In the days following their encounter with The Dark Lady, it was all Harry and Ron could talk about. The Order all believed them about what had happened, and had been eager to inform them that Narcissa had visited the hospital later that same day and was treated for a burn on her arm. That seemed to be the proof the Order were after and discussions started taking place as to when they should make her identity public.
Hermione had worried that they would act immediately and she would have to make another appearance as The Dark Lady before leaving school, but they decided to wait in hopes of finding the perfect time to blow her identity. Hermione knew the Order would likely announce that The Dark Lady was Narcissa sometime after she made her presence felt in the wizarding world and she couldn't wait to see them embarrassed by their mistake.
Hermione was relieved by the Order's decision, but she also knew that if they had decided to act straight away she would only have herself to blame. She'd acted rashly going after Harry and Ron, and she was lucky the entire thing hadn't totally backfired on her. In the future she vowed to try and control her emotions where Draco was concerned, and not rush in. No doubt the Order would still look at Draco as her weak point even after they discovered that she wasn't Narcissa, and Hermione knew she would have to be more cautious in the future. Rushing in a second time would only lead to trouble.
Once the Order had made the decision to wait to expose Narcissa as The Dark Lady, Harry and Ron turned their attention to their exams. That was until Lucius made headlines with the first of his new changes as Minister of Magic. After building up a support staff, that included Percy much to Ron's dismay and disgust, he started by announcing the changes in the Ministry's staffing policies. While Harry and Ron had read about the changes neither boy seemed to realise they would put an end to their ambitions to become Aurors. The pair still continued to ramble on about when they became Aurors and Hermione didn't bother to correct them, they would have their hopes crushed soon enough.
Shortly after, Lucius announced changes to muggleborn rights, setting up a registration for all muggleborns so the Ministry could measure their worth to society. Using the stats Hermione had asked for at the beginning of the year, Lucius argued that muggleborns weren't worth the money the government spent on their education and not enough of them contributed to the wizarding society once they left Hogwarts.
While Harry and Ron scoffed at Lucius's arguments, Hermione noticed a few people seemed to be in agreement with him. Even Lavender admitted her father often said the same thing and he was always saying that the Ministry wasted thousands of galleons by educating muggleborns. Yet again Ron was unimpressed with his girlfriend, creating an even wider chasm in their already fractured relationship.
Lucius's other big announcement was the overhauling of the education system, although he did admit it would be a slow and steady process that would last all summer. Ginny in particular was worried about what that would mean for her as she still had a year left to go at Hogwarts. And her worries weren't exactly eased any when Snape was appointed Headmaster on a permanent basis, while the announcement a new Potions Professor would be hired over the summer was made at the same time.
Snape's appointment as Headmaster and rumours about what would happen with the school were all anyone could talk about, and that was the main topic of conversation when McGonagall surprisingly paid a visit to Gryffindor Tower one Sunday afternoon towards the back end of term. After gathering everyone in the common room, McGonagall announced that all muggleborn students were to congregate in the Great Hall in half an hour.
"What do you think is going on?" Harry asked, once McGonagall had left.
"I guess I'll find out in half an hour." Hermione shrugged.
"We'll come with you." Ron told his friend. "We can see what's going on."
Hermione doubted if Harry and Ron would be allowed in the Great Hall, but she wasn't going to argue with them. If they wanted to walk all the way down to the ground floor only to be turned away, that was their business. Sure enough when they reached the Great Hall, Snape was standing in the doorway and he looked less than impressed to see Harry and Ron.
"I don't recall either of you two being muggleborns." He drawled.
"We're here to support Hermione." Harry replied.
"Miss Granger is a big girl, I'm sure she can manage to walk into the Great Hall and sit down without you two holding her hand." Snape replied.
"But…" Ron began, before been cut off by Snape.
"But nothing, your presence here is not required. Now go away before I start docking house points. I'm sure after all the trouble the pair of you have caused this year you don't also want to be responsible for Gryffindor finishing last in the house cup."
Harry and Ron looked unimpressed with their dismissal, but had no choice but to do as Snape told them. After telling Hermione they would meet her down beside the Black Lake, the duo sloped off outside while Hermione entered the Great Hall and took her seat.
The meeting was exactly what Hermione had been expecting and once it was over she left the school to find Harry and Ron. As they said they were waiting for her beside the Lake and they'd been joined by Lavender and Ginny. The second they saw her approaching she was bombarded with questions by the pair.
"Will you two stop it and let Hermione sit down." Ginny scolded the boys before turning to Hermione with a frustrated smile. "Sorry Hermione, you know what they're like."
"Yeah, I do." Hermione replied as she settled down onto the grass beside the Black Lake.
"So, what happened?" Harry asked.
"Basically Snape was explaining the new laws regarding muggleborns." Hermione answered. "All the seventh years were given a form to fill in and return to the Ministry. The form is to register you on this new muggleborn initiative and you've got a month after school ends to file it."
"What happens if you haven't done it by then?" Ron asked.
"The same as what happens to every muggleborn that doesn't register with the Ministry, someone visits you and if you still don't agree to sign up they snap your wand and you're put on a blacklist so you can't return to the wizarding world." Hermione replied. "Of course, you can leave the country if you don't want to register and aren't prepared to abandon your magic."
"Are you going to register?" Ginny asked quietly.
"I don't know." Hermione sighed. "I hate the idea of having to register to practice magic. To be honest, I'm more likely to either give it up and remain in the muggle world or leave altogether."
"Leave." Ron gasped in horror. "Where would you go?"
"My parents are emigrating, I could join them." Hermione answered.
"What?" Harry cried. "Why didn't we know your parents are emigrating?"
"Because it's never really been an issue. It's something they've been talking about for the last few years and they've only hung around so long so I could finish school." Hermione said. "It wasn't as if I planned on going with them, so I never mentioned it. Now however moving with them is starting to look very tempting."
"Where are they going?" Ginny asked as Harry and Ron just stared at Hermione in shock.
"America." Hermione answered.
"Would you really go and leave us?" Ron asked quietly.
"It's not about leaving you, Ron, it's about doing what's best for me." Hermione replied. "And going with my parents could be my best option. But I've got time to think about it, so we don't need to start worrying about saying goodbye just yet."
Both Harry and Ron looked dejected by the news and Hermione got the impression they were taking the news of her potentially leaving personally. However, Lavender and Ginny seemed to be taking her news more in their stride and Hermione knew that they would understand she was talking about doing what was best for her, if of course she had been a muggleborn and she really had been expected to sign up to the new muggleborn registration.
"So what happened with the rest of the muggleborns?" Lavender asked. "Surely people not ready to leave school wouldn't be expected to sign up on the register."
"No, they were all given bills to cover their next year of schooling." Hermione said. "From next year muggleborns don't get a free education. No more will be admitted and those already in the system can continue their education, as long as they're willing to pay."
"They can't do that." Ron protested. "It's not fair."
"Fair or not, it's the new law." Hermione replied.
"Actually, it might not be too bad an idea." Lavender said warily, watching Ron out of the corner of her eye.
"What do you mean, not too bad of an idea?" Ron exploded. "It's a terrible idea."
"Do you have any idea how much it costs to run Hogwarts?" Lavender questioned her boyfriend.
"No, and neither do you." Ron retorted.
"Okay, so I don't know exactly, but I do know it's not cheap." Lavender replied. "The school houses and feeds hundreds of students and a pile of staff, not to mention the wages for the staff and the cost of equipment and supplies. Muggleborns get the same education as wizarding children and only a percentage of them remain in the wizarding world. I know from listening to my father that after seven years a lot of muggleborns decide they're not cut out for living in the wizarding world full time and end up getting jobs in the muggle world."
"What does that have to do with charging them to attend Hogwarts?" Ron asked with a frown. "Surely it's up to them where they live their life after school."
"It is, but with the money spent on educating them a lot of people feel they owe something to the wizarding world in return, and a lot of muggleborns just don't contribute much after leaving school." Lavender replied.
"That actually makes sense." Ginny said quietly. "I mean I don't agree with charging people to attend Hogwarts, but I can see it's a valid point."
"Ginny, how can you say that?" Harry looked at his girlfriend in outrage. "One of our best friends is a muggleborn."
"I wasn't talking about Hermione." Ginny argued. "You understood that, didn't you?" She asked her friend.
"Yeah, I understood." Hermione nodded. "And I'm not in the slightest bit offended. I know that you all know if I chose to stay in the wizarding world that I'll be making a contribution to society."
"But you're not going to, are you?" Harry asked sadly. "You're going to leave."
"I haven't decided yet, Harry." Hermione replied.
"You will let us know when you do decide, won't you?" Ginny asked.
Hermione nodded. "I'll make sure you know what I'm doing."
"And even if you do leave, it's not as if we can't all stay friends." Lavender said, trying to brighten the mood. "We can travel to see you and you can write."
"Exactly. It's not as if I'm going to just disappear without a trace." Hermione replied, even though she was planning on doing just that.
Depending on what mood she was in after leaving school she might send Harry and Ron an owl, but more than likely once she left them in London she wouldn't look back. To be honest a clean break was probably the best way to go about things. She could concentrate on what she wanted to achieve, while hopefully Harry and Ron could get on with their own lives.
"Okay, this is getting too depressing." Ginny said. "Let's not worry about the Ministry or what happens after school's finished. We've still got another month at Hogwarts, and I say we make the most of that time."
"I agree." Lavender said with a nod. "Let's just enjoy our last few weeks of being carefree teenagers."
"I'm not sure I've ever been a carefree teenager." Harry said thoughtfully.
"Well you can start now." Ginny grinned at her boyfriend.
"Actually, shouldn't we wait until after final exams before we get carried away?" Hermione butted in. "Harry and Ron don't finish their exams until the middle of the week and Lavender and I have exams up until the end of the week after."
"Hermione's right." Harry sighed. "We need to concentrate on our exams. We need the best results possible to get into Auror training."
Yet again Hermione was taken aback by how dense Harry and Ron were being. Despite moaning about the new laws within the Ministry, they still hadn't picked up on what it would mean for them. Ron had been more concerned with how the changes would affect his father, until he'd written home and Molly had written back to tell him that Arthur was still Head of his Department and Lucius was actually looking to extend it.
With the thought of looming exams, the group headed back to the castle. Once exams were over they would relax and have some fun, before venturing out into the world. However, apart from Hermione none of them knew what the future would hold for them. Ginny still had another year before leaving school, Lavender wasn't quite sure what she wanted to do and Harry and Ron were still in their Auror bubble. Hermione meanwhile was planning on spending her summer putting her new business into gear, before making a big splash in the wizarding world. The Dark Lady was about to make her mark, and woe betide anyone who stood in her way and denied her the power she craved.
To Be Continued.
A/N – Well we've hit the final chapter of The Dark Lady Rules. I want to thank everyone who favourited/followed/reviewed this story. I appreciate all the wonderful support I receive.
The third part, The Dark Lady Reigns, will start on Monday.