DISCLAIMER: I own nothing but this twisted so-called "plot".

.


Not surprisingly, Hermione didn't sleep that night either.

Ron left, and she stood frozen in the moonlit room for eons. Would misery and heartache ever end? Would she ever feel anything but complete devastation?
Devastation: That's what every aspect of Ron had conveyed. What if she had let him kiss her and touch her? She could have given him a moment of relief, much like she had taken from Pete the year before. Oh, but it could never have been as clinical as that with Ron.

She felt too horrified to cry... and it wasn't her right to cry. She had hurt him... hurt him so badly.

Like an iron-limbed automaton, she returned to her spot by the window and curled up with her knees pressed against her chest. There she sat till the moon faded into a gradually lightening sky.

At dawn, a man and his dog scampered across a distant field. Sometime later, a little bird landed on the window ledge and shook the dew off its brown wings.
Mrs. Weasley came out to feed the chickens. An aeroplane streaked across the sky.

Then the door to Ginny's room flew open, and Harry barged in.
"What the hell happened, Hermione?" he demanded.
Hermione didn't move from her corner, and she merely sighed, looking away from her agitated friend and back out the window. "Don't. Please."
"Don't what?!" Harry railed, "Ron woke Gin and me up in a towering rage a while back, muttering something about you being a... treacherous bint, and threw us out of his room. Now he's locked himself in there and won't come out. So tell me! What happened?"
"Harry... please."
"Hermione... he was fucking crying."
She squeezed her eyes shut and wrestled with her squirming insides. "He told me he's in love with me," she whispered.
Harry was quiet for so long that she was forced to look over to check if he was still there. And he was – wild-haired and wearing a puzzled expression. "O...kay?" he said uncomfortably, "That's... good, right? It's what you've wanted to hear for a long time. How did it get all bollixed up, then?"
"Harry..." she muttered, and looked away again.
"You didn't..." he sputtered incredulously, "You... You didn't turn him down, did you?" Her lack of response said it all. She felt his anger and disbelief bleed into the air and envelop her. "You did?! Hermione, what the fu– Why?!"
"I don't feel that way about him."
"Since when?" he raged, "I've watched you two for years, dancing around each other, fighting, being jealous and petty, making MY life bloody difficult... and when he finally decides to man up, you suddenly don't feel that way about him? That makes no sense!"
"It wasn't sudden," she replied thickly, (don't you dare cry.)
"Since when, then?"
"A while." And that was all she was willing to say.
"Fuck's sake," Harry growled, "How could you do that to him? He was in a fucking state... there was no reason to stomp all over is heart –"
"Do you think I wanted to do that?" Hermione hissed, jumping to her feet and rounding on him, "Do you really believe I wanted to hurt him? What would you have had me do?"
"You could have given him a chance! You could have made him feel a little less shitty!"
"How long? How long should I have kept up a charade before it would've been okay to break his heart?"
Harry huffed, pulling an agitated hand through his hair. "It wouldn't have to be a bloody charade. He's mad for you. You should've seen what the horcrux showed him before he destroyed it. It was basically all about you. And you wanted him too, once... maybe if you'd given him a chance, you'd have..." He trailed off.
"I'd have what?" Hermione spat with barely contained despair; her legs were shaking with the effort it took to keep standing, "I'd have come around? Maybe decided, hey alright, why not? When have you known me to be that fickle, Harry? When have you known me to make unconsidered decisions? Do you think I just went on a random whim when I realised I don't love Ron that way?"
"No..." he sighed tiredly, "Of course not..."
"Then what, Harry? What, what, what? We're so wrong for each other – and you know that. You know that. It could've been so much uglier... and giving in would have been unfair... to him... to me... I know he hates me now... and he'll probably not stop hating me... I hate me, Harry... I... I..."

She was hyperventilating, and Harry was staring at her in wide-eyed horror. She spun away from him once more, striding back to the window to press her forehead against the sun-warmed glass. Her vision was foggy – so she had succumbed to tears after all.
She heard his feet shuffling, and assumed he was leaving... until she felt two hands settle on her shoulders. Harry rested his chin on the top of her head and murmured, "Sorry. I just really wanted something good to happen, you know?"
Hermione blinked until the moisture collected in her eyes had cleared. When she looked out of the window again, she saw Ginny on a broom, circling the orchard at breakneck speed.


Reality demands
that we also mention this:
Life goes on.

Hermione had maintained her policy of not reading the Prophet ever since Harry's press conference at the Ministry. The only reason she had some idea of the news was because Mr. Weasley would return from work every evening, laden with information. He'd temporarily been assigned the role of scouring through all the documents of the past year, picking out individuals who'd been faithful to Voldemort's regime.
Thanks to him, Hermione knew about the hundreds who'd been imperiused, the hundreds who'd been persecuted and were now being given reparations. She knew that all dementors had been rounded up and locked away in the lowest rung of cells in Azkaban; the prison was now guarded by Aurors. She knew about the flurry of fast-track trials – as many as ten a day – being conducted by the Wizengamot. Death Eaters, corrupt officials, snatchers, et al were being jailed for life. Hermione heard about Yaxley, Umbridge, the Carrows, Dolohov, Nott Sr., Greyback... all being locked up for good.

On the evening of the sixth day after the war, Mr. Weasley emerged from the fireplace and threw a newspaper on the kitchen table. Then he walked purposefully towards the kitchen cabinet and began pulling out glasses.
The rest of the occupants of the room – all the Weasleys (sans George,) Lee Jordan, (who was the only person George allowed into his room,) Harry, and Hermione – gathered around the table. The headline read: Augustus Rookwood, Ex-Unspeakable and known Death Eater, sentenced to life imprisonment.
Mrs. Weasley let out a keening wail and fell into the nearest chair. Fleur promptly put an arm around her. Everybody else was frozen... with relief? With bitterness? With a feeling of futility? Staggered by the shocking hollowness of retribution?

Mr. Weasley handed them a tumbler full of firewhiskey each.


Day seven saw them all congregated at Andromeda Tonks' back garden, dressed once again in sober black dress robes. Once again, the pulsating bloom of summer mocked the occasion; the garden was full of poppies and peonies.

Under the shade of a lush chestnut tree were three caskets.

Andromeda was a statue before them. She held a bundle of blankets, housing the tiny, sleeping form of Teddy Lupin pressed against her bosom. Her face was the epitome of grace and composure; she had Bellatrix's features, it was true, but instead of flashing ruthless insanity, they exuded constraint and self-control. It was heartbreaking to behold.
As a complete contrast, to her right was Professor Sprout: Dishevelled, broken, and sobbing miserably into a soiled handkerchief.

"I'm a proud Hufflepuff, I am," said Tonks with a brilliant grin, "It's the best damn house. You know, in my fifth year, I sat the whole lot – first year to seventh year – down in the common room and taught them 'Yellow Submarine.' Merlin, how it stuck! It became our anthem... Drove Sprout up the wall, it did!"

To Andromeda's left was Malfoy, and his demeanour was similar to his aunt's. His jaw and fists were clenched, his eyes were lowered. Theo stood next to him, correspondingly sombre, and his arm was drawn around Luna, who was crying softly. Even Xenophilius had made it this time. In a bright blue wheel chair with a healer in tow, he was alarmingly skeletal. His once puffy hair had wilted.
The Weasleys all stood together in a cluster, watching Andromeda with profound understanding on their faces. All, except George, that is. Mrs. Weasley had stood outside his door for hours, begging him to come out, to no avail. A lot of the usual suspects where there – Kingsley along with a small army of Aurors, (all friends of Tonks, most probably,) Hagrid, McGonagall, Flitwick, Hestia, and... Honestly, etcetera.

"Wotcher," the pink haired woman said with a small wave, "I'm Tonks. Don't listen to what anybody else says in regard to my name, yeah? Nice to meet you."

Nearest to Lupin's casket slouched Harry, mourning the loss of yet another father-figure.

"You're the cleverest witch of your age I've ever met, Hermione."

"I'm not. If I'd been a bit cleverer, I'd have told everyone what you are!"

Here's what Remus Lupin was: One of the bravest people she'd ever known. Brave for not letting his condition beat him down, brave for carrying on even after everyone he cared for died, brave for surviving the death of the man he loved, brave for being endlessly kind rather than bitter, brave for putting away all his self-doubt and misgivings so that he may be a good father to his son.

The son who will never know him. God, it was all so miserable.

Only moments after Kingsley had entombed the caskets in soft grey marble, Teddy Lupin woke up. His loud, gurgling wails broke through the heavy poignancy around them. Immediately, Andromeda turned around and walked back into her house, head bent as she cooed and shushed at the bundle in her arms. Malfoy and Mrs. Weasley went after her.


Hermione attended three funerals on day eight.

First, there was Diggle's, held in a small graveyard somewhere in Somerset. His wife was as tall as he had been short; very stork-like. They laid him to rest just a few minutes after sunrise, and his tomb of pure white turned gold as the early rays of morning struck it.

Just four hours afterwards, Hermione stood between Harry and Dean in a muggle cemetery, attending the last rites of Colin Creevey. She barely saw anything beyond Dennis, so small and lost, clinging to his mother's side. Almost the entire Gryffindor house had turned up, as well as many people from other houses, in Colin's year.
Before his coffin was lowered into the ground, Neville and Seamus covered it with a blazing red Gryffindor banner.

Later, just before five o'clock, she was sitting outside a small mausoleum attached to a reasonable-sized estate. It was rather fitting, she thought, that the evening sky was lavender. There was a speech being made, about a beautiful girl with a beautiful soul, but all Hermione could think of was the girl who'd called her boring, stuck-up, swotty, ugly...
Stop it.
Lavender's mother, (an older, more voluptuous version of her daughter,) and father, (a tall, swarthy man with thinning hair,) were beside themselves. Parvati and Padma were three seats away, and it was like they'd been transported, undisturbed from when she'd seen them in the Great Hall a week ago.

There was another speech being made, about a brave, strong-willed girl with a heart of gold... and it was true. Ultimately, that's who Lavender Brown proved to be.

Her... ugh... body... wrapped up in pale pink silk was carried inside the mausoleum by her weeping father. The congregation stood as that happened. Hermione couldn't help but notice Ron – his shoulders slumped and his eyes full of tears – and she went up to him and took his hand.
He let her hold onto it... for all of five minutes... until the ceremony came to an end, and he yanked his hand away and stormed off.

xxx

At night she curled up under a thin linen sheet and Moon River played in her head in a beautiful, incessant loop. In the next bed lay a disgruntled Ginny who blamed her for not being able to spend the night with Harry anymore.

Two drifters off to see the world
There's such a crazy world to see

The crazy world was a flatland, and the ground was a carpet of clayey, ochre sand, sparingly shooting out short stalks of brittle, yellow grass. Barren trees with twisting branches sprung up here and there. The air shimmered and rippled with heat.

...Chasing after our rainbow's end...

The horizon line was defined by a purple, mountainous stripe. In the middle-ground sat the dilapidated ruins of the Tower of Babel, out of which a row of... crows? Dementors?... flew out and soared in a sweeping arch above her head.
The sky was pale blue. Cloudless. Glistening.
Hermione turned as she followed their flight...

...My dream maker
Heartbreaker
Wherever you're going I'm going the same...

She ran through the desert forever, staring at the dark flying shapes, half-blinded by the dazzling sky.

...What I see, who I become
We're all chasing after our end
Chasing after our ends...

She stumbled, and she screamed as she fell. The hot sand scalded her. With a gasp she sat up to see what she had tripped over... and it was a skull, made of lapis lazuli.
Then one of the black shapes in the sky swooped towards her... closer... closer... and it was Bellatrix, and she pounced on her, loomed over her... her deranged face filled Hermione's vision...
"HOW DID YOU GET INTO MY VAULT," Bellatrix shrieked.
"No – please –" Hermione gasped.
Suddenly, all the black flying things closed in... turned orange... blazing... they were ruthless flames of a raging fiendfire...
"NO!"

She was in Ginny's room, sitting up in her bed. Panting. Sweating. Shivering. She looked about her in a terrorised daze.
In the dark room, Ginny's eyes were black as they looked at her, before turning their blank gaze to the ceiling.


On the morning of day nine, Hermione sat at the Weasley kitchen table shelling peas. She lost herself in the mindless mundanity of the task, paying no mind to Ginny as she clumped out into the garden with her broom, nor to Harry, who followed with one of his own.
Plop-plop-plop, the peas spilled out of their pods into the bowl before her.

But she couldn't ignore it when loud shouts broke out from somewhere above. She didn't even get a chance to stand before thump, thud, bang, a bundle of bodies plodded down the stairs.

"NO! NO!" Mrs Weasley was half-sobbing, half-yelling, "I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE! He has to talk to me! HE HAS TO!"
"Mum..." Charlie implored. His arms were locked around her, trying to keep her from charging back up the stairs.
"NO!" Mrs. Weasley shrieked, "He has to come out! He has to talk to me! GEORGE! GEORGE! I AM YOUR MOTHER AND YOU WILL LISTEN TO ME!"
"Mum, please, calm down..."
Ron and Percy had come down to the kitchen too, gazing plaintively at their mother.
"He was my son! Fred was my boy and I lost him! I lost one boy and I shan't lose another! GEORGE! YOU HEAR ME – GEORGE! COME DOWN HERE AT ONCE!"
"Mum," Percy said forcefully. He went to stand in front of her and put both his hands on her shoulders. "Mum. Enough. Please, mum."
"He's... George... I... Oh, Freddy..."
With that, Mrs. Weasley broke down, teetering forward into Percy's arms. He led her into the sitting room, saying, "Shhh, it'll be okay..."
"No... No... It won't..."

When they had gone, Charlie breathed out heavily. He dug into his pocket to pull out a pack of cigarettes and shuffled out into the garden. The door closed behind him with a loud slam, and it left Hermione alone in the kitchen with Ron.

"Enjoyed the show?" he sneered.
Hermione stared at him with wide eyes and a quivering chin.
"Must be fun for you, eh, watching the destruction from the outside? Because perfect Hermione Granger hasn't lost a thing. Even the fucking war couldn't touch you. Perfect, perfect. You're alive, your fucking Slytherin chums are alive, you'll go off and get your parents back... everything's sodding dandy in the life of Hermione Granger."
"Ron –" she whispered piteously.
"We lost everything... everything. And you lost nothing. Not that you care, right? I saw you, at Fred's funeral... chatting up fucking Malfoy."
"Ron," she choked, "Ron, I wasn't –"
"Yes. You. Were. Just... get out of here. Bloody hell, why are you here? Why the bleeding shite are you here? Just get the –"

"Shut up, Ron. Shut up now."
Both Hermione and Ron jumped and looked towards the door. Unbeknown to them, Harry and Ginny had returned, and stood framed by the doorway wearing equally horrified expressions.
"What," Ron spat poisonously, "I'm just speaking the truth. She," he pointed viciously at Hermione, "Is living off our generosity, having a merry fucking time slagging around with Slytherin cunts –"
"Do NOT talk about her like that," Ginny roared, pulling her wand out. But Harry with his seeker-reflexes, caught her wrist before she could inflict any damage. "Get off me, Harry!"
"Er... Let's all... please calm down, yeah?" Harry whispered with desperation.
"THE FUCK I WILL –" Ginny thundered.
"Oh, right," Ron fumed, "One slag will defend another, yeah?"
"WHAT DID YOU SAY?" Ginny screamed, the same time as Harry growled, "Watch it, Ron..."

"Are you all quite insane?"
And it was Percy this time, speaking from the door that led to the living room. He looked from Ron's purple face to Hermione's bloodless one... from Harry restraining Ginny, to Ginny trying to launch herself at Ron.
"Our mother," he gritted out through clenched teeth, "Is in the next room, terribly upset. Stop this ridiculous, childish nonsense at once. Ron, get out."
"Excuse me, wha–"
"Get out. Walk your bloody temper off. Come back when you can speak civilly again."
"You're not the boss –"
"I swear to Godric, Ron, I will hex you if you don't leave right now." And surprisingly, albeit with a furious glare, Ron followed the command of the brother he claimed to not respect at all. "Ginny," Percy continued after Ron had flounced away, "Go to your room," and with an angry hiss, she acquiesced too.

Percy levelled a profoundly unimpressed look on Harry and Hermione before leaving. The awful ringing silence he left behind was thicker than slime. Just to break through it, Hermione scraped back her chair loudly as she got to her feet.
Not wanted, not wanted, not wanted. Had Ron voiced the sentiments of the entire Weasley clan? She'd never felt like such a sick parasite before... Not wanted.

"Hermione..." Harry whispered uncertainly.
She shook her head at him and turned away. With an inconspicuous sniff, she went over to the pantry and brought out a box of lemon balm tea leaves.
"I'm going to make some tea for Mrs. Weasley. Would you like a cup?"
"Er... sure..." Harry muttered.
Hermione put the kettle on.

xxx

When Ron got back, the sun had set and everybody was gathered in the sitting room, co-existing in silence. Wordlessly, he ensconced himself in an armchair by a window, which he stared moodily out of.
Ginny glowered at him. She and Hermione were sitting on the floor by Mrs. Weasley's feet, helping her untangle a mountain of wool. They were doing it without magic, painstakingly, as again, the absorption that such a tedious task provided was truly welcome.

They heard the floo go off in the kitchen, and Mr. Weasley's voice was heard calling out: "Molly? Percy?"
"In here, Arthur," Mrs. Weasley called back.

He wasn't alone. He walked primly into the room, and close after him entered Kingsley, as regal as ever in faun coloured robes and carrying a dragonhide briefcase.
"Oooh," Mrs. Weasley squeaked, "Kingsley! Er – Minister, Er –"
Kingsley rolled his eyes, "We've been over this, Molly. I'm still the same person... the person who rather loves your gooseberry pie..."
"Of course, of course," she muttered, "Do sit down..."

"So what brings you here?" Mrs. Weasley asked as she handed him a hefty slice of pie.
"A couple of things," he smiled, "And thank you so much for this. You've salvaged a really rotten day." He helped himself to a forkful and closed his eyes blissfully. "Well, let's get down to it, I suppose. First, Percy."
The man in question started and blinked at Kingsley through his horn-rimmed glasses. "Me, Minister?"
"Yes. I'm sure Arthur's been telling you how hectic things are getting in the Ministry. It's pure madness on most days. We're woefully understaffed... so many have been sacked, imprisoned, or are currently receiving treatment at Mungo's. We're in desperate need for efficient, organised, steadfast workers..."
"Are you –" Percy stammered, "Are you saying –"
"Come back to work, Percy. I would like to offer you your old job again: I could really use a good senior assistant."
"I don't know what to say," Percy replied thickly, "I... I've made mistakes, Minister... bad choices..."
"Who hasn't?" said Kingsley with a shrug, "I know you're a hard worker. So what will it be? Can I expect you in my office bright and early tomorrow morning?"
Percy swallowed, and needlessly straightened his glasses. "Yes. Absolutely."
"Wonderful," Kingsley exclaimed. He finished up the last of his pie, and then he set the empty plate on the centre table. "I would like to talk to Harry, Hermione, and Ron privately now, please."

The others rose and exited the room promptly, (Ginny kept looking suspiciously over her shoulder,) and the remaining three all seated themselves on the sofa in front of Kingsley.

First, he looked at Harry: "As the chief representative of the British Ministry of Magic, I would like to inform you that the government wishes to award you an Order of Merlin, First Class –"
"No," said Harry, promptly.
Kingsley smirked, "Perhaps you will prefer my suggestion? A collective award, for all those who fought –"
"Yes," said Harry without delay.
"All right," Kingsley was most amused, "There is a small ceremony planned for the fifteenth... if you all could please make an appearance..." He then popped open his briefcase and turned to Hermione and said, "These are for you." He held out a pillbox hat and a wooden spatula. "The hat will take you to the Ministry of Magic head office in Melbourne on the sixteenth of May at nine PM sharp. This one... the spatula... will bring you back here. The date and time is up to you; a simple expurgo will activate the portkey."
Hermione set the objects on her lap with reverence. "Thank you."
Kingsley waved away her thanks and proceeded to hand them a crisp white envelope each. The letter inside read:

SUMMONS TO WITNESS AT THE TRIALS OF LUCIUS MALFOY AND NARCISSA MALFOY

To,
Hermione Jean Granger,

You are required to attend to give evidence in court at the hearing of this proceeding on Wednesday, the 13th of May, 1998, at The Ministry of Magic, London, at 11 am sharp, and are to remain until your attendance is no longer required.

Issued by (Interim) Chief Warlock
Tiberius Ogden

"What d'you need us for?" Ron grunted, "Lock them up."
Both Hermione and Harry opened their mouths to speak, but were cut off by Kingsley.
"It isn't that easy, Ron," he said, suddenly seeming tired.
"Because of their twatty son's deal with Lupin, yeah?"
"Well, yes. Which is why I need you to be at the ministry at nine – there's going to be a closed... trial... of sorts for Draco. I've tried my best to shut it down, but the Wizengamot insists, and I don't have the power to overrule them. It'll just be Ogden, two other members, and I... and a few witnesses... it's all ridiculous, of course... as far as I'm concerned, Draco Malfoy does not deserve punishment of any sort."
Ron scoffed, "And all the shit he pulled in sixth year?"
"Under duress, you mean?" Kingsley asked with a frown, "His actions after are what I'm concerned with. I have spoken to Andromeda Tonks, Neville, Seamus, Bill, Theodore, and Luna... they've all agreed to speak in his favour. Now if the three of you would agree –"
"Yes," Hermione said with an immediacy that surprised her. Harry nodded, and Ron... looked away.
"Ron?" Kingsley prompted.

"Fine," he muttered, not meeting the Minister's eye, "He... helped protect my family... so I suppose. Just this once. Then we're even, and I can hate the bastard with a clear conscience."
Harry laughed; Kingsley's lips twitched.
"As for the trials of Lucius and Narcissa –"
"She lied to Voldemort... it's what kept me alive..." Harry mumbled.
"Yes," Kingsley averred, "Are you willing to testify on her behalf?"
"Yeah."
"Well then. With that, and the conditions of Draco's deal, I have no doubt that she'll escape Azkaban. And Lucius –"
"You can't be serious," Ron blurted.
"Oh, he's going to jail. For a good long time," said Kingsley with promise, "Just, unfortunately, not for life." He held up his hand as Ron made to protest again. "Not ideal... I know. But again, it's what Remus promised Draco, and I am going to honour his promise for him."

Obviously, none of them could object to that. They remained lost in their own musings for some time, until Kingsley clapped and rubbed is palms together and said, "There's one more thing – oh, don't look so worried – these are happier tidings! I had gone to Hogwarts yesterday to see how the repair work is coming along, and I'm please to tell you... it's nearly complete; nearly restored to its former glory. We'd called in a team from France to help with the architectural restructuring, and –"
"Why is it," Hermione interrupted, fighting to keep a tremor out of her voice, "That it was so easy to get foreign aid now, and not during the actual war?"
Kingsley sighed and turned his eyes heavenwards. "We have very strict non-interventional policies in place, Hermione. It's difficult enough to maintain the Statute of Secrecy during a time of conflict, domestically, without it becoming an international –"
"But surely the rest of the magical world knew that Voldemort would not be satisfied with taking over merely Britain!" Hermione exclaimed incredulously, "He was out for world domination – everybody's lives were at stake!"
"There are laws, Hermione, that are –"
"Preposterous!"
"...Maybe so..." suddenly he smiled, "This is, actually, a good preamble for what I was about to say – Hogwarts is almost ready to be reopened, and you will be getting your letters soon – Minerva wants to give the students in your batch a chance to redo their final year. However, I have an alternative proposition for you: Come work for the Ministry. As I said to Percy, we're short-staffed, and you three are some of the finest young people I know. Pick your department – Harry, I know you've always wanted to be an Auror... and you, Ron. Hermione the International Magical Office of Law will be honoured to have you."

She gaped at him with something akin to panic swirling in her gut.
The war was over, and he was offering a fresh start, a new life, a complete change of pace. "But... what about our N.E.W.T.s?" she spluttered. Her heart was thudding so disturbingly.
Kingsley threw back his head and guffawed. "Completely unnecessary, Hermione. I think you've rather proved yourselves already... you don't need grades, or a piece of parchment to validate your abilities! ...So? Internships and training will commence on the first of August."
"I'm in," Harry said with a short, sure nod.
Ron, who'd gone back to scowling out of the window, shrugged. "Sure. Whatever."

A fresh start, a new life, a complete change of pace...
No.
She wasn't ready. She wasn't... complete. Hermione Granger did not skip steps.
"I'm sorry, Kingsley," she said, "I will have to decline. I want to go back to Hogwarts, I want to complete my education. I think –"
She broke off to stare at Harry – he was chuckling. "Kingsley, she wouldn't be Hermione if she didn't jump at the chance to go back to school. I'm sure she's been looking forward to sitting for her N.E.W.T.s since our first day at Hogwarts."
"Not the first," Hermione mumbled, giving Harry the first genuine smile she'd indulged in in a long, long time.
"No?" he asked her fondly.
"Before. Since I'd read about them in Hogwarts: A History."
He grinned, and it was full of so much affection that she wanted to hug him.

Kingsley, too, was grinning as he stood up. "Fair enough, Hermione. But remember, there will always be an opening for you at the Ministry." He smoothened down his robes and picked up his briefcase. "I must be going now... thank you for your time. I'll see you tomorrow."
He left, and the reminder of what the next day was to bring fell like a bucket of ice cold water on Hermione's cheery mood.


Day ten: The Ministry of Magic atrium.

Hermione's sensible shoes clicked in tandem with Harry, Ron, and Percy's footsteps as they marched towards the lifts. Out of habit, Hermione looked at her wrist to check for the time – she still wore her broken watch, stuck at twelve-forty AM. Her watch was still stuck on the night of the final battle.

As the lift descended, Hermione was once again thrown back to her morning as Mafalda, standing stricken behind Umbridge. The feeling got stronger and stronger as they walked down the Department of Mysteries corridor, down the flight of stairs leading to the courtrooms...

"Here," said Percy after leading them to a large, dark door, "Courtroom six."
They were, evidently, the last to arrive. The highest bench was already occupied by Kingsley (who smiled encouragingly at them,) Ogden, (who also smiled), and two witches in plum coloured robes – one curious, one sneering. Percy went to sit by Kingsley, parchment and quill in hand, leaving Hermione, Harry, and Ron to take a seat on the benches that lined the sides of the room.
There sat Andromeda, expressionless, and Neville, in expensive silk dress robes. Seamus, with his face completely healed gave them a little wave. Luna smiled. Bill nodded.
Hermione sat down beside Theo, but he wouldn't look at her. He was sitting absolutely still, staring at the straight-backed wooden chair in the middle of the room as he chewed at his tongue; a sure sign of internal chaos. He twitched oddly when the door opened, and Malfoy walked in, flanked by two Aurors.
Hermione watched him closely, trying to gauge something out of the cold aloofness of his demeanour... Just as he lowered himself into the chair, he said something to his escorts, and they laughed, one even lightly thumped his back good naturedly.

Ogden cleared his throat. "Closed hearing to determine the culpability of Draco Lucius Malfoy in his role as a Death Eater under the service of Tom Marvolo Riddle, otherwise known as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
"Interrogators: Kingsley Shacklebolt, Minister of Magic, Tiberius Ogden, Chief Warlock, Edwina Lumbard, senior member, Wizengamot..."

Ogden droned on, naming everybody in the room. Hermione rolled her shoulders, overcome with a need to fidget. She had a lump in her throat.

"...Court Scribe: Percy Weasley..."

Luna had clasped Theo's hand. Seamus was drawing invisible spirals on the floor with his shoe. Hermione bit her lips between her teeth.
She looked at Malfoy again; his arms rested along the slim arms of his chair, and his fingers were drumming against the edges intermittently, as though tapping against phantom piano keys. And when had he decided to stop combing back his hair, she wondered inanely. Was his spine so taught with fear, or pride? Hang it all, she was nervous for Draco Malfoy.

"...Neville Longbottom, and Seamus Finnigan.
"The charges against the accused are as follows: That he did freely and willingly join the ranks of the followers of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, those that called themselves the Death Eaters," (Malfoy's hands curled into fists,) "That he did invite He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named to take sanctuary in his home," (Malfoy's calm facade dropped; he glowered at Ogden,) "That he did, under the orders of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, spend the majority of his sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry securing a way to introduce Death Eaters into the castle. That he did, through his actions, cause near-fatal accidents to befall his fellow students, Ronald Weasley and Katie Bell," (Malfoy's lip curled,) "That he did, ultimately , succeed in completing his mission on the thirtieth of June, nineteen-ninety-seven, which resulted in a battle that injured many. That he did, disarm a weakened and sickly Albus Dumbledore, and threaten to take his life. That he did subsequently, live as a fugitive from justice. That he did, continue to serve He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named loyally and –"
"Not true," Malfoy cut in loudly.
"You will be given a chance to speak later, Mr. Malfoy!" the sneering witch – Edwina – shouted.
"Er..." Ogden stammered uncomfortably, "Right then. Do you, Draco Lucius Malfoy, deny the previously stated charges?"
"I deny their premise," Malfoy replied, slow and sharp, "I was neither free nor willing when I was being marked. Had I refused, my parents and I would have been killed. " Suddenly, the pace of his speech trebled, "The Dark Lord, mind you, doesn't ask. I wasn't offered the mark, and I didn't invite him into my home –" he paused to laugh bitterly, "–This is such bullshit. Did you hear yourself prattle? What do you think, we had the Dark Lord over for tea, and he was completely delightful, offered to give me a sweet little tattoo, and we enjoyed his company so much that we simply had to have him stay on?"
"Your insolence is highly inappropriate, Mr. Malfoy!" Edwina snapped. (Hermione heard Theo let out a quiet groan.)
Ogden, however, looked thoroughly chastise as he fretfully shuffled his papers around. The other witch – Zoya something – seemed stricken.
Malfoy wasn't done: "And just so you know, I never served the Dark Lord out of loyalty. Never. And if you've seen Remus' memories, which I'm sure you have, you'll know that I tried to get out of it multiple times... But apparently Dumbledore had big plans that couldn't be derailed, right?"
"Look, Draco," Kingsley began tiredly.
"What is this, Minister?" Malfoy spat, "I was promised I wouldn't have to deal with any of this. I answered all of Remus' questions, under the influence of Veritaserum! We had a deal! We had a deal, and you broke it! You've taken my mother into custody, you're treating me like a criminal... I've helped, spied, and fought for your side..."
"Hear, hear!" Neville and Seamus chorused.
"You tell 'em, Ferret boy," Seamus added.
Sneery Edwina was beside herself, "Order! Order in the court!"

Like true Gryffindors, Neville and Seamus took their time settling down, and Malfoy, the inscrutable prat, was smirking at them. Hermione thought Theo might chew his tongue right off.
Eventually, after calm had been restored, Kingsley stood up and turned to the other three at his bench. "I'm afraid," he said authoritatively, "This farce of a trial has gone on for too long. You have seen Remus Lupin's memories, and I, along with numerous members of the Order have told you about the role Mr. Malfoy has played in the war. Now if you insist on hearing the testimonies of these witnesses, so be it, but I can assure you that if you don't vote in this young man's favour, I will make it my personal mission to keep appealing on his behalf until the verdict is overturned."
"This is intimidation!" Edwina shrieked.
"This is honouring an agreement!"
"Please, please calm yourselves," poor old Ogden implored, "Let's put it to a vote, shall we? All in favour of dismissal...?" He raised his hand, and so did Zoya Something. "All right. Case dismissed." He jumped to his feet. "We have another trial to get to in an hour, and I would truly appreciate some refreshments before that. Minister?"

A slightly dazed Kingsley, a ludicrously jaunty Ogden along with Sweet and Sneery left the courtroom. That's when Seamus punched his fist into the air, Luna and Bill applauded, and Theo leapt off the bench. Malfoy had hardly gotten to his feet when Theo reached him and whacked him on the shoulder.
"What the fu–"
"You Merlin be damned moron. Couldn't you control yourself for ten fucking minutes?"
"What are you talking about? Everything turned out just fine?" Malfoy scowled.
"But what if it hadn't?"

He didn't get a chance to answer. A bailiff of some sort in light purple robes came to inform him that his parents were in a holding room and wished to see him. He rushed off, and Theo rushed off. Ron whispered something to Harry and hurried away as well. Andromeda muttered a hoarse, "I must get back to my grandson," and left.

Hermione, Harry, and Luna lingered in the empty courtroom for a while after Neville, Seamus, and Bill had bid them farewell.
"Well, that was something," Harry quipped.
Hermione nodded dumbly.
"Theo was so worried," Luna said, "But I'd told him they couldn't possibly put Draco in Azkaban. They'd have saved themselves so much trouble if they'd bother to look at his aura."
As they sauntered out into the stone corridor, Hermione asked Harry, "Where did Ron go?"
"To see Reg Cattermole," he replied, peering at her from the corner of his eye, "He wants to apologise for getting his family into trouble."

While waiting for the next trial to begin, Hermione pondered over the impossible complexity of human nature until she felt acutely, unbearably... uncomfortable.

xxx

The trials of Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy had lasted for an hour. They'd sat through the proceedings with stony expressions, speaking in monosyllables as much as possible. Narcissa Malfoy, though exponentially less polished than usual, managed to display some elegance. Thanks to Harry's testimony and her son's deal, she had been acquitted. Her husband was sentenced to a twenty year jail term. Hermione hadn't really looked at him much, not even while relating the events that had taken place at Malfoy Manor; the impression she was left with was long, limp, tangled white hair, hollow eyes, and sunken cheekbones.
The moment it was over, Theo and Malfoy had taken Narcissa away, doing their best to shield her from reporters and photographers. She'd been deathly white.

Sat on the floor by the window once more, Hermione told Ginny all that had happened. The sun was setting and Ginny's head was ablaze.
"Harry told me you've all been offered jobs at the ministry," she said, leaning back against her arms.
"Yes..."
"And he told me you've decided you'd rather go back to Hogwarts."
Hermione looked out at the world, squinting against its radiance. "Harry said I wouldn't be me if I didn't go back."
"Hah. No. You wouldn't. And... Hermione... I'm really glad that you are. I'm really glad that you'll be there."
They smiled at each other.
"And," Ginny continued, "I'm really glad that you're here right now. I know I've been a bit of a bitch –"
"Ginny, no..."
"Definitely a bit of a bitch, but knowing you're there... it's meant a lot. So just... don't listen to what Ron says..."
Hermione sighed, and she pressed a palm against her eyes. "He's so angry, Ginny."
"Well, of course he is. It's how we Weasleys process hurt, you see. There was no way this could've gone well, Hermione. He'll heal."
"But do you think he'll ever forgive me?" she asked in a small voice.
"I don't know."


Eleven days after the war, she wandered deep into the orchard with her copy of Hogwarts: A History, trying to relive the wonder she'd felt as an eleven year old. She couldn't get beyond the chapter about the Great Hall; printed words described a lavish room with a spectacular seeing, and her mind showed her images of people bleeding and crying, of a line of dead bodies. Her mind showed her chaos and flashing lights, madness and desperation... and a large chunk of mortar falling upon an unsuspecting –

Hermione shut the book and pulled out Bellatrix's wand, balancing it on her open palm. She'd barely done any magic in the past eleven days. Two days later, she'd have to use this wand to bring back her parents – this wand – this wand – this wand. Her idea of penance was a silly one.


The man on stage was a complete sodding dunce.
"...and though many lives were lost, the legacy of this war is the victory of good over evil, of light over dark, of love over hate..."
A total prick. Hermione wanted to pull off her shoe and hurl it at him.

On the twelfth day, she was in a jam-packed auditorium in some corner of the Ministry, listening to a brain-dead hack wax poetic about the nightmare they'd lived through.

"...will be honoured for their sacrifice – their valour will live on through us. They fought a righteous battle for a glorious new world..."

There was no righteousness in war; no glory in battle. This man – this sap – knew nothing. He'd probably hidden away during the entire thing... He wouldn't have been talking like that if he'd seen what it had really been like.
If he'd seen his friends fall to a pointless death. If he'd seen how a mother looked upon losing her child. If he'd felt the terror of facing death, a giant snake, a roaring blaze...
If he'd been hurt, cursed, tortured...
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

She looked to her left, to a row of frosty faces. Harry, Ron, Dean, and Seamus' eyes were glazed like they were back in Binns' classroom. Ginny looked like she was a second away from casting a Bat-Bogey hex. She looked to her right, to another row of frosty faces. Neville's eyes were narrowed; Luna was examining the speaker like she thought he wasn't quite sane. And Theo and Malfoy... with identical expressions of disgust like they each had a whole lemon in their mouths...

Hermione began to giggle and it rang out like the tinkling of a dinner bell. On either side, the once frosty faces turned to stare at her with disbelief... before almost collectively thinking oh what the hell, and joining right in with her.
Her tiny little giggle had triggered a cloudburst of laughter, and Mr. Chest-Thumper stood up on his pedestal fuming in affronted silence.

xxx

"You nutter, I love you," Theo sniggered, plucking at her sleeve.

The "ceremony" had dissolved very quickly once the audience realised that they could laugh their way to the end. After days of fights and funerals it had felt so surreal to be lost in a sea of laughter...

"I'm a genius, aren't I?" Hermione grinned.

They were walking to the lifts in a double file of sorts: Harry and Ron preceded Hermione and Theo, who preceded Malfoy and Neville...
Two rows of photographers flanked their path.

"Well, I've always said so."

"Mr. Potter, Mr. Potter – this way – please! Mr. Malfoy! Ms. Lovegood! Neville Longbottom...!."

"By the way..."
"Hm?"

"Give us a smile, Ms. Granger, C'maaan! Mr. Potter, Mr Potter! Nott and Malfoy – Slytherin turncoats – over here, halloa!"

"Are you sure you want to come with me tomorrow? I mean..."
"Do you want me to throw you to the hounds?"

"Mr. Longbottom – pretend you're holding a sword! A picture of Potter, Weasley, and Granger... go on!"

Then they were in a lift, shooting up towards the atrium.
Their short journey to the Ministry fireplaces was much more peaceful. Luna skipped over to Theo's other side, "You saved the day, Hermione."
"She really did," Theo seconded, putting an arm around each girls' shoulders.
"You're leaving tomorrow aren't you?"
"Yes, Luna."
"I hope it goes well. If only daddy had been able to complete the diadem he'd been making, I'd have let you borrow it."
"That's very kind of you..."

Even in the atrium, however, people kept pausing to gawk at them. When one pretty young thing stopped dead to blink at Theo, his walk turned into a strut. He unceremoniously pulled Hermione and Luna closer, offered the woman a rakish smile, crooning, "Well hello, there."
In unison, Hermione and Luna threw Theo's arms off. Hermione daintily stepped closer to Luna and looped her arm around the other girl's.
"Hey!" Theo cried in an injured tone.
They ignored him, and picked up their pace.
"Oi!"
Luna tittered.


Her beaded bag was packed, with all the photographs she'd taken from her parents' attic spread across the top. There was so much rubbish in there though... It still had more than half of Harry and Ron's clothes... a mini apothecary... The bloody portrait of Phineas Nigellus...
She'd empty it out. Later.

From Ginny's room she climbed up one floor. Standing in the landing, she breathed in heavily, and then knocked on the door to the left.
"George?" she called, "It's me Hermione."
Not a voice, not a sound of acknowledgement.
"I'm leaving tonight. Er... right now. I don't know for how long... and I – I – suppose I just wanted to say goodbye."
Silence.
"Um... take care of yourself."

She let herself linger for ten seconds.

The Weasleys and Harry were all in the kitchen, waiting to see her off. She got an exceptionally warm hug from Mrs. Weasley. "Best of luck," they murmured, "Keep in touch, let us know if you need anything." Ginny squeezed her hand.
"Come," said Harry with a tilt of his head, "I'll walk you out."
Ron was standing by the threshold, and as his eyes met hers, he offered her a gruff, "Take care now."
"You too, Ron," Hermione whispered, because it didn't sound like he was being sarcastic.

Harry shoved his hands into his pockets as they moved towards the closest hillock; Theo's silhouette could be seen standing on the very top. It was the very same one upon which she'd sat less than a year ago, after she'd altered mum and dad's memories.
She'd come full circle in a way – a jagged circle with a blade like edge. She almost couldn't believe she had been the one living through all she had lived through.

Circle: A continuous curved line, the points of which are always the same distance away from a fixed central point.
Ha – she couldn't claim to have known such consistency. A circle is a whole... and wasn't it just so fucking poetic that on coming to the end of this circle of hers, she was feeling anything but?


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A/N: This story is a year old now. Omg.