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

Author's Note: This story is set in an Alternate Universe. The society of Wizarding Britain is different and a number of characters will behave differently as well.

I'd like to thank fredfred, InquisitorCOC and Brian1972 for beta-reading.

Chapter 1: Differences

London, Ministry of Magic, August 7th, 1998

Neville Longbottom couldn't help but smile widely as he walked through the Atrium of the Ministry, no matter what Gran had told him about keeping a dignified appearance, worthy of his position as the latest member of the Wizengamot. He just felt so proud. After so many years spent worrying whether he'd ever pass his N.E.W.T.s, or if he'd even live to take them, he was finally following his father's footsteps and taking over the seat of the Longbottoms.

"Good morning, Mr Longbottom, Augusta. This will be your first day in the Wizengamot, yes?" the Head of the Fawley Family asked, looking at him.

"Good morning, Madam Fawley." Neville nodded at the old witch - and fellow member of the Wizengamot - as he stopped in front of the lift. "Indeed."

"He'll take the oath first thing in the session," his gran said.

He glanced at her. She was smiling, proudly, and he took a deep breath, pushing out his chest and standing a little straighter. He had fought Death Eaters, like his parents had. Led his friends at the Battle of Hogwarts. And faced the Dark Lord - Voldemort - himself without flinching. But right now, the sight of Gran smiling felt even more impressive. He had proven himself to her.

"He won't be the only one," Madam Fawley said as the lift arrived, "but he'll be the most famous. A true hero."

"Oh, yes. He stood up to the Dark Lord himself," Gran said as they stepped into the lift. "Spit into his face when he was offered his life if he surrendered. And killed the Dark Lord's familiar with the Sword of Gryffindor."

Neville felt his cheeks grow a little warm. It was all true, but it felt like Gran was bragging. "I wasn't the only one who fought," he said. "Everyone in our house fought, and so did many from the other houses." Well, everyone old enough. And not many Slytherins had fought - against the Death Eaters, at least. Many had fought for them… "And, of course, Harry was the one who killed him."

"Yes, the Boy-Who-Lived," Madam Fawley said. "It's too bad that he didn't take his N.E.W.T.s this year, or he'd be joining us as well."

"He can hardly be faulted for not being able to study when he spent the last year fighting the Dark Lord," Gran replied.

"Well, Mr Longbottom managed both," Madam Fawley said as the lift arrived on the Wizengamot's floor.

"I was at Hogwarts," Neville pointed out. "Harry was hiding in the countryside, dodging Snatchers and Death Eaters." Of course, he thought as they stepped out of the cabin and he caught sight of his friends at the door to the Wizengamot Chamber, Hermione had taken her N.E.W.T.s even though she had been with Harry all the way.

"Good morning, Harry, Ron, Hermione," he greeted them as he and the two witches approached the door.

"Neville!" Harry smiled at him before nodding at Gran and Madam Fawley. "Madam Longbottom. Madam."

Neville winced slightly at the faux pas. He cut Ron and Hermione off before they could say anything. "Madam Fawley - Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Harry, Ron, Hermione - Madam Fawley."

"Good morning, Neville, Madam Fawley, Madam Longbottom," Ron said, bowing.

Hermione echoed him, though her bow was far closer to a nod. Well, technically, she was of equal status as a Holder of an Order of Merlin, First Class, who, unlike Harry and Ron, had taken her N.E.W.T.s and so would also be taking a seat on the Wizengamot today.

Still, Neville noticed Madam Fawley's subtle frown at the unintended slight and decided to intervene again. "I'll talk to you later," he said, smiling, "I need to talk to Gran before the session starts."

"Alright," Harry said while his friends nodded.

As soon as they stepped inside the chamber and were inside the enchantments that protected the chamber - and prevented eavesdropping - Madam Fawley scoffed. "How rude and arrogant!"

Neville swallowed his first retort - the three of them had saved everyone from Voldemort, including Madam Fawley! - since he didn't want to appear rude himself and embarrass his family. He wasn't a student at Hogwarts any more, but was now an adult - and would soon be a member of the Wizengamot. People expected him to behave accordingly.

His gran, though, spoke up: "They are heroes, Abigail. Without them, the Dark Lord would have won, and most of us would have been dead." Neville's pride in her was slightly diminished when she went on: "They can't help their lack of breeding - Potter was raised by muggles, the girl is a muggleborn, and Weasley is, well…"

"...a Weasley," Madam Fawley said with a chuckle. "Perhaps we were hasty in awarding all of them an Order of Merlin, First Class. Ah, well - at least you have been raised properly for the responsibility of your position and earned your own Order of Merlin." She smiled at him.

Neville forced himself to smile back.

"I, Neville Longbottom, swear to uphold the laws and traditions of Britain and fulfil my duties as a member of the Wizengamot. Lumos!" Neville held his wand as the light shone from its tip, and applause filled the chamber as the members of the Wizengamot - his colleagues, now - rose from their seats to welcome him to their ranks. After the customary seven seconds, he ended the spell and lowered his wand. He bowed to the Chief Warlock, Elphias Doge, then stepped down from the pedestal and started to walk towards his seat.

He could spot Gran, now among the audience high on the balustrade, smiling at him, clapping so hard she must be risking breaking her wrists, and waved at her. The gesture caused more smiles and some chuckling as he climbed the stairs to his row.

"Great show!" an old wizard - Anton Shafiq - said as he passed him. "Welcome!"

"You're a true hero!" Eric Greengrass nodded at him as Neville took his seat next to the man. "My daughters told me all about what you did at the battle."

His Slytherin daughters, Neville thought as he returned the smile, whom he hadn't seen at the battle. "Thank you, but I merely did my duty." He didn't need to look at the audience section to know that the Greengrass sisters would be there.

As the Wizengamot members settled down and the applause ended, the Chief Warlock called on Hermione to step up. Neville thought he heard Greengrass huff, but he couldn't tell since a low murmur filled the ranks.

Hermione stepped on to the pedestal and faced Doge.

"Miss Granger, as a recipient of the Order of Merlin, First Class, who is of age and has passed her N.E.W.T.s, you have earned a seat on the Wizengamot. Will you swear the oath?"

She nodded and raised her wand "I, Hermione Jean Granger, swear to uphold the laws and traditions of Britain and fulfil my duties as a member of the Wizengamot. Lumos!" Her wand tip, too, lit up, and applause started once more - although Neville couldn't help feeling that while the audience clapped as enthusiastically as they had for him, his fellow members of the Wizengamot were a little more restrained. And judging by her smile, which looked more polite than proud, so did she.

Even worse - a number of members started to sit before Hermione had taken her own seat. They weren't as crass about it as to sit down while she was still walking, but it was a serious slight nonetheless.

And judging by Hermione's thin smile and narrowed eyes, she knew that as well. Neville winced again.

The actual session was rather boring, if Neville was honest with himself. No trials, no new laws, just a debate about a proposal of Minister Shacklebolt to grant people with extensive practical experience exemptions from the usual Auror qualifications. Mr Parkinson argued that it wouldn't do to lower the hiring standards and open the floodgates to unqualified applicants just because of the 'current circumstances', but everyone knew Shacklebolt wanted Harry in the Auror Corps yesterday, and this was the way to achieve that, so it passed easily. And everyone also knew that Mr Parkinson had only held on to his seat by the skin of his teeth after his daughter's actions at Hogwarts. If he had been personally involved with Death Eaters, his seat would have gone to a cadet branch of the Mr Parkinson family - as it had for several others, such as the Rosier and Selwyns. Even so, not many would support Mr Parkinson, no matter his arguments.

Then there was a debate about a proposal by Greengrass that the proceeds of the auctions of confiscated property should go into the general budget of the Ministry, rather than into a fund for the victims of Voldemort, until the exact amount of gold needed was known, at which point the Ministry would pay that sum into the fund.

It seemed rather pointless to create a fund if the Ministry was paying the victims anyway, at least that was Neville's impression, and Greengrass's argument that starting payouts before the total sum of all claims was known would lead to late claims remaining unfulfilled made sense to him. Although his gran had told him that Greengrass's real goal was to prevent Abigail Abbott, who was in charge of distributing the money in the fund, from using the gold to benefit her friends. That didn't sound unreasonable either, but others - presumably Abbott's friends - disagreed and there was a lively debate with no resolution before lunch.

"Ah, finally," Greengrass said with a sigh as Doge rang the bell to end the morning session. He turned to Neville as he rose. "Would you like to eat lunch with me? Since we'll be neighbours, of a sort," he joked with a nod at their seats, "it would behove us to have a good relationship."

"Ah, I'd love to," Neville answered automatically - it would be rude to turn down an invitation without a decent reason or excuse - "but I need to talk to a friend for a few minutes first."

Greengrass didn't seem to mind. "Oh, of course. Everyone wants to talk to the hero of the Wizengamot, right? I'll be waiting with my daughters at the lift for you and Augusta."

Oh, yes, his daughters. Neville kept from wincing - he should have realised that they would be present. He couldn't dwell on that, though - he had to hurry to catch Hermione before she left the chamber. His friend didn't seem to want to mingle with her colleagues, which wasn't exactly polite. On the other hand, Harry and Ron were waiting for her at the door.

He reached them in time - Harry wasn't getting swamped with people wanting to talk to him, unlike in Diagon Alley. Or after the award ceremony a month ago. Unlike Neville himself - he had to dodge half a dozen members trying to intercept him in the stands. Gran wouldn't be pleased, but he had to do this. "Hermione," he blurted out as the three turned to face him - Ron and Harry flanking her, he noticed - "I'm sorry about the faux pas."

"Faux pas?" Harry frowned.

Hermione snorted. "Some of my esteemed colleagues sat before I had taken my seat. Such childish antics are considered a sign of disrespect in this hallowed chamber."

Neville pressed his lips together. Hermione wouldn't make many friends in the Wizengamot if she kept talking like that, no matter the provocation. However, he knew it was pointless to try to tell her that right now.

"It wasn't your fault, Neville," she went on. "It's just a group of bigots who weren't as bad as the Death Eaters."

"Or thought the Death Eaters were too crude to support," Ron added with a smirk. That caused all three of them to laugh while Neville frowned. The Death Eaters had been crude, and - despite their claims - hadn't honoured the traditions of Wizarding Britain. Quite the contrary, actually - they had been radicals ready to tear everything down. But to claim, even jokingly, that their peers in the Wizengamot shared Voldemort's blood bigotry and didn't join him merely because of his lack of manners...

"Want to have lunch with us?" Harry asked. "Since Ron and I will be Aurors soon, it'll be my treat. We're meeting Ginny and Luna in Diagon Alley."

"Ah, I'd love to," Neville replied, "but I already promised to have lunch with the Greengrasses."

"Don't worry. We'll have lunch another time, then," Harry said.

"Don't let the Slytherins seduce you!" Ron joked.

Both were smiling, but Neville knew them well - they were being polite.

And Hermione's smile as she wished him a nice lunch was so thin that he almost missed it.

London, Diagon Alley, August 7th, 1998

"I hope you didn't find your first session in the Wizengamot too boring," Mr Greengrass said with a small, polite smile after they had ordered in the 'Toad Hole'.

Neville returned the smile in kind. "Not at all. It was quite interesting to follow the debate."

"That's because it's new. Trust me, in a few months you'll be sick of the same arguments." Mr Greengrass nodded at Gran. "Your grandmother can tell you about it."

Gran's smile barely qualified as polite. "It doesn't matter if it's boring; a Longbottom will do their duty to the best of their ability."

Of course he would. Neville nodded and ignored the sly grin the elder Greengrass daughter sent his way. She wouldn't be grinning at such feeble jokes if she were in his place, instead of a few decades away from succeeding her father. Or if she had fought at Hogwarts, instead of hiding in the Slytherin dorms. Neville had earned his place on the Wizengamot; he had done his duty. Unlike her.

Or her sister, who was barely hiding her scowl as she pushed her hors d'oeuvres around on her plate. He wondered why she was so annoyed, but he couldn't ask - that wasn't done.

At least this was merely a friendly meal with a fellow member of the Wizengamot, and not an attempt to trade favours, as Gran had suspected when he told her about the invitation. Or, he added to himself with a shudder, an attempt at matchmaking.

As if he'd ever get together with either daughter. Not after years with them at Hogwarts.

London, Ministry of Magic, August 14th, 1998

Neville felt a pang of guilt when he saw Hermione enter the chamber. He had meant to call Harry all week, but between all the other invitations, and all the scrolls with proposals and laws he had to read to prepare for this session, he had never found the time to do so. He should have, he knew - they were his best friends. Perhaps he should go over and invite them to lunch today…

"Good morning, Mr Longbottom."

He turned his head, nodding reflexively in response. "Good morning, Mr Greengrass."

"That remains to be seen," the man said as he sat. "We've got a lot of tiresome proposals to go through."

"Won't the tiresome proposals fail to go through anyway?" Neville joked.

Mr Greengrass laughed. "Indeed! I see you've already become familiar with how the Wizengamot works."

Or didn't work. Neville nodded at him, then was about to rise and head over to Hermione when Doge rang the bell that called everyone to their seats. He bit his lip for a moment. He could still go to Hermione for a brief chat and return - there would be a few minutes until everyone was seated; he had seen that last week. But that would be rather disrespectful, especially for a new member. And if any of Gran's old friends, who he knew were watching him, mentioned it to her, she'd be disappointed.

So he stayed seated, making polite conversation with Mr Greengrass, until the Chief Warlock started the session.

"The chair recognises Miss Hermione Granger."

Neville briefly wondered why Hermione was frowning as she rose - Madam Fawley's proposal to award the licence to grow Shrieking Moss and Wandering Mushrooms to Edna Smith was a sound one; the Smiths had experience in growing fungi. And they were related to the Smiths who had held the licence before the last heir had been murdered by Death Eaters at the Battle of Hogwarts.

"Thank you, Chief Warlock." The witch nodded at Doge. "Honoured members of the Wizengamot," she began - Neville noted with relief that she was using the traditional address correctly - "I have a counter-proposal to that of my esteemed colleague. Instead of awarding the licence, which, despite its name, is actually a monopoly, to a single witch, we should open it to others who wish to enter such a business. Not only will this generate more revenue for the Ministry thanks to the additional fees, but the competition will also result in lower prices for customers. Further..."

Neville was still blinking in surprise at the 'counter-proposal' - why would Hermione propose such a thing? There weren't enough families with the skills necessary for growing those plants and fungi; he knew that better than anyone else - when the growing murmurs started to drown out Hermione's voice. And Eleanor Smith raised her wand with a furious expression. Of course, as Head of the Smith Family, she was obliged to defend the interests of the cadet branches - and Hermione had just threatened one of them.

And Smith wasn't the only one who seemed outraged at the 'counter-proposal' - Neville winced as half a dozen others raised their wands. He shook his head - this wouldn't be enjoyable for his friend. Not at all.

But when Smith started her proposal with "Honoured members of the Wizengamot - and Miss Granger...", he clenched his teeth. This would be even worse than he had expected. Especially since Hermione had the same expression she had worn when confronting Umbridge in their fifth year.

When the session was interrupted for lunch, Neville didn't bother with all the niceties and all but ran towards Hermione, who was already marching out of the chamber with a scowl worthy of Snape. Neville didn't let that deter him - she was his friend, and she needed his help. She hadn't been raised to take a seat in the Wizengamot, and, obviously, books couldn't replace a proper education from experienced family members, and such things weren't taught at Hogwarts either. If he had known at school that she would earn an Order of Merlin, First Class, he might have attempted to teach her the fundamentals himself.

"Hermione!" he called out before she entered the lift.

She turned, her scowl turning into a guarded expression as she faced him. "Neville." She nodded at him. Curtly.

He wasn't taken aback by the cool reception - she had to be furious at her treatment by the other members of the Wizengamot. He knew her, after all. "I need to talk to you."

"Are you going to tell me that you're sorry for your esteemed colleagues' conduct?" She asked, and her expression clearly added an unspoken 'again'.

He took a deep breath. "It's more than that. Let's have lunch together." He noticed Madam Fawley watching him, but he didn't care. Gran would understand that he had to help his friend.

She frowned, then slowly nodded. "I guess we can." Then she looked at him. "Although I suppose we'll have to eat in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, unless you're wearing muggle clothes under your robes."

He blinked once more. Why would anyone want to eat in a muggle pub?

London, Diagon Alley, August 14th, 1998

'Le Canard Vert' was one of the best and most expensive restaurants in Diagon Alley. Neville hadn't frequented it often since it was also the favourite restaurant of the Malfoys, but with Lucius in Azkaban, and Draco and Narcissa rarely leaving their manor, there was no danger of encountering any of them. And today's menu was exquisite, as Aunt Annabelle would say.

Although Hermione's still rather cold expression wasn't exactly what Neville would consider conducive to an enjoyable meal. But he was a Gryffindor, and he knew what he owed his friends. Sometimes you had to do something for their own good, no matter whether they liked it or not. "What were you thinking?" he said, then winced. That could have been worded more diplomatically.

She narrowed her eyes at him. "What was I thinking? I was thinking that I would exercise my rights as a member of the Wizengamot and voice my opinion - like everyone else."

He sighed. "I meant your counter-proposal. Why were you trying to take the licence away from the Smiths?" A few centuries ago, blood feuds had been started over such attempts. The Black had wiped out an entire family, once.

"I wasn't trying to take it away from anyone," she replied in that lecturing tone of hers anyone in their year knew so well. "I proposed granting the licence to more people."

He almost sighed again. She didn't understand. "But that's not how things work! Not with magical plants! It takes a lot of effort and experience to grow the more finicky or dangerous plants, and why would anyone do that if they couldn't be sure that they'd be able to sell their produce?"

"No one would prevent them from selling their produce - unlike now. They would simply have to compete with others for customers."

"But they would lower their prices, undercutting each other, until no one would be able to make any profit!" That had happened to two hatters in Diagon Alley a hundred and fifty years ago. They had hated each other, and neither had relented until both had been ruined.

"Price isn't everything," she retorted, shaking her head. "They could compete on quality as well."

He clenched his teeth. "They could compete until only one is left - and we would be back where we started, just with a lot of people being ruined for no gain."

"That doesn't happen in the muggle world," she replied. "Or very, very rarely."

"This isn't the muggle world!" he snapped. "You can't just assume that what works for muggles works for us. We're different!"

"We're humans," she retorted, glaring at him. "The economic principles are the same."

"No, they're not!"

She actually rolled her eyes. "What a sophisticated argument!"

He bit down on his first response. He wasn't here to argue with her, he reminded himself - he was here to help her. And even with a privacy spell covering them, he couldn't lose his temper. That was simply not done. "Look, that's not how things are done in the Wizengamot. Madam Smith took your proposal as an attack on the livelihood of one of her cadet branches. That's a serious misunderstanding that you need to fix."

"Why should I need to 'fix' anything? I stand by my proposal; it would be good for Wizarding Britain if we had fewer monopolies and more people could start their own businesses." She sniffed. "Did you know that Max Carpenter was the last muggleborn to successfully open a business in Diagon Alley? And he only achieved his success because there was no competition for his speciality coffee shop. And then they took his business and gave it to another pureblood family."

"He had no heirs," Neville replied.

"No magical heirs, you mean. I'm certain that he had muggle relatives."

He closed his eyes for a moment. She knew better than that. "Muggles can't run a business in Diagon Alley," he said.

"They could - if they were allowed to," she replied. "But they didn't even get compensation. They were cheated out of their inheritance - something I thought the Old Families took seriously."

He knew what she meant. But it wasn't like that. The magical and muggle world were separated for a reason. A very good reason. If that meant that, sometimes, muggles didn't inherit gold, then that was a minor price to pay. "Will a bill to rectify that be your next proposal? Your first actual proposal?" He didn't bother to hide what he thought of that idea.

She pressed her lips together before answering. "No. My first proposal will actually be a bill to reform the Wizengamot. Instead of having hereditary and appointed seats, I propose to have all seats be held by people who are elected democratically for a set term of four years."

This time he couldn't control himself. "Are you crazy?" he blurted out. She had to be - replace the entire Wizengamot? With people who had no experience? That would doom the country!

"Crazy? Because I want my country to be a democracy instead of an aristocracy?" She was glaring at him now.

"There isn't any wizarding nobility," he snapped back. Even the Malfoys had had to abandon their muggle titles when the Statute of Secrecy went into effect.

"The Blacks begged to differ."

He scoffed. "No one took them seriously." Even though few would have dared to tell them that to their faces. He shook his head. "This proposal of yours is crazy, Hermione. The Wizengamot will never go for it." He didn't need years of experience to know that - anyone could see it immediately. To abandon your family's legacy? To deprive your children of their birthright? That was madness.

"So, you think the muggleborns should be content to let purebloods - a select few purebloods, at that - rule the country?" She actually sneered at him.

He clenched his teeth. "If you don't like it, why don't you leave the country?" he snapped.

"And go where?" She tilted her head. "To another country ruled by purebloods? Where Dumbledore didn't spend a few decades improving things for us? Maybe North America, so we can be at war with a dozen enclaves ruled by radical pureblood bigots when we're not fighting the Native Shamans? Hm?" She shook her head. "We didn't fight Voldemort just so we'd remain second-class citizens. Or fourth-class citizens. Can't forget that most purebloods and all half-bloods don't have a say in who rules them either."

"I didn't fight Voldemort to see my country torn down by ill-thought-out proposals," Neville snarled.

For a moment, both of them glared at each other. Then Neville took a shuddering breath and regained control of his temper. "I'm sorry."

She nodded, her lips forming a thin line in her face, as she stood. "I have to cut this short. I have to read a few files before the session resumes."

He nodded, accepting the lie. As he had been taught to. And he couldn't help wondering why his meals with the Greengrasses had been so much less stressful than a meal with one of his best friends.

Kent, Longbottom Manor, August 14th, 1998

"Gran?" There she was. Neville smiled as he entered the living room and found his grandmother sitting on the sofa reading. He needed to talk to her.

"Hello, Neville." She smiled at him. "How was the session?"

He sat in his favourite chair and closed his eyes for a moment. "It could have gone better. Not because of anything I did, mind you." He smiled thinly at her.

"I've heard about Miss Granger's faux pas."

He snorted. "Trust me, compared to the actual proposal she is writing, that was nothing."

"Oh?" She put the book down and stared at him. "I take it that your attempt to educate her on how the Wizengamot works wasn't successful."

He chuckled; of course, she would have known what he had been doing. Or rather, trying to do. "No, it wasn't." He shook his head. "I knew she was stubborn, but not that she was this... obstinate. Gran, she wants to propose that the Wizengamot seats should be elected seats. Elected by the people," he clarified - after all, the Minister was elected by the Wizengamot.

Neville could count on the fingers of one hand how often his gran had been openly shocked; this was one of those times. She stared at him, then slowly shook her head. "Is she mad?"

"That was my reaction," Neville replied. For a moment, both shared a smile. Then he sighed. "I tried to tell her that it wouldn't work, but she wouldn't listen. She knows better than everyone else, of course," he added with some bitterness - he remembered her paralysing him back in their first year.

"Well, she's about to learn how wrong she is if she goes through with that farce." Gran sighed. "She'll ruin what's left of her reputation. To think a recipient of the Order of Merlin, First Class, would act in such a manner!"

"I'll have to talk to Harry and Ron. They might be able to stop her from doing it."

Gran frowned. "You seem to be quite involved in this matter."

He knew what she meant - if others thought he supported Hermione's mad plans… He shook his head slightly. "She's one of my best friends. And a hero. I can't let her do this to herself."

She sighed. "Just be careful not to get dragged into a fight you cannot win."

He met her eyes. "If she actually files her proposal I'll be the first to oppose it." Of course, he hoped that she would see reason.

Gran smiled at him.

London, Diagon Alley, August 15th, 1998

Neville was relieved when he saw that Harry and Ron were alone when they arrived in the Leaky Cauldron. If Hermione had joined them, it would have been awkward. More awkward, at least. "Harry! Ron!" He smiled at them. He had to start on friendly terms. "New look?" he nodded at their red robes.

Ron grinned. "Hi, Neville. Yes - we took the oath yesterday. You're looking at the latest two British Aurors!"

"Technically, we're trainee Aurors," Harry said as he sat down. "But Kingsley said that was just a formality. We'll be promoted to regular Aurors in no time."

"It's not as if they have many Aurors left," Ron added. "Dawlish is the Head Auror - and the most experienced one left."

Neville noticed that Harry was frowning. "Is there a problem with him?"

His friend shrugged. "He's experienced, but I don't remember him standing up to Umbridge."

"Well, Umbridge is in Azkaban," Neville said. As were all the supporters of Voldemort's regime. Well, all the important ones.

That made Harry grin. "Couldn't happen to a more deserving witch."

"Or toad," Ron added with a broad smile. "Anyway - Dawlish's trying to get a few retired Aurors to return, but until he manages that, it's us and a bunch of rookies."

"Aren't you the rookies?" Neville asked. They had joined yesterday, after all.

"Well, technically, we are," Harry replied. He must like that word, Neville thought. "But you should have seen our first training session. A few of them tried to impress us."

"Harry!" Ron shook his head and turned to Neville. "They tried to take us down a notch in our first training session. But they failed, utterly. Harry didn't even notice what they were doing before he'd stunned half of them by reflex. Hell, the DA could have taken all of them in our fifth year." He chuckled. "Dawlish's already ordered Harry to teach them how to cast a Patronus Charm."

"So," Neville said, blinking, "instead of getting trained, you'll be training them?" That didn't sound like things were going well in the DMLE. And he hadn't heard about this in the Wizengamot.

"Pretty much, yeah," Ron said. "But don't worry - we'll get them into shape soon enough. Well, Harry will."

Harry snorted. "You'll be helping me. Either as my assistant or as my training dummy."

Both laughed at that, and Neville joined in. They were in a good mood, which was exactly what he wanted. He waited until Tom had brought their order - some stew that would have been vanished with extreme prejudice at Le Canard Vert, but which was edible enough - before he cast a privacy spell and cleared his throat. "There's something I need to talk to you two about, something important."

He saw them glance at each other, and their smiles vanish, and winced.

Harry sighed. "We thought it would be that."

"Well, Hermione thought so," Ron said.

Neville had a sinking feeling in his stomach that had nothing to do with the quality of the stew. "I see."

"Yeah," Harry went on. "You invited us here to get us to 'talk sense' into her, didn't you?"

Neville didn't like how Harry worded that, but he nodded. He had to do this. For Hermione's own good. "Yes. She's about to make a terrible mistake, and she didn't listen to me."

"And you think she'll listen to us?" Ron chuckled. "You do know her, don't you?"

Neville bit down on his urge to snap at Ron. This was important.

But before he could tell Ron that, Harry spoke up. "Neville, we know what she's doing."


"Yes." Ron nodded. "She told us everything. Have to fill the dinner time at Grimmauld Place somehow, you know."

Ron's jokes weren't getting any better, Neville found. He shook his head. "But it's crazy! She'll be ostracised by the entire Wizengamot!"

"She was already ostracised by them," Harry said. "Before she even took the oath."

"That's not true! A few might have been less than welcoming, but…" Neville started.

Harry cut him off. "And even if that weren't the case, it wouldn't change anything. You know her. Do you think she'll play the nice mudblood, so grateful to be allowed into the hallowed chamber of the Wizengamot that she'll keep quiet and vote as she should?"

"Do you think you can talk to me without parroting her?" Neville spat.

Ron laughed at that. "He got you, mate." Then he looked at Neville. "But seriously, she won't stop. And we won't stop her."

"Why not?" Neville almost yelled. "Your father and brother are in the Ministry! You know what will happen when she files that proposal!"

Ron shrugged. "I know what would have happened in the past. But things changed."

"And things will change some more," Harry added. "It won't be the same as it was before Voldemort. It can't be."

Neville almost gasped when he realised that his friends wouldn't stop Hermione - they were actually supporting her.

Kent, Longbottom Manor, August 16th, 1998

"Good afternoon, Hermione. Welcome to my home." Neville bowed as custom dictated as soon as his guest had cleaned the soot from her trip through the Floo Network. It would, after all, have been rude to acknowledge her before she had restored her appearance.

Hermione, though, merely nodded, instead of accepting his hospitality. "Hello, Neville."

Neville couldn't tell if she was doing it deliberately or simply didn't know any better. Hogwarts was rather informal - which wasn't a bad thing, especially for a school, of course; Neville had enjoyed the more relaxed atmosphere himself - so teaching proper manners was left to the families of the students. But this wasn't about her manners. Or only peripherally. He smiled. "I'm glad you accepted my invitation."

"Of course I did." Her smile showed a little more amusement than warmth, in his opinion. "Despite your unfortunately discriminatory views, I still count you as a friend."

'Still'? That wasn't a good sign. But he couldn't help replying: "How generous of you."

"Indeed. And, of course, I'm curious what you plan to say to me now that your attempt to recruit Harry and Ron has failed." She looked around. "It looks similar to the entrance hall of Malfoy Manor."

"You've been to Malfoy Manor?" The Malfoys had all but retreated from polite society!

"During the war," she said with a thin smile. "And not of my free will."

Oh, of course. Their capture. He had heard the story - or parts of it; none of the trio had talked much about that part of their fight. "I'm sorry."

She shrugged. "We won. There, at Gringotts and at Hogwarts." She was smiling again, but not in a very friendly manner, as far as he could tell. This might be even more difficult than he had expected.

He took refuge in politeness. "Shall we retire to the drawing room?"

"We shall, I think." She looked amused now.

Long practice and a thorough education by his family kept him smiling as he led her through the manor to the drawing room, where Dolly would have prepared the tea already. The house-elf had orders to make herself scarce before they arrived - Neville knew Hermione's view on elves, and another discussion of S.P.E.W. wouldn't be conducive to his goals.

He opened the door - as expected, the tea was ready. "Please have a seat," he said, gesturing towards the closest armchair.

"Thank you." She sat, then smiled at the plate on the low table. "And please thank your slave for preparing this."

He clenched his teeth. Telling her that Dolly wasn't a slave wouldn't help; she simply didn't understand that elves loved belonging to a family. They weren't humans. "I shall," he said as he sat down himself.

"You know," he said after serving her, "you can disagree about politics without being rude."

"Of course. That's the basis of civilised discourse."

He decided to take a page out of her book. "So why aren't you doing it?"

"Did I offend you?" she asked instead of answering.

"No," he lied. "I was talking about your proposal in the Wizengamot."

"I'm not aware of any rule I might break with my proposal."

He sighed. She simply didn't want to understand. "It's not the rules, it's the customs. There are ways to do things, and things that aren't done. You might not be aware of them, given that…"

"...given that I'm a mudblood?" She tilted her head.

He hissed through clenched teeth. "See, that's not something you can say." Not in polite society.

"It was said very often by a lot of people, especially during the war. Not all of them were Death Eaters. Not even the majority, I'd say." She sniffed. "I should know - I observed a number of them."

"And the war's over," he retorted. "It's time to leave that behind. Only Death Eaters would use that word any more."

"In public. In private?" She scoffed. "How many of your, I mean, our esteemed colleagues use that word when talking about me in private?"

Probably more than he would like to admit - Mr Greengrass had been quite frank about the views of some of their peers, even though they hadn't followed Voldemort. "And they won't ever stop if you keep offending them," he said. "Is that what you want? Make everyone hate you and hate the muggleborns by proxy? You represent them. You are the first muggleborn in the Wizengamot in decades. Whatever you do, however you act, will reflect on all of them."

"Do you think I should play the good mudblood? Eager to please, be oh so grateful for the honour bestowed upon me? For the chance to learn from my betters?" She wasn't smiling at all any more. She was glaring at him as she scoffed.

He pressed his lips together. Her wording was extremely biased, but telling her that, yes, damn it, she should adapt wouldn't go over well. "I don't think you should antagonise the entire Wizengamot. You won't ever achieve anything like that - they will vote against your proposals out of spite."

"No wonder they are ruling the country if they are blessed with such maturity and wisdom." She sneered before taking a sip of her tea.

"And how mature and wise of you, to waste your opportunity on grandstanding and empty gestures!" he snapped before he managed to control himself. "Sorry." He took a deep breath. "Don't you want to actually change things?"

"Of course I do." She looked at him as if this wasn't in doubt.

"Then you need to make friends among our colleagues instead of enemies. You're a hero, and if you acted less like a…"

"Like a mudblood?"

He ignored her jibe. "...less like you had no idea about manners and customs, you would be able to find allies." It would be easy as well - some people would vote for her proposals just to spite a rival. He leaned forward. "Start slowly. Get to know everyone, get to know how things are done, ask for small changes at first. You can't just push everyone around and expect them to change at once. They're not students, and you're not a prefect." Or a teacher.

"Do you think I'm Dumbledore?"

"What?" Of course not!

"Dumbledore did what you just proposed. He asked for small changes. Easy changes. Small steps towards a better future." She smiled, and, for a moment, Neville dared hope that he had gotten through to her. Then she scowled. "And he barely achieved anything. What progress he made in fighting prejudice and discrimination against muggleborns was wiped away in a week once Voldemort took power."

"That's because no one could stop him," Neville retorted. "He would have wiped away any amount of progress." And he had wiped away centuries of tradition as well - or had tried to do so, at least.

"Perhaps. But people might not have been so quick to turn against the muggleborns if Dumbledore had had more success." She shrugged. "It doesn't matter anyway - I'm not Dumbledore. And I'm not going to follow his example."

Neville managed to restrain from snorting at the arrogance she was displaying. Even if she wanted to, she wouldn't have been able to do so - she wasn't nearly as powerful or respected as the Headmaster had been.

"But more importantly, the muggleborns won't accept it." She smiled, but without any warmth. "You said I was representing every muggleborn."

He nodded.

"You're wrong. A single witch is not enough to do that. Not nearly enough. Even after Voldemort's attempted genocide, we still represent a fifth of Wizarding Britain's population. And as you said - there's only one muggleborn in the Wizengamot. That simply won't do."

"If more muggleborns earned it, there would be more muggleborns in the Wizengamot." It wasn't his fault that there hadn't been more muggleborns who had earned an Order of Merlin, First Class.

"Why do muggleborns - and half-bloods, and most purebloods, too - need to earn a seat by saving the country if everyone else in the Wizengamot only had to be born to the right parents?" She scoffed again. "How can you think that that is fair?"

"I earned my seat as well!" he snapped. He had faced Voldemort and had almost died for it. She wasn't the only hero here in the room.

"But if you had hidden for the entire war, you'd still be a member of the Wizengamot. Like your colleagues."

"My entire family fought Voldemort! My parents paid with their minds for fighting him. Gran was almost killed." He almost snarled.

"And how many of our esteemed colleagues did the same? How many of them earned their seats? How many of them would be in the Wizengamot if they were muggleborns?"

"Their ancestors earned their seats," he replied.

She sniffed. "I doubt that that is true for every seat. But why should having a heroic ancestor qualify anyone for a seat in the Wizengamot? Given how often you intermarry and how many cadet branches of the families there are, I would think that almost everyone but a muggleborn had an ancestor who was a member of the Wizengamot."

But not everyone was born to and raised in the main family, educated so they'd be ready for their duty. But that wouldn't convince her. "How is this different from leaving the fortune you earned to your children? Would you be in favour of someone taking your gold away and leaving your children destitute because they didn't earn it? Legacies are to be treasured." If he thought about how his parents had suffered...

She chuckled. "Removing inheritances would be a very interesting experiment. In theory, you learn everything to lead a good life at Hogwarts - no one who passed their N.E.W.T.s would ever go hungry or homeless." She shook her head. "But it's a moot point anyway, since my future children won't be able to inherit my seat, will they? Because I'm not part of an Old Family. What would I need to do to earn that right?"

Marry into an Old Family, of course! That was how it was done for a witch of her exceptional talent, though it was admittedly rare. And if she married Ron, then her half-blood children would certainly be able to marry up if they were similarly talented. But she wouldn't want to hear that. And, judging by her expression as she put her cup down and stood, she already knew the answer anyway.

"Thank you for the tea, Neville. It was delicious. My compliments to your slave. Unfortunately, it's rather late, and I have to finish my first proposal for the Wizengamot."

Neville managed to go through the proper forms and didn't curse until she had left through the Floo connection.

He shook his head. Gran had been right. The stupid witch simply wouldn't listen! And she had talked down to him as if he were stupid and ignorant!

He clenched his teeth. He wasn't either - he'd show her that. "Dolly!"

The house-elf appeared from behind the curtain that had been hiding her. "Yes, Master?"

"Please tell Gran that I'm going out."

He would beat Hermione with her own weapons, and for that he needed to buy muggle books.