Author's Note: This story is painstakingly being beta'ed by tectonictigress—well after it, and its sequel, have been posted. A big shout-out and an eternally grateful thanks to her. She is awesome! Please note that I do not own Harry Potter.

o-o-o

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I've tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

-Robert Frost

o-o-o

Hermione Granger sat at the worn kitchen table in the Burrow, flanked by her two best friends, Ron Weasley and Harry Potter. The new Minister for Magic sat across from them, his hands folded neatly in front of him, slouched comfortably into his seat. "It is sufficed to say that the Ministry is impressed with how the three of you handled the events that were presented to you in the last year. You will find enclosed in these three envelopes letters offering you three positions in the highly sought after Auror's program."

He slid three envelopes across from the table at them. In the two and a half months since the War had ended, they had given interviews to multiple reporters, been handed book deals, and had many job offers extended their way. Ron basked in the attention, finally being recognized for the first time in his life. Harry hated the limelight but felt that people deserved to know the truth after so many years shrouded in darkness and deceit. Hermione despised every interaction they'd had with the public since the War.

She wanted nothing more than to take Headmistress McGonagall up on her offer to return and complete her final year. She was nearing nineteen now and felt as though she needed to finish her education sooner rather than later. Let her life follow the course it should have, had it not been for the War. She opened her envelope as the two men on either side of her did. A quick scan of the arse-kissing letter contained within confirmed her thoughts. The Ministry had rejected Harry for the better part of his life, refusing to believe Voldemort had returned and then laying down and allowing itself to fall straight into his hands during the War. And now they valued his opinion and hard work? She scoffed. "Glad to see the Ministry has finally come around," she replied, crumpling her letter.

"'Mione," Ron admonished.

"Hermione. Kingsley is the Minister now. Things are changing for the better. It's what we fought for," Harry reminded her.

Shacklebolt nodded. "We're stronger than ever, Miss Granger. We would love it if the three of you joined our ranks."

"And what? Skip our education? Ignore the N.E.W.T.s in favor of some fleeting chance we could become Aurors?"

"It is more than a fleeting chance. You have already defeated the evilest of all wizards. You three are, in some ways, more knowledgeable than many of the Aurors currently employed," Kingsley argued politely.

Harry snorted at that. "Clearly," he allowed in a rare moment of arrogance.

Ron was reading over his letter, a broad smile across his face. "No more three-foot essays on the alignment of the stars? No more transfiguring teacups into kittens? No more studying in the library with Hermione for days on end?" a glazed look reached his eyes.

Shacklebolt grinned back. "It is totally hands on. Theory is taught and then put into practice, like an official 'Dumbledore's Army.'"

Ron grinned wickedly and looked at Harry who seemed to be in agreement. He then caught sight of the look on Hermione's face and his smile fell slightly. "Come on, 'Mione. Think about it. This is the opportunity of a lifetime. We're being offered a job we're overly qualified for," he winked at Kingsley who laughed, "and we don't have to sit behind the desk in the Potions classroom while Neville blows his latest disaster up."

She frowned more deeply. "How long?"

"Two years," the Minister replied.

Even Ron looked disgruntled at that. "Two years?"

Kingsley sat back again. "Yes. Two years. You three are good, but there is still much about the Dark Arts you aren't aware of. It's an apprenticeship of sorts. But there is one thing…"

"Out with it then," Harry insisted.

"No outside contact with anyone for the duration of training. It is dangerous to be exposed to outside influences at such a crucial period of regrowth."

The three gaped at him. "So, you want to break us down and rebuild us the way you want us," Harry said, also sitting back and taking in all of the information. "How very Third Reich."

Harry's reference went over Ron and the Minister's heads and Hermione bristled next to him. "Precisely."

"I understand if you need time to think about it, but do not wait too long. Training begins September 1st," and with that Kingsley swallowed the rest of his tea and stood.

Mrs. Weasley came in then and invited him to stay for dinner. She led him into the living room where Mr. Weasley and Charlie were talking. The three parts of the Golden Trio looked at each other.

"I'm going."

"I'm not going."

It was Harry and Hermione who had spoken at the same time. Of course Harry wanted to go—chasing and overthrowing Dark Wizards had consumed his life for almost eight years—it was all he knew. Ron seemed to be torn between his two best friends. He looked between them and gave Hermione a pained look. "Hermione, we may never get another opportunity like this again."

"I've made my decision, Ronald. I want to return to Hogwarts. I enjoy learning, if you hadn't noticed. And I think I've had quite enough Dark Wizard hunting to last me a lifetime. I want to turn my attention to other avenues now," she said, huffing impatiently.

"You can't possibly be talking about spew!" he exclaimed.

"It's S.P.E.W., Ronald, and that is only one aspect of my future plans."

"What about us?" he whispered and Harry took this as his cue to go into the living room and announce his acceptance.

"What about us?" she asked, avoiding his gaze.

"I thought we were heading toward…something…" he said, grabbing her hand under the table.

"I did, too. But that doesn't change my mind. I have no desire to be an Auror. Harry didn't even confer with Ginny before he made his choice, so why are we having this discussion?" she asked.

"Harry knows that Ginny would hex his bollocks off if he turned it down-"

"Is that what it's going to take for you to accept Shacklebolt's offer?" she asked him playfully, trying her best to hide her sadness.

Ron looked at her then, conflict clear in his bright blue eyes. She knew he wouldn't want to leave her, but he needed to take this offer. Another offer this sweet probably wouldn't present itself in his lifetime, he wasn't the academic type anyway. But that didn't mean she was going to chase after his dreams as her own just to try to salvage the relationship they might have.

She leaned over and kissed his cheek, putting her most genuine smile on. "Ron. This is your dream and an opportunity of a lifetime. You'd be a fool not to take it."

"What about us?" he asked again, his voice barely above a whisper.

"Get through Auror training and we can revisit us. I will not allow you to throw this opportunity away."

Ron looked pained, though Hermione could tell he was fighting a smile of excitement. "Well, we've got six weeks left of this summer to spend together."

She gave him a genuinely happy smile and grabbed his hand. "Do you want to break the news to your mum before or after you accept the offer?" she asked with a laugh.

He groaned. "After. That way she can't try to talk me out of it."

"Oh, she'll still try to talk you out of it," Hermione reminded him as they entered the living room.

Shacklebolt smiled up at the pair and held out his hands expectantly. "Well? Ron? Hermione? What do you say?"

Ron grinned and held his hand out and gave Kingsley a firm handshake. "Can't wait."

Kingsley looked expectantly at Hermione and she bit her lip and averted her eyes as she shook her head. "I'm sorry. I'm a little sick of my life being in danger constantly. I'd rather finish my education at Hogwarts and focus my attention elsewhere."

Shacklebolt's smile didn't waver. "The Ministry's loss, then. We could have used your brilliance on the force. But, I can't say I blame you."

Ginny congratulated Harry, truly happy for him even though she knew she'd be sacrificing her own happiness. Hermione envied her in that moment, mourning her own loss silently as she put on her best brave face. Kingsley turned to Harry. "Mr. Potter, there is another reason why I'm here. We need to discuss your testimony at the Malfoy's trial tomorrow."

o-o-o

The Wizengamot had stepped out to deliberate and come up with a punishment for Draco Malfoy. He stood in the hallway outside of the courtroom, pacing nervously. They'd been out for nearly two hours. His father had been sentenced to receive the kiss and indefinite incarceration in Azkaban. His mother had been sentenced to five years of house arrest for her part, only brought down from indefinite incarceration because Harry Potter had testified on her behalf about her part in saving his life during the Battle of Hogwarts.

Potter had testified on his behalf as well, much to his surprise. They'd never been amicable in school, were even rivals, so for Potter to assist him in any way was humbling. He had testified about how Draco had refused to kill Dumbledore and about his reluctance to identify the trio at Easter at Malfoy Manor.

He was trying not to think about his father's fate as he paced the corridor. That could very well be his own soon. Granted, he'd never actually willingly killed anyone, but they knew he'd been coerced into participating in torture during the revels. Taking the Mark was the worst decision he'd ever made in his life, even if he did believe at the time that it was the right decision. He wished he could take a time-turner and go back to his sixteenth birthday and run away. He'd go away with the Order and fight for what he knew in his heart to be right, regardless of what his parents wanted.

But what was done was done. He had to take his consequences now and it was honestly scaring him shitless. He couldn't bear the thought that he would be thrown in a cold cell for the rest of his life, his soul sucked out upon arrival. He was trying beyond all hope to calm his breathing and steady his shaking hands as the door to the courtroom opened and a stout witch poked her head out. "We're ready for sentencing, Mr. Malfoy."

Draco tried to swallow but his throat was dreadfully dry. He wiped his sweaty palms against the smooth fabric of his black suit and buttoned the top button of his jacket. Squaring his shoulders, he tried to muster some of the aristocratic sophistication that was expected of him in times of stress. He took his seat in the center of the room once more and felt the shackles close around his wrists and ankles. His heart was racing so harshly, the sound of his blood rushing was filling his ears.

"Draco Lucius Malfoy, it is the opinion of the Wizengamot that you are in fact guilty of all charges brought against you-"

He thought he was going to pass out.

"However, considering three of the charges took place before you were seventeen, the fact that Mr. Potter was willing to speak on your behalf, and your willingly supplied memories for us to view in the pensieve, we have decided to go a different route with your punishment."

Draco sat forward in his chair, trying desperately to quiet the buzzing of his blood rushing behind his ears so he could hear.

"It is the decision of this court that you be placed on probation for five consecutive years. As part of that probation, you are to complete your seventh year at Hogwarts, following all suggestions and requirements that Minerva McGonagall sets forth with regards to your return. You will also spend the academic year performing community service in the form of coaching the first years in broomstick handling and intricacies. That is all. Bring in the next prisoner."

Draco could hardly believe it. He was free to walk out for the first time in over two months. His entire family had been separated and placed into holding cells for so long, he was beginning to forget the feeling of the warm sun against his back. He felt the shackles retreat and rose onto unsteady legs slowly, dumbfounded.

When he went into the hall he nearly ran head first into the Headmistress herself. "Oh, Mr. Malfoy. I was hoping I'd see you today. I've got to testify against the Carrows in a while, but I came as soon as Kingsley told me about the conditions of your probation."

"Professor, I-I just want to thank you for this opportunity. I'm not the best at apologizing or thanking people…" he was mumbling.

McGonagall nodded curtly. "Yes, and you will spend the next year making amends to myself and everyone else in that school. Without your parents' influence, I trust you'll make the correct judgments."

"Yes, Professor, er-Headmistress."

"As it is, you know that one of your tasks will be to take Madam Hooch's place as the Quidditch referee and training the younger students. You will also act as Head Boy, opposite Hermione Granger. You both have the highest scoring academic records out of any seventh-years and we need the image of two opposite Houses getting along. You will also attend the mandatory therapy sessions, held on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Great Hall, as well as the castle-restoration efforts on Mondays and Wednesdays every week until school begins."

Draco tried to take it all in. It was a lot to be required of him and he knew that complying to the tee was going to be imperative to his future. He knew better than to argue with McGonagall and simply nodded. "Yes, ma'am."

She lifted her chin and one corner of her mouth twitched. "You're being more respectful already."

He scoffed, but grinned. "It's not like I have much of a choice."

She nodded again. "See you Monday, Mr. Malfoy."

o-o-o

Hermione didn't know what to expect when she stepped into the Great Hall on Monday morning. She had told Headmistress McGonagall of her desire to return and McGonagall had laid down stipulations, as she claimed she'd done with every returning former students. Everyone had to assist in restoring the castle twice a week and had to participate in group therapy sessions two more days a week. She had also said she would be assigning each of them a Professor to shadow as a student teacher. They were all adults and she felt it was important that they earn their way now. Hermione could appreciate this.

The long tables were moved against the walls and one large circular table sat in the middle of the hall. Around it sat the returning group of former students—Seamus Finnegan, Luna Lovegood, Theodore Nott, Neville Longbottom, Blaise Zabini, Justin Finch-Fletchley and Draco Malfoy. She was the last to arrive and they all looked at her expectantly. No one was really speaking, all sobered by being in the Great Hall once more. The last time they were in there, the bodies of their friends lined the walls.

"Well, aren't we a merry bunch of arseholes," Seamus commented, earning a laugh from a few of the guys.

"This is the most mismatched group of students that could possibly have returned for seventh year," Theo conceded.

"Eighth year," Luna commented, looking at everyone in turn. "Some of us were here last year," she looked at Neville, "and some of us were educated in far more than the Professors in this school could teach us." She looked pointedly at Hermione then.

There was a plate of cookies in the middle of the table and each of them had a goblet of pumpkin juice. Seamus lifted his glass in a toast. "Here, here. A toast to Hogwarts' first group of eighth-years—the biggest bunch of ne'er-do-wells and outsiders to ever come together!"

Theo raised his glass and the others followed suit, save for Malfoy. He remained with his arms crossed and Theo nudged him with his elbow. Malfoy rolled his eyes and reluctantly raised his glass. He was going to have to play nice if he was to meet the conditions of his probation.

McGonagall came striding in then and cleared her throat. "I trust there's no alcohol in those drinks."

"I didn't know that was an option," Seamus said cheekily and Theo laughed.

Hermione could see that they were the Gryffindor and Slytherin side of the same coin. She inwardly groaned. They were going to be trouble together.

McGonagall rolled her eyes. "Right, well let's get you your assignments and then I will take you to where you'll be staying."

"We won't be staying in our House dorms?" Justin asked, looking suddenly disturbed at the idea that he might have to stay in a dorm with Slytherin boys.

"No, Mr. Finch-Fletchley. Those dorms are for current students. We've had to make…other accommodations."

Even Neville gulped. McGonagall began pairing everyone up and Hermione internally groaned once more when Malfoy sauntered over to where she stood. Of course she would have to work with him, the Fates wouldn't have it any other way. She tugged on the sleeve of her jumper and the movement did not escape Malfoy's gaze. He immediately scowled and shoved his hands into his pockets.

"Miss Granger and Mr. Malfoy, you'll be heading up the restoration of the library. This may be an assignment that extends well beyond the next six weeks as it suffered considerable damage. Miss Granger, you will shadow Professor Binns in History of Magic. Mr. Malfoy, you will shadow Professor Slughorn and Madam Pomfrey both. Poppy needs assistance with replenishing her healing potions."

She doled out the assignments to the other six, but Hermione wasn't listening. She was staring into the corner of the Great Hall, picturing where Fred Weasley's body had once lain, his family grouped around him shaken but thankful for those still living. She had zoned out so much that she evidently didn't notice when McGonagall led them out of the Great Hall and towards their new dorms. "Are you coming, Granger?" Malfoy asked, waving his hand in front of her face.

She snapped out of her thoughts with a shake of her head. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm coming."

"By all means, then. Move your arse. Neither of us know where we're staying," he said, irritation coloring his tone.

"No need to be rude, Malfoy. Some of us lost loved ones in this room," she said to him coldly, shoving past him to follow the others out.

He winced at her words and tone but sighed and followed. This was not going to be a pleasant year, Hermione decided then and there. Without Harry and Ron to act as her buffer, Malfoy's wrath was going to be directed solely at her and she hardly had the energy to deal with that any longer.

They followed the Headmistress through the castle and up to the seventh floor. There was a tapestry of Merlin himself hanging on the wall when she stopped. "Persnickety." The tapestry raised itself on one side and the door popped open behind. "Well, come on then."

They all climbed through the door and gathered in their new Common Room. It was a cozy room with a large marble fireplace. There were black leather couches and heavy dark wooden tables. Desks lined the walls with high-back comfy-looking chairs. The entire room was decorated in a rich purple instead of the usual four House colors. "This is your new House color. We need to create unity in this group. You all are adults now and the old schoolhouse rivalries need to end," she looked pointedly at the Slytherins and Theo put a hand over his heart and mouthed 'Moi?'

"It is important for the children to see you all as role models for more than just being War heroes. We are going to call you the Wulfric House in honor of Dumbledore and your mascot will be the phoenix. We have informed Madame Malkin's so that she can sew new robes for you."

Malfoy rolled his eyes. How very Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. Hermione glared at him. "There are six rooms and two bathrooms for you all to explore. Mr. Malfoy and Miss Granger, if you would follow me," McGonagall said, turning and waving them along.

She pushed through a door with a large phoenix burned into the wood. They followed her down a brief hall and into another, smaller Common Room. "I trust you can both live alongside one another without there being any problems?" she asked, looking solely at the blond wizard before her.

He shrugged and gave her a defensive look. "I'm just trying not to go to Azkaban."

The headmistress seemed pleased with his answer and she gestured toward two wooden doors and a conjoining bathroom between. Malfoy looked into the one with 'Head Boy' burned into the door. He wrinkled his nose. Even the bedding was purple. No matter, as soon as he was settled in, he would magic them to another color.

There was a commotion in the main Common Room and they followed the sound of excited voices. "It overlooks the Quidditch pitch!" Blaise said excitedly.

Draco rushed over to the window to join the other men as Hermione looked at Luna and rolled her eyes. Men. The eighth-years had been banned from joining the Quidditch teams as part of the unifying of their new House. They were too old and had an unfair advantage over the younger students. But apparently being able to watch Quidditch practice from their window as they studied pacified them all.

"If you all would, head down to your respective assigned restoration areas and begin formulating a plan with your partners. You may leave at four o'clock by using the floo network in this fireplace. This will be your entry and exit point until September 1st. At which time, you will all be expected to ride the train as a collective unit. I hope that this is suitable to all of you. We really are pleased that you all decided to return once again," McGonagall gave them all a strict smile and lead them back down the stairs.

o-o-o

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