Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or any of the characters in the Harry Potter books or movies.

Author's Notes: This story is set in an Alternate Universe. A number of canon events didn't or won't happen. The society of Wizarding Britain is a bit different and a number of characters will act differently as well.

Many thanks to thekingofsweden1, rpeh, brianna-xox, fredfred and Otium for betaing. They improved the story a lot.

Chapter 1: Descent into Darkness

'At the time of the Dark Lord's return, Wizarding Britain had been at peace for over a decade. Long enough to recover from the last war, but not long enough to be ready for another. Most of the Hit-Wizards who had borne the brunt of the fighting in the Blood War had been released from service long ago. The Auror Corps had been deemed more than sufficient to guarantee the security of the country, and the gold so saved had been needed for rebuilding. The people had barely recovered from the ravages of that terrible war, and found the prospect of another war to be intolerable. In short, the British Ministry of Magic had neither the means, nor the popular support to wage war on the Dark Lord.'

- Excerpt from 'Wizarding Britain in the 20th Century' by Albert Runcorn

London, Ministry of Magic, June 26th, 1995

"Cornelius, you know that Voldemort is back. You have seen Harry Potter's memories yourself. You need to act, now. Before he builds up his forces."

Albus Dumbledore spoke calmly, but the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot was anything but calm. The Dark Lord had returned from death. He had already recalled his inner circle, and the means he had used to resurrect himself might even have rendered Harry's blood protection powerless.

"And what would you have me do, Albus? Send the Aurors to war?" Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic, scoffed. "They're not trained for war. Half of them are still children!"

Albus didn't point out that the hiring practises of the Ministry had ensured that the Aurors were not what they could be, to put it mildly. It wouldn't do to antagonise the Minister at this critical moment.

"If you're not doing anything, then Voldemort will just grow more powerful," the old wizard said, ignoring how the minister cringed at hearing the name.

"I will not plunge Britain into a war if it can be avoided! He just returned from death. He might have changed while he was… dead. His former sympathisers and the victims of his Imperius Curses have been integrated into society for over a decade, after all," Cornelius said. "They're not ready for a war."

"That is exactly why we need to strike now, while he and his followers are still weak," Albus retorted.

Cornelius shook his head. "We cannot afford to push all those suspected supporters into his camp with such harsh and rash action. The public won't support a war either."

"Amelia is certain that the balance of power favours the Ministry." Albus had already spoken with the formidable head of the DMLE.

"Amelia lost her entire family but for her niece to the last war. Of course she will want revenge, no matter the cost to Britain!" The Minister stood up and started to pace behind his desk.

Albus narrowed his eyes. Cornelius was a good politician, but he was not usually that stubborn. Not unless… "You've spoken with Lucius, haven't you?"

The other wizard looked startled, then set his jaw. "Yes. And he told me that the Dark Lord does not wish a war either. If we adjust our policies a little, an accommodation can be reached."

"Lucius is a Death Eater. Of course he would claim this. He is manipulating you." Albus rued the fact that he had allowed that man to grow so close to the Minister. But the only way to prevent that would have been… He had vowed not to give in to that temptation after Gellert.

"He was a victim of the Imperius." Cornelius stood, facing Albus. "But even if he is… we cannot afford a war. Not right now. And neither can You-Know-Who. That means diplomacy is our best option. Compromise. We need to give peace a chance."

Albus could almost hear Lucius talking when he listened to the Minister. "Do you honestly believe that Voldemort wants peace?" he asked, incredulously.

"Didn't you tell me once that everyone deserved a second chance?"

Albus's long experience in politics allowed him to keep smiling politely. "I did. But I do not think that this is applicable when we are talking about Voldemort."

Cornelius snorted. "I've spoken with several Wizengamot members who share my view. My decision stands. We'll offer You-Know-Who … appeasement. A few concessions are a small price to pay, if we can avoid another terrible war."

Albus realised that the Minister wouldn't be budged from his - or rather, Malfoy's - decision. He would have to talk to the Wizengamot, but he was not optimistic. Cornelius was correct in that most of its members did not want a war.

"I believe this is a mistake. A mistake that will come to cost us dearly, in the future."

With those parting words, the Chief Warlock left the office of the Minister for Magic.

London, Kingston upon Thames, August 15th, 1995

Hermione Granger, sitting in her room at home, read her Hogwarts letter again. There was the usual booklist as well as the announcement of a new subject for all years, 'Wizarding Customs'. That sounded very interesting. There was nothing else, though. The young witch didn't consider herself presumptuous, but she had expected to be chosen as the female prefect for Gryffindor for their fifth year. Who else in her year was as smart, or rather, as academically inclined? Who else was as responsible? Certainly not Parvati or Lavender! And the other two girls in their year, Fay and Sally-Anne, were too shy to be prefects.

She bit her lower lip. Maybe… maybe the Headmaster didn't trust her to uphold the rules, given how often she and her friends had broken them in the past. For a good reason, of course, but still. If everyone followed their example, and with less urgent reasons…

She took a deep breath, fighting her disappointment down. If that was the reason, then so be it. She had done what she had thought was needed, and she would do so again. Not being named prefect was a small price to do what was right.

Besides, you did not have to be a prefect to become Head Girl. James Potter had never been a prefect, and he had been Head Boy. She nodded to herself. She would also have more time to study, without the responsibilities of being a prefect.

Her reasoning helped, but she felt down for the rest of the day anyway. She had hoped that the Hogwarts letter would cheer her up, after reading the latest Daily Prophet. The Ministry kept telling people that the situation with Voldemort was 'under control', but she had not seen anything about any action taken against the monster who had had Cedric Diggory murdered and had tortured and almost murdered Harry! Just a number of new laws and decrees being passed - apparently, the hiring standards at the Ministry were being raised, among several decrees concerning professional standards for current employees.

She had written to both Harry and Ron, but neither had been able to tell her what was going on at the Ministry. Apart from Sirius having been exonerated. Next to having had Kingsley Shacklebolt, an experienced Auror, appointed as Defence teacher, that had been the only good news she had heard lately. But she'd soon join her friends at Sirius's house. She'd get more information once she was there.

London, No 12 Grimmauld Place, August 21st, 1995


Hermione Granger had barely stepped through the door of the house when she was swept up in a hug by her friend, Harry Potter.

"Hello, Harry," she managed to get out, surprised and pleased by his greeting - obviously, Sirius becoming a free man again and Harry living with his godfather had been a very good thing for her friend.

He had barely released her before she was engulfed in a hug again, and lifted off the ground.

"Hello, Hermione!" he said, close enough for his breath to tickle her ear.

"Hello, Ron."

Her other best friend even twirled her around before setting her down again, despite her giggling protests. It felt good to be back with them.

"Welcome to my humble abode," Sirius Black said, bowing with a flourish.

Hermione looked him over. For a former fugitive from the law, he looked good. Still more than a bit haggard, but he was wearing expensive-looking robes, and a grin she hadn't seen often on his face. Not that she had met him often.

"Kreacher! Take our guest's luggage to her room!" Sirius bellowed. A grumbling house elf appeared at once, and started to take her trunk away. She thought she heard him mumble 'mudblood', but she wasn't certain.

A short tour of the house later - or of the rooms already cleared of cursed objects, traps, and magical pests - she found herself alone with Harry and Ron in her guest room. "So, what have you been up to?" she asked while taking out her clothes and storing them in the armoire.

"I've been helping Sirius adjust to living as a free wizard again," Harry answered, with a smile. She knew he'd not talk about his relatives much, so she didn't ask what he had been doing before that.

Ron shrugged. "Same old same old at home. Doing chores, flying… I've been visiting Harry as often as I could, as soon as their Floo connection was set up."

"And we've been visiting the Burrow as well," Harry added.

For a moment, Hermione felt jealous, though she had known that from their letters already. She suppressed that emotion by reminding herself of her vacation in France. "You wrote about that already." She folded her arms across her chest and looked at the two boys. "So, what's going on at the Ministry? About Voldemort?"

Ron flinched at hearing the name, which was expected. Harry winced, which was not a good sign. The two exchanged a glance, which was a worse sign. She gave them her best glare. "Spill it!"

"Appeasement," Harry spat out.


"They're trying to avoid a war, and are trying to appease him," Harry explained.

Ron nodded. "A number of 'controversial' decrees and bills have been repealed. Dad's been livid since his Muggle Protection Act was among them. The Minister said that it was 'needlessly provocative'."

Hermione gasped. "What? Are they crazy?"

Ron shrugged. "Hard to say. Dad said that the Ministry's been hiring more Aurors, but they've also been firing Aurors and other employees. Some for violating new standards of conduct. Dad's been warned off from making waves, he said, by Dumbledore."

"What is Dumbledore doing, anyway?" Hermione asked.

Harry frowned. "I don't know. He's gathered his 'Order of the Phoenix', but that's all I know. Not even Sirius is telling me anything.

Ron nodded. "My parents too, but you know Mum - she won't let us get involved."

Hermione felt relieved that at least the Headmaster was doing something against Voldemort. She sat down on her bed. "Have you bought your textbooks yet?"

"All but the one for Wizarding Customs," Harry answered.

"The Defence teacher is a brave wizard. With the curse on the position, and You-Know-Who's return… not many would risk teaching Defence." Ron shuddered.

"I've seen the note that the book for the new subject will be chosen later," Hermione said.

"Sounds like they haven't decided yet what will be taught," Ron said.

"That would be extremely unprofessional." She frowned.

"I've a brochure though, with some basic outlines," her friend said.

"What? Where did you get it?" Hermione stood up. Why had Ron received that, and she hadn't?

"It came with my badge. Apparently, prefects are supposed to uphold proper etiquette as well as the school rules," Ron said.

"You're a prefect?" Hermione blurted out before she could help it. She hadn't wanted to touch that topic yet; it was still a sore subject for her, but now…

He nodded, frowning. "Yes."

"I'm sorry," Hermione hastened to say, "I was just surprised."

"You haven't heard then," Harry said.

"Heard what?" she snapped. It was so frustrating, having to pull out every little scrap of information from her friends!

"They passed a new educational decree, making prefect a pureblood-only position," Ron said. "Do you think I would have been made prefect otherwise, with Harry in our year?" He scowled. "And Percy said that the only reason I was chosen as a prefect instead of Neville was that Dumbledore wanted to show his displeasure with the new decree!"

Hermione knew that this was unfair, and that she needed to apologise, but all she could focus on right then was that limiting prefects to pureblood was a really, really bad sign.

For the first time in her life, she started to feel uneasy about returning to school.

London, King's Cross Railway Station, September 1st, 1995

For the first time in his life, Harry Potter had mixed feelings about returning to Hogwarts. The school still was the first place he had felt at home, but he had a real home now. And a real family. His godfather, Sirius, didn't have to hide from the law any more, and had become his guardian.

"Come on, Harry, we're going to be too late to get a good compartment!" Ron shouted, pushing his trolley faster.

"And whose fault is that?" Hermione asked, frowning. Their friend had tried to get everyone ready to go at ten o'clock, together with Molly Weasley, but without success.

"It's always Sirius's fault, of course!" his best friend yelled over his shoulder, laughing. Harry blamed the twins, personally. They were still unloading their trunks from the car, under the watchful eyes of their parents. Since Ginny's trunk was stashed behind theirs, the youngest Weasley would be the last.

"Hey!" Harry's godfather protested, but he was grinning.

Harry would miss him at Hogwarts. He had spent the last months with Sirius in Grimmauld Place, getting spoiled rotten, if he was honest. But then, both Harry and Sirius had earned it, in his opinion. Sirius had spent twelve years in Azkaban, and Harry … he didn't want to think about his time with the Dursleys. Hopefully, the two weeks he had lived with them this summer, until Sirius had been exonerated, would be the last time he had to see them.

The three entered Platform 9 ¾, which was filled with wizards and witches seeing their children off. Contrary to other years, there were more Aurors around, though - a reminder of Voldemort's return. Like the Order members that had been following them discreetly.

Harry sighed. At least, he told himself, Sirius would be happy that he was safely at Hogwarts for the rest of the year. His godfather had said that often enough so Sirius might even believe it himself, he hoped.

Hogwarts Express, September 1st, 1995

Ron Weasley shook his head at the article he was reading. The Quibbler was as crazy as his mum had told him. 'Wrackspurt infection in the Wizengamot' - how did anyone come up with this? He chuckled.

"What's so funny?" Hermione asked, looking up from the book she was reading - 'The Wizard's Book to Etiquette', he believed. It had to be better than 'Etiquette for Witches', Ron thought. When Hermione had been reading that tome at Grimmauld Place, she had exclaimed and even cursed regularly, and she had been in such a bad mood, even his mum had stepped lightly around her.

He held up The Quibbler. "A magazine published by our neighbour, Xenophilius Lovegood. His daughter is in Ginny's year, Ravenclaw. It's full of articles about animals no one knows. Lovegood claims they haven't been discovered or captured yet, but Mum says they're all made up. Here, he claims that 'Wrackspurts' have infected the Wizengamot, causing all the new legislation to be warped." Ron chuckled.

Hermione didn't seem to see the humour. She frowned, even sneered. "That would be preferable to the Ministry becoming infected with Voldemort's ideology."

Ron shuddered at the name. He tried not to, but old habits died slowly, or so the saying went. He wished Hermione wouldn't be so bitter. He understood that she was disappointed that she hadn't been chosen as a prefect, but it wasn't the end of the world. Dumbledore would take care of it. Just as he had taken care of Sirius's Kiss on Sight order.

Hogwarts, September 1st, 1995

"And I remind everyone among us that no matter our origin, we are wizards and witches first and foremost."

Albus Dumbledore let his gaze wander over the Great Hall. Some students smiled at him, some avoided looking at him, some sneered, like Mister Malfoy. And, sadly, a lot of the Slytherins. He had expected that. Many of their parents were, if not outright supporters of Voldemort, then conservative enough to take offence at anyone questioning the status quo, as most muggleborns were wont to. And that stance was not limited to the parents of House Slytherin.

The appeasement campaign the Ministry was leading was not helping, of course. Albus was working against it, but he had to step lightly - Voldemort's return from death had shaken Britain to its core. Tom's supporters were exploiting that, asking, in confidence and even openly, if the old Headmaster was strong enough to defeat an immortal Dark Lord. Words alone were not enough to counter this, Albus knew. Not with the lingering resentment in some influential circles about the egalitarian policies he had championed since Grindelwald's defeat. If they were at war, it would be different, he knew that. But with the Dark Lord hiding, and his mouthpieces and followers claiming they didn't want a war, there was not much the Headmaster could do to strengthen the backbone of those wizards and witches who were still opposing Voldemort's poison.

He couldn't even do as much as he wanted in his own school. Severus's cover depended on him appearing both useful and loyal to the Dark Lord. If Albus forced him to deal with the spreading bigotry in his house - a problem he had left fester far too long, the Headmaster knew - then that would throw doubts on Severus's ability to spy on Albus. But even if Severus was not hampered by his mission, there was another obstacle.

He glanced at the new teacher the Ministry had sent to him. 'The only one qualified to teach', Cornelius had claimed. It was even true - Dolores Umbridge had written the bill instating the new subject herself, and made certain that she was the only one qualified to teach it. He knew, of course, what her real goal was: Ensure that Hogwarts fell in line with the Ministry's policy of appeasement. He still had influence and friends in the Ministry. He did not know how exactly she was planning to do this, though. But he'd find out soon.

Hogwarts, September 4th, 1995

"Hello Students, welcome to Wizarding Customs."

The new course was taught by Dolores Umbridge, a witch in pink robes. Ron had told Hermione Granger that she was the Undersecretary of the Minister for Magic, and supposedly was teaching the course for a year to show how important it was. She also was said to be behind a lot of the changes to the Ministry's laws and decrees.

"We will be learning about our most valued traditions here. Most of you will have been taught about those already by your families, but there are always a few families who fail to teach their children good manners. And of course there are those among us who come from muggle families, and never had any chance to learn how to act in proper society. This course will remedy that - but only to a point. The ministry is well aware that to truly understand our traditions, you have to grow up in a proper family, but we'll do our best to teach you the basics."

Hermione raised her hand.

"Yes, Miss…" Umbridge trailed off.

"Granger, Professor," Hermione answered. She thought she saw a hint of distaste flicker over the woman's face, but the professor was quickly smiling, if a bit condescendingly.

"What is your question? Am I talking too quickly?"

A few of the Slytherins laughed. Hermione ignored them, with a bit of an effort. "Will the testing be taking those course aims you just stated into account?"

"Don't worry, you won't fail the exam if you study diligently and apply yourself."

Hermione heard more laughter from the Slytherins, and had to bite back a comment.

"Of course, for those from proper families, this should be an easy exam," the professor continued. "Now, open your books at page two, and start reading."

Hermione had read the textbook already. It wasn't written terribly well, but it was easy to read - even though the examples used every other page seemed to have come straight from the pages of some of those robe rippers Mrs Weasley claimed she did not read but Ginny said she did. Hermione had no problem with that. What she had a problem with was the subtle and not so subtle undertone in the examples, and the book. Muggles were not mentioned at all, and muggleborns only in menial positions. Or worse. And all the other books she had found showed a similar bias. It seemed as if they were written to teach muggleborns their place - serving purebloods.

She didn't like this, not at all.

Hogwarts, September 8th, 1995

"Granger! Casting spells in the hallways is forbidden!"

Hermione, on her way back from the library, turned around and faced Malfoy and Parkinson. Prefects Malfoy and Parkinson.

"I wasn't casting any spell," she said.

"Lying to a prefect? No wonder your kind were not deemed trustworthy enough to be prefects!" Malfoy sneered at her. "I saw you cast a spell. And Pansy did as well."

The sycophantic Slytherin witch nodded. She should really marry Malfoy, Hermione thought, the witch had the sneer down pat already.

"You must have imagined it then."

"You also show an appalling lack of proper respect for the authorities." Malfoy scoffed. "I'm certain a check of your wand will prove that you have cast a spell."

"Of course it will show that I have cast a spell! This is a school of magic, we cast spells in class!" Hermione huffed at the idiot, then saw him smile widely.

"Ah, so you admit it. Lying, lack of respect, and casting in the hallways. Appalling behaviour, but that's a mudblood for you. I'll inform Madam Umbridge." Malfoy laughed while Parkinson giggled.

Hermione gasped, then looked around. No one else was in the hallway. No one had witnessed the scene.

She swallowed what she wanted to say, and glared at the two Slytherins, then turned around and walked towards the teachers' quarters. She had to speak to Professor McGonagall!

Hermione was in luck. Her Head of House was in her office. She was even invited inside, and could tell her story. And that was where her luck ran out.

"There is nothing I can do there, Miss Granger. If two prefects claim you have been casting in the hallways…" The teacher looked like she had eaten something Hagrid had left out in stables for too long.

"Don't you believe me?" Hermione was shocked.

"Of course I believe you! But that is not enough to overturn the word of two prefects."

"Two pureblood prefects against a muggleborn? I guess not."

"Miss Granger!" The professor was glaring at her. "If you talk like this to Professor Umbridge, you will be in even worse trouble."

"Professor Umbridge?"

"She will be handling all the detentions and punishments of …" the witch hesitated.

"Of mudbloods?" Hermione said before she could control herself.

"Miss Granger!" McGonagall looked shocked.

Hermione looked down, but didn't say anything even though she knew the professor was waiting for an apology. Then she had a thought. "I can show you the memory! The Headmaster has a Pensieve." Hermione knew that from Harry.

"He needs this for important work, Miss Granger." The way the old witch stressed work told Hermione that it was about Voldemort.

"It wouldn't take long, Professor! A few minutes, at most. You know that if they can do this once, then they will do it again. They can get anyone in trouble they don't like," Hermione said.

The professor seemed to ponder this, then sighed. "Let's visit him then."

Donating a memory and watching it in the Headmaster's Pensieve was a fascinating experience. If seeing the whole incident again hadn't enraged her so much, she would have enjoyed it very much.

"Now you know I haven't been lying!"

"Yes, Miss Granger. And I will inform Madam Umbridge about this. But I fear your detention will not be overturned," the Headmaster said.

"What? Why not?" How could they do this?

"You were disrespectful to the two prefects, as the memory clearly shows," McGonagall said. She even sounded disappointed!

"But…" Hermione fought to keep her composure. To have been outmaneuvered like this by Malfoy and Parkinson…

"I do hope that this will keep them from lying about such things, but they will certainly try to provoke you again," Dumbledore said. "And I hope you will understand that my Pensieve cannot be used all the time to clear up such accusations."

"Yes, sir. Will the two liars be punished as well then?"

"That is, sadly, up to Madam Umbridge." The Headmaster's tone told Hermione that they wouldn't be punished. "They'll do it again then," she said in a flat voice. And she wouldn't be able to use the Pensieve to prove her innocence again.

"I suggest you ask Mister Weasley to accompany you next time you would otherwise be alone. As a prefect, he will be able to vouch for you." Dumbledore smiled.

Had the Headmaster foreseen this, and this was why he had made Ron a prefect? Hermione couldn't tell. But even if this would help, it galled. "So, I will need a pureblood chaperone as a witness, to be able to escape abuse." She stiffened when she realised just how that sounded. And she felt a chill run down her spine when she realised that this was a very plausible threat too.

"I am working on resolving the situation, Miss Granger, but it will take time. Far more than your detentions are at risk here, as you know." The old wizard spread his hands in apology.

"Keep your head down until then," McGonagall added.

"So until then those Death Eater wannabes can abuse us with impunity. Voldemort would be proud."

"Miss Granger!"

Hermione mumbled an apology she didn't really mean.

"Miss Granger?" Umbridge asked when she opened the door to her office. She didn't sound sweet any more, or condescending. She sounded pleased. "Sit down!"

Hermione stepped inside. The room was decorated hideously with glaring pink plates with various motives, and framed pages taken from the 'Wizarding Customs' textbook. She sat down at the only desk there that had writing materials placed on it.

"Hand over your wand!"

The muggleborn witch hesitated just a second, then drew her wand and handed it over. Without it she felt vulnerable, weak, at the professor's mercy. Just what the woman had intended, she thought.

Professor Umbridge cleared her throat. "You've quite a history of infractions, Miss Granger." She studied a scroll of parchment. "Most of it covered up, or so I hear from respectable sources. But you ran out of luck today. Disrespect. Casting in the hallways. Lying to authorities."

"The two prefects are the ones lying, professor. Professor McGonagall believes me." Hermione said, She knew she should have been quiet, but it was just too much.

"Two prefects, from proper, respected families, lying? About a habitual rule-breaker like yourself?" The witch scoffed. "You just added to your punishment. Your habitual rules-breaking ends now." She gestured to the parchment on Hermione's desk. "You will be writing 'I will not disrespect authority. I will not break rules.' Two hundred times.

Hermione blinked. Writing lines? She had expected something much worse. Snape's detentions were infamous, after all, and Umbridge seemed… she saw the glint in the woman's eyes, and fought not to shiver.

"There's no ink, ma'am."

"The quill gets its own ink, Miss Granger."

She found out quickly where the quill got its ink - each line she wrote felt as if it was carved into her flesh, written with her blood. There was no wound though, just the pain. No proof either, she realised.

Briefly she considered running out. But the witch had her wand, and she might be waiting for that, to make the punishment worse. Grinding her teeth, she wrote on, fighting back her tears, not wanting to give the witch the satisfaction of seeing her cry.

"How was your detention?" Ron asked when she made it back to the Gryffindor dorms. His tentative smile vanished when he saw her. Harry, standing next to him, drew a hissing breath. She must be looking as bad as she felt, Hermione thought. But her friends had waited for her return. It made her feel better.

"Horrible," she started to say. "I had to write lines with an enchanted quill that made it feel as if I was carving them in my own flesh. Two hundred lines," she added.

Ron stared at her, then set his jaw. "She can't do this!"

Harry nodded. "We'll tell the Headmaster."

"I doubt it'll help." She showed her hands. "See? No trace. No proof. It'll be 'the word of a respected teacher against a muggleborn rules-breaker'," she said, imitating Umbridge's voice. "Just as it was the word of 'two prefects, from proper, respected families' against mine," she added, not bothering to hide how bitter she was.

They sat down near the fireplace. Lavender, the other Gryffindor prefect, looked over to them, but a glance from Hermione had her vanish upstairs.

"I'll escort you from now on, like McGonagall said!" Ron declared.

"And I'll come with you as well." Harry nodded.

"Thank you." Hermione smiled. Her friends stood with her.

Hogwarts, September 29th, 1995

Another Educational Decree was displayed on the wall next to Umbridge's office. Hermione was on the way to read it, with Harry and Ron. The three hardly ever went anywhere alone any more, not with Malfoy, Parkinson and the other Slytherin prefects just waiting to catch Hermione or Harry alone. Others, especially muggleborns, had learned the same lesson. Sally-Anne had had a nervous breakdown during her detention. The Hufflepuffs had closed ranks, but the Ravenclaws lacked such unity. Their muggleborns were suffering.

But those the Slytherin prefects missed, Umbridge often managed to provoke during her lessons. Justin Finch-Fletchley had taken one detention to learn to keep his head down. Hermione had, to her embarrassment, taken two until she had managed to bear the scorn and taunts from the Slytherins and the teacher, who barely bothered with hiding her sadistic glee. Seamus and Dean hadn't completely learned that lesson yet. Gryffindors to the core.

The three Gryffindors reached their goal. The board with the notices on it had been expanded, and the newest decree had been placed prominently in the center. Hermione read it, and couldn't believe her eyes.

"Only students who have achieved a passing grade at O.W.L. 'Wizarding Customs' will be eligible to sit their N.E.W.T.s?" She turned to Harry and Ron. "Do you know what that means?"

Ron looked confused, but Harry seemed to have an inkling. She didn't wait for them to understand it. "It means no one the Ministry dislikes will be able to take their N.E.W.T.s. They will not pass that exam. And you know who the Ministry doesn't like."

"But… that's Umbridge. The O.W.L.s have their own experts!" Ron said.

"It's a new course. Of course the Ministry gets to choose the expert for it. Just as they chose Umbridge." She didn't call that foul monster a teacher. Not unless she had to talk to the woman. Hermione had quickly learned to be as respectful as possible to that witch. Even if it made her madder than having to bow and scrape to Malfoy and Parkinson or suffer another detention for 'disrespect'.

"Dumbledore's working on it," Harry said. But he didn't sound very optimistic.

Hermione closed her eyes. This was a catastrophe. But somehow she feared that it was just the first step.

"That's insane! Why would they do that?" Ron asked.

Hermione looked at him, then at the door to Umbridge's office. She was supposed to have a lesson with the sixth years, but… "Let's move away."

She started explaining once they were on a different floor. "Don't you get it? Muggleborns are the 'concession' the Ministry is making to appease Voldemort. They think that if they do this, Voldemort will leave them in peace."

"But he won't! Dad said he killed as many purebloods as muggleborns or half-bloods in the war!" Ron shook his head almost violently. "He wants power more than anything."

"Of course he won't! But he won't do anything while the Ministry does his work for him. Each muggleborn gone, driven away, is one less supporter of the Ministry, once Voldemort attacks." Hermione ground her teeth.

"Dumbledore needs to stop that!" Ron exclaimed.

"I'm certain he's trying, but he's not achieving much, is he?" Hermione said. Privately, she had started to wonder why the Ministry was so quick to come down on muggleborns. They must have passed more decrees and laws in the last three months than in the previous three years.

She really had to take a closer look at those laws, she thought.

"But… if you can't pass that exam… will you be back next year? At Hogwarts?" Ron asked.

Both of her friends were staring at her.

"It only says I can't take the N.E.W.T.s, it doesn't ban me from attending school," Hermione answered. She even smiled, as confidently as she could, at her two best, maybe only friends. They looked relieved, and she felt guilty at not telling them that she expected another decree following this one, one that would stipulate that only those eligible to take N.E.W.T.s were allowed to attend Hogwarts for their sixth and seventh years. Probably giving the waste of gold as a reason.

Hermione hooked her arms through those of Harry and Ron, and tried not to think about the fact that she didn't expect to be at Hogwarts in a year. Not unless Dumbledore managed to do whatever he was working on.

And the longer that took, the less she thought of his chances of success.

And with what the Ministry was doing, in the name of appeasement, she started to doubt if she even wanted to return.

Hogwarts, October 15th, 1995

Hermione Granger had received the latest laws the Ministry had passed, courtesy of Sirius. His note had told her not to let anyone know she had them though, which was a bit worrying in itself. Not quite as worrying as the laws she had read, in the days since.

She leaned back in 'her spot' in the library, waiting for either Ron or Harry to appear so they could escort her back to the dorms without Malfoy accosting her. Again.


Harry and Ron were approaching her table. She tried to smile at them, but her mood must have been obvious, since even Ron frowned and asked: "What's wrong? Did Malfoy do anything?" He hadn't dared to do anything in the library, not after Madam Pince had taken great offence to anyone accosting her favorite student.

For a moment, Hermione considered lying. Sirius had told her not to let anyone know about this. But Harry and Ron were her best friends. She wouldn't lie to them. She pointed at the parchment on the table. "It's those laws the Ministry passed."

"Oh?" The boys peered at them.

"What about them?" Harry asked.

Ron skimmed one. "Doesn't seem like it's something bad. Just a new bunch of rules."

She sighed. "It's in the details. Not many of them are openly discriminatory, but each has the potential to be abused. Easily." She pointed at the scroll he had in hand. "See there? The new hiring standards could easily be twisted to bar muggleborns. The tests for the existing staff members offer the same potential. There's no standard testing, so it all depends on whoever does the testing. Can you imagine Umbridge passing anyone she doesn't like? She just has to grill them on the intricacies of pureblood society until they make a mistake, no matter how tiny. Or," she added with grim expression, "she can invent a new 'tradition' just to make them fail."

The boys winced. Hermione was certain there was no 'specific way to hold a wand when receiving a flower bouquet after Yuletide', as Umbridge had claimed once when testing Hermione. She was also certain the witch knew that she knew that, and had done this just to show what Hermione had to look forward to, should she dare to aspire to anything as a muggleborn. Not that she could do anything against it - the kind of 'traditions' Umbridge was asking about were not written down anywhere, but taught to the pureblood children by their families. The young witch had ranted and vented for an hour after that debacle.

She took a deep breath, to the relief of her friends, and continued: "The new laws concerning businesses are less obvious, they mostly concern new standards for business with corresponding inspections, but the potential for abuse is there as well - it would be enough to simply be stricter with muggleborn-owned shops than with pureblood-owned. Or let it be known that those businesses who employed muggleborns in 'unsuitable' positions would face stricter and more frequent inspections."

Umbridge was fond of going on about suitable and unsuitable positions for the 'witches and wizards of various backgrounds'. And Hermione suspected that she thought the only suitable positions for mudbloods were as janitors, servants, or whores.

She looked at her two friends. "I just think that a Ministry where Umbridge is an undersecretary will abuse those laws. Not to mention that they are requesting everyone to register their 'blood status'."

"They did that already," Ron pointed out. "Hogwarts does it too."

"Yes. So why make everyone do it again?" She paused a second, then went on: "They want to know where everyone lives and what they are doing."

"Isn't that a bit paranoid?" Harry asked, then winced at her glare.

"I think with Voldemort back, we all are not paranoid enough," she shot back, gathering her notes and scrolls. "Speaking of - I got those laws from Sirius, and he asked me not to tell anyone."

"But why would he ask that?" Ron blinked.

"Good question," Hermione smiled without any humour. "Why would he ask that of me?"

It was a very quiet trip back to the Gryffindor dorms. And Hermione hadn't even pointed out what she thought was a subtle change in the articles appearing in the Daily Prophet lately. In her impression, a growing number of articles included things that presented muggles and muggleborns in a bad light.

Or that she wondered if the Ministry, or Voldemort's followers were behind those laws - or if anyone would be able to tell the difference.

Hogwarts, November 10th, 1995

Dean Thomas's right hand was trembling but he didn't seem to notice, Hermione thought, watching her fellow Gryffindor, and fellow muggleborn, in the common room of their dorm. He was playing a muggle boardgame his mother had sent him with Seamus Finnigan, another frequent victim of Umbridge. The Irish student had a temper, and not as much self-control, and was probably the one Gryffindor that had had the most detentions with Umbridge. She hadn't seen much of Sally-Anne Perks. That witch spent a lot of time in her bed these days, with the curtains silenced, and when she was out of the dorms, she did her best to fade in the walls.

It wasn't just Malfoy and the other Slytherin prefects any more who were 'reporting infractions' to Umbridge. Most of House Slytherin had started to do it, after Umbridge had emphasised 'the duty of all proper purebloods to keep an eye on the less cultured members of our society'. After that it had been open season on muggleborns. Or 'mudbloods', as many, even opportunists from other houses, called them openly now. Not in Gryffindor, at least. McLaggen had done so, once.

She saw Mary Smith sitting in a corner. The sixth year muggleborn had her wand in hand, and looked ready to hex anyone who looked at her wrongly. She had been largely responsible for McLaggen learning his lesson in tolerance and house unity. The witch saw Hermione looking at her, and nodded.

Hermione nodded back. She didn't fear any hexes from Mary. Muggleborns understood each other. Even across houses. Sometimes you didn't even need to speak, a nod or glance was enough. Getting persecuted by Umbridge had that effect. Most muggleborns had learned to keep their heads down by now, but that didn't mean they had accepted their treatment. Or forgotten. Hermione certainly hadn't. She had kept track of each detention. Each punishment. Each barb.

But as the muggleborns were finding unexpected common ground across the houses, so were the bigots finding support in the other houses. Hermione had stopped going to the teachers to complain. They too were keeping their heads down or so it seemed. And claimed that 'words don't hurt'. And the Headmaster was still 'working on it', as Harry had heard from Sirius and Ron from his dad.

Sometimes Hermione feared that Dumbledore would still be 'working on it' when the last muggleborn had been driven from Hogwarts.

Hogwarts, December 1st, 1995

Hermione had thought she knew what to expect. The new Daily Prophet headline proved her wrong: 'Muggleborn shop owner attacks Ministry Inspector, killed by Auror.' She quickly read the article. Apparently, Mel Fuller, owner of 'Fuller's Boots' in Diagon Alley, had failed a health inspection, and, in a rage, had attacked the inspector and her Auror guards, who killed him in self-defence.

She snorted. It could be true, of course, but she doubted it. A Health Inspector failing a bootmaker shop? The shop owner attacking at least three people, two of them trained Aurors? And he was killed in self-defence, instead of stunned? As if! She shook her head. That was simply too implausible.

But, she noticed, looking around, at least half the students seemed to believe it, judging by the amount of 'mudblood criminal' she heard. And judging by the glares from the muggleborns - by now she knew every muggleborn at school on sight - some were taking offence.

She glanced at Mary. Her fellow Gryffindor had been even more eager to start a fight lately, but today she seemed to be controlling herself. Gryffindor's table should be alright then. The Hufflepuffs wouldn't start anything either, but the Ravenclaws…

She almost winced when she saw spells fly. She relaxed a bit when she saw that Allan Baker was involved. The seventh year Ravenclaw was quick with his wand, and had a sharp tongue, but he generally was smart enough to let the pureblood bigot he clashed with make the first move. Flitwick broke the fight up before Umbridge could meddle, Hermione saw, and that seemed to have cooled tempers, somewhat.

Seemed. Hermione was asking herself, not for the first time, just how much influence Voldemort had at the Ministry already. If muggleborns were now getting killed in their shops by Aurors… She stiffened when she had another thought. What if those muggleborns were attacking, but under the Imperius? All the Death Eaters had to do to poison the public opinion further against muggleborn was to make a few of them attack purebloods.

London, Diagon Alley, December 23rd, 1995

'Don't buy from mudbloods!'

Hermione stared at the words, painted on the wall in Diagon Alley. She felt as if she had been punched into the gut. It wasn't just the words, no matter how much they made her think of another country, in another time. It was that they were still there. Dry. Dozens of passersby had walked past that wall, and no one had done anything.

Either they agreed with the words, or everyone who cared was too afraid to do anything. Too busy keeping their head down. She was very glad that she was wearing robes, instead of muggle clothes, right now. She hadn't seen anyone in muggle clothes during her trip to Diagon Alley, she remembered. She wasn't in Britain any more, she realised. She was in another country. A country where such ugly, hateful words could be written on a public wall, and no one batted an eye. A country she didn't want to be part of.

"Kauft nicht bei Juden," she mumbled, walking away. When she was at the next corner, she turned around and drew her wand.


Her spell wiped away the words, and much of the grime on the wall, leaving a shiny patch of clean bricks and mortar surrounded by filth.

A fitting image, she thought.

But the small amount of satisfaction this granted her couldn't push away the dread she was feeling. She knew where this country was headed. Voldemort had made his plans clear, and if the Ministry continued with their 'appeasement', he wouldn't have to do much to take over Wizarding Britain and finish it.

She had to do something. No one else was doing anything, and she wouldn't let history repeat itself.

She had to study, harder than ever in her life. And she had to talk to her parents.

London, King's Cross Railway Station, January 12th, 1996

"Hermione! I'm so sorry! The Headmaster has to do something about this!"

Hermione Granger stared at Harry, not certain what he was talking about, Had she missed something?

Ron, closing the compartment door behind them - even when staying at Sirius's house they were almost late, Hermione thought - kept her from asking. "The new Educational Decree! If you do not pass the 'Wizarding Customs' test you're not allowed to go to Hogwarts after your O.W.L.s!"

"Oh, that."

"'Oh that'?" Ron stared at her. Is that all you have to say?

Hermione sighed. "I expected that, months ago." She had much bigger problems than this, anyway.

"And you didn't tell us?" Harry sounded as hurt as Ron was looking.

She shrugged. "Compared to what's going on in Britain, that's not really important."

"Not really important? Are you sick?"

Ron tried to put his hand on her forehead. She slapped it away. Then she noticed that Harry was staring at her, and had his wand ready.

She rolled her eyes. "Dear Lord! I'm not under a spell, and I'm Hermione, not a polyjuiced impostor. Ask me anything!"

The resulting grilling took a while - almost long enough so the effect of a Polyjuice potion would have ended anyway - but her best friends finally were convinced she was their friend. Apparently, Mad-Eye Moody had been staying at Sirius's as well.

"So, why aren't you, you know, more worked up about this?" Harry asked.

"Yes. It means you won't be with us at Hogwarts next year!" Ron looked as if he was worked up enough for three of them.

"I told you, I expected this. And compared to what I saw in Diagon Alley, it's really nothing."


"There were calls not to buy from muggleborns, written on the walls," Hermione said. Harry hissed, but Ron looked puzzled, so she added: "That's how the Holocaust started, in Germany."

Of course, she had to explain what the Holocaust was.

"But… that's insane, Hermione! That would never happen in Britain!" Ron protested, after a short but detailed introduction to the Shoa.

"Really?" Hermione stared at him. "The Ministry is driving us away. Out of the school, out of business, out of sight. All in the name of appeasing Voldemort. Who wants to kill us all." She leaned forward. "Do you think the Aurors will lift a finger to protect us, after they enforced those new laws? Half of them will probably help him!"

"But… the Headmaster won't let them do that!" Ron stared at her, desperation plain written on his face.

"He hasn't stopped them yet."

Hermione leaned back, folding her arms.

"What can we do?" Harry asked. Ron nodded.

"You can't do much. Don't tell anyone, but I've spoken with my parents. They're preparing to move." And hadn't that been a fun discussion. If her parents knew what else she was planning, it would have been even worse. But she was a Gryffindor because she was braver than she was smart - and she was the smartest witch at Hogwarts.

Her friends looked dejected, and she patted Harry's thigh. "It's not yet the end of the school year. Maybe the Headmaster will come through." She didn't expect it. She hadn't been at Grimmauld Place over the holiday, her preparations had taken priority, but she had written to both of them, and Harry had told her he was studying Occlumency - though the lessons he had received from Snape had sounded far more painful than the exercises she had found in a book from Knockturn Alley. She'd thought about giving him a copy, but that would mean Snape would find out during his next lesson. Hermione didn't want to risk that.

And hadn't that been telling, that she had felt safer in Knockturn Alley than in Diagon Alley?

Hogwarts, January 19th, 1996

The ongoing persecution of muggleborns had one advantage, Hermione thought, watching the students file into the abandoned classroom she had prepared. No one would miss them, since everyone was used to them trying to stay out of sight. She glanced at the Marauder's Map. No one was trailing the last stragglers either. She would have felt guilty at asking Harry to borrow the map, and to help create a diversion, if needed, if not for the importance of this meeting.

When the door had closed behind Colin Creevey, Hermione stood up from the desk the room had created for her, and stepped on the small platform in front of it.

"Welcome," she said, then waited until the whispering died down.

"I'm glad so many of us found the way to this room. We're here because we're all in danger. In greater danger than some of us might have realised."

"What do you mean?" Colin Creevey asked. "And why is Harry not here?"

"Harry is not here because he's ready to distract the prefects," Hermione said. And because he was too close to the Headmaster to risk getting involved in this - if they got caught, the consequences would be dire. But, she added to herself, he was absent because this was a meeting of muggleborns. Harry, despite his upbringing, was not facing the same problems as they were.

"But as to the danger we face," she continued. "Have you been to Diagon Alley lately? Have you seen the laws passed by the Wizengamot? The decrees by the Ministry? The articles in the Daily Prophet?"

The murmurs more or less agreed with her, she saw. But not many of them had understood what was coming. Allan had, she was certain - his expression was grim. Mary too, she thought. And Dean of course, who was nodding, with Seamus. Both had a special perspective.

She took a deep breath. "Does all this, the calls to boycott muggleborns, the articles about muggleborns 'killed while resisting arrest', the purges at the Ministry, remind you of something?"

Again Allan nodded, but most looked confused. She flicked her wand and ended the Disillusionment Charm she had cast on the board behind her, and gasps and shouts filled the room when the assembled muggleborn students saw her presentation. On the left side, she had listed the laws and decrees and calls she had seen in Wizarding Britain. On the right side, she had copied the historical documents from Germany in the 1930s. Voldemort was facing Hitler at the top.

"Do you see where this is leading? How it will end?"

Colin was trembling now, his brother was crying. Allan looked grim, as did Mary, Seamus and Dean. Many others were cursing.

"They already know where we live. Where our families live. They have taken steps to ensure that we'll not get a higher education, keeping us weak. The Minister's own undersecretary has been torturing us, trying to break us. They have fired our Aurors. With each day, we grow weaker, and they grow stronger."

She paused trying to meet everyone's eyes.

"Until Voldemort strikes, and the Ministry looks away - or helps him - while he slaughters us and our families." She flicked her wand, and a map of Magical Europe appeared. "If you think about leaving Britain, think again - the other countries don't like muggleborns either." At least not the average muggleborn. Hermione could probably get a place at Beauxbatons thanks to her talent, but she'd be one of very few, and she wouldn't just be the mudblood, but the foreigner as well. Durmstrang didn't even let their own mudbloods attend. And her friends and fellow muggleborns would be left in Britain.

"But Dumbledore! He can save us!"

She didn't know who had said that - probably a Hufflepuff. But she scoffed in return. "He will save us, just as he has been saving us from Slytherins and other bigots? Just as he has been saving us from Umbridge?"

"No!" she shouted over the increasing volume of whispers and curses, "We need to stop them! We need to save our families!"

"How?" Allan spoke, for the first time. "How can we achieve what apparently not even Dumbledore can do?" He sounded sceptical, but his eyes told another story. He had understood, she knew.

"Dumbledore is a wizard, born and raised in Wizarding Britain. Over a century ago. We're different. We're muggleborns. We've been born and raised in the real world. We know things the purebloods have no idea about. They don't even know what electricity is!" She scoffed. "Their idea of war is a bunch of wizards casting spells at each other. That works against other wizards, or against outnumbered, helpless and surprised muggles."

The room was silent now. She lowered her voice slightly. "But we know how a real war is fought. A civil war." She nodded at Seamus. "We can use magic, and we can and will use technology. When they come for us, we won't let them slaughter us like animals. We will teach those bigoted bastards what war means." She snarled the last words through clenched teeth while the other muggleborns shouted their agreement.

When the students had fallen silent again, Hermione smiled. "And now, let's start preparing for war. We've got a lot to cover."

Seamus and Dean made a show of groaning, but they were smiling, if grimly.

"But first," Hermione said, holding up a parchment, "We'll ensure that no one of us can betray the others."

The rest of the meeting was spent organising a training schedule - Kingsley was a good Defence teacher, but every one of them would need to be able to apparate if they wanted to escape Death Eaters, or attack them. They had to prepare plans to protect and evacuate their families. Changing addresses would hopefully be enough for most - their parents didn't have to register, after all, being muggles. They'd have to find a way to contact the older muggleborns, especially the former Aurors and Hit-Wizards. They needed addresses, and contacts.

And they'd have to learn how to fight like a resistance, like guerillas. They needed resources. Wands without the trace. Muggle supplies. They needed to learn how to make bombs, how to get weapons - for their families, and for themselves.

Hermione had planned this for weeks, and had answers for a lot of questions, but not for all of them. Fortunately, she was no longer alone. There were others who knew the answers she was missing. Or, like Seamus, knew people who could help them.

The Muggleborn Resistance had been formed.

Hogwarts, February 4th, 1996

Harry Potter felt at peace, for the first time in days. He was flying in the sky above Hogwarts, alone. And he had no torture session with Snape in the evening. He had had one last night, and would have another tomorrow, but today he was free. Free of the pain and anger that was the inevitable result of those git's 'lessons'.

He flew over the Black Lake, and executed a Wronski Feint. Cutting it a bit too close - the tips of his shoes dipped into the water when he pulled out of the dive. He loved it. If Hermione saw him, she'd have a fit. He chuckled, then grew serious again.

If Harry was suffering from nightmares caused by his connection to Voldemort, which Snape's torture didn't seem to help against, Hermione was suffering from torture sessions by that bitch Umbridge. She wasn't the only one, but she was his best friend, apart from Ron. Harry wished he could help her. But short of killing another teacher, he couldn't do much. Dumbledore had been quite clear on that - the Ministry wouldn't take interference well, and things were apparently 'too delicate' right now to risk a confrontation, especially for the Boy-Who-Lived. The Headmaster claimed he had a plan, but refused to share details, and each time Harry saw Hermione walk back from a detention, cradling her hand and trying not to show her pain, he lost a bit more confidence in Dumbledore.

And each time he saw her like that, hurt and vulnerable, he wanted to hug her and console her, and maybe something more. His relationship, if he could call it that, with Cho wasn't going anywhere. She was still hung up on Cedric, and while Harry couldn't fault her for that, he really didn't want to serve as a hug pillow, as Ron called it, for a witch in mourning. Not to mention that Cho didn't get along well with Hermione.

And if he had to choose between Cho and Hermione, well… it wasn't a choice, not really. He'd do anything to help her. So would Ron, Harry knew - they had an understanding. In that, at least.

Hogwarts, February 25th, 1996

Hermione closed 'On Guerrilla Warfare', disguised as a tome on magical plants. Mao had been successful, but not all of his lessons were applicable to the situation of the muggleborns. Though his advice on hiding among the population… that fit right in. The wizards would have trouble finding a muggleborn among the muggles. She looked at the next book on her pile. She had taken a lot of books, magical and mundane, with her. Including documentation on a number of the latest terrorist attacks. One of those, the one in Oklahoma, stood out - that one had not been done with commercial explosives.

Apparition training was going well, for the older students at least. Allan was not the best teacher, but he understood the matter perfectly, and he could deal with any accidents. She made a note to prepare more potions, and learn healing spells. That would mean another trip to Knockturn Alley over Easter.

The door to the common room opened, and Harry stumbled inside. He looked like hell warmed over, as Dean would say. She was up and at his side in a heartbeat, holding out a pain relief potion.

Her friend nodded gratefully and gulped it down. "Snape's killing me with his lessons."

"Do they at least help with the nightmares?" She had researched the matter, and while Snape's method was said to be the quickest to learn Occlumency, it was also the most painful - and most prone to failure. And the only one that let the instructor enter the student's mind. Which was the reason she hadn't told her friends about the Muggleborn Resistance. Or not what it really was. Ron and Harry thought it was a support group for muggleborns. Maybe. She was aware that they knew her too well and might suspect she was doing something more than exchanging advice with fellow muggleborns.

"Somewhat," Harry said. "Ron still on patrol?"

"He's still with Lavender," Hermione said. Probably on patrol, unless the girl had made her move, as she had heard Parvati calling it, one evening the other two girls had thought she was already asleep behind the curtains of her bed.

"Ah." Harry didn't say anything. His own pursuit of Cho had ended in dismal failure. She would have told him that, if she had thought it would do any good.

"Come on, let's sit down and wait for Ron."

"How's your hand?"

"It's fine," Hermione answered. Malfoy had managed to get her into detention yesterday. It had been painful, but Hermione had found some consolation in the knowledge that while Umbridge tried to break the muggleborns, they were growing closer, and more prepared for the coming conflict. The worse that sadist treated them, the more determined the muggleborns grew.

The two made some idle chat - a welcome relief from the lingering pain of Snape's lesson for Harry, and a distraction from her planning she knew she needed for Hermione - until Ron and Lavender returned. Hermione was about to subtly check them for telltales of making out, but Lavender's frustrated expression and curt 'good night' told her all she needed to know.

Ron sat down in the seat next to them, sighing.

"Bad patrol?" Harry asked.

Ron shook his head. "No. Yes. I don't know. Lavender is …"

"Lavender is?" Hermione asked, curious despite herself.

"Well, I'd rather be patrolling with you."

"You would?" Hermione was surprised. She would have expected her friend to be happy to patrol with a pretty witch who didn't take rules as seriously as Hermione used to.

Ron nodded.

"Even though I'd make you work much harder in her place?" Hermione said, half-teasing.

"Well… maybe?" Ron grinned, and the three laughed.

For the rest of the evening, Hermione felt as things were back to how they had been. Though she didn't know if Ron wanting to patrol with her meant something, or not. But she liked hearing it.

Hogwarts, March 4th, 1996

"Are you listening to me?" Lavender Brown asked.

Ron Weasley looked at his fellow prefect. She was pouting. He smiled, and tried to sound as sincere as he could. "Of course. Just checking if there's someone lurking around. I think I heard something."

He hadn't been listening to Lavender. He had been thinking. About his friends. They were not doing well. Harry was having frequent nightmares, despite - or, Ron thought, because - Snape's lessons in Occlumency. Hermione had said the method Snape had chosen to teach Harry was the quickest, but not the most successful. To think Voldemort - he could think the name now, though saying it still was a bit difficult - could invade Harry's dreams to torment him… he shuddered.

"Are you cold?" Lavender asked, stepping closer to him.

"No, no. I just remembered the last Potions lesson."

That made the witch shudder, and stop trying to wrap her arm around him. Ron was relieved. He didn't dislike the witch. It was even flattering that she was obviously interested in him. But he wasn't interested in her. Not in being her boyfriend, at least. And he was not the type of wizard to use a witch who liked him. Mum had raised him better than that, and Hermione would be furious at him if she found out. And disappointed.

And he really didn't want to disappoint Hermione. The poor girl was suffering. Ron felt enraged just thinking at what she was enduring from those Slytherin slime bags, and that ugly toad. He wanted to help her, prove he was a good friend, be there for her, but… she wouldn't let him, not much. She had become rather closed-off, lately. Moodier than Harry, even. And she spent more time with the other muggleborns than with Ron and Harry. He didn't like that, even though he understood that she needed to.

His friend wasn't one to tolerate injustice. Or what she saw as it. Buckbeak, house elves, Sirius… she had thrown herself into helping them, no matter if they wanted it or not. At least the muggleborns wanted her help. Whatever kind of help she was giving them.

He wasn't dumb. Hermione was brilliant, but scary, and he knew her well enough to know that she was doing more than holding hands and consoling students. He just didn't know how much more she was doing. And he didn't know if he wanted to know.

But he was jealous anyway. She was his best female friend, after all. And he didn't want to lose her. Not when he was not certain if she might be more than that.

London, No 12 Grimmauld Place, April 4th, 1996

"Hermione, what a surprise! You should have called ahead though, Harry's off visiting Ron at the Burrow."

Hermione Granger nodded. "I know, Sirius." They had told her their plans, after all. "I'm here for you."

Sirius flashed her an exaggerated smile. "Why, Miss Granger, that's quite daring of you! I knew you'd not be able to resist me forever!" He waved her inside, laughing when she rolled her eyes at him.

Inside the entrance hall, Kreacher was waiting, scowling. "Mudbloods in the halls of the Blacks' ancestral house! What a shame! To have them dirty up those floOOOF."

The foul little cretin smashed into the wall hiding the portrait of Sirius's mother, with permanent Silencing Spells cast on every brick around her. Hermione lowered her wand and stepped closer, crouching down next to the stunned elf.

"Call me 'mudblood' once again, and I'll petrify you, and then donate you to a muggle garden, do you understand?" she snarled at him. When he didn't answer at once, she dug her wand into his throat. "Do you understand?"

The house elf nodded shakily. Satisfied, she stood up. Sirius was staring at her, and she blushed a bit. "I'm sorry, but… too many have called me mudblood this year." She should feel guilty for hexing the poor house elf who didn't know better, but she didn't. Kreacher should know better too.

Sirius waved her apology away. "Don't worry, he had it coming. Remind me not to tease you, though." More seriously, he asked: "Are things really that bad?"

Hermione snorted. "Worse. That's why I'm here."

"And that's why you came when Harry was with Ron?"

She nodded. "They have their own troubles, with those sadistic lessons for Harry, and Ron's family…" she trailed off. Everyone knew that Ron's father had been demoted because he liked muggles, even though the official reason didn't state so. If Ron was caught up in what she was planning, his family would suffer, and the Order would lose more of its dwindling influence in the Ministry.

Sirius nodded, and led her to the living room. They sat down and the older wizard summoned two bottles of Butterbeer. No glasses, but Hermione wasn't complaining.

"So, what do you need an old wizard who has just recovered from more than a decade in prison for?" he asked while toasting her.

"Money. Gold," Hermione said.

That made him blink. "Err…"

"I'll need your word that you will not tell this to anyone, before I can explain," she added.

Sirius hesitated. "That sounds dangerous."

She nodded. He would cave in, she knew that. Besides, he owed her for saving his life, in their third year.

After a moment, he nodded. "You have my word. Now spill!"

And Hermione explained about the Muggleborn Resistance. Not everything, of course. But enough so he'd know what the gold would be used for. Buying wands on the black market for the underage members. Securing safe houses. Acquiring supplies, for potions and other things. Relocating families.

He listened, both bottles empty before she stopped. She was certain he'd agree - the Blacks were among the richest families in Britain, and he had spent half the sum she needed, according to her estimates, on Harry's firebolt.

"That's not all you need the gold for though, right?"

He was also smarter than he liked to appear, she reminded herself. She nodded. "Yes. I'm also planning to strike at the enemy."

"The Death Eaters?" He asked, his eyes not leaving hers.

"Anyone who wants to see muggleborns dead," she answered, meeting his gaze without flinching.

After a few moments, he nodded. "Can't say I don't understand, after Azkaban." He stood up. "I'll fetch the gold. Do you need an enchanted purse as well?"

"Two or three, if possible," she said at once - those could be used for other purposes as well.

He grinned. "I'll be right back."

Hermione smiled, relieved. Now she just had to start acquiring those supplies. Though she had a feeling that Sirius might be able to help her there as well. He had, according to himself, had a misspent youth, after all.

Hogwarts, April 28th, 1996

"You never learn, do you, Miss Granger? You keep breaking rules. It's a habit for you, isn't it? Not that this should surprise me, given your unfortunate origin. Blood will tell."

Hermione Granger stared at the ground, avoiding the gaze of the bigoted sadist masquerading as a teacher. Umbridge had stepped up her efforts after the Easter break. The witch had at least one student in detention each evening. Sally-Anne had spent two nights crying after her detention, and the girl hadn't done anything. Just like Hermione - 'disrespecting authority' apparently now meant not moving fast enough to the side when purebloods came along, even though she had been in a hallway wide enough for everyone to pass, with room to spare for a whole column. If the Weasley twins had not stepped up their undeclared prank war against the Slytherins, Hermione was certain someone would have lost it, and killed one of the snakes or other bigots by now. Dumbledore had to know that as well - he had personally taken over the twins' punishment, if you could call sitting in his office and listening to tales of his life that.

"Answer me!"

"Yes, Madam Umbridge," Hermione said, forcing herself not to let her anger show.

"A hundred lines! Maybe then you will learn."

She gripped the quill with a trembling hand and started writing, hissing with pain as she felt a blade cut in her flesh. They had tried everything to beat the quill. Numbing the hand before the detention didn't help. Invisible gloves didn't help. Lotions didn't help. Hermione was certain that the quill used a variant of the Torture Curse, since nothing could stop the pain, or relieve it afterwards. She had told McGonagall, and Shacklebolt, but nothing had been done.

While she tried to ignore the pain, she glanced at the witch. Umbridge was smiling widely. She was a sadist, Hermione realised. No matter what she or anyone else would do, that monster would keep torturing them. She hated that woman so much, if she had had her wand on her, she'd have hexed her and damn the consequences.

Umbridge would pay for her crimes, the young witch swore.

Hogwarts, June 1st, 1996

'Dumbledore duels You-Know-Who in Ministry!'

When Hermione Granger saw that headline on the Daily Prophet an owl had dropped off at the table in the Great Hall during breakfast, she immediately looked at her best friends, who were just arriving. "Did you know about this?" Both looked tired, and for a moment Hermione wondered if they had been involved. Without her.

Both looked guilty.

"Sirius told me late last night," Harry admitted. Through his communication mirror, no doubt. "The Order fought the Death Eaters there."

"Harry told me. I needed to know about my family," Ron added. His two eldest brothers were in the Order as well. "You were already asleep."

Hermione huffed, but she couldn't exactly encourage them to try to get to her when she was in bed, could she? She read the article. It was light on information, and heavy on speculation. Dumbledore claimed it had been an attempt to take over the Ministry. An attack. Fudge was calling every wizard and witch to remain calm until the situation was resolved - and claimed it was under control.

"I've been dreaming of him, you know," Harry whispered.

"Yes," said both Hermione and Ron.

"I saw him last night. In the Ministry. But not in the Atrium. In a hallway, with a massive door at the end."

So much for the Occlumency lessons, Hermione thought. She would send him a copy of her own training plan and instruction manual, even if it would take him longer.

"Do you think this means we're at war with Voldemort now?" Ron sounded hopeful.

"Maybe," Harry ventured.

"It's too early to tell, I think." Hermione felt hope. If Dumbledore had saved the Ministry, or had managed to make them believe that, then those awful laws could be repealed. She would be able to return to Hogwarts next year. Be with her best friends.

It wouldn't be as before though. Too much had happened. Too many students had been revealed as bigots. Too much harm had been done. At Hogwarts, and in Wizarding Britain. She'd never be able to trust that Ministry again. Not after this year.

If the laws and decrees were repealed. The O.W.L.s would start next week.

Hogwarts, June 9th, 1996

Hermione Granger left the examination room with her head held high and an expression on her face that sent anyone nearby seeking cover. Anyone but Ron and Harry, and even her two friends hesitated just a second before approaching her.

But they did approach her, hug her, and tried to console her. They didn't need to ask how the Wizarding Customs exam had gone.

"Don't worry. Dumbledore will have the laws repealed over summer. We'll all be together next year!" Ron said. He didn't sound that convincing though. Or convinced.

Hermione snorted. "They're still debating who attacked the Ministry. Malfoy's cronies claim that it was a trap for the Dark Lord." Which she strongly suspected was true. "I doubt they'll get around to repeal the anti-muggleborn laws until they finally admit that Voldemort is an enemy." And that, she suspected, would take a long time.

They passed Malfoy and his cronies, and Hermione did her best to not react to their taunts. Even if she had to clench her jaws together so hard, it started to hurt. And Harry had to restrain Ron from hexing the bigot.

They didn't go far. Harry and Ron still had to take their exam. But they stepped around the corner, out of sight of the other students.

"I expected that," she said, leaning against the wall. "I told you so, right when Umbridge managed to stay at the school."

"She'll be gone next year. She's apparently 'urgently needed' at the Ministry again," Ron spat.

"Your dad's demotion wasn't reversed either, was it?" Hermione looked at her friend.

"No. Dad says they have more important things to worry about than his career."

"It sounds as if a lot of 'not so important' things are getting sacrificed, while nothing 'important' is gained." She took a deep breath. "I'll be fine. You have your exams still ahead. Don't let Malfoy unnerve you."

"They could make us fail as well," Harry said, looking morose.

"The Boy-Who-Lived and a Weasley? No one would believe that. Or accept it." Even though Harry knew far less about Wizarding Customs than herself.

Her two friends looked away, probably feeling guilty for not having been born to muggles. She patted them on their shoulders. "Come on, go and blow them away! Do it for me!"

They'd be much safer at Hogwarts, Hermione knew, in the months to come.

She watched them go back to the waiting area, smiling. Then she turned around and started towards the Gryffindor dorms.

A voice coming from a dark alcove stopped her. "Failed?"

It was Allan. "As expected," she said, glancing at him.

"So, nothing has been changed." He sounded almost happy.

She shook her head. Dumbledore had wanted to start a war against Voldemort, had he? They'd give him what he wanted.

Hogwarts, June 16th, 1996

Dolores Umbridge was smiling when she entered her office. The year teaching those stupid children was finally over. If she had known how much work it took to make the mudbloods behave and obey their betters… she sighed. If the mudbloods acted uppity, it would provoke those among the purebloods with less patience, and might even start the war everyone wanted to avoid. Even the mudbloods were subjects of Wizarding Britain, after all, and you could only overlook so much before the power of the Ministry was threatened.

It had been hard, but someone had had to do it, and she had been the best choice. And, Merlin!, she had done it, for Cornelius, and for Britain. She hadn't been completely successful. Some mudbloods still hadn't learned their place, like that Granger girl. Malfoy had warned Dolores that the girl had no respect at all for tradition or purebloods - although the son of Lucius Malfoy wasn't the best source for unbiased information, and had clearly wanted to ingratiate himself with her. But Snape had warned her as well, had told her that the girl was a habitual trouble-maker, breaking rules, flaunting them, and was protected by McGonagall and Dumbledore. And Snape was Dumbledore's man. To tell her this meant that the girl was even worse. But now she was gone, from Hogwarts at least. She wouldn't ever set foot into those halls again, not as long as Dolores had a say in who took the exams for 'Wizarding Customs'.

"Petrificus Totalus."

The curse hit her before she realised what was happening. Stiff as a board, she fell down.

She tried to see who had dared to curse her, but she only saw the floor. Then she heard footsteps coming closer.

"Wingardium Leviosa."

She was levitated, no, her robe was, pulling her up, and she was floating towards her quarters, behind her office. Someone had covered the floor with a weird transparent material, she saw, before she was dropped on it, and not too gently.

"Good evening, Madam Umbridge."

She couldn't place the voice. Male, none of the teachers… a student! Attacking a teacher! Dolores couldn't believe it. That criminal would pay! Azkaban at least!

"I've taken the liberty to prepare your room. Wouldn't want the furniture to get dirty, would we?"

What was he talking about? Dolores started to get more worried than angry. This didn't look like a prank, or even… no!

Something metallic hit the floor next to her head. She could see it if she glanced to the side, it looked like some metal piece on a stick.

"I don't think you recognise this. It's a golf club. A piece of muggle sporting equipment. It used to be your favorite quill, by the way." The 'club' was pulled out of her sight.

"You've spent a year torturing all of us. Today you pay."

He was a mudblood! Dolores wanted to yell, to scream for help, to flee. She couldn't. She was helpless.

"They'll never find your body."

Then the blows started.

Hogwarts, June 17th, 1996

Hermione Granger looked over the Great Hall during breakfast, feeling both sad and angry. She was leaving Hogwarts for the last time today. She looked at the Slytherin table, where Malfoy and his cronies - most of the table - were sneering at her. They thought they had won.

They were wrong. She would study on her own. So would the other muggleborns. If Wizarding Britain didn't want them, then they'd create a society of their own. And they would be ready if the purebloods took offence at that. More than ready.

She looked at the staff table. Umbridge was not present, she noted. That was unusual; she would have expected the toad to be there to gloat. At least her last meal at Hogwarts wouldn't be spoiled further by that sadist bigot's presence. It was just a small consolation, though. The witch glanced at the Ravenclaw table. Allan was sitting there.

He met her eyes and smiled.