All right - thank you for your patience as I've taken to re-writing this particular story. I do suggest re-reading it from the beginning as I've given it a different frame and backdrop than my initial messy overtures (apparently I am not a writer who can sit down without a full outline).
I am playing into a familiar trope in the HP fanfic verse - there are elements of a "Marriage Law" written into this, which is admittedly overdone but still amusing to me nonetheless. I've been wondering how to best write one for quite some time and an opportunity presented itself. If this no longer turns out to be your cup of tea, please pass on by.
I originally intended this to be a rather dark fic but it's turned out quite the opposite and I have made my peace with that - a bit of lightness seems overdue these days. Hopefully it provides a pleasant diversion.
Hermione Granger sat quietly, deftly arranging her materials before her in an exact, precise manner befitting of any Potions Master worth their classification. Long fingers set aside two golden sigils with care, her short nails painted a deep blood red as a small testament to her discipline of choice.
Carefully, those same fingers quickly affixed a leather wand holster to the inside of her right forearm before rolling down generous silk sleeves and pulling gold buttons into place with precision. She took a moment to smooth her fingers over the torn skin of her left forearm, replacing the marred flesh with a glamour before tugging the ivory fabric into place with a sure movement.
Looking into the mirror before her, she surveyed her features with a dispassionate eye.
Her once-bushy hair had long-since been tamed through a combination of time, hormones, and potions. The deep chestnut gloss was interspersed by ribbons of honey and gold… highlighted naturally from too many hours spent in the sun. Today, the typically riotous curls were pulled back into a complicated arrangement of braids, completed by a tight bun at the nape of her neck that made her features appear more severe.
Amber eyes framed by dark lashes blinked quietly and Hermione gave a small sigh, tipping her neck from side to side to release the tension building there. Clear, tanned skin and dark sweeping brows stared back at her. With care, she swept a light brush over a straight nose, and chiseled cheekbones, giving her face an added lift to ensure that no one would mistake her for a simple student.
Leaning forward, she applied a dark red stain to full lips with a purposeful hand - a color that matched her nails and gave her a rather elegant, if slightly intimidating flourish.
First impressions are important.
Deftly pulling at the sweeping collar of her long sleeve white blouse, Hermione straightened the gold and red tie beneath it, smoothing the fabric over her chest and tucking it into the black vest that encircled her torso. Standing smoothly she waved a hand over the vanity and quickly magicked the antique table back into perfect order.
Stepping to one side neatly, her heeled boots clicked on the stone floor as she quickly gave herself a last once-over in the mirror.
It had been a difficult request to change the standard Hogwarts uniform, but after conferring with Madam Malkin and issuing one strongly worded letter to the Headmistress, Hermione had been granted a reprieve. The traditional short grey skirt and knee-high black socks upon a twenty-three year old body, particularly one as shapely as hers had been, well… not only childish, but downright inappropriate.
As she gazed at her reflection in the full-length mirror of her quarters, Hermione took a deep breath and attempted to settle the butterflies in her stomach.
The long, high-waisted grey skirt she had chosen instead was elegant. Affixed with a thin black belt and rectangular gold clasp, it hugged her figure in a way that was both becoming and professional, and she appreciated the heavier fabric that allowed it to swirl around her ankles as she moved. Above her skirt, the sweeping silk fabric of her ivory blouse was tucked in neatly and further contained by a form-fitting black vest that set off the gold in her Gryffindor tie with a lovely series of gold closures beneath the bust line.
Opening a hand, Hermione summoned the gold sigils bearing the mark of her Mastery. As she opened the other, her black robes flew over from the wardrobe and quickly hung behind her, allowing her to slide her arms into the heavier fabric with ease.
Her dark lips curved up into a smile and Hermione lifted a sculpted eyebrow as she surveyed her lithe silhouette with appreciation. A thank-you note to Madam Malkin would be in order.
The robes themselves were structured slightly differently than the traditional school robes. The Hogwarts crest still sat affixed above her left breast, but the generous sleeves were slit well past the elbow, allowing the fabric to drape elegantly while leaving her hands and arms free.
Most important for successful brewing.
The inside of her sleeves were lined with a deep red - still a shade of Gryffindor garnet to be sure, but with a sheen of black on the opposite grain that made it appear much darker as she moved. There was no hood - such juvenile things were unnecessary when Charms existed for a reason. Just a simple, stately line across the shoulders that gave her an appearance of added height.
With great care, Hermione opened the left side of her robes and quickly pinned the sigils beneath the patch of the Hogwarts crest so that they lay flat against her chest. Only she would know they were there.
Brushing her hands along the front of her robes, Hermione cast a quick tempus. The Sorting Ceremony would begin in mere minutes.
Summoning her wand wordlessly, she slid it into its holster with a practiced hand. Casting one last cursory glance over her immaculate quarters, Hermione spun on a heel, her dark robes billowing about her in a manner that would have made Severus Snape proud.
No, she was no Princess of Gryffindor any longer.
But she was a lioness with a mission and she hoped that it would be enough.
Minerva McGonagall sighed and surveyed her reflection with pursed lips.
Her ebony hair had been tamed into its usual severe hairstyle, with a slightly different part that allowed the shiny waves to sweep across her forehead in a more aristocratic manner. It had been an off-handed recommendation from Ginevra Potter and Minerva found that she rather liked it.
With familiar precision, her nimble fingers quickly swept a bit of apricot-colored blush beneath high cheekbones, giving her an added glow that set off bright emerald eyes. Deftly, she applied a layer of rosy-mauve to her lips, pausing to ensure the sweeping bow on her top lip was achieved to perfection.
She stood swiftly, holding out a hand and receiving her hat's floating entrance with practiced ease. Ginevra and her mother had also been responsible for the newest addition to her wardrobe and again, Minerva found herself accepting the change with an unexpected amount of appreciation.
The hat was made of dark black satin with a tall sweeping point that managed to look elegant rather than stereotypically crooked and witch-like. The brim was folded slightly, creating a narrower silhouette, and it was rimmed in a shimmering onyx with a sheen of emerald and rather pleasant shade of teal. A select bunch of iridescent raven feathers completed it and Minerva felt the colors offset her usual emerald robes quite nicely.
Glancing in the mirror, she tugged at the stiff collar of said robes and smoothed the heavy fabric with a careful hand. This particular set had a geometric pattern over the silken blend and it hugged her thin figure in a flattering way. It seemed a thank-you note to Madam Malkin would be in order.
Sighing, Minerva cast a quick tempus. The Sorting was due to begin shortly and for once, Minerva felt an uncharacteristic thrum of anticipation.
As Headmistress, greeting the first-years was now a duty that fell to Filius Flitwick, her Deputy, and Minerva merely had to offer the customary greeting following the Sorting Ceremony.
Beyond that, everything else either fell to Filius or the other Heads' of Houses as the students settled in for the new school year. It was a rather pleasant shifting of duties compared with the typical added strain of being Headmistress, and over the past several years, Minerva had found herself enjoying this night more and more.
However this year marked a new beginning… or continuation of events, rather… and Minerva was most curious to see how their newest returning student would weather the change.
Hermione Granger had disappeared shortly after the end of the War, to most everyone's surprise and consternation.
Including Minerva's own.
The War had concluded at the beginning of May, 1998 and the subsequent summer had seen Miss Granger and many of her friends at Hogwarts - pitching in to restore the venerable castle to working order before the start of the new term. Minerva had grown close to the young witch during that time… or so she had thought, as the two of them had spent many hours working to organize the relief efforts and the many volunteers who had shown up at the castle gates wanting to lend a helping hand.
They had spent so much time together - victory parties, funerals, complicated hours spent unraveling and re-working the castle warding… not to mention the many meals and teas taken in Minerva's office, or the deep conversations that had continued long into the night…
Throughout that summer, there had been no mention of anything amiss. Not a word nor indication of something awry, and therefore Minerva had assumed that Miss Granger would be resuming her studies along with the majority of her classmates when the new term began.
August had passed quickly and though she had wracked her brain for the past several years searching for an answer, Minerva could not pinpoint any hint as to why Miss Granger would have abandoned her education without confiding in her first.
And so, September first had arrived… and Minerva had been shocked upon gazing out over the bright sea of faces in the Great Hall and failing to see the familiar features of the young witch she had come to know so well… and whom she had quickly realized had become more to her than just another student.
A series of frantic owls had been sent to no avail… and it wasn't until Harry Potter ascended the stairs to the Head's office with a look of great guilt and a carefully sealed parchment that Minerva truly understood that the young witch would not be returning to Hogwarts.
Mr. Potter had simply given her the letter and left, everything in his countenance shouting loneliness.
Even now, her mind could recite the short note verbatim - recalling the precise script with ease and her mind echoing the words in the light voice she could not forget.
After Mr. Potter had left her office, Minerva had remained… staring blankly into the fire for hours as her mind worked to process just how precisely she had failed… failed the most promising witch of her generation, Miss- Hermione Granger. But before she had been able to rectify the situation, the witch was gone.
The subsequent year had been a struggle.
Harry Potter and Ron Weasley had seemed to understand her inner-conflict to some extent, for they had given her a wide berth… always disappearing from sight whenever she turned a corner, and choosing to sit at the back of her class and on the opposite side of the room from where the Trio had sat together for six years. In her own private way, Minerva had been appreciative of their quiet demonstration of solidarity.
Everyone missed Hermione.
And so it was better to rearrange things around her absence.
She knew the witch was in contact with the two boys. But Minerva could not bring herself to ask after Miss Granger's whereabouts nor her wellbeing. And the boys had respected that.
She was off. She was healing. She was safe… elsewhere.
And that had been enough.
That year had ended. Minerva had discovered the true challenges of governing such a venerable institution, and her class of seventh-years had graduated - most of them with more Order of Merlin's than honors. Their ceremony had been one of the few during which Minerva had shed tears. They had been her cubs… how small they had been as first-years. And what lions they had grown into.
To her selfish relief, Minerva had remained in contact with many from that graduating class.
Neville Longbottom had immediately returned as an Apprentice beneath the watchful eye of Pomona Sprout and had quickly cultivated a strong place for himself amongst the faculty and students alike.
Harry Potter and Ron Weasley had gone on to the Auror Academy and graduated with honors, though Minerva had proudly kept watch from the sidelines - joining the Weasley clan for Sunday dinner whenever her schedule allowed it.
Predictably and to everyone's collective joy, Harry Potter had married Ginevra Weasley following her graduation from Hogwarts… And while Minerva had been curious to see if the elusive Miss Granger would show for the festivities, she had not. It had been a sore point for Ron Weasley, but the newly wedded Potters had apparently taken it in stride.
And Minerva had not pressed.
Beyond her Gryffindors, Draco Malfoy had been an unexpected addition to their close-knit community. While there had been hints of friendship between the fallen boy and the Boy-Who-Lived during their final year at Hogwarts, it had not begun in earnest until Lucius Malfoy was locked away in Azkaban for good.
Remarkably, Draco had managed to slide into an easy, if somewhat complicated friendship with the Potters, close enough to warrant a weekly Tuesday evening pick-me-up in London if The Prophet was to be believed; they were occasionally joined by Luna Lovegood and Mr. Longbottom, whenever their studies allowed.
It seemed that Mr. Weasley remained cordial enough, but it was clear to Minerva that there would never be a close relationship between those two.
Draco had recently joined the Hogwarts staff as an Apprentice to Horace Slughorn the previous year, and while Minerva had harbored doubts about the young man, he had proven to be rather adept at managing the first-year Potions classes and had become a remarkably unrelenting authoritarian against Slytherin rule breakers. She had made no secret of her pride in the young man's development, and was pleased to see him slowly finding his way into the extended Hogwarts community.
A few years had passed and Minerva had fallen into her new duties and schedule with ease.
At the backdrop to the usual hustle and bustle of the school were the Ministry's added efforts to rebuild the dwindling magical population. The Potters were one of the first high-profile marriages endorsed by Kingsley Shacklebolt's newly pruned Ministry, and while Minerva sincerely believed in the direction of the new government, she had kept a close eye upon the Wizengamot's rulings.
The first year following the War had been infused with rumors of a Marriage Law… a harebrained notion cooked up in the Ministry's lower offices that was meant to rectify the many losses sustained by the Magical community. Minerva had been adamantly opposed, and despite the wave of support held within the locked chambers of the Wizengamot, she was one of few who knew that the Law had barely avoided passing at the eleventh hour.
Eventually a different compromise had been reached.
The Ministry had rolled out a new series of tax incentives that rewarded new marriages and subsequent offspring. Incentives were paired with a series of subsidized healthcare packages for couples seeking fertility treatment, with the Ministry even going so far as to boost research funds to St. Mungo's, which had been working on a magical pregnancy option for men for several decades.
Predictably, the first two years of the Ministry's plan had seen a wave of marriages amongst members of the younger generation.
Minerva had received numerous wedding invitations and announcements heralding new additions to families, and she had followed the proceedings with a careful eye. However, whisperings amongst older members of the Wizengamot had grown in strength and a year previous, it had been announced that there would be new tax penalties for unmarried citizens below the age of eighty - igniting a firestorm of public opinion that seemed to run the gamut of enthusiastic approval, to quiet resignation, to her own opinion which fell into the minority - indignant outrage.
Throughout the entire debacle, a part of Minerva had missed Miss Granger's fiery perspective on the entire matter. She had always imagined that the witch would enter the field of Magical Law. There had been several public hearings in which she had almost expected the young woman to drop in from the sky - swooping in to protect individual rights and declare war on the maelstrom of outdated opinions that found little fault in penalizing young people, widowers, and academics such as herself.
But the witch did not appear, and Minerva was unsurprised when the Ministry released a wave of new document packets to explain their bizarre and circuitous web of logic surrounding the proposed system of penalties and incentives.
Varied periods of deferment and forbearance were granted to divorcees, widowers, Mastery students, a smattering of public servants, and of course, several duly elected heads of state. The penalties were confusing and absolute, and Minerva had sent a scathing letter to Kingsley for having appointed Percy Weasley as Head of the Ministry's Registry Department.
Earlier in the spring, she herself had received a Ministry notice declaring her pressing need to find a partner; Minerva had responded with a tersely-worded Howler and had heard nothing further.
At the moment, penalties were an inconvenience that she could pay. But deep down, Minerva knew that the true fight against the Wizengamot's incompetence was still building… and it would only be a matter of time before she would need to sit down and settle her affairs before she was forced into an unpleasant situation.
In contrast to the national population panic, Hogwarts had found itself with larger classes as students born in the peace after the first war began arriving in droves. The struggle to accommodate the influx of new students was taking its toll, and the most recent summer had seen Minerva busy at the castle with little opportunity for respite as she searched for more teachers to offset the considerable increase in enrollment.
And then, with no warning… a rather eccentric owl had come unexpectedly.
Minerva paused as she recalled the August morning with startling clarity. Granted, it had been little over a week and a half ago, but the curious feeling still remained.
She had looked up from her morning correspondence to find a large black owl sitting patiently on her windowsill, its feathers boasting a rather unique pattern across the wings - almost like a spattering of gold ink.
After letting the bird in, it waited quietly on the back of a chair, watching her with gold eyes as she unfurled the attached parchment.
Her heart had nearly stopped upon reading the message it contained:
Headmistress Minerva McGonagall,
It is with great urgency that I write to you now in the fervent hope that you will consider my application and re-entrance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to complete my seventh year studies.
I apologize most sincerely for causing you difficulty with the late correspondence, though I admit that my decision has arrived in a moment of haste. That is not to say I have not repeatedly considered my return over the course of the last several years, though it has taken me until recently to determine that I have devoted enough time toward personal matters and I am finally ready to put my studies to rest and re-enter the Wizarding society of Great Britain.
I realize that my re-acceptance is predicated upon your understanding of my situation, though regretfully, I am unable to return to Scotland until August 31st. I would prefer to meet with you in person should you wish to discuss my most recent past history.
Please let me know what course of action would best meet with your approval.
The reproachful stare of the owl had shaken her from her surprise, and despite the overwhelming concern and curiosity she had felt upon reading the rather formal letter… Minerva had responded with a simple reply.
She would be delighted to welcome Miss Granger back to complete her seventh year at Hogwarts and further correspondence upon that issue would be unnecessary. Enclosed was the standard reading and materials list for all seventh year courses, (assuming that Miss Granger intended to pursue her previous array of electives). She also added that the private suite typically reserved for the Head Girl would be made available to her in Gryffindor tower, along with continued access to the Prefect's bathrooms on the fifth floor.
Minerva had bit her quill near the end, wondering just how to engage with the young witch after her absence of four years. A ruffle of feathers from the owl suggested that she simply get on with it, and she had been unable to prevent herself from writing a personal note at the bottom:
Miss Granger - While I admit that your owl has come as quite the surprise, I assure you that your return is a most welcome event; I speak for the rest of the staff by saying it will be a pleasure to see you in classes again. We await your return and expect to see you in time for the Start-of-Term Feast on Sept. 1st.
Sending the solemn owl off with her reply, Minerva had stood by the open window for quite some time.
It was the first and only time she had ever signed off on an official document with "Warmly, Minerva McGonagall," but something in her gut had told her that perhaps the young witch needed a bit of reassurance regarding her abrupt decision.
Electing not to message Molly Weasley for information, Minerva had simply returned to her duties - a quickly muttered spell had added Miss Granger's name to the list of incoming seventh-years with little fanfare. The witch's appreciative reply had come quickly, thanking her for her consideration and the extra accommodations. The second letter had been equally formal, though Minerva had taken it in stride, simply continuing with her duties with perhaps just a bit more bounce in her step.
The following days had proved to be a bit more of a headache as Minerva had been interrupted repeatedly by staff members bursting into her chambers, excitedly pointing out the witch's name on their class rosters and fishing for information. Septima Vector had been surprisingly emotional about the news, while Filius, Pomona, and Aurora had been positively elated.
Talfryn Hawtrey, Minerva's Transfiguration replacement for the younger classes had quickly stopped by, offering to trade her seventh years for one of the younger grades if she wanted an easier time of things. Minerva had been quick to shoot down that idea, pointing out that the younger classes were always the most needy and that he would simply have to find another means of getting the last of the Golden Trio into his clutches. The silver-haired wizard had guffawed loudly as he left her office pulling along an excited Neville, Hestia, and Hagrid who had trailed behind for gossip.
Minerva had been floored not twenty minutes later however, when Horace Slughorn had huffed into her office and very quickly informed her that under no circumstances would he be teaching Miss Granger seventh-year Potions as the witch had already made her formal debut into the Potions Society beyond her first classifications. Minerva had stopped open-mouthed at that, staring in disbelief as the portly wizard tossed her three separate editions of the witch's recently published papers in Ars Alchemica. The work was under a pseudonym, yes, ("Helena Graeme" seemed like a dead giveaway)... but a quick scan through affirmed her former protégé's refined sense of speech and word choice immediately.
Why had she not mentioned anything? Had the witch simply planned to sit through a year's worth of essentially remedial potions classes?
Minerva had half-listened as Horace babbled on about the witch's work, her questions only breeding more questions. Already it seemed that Horace wanted her to teach some of the younger classes and potentially assist Draco in his apprenticeship. It had been far too much to consider without the proper information and Minerva had quickly sent him away, before sitting heavily at her desk and vanishing Potions from Miss Granger's timetable.
Drawing herself back to the present, Minerva shook her head.
While Miss Granger was indeed a mystery that demanded careful unraveling, there was no use in pondering over the witch while her duties still remained. Minerva dimmed the lights in her personal suite before tucking her wand into her robes and setting off. Emerging into the Head's office, she glanced at the clock and saw that the first-years would likely be making their way into the boats by now.
Taking a deep breath, her lips quirked into a soft smile as a number of the portraits waved and saluted to her overhead. She gave an elegant nod, ignoring the more boisterous calls before closing her office door securely.
It is time.
A/N: The usual disclaimer holds - all Harry Potter characters in the verse belong to J.K. Rowling and my only profit is the enjoyment of other readers. There are a few original characters who will crop up along the way - they and their individual histories belong to me.