on any serious projects right now. In two days the potions I’m waiting on will be ready to bottle and then I’ll be free.”

Harry smiled widely. “Come Friday then. I’ll let the boys at work know I’ll be doing some work from home that day.”

“And I only have a practice on Sunday.” Ginny added.

“Okay. Perfect.” Hermione’s smile slightly faded. “Um, guys. I know it’s a big deal I’m coming home and everything but…I don’t know if I can handle,”

“Just family.” Harry was quick to catch on. “No big party, no stress, definitely no media. The Golden Girl isn’t coming home, okay? Just 'Mione is.”

“Okay. Perfect.” Hermione repeated. “I’ll take care of the Ministry visit on this end and let them know I’ll be making an international Floo trip on Friday morning.”

“I can’t imagine they’ll be any trouble about it but if there is give Harry a call and we’ll sort it from this end.” The redhead finally gave in to her desire to squeal. “I can’t wait.” She gushed. “I’m so excited.” Her look became slightly more pensive at the nervous look on her oldest girlfriends face. “I’m also extremely proud of you for even considering this, 'Mione.”

Harry beamed at his wife and Hermione blushed. “I’ll see you guys on Friday.” They said their goodbyes and Hermione finally pulled her head from the fireplace. She was rather dizzy and took a few deep breaths before standing and stretching out her legs.

This was it. No turning back. In two days’ time she’d be back in Britain.

Hermione left the office and headed straight for Andressa who was pouring cachaça from a top shelf bottle.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

The Brazilian Ministry of Magic is, fittingly, in the Brazilian capital, Brasília. It is one of the largest cities in all of Brazil and on an average day it boasts almost four million people in its city streets. Though the metropolis is a stunning example of futuristic urban utopia, the city is also criticized for its waste of money in comparison to the poorer states of Brazil. It might, however, surprise a magical tourist that the Ministry of Magic is actually not at all in the middle of this urban sprawl; instead it is right in the middle of the Brasília National Park. To Muggles the 69,000 acre park consists of beautiful hiking and biking trials, nature preserves for countless indigenous species that can no longer be found elsewhere in Brazil, and the most frequented watering hole in the capital. To the magical community it was also home to the 12 story building that housed their government. The building itself was in a desolate and seemingly overgrown section of the park with every muggle repelling and invisibility charm known to wizard kind on it. Hermione had, on her arrival to Brazil, taken the visitors entrance that led out through the park. The park was unquestionably beautiful and Hermione had wanted to spend days exploring. She had stayed for a few in the countries capital just for that reason but soon her wanderlust had settled in and she found herself touring the country. It was over 2000 miles to the west when she finally found herself a home in the much poorer district of Rondônia in the village of Ariquemes.

On this particular morning however, Hermione simply apparated from her kitchen. The main lobby of the building, where the apparation point was, was done in light green and blue tiles with natural wood accents and practically floor to ceiling windows that allowed one to look out on the national park. Hermione moved along to the elevators after checking quickly at the registry: Floo Network, 6th floor.

It took about halfway across the lobby for someone to do a double take at her. She sighed inwardly. She didn’t know if people, especially now in Brazil, looked at her because of her academic accomplishments that brought praise to this country, or her Golden Girl status. She disliked both but would much prefer the former to the latter. Hermione had effectively learned walking quickly with a smile but not stopping for anyone to chat about anything was the best technique to avoid them.

She stepped out onto the floor and quickly noticed that again, one whole wall was windows looking out into nature. It made the entire space look more open and friendly than the British Ministry. She quickly saw a sign and headed down another hallway that opened up into multiple office doors before she was stopped by a secretary who, if Hermione was not mistaken, was younger than her. “Posso ajudá-la, senhora?” The girl continued shuffling papers without looking up.

Hermione’s eye twitched slightly at being called ma’am at 26 but she brushed it off. “Meu nome é Hermione Granger e eu sou-,”

The young girls head snapped up. “You’re the Hermione Granger?” Her voice had gotten somewhat shrill. Like most Ministry workers her accent was thick but her English was passable.

The brunette sighed. “Yes. I have an appointment,”

“With me, I believe.” Hermione looked behind the secretary to a 30 something Brazilian man with a kind smile. “Right this way, Mistress Granger.”

“Hermione is fine.” She replied automatically as she followed the man back into his office. He had a corner office, which was mostly windows, and it was otherwise decorated with local Brazilian flavour. He was wearing professional black robes of the typical lightweight material but Hermione caught sight of a picture on his shelf of him and several other men in Hawaiian shirts and shorts.

“And my name is Carlito Peralta.” His voice was smooth and Hermione again noticed his genuine smile. “You’ll kindly excuse Carley out there.” He nodded his head back towards the secretary as he shut his office door. He looked a little sheepish. “She’s young, and I think she still gets a little star struck.”

“It’s alright.” Hermione gave a tight smile. “I’m rather used to it.”

Carlito nodded politely. “I can imagine. Now, what can I do for you at the International Floo department?” He chuckled slightly and it showed perfect white teeth. “I’m going to assume you’d like to make an international Floo?”

“I would.” Hermione smiled. “I have the paperwork already.” With a flick of her fingers it appeared on the man’s extremely tidy desk.

His eyes widened slightly at the casual display of wandless and non-verbal magic before he settled himself at his desk and picked it up. “Prepared. I like it. I’m sure it’s all in order. You’re going to,” his eyes quickly scanned the document, “Britain?”

“Yes. I still hold citizenship in Britain and I am living here under valid work visa.”

“That makes the legality easy enough. I can set you up a Floo right away. Where are you departing from?”

“Andressa’s Taberna in Ariquemes.”

“Alright.” He was writing quickly on the bottom of Hermione’s form with a simple grey quill. “And arriving?”

“The drawing room of the Potters Place in Godric’s Hollow.” To his credit, Carlito didn’t react to the name.

“Okay then. How long were you planning on staying?”

“Um.” For the first time Hermione hesitated. “Perhaps a week? Maybe shorter.”

Carlito looked up from the parchment but only gave her another kind smile. “How about I set it up to open again in one week. If you’d like to leave earlier just fire call me and I’ll take care of it.”

Hermione gave him a grateful expression. “Thank you.”

“Of course. And you’re leaving tomorrow?” He continued writing when she nodded. “Excellent. Okay then, the Floo in Andressa’s Taberna will be open to make an international Floo tomorrow.”

“Thank you so much.”

“Of course. Is, um, there anything else I can do for you?” Hermione shook her head and rose from her chair and he quickly followed suit. She thanked him again and went to leave when he spoke again. “I uh,” she arched an eyebrow and waited but he seemed to have spoken without thinking and slightly froze, “hope you have a nice trip,” was what he finished with a little lamely. His smile was slightly crooked though, like he knew it and was making fun of himself. “Uh, maybe I’m a little star struck too.” He shrugged while fidgeting slightly with his robes and Hermione left the office chuckling slightly.

At least he hadn’t called me ma’am.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

“Are you ready, Oz?” Hermione asked the bird resting on his perch. He gave her a look that quite plainly said he thought his witch was losing it. “I know I’ve said that 4 times already, Oz. I’m just trying to be organized.” She looked down at the suitcase and bag that had been packed since yesterday. “I could have forgotten something.” She insisted.

“Forgotten your head maybe.” A laughing, heavily accented voice broke through Hermione’s one sided conversation with her familiar. The younger witch smiled at Larissa who leaned her entire upper body through the window. “He ever answer?”

“Sometimes.” Hermione looked fondly at her bird as he preened. “I wasn’t going to forget to come and say goodbye.”

“Pshsst. Wasn’t worried bout that. Worried you be stalling.”

“I’m not stalling! Why do people keep saying that to me?” Hermione tried to keep a straight face but cracked quickly under the arched eyebrow of her friend. “Fine, I’m coming.” Hermione effortlessly shrank her luggage and slipped it into her pocket. She had debated for nearly an hour about what to wear but in the end decided not to change herself. She was wearing threadbare, jean shorts and a black tank top with her usual black sandals. Her hair was straight and one side was tucked behind her ear with the other free flowing. “Let’s go, Oz.” With one flap the bird had glided over and landed on her shoulder.

Hermione left the house after one last glance around and she placed the wards protecting her home. Larissa met her out front with her children. Matheus had Lorena sitting on his shoulders as he held her ankles to keep her situated. Danilo was holding a soccer ball in his hands and Larissa’s other daughter, Suzana, was shyly holding a book pressed to her chest. “Suzana, senti sua falta na última vez que estive aqui. Você estava estudando? [I missed you last time I was over. Were you studying?]”

“Girl is like you. Always at that house school. Always studying.” Larissa rolled her eyes at her 9 year old but it was said with great pride.

Hermione beamed at her. “That’s because she’s brilliant.” She spoke slowly knowing the girl’s grasp of English wasn’t perfect, before switching to Portuguese. “É por isso que você é minha favorita. [That’s why you’re my favourite.]” Hermione mock whispered.

Both boys gave disgruntled exclamations and Hermione winked at them. “Are you here to walk me to the Floo?”

Larissa grunted. “More like make sure you really go.”

With a final eye roll the group began their walk to Andressa’s. Suzana, once she got talking, was chatting Hermione’s ear off about what she was learning. Larissa went to interrupt but Hermione shushed her; listening made her heart feel lighter. Matheus soon traded his youngest sister off to his mother and the boys took off ahead with the soccer ball. Screeches from Larissa to mind the bikes on the road went utterly unheeded and Larissa waved them off as a lost cause.

“Hey, Issa?”

“Hmm?”

“You know even if I decide to take the job offer, this will still be my home, right?” Hermione hoped the woman knew she wasn’t only talking about Brazil.

“Pshsst. Like you could ever leave here.”

Andressa had already wrangled the two boys in her bar by the time the girls made it into view. Matheus was unsteadily holding a pool cue and getting direction from an older, shirtless man with a completely unruly grey beard. Danilo was latched onto the back of a younger man who was probably the bearded man’s son. Hermione smiled wide instantly. In small, poor communities like this one it really did take a village. Children were taught and loved by everyone and Hermione was ever so thankful she had ended up here. In Britain your young children being suddenly in the hands of random men would be cause for panic and likely a duel; here there was natural trust and no one looked twice.

“One drink before you go.” Andressa was already moving to get the bottle. Cheers and well wishes to her vacation were passed around with shot glasses to the family, Andressa and the two men who just happened to be there; but that was Brazil. After a shot, and then another, Hermione found herself wrapped in Larissa’s comforting embrace.

“You be fine, branca.” Hermione was grateful she didn’t try to be more sentimental than that or Hermione might have cried. Hermione released her to get hugs from both Larissa’s sons; she kissed both on the cheek and made them blush which made the local men tease them instantly. Hermione also got hugs that nearly lifted her off the dirt floor from the wizards she barely knew before they scooped the boys back up into their pool game. Lorena, too young to really understand, was just happy to receive a hug and multiple cheek kisses from Hermione. Suzana had reverted to being a little shy in mixed company but Hermione still got a big hug as she told the girl to mind her studies.

A final group hug, and a final shot of cachaça, and Andressa looped one of her strong arms around Hermione’s shoulders, minding Oz who was getting grumpy after nearly being dislodged multiple times, and led her to the office. “You ready?”

“Sure.” Hermione’s answer didn’t even convince her let alone the shrewd bartender.

“Yeah. Come back if you need to and Brazil will still be here. Simple.”

“Mmhmm.”

“And Hermione.” Hermione was surprised by the rare use of her first name and Andressa waited until the younger witch was really looking at her. “I’m not saying this won’t hurt. But maybe it’ll be the good kind of hurt.”

Hermione eyed the bartender curiously. “There’s a good kind of hurt?”

“Of course. You break a bone, and it hurts. The pain settles deep inside and it hurts in more places than just where the broken bone is. But then the doctor sets the bone. And that hurts too, but the good kind of hurt. Because you know you’re not drowning in the pain anymore. You know the pain is coming to an end. The healing kind of hurt.”

Hermione’s jaw dropped and before she even realized it she had thrown her arms around the strong woman. “Thank you.” Hermione breathed into her neck before releasing her. “You’re kind of brilliant. Has anyone ever told you that?”

Andressa’s eyes twinkled. “Once or twice. But I’m sure less times than you.”

Hermione eyed her curiously again and arched an eyebrow. “Andressa. Who are you?”

The Brazilian woman burst out into laughter. “Just a simple tavern owner.” The gleam in her eye was unmistakable. “You have your past Golden Girl, and I’ve got mine.”

Hermione smiled. “Fair enough. Thank you for everything.”

“Thank you.” Andressa left before Hermione could ponder more what exactly she was being thanked for.

The office was exactly as it always was and Hermione made her way over to the fireplace and the pot of Floo powder. “Okay, Oz. Very, very important.” She eyed the bird dead in the eye. “You can’t stay up there, I’m going to have to hold you. And don’t you dare fly away early. And don’t separate from me. You got it?” Oz gave an almost human like nod and cawed at her.

Hermione tossed the Floo powder in before she could chicken out. She had done the time difference calculation so she knew she’d be arriving in the afternoon instead of the morning it was here; she hoped the Potters hadn’t been just sitting around waiting for her. Oz cawed and shifted his weight between his talons when the flames grew in size and turned green.

Hermione held out her left arm parallel to the ground and Oz hopped from her shoulder down onto her forearm. He gripped her tighter than he normally would; the talons around her wrist almost completely looped around her limb. Hermione then pulled him close to her chest and wrapped her other arm around him and tucked her head down to force his head under her chin. She held him as tight as she dared while clearly saying, “the drawing room, the Potters Place.”

With a final sigh and prayer to Merlin, Hermione stepped inside the fireplace that would return her to Britain.

Chapter Text

When the soot was blinked from her eyes Hermione noticed two things simultaneously. Firstly, the bird in her arms with the razor sharp talons and beak was decidedly unhappy. Secondly, the lack of shriek in the air meant she had appeared while the room was empty. Honestly, Hermione almost preferred that way. But first things first.

Hermione released her grip on Oz and replaced him back on her shoulder. He began preening instantly with an angry caw and Hermione gently stroked through his feathers to get him back into some semblance of an order.

Hermione noted a few more details about the room she had only seen before from the vantage point of the fireplace. The window looked out over an expansive backyard that included a rolling hill and a pond. While most of the decorations were homey and tasteful a few tackier pieces, such as a lamp that was a pair of legs riding a broomstick, gave it some character.

Slight movement caught the corner of her eye and Hermione was almost brought to tears; the mantle was loaded with photographs. Many were newer ones that Hermione had never seen before. One contained a Quidditch stadium and every few moments a dark green blur with red hair would go streaking by. The one beside it held two figures, both with black unruly hair and green eyes, and Hermione smiled as she blinked away her tears. It was so clear, even from one photograph, how good of a father Harry was as he repeatedly lifted a younger James into the air and pretended to toss him about as the boy shrieked in delight. Harry had obviously taken every single moment he wished he had as child and turned around and tried to be even better for his own children. Hermione let her eyes trail over the framed photos, Ginny holding a huge Quidditch trophy in one and a small baby bundled in a blue blanket in another, until she saw one that finally had the tears streaming down her cheeks.

Three teenagers all in black robes with red and gold scarves and hats on were clearly at the end of a snowball fight. Hermione watched the redheaded boy lift the brunette girl up by the waist and then toss her into a snowbank. His laughter allowed the black haired boy to pelt him in the face with a large snowball before diving beside the girl for cover. Hermione watched the two raise their hands up for help before yanking the redhead down with them. Looking at her, the carefree, happy teenager she had once been, Hermione hardly recognized herself. She watched the loop three times. Each time she’d find a wide smile or the crinkle by her eyes that she just doesn’t see in the mirror anymore; that she hadn’t seen in a long time.

Oz began using his beak to gently preen through his witch’s hair at her distress and Hermione leaned her cheek against him gratefully.

“James Sirius Potter!” Hermione turned at the exasperated voice shouting down the hall. “What did I tell you about making a mess today?”

Hermione just barely caught the reply, “not to do it,” and it brought a smile to her admittedly still watery face.

“And what did you do?” The scolding voice continued.

“Did it.”

Hermione couldn’t help herself and let out a bark of laughter. She heard quick footsteps in her direction and was suddenly face to face, in person, with Ginny Potter for the first time in seven years. The last time Hermione had laid eyes on her in person she had still been Ginny Weasley. Hermione glanced down at the boy hiding behind his mother’s legs. If Hermione wasn’t mistaken the boys focus was less on her and more on Oz.

“Hello Ginny.” She finally braved bringing her eyes back up.

Ginny squealed and bounded a few steps towards her before she hesitated and glanced at the rather large hawk resting on Hermione’s shoulder. “Um.”

“Ginny, this is Oz.” Hermione moved over to the window and slid it open. Oz dutifully hopped down onto the sill but didn’t fly away like Ginny expected him to; she didn’t realize that he wouldn’t leave his witch in a house with people he didn’t know yet.

Once Hermione was sufficiently bird free Ginny shrugged and flew into the shorter and older witch’s arms. Hermione caught her easily and burrowed her face into Ginny’s neck. There were a few scents she wasn’t used to but at its core she still smelled of lavender and spices; she still smelled familiar and Hermione hugged her all the harder.

“Mama. Mama.” James’s little voice was increasing in volume and it was clearly not the first few times he’d tried to get her attention. Ginny finally pulled her face away but kept Hermione in the loop of her arms.

“What James?” Her voice cracked a little and Hermione wondered if she was trying not to cry like she was.

“Mama, there’s a bird.” James pointed with one finger as if his mother didn’t know this information; the witches chuckled at him affectionately.

“Yes, honey, I noticed the bird. He’s Hermione’s.” Her words were punctuated by a loud caw from Oz and Ginny startled. “Or she might be his.”

Ginny took a step back and held Hermione by the arms to look her up and down. “Merlin’s balls ‘Mione you look good.”

Hermione chuckled but James gasped. “Mama you swore! Mama I’m telling daddy.” James ran from the room and Ginny paid her tattletale no mind. The first thing Ginny noticed was the hair; she had known it was cut from the fire calls and the rare photo Hermione sent to them but that was nothing to see it in person. The second was her figure. She had a lot of skin on display and it was all gorgeously tanned and layered over a lean frame with tight muscles.

“Bloody hell, ‘Mione. If you become a professor no boy in the school is going to be able to get any work done.”

“Ginny!” Hermione blushed and smacked her old friend in the arm. “Besides, like you’re one to talk.” The redhead was tall and all leg; even through her casual jumper and jeans Hermione could tell her body was trim and fit.

Ginny waved the compliment away. “I’m a professional athlete, I’m supposed to look like this. You’re supposed to be an academic. Shite.” Ginny checked her out again.

“Oh shut up, you.” Hermione smacked her again.

“Well that didn’t take long.” A new voice remarked with endless affection in his voice. Hermione was almost scared to look up and face him. Ginny released her arms and stepped back to allow her a look at him; her oldest friend, her closest ally, her brother.

Harry was wearing robes which Hermione took to mean he’d been to the office at some point today recently. Hermione locked eyes with those incredibly expressive emerald green ones and she was in his arms so quickly Ginny almost thought she’d apparated.

Harry was a little bit taller than her and he seemed to surround her completely; she welcomed it and burrowed in further. She didn’t even realize she was sobbing until he began stroking her hair and whispering sweet words into her ear.

Even though her eyes were closed and her face pressed against the well-built chest of her brother, some part of Hermione, the awareness part of her that had been honed in war and was never ending, recognized that Ginny had silently left the room and scooped up James along the way.

Me desculpa. Me desculpa mesmo. Me Desculpa por tudo!” Hermione was almost hyperventilating.

Harry held her tighter and shushed her some more. “Everything’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay. Shush now. Everything’s fine.” Hermione kept repeating in Portuguese and Harry kept trying to calm her. “You have to help me, ‘Mione. Sweetheart, I don’t know what you’re saying.” Harry noticed, with some surprise he didn’t outwardly react to, the large predator bird on his windowsill shifting and cawing in some distress.

When Hermione’s tears finally began to slow Harry ran his fingers through her much shorter hair again. “Everything’s okay now. Everything’s alright.” Hermione mumbled with her lips pressed directly into his robes. “What was that, honey?”

Hermione turned her face the other way. “I’m so sorry, Harry.” The words were whispered.

“Hush now, stop. You know you never have anything to apologize for.” Harry ran his hand soothingly up and down her back. Hermione tried to focus only on him; his build was different and his scent slightly changed but he was still him.

“But,” Hermione hiccupped and sniffed, “but I left. Everyone. A-and you needed me,”

“We needed you to be okay.” Harry injected softly. “No one blames you for leaving. No one ever blamed you.” He pulled away slightly so he could look down at her. “But we’re ever so thrilled to have you home.”

Hermione finally nodded and took a little step away from him; with space now between them Oz instantly took flight and landed on her shoulder.

Harry grinned rakishly at her. “’Mione, I don’t want to alarm you but there appears to be a falcon on your shoulder.”

“He’s a hawk.” Hermione corrected. Her voice took on her lecture tone almost automatically. “A white-necked hawk to be specific. He’s native to Brazil and part of the Accipitridae bird of prey species.”

Harry was now the one smiling with watery eyes. “Bloody hell I missed you, Hermione.”

“I missed you too, Harry.”

“Why don’t we save the tough conversations for a little later, and for now you and your bird can come have lunch with my brood?”

“That sounds wonderful. If I could just freshen up a little?”

Harry pointed at the bathroom and told her the direction of the kitchen where they’d be waiting. Hermione let out a shaky breath when she was alone again. “Been here five minutes and cried twice. Could be worse, huh Oz?” The bird cawed in a low tone and Hermione took that for confirmation. “That’s what I thought.”

A quick trip to the loo and several spells, for her blotchy face and red eyes and the general fireplace soot all over her, and Hermione finally felt brave enough to go and find the Potters.

She tried not to feel like she was creeping around somewhere she shouldn’t be when she left the drawing room. Oz gripped her shoulder tighter when he felt her unease. The Potters house was clearly old and large but unlike the few manors Hermione had seen in her time, she tried not to shudder at the thought of one in particular, this house was open and warm and friendly. It still had an abundance of rooms, Hermione passed a more formal dining room, a library that almost caused her to detour, and a study on her way to the kitchen, but there were pictures everywhere and signs of children roaming the house.

Oz heard them first and when he tilted his head slightly to the left Hermione copied him and focussed her attention that way as well. Within a few more steps she picked up the sounds of the family. Somewhat cautiously Hermione walked through the open archway that led to the kitchen.

The room itself was gorgeous and, if Hermione wasn’t mistaken, showed signs of modern remodeling since the rest of the estate was finished; Hermione was pretty sure it wouldn’t have had a stainless steel fridge, oven and microwave originally. They had a kitchen patio door that opened up into the same backyard the witch had already marvelled at just from a different angle. A simple wooden table was covered with finger foods and Hermione got the impression this table was used infinitely more than the one in the dining room.

James, who was sitting on a chair by himself picking at his lunch, was once again riveted by Oz; so was the other little boy in the room that Hermione had only seen once or twice before. Harry’s younger son, Albus, was dutifully seated on Ginny’s lap as she cut up some fruit and cheeses for him. Hermione could so clearly see Harry in him as well but he had inherited his mother’s stunning hazel eyes. Hermione kept her focus on the children because she didn’t want to see how Harry or Ginny were looking at her after her meltdown.

“Hey, Oz.” James and Albus’s eyes’ widened as she turned and spoke directly to the bird. “Would you like to meet some of my favourite boys of all time, hmm?” James slid instantly out of his seat and stepped forward but Harry, the ever watchful father, grabbed him gently by the bicep to keep him in place. “Now, James. Have your parents taught you anything about animals and magical creatures?”

James nodded. “They said you had to follow the rules about them. Like bowing to a Hippogriff and never even laying eyes on blasty-ended skroot things.”

Hermione beamed. “That’s right. You do. And the rules for Oz are very simple okay? You always have to move slowly and carefully towards him, and you have to be gentle, alright?” He nodded frantically some more. Hermione crouched down to be at the boy’s eye level. She then moved her left arm out and with a short whistle Oz hopped down and gripped her forearm. “Now step forward a little more, James.” Harry released his son, trusting his sister implicitly, and James shuffled forward. “Now, James. This is Oz. His full name is Feroz. It means Fierce. Oz, this is James.”

Oz looked the boy dead in the eye and cawed slightly before extending a wing. James beamed but waited for Hermione. “You can pet him gently now. Like you would an owl, in the direction of the feathers, not against them.” James wasn’t shaking at all as the fearless little boy brought his hand up to stroke the bird. Hermione glanced up at the other spellbound boy. “Would you like to pet Oz too, Albus?”

The younger boy instantly burrowed his head in his mother’s chest and both parents giggled. “Don’t be shy.” Harry’s voice was soft. “This is your Aunt Hermione, we’ve told you all about her.” Harry scooped the boy up and held him under his legs and brought him over. Albus seemed content to watch for a moment but James was captivated. “Would you like to hold him, James?”

“Can I?!”

Hermione chuckled. “Sure.” With a flick of the fingers on her free hand Hermione conjured a very thick, brown leather glove that extended all the way to the elbow. Another flick and it shrunk down to the boy’s size. “This is a falconer’s glove. It’s used to handle birds with talons as sharp as Oz’s.”

“You’re not wearing one.” James pointed out with a slight pout.

“That’s because I’m an adult.” Hermione belayed her words by childishly sticking her tongue out at the boy. “Now put this on.” James stuck his right arm in the glove and Hermione checked it over carefully. Hermione showed him how to position his arm. “Now, you have to try and hold your arm steady. It might be difficult because he’s a little heavier than he looks.” Oz gave an indignant caw and turned to glare at Hermione. She leaned over and pecked the top of his head. “Okay, are you ready?” James looked nervous but determined. Hermione recognized the look well; she had the seen the expression on Harry’s face countless times before they had gone on some adventure. Hermione put some pressure on the boys arm with her hand to make sure he was holding it steady. “Okay, Oz.” Hermione moved her arm closer and whistled slightly again and with very little fanfare Oz hoped over onto the boy.

“Mama! Mama look!” James was whisper yelling and he seemed scared to move at all; but the grin on his face was a mile wide. Hermione heard the telltale click of a camera and saw that Ginny had conjured one and was misty eyed while taking pictures.

“You can pet him with your other hand.” Hermione reminded James and he began to stroke Oz’s chest gently. “You want to try yet, Albus?” Hermione kept her voice light so he knew she wasn’t pushing. Oz, bless him, chose that moment to extend a wing as Harry crouched down with his youngest. Soon Albus’s little fingers were stroking through Oz’s feathers as well. “All this attention. He’s going to get a big ego soon.” Hermione joked; she looked up right as Ginny snapped another picture.

The redhead beamed. “That’s one for the wall, darling.”

After a few more moments Hermione decided to rescue her familiar. “Okay guys, last pets.” Both boys obediently stroked him once more and then looked up at her. “Don’t startle, James.” Hermione warned before whistling. Oz took off from the boys arm and flapped twice to land back on Hermione’s shoulder. “You want to go for a fly now, boy?” Hermione gestured to the patio door and Harry opened it. “You boys want to see him really take off?”

Albus wiggled out of his father’s grip and both boys darted forward as Hermione stepped outside onto their wooden patio. They had two Adirondack chairs positioned in perfect place to watch a sunset. Hermione stroked the bird lovingly and then whispered to him, “Sinta-se livre para se exibir um pouquinho [Feel free to show off a little].”

Oz’s talon’s dug in just a bit as he took off into the sky. He made altitude quickly, until he looked like a dot in the sky, and then circled once before showing off his species greatest asset: the dive. Oz folded his wings back, tight against his body into a streamline arrow, and he rocketed for the ground. Both boys gasped and shouted and Hermione smirked. At the very last second Oz spread his wings, chest almost skimming the ground, before angling upward and he shot high into the air at the same velocity. Both boys were frantic.

“Dad! Dad did you see that! Dad, he did a Wronski Feint! Dad he flies better than you! Better than mum!”

“Woah now.” Ginny exclaimed in an affronted voice. “Let’s not get carried away or I’ll be challenging a bird to a flying competition later.” She realized her mistake instantly as two pairs of eyes widened to the size of saucers.

“Can you, Mum!? Oh please, can you!? Oz would do it!”

Harry snickered at his wife’s expense and draped an arm around Hermione. She felt the same comfort from him she always used to. She thought the guilt would be overpowering but Harry’s gentle smile and kind eyes kept it at bay for now.

It took almost a quarter of an hour to finally calm the boys down and get them back at the table for lunch. The excitement over Oz had endeared the boys to Hermione instantly and they chattered away at while they ate. “Where did you get Oz?” Harry asked when his sons finally took a breath.

Hermione’s expression faltered minutely. “Oh. I’ve had him for years now. We sort of, found each other.” She glanced up and only due to his politely curious gaze did she continue. “I travelled to Argentina, almost four years ago now. I was travelling along the east coast, way down south in South America. I was hired as a freelance potioner and I was collecting exotic flora for experimentation. I was in the Chubut Province. It was like flat desert land. Felt like I could look out clear across the country and there was nothing there.” Hermione glanced up from her plate to see if they were still interested; both Harry and Ginny had stopped eating and were staring at her. She cleared her throat awkwardly. “Anyway. I wasn’t…very social yet or anything so I spilt up from the team that had hired me. And, I just found him. Laying on the ground in the middle of this desert land. He cawed and put up a fuss when I approached but it was clear he couldn’t fly. I immobilized him and healed him and then let him go.” Hermione smiled fondly at the memory. “He didn’t leave right away. He flew and hopped along after me while I baked in the desert.”

“And you’ve been together ever since?” Ginny questioned.

“No. No, he took off eventually. Towards the north. When I returned to my camp I described the encounter to my colleagues and they told me I must have imagined it or described the wrong bird. I knew that was impossible, Oz is so unique, how do you confuse your description of him? But they told me white-necked hawks have never been seen that far south. In fact, they’re only ever found along a very short stretch of the east coast of Brazil. I can’t imagine what he was doing where I found him.” Hermione had always assumed Oz’s past was as tumultuous as her own. Hermione filled up her plate with some more finger foods to continue avoiding their gazes. “I’m not sure if it was that exactly that made me head to Brazil when I was done with the group, but I did. I travelled to Brazil, found some local witches and wizards to direct me to the Ministry. It’s polite to drop in if you’re planning on working in their country. I was just travelling through and suddenly there he was. Dropped out of the sky and landed on my shoulder like he’d always been there.” Hermione blushed. “I never questioned it.”

“Nor should you.” Harry grinned. “You may be the smartest witch of the age, Hermione, but one thing I’ve learned in my time in the magical world is that sometimes, magic just is. Can’t be explained or questioned.”

“Hear hear.” Hermione chuckled and they clinked glasses of pumpkin juice. James and Albus adorably clinked glasses to mimic them even though they didn’t quite understand and Albus ended up sloshing his drink a little. Hermione didn’t even notice she’d waved her fingers and banished the mess until Ginny whistled.

“What?”

“Wandless and non-verbal spells without looking and while eating. That’s uh, a little impressive. Do you even have your wand on you?” Ginny’s look turned a little playfully lecherous. “You’d think with all that skin showing I’d have seen it.”

“Ginny!” Hermione and Harry spoke in unison and the brash redhead was unfazed.

“What?” She seemed genuinely confused. “You can’t deny she looks utterly gorgeous.” Hermione and Harry now blushed in unison and Ginny groaned. “How on earth did I end up with two such prudes?”

Hermione settled back into the teasing remarkably quickly, probably due to the efforts of a certain witch, and the brunette couldn’t believe how light she felt. How many times had they done this? Spread out in the Gryffindor common room, or chatting while they ate in the Great Hall, or strolling across the lawns by the Black Lake? Even though Hermione had never been here before it felt somewhat like coming home.

“Did you get enough to eat, ‘Mione?” Harry asked when he started gathering plates by hand; Hermione rose to join him.

“Yes, everything was delicious. I hope you weren’t waiting around for me?”

“No, no. We didn’t know when you’d be arriving and the boys,” he lowered his voice, “and their mother, were a little high strung and excited about you coming so I thought simple and easy was the way to go.”

“Good. I actually did leave first thing in the morning, you’re a little ahead here compared to home.” Harry draped his robe over the chair so his arms were free for washing dishes and Hermione fell naturally into a rhythm with him.

“So where exactly is home, again?” Ginny asked confused but instantly interrupted her own question. “Actually James why don’t you run and get the present Daddy got you and maybe that’ll help.”

James took off at a sprint and Harry looked up like he was going to shout a reprimand but apparently decided it wasn’t worth it. Hermione and Harry quickly finished the few dishes the muggle way and dried themselves before James came thundering back hardly able to see due to the globe he was holding.

Hermione’s academic mind snapped onto it instantly. “Is that a Scriggenshafts All-World Globe?” She didn’t wait for a reply as she was already crouching down to James to inspect it for herself. At first glance it appeared like a muggle globe but slightly closer inspection proved otherwise. The base and the arched handle were wood, stained a dark gray, and it had the Scriggenshafts emblem on the base. The globe itself was actually not pierced by the handle at all and was free floating between the base and the top point allowing for complete rotational movement.

“So where all have you been, Aunt ‘Mione?” James huffed as he finally set the globe down on the floor; it came up past his knees.

“Oh Merlin. Too many places to show you, James. But, here’s where we are now.” Hermione pointed out roughly where Godric’s Hollow would be located. “And this,” Hermione spun the globe almost all the way over, “is where I live. Now this is the continent called South America. And this,” she drew the border, “is a country called Brazil.” At the touch of Hermione’s finger the globe shifted and zoomed in so it was now displaying Brazil in far more detail. “Brazil is divided into States. And this one,” she pointed to one on the western border, “is the State of Rondônia.” The globe zoomed in again and now was showing a close up of the State. “And then,” James was leaning closer to the globe now, “this,” and she pointed out a tiny dot in the northern part of the state which the globe zoomed into one final time, “is Ariquemes.” She pronounced it slowly and watched with some amusement as his mouth tried to form the foreign word. “This is the town Oz and I live in.”

“Wow. It’s so far away.” Hermione tapped the globe and whispered the satellitios charm and the globe changed its form until they were looking down on the real Ariquemes as if a picture had been taken from above. It was too far away for Hermione to see real details but she could point out the major landmarks.

“And it looks so…”Ginny seemed to be struggling for a word, “different.” She finally settled on.

“It is different.” Hermione smiled at James leaning even closer like that would make him see better. “You see James, my town is so far away it has different everything. The weather is different, much hotter and more humid. The language is different and even the culture is different.” Before he could ask she explained it for him. “That means the food, and the arts, and the buildings and even the way people interact with each other is different.”

“That’s so cool! Can we go Dad?” James’s hands were now planted firmly on the globe.

Both parents chuckled. “We’ll see kiddo. Why don’t you and your brother go outside and play for a bit?”

Hermione’s insides froze. Without the buffer of the children Hermione was nervous about the turn the conversation might take; she kept her nerves from her face for the sake of the boys though. “You might even see Oz still flying around out there.”

Both boys tore off for the patio door and only a quick flick of Harry’s wand put the boys in rain boots and light coats. Hermione avoided their eyes again and instead picked up the globe and reset it to showing the whole world in globe form.

A gentle hand on her forearm stilled her actions. “Hermione, are you okay?”

The brunette witch let out a deep sigh. “I don’t know, Harry.” The wizard directed her back to her spot at the table and Ginny conjured them three bottles of butterbeer. “Coming here, being here,” a shy smile graced her features, “it does feel good. I’m so happy to see you both and your boys are absolutely darling, of course. The problem is more…I’m waiting to feel worse.”

“What do you mean?” Ginny’s voice was soft and she shuffled her chair around the table to drape her arm over her friend.

“I keep waiting for the guilt to set in.”

Harry gave an exhausted sigh that made him seem older than he was. “Hermione, I told you there’s no need to feel guilty. We all understood.”

“But I just left.” Tears were welling in her eyes again. “I left you all. I missed my best friends becoming aurors. I missed my best girlfriend becoming a professional Quidditch player. I had never properly met your sons before today.” A sob escaped her now and Harry draped his arm over her as well. “I missed your wedding.”

“Hey.” Ginny actually shook her a little bit. “I actually don’t wish that you had been at our wedding.” Harry’s indignant scoff and the anger growing in his eyes matched Hermione’s jaw drop. The redhead only held her tighter. “I don’t wish that because I know if you had been able to you would have been there. And if I had forced the issue and made you come like I know I could have, I would have been miserable on what was supposed to be the happiest day. I would have been miserable because I would have had to look at your face, and look at the shadows and the darkness and the pain in your eyes and know that I was making you worse. Then I would have been the guilty one. We keep saying that we understand, Hermione, and really we don’t. I don’t understand. I can’t imagine what you went through. In my mind, that fact that you soldiered on makes you the bravest and the strongest and the most courageous person I know. So if you needed to leave the country and go adventuring then we were behind you one hundred percent.” Hermione was, for once in her life, stunned stupid. Harry was beaming with pride. “That said, if now you’re ready to come back and start picking up the pieces, we’re still behind you and supporting you the whole way. We want you home. We all do. But we want to know you’re okay more.”

Hermione turned and buried her face in Ginny’s neck as she sobbed. This time it was Ginny’s turn to rub her back and whisper in her ear while Harry remained the comforting presence at her back. Neither of the Potters rushed her and just let her feel what she needed to feel.

The older witch finally pulled back with a slightly self-deprecating chuckle. “God, what a way to start a vacation. Crying all over the both of you.”

Harry rubbed her back again. “Cry as much as you need to, ‘Mione. But know that what Ginny said is true.” He smiled a little bit as he clearly thought of something. “And if you need a little more persuasion about your own abilities, you’ve already been a teacher to the boys a couple of times today. James has been enthralled by everything you’ve taught him. If you want to, and you think you can handle it, I think Hogwarts and the students would gain a brilliant and wonderful professor.

“I don’t know, Harry. I mean I’ve been in your home two hours and I’ve already broken down three times.”

“Those were just the given beginning ones.” Ginny waved her hand in dismissal and her tone was flippant. “Those don’t count.”

Hermione gave a slightly watery chuckle. “Well, I guess the only way to know for sure would be, well, to go back there.” Hermione felt her hands tremble slightly. “To go back to Hogwarts.”

Chapter Text

Hermione Granger was a war hero, an accomplished duelist, the fearless Golden Girl and the Gryffindor Princess known for her courage and bravery.

And she was hiding in a bathroom.

She hadn’t fled per say but when the opportunity to slip away for a moment to breathe came up she hadn’t hesitated. She knew she could have just told the Potters. Mentioned it to Harry and slipped away and he would have understood completely that she was overwhelmed. But she was scared that would let the guilt back in. She didn’t want them to think they were doing something wrong or that it was their fault; it wasn’t. They were perfect and everything Hermione could have hoped to come back to and more. They were warm and welcoming and Hermione felt so loved in their presence. They knew she would be a little off balance and therefore they were allowing no one into their home tonight except Ron; who Hermione was honestly thrilled to see.

Hermione’s problem was more that she planned for every possible alternative and thought ahead to all of the consequences. She already knew she was going to visit Hogwarts. And she knew at worst case scenario she would have a complete and utter mental breakdown…again. Only one person had been witness to the first, directly after which she had fled Britain, and she had never discussed the event with any of her family. She was sure they knew. Word had to have gotten around not to mention the fact that the magical destruction she had wrought in her episode would have had to be explained somehow. Hermione’s mind was intelligent enough to calculate the odds and a similar breakdown was definitely possible.

Hermione tried to calm herself down by focussing on the fact that Hogwarts wouldn’t look the same. The damage would be long fixed by now; the towers rebuilt and the walls restructured and the holes filled in. The place would have been cleaned and maintained. Even the destruction at the site that Hermione had desecrated would have been regrown and renewed.

But if she went there now and saw the place as it was then she was not staying. She could not walk those halls if she could see a dead body there and a blood smear there and a crying child hidden behind that banister and-

“Hermione?”

The witch jumped and banged her wrist on the sink. “Yes?” She cursed her shaky and slightly out of breath voice as she answered Harry.

He hesitated. “I’m not going to ask if you’re alright. But are you ready to come out? Or can I come in?”

Hermione was unable to deny him and opened the bathroom door. “When did you get so in touch with your emotional side?”

Harry gave a crooked grin. “Somewhere after about three years with Ginny and her telling me to stop being so thick.”

The witch patted his cheek affectionately. “She did a good job with you, Mr. Potter.” Harry’s smile was so full of love it was impossible not to smile with him.

“Yeah. I’m very lucky.” He reached out and drew Hermione into him. “And very happy you’re here.”

“Me too, Harry. Let’s get back to your family, shall we?”

He offered his elbow like a gentleman. “We shall. Also, there’s a fairly distraught bird in my living room. He seemed a little out of sorts so we told the boys they couldn’t touch him.”

“He just wants to see I’m alright. He wouldn’t have done anything to the boys though.”

“I know. It was more for his sake.” Hermione stopped dead in her tracks and Harry looked puzzled. “What?”

“I just really missed you, Harry Potter. The boy that,”

“Lived. I know.”

“No.” Hermione’s voice was firm. “The boy that befriended pure bloods and half-bloods and muggle-borns alike. The boy that defended his friends…and his enemies. That boy saved me without any thought of himself. The boy that treats creatures better than some people treat humans. That’s the boy I missed.”

Harry was teary eyed and pulled Hermione into his arms once more. “Bloody hell, I missed you too, Hermione Granger. I know we keep saying it, but it’s true.”

An hour later found Harry distracting the boys while Ginny and Hermione, with a watchful Oz, cooked up a simple dinner.

“So it’s just Ron tonight, right?” Hermione clarified.

“Mhmm. I even offered to leave and take the boys so it would just be you three,” Ginny spoke right over Hermione’s indignant noise, “but I was overruled.”

“Quite right.” Hermione huffed. “I’m not going to kick you out of your home Gin.” Hermione kept her eyes firmly on the potatoes she was peeling by magic. “Besides, I like having you here.” Sensing a downshift in the mood she continued, “I need all the female help I can get with those two sometimes.”

Ginny chuckled. “Honestly, ‘Mione, I don’t know how you did it sometimes.”

The older witch smirked dangerously. “Sometimes I’d spell them to be still and quiet so I could study and then make them forget afterwards.”

Both witches devolved into giggles at Harry’s affronted “I heard that!” from the other room.

“And who will be coming tomorrow?”

“Well you have a choice, we can have everyone here or we can go to The Burrow. We didn’t know which you’d prefer. And it’ll just be us, Ron, my parents, George and Angelina, and Neville and Luna.” Ginny seemed to watch Hermione carefully from the corner of her eye. “That okay?”

“Yes, that’s fine.” She sighed and Oz instantly flew from his perch on the windowsill to her shoulder. “I appreciate so much everything you guys are doing. And I can’t say I’m not…a little, well, overwhelmed I guess. Or maybe delicate. But I’m not brittle. You’re not going to break me. And if I do happen to break, it won’t be your fault Gin. Any of yours.”

Ginny, bless her, did not make the moment any more than it was. She just touched Hermione’s arm and then continued magically fiddling with her pot roast. “So would you rather stay here or go to The Burrow?”

“I have no problems going to The Burrow. It’s certainly been a long time.”

Ginny shrugged. “Look’s the same. We’re there all the time. Harry is there for lunch probably more than I am.”

“Molly always did love to feed him.”

The redhead snorted. “Back then he needed feeding. Now he has to work it off.”

“Well I’m sure you could help him with that.” Hermione teased with a salacious grin.

“My my, Hermione Granger, didn’t know you had it in you. Now you’re speaking my language.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I meant a Quidditch workout. Obviously.” Hermione tried to hold off her smile as she tutted. “Such a dirty bird.”

Oz cawed in offence.

“Not you, handsome. Você é perfeito [You’re perfect].” His witch responded instantly and rubbed her cheek along his feathers.

“He’s got to be a magical creature.” Harry spoke up from where he’d clearly been spying. “I’ve never seen an animal familiar so in tune with their human before when the animal wasn’t magical.”

“He’s something all right.” Hermione grinned happily at her bird. “Yes you are.”

Harry was still puzzling it out. “Hit by some kind of spell? Or maybe a human trapped in animagus form?”

“He’s not.” Hermione was still stroking him. “I have wards around my house that don’t allow a witch or wizard in their animagus form to enter. Didn’t want any rats in my house.”

“That’s…amazing. Where did you find the spell, I’ve never heard of such a thing? And I’d have noticed.”

“Made it myself. I haven’t patented it yet because it only lasts for a week or so at max depending on how many people you have coming and going from your home and then you have to redo the ward. I’m still working on it. I can teach it to you if you want though and you can use it until I make it better.”

“I would love that.”

“It’s not hard, here.” Hermione first opened the patio door and pressed her lips lightly against Oz so she could speak directly into his soft feathers. “Eu preciso desse ombro, lindo, por que você não vai procurar alguma coisa para jantar e aproveita para esticar suas asas? [I need that shoulder, handsome, why don’t you go find yourself some dinner and stretch your wings?]” Oz preened her hair once and cawed lightly before taking flight out the open door. Hermione closed it magically and turned back towards Harry; she twiddled her fingers and suddenly the wand sheathe around her forearm became visible. Her wand was in her hand before Harry had twitched.

“Holy hell Hermione.” Harry’s jaw was a little slack. “I know I wasn’t seriously trying but damn. That was fast.”

“Oh hush. You’re still the better duelist.”

Harry looked dubious but drew his own wand. “I don’t plan on testing you.” He mumbled and Hermione smacked his arm but otherwise ignored him. The boys ran into the kitchen one after the other but Ginny stopped them with a raised hand.

“Watch boys, Aunt ‘Mione is going to teach your daddy some new magic.”

Hermione smiled at their curious expressions before focussing. “Now this spell, like all wards, draws from the Rothgram Study Particulars focussing on the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex part of your brain. Now all that means is,” Hermione smiled at his blank look, “there’s a part of your brain called the courage centre. It’s the part of the brain that would be engaged when you protect your home from enemies as opposed to fleeing. The Rothgram Study Particulars was a series of experiments, conducted by Edelstein Rothgram in 1790, where they concluded that for certain spells, you have to engage a certain a part of your brain. I could teach you the incantation and the wand movements and you could do them perfectly, but nothing would happen. When you do this spell you have to engage the courage centre of your brain. You have to focus on the feeling of protecting your home with everything you have. The mind part of the spell has to be there or it won’t work.”

Harry was nodding now. “Like Patronuses.”

“Exactly. Ten points to Gryffindor.” She teased. “It’s the same theory. For a patronus you have to engage the ventral striatum section of the brain, which deals with positive emotions and happiness, for the spell to function properly. Different spells work with different sections of the brain and it’s not always easy. Unforgiveables, for instance, don’t work or won’t work as well, without engaging the putamen and insula part of your subcortex to a degree that most of us can’t. Fear, which is when some people use an Unforgiveable and it doesn’t have the same effect, is a different part of the brain. Now,” Hermione switched out of lecture mode and held her wand out loosely for Harry to copy her, “the wand motion is simple but slow. You move your wand counter clockwise in a wide sweeping arc. Then, once you’ve reached all the way across your body, it’s a sharp flick of your wrist back over clockwise and up.” Hermione completed the motion and Harry copied her. “Just a little quicker at the end there. Not two separate flicks over and up, one motion. Good. Now the incantation was originally in Portuguese but spells translate over. Its protacontro animagio.” Harry repeated her a few times. “Excellent. Now all together. When you begin the spell and set your wand you have to engage your mind like we talked about. Your home is being attacked and you are defending your home.” Her voice was fierce. “The stronger you feel it the stronger your ward will be. You need to be feeling it the entire time you sweep your wand across slowly. Feel free to go as slow as you want and put as much feeling as you can into the spell. Then, right when you do the flick you say the incantation. Got it?”

“We’ll see.” Harry was serious and determined as he cracked his neck and rotated his shoulders. “Okay. Defending my home.” Hermione watched with pride as he closed his eyes and gathered himself before attempting the spell. Ginny wrapped her arms around Hermione’s waist from behind and rested her chin on the shoulder that wasn’t Oz’s usual perch.

Harry finally moved, infinitely slowly, with more grace than he normally displayed off of a Quidditch pitch. When he finally completed the motion and flicked his wrist he exclaimed the incantation in a deep and serious voice. “Protacontro Animagio!” The flash of white and pale blue light flared around the room and the force of the spell actually ruffled Harry’s hair and his t-shirt. The display only lasted a second but all three adults could feel the magic settling.

Hermione and Ginny both beamed. “On the first try and everything.” Hermione grinned.

Now Harry was back to being slightly sheepish. “Only because your lesson was so good, Professor.”

Now it was Hermione who was a little sheepish. She cleared her throat awkwardly and turned towards the food that was all cooking itself by now. “Dinner will be ready in about an hour, right Gin? When is Ron arriving?” She slipped her wand back in its sheathe and it disappeared instantly.

“Any time now actually. I know he was at the office this morning finishing up a few things and then he probably went back to his apartment.” Harry answered as he stowed away his own wand and scooped up his children as they crowded his legs in excitement after the light show.

“Is he not still living out of Grimmauld Place?”

“No, no, when Ginny and I moved in here I told him he could have it and live there as long as he wanted but he only stayed a few months until he found an apartment in London.”

“Although I think he still goes to The Burrow every week so mum can do his laundry.” Ginny grumbled.

“So does George and he’s married.” Harry pointed out. The ringing of an old fashioned doorbell turned their heads and the boys ran for the door.

“Does he usually ring the bell?”

“Nah. He’ll apparate in, maybe Floo if he’s coming here tired from the office.” Ginny answered while Harry followed his sons. “I expect he just didn’t want to startle you.” Hermione rolled her eyes and Ginny laughed. “He meant it well. Take what you can get before he goes back to being a prat.”

“Hush, your brother is sweet.”

“I hope you meant this brother?” Ron asked hesitantly from the archway. Hermione grinned at the sight of him holding one nephew under his arm casually while the other was latched onto his leg.

“Ron.” Hermione practically breathed. Good lord I’ve forgotten how tall he is. He seemed even taller now and Hermione wasn’t sure if it was not having seen him in years or the way he held himself now. His flame orange hair was the same Weasley colour as always but it was a little longer on one side and almost shaved on the other; Hermione hadn’t seen the look before but it looked good on him and she figured it was in style on this continent. He had dressed up slightly in dark green slacks and a grey button up shirt, actually currently out-dressing the three of them, and Hermione couldn’t be happier at how good he looked. His face, when she finally dared to meet his eyes, was open and emotional and a little nervous.

Unlike with Harry she didn’t throw herself at him; she walked slowly over to him and gave him time to set down James and Albus. When she reached his space she just didn’t stop and walked directly into his body. His long, lanky arms, now filled out and more muscular, wrapped around her easily and almost took her off the floor.

The brunette used her body to start walking him backwards out of the kitchen and he allowed himself to be moved. They went to the living room still wrapped together and finally separated to sit down on the sofa.

“Merlin’s balls I missed you, ‘Mione.”

“I missed you too, Ron.” Hermione leaned into him again and he practically tucked her into his side. Unlike the Potters he smelt the exact same way she remembered him and she practically drowned herself in his warmth. He felt a little different, his body harder after finally filling out after being so tall and lanky, but he was still undeniably Ron.

“You gonna come back to stay?”

Hermione actually laughed into his shirt. Harry and Ginny had tiptoed around her emotionally and Ron just blurts out the question. “I don’t really know, to be honest. I’m going to see. Going to try.”

“Well, I’d love to have you back.” He leaned away a little so he could look down at her face. “So I’ll help any way I can.” He gently ran his fingers through her shortened and non-bushy locks.

Hermione snuggled into him. “I know you will.”

“So really, how have you been? Nightmares? Flashbacks?”

For probably the first time in their decades long friendship Hermione was a little thankful for Ron’s lack of tact. There would never be any subtle, emotional probing from him. “Some nightmares. If we’re being honest, I sleep with a dreamless sleep draught a lot.”

“I get that.” Ron’s concession was easy and without judgement. “I do too but I don’t like to overdo it. I know it gets addicting and people can’t sleep at all without it. That you?”

“I reworked the potion a little. Less strong, but also less addictive.”

“Good. Any flashbacks?”

Hermione hesitated. She wondered if his line of questioning was just general or if he knew a few more details about her breakdown than the Potters did. “Sometimes. Usually only if I’ve been startled or scared. Regular things don’t set me off too much anymore.”

“Well that’s good. I think it’s normal too, though, you know? I mean, sometimes I swear I still think I see Fred. And then I’ll see losing him again.”

She wrapped her arms around his waist and squeezed him tightly. “I’m still so sorry.” God would it ever stop hurting? Too many people lost.

“It’s okay. I mean, no. It’ll never be like, okay. But it’s fine.” The redhead may be ineloquent but Hermione understood him perfectly.

“Yeah. I understand.”

“Besides, you should meet Fred Jr.”

“I’ve seen a picture of him I believe. Toddler picture, so a few years old now. That hair is unmistakable.”

Ron chuckled. “Definitely. James and Albus are the only two with Weasley blood that didn’t get the hair. Too much Potter in them I guess.”

“The picture that I saw,” Hermione’s voice was hesitant, “George’s hair didn’t look red either.”

Ron’s expression sobered but he rubbed Hermione’s arm gently. “No, still isn’t. He dyed it maybe a week after all the funerals. Probably just after you left.”

“I can’t imagine. Losing everyone and thinking you saw them was hard enough. But looking in the mirror and truly being able to see…”

“Yeah.” Ron’s voice was a little choked. “We never really talked about it, even Gin and I, but honestly I was a little relieved when he changed it. I think we all were.”

“We cope however we can.” Hermione said softly. She let the moment rest and they remained snuggled and just soaking up each other’s presence.

The hair on the back of Hermione’s neck tingled and she knew instantly they were being watched. The years had mostly allowed her to react without instant panic, however, and she instead lifted her face from Ron’s shoulder and peered around the room. A pair of emerald eyes were peeked around the doorframe and Hermione winked when they realized they’d been caught.

Hermione crooked a finger in James’s direction and he slid into the room. “Daddy said to be super sneaky and find out if you two were still talking.”

“He’s got you auror training already, does he? And what did you daddy say to tell us?”

“That dinner is almost ready and you should come eat.”

Ron and Hermione grinned when another voice, the adult version of James’, exclaimed “I said if they were ready. They should come and eat if they were ready.”

Ron dropped a kiss to the crown of Hermione’s head and then they both stood. “Looks like your son needs some more spy training Harry Potter.” Hermione giggled. James didn’t necessarily get the joke but he beamed at his aunt anyway; his uncle scooped him up again and carried him into the kitchen.

“I seem to have caught a wild Potter!” Ron shouted and shook his nephew.

“Well put him down and we’ll see if that wild creature has better table manners than his uncle.” Ginny deadpanned while pulling the food from the oven.

Hermione smiled around the table; it was hard to stay melancholic surrounded by her family.

Dinner had been splendid and the talk remained mostly simple and centered on the boys. It wasn’t until hours later when they had been put to bed that they retired to the living room with glasses of firewhiskey.

“Blimey ‘Mione,” Ginny finally plunked down beside her husband and he passed her the tumbler he’d poured. “If that spell ever fades I hope you know you’ll be right back here doing it again.”

“What spell?”

Ginny pointed at the slightly sheepish brunette curled up in an armchair. “Both boys wanted their aunt Hermione to say goodnight to them. She ended up charming the ceiling of their bedrooms to look like the night sky.”

Harry and Ron’s eyebrows rose. “Like the Great Hall?”

“The kid friendly version. It isn’t attached to the weather outside, so it’ll never cloud over or rain or anything. It’s just the clear sky. The occasional meteor shower.”

“Merlin’s balls.” Ron chuckled into his drink. “Can you do that to my room?”

“I’ll transfigure your sheets to have Quidditch balls on them too.” She teased.

“Who says they already don’t?” His sister piped in and then hid behind Harry’s arm when he chucked a pillow at her.

“So.” Hermione took a deep breath. “Catch me up then, more than the simple information in a fire call. Ginny, how’s your career?” She figured it would be the easiest to start with.

“Well, I’m finally on the top of my game.” There was no boast in her voice, just fact. “It was a little hard for a while stopping and starting seasons for the boys, but the team was really great about it and the owners dealt with it.”

“I’ve stayed just enough in the know to know your team is very good?”

Ginny beamed. “Two championships in the last four years, with another finals appearance where we lost. You ever listen to the matches?”

“A few. Our local tavern will put them on the radio if you’re playing in an international match against a South American team. Surrounded by rowdy Brazilian’s I never mentioned I had family on a British team though.”

“Fair enough, I’ve seen some of the South American fans celebrating and they seem to get just as into their Quidditch as we do. But yeah, things are great. The team has a few great prospects coming up, one from Hogwarts even, and our veterans are all in the best shape of their lives. The fans are happy so the owners are happy. It’s still a business, unfortunately, and you know how that is.”

“I do.” Hermione took a gulp of her firewhiskey and considered conjuring a bottle of cachaça. “And how about you boys? How’s the auror department treating you?”

“It’s fine.” Harry seemed hesitant and Ron, in his tactless nature, steamed ahead and again Hermione was grateful.

“It’s been really good. We’re finally not the rookie auror’s anymore which is brilliant because being the low man on the totem pole for a few years felt like being a first year again. Over the last year we’ve been involved in some higher profile missions.”

When Harry saw Hermione’s open and politely interested expression he picked up the story. “Last month I was promoted to the head of a team, so I have two auror’s that work under me and we’ll get deployed as a unit if need be. We do a lot of investigative work as well.”

“Congratulations, Harry. Are you on his team, Ron?”

“No.” The redhead answered quickly. “I’m on a different team. An auror named Grisholm leads my team of six. Ivan Grisholm. He’s an old, grisly bastard, but does he ever know his stuff. He kinda reminds me of Mad-Eye, actually. One of those old-school types, you know.”

Hermione could read between the lines and knew the answer that Ron had rambled over. He didn’t want to be on the team that Harry led. Ron would be willing to die for his best friend and brother without hesitating, Hermione knew, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t want to make a name for himself without standing in Harry’s shadow for once.

“Well I think that’s fabulous for you both.” Hermione said diplomatically.

“Yeah, we’re finally getting trusted with more responsibility which means we can help more people. Like just last month,” and then Ron was off on a story about this wizard they had been chasing who had killed his girlfriend and her friend before blowing up a van full of muggles in grief.

Ron was describing how they had tracked him on foot out of town and into the countryside- Hermione could feel the branches whip past her face as they bolted through the trees- they assumed he was trying to calm down enough to be able to apparate- her breath was coming in gasps and she didn’t dare look behind her as she ran- but he didn’t manage it. He had been positively enraged when the aurors had come upon him- rough fingers closed like a vice around her bicep and the sudden yank knocked her clean off her feet- and he was cursing and firing spells- Hermione screamed and flailed and the backhand connected solidly with her face- but they finally overpowered him- Hermione’s head snapped to the side and blood welled in her mouth making her choke- and got him immobilized- he straddled her hips to keep her pinned and Hermione realized the more she fought the more he enjoye-

“Hermione?” Ginny’s voice snapped Hermione back to the present and she forced a slight smile on her face.

“I’m sorry, I drifted for a second.” She forced another chuckle. “It’s been a while since I’ve had Ogden’s, I think maybe the firewhiskey has gone to my head.”

Ron tilted his head as he started to realize something was wrong but Harry allowed Hermione’s clear lie. “Happens to all of us. And you’re on a different time schedule which must be hard.” Hermione did not mention that it would be four hours earlier in Brazil; nor did she focus on the fact that Harry already knew that.

Ginny joined her husband. “I’m sure Mum will want us at The Burrow bright and earlier tomorrow anyway. Feel free to take the early night.”

Hermione threw back the remainder of her drink, which was when Ron narrowed his eyes further, but Hermione was quick to say her goodnights and take her leave.

The brunette witch absolutely did not run, but she walked relatively quickly, for the guest bedroom Ginny had shown her earlier. It looked like a typical guest bedroom; plain, nice and clean but without a lot of character. The first thing Hermione had done was open the window wide and leave it that way. If she had to do a temperature spell on the room or warm her sheets so be it but Oz had to be able to come and go as he pleased.

When Hermione shut the door and locked it, both with the lock and magically, she was unsurprised to hear the soft caw that meant Oz was already waiting for her in the room. He was in flight from the window sill before she’d even properly held her arm out. She rubbed her cheek along his feathers once he’d landed and he started preening her hair with his beak.

“I don’t know lindo. Being here is hard. But also great.” Hermione sat down on the bed and pulled her legs up; she let Oz hop off her arm and onto her leg. She looked down at him and he eyed her carefully. “I know, I know. I can have bad moments at home in Brazil too. Maybe I’m being my own worst enemy? Maybe I could do this fine if I could get out of my own head.” A sharp caw. “Okay, or maybe this is really triggering and I underestimated how hard it would be.” A low caw. “You’re right, that does make sense. But what can I do about it? If I’m being triggered going back to Hogwarts is the last place I should be.” He shifted closer and tugged on a piece of her hair. “Inteligência, huh? Use my brains to fix this? Know it’s going to be triggering going into this and be prepared for it. Sounds easy.” Yeah right.

She left Oz on the bed and went about her nightly routine. The bedroom had an ensuite bathroom for which she was grateful. She sometimes enjoyed the process of getting ready for the bed the muggle way as opposed to just flicking her wand.

She had already put away the clothing she had brought earlier so she didn’t have to hunt for her pajamas. Knowing she’d be in Britain with the window open she had pre-transfigured some of her silk boxers into flannel pants accompanied by a long sleeve shirt.

Potion flasks were quickly pulled from a side pouch in her trunk and Hermione selected the one for dreamless sleep. She had brought enough for seven sleeps and while she didn’t usually use it quite every night she had felt it prudent to be prepared.

The witch crawled into bed before the potion could take full effect and leave her conked out on the floor. Oz shifted and hopped as his witch disturbed the blankets he was standing on. She gave some final pets and a kiss to the top of his head before he flew to the window sill. Oz wasn’t nocturnal but Hermione knew he would watch over her until she was actually asleep before leaving to find a tree to sleep in for the night.

Hermione got comfortable and felt the effects of the potion start pulling her under even though it was so early. She hoped sleep would take her soon so she wouldn’t have to remember the feeling of blood filling her mouth and a heavy weight pressing down on her hips while she struggled.

Although if I absolutely had to dream, there are much worse things I could pick from.

Chapter Text

Molly Weasley was exactly as Hermione remembered. She had a few more streaks of gray wisped through her flame red hair and a few more wrinkles around her eyes and mouth but like any of the magical community she was aging impeccably and her countenance had not changed at all.

The second Hermione had emerged from the Floo, not wanting to apparate to a place she hadn’t seen in almost a decade, she had been engulfed in an embrace that had only abated when Oz, who had been cradled in her arms, put up a rather vehement protest. Molly had taken the bird in her kitchen in stride and soon Oz was quite comfortable on an owl perch with a strip of meat and Hermione herself was at the kitchen table with a bowl of porridge and a seemingly endless stack of toast.

Ginny, Harry and Ron, who had stayed the night in another guest room of the Potters, were more used to such affection and feeding and had taken it in stride without nary a glance and settled themselves in for breakfast.

Molly ceased her doting on Hermione only long enough to dote on her grandchildren who were pleased and comfortable in the arms of the family matriarch.

“You look so skinny, Hermione, you need to eat.” Molly chided and dolloped another ladle full of porridge into her bowl and poured in a touch of honey. Hermione glanced down at herself, she had covered up more today due to the weather and was wearing simple jeans and an off the shoulder jumper, and then she shared a smirk with Ginny. She suspected the athlete knew how much work went into her body but she dutifully continued to eat.

“And how have you been Mrs. Weasley?” Hermione politely enquired.

“Hush with that now, it’s Molly.” It was Harry whom she shared a look with now as she suspected the polite man was the same as the polite boy he had been and had never called her “Molly” in his life. “And I’ve been fabulous, dear. Six lovely grandchildren.” She affectionately stroked James and Albus’s cheeks.

Hermione should have known that Molly wouldn’t focus on anything but her family; she smiled at the woman who had mothered her just as much, if not more than, her own had during her years in the magical world.

“And where is Mr. Weasley?”

“He had to make a stop at the office this morning, something or other had come up, but he has strict orders to get back here as soon as possible.” Molly was, as usual, bustling around the kitchen as she spoke.

“I’ll bet he does.” Ginny snickered around her mouthful of toast.

“Ginevra Weasley don’t sass me and don’t talk with your mouth full.” Ginny choked as she was caught by her mother who wasn’t even looking. “Honestly, you’d think my children were raised in a barn.”

“Mama, you don’t let us talk with our mouths full.” Albus’s innocent voice chimed in and Ginny choked again.

“You’re right, munchkin. But I’m your mother so it’s okay.”

“I’m your mother,” Molly brandished a wooden spoon outward like a wand, “and I say it is not.”

Hermione and Harry had their faces buried in their bowls of porridge by this point to muffle their laughter.

Ginny opened her mouth and an arched eyebrow from Molly silenced her. Hermione pushed her bowl away and Molly was at her elbow instantly. “Did you get enough to eat dear? I’ve got plenty more.”

“No, please, or I won’t be able to eat any dinner later.” Hermione rose to deal with the dishes and was unequivocally waved off.

“We’ll see about that, dear. What have you been eating wherever it is you’ve been living?”

Hermione looked a little shyly at the woman. “Actually, if it’s not too much trouble Mrs. Weasley, I was actually hoping to maybe make a local dish to add to dinner tonight? If you don’t mind sharing your kitchen?”

Molly was practically vibrating with excitement that someone wanted to share her kitchen. “Of course dear! What ingredients do you need dear and I’ll make sure I have everything when I do my own shopping before lunch.”

“I can write you a list. I was going to keep it simple and just make coxinha and pao de queijo. The first is like a dough ball with shredded chicken and spices inside, and the second is a bread and cheese ball. Both are traditional snacks that you can buy off of vendors pretty much anywhere.”

Ron shrugged from where he was still eating toast. “Chicken, cheese and bread. Sounds fine to me.”

James tugged on Hermione’s sleeve to get her attention. “Is this cause you have different culture?”

Hermione almost swooned. “You’re exactly right, lindo [handsome], I’m used to different foods at my home and I’d love to share a piece of my culture with my family.”

“Then you should make a dessert! That’s gotta be the most important part of culture.”

All of the adults laughed at the boy. Ron pointed a finger in his direction. “You know, my brilliant nephew has a point, ‘Mione.”

“I think he does too.” Hermione smiled. “I’ll make a pavê bombom de morango.” She waited to tease them a little while they waited for a translation.

Typically Ron broke first. “Well? Is that weird?”

Hermione rolled her eyes affectionately. “It’s a chocolate and strawberry trifle, Ronald.” She knew she had won them over instantly with a mention of chocolate. She poked James affectionately on the nose and then stroked his hair. “And you two boys and any other children who come tonight will get a separate one all for yourselves.”

“Really?” James seemed excited.

“Yes, lindo. Because the adult one I’m going to make includes quite a lot of an ingredient called brandy.”

James clearly had no idea what that meant but he was excited to be getting his own dessert and didn’t notice the adults chuckling.

Molly ran her fingers through Hermione’s hair exactly like the younger witch had just done to James. “I’m excited to cook with you, dear. And to try your food.” She went back to the counter but shot her a smirk over her shoulder. “And I have just the right bottle of brandy.”

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

It was impossible to be upset at The Burrow, Hermione decided. Ever since breakfast there had been a flurry of tasks and things to do but it was always with a laugh or a story; Hermione liked the stories the best. They seemed to intentionally split them between the ones pre-war that Hermione would have been in and post-war that she missed.

“Do you remember that time Hermione bewitched Ron’s toothbrush to start scrubbing out his mouth?”

“That wasn’t funny it was trying to gag me!”

“Or that time George thought someone had spelled those drawings onto his face and couldn’t get them off and it turned out it was James with a muggle marker?”

“Hermione! How long did that black eye last when one of the twins’ inventions punched you in the eye?”

They were cleaning and preparing as they reminisced. Tables were brought out back and set up much the way they were for every Weasley event. James and Albus took responsibility for de-gnoming the garden. Oz kept a watchful eye over them and even snagged a gnome that James threw straight upwards out of the air much to everyone’s amusement.

Hermione helped Molly out in the kitchen and marvelled at the woman’s obvious skill. She completed several complex cooking spells simultaneously without even blinking and kept up a string of chatter and gossip the whole time. Hermione put together her dessert first because it didn’t require any baking; it had to chill for several hours instead. Every time Hermione turned her back there was a different redheaded, or green eyed, person dipping their finger into her melted chocolate mixture.

“Bill, Charlie and Percy aren’t joining us this evening?” Hermione asked over her shoulder as she whipped up a custard.

“No, no. We thought it better to keep it a little smaller this time. Charlie and Bill are both currently in Egypt. And Percy can only get so much time off at the Ministry. Besides the whole family is getting together at the end of July for the entire Potter family birthdays.”

Hermione’s eyebrows arched almost off her face. “Oh my goodness, all four of them?”

“Mhmm.” Molly was making batter with one hand and peeling potatoes with the other. “You know Harry is the 31st, James and Albus are the 3rd and 7th of August and Ginny is the 11th.” We found it much easier to just have one big party.”

“I should say.”

“You’ll be there of course, dear?”

Hermione’s knee jerk response was that she’d try but she’d have to see about work but she felt better in the last several hours than she has in a long time. She could hear James and Albus playing with Oz and then Harry and Ron laughing outside. “Of course I’ll be here, Mrs. Weasley. If you’ll have me.” Her sentence ended sounding more vulnerable than it started.

Molly put down her wand and scooped Hermione into another hug instantly. “You are part of this family too, you know? Even if not the way I’d always hoped, you are still one of my daughters.”

Tears welled in the younger witch’s eyes at the words. She knew, of course, that Molly had always wanted her to end up with Ron. When there was no chance of that happening Hermione had never been sure about how her return with the matriarch would go.

Hermione’s sixth sense about no longer being the only ones in the room kicked in but she didn’t pull away; there was no need to protect her back here. The quiet retreating footsteps clued her in that it had been Ginny.

Molly finally released her with a kiss to her forehead and a question about the food. Hermione dutifully rolled up her sleeves and got back to work.

A light, for Molly Weasley anyway, lunch spread of finger foods was laid out and everyone was crowded inside when Arthur finally apparated into the back garden. “I’m home, I’m home.”

Various calls of hellos were shouted around mouthfuls of food, to Molly’s great chagrin, and the youngest boys slipped out of their chairs to run over to their grandfather. Arthur’s greeting to Hermione was touching but non-invasive as he just gripped her shoulder tightly for a moment and whispered “welcome back”.

After lunch it seemed universally agreed that a game of Quidditch in the back field would have to commence. Ron looped his arm over Hermione’s shoulders and dragged her outside with the others. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest you play.” Ron chuckled.

The first thing Hermione noticed was the brooms. The Weasley’s used to have a collection of increasingly haggard old brooms that had all seen better days. While she didn’t claim to know the make nor model of these particular ones she was intelligent enough to know they were new.

“These are all Nimbus 3050’s.” Ron obviously saw her eyeing them. “Compliments of Ginny of course. I actually keep mine here but the rest are just left here so we have an equal footing.”

“We found it led to less family arguments.” Ginny chimed in exiting the broom shed.

Ron ignored his sister completely. “Harry has a Firebolt Supreme at his place, and Ginny is required by the team to use the Thunderbolt VII’s.”

“I could beat you riding on our old Cleansweep.” Ginny snarked. Ron turned his back and further ignored her; he seemed to know better than to challenge the professional player.

“The boys have brooms too,”

“What?!”

Ron laughed at her. “’Mione one of their parents is a professional and the other could have been if they wanted to. They’ve both got Comet LowStars. They’re designed for kids. They only go so high and so fast and they’re spelled to try and catch their owner should they fall.”

Hermione wanted to argue but she had seen many Brazilian kids doing tricks and stunts off of roof’s and in the street on brooms much bigger than the two the Potter boys were holding.

“How do you play with three adults and two children?”

“We just have fun.” Harry was the one who answered while forcing James and Albus into a little bit of protective equipment he’d pulled from the shed. “We’ll play Ginny on the two of us but it usually devolves into trying to show off and do tricks. No snitch or bludgers allowed out here anyway.” He finally seemed satisfied with the way Albus’s elbow and knee pads were sitting and handed him a quaffle. Hermione couldn’t be positive but she thought it looked a little smaller than the other one Harry was holding. “Be careful boys, James, don’t hurt your brother.”

James and Albus mounted their brooms and took off into the air with, Hermione had to admit, more skill and grace than she had probably ever done.

Harry then winked at Hermione, turned around, and threw the regular sized quaffle into the air as hard as he could. They were standing at the top of a slight hill leading into a shallow valley and he had pulled his arm back and thrown it seemingly out into nothing.

The older witch hadn’t thought Ginny was even paying attention but her head whipped around the second the quaffle had been launched into the air. Hermione gasped and almost shouted for her as she pushed off without even really being on the broom. The display of athleticism was astounding as Ginny was holding on with one hand and mounted the broom easily in midair. She caught Ron’s muttered “show-off” but Harry was beaming with obvious pride. The ball had just started its down arc when Ginny plucked the quaffle from the air like neither she nor the ball were moving.

“She’s brilliant, isn’t she?” Harry’s eyes were a little glazed and Hermione barked out a laugh.

She struck him in the chest to jar him out of his daydream. “Get in the air, Potter.”

“Yes, professor.” Harry winked, threw his leg over his broom and was in the sky with Ron one second behind him.

Hermione was content to conjure a blanket and a jar which she delighted in filling with her signature blue flame; living in South America she hadn’t had need of spare heat for a while. As predicted soon the adults in the air stopped looking so two against one and more like three fools showing off in the air. Hermione kept herself at the ready in case she had to save one of them, probably one of her boys, from falling to their deaths.

The younger boys were much cuter to watch. As promised the brooms only flew 7 or 8 feet off the ground and never seemed to really pick up speed. She saw the exact moment James suddenly had an idea because he dropped the quaffle and flew directly for her. “What is it James?”

“Aunt ‘Mione! Aunt ‘Mione! Can you ask Oz to go play with them! We wanna see!” Albus was nodding frantically behind his brother.

“We’ll have to see if he wants to, boys. He’s probably getting fat and spoiled by another piece of meat in your grandmothers kitchen.” Hermione whistled for Oz however and after a moment of the boys whipping their heads about they finally spotted him flying over The Burrow towards them. The boys cheered and Oz landed on Hermione’s shoulder. The witch stroked him and gave him some attention before nodding her head in the direction of the three broomsticks in the air above them. “The boys want to see you go play, Oz.” Hermione smirked. “Por que você não vai ensiná-los uma lição sobre voar, hein? [Why don't you go teach them a lesson in flying, hmm?]”

Oz gave a loud caw and Hermione could have sworn she saw the mischievous glint in his eye. He pushed off her shoulder, to more cheers from the boys, and flew into the air. He circled around above their heads and powered his way easily into the air until he was only a dot in the sky; far higher than the Quidditch players. They watched him circle above the unsuspecting heads getting into position before he folded himself into a dive.

Hermione and the boys watched transfixed as he gained incredible speed in his dive straight down. Right before he was upon the three players Ginny looked up and Oz spread his wings straight out wide; he was still in a free dive but extended out to his full size. Ron honest to Merlin screamed and slipped sideways as Harry yelled both in shock of the dive-bomb and by the sudden assault from his brother in law. Ron only just managed to stay on his broom, thanks to Harry, whereas Ginny was no handed flying as she clutched her stomach and cried from laughing so hard.

James and Albus cheered on their brooms as Oz took a victory lap.

Ron finally fully righted himself and took off after the bird. Hermione whistled loudly but Oz had already noticed him coming and dropped into another dive. Once he gained momentum he banked sharply and turned around and upward on a dime. Ron couldn’t maneuver his broom nearly as efficiently. Oz hit a slipstream and rocketed forward before turning his body and sliding in between Ginny and Harry; Ron almost crashed into the married couple in his chase efforts.

Oz banked again and put on an aerodynamic display, which left Ron hopelessly following behind, on his way back over to his witch who finally held out an arm for him to land on when he was close enough. Ron landed with a thud moments later. “Merlin’s bloody balls Hermione your bird almost just killed me!”

James and Albus’s gasps at the swearing were drowned out by the landing of their parents, much more gracefully, and their resounding laughter. “You should have seen your face Ron!” Ginny still had tears streaming down her face and Harry was leaning on his broom as he laughed.

Ron’s face was red but Hermione could tell it was embarrassment and amusement as opposed to anger. “I’d like to see you catch that bird!” Ron challenged.

“Oh no.” Ginny approached Hermione and held out her hand to Oz carefully; when he extended a wing she stroked him gently. “I know better than to take a challenge I can’t win. I know who the better flyer is, isn’t that right Oz?”

Oz literally puffed himself up at all the attention and praises and Ron huffed.

“Face it mate,” Harry draped his arm around the taller wizard’s shoulders, “you got beat fair and square. By a bird.”

“By a menace.” Ron grumbled.

They all put their brooms and equipment away and returned up to the house. Molly demanded they clean themselves up and they stopped only long enough to regale them of the tale of Ron against Oz. Ginny got into another borderline hysterical laughing fit and Harry finally shook his head and led her upstairs to her old room. “Just wait until George hears about this!” Was her final call from the stairs that made Ron groan.

Before Hermione had even really realized it, it was getting later and a sudden shout from the back garden let them know of George and his family’s arrival. Hermione was a little shy when the two adults and two children bustled into the already crowded house but George, in his way, barrelled right through her defences and scooped her up into a bone crushing hug that took her clean off her feet. He shook her repeatedly back and forth until Hermione finally laughed and smacked his back a few times. “Bloody good to see you, Hermione.” George smiled genially. He looked much better than the last time Hermione had laid eyes on him. His eyes were back to their cheerful and mischievous glint and he didn’t look utterly crushed and haunted. His ear, or rather the space where it had once been, had had some work done and grown in a little. While he could never get his ear back due to the curse that had struck him, the skin had healed and it was no longer just a hole in the side of his head. His hair, of course, was the one change, as it was now an auburn colour and cut similar to Ron’s. Hermione thought it was very typical George that the shaved side had his no ear and the one he actually did still have was covered by his hair.

“It is nice to see her.” A sarcastic voice chided from behind him. “Nice if someone else would let us.” George shrugged in good humor and moved aside for his wife. Hermione hadn’t seen Angelina since the funerals, she thought, but the elder witch still smiled and greeted her warmly. She looked much the same with her gorgeous skin, long dreadlocks and athletic and curvy body, and Hermione could only wish she looked as healthy and carefree as much as the witch who pulled her into a gentle hug.

“Good to see you, Hermione.”

“You too, Angelina.” They had never been particularly close but Hermione had heard more about her over the years. She noticed the two children hiding close to her legs. “Oh my goodness your children are the cutest.” Hermione was not exaggerating. Fred Jr. and Roxanne, who Hermione knew little about but their names, had caramel skin, a clear blend of George’s pale and Angelina’s chocolate, and still a muted version of the Weasley flame red hair. They both had an adorable smattering of freckles across their cheeks and noses and Angelina’s dark brown eyes peered up at her from both.

“This is Freddie,” Angelina pulled him forward, “he’s the same age as James. And this is Roxanne, she’s a year older than Al. Guys, this is Hermione. You’ve heard lots of stories about her.”

Hermione waved and the two shyly waved back. James and Albus swooped in and began regaling their cousins about Hermione and Oz.

They had just began shuffling outside when another loud crack from the gardens let them know their last guests were here. When she caught sight of them she truly didn’t know which she wanted to run into the arms of first. Her decision was made for her when Neville Longbottom sprinted forward with a cry of her name. He tripped, righted himself, and Hermione soon found herself in his embrace. Neville, out of everyone she’d seen today, looked the most different.

He was tall, almost Ron’s height, and no longer on the chubby side. He had a sleek build of someone in great shape but not overly muscular. His hair was a little shorter and just shy of rakishly falling over his eyes. He was wearing light robes and slacks and Hermione could see random spots of earth on him. He smelt exactly like a greenhouse when Hermione held him close; like earth and dirt and sweet like all the flowers and plants he tended. His face had finally lost that adolescent appearance and Hermione was shocked to find him ruggedly handsome. What hadn’t changed in the slightest was his smile. When he finally let Hermione go he simply beamed at her and Hermione got a glimpse of the grateful boy she’d tutored through all his years at Hogwarts.

Neville let her go and Luna stepped up beside him. Hermione was both thrilled, and nervous, to see Luna. Hermione would call her a dear friend and she adored the eccentric Ravenclaw. Her light blonde hair was pulled back into an elegant knot at the back of her head and still managed to hang halfway down her back. She was older, obviously, and she had grown into her features beautifully. Her impossibly light blue eyes still gave her a slightly airy look but Hermione knew how much intelligence sparked behind those eyes; that was the part that made her nervous. Even if she expressed herself in a unique way there was no denying how much Luna saw. Hermione still had a few gaping wounds that she could hide from her family but she doubted she could hide from the younger witch. “Hermione.” Luna’s voice was affectionate and Hermione immediately pulled her into a hug.

“Luna. It’s so good to see you.” Hermione had actually exchanged many letters with Luna over the years. She mostly kept it to small talk or discussing the latest creature that had been discovered in whatever part of the world Hermione was currently in.

Luna pulled back to examine her and Hermione squirmed. Luna pulled her into another hug and spoke directly into Hermione’s ear. “I’m glad to see there isn’t so much darkness in you anymore. You know, many candles are good for bringing the light.”

Unlike when she was younger Hermione nodded seriously at the witch’s words. Hermione had met many people on her travels and many of them were what someone would label an unusual witch or wizard. Hermione had finally learned that unusual did not mean wrong. Luna beamed at her serious expression. “I see you finally got the Nargles out of your ears.”

Hermione chuckled and pulled the witch to her side as she followed their family making their way into the backyard. “I’m still trying Luna.”

When dinner was finally served the long table at which they sat was practically groaning under the weight of all the food. The Weasley’s were not a particular bunch and as soon as everyone was seated they began digging in and shelling out. Harry and George were cutting up food for their youngest’s and everyone else was passing food by hand and by magic.

Whether from politeness to her or genuine curiosity Hermione noticed almost everyone at the table popping her Brazilian food into their mouths. She’d chosen both dishes because they were small ball sized portions that didn’t look too daring for the fairly simple, used to English food, Weasley and Potter family.

“You can get these things anywhere?” Harry asked from across the table as he popped another dough and cheese ball into his mouth.

“Mhmm. Everywhere you go in Brazil, hell in South America, there are street vendors lining the streets. It’s far less common to go to a sit down restaurant. People just buy their food and walk around until you find family or friends and it turns into a gathering. These two dishes are staples.”

“I like the culture food, aunt ‘Mione!” James called from his place beside Ginny.

“Thank you, lindo.”

“So how many places have you actually been, Hermione?” Angelina asked as she smacked George for amusing the kids by throwing balls of food up into the air and catching it with his mouth.

“Oh lord, dozens. Japan, the Philippines, India, Egypt, Botswana,”

“You’ve been to Africa?” Ron asked stunned.

Hermione gave him a deadpanned look. “So have you, Ronald. Egypt is in Africa.” Everyone laughed at the redhead’s expense and George threw a carrot at him.

“I meant the like, savannah part of Africa.” Ron mumbled with a glare at his brother.

Hermione chuckled. “Well, yes. I have. I met some shamans there who can do incredible magic with fire and smoke.”

“You ever get down with the hallucinogenic drugs those shamans mess around with?” Ginny teased. All jaws at the table, minus the children’s, dropped when Hermione causally nodded.

“It’s practically a religious experience in some parts of the world. I’ve used iboga with those shamans in Africa, and peyote in Mexico with a group of witches. And I’ve used ayahuasca in Brazil with a few Amazonian tribes a couple of times.” She noticed everyone at the table staring at her. “What? All three plants are naturally occurring hallucinogens and were used in the course of religious or spiritual ceremonies.”

“Well Merlin’s balls Hermione.” Ginny finally exclaimed. “I’m seeing a whole new side of you.”

“Did you actually see things?” Angelina asked with a smirk.

“Oh yes. Not always pleasantly though. And usually woke the next day wishing for only a hangover.” Everyone chuckled and the talk turned back to questioning Hermione.

“So what exactly are your academic qualifications now?” Neville asked her while hoarding what was left of the pudding from Ron.

“Oh.” Hermione looked a little bashful. “Well, I’ve got a full Mastery in both Transfiguration and Potions. I also hold a seat on the International Association for Experimental Magics with credentials in transfiguration, potions and charms.”

Neville looked stunned. “I figured you must have a Mastery in Transfiguration because Minerva offered you the job but I didn’t know you pursued a double Mastery at the same time. Blimey, Hermione.”

“How hard is it to get a Mastery exactly?” Harry eventually asked the table. His knowledge on the academic side of magic was admittedly lacking.

“Very.” Neville told him seriously. “Half of the professors at Hogwarts don’t hold an actual Mastery. Even in the subjects they do offer them in.”

“Very few Ministry positions require a Mastery,” Arthur chimed in, “but they’re considered the absolute elite in their fields. It’s very impressive, Hermione.” She simply nodded her thanks.

“They’re also a bit like a secret society.” Angelina mentioned. “All of the Masters and Mistresses in the subject get together once a year and no one without a Mastery is allowed to be there. Each subject has its own rules and traditions and no one really knows what they get up to at their meetings.”

“We get piss drunk and talk about how smart we are.” Hermione teased. Everyone laughed but Hermione was focused on Neville. “How did you know McGonagall offered me the job Neville?”

“Overheard it in the teachers’ lounge.” Neville grinned while sipping his pumpkin juice. “Found out the professors gossip just as much as the students.”

“Oh my gosh.” Hermione could have slapped herself. “Oh Neville I completely forgot you were a professor too.”

Neville just grinned without offence. “Yup! I was Sprout’s aid for two years and then she finally retired and I was the full Herbology Professor last year.”

“That’s amazing Neville. Congratulations.”

Neville’s smile turned a little shy. “No pressure or anything, but I’d really love to have you in the castle again.”

Harry and Ginny stopped eating and looked up at her, not very subtly, from the corners of their eyes. “How um,” she had to stop to clear her throat, “how is the castle?”

It was a bittersweet look on the boys, no, the man’s, face. “The castle is incredible Hermione. It looks amazing and you can really feel the strength in it. It helps to see the students running around and laughing too. The castle healed. It’s not haunted anymore.” The obvious question of whether or not Hermione was still haunted was left unsaid.

Hermione nodded with her face firmly pointed down towards her plate. A loud caw filled the air and the only people not startled and surprised were Hermione, Ginny and Harry. Oz, as he always did, landed on her shoulder.

George provided the comedic relief. “Hermione. Hermione. I don’t want to alarm you. I don’t want you to panic. I just want to ask you if you’ve noticed that…there’s like no roast beef left.”

Everyone did laugh and Hermione left it to an excited James to explain about Oz while the bird in question preened her hair.

Several bottles of Ogden’s finest were cracked open by Arthur while Hermione and Molly brought out the desserts later. Everything got demolished and it made Hermione’s heart feel lighter to see the kids enjoying her South American dessert.

“Whew.” Ginny exclaimed stuffing another bite of it into her mouth. “You weren’t kidding about the brandy in this ‘Mione. No apparating home later anyone.”

The kids were finally excused from the table and playing in the backyard, while Oz was circling over their heads protectively, and everyone else was enjoying a glass of firewhiskey or wine. “So how are the rest of Weasley’s?” Hermione asked Molly and Arthur. “I know Percy is still at the Ministry?”

“Yes, yes, he’s at the Department of Magical Transportation now. Working directly under the Head.”

“That’s good.” Hermione kept a politely interested smile. “And he gave you some grandchildren too?”

Molly beamed. “Two beautiful girls, Molly and Lucy. He and Audrey married a little less than five years ago now, and the girls are three and one.”

“Good for Percy. I’ve dealt with the Magical Transportation department quite a lot on my travels. Very strict people usually, I’m sure he loves it.”

The family ribbed on Percy and told a few good-natured stories about his serious manner that had everyone chuckling into their glasses.

“And you mentioned Charlie and Bill were both in Egypt?”

“Yes. Charlie is still doing his work with dragons of course. The last I heard they had found a nest of Opaleye dragons which is why they brought a team into Egypt.” Arthur informed her.

“I can imagine. The Antipodean dragon isn’t known to be in the region.” Hermione was a little curious and decided to ask Charlie when she saw him next. “And Bill? Still with Gringotts? I know he took a desk job, so I’m surprised he’s in Egypt.”

“Oh he went back to curse breaking.” Arthur’s voice was marginally strained.

“Really? Did Fleur go with him, or? I can’t imagine how that must have gone over.” Hermione wasn’t a fool and noticed the increased tension immediately. She looked around and Ginny was the only one that caught her eye.

“They’re, uh, actually divorced.”

What?

Ginny went to speak but Molly cut her off with a question about more dessert. Hermione let the older woman force the conversation to drop.

The family continued its celebration and it wasn’t long before children were plunked down against various parents in varying states of tiredness. George scooped up both of his, while Harry had James and Ron took Albus, and they carried the children upstairs into one of the many bedrooms in The Burrow.

Ginny, Hermione and Angelina instantly offered to carry in dishes and the three Gryffindor women huddled into the empty kitchen. “What did I step into back there about Bill and Fleur?” Hermione half whispered.

Ginny sighed. “It was just a really awful situation. I guess their marriage was getting rocky and it all centered so much on the fact that Bill wanted a family.”

“And Fleur didn’t?” Hermione would be shocked if that was the case; she knew how caring the French woman could be.

“No, she did. She just couldn’t seem to get pregnant.” Angelina confided. “We talked about it some and she told me she was incredibly stressed. It was like every month Bill would be the perfect husband and they would try to get pregnant and when it didn’t work he would get sullen and moody and eventually angry. Eventually he would turn it around and they’d try again because she truly did want a child. But it wouldn’t happen and the cycle would start over. She said it was getting to the point that she never knew which Bill she was getting.”

“Bloody hell.” Oh Fleur. “It’s not like that kind of stressful environment is the perfect condition to conceive.” Hermione huffed.

“I know George talked to Bill about it once because he told Ron and Ron told me.” Ginny admitted. “Bill just ended up getting furious and exploded because George had a child and didn’t know what it felt like. I never saw him lose it like that but I do know that Bill wasn’t exactly the same guy by the time they actually divorced. And mum was crushed.”

Angelina looked pensive. “I think she was more upset because she couldn’t even blame Fleur. Fleur never really gossiped but I heard a few snippets of things and fights they’d had and let me tell you, if George ever spoke to me like that we would be having some serious words about divorcing too.”

“Oh I’d kill Harry.” Ginny’s voice was frustrated. “It’s just hard. I mean he’s my brother and I love him but if he treated her like shit it’s hard to pretend like I’m okay with that. You don’t get to make a woman feel like that. Ever. Especially not over not being able to get pregnant. Neville says she’s doing really well now though.”

“Neville?” Hermione was really starting to dislike being so out of the loop.

“Yeah.” Ginny reached under the counter for another bottle of firewhiskey when she heard the men coming back down the stairs. “She’s the Charms professor at Hogwarts.”

Chapter Text

After five days in Britain and with her family Hermione had to admit that her heart felt lighter than it had in years. She had spent days playing with her nephews; teaching James all about her travels and different cultures and teaching Albus the basic fundamentals of magic. James was so much like Harry and thrilled at her stories of adventure and different lands. Albus was a little more studious, which frankly warmed Hermione’s soul, and the witch saw great potential in both of them.

She had a lovely girl’s lunch with Ginny, Angelina and Luna and they had caught her up on nearly ten years of gossip. Angelina worked at the Ministry as well, in the Department of Magical Games and Sports, where she specialized in foreign relations due to Quidditch matches. She wasn’t high ranked enough to do the travelling to international matches that her superiors did, nor did she want to due to her family, but the matches she supervised in Britain allowed her and Ginny to cross paths frequently and socialize in the same circles.

Luna had more Hogwarts gossip then the others but Neville apparently liked to stay out of the inner department politics and focus on his greenhouses. Luna gave them a delightfully salacious grin when she informed them about the first time Neville had fire-called her in a panic because he finally realized a 5th year Hufflepuff girl was flirting with him. The girls had laughed but Hermione tipped her glass in Luna’s direction and admitted she wasn’t the least bit surprised and wouldn’t doubt if there were several more who were just more subtle.

Luna also regaled them all with stories of her work as a Magizoologist and while the girls only recognized half of the creatures she spoke of, her and her colleague’s mishaps were always entertaining.

It was Ginny who had finally broached a new subject with Hermione by simply turning to her and casually asking over the appetizers if she had had any sex while on her travels. Hermione had promptly choked and glared at her friend who seemed utterly unashamed.

“What? It’s not like Harry or Ron were going to ask or even want to know. Girls lunch is the perfect opportunity to enquire.”

“You didn’t have to enquire at all!”

Hermione had escaped the inquisition by snarking that she wasn’t a nun and promptly changing the subject. She told them all about the single mother she had for a neighbour and how the woman and her four children had very quickly become family. Hermione admitted having them with her would be the only thing to make this vacation even better.

Ron had been by for dinner every night of Hermione’s stay and she loved and adored catching up with the new man. He was still a tactless prat on occasion but he wasn’t as emotionally stunted as he once was and Hermione was marvelling at his mind. She still wouldn’t call the tall redhead book smart, necessarily, but the auror department had clearly instilled in him a new way of thinking that Hermione found fascinating. His words might be simple but he inferred questions and conclusions from her stories that left her surprised and smiling. The strategic mind that made him so adept at chess was now being used more effectively and Hermione couldn’t have been prouder of him.

As they always did after the boys had been put to bed they gathered in the living room for a drink and some conversation. Ginny had only left once during the week for Quidditch practice but both Harry and Ron had been working primarily from home with only a few stops in at the Ministry. She had told them not to worry and that she didn’t want to make them miss work but they just smiled and said they would rather be spending time with her.

But now, as Hermione got ready for bed, the vacation was coming to an end. Tomorrow was the last full day she had in Britain as the next day the Floo would be open for her to return home; and she still had not really done what she had set out to do.

She had not yet returned to Hogwarts.

The next morning Ginny and Harry seemed to notice her slight withdrawal and Ginny preoccupied the boys while Harry laid a hand on her arm. “Hermione?”

“I’m going to have to go today if I want to go at all.”

“Do you? Want to go at all?”

“Well, I wouldn’t by any means calls this trip a waste, being here with you all has been more than I could have hoped for. But, going to Hogwarts was sort of the whole point. I need to know if I can be there before I give Minerva an answer.”

“Hermione.” Ginny came back into the kitchen after setting up the boys elsewhere. “If nothing else was a factor. If there was nothing else to consider or figure out. If it was just a matter of whether or not you want to be a professor, would you want to?”

The older witch munched on a piece of toast to give the question the thought it deserved. She had never known exactly what it was she wanted to do but the answer had always lain in academics. Hermione wanted to learn and absorb all that she could. Isn’t that what I’ve been doing? Hermione already had two Masteries, which was as far as those subject could go, and she actively participated in magical experimentation to ensure that magic and knowledge continued moving forward. Was there anything else left to do in academics? That answer was easy: give back. To do your part in guaranteeing that the next generation not only learned what they needed to but to instill in them the desire to keep pushing boundaries and limits and never stop trying to evolve and grow. To teach.

“Yes, I would.”

Ginny nodded as if that settled that and Harry smiled at her. “When you told us you were coming I owled McGonagall and told her your desire to see Hogwarts first. She seemed unsurprised actually. She’s not at the castle currently, she must be at home, but she told me that we had her permission to visit the castle and if we called for her house-elf Plimby he would meet us at the gate and allow us entry on the grounds.

“Is there anyone there?”

“She didn’t say, but Neville has mentioned running into people a few times while he’s gone to check on his greenhouses so I don’t think it’s deserted.”

Hermione nodded and sipped from the tea Ginny had just placed at her elbow. “We should call Ron.” She said after a moment. “My first return to Hogwarts since leaving, it wouldn’t feel right without him.”

“He already offered, we’ll just apparate to his apartment and pick him up.” Harry nodded.

Hermione felt slightly better with a plan made; but that didn’t mean she wasn’t still considering a Stomach Settle Solution for the nausea currently plaguing her.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

It was the smell Hermione noticed first, mostly because her eyes were clenched resolutely shut. Something about the Scottish air, the forest, the lake and the hint of smoke curling out of the chimney from Hagrid’s hut just unmistakably spelled out Hogwarts. Hermione felt this momentous step settle somewhere deep inside her bones; this would either make her or break her. Oz’s presence on her shoulder was a familiar and comforting weight.

Hermione actually turned her body and looked away before she opened her eyes. The trio were standing on a well-worn road with trees and rolling hills beside them with the mountain range in the distance. Hermione knew the road well however she was usually sitting in a carriage pulled by thestrals and chatting with her friends about how happy she was to be back when she was on it. Hermione focussed in the distance down the road and could just make out Hogsmeade. The little village was nestled in the Scottish hills and was much quieter now, during the summer, than any other time of the year.

Her heart rate suddenly tripled as shouts from the Death Eaters outside met her ear. Memories of the last Death Eater that had put her hands on her, all over her, made her stomach turn over and bile rise in her throat. Aberforth hissed at them to stay put and- Hermione forced several deep breaths into her lungs and her stomach, rolling at the memory, settled a little. She turned to the two boys intently watching her.

“Do you remember your first trip to Hogsmeade, Harry? Under your cloak?”

“How could I forget? I scared Ron out of his willy’s.”

The redhead in question huffed. “You were invisible, Harry, what did you expect? I almost dropped that jar and had to pay for it.”

Hermione grinned. “You boys ate so much candy that day. And we had our first taste of Butterbeer.”

“You two did. I stole some from Percy when I was like eight. Didn’t appreciate the taste then.”

Hermione tried to pick out landmarks of the village from this far. “Oh there’s your favourite building, Ron.” She pointed. Ron squinted and tried to see what she was pointing at.

“Zonko’s? Honeydukes?”

“Shrieking Shack.” Hermione and Harry spoke in unison and then burst out laughing.

“Oi! You two didn’t almost get ripped to shreds in that building thank you very much!”

“Oh please.” Harry smacked his shoulder. “That was Sirius and you were scared of that building long before we went inside.”

Hermione linked her arm through one of Ron’s and rested her head on his shoulder. He huffed at them but Hermione knew he didn’t really mind the teasing. “Remember the look on Draco’s face when Harry hit him with the mud?”

Ron’s mock-disgruntled look disappeared in an instant as he smiled wide. “I’ll never forget that as long as I live. Probably one of the top five Malfoy moments of all time.”

“Let me guess.” Harry gripped Hermione’s free hand and thrust her hand into the air in celebration. Harry put on a fake, dramatic, announcers voice as he called, “Of the lightweight division, number one title by one hit knockout we haaave, Heeeermiiioneee Granger!”

Hermione pulled her arm free and punched Harry who playfully mocked being in pain. “Shut up, Harry, that’s terrible. I never should have slapped him.”

Ron and Harry raised their eyebrows. “Yes you should.”

“Okay, fine. If that makes the list than surely, the amazing bouncing ferret is up there even though that technically wasn’t Draco’s real face.”

“It counts.” Ron shrugged. “We saw his face the moment before and moment after fake Moody turned him into that ferret.”

The trio laughed and Hermione still watched the village. “The village was good to us, wasn’t it? I mean even before.”

“It was eventful that’s for sure.” Harry agreed. “I had my first ever date in that village.”

“Didn’t it go horribly?”

“She ran out in tears.” He confirmed. “Jealous over the Gryffindor Princess over here.”

"Man, if you do return to the castle we're going to have to upgrade you to the Gryffindor Queen."

Hermione loved her boys so much in these moments for willing to reminisce with her and not point out the fact they were still outside the Hogwarts gates and she hadn’t even looked at it yet. They told more Hogsmeade stories back and forth and Hermione didn’t find it too difficult to block the moment from right before the final battle out.

“How about Ron’s extremely obvious crush on Madam Rosmerta?”

Ron sputtered for a second and then shrugged. “I haven’t seen her extremely recently but if she was into younger men I’d probably still chat her up.”

“Oh please, you never once chatted her up.” Harry laughed. “You’d go as red as your hair and hide in your Butterbeer.”

Hermione smiled and actually turned around without warning the boys at all; it would have been harder with them staring at her. The twelve foot, rod iron gates were closed but Hermione could see straight through and clear across the grounds; the sight of the castle stole the breath right from her lungs. The castle stood proud over the Black Lake and the Forbidden Forest with the Scottish Highlands as a backdrop. The three tallest towers of the castle, the Astronomy, Ravenclaw, and Gryffindor ones, seemingly reached up into the sky and Hermione felt tears streaming down her face at the sight of all three towers complete and whole. Hermione stepped closer to the gate and could make out the three greenhouses and off to the other side the very tips of the stands and goalposts in the Quidditch pitch. The Forbidden forest loomed imposingly along the edge of the property and Hermione could easily make out the tallest form standing guard before it; the Whomping Willow.

“You okay, Hermione?” Harry’s voice was so soft.

“Yeah.” Hermione’s voice was even softer. “It’s just…a lot.”

“We can stay out here as long as you want.” Harry reassured her.

“I quite like the view from out here.” Ron pointed out instantly. “There’s nice trees over there, and a different looking shrub on that side. Should let Neville know that there’s some kind of mysterious looking shrub over here. He might want to take a look at it. Could be dangerous, you know.” Ron nodded to himself. “In fact, he might need an auror to help stand guard while he checks it. You never know what stuff near Hogwarts is like and this is a very suspicious looking shrub.” He leaned a little closer. “Could be a bush.”

“Ron?”

“Hmm?”

“Please do shut up.” Hermione smiled at him. She took another step towards the gate and could feel the magic thrumming along it; the metal of the gate was the least of the things keeping people off the grounds. “Plimby?”

The house-elf appeared with a loud crack and he was already in a deep bow. “Mistress Granger and Masters Potter and Weasley. It is an honour to be serving yous today sirs and miss.” Plimby looked like all house-elves with his bat-like long ears and huge green eyes. At two and half feet he came up to about Hermione’s waist. His spindly arms and legs were bare but his torso was covered up by a toga stamped with the Hogwarts logo. He had a few more wrinkles than Hermione had seen before and she figured he was much older.

Hermione crouched down to his height. She knew Harry and Ron were holding their breaths behind her. “And it is an honour to be with you today as well, Plimby.” The house-elf positively beamed and bowed again.

“Headmistresses McGonagall said yous would be wanting into the ground and the castle and I was to get you whatever yous be wishing.” Plimby snapped two abnormally long fingers and the gates of Hogwarts instantly began to creep open. “Is there anywheres yous be liking to see first?”

Hermione stood and wiped off her knees. “If it would be alright with you, Plimby, I think we’re just going to wander around first and should we need you, we’ll call you.”

Plimby nodded several times and bowed again. “Yes, yes, Mistress Granger. That is sounding like a lovely plan. Plimby will make sure I be having tea and lunch ready when yous be wanting it.” The house-elf ushered the three through the gate which closed by itself once they were through. “Please be enjoying your stroll sirs and miss.” Plimby bowed again and with a large beaming smile for Hermione he disappeared again with a loud crack.

Ron was smirking at her. “Well that was a long way from the President of spew.”

“S.P.E.W.” Hermione correctly automatically. “I admit, I was a bit forward and misguided in my youth. Firstly, the group should have been called H.E.L.P.” Ron arched an eyebrow. “House-Elf Liberation Party.” Hermione smirked back at him. “And it should have been about working conditions and punishments on those guilty of abuse and neglect; not a human definition of freedom.”

Ron’s smirk dropped off his face and Harry whistled. “Damn. Yeah that would have been better. Is it true the Department of Magical Creatures headhunted you?”

“Several times. And several different Ministries.” Hermione admitted as they strolled across the lawns. They passed by the greenhouses and Hermione tried to peer through the glass. “Think Neville would notice if we went in?”

“Maybe.” Harry shrugged.

“He might not notice us going in,” Ron remarked, “but someone might notice if we never come out.”

Harry chuckled. “Neville did ask us to check on his plants while we were here.”

“The greenhouses are still standing.” Ron nodded. “That’s a good enough check for me.”

“Says the man who thought a small shrub needed auror intervention.”

“Hey!” The tall redhead pointed his finger at his friend dramatically. “I said it could have been a very suspicious bush.” He left at their laughter and Hermione and Harry linked arms to follow several paces behind him.

Hermione kept honestly looking for actual signs of destruction but there were none. There wasn’t any mark on that tree- a Ravenclaw boy just managed to duck out of the way and the Stinging Hex flew over his head; he wasn’t fast enough to bring his wand back up and the light faded from his open eyes when the Avada Kedavra hit him square in the chest- and the grass was green and perfect and showed no signs of devastation- two Order members were stunned and immobilized and Dolohov took the time to set them on fire before flinging a Cruciatus Curse over his shoulder; the wizards couldn’t move or scream as the fire burned them alive- All too soon they had reached the front doors of the castle. Hermione knew the tall, ornately carved wooden doors were new because the originals had been blown off in the battle. They walked the front steps together as a group- several students slipped out of the front doors as they fled because the steps were drenched in a river of blood- and Ron reached forward and pulled the doors open.

“We’ve snuck out these doors a time or two, eh?”

“A time or twenty.” Harry grinned. “You want to go inside Hermione?” Her voice was stuck somewhere in her throat but she nodded anyway. It was a short walk across the antechamber and then the Entrance Hall- dead bodies were lined up in rows side by side because there were too many to fit in the Great Hall- and Hermione found herself somewhere she had spent a great majority of her time at Hogwarts.

Hermione looked up first and the ceiling actually brought her a smile because it now made her think of James and Albus. The gigantic room- the screams and shouts echoed off the walls and Hermione frantically tried to search through the din for Ron- looked exactly like it did the first time she, at eleven years old, ever walked through the doors. The room held thousands and thousands of floating candles but currently none of them were lit. The four house tables, impossibly long and not yet filled with golden tableware, filled the space and had their banners hanging above them. Hermione took the time to study each one and she couldn’t hold back the smile at the red and gold Gryffindor lion. Hermione walked up the aisle between the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables and headed for the High Table; she could hear the boys following dutifully behind her. Ron’s eye was caught by the Hogwarts banner over the professors table; it contained each of House’s crests around a large H and the school’s moto. “Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus.” Ron absolutely butchered the Latin pronunciation. “You know I never heard what that moto even means?”

“Never tickle a sleeping dragon.” Hermione replied promptly.

Ron nodded with a mostly serious expression. “Sound advice.”

“I’ve dealt with three dragons in my life, and that was three too many, thank you.” Harry rolled his eyes. “And not once did I consider tickling any of them.”

“Not even Norbert?” Hermione teased.

“Hey.” Now Ron was the one interjecting. “I’m fairly certain I am the only one here who was ever bitten by a dragon and Norbert was nothing to joke about.”

Harry scoffed. “I’ll trade you facing Norbert for facing the Horntail any day of the week mate.”

“You were both very brave.” Hermione placated them even though she was only half listening. She noticed the podium was set up and waiting for the start of term speech that Minerva would give and behind that was the table that housed the teachers. McGonagall’s chair was large and ornate gold carved making it look somewhat like a throne. She eyed the spot directly to the left of that; the chair that had normally been Minerva’s.

“Picturing yourself up there?” Ron asked from where he had his shoes on the bench of the Hufflepuff table and was sitting up on it.

“For goodness sake, Ronald, get down.” Hermione didn’t deny the claim because she had in fact been picturing herself sitting up there and looking down- light flashes filled the air and it was impossible to defend against everything; more people dove and scrambled for cover when Fenrir Greyback slashed with his claws amidst the curses- at the students as they ate with their housemates.

Hermione gently traced the podium before her. “It looks like it never happened.” Hermione whispered.

“Not quite.” Harry whispered and took his sister by the hand. Hermione was led back down the aisles and into the Entrance Hall. Hermione took note of the House Hourglasses; the glass structures that contained the beads counting which House was in the lead for the House Cup. The glasses all currently sat at zero- a fifth year Gryffindor witch was blasted backwards by a curse with enough force to crack her sternum; she smashed into the Slytherin Hourglass and green emeralds spilled across the floor mixing with the blood and bodies- but Hermione knew they would be in constant motion come the school year.

Oz had not moved the entire time they had been here and Hermione was grateful. Every time he sensed her increasing distress he cawed slightly or preened her hair and pulled her from it.

Harry directed her attention over and Hermione noticed a large plaque on the wall beside the Hourglasses in one of the heaviest trafficked area’s in the school. Tears once again streamed down Hermione’s face and she took in the plaque, the memorial, which had been erected in honour of those that lost their lives fighting for Hogwarts in the final battle. All 58 individuals were listed and Hermione let out a sob as she started reading their names. She made a point to read every single one. Some she had to stop and cry at; Harry and Ron held her close and let her make her way through the list. Lavender Brown. Colin Creevey. Hermione wept for her fellow Gryffindor’s and both men just held her tighter. Nymphadora Tonks-Lupin. Remus Lupin. Hermione reached out and stroked the plague over the married couples name gently. There was too much tragedy and Hermione continued to weep. Severus Snape. Hermione placed her fingers over his name as well; in thanks and in apology. The very last name on the plaque caused Hermione’s legs to give out and Oz to take flight in alarm; Harry had to catch her dead weight as she crumpled.

Fred Weasley.

Hermione thrashed and Harry seemed instinctively to know what she wanted as he passed her over to Ron who engulfed the hysterical witch in his arms. Ron was crying now too and they buried their faces in each other’s necks as they sobbed.

They cried together for several moments and it was a loud and highly distressed caw that finally made Hermione pull her face out of Ron’s shoulder and glance over. Harry, who had tear tracks streaming down his cheeks, was standing very still as Oz had landed and clamped onto his shoulder. Hermione tried a broken smile through her tears. “He’s never landed on anyone but me before. You must be very special.”

Hermione turned back to Ron and used her thumbs to wipe away his tears; he returned the favour and gently wiped hers away even as they continued to fall.

“You know,” Ron cleared his throat as he choked a little, “you know what Fred would say if he knew you got offered a job here?”

“Yes.” Hermione replied without hesitation. “He’d tell me to take it and go easy on the next generation of Gryffindor troublemakers.”

“Damn right he would.”

Hermione finally pressed her lips to Ron’s cheek and then stepped away from him; Oz landed on her shoulder instantly and buried his beak and head into her hair.

“Ow bloody hell.” Harry rubbed his shoulder. “Why did you never mention it hurt when he did that?”

“He doesn’t hurt me.” Hermione chuckled. She looked again at the names and the plaque and made a silent vow that she would do better for them. Hermione waved her fingers and cleaned all three of their faces in a spell she was unfortunately extremely familiar with. Ron rubbed his cheeks and tried to smile.

“What do you say we go and enjoy some lunch in the Great Hall? Like old times?” Hermione offered and two men nodded their agreement. Hermione watched Ron touch Fred’s name gently and almost started crying again.

A call to Plimby had the house-elf at their side in an instant. He was happy to serve them at the Gryffindor table and had even brought strips of raw meat for Oz.

Harry was the one to finally break the silence. “I keep thinking about when Fred and George flew outta here. After Umbridge and all the pranks.”

Ron smiled at the thought of his brothers. “Instant legends. I don’t think anything could ever beat that firework display.” Ron caught Hermione’s eye. “We actually do one every year in honour.”

“I won’t miss the next one.” Hermione promised.

“He was a bloody good beater too.” Harry added after a moment. “No one could play with bludgers quite like them.”

Hermione started snickering. “Quidditch maybe. But I will never forget them trying to dance at the Yule Ball.”

Lunch was getting cold and forgotten as they moved on from their tears and remembered old memories instead.

“We complained so much about that camera but three-quarters of the pictures I have from Hogwarts were all from Colin.”

“I’ll never be able to live down Won-Won but no man forgets their first real kiss.”

“First real anything.”

“Shut up, Potter.”

“He may have treated us like garbage but the man had a gift in Potions that can’t be denied. The last annual Potions Mastery Meeting I was at I made a point of talking about him. Every Master and Mistress there had learned something from him. The foreign witches and wizards also exclaimed their jealousy I was taught by him for years.”

“The first time I met Tonks she and the other Order members had come to break me out of Dursley’s place. She was unlike anyone I’d ever met. She tried to teach me a magical method of packing. Couldn’t do the socks though.”

“She’d change her face to anything for a laugh.”

“Merlin what would we have done without Lupin in third year?”

“Never seen what Snape looked like in a dress, that’s what.”

When lunch was finally finished and laughter, not screams, echoed in the halls they finally called Plimby back and he was delighted to magically disappear their mess. “Is there anything else you is needing Plimby for?”

“No, thank you Plimby. We’re just going to continue our walk.” They left the house-elf and, without discussing it, began automatically heading out to the Entrance Hall and up the main staircase.

Hermione trailed her fingers gently up the staircases and made herself focus on the now. Each hallway, every staircase, seemingly had a story in it. Some were funny; like how Neville once managed to hit every single trick step on his way from the dormitory to the Great Hall in one trip. Others were just a part of their history; like the second floor hallway they had found a petrified Mrs. Norris and the message about the Chamber of Secrets. Hermione took extra care in noticing every suit of armor remembering how they had been animated and fought beside them at the battle- the grating noise almost burst Hermione’s eardrum as a suit armor took a curse directly aimed for her; the suit of armor exploded in pieces and rained down on her- when everything had seemed hopeless.

They hadn’t forgotten any of their tricks and they took several shortcuts on their way up the tower. There was literally an endless amount of times they had made this journey together after a long day of classes and, on occasion, rule breaking.

“Cloak wouldn’t even come close to covering all three of us now, would it?” Hermione eyed the six foot tall man.

“Barely covered us the last few times we all used it. It’s a miracle Filch never saw our ankles wondering around.”

Unsurprisingly, as school wasn’t even in, the Fat Lady was not in her portrait. They laughed at her empty frame and told some of their better stories of being caught outside the dormitory when the Fat Lady decided on a stroll.

“Where are the Professors rooms?” Ron asked out of the blue as they continued walking the castle aimlessly.

“You know, now that I think about it they’re not labeled on the Marauders Map either.”

“I mean Lupin, Sirius and James were good, but I’m not surprised they never found where the teachers slept. God, could you imagine the pranks if the students found where the teachers lived?

Hermione’s sixth sense alerted her that they were no longer alone seconds before she heard an extremely familiar, French, feminine voice. “I should ‘ope such a thing would never ‘appen as the results would likely be disastrous.”

The trio spun around as Fleur Delacour stepped out of the old Charms classroom. Hermione couldn’t help dozens of emotions welling up at the sight of the French witch; warmth and gratitude were prevalent alongside embarrassment and insecurity.

Hermione noticed that not that much had changed about Fleur since the last time she had seen her. She was still almost unfairly beautiful with long silvery hair and delicate classic features. She was wearing robes a light blue with darker blue accents that matched perfectly with her hair and complexion. Her voice was slightly different only in the fact that her accent was even farther removed, from prolonged English speaking, while still being distinctly French. Any thought Hermione had about Neville being too crush-worthy for the students flew instantly from mind.

“Fleur.” Hermione’s voice was thick with emotion and she prayed she didn’t crumble.

“’ermione.” Fleur’s voice was filled with so much affection Hermione almost cried; she would have if the older witch had spoken to her with any of the platitudes or sympathy she was expecting but didn’t receive. “While I was not expecting to find the Golden Trio wandering the ‘alls of the castle today, I am quite pleased to see you.” Her voice held some gentle teasing that made Hermione smile and finally gently remove Oz from her shoulder so she could step forward.

Fleur wrapped her arms around the shorter witch’s neck and pulled her close. If their hug lasted longer than the men were expecting they said nothing. When they pulled back Fleur ran her fingers through Hermione’s hair and the younger witch shivered. “You look absolutely phenomenal, ma chère [my dear]. Beautiful.”

“As do you, as always.” Hermione almost stuttered. Fleur flipped her hair over her shoulder and tsked and didn’t reply to the compliment.

“Your beauty is only matched by this completely ‘andsome gentleman behind you.”

It pleased Hermione to nearly infinite levels that she was talking about Oz. Her hawk landed back on her shoulder and glowed under the compliment he could clearly understand.

“Well then Fleur, allow me to have the honour of introducing you to Oz. Oz, this is Professor Fleur Delacour. Esta é a mulher de quem te falei, aquela que salvou minha vida [This is the woman I've told you about, the one who saved me].”

Fleur’s face lit up adorably at the foreign language spilling easily from Hermione’s lips. She arched an eyebrow, that clearly said they would be talking about it later, and held out a hand for Oz who easily extended a wing for her. Hermione used the moment of distraction to wonder what in Merlin’s name she wanted to do. She had questions to ask Fleur; and she wanted answers for them. But she didn’t want to talk to her in front of Harry and Ron.

Fleur, after a few moments, turned away from Oz with a final pat and smiled at the boys. “Cannot forget these ‘andsome gentlemen either.” Harry stepped forward and embraced Fleur easily.

“Nice to see you again, Fleur.”

“You as well, ‘arry.” Hermione wondered if she was the only one who noticed the slight straightening of Fleur’s already perfect posture when she faced Ron. “And you as well, Ronald.” Fleur made no move to hug him until Ron did first. The French witch relaxed a little in his embrace.

“I’m sorry about…you know.” Ron, in his inelegant way, apologized and Fleur smiled sadly.

“I am sorry, too. I never meant to ‘urt your family.”

“You didn’t. He did.” Ron’s words were blunt and Fleur looked a little sad. She stroked his arm and Ron, bless him, still went a little red.

“So what brings you all to the castle today?” She smirked at Hermione. “Come to check your new classroom and office?”

“I haven’t accepted yet. And how does everyone know about that?”

Fleur waved her hand in a decidedly French manner. “I ‘ave found that nothing is secret in this castle. Except, apparently, where the teachers sleep.”

Harry had been mostly silent and watching the two witches. When Hermione glanced at him, he gave her a questioning look. Hermione knew her brother well even after all these years of not seeing him. The look read do you want to talk to her? Hermione knew if she shook her head Harry, whether unsubtly or not, would get Fleur to leave them.

Hermione nodded her head.

“Hey Hermione, if you’re going to go find and examine your potential office like you said why don’t you bring a real Professor with you? Ron and I promised we’d stop in to see Hagrid anyway, so you can just meet us out there when you’re ready to head back to my place.”

Unsubtle it is.

Luckily Fleur went with it and missed Ron’s blatantly questioning look. “I’d be ‘appy to continue your stroll with you, ‘ermione. And we can catch up, of course.”

Hermione met Fleur’s dark blue eyes and felt lost for a second; the last time she had looked directly into those eyes had been drastically different circumstances. “Of course.”

Chapter Text

The pain was entirely all encompassing. Immediately following the battle only the most critical and life threatening magical injuries were Portkeyed to St. Mungo’s and the amount of people waiting to see the Matron of Hogwarts numbered so many that beds were practically doubled up and several dozen more were on cots in the hallway outside the Hospital Wing. Hermione didn’t even bother to go and wait. Her injuries paled in comparison to the others and there was still so much that needed to be done.

Hermione had worked herself far past the point of exhaustion and her magical limits were at the breaking point. It had been about 30 hours since the battle and the witch had not stopped yet. She knew she was putting herself in a dangerous position considering she was exhausted before the battle even began. She had been steadfastly avoiding the Weasley family because their grief would no doubt send her into a tail-spin.

It was McGonagall that finally found her and ordered, under no uncertain terms, that Hermione was to take a shower, eat a meal and promptly go to sleep. It wasn’t until Hermione was in the bathroom in the Gryffindor girls’ dormitory that she realized she looked like death walking. Her skin was ghostly pale and acquiring a sickly grey pallor; it contrasted to the blood she was literally soaked in. Her clothes had been saturated in it and then had dried; drops, streams and sprays of blood had painted her skin from every side. Her hair was matted in blood and chunks of matter that made Hermione gag and if she had had anything in her stomach she surely would have vomited on the bathroom tile.

Seemingly on autopilot Hermione began wetting a cloth and trailing it across her face. The cloth was soaked in blood within moments and the water dripping down Hermione’s face made her look like she was crying blood.

She didn’t remember sprinting from the dormitory but one moment she was staring into bloodshot eyes and a stained face and the next she was tearing down the hallway. She didn’t know if she passed a single person, though she must have because the castle was crowded and bustling with activity, but she didn’t dare draw breath until she was outside; it didn’t help.

The ground was just as soaked in blood as she was. There were craters and gouges into the earth and boulders the size of cars that used to be the castle walls littered the battlefield. The bodies had been collected by now but Hermione could see where most of them laid; the blood pools were thicker and more obvious.

Hermione ran and she didn’t make it very far until her body gave out. She collapsed into the ground and didn’t have the energy to even weep. Her body was broken. Her chest and ribs caused a blinding flash of pain at every inhale and exhale and the deprivation of oxygen was making her head pound and her sense of equilibrium to feel dizzy. A Sectumsempra curse had just barely nicked her back and every time she moved her arms or her torso the pain lanced through her. Her face, as she had inadvertently reopened the many wounds, was bleeding steadily again; she had been cut by brick chips as castle walls exploded all around her. Hermione was tired, nauseous, exhausted and mentally as well as physically on the verge of collapse.

And that wasn’t even what made her feel broken.

She couldn’t stop seeing them. Any of them. She watched a limb sliced clean off, smelt the acrid smell of burnt flesh as a body burned alive; how many people did she see fall dead? Hermione saw them no matter if her eyes were open or closed.

A throat was cut directly in front of her, not everyone knew that Bellatrix carried a muggle weapon into the fray with her, and the arterial spray of blood blinded and burned Hermione’s eyes. She felt sick; she knew what a blade from that woman felt like slicing through flesh. She knew the pain and the agony and the lingering disharmony of a magical curse fighting her very self.

Hermione’s fists beat pathetically, weakly, on the ground. She didn’t want to see them anymore. She didn’t want to see the Death Eaters. She didn’t want to see Voldemort’s face. She didn’t want to see Bellatrix and her rotten mouth and her perverse fingers. She absolutely couldn’t bear to see Selwyn backed up against the castle wall anymore. Didn’t want to see the Death Eaters clenched, snarling teeth and soulless eyes. Didn’t want to see the boy tha-

A blood curdling scream tore from Hermione’s throat so viciously she thought she might bleed. She didn’t want to see anymore. She couldn’t. She couldn’t bear it. She begged and pleaded. Please no more.

Somewhere in the back of Hermione’s mind she felt arms wrap around her and she fought and thrashed. The back of her skull connected with something and Hermione screamed and fought harder. Her wand was out and she didn’t even know what spells she was casting. The battle wasn’t over. It wasn’t over. It would never be over.

When Hermione got disarmed and her arms pinned she didn't stopped fighting. She’d been on her back too many times in this war. Never again. Never helpless. Never again.

“’ermione! ‘ermione!”

She would never stop fighting. She had nothing left to give and still people wanted more from her. This battle would never end and she would never stop fighting. All she was and all she had was blood and death. Didn’t they know that everything that could possibly be stolen from her was already gone? Now they wanted her life.

“Shh, no ma chérie, no. The battle iz over.”

Hermione clawed and scratched and fought but her limbs were getting so heavy and she couldn’t see anything except the blood and the death and the bodies; she couldn’t feel anything except rough hands with broken nails gripping her without remorse.

“You’re safe. I’m not going to ‘urt you. I promise. You’re safe, ma chérie, safe. You don’t ‘ave to fight anymore. You’re safe.”

Was someone whispering to her? Hermione tried to focus on the words because they sounded better than the screams of the dying and the wails of the wounded and the grieving.

“You’re safe. You’re safe.”

Safe? There would be no safe anymore, ever.

“The battle iz over. You don’t ‘ave to fight. You’re safe now.”

The battle is over? Hermione didn’t know how long it took but eventually the blood coated haze left her vision; a blood soaked and crying angel took its place. Of course they would send angels down now. How many had died? Even the angels wept.

“Please breathe ‘ermione. Just breathe for me. You’re safe. Please look at me.”

Something about the angel started to register in Hermione’s foggy mind. She knew this angel. “Fleur?”

“Oh merci à Merlin,” Fleur’s voice was cracked with emotion and relief, “merci de l'avoir rammener. You’re safe now ‘ermione. You’re okay now.”

Hermione shuddered and started to sob and Fleur tucked the crying witch into her body and continued whispering the mantra that she had started. The younger witch’s body had very little energy to expend and she found herself dry-sobbing and on the point of hyperventilating within moments. Fleur held her tight and rubbed her back until she noticed her pale hand come away bloody; she gripped the witch soothingly by the back of the neck and cradled her head instead.

Hermione actually dozed off for a few minutes and when she jerked to consciousness Fleur was still holding her. They were both on the ground and Hermione was huddled between Fleur’s legs and the French witch had both arms wrapped around her.

“Wha-” Hermione choked because she didn’t even have enough moisture in her mouth to speak. Fleur conjured a small goblet full of water and helped Hermione to drink tiny sips at a time until it was finished. Fleur used one elegant finger to wipe the excess drips off her lips when she was finished. “What happened?”

“You,” for probably the first time since Hermione had known her, Fleur hesitated, “you ‘ad a bit of a moment. Itz okay now, though. You’re fine, ma chérie.”

Hermione glanced around where they huddled in trepidation; they were sitting in a small crater. Dirt and earth were flung about and several patches were destroyed utterly by explosion and fire. A tree was felled behind them; a great oak that had stood on Hogwarts ground for longer than Hermione had been alive had been exploded at the base and it toppled two maple trees and a stretch of land as it fell. Bark, branches and debris littered the scorching earth around them. Hermione paled at the damage; and then she really looked at Fleur.

Her nose was clearly broken and blood stained the entire lower portion of her face; blood had steadily dripped down towards her neck and throat and made her a gruesome spectre. Her left eye was already showing signs of a burgeoning bruise and the same side of her face had several crisscrossing scratches marring her beautiful features; and the injuries were new.

Hermione sobbed and went to throw herself away from the French witch but Fleur, quite easily, held her in place in her arms. She began shushing the distraught witch and soothing her at once. “Shh, it’s alright, ma chérie. You didn’t mean it and you didn’t know. Calm down, now. Zis iz not’ing. I ‘ave ‘ad worse from ze girls at Beauxbatons in a cat fight.” Completely against her will Hermione snickered lightly at the thought of Fleur of all people being in a cat fight. “Zere now, all iz well. We’ll get fixed up az soon az we take a little breazer.”

“Fleur.” Hermione’s voice was choked. “I could have really hurt you.” Hermione, even in her exhausted state, could feel the lingering magic in the air and knew she had cast a dozen more spells than even the horrific damage accounted for; she couldn’t even fathom what curses she could have cast. “I could have killed you.” See couldn’t take her eyes off the damage surrounding them.

“Nonsense. You didn’t fight me, just tried to get away. You never would ‘ave allowed yourself to really ‘urt me. Itz all okay, now. Come.” Fleur started to stand and helped a very weak Hermione to her feet. “We’ll get cleaned up and get some food and zen to bed wiz you I zink.”

Hermione was too weak to stand on her own so she dutifully tucked her body under the arm of the slightly taller witch and they carefully picked their way through the carnage back for the castle.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

The witches walked in companionable but comfortable silence because Hermione wasn’t sure the middle of the hallway in the castle was really the appropriate place for the questions Hermione had for Fleur; even if that castle was currently mostly deserted. Once back down on the first floor they make it to McGonagall’s, or rather the transfiguration, office and it was predictably locked. “A flaw in our plan already.” Fleur teased. “Would you like to try your skills at unlocking it or shall I?”

“How about a better plan? Plimby?”

The house-elf appeared instantly with a crack and looked so utterly delighted at the sight of the two witches his pointed ears were pointed almost straight outwards. “Mistresses Granger and Delacour! I is happy to serve yous in any way I can!”

“Plimby, I was just wondering. Did Headmistress McGonagall say it was alright for me to examine the transfiguration office?”

“Yes, yes, Mistress Granger! She said Plimby is to be letting you wherever yous wants to be seeing.”

“In that case, might you be so kind as to unlock the door, please?”

Plimby almost jumped in haste to snap his fingers and spread the wide door open for them; Fleur gave him an affectionate and amused smile. “Why thank you.” She smiled and the house-elf bowed.

“Anything yous be needing, please call for Plimby!” With another bow he vanished as he’d come.

“You’re right.” Fleur held her arm out and gestured for Hermione to enter first. “That was a better plan.”

“I am the smartest witch of my age, you know.” Hermione teased. She flicked her hand to light the candles in the room; it looked exactly as it had the last time she had seen it. Clearly McGonagall hadn’t gotten around to changing anything yet. The room was still comfortable and inviting and the fireplace, when lit, warmed the whole room. The large window in between the even larger bookcases looked out over the training grounds and, a little farther away, the proper Quidditch Pitch. She had a gorgeous antique wooden desk, which unlike during the school year was bare of papers, and it had simpler chairs on the opposite side for students. Minerva had used her classroom more for meeting with students but Hermione had been here on occasion.

“Imagining what you’d change if you take the job?”

“Very little, I’d imagine. Maybe just the tartan plaid.”

Fleur lit the fireplace with a wave of her wand and then settled in one of the plush armrests. “I suppose you weren’t expecting to run into me ‘ere today?”

“I had heard you were a professor now, but no, I suppose I wasn’t expecting you to already be here.” Hermione left the statement somewhat hanging.

Fleur again waved her hand in dismissal. “I do ‘ave my own flat in Liverpool now, but I like getting my lessons prepared ‘ere.”

Hermione nodded in understanding of the reason even if she felt there was more to it than that. Hermione hadn’t been alone pretty much at all until she fled the United Kingdom; the loneliness of empty hotel rooms and apartments seems to sink into you until you can’t notice anything else. Things hadn’t really started to turn around for her until she had met Oz.

Fleur seemed to sense the turn her thoughts had taken. “Is it very difficult, being ‘ere?” Her tone was polite and concerned but not pitying.

Hermione sighed deeply and lowered herself into the matching armchair across from Fleur. I guess we’re doing this now. “It’s why I’m here. To see if I could even do it. I’ve been back in Britain five days and I’ve had flashbacks and only a potion stops those from invading my nightmares.”

“So why stay?”

“Because…it’s also been great. I’ve missed my family so much. I don’t think I even really realized how much until I got back here. But…” Fleur didn’t prod and instead just waited for Hermione to settle her thoughts. “I want to teach here. I do. But I don’t know if I can do that when in the blink of an eye the laughing children become screaming ones.”

“I’ve found it isn’t when the school is loud. It’s when it’s quiet.” Fleur said softly.

Hermione’s gaze snapped up to meet hers. “You too?”

“Not one single person who survived that war made it out completely unscathed I am thinking. We all ‘ave nightmares and bad days. And, after your experiences and everything you went through, I think people were just proud you continued to breathe.” Fleur gazed out the window. “When they are cheering for their teams, or laughing in the Great ‘all, or even whispering while they’re supposed to be paying attention my lessons, the war never creeps in. But if it does, when it’s quiet,” Fleur shrugged, “sometimes I go outside. Maybe to the Lake, where it’s beautiful. Sometimes I curl up in my favourite armchair with my favourite book. If you want my opinion,”

“I do.” Hermione smiled.

“I think you must ‘ave found ways to cope where you were before you started to live again. So you can find ways to cope ‘ere. And wiz your family ‘ere, maybe they can ‘elp too.” Her voice was a little strained and Hermione noticed her accent got a tad thicker. “But zen again, maybe I also just don’t want to be ze only young, attractive witch as a Professor who gets talked about in ze ‘alls.” She teased.

Hermione decided to tease her back. “J'ai aucun doute que les élèves parles de toi, comment ne pourrais t'ils pas le faire [I have no doubt the students talk about you, how could they not]?”

Fleur’s head snapped around so quickly to look at Hermione in shock that her hair fanned out behind her. The beautiful smile adorning Fleur’s face made Hermione grin a little sheepishly.

As-tu passer du temps en France [Have you spent time in France]?” Fleur’s English might be entirely proficient now but nothing sounded quite like the French witch’s native language flowing from her lips.

Non, pas en France. Rwanda, et beaucoup en Afrique. J'ai appris à parler Français dans le chemin [No, not France. Rwanda, and a lot of Africa actually. I picked up French along the way].”

Fleur giggled. "Je pensait déjà que ton accent sonnait bizzard [I thought your accent sounded a little unique].”

Hermione scoffed indignant. “Si tu y voyageais, les gens locales to fixerai avec, [If you travelled there the locals would be the one staring at you in,] uh…um.” Fleur giggled at her. “I was going for like befuddlement. Maybe bemusement?”

Confusion, perplexité.

Hermione playfully tipped her hand in acknowledgment. “Perhaps I’m a little rusty. I haven’t used it in years.”

“Well now you ‘ave to take the job. So you can practice and I can ‘ave someone to speak my language in. It ‘as been so long.”

Hermione’s grin faded. “I just heard about Bill. I’m not sorry you’re apart if even half of the Weasley rumours I’ve heard in five days are true. But I’m sorry it got to that point. And I’m sorry you’re hurting.”

Fleur’s jaw clenched and from the watering of her eyes Hermione guessed it was so the proud, French witch didn’t cry. “I’m sure the rumours you’ve been ‘earing are accurate, at least in part.”

“If you want to talk, I’m here.”

“Same to you.” Fleur actually looked nervous for a second. “I actually do ‘ave a question. It might be…upsetting, though.”

“This day has already been a roller-coaster, you can ask.” Hermione assured her. Thirty seconds later she wished she hadn’t.

“Did you figure out a way to get rid of ze scar? Or do you use a glamour?”

Hermione’s heart sank and bile rose in her throat. That fucking scar. She didn’t have to clarify which one she was referring to. Hermione wasn’t sure when she’d rolled up her sleeves but now she glanced down at her, seemingly, unblemished left inner forearm. “Glamour.” Her voice was tight. Fleur was one of the very, very, few remaining people alive who had ever seen the scar for what it was.

“I thought I saw the shimmer. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine.” Her hands gripped the armchair, her nails scrabbled for purchase along the floor but there was no grip. The tip of a boot driving harshly into her ribs exploded Hermione’s torso in pain. The boot then dug underneath her and flipped her over. Bellatrix Lestrange dropped down over her. She crouched and moved in a very fluid and specific way; like an animal. Like a predator. She brought her face so close down to Hermione’s sobbing face and smiled wide exposing rotten yellow teeth, and she dug her nails into the old leather.

“I’m sorry, ‘ermione. I should not 'ave asked.” Fleur looked a little distraught and Hermione managed to meet her face.

“It’s okay. I asked you about something painful too.” Her words were a little shaky.

“What you went through was beyond ‘orrible. But the war would not ‘ave been won without you.”

Hermione finally looked her dead in the eye. “Then the war would not have been won without you. Because I wouldn’t have been in it if it weren’t for you. For your kindness and healing at Shell Cottage.” She found she couldn’t look away from those sapphire coloured eyes holding her captive. “And I wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for you after the battle.” Hermione finally admitted what they had never talked about.

Fleur waved off the thanks easily. “I did nothing.”

“You did.” Hermione’s voice was briefly fierce before it tapered. “Did you…tell anyone about that?”

Non! No, never, I promise. Non. I told zem we ‘ad been in a little accident and zat was it. Later, I fixed most of ze damage myself. For what I couldn’t do, I just told ze Professors that I had found some more battle damage. No one even asked twice.”

“I’m sorry for asking.” Hermione blushed. “I know you wouldn’t have. I know you never told about Shell Cottage either.”

Fleur looked at Hermione with sympathy; had the younger witch seen pity it might have gotten her hackles up. Oz hopped down from her shoulder to her leg and she stroked him absentmindedly.

“We all did what we had to do.” It was Hermione’s stock answer and from the look on Fleur’s face she knew it. Hermione quickly changed the conversation to academia. She couldn’t handle anymore; she would ask the rest of her questions another time.

Fleur, as it turned out, did not have a Mastery in Charms but was currently beginning the process for searching for a Master to begin one. She admitted that she already knew of Hermione’s Masteries and that she had followed her academic accomplishments proudly. Hermione was thrilled to find someone her own age to talk magic with. In both of her Mastery groups she was the youngest member and while their intelligence was obviously clear there was something about talking to someone your own age; it was easier to connect and understand their point of view.

Hermione was in the process of commending Fleur on her lesson alterations; especially the one to include Pavlovich’s Theory of Differential Charm Applications to help stop the stereotype of charms being a “soft magic”. “If even a quarter of the wizarding world knew what could, in theory, be accomplished with Charms there would probably be a landslide of people specializing in the subject. People only talk and study curses and jinxes and yet easily over three quarters, probably closer to five-eights, of the daily usage of magic is charms.”

Hermione finished her rant and at Fleur’s affectionate and adoring smile she shied away and looked out the window; which is when she saw it was becoming a little dark out. “Oh hell! Oh goodness we must have left Harry and Ron ages ago.” Hermione met Fleur’s eyes and the two burst out laughing. “Oops?” Hermione cast a quick tempest charm without a word and saw she and Fleur had been talking for almost two hours.

“Come. I will walk you downstairs.”

Hermione moved to the window first and opened it. “Okay lindo, find Harry and Ron. When they see you hopefully they’ll understand I haven’t forgotten them completely. Then go for a fly, you’ve been stationary far too much today.” Oz rubbed his head along her cheek and Hermione whispered loving words to him in Portuguese. He finally took off out the window and both witches watched him fly around the castle and out of sight.

Hermione returned the office to the way she’d found it with a wave of her hand and the two witches made their way outside.

“If you ‘ave one more moment, I’d like to show you something?” Fleur looked hopeful and Hermione found she had no desire to say no.

“Of course.”

Fleur linked her arm through Hermione’s and they walked like that, arm in arm, down past the greenhouses. Hermione could see ahead where Hagrid had erected a paddock, obviously for Care of Magical Creatures class, but Fleur turned her slightly and headed away. Hermione started to dig in her heels a little but Fleur gave her a smile. “Do you trust me?”

That question to Hermione was usually quite a process. She trusted her family of course. But trust to Hermione for the last several years was simply the difference between thinking someone will stab you in the back while your back was turned or not. Hermione didn’t trust anyone on a purely emotional level anymore. But this was Fleur. Fleur who right now held her hand, Fleur’s soft caresses to the back of her hand were the only thing keeping Hermione on the bed and somewhat calm. The pain jolting along her nerves like electricity was making her twitch and almost seizure; but she could still feel those gentle fingertips stroking along her hand softly. Hermione was drenched in sweat and Fleur kept magically cooling her down and changing her nightgown as well as the sheets. “I know it ‘urts. I’m sorry there’s not’ing more I can do for you.” Somewhere in Hermione’s mind she knew the Frenchwoman was talking about the Cruciatus aftereffects but Hermione was finding it difficult to breathe let alone think any further about the curse that just destroyed her. And she would rather shut down her mind than think back to her. Instead she focussed on those gentle fingers and that soft voice as another wave of electricity lanced through her body, and was looking at her with soft eyes and no pity.

Bien sûr, je te fais confiance [Of course I trust you].”

Fleur continued to lead her along and Hermione quickly noticed they were heading towards something new; it was a garden. There was a white picket fence in a semi-circle that had beautiful rose bushes at either end. Inside there was a simple path, curved in the same semi-circle as the fence, and it had different flowers of every colour and type Hermione could think of. They were beautifully layered and set in so no one flower overtook another. They walked the simple path, still arm in arm, until they reached the peak of it. There was a rather large tree stump that had been cleaned up but still obviously blown apart. Behind that stump stood a new oak tree. It was younger than the great oak that once sat in its place, as it was only a decade old, but it was proud and tall and the sight of it made Hermione tear up. Fleur gestured her a little closer carefully and Hermione noticed that a plaque had been erected before the stump.

Honour Garden
Here we honour those that fought for the defence and safety of the school and its people in the May 2nd, 1998 Battle of Hogwarts.
We give thanks to those that fought, were wounded, and found the strength to rise.

Hermione looked at the beautiful garden around her again. “You did this.” It wasn’t a question.

Moi?” The French witch gave an extremely fake innocent look and Hermione arched an eyebrow. “Well, I many ‘ave ‘elped. May ‘ave given the suggestion for a place to put it. But there was always going to be this beautiful spot, ‘ermione. So many people were ‘urt in the Battle. They deserved to be ‘onoured too.” She inhaled deeply as if to smell all the flora around her. “Inside the castle, in the Entrance ‘all, that is needed. We need to remember the people we lost and there they can never be forgotten. There we remember our dead. ‘ere? Out ‘ere where it iz beautiful and you can see nature and that everything is alright? ‘ere we ‘onour and remember our living.

Hermione was fully crying now and she pulled Fleur into a tight hug. “Thank you. It’s beautiful.” Hermione knew her words paled in exchange of everything she had to thank Fleur Delacour for.

“So are you, ma chère, and I ‘ope you can find the strength to keep rising.”

In Fleur’s words Hermione heard the echo of her own earlier vow to do better.

As it usually did when Hermione was crying, a loud caw made her pull back from Fleur enough so that Oz could land on her shoulder. “Obrigada por sempre saber quando eu preciso de você [Thank you for always knowing when I need you].” She whispered into his feathers.

“It is getting later and I suppose you should be ‘eading to find ‘arry and Ronald.” Fleur almost whispered. “I can trust you to take care of your witch, I assume?” Fleur asked Oz directly.

He cawed low and then shot the witch a rather indignant look.

“Oz, be nice.” Hermione chastised; her words were belied by the loving fingers stroking under his beak.

Milles excuses mon beau [a thousand apologies, handsome], I meant no offence. I ‘ave no doubt you ‘ave and will continue to protect your witch admirably.” Fleur giggled. “’e is quite something, isn’t ‘e?”

“He is something alright. As I’ve said before, what exactly though sometimes remains to be seen.”

Fleur leaned forward and pet Oz gently and then kissed both of Hermione’s cheeks softly. The British witch was internally reminding herself that she was used to countless different cultures and there was no need to blush; she failed.

“I ‘ope I’ll ‘ear from you again soon?”

“I promise.”

“Good.” Fleur started walking away before she called back over her shoulder. “And I’ll see you the week before the start of term!”

“I haven’t accepted the job yet!” Hermione yelled back. The French witch’s laughter was the only thing that met her ears and Hermione rolled her eyes and chuckled. “That witch, huh, Oz?” He tilted his head all the way to the right. “Yeah you only like her because she thinks you’re handsome.”

Hermione walked across the grounds and all too soon had made her way over to Hagrid’s hut. The small cabin that sat on the edge of the Forbidden Forest looked relatively the same apart from some general upkeep and maintenance. Hagrid’s gardens looked as lovingly maintained as always and she wondered briefly if it was the Groundskeeper or Neville who took care of the Honour Garden.

Hagrid’s door burst open before Hermione could reach it and the large man instantly stooped to engulf her in a hug; Oz had wisely taken flight the second the door had banged open. Hermione didn’t hug him back, only because her arms were pinned to her sides, and she giggled at the man’s exuberance; until it reached a point that she couldn’t breathe.

Thankfully Harry and Ron were both well used to Hagrid’s hugs and heaved on his arms until he realized and released her.

“Blimey!” Hagrid’s loud voice echoed and instantly brought Fang outside barking. “It’s ruddy good ter see you, Hermione.”

Hagrid hardly looked any older than he did ten years ago and Hermione knew that was both his magical and his giant genes at work. His black eyes were still filled with warmth and you could still see his wide smile through his bushy black beard. “It’s very good to see you too, Hagrid.”

“I was so happy when I heard you were gonna take McGonagall’s job, Hermione.” Hagrid beamed.

“Oh.” Harry spoke up awkwardly from Hagrid’s elbow. “We told you, Hagrid, she hasn’t decided what she was going-”

“Thank you, Hagrid.” Hermione cut Harry off. “I’m quite happy I’m going to be taking the job too.”

Chapter Text

Just as it had been when Hermione stepped out of the Floo a week prior she emerged with tears in her eyes, soot on her clothes and an armful of very disgruntled hawk. Hermione brushed off Oz first, then her clothes, and settled him on her shoulder.

Andressa’s office looked the same and Hermione strolled out to enter the bar area. It was never too early for someone to be drinking and sure enough one wizard was at the bar. On second thought Hermione decided after noticing his head slumped down onto his hands laying on the bar that he might actually just be passed out from the night previous.

It was the clicking of Hermione’s boots that made Andressa stand up from where she had been crouched behind her bar. “Granger! It’s early, I didn’t expect you until later.”

The woman walked around the bar and Hermione was soon reaching up to be wound in the tall woman’s arms. “I know, but it was time to get home.”

Andressa released her and gave a knowing arch of her eyebrow. “And is this? Still home?”

Hermione smiled. “I don’t know what you mean. An awfully cold chill had settled in my bones while there and is just finally leaving me now.” Hermione spread her arms wide and let the heat, already greater with the sun just rising than it had been in Britain, start to warm her. “I am taking the job.” The younger witch admitted softly. “But this is my home. And I will not abandon it.”

“Just for the school year.” Andressa teased. “Too early for a shot of cachaça before I send you on your way?”

Hermione shrugged. “Eleven o’clock somewhere right?”

The older witch clapped her on the shoulder; Oz cawed out somewhat disgruntled and Andressa laughed. “Now you’re speaking my language.” Andressa poured without looking and handed over a glass while holding her own with ease. “I’m proud of you. What you did, going back there, that was brave. And I think you’ll make a hell of a professor.”

“Thanks.” They clinked glasses and Hermione threw the liquor back.

“No problem. Just don’t fuck it up.” Andressa’s teasing laughter chased the younger witch from the bar.

Hermione walked down the dirt street and passed a few other witches and wizards in the early morning light. She tried not to yawn but truthfully she hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep. She smirked as she realized there were two other people who would been dealing with some tired children today.

“Aunt ‘Mione?” James’s sleepy little voice nearly made Hermione coo at him.

“Shh. Yes, it’s me James.”

“It’s early.” The little boy whined and curled up a little more under his comforter.

“Actually it’s still very late.” She stroked her hand through his wild hair lovingly. She figured the boys would be confused. They had already had their tearful goodbyes when the boys had gone to bed because they’d been informed Hermione would be gone long before they woke up in the morning. She knew that for her plan to work she needed to entice him. “But we need to be up now. We’re going on an adventure.” Like any other boy his eyes immediately blinked open a few times and he looked more awake.

“We are? We’re going on an adventure?”

Hermione nodded. “So you need to get up. Put on some warm clothes while I wake Albus.” James nodded frantically and stumbled out of bed, still a little uncoordinated in his sleep but waking up quickly.

Hermione repeated the process with Albus and the younger sibling was a little harder to wake and get moving. Eventually the sight of a fully dressed James and the promise of adventure had the boy standing and reaching his arms out to his new Aunt ‘Mione for help.

Once Hermione had them bundled and warm she led them to the door. “Okay boys, now you need to be very quiet okay?” The boys very dramatically tiptoed out of their bedroom and down the hallway. Hermione led them carefully from their bedroom with a large smile on her face. When they turned the corner for the kitchen Hermione leaned back quickly so they wouldn’t notice. She pulled a pre-written note folded into a paper airplane from her sweater pocket and flung it back up the stairs. She knew it would soar up to the adult Potter’s room and under the door. If Harry and Ginny were asleep, which Hermione doubted because they had only said their goodnights and goodbyes thirty minutes ago, the airplane would dive bomb Harry until he awoke. The note calmly explained that Hermione was stealing their children for an adventure and not to worry. If she knew the couple, which she still did even after all this time, Harry would simply laugh and Ginny would take the opportunity of an empty house to pounce on her husband.

Hermione followed the boys into the kitchen and held a finger to her lips. “Okay boys, out we go.”

Hermione opened the door and the boys tiptoed out. “Aunt ‘Mione?” Albus stage whispered.

“Yes, Albus?”

“Why are we sneaking out of our own house?”

“Silly boy.” Hermione ruffled his hair. “Sneaking is essential for an adventure. Come on now.” Hermione led them down the deck and into the large backyard lot. A short whistle had Oz descending from the darkness above.

“We’re going to do some serious outdoor magic.” Hermione was still whispering mostly because the boys still thought they were being sneaky.

“Really?” James’s voice got higher pitched and louder in his excitement.

Albus’s eyebrows had furrowed. “But, we’re too young to do magic.” Hermione beamed in pride.

“You’re right. You are. I’m going to do the actual magic and you boys are just going to direct me.” Both boys beamed up at her in excitement. “First, I just need to take care of something.” Hermione raised both hands and envisioned her barrier; it was large but she had done bigger. She cast the spell wandlessly and silently and the boys didn’t really notice anything happen at all. Hermione could see the slight shimmer of the magical barrier she had erected though. It covered the Potter house and the large field they were stood in; the more important part was that it also went much higher than the Potter’s manor. Hermione had essentially cast a large dome.

With another flick of her fingers she conjured a thick blanket, with a warming charm on it, and gestured for the boys to sit. “Now, have you boys ever heard of the Aurora Borealis?” They shook their heads in unison. “How about the Northern Lights?”

Now they both nodded vigorously. “Those lights in the sky!”

“They’re all different colours!”

“Correct, and correct. The Aurora Borealis, which is the proper name for the Northern Lights, is what happens when particles that have been electrically charged from the sun come down to Earth into what is known as our atmosphere. When those particles collide with different gases in our atmosphere it turns them those amazing different colours.” Hermione kept her explanation brief knowing that the boys would get tired quickly. “How about if I told you we, right now, could create the Aurora Borealis?”

They both gasped. “Really?!”

“Yes.” That wasn’t technically true. Hermione didn’t need to use magic to supercharge particles and combine them with different gases; but she could magically recreate the effect. “Are you ready?” More vigorous nods. “Okay. Everybody lean back.” They got settled on their backs on the blanket and now they were looking up at the night’s sky; not unlike the view they now had from their bedroom. Hermione whipped her wand out of its sheathe. She didn’t actually need it but she thought the boys would find it more dramatic.

Hermione moved her arms in a complicated, swirling pattern that had the boys enraptured before she confidently intoned, “Auriso Borealis!”

The spell was slow so the trio got to watch large, almost smoke like, swaths of colour drift from Hermione’s wand and rise. The colour patterns got higher and higher and blended with the sky until they were looking up at a perfectly clear and immaculate rendition of the Northern Lights.

“Woah.”

The three laid in silence for over five minutes and watched the swirling and changing lights. The most prominent colour naturally was the yellowish green but due to Hermione’s spell the rarer of the colours appeared and swirled as well. They watched purples and blues and even reds and pinks as they danced in mesmerizing patterns.

Albus had tucked himself snug along Hermione’s side and was resting his head on her chest and shoulder. James was lying perpendicular to them and was using Hermione’s toned stomach as a pillow.

The boys had forgotten all about the first spell Hermione had performed but this was the reason her barrier was essential. Only those underneath it could see the amazing light show; anyone on the outside merely saw the night sky reflected back at them.

“Are you boys ready for the really amazing part?” Hermione whispered.

“There’s more?”

“There is indeed. Now your guys’ part comes in. You’re going to control the Aurora Borealis.”

“How?”

“Okay James. I want you to pick something in your mind. Whatever you want. A picture, an animal, place. You don’t have to tell me, you just have to think it.” James closed his eyes while he concentrated.

“Okay I got it.”

“Good. Now take my hand.” Hermione, still gripping her wand between her fingers, held her hand over him. He gripped her hand tightly. “Now, tap into the magical part of you. Deep down, you know you want your picture to appear in the sky, so your magic is going to flow from you, through me and out my wand to change the picture. You’re going to be doing everything, I’ll just be here to help.”

James nodded seriously and scrunched up his face as he concentrated; Hermione and Albus watched the lights above them but nothing happened. “Hey querido [dear] you don’t have to try so hard.” Hermione reached across her body with her other hand and smoothed down his hair again. “Just watch the lights and keep picturing your picture, it’ll come.”

The three settled in together and watched the light show and sure enough, only two minutes later, the lights started to swirl in a different way. They blended and created shapes and Hermione broke out into a smile as she watched several people on brooms flying across the sky. They were swirling the different coloured lights as they circled and dipped and dove around each other. Albus clapped and Hermione beamed at the older sibling.

“I did it!”

“You did.” The pride in her voice was unmistakable. They watched the people on brooms for several more minutes until James released Hermione’s hand and slowly the picture faded out back to the natural swirling Northern Lights. “Okay Albus, your turn. Think of something, whatever you want.”

The little boy stuck his tongue out while he thought and then reached up for Hermione’s wand hand. Albus’s eyes narrowed in his concentration and the tip of his tongue poked out from between his lips; Hermione melted a little bit.

Within a few more minutes the picture in the sky changed again and started to form and when it took shape Hermione teared up instantly. A large bird, sharp beaked and strong winged like a predator, was now swirling beautiful colours and flying across the sky.

Oz cawed from where he had settled onto the corner of the blanket and Hermione could tell from the way he shifted his wings and puffed out his chest that he was pleased.

They watched Oz’s form fly gracefully across the sky for several minutes before James took another turn. Back and forth the boys created pictures from their minds; they saw a herd of running centaurs, fire breathing dragons, a medieval swordfight and even the Hogwarts Express streaking across the sky.

Albus kept nodding off against Hermione’s side and waking up to different amazing pictures and then James would give him another turn.

Hermione’s sixth sense alerted her that she was being watched. She whistled sharply to Oz and he took off into the air. He landed down on her thigh only seconds later and his head tilted back towards the Potter’s manor. Hermione craned her neck around and could just barely make out the forms of Harry and Ginny leaning on the deck and watching the light show.

Hermione allowed the boys one more picture each, a massive snowball fight from James and a dozen playing dogs and cats from Albus, before telling them it was time for bed again. They both insisted that they couldn’t go to bed without seeing a picture from Hermione herself. The witch thought quickly of what she wanted to show them and finally smiled when she decided. She allowed her magic to change the picture and at first the boys were confused when the lights moved down in the sky and almost dimmed to nothing. Suddenly a thin trail would streak upwards and explode into bursts and flashes of light; it was an incredible display of Northern Lights fireworks. Hermione allowed the boys to watch for several more minutes before the lights swirled once again into their natural display. Hermione nudged both boys and insisted now it was really time for bed.

James only protested mildly and Albus was asleep as soon as Hermione swung the boy up into her arms. She wrapped her arm around James and pulled him into her other side, he tucked his face against her ribs, and Oz landed once more on her shoulder.

She watched Harry and Ginny walk quietly back inside. She loved that the parents were perfectly content to allow the boys to think they had gotten away with their sneaky adventure. Hermione left the natural looking Northern Lights up behind her. She would come back out to release the spell; she didn’t want the boys to watch her disappear it.

**

Harry Potter closed his bedroom door and prepared to crawl back into bed for the second time tonight. An hour previously he’d been shocked when, while lying in bed waiting for Ginny to be finished her nightly routine in the bathroom, a paper airplane squished itself under the door, flew back up and struck him in the chest. He chuckled slightly when he opened it and read the short message. “Huh.”

“What?” Ginny questioned as she emerged from the bathroom.

“Apparently our children have been kidnapped.” Harry informed her calmly.

To her credit Ginny never even blinked from where she was brushing her hair out in front of the mirror. “Oh. Well did they say what they wanted for them? Because if they keep them for the next few days I’d pay handsomely.”

Harry’s face scrunched up. “That’s not kidnapping for ransom, that’s paying for babysitting.”

Ginny shrugged. “Same thing.” She finally set the brush down when her long ginger locks were untangled. “Did Hermione say what they were doing?”

Harry shrugged. “Said she was taking them to the backyard.” Ginny whipped around so fast Harry suspected she might have whiplash.

“Do you mean to tell me that there are no children in this house and a responsible adult is worrying about them so I don’t have to?”

Harry loved watching the shift that could take over his wife. The adorable smile that had always been present that shifted to the devious smirk of the vixen she had become. “Um. Yes, I believe that is what I’m saying.” Ginny’s grin had turned positively sinful.

“Thank you Hermione.”

Now, waiting for Ginny again, Harry almost couldn’t keep the tears out of his eyes. “They’re going to remember that forever, you know?” Harry was so happy that they had decided, once his sex fiend of a wife was satisfied, to get up and check out what the boys and Hermione had gotten up to. They had both been stunned watching the incredible display of magic and had nearly melted when they realized how Hermione was getting both boys involved.

“Yes they will.” Ginny agreed as she tucked herself in beside him. “I’m sad the boys didn’t really know her before, but they love her now.” Ginny rest her head on her husband’s chest and he wrapped an arm around her. “And you’re right, they’ll always treasure the night Aunt ‘Mione snuck them from their beds and gave them the Northern Lights.”

All Harry ever wanted for his children was to give them the best, most amazing life completely full of love that he could possibly give them. He wanted them to have so many Patronus worthy memories to choose from that they didn’t even know which one to pick. He absolutely could not be happier that his sister in life, if not by blood, was now going to be able to help make his dreams for his children come true.

**

Across the hall Hermione tucked her exhausted but wondrously content nephews back into bed and gave them both big hugs and kisses. She decided that this had been a brilliant idea and that it was a much better goodbye than the one she had given them earlier.

Oz’s call actually startled her and she realized she was standing in front of the gate to her home. She had clearly walked the rest of the way lost in her own head. She glanced next door at Larissa and the kids’ home but it didn’t appear anyone was awake yet. Hermione had left Britain pretty much at breakfast time to appear in Brazil very first thing in the morning before the sun had totally risen yet.

Hermione walked up the steps to her home and beamed at the simple building. Her entire house could fit almost in the Potter’s kitchen and dining room. She had loved being there but this had become her home and she had missed it.

The wards were quickly taken down and Hermione stepped inside. Oz immediately flew to his perch and got settled. Hermione walked over and stroked him. She figured he was as exhausted as she was.

Hermione walked straight back into her bedroom after pressing a kiss to Oz’s head. The walls were a natural orangish clay colour because her interior walls, like almost all of her small house, were stucco. So that her room wasn’t too bright her comforter and pillows were a soft grey and she had a black, grey and white rug on the floor before her dark mahogany dresser which matched her headboard.

The witch briefly contemplated showering and unpacking but instead she banished her clothes and crawled into bed. She didn’t bother taking one of her potions because she had faith she didn’t need it and she was asleep in seconds.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

Hermione went from the exhausted, deep sleep of a weary traveler into instant and alert wakefulness in the span of a heartbeat. Every muscle and nerve in her body was tensed and on high alert; within the same second the soft soothing voice reached her ears from the other side of the bedroom door that was opening a crack.

“Just us, branca, just me and the children.” Larissa’s voice was soft and she creaked open the bedroom door one degree at a time.

Hermione relaxed her body and burrowed back into the sheets. She was ever so grateful for Larissa’s instincts. They had never discussed it but the woman knew that it would be a bad idea to have her or her children startle the younger witch out of sleep. The wards around Hermione’s house let all five of the Sousa’s in without trouble but in the one second of being startled Hermione would never forgive herself if she hurt one of them.

When the door creaked open a little more Hermione pulled one hand from underneath her pillow and gave a half-hearted wave to let Larissa know she had registered her presence. Seconds later she felt a weight placed on her back and she burrowed her face deeper into her pillow to hide her smile.

Branca.” The childlike stage whisper was almost shouted into her ear. Hermione remained still in place where she was, on her stomach with her arms tucked under her pillows. “Tá acordada [You wake up]?” The relatively light weight on her back bounced a few times before asking her again. Hermione felt a second weight clamber up onto her bed and small hands were soon tugging on her arm. Hermione flexed and resisted easily.

Branca.” Her nickname was long and drawn out by the second child.

Hermione waited another beat before rolling over suddenly. Her arms were already out from under the pillow scooping Lorena, who had been sitting on her back, under her arm and catching Suzana, sitting cross-legged beside her, by the wrist so she didn’t tumble off the bed when she startled. Both young girls erupted into giggles.

Minhas meninas! Senti tantas saudades de vocês [My girls! I missed you both so much].” Hermione hugged the two girls close and they used their little arms to burrow into her body. Soon she had them snuggled with her back under the covers and Larissa took a seat on the edge of the bed with a fond smile on her face. “Where are the boys?”

“Out front with Oz. Them missed the bird.”

“More than me, apparently.” Hermione chuckled.

Larissa huffed. “They be boys. They don’t even know what they’re doing.” She smiled at the younger witch holding her now dozing daughters. “I missed you though, branca.”

Hermione almost teared up. “Merlin I missed you too.” Soon Hermione had managed to extricate herself from eight little limbs and she left the girls in her bed while Larissa and she moved to her kitchen. Hermione had the kitchen magically prepare two cups of strong, South American coffee and then they settled at the table.

“How was it?” Larissa sipped her cup and Hermione could read the genuine curiosity and as well as the concern in her eyes.

“It was…a roller coaster.” She clarified more when Larissa shrugged. “My emotions were all over the place. I was so happy to see my family and so sad at everything I had missed. So happy to be back where I had spent so much time and yet haunted by the memories of everything that had happened there.”

“But you took the job.”

Hermione briefly startled. “I did. How did you know that?”

Larissa laughed softly. “Branca I know this before you even left. You needed to take a step. And I’m very proud of you.”

Hermione hid her blushed face in her coffee cup. “Kind of proud of myself as well. You think this will be good for me?”

“Hard and good not have to, uh, be apart? Not together? How you say mutuamente excludentes? Uma coisa pode ser ao mesmo tempo ruim e boa para você [mutually exclusive. Something can be both hard and good for you at the same time].”

“I get that.” Hermione agreed. “I guess I just don’t want to undo all of my progress. It’s taken years.”

“Maybe this take years too. But fact is, person who is steps back there now is not the same person who left. That’s the part you need to remember.”

Hermione took the woman’s words to heart before lightly changing the subject. She told the woman all about her family and the children she grew to adore instantly. She told the Brazilian woman about the food and culture she had introduced them all to.

“It is being nice that they enjoyed seeing where you come from now. Instead of focus their attention on who you used to be.”

“That was probably my favourite part.” The younger witch admitted. “I loved introducing them to part of Brazil. And they didn’t begrudge, uh, se ofenderam [get offended], at me for that. They accepted who I am now and where I come from now.” Hermione got a slightly devious grin on her face that made Larissa arch an eyebrow. “Actually. I had an idea about that.”

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

On this visit to the Ministry of Magic Hermione was walking far more confidently because she knew where she was going. She still walked as if on a mission, so no one stopped to chat, but headed directly up to the International Floo Department. Hermione’s eye twitched slightly at the sight of Carley; the secretary to this section of the Ministry who was younger than Hermione and called her ma’am.

The young, pretty Brazilian girl looked up, Hermione’s eye twitched again when she noticed she had been filing her nails, and magically flipped open her appointment book. “Mistress Granger, Senhor Peralta is ready for you and informed me to send you right through when you arrived.”

Obrigada [Thank you].” Hermione tried not to meet her eyes more than was required to be polite.

“You’re very welcome. And if there’s anything I can do to help you while you’re here at the Ministry, Mistress, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

Hermione nodded, becoming slightly uncomfortable, and turned away from her over the top smile to meet a more genuine one. “Mistress Granger.” Carlito Peralta held out his hand and when Hermione offered her own he shook it between both of his warmly.

“I believe I told you Hermione was fine, Senhor Peralta.”

The Brazilian gave another wide smile and gestured her into his office. “Then of course I must insist on Carlito.”

Hermione took the same chair she had sat in only two weeks prior and Carlito sat himself behind his desk. He was wearing dark grey robes with black slacks this time, and he looked undeniably sharp. “Well, Hermione, you’ve only been home from your last trip for a week or so, I wasn’t expecting to see you back so soon. Not that I’m not pleased to see you.” His smile turned sheepish and only his naturally tanned complexion stopped his blush from showing through. He cleared his throat to start over. “What can I do for you today, Hermione, is what I meant to say. Another trip? Nothing was wrong with your last Floo transportation I hope?”

“Everything was fine. Went perfectly. I actually am here to discuss another trip. Just the opposite way.”

Carlito grinned brightly. “You want to show off Brazil?”

“I would love nothing more actually. I adored telling my family in Britain about Brazil and now I would love to show them the home that adopted me.” Hermione spoke from the heart and Carlito positively beamed at her.

“Brazil is proud to have you, Hermione.” Hermione sensed he was blushing again. “So, right, this trip. Witches and wizards coming here to Brazil is a little more complicated,”

“I know.” Hermione tried to politely cut him off. “I tried to make it as easy as possible on you and I compiled a list of everyone I would like to bring so you can do the checks on them but I assure you there won’t be a problem. Not one of them has, or has ever, had any kind of Ministry or travel restriction on them and there isn’t a single conviction for anything within the group.” Hermione conjured a pre-written list, complete with names and professions, with a flick of her fingers. “Ten adults, four children.” She handed the list over and watched his eyebrows raise slightly as he read it.

“So. This group of people you’d like to bring over consists not only of ten war hero’s…but also four Ministry Workers, two Hogwarts professors and a professional Quidditch player?”

Hermione smirked. “That about sums it up, yes.”

Carlito laughed and shook his head. “Well I’ll have to run their names because its policy but I can’t imagine the Ministry of Brazil having a problem with this group enjoying their vacation here.”

“Thank you so much, Carlito.” Hermione smiled. Carlito pulled the paper work from his desk.

“Just doing my job.” His wide smile somewhat belied his polite modesty. “They all have British citizenship? And how many Floo’s would you like opened?”

“Just the one is fine. They can all meet together to keep it easy. The same connection would be perfect, the Potters Place in Godric’s Hollow to Andressa’s Taberna in Ariquemes.”

“That certainly will help simplify things. And what date would you like it opened for?”

“Friday, August 18th, and then reopened Sunday, August 20th.”

The only sound in the office for a moment was the scratching of Carlito’s quill as he took the information down. “Okay then. I’ll send you an owl as soon as I have the confirmation but like I said, I don’t predict any problems. I’ll do it right away so it shouldn’t be too long. I wouldn’t want you worrying about the trip.”

“Thank you again, so much.” Hermione shook hands with the man again and turned to leave when he rounded his desk.

“Uh, Mistress Grange, um, Hermione?” She met his sheepish grin and he shrugged his shoulders. “I was just wondering if there was any chance I could maybe take you for a drink? Or maybe dinner?” He showed his perfect white teeth as he smiled at her. “Pretty much anything you want really. I’m an excellent dancer?” Hermione instinctively blushed and looked down at her feet. Carlito must have read something in her face. He backed off, by physically taking a step back, and apologized instantly. “Oh, okay, I’m sorry. I truly did not mean to make you feel uncomfortable.”

“No, no.” Hermione met the kind man’s eyes so he could see her sincerity. “You did not make me uncomfortable at all. And I’m honestly flattered. You are charming and good-looking and that smile should be illegal.” He beamed widely at her words and Hermione chuckled at the emergence of just that smile. “Honestly if I was looking for someone to date you would be such a perfect catch.”

He nodded politely. “You’re not looking.” He ran his fingers lightly through his black hair.

“I’m really, really, not. I’m so sorry.”

Carlito looked shocked. “It is not a woman’s place to apologize for not wishing to date someone. You owe no one an apology for that.”

Hermione groaned with a smile. “Stop being so charming and saying all these perfect things!”

“I cannot help it, it is in my nature and how I was raised. Nós homens brasileiros sabemos como tratar uma dama [We Brazilian men know how to treat a lady].” He declared with a charming slight bow.

“I have absolutely no doubt about that, Carlito.”

“How about if you ever simply wish a friendly dinner or night out dancing you can owl me. I would be delighted to be your friend and share in your company.”

Hermione couldn’t stop smiling at the utterly charming and polite man. “How about this as well, on the night my family is in town I plan on taking them out for a night of true Brazil. Why don’t you join me and help me show them a good Brazilian time?”

He bowed slightly again. “I would be honoured.”

“Excellent. I’ll owl you sometime and we’ll have that friendly drink?”

“I look forward to it.” With final hand-shakes and goodbyes Hermione finally left Carlito’s office and she slipped passed Carley while the younger witch was reading an inter-department memo.

Larissa is never going to let me live down saying no to that man. Or maybe not cause now she can have him. Hermione chuckled to herself as she waited in line for the apparition point. Now, to just let Larissa know we're going to have some visitors.

Chapter Text

Andressa’s tavern had seen some unquestionably busy times. It was the only bar in the wizarding sector of Ariquemes and a fairly typical meeting place even for those who didn’t want the alcohol. Andressa herself, in fairly typical bartender fashion, was a famously good listener who gave excellent, albeit frank, advice.

That being said, it was still a tiny tavern in a tiny, and very poor, town and so even when the tavern was busy everybody knew everybody else and was probably also related to a quarter of the crowd.

August 18th now had the distinction of being the first, and likely only, time that there was more British people in the bar than Brazilian. Fourteen people, one after the other, stepped out of the Floo and into the bar-owners office. The door had been propped open in advance, for that was far too many people for the small, cramped space, so most of the visitors walked through into the bar while they waited for the rest of their party.

Finally the crowd, half of them ginger haired, shuffled forward into the bar. The four children with them were already chattering excitedly about all the things they could see and even the adults were giving gasps of surprise and squeals of excitement.

The witch, British by birth but Brazilian at heart, sitting at the bar spun around to face her family. She spread her arms wide and her smile was even wider. “Bem-vindos a Ariquemes!"

Hermione slipped off her bar stool and went to greet her family. Ginny and Harry were the first to step forward but James and Albus rushed forward and beat their parents.

“Aunt ‘Mione!” The boys attached themselves to her legs and she bent forward to hug them both.

“Oh I missed you little rascals.”

“Where is Oz?” James asked looking around the bar.

“Oh he’s around. I’m sure he’ll be by in a bit to see you both.”

Ginny finally nudged her children out of the way and wrapped her own arms around Hermione. “Bloody hell I’m already hot.” The younger witch laughed.

“I told you.” Hermione smirked. She was long used to the heat but she had warned her family to dress lightly and that robes weren’t necessary; they would have baked in their heavy British wear.

Harry was the next to wrap his sister into his embrace. “The boys talked and asked about you constantly. It’s only been a month and that was too long.”

“I’ll do my best to be around from now on.” Hermione promised.

The greetings and hugs went on and on. Molly and Arthur were the next two to step forward. Molly, as usual, squeezed the witch almost too hard.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t come down for the joint birthday parties.” Hermione still felt guilty for her absence.

“That’s okay, dear. I understand work emergencies and you planned this vacation for all of us.” Molly patted her cheek. The woman’s youngest son was the next the step out of the crowd.

“Blimey you weren’t kidding about the heat.” Ron complained. He was already pulling at the collar of his t-shirt. Hermione smacked him lightly.

“Ronald, it’s only 10 in the morning. This is nothing.” She teased.

George and Angelina shuffled their still slightly shy children forward and Hermione crouched down to be at their height. “Hi guys.” She gave a friendly smile to Fred and Roxanne. “I’m happy you came.” They both nodded but didn’t say much else. James ran over and grabbed his cousin’s hands and drew them away; he was clearly trying to get them excited.

Angelina and George chuckled at their antics and gave Hermione their own hugs. “They’ll warm up to you.” Angelina promised. “I have no idea where they got their shyness from cause it is not from either of us.”

“Just one of those things.” Hermione wasn’t really that fazed. She knew how children could be and it was only her second time meeting them.

Neville and Luna both started chattering instantly about the Brazilian plants and creatures they had been researching in preparation for this vacation. Hermione beamed at her friend’s enthusiasm. She promised them a trip somewhere special where they could both find things to fascinate them.

At the back of the crowd Hermione finally looked up and saw her. The slightly taller, silver haired witch had been waiting patiently for her turn to greet the one who had organized this vacation; she had a warm smile on her face watching Hermione happily reunite with her family.

“Fleur.” Hermione reached for the French witch and wrapped her in a tight hug. “I’m glad you came.” She whispered from where her face was practically in the crook of Fleur’s neck. When she had owled her family and told them about her plans Fleur had been the one she was the least sure would want to come. Not that she thought Fleur wouldn’t want to see her; more that she wasn’t sure if a vacation with the people who had until fairly recently been her in-laws would be something the older witch wanted.

Fleur had written back that she wouldn’t miss an opportunity to see Hermione’s home for anything and that it was probably the push she needed to contact the Weasley’s and apologize for everything. Molly had, Hermione found out in a subsequent letter, still acted as a welcoming mother to Fleur when they had arranged a visit and apologized herself for her sons appalling behaviour.

The clanking of bottles behind the counter finally drew Hermione half out of Fleur’s arms, though the French witch still had her hands looped loosely around her waist, and she smiled at the bartender. “Everyone, I’d like you to meet the owner of this establishment, Andressa.” The tall Brazilian woman gave a jovial wave at the strangers in her tavern and Hermione introduced them all in turn.

“Welcome to Ariquemes.” She instantly started flinging shot glasses onto the bar-top with practiced moves and effortless hands. Hermione noticed the arched eyebrows on several of her family members.

“Andressa is family.” Hermione explained as she easily took her place at the bar and dragged Fleur along with her. “And here when family meets for the first time or it’s been a while, we toast to old memories and new ones. It’s tradition.”

Molly looked a little confused. “It’s first thing in the morning.”

“Ah mum,” Ron happily took his place beside Hermione, “you heard the witch. It’s tradition.”

The rest of the group shrugged, agreed they were on vacation and took their places in a line down the bar. Andressa pulled the top shelf bottle of Hermione’s favourite. “What is that?” Neville tried to peer at the label and Andressa fake gasped.

“Granger! You haven’t even taught your family the most basic of Brazilian culture? For shame.”

Hermione giggled. “Everyone, this is cachaça. It’s a Brazilian speciality. It’s a heavy spirit. Its closest relative would be rum, I suppose, but we distill ours with fermented fresh sugarcane and not molasses like rum is.”

Andressa had expertly poured out twelve shots of the liquor by tipping the bottle and pouring them all in a line in one continuous pour. The children in the tavern tried to peer to the top of the bar to see what the adults were doing but were a little too short. “Saúde, à nossa!” Andressa nodded while picking up her own glass.

“Cheers and to us.” Hermione translated while they all followed suit. They clinked glasses and threw back their drinks to celebrate and start their vacation. Hermione let her eyes slide to the left at the very last second; just in time to see Fleur take her shot. Hermione wondered if she would sip it like she’d seen some higher class women do. The French witch flicked her hair over one shoulder out of the way and knocked back her shot in one as easily as Hermione did. Fleur must have seen her watching because she shot the younger witch a wink when she set her empty glass back down.

There were a few different reactions. Arthur clapped both his sons on the shoulder. “Well it wasn’t firewhiskey but it wasn’t half bad.” Ron and Harry looked unfazed, while George and Ginny looked like they’d found their new favourite drink.

Hermione felt a tug on her shorts and looked down to see Albus. She picked him up and swung him on top of the bar so he could sit. Harry went to say something but Andressa didn’t even blink at his son perched up there. “What’s up, Albus?”

“Why doesn’t this place have walls?” Albus asked genuinely confused.

Hermione chuckled. “Well, it’s very hot here first of all. If it was all closed in it’d be even hotter in here. This way we get a nice breeze. Also, it practically never rains here.”

“Never?”

“Almost. So we don’t really have any need for walls.”

Andressa snickered. “Makes it easier to throw the drunks out too, querido.” She turned to Hermione. “Você vai voltar depois do jantar [You’ll be back tonight after dinner]?”

Claro [Of course]. Come on everyone, I’ll show you my home and we can get you all settled with your luggage.”

Fleur slipped up beside Hermione and linked arms with her. “And then you really get to show us all your ‘ome.”

“That’s the plan.” Hermione smiled.

Walking down the streets of her hometown with her British family was a unique experience. The children took to the streets like all children seemed to have the ability to; with great curiosity, excitement and without judgement. A few Brazilian children appeared from over fences and behind houses and were soon showing the four British children how to run and play in their streets. Fred and Roxanne were a little more reserved but their cousins were there to encourage them. It made Hermione smile uncontrollably to see how children could instantly make friends and connections even with a language barrier.

On the adults, however, she could see the same curiosity but it didn’t come without a little bit of judgement. Even the Weasley’s who had grown up famously poor eyed the dirt roads, the shirtless children playing, the people walking with donkeys and the stray dogs meandering the streets with a little bit of trepidation. Hermione knew where their thoughts were coming from; to their knowledge Hermione was not poor. Even aside from the countless spell and potion inventions Hermione was paid for supplying and her freelancing work for various Ministries, there was also her award earnings from her First Class Order of Merlin. They knew that Hermione travelled but they had expected adventurous getaways and not villages clearly suffering from poverty. Only on Fleur’s face could Hermione see no judgement or surprise; she seemed to just be watching the children with the same joy Hermione felt.

An excited yell from James had all the kids pointing upwards where they could now find Oz circling overhead. They yelled for him to come down and he did so; in a 120mph dive that had the excited kids scattering when he pulled up before crashing. Ginny burst out laughing and retold, yet again, the story of Ron trying to outfly the bird to the ginger haired mans chagrin.

Hermione was still walking arm in arm with Fleur and she was explaining, loud enough that they whole party could hear, about the village they were walking through. She told them they were in the purely magical sector and magic could be done at will.

All of the witches and wizards they passed looked at the group strangely. Most of them had never seen such a group of obvious tourists before. Hermione chatted to every person in cheerful Portuguese.

“What are you saying to them?” Neville asked after they passed another woman who had flat out stopped to stare before laughing with Hermione.

“That the British are invading.” Fleur lightly elbowed her side and giggled. “Pardon me, and the French. No, I just told them I finally got my family to come visit my home. This is a very small village, there’s only about 50 of us really. Everyone knows everyone else, everyone has a hand in raising every child. No one would think twice about helping anyone any way they could. They don’t mind you’re here because you’re with me, and I’m family.” Hermione shrugged. “It’s just different than Britain.”

“This looks very different than Britain.” Ginny muttered; a passing donkey had just snorted and made the witch jump. She conjured a hair-tie and was pulling her long locks up and off the back of her neck while Harry chuckled.

“And bloody hell is it ever hot.” Ron complained again.

“Oh shut up.” Harry snickered. “We’re in South America, did you think Hermione was exaggerating when she said it would be?”

“I know!” George literally jumped into the conversation by bumping both wizards apart. “Why don’t we stop acting like British people and act like these Brazilian ones?” He pointed out a group of men in flip-flops walking up the road; they were also all shirtless. Without further ado George banished his t-shirt from his body and spread his arms wide. “We are in Brazil after all!”

Molly and Angelina almost in perfect unison cried, “George!” But Hermione, Fleur and Luna all giggled. George wasn’t what she would consider “ripped” by any definition but his stomach was flat and he did clearly take care of himself. It was more his colour that had them giggling. If they thought his arms and face were pale his chest, which saw no sun, was almost blinding.

“That’s better.” The jovial man laughed.

“I hear you.” Ron agreed and an instant later disappeared his own shirt. Molly cried out again as her youngest son bared his chest while walking down a public street. Ron was just as pale as his brother but he looked to be in slightly more athletic shape due to his auror training.

“It’s alright, Molly.” Hermione finally tried to calm the embarrassed woman. “No one will even notice out here. I mean, they might laugh at how pale they are but they don’t care about the clothes.” Hermione shrugged. “It’s hot. Men, women, boys, girls, it’s not a big deal to walk around shirtless or half clothed around here. South Americans aren’t as uptight as the British about nudity.”

Fleur nodded to what Hermione was saying. “The British are also definitely more uptight than the French.” Now Hermione elbowed her.

“Well everyone is more uptight about nudity and sex than the French.” The younger witch teased. Fleur just nodded seriously.

“And we take pride in that, ma chérie.”

James was suddenly at Hermione’s elbow. “Is that another culture thing, Aunt ‘Mione?”

Hermione instantly pulled him to her side in a half-hug. “You are absolutely right, James, it is. Some things that are the norm where you’re from are different from the things that are normal here."

“Does that mean we can go shirtless too?” Albus asked his mother.

Ginny shrugged. “If you want to, but you have to come here so daddy or I can put a sunscreen spell on you both. Which is not a bad idea for you two fools either.” She directed at her brothers.

“Gin!” George looked playfully affronted. “I cannot return from South America without a tan to show for it.”

Angelina burst out into laughter. “You don’t tan, you burn.” She stroked a finger down his bare chest. “And I don’t fancy seeing this chest practically peeling off later.” She teased.

Harry and Ginny had banished their son’s shirts and quickly applied the spell to save their skin. James and Albus instantly ran back to their new friends in the street.

“Well.” Molly and Arthur were walking with their arms around each other. “It definitely is another world down here, isn’t it?” Arthur commented.

“It is.” The pride in Hermione’s voice was clear. “My house is just up the road here.” She pointed it out. She had barely finished speaking when two more running boys with a soccer ball joined the group playing ahead of them. “Matheus!” The teenager looked up at his name. “Sua mãe e as meninas estão em casa [Are your mother and the girls inside]?” She called out and he nodded. He kicked the soccer ball to his younger brother and jogged back inside his own home. “You’re about to meet my Brazilian family.” Hermione told them as they approached. “This is my home, and this is my dear friend Larissa Sousa’s next door. She lives there with her four children.” Molly instinctively smiled at the thought of another mother with multiple children.

“Yeah.” A heavily accented voice laughed as she approached from the backyard of her home. “And if anyone here is wanting one they can have them.” She teased. Larissa was wearing a typical floral dress and as usual her hair was pulled back away from her face. The bangles around her wrists jingled as she held the hands of her two girls.

Ginny and Angelina cooed in unison at the adorable little children and without any hesitation Larissa swung Lorena up into Ginny’s arms. The toddler was totally content and babbled happily in Portuguese that Ginny couldn’t understand; she baby talked back in English anyway. “Wow,” Molly grinned at the adorable little girl, “she certainly isn’t shy, is she?” Larissa scoffed and Hermione laughed.

“I told you, Molly, no children would be here. Everyone raises them, children here get passed around between adults all the time.” Suzana proved Hermione’s point by walking right up to the Weasley matriarch and raising her hands up in the, clearly international, sign for wanting picked up. Molly swung the child onto her hip with ease. “Ginny that’s Lorena you’ve got there, and Molly has Suzana.” Both girls looked up at their names and smiled. “The two boys are Matheus, the older, and Danilo is the younger. And this,” Hermione unlinked her arm from Fleur to step forward and grab Larissa’s hand fondly, “is Larissa.” Hermione took the time to introduce everyone and point out who was all married to whom. “We’ve taken the fence down between our homes so the boys have room to go camping. And I’ve done extendable charms inside to make enough beds for the women.”

Everyone had already known the plan and nodded.

Meninos! [Boys!]” Larissa hollered for her children and both boys dutifully came running. She gave them instructions in rapid fire Portuguese and Hermione translated for her group.

“She’s getting them to run down to the market and get all the fresh fruit for lunch.”

“Can we go?” James’s voice spoke up instantly with his brother by his side. Their messy black hair already had a sheen of sweat in it but they were practically vibrating with excitement.

“I don’t know, buddy. Is there an adult going?” Ginny asked.

“There won’t be.” Hermione answered for her. “But all the kids will probably go as a pack and the adult supervision isn’t needed here. I can guarantee they’d be fine if you sent them. Matheus and Danilo are practically considered adults and they can both speak English, and they can even take Oz.” Hermione offered.

Larissa crossed the circle and draped her arm around Ginny like they’d been friends for years. “I cannot imagine living where I fear my children out of my sight. Not knowing if something would happen to them. At worse my kids might fall and get a bleeding knee but every person between him and me would stop to help. Kids here can walk in and out of every house and be welcome.” Larissa smiled. “This is just Brazil.”

“Okay.” Ginny finally consented. “But boys, you stay with Larissa’s boys and you just go to the market and back. Got it?” Her boys cheered and Matheus and Danilo both clapped them on the back. They took off down the street happily yelling, in two different languages, and Ginny shook her head after them. Hermione whistled and Oz descended from the air where he’d been circling to land on her shoulder.

“Hello lindo. Go keep an eye on the boys please.” She stroked him gently and kissed his beak before he literally nodded and took off from her shoulder. Harry eyed the bird curiously as he flew away.

“So!” Larissa smiled widely. “Men out back setting up tents and the women inside preparando o vinho?

“What did that mean?” Angelina asked.

“Something about wine.” Fleur replied instantly and they all stared. “I know wine in every language.” She smirked.

“Come.” Larissa held out her hand for Fleur and then led the way into Hermione’s home. “I feel we will be best friends.”

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

The women did indeed open several bottles of wine but they also started preparing a large lunch spread. Molly was thrilled to help in the kitchen so Hermione and Larissa translated several recipes into English for her. From the laughter they could hear outside they figured the men were either succeeding or epically failing at setting up the tents.

The four boys returned within a half an hour, sweating and carrying cloth bags but laughing and in great moods. Ginny thought the boys would be set free of work from the kitchen but they were given all the fruit with the job of washing it all outside.

Luna noticed the easy manner in which all of the Sousa family moved in Hermione’s home; as if it were merely an extension of their own. It made her happy to know her friend hadn’t been alone the entire time she had been away from them.

The boys brought the fruit back in and Larissa and Molly instantly went to work slicing and dicing. The women wielded wands and knives like swords and the others knew they were outmatched and left them to it.

“So do you have a husband, Larissa?” Molly questioned during a lull in the cooking.

Larissa shook her head. “I did have, yes. He long gone now. He didn’t even get a meet our youngest. Even with my work it was a hard time.”

“What is it you do, Larissa?” Angelina asked politely while refilling her glass.

“She helps people.” Luna piped up. Her head tilted slightly like she was trying to figure out an equation. “From the amount of Flit-Piffers around her I’d say she helps people emotionally.”

Larissa, well warned in advance about Luna’s uniqueness, simply nodded in agreement. “Even before I lost me husband I realized that there was really no help with people’s emotions.”

Hermione shrugged slightly from her position at the counter where she’d been rolling out dough. “For some reason the wizarding world has basically no concept of counsellors. I know, and Harry would know, that it’s an extremely common concept in the muggle world. Therapists and counsellors who help people with their emotions in times of great stress and grief. Larissa didn’t even know there was a name or a precedent for what she was trying to accomplish before she met me.”

Angelina’s jaw had basically dropped. “Muggles have somewhere to go after a trauma just to sort out their emotions? Do you know how many people that could have helped after the war? Nobody could handle their own grief. The nightmares and the anger and the-ow!” Angelina looked at Ginny, who had kicked her in the shin, before the colour drained from her face and she looked at Hermione. “Oh my god, Hermione, I’m so sorry. I didn’t think,”

“No.” Hermione attempted a smile. “It’s true. And I’m not the only one. I do know how much having someone, a professional, to talk to can help. People come from all over Brazil just to talk to Larissa.” Her smile turned genuine when she met the older witches gaze. “I’m just lucky enough to live next door.”

Now that Hermione seemed fine Ginny was more willing to join the conversation. “And you say muggles have already been doing this for ages? And it helps?”

“Mhmm. It’s extremely common. And it does help.”

“I can’t believe how far behind we are.” Ginny exclaimed.

“People want the magic solution to their problems. We have the ability to wave a wand for most things and get a solution so we think that’s the only way. But no witch or wizard should try to magically alter their emotions; the results are usually catastrophic or completely ineffective. ” Hermione tried to explain. “Therapy takes time, it’s not instant. And you have to be willing to talk and work at it. But it does help.”

Ginny shook her head and glanced outside where she knew her husband was. “I doubt anybody in this room escaped that war without nightmares. If there was someone to go talk to…to convince Harry to go talk to…Merlin I would do it.”

“George sometimes still panics catching his reflection suddenly.” Angelina admitted softly after a moment.

Hermione was putting all of her concentration into kneading the dough in front of her before she felt a gentle hand on her back. She knew, both from the feel of that slender hand and the light, citrus and sunshine scent that she would know anywhere, that Fleur was softly offering her support. The younger witch usually allowed no one to stand at her unprotected back but Fleur was different; she radiated strength and comfort where most people just made her nervous. Hermione sighed. “Loud noises.” She admitted. “Being startled…being touched roughly…”-surprisingly strong, long fingers gripped around her wrists hard enough to cut off the circulation in her fingers, teeth clamped down on the tender skin of her throat hard enough to draw blood- Even if she couldn’t see it could literally feel the women in the room giving her sympathetic glances; Fleur’s fingers started gently tracing circles on her back.

“These are called uh, the things that happen, um, alerting?” Larissa struggled a little.

“Triggering.” Hermione supplied.

“Yes, triggering. These all triggering effects. Knowing what ones effect you is the start.” Larissa nodded.

“Does the Ministry know you do this?” Fleur asked the other woman; her hand never stilled its gentle motion on the smooth skin of Hermione’s back that was exposed by her tank top.

“They do now. Not at first.”

“They’ve actually started sending auror’s to her after they’ve been in traumatic situations.” Hermione boasted with a little bit of pride.

“We need to get our own Ministry on this.” Angelina declared and the others nodded.

Molly sighed. “In my family alone every one of us could benefit from a little talking. I’m sure wizarding Britain could as well.”

The somewhat dejected conversation was cut off at the reappearance of the children, Fred and Roxanne had finally warmed up enough to laugh and play with the others, who were wondering about lunch. George and Neville soon stuck their upper bodies in the kitchen window and wondered the same thing. Neville had shed his shirt as well by now and his farmers tan was extremely distinct; Hermione assumed it was a hazard of gardening.

“Okay everyone outside.” Hermione finally called. “We’ll bring everything out, it’ll be ready in minutes.” Hermione turned to Fleur and pressed a quick kiss to the French witch’s cheek; they both knew more thanks were not necessary. She finally stepped away from the comforting warmth Fleur had been providing to place the last of the food in the oven.

The British group were a little puzzled about where they were going to sit as there wasn’t enough folding chairs, and Harry was about to conjure more, until they noticed the Brazilians basically sat anywhere; logs had been split into benches or they simply plunked down on the grass, people simply got comfortable wherever they wanted.

Hermione, Molly and Larissa brought out a buffet style lunch and set it all up on a table. The largest bowl contained a huge fruit salad; half of the fruit they had never even seen before. Hermione giggled as she showed them different pieces. “This is açaí, and this is jabuticaba which is sort of like a grape, and this is papaya.” Hermione flicked a piece of fruit into the air and Ron, almost five feet away, caught it in his mouth. He raised his arms in celebration while everyone laughed or shook their heads fondly. Hermione continued to explain the traditional meal and everyone had a good time trying a bit of everything.

By the end of lunch every man was shirtless and Ron, George and Arthur had all cast cooling charms on themselves. Matheus produced his ever present soccer ball and began showing them, other than Harry, the simple rules of “feet only”.

Hermione caught Fleur’s eye and shifted over on the log she was sitting on so the French witch could sit beside her. “You look ‘appy ‘ere.” Fleur commented.

“I am. I love it here. You haven’t seen anything yet.” Hermione promised. There was a light in Fleur’s eye that Hermione thought might have been missing the last time she saw her; she made a mental note to always try and make Fleur happy.

“I look forward to it.”

“What’s the plan for after lunch, ‘Mione?” Ginny called from where she was expertly dribbling the soccer ball and keeping it away from her brothers. She passed it off to Danilo and giggled when the boy proved to be better than the older wizards too.

“We’re going on a little adventure. I hope you remembered bathing suits.”

Just under an hour later the entire group, twelve adults and eight children, Flooed into the Ministry of Magic main floor.

“Showing us the Ministry that half of us just took a vacation from.” Ron drawled. “Nice, ‘Mione.”

Hermione rolled her eyes and stepped out the front door of the building. “What about this reminds you of the Ministry back home?”

Gasps and then silence greeted her teasing. She couldn’t blame them; the Brasília National Park had that effect on everyone their first time. There was a winding path that they started down as Hermione explained what the park was and how this section of it was hidden from muggles. Oz, who was becoming somewhat used to the Floo, had still taken off from Hermione’s shoulder the second they were outside. Neville had run ahead and was off the path and half into a bush while his blonde haired girlfriend was seemingly having a one-sided conversation with a tree. Angelina cooed at the sight of Roxanne who had somehow gotten onto Danilo’s back and was now being carted up the path. Larissa had been holding Lorena until she squirmed and wiggled; she let the toddler down without fuss and watched as she ran directly to her oldest brother.

Most of the couples were walking arm in arm and taking in the breathtaking scenery. Fleur had once again linked arms with Hermione. “This is completely miraculous.” She whispered like a yelled exclamation would ruin the moment.

“I know.” Hermione dutifully whispered back. “It’s these moments that make it easy.”

Soon they could hear laughter, cheering and splashing and they were expectantly looking around the bend; they were still unprepared for the sight. Hermione had called it a “watering hole” earlier and everyone had a similar image in their heads of small ponds or muddy water. This was instead a small lake with water that looked tropical. It was located in a clearing, which allowed the sun overhead to beam down on them, that was surrounded by flat grass that transitioned seamlessly into sand which continued out into the water allowing for an easy walk out.

At least a hundred people were already enjoying their day at this magic-made beach. Countless children and adults played a mix of magical and muggle games. Several soccer games were underway as well as an on-foot version of Quidditch. “Brooms aren’t allowed here.” Hermione explained to an extremely interested Ginny. “The warding spell only goes so high. So they just made up a version and play it on foot.” Hermione shrugged.

“Can we go in the water?” Hermione wasn’t totally sure but it sounded like at least four different children had spoken up at once. Various parents stepped up to sort out their children. Shorts were quickly transfigured into swimming trunks and sunscreen spells were reapplied. Molly and Arthur had staked out a section of grass and beach and were setting up the blankets and chairs they had brought.

It didn’t take long for everyone to quickly start enjoying their vacation. Harry and Angelina were with the kids in the water. Harry seemed to have an endless line of children waiting to be picked up and tossed into deeper water. Ginny had immediately gone over to the Quidditch match. Hermione wasn’t sure if they didn’t recognize her as a professional player or didn’t care because she was British but the woman was quickly invited into their game. Neville and Luna and long since disappeared and if she wasn’t so sure they were in the bushes, not doing anything sexual at all, she would probably be teasing them endlessly. Danilo and Matheus had dragged Ron and George over to one of the soccer games and were still trying to teach the purebloods how to use their feet properly. Hermione couldn’t stop the grin when she noticed Arthur and Molly taking a stroll down the beach hand in hand. Hermione waited until everyone was enjoying themselves, including Oz who was happily flying over the lake in lazy circles, before deciding to get settled herself. She had come prepared for her own favourite thing to do at the beach; read.

She pulled her hair up in a simple bun out of the way before banishing her tank top and shorts. Her bikini, which she had already been wearing underneath, was now on display. It was a simple bathing suit, mostly white with two dark blue stripes, but it looked stunning against her tanned skin. Hermione may have been aware of every person at the beach for safety reasons but she seemed completely oblivious to the fact that she was now catching the eye of quite a few people. Hermione wasn’t remotely embarrassed about her body being on display, providing all of her various glamours were in place; in fact she didn’t really think twice about it. She didn’t notice the several different people who had actually stopped what they were doing to ogle her.

She did finally notice, however, when one person spoke up. “If I didn’t already think that Brazil ‘as been good to you, ma chère, I definitely would now.” Fleur’s voice was simple appreciation and Hermione felt none of the uncomfortableness she usually felt when she actually noticed someone eying her body. “You look fabulous.”

Hermione actually blushed a little. “Coming from the goddess.” Hermione stared as Fleur also removed her clothes and revealed her bathing suit; Fleur’s movements were so lithe and graceful she made even stripping off a shirt seem fascinating. Her long silver hair was still down and it contrasted beautifully against the dark burgundy bikini she wore. Her body was just as slender and toned as Hermione’s, but she noticed that while her own body showed slightly more muscle definition Fleur was soft and subtle curves and utterly perfect. Quite a few people more had stopped to stare at the gorgeous quarter Veela but Fleur ignored them easily.

“Urgh. I hate you both.” Larissa growled but without malice. She was already laying out on her back in her bikini, sunglasses over her eyes, but she had clearly watched both witches undress.

Fleur settled herself down on Hermione’s other side but leaned up to address the Brazilian. “What on earth ‘ave you got to ‘ate us for? You are completely gorgeous and ‘ave a body that should be worshipped daily. You both do, in fact.” Fleur’s voice was both teasing and passionate and Larissa barked out a laugh.

“Oh I wasn’t to have body issues. I know I’m stunning.” Larissa pretended to fan herself. “Besides, I see how more this one runs and works for that body and I’m just too...hmm. Is there an English word that best describes me?”

Hermione conjured large sunglasses to hide her eyes but she couldn’t stop her smile. “I think I’m going to go with lazy.”

Chapter Text

Hermione didn’t know if she could ever remember a better afternoon. Her Brazilian and British families had come together and their day had been perfect so far. Looking back on it Hermione couldn’t even decide what her favourite part had been. Almost everyone took turns playing in the water with the kids. Hermione used wandless magic to create small waves, or large ones if Ron was in the water, to the kid’s endless delight. Ginny had seriously lost her swagger when some of the local teenagers put on a Quidditch display and Ginny found herself lacking without a broom. The professional player's pout had lasted for all of five seconds before she begged to be taught some new moves.

Fleur had been standing with just her feet in the water when Hermione waded in from the deeper water while wringing out her hair. “You coming in?”

Fleur arched an eyebrow like Hermione was crazy. “I am in.”

Hermione laughed. “Coming in as in more than up to your ankles.”

“Oh. Non. I do not get my ‘air or my bathing suit wet.” Fleur suddenly tensed up a little at the mischievous glint in Hermione’s eye. “’ermione. What are you doing?”

“What?” Hermione kept coming closer.

“Don’t you dare.” Fleur warned. When Hermione was within reaching distance Fleur tried to bolt; Hermione was quicker. Her athletic body propelled her forward with amazing reflexes and speed and her hand closed around the French witch’s wrist to tug her backwards. Fleur had just barely managed to stay on her feet by latching her hands around Hermione’s shoulders; it turned out to be her undoing. Hermione gripped her by the hips and flung them both backwards into deeper water.

The younger witch came up spluttering and laughing hysterically. Fleur, for all her talk, turned out to be very graceful in the water and she held herself under to slick her hair back before standing tall with her head tipped back and her elegant throat on display. Her silver hair had turned a slightly darker shade and it hung long and straight down her back. Her impossibly smooth silky skin dripped water where she stood with her hands now on her hips glaring at Hermione. “That was not funny.” The light shining in blue eyes let Hermione know she wasn’t really in trouble.

The younger witch just stared at her. “How did you manage that and still come up looking like a goddess? It’s seriously unfair.” Her words were only partially joking; she had never seen someone quite so stunning.

“Oh ‘ush.” Fleur ran her fingers through her hair to gather it and wring the water out. “You will pay for that one ma chérie.” Fleur promised as she walked by pointing a threatening finger at Hermione’s chest. Fleur raised the same finger and stroked once down Hermione’s cheek gently. “You will pay dearly.” The younger witch grinned instead of feeling worried. It had been a long, long, while since she’d had such teasing fun.

Harry had finally joined Ron in one of the soccer games and while he was a little better than the pure-blood, having played at least a little before, the Brazilian children ran circles effortlessly around them. Larissa and Angelina had begun work on a monstrous sand castle with the youngest children. Looking at the 5 foot tall and 10 foot wide creation Hermione was fairly certain at least one of them was cheating with magic.

Neville and Luna had finally come to join them some three hours later. Neville had sketches of several different flowers and plants that he wanted to do further research on and Luna, not surprisingly, claimed to have found at least two creatures the group had never heard of before.

“Hey ‘Mione.” Ginny was now lounged out on a towel beside Fleur who was using a spell to carefully dry her hair out. “What’s the plan after this?” She eyed her own lean body carefully for signs of burning. She didn’t want to end up looking like the lobster her brothers were sure to.

“Well we can stay here until everyone is getting hungry. Then we’re meeting up with a friend of mine for dinner. Then once the kids have gone to bed we’re taking you all out for a real night out in Brazil.”

“Who’s watching the kids?” Angelina asked where she was brushing sand off herself while muttering that it had gotten everywhere. She gave up on using her hands and pulled out her wand. Hermione and Larissa shrugged.

“Whoever.” Larissa seemed unconcerned. “Matheus and Danilo are fine on their own. I’ll drop the young ones off at someone house.”

Ginny and Angelina shared a look. “You’re just going to drop them off at a strangers?”

“I told you,” Hermione said yet again, “there are no strangers. It’s not unusual here. Someone is busy, someone else who isn’t watches the kids.”

“Well. That would definitely come in handy.” Angelina admitted. Molly finally interjected in the conversation.

“Oh don’t worry about that. Arthur and I won’t go out partying tonight anyway. We’ll leave that to you young people. We can watch our grandkids and the others.” Ginny nodded her consent and Larissa shrugged.

The sun had taken a lot out of everyone today and half of the group were nodding off on the beach when the children finally ran out of energy. They took that as a sign to start packing their things up and head back home. The Floo from the Ministry to Andressa’s was uneventful except for the dozen people now in the bar that stared at their arrival. Word had spread about the British group staying in town so no one was surprised but it was still a sight for them to see.

Hermione was pulled into several different conversations in Portuguese and her family watched in amazement about how welcome here she was. They treated her no differently than anyone else. They had no idea what their friend was saying but she threw back her head and laughed several times and was handed a shot twice. Ginny, Harry and Ron had seen her drink during her visit to the Potters place but it was still something else to see how easily, and how normal, it was for the witch to handle her liquor.

“It’s just friendly.” Andressa piped up after watching the foreigners eye Hermione. “The shots? It’s friendly. As common as shaking hands. Means they like and respect her and that she’s welcome as family.” Her hands had never stopped moving from where she snapped the caps off a few bottles of beer but her eyes, glinting a fierce protectiveness, remained on them until they nodded saying they acknowledged her.

Hermione finally stepped away with several slaps on the back and a few kisses to her cheek. “Sorry guys lets go.”

Harry, Ron, George, Larissa and Molly were all holding a child in their arms as only James was determinately walking with Matheus and Danilo even though he was dead tired too.

Hermione felt her presence one second before a slender arm slipped through her own. “Thank you for the wonderful day, ‘ermione.” Another kiss was pressed to her cheek. “I didn’t know ‘ow badly I needed a vacation until I was ‘ere.”

“You’re welcome. There is still lots to see, I promise.”

When they reached Hermione’s place everyone went off to various tents and bathrooms. Hermione had used an extendable charm and rather complicated magic to add two other bathrooms, to her suddenly much larger house, as it seemed showers were essential to get rid of all the sand they had brought back with them.

Hermione was ready the quickest and, after leaving out several Pepper-Up Potions and Sunburn Soloutions to help the group make it through the night, she stepped out front to sit with Larissa and a glass of wine. One by one people continually joined them outside to lounge when they were ready and still waiting for the others. All the women were wearing dresses and they made a rather fabulous looking bunch. They had all transfigured their dresses to match the airy, light style natural to Brazil. Hermione grinned at the pale gold sundress that Fleur was wearing accompanied by simple strappy sandals; apparently the woman truly did have the ability to pull off anything and make it look stunning.

The men were mostly in slacks and button down shirts of various colours; Hermione was positive they had all cast cooling charms on themselves and Hermione grinned at them. “I think the last time I saw us all so dressed up was the Yule Ball.”

Ron groaned. “Oh Merlin, don’t remind me of that.” He smoothed his hands down his muggle dress shirt, which fitted his admittedly well-built torso perfectly, as if to reassure himself that he looked much better now.

Harry laughed at the memory of his friends robes. “Yeah that was tragic.” His smile showed he thought it was anything but. “He does dress up a little better now, ‘Mione. He wears good dress robes to the annual battle memorial.”

Hermione groaned. “I get those letters no matter where I am every year. You’d think they’d stop sending them to me.” Hermione grit her teeth at the thought. Whatever the Ministry did every year was not what a memorial should be in her opinion. It should be about the memories and the people; not a way to raise money by telling war stories. She threw the letters in the trash as soon as she got them because she wanted no part of being their show-pony in order to make money.

“You’ll probably have to go once you come back to Britain.” Ginny pointed out with a casual shrug. She hadn’t noticed the rage flicker behind the older witch’s eyes; but someone else did. Fleur noticed it, as well as the tensing of Hermione’s shoulders, and figured this wasn’t a conversation to have right before a nice night out.

“So where are we going for dinner, ‘ermione?”

Hermione touched her arm in a subtle but thankful gesture. She took a breath to calm down the anger that had sparked within her. “We’re travelling south and over to the coast to São Paulo to a beautiful restaurant called A Figueira Rubaiyat. It means The Fig Tree.”

Ron arched an eyebrow. “Why call a restaurant that?”

Larissa chuckled. She had also noticed the reaction in her friend, knowing full well how she felt about that memorial, and was happy to help change the subject. “You’ll see. I actually never been before. Way too fancy for my blood. But I been hearing about it.”

“The only reason we even got a table for all of us is because my friend who we’re going to meet works at the Ministry.”

Ginny narrowed her eyes; she looked like a bloodhound who had caught a scent. “You’ve mentioned “this friend” several times today Hermione. Just who is this person?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Just a friend, Ginny, relax. Merlin. Come on though, we should get to Andressa’s and get going.”

“We’ll see about this friend, ‘Mione.” Ginny glanced around for her children. “Alright boys, let’s go. Time to hit the Floo.”

Danilo, who had been standing beside her petting Oz and previously ignoring the adult’s conversation, looked up confused. “Branca, why we going to hit the Floo? What did it do?”

The British people of the group laughed and Hermione instantly whipped her head around to glare at them. “Enough.” She looked back to Danilo so she missed the shocked looks on the British faces she’d just chided. She made sure her face didn’t show her annoyance when she ran her fingers though his shaggy black hair. “Me desculpe Danilo, é só uma expressão britânica. Significa que vamos até a rede de Flu e usá-la, não que vamos de fato bater nela. Mesmo assim, eles não deveriam ter rido, isso não é certo [I’m sorry Danilo, it’s just a British saying. It means we’re going to go to the Floo and use it. Not that we’re actually going to hit it. But they shouldn’t have laughed, that’s not okay].” The boy shrugged seemingly nonplussed and nodded while he walked over to join his brother.

Fleur took his place beside the younger witch. “Ils ne comprennent pas commet c'est que d'être confus par d'autre langues [They don't know what it's like to be confused by another language].”

Hermione had to really pay attention to switch languages quickly to French which didn’t come as naturally to her anymore. “Non, ils ne le comprennent pas, mais peut-être que ce soir ils vont le découvrir [No they don't. Maybe tonight they will learn how it feels].”

Fleur chuckled. “Perhaps we can do it on purpose.” She whispered directly into Hermione’s ear. Without much thought Hermione took her hand and started leading their group back down the familiar road to Andressa’s.

When they got there many whistles of appreciation greeted them. Several things were called out in Portuguese and the British women looked around warily. Hermione instantly put a hand on Angelina’s arm and addressed all of them. “They’re just complimenting us. An actual compliment, not a catcall. They mean no harm and they wouldn’t do anything.”

They wandered over to the bar where Andressa was asking for their drink orders. “Must always start a night out here with me.” The older witch declared; it was clearly an order. A few of the group, like Ron and George, shrugged and asked for whatever most of the people in the tavern were drinking.

Caipirinhas it is.” Andressa smiled widely and quickly grabbed for Hermione’s favourite bottle of cachaça.

“It’s Brazil’s national cocktail.” Hermione explained while Andressa mashed brown sugar and lime in the bottom of each glass without pausing. “You’ll fit right in drinking that.” She beamed. Andressa slid the finished cocktails over and George raised his glass to toast with his brother but Ron had already taken a gulp to taste the drink.

Andressa instantly locked eyes with Hermione and sported a large, teasing grin. "Beber sem brindar, 7 anos sem dar [Drink before cheering, 7 years without fucking].”

“This drink is pretty good.” Ron took another sip. “What did she say?”

Hermione had to bite her bottom lip to stop herself from laughing in his face. “I think you’d rather not know.”

Andressa moved to take the rest of the orders for the British family and they stuck to more classic British cocktails. Hermione squeezed Fleur’s hand to get her attention. “I assume you’re going red wine? Will you order me cachaça as well, Andressa knows my bottle. I just have to do something.”

Bien sûr [Of course].” Fleur didn’t question the request.

Hermione stepped back outside and sat at one of the tables not covered by the taverns roof. Due to the lack of walls she was still in plain sight of everyone but she felt a little set aside from them. She had barely sat down when Oz descended and landed on the arm she had lying flat on the table. “Hey lindo.” She stroked him lovingly. “I wish you could come but the restaurant wouldn’t like you and you wouldn’t like the rest of the night.” She giggled. Oz cawed lowly. “I’ll be fine.” She whispered as she pressed her face against his side; he started preening her hair gently as he always did. “Hey, don’t mess that up, that took time and effort.” She chastised lightly. “I’ll be fine.” She repeated. “I’m with everyone that loves me.” After a few more moments Oz took off into the sky and Hermione stepped back into the bar where a beautiful French witch and a shot of cachaça was waiting.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

Hermione gasped along with her family when they entered the doors of the restaurant. She, like Larissa, had heard many things but never had an occasion to go to such a splendid, and fancy, establishment. The restaurant catered to both muggle and magical cliental and because of this they had a Floo connected to the underground car park next door. The small room that housed the actual fireplace was hidden behind a simple glamour wall that muggles could not see or step through. They emerged from the car park back to the street where no one ever looked twice at groups coming and going.

Hermione heard the children’s gasp when they were outside and she pointed out where they were going; she smiled when several of the adults gasped when they saw it as well. It looked entirely magical but Hermione knew this part of the building was actual muggle. The building was simple white and red brick because no one ever looked at the walls when, in the middle of the restaurant and protruding through and covering the entire roof, was a gigantic tree. “Rivals the Whomping Willow, that thing does.” Ron gasped as they made their way through the doors and into the actual building.

All of the inside walls, as well as the roof, were glass so one could get the full effect of the tree which was growing right in the centre of the restaurant. A hostess was waiting politely while they gawked at the tree and the ambiance of the room; Hermione assumed she was used to people staring for a while.

Hermione finally stepped forward and smiled at the young woman. Her hair was braided back away from her face and she wore a pristine brown and red uniform of a blouse, blazer and slacks. “Boa noite e bem vindos à A Figueira Rubaiyat. Posso assumir que é a sua primeira vez conosco? [Good evening and welcome to the A Figueira Rubaiyat. Can I assume it's your first visit with us?]”

Hermione chuckled. “Tão óbvio assim? [That obvious?]” She went on to explain that her family was visiting from Britain and she wanted to show them the ultimate dining experience.

The hostess smiled. “Bom, então vocês escolheram o lugar certo. Imagino que sua reserva esteja em nome de Peralta? O senhor que já chegou me avisou que seria um grupo grande de ingleses [Well you have picked the right place then. I assume your reservation is under Peralta? The gentleman who already arrived told me it would be a large English group].”

Isso mesmo. Me informaram também que poderíamos ter a experiência de um verdadeiro jantar mágico aqui [That is true. I was also told we could have a magical dining experience here].”

The hostess grinned, nodded and gestured for the group to follow her. Carlito had told Hermione in their last letter that he would take care of the reservation and make sure they knew it was for the magical side of the restaurant but that it was good practice to mention having a magical dining experience anyway.

The group walked slowly as they took in the fabulous restaurant. Everything in the room was designed for the focal point to be the incredible tree. Hermione noticed the feeling of walking through a magical barrier about halfway across the room but they kept following the hostess to their table.

Carlito politely stood as soon as he caught sight of the group and Hermione embraced him in a friendly hug. He looked as sharp as he always did and his wide grin was already in place. The hostess gestured for everyone to take their seats at their leisure and began placing down menus. Hermione introduced Larissa and the rest of the Sousa’s first because they were conversing in rapid Portuguese. Hermione caught Fleur’s eye, when she noticed the rest of her party waiting somewhat listlessly because they couldn’t understand, and winked at the French woman. Hermione finally switched to English to introduce the rest of her family and, as she knew he would, Carlito didn’t react in any way other than polite to the famous people.

Carlito, after many handshakes and introductions, finally pulled out the chairs for Hermione and Larissa who were sitting on either side of him. Angelina and Ginny both smacked their husbands in the arm after witnessing the gentlemanly behaviour they were not privy too. A waitress, in the same uniform as the hostess, came over as soon as they were settled and again, the British of the group were left out of the long conversation they couldn’t understand. The children of the group seemed fascinated by the different language flowing easily from their lips. A few of the adults, like Harry, Molly and Fleur, were polite enough to smile and nod to the waitress and give her their due attention even if they couldn’t understand.

Hermione finally chuckled at her family. “Ana was asking what would you all like for drinks? Is it a Champaign to start kind of night?”

Everyone agreed and Hermione asked for their best bottles. “That was a long conversation for drinks?” Ginny inquired.

“She was explaining about the restaurant.” Hermione replied. “It’s split down the middle, muggles on that side of the tree and magical on this side. The barrier spell means muggles won’t notice or hear anything out of the ordinary.”

“She also explained the history of the restaurant.” Carlito grinned and drew their attention back to the tree. “That is a Bengal Fig Tree and it has been standing there for almost a century. The restaurant was built around it with the aim of protecting and showcasing it.”

“Was the waitress gesturing at the chairs at one point?” Angelina asked the Portuguese speaking part of their group.

Hermione sipped from her water glass that had filled magically as soon as she’d sat down while she nodded. “She was explaining to us that everything in the restaurant is organic and grown on the farm that they own and operate. All of the vegetables and meats are their own. All of the beautiful woodwork you can see was built from trees grown on their property. Even the leather of the chairs they made themselves.” Everyone took another, and even more appreciative look around the room. The large amounts of glass gave the restaurant a modern feel but it was counterbalanced by the beautiful wood accents everywhere. The wood also helped bring the entire experience together as they were sitting under the gnarled and ancient branches of the fig tree.

When Ana returned she popped the bottles magically and contained the spray so that no one got wet. The children all clapped at the display and Ana gave a playful bow. She left them to peruse the menu.

Conversation sprang up around the table, most of it marvelling over the restaurant. Harry, sitting across from Carlito, asked him about his work at the Ministry. The Brazilian man talked about his rise through the Ministry and admitted it was only his fairly recent promotion to the International Floo Department that allowed him to meet Hermione. He already knew Harry was an auror, as most people did, and asked him about his own work in return.

“It’s been a little busier lately.” Harry admitted. “I was recently promoted as well and now lead a team and we got a somewhat nasty case right before we came here actually. We had to get it taken care of quickly because there was no way I was missing this vacation.” He gave Hermione, who was listening in, a crooked grin.

“I didn’t know that, Harry. It ended alright?”

“Mhmm. A witch found out her husband had gambled away their life savings and she positively snapped. She brutally attacked him, first with her hands and then her wand. During the attack she sent him flying out their living room window. The muggles passing by couldn’t imagine how a woman smaller than Hermione managed to get her six foot husband out the window.”

“Oh Merlin. Few memory charms required?”

“Way worse than that.” Harry admitted. “She followed him out to the yard and started cursing him left and right. Quite a few hit the bewildered muggles. No one died, thankfully, but she put up a hell of a fight. We had to subdue her and get everyone taken to St. Mungo’s. The husband and one of the muggles are still there getting treatment.”

“Yeah,” Ron drawled, “I think it’s fair to say that the lady snapped. Wonder how much he gambled away? Guess it’s true, you never know what’s going on in somebody else’s marriage.”

Fleur, sitting beside Hermione, stiffened at Ron’s words. Hermione subtly placed her hand under the table and delicately touched Fleur’s thigh. The French woman didn’t change her facial expression but Hermione could tell from how she interlocked their fingers and then relaxed minutely that she was grateful for the comfort.

“Hey Hermione,” Neville got his soon to be colleagues attention, “speaking of St. Mungo’s, I was just there. I couldn’t help but overhear several of the nurses talking. Is it true you invented another new spell for the Healers to use?”

Hermione blushed a little as everyone at the table was now staring at her. “Uh, yes. That’s true.”

Neville’s eyes shone with pride and he nodded seriously at her. “I’m glad those are the kinds of spells you spend your time on.”

“Of course she does.” Fleur squeezed her hand still under the table warmly. “It does not surprise me in the least you make spells to ‘eal people.”

“What does the spell do, Hermione dear?” Molly asked as she sipped her drink.

“Well.” Hermione wasn’t actually sure what to say. Her spell alone was helpful and ground-breaking but she had other plans for it as well. In case the potion that it’s supposed to be used in conjunction with doesn’t work out, however, she didn’t want to mention it. She had high hopes for the potion currently stewing in her office but she was too logical not to plan for setbacks. She knew one person at the table in particular whose hopes she didn’t want to get up. “The spell, as simply as I can put it, is essentially a brain sooth.” Hermione spoke carefully but truthfully. “The brain is heavily effected after certain accidents or curses.” She both wanted to look at Neville and look anywhere but him at the same time. The slender fingers locked between her own kept her grounded. “When the brain is in distress many things can happen. The brain can bleed, or swell,”

“Which probably isn’t good for it.” George said trying, slightly, to break the tension.

“Not at all.” Hermione agreed. “My spell is basically a balm for the brain. It stops the brain from doing anything and puts the patient into a soothed and calm state. It doesn’t fix the brain, unfortunately, but it does buy the Healers time to assess and heal as well as keeping the patient calm and sedated.”

“Hermione.” Neville’s low voice made her look up from her plate. “That is brilliant.” He swallowed thickly. “Would it help after a Cruciatus?”

Hermione would never lie to a friend and knew if he asked he wanted to know. “Actually, that’s one of the original curses I had in mind when I designed it. You see, the pain that curse creates doesn’t actually target the nerves. Your body isn’t in any pain.” Hermione looked up and met Harry’s supportive gaze; he was the only other one at the table who knew exactly what that curse felt like. “It targets your brain. Your brain sends pain signals down the nerves in your body, and that’s what causes the brutal aftereffects. Your brain is so used to sending those signals and your nerves are so used to receiving them that after prolonged exposure to the curse the brain and nerves continue to do so even after the curse has stopped.” Hermione almost sighed as gentle fingers began stroking her hand in a rather familiar caress. “This spell, if given any time after someone has been affected by the curse enough times to cause those aftereffects, it will actually stop them completely,”

“Because the brain is calm.” Harry finished for her. “If it’s calm it’s not sending any pain signals.”

“Exactly.”

Hermione jumped at the scraping of a chair and looked panicked when Neville stood up. She was devastated that she’d hurt her friend and was almost out of her own chair to follow after him; instead he just rounded the table and reached for her hand. When Hermione stood he pulled the shorter witch into his arms and almost crushed her. No words were said; there didn’t need to be any.

The rest of the table politely looked away and gave them a moment. When Neville finally released her and sat back down Luna took his hand immediately and gave her boyfriend a heartwarming smile. “Well, we knew you were brilliant, Hermione.” Neville finally said; his voice was only a little rough. “We all know how many people that spell could help. How many people you’re helping.” He lifted his glass and Hermione started blushing again. “To the Smartest Witch of her Age.”

Hermione dutifully accepted the toast and grinned when Fleur, who knew she’d be embarrassed, winked at her.

The table, mostly because the children again complained about their hunger, finally began perusing the menu. The leather bound books were spelled so the words switched instantly to the persons native language when they read it. The British people sighed in relief and Fleur grinned at seeing her native French. Hermione made a point of catching Larissa’s eye and showing her that her own menu had remained in Portuguese.

After Ana had taken down every order and assured them it wouldn’t take long several conversations broke out along the length of the table again. Hermione actually just leaned back and smiled at everyone she cared about getting along and enjoying themselves; at everyone safe and happy.

“It’s a good sight, non?”

Hermione smiled at Fleur. “It definitely is. Remind me to thank McGonagall.” Fleur arched an eyebrow in question. “If she hadn’t owled me I’d be at my office right now buried in work. I’d only know my nieces and nephews from the odd photo or fire call. I wouldn’t be back in the lives of my family and friends.” Hermione squeezed the hand that was once again holding her own. “I wouldn’t have reconnected with you.”

“Per’aps I should thank McGonagall as well then.” Fleur whispered.

The group spent over two hours at the restaurant enjoying their food and the company. Hermione had delighted in everyone enjoying the traditional food of her chosen country and every bite had was delicious. After the meal Ana started bringing signature Brazilian drinks in small glasses so the group could try all the different flavours. She had thoughtfully brought all the children gelato in cocktail glasses so they wouldn’t feel left out.

Neville and Luna, who probably drank the least out of the group normally, were starting to feel the effects and Hermione couldn’t help but grin at the way Neville smiled so unabashedly at his girlfriend. Even Ginny had gotten quite giggly and Ron was sporting a telltale redness around his ears.

“So!” Ron clapped his hand on the table to get Hermione’s attention. “You clearly plan on getting us all drunk tonight, ‘Mione. Where are you taking us tonight?”

Hermione gave a devilish smirk. “I don’t know, Ron. Now I’m not sure you all can handle it anymore. Maybe I should change my plans.”

“What?” Ron shouted. “No way! You’re allowed to cut loose on vacation.”

George burst out laughing. “Yeah little bro, make a scene in the restaurant. That’s not a sure sign that you’re too drunk to party tonight. Maybe you just don’t have what it takes to hang with the men.” He teased his brother.

Harry interjected before Ron had the chance. “I gotta side with my best mate here George. Wasn’t it you who ended up sleeping on the roof at my birthday party a few years ago?”

The group all burst out laughing but Angelina whipped her head around to stare at her husband. “Was that the night you didn’t come home and told me you slept at the Burrow?”

George looked like a deer in headlights. Hermione delighted in seeing Angelina able to ruffle the usually untroubled wizard. “Um. Well, uh…Ginny table danced that night!” He pointed an accusing finger.

“George!” Ginny and Molly’s voices blended into one yell. Hermione was laughing so hard by this point she was slumped in her seat slightly.

Fleur gave Ginny and appraising and serious look. “Hmm. Yes I can picture this.”

Ginny’s jaw dropped. “What?”

Fleur shrugged. “You have a fantastic body and are definitely the more sexually aggressive between you and your husband.” The French woman spoke extremely nonchalantly and everyone cracked up again. Harry was now the one trying to cover a blush.

Ginny finally smirked at the laughing table. “You know what? Fine, I did table dance that night. And I was damn good at it thank you.”

Ron scowled into his plate. “Can we stop talking about my sister please?” This inevitably caused the group to start telling their favourite Ginny stories.

Fleur sipped her cocktail and almost dropped it when she noticed Hermione with tears streaming down her cheeks. “’ermione.” Her voice was soft as she tried not to draw attention to her. “Are you alright?”

A small smile broke through the tears. “Yes. I’m perfect.” The group had finally moved on to the next batch of embarrassing stories which apparently involved Neville passing out on his own birthday and waking up completely covered in wrapping paper. “I’m happy.” She picked up her drink and clinked it with Fleur’s. She waited for a lull in the laughter to speak. “Well if these stories are any indication it’s going to be quite the wild night and I am quite looking forward to it. And to answer your question Ron,” she tipped her drink in his direction, “we’re going to Rio.”

Chapter Text

Spirits were high, alcohol was flowing and they were finally on their way to Rio. The children had been a little difficult to square away. Matheus and Danilo had conceded the easiest and had each taken a sleepy sister in their arms and prepared to Floo back home. James and Albus were a little trickier as they desperately wanted to come with the rest of the group. Harry had tried to explain, several times, that children wouldn’t be allowed where they were going and that they would have fun back at Aunt ‘Mione’s with their grandparents and Oz. When that approach hadn’t worked an arched eyebrow from Ginny did the trick. Fred and Roxanne had both simply been sleepy and therefore clingy but George and Angelina had gotten them sorted with their grandparents.

Larissa had given her bunch instructions to either find a family to watch them or to stay with the British group. She had also told Molly and Arthur, several times, not to worry if people in the bar when they Flooed back into Ariquemes seemingly picked up and walked off with her children as the whole village was considered family.

When Molly and Arthur and the children finally left it was like the last safety net of the night was gone and suddenly the professional adults were a little more loose and ready to party. Ana, who had been a fabulous and attentive waitress all night long, instantly brought the table shots of cachaça on the house with the bill.

There was some squabbling over the bill, which was finally settled with Hermione standing and dealing with the waitress in Portuguese while the British of the group glared on. Ana directed them to a back room that they used as an apparation point and wished them a fun night.

As every one of the visitors needed to use side-along apparation they went in three different groups. Hermione went first with Fleur, Ginny and Harry, Larissa accompanied Ron, George and Angelina, and Carlito apparated Neville and Luna.

Once they were all together again the locals led them out of the small alley they had landed in and walked into a busy street. Larissa gave her hips a playful shake and spread her arms wide. “Welcome to Lapa!”

Everyone’s eye was caught by the iconic white arches. “These are the Arcos de Lapa.” Hermione smiled at the clear tourist wonder on their faces. “It’s from old Rio, the Carioca Aqueduct was built originally to lead water from Carioca into the city.” The arches, which cut a swath right down and across the city street, were huge. The Roman-esque style arches were almost 20 meters high and over 250 meters long. “Of course,” Hermione smirked, “they don’t serve that purpose anymore.”

They walked along the back side of the large arches and found a large bricked square with seemingly nothing in it. “Now it’s the cradle of bohemian Rio!” Larissa shook her hips again. Carlito instantly was at her side and offered her a hand with a slight bow. Larissa arched an eyebrow but accepted the invitation and the two were soon off dancing a quick samba even without the music.

“It’s basically the party central of Rio.” Hermione laughed as she watched her friends. “This street here,” she pointed down the road that led perpendicular to the huge arched structure, “holds all of the best nightclubs and dance clubs in Rio. But here,” she pointed to the area they were standing in, “will soon become a party itself. It’s a tad early but vendors and booths and stalls will flock in and by the end of the night it’s a gigantic street party beneath the arches.”

Ron and George clapped their hands eerily in unison. “This is going to be something.” Ron grinned.

“While the party out here gets underway, we’re heading to the Lapa 40 Graus. 40 Degrees.” She translated in practically the same breath.

“Is it a nightclub?” Angelina asked; her eyes didn’t leave the wonderfully dancing Brazilian duo.

“For us, it is the nightclub.” Hermione smirked. “We’ll be able to get started, change into some more party appropriate attire, and truly begin the night.” Fleur slipped up beside Hermione and, in the now familiar gesture, linked their arms together.

“It ‘as been a while since I’ve danced ma chère. I cannot wait.” There was an excited gleam in those blue eyes that Hermione delighted in putting there.

“Let’s go then!” Hermione whistled for her dancing friends and with a traditional bow and then giggling laughter, sounding a decade younger than they were, they joined the group to head for the club. The sun was just starting to set and they passed two different travelling booths who were heading for the square to start setting up. The outside of Lapa 40 Degrees was a plain looking, white bricked, three story building. The only real sign that it was a club at all was the sign and the roped off line at the entrance.

“Is this a muggle place then?” Ron asked while eyeing the busy, crowded city street.

Hermione gave a smirk. “Sort of.” They passed by the large bouncer without even a glance and entered the club. It was still a little early and so the place wasn’t completely packed yet; but it was already loud. “To the muggles its three floors.” She gestured out to the floor they were walking towards. “This is the main floor, it’s more of a bar and they have amazing live music. One floor up is the pool hall, and then the top floor is the actual nightclub.” She led them away from the bar and the stairs.

“And where are we going?” Fleur leaned into her to ask.

“Coat check.” Hermione laughed. The bored looking girl manning the booth glanced at the group and then looked back at her magazine; her head suddenly whipped up and she looked twice more in a double take.

Ai meu deus! Ai meu deus! Vocês querem entrar na balada? Claro que querem. Ahh Merlin [Oh my god. Oh my god. Okay. You'd like to head in to the club? Of course they do. Oh Merlin].” Only half of the young girl’s speech seemed directed at them instead of herself. The others might not have known exactly what she said but they clearly recognized her tone of voice. “Vocês podem me dar 3 autógrafos? Ai meu deus. Não acredito que isso está acontecendo! E nem era para eu trabalhar essa noite! [Could I have the three of your autographs? Oh my god. I can't believe this is happening! And I wasn't even supposed to work tonight!]” Her excited chatter filled the space around them.

Apparently that tone was universal because they didn’t need the translation. Ron jumped forward with a charming smile for the pretty girl behind the desk. Harry stepped up beside him with the practiced ease of someone used to this; although the smile in place was also clearly practiced. Hermione was the least used to this only because she had literally fled the country where she was most well-known. In the first few years after the battle people tried to track her down; tried to be the person who could get the scoop on the elusive “brains” of the Golden Trio. They quickly discovered, however, if Hermione Granger did not want to be found then no one found her. She had also grown up and changed her hair since then and on her travels had developed a penchant for not using her own name. Her own deeds post war gained her quite a bit of fame as well but that was more in the academic world as opposed to the club scene.

It seemed, however, that standing beside her two best friends, her brothers, she was impossible to miss. Hermione didn’t want to do it; she detested signing autographs as a general rule. However, this wasn’t like it was a pack of media personnel or a mob; it was one young excited girl. Still, signing anything made Hermione a little bit queasy. What are we signing for? Good job on killing some people before they killed us?

Fleur’s gentle fingers on her arm brought her back to the present before she got too lost in the memories. “She’s just excited.” Fleur’s thoughts seemed to mirror Hermione’s own. Ron and Harry had been a little lost at the girl’s excited, and perky, voice because she clearly spoke no English. Hermione drew her wand and quickly cast a Signaturo spell to imprint her signature on the same scrap of paper that they boys had. Hermione smiled politely and finally asked if they could head into the club. She gestured them forward and soon her voice soon faded away.

Fleur intertwined their fingers. “No ‘arm done and now we get to enjoy ourselves.”

“You’re right.” They walked down a seemingly dead end hallway but they walked through a brick wall with a glamour spell on it much like the wall that housed the entrance to Platform 9¾. The plain hallway led to a set of stairs heading down before they were graced with the magical part of the club.

It was enormous; Hermione wouldn’t have been surprised if it actually encompassed the area of the muggle club and the building next door. It was broken up into the same three sections as the muggle club above it, bar, pool hall and club, but with the aid of magic they were all side by side. Hermione couldn’t see any trace of the magic so the barrier spells were very good, but she could feel the magic in the air. Each of the sections were encased in such a way that meant nothing from one could be heard in another.

It was dim but not dark and from where they were standing, technically in the pool hall, the music was just loud enough but not deafening. They hadn’t made it three steps when a man apparated nearly right in front of them. He was wearing an entirely black outfit with plain black wizard robes; except for the yellow streaks of lighting that flashed across his outfit in time with the flashing lights of the club. His smile was wide and his teeth were perfect but unlike Carlito, this wizard’s smile seemed a touch more performance than natural. “Welcome to the Lapa 40 Degrees.” His voice was heavily accented but his English clear. “My name is Exacto Benito, I’m the manager of the club and I was ever so happy to be informed of your arrival here this evening.”

Harry, seeming more and more like a politician to Hermione, smiled politely. “We’re happy to be here. Hermione promised to show us real Brazil.”

“And she was right. We’re happy to be a part of your experience. I have a VIP booth already waiting upstairs. You’ll have a private bartender and there are some lovely dressing rooms if you’d like to change or prepare for the evening. I also took the liberty of sending up a complimentary bottle of Champagne, it should be waiting on ice for you.” He gestured with his hand and a staircase formed out of the brick wall leading up to a floating platform over the dance floor. The brick staircase beneath their feet did not come with a railing and Hermione was glad that no one was drunker than they were.

Their VIP lounge area had several couches and chairs and perfect view down at all three sections of the club. Ginny took the liberty of instantly popping the Champagne and pouring into waiting glasses. “Alright group. We’re finally all together. We don’t have to worry about our children or our jobs. I say were hit these change rooms, and then make it so Rio doesn’t know what hit them.”

Harry grinned at his wife. “Yes ma’am.”

The change rooms, as it turned out, held a variety of clothing options that could be transfigured into any size and changed however the wearer wanted. Larissa and Hermione already knew what worked best for them in the Brazilian styles and were the first of the witches back out on the couches and enjoying their drinks. Their bartender was a Brazilian woman who, thankfully, didn’t appear at all starstruck by the group. She waited politely behind a small podium ready to have whatever drinks they wanted made instantly.

Most of the wizards of the group hadn’t bothered with the change room. Ties were loosened and sleeves were rolled up. Ron had investigated the men’s side of the change room right off their lounge area and come back just wearing a different shirt; this one jet black with silver buttons and he obviously felt very confident in it.

Larissa was wearing a dress that was the same bright orange as the sun dress she’d had on but it was no longer a simple sundress. She made some quick stepping dance moves, with feet encased in black heels, and the halter style dress that flared out around her hips swayed with her movements. Carlito stood when she came out and offered her a hand to her seat. Hermione could hear the whispered compliments to her in Portuguese and it made Hermione beam.

“Damn Hermione.” Ron broke her out of her matchmaking plans. “You look fucking fabulous.”

Neville briefly glared at his mate but beamed at Hermione. “You do look beautiful, Hermione.”

The witch thanked her friends and sipped her drink. Without being boastful Hermione didn’t need their words; she knew she looked good. Her dress was strapless and showed off her beautifully lean but toned arms and back. She’d put her hair into a messy but classy updo and it accentuated her chest and neck. The dress absolutely hugged her body until her thighs where it flared just slightly and reached the floor. It looked almost completely floor length until Hermione moved; then the slit up the side of her dress, reaching nearly scandalously high to her hip bone, exposed her entire left leg. The dress was also pure white and now, out on the floor, it was catching the flashing and strobing club lights and shimmering different colours.

“I ‘ave to disagree with Mr. Longbottom.”

Hermione spun on blood red high heels to face the French witch.

“You look much more than beautiful. Radiant. Stunning. Absolument exquise.”

The younger witch’s jaw dropped when she finally took in the sight of Fleur. And she thinks that I look absolutely exquisite?

Fleur’s dress was silver and the iridescent material clung to every one Fleur’s curves. It had long sleeves and a high neck but the material covering her arms and upper chest was a nearly completely translucent silver lace. As much skin as the upper portion of the dress covered, the lower half did not. The dress’s hem fell to mid-thigh and seemingly every inch of the Frenchwoman’s mile long legs were on display. She wore simple nude, high heeled pumps and no jewelry; she absolutely did not need it. Something in the way she even stood in the dress let everyone know that Fleur’s Veela heritage was incredibly on display tonight. The outfit was relatively simple because there was nothing that could be draped on the witch that could further enhance her beauty; she was already ethereal.

Hermione did not notice the wizards behind her, even the married ones, whose eyebrows shot high or jaws dropped low; she only had eyes for Fleur. She stepped confidently towards her and passed her a Champagne flute. “Oublies Rio. C'est le Brésil entier qui ne vas pas comprendre ce qui leurs arrive [Well. Forget Rio. All of Brazil won’t know what hit them tonight].”

The rest of the witches joined them shortly and all their wizards dutifully plied them with compliments. The bartender started taking orders and she was incredibly adept as well. After every cheer or burst of laughter she had a tray of different shots magically appear on their table. Finally, after a shot that had green bubbles in the shape of leprechauns dancing along the rim of the glass, they decided to venture out into the actual club and off their VIP lounge.

Ron pressed a kiss to Hermione’s cheek and clapped Harry on the chest before venturing pretty much immediately into the club section into the throng of dancers. Harry and George gestured to the pool hall but arched eyebrows from their wives had them smiling sheepishly and heading after their witches on the dance floor. Hermione laughed at the “help me” look Harry sent over his shoulder. Unless things had changed more drastically in recent years than Hermione thought the man could do many things but dancing was not one of them. Dancing seemed to be what Carlito and Larissa had in mind and they headed for the less crowded dance floor on the bar side. Hermione gave a teasing finger wave at her friend who promptly flipped her off.

Hermione and Fleur headed after Neville and Luna to the pool hall and Hermione was the one that had to explain the game to them. Some locals came over and explained the finer points and offered a friendly match. Their English was very broken but the smiles were wide and the drinks were flowing.

**

Fleur discovered that Hermione, for all her nonchalant attitude, was very good at pool. The locals started laughing with her playfully and went to get more friends who could hopefully beat her. The French witch adored seeing Hermione in her element. The brunette’s smile was beaming and literally lit up the people around her. She laughed without restraint, head tilted back, and hand on her chest. She handled the game so easily and strut around the table with such beauty and grace that more than one person stopped to stare. Fleur could not understand how her friend didn’t see or notice the effect she had on people.

The French witch was perfectly content not to play the game herself and instead watched her friend enjoy herself. Fleur was polite to the countless men, and several women, who came over with the intentions of getting her to dance but Fleur declined their invitations. There was a normally quiet part of her, deep inside, that preened at the attention from her admirers and basked in the knowledge that they could be hers if she wanted them; but she didn’t. After seeing her friend so broken, so hurt, nothing was better in her eyes than watching Hermione now.

And she couldn’t take her eyes off her.

**

Hermione played two games but she kept one eye always on Fleur closely. Neville and Luna had each other and she wanted to make sure that her friend wasn’t bored. She shouldn’t have worried, every time she glanced over Fleur was smiling this impossibly satisfied smile that clearly said she had never been happier or more content than where she was.

Her new friends at the pool table happily bought their drinks and tried, in their broken conversational way, to converse with her friends. It made her happy that people here didn’t have any expectations. She wasn’t worried about accepting a drink or wary of one of their intentions. Everyone was just happy and liked to spread that happiness around. After another two games Hermione looked up and noticed something across the bar.

She told the gentlemen at the pool table that they were moving on and they insisted on shots and wished them a happy evening. Hermione whispered to Luna where she was heading and the blonde gave her a hug and told her they’d catch up later. Neville had gotten into a deep conversation and they were enjoying themselves.

Hermione held out her hand and Fleur stepped forward and took it without hesitation. “Where to now, ma chérie?

“This way.” Hermione started leading her through the bodies of people. “I know you’ll enjoy this.”

They walked through one section of the club and into the bar section. The music was the same, for now, that it had been in the pool hall. It had been a mix of English, Portuguese and Spanish singers and both witches had loved the mix. Now they made their way through several tables and Hermione was going to sit down at one fairly close to where she wanted until she caught their personal bartender’s eyes. The woman gestured to a table right up front that had clearly been saved for VIP; while Hermione didn’t like her status she was willing to accept the perk this time.

With a thank you for their bartender Hermione and Fleur took their seats at a tiny, circular two seater table. The bartender magically conjured a tray and set down a cachaça on the rocks and a cocktail Hermione didn’t recognize and left without a word. The younger witch made a mental note to tip her handsomely.

They were in the front row of the tables that faced simple empty floor space. In true South American fashion there was no stage and the dancers performed on the same level as the patrons. Hermione had seen her favourite show setting up and knew they didn’t want to miss it.

“Why did ze men at the pool game keep pointing and shaking their heads at you?”

Hermione smirked. “Because I told them I wasn’t good at pool so we would bet the next round of drinks on it.”

Fleur arched an eyebrow and smirked. “But you seemed to be very good at it.”

Now Hermione smirked. “It’s basically just mathematical angles. I’m very good at it.”

Fleur giggled. “Sneaky.” She took another sip from her cocktail.

“What is that drink, anyway? That’s what you’ve been drinking all night.”

“French Blonde.” Fleur’s smirk was sinful and Hermione laughed.

“And what’s in this French Blonde?” Instead of answering Fleur slid her cocktail over. Hermione took a sip without ever breaking eye contact.

“Tastes like citrus.” Hermione commented while sliding it back over. It didn’t have the bite of her own drink but it was light and refreshing.

“Elderflower liqueur, gin, White Lillet citrus wine and grapefruit juice.”

“I stand by my citrus comment.”

Fleur tipped her glass for a cheers and Hermione clinked her own before they both drank. “Ooh, it’s starting.”

The French witch instinctively lowered her voice and leaned closer. “What are we watching?”

“A showcase.”

“Of?”

“Brazilian dancers.” The words were hardly out of Hermione’s mouth when the band, who had taken up residence in the back corner of the open space, started to play. They opened with a traditional slow, tango beat as the two dancers apparated onto the floor already mid strut. They were also in traditional costume for the performance; she was sheathed in a red and black gown with a slit up her leg much like Hermione’s own dress and his suit matched hers without overpowering.

Their connection was practically palpable as the two dancers finally came together and Hermione suddenly found it hard to breathe. She leaned her elbows on the table and slid even closer to Fleur. “This is a tango. It’s a romantic dance known for the heat and connection showcased between long pauses.”

The female dancer was dipped low and her back leg, toe just touching the floor, swept out behind her.

“It’s definitely romantic.” Fleur’s voice was lower pitched than Hermione thought she’d ever heard it. “It’s sex.”

“Good tango is.” Hermione agreed. Seamlessly the music changed to a faster beat and the male dancer suddenly yanked his partner into his arms. “This is the rumba. It’s originally Cuban, actually, but it was picked up in South America. It’s known for its hip movement.”

Fleur grinned without ever taking her eyes off the dancers. “Good 'ips are another sign of good sex, you know.”

Hermione smirked. “I have heard that as well.” The dancers seamlessly transitioned again to the quick stepping salsa, and once more to an African inspired samba. Each dance was unique but blended into one choreographed routine. Neither witch even noticed when their bartender brought them another round, their eyes were so riveted on the couple.

When the dance finally concluded, with the dramatic almost kiss of the couple, the bar erupted into applause. Hermione enjoyed the performance almost as much as she enjoyed the feeling of seeing Fleur adore it.

Couples from the crowd quickly grabbed their partners and took over the dance floor. The music was for a fast paced salsa and the locals dove in with abandon. Hermione and Fleur were both asked to dance twice but the witches declined and were content to watch.

“I ‘aven’t enjoyed myself like this in quite a while.” Fleur said out of the blue without even really looking at Hermione; her eyes were on her cocktail. Hermione laid her hand gently on Fleur’s arm but didn’t pressure her to speak. “Even before the divorce, before our separation, t’ings were…not good. Always tense. Always on edge. We may not ‘ave been fighting yet but we weren’t ‘appy either. Sometimes…” Hermione stroked her thumb gently on her arm; she could almost feel her skin through the light fabric. “We ‘ad problems other than not being able to ‘ave a baby.” Fleur finally admitted with a soft voice; Hermione had to shimmy her chair and lean even closer to hear her. “We weren’t ‘appy. So sometimes…I’m glad I didn’t get pregnant.” Fleur said the words like they were a mortal sin. “I wouldn’t want to ‘ave brought a baby into a ‘ouse’old that wasn’t ‘appy. We still would ‘ave fought, just about other t’ings. And no baby should ‘ave to live in a ‘ome with fighting.”

“Fleur.” Hermione finally spoke her name with reverence. “I of all people, I more than probably anyone else, know how caring you are. You have the biggest heart Fleur. And I know you would have loved your baby more than anything, more than air. I know because you loved them so much already, when they weren’t even here, when they didn’t even exist yet, that you only wanted what was best for them.” Hermione made sure her words were getting through and she gripped Fleur’s forearm a little tighter. “One day you will be the absolute best mother ever, Fleur. I know it.”

Watery blue eyes finally looked up and locked onto Hermione’s own. “’owever much you think I ‘ave done for you. Just know you ‘ave done just as much for me.”

Hermione didn’t see how that could possibly be true but she let the almost crying woman have her point. Their bartender appeared for seemingly less than a second to drop off blood red shots that were crackling sparks like sparklers out of the top. The drinks were placed down with her usual efficiency but Hermione noticed the bartenders hands shake slightly; she wondered what part of their conversation had struck a chord with the witch. Fleur took a deep breath and then actually giggled. “I t’ink she means for us to bring ze energy back up.”

Hermione smiled. “How about we take these shots and then you can wow me on the dancefloor?” Fleur’s eyes drifted over to where a fast rumba was taking place and Hermione huffed. “Um, I meant the club dance floor. I cannot do that.”

They tossed back their shots, which did indeed spark all the way down their throats and out their mouths on their first exhale, and intertwined their fingers to head back for the club.

They almost bumped right into a very sweaty but thrilled, and drunk, looking Ginny on the way. Both witches suddenly had their hands full of drunk redhead. “Hey! Where have you two been?”

“The bar.” Hermione practically shouted at her. “Where’s Harry?”

“I’m going to find him now! He and George begged and buggered off for a bit but I’m going to find them and bring them back now.” They wished the witch luck and set her back loose on the rest of the club.

The music as soon as they crossed over to this section was much louder. The music still had Brazilian undertones but it was overlaid with deep bass and club beats. Hermione also felt like the temperature had risen about five degrees and was tempted to cast a cooling spell on herself. The bodies were absolutely jammed into the dance area.

Pretty much without conscious thought both Hermione’s and Fleur’s hips started swaying to the beat as they joined the revellers. The club dance floor was absolutely packed. They could see a wide range of muggle and wizarding clothing, clubs outfits and outright costumes, half naked dancers and everything else in between. The more they walked towards the dance floor the closer the two witches got as people are starting to press in from all sides. Fleur was slightly in front and their interlocked fingers were behind her back and between their bodies. Normally Hermione would be very uncomfortable and on edge with so many people around but with Fleur’s hand connected to hers she didn’t allow the anxiety in.

Fleur eventually found a spot that suited her; not directly in the centre of the club floor, that was starting to resemble a mosh pit, but not on the fringes either. She spun around to face Hermione and then she started to dance.

Hermione was already perfectly aware that her friend was a stunningly beautiful person. But she was not prepared to see Fleur dance. She instantly became a sultry, sexy almost predator with lethal grace and fluidity. If anyone had ever doubted Fleur’s ancestry Hermione would from now on simply tell them to see the witch dance because what the younger witch was watching was not possibly entirely human.

A soft giggle just barely reached her ears and Hermione realized that she had been standing stock still and staring stupidly at her friend in the middle of a crowded dance floor. Hermione shook herself and started moving her hips again; she dipped down a little and tossed her hair over her shoulder. She might not be the impossibly alluring sight that Fleur was but she could handle herself on the dance floor.

They completely lost track of time as they danced together, their interlocked fingers never losing each other. They ignored the many who came up with the aim to dance with them but they would not be separated. Hermione had completely worked up a sweat, the temperature of the room suddenly gave voice to the name of the club, and she was dying for a drink; possibly a water at that and not even an alcoholic one. She also knew that she had one final thing to show her family.

Hermione noticed yet another person dancing their absolute best right beside Fleur clearly vying for her attention. The younger witch couldn’t help her devious smirk and she gave Fleur’s hand a sharp tug. Being the completely coordinated and graceful creature that she was Fleur turned the sudden step into a dance move and turned with the motion; Fleur’s back now rested gently along Hermione’s front and they continued dancing. Fleur reached back with one hand, flipped her long hair off the other shoulder, and then lightly gripped the back of Hermione’s neck to keep their heads close.

“Can I ‘elp you, ma chérie?” Fleur teased.

Hermione tucked her head forward even farther; her lips were practically touching Fleur’s ear. “I need a drink and we need to find the others. I have one more thing to show you.” Hermione was only looking at Fleur’s profile because they were practically touching heads but she could see those blue eyes sparkling.

“Then let’s see if we can find zem.”

Hermione used their joined hands to playfully give the French witch a full spin before they weaved their way through the bodies. Fleur changed directions suddenly and Hermione realized she’d caught sight of Harry just leaving the stairs for their VIP section. “’arry!”

The wizard somehow heard them over the music and he gave them both hugs and cheek kisses. His smile was wide and Hermione knew he was drunk but not obnoxiously so. “There you girls are!”

“Have you seen the others? Where’s Ginny?”

Harry barked out a laugh. “I have no blasted clue. She and Angelina are pretty far gone. Carlito and Larissa are upstairs,” he gestured with his head towards the VIP floor, “and I saw Ron with a bunch of groupies like an hour ago but I have no idea where anyone else is now.”

“We need to find them.” The closer they moved to the stairs the quieter the music got and they could actually hear each other clearly.

“Oi!” They spun at the voice and saw a very intoxicated George, with his shirt unbuttoned and his horribly sunburnt chest on display, making his way to them. “Just saw you guys standing here. Potter! Where the hell are our wives?”

Harry laughed again and shrugged helplessly. “I honestly don’t know, mate.”

“Well, there’s no point in splitting up to search for zem. We’ll just lose each other.” Fleur pointed out; she may have been intoxicated but the French witch made a good point.

“Oh!” George screamed suddenly and Hermione jumped; she almost drew her wand instinctively but Fleur grabbed her hand and held it with both of her own. “I’ve got a brilliant idea! Come up!”

Hermione had a terrible feeling about George’s “brilliant” idea but dutifully they all followed him back up to the lounge. Hermione absolutely delighted in seeing Carlito and Larissa snuggled together, looking quite cozy, on one of the leather couches. Larissa must have caught Hermione’s wide grin because she gave her friend a look that said quite clearly don’t you dare.

George’s brilliant idea turned out to be quite ingenious and it was probably going to get them kicked out of the club. It turned out the prankster apparently never went anywhere without one of his and his twin’s original fireworks. He leaned far over the railing and set off the explosive. It was one of the more simple models, thankfully, and the firework exploded into the shape of a roaring lion. The crowd below went positively berserk at the display. It was only the remainder of their group who would recognize the show as one of the Weasley’s Wildfire Whiz-bangs and also hopefully realize they were trying to get their attention.

Neville and Luna were the first to appear up the stairs. Luna looked just a dreamy as always but apparently drunk her got the giggles and Hermione found the girl adorable. She tugged the blonde over to the couch she and Fleur had commandeered. Neville was a little off balance and out of it but the gentle wizard was in high spirits.

Ron appeared next although he didn’t look altogether too happy with them. “What?” He demanded. “I was busy!”

George laughed almost in his face. “Sorry to drag you away from those probably underage girls who were,” he put on a fake falsetto voice, “so happy to meet a real celebrity and a war hero and oh my god you must be so brave.” Ron punched his older brother in the arm none too gently.

“Shut-up wanker! They weren’t underage! And they didn’t talk like that!” He was getting red faced and Hermione had the distinct desire to laugh.

Ginny and Angelina finally made an appearance to break up the possible drunken argument. They both looked far more intoxicated than the rest of them and Ginny literally fell into her husband’s arms; Harry himself wasn’t as steady as normal and she nearly took them both down.

Their personal bartender quickly had an entire table full of waters appear before stepping back out of the way again; Hermione made a point of waving gratefully in her direction. Both husbands were trying, in their own drunken ways, to get their wives to have some water but Ginny seemed just as disgruntled as Ron about leaving.

“Trust me.” Hermione said yet again. “You won’t want to miss this. Let’s go!” Her words were punctuated by the apparated arrival of the manager, Exacto. Hermione jumped to her feet inadvertently pulling Fleur with her. When did we start holding hands again? “If this is about the firework, we apologize, and-”

“No need, Ms. Granger.” His smile again was wide but Hermione could practically see the dollar signs in his eyes. “The crowd loved it and we managed to smooth over all the regulatory issues.”

Hermione heard Fleur snicker beside her and she dug an elbow into her side. “Of course. But either way, we were actually leaving. I’m going to show my family outside.”

Exacto bowed and gave them the practiced speech about hoping they enjoyed themselves and coming back soon. Everyone was heading down the stairs and Hermione hung back just long enough to conjure her change purse with a flick of her fingers. She walked back so she could drop twenty galleons down onto the table in front of the bartender. “You are fabulous at your job.” The woman, probably Hermione’s own age, did a double-take at the money.

Only the second show of emotion Hermione had seen actually showed on her face when she nearly burst into tears at the sight of the gold. The awe and gratitude swimming in her eyes was unmistakable. Hermione couldn’t be sure in her drunken state but she thought she saw something else swimming in those eyes as well; something that reminded her of the bartenders, normally steady, shaking hands. The flash she couldn’t be sure she saw made her do something she rarely did. “Hey. If you ever need help, with anything, you can come find me okay? Or an owl addressed to Professor Granger will find me.” The bartender’s eyes were now blinking rapidly to hold back tears. Jaw clenched and unable to utter a word the woman simply nodded once sharply. Hermione turned around after again sliding the coins on the table to her. Fleur had waited and she had an affectionate smile on her face.

“You ‘ave such a good ‘eart, ma chère.”

Hermione blushed away the compliment and they quickly met up with their group heading back for the surface.

She knew the group, obviously minus Larissa and Carlito, did not really know what they were in for; it was the music that tipped them off first. They had obviously been expecting something because Hermione had told them about the booths and vendors earlier. They were not expecting a street literally full of people and a dancing, massive crowd exactly like the one they had just left.

People were everywhere; under the arches, in the street, up against the walls of the buildings. There were stereos and speakers, which the purebloods did not understand, set up all over the place playing different music. They saw traditional Brazilian dancers moving beside hip-hop break-dancers with a writhing crowd all around them. Vendors were dolling out drinks and quickly frying up snacks sold by the bucket.

Ron and Ginny no longer looked disappointed. Harry and George were seriously eyeing the food. Carlito and Larissa had already joined the salsa dancers. Angelina, Neville and Luna were marvelling at everything they were seeing and instinctively wading into the crowd.

Fleur and Hermione just let the happiness and the joy wash over them and they held each other’s hand tighter.

Chapter Text

When the books, rolls of parchments, odds and ends, and essentially everything else Hermione kept in her office stopped flying about the room and packed themselves away neatly inside two different trunks the witch, standing in sudden stillness, felt quite like she was in the eye of the storm. Oz ruffled his feathers from his perch on the windowsill; she assumed he was slightly miffed from the heavy copy of Fernifigus Fungi Formula’s that flew perilously close to the hawk. Hermione had packed away her potions first and by hand. They were suspended in their own containers and trunk that kept them level and temperature controlled no matter what faced the trunk itself.

Hermione, in the almost unnatural calmness of the room, peered around at the empty shelves and tables. The witch normally lived in controlled clutter and stacks of research; the missing books and equipment made the room look barren.

Her apologies and withdrawals to the Ministry had already been given the day before. They were sad to lose the famed and brilliant witch from her freelance work but were appeased when the Golden Girl had assured them that Brazil had become her home and she planned to return home every summer. With a sly smile she teasingly remarked that the pride for her achievements could also stay with the country that adopted her as opposed to the one that had birthed her.

While she had been at the Ministry she had swung by the International Floo Department and found Carlito in his office. He thanked her, for about the tenth time, for including him on her family outing the weekend before. Hermione insisted it was no trouble before gripping his forearm warmly and asking him to keep an eye on Larissa for her. The wonderful man had blushed so red it was visible even through his caramel coloured skin. He nodded with a smile and promised to do his best. Final goodbyes and promises of owls were had and Hermione finally hugged the man, who had become a good friend, for the last time for a while.

Oz flew into the air and circled the room which disturbed Hermione from her recollections. “I know, I’m almost finished packing.” He tilted his head sideways and she rolled her eyes. “The office. I’m almost finished packing the office. The house will take no time at all.” Oz blinked like he didn’t believe her and she huffed. “Fine, fine.” Hermione flicked her fingers again and the trunks rearranged themselves to her specifications and she finally locked, labeled and banished them. She knew they would arrive at the gates of Hogwarts and a house-elf would take them to her rooms where they would be waiting for her tomorrow.

When she gave a deep sigh Oz floated down to land on his place at her shoulder. “I don’t regret my decision. I want to go. I want to teach.” Hermione stroked him absentmindedly. “I’m just worried about leaving here and losing myself. Losing the person I’ve become.” Oz pecked just shy of sharply into her skull. Instead of scolding him Hermione smiled. “You won’t let me, huh?” Now he rubbed his head where he pecked her. “I know.”

When she finally left the office, much like she had the day her life had changed once again, she transfigured her clothes into jogging gear and left the building to run home. Oz circled and floated high above her head but was no doubt keeping an eye on his witch. It was slow going because Hermione made a point to stop at everyone she knew and explain she’d gotten a new job and wouldn’t be back until next summer. When she finally crossed into the magical sector of Ariquemes she planned to do the same but didn’t actually see anybody.

She made it to her door and conjured a bottle of water with one hand while she disabled her wards with the other. She somehow wasn’t surprised to see Larissa sitting at her kitchen table sipping on, what was no doubt, Hermione’s wine.

“You ready to be going?” Larissa was never one to hold back too much.

“No, I’m not packed.” Hermione took the offered glass and sipped it; not only was it hers it was her good stuff.

“I didn’t ask if you was packed.” Larissa retorted.

Hermione paused and gave her friend due attention. “No. But I never will be. I think this time I just need to bite the bullet.” Larissa’s head tilted much like Oz’s did sometimes and Hermione giggled. “Dive in headfirst without checking the water first.”

Larissa waved her off. “The boys do that all the time. You be fine.”

“Yeah. I think I will be.”

Larissa brought the bottle and the two witches headed into Hermione’s bedroom to pack. Most of her wardrobe would remain behind. She knew she would spend most of her time in teaching robes that had to appropriate. What she did have also had to be transfigured to accommodate Britain in the fall and winter which was vastly different than here at home.

“Has you spoken to everyone since they went home?”

“Pretty much. The Potters fire called me and told me on their and all the Weasley’s behalf what a marvelous time they’d had down here. Neville and Fleur both owled me and said they couldn’t wait to see me at the start of term.”

“They good people, your family.”

Hermione smirked. “It seems like you liked my Brazilian friend the most.” A flip-flop sandal went careening for her face but without even a twitch Hermione magically diverted the shoe from striking her and it landed harmlessly back into her closet. Larissa huffed. “What? I’m happy for you, truly.”

Larissa stopped compulsively folding and refolding a soft cashmere sweater. “He was such a nice man that night.” She finally admitted softly.

“He’s a nice man all the time.” Hermione encouraged. “I wasn’t really trying to set you up but if I was it would have been with him.”

“He did say he wanted to see me again.”

“Issa! That’s great.”

She huffed again. “Of course he want to be seeing me again. I’m amazing.” The bangles adorning her wrists clinked merrily while she waved a hand around her face. Hermione saw through the bravado.

“Then why are you hesitating?”

Larissa shrugged. Folded some clothes. Shrugged again and gestured madly. Hermione threatened to body bind her. “I know I’m awesome. And…e incrível. E, você sabe. Pobre. E mãe solteira de 4 crianças [and amazing. And, you know. Poor. And a single mother of four freaking children].”

Hermione slid down the bed and perched on the floor beside where her best friend, her Brazilian sister, sat. She placed a gentle hand on her forearm. “You guys had to have talked that night? I know you, you talked about your kids.”

“Well, yes.”

“There you go. He didn’t run for the hills. He took an interest in you and your kids. And still he danced the night away with you. Larissa.” She made sure the Brazilian was looking at her. “You have helped me through more than you probably even know. You have picked me up, mothered me when I needed it, comforted me and talked me up. So now it’s my turn. You, minha irmã [my sister], are the best person I know. You might be poor but it’s because you have such a talent ahead of your time that the Ministry has barely caught up to you yet. You spend your time helping people in a way no other witch or wizard in the world can claim. People in the magical community have their sanity and peace of mind because of your heart and your intelligence. And your job might not pay well, yet, but you don’t stop doing it because you believe in it and that is truly remarkable. You are so loving and caring and you adopted me so easily when it would have been easier to turn your nose up at the foreigner that appeared in the house beside you. But you didn’t. You took me in. Because of you this community took me in. And let me tell you that I was gutted to decide to leave you here to go to Britain. I still am.” Now she smiled even though both witches were crying a little. “But I feel a little bit better that I can leave knowing Carlito is here to help keep an eye on you for me.”

Larissa arched her eyebrow. “And how you know that?”

“Because I told him to.” Hermione said without shame. “He already was going to, but I told him to.” Hermione’s eyes turned marginally hard. “E ele deveria saber que não deve me desapontar com algo tão importante quanto família [And he knows better than to disappoint me with something as important as my family].”

Oz finally floated into the room to see what all the crying and giggling was about and he found them on the floor basically wrapped around each other in a hug.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

Finally packed and being dragged bodily from her own home Hermione did not need to ask where they were going. It was the night before she left for Britain presumably until the end of the school term and when everyone needed a goodbye or well wishes there was only one place in Ariquemes to go. The witches could actually hear Andressa’s long before they could actually see the tavern.

Oz, perhaps sensing the multitude of hugs coming his witch’s way, took flight just before they walked through the open walled building. It looked like the entire magical community came out and Hermione grinned at her neighbourhood. Cachaça shots were placed in each hand before she had even really stepped over the threshold and she took them both amidst cheers to her name. It took her almost a half an hour just to make her way across the floor towards the bar where Andressa herself was.

“You’re a popular witch tonight.” Andressa slung another pair of shots onto the bar.

“I was under the impression that this was my party.” Hermione smirked.

The barkeep shrugged. “You know them, they’ll use any excuse to party.” That much was mostly true, actually, and Hermione knew it as equally as she knew that they were truly here for her as well. “You best party now. Word is you’ll be a stuffy old professor tomorrow.”

“You know what? I’m going to take that advice.” Hermione snatched a whiskey on the rocks right out of the hand of someone passing by and threw it back. “I find your advice works well for me.” Hermione threw the glass into the air and with the sharp, sudden point of one finger the glass exploded into a thousand pieces; the glass debris raining down turned to whiskey before they reached the crowd. The howls and yells that shook the tavern echoed far into the street.

Andressa merely arched an eyebrow. “You owe me a glass.”

Hermione made a point of talking with everyone there. The neighborhood truly was like family and she helped them with everything she could before she left. She took more shots than she probably should have and her back would likely be littered with bruises come tomorrow from all the pats and slaps she received.

Even while merrily on her way to intoxicated Hermione Granger did not survive the war, and become the brains of the Golden Trio, by being unobservant. Just the slightest tingling down her spine and Hermione was alert to what she had clearly subconsciously already noticed but had not registered yet. She moved her eyes subtlety over the room, scanning for what needed her attention, until she noticed the crowd around the pool table. She walked over with practically feline grace even though, with the sight her eyes were locked on, her good mood had been tarnished somewhat. Matheus and Danilo were both perched on the old pool table wearing only shorts and laughing with the wizards playing pool. It wasn’t unusual to see the boys shirtless, even in the bar; what had caught Hermione’s eye and darkened her mood was the old and slightly battered wand sticking out of the waistband of Danilo’s shorts.

The sight of the old wand both saddened the witch and set her hackles up. She snuck up behind the younger brother and grabbed him by the waist suddenly. He shrieked and erupted into giggles and Hermione tickled him until he pleaded for mercy. “Chega! Chega! [No more! No more!]”

Hermione ruffled his hair and smiled at him warmly; she would never direct her aggravation at a situation at the boy. “What’s this?” Hermione gestured to the wand and with a blush Danilo drew it clumsily from his shorts.

The boy shrugged. He knew what she was really asking.

Hermione remembered the first time on her travels that she had really encountered magical children from the poorer of regions. Growing up blissfully ignorant in Britain had given her the impression that children went to school to learn magic. Even being graced with Durmstrang and Beauxbatons in her fourth year reinforced the idea that children got an equal education in magic. She had been both stunned and horrified to learn how incorrect she was.

Britain was handled by Hogwarts, the girls of France almost always attended Beauxbatons and the boys of Scandinavia went generally to Durmstrang. Boys of France and girls in the Scandinavian region, as well as the rest of magical Europe, were left to the other schools. Koldovstoretz was the magical institute in Russia and Ilvermorny was the only magical school in North America. After an exhausting search the witch had discovered only three other magical schools; Uagadou school was located in Africa, Mahoutokoro in Japan, and Castelobruxo in Hermione’s own Brazil.

The entire world’s magical education was placed into the hands of only eight institutions.

During the excitement, and the danger, of her fourth year Hermione had never considered why only three schools participated in the prestigious Triwizard Tournament and why Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang were considered the uncontested elite magical schools in the world. The older, and now more cynical witch, knew the answer fell to money. Those three schools were public; by definition for the people. Their Ministries might not have total say or control over their schools but Ministry budget without a doubt went into the running of the schools and the paying of professor salaries.

The other five schools were private; meaning their students tuitions came at a cost. Hermione had felt physically sick to her stomach when she finally realized that over two thirds of the magical community did not automatically receive an education simply because they could not afford one. The entire Western hemisphere was only encompassed by two schools and only those families who could afford to send their children to either Ilvermorny or Castelobruxo received any sort of magical training. Hermione had spent infinitely more of her travels with the poor and it saddened and disgusted her that most children in the poorest of areas could perform hardly any magic at all. It made Hermione seethe when she thought of the old wizards in Britain arguing about magic slowly being phased out and yet they couldn’t see this as a problem.

While Hermione had known countless children in the situation of being unable to afford an education Matheus and Danilo were the two she was closest to. By 14, or even Danilo’s 12, Hermione had performed lifesaving magic as well as the basic and practical. When she met them neither Brazilian boy could hardly cast a spell. They were even considered one of the lucky few as they actually had access to a wand even though neither was chosen by it and they had to share. It had made bile rise in her throat when she realized for all the jokes and taunts that Ron had endured for a broken wand the Brazilian brothers were actually a step above everyone else.

When she had chosen to stay in the village Hermione had decided she would do what she could for Ariquemes. She had petitioned, argued and rallied and eventually set up a class in an old schoolhouse which was run by Senhora Lacothe; a ninety year old wizened witch who knew every single household and practical spell perhaps ever invented. While in a duel the older witch would be hopeless, Hermione knew that her own brand of magic would be useless to most of these kids and that the Senhora’s is what would come in handy. Once a week the children of Ariquemes gathered and tried to learn magic with the use of Matheus and Danilo’s one wand and the Senhora’s own. Hermione helped teach whenever she could to shoulder the burden with the Senhora. Sometimes Hermione’s job was simply to show off magic to keep the children interested.

While most of the children enjoyed their lessons it was taught with the bitter knowledge that most of them would never have their own wands anyway. It wasn’t until Suzana had started attending the class as well, younger than everyone else, that Hermione found someone like her; one who liked to learn for the sake of learning.

Hermione waited patiently for Danilo to speak as he stared down at the grubby and worn down wand in his hand. The boys never carried their wand with them except to the class; it was almost useless to them anyway. “Eu so achei que, talvez, se nós fossemos alunos melhores você ficaria e nos ensinaria? [I just thought that, maybe, if we were better students you’d stay and teach us still]?”

Hermione’s heart broke and she almost started crying. Oz appeared as if called by magic and landed on her shoulder even in the heavy crowd. “Danilo.” She cupped his face with her hands. “You too, Matheus, come here.” The older boy trotted over and Hermione could see the same sadness in his face. “Boys. You are wonderful students. Wonderful students in bad situations. Do you understand what I’m saying?” They nodded. “It is not your fault that you never got taught magic like I did. It is not your fault. You two are brilliant and amazing and I’m so proud of you. That you can do magic at all is incrível [incredible]. I want you two to continue to go to Senhora’s class and learn all the magic from her you can. But I’m not worried about the magic you can do. Because you’re amazing wizards, amazing men, already.” They both blushed deeply but nodded at her. “I’m sorry I’m leaving for a while but we’re family, OK? Família. So I’m always coming back.”

That seemed to be about the limit of emotional conversation for the two teenage boys because they nodded and then fled; Danilo carelessly shoved the wand back into the waistband of his shorts as they took off and met the other kids who had shown up for the celebration simply because all of Ariquemes had.

An arm adorned with many bangles laid across her shoulders and Hermione tucked her head down to rest her cheek on the comforting shoulder. “They be okay.”

“Of course they will. They’re your sons.”

Larissa moved so she could watch Hermione’s face. “It bothers you much, doesn’t it? That they didn’t go to school?”

“Everyone should have the same opportunities no matter how much money their family has. At Hogwarts you only have to pay for supplies, not the tuition of actually going and living there.” Larissa shrugged; she had listened to this rant of Hermione’s many times. “I’ve spoken to our Ministry and even Castelobruxo so many times. I understand their arguments logically. Brazil is just not as wealthy of a country as Britain is and they simply cannot feasibly support a school. And while Castelobruxo might be a wonderful place of learning it is still a private school and therefore it’s a business. Any business has the goal of making money and keeping the business afloat. I talked them into a scholarship program last year on the argument that it would look good for the school but that only helps one child in all of Brazil. One child Larissa.”

The Brazilian women looked a little flummoxed by the onslaught of very quick and frustrated English but she tried to keep up. “What can you do?”

The question deflated her. “Nothing.” Hermione shrugged. “I can speak to the Ministry all I want but they don’t have the money for a school. The school can’t afford to teach without charging tuition because they don’t get any money from the Ministry. It’s a vicious cycle where the poor children are the ones who lose.” Hermione sighed and snagged another shot from Andressa who was passing by with a tray. “I can’t do anything once I get to Britain either. Even if they did have the money for another school, which undoubtedly they don’t, they’d worry about the poor in their own region of the world.”

“I don’t know anything about this.” Larissa admitted. “But I do know if there was any person who could find better solution for this, it would be you, branca.” Hermione nodded her thanks. “Now. Can you do anything bout the way education is work tonight?”

Hermione chuckled. “No.”

“Then can we celebrate your going away?” The women smiled at each other. It only took one cheer for the tavern to erupt again and Hermione’s mood was elevated again by the wave of love and friendship she felt from these people who were too poor to afford the magical education she was leaving to teach.

It was several hours later when Hermione finally collapsed into bed. She had tried to leave the tavern for over an hour but people kept pulling her back and demanding one more shot or one more story. She tried to explain, for the seemingly tenth time, that she was to Floo to Hogwarts first thing in the morning and she didn’t want her first impression as a professor to be stumbling in still smelling like rum and tequila. Boisterous shouts exclaiming that they shouldn’t have hired a Brazilian if that was the case flooded the bar and, as it always did when they included her in their country pride, it convinced her to stay a little longer.

Finally Hermione had simply plucked the sleeping Suzana from the corner, where she’d been napping on the couch Hermione had conjured, and settled her into her arms and strolled from the tavern with a final wave over her shoulder. Larissa, who had picked up the sleeping Lorena, fell into step beside her. Normally the children were watched by someone else when need arose but the entire village had showed up to see her off. Hermione had shrugged and created a long enough couch for them to doze on and cast a spell so that the noise from the tavern didn’t bother them. Matheus and Danilo, who were playing kickball in the street with the other older children, noticed them leaving and followed along behind. The ever dutiful Oz also floated along above them.

Hermione tilted her head at the sleeping girls in their arms. “Their first tavern party at 3 and 9 years old. Not bad.”

Larissa snickered and rolled her eyes. “Least we didn’t have to get them drunk to keep them quiet.”

They arrived at the houses and the witches put the younger girls to bed. Hermione had already said her goodbyes to them earlier so she didn’t wake them. She kissed their foreheads gently and returned to the front room to get her final hugs from the boys. They were quiet but hugged her as tightly as they could and Hermione promised to owl and fire call them all the time.

Larissa ordered them to bed and motioned to walk Hermione next door. Oz had already flown in the window and was on his perch when they entered; Larissa walked right over to him. She stroked him fully, from the top of his head to the tip of his tail, twice and looked him right in the eye. “Você tome conta dela, ouviu? E encontre um jeito de voar para cá se precisarem da minha ajuda [You take care of her, you hear me? And you find a way to fly here if you need my help].” Hermione had a slightly watery smile as Oz nodded seriously in a quite humanlike manner.

Larissa turned and the younger witch found herself in her dearest friend’s arms. “This isn’t being goodbye.”

“Just see you later?”

Foda-se isso [Fuck that]. It’s you best show them people what you made of and tell me all about it.”

Hermione laughed and held her tighter. She would do as her sister said and show everyone what she was made of.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

There was a time when Hogwarts felt more like home than anything else. Everyone understood when Harry felt things that way; he didn’t have any other home to compare it to. But Hermione felt it just as deeply as he did.

She loved her parents; they had been everything and done everything for her. But they had never understood her. She had always been different from them. They smiled and supported her as any good parents do but they had never truly understood their daughter. Hermione hadn’t found anyone that did truly understand her until she had come to Hogwarts. That was what made the castle home. The people and the friends that she had for the first time in her life. The companions and the mentors and the love of learning that made Hermione Hermione had been found within those stone walls.

Then the hominess of the castle had been stolen from her. Everything she had done and seen at the castle had ruined it for her; it had been the catalyst that had caused her to flee her home. Seeing the walls drenched in gore, while blood stained her hands and horror had griped her soul, made the castle feel more like a prison. A prison full of reminders.

Now, the castle felt like neither. As Hermione stepped through the Floo, a disgruntled Oz cradled in her arms, and her eyes landed on her new office, she felt neither at home nor in prison. She could once again remember the good times here. She knew there would be cause to remind herself constantly, when the darkness creeped in again, but for now it wasn’t causing her panic. It wasn’t back to being home yet either though. Home was 6,000 miles away in a poor village in Brazil. Home was where she was adopted by a group of people when she didn’t even speak the language and they didn’t ask anything of her. A group of people that became grateful when she helped them with their village and their lives and they couldn’t care less about what her name was.

Oz finally shifted and wiggled his way from her arms and flapped once to land on the back of one of the armchairs. Hermione glanced around the office that was, now officially, hers. “We’ll make it more us, huh, Oz?”

A loud crack echoed in the room and Hermione instantly categorized the magic, detected by the shift in the air, as a house-elves and she didn’t make a move towards her wand. She turned to find a house-elf already in a bow. “Hello there.”

“Pleased to be meeting you, Mistress.” The high pitched voice, higher than Hermione was expecting, let her know this house-elf was female. She rose from her bow and Hermione instantly took in the Hogwarts toga and the matching white bow, made from some sort of cloth, looped around one bat-like ear. “This elf’s name is Twinsy.” She squeaked.

“Pleased to meet you as well, Twinsy.” Hermione smiled at the house-elf. Twinsy beamed and bowed again to be spoken to so politely.

“Twinsy is to be your house-elf. Is there anything Twinsy can be doing for Mistress?”

“A few things, if you don’t mind.” Hermione sat down on the armchair and Twinsy’s large eyes waited in anticipation for instructions. “First, please call me, Professor. I would ask you to call me simply by my name but in my experience I presume you won’t do that.”

“Oh no, Mistress, Twinsy couldn’t be doing that.”

“Professor, then. Please.” Twinsy still looked unsure but nodded her head anyway. “Secondly, this handsome man,” she looked up at Oz fondly, “is Oz. He will stay mostly in my room and with me but he may come and go as he pleases. If I ever ask for a meal brought to me, kindly also bring some raw meat for Oz as well.”

“Of course, Professor!”

Hermione actually had to stop and grin for a second; it was the first time someone had officially and not in jest called her professor. “Thank you, Twinsy. Now, finally, I have to ask that whenever you appear here you have to apparate here into the office, not in my quarters unless I’ve called for you from there.” Hermione spoke seriously. “Okay? If I call from my quarters you may apparate there but if you’re apparating to ask me a question and I’m in my quarters you must apparate in here first. You see Twinsy, I don’t like to be startled and I startle very easily.” She didn’t want to scare the elf but she’d prefer this conversation than an accident later. “I especially don’t like to be startled when I’m in my own room or in bed. Okay, Twinsy?”

“Yes, Professor. Always here. Twinsy understands.”

“Excellent.” Hermione beamed at her. “Now, I’m going to check in with the Headmistress because she asked to see me as soon as I arrived, afterwards I’ll be getting my things and my quarters organized. My things arrived without incident?”

“Yes, Professor. They is waiting for you.”

“Good.” Hermione stood and without prompting Oz flew to her shoulder. “One more thing, do you know if Ms. Delacour, the Charms professor, is in the castle?”

“Twinsy is not be knowing, Professor. Would Professor like Twinsy to find her?”

“No, thank you kindly though. When she hears I’m here, I assume she’ll come find me.” With a final smirk Hermione headed out of her office for the Headmistress’s. The walk from her office to the gargoyle on the third floor was not a particularly long journey but Hermione took her time and really looked at things. Most things matched her memories. She noticed the suits of armor, she tried not to think of them animating to defend the school, and the beautiful stained glass windows, which she tried not to imagine shattering.

One thing that had changed were the portraits. They were still everywhere, of course, and were undoubtedly mostly the same. It was really she that had changed. She heard her name hissed and whispered from both sides as the portraits realized who walked among them. Hermione belatedly wondered if Harry had ever felt like this. Countless figures left their portraits and wandered into their neighbours to continue stalking her down the hall. Oz cawed out threateningly at a few who called out to her a little too enthusiastically and Hermione shushed him.

Minerva had given her the password to her tower in her last letter so she did not stop to examine the gargoyle for long. “Solar Path.” The gargoyle moved and allowed her passage to the spiral staircase. She knocked politely at the closed door and could not stop her grin at the familiar Scottish brogue that intoned her to enter.

The room looked different than the last time she had seen it. Minerva had finally seen fit to make the circular office more of her own than simply residing in Dumbledore’s space. There were more books and fewer knickknacks and the office held a note of organization that had been lacking when her eccentric predecessor resided here. The Headmistress herself was behind the antique desk and working her way through a truly alarming stack of papers. Hermione waited patiently until Minerva had signed her name on the bottom of a scroll, rolled it and banished it with a flick of her wand. Finally the elder witch looked up and met Hermione’s eyes.

Minerva looked much the same as she had the first time Hermione had ever laid eyes on her. Her expression was still severe and while her hat was resting on the coat rack and not on her head her hair, now with a little more grey streaked through the black, was still pulled back in a bun. Her square spectacles still rest on her nose and Minerva examined Hermione over the rim of them. Knowing her better than she did as an eleven year old Hermione could easily deduce the warmth in those emerald eyes. “Headmistress.” Hermione smiled lightly.

Minerva scoffed. “Enough of that. You’re not a student anymore. I’m not bound to call you Miss Granger, am I?” The words were sharp but Hermione continued to smile; it had been a long time since she’d had someone quite as intelligent to verbally spar with.

“I suppose not, Minerva.”

Minerva stood and rounded the desk. She eyed the hawk resting on her former pupils shoulder warily. “Friend of yours?”

“This is Oz. He’s essential.”

Minerva arched an eyebrow. “To your teaching method?”

“To my sanity.” Hermione replied honestly and earnestly. Hermione noticed a tightening around her mentor’s mouth and acceptance in her eyes. The elder witch obviously knew better than to douse her in sympathy. Hermione shrugged her shoulder gently and Oz flew to the window sill. Minerva finally stepped forward and gripped Hermione by both shoulders.

“I am so pleased you accepted the position. There is no one else I would trust.”

“I was honoured to receive it.” Hermione assured her. Minerva motioned to the low couch and Hermione took a seat across from her. Oz, likely due to not knowing his surroundings, flew instantly to Hermione’s knee. Minerva didn’t so much as bat an eye and called for her house-elf; Plimby appeared with a crack.

“Could you please bring us some tea, Plimby?”

“Right away Mistress!” He squeaked and with a quick familiar wave to Hermione he disapparated again.

Hermione knew not to start a serious conversation until the elf had returned. “I don’t remember original alchemy teachings in your curriculum, Professor?”

A lesser mind might have been thrown off by the non-sequitur but Minerva merely arched an eyebrow exactly as Hermione knew she would. “All modern Transfiguration stems from the original principles of alchemy. A fact which I’m sure you’re aware.”

“I am. However I also know that theories of alchemy thought regarding paths didn’t occur until Edmure Egglestein approached the different pathways in his 1579 paper to the King of Spain to explain the different style of attempts to turn lead to gold. Solar Path for those of rational, intellectual thinking and the Lunar Path for those more of the intuitive, non-linear way of thinking. Transfiguration had already branched into its own subject by this time.”

Plimby returned by this point with tea and sandwiches and a bowl of raw meat for Oz but he didn’t interrupt the two debating witches.

“The Transfiguration you’re referring to was a series of experiments by a group of Irish wizards who were in fact completing little more than simple transmutation. The branching off of those spells do not equate to the modern day transfiguration we know today. That still branches out from what alchemists were completing at the time.”

“Is transmutation not a form of transfiguration?” Hermione said instantly. “By definition transmutation is a conversion from one thing to another. Transfiguration is the altering or changing of somethings appearance. Generally the two are so closely linked one cannot tell the difference.” By the smirk on Minerva’s face Hermione knew she’d walked into a trap.

“You’re be correct, if it weren’t for the fact that what those Irish wizards, who were notorious drunkards by the way, were completing in their quest to turn water into wine wasn’t transmutation at all. They would banish the water and conjure the wine which isn’t either and is in fact,”

“Charms.” Hermione completed the statement for her.

“Exactly. Meaning what branched from them isn’t transfiguration at all.” Minerva calmly poured tea while Hermione thought. Eventually she accepted the teacup and bowed her head.

“Very well. I accept defeat.” Both witches grinned. “To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve had a truly good debate.”

“And all this over my password choice. Just think about what will happen when I hear you’ve changed my curriculum.”

Hermione caught the barest hint of a smirk around her mouth. “You had to know when you offered me the position after travelling the world for so long that I would have a few changes to make.”

Minerva sipped her tea. “I trust you, Hermione.”

That sentence meant more to the younger witch than the elder would probably ever know; although something about the knowing glint in emerald eyes gave Hermione pause. Minerva cleared her throat. “How have you been?” It wasn’t said with the gossipy inflection that most people asked it in; nothing but genuine concern was in her tone.

Hermione shrugged as elegantly as she could. “Better than when I left. I have good days as well as bad.” Hermione’s jaw clenched slightly. “But I can handle this position.”

“I never thought you couldn’t, Hermione, or I wouldn’t have offered it to you.” Minerva was blunt before she softened ever so slightly again. “But if you ever did need something you can always come to me. It isn’t a weakness.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Hermione promised. They turned the talk from the serious then and back to what they knew best; the intellectual. Hermione did set out some of her thoughts on the curriculum and Minerva was, as always, thrilled to discuss with someone so intelligent and with a passion for her beloved subject. They discussed the coming annual meeting of their shared Mastery and some of the better known characters there.

“I will admit to keeping tabs on you, Hermione.”

Hermione arched her eyebrow in a familiar manner. “Is that so?”

The Scottish witch huffed. “Of course. I couldn’t have Diana take all the credit for your genius.”

Hermione wasn’t altogether surprised that Minerva knew not only who she had apprenticed with but also knew her well enough to call her by her given name. Diana Heldstrom was a fifty year old witch originally born in Britain but who moved and attended Ilvermorny as a child. She had impressed North America with her transfiguration skills and had returned to Europe to apprentice under Clarice Beauchard; the Transfiguration professor at Beauxbatons. It was rumoured that the transfiguration protégée was in talks to apprentice under the Hogwarts transfiguration professor first but decided she could not handle the pure-blood supremacy running rampant in Britain at the time; it had taken Hermione less than a minute to deduce the professor at the time had been McGonagall herself. “Diana commented often that she saw a lot of you in my spellwork.” Hermione admitted. “And my debate skills.”

“You did learn from the best.” It was a simple statement of fact and it made Hermione chuckle into her teacup.

“I did. I also learned a lot from Diana.” As with any Master and Apprentice pairing Hermione had grown extremely close with her Mistress; it was impossible not to considering the amount of time and the bond of trust required between the pair. Masters and Mistresses did not select Apprentices lightly or without due research. It would pain Hermione immensely if her Mistress and her mentor were at odds.

Minerva heard the question for what it was. “It was not the dramatic scene I’m sure it is gossiped to be. She did not want to be Britain and I understood that. We were approaching war.” Hermione flinched a little. “We connected years later to debate and theorize. The one thing those annual meetings are good for.” Minerva scowled. “I knew she would be a good Mistress for you or I’d have put a stop to it.”

Hermione knew, more so now after gaining her own Mastery and being invited into that world, how much clout her mentor actually held in the wizarding world. “She spoke fondly of you. Except when we were debating.” Hermione smirked.

“Good.”

The witches finished their tea and Hermione finally stood to leave. Minerva reminded her of the mandatory staff meeting later on that evening. The younger witch transferred Oz from her lap to her shoulder and gave Minerva a final smile. She was just at the door when she spun back around. “Oh, Minerva?”

The elder witch paused where she was halfway back around her desk and looked at Hermione over her spectacles. “Hmm?”

Hermione gave a mischievous smile. “I was hoping for your blessing to continue a certain start of term tradition with the first-years?”

As expected again Minerva needed no moment to catch up. “If you will, Professor Granger. After all, traditions are meant to be passed down.” She smiled ever so slightly. “Now I am the one who is honoured.” The smile slipped. “Just don’t scare anyone into needing the Hospital Wing.”

Hermione’s laugh echoed up from the spiral staircase.

Chapter Text

The staff quarters attached to every Professor’s office were simple and quaint and yet still elegant and befitting of a Hogwarts teacher. Hermione’s quarters were located through a secret passageway in the brick wall beside her office fireplace. Her room was rectangular, slightly longer than it was wide, and at about halfway it was divided by a gorgeous, antique canvas divider in Gryffindor’s colours. The first side of the room was basically a living space; she had a couch and a chair situated around a low coffee table and a second armchair beside the fireplace. Hermione could tell from the layout that the fireplace was exactly at the back of where her office hearth was on the same wall. Hermione anticipated reading in that fireside armchair quite a lot. Her bookshelves took up the entire opposite wall and Hermione had already filled them with the more personal of her collection; the books more solely situated to Transfiguration were out in her office. A simple door just passed the room divider led to her private bathroom which had been stocked with her preferences. The witch had half been expecting a four poster bed like she had grown up with in the castle and instead she was graced with a beautiful wooden sleigh-bed with a carved mahogany headboard. Her closet was a walk-in and she didn’t have enough clothes to fill half of it.

Hermione was just putting a finishing touch on the room, a wooden perch for Oz, when her wand gave a very specific vibrate against her inner forearm where it was strapped but invisible. The cautious witch had placed wards on her office and quarters as soon as she had returned from visiting with Minerva. Due to the fact that students will frequently be walking into her office the ward on that door was little more than a tripwire; it just let her know when someone walked through.

She had left her office door open because term hadn’t started yet and therefore the only people who would come to see her were other Professors. In actuality her office door would only be open when she was in it because a student wasn’t allowed to see her entering or exiting her own quarters.

She stepped through the brick wall already smiling as she assumed, correctly, who had come to call on her. “Professor Delacour.”

The French witch smiled warmly at her. “Professor Granger.” They stepped forward and seamlessly glided into a hug; Hermione’s arms around Fleur’s neck and almost buried in silky silver hair and the French woman’s were tight around the brunettes lean waist. Fleur wasn’t in teaching robes yet and merely wore a long silver skirt and a black sweater over a blouse. When they took a small step back from each other Fleur nodded at the door. “I figured you would ‘ave a ward around your office.” She glanced around and then gestured to the far corner where Hermione’s potions were set up on a table. “It already looks more like you.”

“It needs a few more personal touches but it’s getting there. I just finished my quarters, come see.” Hermione held out her hand without thought and Fleur interlocked their fingers. Hermione’s verbal permission to enter her quarters was enough for the ward she had on the wall; she didn’t have to physically hold Fleur across the line into her room but neither witch batted an eye that she did so.

Fleur eyed the room and informed her that they must all be the same because her room was very similar in design. She elegantly sat on the couch and crossed her legs at the ankle; Hermione kicked off her shoes and folded her feet underneath her. Fleur was still looking around critically and Hermione just waited the older witch out. “You should get some things in ‘ere to show your Brazilian roots.” Was her eventual offhand comment.

Tears instantly filled Hermione’s eyes. It was said so casually; so nonchalantly. Like Fleur had simply noticed a lack of green, yellow and blue and thought it would make the place feel more at home. Fleur was the only person of Hermione’s life before she began her travels who just accepted without question or pause that Brazil was now home. She was the only person who didn’t, even jokingly, try to remind her that she was British. “You’re right. I should do that.”

Fleur didn’t seem to need to draw attention to Hermione’s watery smile; likely because she knew the cause of it. Instead she just pointed out space for a painting on one wall or a throw rug in the centre of the room where she could show off her adopted South American heritage.

Oz floated over and landed on the couch cushion beside Fleur. She asked the bird, not Hermione, for permission to touch him and stroked him warmly after his gentle caw. She cooed to the bird gently in French and Hermione couldn’t have wiped the sappy smile off her face if she tried.

“Did you see the ‘eadmistress?” Fleur questioned.

“Mhmm. Earlier when I arrived.”

“You two were close, were you not?”

Hermione shrugged and nodded. “As close as we could be, I suppose. She was my favourite teacher and, though she’s never said the words to me, it has been mentioned many times I was her favourite and protégé. The only mentor I’m as close to as I am to her would be either of my former Mistresses.” Hermione was intelligent enough to know her friend was fishing for something. She arched an eyebrow when blue eyes finally looked up to meet her own.

Fleur smiled knowing she had been caught. “There was some gossip, in ze teachers’ lounge yesterday.”

“Of course there was.” Hermione groaned. “I hadn’t even returned to Britain officially and there’s already gossip. What now?”

“Just talk about you finally returning to McGonagall. I guess many years ago it was assumed that you would Apprentice under McGonagall and then you didn’t.”

Hermione frowned. “No I didn’t. Instead I Apprenticed under the only other witch who was supposed to Apprentice under McGonagall and turned her down.” Oz hopped over the table from Fleur’s side and landed on his witch’s knee. “You know McGonagall even brought up Diana this morning? Or maybe I did. Either way we discussed her.”

“Was it bad?”

“No, no. Minerva actually told me that the drama between them was mostly gossip and they were actually on fine terms.” But now Hermione’s mind was racing. “I couldn’t Apprentice under Minerva. I couldn’t return to Britain at that time, I wouldn’t have survived it. And she’s the Headmistress of Hogwarts for Merlin’s sake. Most Masters end up taking leaves of absences from their posts when they have Apprentices because of the time involved, it would have been impossible for Minerva.”

“Well there you go then.” Fleur was watching her friend closely. “Minerva surely knows all of zis as well.”

“Yes. But, I didn’t even ask her.” Hermione suddenly snapped her gaze to Fleur. “You don’t think she felt snubbed I didn’t ask her, right?” Hermione couldn’t articulate exactly why she suddenly felt panicked about this but Fleur took it calmly in stride.

“I think she is smart enough to know that things change. And that maybe one day long ago she thought you would ‘ave Apprenticed with ‘er. And I think when she realized you wouldn’t be, all she wanted was you safe and ‘appy. I do think she’s probably ‘appy to ‘ave you back so she can see zat though.” Hermione nodded but didn’t look convinced. “I didn’t mean to worry you, ma chère. It’s just gossip. If it’s bothering you though, next time you talk to Minerva just mention it to ‘er and explain your reasons.” Fleur smirked and tried to bring Hermione out of the funk she’d settled into. “You and ‘er are so alike, you like your logical, rational reasons for things. You two are the same that way.”

Hermione finally smiled. “Solar Path.”

Fleur tilted her head. “Excuse me?”

The younger witch smiled. “It means you’re right. We are alike. And there’s no problem. She knows exactly why I couldn’t Apprentice with her. I know this because I would understand in her shoes and we’re the same. I just kinda, freaked out there for a second.”

Fleur still looked a little confused at the turnaround but Hermione was smiling again so she let it drop. Hermione was stunned that this witch, who granted she had known for many years but had only been close with for a very short amount of time, happened upon that exact right thing to say to calm her down from her encroaching anxiety.

“Still thinking of Apprenticing in Charms?” Hermione wondered after a moment to change the subject.

Fleur gave a half-hearted shrug; Hermione absentmindedly noticed that the French woman made even that motion look elegant. “Somewhat, for the future. I couldn’t possibly right now. I do not ‘ave the time and couldn’t give up my position ‘ere. I can’t imagine ‘ow you completed two at once.”

Hermione gave a bashful smile. “I had no life, that’s how I managed it. That, and my Mistresses were incredible. Being with Diana was a whirlwind. We would debate and cast and invent in a flurry and she’d be gone. On the other hand Agnes Pewtilander was my Potions Mistress. We would embark on long journeys to remote places searching and experimenting with ingredients and then she’d leave while my potions simmered and aged. I guess a better analogy would be that Diana was like lightning, she’d strike in and out of my life seemingly at random, sometimes several times a day. And if Diana was lightning than Agnes was wildfire. I’d spend full days on end with her, learning everything I could and building it all up to a crescendo where she’d then leave and I’d have time to actually brew and try to put the lessons to use. They passed me back and forth as an Apprentice quite seamlessly. There was never a second where I wasn’t doing or trying something for one of them.” Hermione chuckled.

“That was poetic.” Fleur grinned. “It also sounds exhausting.”

“Oh it was. I fell asleep at my cauldron many times.” Hermione admitted. “Once a potion was going awry and the heat from the cauldron was actually singeing my hair off but I had fallen asleep so soundly it wasn’t waking me. Diana arrived and half my hair was in the process of burning off.” Hermione was embarrassed but Fleur’s laughter at the story made it worth it. “She turned it into a teaching moment of course.”

The witches stayed in Hermione’s quarters for hours, trading stories and conversations back and forth. Hermione loved conversing with Fleur. Minerva gave her the deep, strictly intellectual conversations that she craved and her family, like Harry and Ron, gave her the somewhat mindless and lighter reprieve to unwind. But Fleur was something else entirely. She didn’t even remotely need to “dumb down” her conversations with the witch as she was wildly intelligent in her own right. She also listened and inquired in a way that felt natural; Fleur was the only person with whom Hermione could lose herself so much she didn’t notice the passage of time. It was actually the ripple of apparation, house-elf’s she noted automatically, coming from her office that alerted her to how late it had gotten.

“Twinsy.” Hermione called. The elf appeared instantly. “Thank you very much for apparating out there first, Twinsy.” Hermione made a specific point to thank the elf and Twinsy beamed at her Mistress’s praise.

“Twinsy is remembering your instructions, Professor. Twinsy just wanted to be reminding Mistresses that it is time for the staff meeting Headmistress called.”

“Thank you Twinsy, undoubtedly we’d have missed it without you.” The house-elf bowed again and Hermione and Fleur rose to leave.

The Professor’s staffroom was on the ground floor of the castle and it was used mostly as a meeting place. Hermione and Fleur were not the first to arrive, but weren’t late, so they were able to get two of the mismatched, wooden chairs beside each other. Every person in the room gazed at Hermione and she was unsure if it was due to who she was or Oz who was resting on her shoulder and glaring at everyone.

Neville arrived moments later and both witches rose to hug him. Hermione forced herself to calm her nerves and then glanced around at a few familiar faces to smile warmly; she had almost forgotten how much she had wanted to be exactly where she was now when she was a child.

Minerva McGonagall arrived last and she took her place in the seat right beside the fireplace. “Welcome back for another term, Professors.” She looked around the room. “I think our first order of business would be to welcome our newest staff member,” she gave the barest hint of a smile, “although I believe she needs no introduction, Ms. Hermione Granger.”

Hermione flushed at the welcoming applause and cheers she received from the group; over half of which had actually taught her. “Thank you.” She mouthed at everyone.

“I think I can speak for the whole staff,” Hermione swung her gaze to the squeaky voice of Filius Flitwick, “when I say that we are honoured to have you among our ranks.” He smiled warmly from underneath his white beard and his legs, dangling several feet above the ground, swung back and forth happily. Hermione knew from Fleur that Flitwick was obviously no longer the Charms Professor. He had mentored Fleur for a year, much like Pomona Sprout had done with Neville, and then relinquished his position to the French witch. Filius remained on at Hogwarts in his position as Deputy Headmaster and Head of Ravenclaw House however, and he handled the administrative aspect of the school with the Ministry. Fleur had spoken to her mentor’s wife on several occasions and Pomona had declared that her husband was simply not ready to leave the school yet.

“It is definitely I who is honoured, Professor Flitwick.”

He blushed and lightly scoffed at her. “Filius, please. You are definitely not a student here any longer.”

A bark of laughter erupted from his right hand side from Rolanda Hooch, her yellow cat-eyes brightened with amusement. “She was barely a student when she was a student here.” Hermione blushed more from being in the spotlight and Fleur laid a gentle hand on her forearm automatically. “I swear my teachings were the only ones that never stuck.” Hooch winked at Hermione to let her know she spoke only in jest.

Hermione figured she had better integrate herself sooner rather than later. “I’ll admit I much prefer my feet on the ground but I assure you I am capable of flying now. I’d be happy to prove you wrong some morning.”

Hooch gave a devilish grin. “You’re on, Golden Girl.”

Whether Minerva noticed Hermione’s almost flinch at the name or she had just had enough she moved the conversation along. “Hermione is obviously with us to fill my vacate position as Transfiguration Professor. She will also be filling the position as Head of Gryffindor House.”

Hermione’s head snapped up to look at Minerva. “What?” All sense of decorum had left her.

“Did I forget to mention that?”

Hermione’s eyes narrowed; Minerva forgot nothing. “You must have. Who was the Head of House last year, surely they do not want their position taken from them by a staff member just starting?” Hermione knew it couldn’t have been Minerva; as Headmistress she couldn’t show her bias to any one House.

A throat cleared almost directly across the unofficial circle from Hermione. The witch appeared to be around only ten years older than Hermione, small and petite with short cut auburn hair. Her smile was genuine but slightly nervous. “Yasmin Yarkness. I haven’t had the pleasure before but I’m honoured to meet you, Ms., um…Professor,”

“Hermione is fine.” The younger witch smiled. She would never be rude but she almost wished people would stop being honoured to meet her.

“Hermione. I filled in as Head of Gryffindor House but I had asked Minerva to find a replacement as soon as possible, it wasn’t supposed to be permanent. I teach Muggle Studies and truly I am not…well, outgoing enough to be everything the students need in a Head of House. When I heard the Gryffindor Princess herself might be teaching here I told Minerva that the position absolutely had to fall to you.”

Fleur’s hand, still on her arm, squeezed a little tighter and her thumb rubbed soothing circles. Hermione glanced up at Minerva; her face looked deadpanned and severe but Hermione could read the amusement and the victory in those emerald eyes. Hermione tried to show retribution for the ambush on her own face before sliding her gaze back to Yasmin.

“Please, no more Golden Girl or Princess. I’m just Hermione Granger.” She swallowed and took a breath. “But if you’re sure you do not want the position, than I’d be happy to represent my House.”

“Excellent.” Minerva spoke as if it had been a given. She continued on with the basics and Hermione split her attention between listening and examining the Professors around the room. Over half of them Hermione knew and had been taught by. Sitting on the other side of Flitwick was Aurora Sinistra, the Astronomy Professor; she caught Hermione’s eye briefly and the dark skinned, dark eyed witch smiled warmly at her. Looking extremely bored and distracted a few seats down was Horace Slughorn. Hermione hadn’t gotten to know the man as well as Harry had but she did have a distinct memory of him returning to the Battle of Hogwarts with reinforcements from Hogsmeade. Hermione shook the memory off and continued along. Beside him was Cuthbert Binns; Hermione found it slightly distasteful that the History of Magic Professor was in the same room he allegedly died in. Next she noticed Septima Vector, the Arithmancy Professor. She was notably the only witch as strict, if not stricter, than McGonagall and Hermione had been one of her few favourites. Professor Vector wouldn’t look away from the Headmistress while she was speaking, however, and Hermione made a point to say hello later.

Sitting beside Yasmin were a witch and wizard that Hermione didn’t know but they seemed very comfortable around each other, sitting as close and Neville, Fleur and she were. Hermione had learned a great deal about people in her travels and had learned to read them very well. Their closeness didn’t read as intimacy to her and when she caught their identical grey eyes in passing she pegged them as siblings.

“Are there any questions?” McGonagall asked the room. No one spoke and she nodded. “Very well. Just remember, September the first falls on Friday this year so the students won’t be starting classes until Monday. Everyone, Heads of Houses especially,” Hermione felt both proud and nervous to be included in that category, “let’s keep an eye on the students this weekend. We don’t need anyone getting into any trouble before term has even started.”

With a final dismissal everyone started to stand and Hermione suddenly found herself surrounded. She was slightly unused to the attention; she knew how famous she was of course, but living far away and travelling meant she had been able to avoid it easier than Harry or Ron had. It was slightly unnerving to have teachers she had been taught by and idolized shaking her hand and telling her how proud they were of her. Fleur’s unwavering presence at her side made things bearable.

The one conversation that made her smile was when Professor Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank walked right over with eyes only for Oz. “I’ve never seen such colouring on a hawk before.” She said without introduction. “Is he a magical creature, or muggle?” Oz looked the woman straight in the eye and Hermione snickered.

“You tell me. He’s a white-necked hawk though, and his kind is found in the muggle world.” Hermione spent several moments talking to the brusque woman about Oz and he began to preen under the attention. Hermione managed to get from her that Hagrid and she split the classes and the years regarding Care of Magical Creatures.

Eventually Aurora caught Grubbly-Planks arm and dragged her away and left the younger witch to deal with the Professors once again. Hermione turned the tables several times and artfully brought conversations about her around to either academics or that Professor’s subject to further get the attention off of herself. She caught an eye across the room and gracefully disengaged from her conversation with Slughorn to move over to them; she reached back to drag Fleur with her but the French witch was already smiling and coming with her.

“Professor Delacour,” Yasmin smiled warmly when they reached her, “nice to see you again.”

“Please, Fleur.”

“Yasmin then.” The polite Gryffindor smiled. She turned to Hermione with a bit of a blush. “I hope I didn’t put you on the spot or anything earlier?”

“Nonsense. Minerva knew I would agree to represent our House the second you said you didn’t wish to do so any longer.” Hermione truly didn’t blame her and once the shock wore off she was sure she’d be happier about it. “Speaking of Houses though,” she turned to Fleur, “you never had a House.”

Non. Minerva offered to allow me to be sorted into a ‘ouse but then she tried to put an old, smelly ‘at on my ‘ead. No, thank you.”

Hermione burst out laughing. “We’ve all had that smelly old hat on our heads, thank you very much.” Hermione chided the witch who gave her a mocking, haughty huff.

The siblings Hermione had noticed before stepped up into the group as well. She suspected they were around Yasmin’s age and not that much older than her. They were both tall, the witch a few inches taller than Fleur and the wizard even taller than that. They both had black hair but his was buzzed almost completely off and she had beautiful curls brushing her shoulders. Standing closer Hermione thought their similarities were even more obvious. They shared the same sharp jawline and proud, arching eyebrows as well as their grey eyes. “We haven’t had the pleasure.” The sister spoke for the both of them; she had a voice that was quiet but extremely clear. “Erika and Everett Carrow.”

Only intense training allowed Hermione to keep the surprise from her face but she would be lying if she claimed later that her magic hadn’t tingled down her spine and her muscles hadn't clenched reflexively. Erika did not offer a hand to shake and Hermione, though she forced her muscles to relax, didn’t either. “Hermione Granger.”

Everett chuckled lightly, with his mouth and not his eyes, and Erika shot him a glare. “Pardon me. It’s just, obviously we know who you are.” His face showed his mirth but Erika was mostly deadpanned. Hermione didn’t know how to take the comment and she couldn’t quite get a read on the siblings. She watched them examine her and also take in the sight of the predator sitting on her shoulder.

“I believe I’ve heard the name Carrow before, as well. Perhaps even with another set of siblings who taught here?”

“Quite.” Erika met her stare blankly; it wasn’t a challenge but it was clear the other witch wouldn’t back down either. When the moment became slightly uncomfortable Erika finally broke it. “Enjoy your week before term starts, Professors. If you’ll kindly excuse us.” Erika turned to Everett. “After you, brother.” Everett nodded to them as well and the siblings took their leave. Hermione, outside of recognizing their family name, would have figured them for old family pure-bloods anyway. Their robes were expensive and classy and they spoke with perfect and polite dictation. As it was the Carrow’s were one of the so named Sacred Twenty-Eight; the only remaining British families to be entirely pure-blood. Hermione didn’t put as much stalk into the grouping as others did, after all the Weasley’s were on the list as well, but it was also true that over half of the twenty-eight families supported Voldemort during both Wizarding Wars.

Hermione felt her hair stand on end and turned to face whoever was walking up beside her; it was just Neville and she relaxed herself again. Fleur was probably the only one to notice.

“Met the Carrow’s, have you?”

“It seems that way. What’s your take on them, Neville?”

The Herbologist shrugged. “Hard to say. I was a little surprised when they showed up here. I mean, I directly fought against the Carrow’s before. I asked around, they’re Amycus and Alecto’s niece and nephew, but the Carrow family is pretty large. They’re both Slytherins of course. They keep to themselves really.”

“I’ve never ‘eard a bad thing said about them.” Fleur added. “Then again, I’ve never really ‘eard much of anything about them.”

“They’re actually quite nice.” Yasmin spoke up and then looked a little nervous when the three Professors, who clearly knew each other, looked back at her. “I just mean, I’ve spoken to them both a few times, casually, and they were genuinely polite. I even mentioned Muggle Studies once and they weren’t demeaning.”

“What do they teach?” Hermione questioned.

“Erika teaches Defence, and Everett took over Ancient Runes when Professor Babbling retired.” Neville answered. All three of them seemed to be waiting for Hermione’s reaction to the Carrow’s. Hermione knew what the others would have done. Harry, bless him, would have gone straight to McGonagall and demanded an explanation on their trustworthiness as if he actually deserved one. Ron, hopefully not as drastically with Auror training under his belt, would have reacted openly to the siblings.

“Well I look forward to getting to know them, then.” Hermione’s voice was clear. “We wouldn’t want to judge anyone on who their family is, now would we?” Yasmin looked awed and Neville nodded in agreement but it was the pride in Fleur’s eyes that she focussed on.

Tu est une bonne personne, ma chérie [You’re a good person, darling”].

Hermione blushed at the French witch. She wasn’t so sure about her friend’s assessment so she brushed over it. “Well Professors, how are we to spend our final week before the students invade?”

Yasmin looked around slightly dubiously. “Prepare for our classes?”

Hermione chuckled. “Obviously. I meant other than that. You know, for fun?”

Fleur’s smirk was decidedly devious. “What fun could we possibly get into in an ancient magical castle?”

Yasmin and Neville shared nervous looks but Hermione grinned. “That’s more like it, Professor Delacour. What did you have in mind?”

As it turned out what Fleur had in mind was very much up Hermione’s alley. Before the teachers had cleared out entirely Fleur had asked Minerva, quite loudly, if she had her permission to use one of the empty classrooms for some dueling. Almost every head had turned to look at the French witch. She, with an innocent smile and a straight face, had managed to tell the Headmistress that she just wanted to keep her skills sharp and with the students returning they would all be back to teaching spells beneath their own levels instead of practicing their own skills. Minerva had arched an eyebrow until Hooch had stepped right in.

“This is a fabulous idea! I’d pay to see some of these duels.” She cackled. “Come on, Minerva, it’ll be all in good fun and I’m sure Poppy wouldn’t mind refereeing?”

The Head Matron looked a little off-put at being volunteered but she nodded anyway at her old friends. “I’m certainly capable of refereeing and attending to any accidents, Minerva.” The Headmistress glanced around and noticed that every Professor looked intrigued.

She rolled her eyes. “Very well. There had better be no serious injuries.” She warned with a serious eye.

Hermione now found herself in one of the old classrooms on the ground floor with almost every Professor, and most of the ghosts, setting up a dueling competition. It was decided that every person who had entered to compete would be drawn at random just for sake of ease and fairness. Poppy would be refereeing along with Sir Ophray “Octopus” Oggleson; a ghost Hermione had seen before but never really spoken to. Ophray was a champion duelist in his day and earned his nickname by moving so quickly that it appeared like he was using multiple hands with multiple wands.

Fleur slid up beside her a little closer so she could speak directly in her ear. “I just wanted to make sure again that this was alright with you, ma chère. I know you told me you loved to duel…”

“I do.” Hermione assured her. “It isn’t battle, it’s different. It’s always good to keep ones skills sharp.”

The French witch nodded, apparently appeased, and Poppy gained the crowds attention by flicking her wand at the chalkboard to signal the first match. Writing appeared along the top of the board; Longbottom vs. Flitwick.

Hermione slapped her friend on the back as he stepped forward into the lane against Flitwick. The men bowed to each other jovially and turned their backs to do the traditional walk.

“Who do you think is going to win?” Yasmin whispered. She had come to spectate but hadn’t joined in for the actual dueling.

“Flitwick.” Hermione responded instantly. “Neville is good but Filius was a champion dueler and he has too much experience.”

Poppy called the match and spells were fired instantly. The classroom had been spelled so that ricochets hit a magical barrier before they struck the crowd. Both duelers were fairly stationary and quick with their wands. Neville fought with heart and energy but Filius was very calculated in every spell he shot. Neville got overexcited when he conjured vines to trip his opponent from behind; he didn’t factor in Filius’s dwarf strength and low centre of gravity. The elder wizard was able to remain standing long enough to fire another set of spells at Neville who had dropped his guard; the Herbologist sailed backwards through the air and his wand went flying in the other direction. Filius had the decency to conjure some pillows for the man to land on but Neville still fell with an “oomph”.

There were claps and playful jeers and Hermione felt good watching everyone enjoy themselves. Neville himself was smiling as he dragged himself over to Flitwick to congratulate him as the next pair readied themselves.

Hermione was having a wonderful time, sussing out the competition and betting on the outcomes with Neville, to which she was never wrong, when the fifth round came up; Delacour vs. Vector. “Any advice?” Fleur asked, chuckling slightly.

“Be quick.” Was all Hermione said. Fleur took her words to heart and transfigured her fashionable outfit into a much simpler pair of trousers and a long sleeved shirt that she could move in.

“I’m betting Vector.” Neville whispered.

“You’re only betting that was because Septima scares you.” Hermione chuckled; she never took her eyes off Fleur. Neville didn’t deny the claim. “Fleur is going to win. Don’t you know you should never underestimate the French?”

Fleur smiled warmly when she curtseyed and Septima only nodded; Hermione knew it was because Professor Vector was simply serious as opposed to any disrespect intended. They did the traditional walk and when the match started Hermione was riveted.

It was no surprise, to anyone, that Fleur was graceful. She walked either as if on a cloud or like a feline stalking prey, depending on the circumstances, and not a single motion her body made wasn’t calculated. She flipped her hair or shook her hand with more care and grace then most people danced. Which was ironic because apparently where most people dueled, Fleur danced. The French witch had not used a defensive spell yet in the match even though Vector had fired off countless spells; she merely danced around them. Not a single spell had landed and Fleur had been in motion the entire time.

Hermione could see the problem however. Many, if not most, witches and wizards in Vector’s position would be getting frustrated by now. They would begin to get careless and that was the moment that Fleur was waiting for so she could strike; but Vector was far too disciplined and serious to get angry. It would come down to stamina and which witch would break concentration first.

It turned out to be Vector and Hermione saw the moment that it happened; the elder witch had been focussing more and more on hitting her target for the first time and it had escaped her attention that Fleur could still fire back. The French woman attacked in a flurry and eventually, after a jet of water took the older woman in the face, she dropped to her knees and Fleur summoned her opponent’s wand.

Hermione cheered for her friend and Fleur, after shaking Septima’s hand and curtseying again with the grace only she could possess, headed straight for her. Fleur stepped right into Hermione’s body and the younger witch wrapped her arms around her naturally. “Thank you for the advice.” Fleur, who was breathing a little hard, whispered in her ear.

“You got it.” Hermione smiled. Fleur was a little sweaty but Hermione held her in the circle of her arms without care. Neville was the one who broke the moment when he tapped on Hermione’s shoulder. “What, Neville?” He pointed over at the chalkboard and Hermione looked for the match.

Granger vs. Carrow.

Fleur’s grip on her arm tightened somewhat and Hermione whipped around to look for them. She hadn’t even noticed when the Carrow’s had come into the room; which was extremely unusual for her. She assumed it had to have been during Fleur’s match which was the only time she figured her attention wouldn’t have wavered.

Hermione looked between the siblings and they shared their own glance before Erika stepped forward.

“Oz, to Fleur, please.” Oz squawked unhappily but dutifully obeyed his witch and hoped onto Fleur’s shoulder. Hermione stepped forward towards the dueling lane and instantly blocked everything else out. She knew that people had to be gossiping and talking about this match, perhaps more so than they had done any of the others, but Hermione completely tuned the chatter out.

Hermione transfigured her clothes on her way to the lane, as Fleur had, and she noticed that Erika was doing the same. The taller witch also waved her wand and her long black curls were pulled back away from her face. She stepped right up to her and Hermione met grey eyes directly. She nodded and smiled politely; Erika looked a little shocked before she could hide her expression.

Was she expecting me to hate her?

Hermione banished the thought as soon as she had it; she could only focus on the duel. Once they bowed, they both refused to curtsey, she turned her back on the Carrow. Hermione took the steps automatically without needing to count. She turned on her heel just as Erika did twenty paces away. Hermione made her wand become visible and allowed it to slide into her palm. She raised her wand and a split second later Erika mimicked her.

Subconsciously Hermione analysed Erika’s stance and altered her own. Carrow was in the stance for a quick-draw; she was going to try and finish this duel practically before it even started. While Hermione had faith in her own speed she wanted to see where this duel would lead. Poppy started the count and Hermione, as if in slow motion, watched Erika’s hips shift and her arm swish back. The rules were very clear; a spell could not be cast before the count but one could begin the motions. Poppy called duel and Erika had already completed the arm motion and shouted stupefy seemingly instantaneously; Hermione had already been prepared and blocked the spell with a raise of her wand without effort. She sent a return stunner with a flick of her wrist and only Erika’s quick reflexes with a duck saved her. Hermione could read the surprise in grey eyes that Hermione had managed to block her initial spell; Hermione knew she had pegged the witch correctly as a quick-draw specialist.

The duel continued furiously however, both witches shot spell after spell, both offensive and defensive, and used a mix of magic and physical speed to block and evade each other’s attacks. Hermione was impressed that her opponent matched her while using all nonverbal spells like she did. Erika’s wand was almost a blur as she moved casting spell after spell.

Hermione was using every bit of her athletic body, at one point even bending almost double over backwards, to avoid Erika’s spells. She analyzed, in the back of her mind, that she must be in better shape than Carrow because Erika had stopped moving quite so much and was relying more and more on her wand to block Hermione’s attacks. Hermione started aiming her jinxes with more precision; sending spells into the woman’s feet and towards her non-wand arm forcing her to continue moving her body and tiring her out faster.

When Erika’s spells started to slow Hermione struck. Her wand flashed with a jet stream of red and blue light and from Erika’s surprised eyes she had no idea what spell was coming for her. Erika frantically moved to block the spell and her last second bubble-reflection charm sent the attack rebounding back to her opponent. Hermione raised her wand to block the spell and simultaneously raised her left, and wandless, hand; she used her empty hand to send her brothers speciality, expelliarmus, wandlessly and non-verbally towards her opponent. Erika had no chance against the spell she’d neither seen nor heard and her wand flew from her grip. Hermione caught the wand in her right hand, so she held two at once, and with her raised left hand she merely clenched her fingers into a fist and Erika’s arms and legs snapped together in a full body bind.

It was like a switch had been flipped and suddenly Hermione could hear the room again; not that they were saying much. Most were staring slack-jawed at the new Professor. Fleur and Neville, who had seen a touch of her wandless magic before, were the first to regain themselves and start the clapping. Oz flew instantly to her shoulder and cawed proudly.

Poppy cast the countercharm on Erika so when Hermione made her way over she was already rising to her feet. Hermione slid her own wand back up into her holster, where it vanished, and then she flipped the one in her hand around with nimble fingers and handed it back to its mistress handle first. Erika took it lightly.

“You could have ended that duel two minutes earlier.” Erika’s expression was still deadpanned.

Hermione didn’t want the witch to think she had been playing with her but she didn’t want to question her intelligence either, so she simply nodded and shrugged. “But I was having a good time. It was a good duel.”

Erika was panting lightly, and a sheen of sweat covered her skin just enough to make her glisten. She swiped at her face to remove the hairs that had escaped her bun and were now sticking to her. “It was indeed. I suppose there is no shame in losing when the duel is a good one.”

“None at all. Your countercharms are excellent, by the way.”

“Thank you.” She hesitated for moment. “The spell at the end, one of your own invention?” Just a hint of Erika’s true curiosity emerged through her deadpanned expression.

Hermione smirked slightly. “Honestly, it was nothing more than a colourful light burst to put you off balance. But we can keep that to ourselves.”

Erika now met her eyes again and Hermione found herself being even more thoroughly examined than the first time. Eventually Carrow opened her mouth to say, what Hermione could not imagine, when a throat clearing beside them caused them both to jerk around.

Everett was staring hard at his sister but he forced his voice polite. “If you’ll excuse my sister and myself, Professor Granger, we have somewhere we are required to be.” Erika dropped her eyes and the two siblings marched off without another word to anyone.

Hermione was still watching the door where they’d left when all the other teachers came over to congratulate her and declare themselves impressed by her breathtaking duel and wandless magic.

Hermione accepted the praise and smiled politely while she waited for Fleur to come and rescue her.

Chapter Text

The week passed quicker than Hermione could have believed possible. She had lunch everyday with Fleur either in one of their quarters, or sometimes Neville and Yasmin would join them and they’d enjoy lunch sitting at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall like old times. Dinner she made a point of joining the Professors in the hall at the formal table.

The first time Hermione had sat up at the Professors table she felt like her heart would stop. Images of the Great Hall destroyed and filled with bodies had never been farther from her mind as she almost stumbled up to where Minerva was beckoning her.

“This is your seat.” Minerva had gestured to the one directly to her own left; it was where Hermione had six years of memories of Minerva herself sitting.

“Are,” she had to stop to clear her throat, “are you sure?” She wasn’t sure if there was something specific about the arrangement but it felt important.

“Sit, Hermione.” Were Minerva’s only words. Hermione pulled back her chair and sat down gingerly. Having her own chair as opposed to a bench was different but the table, the plate and goblet waiting to be filled was remarkably the same as she remembered. She had a completely different vantage point of the room, however. Instead of looking sideways at the other tables across the hall she was looking down all four tables equally. She couldn’t imagine yet looking down and seeing hundreds of students gazing back up at her.

“Eat something, ‘ermione.” Fleur’s voice to her left jolted her out of her daydream. She was thrilled the French witch was beside her, and Neville graced Fleur’s other side. She scanned the table briefly and noticed Yasmin seated between Neville and Grubbly-Plank and the Carrow siblings were on the other end of the table, right at the very end, seemingly in a world of their own.

The food had obviously been sent up while she was daydreaming and Fleur was halfway through serving her own plate when she noticed Hermione still hadn’t moved. “’ermione?”

“Sorry, I’m fine.” Hermione reached for the bowl of mashed potatoes nearly at her elbow. “I just...I’m happy I’m here.” She noticed Fleur beam at her but missed the slight quirk of Minerva’s lips at her other side.

After a few days Hermione was more or less used to sitting at the High table; or at least it didn’t take her breath away anymore. Tonight though, she knew would be different. It was finally the day the students arrived for the start of term and Hermione was equally terrified and excited. She wanted to teach and help her students as much as she could; she had always loved sharing her knowledge. The week had absolutely flown by and disappeared on her and she was constantly tweaking her lesson plans and trying to make everything perfect.

She was nervous though. She would be less than ten years older than her seventh year students and was the youngest person on staff alongside Neville; however the students had been given a year to get used to him while he worked as Professor Sprout’s assistant. She may have tutored her fellow classmates a lot but this would be the first time she had to take charge of an entire classroom of students.

What if its a disaster? What if nobody listens to me? What if the students wreck such havoc that Minerva has to come down and save me?

A small pop broke Hermione from her paranoia and she noticed a small scroll had appeared on her desk. She slit the letter with a flick of her finger and recognized the flowing, loopy and girly writing immediately.

Hermione,
Stop worrying about your lesson plans as they are already perfect and come join me for lunch. This is our last chance for some peace and quiet as the students will descend upon us this evening.
Yours truly,
Prof. Fleur Delacour
PS. This was not a suggestion

Hermione chuckled but did as she was bid and put away her lesson plans and locked her office behind her as she left. She had to walk quite a ways to get to Fleur as her office was located in the West Tower several levels above her on the seventh floor. She actually knew a shortcut to quicken the journey but today, with only a few hours before she was a real Professor, she enjoyed the quiet hallways.

The portraits had stopped shouting out to her quite so often. She was unsure if it was because they were used to her presence now, and knew she would not entertain them with war stories, or because Oz had finally flown at a few pictures with the intention to gouge them open. Oz still disliked the stone walls and cawed lowly in his throat whenever they walked them.

Hermione knocked on Fleur’s office even though she knew the witch would be waiting for her. The French witch, already in pristine and elegant periwinkle blue teaching robes, opened the door with a grin. “Well that was easy.”

“I was ready for lunch anyway.” Hermione sassed back. The younger witch had been in Flitwick’s office once or twice during her years at Hogwarts and Fleur hadn’t changed things too much. It was still overflowing with books, however now they were split between titles in English and titles in French and the desk was an antique one from Fleur’s family home in Cannes.

Fleur’s personal quarters, exactly like Hermione’s, were located through a trick section of brick wall beside one of her bookcases. Hermione wasn’t sure what the room had looked like when Filius lived here but she was sure it wasn’t quite like this; Fleur’s room looked a cross between a Parisian Boudoir and a warm tea-shop. The living portion of Fleur’s quarters looked inviting and fit to entertain in; Hermione supposed Fleur had learned the style from her Aristocratic parents. Hermione took a seat where her friend already had tea and sandwiches waiting.

“Are you prepared for this evening?” Fleur asked as she prepared her own cup.

“I believe so. I don’t know what else I could possibly do to prepare.”

Fleur smiled; she was far too elegant to snort. “Knowing you, not a thing. You are likely far over prepared.”

Hermione hummed. “How was your first ever class?” She didn’t miss the slight wince her friend gave.

“I admit, it was a tough one. It was a sixth year mixed class of Gryffindor and Slytherin.” She shrugged a little helplessly. “They were sixteen year old boys. What thrall I do ‘ave ‘it some of them ‘arder than others. Several of the braver boys made passes at me. All the girls giggled and laughed of course.” A dark look passed over Fleur’s beautiful features and Hermione hated to see it there. “It’s ‘ard for people to see your mind when they can’t get past your face.”

Hermione reached for her hand instantly. “I’m sorry things are difficult for you Fleur.” She tried to gather her thoughts. “Fleur, you are beautiful. Of course you are, and no one could say any different. And it isn’t just your Veela heritage, you are beautiful without any thrall at all.” She ducked her head down until blue eyes met her own. “I know that sometimes your beauty seems a detriment to you but you also have a gift. Your insides are just as beautiful. I’m sorry sometimes you have to fight for people to see it.”

Fleur gave a watery smile. “It is not so bad, truly. If some people could ‘ear me complaining about being beautiful they would surly burn me at ze stake.”

“It’s true. If people could hear me complaining about being famous they would surly react the same. If only we were average looking nobodies.”

“Then our lives would be perfect.” Fleur sassed. “But you’ll be fine with your classes. Although you’ll ‘ave just as many boys making a pass at you, I am sure.”

Hermione rolled her eyes and ignored her. “May I ask you a question?”

The French witch noticed the slight narrowing of her friend’s eyes which usually indicated her trying to figure out a problem. “Oui.”

“What exactly is your thrall? I’ve studied all the printed and theorized literature about Veela but there isn’t actually that much about it.”

Fleur smirked. “Curious about my kind, ma chère?” She teased. “In truth, Veela are a very secretive species, we don’t allow much about ourselves to be known.”

“If I offended you by asking, I didn-”

“’ush now. I could never be offended by you. ‘ave you ever seen a full-blooded Veela?”

“Mhmm. At the Quidditch World Cup, many years ago. It was…an experience.”

Fleur chuckled. “I remember. I was actually there too. Veela are magical creatures in their own right and they possess a thrall. It’s a magic that flows through the air something like…mmm, ‘ypnotism? Those affected by it feel an overwhelming urge to get close and impress the Veela. Small amounts of thrall are just always around a Veela, in the air, but large doses, when zey are trying to affect someone is usually done by voice or movement.”

“Dance.” Hermione nodded along. “The Veela at the match were dancing.”

Oui, exactement [Yes, exactly].”

“Is that why you’re so captivating when you move and dance? So graceful?”

Fleur gave a devilish smirk. “You think me captivating?” Hermione slapped her lightly on the leg and she chuckled. “Oui. Veela are naturally more graceful and their movement is connected to their thrall.”

“Who gets effected?” Hermione knew that Ron had always been very susceptible, while Harry was fine around Fleur but had found himself under the thrall of the Veela at the match.

“Different people. Weak minded people are always more susceptible to mind control. Preparedness is also a factor. A strong minded person who can usually ignore the thrall can be taken by surprise. You also ‘ave to factor in arousal.”

Hermione choked on her tea. “What?”

Fleur smirked again. “Veela magic focusses on those emotions. Lust, arousal, desire, ‘unger. Someone who is already aroused, or, ‘ow you say? ‘orny? Ze are far more likely to fall under the thrall.”

“Oh boy. I can see why a classroom full of sixteen year old boys was problem.” Hermione tilted her head. “Does it only effect men and boys?”

Non. But it’s statistically more likely. The thrall cannot create something from absolutely nothing. A gay man, for example, could not fall under ze thrall. There’s nothing there to begin with at all. But if there’s even a spark of attraction, the tiniest bit, the thrall can get under that person’s skin and take them over.”

“How long does it last?”

“Not very long. It doesn’t linger much longer once the Veela is away from the person.”

“Interesting. And you only have some of the thrall?”

“Mhmm. I’m only a quarter Veela. My grandmother was full-blooded and she married a wizard and ‘ad my ‘alf-blooded mother. My mother married my wizard father and ‘ad Gabrielle and I.”

“So how much did you and Gabrielle get from your Veela heritage?”

“Some things. A bit of thrall, but we cannot wield it like a weapon like you saw the Veela at the World Cup do. Definitely cannot take the Veela’s other form.” Hermione had a distinct memory of the harpy, bird like women throwing fireballs.

“Glad to know you haven’t been hiding that other half from me.” Hermione chuckled and Fleur picked up a pillow to hit her with it.

Non. Not much else. As you said, we are more graceful than most, oh and we ‘ave a knack when it comes to things like lust and attraction.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just, I can always tell when someone is attracted to someone else. Even if they try to ‘ide it. It’s like I can sense it. Just like I can sense when someone is aroused. It’s like…they run ‘otter and I can feel it.”

Hermione’s jaw had dropped and her mind was racing. “You my friend, are both very dangerous and possibly very useful.”

The devilish smirk that Hermione was beginning to think of as Fleur’s signature one crossed her features.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

Oz cawed for the tenth time and Hermione growled low in her throat. “I know, Oz, I know. I’m coming.” She had almost broken down and fire called Fleur, or even Andressa and Larissa, to help her get ready but that would have been pathetic. She had finally left Fleur after a long lunch to get ready for this evening. It would have been a blow to her pride to call Fleur and tell her that she needed help getting dressed. “For Merlin’s sake, I’m a grown woman. I can dress myself.” Oz cawed again. “We’re not going to be late!” The bird was possibly right.

Hermione knew she was cutting it close and she needed to be down in the Great Hall very soon. For all her planning ahead she didn’t factor in an hour long freak out over her robes. She wanted to look both professional and appropriate. She wanted to look natural and not like she was trying too hard but also not like she didn’t care about her appearance. She was about to step into her closet again when she heard a faint pop and Oz cawed to get her attention; sitting on her bed was another tied up scroll.

Wear the grey and stop fretting ma chère.

Hermione let out the breath she had been holding and the tightness in her chest released; she took the French witch’s advice without question.

Why was I worried so much about something so small?

It took two minutes for her to get dressed, fix her hair and touch up her makeup. The robes Fleur had selected were a dark grey that had very subtle flecks of a lighter gold colour in them. She wore elegant pinstripe trousers of the same dark grey and a white blouse underneath them. The robes were slim enough to show her figure but not tight enough to be scandalous. The material flowed out around her wrists so her hands were optimally visible and the collar of the robes just met her blouse showing her throat but no lower than her collarbones. Her hair was sleek and shiny and one side was left free flowing, just brushing her shoulder, and the other was pinned back behind her ear. Her makeup was completely natural and she only subtlety worked her eyes to make her brown eyes look piercing. There was only one thing missing and Hermione arched her eyebrow in the mirror; Oz instantly took off from his perch and landed on his spot on her shoulder.

Hermione took off for the Great Hall before she could stall any longer. She knew what was happening right now. The train would have arrived in Hogsmeade by this point; the older students would be heading for the thestral drawn carriages and the, likely terrified, first-years would be heading with Hagrid over to the boats. It was a perfectly calm September evening and the lake was like glass; Hermione had witnessed many a worse first time crossing.

When she opened the doors to the Great Hall Hermione noticed Minerva’s arched eyebrow first, she was the last to arrive, and then Fleur’s comforting smile.

“That’s a beautiful outfit.” Fleur winked.

“Shut it.” The younger witch took her seat and let out a deep sigh. Now only Flitwick’s and Hagrid's chairs were empty; Hermione knew that Hagrid was on the lake and that Flitwick was waiting in the ante chamber for the first years. Hermione’s first year Minerva had been deputy and had been the one to give them their speech. Hermione remembered being terrified but so impossibly excited; finally she had somewhere to belong. Hermione had thought of something earlier and leaned over to Minerva. “Sometime during the feast will you point out Gryffindor’s Prefects to me? I’ll need to get them the password for the common room.”

Minerva nodded. “I should ask you what you made it and critique it like you did mine.”

Hermione grinned. “A discussion for another time, perhaps.” The bang of the Great Hall doors caused Hermione to jump and Minerva settled a hand on her arm for the briefest of seconds.

“Steady on now. You’ve got this.”

Hermione merely nodded and watched the students come pouring in. It was like the volume level had quadrupled. Hundreds of students, children and teenagers, walked in together laughing and talking and shouting out across the room to friends from different groups. Hermione watched how they settled themselves at their House tables with their friends.

Having the Great Hall suddenly loud again was a shock, the screams seemed to echo in the large room, an explosion rocked the marble floor right in front of her and the screams were abruptly cut off and the ringing in her ears intensified, but Fleur very subtlety laid a hand on her thigh and made sure the action was hidden by the table. “Don’t they look ‘appy to be back?”

Hermione decided that Fleur must be a saint. “They do.” That was unmistakable and Hermione took pleasure in watching them. She focussed for a moment on the Gryffindor table as she remembered that they were now her charges. She swallowed a little thickly looking at the hundred or so students that were now under her purview. “We didn’t give you too much trouble when you were Head of our House, did we Headmistress?” Hermione said somewhat innocently.

Minerva gave her a deadpanned, unimpressed stare. “I thought I was going to have to retire early because of you three. Never in all of Hogwarts years. I somehow ended up with the Golden Trio, the Weasley twins, and the Marauders, Merlin help me.”

Hermione laughed and felt a little more at ease. “You’re right. Surely this batch of Lions can’t give me nearly as much grief.” She looked out at the crowd again but now she noticed that she had been noticed back. A few older students had done double-takes and instantly pointed her out to their friends. Whispers had broken out in several groups of the oldest students and younger students were vying for attention from somebody to explain what the whispers were about.

Through serious self-control Hermione kept her face impassive, and not anxious. She smiled slightly at the few students brave enough to meet her eye. She was just starting to get uncomfortable when the double doors banged open again and Flitwick led a group of 65 or so small children into the hall.

The attention turned to the group as people started peering at the young, eleven year old, witches and wizards. There was awe on every face as they took in the ceiling, the candles, the people and the castle but it was still easy to spot the muggle-born children from the ones who had grown up in the wizarding world. Hermione knew she would do everything for the muggle-born children who ended up in her House.

Flitwick walked just over to the edge of the Professor’s table and returned with the traditional three legged stool and the Sorting Hat. Fleur scoffed at it underneath her breath and Hermione had to work to hold in her laugh.

As it always did the brim of the hat split open and the hat began its song:

From far and wide do children come
To learn and fill their minds
From small to tall and lean to broad
Hogwarts proudly takes all kinds
The Four Founders of this school
Had to sort the students some way
A spell, some brains, and now I decide
For whichever head I lay
Inside these castle walls you’ll find
Four Houses for the masses
With your House you’ll spend your time
Both in fun and attending classes
Each Founders House takes from them
Their core values and their heart
Each has a characteristic
That sets their students apart
From Godric we have Gryffindor
For the just, the daring and brave
The ones who cannot sit back
When there is someone to be saved
From Helga we have Hufflepuff
For the true, the caring and loyal
With openness for everyone
There is no hate they cannot foil
From Salazar we have Slytherin
For the cunning, ambitious and proud
The students here strive for their goals
So they may stand above the crowd
From Rowena we have Ravenclaw
For the studious, the smart and bright
When eagles put their minds together
There is no foe they cannot fight
Your House becomes your family
Your peers and of course your friends
But do not think that with your House
Is where your friendship always ends
The Founders worked together
In building up this school
With allies and partnerships
We should take from them this rule
So let us now begin the Sorting
So that you may find your seats
And when you’re settled in your Houses
We may have ourselves a feast!

The Great Hall burst into applause and most of the Professor’s in the room joined in. From where she sat Hermione could easily read the relief in a few of the children’s faces. She remembered the exact moment when she realized that she simply had to put on a hat. For several minutes beforehand she had been whispering every spell she had taught herself under her breath as if she would be attacked by a teacher at any moment.

Flitwick stepped up beside the hat and started unwinding the long scroll with names. “Appleby, Jordan.” One of the clearly muggle-born kids stepped forward and Hermione felt for him. Walking up to the hat was hard enough, but to do it first and be a muggle-born was probably completely nerve-wracking. A part of Hermione couldn’t believe how young and small all these children looked. When Jordan Appleby put on the Sorting Hat it slipped right over his head and covered his eyes.

It took the usual few moments of pause before the Hat shouted out “Gryffindor!” His fellow Lions broke into applause and cheers and Jordan somewhat shakily made his way over to the table.

“You just witnessed your first sorted Lion Cub.” Minerva quietly spoke without moving her lips at all. “You always remember that one.”

The Sorting continued with Flitwick calling out names and children with varying degrees of nerves settled onto the stool for the hat to call out their House. As always, some responses from the Hat were quick and others took several moments. One student Hat-stalled the Sorting for just over 4 minutes and the poor girl had been shifting on the stool uncontrollably before the Hat finally declared her a Hufflepuff. Hermione politely watched the entire event but paid particular note to the children who were sorted into her House and made a point to begin remembering their names. When the last child, Xavier Zabini, had been sorted into Ravenclaw Hermione turned her attention back to the table and ran her eyes over the 16 new first years again. Most of them had settled together, a few sat with older students that she assumed were their siblings, and they were now all looking up at the head table.

Finally to her right Minerva stood. “Hogwarts.” Her voice was clear and amplified and the chatter died away instantly. “Welcome back to another year. If it is your first year with us, then we all welcome you. I only have a few quick announcements to make before we get to our start-of-term feast. Firstly, it is with great honour that I introduce our new Transfiguration Professor, and Head of Gryffindor House, Professor Hermione Granger.”

Hermione knew that she made an impressive figure if just for the fact of Oz sitting on her shoulder alone. She stood out of her seat and gave a genuine smile and a little wave, once to the room and once again just to the Gryffindor table, and then immediately took her seat again. The whispers had started up pretty much instantly with her name and they were only increasing in volume. It was a group of three Gryffindor students who appeared to be seventh years, two witches and a wizard, who finally broke the quiet by jumping to their feet and cheering loudly. The applause broke out amongst the older students instantly as pretty much the entire seventh and sixth year classes jumped to their feet. Her name was whispered, and then yelled, as the youngest students either finally realized who they were sitting with or were told and pulled to their feet by their neighbours. Only a very few muggle-born first years looked completely in the dark and confused. The applause and the cheering just seemed to get louder and louder. The indistinct cheers were interspersed with calls of thanks and praise and Hermione was both flushed with embarrassment and filled with so much honour in return that her eyes were watering. She was surprised to note that over three quarters of the Slytherin table were on their feet as well and it truly gave her hope for the future.

When the Professor’s all joined in with the applause Minerva finally nudged Hermione and the younger witch stood again. The students stamped their feet and banged empty goblets on the table. Hermione touched her fingers to her heart briefly and nodded to the students again. When she sat down she motioned with her hands for them to settle down but it eventually took a firecracker from Minerva’s wand and an amplified yell for the students to finally return to their seats and simmer down.

“As I said, we here at Hogwarts are honoured by Professor Granger’s presence among us. I think any other notices I have may now wait until after you are all fed.” She raised her hands. “Enjoy your feast, Hogwarts.”

The tables were suddenly overflowing with food and drink and Hermione reached instantly for the wine. She chugged half a glass quickly and Fleur chuckled. “Eat as well, ma chérie, or your wonderful reception will be ruined by a drunken mishap.”

Hermione sighed. “I didn’t deserve any of that.”

“You’re a ‘ero.”

“I just did what I had to do to survive.” Hermione struggled to keep her voice down. A person should never get applause for killing people. Never.

“I know, ma chérie, I know.” Her voice as well as the hand on her thigh was soothing. “But these are children. They’ve never met you. Only ‘eard stories, or read about you in books. To them you’re a war ‘ero. You give them ‘ope. So don’t take it from them.”

Hermione nearly dropped a plate of sausages when Fleur’s soft words registered. She didn’t need to cry at the table so she just nodded at her friend. Fleur allowed the conversation to drop and spent the rest of the meal educating Hermione on her Gryffindor’s. “That group there, the four boys and the three girls,” she named them all, “they’re all good enough students but there can be a lot of drama that spills over into the classroom. I think they all date each other and they change partners all the time. Those two girls on the other side of the table, they remind me of you except that they distract each other constantly. The boy on the edge of that group of boys, the one with the glasses, ‘e’s popular enough but quiet. I like to keep an eye on ‘im because ‘e won’t ask for ‘elp or say ‘e doesn’t understand.”

Hermione soaked up all the information Fleur had about her Cubs. The pride had set in fiercely now. She had already planned a letter to the Potters about being the Head of their former House and she knew they would share in her enthusiasm. She would honour her mentor and follow in her footsteps; Minerva had never shown outward bias to the Gryffindor’s, but she had done other things that were more important. She had fought for them, challenged and encouraged them and had always been a pillar of a listening ear and good advice.

After dessert, in which a small plate of raw meat had appeared beside Hermione and she had fed a happy Oz, Minerva finally waved her hands and the dishes of food disappeared. “I hope everyone enjoyed the food and ate till their hearts content.” Minerva’s voice was magically amplified once again. “Just a few announcements before I send everyone off to bed. First years are to note that the Forbidden Forest on the grounds is, as aptly named, completely forbidden to students at all times. A few of our older students,” Minerva eyed over at Hermione and Neville, “and a few of our Professors can attest that this rule is only for your own safety as the forest quite enjoys students.” The warning was blunt and Hermione fought a grin; it seemed she was not the only person who emulated their mentor. “Our caretaker, Mr. Filch,” Hermione noted the man hovering in the background and was stunned to see Mrs. Norris, or a cat that looked exactly like her, still alive and in his arms, “has asked me to remind you that there is an exhaustive list of items that are not permitted inside the castle, and you may find the list in his office if you wish to know more. Quidditch try-outs will take place in the third week of term and are open to all students except the first-years. Visit’s to Hogsmeade will commence just before Christmas break and all students third year and above must give their signed permission slips to their Heads of House before November the first. Classes will commence on Monday and Heads of Houses will be delivering your schedules Sunday morning. For now, enjoy your final weekend before classes begin. Explore the castle, relax a little and stay out of trouble.” She paused to let the warning sink in. “Alright everyone, have a good night.” She sat down and there was an almost deafening noise of hundreds of students all suddenly getting up at once.

Hermione gripped Fleur’s shoulder tightly as she got up herself. “Got to catch somebody, I’ll see you tomorrow at breakfast?” She took off almost before she caught Fleur’s giggle and agreement.

Hermione didn’t run as she was a Professor now and people parted for her like the Red Sea anyway. Most people stared and a few looked like they wanted to talk to her but she was on a mission. Oz was also likely distracting a few people.

She was proud that her Gryffindor Prefects seemed to have intuited her intention and they had corralled the first years and were waiting for her. The six Prefects, three girls and three boys, stood up straighter when she approached. “Hello all.” She smiled at them and they each grinned back. The eldest witch spoke for the group.

“Hello, Professor. We’re absolutely thrilled to have you here.”

“As am I to be here.” She turned her gaze to the two youngest Prefects. “You are my fifth year Prefects, Donna Carruthers and Ely Abbot, correct?” They looked startled that she knew them by name but they both nodded. Ely in particular looked utterly awed by her. “Excellent, why don’t you take a quick look at this and then run up to the tower and start spreading the word to the older students so they can actually get into our common room.” She snapped her fingers and a slip of parchment appeared between them. She showed them the parchment for the barest hint of a second; just long enough for them to read the words upon it before it became invisible once again. They nodded seriously at her.

“Right away, Professor.” They took off and Hermione bit back a smile at how they actually almost jogged away.

Hermione looked to the next pairing. It was a little harder to tell which the younger pair was so she frankly guessed hoping that they’d lined themselves up in order. “And you would be my sixth years, Elena Edwards and Kentraneous Koil?”

They nodded and the boy blushed a little. “Excellent. Why don’t you two take a look at this as well and then take our first-years upstairs. They’re looking a little nervous.” Without even a snap the paper became visible and the two Prefects read it and then snapped to attention. “Take care when showing them the route please, it’s rather embarrassing to be stuck in a trick step on your first night in the castle.”

“Of course, Professor.” They turned and Hermione was pleased to note they spoke to the young children gently and patiently when they directed the students from the Great Hall.

Now the young Professor was only left with her seventh year Prefects, and actually Head Girl, Serena Hystenbaum and Chadwick Under. Serena was a statuesque blonde who actually stood taller than Hermione by half a foot. Her eyes were a deep, dark blue and Hermione could spot the intelligence swimming in them. If she had to guess she would peg the witch as someone who has spent her years trying to fight a blonde stereotype. Chadwick was almost identically the same height as his counterpart but his hair was as dark as hers was light. He kept his shaggy hair just falling into his eyes and Fleur had informed her that he was extremely charming and good with everyone. From his ramrod straight posture Hermione guessed he didn’t want to make a lackadaisical impression with her.

The seventh years had been the class that Hermione was the most concerned about. Some of these students might actually remember parts of the Battle. The first years, which they would have been, had been shuttled out of the castle but Hermione knew they had been living in fear and terror for that year regardless. Hermione was not that much older than they were and she didn’t know how they would feel about having her as a teacher.

She had decided to treat them as adults and just play them straight. “Serena Hystenbaum and Chadwick Under, correct? I know you guys probably just want your own beds as well, I hope you don’t mind me keeping you here for one more minute.”

“Of course not, Professor.” Serena spoke for them both again. “What can we do for you?”

“I know that you guys have had a few different Heads of House, they changed constantly and you guys have never really gotten settled or used to anyone. I’m sorry that’s been your experience, as it’s not supposed to be. But I’m going to change that, and I’d like your help with it. Obviously I’m new here, and there’s going to be an adjustment for everyone. I would really appreciate it if you guys would help out, especially for the next few weeks. Try and get involved in all the years, try and help solve any problems that creep up and definitely encourage students to come to me where you can.”

Yasmin Yarkness had admitted to Hermione over lunch earlier in the week that she knew she hadn’t been as involved with the Gryffindor’s as she could have been. Hermione hadn’t blamed the witch, as everyone had their own style and Yasmin had been thrust into a position that she never really wanted, but it was going to the first thing she rectified.

She could already see the appreciation shining in the Prefects eyes; she was unsure if it was her words or the fact that she’d treated them like adults in doing it.

“We absolutely will, Professor.” Serena assured them. “We don’t take our position as Prefects lightly, and I definitely don’t take my position as Head Girl lightly. All the students trust Chad and are comfortable with him and they’ve grown to appreciate my advice.”

“Then I am happy to have you as my Prefects, the school’s Head Girl, and as Gryffindor’s.” Hermione replied with a nod. She knew playing to their House pride would puff them up a little and it made her grin. “Good, well just have a quick look at this and then you guys can head up to the Tower.”

Chadwick finally spoke up to her. “We were actually debating what you would make the password over dinner, Professor. I think some of the students were going to try their hand at guessing until we brought them the real password.”

“Oh yeah? And what were your guesses?” She felt comfortable asking as they were pretty much the only ones left in the Great Hall.

“Something golden maybe? Something related to your heroism?” Chadwick guessed.

“I said no way.” Serena interjected. “Something relating to Gryffindor, an important trait we need to learn perhaps. Courage, or bravery.”

“And I said those could be too easily guessed.” Chadwick shook his head.

“Would you like to keep guessing or shall I show you?” Hermione chuckled. She flashed them the paper and then turned away laughing at the slack-jawed expression on their faces. “Have a good night, Prefects.” She called over her shoulder still chuckling.

The piece of parchment inscribed with the words “Fooled You” slipped to the floor, caught fire and turned to ashes.

Chapter Text

“Non-being is an essential state of non-existential matter in regards to Vanishing Spells. The core difference between a Vanishing spell and a Banishing spell consists of this state whereby a banished object is still in effect somewhere and a Vanished object has ceased to exist on the physical plain and now exists in a non-being state, which is to say everywhere. A group of witches in 1893 who called themselves PLAFS (Protecting Living Animals From Spells) protested the use of Vanishing Spells on animals during teaching and experimentation claiming that causing a living thing to exist only in non-being was, in essence, killing the animal. PLAFS went against the Transfiguration Mastery Society who claimed-”

“Ahem.”

Hermione was instantly on her feet, wand in hand performing a defensive shield around herself and her wandless hand simultaneously performing a scanning spell to alert her to her intruder’s presence. She had been sitting in her armchair by the fire in her quarters reading over the notes for her fifth year O.W.L class when the throat clearing had sent her to instant alert and preparedness. Her magic thrummed along her veins, her muscles were clenched and ready for battle, and anxiety flooded her system; the portrait that had startled her was both shocked and embarrassed.

“Woah now. Forgive me, Professor Granger.”

Hermione relaxed slightly, as much as she could with adrenalin coursing through her body, and drew her eye to the painting across from her bathroom. It was a shot of the Savannah Desert in the middle of the day. The brightness of the sky and the desert caught off the red of the surrounding rocks and made a truly eye catching picture. It was also dominated by a pride of lions; sometimes the entire pride was in the frame and sometimes it was only the male or the cubs. The lions didn’t roar audibly and Hermione had quickly been able to ignore their movement as most of the wizarding world could with portraits. Now the painting held a man as well. He was in typical safari guide attire of desert khaki’s and a hard shelled hat. The lions paid no mind to the man who had slid into their panting.

The witch took another calming breath. “What can I do for you, sir?”

He looked positively chagrinned. “I apologize again for startling you, Professor. Not my intention. Obviously. Uh, so my name is Lyzarden Scamander.”

Hermione arched her eyebrows. “Of the family, Scamander?”

The man sighed. “Newton was my older brother. I had the misfortune of attending Hogwarts during and right after his expulsion drama. Needless to say my name meant less then than it does now.”

“Understandably.” Hermione felt slightly bad for touching on an obviously sore spot. “So again, what can I do for you? And might I ask what you’re doing in my bedroom?”

“Of course.” He flushed again. “Over two decades ago my portrait here took over the position of guarding the Gryffindor common room. I just thought to introduce myself to the newest Head of our House.”

“I’m sorry, did you say you guarded the common room?” Hermione finally put up her notes and relaxed back into her chair where she could still see Scamander.

“Indeed.” He shrugged slightly. “A hundred students in one area practicing magic all at once, you couldn’t think that the professor’s wouldn’t have some sort of safety net in place?”

The witch quirked an eyebrow. “I suppose not. So what exactly is it you do?”

“Decide what crosses the line.” Scamander shrugged. “Students cheat, they fight, and they get into trouble. That’s common, and altogether expected. My job is just the safety of the students. I wouldn’t report one for cheating but, say if a student was left in a full-body bind on the floor by his classmates during a genuinely dangerous situation, well then I’d inform the Head of House of the situation.”

Hermione gasped and then flushed. “Merlin’s beard. I always wondered how Neville made it out of that body bind.” She thought on it some more and realized that she should have expected it. “Where do you watch the common room from, which portrait?”

“Would you like to see?”

Hermione froze. “Excuse me?”

“Part of my job is the ability to show the Head of House was is happening in the common room at any given time. But I don’t have to.” He shrugged like it truly didn’t matter to him.

Hermione’s first thought was instant denial. She would not spy on her Cubs. The common room was the place they felt safe and at home and she wouldn’t invade that.

But what if a student is in full body bind on the floor?

“If it helps, Professor Granger, many Heads of House have been where you are and debated the ethics of this.”

“And your advice?”

The man shrugged. “It’s not spying, it’s keeping an eye out?”

“Semantics.”

Scamander chuckled. “Say I show you the common room. It’s the last weekend before classes start and they’re having a party. What would you do?”

“Nothing.” Hermione’s answer was instantaneous. “I didn’t always participate as fully as others but parties in the common room happened. We had food from the kitchens sometimes and even things from Hogsmeade.”

“Exactly. It’s part of life here. If McGonagall ever saw one of those parties, and believe me she did, she never did anything about it. Breaking the rules in the common room is fine as long as no one is getting hurt. What if I showed you the common room and one student was there, sitting alone by the fire crying? What would you do?”

Hermione’s answer wasn’t so quick. “Right away…likely nothing.” She sighed deeply. “It could be a fight with a friend or homesickness. Anything really. Children cry. But I would keep a future eye on that student just to be on the safe side. See if there was anything I could do without seriously interfering.”

“Well there you go. Safe being the optimal word. A Head of House has never detracted points from what they’ve seen in the common room but who knows how many students they’ve subtlety been able to help.”

“Very well.” Hermione walked over to the painting and Scamander moved to the edge of the frame. “Show me the common room.” The pride of lions disappeared and Hermione was given a view of a different pride of Lions. Hermione noted instantly, from the high view and vantage point that the portrait she was looking out from was the one directly above the portrait hole entrance; if her memory served it was a rather boring picture of old Gryffindor’s toasting around a wooden table.

The view made Hermione instantly nostalgic and she grinned wildly. It was 3 in the afternoon on a Saturday so she assumed most of her Cubs were outside or elsewhere but the ones that were in the common room made her smile. A group were by the fireplace reading textbooks; they looked older and knew that any reading ahead could be advantageous. Another group of younger students were playing Exploding Snap and the two in the armchairs by the fire had commandeered a Chess set. She could just make out the bright blonde hair of Serena Hystenbaum over by the window with a very large textbook in her lap.

“Okay, Mr. Scamander.” The view faded from sight and Hermione was looking at the pride of actual lions once more. She had peeked in on the common room for less than thirty seconds.

He nodded to her. “That’s what most Heads do. Just peek in and make sure the place isn’t burning down and no one is on fire”…two Order members were stunned and immobilized and Dolohov took the time to set them fire before flinging a Cruciatus Curse over his shoulder; the wizards couldn’t move or scream as the fire burned them alive…fire ravaged a fallen section of castle wall and the screams of the dying being burnt alive and trapped underneath it pierced her ears…

Oz gave a very loud caw right in her ear when he landed on her shoulder and Hermione jerked herself back to attention. “Yes, I apologise, Mr. Scamander. So you have the power to show me this at any time?”

“That’s right. Whenever you ask. Or if I see something that’s dire for a student I can come alert you wherever you are. If you’re somewhere without a portrait and its truly dire I can contact your house-elf or the Headmistress.”

“Alright. Thank you, Mr. Scamander.”

He scoffed. “Alright, enough of that. Mr. Scamander was my father until my brother brought our family name to fame. Lyzarden is fine.” He fidgeted a little. “And um, I’m sorry for scaring you earlier. I’m not sure how you want me to get your attention…”

“A throat clear is fine now that I know you exist.” Hermione assured the man.

“Good. As you were then.” With a tip of his hat he slid from the painting and Hermione was left with the pride of actual lions.

“Seems my Cubs are enjoying themselves, Oz.” Hermione stroked him as she made her way back to her armchair and her notes. “Hopefully they don’t find the amount of coursework too disheartening.” She picked up her quill and made a note on the bottom of her lesson plan: Assign an essay requiring 2 feet of parchment discussing the ethics concerning Vanishing spells and live animals.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

Oz was leaning almost all of his weight against the side and top of her head and his witch assumed he was still mostly asleep. She had offered to leave him sleeping in her room but he hadn’t left her side nearly as much as he felt comfortable doing back home in Brazil. Hermione was touched by his dedication to protect her and had accordingly gone for a long walk outside last night so that he could really take off and stretch his wings.

Hermione knew she had to be one of the first in the Great Hall for breakfast because she had to deliver all of her Gryffindor’s class schedules by hand. She had run into Kentraneous Koil in the hallway last night on her way in from her walk and had asked her Prefect a favour.

“Ah, Mr. Koil.” Hermione smiled at him and the two other wizards at his sides. She noted their Quidditch robes instantly. “Would you be some of Gryffindor Team then?”

“Yes, Professor. I’m a Beater along with Shamus here, and Corey is our Keeper.”

“I haven’t had a chance as of yet to check in with the stats, tell me boys, how is our team looking this year?”

“We made it into the finals last year, but lost to Ravenclaw. We have essentially the same team as we did then. The two years before we actually won the cup but last year we had lost two of our star Chasers.”

“Are you a big Quidditch fan, Professor?” Shamus, Allcott if she wasn’t mistaken, asked her a little shyly.

“I will admit that I am not the largest fan ever, and you will likely never see me play a match myself, but I can assure you I will be at every match and cheering as loud as anyone for my House.”

The boys all smiled at her. “Was there something you needed, Professor?”

“Something simple, if you wouldn’t mind. I’m learning everyone’s names as quickly as I can but if you could also just spread the word that no one should leave breakfast tomorrow without having seen me for their schedule?”

“Of course.”

Even Shamus and Corey, who were not Prefects, nodded. “We’ll help spread the word, Professor.”

“Thank you boys. Practice just finish?”

“Mhmm. We stayed out for a bit longer just goofin…um.” Shamus flushed and Hermione smirked.

“Just having fun?” They nodded in unison.

Hermione noticed that Corey shifted several times before gathering the courage to say something. “Professor Granger? Why do you always have that bird with you?”

Oz cawed loudly at the question and all three boys jumped. “This is Oz, and he’s a dear friend of mine.” She stroked him once and then faced the boys. “Have a good night, gentlemen.” She gave a final nod and left them in the entrance hall.

Hermione knew she had been lucky in all of her interactions with students thus far but was also aware that she had only spoken to Gryffindor’s and they were the most likely to accept and respect her.

When she entered the Great Hall she noticed only a few students were already up at this early hour and only the other Heads of House, Slughorn, Flitwick and Grubbly-Plank, as well as the Carrow siblings, were already awake.

Hermione had a satchel slung over one shoulder which held all of her student’s timetables. She made a stop at the Gryffindor table to speak to the only of her students already awake. “Ms. Hystenbaum.” The blonde sputtered a little into her goblet of pumpkin juice and tried to close the large book she was reading but Hermione had already seen the title. “Doing a little bit of research?” Hermione forced her voice light as she reached out and reopened the book Golden Warfare: A Telling of the Second Wizarding War to the page Serena had been at. She looked down at the top of the page: Some events of the Second Wizarding War remain unknown to the public at large. What is confirmed is that the Golden Trio of leader Harry Potter, brains Hermione Granger and strategist Ronald Weasley, embarked on a yearlong journey to locate and destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes. The three seventeen year old students are credited with singlehandedly destroying Voldemort’s immortality and were instrumental in the final Battle of Hogwarts. It remains unclear if the Golden Trio will ever disclose what perils befell them on their quest.

Hermione could see that Serena was shifting in her seat a little; probably nervous of her Professor’s reaction to getting caught researching her. The elder witch snorted. “What they don’t tell you about that year long quest is that most of it was spent stuck in a tent with those boys and everyone bickering.”

Serena’s eyebrows nearly disappeared into her hairline; Hermione Granger infamously did not talk about the war. “Really, Professor?”

“Mhmm. Lots of wars and battles are mostly boredom interspersed with moments of insanity. Hopefully you will never have to find that out.” Hermione reached out and closed the book once more. “Would you like my opinion?”

“Of course, Professor!”

“You don’t need to read about what that war was like. Or the guesswork involved about what people think happened during that war. There’s an actual good book written by a witch named Cho Chang. It’s called Survival Magic, have you heard of it?” Serena shook her head. “It hasn’t gotten as popular as it should, but I’m working on it. Anyway, she focuses less on the drama and more on the magic. She has chapters detailing dueling and defence, spells concerning attacks by magical creatures, as well as spells regarding food and water, even map and locater spells.” Hermione slipped her hand into her bag and flicked her fingers; Serena’s timetable slid from the stack and Hermione glanced down at it. “N.E.W.T level Potions, Transfiguration, Herbology, Charms and Defence against the Dark Arts, as well as Arithmancy and Care of Magical Creatures.” Hermione nodded like she’d confirmed something. “The book also contains a very large section on Healing magic. Spells specific to the battlefield or emergency situations and how they differ from some magic which can only be performed with time and Healers at St. Mungos.”

Serena looked shocked as she accepted her timetable. “How did you know I wanted to be a Healer?”

“It’s a specific timetable and I may have peaked at it last night.” Hermione smiled. “One of the stories in the book is how I handled it when Mr. Weasley splinched himself during the war.”

Serena gasped. “He didn’t.”

“Oh yes he did. He doesn’t like to tell that story but Cho got it out of him eventually.” Hermione chuckled.

“I’ll get the book the first trip into Hogsmeade.” Serena promised.

“Well that’s ages away. You can borrow my copy.” Hermione told her easily. Serena looked at her with awe filled eyes and Hermione wondered just how long the blonde had been fighting to prove she was smart enough to be a Healer. “Enjoy your day, Ms. Hystenbaum, and I’ll see you tomorrow in my N.E.W.T class.”

“Yes you will. And thank you again, Professor.”

Hermione finally made her way to the teachers table and by now Neville was drinking a cup of tea with his eyes closed. “What on earth are you doing up this early, Neville?”

He spoke without opening his eyes. “My Devil’s Snare is in a very delicate infancy stage right now and I had to get up early and tend to it. Couldn’t get back to sleep.” Hermione stole a piece of toast right from his plate and chuckled at him.

“You’ll be sorry tomorrow likely.” She eyed the wizard, her good friend, seriously for a moment. “Hey Neville?” He heard the difference in her tone and actually opened his eyes to look at her. “Did I ever apologize for hexing you?”

Neville looked absolutely confused. “When did you hex me?”

“First year, in the common room. Right before I went and battled against a Devil’s Snare, ironically.”

“Hermione. That was like fifteen years ago and you were one of my best friends then and you’re one of my best friends now. What you were doing was important.”

“I know, I just…I was reminded of it and even though it was important and I would probably do the same thing again, I just wanted to make sure you knew I was sorry about it.”

Neville’s eyes were filled with warmth and affection and a little bit of amusement. “Apology accepted Hermione. I would have joked that I could give you a better run for your money now, but after seeing you duel Carrow I think I’ll just keep my head safely in the greenhouses.”

Hermione snorted. “Safe with your Devil’s Snare, not so sure about that.”

They enjoyed their early breakfast and welcomed Fleur when she joined them, looking impeccable of course, just under an hour later. Hermione constantly got up to the Gryffindor table to hand out timetables. She made a point of speaking with each student, asking them something about their classes or their interests. She wanted it to be very clear to them that she actually cared.

When she saw a group of still slightly timid first-years make their way to the table for breakfast Hermione got up with a smile. She noticed their eyes flickering between her and Oz and she made her way closer. “Hello everyone.”

“Good morning, Professor.”

“Are we all ready for our classes tomorrow?” There were several nods and a few murmurs of assent. “Very good.” Hermione snapped her fingers and their timetables appeared in her hands; several of the children gasped at the display of magic.

“Professor?”

Hermione turned to look at the student who had spoken; it was Jordan Appleby, the muggle-born and the first Gryffindor she’d watched be Sorted. He had dirty blonde hair that was longer on the top and shaved along the sides with bright blue eyes slightly hidden behind black framed glasses. “Yes, Mr. Appleby?”

“How did you do that without a wand? I thought…I thought you needed a wand do to magic?” His voice was slightly shaky but genuinely curious.

“That is an excellent question, Mr. Appleby. The short answer is, you do need a wand to do magic, at first. If you study very, very hard and practice a lot it becomes possible to do wandless magic.” She smiled at him. “But you all as first years won’t have to worry about that for a while yet.” She finished handing out timetables and the rest of the group went to sit but Jordan hesitated. “Something else, Mr. Appleby?”

“Well. Some of the others, around the common room. The older kids. They, they said some stuff.”

Hermione was patient. “What did they say?”

“They said you fought in a war. That you were a hero.”

Hearing those words out of a child’s mouth made Hermione momentarily freeze. She swallowed thickly. “Well, I don’t know if I’m a hero, Mr. Appleby, but it is true that I fought in a war alongside many other people who did as well.”

Jordan fidgeted. “I don’t know anything about that.” He whispered like he was confiding in her a dirty secret; the witch crouched down to be more at his level.

“You’re muggle-born, Mr. Appleby?” The little blonde boy nodded. “Well then you’re not expected to know about the wizarding history. If you’d like to learn you can study and pay attention, but no one is expecting you to know things that other students grew up with. But I guarantee you, Mr. Appleby, when it comes to classes you won’t be any farther behind than the others. Good?”

“Yes, Professor.”

“Good.” Hermione handed him his timetable and went to turn away but paused at the last second. “When you heard them talking in the common room, did you hear what they call me, Mr. Appleby?”

“The Brains of the Golden Trio? The smartest witch ever?”

What happened to “of her age”?

Only great restraint stopped her from rolling her eyes. “That’s right. And don’t let the others forget to mention, and don’t you ever forget, that I’m muggle-born too.” She winked and let the boy skip off to join his friends for breakfast.

Hermione had learned to wear her heritage with pride; she would never let them forget that she accomplished everything she had as a muggle-born.

It took everything she had not to rub her fingers along her left inner forearm.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

“I don’t know when I angered Minerva but somehow my schedule reads that on Monday’s I have double class with the fifth year Gryffindor’s and Slytherin’s and then right after double class with the fourth year Gryffindor’s and Slytherin’s.” Neville moaned in the teacher’s lounge. “I’ll have a migraine for sure.”

“Is it still that bad?” Hermione wanted to know.

Neville shrugged. “It’s nowhere as bad as when we were in school. But it’s still not great. I find the middle years are the worst. The older kids have stopped caring about petty rivalries so much and the younger kids are easier to control. The middle years have been in the wizarding world long enough to hear stories of the brutal rivalry and try to emulate it.” He noticed Hermione’s perturbed expression and tried to backtrack. “Honestly it’s gotten loads better than it was. Mostly now it’s about Quidditch and the House Cup, as opposed to pure-blood supremacy.” She still hadn’t said anything and Neville turned desperately to Fleur.

Ma chère, ‘ow ‘as your schedule turned out?”

“Oh.” Hermione perked awake a little at Fleur’s melodious voice and pulled herself from her spiraling thoughts. “It’s fine. The only thing I truly wanted, which I got, was my very first classes tomorrow morning to be all the first years, back to back. Gryffindor’s with the Hufflepuff’s and then the Ravenclaw’s and Slytherin’s.”

“Why did you want that?” Fleur furrowed her eyebrows but Neville smiled.

“There’s a tradition from her mentor she’d like to carry on.”

Hermione smiled but didn’t comment; Oz cawed lightly and she turned to see who was approaching her. Erika Carrow stepped up to their group and nodded her politely. “Professors.”

“Hermione, please.” Hermione offered; Erika didn’t extend the same curtesy back.

“I was hoping I might borrow one minute of your time, if it please you.” Erika spoke with hardly any inflection in her voice. She looked as she always did, extremely well clothed and her black curls down and glossy.

“Of course. What can I do for you?”

“I’m unaware if anyone has mentioned this to you previously but last year I was granted permission to start our schools Dueling Club. We have a beginner class for the third, fourth and fifth years and an advanced class for the sixth and seventh years. Anyone can join and participate in the beginner class but the advanced class is by acceptance only.”

“That’s wonderful.” Hermione agreed when Erika paused. “I’m sure once the club gets better established participation in such a club would look favourably alongside a student’s O.W.L’s and N.E.W.T’s.”

Grey eyes lightened marginally. “That was my hope as well. The Club is overseen by Professor Flitwick and myself and we handle all of the administrative work involved. I was wondering however,” Erika hesitated slightly as if she didn’t know how to word what she wished to say, “after seeing you duel I thought it would be remiss if I didn’t ask if you would be willing to teach the students alongside me. I feel you could offer a different perspective and they could learn some things from you.” It sounded like the compliment was a little hard to get out.

“Oh.”

Erika’s eyes instantly hardened. “That’s quite alright, I just thought I should ask. If you’ll excuse me.” She was already leaving.

“Wait, Carrow, Erika, wait.” Hermione watched the taller witch’s spine grow a little rigid and Hermione was unsure which name she had taken offence to. “I was just about to say that I don’t want to make any kind of commitment to you because I wouldn’t want to break it. This is my first year teaching and I don’t yet know what kind of workload I would be juggling. However, I would on occasion when I have time, love to help teach with you.”

Erika turned back and Hermione, for once, could read her surprise easily. “You would?”

“Yes. I think a proper Dueling Club is an excellent idea for the school.”

“Okay.” Even when flustered she couldn’t seem to drop her high society upbringing. “Very well then. We meet on Thursday evenings, 6 o’clock for the beginner level and 8 o’clock for the advanced.”

“Alright. Put me down as a maybe then, and I’ll let you know before Thursday.”

“Very good. Good night, Professor Granger.” She tilted her head slightly back at the others. “Professors.” She walked quickly, about as quickly as one could without jogging, out of the room before they could say another word.

“You know,” Hermione lowered her voice because there were other teachers in the staffroom, “I think out of everyone expecting me to have a problem with them, the Carrow’s themselves were at the top of the list.”

“Why do you say that?” Fleur didn’t sound incredulous, just curious.

“Granted I’ve spoken to her a few more times than him but every time I have that’s just the vibe I was given. She seems more surprised when I’m nice than when I’m not.”

Neville shrugged. “Maybe they did think you would have a problem with them and were preparing for it.”

“Possibly. But if they’ve done nothing except carry the Carrow name I have no problem with them.” Hermione tried to explain.

“But you’re a better person than most.” Fleur reminded her gently. “Maybe they were raised to ‘ate first, so that’s what they expected from you. They might have no experience with people who treat someone nicely first until proven otherwise. Everyone expects the worst from them so they expect everyone to treat them that way.”

“Maybe you’re right.” Hermione conceded. “I’m really going to try to join her at the Dueling Club on Thursday.”

Neville cleared his throat somewhat awkwardly. “Speaking of, seriously where did you learn to duel like that Hermione? That was incredible. And I saw Carrow duel for the club last year and she’s really good.”

“She was good.” Hermione agreed. “My style is somewhat of a compilation of styles from around the world. A lot of it has less to do with dueling exactly and more to do with my spellcasting in general. But the basis of what my style has become is based on the way the poor duel.”

“The poor?”

“Yes. I mean, you saw where I live. I’ve been in poorer places than that. You have to understand that they have no formal education, no magical training and most of the time, no wands. Magic to them is just a fact that, usually, means hardly anything. Until you start to pay attention. I found witches and wizards better at wandless magic than some Professor’s at this school right now because they never had a wand. Never grew up with one and never developed it as a crutch. I’ve seen wizards duel without wands at all and a lot of it devolves into muggle fist fighting but the winner is usually the one who can cause a spell or even a burst of magic at their opponent. I developed that theory and added in my own spellcasting. Using both simultaneously just took time and practice like anything else.”

“Wow. Well I can’t imagine you’ll ever lose another duel or a fight. When was the last time you got beaten in a-” His sentence was cut off by a groan in pain from where Fleur had stomped on his foot. Hermione was grateful on some level but the damage had already been done; now she couldn’t help but remember the last time she’d lost a fight.

**

Fleur was on her feet instantly; she knew that faraway look in Hermione’s eyes and she hated it. It made her feel both immensely saddened and angry. “’ermione?” She gently, as lightly and cautiously as one could touch a person, rested her hands on Hermione’s shoulders. “’ermione.” She rubbed her thumbs in soothing circles and tried to bring her friend from the horror’s her mind was conjuring. This was one of the worst instances she’d seen of Hermione lost in the past. She belatedly noticed that Oz was gently preening his witch’s hair. “Oz.” She practically pleaded. He sharply, but not too seriously, pecked his witch in the top of her head.

Fleur felt when Hermione jumped and she made sure her hands were still light and barely applying any pressure; she knew better than to make Hermione feel restrained. Fleur met brown eyes and she could read the lingering fear as well as the embarrassment in them. Hermione blinked several times and the French witch knew she was trying to focus on her.

That’s right ma chère, just focus on me. Just me, I’m ‘ere.

Fleur knew that the very last thing her friend would want would be a scene. “I can’t say I’ve ever seen a muggle-fist fight but I imagine it would be quite the spectacle.” Fleur spoke as if nothing was wrong; she ceased her fingers from calming and rubbing circles and started fixing and smoothing her robes instead. “Do people watch like the wizarding world does duels?”

Brown eyes now positively swam with appreciation and affection. Hermione cleared her throat and spoke impressively normally. “Yes and no. There are many different styles of muggle fighting that are sports and do have spectators. But they are also more prone to fighting in the street or all the time than we are.”

“Is it not illegal?” Fleur asked but her eyes ever so carefully scanned the rest of the staffroom; seemingly none of the other Professor’s had noticed Hermione’s small moment.

“It is, but on a smaller scale than ours. They throw two punches and probably nothing happens to them. But here casting one curse is the same as casting many. Speaking of dueling though Neville, weren’t you considering auror training with Harry and Ron?”

Neville scrambled to answer and Fleur inwardly marveled, as she found herself doing often, at her friend’s brilliance. Neville was getting uncomfortable and while the others in the room hadn’t noticed anything amiss he certainly realized what he’d unwittingly caused. Getting him back in the conversation was putting both him and Hermione herself at ease. Fleur knew that what she wanted more than anything was normalcy.

“Yes, I did consider it, but only because I felt like it might be my duty. Luna convinced me that I should do what I love to do, and that’s Herbology.”

“I think she was right.” Fleur gave Neville a warm smile to somewhat apologize, though she didn’t feel even remotely guilty, about stomping on his foot.

“Me too.” Hermione smiled faintly. “Speaking of Herbology though, if you wish to survive those classes in the morning you should probably get some sleep. I think I’m going to retire and read my lesson plans for tomorrow morning once more as well.”

Neville took the out gracefully but he did hug Hermione exceptionally tightly before he left. When Fleur walked out with Hermione she wanted to link arms with her as had become their custom but with the students now here she didn’t want to make Hermione at all uncomfortable. “Thank you for that, back there.” Hermione almost whispered.

Fleur was shocked she would mention it because normally she wouldn’t. Even Oz looked at his witch sharply. “Of course.”

“I don’t know why that got to me so bad.” Hermione was walking towards her own quarters and Fleur followed beside her, almost pressed into her arm, even though her own quarters were several floors above them and in the other direction. “I’ve dueled plenty since then. In training and here. Even the Battle here. But you know what the Battle was like. Spells everywhere. Coming from all directions. It wasn’t a duel it was a melee.” She cleared her throat thickly. “The last duel I lost…the last time I was one on one against an opponent in a real fight…one where I was scared for my life…it would have been her.”

Fleur’s heart broke, and her blood was boiling, but she kept both of those emotions far from her face; Hermione would not appreciate her pity or her anger. The French witch knew she was one of the very, very, few people who got to see Hermione vulnerable and she was not about to break that trust.

She knew the feeling originated from Hermione feeling like she owed Fleur when that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Fleur had taken care of Hermione during, and after, the war because she was able, and there, and she wanted to, and it was the right thing to do. Now she cared for Hermione because she was her dearest friend.

Fleur sighed. “I ‘aven’t dueled for real in a long time.” By now they had reached Hermione’s office and the younger witch took her hand and drew her into her quarters without hesitation. “But, once…Bill and I were arguing…” Hermione’s head snapped up and she wasn’t as good as Fleur at keeping the anger from her face. Perhaps it was because Hermione’s demon was gone but Fleur’s opponent remained. Hermione cautiously sat beside Fleur on her low couch and took her hand again. “’e got so angry.” Fleur hadn’t spoken about this with anyone because everyone in her life was seemingly related to or connected to the Weasley’s; but not only would Hermione accept her pain it would actually also make Hermione feel better because she would know she was truly helping as well. And Fleur was willing to put herself in pain to help Hermione. “’e ‘ad been yelling all the time but this one time, it was worse. ‘e wasn’t even drunk so I couldn’t blame it on the whiskey.” Fleur’s voice was quiet but deafening in the silent quarters; even Oz wasn’t shifting on his perch. “’e was yelling and gesturing madly with ‘is ‘ands…and ‘e wasn’t chasing me exactly…but I tried to leave the room and leave ze ‘ouse several times and ‘e followed me. Like ‘e wasn’t done wiz me yet. I turned my back on ‘im and ‘e grabbed me by the shoulder and spun me around. My wand was in my ‘and instantly and ‘e…barely even noticed. ‘e back’anded my wand ‘and. Like a slap. ‘e slapped my ‘and and my wand went sailing across ze room. I flinched back and…I completely froze.” Fleur remembered the horrifying stillness that had frozen her body when she realized she now had no defence. “I’m a witch and ‘e batted my wand away wiz nozing more zan ‘is ‘and. I was scared to look at ‘is face at zat moment and I’d never felt so…”

“Helpless.” Hermione whispered and the French witch nodded.

Oui. ‘elpless.”

“Fleur.” Hermione’s voice was so soft and she took one hand and delicately, so slowly that Fleur could have moved away from the contact if she’d chosen to, tucked Fleur’s silver hair behind her ear. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.” Her voice held zero pity, only genuine sorrow and a touch of anger. “Fleur what you went through…” She paused to seemingly gather her thoughts and Fleur appreciated that she wasn’t just speaking instant platitudes. “When I faced…Lestrange…I knew she was a Death Eater. I knew she was evil. It was horrible but I wasn’t surprised. You…you loved Bill and he was supposed to love you back unconditionally and he broke that promise. You swore to trust each other and he broke that trust. What happened to me was terrible but…feeling helpless because of someone you loved, Fleur that is heartbreaking. And I’m so sorry.”

Fleur knew her eyes were welling with tears but she faced Hermione and met her eyes anyway. “It’s alright. It was what finally made me leave. There is no coming back from feeling scared of your spouse like zat.”

“There isn’t. And Merlin Fleur, I am so proud that you finally left. I can’t imagine how hard that was, but I’m so proud.” Hermione’s voice took on an edge. “I never thought I could hate a Weasley but I find that I do.”

Fleur now took one of Hermione’s hands. “Don’t fill your ‘eart with ‘ate, ma chère. Fill it with ‘ope instead. Determination. We survived, you and I. And we will not be ‘elpless ever again.”

“Never again.” Hermione’s smile was watery and Fleur knew this was her moment to bring a little bit of levity to the conversation.

“Unless of course our classes eat us alive in the morning.”

Hermione barked out a laugh. “Very true. Unless that. May Merlin have mercy on us should that be the case.”

Fleur felt warmth inside at seeing the spark return to brown eyes. She would always do anything to see the spark in those eyes.

Chapter Text

Jordan Appleby was happy that he and Ella had managed to convince their little group to leave the common room so early because they had gotten lost just as he feared and he desperately didn’t want to be late to his first ever class; especially because that class was Transfiguration and he really didn’t want to be late for Professor Granger.

Professor Granger had been the buzz in the common room, and in the courtyard, and basically everywhere else he and his friends had explored in the castle. He felt woefully behind when they talked of wars and history but Kian, the pure-blood who had jovially said he was going to “adopt” the muggle-borns and teach them everything they needed to know, was trying to catch them up.

Everyone talked of the great Second Wizarding War and how good had triumphed over evil with the help of Professor Granger. And Professor Granger had made a point of telling me that she was muggle-born! Regan and Ella, the other muggle-borns Kian had adopted, had been just as thrilled as him when he told them.

When the four of them finally made it to their classroom, because how were they supposed to know cutting through the courtyard led them to a section of hallway with a staircase that didn’t at all connect to where they needed it to, Jordan was disappointed to see that all the front row desks were taken and they had to sit one row back. Jordan and Ella shared one desk while Kian and Regan took the one right beside them.

Jordan pulled some parchment and a quill as well as his Transfiguration textbook out of his bag and put them on the desk. Jordan and Ella had practiced writing with quills yesterday while Kian taught Regan some game with a deck of cards that exploded in his face once or twice.

Once he was settled he glanced at the clock on the wall and noted they had only made it with a few minutes to spare; he did not want to see the reaction on Professor Grangers face if they were late for their first class. He craned his neck around to examine the classroom itself. One wall was mostly high windows and the view was out into the lawns towards what he thought was the greenhouses. All of the shelves were filled with books and knickknacks as well as quite a few cages though they were all empty.

Most of the desks were full by now and Jordan noted the students who were wearing yellow and grey ties as opposed to his own scarlet and gold. He caught the eye of a few Hufflepuff students, who were looking around just like him, and he gave a shy smile.

“Look at that.”

Jordan heard the whisper from the front row and turned to see what they were looking at; he wasn’t the only person who gasped. Sitting right in the middle of Professor Granger’s desk was a fox. It was no surprise they missed it because it was sitting utterly and completely still without moving a muscle at all. Jordan might actually suspect it to be stuffed or a statue if it wasn’t for the fact that the fox’s eyes were moving side to side and scanning the classroom. It wasn’t red like the foxes Jordan had seen last year when his parents took him to the zoo; this fox was infinitely more beautiful. Most of the fox’s body was a marbled black, grey and white mix. Its face, ears, and chest had a bright red colour swirling through it and its paws and the end of its tail were pure white. It was sitting back, with its front paws perfectly straight but Jordan could tell it was larger than a housecat.

He, like the rest of the classroom now, watched the fox wearily but it did nothing. Finally the whispers started again.

“She must really like animals.”

“Not sure why we’re surprised, every time I’ve seen her she’s had that mean looking bird on her shoulder.”

“Where is she anyway?”

“I can’t believe our own Professor is going to be late?”

“I wonder if we can transfigure like, a piece of pie into a whole pie and just keep eating it?”

“How much transfiguration did she use in the war do you think?”

“Forget pie, I wonder if I can transfigure my blank homework into completed homework?”

Jordan ignored the chatter and glanced at the clock again; one minute to go. He was really looking forward to this class. He had actually taken his Transfiguration book to bed with him last night so he could read the first chapter. He didn’t want to be behind any more than he already felt all the time. The only thing that had made him feel better was that when he asked Kian if he knew anything about transfiguration the boy had blinked at him blankly. “I may have grown up with a magical family but that dinnit mean my mam was teaching me complicated transfiguration at my bedside, aye?” He knew that Ella had shared his relief at Kian’s statement.

Jordan fixed his book and his parchment once more and glanced at the clock; class should be starting right now. Movement caught his attention, and everyone else’s, and the chatter ceased instantly. They watched the fox get to its feet; standing now he thought the top of the fox’s head would come up passed his knee. The fox took one step towards the edge of the desk, they watched the muscles in its back legs coil and spring, and then the fox sailed into the air. Every jaw in the classroom dropped in unison as the fox shifted and melded into another form right before his eyes; Professor Granger landed lightly on her feet and smoothly continued the stride she’d taken as a fox on the desk to bring her right to the front of the classroom. “Good morning class.”

A few weak “good mornings” were mumbled back to her but most were still too stunned. What did I just see? Professor Granger was smirking lightly at them as if she’d expected nothing else; Jordan wasn’t exactly sure who started it but a light applause broke out and the Professor nodded her head lightly at the praise. “Now, who can tell me what you just witnessed?” Only one hand rose confidently and Professor Granger nodded to the Gryffindor student. “Yes, Miss Asselstine?”

“You’re an animagus!” The girl almost gushed. Jordan hadn’t really spoken to her before because she’d been sitting with her older sister at meal times. Jordan glanced at Ella and she shook her head slightly; he hoped they weren’t the only two who had no idea what that word meant.

“I am indeed. And can you tell me what an animagus is?”

“Well. It’s advanced transfiguration because any human transfiguration is advanced but animagi are even more than that. It’s the learned ability to turn into an animal at will. Not any animal. I mean like, every witch or wizard has an animal already and you don’t get to choose what it is. But once you go through the entire process you can turn into your animal at will.”

“Excellent. Take ten points for Gryffindor. Now,” Professor Granger waved her hand and one of the chalkboards moved across the floor in better position for the class to read it, “to answer a few of your questions, no, you cannot transfigure one piece of food into more food, nor can you transfigure blank homework into completed homework. Over the course of this year you’ll learn why you cannot. So, to begin, when performing any magic, any spell, there are three factors that must be present for the spell to work. Can you tell me what they are?”

Jordan actually knew some of this from what he’d read over the summer and he tried not to look too eager as his hand shot into the air.

“Your name, Mr…” Professor Granger arched an eyebrow at a Hufflepuff boy sitting in the front row.

“Eakins, Professor.”

“Mr. Eakins, one of the elements that must be present?”

“The wand movement.”

“Indeed, you may have five points for Hufflepuff. Another element?”

Jordan put up his hand again and grinned shyly when the Professor noticed him. “Mr. Appleby?”

“The incantation.”

“Right again, you may have five points for Gryffindor as well. Does anyone know the last one?” Everyone glanced around the room but no hand went up. “It’s the intention behind the spell. Say you’re trying to transfigure a match into a needle. You may have the perfect wand movement and the perfect incantation but if you don’t actually have any intention for the spell to work, then it won’t. Now, this element usually is overlooked, especially in beginner magic because let’s face it, when I give you all a match to turn into a needle you’re all going to be trying so hard to make it work the intention will undoubtedly be there. So,” now a piece of chalk levitated in the air and started to write, “everyone kindly take notes and we’ll begin with the fundamentals of Transfiguration.”

Jordan struggled to keep up with the note taking mostly because writing with a quill was way more difficult than writing with a ball-point pen. Professor Granger did take breaks after every point or explanation to ask questions and make sure everyone was following her. Jordan was very glad he had read the first chapter of the textbook last night otherwise some of the words alone might have confused him.

Professor Granger had just finished explaining to them the Transfiguration Formula which she said was the building block for every single spell they would learn from her. “So, does everyone have that? The five elements of the formula are bodyweight, viciousness, wand power, concentration, and fluidity. The elements of the formula always stay the same but different spells require different elements at different levels. Again for this example, when I hand you a match to turn into a needle, which elements do you think are going to be on the lower end of the formula and tell me why you think that?” Jordan really tried to think about it but was a little distracted when Ella put her hand up right away.

“Miss Walsh?”

“Uh, I think fluidity? A match and a needle are pretty similar so it shouldn’t be too hard for one to change into the other.”

“Exactly right, take five points Miss Walsh.” Jordan turned and beamed at Ella but then he missed his chance to answer the question because Professor Granger had already asked a Hufflepuff girl.

“I think bodyweight, Professor. They’re both very small and light.”

“They are indeed, you may have your five points. Anyone else?”

Jordan finally got his hand up and Professor Granger had called on him almost before he’d gotten his thought together. “Um. I think, viciousness would be low as well? I mean to me that sounds like something moving around or struggling would make it harder and, well a match and a needle are just sitting there.” Jordan flushed thinking his answer might have sounded stupid but the Professor nodded to agree and gave him five more points for his House. That was ten points he’d earned for his House by himself today!

“So, if all three of those elements are low the formula looks like this.” She waved a hand and a W, a C, a B, an F, and a V appeared on the board and Jordan quickly wrote it down. “This is a very simple spell so the formula is correspondingly very simple. Funny, you’d almost think it would be the first spell I’d teach you.”

Jordan and few other students chuckled and the rest were looking at the formula like it was a foreign language; which Jordan supposed that it was. “Now for the spell itself.” Professor Granger flicked a hand and her wand, which Jordan only realized now had been absent for the entire class, slid down into her hand. “The wand movement itself, wands down please and just watch first, is a full circle with your wand drawn clockwise,” she slowly made the movement, “and then a flick downwards.” She did it in slow motion several times. “Okay, wands in your hand and let’s try the motion.”

Jordan almost couldn’t contain the excitement building in his stomach. He’d held his wand plenty since he bought it of course; but this would be his first time holding it and doing actual magic. He knew every detail about his wand. It was made of Chestnut wood, 10” long, had unyielding flexibility and it contained a phoenix feather core. Jordan had asked Kian what all of that had meant exactly and he said he didn’t know but that he was sure Jordan could find a book about wands if he really wanted to.

Jordan felt powerful finally holding his wand and about to do something; even though he really couldn’t do anything yet and they were just waving their wands about. They practiced the motion several times and Jordan found it was harder than it looked.

“That was counter-clockwise Mr. Gibbons. I’m seeing a lot of ovals when the wandwork calls for a circle. Try and picture the circle first and follow the outline to keep you on track. That flick was a little exaggerated, Miss. Elliot. Okay, not bad everyone. Now for the incantation.” With another flick of her fingers the spell appeared on the board and Jordan set his wand down to write it. “The spell is Par Acus. The emphasis is on the long “a” sound in the second word, and make sure there is a clear divide between the words and they don’t bleed together. Its Par Acus not Paracus. Out loud now, no wands please.” Jordan couldn’t help but look at Ella as they repeated the words back and forth to each other a few times. “Good. Alright, I suppose all that’s left to do is for you to try it for yourself.” Professor Granger snapped her fingers and a large box of matches appeared in her hand. She walked through the aisles and handed each student out a match as they put everything away off their desks except their wands. “Okay, remember everything you’ve learned today and we’ll see who can accomplish this spell in the last 25 minutes of class. Every student that can will earn 15 points for their house. Off you go."

Jordan flashed a grin at Ella and then turned determinedly to his match. I can do this. He griped his wand tightly. Wandwork, incantation, intention. Wand power, concentration, and then bodyweight, fluidity and viciousness. Perfect circle with a downward flick. Par Acus with a space and a long “a”.

Jordan moved his wand and said the spell and looked down in triumph at his match.

It was entirely still a match.

He glanced at Ella and then around the room quickly; no one was cheering so he assumed none of them had managed it yet either. He looked back down at the match. Okay, wand power and concentration. Jordan stared his match down for a second before trying the spell again.

Nothing happened.

He tried five more times with increasing levels of frustration and then panic. I can’t do this. What if I’m not magical at all? What if I can’t do magic and this is all just some giant mistake?

“Don’t be so hard on yourselves everyone.” Professor Granger called from where she was walking among the rows of desks helping people as they needed it. “I remember my very first Transfiguration lesson ever. Headmistress McGonagall was my teacher and at the end of the lesson only one student in the entire class had actually managed to turn their match to a needle. So don’t get discouraged. This is your very first spell.”

“Professor?” Kian called.

“Yes Mr. Brady?”

“The one student that could do it, was it you?”

Professor Granger smirked at him but ignored the question. Kian met his eyes and they both nodded in agreement; it had totally been her. They went back to trying but Jordan was getting distracted by a few Gryffindor’s whispering to their Hufflepuff neighbours at the back of the class. He kept his head down, because there was no way he was going to say something to them, but five seconds later a loud caw made him jump so badly he banged his knee on the bottom of the desk; he wasn’t the only student to jump.

Professor Granger’s bird had flown in through the open window and soared directly over the heads of the students in the back of the room who had been whispering rather loudly; they had all ducked like they were being dive-bombed. The bird landed on a ledge that ran along the back wall. Everyone faced forward again to find Professor Granger with her eyebrow arched. “I think he was telling you to be quiet and not talk during my lesson and while other students are trying to practice.” She paused. “Oz.” The bird took off again and with one great flap he coasted before landing on her shoulder where they’d usually seen him sitting. “That will be your one warning not to goof off in my class.” She didn’t even come close to yelling, her voice was actually rather soft, but everyone nodded instantly.

When there was only a few minutes to go Professor Granger called a stop to their attempts and no one had managed to complete the spell. She snapped her fingers and all of the matches disappeared. She told them again not to be discouraged. “Your homework for me for next class is a half scroll of parchment including a summary on the fundamentals of Transfiguration, the Transfiguration formula and the spell you learned today as well as what you could do better next time for the spell to work. I want the reports to be concise, clear, as well as having good articulation and flow. Any questions?” There were none. “Have a good afternoon then, class.”

There were various murmurs of “thanks Professor” and “good afternoon’s” as students gathered their things and shuffled from the room. Jordan and Ella were walking behind Kian and Regan when Jordan happened to glance over and catch the Professor’s eye.

“That match won’t beat me next class, Professor.”

Professor Granger smiled at him and he even caught a twinkle in her eye. “I suspect not, Mr. Appleby.” When he glanced back leaving the classroom she was stroking her bird and still smiling.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

Serena Hystenbaum was so early for her N.E.W.T Transfiguration class that the door was still shut and locked. It wasn’t a busy hallway on the third floor so she slid down against the wall and sat on the floor. She pulled her advanced Transfiguration book from her bag and flipped it open to the last page she had been on.

“The journey to becoming an Animagus is a long, arduous process by which there is a very high rate of failure and little chance of success. Most witches and wizards lack the patience for the two-month long process and generally only those interested in extremely advanced human Transfiguration or hold a great love for animals will attempt the process. The first and most important ingredient for the spell is the leaf of a Mandrake. The leaves of the Mandrake hold the opposite effect as its roots; Mandrake roots may return a witch or wizard to a state they were in previously, Mandrake leaves may alter a person to state they have not yet achieved. The leaf must come from a Mandrake that is out of its infancy and teenage stages and yet not reached full adulthood (it is highly suggested to request the expertise of a Herbologist before plucking the leaf from the Mandrake). To begin the process one must hold the leaf of the Mandrake in their mouth for an entire calendar month (30 days). One can eat and drink during this process but they must not swallow the leaf or the process must begin anew. Most attempts at achieving an animagus state generally fail during this month long process. Following-”

Serena was startled from her study by a book bag dropping to the ground beside her and she looked up to see some other Gryffindor’s and Ravenclaw’s had made it to the classroom. Serena felt uncomfortable sitting on the floor while her peers stood around her so she marked her page and put the book away before rising.

“All I’m saying is, it would be better for everyone if we had a more detailed account of what happened during the War.” One Ravenclaw boy was arguing to another; the other Gryffindor’s perked up and Serena rolled her eyes. She herself had done research but she had done it quietly; not gossiped in the middle of the hallway. “I can research and tell you what Dumbledore did against Grindewald right down to the spells he used and yet three-quarters of the Second Wizarding War are a mystery.”

Jules Johnson, the Gryffindor who had dropped her bag beside Serena, snorted. “Please, don’t make it sound like scientific inquiry, you just want to know how many people your Professor has killed.”

“Don’t you?” He argued back. “By all accounts Harry Potter was solely concerned with Voldemort during the Battle here so his kill count, while impressive obviously, is still probably only one. The actual fighting was left to the others and let’s face it, between Ron Weasley, all the Order members and Hermione Granger, who do you think killed the most people? The one that loves the limelight most or the one who had to leave Britain for ten years and go find herself?”

Serena shook her head slightly and turned away from the discussion. A glint of silver caught her eye and she looked down the hallway; that colour hair could only belong to Professor Delacour. Serena had no idea how Professor Delacour managed it. This was Serena’s first week as Head Girl and she had already endured endless amounts of gossip. She had to fight tooth and nail all seven years at Hogwarts just to be taken seriously because she was tall and blonde and had a pretty face. She couldn’t imagine how much worse it had been for Professor Delacour who, with her Veela roots, was the actual epitome of beauty.

Did she have people constantly gossiping about her? Did she have people say that she only got high marks because she was a teacher’s pet? Did she even have people whisper behind her back that the only reason she got Head Girl was because she-”

“What is going on ‘ere?”

Serena jolted herself out of her revere to face Professor Delacour. She almost took a step back from the hardened, angry glint in her eyes. She noticed the guilty shifting of the students around her.

“This is what you find a productive use of your time? Gossiping about ‘ow many people a decorated war ‘ero has killed?” Professor Delacour sounded positively enraged and disgusted. Serena’s stomach dropped. “You call this an appropriate discussion? Talking gossip about a war where people died, right where you stand, fighting for your rights to attend school? To live in peace? I wouldn’t expect this behaviour from children let alone seventh years like yourselves.” Serena and the others had never heard the Professor’s voice like this before. She sounded like ice; cold and menacing but sharp enough to cut. “Did it never occur to you zat there are no detailed accounts of what ‘appened because it would be disrespectful to the witches and wizards who ‘ad to live it? Clearly respecting your Professor’s means nothing to you, but apparently disrespecting a war ‘ero isn’t crossing a line for you either?”

The Ravenclaw boy who had started the discussion swallowed nervously. “Professor,” his voice was thick, “we weren’t trying to-”

“Silence.”

They all shut up and froze so quickly Serena almost thought that the Professor had cast a spell on them. “I know, and ‘eard, what you were trying to do. And I also noticed ‘ow little common ‘uman decency you ‘ad while doing it. Mr. Abbot, Mr. Valance, Mr. Donahue, Ms. Johnson, and Ms. West,” she singled out the three Ravenclaw’s and the two Gryffindor’s who had been having the conversation, “you will all be serving detention wiz me this Saturday. We’ll be going over war testimony and ‘opefully by the end of it you’ll all ‘ave acquired some basic and fundamental ethics when discussing people who were killed and those who were forced to do it.” All the students heads were tilted down in shame and bowing under the weight of the usually easy-going Professor. “And you, Ms. ‘ystenbaum.” Serena’s head snapped up and her stomach, if possible, dropped even farther. “I’m very disappointed in you, Ms. ‘ystenbaum.” Serena’s body filled with shame. “Our ‘ead Girl is supposed to be a standing pillar of example in this school. The people literally around you are making light of a war and disrespecting your Professor and you don’t even speak? Make no attempt whatsoever to try and lead by example and show a little decency?” Serena’s eyes filled with tears at the Professor’s words and only a lifetime of biting her lip and holding back her emotions stopped them from falling down her cheeks. “Your inaction ‘asn’t earned you a detention, Ms. ‘ystenbaum, but I think you should take a look at that badge on your chest and ask yourself what it really means.” Professor Delacour held her eyes and in her absolute mortification and shame she couldn’t meet her stare and looked down at her shoes instead. “You five, detention will be both at 3 o’clock and 8 o’clock on Saturday. I ‘ave a feeling that you’ll need a break ‘alfway through due to the subject matter after a while. Do not be late.” With a final disappointed look at them all Professor Delacour swept away down the hallway. Normally Serena thought that Professor Delacour looked like she was dancing even when she was just walking; now she looked like a lioness stalking away from her kill.

Not a word was spoken when she left and everyone remained silent. Even the students that had shown up after the fact picked up on the sombre atmosphere and the tension and stayed quiet until, slowly, the story spread. Serena’s teeth were clenched so tightly together her jaw ached but she refused to relax; she couldn’t. Professor Delacour had been correct; she had fought so hard to earn this badge she had forgotten she had to live up to it.

The tension skyrocketed when Professor Granger appeared to let them into the classroom. She smiled at the students waiting but Serena couldn’t bring herself to smile back; she doubted any of them could. She wasn’t sure what the Professor was thinking looking at a group of guilty, sullen students, but she hid her emotions too well to guess. Serena was actually more startled by her bird; the hawk was staring directly at them with seemingly accusing eyes.

He knows.

Serena didn’t know how the bird knew it but she was convinced that he did. Serena took her seat, at the front still because it was expected of her, but nobody was speaking. When the class started Professor Granger eyed them curiously. “Before we begin, is there anything anybody would like to say?” Serena’s respect for the young Professor skyrocketed; she wasn’t oblivious to the tension and was trying to give them a chance to get their issues off their chests. No one moved or spoke. “Very well, then let’s begin. I hope you all had the opportunity and the fortitude to read chapter one of your text because I’m not going over it with you and we’re not holding a review. I expect you all to have recapped and studied on your own. Most of this year will be focussed on human Transfiguration. Last year you all accomplished spells such as Crinus Muto to transfigure your hair. Why is this the easiest human Transfiguration spell to accomplish?”

Almost every hand rose and Professor Granger nodded to someone to answer. “Mr. Abbot?”

“All of the hair that we can see on the body contain dead hair cells, the only living hair cells are located beneath the skins surface and the spell doesn’t alter the actual hair follicle. It’s the easiest spell because working on dead cells are easier than live cells, which is what you’d be working with anywhere else on the body.”

Serena wondered if Professor Granger picked up on the muted, shame filled way he answered the question.

“Correct. Any other human Transfiguration we’re dealing with live cells. The formula automatically changes,” she almost absentmindedly flicked her fingers at the chalkboard and formula started scribbling itself down, “to V to the greater power of either B or W with a bracketed constant of C, and then minus F.” Serena quickly scrawled out the formula of V>B/W(=C)-F. “Can someone tell me why F is the lowest element in beginner human transformation?” Almost every hand rose again. “Ms. Johnson?”

“Beginner human Transfiguration is focussed on altering the body in ways that are still natural. For example, altering our skin tone. Changing colours is actually very little change and the fluidity between them in relatively low. Advanced human Transfiguration has far greater fluidity challenges because its changing a great deal more, for example skin into fur or a mouth into a muzzle.”

“Exactly. For now, we’ll be using this formula for small fluidity changes. Now,” Professor Granger continued with her lecture and Serena paid almost hypervigilant attention but she couldn’t help but every once and a while feel like the Professor’s bird was still watching her.

Serena made it to dinner until the shame and the guilt bubbling in her stomach made her feel like she was going to be sick. Professor Granger’s class had been its own form of torture; she had been so looking forward to the class and so interested in learning from, and admittedly impressing, the famous Gryffindor. Every single person in the class had been seriously attentive and willing to participate but Serena knew they had all felt shamed by Professor Delacour.

The Head Girl was pushing her food around on her plate when Chad slipped onto the bench seat beside her. “Food not to your liking?” Serena didn’t even glance up at him. “Rena, it happened, you have to let it go.”

“I’m Head Girl, Chad.” Serena’s voice was low. “I should have done something and I just stood there.” Chad had shown up pretty much right as the class started and missed the entire event but she knew someone would have filled him in by now.

“Yes you did. And you learned your lesson, and next time you’ll do better. You don’t have to be perfect, Rena, as much as you think you do.”

Serena glanced up at him and gave him a small smirk; it was a common disagreement between them. Chadwick was extremely handsome; his slightly too shaggy hair made him look dashing and his smile, usually large enough to pop his dimples, made him almost too sinfully good looking to be allowed. Literally everyone in the last five years since they’d been close told them they would win most attractive couple awards by a landslide. It had always fallen on deaf ears when they informed everyone they weren’t dating. The argument stemmed from the fact that Chad was attractive, intelligent, nice and charming and everyone accepted that about him while on the contrary no one ever saw past Serena’s own pretty face. She had to work twice as hard as her male counterpart simply because women weren’t expected to be smart and beautiful. “I felt so ashamed, Chad.” She practically whispered. She wouldn’t dare voice her insecurities to anyone other than him.

“Well, then go apologize. Tell Professor Delacour that you heard her, you learned, and that you’ll do better next time. I think she’ll respect you for owning up to what happened.”

Serena looked up at him a little shocked. “You know what,” she pushed her untouched plate over to him, “you’re right. Thanks, Chad.” She glanced over at the High table and noted a distinct lack of silver hair. “I’ll go check her office.”

The Head Girl made her way up to the seventh floor quickly, utilising a few shortcuts along the way, and finally made it to the Charms Professor’s office. She took a deep breath, steeled her Gryffindor courage, and knocked on the open door as she entered. The deep breath was knocked from her lungs at the sight that graced her.

Sitting at Professor Delacour’s desk along with the silver haired witch was Professor Granger and they were both now staring at her. Professor Delacour’s eyes were still a little guarded but Professor Granger’s were warm and smiling lightly. Her bird, perched on the desk between the witches, gave a loud caw and Professor Granger shushed him.

“What can I do for you, Ms. ‘ystenbaum?” Professor Delacour spoke coolly but nicely.

“I, uh,” She cleared her throat awkwardly, “I was hoping to speak to you for a second.”

Professor Granger stood instantly. “I’ll leave you to it, Fleur.”

“Actually.” Serena spoke before she had really figured out what she wanted and now they were staring at her again. “If I could maybe speak to you both?”

They shared a look and Serena figured it was probably because she looked like she was about to face the stake. Professor Granger sat back down slowly and Professor Delacour nodded. “Close the door then, please.”

Serena took the opportunity while her back faced the witches to take a deep breath and compose herself. She faced them again and stood up straight. “I wanted to personally apologize for the incident that happened today Professors.”

Professor Granger’s eyes narrowed. “And what incident is that?” She looked at both Serena and her colleague.

Professor Delacour arched an eyebrow Serena’s way. “I didn’t tell ‘er as the issue didn’t require the assistance of yours or the others ‘ead of ‘ouse. Why don’t you tell ‘er what ‘appened?”

Serena struggled to swallow. This was even worse; she figured Professor Granger would have already heard.

If possible Professor Granger’s eyes narrowed even more. “Does this have something to do with why my seventh year class this afternoon was a little robotic?”

“Yes, Professor.” She sighed before launching into her explanation. “I was waiting outside the classroom when I was joined by a few other students, Gryffindor’s and Ravenclaw’s. They were gossiping about you, Professor. They were discussing…” She hesitated until Professor Delacour gave her a gentle nod. “They were discussing your involvement in the second Wizarding War. They were lamenting the lack of records about the battles that were involved and what happened in them and what exactly you had done in them. They were wondering, uh, they were wondering how many…um, how many people, I mean Death Eaters. How many Death Eater’s…you killed. And what magic you would have used to do it.” Serena’s voice had trailed off until she was barely speaking but in the silence of the office every word was heard clearly. “I did not participate in the discussion in any way…but I also just stood there and didn’t stop them, or discourage them, or interject in any way as I should have done as Head Girl. I apologize Professor. I have no excuse.”

The Professor’s shared and look with each other, seemingly able to communicate with only their eyes, before Professor Delacour spoke up. “I ‘eard the conversation and chided them for the disrespect of their Professor. The five students involved in the discussion were given detention.”

“I see.” Professor Granger reached out and stroked her bird as she thought. “Ms. Hystenbaum, would you like to hear the story of the first time I was involved with Gryffindor winning the House Cup?”

Serena was floored, and confused, so she just nodded dumbly. “Yes, Professor.”

“It appeared that Slytherin had won until Professor Dumbledore awarded some last minute points. Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley and I were awarded a ton of points,”

“Was this the points you were awarded for saving the Philosopher’s Stone?” Serena interjected and then apologized instantly. “Sorry, Professor. I read about it.”

She just smirked. “Yes, this is that story. Harry, Ron and I were awarded points for bravery and courage, the best strategic game of chess ever seen, and outstanding intellect in the face of fire. All wonderful achievements no doubt.”

“And so you three won the House Cup.”

“No, we didn’t.”

Serena blinked. “But, I thought…”

“We didn’t get enough points. This is the part of the story that somehow never makes the history books and it’s truly a tragedy. Professor Dumbledore actually awarded four students points at that feast, the three of us and another friend of ours named Neville Longbottom.”

“Professor Longbottom?”

“The very same.”

“I didn’t know he was there?”

“I told you, it’s not in the history books. And he wasn’t there. You see at the time, the three of us were in a lot of trouble with the other Gryffindor’s. The reason we needed so many extra points was because the three of us had singlehandedly lost them all.”

Serena’s jaw dropped. “Seriously?”

“Mhmm. Neville, Professor Longbottom, caught us sneaking out of the common room the night we went to save the Stone. And he tried to stop us. For the good of Gryffindor, for not wanting to see his House in any more trouble he tried to stop us.”

“He obviously wasn’t successful because you did go on to save the Stone.”

“He wasn’t, I hexed him actually.” Professor Granger’s words were blunt but her eyes were light and Serena’s jaw dropped once again. “But he tried. He stood up to us because he believed it was right. And during the feast, when Dumbledore had already given us our points and it wasn’t enough, he awarded points to Neville as well. And do you want to know the reason he gave?”

Serena thought of the story. “For trying to do what he thought was right?”

“No. He did it because there are many kinds of courage. And it takes a great deal of courage to stand up to our enemies. But it takes a different kind, and a great deal more, to stand up to our friends.”

Serena let the Professor’s words wash over her. “I see.”

“You wear that badge on your chest and I believe that you deserve to have it there. But don’t forget, when you accepted that badge you agreed to not only stand up against rule breakers and wrong doers. You agreed to stand up to your friends. Your peers. Your classmates. Have the strength, and the courage, to stand up against your friends and try to help them be better. It’s immensely scary but they will respect you for it.”

Serena was almost crying now and not from the shame that was causing her tears earlier. “I understand, Professor, I’ll do better.”

“I believe you will.”

Serena almost did cry when it was the accented voice of Professor Delacour that spoke up of belief in her instead of Professor Granger. “Professor Delacour, if you would, I would like to serve detention with my peers on Saturday.”

The Charms Professor eyed her seriously and then nodded. “If you will.”

“Thank you. Goodnight Professors.” Serena made to leave but Professor Granger cleared her throat.

“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, Ms. Hystenbaum but I do have a question for you. In my experience most people who clearly state the words “I have no excuse” actually do have one. Can I ask, if you were to give an excuse, what yours would be?”

“Oh.” Serena blushed. “Um, well it would be….that, um.” She sighed. “I heard them talking, but I wasn’t really listening. My mind was…elsewhere.”

“And where was it?”

“I was…well I was thinking about…you, Professor Delacour.” Serena blushed deeply and realized a moment too late how that sounded. “Not like that! I wasn’t thinking, like…inappropriately.” She sighed again. “It’s just, I always have to prove myself more than anybody else. No one expects me to be smart because they think I’m beautiful. Like I can’t be both. I work harder than anyone else and still when I get better grades or get the achievement they say it’s because I had help from friends. Usually male friends.” Horrifyingly Serena found she was almost crying yet again. “I just, I saw you and I realized it must have been the same for you, Professor. If I have to deal with people only seeing my face I’m sure you had the same problem.”

Professor Delacour sighed. “I wish I could tell you differently ma puce, but I still ‘ave that problem. Professor Granger will tell you the same.”

“Is this something you’re struggling with?” Professor Granger asked lightly.

“I can handle it.” Serena said instantly before she deflated. “It’s just…annoying. It’s already gotten worse since becoming Head Girl and its been like 4 days. There have even been whispers that I…slept my way to the top.” Serena whispered. She looked up in time to see the anger flash in both Professor’s eyes before they controlled it. “I don’t even know who they possibly think I slept with?”

“Serena.” Professor Delacour calling her by her first name caught her attention. “I ‘ave ‘eard the same rumours about myself, many times. Do you want to know what I did? I learned to enjoy it.”

Serena blinked. “What?”

“When people talked down to me, or accused me of things I learned to enjoy the moment because-”

“It was an opportunity to prove them wrong.” Professor Granger finished with a smirk.

Exactement. You already proved them wrong once by becoming ‘ead Girl. Just keep proving them wrong.”

“And prove them wrong by being better than them, a better person than them.” Professor Granger reminded her and she nodded seriously.

“I understand, Professors.”

“Good. Off you go then.”

“Have a good night, Professors.” Serena left and walking out the door she didn’t feel the shame and guilt that had been churning in her stomach since this afternoon. She felt a burning determination instead.

I am going to be just like those two witches. I’ll prove everybody else wrong.

Chapter Text

“Alright, does anyone have any questions?”

“Yeah, what use could we possibly have for a spell that turns things into rabbits? I mean what use is that? Professor.” The “professor” was tacked on the end after a pause and Hermione, without outwardly moving a muscle, grit her teeth. She had made it all the way till Wednesday and had jinxed herself thinking she could be a professor and have no problems at all.

Her classes, save for the incident before one seventh year class, had been wonderful. Her students had been attentive and curious. They hadn’t complained or disrupted her class. Her older students asked thought provoking questions that led to debates which made her proud. She hadn’t even detracted any points since she had become a professor. She had merely handed points out for correct answers to her questions and had gushed to both Oz and Fleur about how well things were going and how fabulous it all was.

It had all come crashing down in one third year Gryffindor and Slytherin class. She figured now she had been too nice and the students, one in particular, were testing her. This lesson had been a challenge after every explanation or question, just toying the line of insolence and never going over to the point where Hermione could issue a detention or even deduct House points. But she knew she had to do something; the longer Mr. Belton’s questions, sarcasm and disrespect continued the worse it was getting. He was getting bolder and so were his friends. The group of Slytherin’s were sitting at the back of the classroom, practically holding court, and the Gryffindor’s around them were getting increasingly annoyed. Neville had warned her that the rivalry between the Houses was the worst in the middle years and she was seeing it firsthand now.

Mr. Belton’s latest question was just one of many prodding and poking at her teaching and what she was teaching. She turned to make direct eye contact with him and he shrugged. “It just seems useless.” He continued. “Like it wouldn’t be any help in a war that’s for sure.”

Time for Hermione seemed to slow down; if he wanted to see some magic she would gladly show him. Hermione never took her eyes off the students but she flashed her right hand out in sweeping gesture and snapped her fingers; the wandless and nonverbal spell gave off a brilliant flash of fiery red light that directed upwards. The thirty students looked up, completely disbelieving at what they saw.

The classroom had boasted a large, ornate golden chandelier that had hung still and imposing over the centre of the room; the chandelier was still no longer. The metal bars shifted and rippled, now alive, and they flattened and twisted themselves into a different shape entirely. Thirty gasps went off in unison when the transfiguration was complete and the chandelier, now a dragon, gave off a mighty roar.

Several students screamed when the golden dragon, about the size of a refrigerator, spread its wings, which were as long as a man, and took flight in the classroom. It gave another ear-piercing roar and the students ducked under their desks for cover. The dragon circled the room once and then dove, neck out and jaws open, right for the group of Slytherin students at the back of the room. The dragon started to breathe fire and right before the dragon struck, Hermione, who had not moved an inch, flashed her wandless hand again; there was another flash of light, this time light green, and the dragon shrunk and landed with a thump on Mr. Belton’s desk. The Slytherin students peeked their heads up and eyed the small brown rabbit hopping on the desk and twitching its nose.

One by one the students found their seats again, some of them shaking slightly, and Hermione arched an eyebrow. “Now. Are there any other questions?”

There weren’t. And thirty minutes later when she set the students into practicing Mr. Belton was the first student to successfully change his watering can into a rabbit.

Hermione met his eyes with a smirk and awarded his House fifteen points.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

“Did you seriously set a dragon on your students?!” Neville’s voice hissed before he had even sat down at the High table.

Hermione sighed and nearly banged her head on the table in frustration; Fleur giggled sweetly at her friend but soothingly placed a hand on her back. “For the eighth time now, no, I did not set a dragon on my students…I merely conjured one to prove a point.”

Neville looked flabbergasted and Fleur giggled again. “Hermione…you can’t prove a point to students by setting a dragon on them.”

“Well clearly I can because I did and it worked. They know I have a spine now.” Hermione nodded and Oz, faithfully on her shoulder, mimicked the gesture.

“Yeah. Right.” Neville finally chuckled as he grabbed himself some steak from the plate on the table. “I don’t think the students will talk back to you again. Ever.”

The three shared a small smirk until they noticed Minerva taking her seat; they deadened their expressions instantly. “Hermione.”

“Minerva.”

“How are you settling in?”

“Very good, Minerva.”

“Good. By the way, that was a 14th century chandelier that once hung in the grand ballroom of Ulick Gamp’s manor during the time he coined and first held the position of Minister for Magic in the 18th century. It’s rumoured it used to hang in the main gallery of Merlin’s Manor and Gamp won the rights to it in a game of chess.”

Hermione cleared her throat awkwardly. “The rabbit in question made a break for the lawns when my students exited the classroom. I doubt it headed for the Forbidden Forest so I’m sure it’s still on the grounds.” There was a lengthy pause. “I meant to say, I’ll find it, Headmistress.”

“See that you do.”

Hermione nodded and turned to Fleur and Neville with a “help me” expression; both her friends laughed at her. Hermione sighed. “Fine. I’ll make a new plan. If you’ll excuse me.” When she turned her back so the students couldn’t see her she childishly stuck her tongue out at Fleur; the French witch’s melodious laughter followed her as she walked down the High table towards the other end.

Horace Slughorn was the first to see coming. “Oh ho, Professor Granger, always a pleasure. I still remember the very first time I invited you to my little Slug Club. I hope you’re not here just to discuss that little business with Brixley?”

“Belton. And no. I was actually just trying to get passed. I was hoping I could speak for a moment with Professor Carrow?” Two twin-like surprised sets of grey eyes snapped up to look at her on matching suspicious faces. Hermione made eye contact with Erika so they knew which Carrow she meant. “If I could have but a moment of your time?” Hermione made a point to speak as “high society” as possible. Erika, probably out of engrained politeness, nodded stiffly.

“Of course.”

“If you’d like to take a walk maybe?”

Erika nodded but when she rose Everett touched her elbow. They shared a long look with prolonged eye contact and Hermione wondered if they just knew each other that well or if they were accomplished at occlumency and legilimency and were actually communicating. When Everett finally released her the two Professors walked out of the Great Hall together and quite a few student whispers broke out around them. Erika let herself be led out of the Hall and then actually out the doors onto the grounds. “What can I do for you, Professor?” Even alone Erika’s voice was perfectly polite if a little detached.

Hermione noticed, walking beside the witch for the first time, the quite significant height difference between them. “Well my reasons for coming out here were two-fold I suppose. I wanted to talk to you about your dueling club.”

“You didn’t need to speak to me in person. If you weren’t able to help a message would have sufficed.”

“That’s the thing, I do want to help. I’d love to join you tomorrow.”

Erika’s step almost faltered and she looked surprised. “You would?”

“Yes.” Hermione almost chuckled. “I actually do. I just wanted to talk to you about your lesson and game plan. I’ll follow your lead, of course, I just thought we should present a united front.”

Erika was silent for so long Hermione thought she would have to forgo hearing anything about the club at all. While they strolled slowly Hermione stroked Oz and then whispered for him to fly. The bird hesitated and Hermione poked him gently. He finally spread his wings and flew into the darkening night; both witches watched him soar until they lost him in the cloud cover. When Erika finally did speak her voice was subtlety different. “My brother and I, we didn’t wager but we each had our own theory. Everett thought you would accept and then take over. Not trust me to teach dueling to the students.”

“I see.” Hermione nodded. “And what did you think?”

“That you would make your excuses for not coming until I stopped asking.” The words were blunt and Hermione was positive they were actually truthful.

“Professor Carrow, might I call you Erika?” Hermione decided that if someone needed to take the first step, she could do it.

Erika was quiet for a while again; they had already looped the greenhouses and were heading for the Quidditch Pitch. “Okay.”

“Okay.” Hermione knew better than to push. “So, the beginner class is up first?”

“Yes. Our plan is to split into two groups. One for the new third years who are now eligible to join to go over the rules and the basics such as the traditional walk and bowing. Professor Flitwick is going to handle that group. The others, who already know the basics, are generally paired off by similar skill level. One side takes offensive, one defence, and then they switch. We don’t allow full dueling all at once yet. I patrol around the groups and help wherever I can. A stance, or spell, or tip. Whatever I can do.”

Hermione almost made a remark about that being the most she had ever heard the other witch talk but bit it back. “I assume that’s where I’d be the most use as another set of eyes.”

Erika nodded. “That was my thought. Then we allow each pair to duel once, fully, in front of us and the others.”

“Sounds like a very solid plan. Much more so than the first duelling club I was ever involved in.”

“Here? Who ran it?”

“Gilderoy Lockhart, if you can imagine.”

Erika laughed and Hermione whipped her head around; it was such a delicate, adorable chuckle coming from such a serious, stoic person. “No, I can hardly imagine it.”

“Yes, it wasn’t good. Um, so. The advanced class?”

“We pair them up randomly so-”

“No one gets accustomed to a person and becomes lazy, of course.”

“Quite. Most of our advanced class takes it upon themselves to study new spells and come up with new strategies but they are required to have one of us supervising the first time they try something new.”

“Smart.”

“Yes, quite.” They continued walking and discussing various spells and techniques they had learned on their own travels and training. Hermione was pleased to see that Erika loosened up a little the long they spoke. “Might I ask you something?”

“You may.” Hermione teased.

“You said your reason for coming out here was two-fold. What’s the other reason?”

“I’m hunting a rabbit.”

Grey eyes flashed. “If you’re making fun of me,”

“I’m not.” Hermione rolled her eyes self-deprecatingly. “I, well, used a bit of magic and turned a chandelier into a rabbit and the rabbit escaped. Turns out the chandelier was rather important.”

Erika actually smiled. “The rumour I heard was that it was a dragon.”

Hermione sighed. “It was. I turned the chandelier into a dragon and the dragon into a rabbit.”

Erika chuckled again. “I wish I’d seen it. I’m sure the students deserved it.”

Hermione arched an eyebrow. “I think you’re the first person to agree with me. I was just putting on a little show.”

“Quite a show. So what did you do, locater spell? Summoning spell?”

“No, no, I’m just following the magic in the air.”

“Are you…making fun again?”

“I wasn’t making fun the first time, nor am I this time. It was a fairly powerful original spell, and it’s condensed into a small vessel. My own magic is the easiest sense out and follow, of course, but I can feel the magical surges in the air.”

Erika’s jaw dropped. “That’s how you duel as quickly as you do. You can literally feel the magic.”

“Yes. Here.” Hermione stopped them on the side of the path. “Take a breath and close your eyes.” Erika stilled but didn’t follow the instruction. “I’m not going to hex you. Just relax. When your eyes are closed feel out with your mind,” Hermione took a chance, “you’re an accomplished legilimens, right?”

Erika startled. “How did you know that?”

“I’m quite adapt at both occlumency and legilimency and I recognized you and your brother communicating that way. That’s good, it’ll make things easier. Take your magic and feel outwards like you would in legilimency, but not to a specific mind. Just feel outwards for other magic.”

Erika eventually closed her eyes but it took her several moments to relax enough to feel anything. “I can feel magic…it feels like it’s right here.”

“Good. You’re feeling us. Now push out farther, away from us, and search magic out.”

Hermione waited patiently while Erika took a few more deep breaths and tried to feel out with her magic. Her eyebrows furrowed in concentration and after a few more minutes her eyes opened slowly. “Every bit of magic I can feel is pulling me backwards.”

“That’s the school, it has an extremely high concentration of magical signatures. I’m not surprised you couldn’t pull your focus away from it. The magic that you were searching for would be faint, because its older. It’s much easier when you can feel the magical ripple. Here.” Hermione raised her hand and then slowed down the motion when Erika tensed. “If you close your eyes I’ll shoot a spell in a random direction. You can learn to feel the magical ripple in the air and tell me what direction the spell went in. Not by feeling the jetstream or the air moving, the actual magical ripple.” Erika looked hesitant. “I’m not going to hex you.” Hermione forced her voice soft. Erika didn’t answer but she did eventually close her eyes. Hermione flicked her hand and a conjured bird, completely silently, which appeared and floated away.

Erika opened her eyes and slightly hesitantly pointed in the mostly correct direction. “I think that way.”

“Very good. The magic you were sending in the air, it flared right? And you felt the ripple? It’s actually taken from a muggle study on echolocation. Anyway, I can help you practice this if you want and you’ll master it in no time.”

Erika nodded. “That would be…nice. Thank you. Shouldn’t we be finding your rabbit?”

“Oh I already did, he’s in Hagrid’s garden over there. I was just, er, having a good time. We can go pick him up. Hopefully he doesn’t put up a fuss.”

“He’s a dragon in a rabbit’s body, I imagine he’ll put up quite the fuss.”

“Now I’m picturing Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Erika looked at her like she had grown another head and Hermione chuckled. “Muggle thing, sorry.” Erika nodded and though the two remained quiet for the rest of the stroll Hermione finally felt like she’d made progress with the Carrow.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

Hermione headed up the circular staircase and knocked on the wooden door. At the brogue “come in” the witch entered with some trepidation. Minerva was where she always was, behind her antique desk working away at a pile of papers. “I’ll be with you in one second, Hermione.”

“Take your time.” Hermione wasn’t really looking forward to the tongue lashing that she was sure she was headed for.

“And people said that I was a mean teacher.” Hermione whipped her head around and couldn’t help the grin that spread across her features at that familiar quiet and usually disdainful voice. “At least I never set a dragon on the students.” Severus Snape’s portrait was on the wall beside a blank one Hermione knew usually housed Albus Dumbledore. He appeared as he always did in life, hook nosed and sallow, but the expression on his face was one Hermione had never seen him direct at her in life, nor the first time she had encountered his portrait.

Hermione finally stood up and stretched out her back; the vertebrae all popped and provided momentary relief.

“Your stool is the wrong height. Don’t you know even the basics of potions brewing?”

Hermione jumped and produced her wand instinctively until the owner of that voice permeated her brain. “Snape?”

“Good to see you still have some brain cells left after all.”

Hermione finally found his portrait on the wall. She shouldn’t be completely surprised, she supposed, that Agnes Pewtilander’s wall of famous potions Masters would include her former teacher Severus Snape. “Have you been watching me brew?”

“I’ve been watching you nearly bungle that Wiggenweld Potion half a dozen times.”

“I followed the instructions exactly!” Hermione hissed; she felt like she was back in class and getting chided or losing House points.

“Exactly.” Snape sneered and slid from the portrait.

The next several times Hermione heard from Snape she was less shocked but no less aggravated. Snape seemingly dropped in just to insult her potions work and disappear again. Hermione was sorely tempted to move her potions lab to different room in Agnes’s house but that felt like running away and letting Snape win. So she endured.

Two full months of insults later and Snape finally opened his mouth to say something other than a disparaging remark.

“Why did you decide to pursue a Potions Mastery?”

Hermione almost stopped moving her ladle in slow but steady clockwise rotations but managed to keep her pace. “What?” She didn’t glance over at his portrait.

“Are you deaf as well as a know-it-all now? I asked why you of all people decided to pursue a potions Mastery. You never showed serious aptitude for the subject when I taught it to you nor did you show any particular enjoyment for it. Masteries are grueling, you know this, so why do it?”

“I did it because…” Hermione hesitated, not because she was unsure about telling Snape the real reason why she did it, she was actually unsure of the real reason herself.

Snape scowled. “Think on that and while doing it, don’t keep your ladle even on the bottom of your cauldron. Move the ladle up and down as well while keeping a constant pace with your stirring.” He was gone before Hermione could comment back to him. When Agnes remarked that her Volubilis Potion was stronger than she expected of her Hermione couldn’t help but consider the hook nosed former Professor.

Over the next few weeks Snape made regular appearances in Hermione’s potion’s lab and his remarks were now usually interspaced with advice or tips; even if they were still disguised as insults. “You’ve been brewing for over two hours.” Snape’s voice remarked one evening in slight confusion.

Hermione glanced over her shoulder at his portrait, one eyebrow cocked. “I have. What of it? You’ve seen me brew longer.”

“You’re not sweating.”

“No. I cast a cooling charm upon myself.”

“Foolish girl.” Snape sneered. “Take it off, at once.”

It marked the, somewhat begrudging, respect Hermione had for his skills that she lifted her wand from its place on her table and cast the counter-charm over herself silently. Instantly the heat of the fire, and the cauldron, pulled at her skin and the air she inhaled felt thick and sticky. “If you meant to make me uncomfortable, you have succeeded.”

“I’m trying to help you.” Snape said the words like they pained him. “Merlin knows why. You need to be able to feel the heat, how else will you tell if it fluctuates? Don’t rely on charms and tricks for your potions.”

Hermione gave the barest hint of a smile. “No foolish wand waving here?”

Snape’s look was deadpanned. “Exactly. You need to be able to feel. Work on your instincts. Stop being such a bookworm.”

Hermione actually let his words permeate for a moment. For the first time, probably ever, Hermione reached over and closed the book she had been reading instructions from and set it aside. “Okay. So. This potion is watery right now, and needs to be thicker. So I’ll add one, or let’s say two drops of Flobberworm mucus.” Hermione’s hand moved automatically over the table and drawers of ingredients and she carefully added two drops. “There also needs to be an alteration element so I’m going to add a Mandrake. But Mandrake and Flobberworm’s have a negative adverse reaction so I’ll add a pint of salamander blood which will negate that effect.” Hermione missed the nod Snape gave her as he slid from the frame.

“So how did the last experiment go?” Snape asked genuinely interested some weeks later, though he tried to hide it.

“A complete disaster.” Hermione was inexplicably smiling. “But Mistress Agnes was pleased. She said I was making my first real progress since I started this Apprenticeship.”

“It’s because she sees what I see. That you’ve stopped being such an insufferable know-it-all and a bookworm and you’ve started to become a Potions Mistress.”

Hermione smiled and granted him an honour she never had before. “Thank you, Master.” He scowled at her. “Oh, stop being a prickly old lionfish.” She giggled. He stalked from the frame and Hermione only giggled harder.

Almost a year later when Hermione was finally granted the honour of her Mastery she asked for the ceremony to be held indoors in her potions lab. Her odd request was granted by the Potions Society and when they granted the younger witch her honours the Slytherin Potions Master watched on with a deadpanned expression that didn’t quite hide his pride.

“Don’t lie to me, Severus.” Hermione smiled at the wall of former Headmasters and Headmistresses. “You’ve wanted to set a dragon on the students many times.”

“Many. I never had the opportunity however.” He drawled. “How is your brewing coming along?”

“Pleasant, now that I don’t have you hovering over my shoulder constantly.” Her expression softened slightly. “Still experimenting like you taught me.”

“Good to see my time wasn’t completely and utterly wasted.” He ran his finger through greasy hair. “Did you try the sloth brain extract?”

“With the honeywater solution to even out the viscosity levels. I’m waiting on results currently.”

“Good. And your next plan? I’m hoping you haven’t gotten even more arrogant and forgone a backup plan.”

“I was thinking going outside the box.” Hermione leaned forward a little and Snape, in his portrait, mimicked her. “Here’s the thing. Lionfish spines have always been used for the healing element for the potion.”

“Because that’s what lionfish spines do.” Snape challenged her.

“Yes, they do, but we’re not really trying to heal, are we? No bones are broken, no flesh is torn, there is no bleeding in the brain. We're actually trying to reverse something.”

“So what are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking of removing the lionfish element entirely. Without the spine there is no need for the moondew drops and then also no salamander blood to counteract their negative effects. The potion was getting ridiculously ingredient heavy anyway and that’s never a good thing. You taught me the best potions are the simplest ones.”

“Of course they are, a child knows that. So no lionfish, no moondew and no salamander blood. Congratulations, now you have a cauldron full of slop.”

Hermione ignored his tone in her excitement. “It’s not slop if I add powdered griffin claw.”

Both potion Master and Mistress tilted their heads to the left in an eerily similar manner as they tried to follow the potential potions logical steps. Snape finally nodded at her. “If your current potion fails and you implement this plan,”

“I’ll brew downstairs in the dungeons, Severus. In the lab with your portrait.” Snape nodded again and then gestured over Hermione’s shoulder. The younger witch glanced back and found Minerva, slack jawed and stupefied, watching her former colleague and former student banter back and forth.

“Excuse me, Severus. Forgive us, Minerva.” Hermione smirked. “Got lost in potions for a moment.” She walked over to her Headmistresses desk. “If this meeting was about the chandelier I already caught the rabbit and returned the chandelier to its proper place. Looks even better than before if I do say so myself.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” Minerva still looked shocked and a little off-balance but tried to ignore it. “But that’s not actually why I asked to see you. I actually wanted to discuss something else with you. I’ve received three owls and a fire call from Shacklebolt in the past week.”

“Oh. What does Kingsley want?” Hermione left the and why are you telling me about it unsaid.

“You. To put it bluntly.” Minerva didn’t mince words.

Hermione’s back stiffened and her jaw clenched minutely. “What does the Minister for Magic want of me?” Her words were clipped; she already knew.

“Shacklebolt took it upon himself to inform me that you have never participated in any Battle of Hogwarts or Second Wizarding War memorials. Now that you’re back in Britain he seems to think you will be able to attend but he’s had trouble getting a hold of you. He’s impressed upon me that he is the Minister and is not to be ignored.”

“I asked Twinsy not to allow any post from the Ministry that they send here and anything I’m sent directly I do not read. I have no interest in attending some Ministry dog and pony show.” Hermione narrowed her eyes slightly. “I am interested in why he’s been contacting you.”

Minerva sighed. “As if you don’t already know.”

She did; Hermione could connect the dots. “As my new boss he thinks you’ll have enough clout or sway to make me attend. Does he have anything on you?” Hermione’s words were also blunt.

Minerva scoffed. “I don’t owe favours, I’m owed them. Shacklebolt has nothing except his words. Although our words did get…heated, to say the least. I mentioned he seems to believe that as Minister his words should be heard and never ignored. He also went so far as to say it was your duty to fall in line with the other war heroes. I informed him in no short order that I will not use my position or our friendship to get you to agree to attend the event.”

“Good.” Hermione didn’t want to think about what would have happened if Minerva wasn’t at her back. “I appreciate that, Minerva, as well as the heads up that Shacklebolt is becoming more…aggressive.”

“I’m not his only contact.” Minerva warned. “If I might ask, Hermione, why you refuse to attend?”

Hermione sighed. “If you and I, and the Potters and the Weasley’s, and the other Order members wished to dedicate a night to telling stories of the fallen and lamenting mistakes made and hoping for the future, I would attend in a heartbeat. What I will not attend is a Ministry event. I will not sit back and listen while politicians and employees use the War and our pain and our loss to get votes for re-election. I will not listen to pre-written speeches said by people who didn’t even write them just to get a good quote in the Prophet. I will not allow people to make that war anything but what it really was; a horror. If society needs a yearly reminder and stories about that fact I fear immensely for our society and its people.” Hermione was breathing a little harshly by the end of her rant and her inner forearm was burning. She scratched idly over the scar. “And it disturbs me a little to think that Shacklebolt has lost sight of that.”

Minerva nodded solemnly. “Shacklebolt didn’t inherit a good Ministry or term when he took office and now he’s been a lot of years trying to make things better. Perhaps he lost sight of some real world realities and gained a new way of thinking.”

“Lost sight of some realities? A new way of thinking? What, like he needs to do what’s best for the most amount of people in his eyes? Like he needs to do bad things for the greater good?”

Several portraits on the wall gasped and Armando Dippet actually chided her. “That’s not a thing to joke about, young lady!”

“I’m not joking.” Hermione hissed at the former Headmaster. “Ancient adages from both muggle and Wizarding cultures have a phrase meaning “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Shacklebolt used to understand that sometimes keeping our morals and our ethics is all that stands between us and them. That something bad happening is sometimes the preferable option when set against something else happening that stoops us to our enemy’s levels.” She eyed the chastised Headmasters wearily. “I’m not calling Shacklebolt a dictator. But you’ll find in history that dictators don’t emerge overnight. It’s a long road of increasingly questionable decisions. All I meant was that it makes me nervous that Shacklebolt is even on that road of abusing his station. The Kingsley I remember would not have gone behind my back and tried to cajole, blackmail and threaten me into doing something that served his agenda.”

“Granger.” Snape’s voice broke the silence that had blossomed after her speech. “You should speak to Shacklebolt.” Minerva looked indignant but Hermione nodded and waited for him to finish. “He’s been too long stuck in office trying to fix everything. Perhaps you can knock some sense into him. If anyone can it would be you. As for the rest of you,” Snape couldn’t look down at the other portraits on the wall but he spoke to them in his most condescending manner, “perhaps if people had stepped in at the first signs years ago then we wouldn’t have wars attached to names like Voldemort and Grindewald.”

The Headmasters looked suitably abashed and Snape turned his eyes back to the young Professor. “The increasing desperation on Shacklebolt’s part makes me nervous.”

“I agree.” Minerva nodded seemingly on board with Snape giving advice; Minerva McGonagall did not stay off balance for long.

Hermione nodded as well. “Is there something special about this year’s event? It’s not a special anniversary, so I can’t imagine what.”

“You could be on the right track.” Minerva wondered aloud. “He’s lamented your absence before but he’s never gone this far.”

“Perhaps it’s just because I’m back in Britain?”

“Keep your eyes open.” Snape warned. “There might be more the Ministry is planning than we know. As of now it’s like trying to brew blindfolded. You can still accomplish what you need to but it’s harder.”

“I have many contacts in the Ministry,” Minerva offered, “I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Thank you.” Hermione’s look turned hard. “But I have my own contacts as well.”

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

“Hermione!” Ronald Weasley’s voice was full of excitement and affection. “I replied to your owl, did you get it yet? Either way, congratulations on getting Head of House!”

“Thank you.” Hermione smiled at one of her oldest friends. Ron Weasley’s head, surrounded by fire, sat in her fireplace grinning at her.

“You know, I was always picturing you as House Head one day. But in my head you were always like McGonagall’s age.” Hermione arched an eyebrow. “I mean, like…still hot of course! An attractive older lady, no doubt.”

“Well thank you for the compliment.” Hermione chuckled. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything, I know it’s getting late.”

“Nothing major. Small incident with a quarrelling pair of sisters that came to hexes in the middle of Diagon today. Both completely nuts. The one sister was either a terrible dueler or she got caught really off guard. She got taken to Mungos but she’ll be fine. Either way, I’ve always got time for you.”

Hermione smiled at the redhead. “In light of those sweet words Ron, I wish I could say I just called to chat, but in truth, I have a question for you.”

Ron’s smile dropped one degree, she assumed this was his professional auror mask, but his eyes still held their warmth. “Of course, what can I do for you, ‘Mione?”

“I was wondering if you’d heard from Shacklebolt lately?” Hermione could see instantly from his clenched jaw and the hardened look in his eyes that he knew now why she was calling him.

“What did he do?” He looked ready to climb into the fireplace.

“Nothing, yet. He’s still working behind the scenes for now. He’s been after my attention for ages but that’s nothing new. But McGonagall called me into her office tonight to give me a heads up. He went to her, multiple times. The short of it is he borderline abused his station to get her to do the same. He actually asked her to force me to attend the upcoming memorial.” Ron practically exposed his teeth in a growl but Hermione was otherwise impressed by his calmness. “I assume, if he’s gone to McGonagall he’s already been to see you and Harry as well.”

Ron nodded. “Several times. He’s talked to us over the years a few times, mostly just asking us to mention it to you the next time we spoke to you, or get your reasons about why you wouldn’t attend and if there was anything he could do, that sort of thing. Three months ago he came to me again, only this time, he was a lot more serious about it. Talked about duty to the Order to attend. I told him what Harry and I have always told him; that your reasons were your own and everyone should respect that.” Now Ron sighed. “When he heard that you had accepted the position at Hogwarts and would be back in Britain he went to Harry. I wasn’t there for the conversation but Harry was livid afterwards. Ginny and I got most of the conversation out of him. According to him Shacklebolt had far, far crossed the line. Subtlety mentioned things about the auror department and how it was his old stomping ground and how Gawain Robards and he still had coffee twice a month and how Robards was looking to groom a protégée.” Ron shook his head in disgust. “As if Harry would ever be tempted by favours like that. Old Kingsley would have known there is no break in Harry’s ethics. Then four days ago…Harry and I were called into Robards office.”

Now Hermione clenched her teeth. Her brothers being called into the Head of the Auror Department’s Office did not set well with her. “What happened?”

“Nothing actually. Robards is blunt. He said he had gotten an owl about our lack of ability to be team players and our unwillingness to help aid the Ministry. Whether Robards knew exactly what was going on or not he didn’t say, but he just told us to get back out of his office and do our jobs.”

“He didn’t reprimand you at all?”

“Nothing. We were in his office for maybe two minutes, tops.” Hermione paused to think and, miraculously, Ron followed suit. There was a time he’d have interrupted twice by then.

“Why didn’t you guys tell me?”

Ron sighed; he looked resigned but not ashamed. “’Mione, we love you, and we just got you back. I know you never forgot about us exactly, and I’ll never judge you for the time you left, but you can’t deny that we just got you back. And you’re really, really, touchy about the Ministry memorials. We thought we could handle things from our end and if nothing got said that could upset you, then all the better.”

“You both think I could still flee.” Hermione’s heart cracked a little as the redhead tried not to show his pain. “Ron, I’m sorry I made you feel that way. I promise you, right now, that I won’t leave you ever again. I will leave Britain but never you guys. Not again.”

Ron nodded and that seemed to be all he could handle on the deep emotional side. Hermione let it pass.

“You know what I think about Robards?”

“That he wanted to give us a heads up that Shacklebolt might be gunning for us without actually getting his feet wet and giving us the heads up?”

Hermione beamed. “Yes, exactly.” She considered things more. “We still don’t have enough information.”

“Harry and I are going to poke around the Ministry and see what we can find out about Shacklebolt and the memorial. And before you say anything, we would be doing this even if he hadn’t been messing with our sister. We both swore to protect the wizarding world and sometimes that means from within the Ministry itself. We found that out the hard way. Hopefully Shacklebolt is just under a lot of pressure from something and he can be reminded of the wizard he used to be. Even so,” he grinned rather roguishly and he looked more like the boy Hermione had grown up with, “he still needs a punch in the jaw for trying to work you over.”

Hermione grinned. “I love you too, Weasley.”

Chapter Text

With a flick of her wand the items on the front row of desks started to multiply; there were suddenly two textbooks, two quills, two inkwells, even two packages of chocolate frogs. The student who had been sneaking the chocolate jumped nearly out of his seat when Oz descended from the rafters and snatched the packages, one in his beak and one in his talons, and flew them over to Hermione’s desk.

“Why thank you, Mr. Yelchin, I do enjoy chocolate frogs. Now, can you tell me what spell I just used previously is?”

“Doubling spell.” The fifth year Hufflepuff replied quickly, seemingly thankful that his snacking hadn’t resulted in a dragon related incident.

“Correct. And that spell is?”

Gemino.”

“Correct again. I can guarantee you right now, this spell will be on your O.W.L examination this year and I highly suggest you know it inside and out. Firstly, someone who actually completed the reading I assigned, tell me the origin of this spell.”

Several hands rose into the air and Hermione, as she always did, chose the hand she saw in the air the least. “Ms. Parkinson.”

“The charm was invented by a set of twin witches, Helixa and Syna Hyslop. They duplicated every item in the house where they lived together. After their deaths, their relatives finally learned of the spell they’d created by discovering the duplicated sets of hand-written instructions for the spell, one left by each twin.”

“Perfect, ten points for Slytherin. Now, in her explanation, Ms. Parkinson called the spell a charm, and it was fine that she did so. In its technical classification, however, it’s actually classified as a curse but almost the entire wizarding world refers to it as a charm. As you know, charms commence an action on a person or an object. So why then, is this charm taught in my class? Anybody?” No one raised their hand and several students flicked open the chapter on the Doubling Charm in their textbook again. Hermione watched them glance around at each other and a few students shrugged their shoulders. “Anyone want to take a stab at it for the chance to impress me? There are no bad guesses.”

Finally one Hufflepuff student put up his hand. “Because they wanted the same number of spells taught in both classes and Charms had been up by two, so they moved one Charm over and added it to the Transfiguration curriculum?”

Hermione beamed. “No, not at all, but that is what we call thinking outside of the box and I loved it. I’m giving your house five points for it and you may also have one of Mr. Yelchin’s Chocolate Frogs providing you eat it outside of my classroom.” The somewhat shy teenager grinned as Oz flew over and dropped off the treat on his desk. “Any other guesses?”

A Slytherin student put her hand in the air, took it down and then somewhat raised her hand again. Hermione chuckled as she called on her. “Do you have a guess, Ms. Short?”

“Maybe it’s taught in the Transfiguration class because something about the charm falls better under the Transfiguration Formula rather than the Charms Chart of Spellwork?”

Hermione beamed again; this was becoming a wonderful class. “You are so close, Ms. Short. And what you said was right, you just missed part of the explanation. You may have five points as well. This spell does fall under the Transfiguration Formula because it is in fact transfiguration. Intense study of the spell led academics to figure out that nothing is actually happening to original item. What is occurring is a sort of scan of the item, and then the particles in the air, the non-being as it were, are transfigured to mimic that shape. So it’s actually the dust, and the dirt and other particles in the air that are changing shape and altering to become something else. Which is of course,” Hermione swept her hands around the classroom, “my territory. So,” she flicked her fingers at the chalkboard, “this is the formula here.” Hermione made the chalk scribble (B<\>~F<\>~)=W/C>V for the students to write down. “This formula looks like a mess.” Hermione smirked. “Can someone explain it to me?” She nodded to a student towards the back.

“Well Bodyweight and Fluidity are on a sliding scale because it depends on what you’re doubling. If it’s basically particles and dust you’re transfiguring into things then of course bodyweight and fluidity are going to be your hardest elements. But it changes on how much depending on what it is. Changing dust to, say, tissue paper, would be easier than changing dust particles to solid oak furniture.”

“Exactly right.” Hermione knew he had done the reading as requested because the chapter had gone in depth about the formula. “Now let’s see how you all manage it.” Hermione taught them the wand movement, a point and flick, by finally producing her own wand and explaining the pronunciation, it’s juh-MIN-ee-oh not GEM-in-ee-oh, and then set the students to practicing on their own quills. “If you get this right you’ll have an extra quill to use for a little while.” She walked throughout the aisles for a while watching her students intensely concentrating. “Okay guys, listen up for a second. I give you these formula’s for a reason because they work. And you’re fifth years by now, you’re going to take your O.W.L’s this year. You know how to feel the magic as well. Focus on what you’re doing. Focus on how much thought you put into the bodyweight and the fluidity of the spell and when that doesn’t work, don’t try the exact same thing over and over again. That’s the definition of insanity people.” Hermione teased lightly. “Tweak it slightly, when you call your magic focus more or less on different elements until they perfectly fit the formula. Truly focus on the wand movement and the pronunciation. If it didn’t work alter the wand movement until its perfect, slight changes can make a big different. Recognize that you did a very, very short point and long flick so next attempt change it. You can do this, class.”

Fifteen minutes later when a Slytherin student successfully duplicated his quill, and when two minutes after that a Hufflepuff managed it, Hermione gave them both twenty points.

When Hermione excused her class she gathered her bag and Oz settled onto her shoulder. She was heading up to her room to change before dinner because she knew she’d be heading over to help Erika directly after that. She was walking along a hallway when Oz cooed lightly in her ear; she had already recognized the magical signature in the air and was unsurprised when a slim body slid up right beside her. “Good evening, ma chère. ‘ow was class?”

“Good, actually. No dragon incidents to report. Chocolate frog?” Hermione offered her confiscated one over and Fleur took it with a smile.

“Why thank you.” Fleur opened the packaging and caught the frog mid-air in its one good leap.

“How was your classes today?”

“Fairly good. ‘ad a bit of a ruckus with the Tickling Charm in my second year class, but nothing I couldn’t ‘andle. Oh.”

Hermione looked over and noticed the Frenchwoman gazing at the chocolate packaging. “What is it, Fleur? Whose card did you get?”

Fleur awkwardly clearly her throat. “Uh, yours.”

Hermione stopped dead in her tracks and Fleur followed suit a half step after. “What?” The French witch reached out and gripped Hermione’s arm gently and the younger Professor was almost surprised when she felt no desire to flinch away.

“To your office, I think.” The hallway wasn’t packed but there were a few lingering students gazing at their stationary Professors. Hermione nodded but couldn’t speak. The distance seemed to melt away and suddenly she was undoing the wards around her office door automatically. Fleur shut the door behind them and headed for the wall that housed the entrance to her quarters. Fleur tried to get Hermione to sit but she was on her feet pacing instantly in her aggravation. Oz flew off her shoulder and landed on his perch but he watched his witch warily.

“They put me on a bloody Chocolate Frog card?” Hermione sounded incredulous. “Don’t they need my permission to do that?” She was almost fuming now. “I never would have agreed to that!”

“I know, ma chérie, I know.” The Frenchwoman was using her most soothing voice but she seemingly knew better than to try and stop Hermione from pacing.

“They didn’t even tell me that they were suddenly using my face and history in their stupid collector’s game to make money?” Hermione’s voice was increasing in volume; Fleur wisely chose not to point out that Hermione had been completely unreachable on her travels. “This is bullshit! I want my name off that card! You know I don’t like being associated with any war pandering!

“I know you don’t, ‘ermione, I know this. But listen to me.” Fleur’s blue eyes were open and sympathetic but adamant; she wouldn’t insult Hermione by not speaking her true opinion. “It’s not Ministry propaganda though, okay? It’s just a Chocolate Frog card from the company and they put on it whoever is famous and the people want to see. This isn’t from people trying to exploit the war. Just the real people.” Hermione stopped pacing and met her friend’s sympathetic but serious eyes. “Just the real people who think of you as a ‘ero. The people you fought for. And I think that you should recognize you’re understandably sensitive about this kind of thing, and that in this instance you might be reacting to the wrong thing.”

Hermione was still pacing but she was breathing a little easier now and she let Fleur’s voice wash over her. “What does it say? The card?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Yes. You’re right. This isn’t the same thing.” Hermione held out her hand and Fleur, even though she was acting hesitant like this was a terrible idea, dutifully handed the card over. Hermione saw the picture first. It was an old one; Hermione thought she was maybe seventeen. It had to be from before the war because her hair was her older style and she hadn’t smiled so widely in years; she also hadn’t allowed a professional picture of herself to be taken since she left Britain. It was hard to tell, as the photo was just of her from the neck up, but she thought it might have actually been taken at Fleur and Bill’s wedding; she kept that thought resolutely to herself. She flipped the card over and saw the little blurb about her.

Hermione Granger is known as the “Brains of the Golden Trio”, the group directly responsible for the defeat of the Dark Wizard Voldemort in the Second Wizarding War. Granger is particularly famous for her eventual defeat of Lieutenant Death Eater, the infamous Bellatrix Lestrange. Granger has currently completed two Masteries in Transfiguration and Potions. She enjoys reading and traveling.

Hermione’s breath stuck somewhere in her throat. Particularly famous for her eventual defeat of Lieutenant Death Eater, the infamous Bellatrix Lestrange. Hermione wasn’t aware that her legs had buckled and she slid to the ground…famous for her eventual defeat of the infamous Bellatrix Lestrange…Hermione was completely deaf to Oz’s near frantic cawing...eventual defeat of Bellatrix Lestrange…slender but strong arms wrapped around her frame tightly but Hermione was lost to their feeling…eventual defeat…eventual…

Hermione’s cheek was stinging from the force of the slap and the back of her head thudded painfully against the floor. “I don’t…I don’t know anything.” Hermione sobbed. She felt a weight settle on her hips and she tried to flail but the grip around her wrists tightened painfully and her hands were slammed to the ground beside her head; she didn’t hear the spell but her hands remained magically stuck on the floor no matter how hard she pulled on them after that. “Please, no.” Another slap sent her face reeling and more tears streamed down her cheeks.

“Shhhhh, shh shh shh.” Cool breath ghosted over Hermione’s face and she clenched her eyes shut. “Shush now mudblood. You didn’t want to talk for Bella when I asked you so sweetly about that sword, so now you don’t have to talk at all wittle mudblood.” The Death Eater’s mad cackle had made Hermione’s hands shake in fear but now this demented baby voice made her blood freeze in her veins.

“No more, please.”

“No more? Oh no, wittle foolish mudblood. I haven’t even started.” Bellatrix leaned her face down even farther and Hermione tried to move away but the floor gave her nowhere to turn. Bellatrix opened her mouth in a cruel smirk, exposing her rotten and yellow teeth, and then licked the side of Hermione’s face from chin to temple. Hermione gave a spastic jerk and fought against her bonds and Bellatrix gave her trademark loud cackle. “I can bloody taste the mud in your veins, mudblood. What shall we do about that, hmm? What does the ickle wittle mudblood think we should do?” Hermione couldn’t even form words as she sobbed silently. “Why, that’s a brilliant idea, wittle mudblood! They did say you were soo smart. We shall leak the mud from your very veins!” Hermione cracked her eyes open to look at the madwomen perched on her hips, while spells were holding her hands down and the Death Eater’s weight was bearing down on her. She wasn’t sure if the Death Eater conjured it from the air or pulled it from behind her but Bellatrix was now holding a knife. The blade was slightly curved and what she could see of the handle was wrapped in black leather and had different runes and symbols burned into it. Bellatrix put the knife, gently, on Hermione’s cheek and the younger witch clamped her eyes shut again. “Open your eyes mudblood.” The words were a hiss and the fake baby-talk voice was gone. Hermione obeyed the command while her whole body shook in fear. “Keep them open and watch the mud leak from your veins or I’ll remove your eyelids.” Bellatrix ran the knife, not hard enough to break the skin, down Hermione’s cheek, down her neck and rest it in the hollow of her throat. Hermione could feel the metal of the knife and noticed it was burning almost hot though the blade held no glow.

Bellatrix let her eyes trail over Hermione’s shaking body and when she clamped her legs tighter around the prone woman’s hips and started a slight rocking motion Hermione felt bile rise in her throat; the Death Eater enjoyed her fear.

The knife flashed downwards and Hermione flinched, preparing for the bite of steel but it never came; only the chill that settled onto her now exposed skin did. Bellatrix had slit her jumper straight down from collar to hem and flung the now ruined fabric aside. Only Hermione’s bra hid some of her torso from the Death Eater gaze. “Shall we start cleaning out your blood, hmm? We’ll watch the mud drip drip drip right from the veins. Yes we will. Won’t we ickle mudblood?” This time when the knife flashed down Hermione had to bite back a scream as it bit flesh. As bad as the wound was, a long slash down across her ribs, and how badly it hurt Hermione quickly realized that she had been right about the heat of the blade; the wound it left continued to burn. Hermione grit her teeth as her flesh felt like it was on fire. “Look at that! Can’t you see the mud?” Bellatrix held up the bloody knife and Hermione was terrified to close her eyes. The Death Eater brought the knife close to her own face and stuck her tongue out to lick up the flat of the blade. “You taste fucking disgusting, mudblood.” Bellatrix sneered.

“Then stop tasting me.” Hermione’s Gryffindor courage, and stupidity, snapped back in between heaving breaths. Her mouth had responded without any direction from her brain and to her horror Bellatrix looked delighted.

“Wittle mudblood still has some spark left after all!” Without any warning Bellatrix rained blows down on Hermione’s exposed torso, punching her repeatedly with both fists. Hermione couldn’t hold back her screams as she felt and heard her ribs cracking. Bellatrix didn’t even look winded when she stopped. “Oh wittle mudblood, I haven’t even begun to taste you yet.” She once again slowly trailed the knife down, following her torso, and Hermione went, if possible, even paler when the Death Eater stopped at the waistband of her jeans. “Let’s see how much of the bloody Gryffindor idiocy you’ve still got!” The knife flashed and Bellatrix cut through the button holding her pants together. Hermione started to fight again but pain lanced through her from her broken ribs. Bellatrix set her fingertips against Hermione’s flesh at her collarbones and then raked broken and cracked nails down her skin as hard as she could; Hermione bit her tongue until it bled to stop the screaming. “Let’s see what else this knife can do before you tell me everything I want to know. Let’s see where else I can put this knife, hmm? This is just one of my knives. You don’t want to meet the others. If you tell me where you got this sword I won’t have to carve all the flesh from your bones.”

Hermione felt like she was getting whiplash from the insane woman’s mood swings. She couldn’t keep up from the deadly serious Death Eater who cared about the Sword to the taunting and maniacal Azkaban escapee who got pleasure from torturing her. Hermione’s thoughts were interrupted when terrible pain, and heat, laced through her as the knife was stabbed into her hipbone. Hermione thrashed, causing even more agony, and screamed over and over again while she writhed; she could hear the Death Eater on top of her moaning.

“…need you to come back to me, mon coeur [my heart], I need you to breathe and come back to me.” Fingers were trailing gently through her shortened locks. “Breathe, ma chère.”

…she dueled as hard as she could with Ginny and Luna at her sides…the sweat was dripping into her eyes…the pain was building the more she tried to ignore it…the curse clipped her in the side and sent her spinning…she dove behind a fallen chunk of castle wall and found a dead, lifeless body staring up at her… “Not my daughter, you bitch!”…Hermione found herself in the middle of the fighting…her heart stopped beating when she saw the black leather handle and the serrated, straight-edged blade…blood was pouring over her hands…she would never be able to get the blood off her hands…such dirty blood…

“’ermione, please, please, come back to me.” Fingertips so, so, gently trailed across her cheeks and Hermione felt like she had been drowning and could suddenly breathe. She inhaled a gasping, choked breath and Fleur’s hands were instantly there at her cheeks, stroking and soothing her. “You’re alright now, mon coeur, you’ll be alright now. Just breathe. Breathe wiz me.”

Hermione realized her position on the floor once more practically in Fleur’s lap and wrapped in her arms; Fleur must have felt her stiffen because her hands were again in her hair running soothing fingers between the strands. “Don’t even think of it.” Fleur whispered with her lips pressed right against Hermione’s hair. “There’s nozing wrong with you needing me. ‘ush now.” Fleur cast a Featherlight Charm silently and then lifted Hermione up off the ground; Hermione clung to her and burrowed her face into the Frenchwoman’s neck.

Fleur brought Hermione to the younger witch’s own bed and then laid them both down. She laid on her back and Hermione curled up mostly on top of her; Fleur removed the charm so that she could feel Hermione’s weight pressing gently down on her. Hermione’s face was still buried in Fleur’s neck because she found the smell, sweetness and citrus and lavender that was so clearly Fleur, comforting. For ten minutes the witches said nothing. Fleur continued to stroke Hermione’s hair and back while Hermione regulated her breathing and her heartrate.

“Nobody mentions her to me.” Hermione finally whispered. Fleur didn’t outwardly react, she just let her friend speak. “No one. Not after the Battle. Not after the war. Not after I fled even if they knew who I was. No one mentions her to my face. Even after…even after we escaped from Malfoy Manner…even after I had to…become…her…no one said her name to my face. After it happened the boys never asked what had gone down while they were in the dungeon, and I’m grateful for that…they were scared and morbidly curious I suspect but I always knew you told them to leave me alone…but they didn’t ask years later either. No one ever talked about it…I never talked about it.”

“Would you like to talk about it?”

“No.”

The silence stretched on once again. Hermione was actually almost asleep, dozing peacefully with her entire body stretched out on top of Fleur, when her stomach growled loudly in the silent room. Fleur tugged on the end of her hair. “You should eat something. We’re missing dinner.”

“I don’t want to move.” Hermione whined with her eyes closed, her face pressed directly against Fleur’s smooth skin. “I’m too comfy.”

“Then call for Twinsy and we’ll eat right ‘ere. We won’t be missed at dinner just this once.” Fleur made no motion to move her friend.

The house-elf was thrilled to serve them and had to be talked out of a full course meal and instead just brought them wine and a variety of sandwiches. Hermione shifted only slightly; once to allow Fleur to sit up and have the use of her hands and once to pillow her head on Fleur’s lap.

“I know you don’t want me to apologize for having a moment.” Hermione picked slightly at her bacon and tomato sandwich to avoid looking at the Frenchwoman.

“You’re right, I don’t. You wouldn’t want me to the next time it’s me breaking down.”

“You’re right. I wouldn’t. So I’ll just say thank you, instead.”

Fleur looked down at the woman in her lap and blue eyes locked onto brown. “If I knew that becoming attached to you would mean dealing with a breakdown every single day, even then I would still do it.” Fleur’s look was warm and full of affection. “You’re everything.”

Hermione almost teared up again at her earnest words. “I’d deal with you breaking down every single day too, mon trésor [my treasure].”

“And what a pair we’d make.”

They finished eating together until Hermione glanced up at the clock on the wall. “I have to get going. I’m going down to help Erika Carrow with the Dueling Club.” She silently flicked her fingers to perform some spells on her face to make it look like she hadn’t been crying; she didn’t touch her hair because Fleur was back to idly running her fingers through it.

Fleur nodded. “If you’re sure you’re up for it.” Her words weren’t condescending, merely truthful.

“I am. It’s not dueling for your life, it’s helping students be prepared and learn. I enjoy that. Beside I couldn’t possibly not show up. I just marginally got Erika to trust I’m not out to get her for her last name, I’m not going to throw that away.” Hermione arched her neck even farther from her position still on Fleur’s lap to look up at the women hovering over her; it was not lost on her that she allowed exactly no one to have her in such a vulnerable position. “Would you like to come and help as well?”

Fleur ran her eyes over Hermione’s face and then gave a smirk that eluded to the fact she knew more than she was letting on. “Non. I think Professor Carrow will be satisfied with just your ‘elp this evening.”

“Okay?” Hermione gave a puzzled look. “Is everything alright?” Hermione wouldn’t leave until she knew everything was fine with her dearest friend.

“Of course. I just meant that it isn’t my ‘elp Professor Carrow sought out, it was yours. And whatever they are, I’m sure she ‘as ‘er reasons.”

“Yes.” Hermione quirked an eyebrow. “That she dueled me and realized I could help.”

Fleur smirked again. “Of course. Si tu le dit [If you say so].”

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

The whispers in the dueling chamber increased tenfold when Hermione and Oz strode into the room. She wasn’t late but both Erika and Filius, and a selection of students, had beaten her there. She walked over towards the other Professors and cast a glance about the room. The room had obviously been designed for dueling right from the foundation of the castle. The room had different coloured tiles along the floor; three rows of ten red tiled sections stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the dark grey tiles. Hermione had no doubt that the thin red sections were the traditional twenty paces long and she could feel the magic lingering in the air; she suspected the tiled sections were spelled so that spells didn’t ricochet into other dueling lanes.

“Hermione!” Filius squeaked as she approached. “How good of you to join us.”

“Quite.” Erika nodded; Hermione was pleased that she gave a very small smile before adjusting to her deadpanned expression.

“Happy to be here. Everett doesn’t join you to help out?”

Erika laughed and tried to stop herself from doing so at the same time so she just ended up exhaling sharply from her nose. “Dueling is both a gift and an art, and in this matter my brother is neither gifted nor an artist.”

“Well I shall have to have a discussion with him about Ancient Runes then, if that’s more his gift.”

“He’d be quite delighted, I’m sure.”

As they continued talking the room filled up and soon they had almost 40 students waiting and talking amongst themselves. “Would you like to say something, Professor Granger?” Erika nodded to the crowd that was unquestionably pointing at her excitedly.

“This is your show, Erika. Please, start the class.”

Erika got that expression that was becoming familiar; where she had been surprised by someone’s goodness. She hid the look in a nod and turned to the room. “Hello everyone. We’re happy to have you all here for this year’s Dueling Club. As you can all see, Professor Granger has graciously agreed to join us on occasion and assist and we’re happy to have her. A few rules before we begin. Spells are only to be used when we duel. Anyone attempting any spell outside of a duel we have allowed will be banned from the club, will lose their House fifty points and will face separate detentions from all supervising Professors. Please do not test us.”

Erika continued her short speech and Hermione watched her with a smile; her quiet voice reminded her a lot of Snape in the fact that she commanded attention effortlessly. She spoke without the disdain her Potions Master was known for however.

“Alright then, third year new comers Professor Flitwick is going to take you aside and teach you the traditional points of dueling. The rest of you, everyone grab a partner. For now, you must choose someone who is either not of your House or not of your year.” There was a bit of a mad scramble and Erika had to sort out the last few partnerships but eventually the students were sorted. “Now as you guys remember, there are four basic fundamentals of dueling. The spells you elect to use, how you elect to counteract your opponent, the speed at which you cast, and how you move your body. Everyone has a different style that encompasses their personal preference of those four things. For example, Professor Flitwick duels mostly stationary and hardly moves his body at all. Professor Granger moves her body like an athlete and is in almost constant movement. Neither is wrong nor right and as they are both highly accomplished duelists their style clearly works for them.”

Hermione watched amazed as the other witch lectured; it was like watching a different woman entirely. Her face was far from deadpanned, she spoke with emotion and even gestured with her hands to make her point. Her grey eyes sparkled whenever a student raised their hand to question or challenge her. She startled at the sound of her name. “Anything to add, Professor Granger?”

“Only that we understand you don’t exactly know your style yet because you haven’t dueled enough, but you have to realize that your style will come from your life, so draw from it. I move my body like an athlete during a duel because I am one. If you’re a dancer, use that. If your Housemates joke about your lightning fast reflexes, use that. If you spend your time studying, then study every countercurse and block known to wizard kind and use that. You need to adapt. When we set you to practicing don’t worry so much about winning the duel, but focus on yourself. If you find yourself in a position that you didn’t like or didn’t feel right, ask us how you can avoid that situation in future.”

Hermione nodded and gave the floor back to Erika. She actually shot Hermione a grin when she set the students up to dueling. When the spells finally started flying Oz took off from Hermione’s shoulder and he glided and flew up amongst the rafters.

Hermione walked amongst the pairs, watching. After a duel she gave compliments and pointers to both duelers and she knew Erika was on the other side of the room doing the same. Erika called for partners to switch around, this time by conjuring a list of the students in the room and pairing them up alphabetically, and the duels continued.

Both witches were so lost and enjoying themselves helping the students that Oz was the one that had to alert them that time was up two hours later; he cawed down to them and Hermione whipped her head around to notice the door had opened and several of the older students had come in. Erika called a halt and told the students about how well they had done and Oz settled down on to her shoulder again. “Vamos ver do que são feitos os alunos mais velhos, hein Oz [Let’s see what the older students are made of, shall we Oz]?” She stroked the bird under his beak but noticed Erika had turned her head surprised at the foreign language spilling from Hermione’s lips. “Será que nossa amiga de olhos cinzentos fala a nossa língua Oz [Do we think our grey eyed friend speaks our language, Oz]?” Hermione watched carefully out of the corner of her eye but Erika gave no sign of recognition whatsoever. I guess not.

Hermione finally looked the students that had assembled over and noticed an even number from the Houses. Each House had four students representing them in the Dueling Club; the two elder students for Gryffindor were Serena Hystenbaum and Chadwick Under. She smiled and nodded at all her Lion’s and waited for Erika to start the club. This time there was no need of instruction. Erika separated the group into pairs by personally calling names and then sent them off to do warm-up duels.

The quality of the duels genuinely impressed Hermione; she could tell instantly why these students had been the hand selected ones in the advanced class. Their spellwork was all advanced levels and outside of school curriculum proving they did their own research and study. Oz cawed and gestured with a flutter of his wings across the way and Hermione watched Chadwick Under disarm his opponent twice in quick succession. After a few minutes of observation she deemed him the best in the class of 16. He lacked finesse but he dueled with raw power and speed; he actually quite reminded her of the way Ron dueled as opposed to Harry who dueled with more forethought. He was mostly stationary but his footwork proved to be adequate when a spell was shot into his feet and he jumped it with apparent ease.

Erika called a halt and the students wandered over so they could all hear. Hermione watched Chadwick carefully and was pleased to see he clapped his opponent on the back and flashed him an easy grin showcasing white teeth and dimples.

The three Professors each taught the class a new dueling spell and Hermione was pleased at the ease in which the class took to new magic. Erika separated them into pairs once again and called for duels in which the duelists showcased one of the new spells.

Once again the time seemed to escape her notice and with only ten minutes left of the class Hermione found herself standing next to Erika as they watched Chadwick duel. “Proud of your student?” Erika asked lightly after Chadwick’s Stunning spell broke right through his Ravenclaw opponent’s shield.

“Proud, yes.” Hermione smirked but continued to watch the duel seriously. “But he also needs to be taken down a peg.” Erika startled but Hermione made no motion that she was joking. Chadwick was not a dirty dueler; in fact he dueled perfectly, one hundred percent by the rules. He was well liked and even his defeated opponents smiled and laughed with him. But Hermione could read people and she knew that Chadwick was overconfident. He didn’t expect to win, he knew he’d win and he dueled like it. He also dueled with a single minded and complete focus to his opponent and Hermione knew in future that would be his downfall.

“Quite.” Erika agreed, although she seemed surprised the Head of Gryffindor had said it. “So shall you duel him, or shall I?”

“Neither. He expects to win now and he’d expect to lose then. In your opinion which student here is middle of the class ranked but with a strong defence, not malicious or overly prideful, easygoing but quick. Preferably friends with my prideful Lion there.”

Erika nodded to one boy right away. “Duke Collins, Hufflepuff. But Under will best him.”

“We’ll see. May I call the final match?” Erika waved her hand and Hermione stepped forward. She got the students attention and called them forward. “Obviously you all know the drill at this point, we’re going to watch one final match. And it’s going to be Under vs. Collins.” Both boys looked surprised, clearly at Mr. Collins participation, but Chadwick clapped the Hufflepuff on the back and wished him luck genuinely. While the Gryffindor was not boastful or outwardly arrogant he apparently knew he had nothing to worry about.

Chadwick immediately headed to the centre of the dueling line and Hermione waved them off. “Oh, I know you guys know the rules, just go to the end of the line and I’ll call duel.”

Chadwick’s eyebrows shut up. “But, Professor, the traditional start is actually part of the duel.”

“Yes it is. And we’re not at tournament, come now, we’ve only got so long. Let’s just have ourselves a casual match.” Hermione ushered them along and when Collins shrugged and just took his place at the end of the line Chadwick followed suit. She called duel and Chadwick fired a strong Stunning spell instantly; Hermione was glad Erika had been correct about the Hufflepuff boy’s defence. She took her place beside the other witch and they watched critically for a moment.

“I admit I don’t see what you hoped to prove.” Erika finally spoke from the corner of her mouth; she needn’t have bothered as the other students were riveted on the duel. “Collins will tire or slip eventually.”

“I just needed him to hold out for a moment.” Hermione replied. She could see in Chadwick’s stance and facial expression that he thought of nothing else but the opponent twenty paces away down the line and his eyes spoke the truth that he had already won. “Oz.”

The hawk took off into the air and Erika, nor anyone else in the class, paid him any mind; until he dive-bombed Chadwick Under. Chadwick never even remotely saw the bird coming and he yelled in surprise and his hands flailed as he ducked his head in reflex; Oz had never actually touched him but he had flapped into his face while cawing before banking away sharply. Collins had been as momentarily surprised by the bird as Chadwick but he had seen it coming a second before Oz struck; he also recovered from the shock faster and continued firing spells. Under had his hands up by his face and was bent almost double in his momentary panic. He had no defence up whatsoever and was struck by an Immobulus Charm followed immediately by a Blasting Curse which sent the frozen student ten feet backwards where he landed amongst the cushions.

Oz landed easily on Hermione’s shoulder and she stroked him calmly. She flicked her fingers and Chadwick found himself freed of the Immobulus. He looked both stunned and incredulous. “Professor!” He sputtered. “You, I, but…you cheated!”

“Did I?” Hermione kept her voice completely cool. Chadwick didn’t sound angry but extremely confused.

“Yes! That was cheating! I mean, Professor, that…that never would have happened in a traditional formal duel! If that hadn’t have happened I would have won!”

“How do you know? And you weren’t participating in a traditional formal duel.” Hermione countered. “There was no bow, no walk, not even a countdown.”

Chadwick’s jaw dropped and the other students didn’t seem to know if they should chuckle or stay silent. “But. Professor, I just don’t understand.” Chadwick truly did seem confused. “Why would you do that? Why would you interfere to make me lose?”

“This is a class, Mr. Under. The point is not to win.” She said softly. Hermione didn’t want him to feel hurt so she finally nodded and started explaining. “Mr. Under I am standing exactly halfway between you two. Oz flew into the air right from here, from my shoulder, and flew over to you. You truly didn’t see him coming?”

“Well. No. But…I mean, I was- I was concentrating! I was dueling!” Chadwick stood up straight and his words were adamant.

“You were dueling, yes. And I interfered to do what I was brought here to do; teach. Because if you ever duel someone outside of a traditional, formal duel, Mr. Under, you’re going to lose. And losing outside of tournament is very different than losing in one.” Something about the very serious glint in Hermione’s eye made Chadwick clamp his jaw shut and say nothing to the statement that he would lose. “I could have conjured an elephant over here and you never would even have noticed. And this goes for all of you.” Hermione scanned the students there. “We’re not teaching you to win tournaments, we’re teaching you to duel, whether that be in a tournament or in a serious situation. And part of dueling is not being so entirely and utterly oblivious to the things happening around you.” Chadwick and a few other students looked down in shame as Hermione’s words truly sunk in. “So that’s your lesson from this class. Anything can happen during a duel and any duel can produce any outcome. Never, ever, enter into a duel lightly because any person can win or lose at any time. Professor Flitwick, Professor Carrow and myself will all tell you that we’ve seen stunning defeats and incredible victories that no one thought would go the way they did.” She clenched her jaw. “And because you’re not young children I’ll add that we’ve all also seen incredibly talented duelists killed from a ricochet that struck them in the back.” The mood was decidedly somber now so Hermione spoke once more. “However, I will give you this was a drastic example and Oz did fly straight for your face, Mr. Under.” Even Chadwick chuckled at this. “You all did amazingly well today and I was so impressed by all of you. By the end of the year I think we can make some true duelists out of you.”

Oz cawed lightly, so Hermione knew someone was coming, but she was still shocked by the gentle touch to her forearm.

“Quite. Couldn’t have said it better myself.” Erika grinned at the students. “Next week Professor Granger and I might be shooting spells into ongoing duels randomly so everyone had better spend the week learning to pay attention to their surroundings.” Erika’s fingers slipped off of Hermione’s skin and she nodded her goodbye, smiling almost warmly.

Hermione felt the touch on her arm even though the hand was gone and she flicked her eyes down to her skin like there’d be a mark. She had managed to stay calm and relaxed which was surprising but even so, every single intrinsic part of her had felt it to her core that those weren’t the same slender fingers that were usually touching her.

The only fingers that instead of forcing her to try and remain calm brought their own peace effortlessly.

Oz gave a low caw on her shoulder and Hermione smiled. “Is it too late to go say goodnight to Fleur, Oz?” He cawed lowly again. “No, I didn’t think so either.”

Chapter Text

Fleur always knew when there were eyes on her. What thrall she did possess acted like a sixth sense beneath her skin and she could feel a roving eye like a caress.

Being a professor she knew the slightly tingling, almost tickle of a younger, innocent gaze very well. Fleur had learned to mostly ignore this look because she didn’t want to overtly embarrass any of her youngest students. She knew the young boys, and several girls, meant no harm when they peeked at her from over their spellbooks. When a brave second year Hufflepuff had brought her an apple, a muggle tradition Hermione had explained for her later, she could do nothing but smile, completely charmed, when her thrall tickled lightly along her face.

Being a professor also meant that Fleur was quite used to the slightly shaky bubbles of touch along her thrall from many of the older students. Fleur treated these looks on a case by case basis. Some students could not help but be attracted to her and Fleur accepted that; many students who Fleur felt the eyes of on many occasions barely even spoke to her. They would answer her questions in class and complete their homework and, had Fleur not been part Veela, she likely never would have known about their crush on her. In those times Fleur blocked her thrall from her mind as best she could. A few students had crossed lines and Fleur was forced to reprimand them, but she never drew overt attention to the fact that they were being sexually inappropriate; she usually simply subtly detracted House points for disrupting her classroom. Only once had a student purposely pushed her and actually asked Fleur for a detention so they could spend some time alone; Fleur had granted their request for a detention with a smile and then informed them they were serving it with Mr. Filch.

While it didn’t happen as often anymore Fleur’s thrall felt jealous, angry looks like borderline sharp lines being slapped into her skin. “Le thrall est un avertissement a propos d'une giffle pu une bagarre a venir, ma grande. Tiens toujours en conte ton thrall [The thrall is warning you about a potential slap or a fight coming, my big girl. You always heed to your thrall],” were the words that Fleur’s grandmother had taught her after her third year at Beauxbatons. Fleur had spent a lot of her time practicing ignoring her thrall, and pushing it to the back of her mind, so that she didn’t feel its warning every time she walked down the hallway.

She wished she didn’t know the sharp, cloying and aggressive touch that felt like oil sliding along her thrall from lecherous, aggressive eyes but she did. If her thrall felt jealous girls’ eyes as a potential warning it felt those harsh, forceful looks as a threat. Her magic always tingled down her spine and her thrall let her know exactly who dared to draw their eyes upon her in such a manner. She was not an object to be ogled and she would never allow someone to view her like a possession to be had in such a manner.

There were times as well that Fleur sometimes felt choked by her senses. No one could hide attraction or lust or love from a Veela; even a quarter Veela like her. If she hadn’t learned to limit the intake on her senses sitting in the Great Hall with all the students in the castle would surely send her into overload; all the attraction and lust swirling in the air around hundreds of teenagers would be too much for anyone to handle.

Even sitting in her office, quietly reading through several papers, and not having heard a sound Fleur knew that eyes were suddenly upon her; and she knew those eyes. Her thrall reacted with a softness and warmth that only belonged to one particular gaze. Fleur could feel the equal parts of love, adoration, appreciation and attraction in the air and an automatic smile blossomed on her face. “’ow was the dueling club, mon coeur?”

She finally heard Hermione shuffle into the room and she drew her eyes up from her papers to gaze at her. Oz was standing, ever proud and loyal, on her shoulder and Hermione looked tired but pleased; Fleur beamed at both of them.

“It went well, I believe, mon trésor. I had to get a little creative at one point but I think it went over okay. Or maybe I just hope.” Hermione grinned as she forewent a seat across from Fleur’s desk and conjured her own chair with a flick of her hand so she could sit beside the French witch.

Fleur’s thrall hummed and practically surrounded her with warmth like a blanket across her skin. The slight worry, and insecurity, that had been plaguing Fleur before Hermione’s arrival was harder to feel under such a cloud of warmth; it made her feel safe and loved.

“What were you worrying about when I came in?” Hermione asked gently but still bluntly.

Fleur grinned. It didn’t surprised her in the least that Hermione could read her so easily. “I’m just doing some potential research.”

“Well I love research, tell me all about it.” Hermione smiled and interlocked her hands over her stomach.

“It was about…” Fleur wasn’t totally sure why she was hesitating but the second she did Hermione’s hand landed comfortingly on her thigh. Her thrall practically buzzed from the touch. “Potential Masters and Mistresses for a Charms Apprenticeship.” Fleur couldn’t help but grin when Hermione lit up in excitement.

“That’s amazing! I think it’s a great idea. Is there anything I could help with?”

“Well what do you know about these witches and wizards?” Fleur spread out the several parchments on her desk that she’d been reading so Hermione could see the names.

“Well this is one out.” Hermione scoffed. She picked up one of the papers and it caught fire and disappeared into ashes. “I know Hubert Hofflinger from the International Association for Experimental Magics and he’s a complete drunk. Next.”

Fleur leaned back in her chair as Hermione rooted through the many papers on her desk. Fleur wondered if the other witch could tell, even without a thrall, how often blue eyes affectionately watched Hermione.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

Chadwick Under had lost track of how long he had been staring into the fire in the Gryffindor Common room. At first his Housemates had tried to gain his attention and it was the first time he had cursed his popularity. Students of pretty much all the years knew they could come to him and hang out and he helped the younger years just as often as he did his own. Finally the rest of the House seemed to catch on to his melancholic mood and had left him to his brooding. Now almost everyone had gone to sleep and the common room was blissfully quiet.

How could I have been so foolish?

Chad knew that rashness and stubbornness were hallmarks of a Gryffindor just as much as bravery and courage were and he accepted that about himself. But he didn’t realize he was a prat as well. Chad grit his teeth as the shame, as it had every time tonight he’d thought of it, welled inside his stomach once more.

He had actively tried to be the best person he could be; especially in the Dueling Club where he knew he actually was the best. He never threw his matches but he tried to help his classmates when they lost and he would never lord that over someone. He had thought that he was actually being quite noble about the whole thing and that shamed him worse. To secretly think you were being a noble good guy and find out in one fell swoop that you had completely missed the entire point of the Dueling Club.

And to Hermione Granger of all people.

Chad had done his own research, like pretty much the entire school had, and Serena and he had even exchanged notes and theories. While it was common knowledge that there was very little truly known about the Second Wizarding War there were two things that seemed to be fact; that Professor Granger had been essential in the victory of the of the Order of the Phoenix in more than one circumstance and that she had suffered greatly during the course of the War. Even less was known about her defeat of notorious Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange but it was heavily implied that the two witches had faced off several times throughout the war and that Granger had only eventually defeated her in the Final Battle.

The seventh year Prefect had been as proud as every Gryffindor on discovering that the war hero was their new Head of House; and how could they not? Other than perhaps Harry Potter himself who could better claim to hold the traits of the Lion such as bravery, courage and nobility than the so dubbed Gryffindor Princess herself?

While Chad would never claim so out loud he knew that people thought he was one of the best Gryffindor had to offer as well. He had tried to keep his pride in check but he liked hearing that people thought so well of him. It had severely punctured his pride that Hermione Granger had seen right through him. Have I really been using the dueling club as my own personal ego boost? Not only that I won every match, but because of the way I acted so that people thought even more highly of me? How did I so utterly lose sight of what was really important?

As shamed as he felt it burned to think that Professor Granger might be just as ashamed of him. He had wanted nothing more than to impress her and instead she had found him wanting. How must it have felt to her, to have dueled for her life and her freedom to see one of her own Lions duel as if there wasn’t a greater purpose than winning?

The hand on his shoulder made him jump and Serena withdrew her hand quickly. “Sorry, I called your name several times. The sixth years told me you’ve been over here for hours ignoring everyone.” She arched an eyebrow and Chad turned his eyes away. While his best friend was a little studious she was brilliant and almost a Gryffindor Princess herself; and Professor Granger hadn’t seen fit to call her out in front of everyone. Chad tried not to sulk openly because he knew Serena would call him on it. “You missed N.E.W.T prep.” Chad flicked his eyes up and she gave him a small smile. “I made your excuses.”

It wasn’t like Serena to lie, or even fib, at all and Chad had to thank her.

“This isn’t like you.” She pointed out obviously and took the seat in the armchair beside him. “Is this about what happened earlier at the dueling club?”

Chad wondered why she asked when she already knew the answer. “You mean when our idol pointed out a flaw I didn’t even know I had in front of everyone? No, why would you think that?” Chad scowled when Serena arched an unimpressed eyebrow at his cheek. “Of course it is.”

“Okay.” Serena folded her hands and thought for a moment; he knew she was too logical to simply spout the first thing that came to mind. “Are you upset because what happened, happened in front of everyone?”

“No.” Chad said truthfully. “It was embarrassing, but she said that everyone had forgotten dueling had a greater purpose and that everyone needed to be reminded. Someone had to be the scapegoat and it may as well have been me.”

Serena nodded in agreement. “It makes sense, logically. If you’re trying to teach the class a lesson you might as well make your example of the best in the class. So, you’re not mad she embarrassed you?”

Chad scowled. “Clearly I needed embarrassing.”

“So, you’re mad at yourself then?” He didn’t see a need to answer her. “Then I’m going to tell you exactly what you told me. You made a mistake. Learn from that mistake and do better next time. And if it’s bothering you this much, find Professor Granger and apologize.”

“I tried.” Chad admitted. “She wasn’t in her office.”

“Then try again. It isn’t that late, I’m sure the Professors are still up. Try her office again, try the teacher’s lounge.” She tilted her head slightly as a thought came to her. “Try Professor Delacour’s office, too. I think they’re actually friends and Professor Granger was in the Charms office when I was looking for Professor Delacour that time.”

Chad finally smiled a little for the first time in hours. “You don’t think I’m a prat then?”

“Sometimes.” She smirked, and then shrugged. “None of us thought of it. We’ve never been in war and the wizarding world has been at peace for pretty much our entire teenage lives. When we imagine dueling for glory it’s in tournament. I’m sure for someone like her, and even Professor Carrow, they don’t see the glory. They see survival. Now they’re going to teach us both.”

Serena looked down at her hands when Chad reached over and gently clasped one; he deflated slightly when she glanced around the common room as if checking it was empty. “There will be rumours no matter what we do.”

“Yes.” She agreed with him but he could see the weight on her shoulders. “It doesn’t mean I have to like it.” He knew not to take her words as offence. They had been dealing with rumours about the two of them for years. For him, it was almost a boon. Serena was beautiful, talented, kind and brilliant. She was a catch by anyone’s definition of a catch and he would be honoured to have someone like her on his arm. He knew for her, though, it was very different. If she was attached to him then suddenly everything she had worked for became something they had worked for. Her perfect grades were because he had helped her. Her status as a Prefect was because of the boon she got from his reputation. Chad had spent years denying the claims and the insinuations because he knew how much it hurt her but it didn’t altogether help all that much. It didn’t matter how many times he pointed out that her grades were better than his, or even now that she had made Head Girl and he had not made Head Boy, people were still quick to put down the beautiful blonde.

“I’m sorry.” He could think of nothing else to say.

“I know.” She shook her head. “Sorry, this isn’t about me.” She squeezed his hand. “Go find her. Tell her you’ll do better, which, honestly I didn’t think was even possible.”

Chad stood and kissed the top of her head as he left, a gesture he would never have done in front of other eyes. His status as a Prefect allowed him to walk the halls later at night than other students were allowed. He checked Professor Granger’s office first but a glance from down the hallway told him the door was still shut. He spun on his heel and slipped through a secret passageway behind a portrait of a mad knight to bring him down closer to the teacher’s lounge. The door was closed as well but he could see the light from underneath the doorway so he knocked firmly. A moment passed before it opened to reveal his Ancient Runes Professor. “What can we do for you at this hour, Mr. Under?” The male Professor Carrow said curiously.

“Forgive me, Professor Carrow, I was wondering if Professor Granger was in there, I would like to have a word with her.”

“Alas, she is not, I’m afraid.” Grey eyes examined him. “I heard through the grapevine that Dueling Club was interesting this evening.”

Chad flushed. He wondered if Carrow had heard it from his sister or if the story had already spread throughout the entire teaching staff. “It was.” Chad wasn’t willing to elaborate any more to the Slytherin Professor. Even though he had class with both Chad preferred the female Carrow. Everett actually showed more emotion than his sister but it felt off to Chad, like it was a well learned role more than actually how he felt. “I’ll leave you then, Professor.” Chad went to leave but Carrow spoke up when he was several paces away.

“It was a good lesson Professor Granger tried to teach you. One always thinks to watch their back. It takes a different sort to watch the one standing beside them.”

Chad couldn’t think of a reply to that so he merely nodded and headed back upstairs. He debated the entire way if knocking on one Professor’s door while asking for another was too weird but his query was quickly rendered moot. Professor Delacour’s office door was open and when he was close enough he heard a very familiar caw from inside. He didn’t hesitate because he had no doubt the bird had, somehow, known and alerted the witches to his presence.

He knocked on the door as he peered around it and, as he suspected, the witches were already looking up and waiting for him. They were actually seated on the same side of Professor Delacour’s desk and the wooden surface was littered with scrolls and parchments. What did shock him was the bird, who was also staring him down, was perched on Professor Delacour’s shoulder instead of Professor Grangers. He made a mental note to tell Serena that she had been right and it seemed like the witches were very close indeed.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Under?” Professor Delacour’s melodic voice broke him from his reverie. He could admit that he had never seen a more beautiful woman than the French witch, likely no one ever had, but her face and voice didn’t render him useless as it did to some of his male classmates.

“Actually Professor, I was…um.”

“I assume you were looking for me?” Professor Granger saved him from his embarrassing stutter. He nodded shyly at her. Her voice was pleasant but also not at all curious; she knew exactly what he was doing here. “We can just step out into the hall, no one should be around this late.” She stood and took a step and her bird gave a slight caw; to Chad’s embarrassment she noticed how his eyes flickered nervously over to the bird on the other witch’s shoulder. “Eu acho que acidentalmente deixei ele receoso de você. Espere aqui um momento.” It took the foreign language for Chad to realize that Professor Granger was no longer addressing him. He knew only enough French to know that it wasn’t the language she was speaking and therefore she likely wasn’t addressing Professor Delacour either. He eyed the bird a little nervously again. “After you, Mr. Under.” His Professor gestured with her hand and he strode out of the office. He stopped himself from pacing when he realized that Professor Granger leaned easily against the wall appearing completely casual. It was in that moment he realized truly how young she was.

“Professor Granger.” He started but had no real idea how to finish. “I wanted to apologize,”

“Chadwick.” The use of his first name was enough to stop him. “You have nothing to be sorry about. If one of us should be apologizing, it should likely be me.” She sighed but Chad sensed it was at herself. “Chadwick, you are an incredible dueler, already. I see so much potential in you. You could make a go of dueling professionally if you so choose, but I think you’re leaning more toward the noble calling of the aurors, aren’t you?”

Chad was surprised but he figured he probably shouldn’t be. “Yes, Professor.”

She smiled lightly. “I thought so. Chadwick, in a formal setting you duel better than I did in my seventh year. And we both know what I was doing in my seventh year.”

Chad caught the slight that he probably wouldn’t have noticed before the Dueling Club incident earlier in the night. “In a formal setting.” He repeated dully.

“That wasn’t a negative, it was compliment. Dueling formally is an incredible skill to have. The International Wizards Federation holds a dueling competition every three years for anyone to compete in, and I imagine you will do amazingly well. Maybe even win it one day. But in your everyday work as an auror, you can’t duel like that. It was, and is, my intention to help teach you both.”

Chad nodded, still a little glumly. “Serena said much the same thing.”

“And she is a smart witch you should listen to.” Granger smiled back without missing a beat. “If I embarrassed you, or made you nervous, I apologize. That was not my intention. To be truthful, you made me nervous.”

His jaw dropped. “Me? Ho- what?” He spluttered and she actually giggled lightly.

“All I could picture was you stepping up to duel a dark wizard some twenty years from now and actually offering him your back as you went to do the walk.” Chad blushed and dipped his eyes. “Listen to me. I know things are different now, and thank Merlin that they are. Do you want to know how I learned the lesson that I just gave to you?” He nodded quickly and his Professor sighed. “I have a scar that runs from here,” she pointed to her right collarbone and then dragged her finger diagonally across her body almost to her left hipbone, “to here. I got it in my fifth year.”

“The Battle of the Department of Mysteries?” Chad interrupted before he could stop himself.

Granger laughed sourly. “I sometimes forget how much of my history is now in the history books.”

Chad didn’t really know what to say. “That Battle is heralded as the true start to the Second Wizarding War.”

“Of course it is. In truth the war had started long before that. No matter, yes, that Battle. And Merlin knows we should not have been there.”

“What?” Chad interrupted again. “How can you say that, Professor? Its reported that you and Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley and a group of other classmates fifth year or younger battled and held off a group of Death Eaters long enough for the Order reinforcements to arrive without taking any casualties!”

Granger chuckled again but it held no humour. “That’s what the history books would say. They don’t report that we were frightened children and we only made it out alive due to luck and those reinforcements saving the day. We were running for our lives, and dueling when we had to. I struck Antonin Dolohov with a silencing spell so he couldn’t alert his fellow Death Eaters to our presence. More madness and running ensued. I was battling a Death Eater named Jugson. All of my attention, everything I had, every single bit of me was focused on surviving that duel with him.”

“And then he gave you that scar, Professor?”

She arched an eyebrow at him. “Have you forgotten the lesson I taught you already? No, he didn’t. Dolohov did. I never saw him, never even knew he was still in the battle. He struck me silently with a spell,” she gestured again across her torso, “an Evisceration Curse.”

Chad actually let out a horrified noise. The spell was rarely used, even in battle, for its ruthlessness and messiness. The so named curse split a victim apart so that they could be disembowelled; Chad had never heard of someone surviving it so cleanly.

“Thankfully for me, Dolohov was not very well versed in silent magic and the spell that hit me was not at full strength. Even so, I was ages healing and had to take more potions than I care to remember recovering from that curse. A curse given to me from an opponent I never even knew I was dueling.” Chad clenched his teeth and had to look away from her; he could not believe how wrong his priorities were. “As I said, things are different now and I’m glad for it. You don’t have to learn in Battle, as I did. You can be taught with smaller lessons.” She eyed him and then smiled. “Oz.” Her bird flew to her through the open door instantly and landed gently on her shoulder. “I did not mean to make you nervous of Oz. He’s a sweetheart, truly. And he would never hurt anyone that didn’t deserve it, especially not one of my Lions.” She spoke quickly in that same foreign language again and then gestured to Chad with her head. “Come, you can pet him. With his feathers, please. Top of his head and down his back.”

It was phrased lightly enough but Chad knew an order when he heard one. He stepped forward and tried not to show his nerves as he reached a hand out to stroke the bird. For his part Oz didn’t so much as move or twitch his wing. “Professor?” Chad ventured as he slowly and softly stroked the bird on her shoulder. “How can I get better at dueling? At being aware of my surroundings?”

“Spell cataloguing.” She responded instantly. “While you’re dueling pay attention to the duel beside you and make a point of noting each spell they fire back and forth. You’ll find eventually that in your own duel your wand will react instinctively without the direct need for your brain and you’ll be able to catalogue the whole room. I warn you though,” her eyebrow arched again, “while you’re learning to do this your perfect record in class might take a dive.”

“That doesn’t matter.” Chad replied instantly. He dropped his hand and stepped back from his Professor smirking slightly. “The way I see it, Professor, the only one with a perfect record now is Oz. One and oh.”

Hermione smiled with him and Oz cawed like he’d understood. “Good man. I’m looking forward to the next dueling class then.” Chad bid his Professor goodnight and started to walk away feeling better than he had all night. “Oh, and Mr. Under?” He turned to look at her. “Should I hear anyone else suddenly knowing the unpublished details of the Battle of the Department of Mysteries…”

“You won’t. Goodnight, Professor.” Even if I didn’t respect her as a witch, a war hero, a far superior dueler to myself, and the pride of my House who became known as the Princess before taking up the honour of Head of House…who would dare get on the bad side of someone who survived someone else attempting to disembowel them?

Gryffindor’s might be rash to the point of stupidity sometimes, but never were they that foolish. That would be madness.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

Ella Walsh smiled lightly down at the plate holding her turkey sandwich after Jordan and she had shared a glance and rolled their eyes together. She was glad that she had developed a friendship with Kian and Regan but truthfully she didn’t know what she’d do without Jordan. Or really what Kian and Regan would do without her and Jordan. Kian and Regan were a little wilder, a little rasher and less into studying. Jordan and she provided the balance to their friend group. Without them Ella doubted that Regan could get herself to class on time and Kian would have lost their House countless points for not having his homework done.

Ella was proud to say that she had yet to lose her House any points and had only gained them. Her biggest achievement with House points was earlier today when Professor Granger awarded her twenty-five points for being the first to successfully turn her match into a needle within the first few minutes of practice. She had come down to lunch with her friends practically on cloud nine and then had promptly blushed from the top of her auburn hair seemingly down to her toes when Chadwick Under, the completely dreamy seventh year Prefect, had smiled and held his hand out for a high five when he’d overheard Jordan praising her. She couldn’t believe that a seventh year as cool and popular as Chadwick would even notice what the first years were doing.

“I still don’t know how you did it.” Kian complained beside her. She glanced up in time to see Jordan roll his eyes good-naturedly again.

“Because I practised.”

“She really did.” Regan confirmed from Jordan’s side. “I offered to let her share my Witch Weekly and everything but she wanted to practice.”

“Yes, so I could do it when called upon today.” Ella chuckled.

“I did everything, same as you though.” Kian groaned. He held up his fork and in the air drew a full circle with an aggressive flick downwards; Jordan and Regan both flinched as bits of turkey went flying.

“Maybe don’t flick your “wand” so harshly that food goes flying all over the place.” Ella sassed. Regan grinned and winked at her. Ella knew the other girl had originally thought her too shy but really Ella just took time to warm up to people.

Kian gestured with the fork at her. “Ah, stop trying to be the next Professor Granger.”

A caw from behind them froze them all in their seats; they knew exactly what that caw was. Jordan and Regan were already looking wide eyed behind them so Ella and Kian had to swivel on the bench to see who they already knew was there. Professor Granger herself, with Oz on her shoulder, stood with her hands on her hips and one eyebrow arched.

“And is there something wrong with attempting to be the next Professor Granger, Mr. Brady?” Professor Granger herself asked.

Kian paled. “N-no, no, Professor. Of course not.”

“I thought not.” Professor Granger turned to continue walking away before she paused. “And Miss Walsh is correct, Mr. Brady. Your spellwork is a little aggressive.” She barely seemed to even move her hands but suddenly a match had been conjured and it stuck straight up in the remaining turkey on Kian’s plate. “Although generally your wand works better than your fork.”

The Professor walked away to the laughter at Kian’s expense. Even the other years who had been sitting close by chuckled as Kian blushed.

“Merlin, she’s such a good Head of House. I’m almost jealous of the first years.” Chadwick admitted to the beautiful, blonde, Head Girl Serena who had taken the seat beside him he’d clearly been saving. Ella had heard a few rumours that they were dating and she thought if it was true then they clearly were the most beautiful and perfect couple at Hogwarts.

“What do you mean?” Regan asked the older Gryffindor; she wasn’t shy at all.

Chadwick and Serena shared a glance. “Well, a Head of House has certain responsibilities and some are better than others.” Chadwick answered. “A Head of House is supposed to protect their students, yes. But they’re also supposed to teach, and encourage.”

“And motivate.” Serena chimed in. “And if you had a personal problem and needed a teacher your Head of House is supposed to be the automatic choice because you trust them more than any other teacher. You know them better, and they know you. Heads of Houses are supposed to challenge you and make you your best self.”

“Professor Granger is all that.” Jordan defended instantly. Ella was too shy to speak but she nodded in agreement.

“Of course she is.” Chadwick agreed as well and flashed his perfect white teeth when he grinned. “That’s why I said I was a little jealous. Professor Granger is likely going to be here for all your seven years and be Head of House for all of it. But Serena and I haven’t been quite as lucky. We’ve had a few different Head of Houses and they just weren’t as good.”

“Not bad.” Serena corrected instantly. “Just,” she shrugged, “not like Professor Granger. Our last Head of House was Professor Yarkness. You wouldn’t know her yet, she teaches Muggle Studies.” Chadwick casually pointed her out at the Head Table. “And for the entire year I don’t think we ever saw her outside of here in the Great Hall. She wasn’t involved with the House, I’m not even sure if she came to every Quidditch match. I doubt the students would come to her with a personal problem because they didn’t know her.”

“Exactly. Professor Granger taking over the House was the best thing that’s happened to Gryffindor probably since she was here herself.” Chadwick added.

“Why do they have so many nicknames for her? The smartest witch of her age and the brains and the princess?”

Chadwick and Serena chuckled. “Because she’s done amazing things.” Serena answered. “I’m not exactly sure when each name came about, but they called her the Smartest Witch of Her Age because she really is. They say she’s the most intelligent student to come through Hogwarts since Headmistress McGonagall and Albus Dumbledore himself.”

“Shouldn’t she be in Ravenclaw then?” Kian questioned. “They’re the brainy lot over there.”

“The Hat reads a lot about people.” Serena answered. “The song it sings and the traits you hear are just a little bit that encompasses an entire person. She might have Hatstalled, I don’t know, but the Hat saw the Lion in her.”

“And that’s how she got her Princess nickname?” Jordan wondered.

“I don’t know when exactly she got dubbed the Gryffindor Princess either, but it might not have been until after she left, or maybe the older grades. You have to remember, most of the time she was here at school they were already fighting against great evil. By the time Professor Granger was in her sixth year she and her group of friends had already saved the school and countless people several times over.” Serena answered.

“It’s also a little bit of a play on her fame.” Chadwick admitted. “She’s royalty in the sense that she’s very famous, which would make her the Gryffindor Princess.” He seemed to glance up at the Head Table where the Professor they discussed was sitting beside the Headmistress and Professor Delacour and seemingly animatedly telling a story with large hand gestures. “But you know the really only important thing you need to know about Professor Granger?”

“That she’s a war hero?” Kian said instantly.

“No.” Chadwick shook his head.

Serena grinned at them. “It’s that she cares about you, truly. If there’s anybody in the castle that wants you to succeed even more than you yourself want it, it’s her.”

The two seventh years’ words had stuck with Ella all the rest of the afternoon, through Herbology class and through until dinner. Jordan had already asked her what was wrong twice but she had brushed him off saying she was thinking about their essay from Professor Longbottom about dittany. When they stood to head back to the common room Ella had told her friends she was going to run to the library. Kian and Regan had called her a nerd but they said it with affectionate smiles so it didn’t hurt. Jordan had given her a slightly odd look; he knew as well as she did that she hadn’t been anywhere in the castle by herself yet. She told him she just wanted to check up about the fact on dittany that was bothering her.

“I’ll go with you.” He offered easily.

“No, don’t be silly. I’ll just go there and then meet you upstairs.” Whether he accepted her words or sensed she wanted to be alone he nodded and left to catch up to the others. Ella headed off for the library, one of the few routes she knew by heart, but halfway there spun around and walked in a different direction.

Walking the castle alone was a different experience. Before she’d come to Hogwarts, when she knew nothing of magic, she actually quite enjoyed being on her own. Her parents had chided her more than once for wandering farther away than they thought a ten year old should.

Ella ended up lost but she politely asked a portrait of well-dressed ladies drinking tea for directions and after a minute of their cooing at her cuteness they set her on what she hoped was the right path. She eventually found Professor Granger’s office but the door was shut and she figured the teacher was still down at dinner. She hoped the Professor would come up here after she was finished and Ella slid down the wall and sat on the floor right by her door.

She hadn’t been waiting very long at all when she noticed Professors Granger and Delacour heading up the hallway at her. She got nervous instantly at actually being alone in front of them. Granger’s reputation was well known and Delacour was so beautiful she looked otherworldly to Ella. Both Professors smiled warmly at her as they approached closer.

“Miss Walsh, I hope you weren’t waiting for me long?” Granger asked politely as she unlocked her office door with a flick of her fingers. Ella shook her head nervously.

Granger went to take a step and Delacour laid a hand gently on her arm. “Elle a l'aire nerveuse. Je te laisse pour que tu puisse lui aider, nous finirons notre discussion plus tard bien entendu.

Ella was shocked that whatever language the Charms professor was speaking made her voice sound even better than when she was speaking English. Granger, who clearly understood the words, nodded at the silver haired witch in agreement.

“I’ll be off, I ‘ope you ‘ave a good evening, Miss Walsh.” Ella blushed and nodded shyly when Delacour spoke directly to her with a kind smile.

Granger gestured to the office. “Why don’t you come in and have a seat?” Ella did as she was bid and perched up into one of the chairs facing the Professor’s desk. Granger closed the office door and urged Oz to fly over to his wooden perch. “What can I do for you, Miss Walsh?”

Ella opened her mouth but no words came out. God what was she actually doing here? In her hesitation Grangers eyes considered her carefully but she smiled warmly again. “You know, I was really quite proud of you this afternoon when you managed that spell.” Ella blushed shyly. “How did it feel?”

“Good.”

“I remember.” Granger leaned forward like she was sharing a secret. “I was the first in my class to complete that spell first year too.”

Ella smiled and looked down at her shoes again. She made a mental note to tell Kian that he’d been right about the Professor but then realized she’d have no way to explain how she knew. She didn’t glance up at her but sensed that she was still being watched.

“You’ve become friends with Mr. Appleby, correct?” Ella nodded. “He seems like he would be a very good friend. I’m glad you found some easier than I did.”

Ella finally looked up at that. “You didn’t have friends? But you’re the Gryffindor Princess?”

Granger actually laughed out loud. “Not then I wasn’t. I actually spent a lot of my first year alone, pretty much until Halloween. Have you heard of my friends, Harry and Ronald?” Ella nodded again. “Would you like to hear how I finally became friends with them? It involves a troll.”

Ella’s jaw dropped. “A real live troll?” Ella listened in rapture at the story Granger wove about the troll in the girl’s bathroom and how the two boys who would become her best friends saved her in a daring and ridiculously lucky rescue. “Sheer dumb luck.” Granger clarified with a smile before she sobered slightly. “I was actually crying in the bathroom at the time. My time at Hogwarts so far had been the best of my life but it still wasn’t perfect. But after that it was.”

The eleven year old girl couldn’t believe that Professor Granger had actually told her the story of how the Golden Trio had met!

“So, Miss Walsh, can I ask why you wanted to see me?”

Ella ducked her head again because she didn’t really know what to say. She opened her mouth and closed it again and blushed a little because Granger was still waiting for her to say something. Eventually she just slid from her seat and moved around to the Professor’s side of the desk. Instead of speaking she reached for the hem of her jumper and pulled it up so she was showing most of the skin on her torso.

She heard a clicking sound that might have been Professor Granger’s jaw snapping shut.

The bruises weren’t actually as bad as they had been. The dark purples and blacks had faded into more greens and yellows. They didn’t even really hurt all that much anymore. She could twist her body around fine and it didn’t hurt to breathe like it did when they first happened.

She heard a rustle of cloth and Professor Granger slid out of her chair and balanced on her haunches so that they were almost eye to eye. “Sweetling,” the teacher’s voice was somehow both softer and harder than she’d ever heard it before, “I’m very sorry that this happened to you. You can put your shirt down, honey.” Ella blushed and did as asked for not knowing anything else to say. She heard another slight thump and noticed Oz had flown over from his perch and landed of the Professor’s desk. “These look like they’re more than a few days old. Can I ask if you got them here, or before you came to Hogwarts?”

“Before.” Ella almost whispered.

“I see. Can I ask if you got them at home, or somewhere else?”

“Home.”

“Okay.” Grangers smile was soft and affectionate but even Ella could read the fury in her eyes. Oz looked even bigger than normal as he puffed himself and his feathers up. “I want you to know, sweetling, that this will never happen to you again. I will make sure of it. You will never have to feel this again, I promise you.” Granger reached out a hand, palm up, and left it in the air without reaching for her. Ella placed a slightly shaky hand in her Professor’s own; she felt instantly safer. “Can you tell me who did this to you?”

“Ethan and Danny.”

“And who are they, Ella?”

“My older brothers.” Ella’s voice was still a whisper.

“I see.” Granger nodded. “You’re a muggle-born, correct? And would I be right in guessing that your older brothers did not attend Hogwarts before you?”

Ella nodded and now her eyes filled with tears. “They called me a freak and a weirdo and said witches should be burned at the stake.” Ella spoke through her tears. “They hit me lots after I came back from Diagon Alley with my stuff.”

“And your parents?” Granger’s voice was so soft and she continued to hold her hand.

“They didn’t know. Ethan said not to tell them or they’d hit me worse.”

“Okay sweetling. I’m very proud of you for coming to tell me this.” Granger reached out with her other hand, slowly and carefully, and started wiping away her tears. “I will make sure that when you go home this won’t happen to you, okay?”

“Okay. Will Ethan and Danny get in trouble?”

“Hmm.” Granger snapped her fingers and a tray of hot chocolates appeared on the desk beside Oz who squawked at it. Granger encouraged her to take one of the mugs and the second she tasted the liquid chocolate her tears stopped and she felt a little bit warmer. “Do you think that Ethan and Danny deserve to get into trouble?” Her voice was lighter than it was when the Professor was teaching but she felt the same need to search for the right answer.

Ella dropped her eyes. “Yes.”

“That’s because you’re right. They shouldn’t have hit you and called you names. So they need to be reprimanded so they learn not to do those things again. That this isn’t okay.” Ella took another sip of her hot chocolate. “Sweetling, would it be okay if I performed a little spell on you? You won’t feel anything, you won’t even know it’s happening. It’s just to make sure that the bruises are going to heal up nicely and quickly and that nothing is hurt any worse than that. Is that okay?”

Ella nodded without any hesitation. She trusted Professor Granger to do whatever she wanted to do. True to her word Professor Granger said the spell and it was over before she’d even known she’d done it. She continued to sip her drink quietly until it was finished. She realized after the cup was drained that Granger had been crouched down on the balls of her feet, one hand holding her own free one, the entire time; Ella couldn’t imagine how badly her own thighs would be burning had she attempted the same position. “I can go now, Professor.” Ella whispered. “I just…wanted to make sure that when I go home for Christmas…”

“You’ll be safe.” Granger eyed her carefully. “Are you able to go back up to the Gryffindor common room?”

“Yes, I’m fine. Really.” Ella’s tears had dried with the chocolate and she felt good. She actually felt much better than good because she suddenly couldn’t feel her bruises at all. She remembered her pride of completing the spell earlier and it was the first real weekend to spend at the castle practicing magic and hanging with Jordan and Kian and Regan. Ethan and Danny seemed very far away when she was in the castle and a witch like Hermione Granger was her favourite professor.

“Very well, sweetling. I just want you to know you can come to me and talk about this whenever you want. I’ll listen and understand anything you have to say.”

“Have…” Ella dipped her eyes, “have you ever been hit?”

Professor Granger swallowed thickly. “Yes I have. Not at home like you, sweetling, but I have been hit.”

Ella suddenly felt stupid. The woman was a war hero, of course she’d been hit before. Something must have shown on her face because Granger shook her hand very lightly. “Do you want to know something? I have never told anyone about the time that I was hit very badly. You were much braver to come to me.”

“So why don’t you tell someone, Professor?” It seemed such simple logic to Ella.

Granger gave her a sad smile. “Maybe I will. Now, I think it’s time for you to head off to bed. I assume you don’t want anyone to know you were with me so I won’t march you back to the common room, but I am going to walk with you.” Ella furrowed her eyebrows. What did that mean? “Are you ready to go? Good. Oz, you should go enjoy a night flight.” With that Granger walked Ella over to the door with a gentle hand on her back. When they reached the hallway Ella glanced back just in time to see her professor change. She shrunk very quickly, but not instantly, and changed and before Ella’s eyes there was now the beautiful marbled fox; Granger’s transfigured form.

Ella gasped, completely awed, and almost pet the beautiful creature out of habit before remembering that it was still her Professor. The fox, Professor Granger, nudged the back of her leg to get her moving.

The fox trotted along, easily keeping pace, and sometimes prancing about to hear her giggle. Once the fox pushed and nudged her with her head to a portrait and nosed at the wall until Ella put her fingers to the portrait and pulled. She gasped as she swung open a secret passageway. Her friends would be so jealous when she showed them!

The fox walked her all the way to the common room and where the Fat Lady waited in her portrait. “Little late to be out, isn’t it duckling?” The Fat Lady chided gently. The fox at her feet gave a short bark and the Fat Lady finally noticed her. “Oops, never mind. Password, duckling?”

“Fooled you.” The Fat Lady swung open and Ella smiled at the fox at her feet. “Thank you.” She whispered before climbing into the portrait hole. She got one last look at the fox before Granger turned and bounded away.

Ella went to sleep almost instantly and slept as soundly as she ever had. Hermione Granger would let no one hit her again.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

He griped the edge of the open window with his talons and shifted his weight lightly. His mistress always left a window open for him. She had left a little while ago in fox form with one of her hatchlings. The young witch had been sad and Oz had felt his mistress’s rage coursing through her. He had waited to see if his mistress would return after walking the hatchling back to her nest and when she hadn’t he assumed she’d gone to visit the silver haired witch. He rather liked Silver. She pet him gently and only with his permission and treated him with respect. He could feel the calm come over his mistress in her presence and since that was such a rare thing he welcomed it. Knowing his mistress would be well looked after he took the opportunity to flap over the window; he wasn’t one of the nocturnal birds but he enjoyed a night flight.

He spread his wings and pushed off from the window sill in one smooth motion. Two easy flaps of his large wings brought him high enough to catch a thermal; the hot air caught him and brought him higher effortlessly. He kept his wings spread and gently floated on the thermals, circling above the castle that was his new home with his mistress.

He tilted his wings away from the dark forest; he was usually the greatest predator in the air but he had discovered that a pack of dragon-horses roamed over those woods. Their speed was far inferior to his own though and he had managed to outstrip them easily when they’d taken a snap at him on his first flight around his new home.

He allowed the thermal to take him where it pleased so he didn’t have to expend any energy flapping his wings. He rose higher in the air and the castle got a little smaller and farther away. He passed over the earth smelling buildings and the large dome and continued along.

He had been nervous about leaving his home; more for his mistress than himself. The world had not been kind to either of them and he knew it was his duty to help protect his mistress as best he could. Some parts about moving here had been bad but he knew it would have been much worse without Silver. He also quickly realized how much of an effect being given a flock by the Feline one had on his mistress. She adored all of her hatchlings and he had taken them in as his own as well. He would keep them in line and protect them with his mistress should he ever need to.

The thermal he was riding hit a patch of swirling wind and Oz allowed it to lower him in lazy circles overhead. The mountain range was not far now and Oz was drifting down towards the village that was nestled by the bottom of the mountain. There was little movement in the air or in the village that Oz could see. There was only one other thing in the air; one of the night birds. It had taken off from one of the only buildings in the village where there was still movement inside. The night bird clocked his presence circling overhead but Oz didn’t so much as ruffle a feather. A night bird would never try to take him out of the air. They might be about the same size but most of the night birds bulk was feather and Oz was built for speed and agility. He didn’t bother the night bird either, though, as it flew off into the sky. His mistress had taught him that most night birds belonged to a human as well, even if it was in a different way than he belonged to his mistress.

There was no thermal to be had over the cobblestone street so Oz continued drifting lower. Movement caught his laser eye and he zeroed in on the figure. Someone was now walking in the village, right down the cobblestone street. He drifted closer and recognized the figure as the Minty one. Their stride was casual but Oz’s eye could pick up on the nervous fidget in their hands. They walked away from the village and along the road Oz knew led back to the castle.

Thoughts of the castle brought his mind back to his mistress and he decided he should return to their room. She never stayed out too late when she had to be up to teach her hatchlings in the morning.

Oz flapped his wings in a more purposeful manner and easily headed back in the direction of the castle. He stayed mostly over the road and though he quickly overtook the figure, the Minty one never glanced up at him such as they were with their eyes focussed firmly on their feet.

A half a mile behind them in the village they had just left, the sound of glass shattering broke the silence. Alarmed shouts mixed with screams and flashes of red light illuminated the darkness.

Chapter Text

Hermione knew instantly, as she ascended up the spiralling staircase, that something was wrong. She could both sense the tension in the air and could hear the voices of several portraits and people talking at once. She was almost at the top when she suddenly recognized the magical signature in the air and she opened the door without knocking. “Harry?”

The wizard, black hair still in disarray but in professional robes and looking the part of an auror, turned and smiled both surprised and genuinely happy. “’Mione.” He stepped forward and embraced her gently, being mindful of Oz, and Hermione hugged him back. She catalogued instantly, without having to try, that there was another person in the room that she didn’t know as well as Minerva. When Harry stepped back she flicked her eyes over the unknown wizard. He looked about the same age as them though Hermione didn’t recognize the brown haired, bulkly muscled man from her time at Hogwarts. The straight backed almost militant way he was standing reminded her of when she’d known Viktor Krum.

“Hermione.” Minerva finally caught her attention from where she was sitting behind her desk and already looking harried even though it was too early for even breakfast. “Are you here about what happened in Hogsmeade?”

Hermione glanced warily at Harry. “No, Headmistress. I’m here about a personal matter involving a student. What happened in Hogsmeade?”

“There was a fight last night in the Hogs Head.” Harry was the one who answered her.

“Surely that can’t be a first?” Hermione had several different memories of being in the Hogs Head but each time the seedy, “outcast of society” bar seemed as if a duel was always possible.

“This one was bad.” Harry’s clenched jaw gave testament to that fact. “I’ve got five in Mungo’s and another six detained. Confiscated all of their wands of course, but so many spells were cast it’s nearly impossible to tell whose spells hit which person.”

“Merlin.” Hermione breathed. “Do you know what started it?”

Harry shrugged. “Even Aberforth isn’t talking. No one, apparently, knows what happened to set everybody off and enrage them but every patron was involved.”

“Wait, that’s odd.” Hermione’s mind was whirling. “That's not a fight, that's a bar brawl. You’re actually more likely to get a full brawl in a place like the Three Broomsticks. It’s loud and everyone there has friends at their backs. The Hogs Head is quiet. People go there because they don’t want to be noticed. Had a fight broken out I would have assumed the other patrons would apparate away long before the auror’s arrived.”

“I think she’s right, Potter.” The brown haired auror spoke up suddenly. “Russ Fern, Professor Granger.” He held out his hand politely.

“Hermione, please.” She shook his large hand and noticed the calluses; she wondered if he was an avid flier or if they were from something else.

“I agree with Hermione.” Russ stated again as he turned back to Harry. “There was something else going on with this bar fight. Most of the patrons were in pairs or by themselves. Eleven people who don’t know each other don’t just jump into a melee for no reason. And she’s right about the bar too, the Hogs Head is for quiet, serious drinking. The Three Broomsticks is the place for a ruckus.”

Harry sighed. “I’m not disagreeing, I just don’t know what the reason could possibly be. Jim will still be at Mungo’s with the injured five, so let’s go back and rework the scene again. Maybe we’ll find something. Headmistress, again, I’m sorry to bother you so early but I thought you’d want to know about anything so close to your school.”

“Quite right, Mr. Potter. Thank you for the heads up.” Minerva’s voice was tight but she nodded politely at her former pupil.

Harry and Russ nodded and stepped from the office. Harry stayed back just for a second to give Hermione another hug. “I’ll owl you later, alright?”

Hermione nodded and waited for them to leave. “Quite the morning, Minerva?”

“Seems to never stop, Hermione. And you’ve got something to discuss as well?”

“Unfortunately.” Hermione took the time to detail Ella Walsh’s situation with the Headmistress and Hermione could see the same rage she felt reflected on the older woman’s face.

“Disgusting. For older boys who should know better to hit a young lass.” Minerva’s brogue was even thicker in her anger.

Hermione agreed. “The situation of older, muggle siblings seems ripe to just breed jealousy. This can’t be the only instance?”

“No, though I wish it were. Miss Walsh is not the first to be hated by her muggle family and I don’t believe her to be the last. Do you wish to go to the Walsh’s yourself, or shall I go?”

“I can, Minerva. I’m her Head of House and she came to me. I’ll make sure her home is safe for when she returns to it.” Hermione would have to be blind to miss the pride on her mentors face.

“Am I forgiven for guiding you to the position then?”

“Guiding? I think you tricked me.” Hermione smirked. “And yes. It’s a lot of responsibility but, you were right. I feel better when I’m teaching them.”

“And I’ve heard only good things.” Minerva then nodded back to business. “Very well then, you have my permission to head into muggle Ireland this weekend and speak with the Walsh family.”

“Alright then.” Hermione reached up and stroked the ever present Oz on her shoulder but made no motion to leave the office.

“Something else I can help you with?”

“I was just wondering if you’ve heard anything else about Shacklebolt?”

The Headmistress pursed her lips. “No, I haven’t. I did, however, speak to Alisha Bowen. Are you familiar with her?”

“The name isn’t ringing a bell. Should it?” Hermione leaned forward; information was always power.

“Likely not, as you’ve never attended a memorial. Ms. Bowen is the Ministry Event Coordinator. She handles the planning and execution of all the ministry events including the last five Battle Memorials.”

“Is she a friend?” Hermione asked first.

Minerva shrugged. “Neither friend nor enemy. If she has a reason to be deceitful or malicious I cannot imagine what it would be.” Hermione took every piece of information she was given with a grain of salt but she also trusted her mentor’s opinion and nodded for her to continue. “All Ms. Bowen had to say, after I inquired, was that Shacklebolt was being stricter with the guidelines this year.”

“In what way?”

“Some things are not Ms. Bowen’s to decide. Who gives a speech and what they say, for example. She informed me those types of decisions come from higher up and its merely her job to plan the event the best way she can.”

“I understand. Like a wedding planner doesn’t write the vows.”

“Exactly. Ms. Bowen receives certain guidelines and the rest of the decisions are at her and her team’s discretion. She seemed concerned about why I was firecalling and tried to assure me that she has always done everything in her power to make sure the memorial was tasteful. However, she did say that this year, Shacklebolt had taken almost every decision out of her hands; the order of the speeches, the set-up of the room, the photographs on display, everything. She speculated that perhaps Kingsley had a surprise or something to that effect. Maybe he meant you?”

“Maybe.” Hermione let her thoughts sort themselves out while she stroked Oz gently. “But I spoke to Ron and he told me Shacklebolt had been pressing for my attendance at this memorial before you ever even offered me the position here. If he needs or wants to make this memorial special he was planning it before he knew there was even a chance I would attend.” Hermione let her eyes slid over to the wall of portraits and met Snape’s serious, penetrating gaze easily. “Perhaps it’s time I take your advice, Master, and see what Shacklebolt wants for myself.” Hermione allowed a small smirk to form. “Maybe even this weekend now that I’ve been given permission to leave the castle.”

Minerva arched an eyebrow and Snape smirked.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

“Why do you prefer brewing down ‘ere instead of in your beautiful, well-lit and clean office?”

Hermione chuckled at Fleur’s genuinely disgusted voice. “Potions are meant to be brewed in dungeons. Tu est une fleur tellement délicate [You are such a delicate flower].” Fleur huffed and Hermione laughed again as she leaned over her cauldron and watched it carefully as she completed the final stirrings. “In actual fact, potion brewing began in dungeons because it was about the coolest place people could find. Brewing in the hottest part of your home is not fun. Cooler dungeons are also easier to temperature control and are least likely to fluctuate.” Finally satisfied Hermione stopped stirring and magically conjured ten glass mason jars.

“What do you do with it now?”

Hermione noticed idly that Fleur was gathering her long silver hair in her hands and pulling it up off her neck; she forced her eyes back to the cauldron. “I have several spells I can perform on the potion here, to try and test its effects. Once I’ve done all I can do I’ll send it to the experimentation testing department of Mungo’s and they’ll do their own testing.”

“Such as?”

“Such as human.” Hermione laughed as she ladled some of her potion into the jars and labelled them with a point of her finger. “They have experts who test potions and spells on people because that’s generally the only way to really see how they work. The best healers in the world are on call for accidents and mishaps. Plus, they only accept work from Masters and Mistresses. We generally don’t send anything we aren’t pretty sure of. Like this potion,” Hermione dipped her finger into the cauldron and then licked her finger clean of the green, viscous liquid. Fleur gasped and rushed over but Hermione only smiled. “I know the ingredients in this potion and there’s nothing harmful in it. Usually in the case of a Master or Mistress a potion will work or it won’t do anything. Plus this is designed for several doses, a finger lick wouldn’t do anything.” Hermione stuck her tongue out playfully.

Fleur slapped Hermione in the arm. “Don’t do that!” She huffed again. “What is this potion for anyway?”

Hermione hesitated but didn’t allow her hands to stop working. “It’s another healing potion, hopefully. It has to do with the brain.” She hoped the French witch would leave it at that.

“I don’t think your brain needs any help, ma chère.” She giggled lightly. “Let’s get you out of this dungeon before you go testing more things on yourself.”

“Just one more second.” Hermione tightly sealed all of the jars and then with a wave of her hands banished them up to her office where they could wait for her. Another wave of her hand and her station was cleaned and cleared. “Okay, let’s go.”

They linked arms in the deserted, dim hallways and walked slowly together. “So. You’re going to confront the Minister of Magic tomorrow?” Fleur questioned lightly. Hermione had told her all about Shacklebolt’s actions and Minerva’s latest batch of news at breakfast.

“I have to. I won’t let someone try and use others to get me to fall in line.” Hermione’s voice was light but her conviction was serious. “Not even the Minister of Magic. I’ll deal with that other situation first, and then just pop in to see Kingsley casually.” Hermione hadn’t told all the details of her trip to Fleur. She would keep the trust that Ella had given her by admitting the truth about her bruises, but she had mentioned to the French witch that she was leaving this weekend to speak to the family of one of her students.

“Well, I suspect that the Minister won’t know what ‘it ‘im with you, ma chérie.”

Once they emerged from the dungeon Hermione, somewhat reluctantly, slipped her arm from Fleur’s and they put another few inches of space between them. Hermione knew that they had to appear professional at all times, so Hermione said nothing about it, but she missed the easy going contact between them.

“It’s not like I’m going to duel him or anything.” Hermione grinned at the image that statement produced; Kingsley might have been a force at one time but he had been sitting in an office for a quite a while.

“Who aren’t you dueling?”

Hermione and Fleur turned to see Erika Carrow, just emerging from a classroom, and looking at them politely. Hermione smirked rakishly. “Just the Minister of Magic.”

Erika’s eyebrows shot upwards before she could control her expression. She cleared her throat before speaking. “Well, I think avoiding a duel with the Minister is an excellent plan. Although, if I hear rumours about a duel in the Minister’s office, I heard nothing.”

Hermione smiled. “I appreciate your deafness, should it come to that.”

Erika graced her with a small smile and then gestured that she was heading in the opposite direction. “Quite. Have a good day, Professors.” She turned on her heel before they could say anything else.

“She seems to ‘ave lightened up in only a few days.”

Hermione knew Fleur too well to be fooled by her light hearted observation. “She has. We had a good time at the Dueling Club.” She arched an eyebrow. “And just what are you getting at, Ms. Delacour?”

Fleur smirked. “I try my best not to invade your privacy and read you, so perhaps I’m just wondering if the attraction is mutual or not.”

“Attraction?” Hermione’s voice was a tad shrill and she was glad the hallway was deserted. She suddenly remembered Fleur’s words about the few traits she got from her Veela ancestry. “You think she’s attracted to me?”

“I don’t think.” Fleur shrugged. “I know.”

Hermione knew better than to insult her friend with a denial and took the information as fact simply because Fleur had been the one to say it. “So she’s attracted to me physically, but we can’t help who we find attractive. That’s an automatic biological response. You can actually be physically attracted to someone you hate you know.”

“She doesn’t ‘ate you. She likes you.” Fleur’s voice was still factual even in her teasing.

Hermione sighed. Blatant denial would be easiest. Hermione had never experienced it for herself but she had seen and witnessed many teenagers vehemently denying that a boy or girl liked them when their friend said it was so. But Fleur was not a teenage girl. She was an adult with Veela blood; a race of magical creatures that had sex, lust and attraction literally running through their veins. Hermione believed that Fleur could do as she claimed. She also knew there was no way Fleur would lie to her about anything. The younger witch’s very analytical mind had already come to a conclusion. She would have to bypass the days of denial and arguing with her friend and just accept the facts. Erika Carrow was attracted to and possibly interested in her. “Well. I don’t really know what to do with that information.” She gave Fleur the side-eye. “Thanks for this, by the way.”

Fleur shrugged and Hermione rolled her eyes that it was still an elegant and graceful gesture. “What do you want to do with this information?”

“Curious?”

“Perhaps.” The witches had been heading, without discussion, for Hermione’s office as they always did. For possibly the first time Hermione did not know what to say to Fleur and admitted as much. They walked through the office into Hermione’s quarters and Fleur took a seat on the side of the couch that was distinctly hers.

Hermione eyed Fleur carefully. “You want to say something.” Is wasn’t a question and Fleur sighed.

“Perhaps.”

“Fleur.” Hermione’s voice was soft. “You can saying anything to me, you know that.” When Fleur said nothing but brought brilliant blue eyes up to meet her look Hermione understood. “So it’s serious.” The younger witch closed her eyes for a moment. “You know, I think I was inadvertently called a coward recently.”

What?”

Hermione opened her eyes so that she could see the fire burning in Fleur’s own. “It’s okay. It was by an eleven year old, and I don’t think she meant it. And she was right actually.” Hermione sat down beside Fleur and the silver haired witch automatically reached for her hand. “She showed more bravery than me. So…you can ask, mon trésor. Even if it might be hard.”

Hermione adored Fleur for instantly nodding and accepting her word about what she could handle. “I suppose I brought it up because, I just want you to know you ‘ave options.” Now Fleur sighed. “You’ve told me so many stories about your travels and adventures. Seven years’ worth of stories. But not once did you ever mention someone you liked. Or someone you connected with on that level, even if only for a night of mutual pleasure and escape.”

Hermione shifted mildly uncomfortably. You knew this would likely be hard. “Because there was nothing to tell. I wasn’t with anyone during that time.” She admitted something to the French witch she hadn’t to Ginny.

“Oh, ma chère.” Fleur’s voice wasn’t pitying, thankfully, but just compassionate. She reached over and threaded her fingers through Hermione’s so she was holding both hands. “Do you want to talk about it?” Hermione knew that was an actual question, not a placation. She could say no and Fleur would drop it instantly even if she’d initially told her to ask.

“There’s not some big thing.” Hermione and Fleur both knew the words were a lie and she tried to explain more. “Obviously right when I left I wasn’t going to be with someone. I was still flinching at shadows and screaming during the day as well as the night. The years passed and I worked on myself. That’s why I left, you know? To work on myself. To better myself. To…regain some hope and sanity. It took years before I even really began to notice it again. You know when you can just tell someone is looking at you with an appreciative eye? What am I saying, of course you can.”

Fleur caressed the back of Hermione’s hand gently. “I can, as both a Veela and a woman.”

“Okay. So, I noticed that again. From men and from women. And this is the truly tragic part.” Hermione huffed. She knew her hands were beginning to tremble in Fleur's grasp.

“What is, ma chérie?”

Hermione hadn’t talked about this with anyone but it made sense to talk about it to Fleur; her confidant, her best friend, her savior. Her everything. Another moment of Ella Walsh’s simple explanation that she should tell someone if she was hurt crossed her mind; an eleven year old had had far more bravery than her. That had to mean something. “I sort of organically processed that I liked women. I didn’t have like a eureka moment or anything. It was gradual. I would see women dancing and it would get me hot, or I’d see a lesbian couple and wish for that, their closeness and their intimacy. It just made sense after a while. So, I began to ignore the looks men gave me.” Her breathing picked up a little unsteadily and her body had a faint tremor.

“I don’t see the tragic part, mon coeur?”

Hermione sighed. “I liked the looks women gave me. But…I don’t know. Most women in my situation would be scared of the touch of men so that’s different. But…” Now her hands were completely shaking.

“Oh, no. Oh Merlin.” Fleur’s face had paled but her jaw snapped together with an audible click.

“Exactly.” Hermione’s eyes were focussed somewhere across the room on a blank section of wall. “But my rapist was a woman.” She felt a weight settle on her hips and she tried to flail but the grip around her wrists tightened painfully and her hands were slammed to the ground beside her head…“Please, no.”

Her quarters and Fleur had floated away somewhere in her mind; her body no longer felt present there. Instead all she could feel was her.

Bellatrix opened her mouth in a cruel smirk, exposing her rotten and yellow teeth, and then licked the side of Hermione’s face from chin to temple. Hermione gave a spastic jerk and fought against her bonds and Bellatrix gave her trademark loud cackle.

Her body felt so detached from her mind she couldn’t even feel the thin but strong arms wrapping around her and pulling her close.

Bellatrix let her eyes trail over Hermione’s shaking body and when she clamped her legs tighter around the prone woman’s hips and started a slight rocking motion Hermione felt bile rise in her throat; the Death Eater enjoyed her fear… The knife flashed downwards… Bellatrix had slit her jumper straight down from collar to hem and flung the now ruined fabric aside. Only Hermione’s bra hid some of her torso from the Death Eater gaze… Bellatrix held up the bloody knife and Hermione was terrified to close her eyes. The Death Eater brought the knife close to her own face and stuck her tongue out to lick up the flat of the blade. “You taste fucking disgusting, mudblood.” Bellatrix sneered.

Hermione had screamed for months until her throat had bled just to try and get the sound of her voice out of her mind; she couldn’t hear the melodic, loving voice whispering in her ear.

The knife flashed and Bellatrix cut through the button holding her pants together. Hermione started to fight again but pain lanced through her from her broken ribs… Bellatrix set her fingertips against Hermione’s flesh at her collarbones and then raked broken and cracking nails down her skin as hard as she could. Hermione thrashed, causing even more agony, and screamed over and over again while she writhed; she could hear the Death Eater on top of her moaning. “It’s been a while since I’ve had some fun like this, mudblood.” Bellatrix’s voice was suddenly lighter, like she’d had an idea. “I have been in prison for a while, after all.” The knife flashed again and both Hermione’s jeans and thighs were ripped and torn. Hermione tried to scream. Tried to fight. Magic and witch held her down.

“She’s not touching you. She can’t touch you. It’s just me, mon coeur. Please, come back to me. I’m so sorry. I’ll never let anyone ‘urt you ever again. Come back. She can’t touch you.”

Bellatrix reached up with her free hand and wrapped it around Hermione’s throat; her screams became choking gasps and whimpers. Bellatrix’s other hand, with the knife, was ripping off the tattered remains of Hermione’s jeans. Bellatrix lifted Hermione’s head off the ground by her throat and then slammed her head into the floor; Hermione’s eyes rolled and she gasped and spluttered as her lungs desperately tried to breathe.

Completely frantic cawing suddenly descended upon the room as Oz flew in the window. He seemingly sensed his witch’s agony and he almost fell from the air as he landed beside the pair curled up on the floor in front of the couch.

“You fucking mudbloods don’t deserve to live.” Bellatrix looked suddenly furious as she cut away Hermione’s underwear. The younger witch knew what was happening but her brain was fuzzy and the pain was making her body cease to connect. “You will fucking listen to me mudblood!” Bellatrix flipped the knife around so she was holding it by the blade and shoved the handle inside of the defenceless girl; Hermione screamed anew as something inside her ripped apart.

The gentlest, softest kiss was pressed to Hermione’s forehead. The complete difference in sensations snapped Hermione back to reality. She had just enough energy to process agitated cawing and desperate French murmurs before her body sagged completely and she passed out.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

There is something to be said for waking up comfortable, warm and feeling safe. Hermione took a deep, waking breath but didn’t open her eyes. She cuddled backwards even closer to the warmth behind her and the arm slung around her waist tightened. She tried to keep her legs mostly still because of the weight she could feel resting on her and the talons gripping her shins.

She knew her clothes had been changed to lounge clothes and, because her hair wasn’t wet with sweat, that Fleur had performed some spells to clean her up after her panic attack. Hermione remembered her body and her mind slipping apart, as she practically dissociated, when she got lost in her flashback. She could remember feeling like her hands were on her all over again. But, that feeling was very far away now with Fleur’s familiar form pressed tightly to her back and those hands, hands that had soothed and comforted her more than any other throughout her trauma, on her body. One of Fleur’s hands was on her abdomen, fingers spread wide and rubbing soothing circles over the thin material of her tank top. Her other arm was actually what Hermione was resting her head on and Fleur’s hand was curled back around so she could play with Hermione’s hair and run silky strands through her fingers.

“I feel very comfortable right now.” Hermione almost whispered into the quiet of her bedroom. She didn’t remember getting to the bed but knew Fleur would have taken care of her; Fleur was always the one taking care of her.

“I am glad for zat, ma chérie. I always ‘ope to make you feel safe and ‘appy.”

Hermione felt Fleur lean her head closer and lips press softly into her hair. “I’m sorry I scared you, mon trésor.” Fleur squeezed her a little tighter and her exhale was shaky; Hermione could practically sense the question. “It’s your accent. It gets thicker when you’re emotional.”

The soothing circles across her abdomen pressed with just a little bit more force. If possible Hermione shuffled backwards even closer into Fleur’s body. “I don’t zink anyone ‘as ever noticed zat about me before.”

“I notice everything about you, mon trésor.”

They remained silent, just soaking up the comfort of each other’s presence until Fleur sighed again. “I’m so sorry I brought zis on, ‘ermione.”

“You didn’t.” Hermione’s voice was adamant and she brought her one hand to interlock fingers with Fleur’s on her stomach.

“If I ‘adn’t been teasing you about Carrow and asking about your past, you wouldn’t have ‘ad the flashback.” Fleur’s voice sounded forlorn and it tore at Hermione’s heart. She finally opened her eyes and started shifting her body gently; Oz jumped down off her leg onto the mattress as she rolled her body over. They rearranged themselves naturally and cuddled back in together except now they were pressed front to front. Fleur gently brushed the hair out of Hermione’s face and Hermione reached around to the older witch’s back to pull her close.

“No, Fleur. It wasn’t you fault. I realized I needed to talk about…well everything. And I think, maybe I needed that breakdown.” She was practically whispering because she was talking inches from Fleur’s beautiful face. “I think maybe I needed to talk about that and was just waiting for the right time. Right person. Waiting for you.”

“Well. I never like to see you like zat but you know I’m always ‘ere for you, mon coeur.”

“I know you are.” Hermione looked deeper into blue eyes than she ever had before. “You’re the only person who’s been there when I desperately needed it. After the manor…after the Battle. Every time since then.” Hermione took a deep breath. “You’re the only one that makes me feel like this, Fleur.” Those blue eyes she hadn’t looked away from watered slightly.

“I know ze feeling well. It’s like realizing every ozzer time you thought you were content suddenly seems less so. Because I feel safer and more content wiz you zen anyone else before.”

“Fleur.” There are many different kinds of bravery. Hermione figured she should probably be nervous. Weren’t people usually nervous before they did something like this? Was there a better time and a better moment? A time where she hadn’t just had a flashback? Hermione just didn’t have it in her to worry. She was with Fleur and therefore she was automatically safe and relaxed. With Fleur every moment was a perfect moment. “You said you brought up Erika because you wanted me to know I had options.”

Blue eyes narrowed slightly. “Yes.”

“Does this mean there are other options for me?” Hermione was now the one rubbing small circles with her fingertips on the small of Fleur’s back. “Are you one of those options?”

Fleur didn’t startle, or even arch a surprised eyebrow. Fleur, like Hermione, was safe in the knowledge that they would always be okay, always be there for each other. “I think we were naturally 'eading that way ourselves, non?”

“I think so too.” Hermione smiled lightly. “In a romantic way, I obviously adore you, Fleur. You’re brilliant, and so kind and caring, and I didn’t think it was possible but your insides are just as beautiful as your outside. I’ve never gotten along with someone like I do you. It’s like I have fun with Ginny, and emotional conversations with Luna, and deep intellectual debates with Minerva, and the unbreaking sisterly bond I have with Larissa, but somehow I do them all with you and feel the better for it. And, realistically, I just can’t picture myself being with anybody that isn’t you.” Hermione admitted; her hand was now gripping the back of Fleur’s sweater tightly. “I’m not attracted to men, and I don’t let any woman get this close to me. I don’t allow anyone to touch me like this.” Hermione leaned forward and pressed her cheek to Fleur’s so she could feel her with literally her whole body. “It just seems natural to me.” She whispered before moving her head back to the pillow they were sharing.

“I think that’s because it is natural, mon coeur.” Fleur whispered back. “I think that we will be together. But I also think that we should take things slowly. Everything ‘as just changed for you. You’re away from ‘ome, and reuniting wiz your family and now you’re a professor and the ‘ead of your ‘ouse. You’re finally dealing with your trauma, which I think you need to do, and I ‘ope you want me to be there every step of the way.” She sighed now. “And me. My divorce ‘as been final for less than a year and I’m still coming to terms with the fact…the fact that I couldn’t ‘ave a baby.” Her blue eyes watered again and Hermione resumed her comforting press against the small of the older witch’s back. “I just think that we shouldn’t rush things. And we should let ourselves ‘eal and let things continue naturally.”

Now Hermione’s eyes were watering. “How do you always know exactly how I’m feeling and know exactly what to say?”

Fleur didn’t answer except to lean forward and press her lips gently to Hermione’s. They kept their first kiss chaste, soft and sweet. When Fleur pulled back Hermione followed her to cuddle her face into the crook of the Frenchwoman’s neck. Hermione got comfortable and was almost dozing by the time Fleur spoke again. “I ‘ope this means, though, that if Carrow ever gets the nerve to ask you out, you’ll say you are taken?”

Hermione chuckled and looked at Fleur’s face. She wasn’t blushing, nor was she too serious. It was just a simple statement of fact. “I am taken.” Hermione kissed her sweetly once more. “Little jealous there, mon trésor?”

Fleur shrugged. “I did not even know I was capable of feeling that particular emotion. Nor do I feel it outrageously now. I don’t want you to think I’m possessive.” Fleur cuddled closer. “Bill was that way and it felt ‘orrible. I merely wanted to know.”

“You never felt jealous over Bill? Even in the beginning?”

Fleur smirked lightly. “’onestly, in the beginning Bill and I brought other women to bed constantly.” She admitted. “No one knew, especially not the Weasley’s of course, but that’s really ‘ow our relationship started. Bill seemed to think ‘e was getting the best of both worlds. A girlfriend, and whoever ‘e wanted from ze pub or ze club as well.”

“And you were okay with that?”

“Okay? Usually the women were my selection.” Fleur teased. Hermione arched an eyebrow only in surprise, without any judgement. “I felt no jealousy. I felt like I was getting the best of both worlds as well. A boyfriend for companionship and intimacy and other women for fun and pleasure. The world was preparing for war.” Fleur shrugged a little awkwardly in her laying down position. “Fun and pleasure seemed to be the way to go.”

“And then what happened?”

“Bill was the one who got jealous and possessive. ‘e ‘ated when women would come to our bed more for me than for ‘im. The war was getting more serious. That pretty much put a stop to the fun. I loved ‘im by then anyway. And the comfort and intimacy was there when I needed it.” Fleur stroked Hermione’s cheek with the back of her fingers. “But even in the good times it never felt as easy as this.”

Hermione leaned over and kissed her gently just because she could. “I don’t think I could share you with another woman.” Hermione confessed. “Even if I was there.”

Non. I don’t think I could share you either. I ‘ave enough fun with you without anything or anyone else, mon coeur.” They cuddled closer and Hermione was content to close her eyes again until her stomach growled and Fleur giggled. “We missed dinner. You should call Twinsy to bring us something.”

“In a minute.” Hermione whispered. “I don’t want to move yet.” She slipped her hand underneath Fleur’s sweater so her hand was pressed against the skin at the small of her back; she inhaled sharply. “Good Merlin, your skin is so soft.” She tried to burrow even closer, almost dislodging Oz who still stood on the mattress keeping watch.

“I think I’m addicted to running my fingers through your ‘air.”

“You’d be the first.” Hermione chuckled before going a little more serious. “Fleur. I don’t think I’m possessive or jealous. I’d never, ever, do anything to hurt you. But if something I ever did or said reminded you of him, please tell me so I can correct my behaviour.”

“I ‘ave faith that you would never. You are nothing like ‘im. But of course I respect you enough to tell you the truth. Just as you will tell me if anything I ever said or did reminds you of ‘er.”

“You could never.” Hermione’s voice was vehement. “You could never.” With arms wrapped around each other and fingers gently touching, merely caressing, they stayed in the comfort of each other even in silence.

It was another hour before they called for Twinsy.

Chapter Text

Hermione was accompanied by a bone deep mental exhaustion, that had manifested as an overall weariness, when she finally left the Walsh’s home in Sligo, Ireland. She had arrived at the quaint, middle-class townhouse complex over three hours ago. The door had been opened by Mrs. Walsh; a lean blonde woman who appeared to be Ella’s nearly identical older counterpart. She had been welcoming, though confused, to find a young woman who claimed to be one of Ella’s Professors at her doorstep. Mr. Walsh, who she actually placed as Scottish by his accent, had been gruff to her but genuinely concerned about her reasons for arriving unannounced.

Hermione had needed to use all her skills not to cry right along with Mrs. Walsh when Hermione recounted the story of their eleven year old daughter telling her tale of her older brothers beating her. Mr. Walsh had left the room abruptly and Hermione wasn’t sure what he was going to do until she heard what sounded like a door being kicked in and several voices shouting in surprise. Hermione became a little more alert and her magic crackled down her spine. Mr. Walsh had returned bodily dragging two twin boys. They were both redheaded like their father and Hermione guessed them to be about thirteen. Hermione forced the image of another set of redheaded twins out of her mind; she absolutely could not focus on anything now except Ella.

Mr. Walsh’s anger was palpable and Hermione wished she had Oz’s comforting presence on her shoulder; or Fleur’s comforting presence at her side. Unfortunately, Oz would attract a little too much attention in muggle Ireland and Fleur was needed at the school. Hermione could do nothing but wait, professionally and patiently, and see what would occur. She watched Mr. Walsh sharply while the family gathered together; for all the boys wrongdoings she knew she couldn’t let their father beat them either.

Hermione offered the use of a truth serum, she had brought Veritaserum with her, but Mr. Walsh declined. He said that he wanted his boys to be men and in his opinion real men owned up to their mistakes and took their punishments as they were deserved. He asked his boys point blank if they had ever hit their sister. Ethan and Danny, almost shaking and shamed where they sat, both shook their heads and denied it vehemently. Apparently even Mrs. Walsh could read the lie on her sons faces as she promptly burst into tears.

Hermione slid over and magically conjured a handkerchief and offered it to the sobbing mother. She noticed both boys grow sullen at the magic and she arched her eyebrow at them; they ducked their gazes from her quickly. Hermione had commented lightly that they could perhaps speak alone. Mr. Walsh had grabbed his sons again, this time by the scruff’s of their necks, and hauled them back upstairs. She waited for him to come back downstairs but he didn’t; instead she heard more banging around.

She almost rose from her chair but the notable silence from up the staircase was the boys; they weren’t crying or yelling and Hermione concluded that they weren’t being hit. She sat with Mrs. Walsh for almost a half an hour before the woman composed herself enough to ask what was going to happen now. Hermione told her the information straight. That it was up to the discretion of the school and of her and she had to ability to get both the magical and muggle child services involved if need be. At that moment Mr. Walsh had come stomping back down the stairs. He had a full cardboard box with him; she could make out several wires and cords, a Blu-Ray player, a game console and a stack of games. Mr. Walsh walked by without comment and threw the entire box of electronics carelessly out the kitchen door into the backyard. The man’s face was without tears but Hermione could see that his hands and his lips were clenched white. He took the now empty box and made another trip to his sons’ room. Hermione was explaining to Mrs. Walsh that she believed she didn’t need to get the muggle child services involved at this time when Mr. Walsh made his second trip down the stairs. This time the box was filled with games and movies; they joined the rest of the electronics flung out into the backyard. On his third trip down, this time carrying the actual television which Hermione heard smash when it hit the ground, she was explaining the process of the magical child services and he stopped to listen. “It’s much the same. Ella’s first opportunity to come home is Christmas break. Before that happens a ministry worker with child services will stop by your home unannounced probably three or four times. They will ask questions of the four of you. They will ask your sons what their intentions are towards your daughter, why they did what they did, how they’re feeling, a range of questions. They will ask the two of you how you plan to keep your daughter safe during her stay, how you’ve been treating your sons and how they were punished. The only real marketable difference is that you will all find it’s impossible to lie, fib, or skirt the truth with these people.” Hermione was blunt but polite. She truly believed that neither of the Walsh’s had had any idea about their sons behaviour.

Mrs. Walsh was still crying lightly but informed Hermione that the ministry worker could come whenever they want and ask whatever they want because they’d have nothing to hide. Mr. Walsh just asked in his gruff way if they could see their daughter. Hermione had acquiesced instantly; keeping her parents from Ella would do no good for anyone. She asked their permission to apparate into their backyard tomorrow at 9am and they gave it without hesitation. It would make for a much shorter trip than the one Hermione had made earlier, having to use a known apparation spot in the county and taxi over to their house. She informed the distraught family that she would then apparate them back with her to the castle where they could see their daughter in her office.

Mr. Walsh had nodded his agreement and then trudged back upstairs, Hermione assumed to continue ridding his sons’ room of all their toys, and left her alone with his wife again. Mrs. Walsh had cried some more and then asked dozens of questions about Ella’s wellbeing. Hermione had patiently explained Ella’s sorting into Gryffindor, and what exactly that meant, and the little group of friends she had made. Hermione told her students’ mother with equal amounts of pride that Ella had been her first student to successfully master a spell in her class. Hermione finally only left with reassurances that she would be back in the morning to take them to their daughter.

Now the witch stretched and walked peacefully along the picturesque Irish road. She was in no real rush and enjoyed the walk however in her mind she was picturing a majestic hawk flying overhead and long, slender fingers intertwined within her own.

Part of Hermione no longer wanted to complete the second part of her adventure away from the castle today; but she knew if she didn’t do it now she wouldn’t get the chance for a while and she desperately wanted to know what was going on with Kingsley Shacklebolt. It was with that thought in mind that Hermione found a deserted side road and stepped behind a hedge to apparate somewhere she never wanted to go again; the British Ministry of Magic.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

Hermione despised the British Ministry of Magic building compared to the building in her home of Brazil. In Brasília the Ministry was located in their beautiful national park and they had placed a focus on large scale windows so one didn’t feel trapped inside. Even the building itself was brighter and completed with natural wood beams; the British Ministry had none of it’s warmth. The building was cramped, crowded and cluttered. It was also, at least twice in Hermione’s history alone, corrupt.

The apparation point was busy and when Hermione appeared she was already mid-strut and walking across the tiles. She was noticed about half-way across the entrance lobby but she determinedly kept walking without stopping for those who called to her even if she seemed rude.

She caught sight of a golden fountain with statues of a wizard, a witch, a centaur, a goblin and a house-elf; The Fountain of Magical Brethren. Hermione almost snorted out loud. Who were the Ministry trying to kid? Goblin’s faced disdain daily for wars that occurred centuries ago long before half the current Goblin population was even born. They were also mocked and mistreated even in their handling of Britain’s money at Gringotts. Hermione remembered her muggle history lessons just as well as her magical and she had always equated the treatment of Goblins as a mix between World War Two Jewish citizens and German ones; hated for something they couldn’t control and mistrusted long after the war had been lost.

The house-elf in the fountain also made Hermione grit her teeth. While she no longer believed that house-elves should be forced into freedom against their wishes the wizarding community as a whole had abysmal protection and care regarding their house-elves. There were actually such lax laws in place regarding the creatures that a wizard would get in infinitely more legal trouble for beating a dog than beating a house-elf. Hermione put a lot of stock in believing that you truly gained knowledge of a person’s character not by how they treated their superiors or their equals, but by their lessers. Hermione associated with no one that would be cruel to a house-elf.

Even the centaur in the fountain was a joke. Wizards considered centaurs, an extremely proud and magical race, to be of near human intelligence and little better than horses able to talk. Hermione could even make an easy argument about the wizard and witch in the fountain not being true equals; women were undervalued and marginalized by the system as a whole both blatantly and subtly.

By the time Hermione hit the lifts she was in a foul mood as well as exhausted. The only thing that could have possibly set her more on edge would be an image of the statue that had been in place when they had infiltrated the Ministry; the Magic is Might held aloft by naked muggles being crushed under the weight. At the very, very least that statue had been honest with its intentions and it didn’t hide behind gold plated, smiling statues.

Perhaps it was the look on her face but none of the three people crowded into the lift spoke to her though she could hear them clearly whispering about her even while she stood there. She focused her eyes resolutely on the numbers and the magical paper airplanes hovering over her head. Thankfully, she only had to wait one floor as the Minister’s office was the closest to the surface.

She stepped out of the lift alone and noticed that this floor was more heavily decorated, and fancier, than any other part of the Ministry she had ever seen before; it was not one of the places she’d seen when they broke into the Ministry and nor had she seen it since.

The hallway was bright, the tiles were shining and the walls were lined with portraits of previous Ministers of Magic. She saw a few doors for the Ministers undersecretary’s and staff workers but she ignored everything, and everyone, and headed for the end hall. She was eventually stopped by a security guard who only wished to check and scan her wand. Hermione handed it over with an arched eyebrow.

Hermione actually possessed two wands, and over her life had owned three. Her original wand, a 10 ¾ inch vine wand with a dragon heartstring core, had been lost to her during the Second Wizarding War. She remembered her wand fondly, as it would always be her first one, but she had learned to let it go. In her mind that wand belonged to a child, one who was still innocent, and as Hermione no longer believed herself to be that person she saw it as only fitting that the wand was lost.

In her life now Hermione used a wand she had a direct hand in making. She had studied wand lore extensively before beginning. Instead of purchasing an already complete wand, as was the usual process in Britain, she had collected the separate, different pieces herself. She had researched quite diligently all the different types and cores that can be made into a wand and talked extensively with Akpan Okafor, the wand maker in Mali, Africa, who had agreed to help her. He seemed more therapist at times than wandmaker and he had required over a month to get to know Hermione personally before agreeing to help her. Between the two of them they had agreed upon the pieces that would make up Hermione’s wand. Hermione had then travelled and acquired the core and cut down the branch of the tree herself. From beginning to end the entire process took three months but when Hermione had finally held her new wand in her hand she had never experienced anything like it. Hermione felt so connected to that wand because it truly was a part of her. She had handled the wood and core before they were anywhere near the wandmaker. When Akpan finally handed the finished wand over Hermione didn’t feel like she had been given a wand; she felt like she had been given back a limb. The wand, 13 inches long and made of acacia wood with a Veela hair core, had completed something in Hermione she hadn’t known she was missing. It was the wand she used on a daily basis. She truly believed that part of the reason she was so adept at wandless magic was because the acacia wood wand was such a part of her that she didn’t need to be directly holding it.

The acacia wand was not the wand that she handed over to the security guard.

It was with a bored expression that the guard dropped the wand into the wand weigher. He had barely looked at her until the slip of parchment appeared to tell him about her wand; he looked at her then. He did a double take and looked her over with wide eyes. He suddenly looked a little starstruck and a lot nervous. “12, ahem,” he blinked at her and cleared his throat and tried again, “12 ¾ inches, walnut, dragon heartstring and unyielding.”

No one knew that Hermione still possessed this particular wand. Not any part of her family, nor her friends. Not McGonagall and not even Fleur.

Sometimes Hermione wasn’t entirely sure herself why she had kept this particular wand. And not just kept; actually continued to use.

From the look on the security guards face that slip of parchment contained a full description of ownership and he knew exactly who that wand had once belonged to.

There was a time that Hermione could not get Bellatrix’s wand to work perfectly for her. The wand fought her constantly and it gave her a sick, evil feeling whenever she held it in her hand. It had made sense to her; that wand had done completely terrible things. That wand had tortured Neville’s parents to insanity. It had killed more people than they would probably ever know. That wand had killed Sirius.

It was the wand that was used during her own torture and rape.

But after the final Battle of Hogwarts she no longer had to worry about it working properly for her. It was also the only one she had and she would not leave herself defenceless; not ever again.

Once she had created the acacia wand she had almost destroyed the walnut wand. It felt vindictive, but justified, to destroy the last piece of Bellatrix Lestrange that existed. To finally put to rest the last tool that had helped the vile Death Eater.

But she couldn’t do it. Something in Hermione had not let her destroy the wand that by all rights, both legal and by wand lore, was now hers.

Instead she had kept the wand hidden. She went almost three months without looking at the dark coloured, slightly curved wand before she took it out of hiding. If she was never going to touch the wand again then what was the point of even keeping it? She took it out of the locked and sealed box it had been in and held it aloft in her hand. Her acacia wand felt like a true piece of her. The best, biggest, most impressive and most complicated magic she had ever done in her life had all been completed with the acacia wand.

But there was no denying that in her hand the walnut wand felt like raw power. Hermione hadn’t put it away. Instead, she had used the wand to split the earth, deep beneath the ground, and directed the ground water to flow underneath a dehydrated village in Mali and brought water to their previously dry wells. Suddenly, Hermione knew what she had kept the wand for.

Was there any greater last revenge against Lestrange than using her beloved wand to help people?

But Hermione hadn’t brought the wand out since returning to Britain. Too many of her family and friends would recognize the wand on sight and she didn’t believe that any of them would truly understand her desire to keep holding it. She had chosen this wand to accompany her to the Ministry of Magic for two reasons.

Her acacia wand was a part of her and deeply personal; there was also no British record of it and she wanted to keep it that way. She did not trust anyone lightly and she definitely didn’t currently trust Shacklebolt with any knowledge of her wand.

She also wanted to make a statement.

From the look on the guard’s face it was working. He handed her wand back with shaking fingers and nodded her along. She doubted he was supposed to let just anyone through to the secretary of the Minister of Magic but the undeniable claim of just who she was had apparently done the trick.

Hermione stalked through the double doors with her head held high and without a second glance back. The secretary, a blonde middle aged witch wearing more makeup than Hermione owned, looked up in surprise at her arrival. “Excuse me, ma’am, but the Minister of Magic does not just take unexpected walk in appointments.”

Hermione bristled, once more, at being called ma’am. “He’ll take this appointment. Tell him Hermione Granger is here to see him.” The witch seemed to realize who she was speaking to halfway through Hermione’s sentence and she was already on her feet to get him. She disappeared through a door and Hermione felt the buzz of magic on the opening from its ward. She allowed her own magic to crackle in the air as she felt for the shield spell and then sighed in disappointment. She knew the feel of Shacklebolt’s magic and apparently he didn’t see fit to complete his own wards anymore.

The secretary returned only a minute later and gestured Hermione forward. “You were lucky, he was just finishing a fire call and he has time to see you now.” The younger witch stepped forward with a smirk; she’d be willing to bet that Shacklebolt hadn’t been busy at all or he’d willingly dropped his fire call for her.

Stepping through the door, and the wards, Hermione got her first look at the Minister’s office. Its grandeur and aplomb were lost to Hermione as she was no longer impressed by expensive and gaudy things.

Kingsley Shacklebolt stood from his desk chair and opened his arms wide and smiled even wider. Hermione had to give him credit that he still cut an impressive figure. His 6’3 frame was still broad and muscled and he hadn’t let his physique slip. What had changed, to Hermione’s instant displeasure, was his dress. Hermione had loved Shacklebolt’s bright, coloured wardrobe that reflected his African heritage. His robes now were definitely high quality and expensive but they didn’t look like him. They were monochromatic and differing shades of black and grey. “Hermione Granger, as I live and breathe.” He stepped around his desk and Hermione offered a hand fearing he would try to be too familiar and hug her. His smile never faltered and he simply shook her hand with both of his; Hermione felt dwarfed by him. “I’m so happy you’ve come back home to Britain, Hermione. As I know a lot of other people are as well.”

Hermione’s teeth were already on edge. “Brazil is still my home, actually. I’ve merely returned to Hogwarts because I wanted to teach.”

“And I know how delighted Minerva is to have you stepping into her shoes, as it were.” He didn’t miss a beat; he truly sounded like a politician.

“Yes, I’ve heard that you’ve been speaking to Minerva lately.” Hermione forced her voice light.

“Well we’re good friends, you know that. She’s also the Headmistress and I’m the Minister of Magic so we owl and fire call frequently to deal with the administrative things.”

Hermione couldn’t believe he felt the need to remind her of his position. “I didn’t realize I was an administrative thing?”

He continued like she hadn’t spoken. “Now that I’ve got you here, this is actually a perfect time to discuss something with you. Pesky owl post, so unreliable, especially to places outside of Britain. You know how it is.” He chuckled lightly as he returned to his desk. “Please, please, have a seat, Hermione.” Hermione let him continue with his show just because hearing about this is why she had come.

She gingerly took her chair opposite Kingsley and she found the fact that his smile had never really fluctuated disturbing. “Can I get you anything? Tea, coffee?”

“No, thank you.” Hermione denied the offer. “You were explaining that you wanted to see me.”

“Yes, of course.” He winked like they were sharing an inside joke. “To business, of course. The Ministry is throwing a wonderful Second Wizarding War and Battle of Hogwarts memorial this year.”

Hermione arched an eyebrow. Why is he saying this like it isn’t something they do every year?

“And to show our love, respect and honour for those who fought in the war, we are throwing a lavish event, sparing absolutely no expense, and making sure that the wizarding world at large knows just how much our history means to us.”

The younger witch had to give him credit; it was a good speech. She wondered who had written it.

“And of course I know how important family and honour are to you, so I wanted to make sure that everything will be perfect for you. I’m prepared to personally make sure everything that evening goes according to your wishes.” He beamed liked he was offering a great gift. “Your speech with Harry and Ronald will be a highlight of course, and I can’t wait to hear your other ideas. We all know how bright you are, smartest witch of her age, I’m sure you have some ideas about the memorial.”

“Do I ever.” Hermione smirked. “But unfortunately, Kingsley, I’m going to have to decline your invitation to the event.”

“Excuse me?” Kingsley’s smile still hadn’t faded.

“I believe you heard me, Minister.” Hermione kept her voice polite. “I won’t be able to attend the memorial.”

He chuckled slightly and waved his hand like there was some misunderstanding. “Oh nonsense, Hermione. I think you’ll find that absolutely anything you already have planned can be rearranged. If it’s something with Hogwarts, I assure you I can discuss it with Minerva and she would be most accommodating.”

“It’s not a scheduling issue. I do not wish to, nor will I, attend the event.”

Finally Kingsley dropped the smile and he folded his large hands on the desk before him. “Okay, Ms. Granger,”

“It’s Professor, actually.” Hermione cut him off. She would not let him use her youth against her. I’d like to see him try.

“Professor Granger, of course. You’ve been away from Britain for a long time so I completely understand that you might have forgotten that things are different here. Here, unlike the third world countries you’ve been living in, we strive for community and togetherness and we support each other in all things.”

Hermione was fuming. Kingsley couldn’t have said anything worse to her. “How dare you insult my home.” Hermione’s teeth were clenched. “I find the fact that you think this is an example of community and togetherness a joke. You don’t even know the meaning of the word. You think you can throw money at a memorial and have it mean community? Giving someone a dollar when you have a thousand means nothing compared to giving someone a dollar when you only have five. Cut the crap, Shacklebolt. You’ve shown your hand, you’re desperate. Why?”

Kingsley narrowed his eyes. “I wouldn’t have expected such behaviour from you.”

“Why?” Hermione smirked. “You don’t know me anymore.”

Now the Minister scowled. “Things are complicated here in Britain currently. A new generation of witches and wizards are growing up in an era of peace,”

“I fail to see how that’s a bad thing.”

He continued like she hadn’t interrupted, “and while that is wonderful, it does present a new series of challenges unlike the challenges that have been faced before.”

“Enlighten me.”

Kingsley stared her down for a moment. “Britain is on the precipice of true greatness once again and I-”

Hermione scoffed. “Spare me your political campaign speech.” Her mind had been turning over every word the Minister had spoken since she’d entered the room and an idea had taken root. “Do you want to know what I think? I think that as horrible as it is, being the Minister for Magic during times of war is actually very easy. What’s the number one thing on everyone’s mind? The war. What does everyone want to hear about? How you’re going to win the war. What’s the one issue you have to focus on? The war.” Hermione leaned forward in her chair. “I bet your first few years in office after the war was won were pretty easy as well. There was a lot of cleanup to be done, wasn’t there? Harry and Ron told me countless stories of everything that occurred in Britain after the war and the funerals and the trials. But now you complain about a generation of wizards and witches growing up in a generation of peace? Let me guess, you complain because your job has gotten hard. Without the war to take over the focus on everyone’s mind there are new issues creeping up that previous Minister’s haven’t had to deal with before, isn’t the right?”

Kingsley blinked and Hermine smiled as she leaned back in her chair, now pretending to be relaxed.

“So what are the prominent issues now, Minister? Educational reform? Social change and societal injustice? How about mainstream media? I can’t be the only person who still refuses to take a word the Prophet says seriously.” Kingsley’s look, his fake half smile, was fixed in place and Hermione wanted to grit her teeth. “How about our government structure and our borderline dictatorship of a court system? Maybe even our process of official election?” Kingsley blinked again and Hermione leaned forward once more; this time she looked like an animal poised to strike. “You dare speak to me about community and togetherness when in reality you’re using this memorial as a re-election platform? You think reminding people of the horrors of war and how you got us through those difficult times will make them re-elect you? Here’s a thought,” Hermione spat, “if you’re not up to the task of handling the peoples’ issues than perhaps you shouldn’t be Minister of Magic any longer.”

“Hermione.” Kingsley was back to trying to be polite. “You’re over simplifying a larger issue,”

“And you’re trying to confuse the issue. If the people want change, Minister, then they deserve change. And what you’re doing, frankly, makes me want to be sick.” Hermione stood with the intention to leave but Kingsley huffed a deep sigh.

“Re-election isn’t the only issue.”

Hermione cocked an eyebrow. “Is corruption another?” It actually pleased her that he looked offended.

“I am not corrupt. I truly believe that I am the best man for this position, Hermione. I can do some more good here, finally, now that everything after the war has been taken care of, I just,” he seemed to weight his words, “need some more time. You know me, Hermione. I was a proud member of the Order of the Phoenix and I went behind the backs of the Ministry when it really was corrupt. I am trying to do good in this office, for once.”

Slowly the witch sat back down. “What’s the other issue?”

“Excuse me?”

“You said re-election isn’t the only issue. What is the other?”

Kingsley eyed her carefully. “And is this private discussion between old friends going to remain private?”

Hermione rolled her eyes at him. “I’m not the one who fractured our old friendship, Kingsley.”

He apparently decided to continue anyway. “Wars are expensive, Hermione. Funerals are expensive, trials are expensive. The cleanup was expensive.”

Is he saying that the Ministry is broke? “Statistically there would have been a boon after the war.”

“There was, but I was left an office with a lot of debt.” Kingsley was blunt; Hermione was angry.

“If the office and the Ministry is in trouble then why are you “sparing no expense” for a memorial that the people don’t need?”

“The people do need it.” Kingsley said quickly. “As do we. For the last two years I’ve had an…idea. A proposal that would solve our Ministry coffer problem.”

“Transparency?” Hermione said sarcastically. “Volunteer efforts? Global trade?”

Kingsley raised his hands like he was showing off a banner. “The London Leatherbacks.” Hermione continued to stare at Kingsley like the words would somehow suddenly make sense.

“Excuse me?”

“Do you prefer The London Lightning? That’s still on the table as well.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Quidditch, of course, Hermione.”

Now it was Hermione’s turn to blink repeatedly. “Excuse me?”

“I’m trying, and about to succeed in, getting London our very own professional Quidditch team.”

“You think Quidditch is the solution to all your problems.” It was said in a flat voice and Hermione rose to leave again.

Kingsley started speaking again quickly. “Put your dislike of the game aside, Hermione, and you cannot deny that it is the magical community’s most prominent sport. And there’s a lot of money to be had in a successful Quidditch team.”

“Yes, of course there’s money in sport, but creating a team just for London will be wildly expensive and if what you say is true, you couldn’t afford it anyway. Not to mention, getting a new team does not guarantee its success.”

“Correct on all counts. But we wouldn’t be creating a new team.” Kingsley smiled.

Hermione caught on instantly and also put all the pieces together. “You’re going to get an existing team to move to London. And let me guess, it’s a South American team? Perhaps even a team from Brazil?”

“I’ve convinced Anthony Acosta, the owner of The Amazonas Abraxans, that moving his team to London would be in his best interest.”

“Then what’s the problem?” Hermione asked even though she already knew; she wanted to hear him say it.

“Well, of course I’ve convinced him on the idea and its merits but he’s still a little hesitant about such a large change. As it so happens, he is a rather large admirer of yours. A huge fan, you could say. It would probably work in our favour if he were to meet you and you helped persuade him.”

“I see.” Hermione almost wanted to chuckle but she also kind of felt sick. Typical. I go through every possibility of Kingsley being corrupt or serving some new evil, and it’s just a man serving his own agenda to stay in office and get money. “Well,” Hermione stood for the last time and gave Kingsley a wry smile, “this has been illuminating Minister, but I’m afraid I need to get back to the school.”

Kingsley rose quickly as well. “So, I can expect to see you at the memorial then? You’ll assist with this little situation? I'm doing this for the good of Britain, you know.”

Hermione left his office without an answer and without a backwards glance.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

When Hermione stepped out of the fireplace leading into her quarters she was comforted instantly by the presence of magic in the air and the quick excited caw she heard. Oz landed on her shoulder and instantly preened his beak through her hair and Hermione rubbed her fingers gently into his feathers. “Eu estou bem. Eu estou bem. Eu não queria te preocupar, lindo. Eu posso tomar conta de mim mesma sem você de vez em quando, sabia? [I’m fine, I’m fine. I didn’t mean to worry you, handsome. I can take care of myself without you sometimes, you know?]” Oz gave a disgruntled ruffle of his feathers like he didn’t believe the words she was saying and Hermione smiled at him with affection.

“I think ‘e was worried about you.” A beautifully accented voice spoke up and Hermione grinned. “I opened a window thinking maybe ‘e was just agitated but ‘e wouldn’t leave.”

Hermione smiled at Oz. “Obrigada por fazer companhia à ela como te pedi, Oz. Você está certo, eu estaria perdida sem você [Thank you for keeping her company like I asked, Oz. You’re right, I’d be lost without you].” Now he cawed and puffed himself up before taking flight off her shoulder for his wooden perch. The witch finally turned her attention to where Fleur was seated on her couch and reading through a few scrolls of parchment. “Hello, you.”

“’ello you.” Fleur smiled. Hermione sat down beside Fleur and reached out a hand to gently run her fingers through Fleur’s silver hair and tuck it behind her ear. She was almost amazed how there was no nervousness and no uncertainty; she was too comfortable in Fleur’s presence to be nervous.

The French witch took the hand that had just stroked her hair and kissed the back of it gently before interlocking their fingers. “’ow was your day, mon coeur? Was it ‘ard at the Walsh’s ‘ome?”

Hermione leaned into Fleur’s side and the Frenchwoman wrapped an arm around her gently. Clearly Fleur had put together the reason for Hermione’s trip away from the castle without being told. “It was tough. It was her brothers.” Hermione admitted. “Her parents were so upset, rightfully. And I believe that they had been truly and completely blindsided by the news. I’m going back in the morning to bring them to my office so they can see Ella.”

“That’s good, ma chère. It will be good for them to see ‘er and see that’s she’s okay, as well as for ‘er to see them and know that everything is going to be okay moving forward.”

“Exactly my thought.” Hermione sighed deeply and she felt the movement of Fleur’s chuckle. “What?”

“I know that sigh. What grand thoughts are you ‘aving, ma chère?

Hermione sat up straight so that she could face Fleur directly. “Her brothers that beat her? Thirteen years old and just jealous, plain and simple. What thirteen year old wouldn’t be upset to learn that magic was real but that it hadn’t chosen them?”

Fleur looked contemplative. “All, I’m sure. But not all of them would beat an eleven year old girl.”

“Of course not, you’re right. But the fact of the matter is that it happens, even McGonagall told me as such. It’s a situation that literally breeds jealousy. And also leads to more questions.”

“Such as?”

“Such as, why are there muggle-borns in the first place?”

“’ermione!” Fleur gasped but somewhat also laughed. Hermione couldn’t help herself and she leaned forward to place a gentle kiss on Fleur’s lips.

“I’m obviously not against it, mon trésor. But I have always been curious. Muggle-borns inherit their magical ability from distant ancestors, we think, but it still begs many questions. Why does the magical ability suddenly resurface several generations down the line? Why does it not manifest completely in that generation? Why are some chosen and the siblings of those children not?”

“Perhaps magic sensed something great.” Fleur’s look was affectionate. “Maybe the magic goes to those in the ancestral line who most deserve it and will do the greatest things with it.”

“Perhaps.” Hermione agreed with a smile even though she knew Fleur was somewhat teasing her. “That gives credit to magic being more sentient than some of the wizarding community wish to believe though.” A soft smile crossed her lips as something occurred to her. “Do you want to know something Harry said to me during the summer? He said, sometimes magic still can’t be explained. That sometimes, magic just is.”

Fleur smirked. “But you want to figure out that explanation, don’t you?”

“Damn straight I do.” Hermione laughed. She squeezed Fleur’s hand that she still held gently. “Back to what I was saying though, I really think there’s a problem there. Actually, I think there’s a problem both ways. For muggle-born children and for pure-blooded ones.”

“What problem?”

“That there’s no education prior to Hogwarts. For muggle-born student’s maybe if we knew earlier or could accurately predict who in an ancestral line would acquire magic than it wouldn’t be such a shock. Families like the Walsh’s wouldn’t suddenly get this massive, life altering surprise when Ella turned eleven. It would be a more gradual process and with learning and time to adapt then maybe the situation would have been different for her brothers as well. There wouldn’t be so much shock and instant resentment.”

“Resentment can build up over time as well.” Fleur countered.

“True, but at least that is a slow process and we would have some warning over the situation and perhaps this way Ella wouldn’t end up being beaten.”

Fleur nodded. “And the purebloods?”

“Same, knowledge and preparedness. We’re obviously aware that hatred, bigotry, classist attitudes, everything like that can manifest in children from their parents and by eleven those morals, or lack of them, can be pretty well engrained in their behaviour. But if there was an educational system in place, before Hogwarts, perhaps we could forestall that trend. When students show up here they’re already pretty well set into their ways. But maybe some of those kids would feel differently if they were shown as children that there was a different way. That muggle-borns are no different and that the different classes are no better or worse.” Hermione looked up from where she’d been gesturing almost madly with her hands to find Fleur, head leaned on the back of one hand, watching her warmly. “What?”

“I just adore ‘ow much you care about people, ma chérie.”

Hermione wanted to blush at the gaze Fleur was giving her. “I just think that we should help people if we’re capable of it.”

“And you’re a beautiful person because of that.” Now Fleur was the one who leaned forward and gently pressed their lips together. Hermione smiled into the kiss when Fleur’s soft fingertips stroked her cheek lovingly. “Unfortunately,” Fleur started as she pulled away, “I’m not certain you can take on full educational reform in Britain by yourself. Although if anyone could it would be you, mon coeur.”

But something about Fleur’s words had struck a chord and Hermione started to grin. “Actually, believe it or not,” Hermione was already turning ideas over in her head, “this might be the perfect time to try and get a little social change.”

Hermione started plotting the beginnings of a plan and Fleur continued to watch her with affection and pride.

**

Chapter Text

“Are you both alright?” Hermione asked the Walsh’s carefully as they apparated into her office. McGonagall had lowered the anti-apparation wards around Hermione’s office just for this morning so that she could collect the Walsh’s. Mrs. Walsh was holding her chest and her eyes were clenched shut but Mr. Walsh had actually stumbled upon landing and was shaking his head like his ears were ringing. “Side-along apparation is unpleasant, I apologize.”

“That’s quite alright.” Mrs. Walsh managed politely even as she blinked her eyes repeatedly to release the pressure in her skull. “Thank you for bringing us.”

“Where’s Ella?” Mr. Walsh asked in his gruff, blunt way.

“I sent her a note this morning, she should be here any moment.” Hermione waved a hand so that her office door opened and Ella could come right in.

Silence fell for a moment and Mrs. Walsh was the one who cleared her throat and tried to make polite conversation. “I was quite proud yesterday when you told me that Ella has already been doing well in her classes. We were a little concerned because of her not being from a magical family.” The woman admitted.

Hermione smiled warmly. “You have nothing to worry about in that regard. Ella is one of my brightest. I’m definitely enjoying teaching her.” Hermione turned towards the door. “Here comes Ella now.”

They both looked puzzled, not seeing or hearing anything, but sure enough the girl shyly peaked her head in the office door a moment later. “Da!” Somehow it came to no surprise to Hermione that Ella rushed forward into her father’s arms and the large Scotsman scooped her off the ground and engulfed her completely. It was almost difficult to see the young girl hidden in his bulky arms and underneath his red beard.

Mrs. Walsh smiled at the sight of them. “He’s been beside himself since yesterday.” She admitted quietly. “If he could have walked here quicker than waiting for you to come get us he’d have done it.”

Hermione grinned at the giggles she could hear coming from the small girl who was being squeezed and shaken lightly by her father. “I believe you.” It took several more minutes before Mr. Walsh actually let Ella’s feet touch the ground once again and once he did Mrs. Walsh stepped forward to receive her own hug from her youngest.

Oz had been standing on the perch in her office, near perfectly still, and Hermione was proud of him for not startling the muggle couple but she called him over now by holding out her hand. He flew through the air and landed on her arm and Hermione stroked him gently. She wasn’t allowed to leave the Walsh’s alone while they were at Hogwarts but she wanted to seem mildly distracted so they could have at least the semblance of privacy for their reunion.

It was Mrs. Walsh who gasped at the sight of the predator on Hermione’s arm some few minutes later when she turned to address the professor.

“That’s Oz.” Ella chirped happily. “He’s Professor Granger’s familiar. He’s always with her.”

“He is indeed.” Hermione smiled at her student. “Have you done some studying into familiars, Miss Walsh?”

“Sort of. We asked Serena when we saw a few cats in the common room.”

“Cats do make excellent familiars as well.” Hermine nodded and kept the spark of sadness she always felt at the subject off her face. When Crookshanks had been lost to her during the war she thought she’d never get another familiar again; she hadn’t been able to predict Oz swooping into her life.

Ella continued her ramble to her parents about the cats in the common room, and then what the common room was and then she merged seamlessly into her classes and Mr. Walsh nodded and cooed and agreed in all the right moments and Mrs. Walsh just watched her husband and daughter with so much affection in her eyes.

Mrs. Walsh stepped in again and finally got her daughter to stop talking a mile a minute; both Ella and Mr. Walsh looked put out and Hermione hid a grin at the Scottish man’s pout by pressing her face against Oz’s feathers.

“Miss Walsh, did you bring some homework like I asked?”

“Mhmm.” She nodded enthusiastically.

“Excellent. Would you like to sit at my desk and begin your work while I talk with your parents?”

“Sure.” Ella skipped off happily and the three adults watched her pull a spellbook from her bag and get settled.

“Thank you.” Mrs. Walsh spoke up without taking eyes off her daughter. “She completely idolizes you and…well…I’m so glad she came to you…because if she hadn’t…”

The woman looked close to tears and Hermione stepped forward gently to place a hand on her arm. She noticed out of the corner of her eye that Mr. Walsh was watching Oz with caution now that the bird was in closer proximity to his wife. “I’m very thankful that Ella was brave enough to come and talk to me about this too.” Braver than me. “Now, as I explained yesterday you need to have a plan in place for when the Ministry worker comes to investigate your home. Have you had a chance to begin to think about that?”

“We were hoping you might have some thoughts on the matter.” Mrs. Walsh admitted.

“Of course. Well, from the Ministry stand point they’ll want to know that your sons were appropriately punished, but they’ll also want plans for further prevention as well as rehabilitation. My first thought would be to find out when the assaults took place. Was it perhaps when you went to the store and the boys were left in charge to watch over Ella? Or was it at night and they came into her room? Once you know that information it can make it easier to plan the prevention of further incidents.”

“Right, of course.” Mrs. Walsh looked to her husband and the man nodded to say he agreed.

“There is also the issue I told you that none of you will be able to tell a lie, or even a half truth to the Ministry worker that receives your case. The situation would be further complicated if, for example, you both pass the inspection and one or both of your sons do not.”

“What do you mean?”

“If, hypothetically, one of your sons admits to still having negative or violent intentions towards Ella. The worker will place Ella’s safety above all else in deciding whether or not it is safe for Ella to return home for Christmas holiday.” Hermione could read the heartbreak on the woman’s face and she rubbed her shoulder again. “But that’s a ways away and a worst case scenario. For now, you should just focus on Ella and your sons.”

“Can we go talk to her some more?” Mr. Walsh asked and Hermione nodded.

“Of course.” Hermione stayed on the fringes of the conversation, allowing them privacy when they spoke seriously or sadly and the Walsh’s comforted their daughter about the assault she had suffered from her brothers. When the conversation lightened and Ella laughed and told her parents stories they could hardly believe Hermione backed up the young girls claims and even produced a match so that Ella could show her parents the spell she had mastered turning it into a needle. Hermione conjured a tray of light nibbles and tea for the family to enjoy as the talk showed no signs of stopping.

Eventually Hermione caught Mrs. Walsh’s eye and she was the one who informed her husband that they had to go. It prompted another hug between father and daughter that lifted Ella off her feet for several moments. Hermione sent Ella on her way once the goodbyes were taken care of because she didn’t want Ella to watch her apparate her parents away. “Are you ready for another round of apparation?”

Mrs. Walsh nodded and thanked her politely. Mr. Walsh grunted with an extremely nauseous look.

Hermione hid another slight smile as Oz took off from her shoulder and she offered her arm to the couple. I’m getting the impression that man is much softer at heart than he looks.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

Oz gave a low caw in his throat and Hermione pushed any lingering thoughts about the Walsh’s from her mind as she took the noise for the warning that it was. She turned down a different corridor than she had originally been heading for, one which would lead her to Fleur’s office, when Oz tilted his head in that direction. Moments later she could pick up the sounds of an argument escalating that her familiar had clearly already heard.

“Why don’t you back the hell up you cowardly piece of shit!”

“Who you calling a coward, standing there with ten friends behind you, yeah you’re real fucking brave.”

Hermione walked a little quicker to the crowd of fifteen or so students standing in a loose circle. Bags had been dropped on the ground and while wands hadn’t been drawn yet it made her nervous that the students had clearly freed up their hands. She scanned the crowd quickly, noticing it was mostly Gryffindors, with a few Hufflepuffs and Slytherins, and they were probably all fourth years.

Magic tingled along Hermione’s spine as she got closer and prepared to intervene.

The lone male Slytherin student, standing practically cornered with another Slytherin girl standing at his back, clenched his hands and his face twisted in anger. “Why don’t you get out of my fucking face, huh? Take your faggot Mudblood boyfriend,”

He never got to finish his sentence as the Gryffindor, who Hermione could now see was Corey Brighton, the Quidditch team’s keeper, drew his wand and had it pointed at the boy’s chest. “Watch your fucking mouth you wannabe Death Eater scum!”

Oz took flight from Hermione’s shoulder and skimmed the heads of the students with a deep, guttural caw and everyone jumped. Hermione snapped her fingers and Corey’s wand flew through the air and Hermione caught it easily.

She walked closer, slowly, and Oz circled the group once more before coasting to land back on her shoulder. Hermione made a point of looking each student dead in the eye before she said anything. They had all frozen and gone dead silent.

“Well?” Her voice was quiet, and calm, though in the hallway one could now hear a pin drop. “Does anyone care to explain this?”

Corey drew an indignant breath and looked like he was ready to explode but Shamus, one of Gryffindor’s beaters, grabbed his wrist and shook his head slightly. Hermione inwardly approved of Shamus’s calmness under pressure.

“I see.” Hermione turned her gaze to the cornered Slytherin pair. “Your name, Mr…”

“Bartlett, Professor.” His teeth were clenched, as were his hands still, but his voice was one of forced politeness. “Will Bartlett.”

“Mr. Bartlett, that will be 50 points from Slytherin for the two disgusting slurs that I heard you curse. You will also be facing detention with me. However, before I decide what your detention will be, I want you to leave and go straight to inform your Head of House what has transpired here. Rest assured I will be asking Professor Slughorn the story you tell, and the degree of your punishment with me will rest on your truthfulness of telling the whole story, do you understand me?” Bartlett nodded stiffly. “Good.”

Hermione noticed the triumphant grin that flashed across Corey’s features and Hermione sighed internally. She steeled her nerves and kept her face impassive. “Mr. Brighton. That will be 50 points from Gryffindor, and you will be serving detention with Mr. Bartlett as well.” Corey’s jaw dropped and a few other Gryffindor’s looked at her incredulously.

“What?” Corey seemingly couldn’t help himself. Hermione noticed that Will Bartlett’s jaw had dropped as well.

“Am I mistaken, Mr. Brighton, or did I not hear you utter a slur as well? Not to mention, I only saw one wand drawn in the confrontation.” She held up the wand she still had resting between her fingers. “And I believe it was yours.”

“But, Professor.” Corey pointed at Will. “He started everything, and did you not hear what he called Shamus?”

“I heard everything, Mr. Brighton. And he is facing his punishment for his actions, just as you are facing punishment for yours.” Hermione could see the betrayal building in his eyes and Hermione forced herself not to sigh. “Mr. Bartlett. I believe Professor Slughorn is waiting for you. The rest of you, I’m sure you have somewhere you’re supposed to be.” Hermione paused only for a second. “Mr. Brighton, you may stay.”

Corey clearly knew it was an order and he looked sullenly at the ground. Hermione noticed Shamus hold his hand for the briefest of moments before he turned to walk away with the rest of the crowd. Hermione waited until the hallway was clear and she let out the deep sigh she had been holding. She turned to the window overlooking the grounds and she sat down on the sill. “Come, have a seat.”

She could see from Corey’s body language, even as he followed the directive and sat stiffly, that he was still angry and betrayed. “You don’t think you deserve a punishment for your actions.” It wasn’t a question.

Corey huffed in agitation. “No. If you heard what Bartlett said then you know that I was just defending Shamus! He called him those,” he choked for a second, “disgusting things and I’m fucking sick of it!” Corey was back on his feet and Hermione let him rage. “It’s not fair! I’m so sick and tired of hearing the same bullshit and if it’s not faggot and fairy then it’s Mudblood and blood-traitor and it’s bullshit! If you knew what it felt like you wouldn’t be punishing me for standing up for us!” Corey seemed to realize he’d been screaming at his teacher and blushed deeply while looking at the ground.

Hermione never even flinched. She eyed him carefully. His brown hair was just a touch shaggy and a little dishevelled and his hazel eyes were filled with both anger and hurt. “Please, sit.” Hermione said again. She didn’t comment when Corey paced and needed another moment before sitting. She gave him a sad smile when he finally sat beside her again. “Do you really believe that I don’t know what it feels like to be called a Mudblood?” She asked it quietly, refusing to glance at her covered forearm, and kept her gentle gaze on him. He blushed deeper when he seemed to realize what he had screamed; or who he had screamed it at. “I know what it feels like.” Hermione whispered. “I know exactly what that word means and how it feels to have it thrown in your face.” Without saying anything too overly personal Hermione continued. “I know what it feels like to have other slurs thrown in your face as well.”

“Then why?” Corey finally looked up at her.

“Why did I punish you as well?” The teenager nodded. “Do you know what a Death Eater is, Mr. Brighton?”

Corey gave her a puzzled look. “Follower of Voldemort.”

“Right. The worst dark wizards and witches in history, all Death Eaters. Those words are now synonymous with someone who is a blood puritist, yes, but also someone who is willing to torture and murder for that ideal. Do you really believe that Mr. Bartlett is capable of that?”

Corey almost growled under his breath. “Well, no, but,”

“The girl with him.” Hermione kept talking. “Her name?”

“Iris Donahue.”

“Did you notice the pin on her backpack?”

The teenager looked like Hermione had lost her mind. “What?”

“The pin, on her bag. It was a red pin with a canon on it. For Arsenal. No, you don’t know what that is?” Hermione smirked lightly. “Perhaps you should ask Shamus.”

“What?” Corey looked so far behind in this conversation.

“It’s a professional football team. A muggle sport. Ms. Donahue is what, half-blood?”

“I…I don’t know.”

“Hmm.” Hermione waited another moment. “I doubt Mr. Bartlett is as much a blood puritist as he seemed.”

“He still shouldn’t have said it.”

“Of course not. Both things he said were very wrong. And, if you’ve forgotten, he is being punished as well. If I know Professor Slughorn, and I like to think that I do, Mr. Bartlett will end up with another detention from his Head of House as well. But here’s the thing, Mr. Bartlett’s actions do not excuse your own.” Hermione stressed the point. “He made a choice to do what he did, and so did you.”

“But I was defending someone.” Corey tried again.

Hermione sighed. “How many Gryffindor’s were there?”

“What?”

“How many Gryffindor’s were in this corridor when the situation went down?” Hermione asked again.

“I don’t know. Six?”

“Nine. And three more Hufflepuff’s standing with you. How many Slytherin’s were there?”

Corey had gleaned where she was going with this and scowled at the floor. “Two.”

“Two, right. Twelve against two.”

“Professor, why are you making excuses for them?”

Hermione sighed and shook her head. “I assure you, I am not. Why are you unwilling to see that your actions were wrong as well as his?”

Corey looked at his feet. “But I was doing it for a good reason.”

“How well do you know your magical history, Mr. Brighton? If I said the phrase for the greater good.”

“Grindlewald. But he did really bad things…” His voice trailed away.

“Yes he did. And so did Mr. Bartlett. And so did you.” Hermione said gently. “Mr. Brighton, I know what it feels like to be called a Mudblood. But I do not know the pain of being called a Death Eater when I am not one. I can sympathize with that pain, and I can empathize, but I do not actually know. Should we perhaps call Professor Carrow over here? I’m sure she can explain the pain of being called a Death Eater. I’m sure she can explain how it makes her feel to think someone called her something which means she is a vile, hateful person capable of murder.” Hermione’s voice was gentle. “Any slur is bad, Mr. Brighton. There is no good reason to use a slur on a person. And it makes me disappointed to think that someone who is so clearly effected by being called hateful things, would turn that pain around on someone else.” Hermione could tell the teen had tears in his eyes now even though he kept his gaze on the floor. “Hate and violence are a disease, Mr. Brighton. And you do not get rid of a disease by helping to spread it around.”

A sob escaped the teen even though he tried to bite it back and Hermione laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. Oz cawed very lowly in her ear and Hermione turned her gaze towards the end of the corridor. She raised her hand off his shoulder briefly, as the other one was still holding Corey’s wand, and swirled her fingers in the air until she felt the magical shimmer surround them.

A beat later Corey jerked his head up when he heard a few students laughing and he frantically tried to wipe the tears from his eyes. Hermione gripped his shoulder. “They cannot hear or see us.” Hermione murmured gently. Corey watched in fascination as the group of Hufflepuff students passed by without ever giving them a glance.

“Thank you, Professor.”

“You’re welcome.” Hermione smiled gently. “I know you’re disappointed, Mr. Brighton, but I hope you understand why I had to do what I did.”

“I do, Professor.”

“Good.” Hermione spun the boys’ wand around with nimble fingers so she could pass it to him handle first. “And we’ll be discussing the fact that you drew your wand on another student in detention tomorrow.”

“Yes, Professor.”

“Off you go then.”

Corey stood and wiped at his eyes and his face again. “Um, I’m sorry I disappointed you, Professor.”

Hermione smiled. She didn’t want to degrade his apology by claiming that he hadn’t done so, when they both knew different. Instead she said, “Well you know what you can do now, don’t you?”

“What?”

“Prove me wrong, and make me proud.”

Corey gifted her with a wide smile. “Yes, Professor.” Hermione felt it when Corey walked through the barrier she had constructed and she watched him jog away down the hallway.

“Well, Oz,” he preened her hair and she reached up to stroke him, “that could have gone worse, right?” Hermione sighed. “I’ll have to ask McGonagall if this ever gets easier. Punishing your own House sucks.”

Oz cawed lowly and Hermione took that as his agreement.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

For the first time in all of Fleur’s time in the castle, all the way back starting at the Triwizard Tournament until now, Fleur’s thrall was completely and utterly stagnant.

There was nothing in the air for her Veela senses to pick up on. There was no love or lust floating through the air. There was no attraction simmering under the surface, no affection underlining thoughts and actions, and absolutely no yearning burning behind eyes.

There was also no jealousy and in fact, there were no eyes on Fleur at all. It would be almost a relief if not for her human senses which could pick up on things that her thrall could not. Her ears could hear the occasional gasp or sniffle. In the dead silence of the room she was even able to pick up the grinding of teeth and the sound of a particularly difficult swallow around a throat that had threatened to close. The sadness and the horror was practically filling the room like a fog and Fleur could see the toll it was taking on the students in her office.

The six students, three boys and three girls, had been perfectly on time, if not even a little bit early, for the detention they were serving with her and Fleur had nodded them in. The Gryffindor’s and Ravenclaw’s had shuffled nervously and awkwardly and Fleur had gestured them to the large round table she had conjured earlier. Stacks of parchment, some bound and some loose, were already waiting for them. Fleur had taken a moment to describe what she had done. “There is an Unspeakable Charm placed on all of the information on that table. As you should know by now, you will be able to retain the information in your memory for a little while before it fades away. You’ll be left only with feelings and emotions from what you learned. During the time you remember specific information you will not be able to share it with anyone no matter ‘ow ‘ard you try. I suggest you do not even bother.” Fleur added with an arched eyebrow.

“Professor?” Jared Abbot seemed nervous as he spoke up. “I was just wondering what the assignment you wanted us to complete was?”

Fleur eyed them all carefully. “When you’re finished reading as much as you think you need to, I would like a roll of parchment at least 15 inches long about what you learned. I’m sure you’ll be able to think of something.”

The students had been quick to take their seats and they all reached for different papers in front of them. Fleur watched as Serena Hystenbaum, clearly the fastest reader of the group, had the first visceral reaction; her face dropped even as her eyes widened and her hands shook slightly.

The French witch knew what the students were reading was horrible. She had weeded out the most traumatizing accounts, the ones even she had struggled to get through, and any account that mentioned Hermione directly, but the testimonials that remained were still horrifying. Fleur knew, better than most, that the Second Wizarding War actually had been detailed and documented as closely as the war previous. Or rather, almost as closely. There were still sections of the story involving the Golden Trio that remained blank even to the historians. The Battle of Hogwarts, however, had been pieced together by almost a hundred testimonies regarding the events and then painstakingly placed in some semblance of chronological order. After all of the effort the results, however, had never been published. Minerva McGonagall, Mrs. Weasley and Fleur herself had spearheaded the vehement campaign against such a publication. The information regarding the deeds, and deaths, of students and children who were taken before their time should never been used for the gain of anyone. When they had won their debate the written accounts and testimonies had been left in the care of the Headmistress as most of the stories were those from, and about, her students.

Fleur knew the parchment in Jared Abbot’s hand detailed the events, and the murders, a Ravenclaw student had witnessed while immobilized but conscious on the ground. Jules Johnson, one of Hermione’s Gryffindor’s, was reading the heartbreaking tale from a Gryffindor student who had tried to save her friend by pushing her out of the way of a curse only to push her right into the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange who slit her throat without hesitating. Serena had just picked up the lone testimony that existed about the deaths of Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks. The Hufflepuff student had recounted feeling completely and utterly useless while the Death Eaters had converged upon the married couple.

The students serving their detention in two parts had arrived at 3. Fleur let them go by 4. She had given each student a piece of chocolate and told them to enjoy a part of their weekend. To go see their friends and remember that they had the privilege to enjoy themselves and should respect fallen heroes by honouring that sacrifice.

They had returned at 8 o’clock after dinner, early again, and they had begun reading some more. Fleur saw a few tear tracks and supplied the students with tissues. She felt for them, but she was also proud of them. She could see the determined glint in their eyes and the set of their shoulders; she also noted how each of them had written well over a roll of parchment already and not a single student made any move to rise from the table.

She watched them carefully, to make sure they didn’t seem too overtly upset with the task she had set them, when her thrall was awoken with a comforting warmth. It was like not realizing you were cold until someone you loved wrapped a warm, thick blanket around your shoulders and you burrowed into the embrace. Fleur felt warmer and safer instantly due to the eyes now on her.

Fleur turned and noted Hermione’s serious and troubled gaze. The French witch let Hermione approach at her own pace and the Brazilian walked near silently and none of the students even noticed her entrance. Even Oz was silent and still at his place on Hermione’s shoulder.

The silver haired witch took note of Hermione’s features carefully. Her lips were tight but her jaw wasn’t clenched; sad then, not devastated. She noticed that Hermione’s fingers were fidgeting, though not clenched into fists, and while Oz was steady he wasn’t shifting or ruffling his feathers; not panicked or fearful then, just a little out of sorts. Fleur gave a warm, small smile that she knew Hermione loved. Her thrall hummed along her skin as Hermione’s look softened a little. She watched the other witch casually and completely without thought flick and swirl her fingers and she felt the spell take effect around them. Hermione never failed to impress and amaze her; she found herself in awe around the other witch constantly.

Bonjour mon coeur.” Fleur knew that Hermione would have silenced them to the ears of the students in the room and she greeted Hermione warmly.

Bonjour mon trésor.” Hermione eyed the table of students curiously. “What’s going on over here?”

“Detention.” Fleur considered her words carefully. She would not hide the truth from Hermione. She didn’t believe in hiding things from a friend, or a partner, with the thought of protecting them. It was not Fleur’s decision what Hermione could or could not handle. It was not Fleur’s place to decide what information Hermione was allowed to know or to hear. She trusted Hermione and part of that trust was accepting that Hermione knew what she could handle, what she wanted to discuss and what she wanted to do with any information on her own. Fleur knew how it felt to be controlled, both passively and aggressively, and she would never inflict that kind of abuse on someone she loved. “As you know the war seemed like a very abstract concept to some of the older students. I thought the best way to educate them was to ‘ave them read over some war testimonies.” Fleur watched Hermione’s eyes narrow and her jaw clench briefly.

“The testimonies that were gathered and then never published? They were kept with Minerva I assume.”

Fleur had long since learned not to underestimate Hermione’s mind and the connections she was able to intuit. She didn’t even bother asking how Hermione had figured out that the story of the war had actually been collected. “It was.”

“And you’ve put an Unspeakable spell on all the documents.” It wasn’t a question. Fleur didn’t know if Hermione simply knew her well enough to know that would have been her first course of action or if the Brazilian witch could actually sense the spell in the air.

“I ‘ave.”

Hermione merely hummed and Fleur watched her process. Fleur knew it was better this way. She could have chosen not to tell Hermione anything. It would have stopped that look she had now, that saddened and pensive look, from crossing her beautiful features. Fleur could already have started trying to figure out what had happened to Hermione before she’d entered her office and tried to assist or comfort if she could.

But Fleur knew all too well how it felt to be handled. Bill had been handling her since the day they’d met. She believed that there was a time, in the beginning, when Bill did think he was doing the right thing. It was always wrong, however, not to take her feelings into account. Fleur couldn’t count the amount of times where war related information would be brought up in front of her and she had no idea or was the last one to know. Bill’s answer, about why he had chosen not to share with her, was always that he was trying to protect her. Trying not to upset her. Trying to fix everything himself.

It had taken Fleur a long time, a length of time she was now embarrassed about, to realize a very simple fact; William Weasley simply did not see her as an equal. He did not see her as a partner or someone to share problems with. And if she was not her boyfriends, her husbands, partner than what was she? That thought had haunted Fleur late into many nights. His controlling nature had only gotten worse from there and Fleur hated how far she’d allowed it to go.

There was a time, after William and yet before Hermione, where she’d hated herself too.

Fleur watched carefully as Hermione took a deep breath and the tension in her shoulders released. The silver haired witch longed to pull Hermione into her arms but knew she couldn’t. The students couldn’t hear them but they could still see them.

“It is a good lesson.” Hermione murmured a moment later. “One I wish they didn’t have to learn, but on the other hand, it makes me glad to think that the thought of war is so far removed from their lives.”

Fleur’s look was now one of pride. This is why Fleur believed telling the truth, treating someone as a partner and an equal, and having faith in that trust was the best option. Fleur had felt small before. She had been made to feel small by someone she loved. That feeling had eventually grown into not only her person but her worth. And feeling worthless from your partner is excruciating. Fleur would not allow Hermione to ever feel small. Hermione would always know that Fleur trusted and believed in not only her mind but her strength. “Oui. That is a good thing.” Fleur agreed. “Was there something bothering you when you came in?”

“A group of students nearly came to a duel in the corridor.” Hermione admitted readily. Fleur appreciated, in a show that trust was returned as well, that Hermione did not try to play off her own feelings when Fleur clearly knew better. “Some very nasty and derogatory slurs were thrown. Both from the Slytherin student and from one of my own.”

“Ah.” Fleur knew exactly how much her cubs meant to Hermione. “And you 'ad to punish them.”

“I did not enjoy it.” Hermione huffed. “But it was necessary.” She waved a hand to gesture at the student who were packing away their writing materials. “Like this.”

“Indeed. One moment, ma chère.” Fleur purposefully stepped closer to the students and out of the protection of Hermione’s silencing spell. “Okay students.” Fleur pulled her wand from an inner pocket in her robes and gave it an elegant swoosh; an assortment of chocolates appeared on a tray along with six Butterbeers. “Everyone try some chocolate and when you’ve finished your drink you’re free to go. I want those essays by Monday.” She watched for a moment so that she could see the students perk up after they’d begun their treats and she walked back to Hermione. “Do you know what your detention will be?”

“I’m not sure yet.” Hermione looked thoughtful and Fleur loved to watch her features as she thought. Fleur remained silent and simply enjoyed being in her presence as she allowed the witch to think. Oz caught her eye as he spread his wings and took off from Hermione’s shoulder only to land on her own. Fleur’s affectionate smile turned to Oz.

“Well hello, handsome.” Fleur was starting to adjust to the pressure of Oz’s talon’s gently gripping her shoulder. She knew that Oz was being very careful. His longest claws, at the back of his talons, were poised to dig into her shoulder blade and his other six claws wrapped all the way around to her collarbone. She was perfectly aware that Oz could do devastating damage should he ever want to. She reached up and gently stroked his feathers and Oz leaned his body into her hand. Fleur glanced at Hermione and she seemed not to even have noticed.

“The problem is I don’t want my detention to be a waste of time. Writing lines and cleaning doesn’t teach anything. The students don’t learn. This,” she gestured to where the students had finished their drinks, and the chocolate, and were starting to stand, “is a perfect example. It was a punishment. It wasn’t fun and the students had to give up their free time, but it also meant something. They learned something. It was important.”

Fleur grinned at Hermione as she spoke out loud mostly to herself. “You will figure out the perfect thing, I’m sure, mon coeur.” Fleur wasn’t just placating her either; she knew that Hermione actually would have a brilliant idea.

The Charms professor nodded to each of her students as they went to leave and she noticed immediately that Serena Hystembaum was lagging behind intentionally. Fleur noticed that Hermione subtly swirled her fingers again and removed the silencing spell. “Ms. ‘ystenbaum.”

“Professor Delacour. Professor Granger.” Serena nodded politely.

Fleur had a difficult time reading the teenage girl. While she tried not to it was sometimes impossible not to pick up anything. Fleur was perfectly aware that the young woman was seriously attracted to Hermione and Fleur herself; as well as Erika Carrow. Fleur knew enough, more than most humans, about attraction to know that Serena probably had a type; older, powerful witches, possibly in a position of authority. Witches who carried themselves with confidence and poise. Fleur altogether couldn’t say that she was shocked; the young Head Girl was not the only student to have noticed the younger generation of witches currently teaching at Hogwarts. What was different about Serena was her seeming dislike for her own attraction. The part Veela’s thrall felt the young woman’s attraction like a friendly, merely appreciative fleeting touch that came from someone who felt attraction but had no motive or intentions whatsoever. But for the first time Fleur’s thrall almost reached back in an attempt to comfort as well. Her thrall knew that Serena berated herself for her attraction; chided herself for feeling it and no part of Fleur, thrall included, wanted the young witch to feel that way. Fleur suspected that Serena’s automatic withdrawal came from being the sexual object for many herself. “What can we do for you?”

“I just wanted to apologize again for my inappropriate behaviour.” Serena tried to hold herself tall and Fleur saw so much of herself in the young woman.

“It’s already forgiven.” Hermione answered gently. Fleur was impressed that even without the benefit of thrall Hermione knew that dealings with Serena had to be taken carefully.

“I also just…um.” Serena cleared her throat and shifted her eyes around. Fleur watched the young blonde’s attention get distracted by Oz on her shoulder instead of Hermione’s. “Uh, I just…wanted to say thank you.” Fleur got the meaning behind her words instantly and it took extreme effort not to flick her eyes over to Hermione. She knew Hermione would not want Serena to see her struggle any more than she would want her to witness Fleur thinking she was going to struggle.

“Thank us?” Hermione’s voice sounded innocent but Fleur knew better. She knew that her friend was just giving herself an extra moment to think of the perfect response.

“Yeah. I mean, I know we didn’t read anything directly relating to the two of you. But I know you were there. I can only imagine after reading about what everyone else…” the Unspeakable spell stalled the younger witch’s words and Serena changed her sentence so she could continue talking, “after reading about what happened, I’m sure I don’t even want to know anymore. But, um, I just wanted to say thank you.” Fleur was about to interrupt so that Hermione didn’t have to but Serena continued. “I mean, not about whatever you had to do.” Serena’s face twisted a little in disgust. “That seems crass. Just uh, more about the fact that you were willing do to everything you did. If that makes sense?” Serena looked nervous and Fleur flicked her eyes over to the Hermione because she knew the moment was hers.

Hermione gathered herself remarkably quickly, not that Fleur was surprised, and the smile she gave Serena, though small, was affectionate and genuine. “I can honestly say, Ms. Hystenbaum, that is the nicest and most genuine thank you I’ve ever received. So thank you for that.”

Serena blushed prettily and Fleur felt the young blondes pride and affection flush along her thrall like a cooling wave. Serena dropped her eyes to the floor. “Thank you, professors. Have a good night.” Her nod was respectful as she hurried away. Fleur wondered about the very tight control the teenage witch had on her affections. Is it because she knows ‘ow it feels to ‘ave eyes on ‘er when it isn’t wanted? Maybe I can teach ‘er the difference between a rude and ‘ungry gaze and simple polite appreciation?

“That’s what I want.” Hermione murmured and interrupted her musing.

“’mm?” Fleur hummed.

“Detention that means something. That matters and makes a difference.”

Fleur was about to reply again that Hermione would think of something when she watched the younger witch turn her head and glance at the empty space behind her; half a second later Fleur heard the loud crack of apparation.

“Pardon me for interrupting yous professors.” Hermione and Fleur both smiled warmly at the House-elf.

“You’re not interrupting us at all, Twinsy.” Hermione grinned. “What can we do for you?”

“There is a Mr. Harry Potter in your office, Professor.” Twinsy squeaked. “Headmistress be saying it is okay and Mr. Harry Potter be wishing to speak with you.”

“Thank you very kindly for coming to tell me, Twinsy.” Fleur grinned when the House-elf completely lit up and beamed before disappearing.

“We can finish our discussion later.” Fleur offered with a smile. “Go and visit with your brother.” Fleur was happy for Harry’s interruption because he always had a positive effect on Hermione’s mood that she loved to see.

“Nonsense.” Hermione offered her arm. “He’ll be delighted to see you as well, mon trésor.”

**

“Ladies.” Harry smiled warmly at their entrance though Hermione noted instantly that he looked tired. His hair was slightly more dishevelled than he wore it as an adult and he had the beginnings of black bags beneath his eyes. Hermione stepped into his embrace without pause and Harry wrapped his arms tightly around her. Hugging Harry always brought her back to a more innocent time and Hermione took an extra second to bask in his warmth before stepping away. “Fleur, a delightful surprise.” Hermione couldn’t help but smile as she watched Fleur and Harry hug and then Fleur kiss the man on both cheeks.

“A wonderful surprise to see you as well, ‘arry.”

Hermione gestured for the two to follow her back into her actual quarters. “How are Ginny and the kids Harry?” She wanted to dive straight into the reason for Harry’s visit, for she doubted it was only for a friendly chat, but she thought that Harry looked like he could use a break for a moment.

Harry’s shoulders released some of their tension instantly at the mention of his family. “Everyone is wonderful. You should’ve heard Ginny’s squeal when she got your owl about becoming Head of House, Mione. We’re both so proud of you. The boys are ecstatic and can’t wait to be Gryffindor’s now.”

Hermione smirked. “I hope you told them I’d love them just the same if they weren’t in our House.”

“Of course. When they’re older and can understand a little better I’ll probably even mention that I was supposed to be in Slytherin.” Hermione was proud of Harry for the casual information. She remembered well when Harry had finally admitted what at one point in time was a dirty secret of his. “Before I forget, Ginny was already talking about getting plans for the two of you for Christmas. I know you get some time off, we’d love to have you both at the house.”

“I would be ‘onoured, ‘arry. I’ll let Ginny know as soon as I know what my own family will be doing.”

Hermione tried to control her own sadness at the thought of family and she pushed those thoughts away. I have a family. It’s in Brazil, and it’s this one, right here. “Of course I’d love to, Harry. I already miss the boys terribly. I’m hoping to travel home as well but I’m sure we can make everything work.”

“Perfect.” Harry leaned back in the comfortable arm chair and let out a sigh as if it was the first time he’d taken a break in far too long.

“Are you alright, Harry?” Hermione asked gently.

Harry gave a wry grin. “Whoever thought being an auror was only adventure didn’t know about the boring mundane details that take even longer to figure out after the fun part is over.”

“Harry Potter finally being held accountable for his adventures? Who’d have thought?” Hermione teased. “Is this about the brawl in Hogsmeade?”

“Yeah. We finally managed to get more of the details out of the wizards involved in the fray. It’s even worse than we thought. Apparently a few wizards did apparate away but they did it sloppily in front of muggles and cursed them to cover it up. I can’t imagine what they were thinking. But even so, I still can’t really figure out why on earth the brawl got so bad.”

“What ‘appened?” Fleur asked. Hermione realized that she had at some point taken Fleur’s hand and that she was idly playing with the Frenchwoman’s fingers. She knew that Harry was much brighter than he sometimes let on and that he had no doubt caught the motion and chosen not to say anything. Hermione felt no desire to stop and continued stroking long and elegant fingers.

“Apparently the brawl all started as a fight between two brothers over a spilt tankard of ale, if you can believe that. They started the duel and for some reason the other people, instead of apparating away like you’d expect them to, started another fight and another and eventually the whole pub was brawling. It really makes no sense. And apparently it was extremely out of character for a lot of them, but especially the first bloke who had his drink spilled. No one can explain it really, it’s like the guy just positively snapped and lost it. Who knows? Maybe something else was-”

“What did you just say?” Hermione interrupted almost rudely. Harry looked a little taken aback but Fleur was now watching her intently. Something was niggling at the back of Hermione’s mind.

“What?” Harry seemed confused.

“About the wizard who started it, what did you just say?” Hermione leaned forward and faced Harry seriously. Hermione’s mind was whirling.

“Um, that he probably wasn’t stable and not in a good place when he started the fight.”

“That’s not what you said.” Hermione’s eyes were half closed now and she stood from the couch to start pacing the length of the room. Oz took flight from his mistress’s shoulder and settled on his perch while she paced. “You said he positively snapped. That he lost it.”

“Okay?” Harry looked bemused like he didn’t know whether to laugh or not. “Hermione what on earth,”

“Wait.” Fleur said softly. “Let 'er think.”

“I’ve heard that before.” Hermione muttered to herself as she paced back towards them.

“I’m sure you have. It’s a very common expression.” Harry tried.

“No, you don’t get it.” Hermione answered robotically because her mind was elsewhere, sorting through details and trying to find the pattern she was looking for. “I mean like this, I’ve heard that before.” Fleur and Harry watched her pace for a moment in silence before she stopped and looked at Harry curiously. “There was another one.”

“Another one what?”

“Another case where you said that.” Hermione said slowly and she focussed on Harry as her mind finally clicked and she settled. “You had all just gotten to Brazil. We were having dinner at the A Figueira Rubaiyat, we had just sat down. You were talking about a case you had had just before you left that you were worried would interrupt your vacation.”

Harry narrowed his eyes slightly. “The witch who found out her husband had gambled away their life savings?”

“Yes.” Hermione agreed emphatically. “Don’t you remember? You said the case was brutal.”

“It was.” Harry slowly stood from his seat. “She attacked him and sent him flying out the window and then continued to cast spells all over the place. Several hit the muggles who had been passing by.”

“Right. You said the same thing then. That she positively snapped.”

“Okay.” Harry drew the word out as he watched Hermione warily. “What are you getting at Hermione?”

“I don’t know.” Hermione started pacing again. “I’m thinking. It’s just weird. You thought it was weird then. To snap so completely from one second to the next that you try to curse your husband into oblivion to the point of breaking the Statute of Security and landing yourself in Azkaban? For a regular normal person to snap so completely that she’d curse muggles? For a spilt beer to make someone snap so badly it leads to a duel against their brother that starts a brawl that leads to wizards attacking muggles?” Hermione was merely thinking out loud now. “Cursing muggles is a line almost no wizard has ever crossed. To be so positively enraged that you turn your wand on muggles when you’re finished cursing who you had intended to curse…positively enraged.” Hermione stopped pacing. “Positively enraged…”

Fleur held up her hand to stop Harry from interrupting Hermione again.

“Positively enraged…Harry there’s another one.”

“What?” Harry was starting to look worried.

“Another case. You were there.” She spun on him to face him directly. “Don’t you remember? The first night I saw Ron again after travelling to your manor. After dinner. Ron was discussing how he’s finally getting more responsibility as an auror. He told a story about a wizard who came home and for reasons completely unknown snapped and killed his girlfriend and her friend and then fled and went on a rampage? Remember?”

“Yeah.” Harry was clearly trying to think as quickly as Hermione could and was struggling. “Yeah, okay, he said the wizard killed a group of muggles in his grief.”

“Blew them up in their van.” Hermione agreed. “Harry.” The Brazilian witch’s eyes were fierce now. “Three separate cases of witches and wizards losing control so badly they snap completely in a blind rage and it leads them to cursing muggles?”

Harry was white. “Hermione seriously what are you saying?”

“I can’t say anything yet, Harry. But that’s…a concerning beginning to a pattern at the very least.”

“A,” Harry had to clear his throat, “a pattern? You…Hermione you think these cases are connected?”

“What does a married witch, a wizard with a girlfriend and brothers in a seedy bar full of patrons ‘ave in common?” Fleur questioned gently.

“Nothing, seemingly.” Hermione’s mind was racing again. “Except that ordinary people snapped and attacked people close to them and then muggles for reasons that were blown out of proportion.”

“Oh my god.” Harry, if possible, looked even paler. “The weekly meeting.”

“What?” Hermione and Fleur spoke in stereo.

“The weekly meeting.” Harry hurried to explain. “We have a meeting in the auror department every week with Gawain Robards. It’s to keep everyone up to date on what the other teams are doing and what everyone is working on. But we only discuss currently open cases. Cases that have already been solved in the week don’t get brought up. All of these cases, they’re solved pretty much instantly. The culprits are still there, holding wands and not denying anything.”

“So you’re saying…” Fleur let her voice trail off.

“There’s 11 team leaders and several lone aurors at the meeting every week…”

“And there were three cases between just Ron and you.” Hermione took up when Harry stopped. “If each team had even one case you could be looking at as many as 15 cases. If some had two and didn’t put the connection together…”

“There could be more than 20. Oh Merlin.” Harry looked like he was about to faint. “Hermione I-”

“Go.” Hermione said instantly. Harry was already striding quickly for the fireplace. “Keep me updated.” She called as green flames swirled high and Harry stepped inside.

A sudden stillness fell over the room when Harry disappeared.

“Hermione.” Fleur sounded calm but very concerned. “What even are we talking about ‘ere? With these cases?”

“I don’t know.” Hermione admitted. She felt a cold, sweeping chill like a Dementor was looking over her shoulder and she reached out automatically for Fleur’s hand. “But I have a very bad feeling about it.”

Chapter Text

Hermione could tell just from the energetic way that Oz took off from her shoulder that he was enjoying the crisp, early morning air as much as she was. It was a little too chilly to really remind her of home in Ariquemes, but the quiet stillness did make her think of the early mornings she would go running before work. When it was just her and Oz and she was free to let her mind wander.

Her familiar circled above her head and Hermione watched him with a smile. It was the little moments, she had learned, that had to be appreciated and not glossed over. She hadn’t passed a single soul on her route from her quarters outside to the Quidditch pitch. Even the Great Hall had been completely void of life.

Oz gave a caw from above and Hermione turned around to watch the approach of the two students. Both Corey Brighton and Will Bartlett looked half asleep still and Hermione smirked at them. Both boys were bleary eyed and dragging their feet as they made their way over to her.

“Good morning gentleman.” Hermione made her voice extra perky and Corey actually winced a little. “Glad to see you both got my note.” Neither one mustered a response. They were both wearing jogging pants, Corey’s in black and Will’s in green, and they had jumpers on depicting their respective Houses. It was still chilly out right now but Hermione suspected that they’d be losing a layer before long. “Alright then, are we ready for detention?”

“Excuse m-”, Will coughed and cleared his throat when his voice croaked. Hermione was positive it was the first time he’d spoken that morning. “Excuse me, Professor. Your note didn’t say exactly what we’d be doing. Just to wear workout clothes and show up.”

“That was all the note said because that’s all you needed to do, Mr. Bartlett.” Hermione answered. “Follow me.” Hermione began to walk to the edge of the pitch and the boys fell in step beside her. She subtlety looked them both over. Corey was the taller of the pair but he was rangy and lean; a typical Keepers build who were faster than they were strong. Will, though shorter, was a little stockier through his arms and across his chest. Hermione sincerely hoped that this was a good idea. “Okay, stretching first. Mimic me please.” Hermione dipped into an easy walking lunge and she covered up her snort when both boys got caught watching her legs, in tight yoga pants, as opposed to copying her. “Any day now, gentlemen.” She pretended not to notice their blushes as they started stretching beside her. She took them through her pre-run stretching and then she moved them over to the perimeter of the Quidditch pitch. “Okay boys, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to jog for a bit to warm up and then I’ll increase the pace a little. You have to stay pace with me, understand?” She waited for them both to nod. “Good. We’ll do two laps to get you used to the pace and then I’ll drop off and you both will complete another two laps remaining on the pace and with each other. Easy enough?”

“Is that it, professor?” Corey asked as he took the position on Hermione’s left.

“For now.” Hermione smirked. She started with a light jog and both teenagers fell in step beside her easily. Even though they were both fourteen Hermione was the shortest of the trio. When she felt her muscles loose and adapt to the workout she increased the pace a little so that the boys, with their longer leg span, could start to get into a rhythm.

They ran beside her easily, lightly pumping their arms and staying perfectly in line with her. She murmured once for Corey to stop solely breathing through his mouth and advised Will to step a little lighter but other than that they ran around the perimeter of the pitch in silence. Hermione hadn’t even broken a sweat by the end of the first lap though both students had pulled off their jumpers and tossed them aside. Hermione kept a careful watch on their breathing and their posture, for she didn’t want them to have an injury, but they seemed to be having no problems.

“Okay boys.” Hermione caught their attention. “I’m going to drop off at this corner up here and you’ve got two laps to complete. Should I have to stop you, the beginning of your first lap begins again from where you stand.” Hermione gave them ample warning and then she slowed her pace and let them take off without her.

They made it less than 50 feet.

Without Hermione as a barrier between them they found themselves glancing over at each other and they could no longer keep a steady pace; they both increased slowly over the course of several steps to outpace the other.

Hermione sighed at what she knew would happen. She pursed her lips and whistled; the sound was sharp and carrying, magically amplified, and both students stopped to look at her. “Keep pace, boys. Stretch for one minute and then begin again.” Hermione carefully appraised them to make sure they stretched, as an athlete she knew how important it was, and then whistled again to get them to run. She gave them a few feet of leeway to try and find a rhythm.

It didn’t happen.

Corey took off instantly at a much quicker pace than Hermione had set and Will tried to hang back and soon there was a gap between them. Hermione whistled again and she could hear both boys groan. “Stretch, and again.”

Hermione walked the perimeter of the pitch and watched as the teenagers started and stopped half a dozen times. “Again.” Hermione called. “Just keep pace with each other.” She tried to encourage them. She whistled and at the piercing sound they took off running again. By this time they were noticeably sweating and their breathing wasn’t quite as calm as it had been earlier.

She watched as Corey’s slightly longer frame pulled him ahead by half a step, and then a full one, and Hermione pursed her lips about to whistle and call a halt again except Will made a conscious effort to step a little quicker and Corey slowed his pace just a touch. The gap between them vanished and they ran in step again.

The Brazilian watched them run a complete lap and then circle around for their second one. To her eye it looked very awkward. They were too conscious of watching the others footsteps, clearly afraid to mess up after making it this far, and they did the occasional stutter step to stay in line but Hermione wasn’t complaining.

When they made it around again Oz swooped down and cawed and Corey and Will took it as the sign for the finish line. Will panted slightly with his hands on his knees and Corey was walking in circles and shaking out his legs.

“Good job, gentleman.” Hermione smiled. “Good warm-up.”

“Warm-up?” They exclaimed in unison and then glared at each other when they realized that they had.

“Yes, warm-up. This is your actual detention and challenge.” Hermione turned and faced the empty grass that made up the centre of the Quidditch pitch. She took a deep breath and called her magic to her. She held out her hands, palm down, and visualized what she wanted to transfigure. With no hesitation and little effort Hermione flipped her hands as she brought them upwards and then clenched her fingers.

Corey and Will gasped.

Springing out of the ground was a simple obstacle course. A wooden wall, ten feet high, was burrowing out of the earth in a spray of dirt and behind it grass was elongating into two ropes that shot upwards and defied gravity in a vertical line.

“Woah.” Hermione wasn’t sure which boy had spoken or if they’d exclaimed in unison again. They all watched Oz float through the air until he landed on top of the ten foot wall.

“Here is your detention. You have five minutes to make it over the wall, down the other side and then up the rope to the very top. As you make it up the rope you also have to carry one of those bars.” Hermione pointed them out. At the bottom of each rope were two long thin bars that looked like iron pipes except made out of earth. “If you haven’t brought your bar all the way to the top of the rope in the five minutes you have to begin the entire course again. Clear?”

Will and Corey both looked dubious but they nodded anyway. “Yes, professor.”

“Good. Now drink this,” a snap of her fingers conjured two bottles of water, “and take a minute break and then we can begin.”

They both chugged their drinks and used their shirts to wipe off their sweaty faces. Hermione positioned them ten feet away from the wall and they stared it down sceptically. “Ready? Go.”

The boys had different first attempts. Corey took off at a sprint and headed straight for the wall as fast as he could. When he was only a foot away he sprang upward, placing his feet on the wall and trying to use his momentum to help run up it. His fingers scrabbled for purchase but he was still almost a foot away from being able to grip the top.

Will had jogged forward until he was touching the wall and able to examine it. He felt along the smooth surface as he tried to find hand and footholds. He managed to climb about halfway before his grip slipped and he dropped back down to the pitch.

Their second attempts were reversed. Will could gain no extra height trying to run the wall and Corey couldn’t get enough holds to make it to the top.

Hermione watched them attempt the wall, and get no closer to going over, for an entire five minutes before she called a halt and whistled. Corey slid off the wall and kicked at the ground in frustration. Will’s eyes were closed and his head was tilted back. Hermione was sure he wished he was still in bed.

“Water and a minute break,” she snapped her fingers to conjure them another drink, “and then it’s your second attempt gentlemen.” She watched the teenagers try to pump themselves up and when she told them to go again they both sprinted full tilt for the wall and Hermione feared for a second that they’d simply crash right into it.

Oz was circling overhead still but he cawed out to her and Hermione reached out with her magic to search behind her. She recognized the magical signature and turned with a smile. “Erika.”

“Hermione.” Erika Carrow nodded politely though she seemed surprised Hermione had spoken before she’d turned around.

The Brazilian witch knew that Erika had probably been about to called her “Professor Granger” and so she’d spoken up first. “It’s a little early on a Sunday,” Hermione remarked casually, “I wasn’t expecting to see anybody out and about.”

“This is when I like to run.” Erika admitted softly after a pause. She came to stand beside Hermione. The brunette noted that Erika was dressed much less formally than she was used to seeing her in a long sleeved shirt and grey pants in a stretchy and breathable material.

Hermione’s eyes sparkled. “I love to run too. I actually quite miss it, I haven’t run since I left Brazil. I’m surprised you’re a runner.” She remarked casually. Apparently it wasn’t casually enough because Erika snapped a glare in her direction. Hermione chose not to let it bother her and chuckled instead; Erika’s hard look became a slightly confused smirk. “It’s just because you’re pureblood. Statistically running is a muggle sport because pure-bloods had much faster, magical modes of transportation.”

“This is true.” Erika conceded. “Everett and I didn’t start enjoying running for pleasure until we travelled abroad.”

“Ah. We’ll have to share stories of our travels someday.” Hermione liked watching Erika slowly relax and lose her rigid and tense posture.

“Quite.”

“I’ve never had a running partner before either, besides Oz, of course.” Hermione mentioned with more mock casualness. She watched Erika open her mouth, close it, shake her head slightly, try to open her mouth again and then apparently give up as her jaw clenched tightly. Hermione almost cooed. “How would you feel about running with me sometimes?” Hermione threw the other woman a bone.

“That would be nice.” Erika nodded, her voice still polite, though Hermione noticed how quickly she’d answered. She was determined to make this woman her friend. “Say, Hermione?”

“Hmm?”

“Your students seem to be struggling.”

Hermione didn’t look but she knew that Erika’s eyes were fixed on the wall that the two teenage boys were trying to scramble over. “Oh yes, definitely.”

“I see. Then you designed this for them to struggle?”

“I designed this for them to learn something.” Hermione took one step away and whistled her magically amplified, piercing note. “Time. Water and stretches before trying it again boys.” Both Professors could hear them groaning and complaining from where they stood.

“Well good luck.” Erika cracked a smile. “They seem stubborn, if nothing else.”

“That has to count for something. Enjoy your run.” Hermione watched Erika stride away and head past the far side of the pitch. Does she run through the Forbidden Forest? The black haired witch had piqued her interest but Hermione forced her attention to the task at hand. She walked closer to the teenagers. C’mon boys. You can figure this out.

“Okay.” Will stood up straight from where he’d been panting with his hands on his knees. “This time give me a boost up a-”

“What?” Corey laughed. “Just because you can’t get over the wall-”

“I don’t see you getting over it either.” Will snapped back. “Look.” He ran his fingers through his hair and the sweat caused it to stick up in spikes. “Iris’s mum is in the army, okay? I’ve heard her talk about things like this before. It takes two people to get over. You boost me to the top and I’ll reach back and pull you up behind me. We both go over.”

Corey stared Will down with a look that was clearly trying to intimidate. “Fine. But I swear to Merlin if you leave me behind,”

“Okay.” Hermione interrupted like she hadn’t heard their conversation. “Time to go again boys.”

Oz cawed the beginning of a new round and the boys walked over to the base of the wall. “Ready?” Will asked and Corey snorted.

“We’ll see.” Corey interlocked his fingers and braced himself. Will placed a foot in the step that he was making and stood tall. Corey grunted from the exertion and managed to lift the Slytherin a few more inches and Will clamped onto the top of the wall with one hand, and then the other. With some of his weight removed Corey was able to lift him a few more inches and Will pulled himself to the top of the wall. Corey and Hermione both watched as Will carefully situated himself on his stomach along the length of the wall with one leg on either side.

“Okay. Run and jump for my hand.”

Corey looked at him slightly dubiously. “You solid, dude?”

“Just go.”

Hermione could practically see Will’s eye roll from where she stood. Corey backed up a few steps and then ran for the wall again. While he could never propel himself high enough to reach the top of the wall, Will’s hand, two feet lower, he was able to clasp. Will grunted from the force and Corey muscled his way up the last two feet using Will’s arm. Hermione’s fingers were swirling slightly in case she had to catch one or both of the boys from falling off the wall.

All three of them grinned triumphantly when they, finally, sat on top the obstacle.

They made it down the other side easily, lowering themselves as far as they could and then dropping, before running to the ropes. These were even higher than the wall, almost fifteen feet straight up, but the boys seemed pumped up once again.

They reached for the bars on the ground which were as long as the boys were tall. They awkwardly tried to find the correct grip to make their way up the rope while also holding it. Corey tried to one-arm the rope and use his legs while holding the bar with his other hand, but he was already red faced and struggling. Will seemed to know he’d need both hands and was trying to clench the bar between his legs. He’d actually made it half way up the rope when the bar slipped from his grasp and he was forced to lower himself to retrieve it.

For Hermione it was almost painful to watch them struggle and then call time.

“Damnit!” Corey cursed as he dropped back to the ground. Will glared at the rope like it had personally offended him. “Okay.” Corey tried to calm himself. “This is obviously like the wall. She didn’t say we had to take the bars at the same time. So, we take my bar first. I’ll climb up a bit, you pass me the bar and I’ll hold it while you go up a bit higher and then I’ll pass it back. All movement done while not holding it. We get my bar to the top, drop down, and go up again with yours.”

Will nodded after considering Corey carefully. “Okay.” This time there was no discussion and they walked for the base of the wall and Corey made a cradle with his hands automatically. He hoisted Will up the wall and Will reached down for him again. Hermione noticed the motions were much smoother this time around.

When they reached the ropes Corey went straight for his. Using both hands and both legs he was able to propel himself upwards. “Got a good grip?” Will asked. The Gryffindor tangled his legs in the rope and held on tightly with one hand.

“Pass it to me.”

Will held an end of the bar and passed it up for Corey to hold. Once he had Will made his own way up his rope. He went several feet higher than Corey had, tangled his own legs in the rope, and then accepted the bar Corey was passing back.

Hermione grinned as she watched her two students quickly traverse the rope once, climb back down and do it again with the other bar. Her internal clock let her know that they were about 30 seconds over the time limit but she remained quiet.

When their feet touched down again both boys cheered and Corey gave a dramatic fist pump. She made sure to school her features when they both made their way over to her. She had hoped that they’d shake hands, or congratulate the other, or even punch each other in the arm in that boyish way they do, but she figured she had to accept and bask in the small victories.

“Congratulations, gentlemen.”

They were both sweaty and flushed but grinning. “Thanks professor.” They shot each other a look when they spoke in unison again.

“Is that our whole detention?” Will asked as he tried to wipe his face on his sleeve. “You don’t want us to do anything else, Professor?”

“All I require you both to do is, when anyone asks what your detention was from me,” and Hermione was sure there’d be many students asking as the story had spread, “you have to give a detailed account of what you did and how you solved the obstacle course.” Hermione smirked when Will and Corey shared another look. “And don’t think for one second that I won’t know if you don’t follow those directions.” Oz chose that moment to skim silently over both boys’ heads and they jumped as he appeared suddenly and landed on her shoulder. Hermione reached up to stroke him. “Understand?”

“Yes, professor.”

“Very well. You’re both free to go. Make sure you get yourselves a hearty breakfast!” She called as they had both dashed away instantly. She chuckled at the sight of them running back to the castle, side by side and keeping pace naturally. “O que você acha, Oz? Eu acho que funcionou maravilhosamente bem [What do you think, Oz? I think that worked out beautifully.]” She stroked him for a moment before she turned to return the Quidditch pitch to its natural state and make her own way to the castle. “E o que você acha da Erika, hein? Alguma opinião a compartilhar? [And what do you think about Erika, hmm? Any thoughts you’d like to share?]” Oz cawed lowly and Hermione hummed. “Eu também não tenho certeza sobre correr pela Floresta Proibida, lindo. Eu tive algumas aventuras por lá, sabia? [I’m not sure about running through the Forbidden Forest either, handsome. I’ve had some adventures there, let me tell you.]”

Hermione felt his presence one second before she heard her name so she was already smiling in the direction of the greenhouses. “Hermione?”

“Neville.” Hermione grinned at the sight of him in simple robes that we splattered with mud and dirt and, if she wasn’t mistaken, had a small, smiling, yellow flower in one pocket that shied away as she approached. “It’s a little early even for you, isn’t it?”

“Nah.” Neville tried to use his sleeve to brush the sweat from his face and just ended up smearing some more dirt. “This is always when I check on all my plant life. And it’s the only time I really get to socialize with them without trying to teach the students at the same time.” Neville’s smile was easy and the sight of him made Hermione feel even more at peace. She had always known that the slightly chubby, clumsy boy she knew at Hogwarts would be the most incredible man.

“I hope the plant life in your greenhouses enjoy your social calls as much as you do.” Hermione spoke with no sarcasm in her voice, only affection, and she noticed the small yellow flower peak out from his pocket again.

“I think they do.” Neville grinned. “I figured it must be you coming because I could hear the Portuguese and recognized it from you talking to Larissa and Oz. Um,” he hesitated for a second, “were you talking about Erika Carrow?”

For a moment Hermione cursed herself for not referring to her as something other than her name, like “grey-eyed or black haired friend” but she quickly pushed the thought away. She didn’t have to watch her back here; and certainly not from Neville. “She’s my new running partner.” She admitted honestly. “I sort of conned her into it, but I think she would have asked if she could.”

“That’s nice of you. Even though you conned her I mean.” Neville idly reached down and ever so carefully caressed the flower in his pocket. Hermione watched the petals turn from a duller butterscotch shade into a bright, nearly florescent sunshine colour. “Do you know Everett at all?”

Neville may be many things but subtle was not one of them. Hermione knew he was probing for something. “Hardly at all.” Hermione informed him. “We’ve hardly ever spoken.” She left the why unsaid knowing Neville would continue anyway.

“Just more teacher’s lounge gossip of course.” Neville blushed a little as he shrugged. “Some of the other professors are saying he seems different this year. Yasmin Yarkness even said he was a little snappish with her and normally both Carrows try very hard not to display any kind of temper.”

“Probably because they know what people will think if they do.” Hermione was thinking out loud. She wasn’t upset with Neville for mentioning it, because she knew he simply hated any kind of conflict and wanted to make sure she was okay, but she hated that it needed to be mentioned at all. She didn’t know Everett but she had decided to give the Carrows the benefit of the doubt. If he had a different last name this wouldn’t be a conversation. If his last name was Smith or Jones or, hell, Potter, no one would worry about why he seemed to be a little different. “Hopefully Everett himself doesn’t hear the gossip. And if there is something bothering him, I hope he’s alright.” Hermione finally said.

Neville beamed at her like he always did in moments like these and Hermione wondered if it was because she’d surprised him or if he’d been hoping for her to say something morally upstanding and she’d proven him correct. Hermione started to feel skittish, for she deserved no praise, and she waved goodbye to her dear friend. “I’d best be off to breakfast. Enjoy the rest of your time with your greenhouses, Neville.”

“Enjoy breakfast, Hermione.” Neville waved and for a second he looked more like the boy she’d known years ago. “I doubt even Fleur is awake this early to share it with you though.”

Hermione walked towards the doors of the castle with a now salacious grin. Why, Neville, that’s a fabulous idea.

It took thirty minutes of waiting in an empty corridor but Hermione wasn’t bothered in the least. Leaning up against the wall and letting her mind wander while she waited for a beautiful woman was by no means a punishment. She kept her senses sharp and alert for noises down the corridor from either direction, for she thought a student might find this scene bizarre, but it was still too early for much foot traffic.

Oz fluttered a wing and Hermione snapped somewhat out of her trance to see the door opening. She had a somewhat sheepish, though adoring, smile on her face when Fleur caught sight of her instantly.

She had positioned herself directly across from Fleur’s office door so that when she opened it Hermione would be the first thing she’d see; Hermione with one hand extended and offering the French witch a blue and purple flower.

A small gasp escaped Fleur’s lips before she couldn’t contain her grin. “Why, good morning, mon coeur.”

Bonjour. Une belle fleu pour une belle Fleur [Good morning. A beautiful flower for my beautiful Fleur.]” Hermione grinned at the play in her words and though Fleur rolled her eyes gently she stepped forward and accepted the flower from Hermione’s hand.

Quel genre de fleur est-ce? [What flower is this?]” Fleur brought the flower to her face to gently smell its fragrance.

C'est une Violette Bleu [That is a Blue Violet.]” Hermione’s voice was soft like she didn’t want to break the spell. Fleur looked beautiful, even this early in the morning, and Hermione loved nothing more than to watch her smile. And Hermione felt satisfied to do nothing else other than make her smile.

Et que représente la Violette Bleu? [And what does the Blue Violet represent?]” Was Fleur’s next question. Hermione grinned that Fleur knew she wouldn’t do anything at random.

Fiablilité [Trustworthiness.]” Hermione was almost whispering. “Avec un sous-entendu de foi, d'affection et d'amour [With underlying meanings of faith, affection, and love.]”

Bright blue eyes, a colour even more fascinating than the flower, met Hermione’s gaze and Fleur was looking at her like she was everything. “Merci [Thank you.]” The words were simple but Hermione could feel everything that the witch wasn’t saying. Thank you for being you. Thank you for caring about me. Thank you for the small things. Thank you for everything. Fleur stepped forward and slowly pressed a kiss to Hermione’s lips. When Fleur went to pull away Hermione reached her hand up to gently touch Fleur’s cheek and hold her in place. Oz took off from the brunette witch’s shoulder and Hermione brought her other hand up to caress the side of Fleur’s neck.

Fleur stepped closer, just grazing the front of Hermione’s body, and kissed her lips again. Hermione’s head swam a little as she felt completely overwhelmed by the part-Veela. Fleur’s skin was impossibly smooth, her talented lips kissed her and caressed her, and even her smell affected Hermione’s senses. Hermione kissed her a little harder, tongue teasing against Fleur’s lips for the first time and Fleur stepped completely into her space.

Hermione’s fingers stroked Fleur’s cheek softly and slowly their kiss became soft caresses and loving pecks again. The brunette witch pulled away slightly and opened her eyes to find Fleur’s blue gaze already on her.

“I think this is now the perfect morning.” Fleur whispered against Hermione’s lips and pecked her sweetly once more.

“I think so as well.” Hermione whispered back. She took the time to gently run her fingers over Fleur’s skin, along her cheek and down the side of her neck, before finally dropping her hands and Fleur stepped away slightly to return them to a more polite distance. “Does this mean I can take you to breakfast?” Hermione playfully offered her elbow.

Fleur smiled and rest her hand elegantly in the crook of her arm. “You may.” They began their walk from Fleur’s quarters and Hermione noticed that Fleur had kept a grip on her flower. Hermione enjoyed the thought that she had done something correctly and made Fleur happy.

The brunette was about to make a remark about how this could become their usual Sunday morning ritual but magic tingled down her spine and she turned her head sharply at the fast moving spell coming towards them. Fleur’s hand had clenched reflexively on Hermione’s arm at her sharp movement as the brunette, automatically in the span of a heartbeat, had put herself between Fleur and the spell. Half a second later she realized exactly what it was.

They watched the streaking silver light come closer until they could make out the shape; Hermione recognized that particular patronus instantly. The cat halted in front of her and when it opened its mouth they clearly heard Minerva McGonagall’s voice. “Hermione. You’re needed in my office immediately to attend a meeting with the other Heads of House and the aurors.” Message delivered, the patronus faded and Hermione blinked as the silvery light that had illuminated the corridor diminished.

“Fleur-”

“Go.” Fleur’s look was both soft and serious. “You need to go, I know. Do you ‘ave any idea what this could be about?”

“Hard to say.” Hermione’s mind was racing with possibilities. “Could be about the possible case connections I discovered with Harry. Could be that Shacklebolt has made a move against the school since I didn’t cooperate. Could be something new that I have no knowledge of at all yet.” Hermione was rapidly running variables in her head.

“Go.” Fleur repeated. She reached for Hermione’s hand and squeezed it gently. “Your mind is needed. Go, and find me later.”

Hermione pulled herself from her mind long enough to see the gentle affectionate look on Fleur’s face. There was no upset or disappointment. “You’re perfect.”

Fleur gasped and Hermione was surprised to see a hint of a blush. “No one ‘as ever said that to me before.” She admitted.

The brunette knew she was running out of time but stepped forward and took Fleur’s other hand so she held them both. “That is unfathomable to me. So I shall remedy this horrible oversight by telling you every single day that I think you’re perfect. Your heart, your soul, your inner beauty, your outer beauty, your heritage and your quirks and the things you think of as your flaws all came together to create someone I think is perfect.”

Fleur leaned down to kiss her. “Go.” She said again against Hermione’s lips. “Before you make me either cry or want to take this kissing back to my quarters.”

Hermione groaned. “Even the way you tease is perfect.” She finally pulled away and only her sense of duty and the fact that Fleur had told her to go could make her leave. “I’ll find you later.”

“Go ‘elp people.”

“I’ll do my best.” Hermione promised and finally turned away from the beautiful witch she had been dying to have breakfast with. I already know this meeting will be important so there’s no point in griping about it ruining my morning. All that will change now is how much trouble we’re all in.

Hermione tried to pull herself from the blissful, playful and affectionate mood Fleur had put her in. They probably don’t need that Hermione. They need the smartest witch of her age. Whatever was happening, Hermione just hoped she could figure out the problem before anyone got hurt.

Chapter Text

There was something about small, crowded rooms that Hermione still didn’t like. She preferred the open air, where she and Oz could breathe, and she wasn’t feeling a dozen different people shifting and moving into her personal space.

The vibe in the room made a difference too. She remembered the completely packed Lapa 40 Graus in Rio; that had been a space completely packed wall to wall with strangers who were all invading her personal space. It had bothered and affected her a little bit then too. But there the atmosphere had been ecstatic and cheerful, people happy and full of life and ready to party. Plus she’d had Fleur’s hand interlocked with her own and keeping her grounded for most of the evening.

Here, the atmosphere was not the same. Hermione had felt it like a cloying fog the second she’d ascended up the spiraling staircase. Everyone was tense, nervous, scared and agitated. Oz’s talon’s reflexively squeezed on her shoulder.

Hermione controlled her expression and knocked on the door basically as she entered. Her eyes scanned the room automatically; it was the busiest she’d ever seen it. Minerva McGonagall was seated behind her desk looking calm and in control. Beside her, Filius Flitwick was seated in another chair that had several cushions on it allowing him to be propped up high enough to see. Hermione tracked her eyes over Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank, arms crossed and looking serious, and Horace Slughorn, who showed his nerves more than most others in the room.

Holding court on the other side of the room was a man Hermione had only met in person once. Gawain Robards, Head of the Auror Department, stood with his hands calmly at his sides and his eyes firmly on Hermione. The man was large and imposing. He towered over the entire room, his chest was broad, his thighs were like tree trunks, his arms had bulging muscles, his hands and feet were gargantuan; even his ears and nose were large. His hair was dark brown and shaved along the sides but long enough on top to pull into a short ponytail. His eyes were hazel and in them Hermione could tell that the man was not just brawn as opposed to brain.

Flanking him on either side were men whom Hermione guessed to be aurors, though she didn’t know them. The leaner man with coffee coloured skin watched Hermione with interest while his black haired companion looked aggrieved. Slightly behind the group stood Harry and the auror she had been introduced to the last time she’d seen her brother, Russ Fern. Both men nodded to her but Hermione could tell no one was in the mood for a social visit.

Standing beside Harry and Fern was Ron and another auror she didn’t know. Hermione noticed how the room was divided and though she didn’t know the exact reason, yet, she moved over subtly and took her place, back against the wall, beside Grubbly-Plank.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Headmistress.” Hermione said lightly.

“Sorry to call you in first thing on a Sunday morning, Hermione.” Minerva said lightly. “But, as it were, the aurors descended upon the castle.”

“We’re sorry for the intrusion, Professors, Headmistress.”

Hermione was surprised that Robard’s voice wasn’t the deep baritone she was expecting. Instead, his voice was soft and smoky.

“Professor Granger, I hear we have you to thank about the pattern that has been brought to our attention. We need to know your thoughts.”

“I don’t know if thanks are the right words, Mr. Robards.” Hermione refused to let her eyes flicker over to Harry and Ron. She didn’t know how Robards was playing the situation yet.

He seemed to realize a more tactful approached was needed. “Forgive me, we’ve all been on edge since this situation arose. This is Gary Pulliver and Kyle Konit,” he pointed to the men on either side of him, “obviously Potter and Weasley don’t need an introduction, Russ Fern is beside Potter, and that’s Ivan Grisholm.” Hermione remembered Ron telling her about his team’s leader. “We all just want to get to the bottom of this situation.”

“And what is the situation?” Hermione asked bluntly. “I detected what I thought may have been a pattern with a couple of cases, but-”

“It’s a pattern.” Robards interrupted her. “We have a possible 26 connected cases.”

“26?” It was echoed throughout the room as the Heads of House, and several portraits, all gasped at the number.

Flitwick practically choked. “26 instances of witches and wizards losing control and after violent outbursts attacking muggles and nobody noticed?”

Somebody noticed.” Minerva’s deadpanned expression was greeted with agitated shifting from the aurors.

“How did this happen?” Slughorn wanted to know. His look was already despondent.

Some of the auors exchanged glances but Robards was left to speak. “The way the department ran was that team leaders gathered to discuss ongoing cases so we were all apprised of what the other teams were working on. However, we didn’t discuss closed cases. Those were put in reports,”

“And given to you.” Minerva scoffed. “So you missed it.”

“Mistakes were made.” Robards kept his eyes forward. “Obviously the system is being changed, and if anyone wants to make a stink out of it I’ll resign.” His words were blunt. “Until then, I would really like to figure out what the hell is going on.” The first sign of tension cracked Robards façade and it made the other aurors glance about uncomfortably.

“Can’t we still just be looking at isolated incidents?” Gary Pulliver tried. Hermione watched him as Pulliver watched Robards. From the way his eyes tracked his boss’s movement and how he orientated himself around the larger man Hermione pegged him as an ambitious sort; one trying to the climb the ladder and doing it by gaining favour with the boss. “It could be the fault of social change against muggles, but not one deciding factor. A global movement?”

All the professors were shaking their heads but it was Hermione who spoke up. “The odds would be astronomical, not to mention experts would have noticed the growing and changing trend. This came from nowhere.” Hermione’s mind, as it did best, raced ahead. “What did you check the factors against?”

Ivan Grisholm, in a gruff voice that really did remind her of Alastor Moody, chimed in. “Cases where there was a violent, overreaching, exaggerated or blown out of proportion violent attack against a close, familiar friend or family member that escalated to effecting muggles.”

“And that gave us the 26 cases.” Hermione was thinking out loud. “I say we take the option of unrelated global change off the table.” Hermione turned to her fellow professors who all nodded. “It would simply defy probability on every scope.”

“I agree.” Ivan nodded.

Pulliver sighed. “What does that leave us with then?”

“War tactics?” Ron offered and Hermione had to fight back at grin at the commanding, mature sounding man he was. “Imperius curse? Polyjuice potions?”

“No to polyjuice poitions.” Konit sighed. Hermione noticed his slight Indian accent, though he spoke with perfect dictation. “Most if not all the criminals we captured were apprehended on scene and taken straight into custody. We’d have seen them change back. Imperius curse is an option still though.”

“No it isn’t.” Hermione interjected again. “26 people apprehended and not once when the curse wore off did a person say they were under the Imperius curse for the event? A victim knows when they’re under the curse, they would have told you if that was the case.”

“Professor Granger is right.” Harry’s voice was low and Hermione could tell he was still beating himself up.

“Actually, the lack of Imperius curse talk is intriguing in itself.” Hermione remarked.

“I agree.” Minerva murmured and Hermione turned to her.

“You’d have expected it, wouldn’t you?”

“At least once.”

“It speaks to a state of mind actually.”

“Not the state of mind statistically you’d expect.”

“I think-”

“Excuse me.” Robards cleared his throat. “Care to keep us in the loop?”

“Sorry.” Hermione went on to explain. “26 different people lost control, did terrible violent crimes and not one of them even tried to cry Imperius curse? Just to even see if it would work as a defence?”

“I see what the lass is saying.” Ivan nodded. “If we’d taken in 26 dirtbags you know at least half of them would have cried Imperious curse to save their own skins. Just like they did back in the Death Eater days.”

“Exactly. But not a single one even made an attempt at their own defence, did they?”

“No.” Robards said slowly. “They didn’t.”

“And they also weren’t dirtbags, as Mr. Grisholm put it, were they?” The aurors were trying to follow Hermione’s train of thought.

“For the most part, no. Petty crimes at worst. Previously upstanding citizens at best.” Konit looked puzzled though he answered her. “Regular citizens can snap, too.”

“But 26 times?” Minerva arched an eyebrow.

Hermione had fallen silent and it wasn’t until Harry murmured her name did she realize they were all staring at her. “Hermione. What are you thinking?”

“I think…” She was figuring angles and running statistics in her mind as fast as she was able. The professors knew to remain quiet while an extraordinary mind was at work but the aurors shifted as they waited. “I think this isn’t something that they did. I think…I think this is something that was done to them. I think they’re victims too.”

A cacophony of voices broke out as everyone began speaking at once except for Hermione. She let the voices fade into din as her gaze rose above eyelevel and she found the portrait of Severus Snape. He was already looking at her, waiting for her moment of brilliance to strike. She looked at him and tried to calm herself. They didn’t speak, because they wouldn’t be able to hear each other anyway, but Hermione could hear his voice in her head. “These buffoons are giving no solutions, only problems. They’re dunderheads who can only think inside the box. Why not try using your own head?”

“They still could be spelled with something.” Konit was saying.

Hermione shook her head slightly. No they couldn’t have. Spells were the first thing checked.

“No, they can’t.” Harry argued back. “I catalogued every wand and every spell that was cast when I was at Mungos for the Hogs Head brawl. Every spell matched up. Not one person had been hit with an extra spell.”

“You could have missed something.” Pulliver tried and Fern shot him a look.

“We didn’t miss something, and a healer preformed the actual spells.”

“Apparently, you all missed something.” Grubbly-Plank shook her head. “How many aurors missed what a professor figured out from second hand stories?”

“What are you saying, missus?” Grisholm shot her a look.

“Arguing will get us nowhere.” Minerva intervened.

“It has to be a spell or a curse.” Ron tried when the Headmistress stopped the fighting. “New spells are being invented every day, someone could have invented one capable of tricking the Healers cataloguing.”

Think outside the box. Think outside the box. Well, they’re all thinking like aurors and professors. Think outside the box.

“That’s possible.” Harry conceded. “We should conduct further testing on those we apprehended to see if there’s a spell that was missed.”

Not possible. All magic leaves a trace.

Flitwick was shaking his head. “Even if someone invented a new spell that could fool a cataloguing, you’re forgetting an essence of magic. If someone had cast a spell upon another person there would still be a magical signature. A cataloguing might not know the exact spell, but it would still know that something had been cast.”

“So it can’t be a spell, is what you’re saying.” Harry had the face he used to wear in class when a lesson had gone over his head.

“If it isn’t a spell, then the victim theory is wrong.” Pulliver interjected. “That mean’s they’ve done this of their own free will.”

Flitwick has a point. But don’t just offer problems, Hermione, offer solutions. Think outside the box. Think outside the box. Okay, so it isn’t a spell. But statistically 26 people wouldn’t do this of their volition.

“Maybe they were threatened?” Grisholm offered his gruff opinion. “They did do it, but they did it because someone threatened them with worse?”

That would be a possibility. Things like that have been occurring around the world for millennia. But it holds the same issue as the Imperius curse; why did none of the 26 mention it? One of them statistically would have broken. And when you commit an act due to blackmail you do it with tears, not with rage.

“Okay.” Robards voice was slow. “You’re thinking terror, then, Ivan? Someone is threatening regular people trying to incite a panic?”

“They haven’t been doing a very good job if even we didn’t notice.” Ron shook his head.

“Maybe they’re building up to it.” Konit tried. “Starting slow and getting bigger, we’ve all noticed now. If someone threatened these regular peoples families maybe they would do it.”

“Yeah, they would.” Harry was clearly trying to think. “I just don’t get that vibe though.”

“Why, Potter?” Robards questioned sharply.

“I don’t know, sir. I guess, I was at a few of these scenes, especially the brawl in the Hogs Head. And there was so much destruction. And…rage. I guess. It just didn’t feel like someone being threatened. They wouldn’t have snapped and attacked the way they did.”

“They would if they were a good actor.” Pulliver shrugged.

“No.” Minerva broke the conversation. “If this were the case one of the 26 people would have broken under questioning. Or you’d have, hopefully, had some indication that they were hiding something.”

“You should just go back and use veritaserum.” Horace flapped a hand. “I’ll brew enough to handle the questioning myself.”

“We already did use truth serum on two of them.” Ron sighed. “Nothing popped under questioning. They told the story exactly as we figured it. They snapped and did everything.”

That only speaks to their state of mind and body as they knew it. Someone can’t tell the truth if they don’t know what it is. Think outside the box. Think outside the box. How can I think differently than all of these people? Well...they’re thinking like witches and wizards…so think like a muggle.

“Rohypnol.” Hermione’s voice was quiet but it broke the chatter instantly.

“What did you say?” Ivan barked.

“Was that a spell?” Robards looked confused.

“No.” Harry looked confused as well. “That’s not a spell. It’s a drug. Hermione…you don’t think..?”

“Rohypnol.” Hermione repeated. She wasn’t looking at any of them, her eyes were still fixed on Snape, who was now smirking. “It’s a muggle drug actually. It was designed by muggle doctors, healers, but criminals found another use for it. They call it the date-rape drug.”

“What on earth does that mean?” Robards looked ready to pull his hair.

“It’s a small thing,” Hermione held her finger close together, “and criminals would slip it into someone’s drink without them noticing. The victim would drink it, and then the drug would take effect. It causes extreme muscle relaxation and sedation making them extremely susceptible to assault. But it would also effect the mind of the victim making the memories of the event hazy and clouded so that even the victim wasn’t totally sure what had happened.”

“This is fascinating,” Pulliver’s voice said it was anything but, “but why are we in Muggle Studies right now?”

“The other thing about the drug,” Hermione ignored him, “is that it only stays in their system for about 72 hours. So if you get tested for it after that window, nothing shows up in the scan.”

“What are you saying, Hermione?” Minerva said gently.

“It’s not a spell. The victims, and they are victims, aren’t trying to defend themselves or get out of these situations because even they don’t know they’re victims.” Hermione’s mind clicked as she put together all the variables in her mind. “It’s not a spell, it’s a potion.” Snape nodded from his place on the wall. “These people are being drugged. The potion is changing their brain chemistry, briefly. It’s what’s making them snap. And it’s why they’re not defending themselves. They know they snapped and can’t explain it but they know it was them. And we’re not testing for it so we have no idea. Potions don’t leave a magical signature like a spell unless you get it while still in the body. They’re being drugged.” And there’s something very concerning about this culprit they haven't realized yet.

The room was now silent.

Minerva broke it. “What can we do?” She looked primarily at Hermione and Slughorn. Hermione met the other Potion Masters gaze. When he looked frightened she turned to Snape.

“We'll begin working on potion theory immediately. But get all of the victims who are currently wasting away Azkaban out of prison, first of all.” Hermione’s voice was fierce and Robards nodded.

“Konit, Pulliver. On my authority. Get them in holding, get them a meal, get them some Patronuses. Now!”

“Yessir.” Both men dashed for the fireplace.

“Can we do anything now?”

“We need to test the most recent victims.” Hermione’s mind was racing ahead again. “How long ago was the last one?”

“It was the Hogs Head incident, Hermione.” Harry jumped in.

“Well get them to Mungos, test them all. Tell the healers broad-spectrum potion poisoning, test for everything.”

“Potter, Fern.”

“Yessir.”

Harry managed to squeeze Hermione’s arm as he brushed past her headed for McGonagall’s fireplace.

“If this is what we’re looking at…what does that mean?” Ron somewhat cautiously asked the room.

“It means we have, hopefully, one perpetrator.” Robards barked. “One person drugging these people, one person to catch.”

“But something about that perpetrator is concerning.” Minerva said softly. “Of every person in this room, only two grasped the idea of what was happening.”

Ron gasped. “The muggle-born and the one raised by muggles.”

Robards eyes narrowed. “You aren’t suggesting..?”

“We’re not suggesting anything.” Hermione said calmly. “It is fact, however, that the theory and application of drugging is extremely prevalent in the muggle world and extremely uncommon in the magical one.”

“A muggle-born criminal?” Grubbly-Plank seemed floored.

“Has there ever even been such a thing?” Flitwick asked the room.

“Not to my knowledge.” Minerva murmured quietly.

“Nor mine.” Even Ivan had lost some of his bark.

Robards looked even more harried. Hermione knew what a public relations nightmare this was becoming; and growing by the minute.

Hermione was running through text and stats in her head until she came to a conclusion. “No, it hasn’t happened in recorded history to my knowledge either. It figures that muggleborns are simply so grateful to have their magic and be a part of this world that they’ve never truly crossed the line and broken the rules. Throughout history muggleborns are generally on the other side of crime.”

A low silence followed the truth of Hermione’s words.

“What I don’t get is why the very varied results?” Grubbly-Plank eventually posed to the room. “Some of the cases you described were shocking, yes, but some were horrific.”

“Could be several things.” Hermione was back to looking at Snape who nodded her along. “It could be reactionary factors. Different people react to different potions differently and have different side effects. When Mistresses and Masters test potions we go through a stringent process of testing where a potion comes back with different side effects for different individuals. In that vein, I would say this is the persons testing period.”

“What does that mean?” Ron sounded younger the longer the conversation went on.

“It means they’re looking for a specific result, and they haven’t gotten it yet. A perfect combination of rage and carnage, for example. Or directed rage versus wide-spread. They’re trying to get their potion perfect and testing it out on the public.”

“Merlin.” Ivan breathed. He cursed several more times and Hermione knew only enough Russian to know the words were filthy.

The whoosh of the fireplace broke the conversation and Hermione had her wand in hand before anyone blinked. Oz fluttered his wings and Hermione knew she was getting too agitated. The green flames revealed the harried form of Kyle Konit, sweating and apprehensive.

“Konit!” Robards barked. “What’s happened?”

“Sir, I thought you’d want to know immediately, we think we have another case.”

“What?” Ron and Ivan exclaimed as one and moved closer to the stressed auror.

“Yessir, word just came down. We’re all communicating as you said, it was at a park in Ireland.”

“Same circumstances?” Hermione demanded. “An attack on a close, familiar person and then turning their wand on muggles?”

Konit hesitated long enough to make Robards snap. “Goddamnit man, speak up!”

“Yessir, same circumstances. A witch snapped in a muggle park and attacked her niece and nephew. Then turned her wand on the rest of the muggles there.”

“That’s the exact circumstances.” Hermione’s voice was low. “Why did you hesitate?”

“How bad were the casualties?” Ron stepped closer.

“No casualties. The nephew needs Mungos and by all accounts the niece did everything she could to restrain her aunt without using extreme magic in front of the muggles herself. But…”

“But what Konit!” Robards was getting red in the face and Minerva finally stood.

“Just speak, Kyle. Tell us what you know.”

“A second person exhibited the same symptoms as the witch, sir. A muggle man.”

Dead silence rang in the room. Horace Slughorn had to break it with an awkward throat clear. “Excuse me, Kloops, did you just say..?”

“A muggle man, yes sir. He was affected in the same manner at the same time. He snapped and attacked his wife with his bare hands, his children who were present at the park jumped in to save her.”

“What does this mean?” Ron had gone so white his freckles were standing out in stark relief. Hermione wanted to comfort him but for now, she knew the room needed her to think more.

“It means, if Hermione is right, the potion can affect muggles as well.” Minerva’s voice was calm. “Horace?”

“Possible, of course.” Horace sputtered. “Some potions have no effect on muggles, as we know, but some do.”

“Hermione.” Minerva’s voice was even softer. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I’m thinking about roofies.” Hermione answered without explanation. Robards and Ivan huffed but Ron stepped forward and silenced them. Hermione looked up some several minutes later. “Roofies are the generic name of the drugging I was explaining earlier. When you slip it into someone’s food or drink.”

“You’re talking about delivery method.” Minerva cottoned on the quickest.

“Yes. So far, only one person at each event was effected. That speaks to a delivery method of ingestion. The potion slipped into their drink. But two people at the same event. Two different people, who don’t know each other, likely weren’t sharing food or drink.”

“What other delivery methods are there?” Robards asked. His jaw and hands were clenched.

“Direct contact. As in the potion coming into contact with the victims skin. Or airborne.”

“None of that sounds good.” Ron muttered. “Oh Merlin’s saggy left tit this is bad.”

“Weasley.” Ivan barked. “Keep it together.” He sighed. “What do you suggest, professor?”

Hermione seemed oblivious to the fact she had commandeered the meeting. “Testing, right away. Hopefully it’s already being done. On the two victims, and both of their families. Find out what everybody ate and drank, see if there’s an overlap. Maybe the park was handing out free samples of something, I don’t know. Where was the muggle family taken?”

“Konit?”

“Mungos, sir.”

“Is that wise?” Ivan wondered.

“What other choice did they have?” Minerva scoffed.

“I was actually told to tell you Headmistress,” Konit continued, “the family was muggle but they already knew about magic. They have another child who currently attends Hogwarts.”

Minerva’s lips pursed. “You’re discussing the family of one of my students?”

“Yes, Headmistress. The muggle’s name is Callum Walsh.”

Hermione whirled on Konit so quickly the room startled and Oz cawed in surprise. “Callum Walsh. As in his magical daughter is Ella Walsh?”

“That’s the name I was given, professor.”

Hermione’s heart cracked in sorrow but her mind was racing. “Minerva, I take this as complete confirmation of my victim theory. I watched Callum Walsh remain composed in the most heartbreaking of circumstances. He is a loving, gentle soul and I would testify to that before the Wizengamot. That man would not simply snap and attack his wife.” Hermione’s heart felt like bleeding. Oh Ella, sweetheart.

“You have a relationship with this man, Professor Granger?” Robards eyes were narrowed.

“Yes, sir. With him and his wife.” Hermione answered without hesitation.

“Good.” Robards nodded as he came to a decision. “Then I request you come with us and preform his interview.”

Hermione’s face was composed and serious but the room could practically feel the spark of energy animating from her. “Headmistress?”

“Go.” Minerva nodded at once.

“Oz.” Hermione turned her face to Oz so she could speak directly into his feathers. “Você precisa ficar aqui. Não discuta comigo sobre isso, prometo que vou ficar bem. Encontre nosso anjo de cabelos prateados e cuide dela [You need to stay here. Don’t fight me on this, I promise I’ll be okay. Find our silver haired angel and watch over her].” Hermione kissed his body and then leaned her face away so Oz could take flight. He landed on Minerva’s desk and the Headmistress paid him little mind.

The aurors, first Ron and Ivan, stepped into the fireplace and vanished with a call to St. Mungos, and Robards gestured Hermione ahead. The Brazilian witch had one foot in the fireplace when she turned her head. “Oh, and Headmistress. Um, could you…”

“I’ll let Professor Delacour know your whereabouts, Hermione.”

Hermione gave a grateful nod to her mentor and with her own call to Mungos vanished into the fire.

SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH/SS/HH

“So do you think it could work?”

Fleur smiled warmly at the growing excitement in Chadwick Under’s voice. The boy, the man really, seemed younger than he was bouncing on the balls of his feet and watching her in nervous anticipation. Even the naturally composed Serena Hystenbaum was smirking slightly standing at his shoulder.

“I think the idea ‘as merit, definitely.” Fleur smiled again when the two shared a quick grin. She had been surprised when her name had been shouted down the corridor and the two seventh year students had come, as quickly as they could without actually running, right for her. They had been looking all over apparently and spotted her silver hair from quite a distance. “What gave you this idea?”

Chadwick flushed in embarrassment and Serena put a hand on his arm subtlety. “We’re required for advanced dueling club to bring new ideas and spells to try.”

Fleur hummed. “New ideas, yes. But when they said new ideas I think they meant outside of what they’ve taught you. Not new spells you’ve thought about creating.” Fleur wasn’t judging, because she was impressed with their fortitude and their spirit, but she was curious.

Chadwick cleared his throat. “To be honest with you professor, I was called…I realized I’d been a little selfish. And then I was thinking of ways to not be selfish and egotistical but then I thought that thinking about that to make myself feel better was just being selfish and then I was back at square one with no ideas how not to be selfish.”

The Charms professor absorbed the slew of information with a sympathetic smile. Oh silly boy. Only someone truly not as selfish as you fear you are would worry this way. “And this led to the idea for a new spell?”

“Yes, sort of.” Chadwick shrugged. “It’s just, I was thinking this way because I’m the best in dueling club.”

“Chad!”

“What, Rena, that’s the factual part! I’m just saying, I’m the most skilled in that one thing in class. So then I thought, what if I could make the others in class, or say, in a battle, as good as me? So I discussed it with Rena and we were talking theory,”

“And I couldn’t see anything completely wrong with it.” Serena chimed in. “We do have charms that, by design, give people different attributes than they really do have. Charms to make people stronger, or faster.”

“And that’s not what your aim is.” Fleur remarked.

“No. Being stronger or faster is only so good. What if we create a spell that takes a different attribute, something not quite so concrete, and give it to someone else?”

Fleur smiled. “Something like dueling ability.”

“Exactly! Think about it. In a real and dangerous situation everyone involved can have the same skill level as the skill level as the best person there.” Chadwick’s eyes were gleaming. “Everyone would still have their own style and repertoire, but at the actual dueling, suddenly they’re better than they are.”

“As I said, the idea ‘as merit.” Fleur couldn’t help but think about how proud Hermione would be of her cubs. They were pushing the boundaries of magic, thinking outside the box, striving for more, trying for something new and she knew that the Brazilian loved nothing more. “Now, I feel obligated to tell you both about the serious dangers of experimenting with magic and attempting to create a new spell.” Fleur had a horrible vision of the Gryffindor common room exploding in a backfire and Hermione battling flames to save her cubs. “In fact, I’m going to ‘ave to insist as students that you don’t.”

“We won’t, Professor.” Serena rushed to assure her. “We’re just planning to do all of the research and the theoretical elements so that we have something solid to present to Professor Granger.”

“And we hope to have your help and guidance and advice along the way?” Chadwick smiled a cheeky grin.

Fleur cocked her head. “Of course I’d be willing to ‘elp you both. But wouldn’t you like Professor Granger’s ‘elp along the way as well?” Both students, for the first time since they’d shouted her name down the corridor, fell silent and blushed as they looked at their shoes. “Ah, I see. Very well then. Why don’t you begin the research stage and we’ll see if we can come up with something to impress ‘er.” Do you even know the influence you have on them, mon coeur? You can’t possibly know how highly they think of you or you’d never stop blushing and being flustered.

“That sounds amazing, Professor!” Chadwick grinned wildly. Fleur could see how much this meant to him.

“Yes, thank you, Professor.” Serena was slightly more subdued. “We really just wa…”

Fleur looked over her shoulder as both teens jaws dropped in surprise just as Oz landed on her shoulder. Fleur was startled, though she hid it well, as Oz settled himself carefully. Being snuck up on by Oz felt the same as being snuck up on by Hermione herself; she felt warm and comforted by his presence just as she would be hers.

And then the concern set in. Oz had shown himself comfortable in Fleur’s presence and had taken to her shoulder several times before; but never without Hermione. Oz, except for flying outside occasionally to stretch his wings, was usually never far enough from Hermione for this to be a situation. Hermione was nowhere in sight and yet her familiar had chosen to leave her to find Fleur.

She forced herself to stay calm; more so than she would if Oz had found her alone in her office as opposed to standing in front of two very intelligent teenagers who currently had dropped jaws. She’s not in danger. Fleur’s first and instant thought was for Hermione’s safety. Oz doesn’t seem happy because his feathers are ruffled but he’s calm enough. He’s not trying to get your attention or to get you to follow him. So Hermione’s fine. That’s the most important thing. Whether Hermione had sent him or if he’d come to her of his own volition, Fleur was touched to have his weight and presence on her shoulder.

The silver haired witch purposefully lightened her voice. “’ello darling Oz. You’ll have to give me one moment, ‘andsome.” She turned her attention back to the teens. “So does that sound like a plan?”

They both blinked at her.

“Did,” Chadwick couldn’t stop flicking his eyes to Oz, “did he come because we were talking about Professor Granger?” He whispered it and Fleur wasn’t sure if he thought Oz or Hermione was listening.

“Possibly.” Fleur gazed at the hawk with affection that wasn’t faked for the students. “It’s impossible to tell exactly ‘ow much ‘e knows exactly but personally, I wouldn’t put anything past ‘im.”

Oz cawed and puffed his chest out and Fleur relaxed even further. Oz wouldn’t be showing off if Hermione wasn’t alright. Clearly, she just went somewhere that Oz couldn’t follow.

Chadwick cleared his throat. “I wouldn’t put anything past him either, Professor. He’s already beaten me in a duel once.”

Fleur smiled but noticed that Serena was watching them both intently. “Professor, is it unusual for a witch's familiar to be so close to another person?”

“Well, there isn’t a guidebook to familiars. They’re intelligent creatures in their own right and no two are exactly the same. Generally speaking, the closer the 'umans are the closer a familiar might be.”

“And you and Professor Granger are obviously,” she cleared her throat carefully, “well, close. I mean, obviously. How, um, close is that? You know, to have Oz come to you like that? More…more than colleagues, say? Like,” she blushed furiously, “would just friends for a familiar…I mean…” Even Chadwick seemed stunned and wondered where his friend was going with her comments. Serena was normally so polite and reserved that Chadwick actually seemed concerned for her. Fleur had the same concerns; in fact, she was concerned enough about it to allow her thrall to spread outward.

Serena’s gaze, as always, felt like a fleeting, friendly touch along her thrall from someone who had no other motive other than to simply appreciate beauty. Fleur purposefully pushed her thrall outwards and concentrated on the female student.

Veela, Fleur was perfectly aware, are most well known for their beauty. The magical community at large think them simply beautiful creatures capable of ensnaring men and making them brainless, enthralled beings who will do anything to impress the Veela. And that was accurate. Full-blooded Veela did have that power and the proud race had been blamed for man’s wandering eye for centuries. While some thrall was just always around a Veela, for the most part, to purposefully ensnare someone she would use movement or dance and allow her thrall to spread out and take them over. Her grandmother had taught her about their heritage when she was young and she had been very clear about one thing. Using their thrall to ensnare someone was not a fun, playful maneuver; it was a weapon. It might be a weapon in the form of a warm, comforting blanket that one didn’t realize could cause harm until after the fact, but it was a weapon nonetheless.

There were many warnings about Veela, as well, that Fleur had heard throughout the years; each of them also true. They were proud and easily angered and most knew what happened if you offended a Veela; she would allow her other form to take over. Harpy like, winged and dangerous, in their rage Veela could show a different side to their victims. A side that was always there, hidden underneath the preternatural beauty, and left no doubt to their intentions. Veela’s other form, capable of hurling fireballs and snapping sharp, beak-like jaws with enough power to break bone, were the antithesis to their beauty. Those that tried to use a Veela’s beauty for their own gain often found themselves facing the other side of a Veela. Their beauty was to be admired, never exploited. They wielded their other half like a weapon as well. Something Gabriele had always playfully called their “sledgehammer”; in no way subtle but immensely powerful.

Fleur, only a quarter Veela, possessed no other transformed side. She did not have the power to wield the Veela’s weapon they considered a sledgehammer. Her thrall, while present, was not capable of ensnaring someone as completely as her ancestors could.

She did, however, possess the Veela’s most subtle gift. If the wizarding world knew what was beyond the beauty, beyond the jokes about men losing their minds around them, they probably wouldn’t find the Veela’s powers quite as amusing.

Veela possessed a comforting blanket to ensnare a victim and a sledgehammer to destroy them; but the thrall was also a needle, capable of extracting information from a person.

Fleur allowed her thrall to expand to Serena Hystenbaum and instead of focussing the girls attention on the Veela part of herself, she turned it inwards towards the girl. If the wizarding community knew that Veela had the power to extract information, more than just how much lust or love they felt, Fleur believed they wouldn’t be so quick to mock their powers. Her thrall always knew how someone felt in regards to her, and how much lust or love they felt for those around them, but now she could tell in general, and completely, how Serena felt. Her thrall had the ability to concentrate on one person and tell the Veela all the emotions they were feeling.

Her thrall told her about Serena’s slight feelings of arousal and much more prominent curiosity; but mostly she could feel such longing that Fleur’s heart ached for her. Normally Fleur would never invade her student’s privacy. She tried not to let her thrall inform her of how students felt about her or how they felt about each other even though what was just in the air Fleur couldn’t help; this was an even deeper, concentrated invasion of privacy telling her exactly how Serena felt deeply in this moment.

Only Serena’s own, very deeply personal question, made Fleur act. She wasn’t simply curious. More attuned to emotions than most others, Fleur could tell that Serena was struggling and she thought she was in a unique position to help.

The deep, unrequited longing Serena felt wasn’t for Fleur herself. It was for the connection that was represented by Oz resting peacefully on Fleur’s shoulder; the connection between Fleur and Hermione herself.

Fleur withdrew her thrall and it wrapped back around her like a shroud as Serena’s emotions filtered away. “Mr. Under. There is a book in my quarters, called Charming Ethics, would you go get that for me, please?”

“Of course, Professor.” Chadwick trotted away and Fleur gestured Serena to a nearby stone bench.

“It’ll take him a little while to find it, the title is in French.” Fleur confided in her.

“Professor.” Serena looked nervous now. “God, what was I thinking? Oh my God Serena you’ve lost it.” The words, though spoken out loud, were clearly meant for Serena herself. “I’m so sorry, that was so inappropriate.”

“You’re forgiven.” Fleur said simply. She waited to see if Serena would speak some more.

“The whole castle thinks I should be with Chad. Things happened last night and it all just…boiled over I guess.” Serena muttered.

“And you don’t want to be with Mr. Under?” Fleur questioned lightly.

“Objectively, Chad’s kind of perfect. He’s kind and smart and chivalrous even though he thinks he isn’t, he’s funny. We get along so well. We’ve been friends since first year.” Serena confided. “He just sat down next to me and decided we were going to be best friends. I didn’t get it. There was a group of guy’s right down the table that he could have joined without blinking. I was sitting by myself.” She sighed deeply. “I asked him, a hundred times, why he did that. Why he decided we were going to be best friends. You know what he said? That I looked like a worthwhile person to befriend. Can you believe that? What eleven year old boy says that you have worth as a friend?”

Fleur carefully kept her face neutral even though her eyes traitorously wanted to well with tears. You are so lucky to have found someone who sees your worth when you were young, instead of having to spend your youth thinking you had little worth at all. “He seems to have been correct, you’ve become amazing friends.”

“We have. But then we got older and everyone just assumed we were dating. Or that we should be. We couldn’t hold hands anymore because the boys would tease and the girls would titter. We couldn’t show any outward affection or we’d be asked for a week why we were still hiding our relationship. Then Chad became such an amazing catch and the girls kind of…got mean. Said that I was hogging him to myself. That I was leading him on. That after so many years of Chad being patient that I…owed him to be with him.”

“No.” Fleur showed some steel in her voice. “You do not, ever, owe someone to be with them. Their feelings for you, if they’re there, are not you concern. Their feelings for you do not change your own. Their feelings for you have no bearing on you unless you return them. You should never feel guilty about someone having feelings for you. That is not your problem to put onto yourself.”

Serena managed a smile. “Chad lost it when he heard. He hates anyone talking about me like that. But of course, in his instant and vehement defence of me,”

“They say he’s in love with you.”

“Which makes them say I owe it to him to give him a chance.”

“No. You do not. Someone having feelings for you is not a reason to give them a chance. You having feelings for someone is a reason to give them a chance.”

Serena raised watery eyes. “Chad has never asked for chance. Not once. He loves me, as I love him, but we both know that’s never going to happen. When I picture myself, in the future, happy and with someone…it isn’t with Chad. It isn’t…with someone like Chad.”

Fleur noticed the careful wording of Serena’s confession and didn’t push the student. “Do you want to know what I think?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I think you’re incredibly strong, Ms. ‘ystenbaum. To stay true to yourself, to your morals, your feelings, is something not everyone can do. Sometimes it’s ‘ard not to be swayed by someone else or by the masses. And I think someone, whoever you picture, in the future will appreciate that strength. And that you’ll find the sort of connection you’re looking for.”

“Thanks, Professor.” Serena’s eyes were still watery but she managed a hopeful smile.

Fleur smiled and gave the student a gentle nudge with her elbow. “And sometimes that connection will come at the perfect moment, and you’ll get more out of it than you ever dreamed you would.”

Serena’s eyes slid to Oz for a moment, and Fleur's fingers stroking him gently, and she smiled. Fleur gave her something personal because she had taken something personal from Serena with her thrall. “Understood, Professor.”

“Now, why don’t you go help your friend? Éthique Charmante is the title of the book he’s looking for.”

“Yes, Professor. Thank you again.”

“You’re welcome. Ms. ‘ystenbaum?”

Serena halted where she was about to walk away. “Yes?”

“Stay strong.”

Fleur felt the rush of gratitude slide along her thrall like a cool breeze relaxing overheated skin. Serena nodded and walked away and Fleur turned her attention to Oz. “Now. Where in the ‘ell is your mistress, ‘mm?”

**

Chapter Text

Hermione disliked hospitals even more than crowded rooms.

Granted, she didn’t know of anyone who actually enjoyed being in one but Hermione would actively avoid going at all costs. Hospitals inevitably brought up bad memories for her; memories she would much rather move on from.

Hospitals, even Mungos, all had the same feeling in the air. Whether it was a combination of that overly clean smell, the stoic and polite staff or something more sinister like despair and fear and anguish that permeated the air so thickly it could actually be detected by human senses.

The Brazilian witch had spent too much time in Mungos already.

Robards led her instantly across the main floor with a quick stride of his long legs and Hermione allowed herself to be shuffled along as a Healer in light green robes waved them over. “What’s the situation?” Robards's voice was soft but they could hear him effortlessly.

The Healer didn’t even blink at the demanding tone. “We have the muggle family sequestered upstairs. The father is in a solitary locked ward while the cataloguing for any potions in his system is being done. The mother and the two sons are in a separate locked ward. Their injuries are being tended to as we speak.”

“What were the injuries?” Hermione asked as they made their way quickly across the tile floor. Hermione tried to focus on the problem at hand and not worry about anything else.

“The mother sustained the worst injuries, all muggle inflicted. Several broken bones in her left hand, metacarpals and phalanges, as well as an orbital fracture. Otherwise, simple contusions.”

Hermione sucked in a breath. For a Healer in Mungos those injuries were paltry. They were used to serious magical incidents involving all manner of catastrophe; broken bones could be mended in a heartbeat. But for the muggle family, it was a serious and gut-wrenching violent attack. “And the boys?” She tried not to take her aggravation out on the Healer.

“Mostly contusions as well. Some minor rib damage.”

“We’ll want to see this Walsh right away.” Robards demanded as they headed for the rooms.

“Actually, I’ll want to see his family first.” Hermione contradicted his words. Robards stopped walking and glared down at the much shorter witch.

“We don’t have time to coddle anyone, Granger. We have a potentially serious national situation on our hands, and a dangerous criminal on the loose who has been testing a dangerous potion on people. That’s your theory I might add.”

Hermione’s glare sharpened and she stared down the taller man without fear. “There is a dangerous criminal on the loose, and I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that the only difference between us and them is the ethics we hold and the way we treat people. Sinking to their level,” Hermione managed to look down at the man even though he towered over her, “during the course of an investigation makes you no better. I thought our aurors had learned that lesson already.” Robards’s jaw clenched to be spoken to in that manner, especially in front of the Healer. “A woman was just beaten by her husband and in front of her kids, and has no idea what is going on. The testing will still be underway on Callum Walsh.” Hermione blatantly turned her back on the auror. “Sir.” She addressed the Healer.

“Healer Grant, Professor Granger.” His professional mask slipped for one second. “Can I just say it’s an honour to meet you?”

Hermione nodded. “Take me to Mrs. Walsh and her sons, please.”

“Right this way.”

The ward that the muggle family had been locked into was nice enough and looked to Hermione like a semi-private room designed for four occupants though Mrs. Walsh and her sons were the only ones present. Mrs. Walsh was sitting up in bed and both red-headed twins were laying on the bed beside her legs. Mrs. Walsh seemed alert and, physically, fine so Hermione assumed a Healer must have already been to see her.

“Professor Granger?” She seemed surprised to see Hermione and both boys peaked their heads off the bed.

“Mrs. Walsh.” Hermione stepped closer and remained a polite distance away. “How are you feeling?”

“Perfectly fine, now, thank you.” She managed a smile. “These healing spells are something else.”

“Yes they are.” Hermione was proud of the strong face the woman was giving in the presence of her sons. Hermione let her eyes flicker down to the boys.

“Boys, can you go sit over on the other bed for a moment?” Mrs. Walsh had clearly gleaned her meaning. “I just need to speak to Professor Granger.” The boys didn’t look happy but they hopped off the bed, with a glare for Hermione, and slunk across the ward. “Is everything okay with Ella?”

“Ella is perfectly alright, and she doesn’t know what happened yet, Mrs. Walsh.”

“Ava, please.”

“Hermione.” The witch took a seat beside the bed. “Have the Healers or the aurors explained to you what’s happened?”

“No. Everything has happened so fast.” Ava shuddered on the bed. “I know they…they took Callum away. I don’t know…”

“Mr. Walsh is fine as well. He’s here at Mungos, in this hospital.” Hermione noticed the faint trembling in her hands where they rest on the bedspread. Ava was idly turning her wedding ring over and over. “Ava.” Hermione kept her voice soft. “I know how difficult this is, and I need to know what happened today. But I’m not going to pry, or ask questions, -what happened Miss Granger? You need to tell us exactly what happened. Start at the beginning- I’m just going to wait until you feel comfortable enough to talk to me, okay? We’ve got all the time in the world. –For Merlin’s sake, can’t this wait? Can’t you see she’s shaking?- There’s no pressure at all –Time is of the essence here, I’m sorry - and no rush,- Can’t you at least get her a bloody pain potion? What the hell is taking them so long!- so feel free to take your time.”

Hermione averted her eyes for a second to gather herself.

“I’m glad it’s you.” Ava whispered. “I thought one of those strange men would come back to interrogate me. All I could think about is what I’ve seen happen on the television.” Hermione remained quiet and didn’t mention that if she hadn’t intervened Ava Walsh’s interrogation would probably have been worse than whatever she saw on TV.

“There’s no rush.” Hermione said softly again. “It doesn’t have to be now.”

“No. No, I want to talk. I need…I need you to explain to me what happened.” Ava shuddered again and Hermione rest her hand open on the bed spread; Ava chose to reach over and take it. “That…that wasn’t Callum. It just…wasn’t.”

“No, it wasn’t.” Hermione agreed. She waited patiently and didn’t ask again.

Ava watched her boys huddled together across the room for a moment before she spoke in slow voice. “Ethan and Daniel are grounded, of course. But Callum and I agreed that a prison like setting where they’re never allowed out of their room wasn’t good for their state of mind either. So they’re allowed outside but only under our supervision. We go for walks or hikes, because the boys aren’t allowed to play.”

“Sounds reasonable.” Hermione murmured. She kept her comforting grip on Ava’s hand.

“We were walking through the park. And then there were…” Ava obviously struggled to come up with a description, “fireworks? Sparklers?” Hermione knew what the muggle woman meant; she remembered the first time she’d ever seen wand sparks. “I thought kids were horsing around and we went to leave. But it wasn’t kids. It was a grown woman. I realized she wasn’t holding any kind of firework, but that she had a wand like Ella’s.” Ava gave a self-deprecating laugh. “It must seem so silly to you, not realizing right away what was happening.”

Hermione shook her hand gently. “I’m muggle born too, Ava. Wand sparks seemed incredible to me too once.” She didn’t push Ava to resume the story when the woman fell silent and watched her sons.

“It wasn’t Callum.” She whispered again. “It just couldn’t be.”

“It wasn’t.”

“I wasn’t sure if we were allowed to say the word witch out loud in public.” Ava admitted. “I was just so shocked. Ella had told us some of the rules. And this woman, she was sending those sparks, casting spells or what have you, at these two teenagers. One looked really hurt. I…I grabbed Callum by the arm, I asked him what we were supposed to do…and…”

“Would you like a water or anything to drink, Ava? Tea?”

“No, no thank you.” Her hand went unconsciously to her face even though there was no longer any marks. “He…he whirled around on me and…and…he struck me.” Her voice cracked. “He hit me. He’s…never done anything like that before. Never even…nothing. Callum is such a gentle soul. He’s not capable of such violence…he just…isn’t. I was…God I was so shocked. It knocked me off my feet and still I couldn’t even….comprehend it. Everything was a blur, after that. I remember the boys yelling and attacking their father…he tossed them around like they were rag dolls…I was screaming…I wasn’t the only one. And then more people…wizards…just appeared out of thin air and Callum was unconscious. I yelled for my boys and then we were brought here and placed in this ward.”

“Okay.” Hermione brought her other hand up so she was holding Ava’s with both her own. “I need you to listen to me, okay? Normally I do not make excuses for violence, ever. But in this case, we have very strong reason to believe that Callum actually wasn’t himself. That he was under the influence of a potion, like a drug.”

Ava’s hand was rubbing her throat and she seemed unaware of it. “I knew it was impossible…I knew it wasn’t really him. There was just…no way.”

“Those wizards you saw, the ones who brought you here, they’re our police force. They’re trying to catch a criminal.”

“What does that have to do with us?”

“They’ve found a link in a series of cases where someone has a bout of uncontrollable rage and they attack someone close to them. Not only physically close but close to them emotionally. Then they turn their rage onto muggles. There have been a frightening amount of similar cases.”

“And that’s what brought your police there? Callum?”

“No.” Hermione stroked her hand. “Our aurors have no way of detecting muggle physical altercations. They were brought there by the witch who attacked her niece and nephew.”

“The woman?”

“Yes. When the aurors arrived to subdue her they realized that Callum had faced the same circumstances and you were all brought here to Mungos.”

“So he was…drugged?”

“Essentially.” Hermione agreed.

“I knew it wasn’t him.” She whispered again. “I’ve never seen such rage on a person’s face, let alone Callum. He just doesn’t have that in him. He didn’t look at me like he does…”

“Did he look at you like he didn’t know you?”

“No.” Ava rubbed at her throat again. “No, not like he didn’t know me. Like…I was his most hated enemy in the world…”

“I’m so sorry you had to go through this, Ava. –I’m so sorry you had to go through this, Hermione- My heart just breaks for you and your family.”

Ava watched her sons who perked up to see if they could come back over. “What can we do to help?”

“Well, we’re working under the assumption right now that your husband was drugged by an unknown potion. We need to know how your husband was infected by the potion in the first place.” Ava rubbed at her throat and Hermione gently squeezed her hand. “Did Callum eat or drink anything at the park?”

“No, no.” Ava shook her head. “We all had breakfast together. And the boys have lost their fun breakfast privileges so we all just had fruit and toast. The park isn’t that far so we didn’t bring water with us either.”

Interesting. Could be the potion has a long gestation period? “Did you eat out anywhere say, in the last three days?”

“Nothing unusual, nothing that I can think of. We’ve…we’ve barely left the house since you told us about Ella. Oh.” Ava’s voice broke. “Ella. What are we-”

“We’re not going to tell Ella anything until we have some answers, okay? And then we’ll tell her that her family is fine and healthy and safe.” Hermione gripped Ava’s hand just a hair tighter. Hermione kept her focus on Ava even though her mind was racing ahead. Ingestion for the potion is seeming less likely. “Ava, were there others at the park besides your family and the witch who drew her wand and the niece and nephew?”

“Oh, yes. Quite a few. I…can’t remember them all. There were people walking, and actually playing on the jungle gym…”

“That’s okay, you don’t need to remember everybody.” But it makes airborne look unlikely as well unless they’ve found a way to do a seriously concentrated attack. It might be skin to skin contact. “We’re going to also look into the theory that your husband became infected with the potion by direct contact. Now, you’re not going to have to actually do much, Ava. We have magical means of watching your memories so that we know exactly what you and your sons witnessed and it’s completely painless and not harmful in the least.” Hermione continued instantly to reassure the mother when she mentioned her children. “None of you will even know it’s happening. Callum will have his memories checked as well, as will the other family. We’ll try and figure out if someone crossed both of their paths and managed to dose them with the potion.”

Ava released a shaky breath. “Yes. Yes, of course. Whatever we can do to help.”

“Good.” Hermione let her eyes flicker over to Ethan and Danny on the other bed. “Ava, would it be alright if I spoke to your boys for a minute? You can call them back over and be a part of the entire conversation, of course.”

The mother nodded with trust in her eyes. “Of course. Ethan, Danny.” Both boys came running.

They did not have trust in their eyes.

Hermione examined the twins more closely than she did the last time she saw them. They were still sullen faced and brooding but now Hermione could see real fear in their eyes and body language as well. “Hello Ethan, Danny.” Hermione had taken careful note of which twin had perked up half a second earlier, at the first call of Ethan, so she’d know which twin was which. “You remember me.” Hermione didn’t phrase it like a condescending question because she knew they did.

“Yeah.” Ethan was the one who spoke.

“I’m sure today was very frightening for you both.” They said nothing though Hermione noticed they relaxed slightly when Ava reached out to stroke their backs. “What happened today was not your father’s fault. Your father was under the influence of a potion that made him act the way he did. You know, you both know, and your mother knows, that your father isn’t capable of acting like that.” Hermione knew she had to take this very carefully. She sighed and released her upright posture. “You boys know what firearms are, of course.” They blinked at her. “Can you tell me what a good use for a firearm is?”

“Go on.” Ava encouraged them.

“Hunting.” Ethan shrugged.

“Target practice?” Danny tried.

“Sure, both perfect answers. How about baseball bats? You guys play?”

“Yeah.” Ethan nodded after a moments pause. “I’m a pitcher and Dan’s a shortstop.”

“You pretty good?”

“Yeah.” Ethan nudged his brother. “And Danny is MVP.”

“That’s good, guys. Do you know why I’m asking you this?” Ethan fell silent and Danny shook his head. “I don’t need to tell you boys how many crimes are committed each year with firearms do I?”

“Lots?” Danny guessed.

“Too many.” Hermione agreed. “But firearms weren’t designed for crime. They’re just a tool. A tool that some people use to legally hunt, or to test their skills at target practice. And you boys, playing baseball. Using a baseball bat as a tool to play your sport. Did you know that some people use baseball bats for crime, too?”

“Yeah. David’s mom’s car had the window smashed in with a baseball bat.” Ethan told her.

“Exactly. Guns, baseball bats, they’re just tools. Tools that can be used in many ways by many different people. David’s mom who had her car window broken, was it the baseball bat’s fault?”

“No.” Ethan snorted like she was foolish.

“No, course not. All of those people who have been shot by a firearm, was it the guns fault?”

“No.”

“No, it wasn’t. It was the person who wielded that tool’s fault, right?”

“Right.” Ethan spoke and Danny nodded.

“Right. The thing is boys, magic is just a tool as well.” They both glowered instantly. “It is. Magic is just a tool that some possess. What one chooses to do with magic is up to that person. Some people use that tool for good. Like healing your mom and you both today. Some people use it for bad. Like the person who used magic to make your dad do what he did. That isn’t magic’s fault.”

“If magic didn’t exist this wouldn’t have happened.” Ethan grumbled.

“If baseball bats didn’t exist David’s mother wouldn’t have had her car window broken. But if they didn’t exist you boys couldn’t play your favourite sport either.” Hermione arched an eyebrow. “The person to blame is the person who did this. And I promise you, promise you, we’re doing everything we can to find them, and punish them, so that nothing like this ever happens again. But having magic doesn’t make you bad. Having magic doesn’t mean you’re going to do bad things, okay? It’s just a tool.”

The boys said nothing and Hermione figured that was as good as she could get. “Ava,” she turned her attention back to their mother, “unfortunately you guys are going to be here for a while. But I’ll have someone bring up some food and try to make you more comfortable.”

“Thank you, Hermione.” She glanced nervously at the boys. “Callum?”

“I’m going to see him right now.” Hermione assured her. “It will be a while before you can see him however. Is there anything you’d like me to say to him?”

“Just that we love him.” Ava smiled thinly. “He won’t stop beating himself up no matter what anyone says. So just, remind him that we love him.”

Hermione blinked tears from her eyes. “I promise.”

Gawain Robards had apparently decided that waiting for Hermione had taken too long and had already moved Callum Walsh to another room for his interrogation. Healer Grant was outside the ward door and Hermione stalled to speak to him.

“The cataloguing is done.” Hermione didn’t phrase it as a question because she knew Callum wouldn’t have been moved until it was.

“Yes, Professor. We tested for everything we could think of, complete broad-spectrum potion poisoning. Nothing flagged, but results did come in with magic traces.”

“So they were given a potion but we have no record of what it was.” Hermione paraphrased.

“Essentially.”

“And the other victim?”

“Ursula Orbeak, her results were nearly the exact same.”

“I’d like to see them.”

“I’ll get you a list.” Grant nodded without hesitation.

Hermione glanced to the window where she could make out the form of Callum sitting in a chair on the other side. “How has Mr. Walsh and Ms. Orbeak been since being brought in?”

“In my professional opinion, complacent and no longer suffering the effects of any potion. In my personal one, heartbroken and despondent. If I didn’t know better I wouldn’t suspect either of these people capable of the violence they showed earlier.”

“I think that’s the point.” Hermione muttered. She flicked her fingers at the door as she walked towards it and it unlocked and flew open. Robards had been leaning on the desk in front of Callum and seemed unsurprised at her entrance.

Callum’s eyes widened in fear. “Ella? Is Ella o-”

“Perfectly safe and alright.” Hermione answered him calmly. “And as of right now unaware that anything has occurred.” Hermione could barely recognize Callum as the man she’d seen so recently. He looked like he’d aged a decade in a week, his skin was sallow and he looked physically ill. “Mr. Robards, can I have a moment with Mr. Walsh?”

Robards eyed her carefully, clearly thinking about denying her request. Hermione knew he wouldn’t; she was brought here because of her connection to Callum and he would be foolish not to use that to his advantage now. The large auror left the room and locked it behind him.

Callum seemed to sink even further into his chair. “My…my family?”

Hermione met his eyes with sympathy. “They’ve seen a healer and they’re 100 percent healed and comfortable. Their only worry is about you. They wanted me to remind you that they love you. So much.”

The formally unflappable Scottish man didn’t bother to blink away his tears. “Will…will I get to say goodbye before I’m locked away?”

The witch grinded her teeth in anger but managed to keep it from her face. She wondered what Robards had been in here talking to him about if it wasn’t to inform him that he wasn’t guilty. “Callum, you aren’t getting locked up-”

“Yes I am.” He already sounded incredibly defeated. “I deserve it. I deserve worse.”

“You deserve nothing of the sort. Callum, right now you’re in hospital, not a prison. Listen to me.” He didn’t glance up. “Listen.” Hermione said it again with a little more force. “You were drugged. Your mind was not your own.”

“I did those things.” Callum’s voice shuddered as he remembered it. “I…I did those things to my family…I hurt…” He sobbed once now. “I hurt them.”

Hermione reached over and grabbed his hand to shock him from his spiral. He flinched a little and Hermione spoke softly but with authority. “Your mind was not your own. You were drugged. That’s a fact, Callum. Someone dosed you with a potion that made you snap and react violently. That is not your fault.”

His large hand was shaking in Hermione’s grip. “I still did them. It was still me.”

The witch sighed. She remembered explaining drugging to the pure-bloods in Minerva’s office earlier. “If someone has been drugged with a date rape drug, are they responsible for what occurs after the drug h-”

“What?” Callum choked. For the first time some fire returned to eyes that had been frighteningly lifeless. “No! Of course not! My god, no.”

Hermione arched an eyebrow. “Neither are you. And we’re not talking about just a drug, Callum, we’re talking about an honest to God magical potion. What happened was not your fault. You had no choice. It was a tragedy, but the fault does not lie with you.” Hermione could see him struggling. “Your family never believed even for a second that you were capable of such violence, Callum. Neither did I. Not for a second. Now I need you to believe that.” He remained silent and Hermione tried a different tactic. “There is something you can do to help me, Callum.” He raised his head slowly.

“I’ll do anything. Please. Just let me help.”

“You’re not the first who was drugged with the potion, Callum. There have actually been many other cases. But you’re the first who we got to in time to get potion testing done, and to question immediately.”

“Okay.”

“Tell me everything. Anything and everything that happened today. No detail is too small.”

Callum shifted in his chair and weakly scratched at his beard. “Well, we decided to go to the park-”

“Before that.”

“Okay. Well. I was up first. I read the paper and had a cup of tea. Ava,” his voice cracked at her name, “she got up within a half an hour. She had tea as well, and we talked. About the boys.”

“Good, keep going.”

“Ethan and Danny got up with their alarms. We decided we weren’t going to allow them to sleep in. We had breakfast together at the table. Fruit and toast.”

“Did everyone eat everything at the table?”

“Uh, I think so. Danny doesn’t eat some fruit, he’s a little picky, but for the most part, yes.”

“Okay.”

“We decided to go to the park. We got ready and left. Danny and Ethan were waking in front of us.”

“How many people did you see from your house to the park?”

“Um, maybe a dozen? It’s not far, but people are usually there.”

“What were they doing?”

“There was,” he scratched through his beard again, “people walking dogs. And other couples walking. And kids playing at the park. Some older kids throwing a Frisbee.”

“And nothing stood out to you?”

Callum looked like he was about to tear up again. “Nothing I can think of.”

“That’s okay, you’re doing great. This is going to be hard, okay? But I need to ask you some questions about when it actually happened.” Hermione felt his hand tremble further and she gripped him harder. “It was not you. It wasn’t. We have proof that it wasn’t. But you need to help us find out who is really responsible for hurting your family.”

He finally squeezed her hand back gently. “There was…pressure.”

“Okay.” Hermione didn’t ask but waited for him to explain more.

“I felt it building for maybe a half an hour. Pretty much when we left the house. Just…pressure. In my head. I thought I had a stress headache coming on.”

“What else were you feeling?” Hermione spoke softly because she could tell he was deep in thought.

“Mostly just the pressure building. It was setting my teeth on edge. It actually made me a little hazy for a moment. And then I just…erupted. I was so…angry.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “When did you erupt?”

“When?”

“Yes, at what moment?”

“When…Av…” his voice hitched, “when she put her hand on my arm. Something about her touching me just…set me off.”

That’s interesting. “What was she talking about?”

“Pardon?”

“What she was talking about when she touched you? Better yet, what was happening around you?”

“I…I honestly don’t know. I don’t really remember. I wasn’t focussing on anything except the pressure in my head.”

So he didn’t even notice the wand sparks, nor did he hear Ava telling him about them. “And you were feeling angry the whole time?”

“Yes. I was feeling…God…so much rage.”

“Did you blackout? Was everything blurry?”

He tilted his head and Hermione could feel the sadness radiating off him. “No, I didn't blackout. I remember it. But there was blurriness. At first it was like…sh-they were the only things in focus. The only things I could see. And then the blurriness started to fade away and everything got clearer but the anger didn’t leave me. It felt like it would explode out of me and the more it did the less the pressure was building. It was like…relief from the pressure.”

Hermione conjured a tissue with the swirl of one finger and passed it over to him. “It wasn’t your fault.” She murmured again. “I just have a few more questions for you, do you think you ca-”

“I want to help.” His voice was strained. “I need to help…to do something.”

“You didn’t eat or drink anything at the park?”

“No, no nothing.”

“Did anyone touch you?”

“Excuse me?”

“Did anyone come into contact with you at all?”

“I don’t…don’t think so. Not that I remember.”

“Okay.” Direct contact now seems unlikely if the pressure was building before he got to the park. But ingestion seems unlikely if they didn’t go anywhere or eat anything different. And there were other people at the park making airborne seem unlikely as well. So how on earth did he get infected? “Some aurors are going to come in here and have a peak at your memories. It’s a completely non-invasive procedure that you won’t feel or even know its occurring. And you’re not in any trouble, okay? They know you didn’t do this, and that it isn’t your fault. They just want to get to the bottom of this so we can stop it from happening.”

“My family?”

“They’re safe, and I’m making sure they’re comfortable.” Hermione promised him. He nodded with a simple tilt of his head.

The door opened behind her and Robards stepped into the room with Konit. Robards didn’t look at her as he carried in a pensieve but Konit nodded grimly.

Healer Grant was in the hallway again and Hermione excused herself when he caught her eye. “I have those results, Professor.” He handed her several sheets of parchment and Hermione skimmed them with an experienced eye.

“These were the only ingredients that were in high enough concentration to be identified?” She questioned as she read the list. Griffin. Moondew. Fluxweed. Belladonna. Octopus. Rose. Bicorn.

“Yes, professor. The Head of our potions department said it was likely the potion in question had a dozen other ingredients that weren’t in high enough quantities to detect.”

“A dozen if we’re lucky.” Hermione murmured mostly to herself. She moved to the second sheet of parchment. “Was Ms. Orbeak’s results the same?” She was skimming them even as she asked.

“One extra ingredient.” He pointed halfway down the page. “Lobalug venom. We were unable to conclude if-”

“If the ingredient was absent from the potion that effected Mr. Walsh, if it had worn off enough by the time testing was done on him, or if he received a potion with a lower amount than she did, yes.” She was still reading as she spoke and hadn’t glanced up and Grant looked a little startled.

“Uh, right. Exactly. We also searched for any existing potion that had all these ingredients in these or similar levels-”

“There isn’t one.”

The Healer noted that Hermione was not yet reading the sheet of paper that contained that result and he looked startled again. “Right, yes. Exactly.” He cleared his throat and tried to get back on track. “There was also something muggle in their system as well, identical quantities, though we don’t have the ability to know what it was.”

Hermione stopped reading and glanced up. “A muggle drug was in their system on top of the magical ingredients?”

“Yes.” Grant looked at the paper. “Didn’t you already know that? I heard that was how you came up with the theory of potion poisoning.”

“Drugging.” Hermione murmured. “I used a drug as an example to explain what exactly drugging, potion poisoning, was and I suspected that there might be a muggle ingredient in the potion for that reason. Why use muggle drugging as your method of killing if you weren’t going to include a muggle ingredient? But…now we have confirmation.” She glanced at the parchment. “Did you draw blood?”

Grant sputtered. “Intentionally?”

Hermione almost smirked. “Will you do me a favour? Draw 15 millilitres of blood from both Mr. Walsh and Ms. Orbeak in separate, sealed and labelled potion vials and have them sent to my office at Hogwarts.”

“Of course, Professor. Um, may I ask what you’re going to do with it?”

“I know someone who can tell us what the muggle ingredient found in their system is. My hypothesis is a drug called rohypnol, not because of the symptoms they exhibited but because it’s the most common drug to be dosed with in the muggle world.”

“Right away, Professor.” The Healer nodded and, with a glance to see that Mr. Walsh was busy, hurried away presumably to get Ms. Orbeak’s blood sample.

That’s got to be a first for a pure-blooded Healer.

“Professor?”

Hermione saw Konit peering around the open door. “We’ve extracted the memory of the initial incident and are about to watch it. Mr. Robards requests your presence in case you see something involved in muggle potion poisoning that we don’t recognize.”

“Of course.” Hermione gathered herself when Konit turned back to the room. This had been an impossibly long morning already and Hermione could feel herself starting to fatigue; and worry about her mental health. She longed for Oz’s weight on her shoulder to keep her grounded and in the moment.

Entering the room she thought there was no clearer sign showing Callum’s honest despair than the fact he wasn’t even watching his own memory swirl in the pensieve. The shallow stone basin, adorned with ancient runes along its sides and gems along its rim, hadn’t garnered any attention from the muggle man. The memory, swirling in a silvery form both liquid and gas, didn’t warrant a blink. He was too lost in his own mind, staring blankly at the wall, and remembering every hit and blow he’d dealt to his family.

“If his questioning is over, we should allow Mr. Walsh to return to his family.” Hermione tried.

“We’ll need more memories.” Robards denied her. He gestured to the pensieve. “After you, Professor.”

Hermione sighed but stepped forward and gently swirled her fingertips inside the basin to touch the memory. She didn’t fight the motion and instead of jerking her forward she flowed smoothly, with her eyes closed, until she touched down in the pensieve and in Callum’s memory.

Irish greenery greeted her when she opened her eyes and took stock of her surroundings. Small side streets bridged in the simple village park on all sides though the field was easily large enough to play games.

Robards touched down beside her and she gathered Konit had been left behind to watch the pensieve. “There they are.” He murmured and Hermione looked where he nodded.

The Walsh family was a few feet away walking on the grass and looking like they were going to loop the park. Ethan and Danny were in the front with Callum and Ava walking a few steps behind.

Hermione and Robards walked together and fell into step beside the family. Robards was watching everything around them with a sharp and practiced eye. Hermione kept her eye on the family. Ethan brought his legs together and hopped as far as he could in one jump; Danny instantly mimicked him and tried to go farther. They both hopped once more before Callum loudly cleared his throat and both boys stopped jumping; Hermione noticed their drooped shoulders and sullen posture. Danny shoved his brother in the shoulder and Ava had to call their names.

Their mother watched them with a sad and defeated expression, her hand looped around one of Callum’s strong arms. Hermione noted that while Callum was allowing the contact, for now, he was already using his spare hand to rub at his temples.

“Do you see anything?” Robards spoke softly again. Hermione briefly considered what it was about pensieves that made one think they had to whisper.

“Nothing out of the ordinary. I’d be more shocked if there was. Someone would have noticed something by now if it was obvious.”

“It doesn’t look like anyone is poised to cross their path. And that’s Orbeak over there.” He pointed across the park. “If something is going to happen, it’s going to be now.”

Hermione tuned out the auror as she glanced around at everything. If it’s not ingestion, airborne or direct contact, how do they get infected? Callum leaves his house, comes to the park, and is already infected by the potion. So how did it happen? Hermione grit her teeth as her mind raced but no answers were immediately forthcoming.

“There goes Orbeak.”

The witch focussed her gaze across the park where the other witch had screamed but she noticed the details were hazy and fuzzy. The longer the moment stretched on the things farther away from them in the park continued to blur.

“What’s happening?” Robards asked her.

“The memory is contaminated by the potion. Mr. Walsh stated that he couldn’t focus on anything due to the pressure in his head. We should cross-reference this memory with one from Mrs. Walsh.”

Hermione watched, through the growing haze, as she could start to make out jet flashes of lights and more screams. The rest of the people in the park began to scream and yell as well. She watched as teenagers ran away and others stood stupefied by the incredible sight they were witnessing.

C’mon Hermione. Offer solutions. Something is wrong with this scene. Something has to be off, figure it out. She spun in a complete circle and tried to see through the haze of blurry memories to the rest of the park.

Her eye was caught immediately by a figure. Almost everyone was running now, fleeing from the raging woman inflicting damage they couldn’t understand; but one figure walked away calmly.

Hermione’s breath caught in her throat and she gasped so hard she choked. Her heart skipped a beat, and then another, and even her lungs failed to inflate and draw breath. The blood in her veins had turned to ice. Her entire autonomic nervous system ceased to function as her brain tried to interpret what she was looking at. Something was horribly wrong with this scene.

For Hermione would recognize that silver hair anywhere.

Chapter Text

Hermione had run for her life more times than she cared to remember. She had run from werewolves and dementors and all kinds of magical creatures, from Death Eaters intent on capturing her, Death Eaters intent on killing her, from madmen and madwomen; from the maddest of psychopathic women.

She knew the feeling of adrenalin surging in her system, how her heartrate and blood pressure would skyrocket to send more blood forcefully to her muscles; the body’s natural reaction to danger. The fight or flight response gearing your body to flee or stand your ground.

The witch was all too well aware of how her muscles would feel shaky due to the increase in blood, how her vision would narrow and the first gasping breath she’d take was almost painful.

She knew what it felt like to run and have no other thought than survival. She also knew what it felt like to be caught. To have nowhere else to run.

To accept her fate. To accept her death.

And still never before had she ever run like this.

Her mind processed what she was looking at and by the time her system had restarted from the shock she was already running. She reached upwards near frantically and didn’t even register Gawain Robards surprised shout. Kyle Konit’s shocked expression and question was background noise; even Callum Walsh’s startled grunt garnered no response from her. She spun on her heel in almost violent fashion and disapparated away without pause.

Her heart was in her throat, her stomach was clenched and her body propelled herself forward even as she appeared before the Hogwarts gates. She sent a magical burst of energy at the gate and pushed herself even faster; either the gate would recognize her as a Professor and open or she would barrel into it.

It seemed even Hogwarts itself sensed her desperation and the gates quickly opened enough for her to race through before closing behind her with an audible clang.

Her breath already came in gasping pants as she sprinted across the lawn. She raised her right hand and cracked her fist over the back of her head harder than necessary; she felt the magic ooze down the back of her neck as the Disillusionment charm took effect. Even as her body was still fading away, taking on the colour and texture of the forest behind her, she coiled her muscles and sprang into the air.

Hermione’s body melded and transformed, changing shape and size and she landed back down on four paws; her retractable claws gripped the earth and she sprinted as fast as she was able.

None of the students mingling around outside on the grounds were able to see the marbled fox running with a desperation that spoke of running for your very life.

Hermione’s only thought, the only thing that she was capable of thinking, was that she had to get to Fleur. The front doors of the castle opened on their own and Hermione prayed that she would remember later to thank the magic imbued in the castle but for now she merely streaked through the open doors and bounded up the staircase as fast as she could. She careened around a corner, collided painfully with a student’s legs, and kept running completely ignoring the boy’s shout of alarm.

She had to get to Fleur. Getting to Fleur was the only thing that mattered.

She was about to bolt up another staircase when magic tingled down her spine and she changed course to sprint to the left instead. She ran without course, trusting in her magic not to lead her astray, and she pushed her small, lithe body as fast as she could.

The witch knew that by now, even though less than two minutes had passed, she would have pursuers.

She saw the gargoyle that held the entrance to the spiral staircase leading up to the Headmistress's office and Hermione leapt upwards and transfigured her body once again. Her human form collided with the gargoyle as she skidded to a stop and gasped out the password. “So-solar path.” She was forcing herself through the gap before there was hardly enough room; she swirled her hand and flicked her fingers without thought and removed the charm she’d placed upon herself as she barrelled into the office.

Her vision had completely narrowed onto one thing; the most important thing.

Oz took flight in alarm as Hermione crashed into Fleur causing the other witch to grunt and automatically wrap her arms around the younger witch to keep her balance.

“’ermione what on earth-”

“Hermione, what in Merlin’s-”

“Bar your floo!” Hermione snapped over her shoulder completely overriding the shocked Scottish brogue behind her. It was a testament to Minerva McGonagall’s respect for her younger protégée that she whipped out her wand and locked down her floo without question or hesitation.

“’ermione!” That accented voice, now pitched high in worry and confusion, was the only thing that could hold her attention. The arms wrapped around her body were shaking and Hermione still gasped for breath. “Mon coeur, what 'as 'appened? You’re shaking, my love.”

Oh, is that me shaking?

Hermione tried to force her body to cooperate even as the fear had still frozen the blood in her veins. A tremor wracked her body and a weight landed down on her shoulder; talons gripped her shoulder just shy of painfully. “Are-are you okay?” She finally gasped. Her eyes lost some of the film that had descended during her panic and she narrowed her focus as Fleur’s worried features swam into view.

Moi? ‘ermione, I’m fine. I’m completely okay.” The arms around her body gripped her tightly and actually shook her slightly. “Why..?”

“Are you sure?” Hermione’s hands touched both of Fleur’s cheeks gently, trailed down the sides of her neck and around to her shoulders. “You’re alright?” Her hands shook against smooth porcelain skin.

“’ermione. Yes.” Fleur let a little steel into her voice. “Now tell me what’s ‘appened.” Her statement was punctuated by a warbled caw in her ear and Hermione let her eyes drift from Fleur for the first time since she’d barged into the office to notice a near frantic Oz on her shoulder. “’ermione. Talk to me.” Fleur’s hands softened and she reached up to stroke Hermione’s cheek.

“I-we…we saw into Callum Walsh’s memory. The pensieve. In the pensieve, we watched it, I mean.” Hermione’s heart was still beating frantically and her mind was slow to catch up. “I saw, we both watched, Robards and I, the moments before the attack.”

“Okay.” Fleur trailed her fingers softly against Hermione’s pulse point and tried to sooth her. “And what did you see?”

Hermione’s eyes watered. “You.” It was whispered and another tremor wracked her body violently; she felt cold and like she’d never be warm again. “I…I saw you. Someone was there…as you. Polyjuice, I guess. An enchantment maybe…I don’t know. But…they were there. As you. And not trying to hide it…”

“Hermione.” Minerva had stepped closer carefully and tried to catch Hermione’s eye. “You need to be calm about th-”

“No!” Hermione’s shout startled them all and Oz reflexively gripped her tighter. Fleur stepped closer, unafraid, and stroked her cheek and neck again. Hermione dipped her head forward until it rested on Fleur’s shoulder. “How do you expect me to be calm?” It was practically moaned. “Someone is making threats.” She stood up straight again and Minerva and Fleur both noticed the fire in her eyes. “Someone is making threats against Fleur and I can’t- I won’t just…I can’t…”

“Okay, mon coeur.” Fleur was whispering softly. “Just ‘elp us understand. You saw my form in the pensieve at the scene where the latest incident was? And your first thought was that someone was making threats against me?”

“My only thought.” Hermione whispered. Why is she smiling? I get why there are tears in her eyes, this is scary and she’s in danger, but why is she smiling at me? “Fleur?”

The French witch seemed incapable of speech for a moment and lowered her head to press her lips against Hermione’s cheek.

“While I might have stayed slightly more rational,” Minerva’s voice held a hint of a smile at the two witches in her office, “I have to agree with Hermione’s assessment. I wouldn’t have believed you to be the guilty party for even a moment either, Ms. Delacour.”

“What?” Hermione gasped. Fleur? Guilty? The idea was unfathomable; ludicrous. So ludicrous that the aurors just might believe it. “I stopped the aurors following me because I needed to know that Fleur was safe before dealing with them. But now they’ll be coming for her.” Hermione hands instinctively pulled the Frenchwoman closer.

“I agree. They’ll want to interrogate her.” Minerva nodded.

The noise that escaped Hermione’s throat sounded more animal like than human. “They can try.”

“No.” Fleur stopped her with a gentle hand. “Try to remain calm, ma chérie. I 'ave nothing to ‘ide from the aurors, I’ve done nothing wrong. Maybe I can ‘elp them figure some things out.”

Hermione’s hands trembled where they rest against Fleur’s waist. “The aurors highest priority will be catching the culprit by any means necessary, not about protecting you. So we’ll have to do it ourselves.”

“Actually, I disagree.” Minerva’s voice was calm.

“What?” Hermione nearly exploded again. “Headmistress, with Fleur in danger I don’t care about anything else other th-”

“That’s what I disagree about.” Minerva arched an eyebrow at Hermione’s belligerent tone. “I don’t think she’s in any danger.”

Hermione almost bared her teeth and her hands clutched desperately at the material of Fleur’s robes. “They showed up to the crime scene as Fleur intending to be seen!”

“Yes they did.” Minerva sighed. “Think, Hermione. Think this through.”

The Brazilian witch moaned again and Fleur pulled her closer so that their bodies were flush. Think? How can I think? Fleur has to be safe. Nothing will happen to Fleur. I will not let anything happen to Fleur. Never. Think about what? “I can’t- I can’t…” Hermione’s breath escaped in gasps and her whole body shuddered. Fleur supported most of her weight when her legs threatened to buckle beneath her. “Someone is sending threats and I can’t…I can’t- think…”

Tears leaked from Fleur’s eyes as Hermione visibly shrank and withdrew against her. The silver haired witch managed to look up and meet Minerva’s eyes; even the elder witch's emerald gaze couldn’t hide her heartbreak watching the younger witch look so defeated.

The Headmistress stepped forward and rest her hand gently against the shoulder that wasn’t Oz’s perch. The hawk himself was burrowing his face in Hermione’s hair. “Someone is sending threats, but I don’t think the threat is to Ms. Delacour. These attacks aren’t being pinned on magical creatures, or those of mixed blood, or half-breed parentage. The method of attack that was chosen was a muggle one. And we both suspect it likely to find a muggle ingredient in the potion that is effecting these victims. Only a muggle-born could have figured this case out even as far as we’ve got it and we’ll likely find a muggle-born culprit.”

Hermione lifted her head from Fleur’s shoulder; now it was the Frenchwoman who trembled.

“Fleur isn’t who the threat is aimed at. It’s a message.” Minerva’s mouth was set in a grim line as Hermione figured it out. “For me.”

**

Fleur was almost angry at how quickly Hermione recovered from her bout of anxiety after they established that she wasn’t the one in danger; that it was Hermione herself. Almost. She held herself together but couldn’t stop the soft sigh that escaped her lips. Oh, Hermione. My witch with the lion heart.

“Okay.” Fleur tuned back in at Gawain Robards soft but stern voice. “Run me through this one more time.” Fleur thought Hermione was showing incredible patience as the three witches, Hermione, Minerva and herself, had explained the situation to the aurors about three times now.

When Minerva had finally lifted the spell on her fireplace an array of aurors had stepped through; Robards was followed by Konit, Grisholm, Fern and Harry. It had disturbed her to see the aurors, minus Harry, with their wands in hand. Minerva had stepped in before any of the men could say anything to demand that their wands be put away at once. It wasn’t often Fleur saw Minerva McGonagall assert her authority but in that moment she grinned at the sight; Minerva was never a witch to be taken lightly.

Hermione had stepped forward to further defuse the situation. She had explained, calmly and rationally, that at the sight of Fleur in the pensieve she had no thought other than seeing if her dear friend and colleague was alright. Minerva testified that she had blocked the floo at the sight of her distraught professor so that they weren’t disturbed.

Robards had remained quiet until he finally gestured Konit forward and asked if Fleur would be willing to undergo a simple questioning under Veritaserum. Hermione had grit her teeth but said nothing and Fleur appreciated that Hermione always let her make her own decisions.

“Of course.” She’d said with a slight smile. “I ‘ave nothing to ‘ide, and only wish to ‘elp.” Konit had handed her a small vial and she uncorked it to look at the liquid inside that could as well have been water. “Cheers.” She drank a small mouthful and swallowed it easily.

It had become apparent quickly that Fleur had clear alibis for half of the incidents that had occurred; and most notably had been with Hermione for the brawl in Hog’s Head and the incident that had occurred only this morning. Robards didn’t look completely thrilled about that fact.

“You were with Professor Granger this morning?”

“Yes.” Fleur hated the fact that her mouth was not under her control and that she had no say in what came out of it.

“Where?”

“Outside my office, in the hallway.”

“And what were you doin-”

“Enough.” Hermione had stepped forward and spoken before his question was complete. Fleur currently wasn’t able to control her features to show her relief that Hermione had interrupted him; but she could still feel it. “You’re questioning not only an esteemed Hogwarts professor but a decorated war hero as well. You should show some more respect.” Hermione snapped her fingers and small potion vial appeared. Fleur smirked at the surprise on the faces of the aurors, minus Harry, at Hermione’s specialty wandless nonverbal magic. Fleur had accepted the vial and drank its contents without hesitation. The light, airy weightless feeling that had taken over her body since ingesting the truth serum finally abated. That had been almost ten minutes ago and they were still arguing.

“Sir.” Harry tried stepping in again. “With all due respect, neither Professors Granger nor Delacour would have anything to do with this situation. We still wouldn’t know anything about it if it wasn’t for Hermione and if they were trying to hide, Fleur wouldn’t have let her true form be seen by the victims when she knew we’d watch the memories.”

Grisholm scoffed. “You can call her Professor all you like, Potter, but I’ve heard you call that woman your sister more than once and I think that justifies your judgment being a little clouded.”

“Actually,” Konit spoke up, “I agree with Potter.” Robards gestured for him to speak. “I saw Professor Granger’s face when she exited the pensieve before she disapparated. It was genuine terror. Not the apprehensive look of someone about to be caught, but genuine fear for her friend. You can’t fake that look.”

“I cannot believe,” Minerva chided, “that we have actually entertained the idea for even a second that my Professors were involved in this situation in a negative way. We already presented our theory to you.”

“That the killer is sending a message to Professor Granger.” Robards reiterated.

Fleur felt her heart skip a beat in her chest. It was much easier when it was me. I could handle it, and I know Hermione would help save me from danger. But now it’s her. Oh Merlin, hasn’t she been through enough?

“And do you-”

Hermione clearly anticipated the question and interrupted Robards again. “I still do not know who the killer could be if I am in fact part of the equation. As I told you, I do have enemies. Most of which are either in Azkaban, the family of various Death Eaters, or dead. However, this type of muggle like planning and attack do not speak to any of them. I am as in the dark as you, a feeling, I assure you, I do not relish.”

“We need more information.” Konit spoke up to break the somewhat heated moment. Fleur wished she could move closer to Hermione. The witch, though calmed from her earlier panic, was still frighteningly on edge. If one more person accused them of something nefarious Fleur wouldn’t be surprised to feel the Brazilian’s magic actually crackle through the air.

Hermione’s eyes narrowed in calculating manner. “Well, we have several avenues that need investigating.”

“I agree.” Robards nodded. “Konit, I want you and your team on the memories. Do every victim and every witness.” Fleur was impressed when the man nodded and accepted the monumental task he had just been given. “Potter, I want you with Professor Granger. The two of you are in charge of figuring out the muggle angle, including the ingredient. Professor, are you able to also-”

“I’ll deal with the potion as well. I’ll work in conjunction with St. Mungos as well as another few Potion Masters I trust.”

Robards nodded. “Keep the group small.”

“Of course.” Hermione nodded. Fleur was again surprised. She hadn’t gotten the impression that Robards particularly liked Hermione, and she knew from her thrall that the older wizard was not attracted to her in the least; and yet he had still ordered Harry to be the one to work with her. Her impression of him rose if he was willing to be smart and use his people accordingly at the expense of his own feelings. “You should also,” Hermione was clearly thinking ahead, “set a team to deal with the potion ingredients we were given from Mungos. Rose can be home grown unfortunately. But moondew, fluxweed and octopus need to be bought from a potions shop or apothecary. Belladonna is a class C substance and is more heavily regulated. Griffin and bicorn are Class B and would have been the hardest for the potioneer to track down.”

Robards gestured to Grisholm. “You heard the Professor. Find anyone who can get their hands on griffin and bicorn, and see if anyone has had an increase in sales of the others.”

“Got it, boss. I’ll get the team scouring magical Britain.”

The good-byes were brusque and Grisholm and Konit headed once more for the floo. Fleur noticed Konit glance once over his shoulder and her thrall felt a smattering of polite attraction and interest float through the air towards Hermione. Fleur couldn’t hold back her grin. Of course he’s attracted to Hermione. Who wouldn’t be?

“Headmistress, I apologize again for taking over your office.” Robards was dutifully polite to Minerva.

“Let’s just get this situation taken care of, Gawain.” She was blunt but not rude.

“Potter, I want updates and reports.”

“Yes sir.” Harry nodded. Robards finally left for the floo and Fern left as well after a quiet word to Harry. When they disappeared the atmosphere in the room changed dramatically. Minerva removed her glasses from her face and pinched the bridge of her nose before waving her wand and conjuring herself a glass of scotch. Hermione’s shoulders slumped and the strain of her day was now visible on her face and in her eyes.

It was Harry that showed the most difference. His posture changed, his facial expression crumpled and his eyes finally rose to meet Hermione’s. Fleur’s thrall felt such an overwhelming wave of love and affection that it practically vibrated; Harry stepped forward and Hermione automatically found herself in his arms. The love and adoration was returned and Fleur’s thrall felt such warmth and comfort that she couldn’t stop herself from smiling at the siblings.

“We’ll figure this out.” Hermione murmured with her face pressed directly against his robes. “We always do.”

Harry snorted. “Eventually.” His arms squeezed her tightly and Hermione allowed the too-tight embrace.

Fleur felt like she could have watched them forever.

It was Minerva who finally broke the moment. “Indeed you do always figure things out, though not without some rule breaking along the way.” She gave them an arched eyebrow as they broke apart. Her thrall could feel the affection for the two that the Headmistress’s face wasn’t showing.

“We do our best.” Hermione smirked. She moved over to Fleur’s side and intertwined their fingers naturally. Fleur wanted to glance over at Harry, to see what his reaction was to the contact, but her thrall surrounded her in such a cloak of warmth and safety that she couldn’t look away from the brown eyes boring into her own. “Are you alright?”

Oui. Now it is you I am worried about.” She admitted softly. Hermione’s thumb stroked her hand.

“Together we’ll take every precaution that we can.” She stepped back slightly, though continued to hold her hand, so the other two were also involved in the conversation. “It is your form that the culprit has stolen though. Do you have any thoughts, ideas, or plans that we should be looking into?”

Fleur felt a momentary flash of surprise to be included in the planning stages of this team and then immediately chided herself for it. Hermione is not Bill. She is nothing like him. She didn’t ply you with false unknown promises that she’d be fine, she respects your input and your decisions. She is not like him. She is nothing like him. Hermione was waiting for her answer and she tried to pull herself together. “Well, it does make me curious 'ow they managed to get a 'old of my 'air if they are using a polyjuice potion.”

“Agreed. I don’t like that thought at all.” Hermione’s body had tensed and Fleur brought her free hand around to gently stroke her arm.

“I also would like to know how they knew to use Fleur.” Harry wondered out loud. “You do have other friends and family, Mione.” Harry’s words were careful as the auror let his eyes linger over their interlocked fingers and easy, comfortable contact. “But they picked Fleur for a reason and knew to do so.”

“Agreed.” Minerva nodded. “It shows a level of planning and a degree of inside knowledge.”

“Or a source of information.” Hermione theorized. “In any case, we should do as instructed, and figure out any avenue of information we have available to us.”

“Mione, you have something?” Harry questioned.

“I do. But I need my office. And I need to firecall a friend.”

Fleur couldn’t help as her affectionate grin spread looking at Hermione. Of course she has already formulated a plan. Of course.

**

Hermione felt Oz take off from her shoulder and knew, without looking around, that he would have landed on Fleur’s shoulder while the French witch settled into her place on the couch. Harry was pacing the length of her quarters and even though Harry was a known friend she knew Oz would feel his growing anger and unease.

“Who are you waiting to hear back from?” Harry questioned.

Hermione turned to explain to him, and try to calm him down, but a laugh from her fireplace interrupted her.

“A batty old witch, that’s who.”

Hermione grinned at the head now encased in flame in her fireplace before ducking her head formally in a bow. “Mistress.”

The witch huffed. “No need for that anymore, my girl. Let me get a look at you.” Hermione looked back up and grinned despite her own unease. “I suppose you haven’t called me for something fun?”

“Unfortunately not, Mistress.” Hermione wasn’t required to call the older witch Mistress, being one herself, but did so out of affection. “Harry, Fleur, I’d like you to meet Mistress Agnes Pewtilander, my former potion’s Mistress. Agnes, I’d like to introduce you to Fleur Delacour, Charms professor here at Hogwarts, and Harry Potter.”

Agnes was pushing 70 though her constant mischievous grin and the twinkle in her eyes spoke of a much younger woman. Her curly grey hair had long since been chopped off to avoid getting in the way of her cauldrons and she allowed it to grow back most uneven. Her eyes were her most startling feature. She always claimed to Hermione that she had had a potion explode in her face when she was younger; Hermione didn’t know if her mentor spoke the truth but she knew that the condition, when genetic, was called heterochromia. Her left eye was a dark blue that made one think of ocean’s depths holding untold secrets. Comparatively her right eye was a sharp, bright, electric green.

“Pleasure to meet you both.” Anges nodded though her gaze remained mostly focussed on Hermione. “If you haven’t brought me something fun, have you brought me something difficult?”

“Also unfortunately not.” Hermione admitted. “I’m in need of one of your contacts.”

Agnes laughed and promptly choked on ashes from the fireplace. “And what contacts, pray tell, does an old witch like me have that the smartest witch of her age can’t get her hands on?”

“Muggle ones.” Hermione smirked. “I need these blood samples tested and analyzed. Today.”

“Well you’ve got me interested that’s for sure, my girl. Whole works?”

“Yes. Complete drug panel.” Hermione waved her fingers in an upwards, flowing motion and levitated two glass potion vials into the fireplace for Agnes to receive on the other end of the floo.

“You sound serious.” Agnes commented. “What trouble have you gotten yourself into now?” For all her bluster Agnes did sound concerned.

“Honestly, I’m not sure yet. All we know is that someone is experimenting with a potion illegally and testing it on the general public with devastating consequences.”

“Oh Merlin’s bloody bollocks. Why can’t people leave this shite to the professionals?”

Hermione sighed. “If their intention is chaos and harm then…” The Brazilian witch felt pierced by her mentor’s mismatched eyes.

“Be careful, my girl. Dangerous tidings that is.”

“I know.”

“I’ll get the samples down to the muggle lab today and get a rush on it. Magical rush if need be. Do you have any other information? I assume you’ve done a cataloguing?”

“Of course. The only ingredients we know for sure so far are rose, moondew, fluxweed, octopus…” she hesitated for a moment and Agnes widened her eyes.

“What girl, spit it out.”

“Belladonna, bicorn and griffin.”

Hermione kept her eyes on her mentor but she noticed Harry watching their faces closely.

“What?” He finally asked. “What have we missed?”

“Hermione.” Agnes used her given name for the first time. “You can’t be thinking about-”

“I’m not.”

“Because you can’t-”

“I’m not going to.”

“Especially not there-”

“I won’t.”

“Hermione.” Harry interrupted again. “Please?”

Hermione didn’t speak so Agnes coughed more ash and explained for her. “Your wanker, the one responsible for this cock-up, is either a complete idiot, a mad genius, or suicidal. Those potion ingredients are a deadly, extremely volatile combination that would surely lead to disastrous effects.”

“We know the potion is deadly.” Harry’s face was puzzled.

“She doesn’t mean for the victim.” Hermione explained. “She means for the potioneer. It’s a miracle they’ve survived playing around with these ingredients together. Belladonna and bicorn when mixed together with any of two dozen common ingredients causes a noxious fume that would cause death within minutes of being inhaled. Bicorn and griffin together alone are extremely combustible. With any other type of burning or caustic agent in the potion it would have exploded their entire lab.”

Agnes snorted. “Mixed with the right caustic agent they could have leveled their house, not just their lab. Hell, a city block even.”

“Merlin’s beard.” Harry breathed out and looked even more stressed. “So they’re crazy.”

Hermione shrugged. “Or a genius. Or possibly even just unaware and very very lucky. Either way, it makes trying to recreate the potion very difficult. I couldn’t do it here, for instance. Far too many variables including the actual magic of the castle. You wouldn’t know how anything would react.”

“What’s the plan then?” Harry wondered.

“I have someone in mind. A specialist at this sort of thing.” Hermione admitted. “I’ll write to them immediately.”

Harry resumed his pacing. “Who is it? Someone whose job is actually testing dangerous potions? Mione, anyone could be a possible suspect.”

“I’m quite certain Davi is not our culprit. He worked in the same research building as me back home in Brazil. He and his sister Yara are experts in dangerous experimentation.” A memory floated to the surface and Hermione gave a slight smile. “Actually, the last I heard from him was a letter apologizing for an explosion that had rocked our building and possibly disrupted our work. I got it the same day as I got Minerva’s letter about the Transfiguration post.”

Harry seemed to think this through. “If you trust them, I trust your judgement. And nothing has happened outside of Britain and Ireland.”

“I do. And between the two of them they have the experience and the expertise to try and recreate the potions effects without harming themselves or any others. I know Davi, he’ll want to help. And Yara will want the challenge.”

“It’s a plan then.” Harry nodded.

“Right on then.” Agnes broke in from her position in the fireplace. “I’ll get the results to you as soon as I can, my girl.”

“Thank you for your help, Mistress.” Hermione said warmly.

With a cheerful wink of her green eye Agnes disappeared from the floo.

“Okay.” Hermione took up Harry’s place pacing. “We’ll have the magical potion ingredients being experimented with and soon we’ll know the muggle drug. Depending on what it is we can try and track that down as well.”

“’arry, you should look into any suspicious or unexplained magical explosions or deaths from toxic fumes.” Fleur spoke up from where she’d been quietly listening and stroking Oz’s feathers. “Perhaps the culprit did ‘ave some sort of accident and they explained it away or ‘ad an excuse.”

Hermione snapped her fingers in Fleur’s direction and smiled widely. “That is brilliant. Harry you should contact Healer Grant at Mungos as well. He’s capable and knowledgeable on the case. He can look up the records of those who came in with potion injuries of this nature.” He didn’t answer and Hermione turned to face him. “Harry?”

“It’s a good idea.”

The younger witch’s eyes narrowed at the sound of his hollow voice. “Fleur.” She practically whispered. The silver haired witch stood instantly.

“I’ll give you two a moment.” Fleur whispered back. She leaned in and pressed a kiss against Hermione’s cheek and her eyes closed lightly at the sweet contact. Oz refused to leave and took off from Fleur’s shoulder as she walked for the exit back into Hermione’s office. The hawk flew for his perch and took up his watchful position.

“Harry-”

“I should have known!” Harry spun on her and Oz cawed sharply in warning. “I should have done something! People, God, people have died Hermione! People have died, people have been rotting in Azkaban who didn’t deserve to be there! Someone is out doing dangerous experiments, intending to hurt people and cause chaos and they don’t care what happens to everyone else, or themselves apparently! I just,” his entire facial expression crumpled and he looked close to tears, “I should have done something.”

Hermione faced him directly. “And here I thought you had gotten over your God complex and your saving people thing.” Her words were not harsh but they were blunt.

“What?” Harry gaped at her. “How can you, how can you say that?”

“The same way I said it the last time I said it.” Hermione stepped closer and took his hand in both of hers even though he’d gone stiff. “You are the bravest person I know, Harry Potter. You are brave, and courageous, and fearless and so gallant. You don’t have a selfish bone in your entire body. In a different time you’d have been a knight of the highest order. Your moral compass is without fault, your compassion and your empathy make you truly one of the best human beings I’ve ever known.” She made sure his green eyes hadn’t wavered from her. “You are also rash. So impatient.” Hermione playfully scoffed. “You are take charge and a natural born leader but also a hair self-righteous. You want to fix everything and everyone and you think you’re a little omnipotent.”

Harry had to chuckle. “I’m no longer sure if I’m being complimented or insulted.”

“Never insulted.” Hermione squeezed his hand. “All of those qualities make up someone that I love and adore. Who is an amazing auror but so much more importantly an amazing husband and father. An amazing brother and friend. But these shoulders,” she released his hand to grip him and shake him, “don’t hold up the world, Harry.”

“I just think-”

“No. Fate may have dealt you a hand but those times are over. You may have had an argument against this, once. Maybe. You did have a job to do and your selflessness preformed it admirably. But even then, not everything is your fault, your job, your responsibility Harry. You are not responsible for every action and everything that occurs in this castle, this community, this country. That is more weight than you can bare, and no one is asking you to bare it but you.” When green eyes welled slightly with tears Hermione’s own mimicked them.

“You noticed. The cases. You noticed.” Harry whispered. “What no one else could notice, you did.”

Her hands moved from gripping his shoulders to gently wiping away his tears. His own slightly callused fingers rose to softly touch her own cheeks. “Then that’s my job. I make the connections. It’s your job to help find the person responsible. We all have a part to play and that’s all we can do. You couldn’t have done anything else. Not stopped this before it started. Not known what no other could have known. You’re just a man, Harry. An incredible, remarkable man, but just a man.”

Harry smiled through his tears. “Actually, I’m a wizard.”

She chuckled and poked him in the forehead. “Yes, you’re a wizard Harry. Now let go of the guilt you don’t have to carry, and focus on now completing your part.”

“Right.”

“Right?”

Hermione “oomfed” as strong arms suddenly wrapped around her and pulled her in impossibly close.

“I got it, Mione.”

“Good.” She whispered into his chest.

“What would I do without you? What did I ever do without you?”

Hermione bit back a sob through sheer force of will. “You’ll never have to find out again. I promise.” She pulled back slightly so she could meet his face. “Now, while we’re just waiting on results I want you to go home. I want you to see your wife and spend some time with my fabulous nephews. I want you to get some rest and tell Ginny how you’ve been feeling.” Harry made a face and Hermione kept her look stern. “I’m serious. Then get some more rest and wake up ready to solve this thing.”

He pulled her in again though his arms were gentle and a little less desperate. “I love you, sis.”

A piece of Hermione’s heart swelled with warmth and love and she mentally stored away the moment for the next time she needed a patronus. “I love you too, brother.”

Chapter Text

For the first time since coming to Hogwarts, Jordan Appleby was having extreme difficulty paying attention in one of Professor Granger’s classes. Other classes sure; History of Magic was dreadfully boring and, while he hadn’t actually nodded off quite yet, Kian could not claim the same thing. Sometimes in Potions there was a lot of standing around your cauldron and stirring things but usually Ella was at his side and Professor Slughorn didn’t mind if you chatted while you brewed.

Professor Granger’s classes were always the best though. And he felt an even more overwhelming urge to do well in her class because she was the Head of his House and he wanted to make her proud.

But today was finally Halloween and the feast tonight had been the talk of the castle all week. He was in an actual magical castle filled with ghosts on Halloween! Jordan was practically squirming in his seat in excitement to go down to the Great Hall and see the decorations and the show the ghosts were rumoured to put on.

A loud caw from the back of the room startled him, and half the class apparently, and Professor Granger chuckled from where she stood at the front of the room beside the chalkboard. “Apparently Oz knows when I’m not being listened to as well.” Jordan guiltily caught Ella’s eye and she shifted in her chair as well. “You’d think tonight was a special night or something.” Granger joked and a few students shared glances.

“Um, Professor?”

She turned her gaze to Anthony, and even Jordan wondered what the Hufflepuff boy would say. “Yes, Mr. Eakins?”

“You do know it’s Halloween tonight, right?”

Almost everybody laughed and even Granger smiled. “I do know that, thank you.” She glanced at the clock on the wall and then waved her hand; the chalkboard wiped itself clear. Without using her hands she hopped up so she was sitting on her desk. “You guys want to know something? Halloween and I don’t have the greatest history in this castle.”

Jordan was one of about twelve students who couldn’t help but call out and ask what had happened to her on Halloween.

“Well,” she smirked widely, “on my first ever Halloween in the castle I was attacked by an honest to Merlin mountain troll.” She waved her fingers and then clenched them into a fist and Regan, sitting beside Kian, shrieked and startled them again. Her textbook, which had been laying closed on her desk, had been transfigured into a miniature troll that stood only half a foot high. “And my second Halloween here I missed the feast completely because I was trapped at a Deathday Party. A whole freezing cold dungeon room full of ghosts and rotting food.” Both her hands swirled this time and several other objects, Jordan’s quill, Caity Asselstine’s inkwell, a Hufflepuff boy’s hat, were all transfigured into miniature ghosts that started floating about the room. “My third year on Halloween at least I made it to the feast, but when we tried to leave the Great Hall we found out that the Fat Lady had been attacked and the entire school went into lockdown and we were stuck sleeping in the Great Hall.” Several students gasped at the thought of an intruder in the castle but Professor Granger for some reason seemed amused by the memory. With another swirl of her hands over a dozen things, books and bits of parchments and the like, transfigured into squishy purple sleeping bags that moved about on the student’s desks like caterpillars. “My fourth year was…” Granger was seemingly overcome again with a smile and she needed to a second to continue, “Halloween my fourth year was when I found out my best friend was in grave peril. That somewhat killed the mood.” A snap of her fingers and students without things walking around on their desks suddenly had their possessions turned into spots of blue fire that were emitting sparks. “Anyway, needless to say I’m always a little wary about this castle and Halloween. But,” she gestured to the assortment of things now decorating the room, “it definitely makes for a good story, doesn’t it?” She garnered some laughs and she remained perched on top of her desk. “Now, which of those transfigurations do you think was the hardest?”

Kian actually laughed. “All of them? Because you used no wand and no spell.”

Granger grinned. “Well, I did use a spell, I just didn’t use it verbally. And that’s why I did it, so you guys could g