"Is this why Hermione?" Ron's voice was cracking and his face was its most vibrant shade, an unfortunate colour Hermione thought of as beet.

"Why what Ronald?" As usual her sharing any of her thoughts or plans had become her being yelled at. This trend was becoming less tolerable by the week. It would be by the day if she seen Ron more than once a week. When the trio had begun to come here about a year ago the patrons in this charming pub in South London had looked appalled by the war hero's displays of temper and occasional vulgarity. Now however, unless there was someone who hadn't witnessed it before, it drew almost no notice.

"Why you won't date me. You've got a hard on for the smart ones and now you've found someone who can't escape you. Since he's in Azkaban!" His reply had started out quite loud but the last word was positively roared. This did get some attention and Hermione closed her eyes then opened them and looked at Harry. Who looked sad. Damn it. Why, why couldn't they just go out for dinner and have some time, the three of them. It had happened nearly everyday for years. It was understandable really, Harry wanting to have that feeling of closeness the three of them used to have.

What else she could do, she didn't know. He met her eyes and nodded. He agreed, she had given it two months after their last conversation about Ron and she had done her best. Even he hadn't found fault. She had been open about herself and not been enough of herself to tell Ron when she thought he was wrong. Letting things slide had become not reacting to anything unless it was positive. Twice in that time she had gone alone and met girlfriends he wanted to parade in front of her, one of them she had liked a great deal. So much so that she spent most of the night enjoy the girls slight jump every time Ron yelled something. Usually she felt bad for him, finding someone was difficult, but that time she had felt bad for his date. They had met for book shopping since then and Hermione thought Abigail Windham might become a real friend. That she hadn't told Ron, part of not saying anything that might make him feel as if she was gloating. One of his favourite complaints and on the list of things Harry and her had brainstormed when she had come to him with her decision.

The decision not to attend their get togethers anymore. It wasn't often that Harry and Ron got together, all of their schedules were difficult to balance. It felt as if she was ruining their friendship. This was Harry's compromise. They would try for two months. Well mostly Hermione but it was for all three of them. Being the three of them had been part of their identity, a positive part. A lesson in friendship and the power of it, even a dark lord couldn't stand up to it. That was the public's view and she had Harry had agreed that if the Golden Trio was breaking up then they needed to be able to honestly say they had grown apart. Neither of them wanted to tarnish their memories or twist the friendship into something ugly. This seemed the best outcome. The trio was breaking up, individual friendships were optional, both sides consenting.

"Ron. I want you to know that all of our adventures and memories together are some of the most precious things I have. Even though I feel as if we have grown apart I still respect you and want the best for you, truly. I hope that we can be civil and in time have no awkwardness between us. I will assure your family that they have my love and gratitude. Thank you for the time we have shared together. I won't be coming to get togethers you and Harry have alone. Hopefully we can be in groups without problems." However I feel like if we keep spending time together our history could be ruined. I really do wish you the very best in all of your endeavours. Please remember that everything you say will end up in the papers, as it always does." Her voice hadn't been raised in any way but Ron's previous explosion of temper had grabbed the attention of even this mostly veteran audience, so her words were heard by those closest. There were audible gasps and then the wave of whispers sounded like a snake pit behind her.

With her composure secured by her certainty that she had done absolutely nothing wrong and had even taken far more than she should, it was easy to quietly make sure she had everything and put her scarf around her neck before getting up and looking at the people staring dumbstruck at her. She gave them a small smile and a few smiled back, several grinned. One little witch who was always there with a gossipy group gave her a nod in approval. Well this had been even more public than she had thought. Tomorrow was soon enough to learn about Ron's tantrum, that she and Harry had agreed would follow this outcome. Harry would try three times to speak with him before following her example and leaving the building.

As the shocked looking busboy handed her coat to her she gave him a reassuring smile. Really the world wouldn't end because she wasn't being yelled at by Ron Weasley. Wizarding Britain regularly baffled her but she did love it. Kind of like people you know well enough and for long enough to even enjoy their faults. Harry was pants at cooking, being organized in any way, and quitting anything he had decided to do. Even when that thing was bad for him, as she was telling him more and more frequently lately. Still those things usually made her smile.

The September air was lovely and the month itself was one of her favourites. Back to school, her birthday, sweaters, the beginning of fall foods and it being acceptable to read all day. The rain, it's smell and how it made everything clean after the summer heat. That's how it made her feel anyways, even if it was usually from a window seat while she read or lately ran to and from work. Maybe it was time to get a kitten too, no Ron or obscenely long work days.

It was only the fifth day of the month and already so much was looking better. Just today Kingsley had told her that their mad scheme had been realised. It had been hatched over wine in her flat and then carefully fostered until it grew into a bill that passed the Wizengamot session this morning. Six months ago she had told Kingsley that she wanted to speak to him, about their deal. His dark complexion didn't pale per se but the tassel he loved so much quivered. Their deal. It was back alley politics and favours traded at its finest. The brilliant war heroine would be the face of the Ministry's progressive agenda. She would take Kingsley's lead unless it went against her conscience. Making a particular department look good to the public, strategically timed opinions or announcements that overshadowed something that was unpopular but necessary.

There had been the war and before that the corruption that followed the indecisive end of the first war. That's how the public seemed to see it anyways, it had basically gone on the whole time and was finally finished. Forty years or so, a post war poll said. Most people still didn't know who Tom Riddle was but they had feelings anyways. Feelings about sections of society that had been further perverted by Riddle's propaganda. Whole branches of magic people didn't want their children learning. People that should never be released, that last was a small example but relevant to today.

Four prominent Death Eaters were being released on parole in the next two months. Of course it didn't matter to the public what the actual logical reasons were for their release. It mattered only that someone they trusted could tell them that it was the right thing to do. So she had timed her resignation from the position of Advisor to the Minister of Magic to coincide with the successful parole program being passed. It wouldn't eclipse it but Kings was sure more people would be talking about her, than four Death Eaters people wished would disappear. It wasn't that people really believed they should be in there until they died. Just that it was political or social suicide to say Lucius Malfoy, Rabastan Lestrange, Thorfinn Rowle, and Antonin Dolohov had paid for their sins. Even she couldn't say that, wasn't sure she believed it. It had been three years, only three and she knew these men had caused more damage than that penalty. She was also sure these four shouldn't spend the rest of their lives behind bars. Decaying everyday until the Wizards they were faded completely.

What would the world be without a Lucius Malfoy to mock? He was the only one of them she was tempted to mock in anyway though. The other three were much more interesting. Rabastan Lestrange has been sixteen when he was thrown into prison alongside the other three who had been at the Longbottoms. There was no trial or statement. Eventually it was Augusta Longbottom that gave her memory of finding him passed out on the bench in her garden, surrounded by his own vomit, when she showed up at the same time as the Aurors. His Dark Mark and location was enough.

Lucius was just terrible. He wasn't too young when he made his choices, nor was he forced. He was one of those unfortunate people who didn't seem to expect what came. He was told Harry would come to the Department of Mysteries, go there and get the prophecy. Instead he lost a fight with children and ended up in prison, damning his son. They would have been dead if more than three or four of the Death Eaters there wanted to kill students. Most of them had a child or family member in one of the two school years represented. 'A mudblood girl my son spoke of often screaming on my floor and no wand in my hand. That's what happened. It wasn't what I wanted.'

Antonin Dolohov should have been deported to Russia instead of being imprisoned for murder without trial. It was common then, Barty Crouch Sr. was predictable, and seemed to totally disregard record taking. Fabian Prewett had died, Dolohov had killed him, and barely survived. Two Auror reports showed both Prewett twins cast Avada before the death eaters they were fighting. It was labelled as murdering an Auror. They were trainees, two weeks in, and were not in uniform or on duty. He had been unconscious from blood loss or probably would never have been caught. The man's records, and his journal, were some of the most impressive things she had ever read. It made her little journal of spells she had created and altered seem pathetic.

Thorfinn Rowle was a different case altogether. He was five years her senior and didn't have the decades of notoriety his compatriots did. What he did have was a family legacy. The only male Rowle left was the sixth Rowle that had lit wizarding Britain ablaze. Apparently that was just one too many. His father had set half of Diagon alley on fire three months before the final battle. It was his potential more than his actual actions that set him above his own age group. He had been mostly a residential fire setter during the war, not industrial. Rabastan has been his partner and each had given testimony about each others actions, in much more detail than their own.

Hermione had learned most of this in her own research, and some interviews. That's what she called her conversations, people didn't want Hermione talking to criminals. In the right mood most of the inmates would speak to her, just to have a conversation. It was something she had taken advantage of, and the position that allowed her to do it. She went once every two weeks and had done that regularly for over two years now. The first time she had gone it was to ask Rabastan, the only Lestrange left alive, if he knew anything about her curse.

She had taken her NEWTs six months exactly after the wars end, three days later she stood on the windy rock and tried to master her fear. Realizing some of it was dementors she nearly went straight to the Ministry. Remembering her reason for coming, at the intense shooting pain in her arm, she lifted her chin and recast the patronus her rage had caused to falter and vanish.

She had knocked on the huge metal circle with her wand as instructed and could hear the gong through the stone facade of the building. Keeping her need to be calm and focused for her patronus she added it to the mental list she started, of things she wanted to speak to him about. There was no hope for anything here, by design. What reason for change? Pushing that thought away she waited and allowed herself to be led up three floors and past cells. She didn't dare look around and none of them made a sound, which was unnerving even if she was a bit glad not to be jeered at.

Even those few months after the war Hermione knew things could never be healed like this. She had gone several times to Hogwarts even after the rebuilding and it was clear, Slytherin House was to be silent and penitent. She had found a first year being yelled at by fifth years for daring to speak to her. The older students had been sorry to be shouted at by the heroine but unwilling to concede that the colours of the young girls tie didn't matter. This felt similar, these people went in here and they ceased to be individuals. Sometimes her brain and ways of thinking annoyed her. She just wanted to decide what to study further and move on.

Eventually she reached a small door and entered it, finding the back of a dark head in dirty grey robes. A bit surprised he didn't turn around she realised quickly he couldn't. Only turn his head, again the sick feeling was there. If he had magic dampeners on and no wand, that was enough. What good did it do if he couldn't move at all? Even his wrists, elbows, and biceps were secured to the arms of his chair.

Sitting down and not knowing where to look she finally met his gaze. Blue eyes looked at her with shock and a bit of fear. There was that feeling again. She didn't like people fearing her. Respect was nice and she did feel that generally her skills as a witch warranted it. Fear though, it made her uncomfortable.

There had been about twenty minutes, she had figured the time out later, between Harry disappearing and the big duels in the great hall when chaos had held sway. No one was holding actual duels it seemed but it was shots of opportunity. There was something in magic or the culture that made facing your opponent an unthought gesture. Even if there weren't any formalities it was still a part of their style of fighting. This however was different. In what couldn't have been more than four minutes she killed two people for sure and saved three. All while ducking the plethora of curses being sent her way. Those twenty minutes felt like hours in her memory. People had seen her and talked about it then and afterward. Occasionally people still brought new events into the timeline instead of as flashes of lights and faces.

"Lestrange, I need to ask you about your sister, well Bell- her. The blade. I don't think you were there but I have heard that she used it on other people, muggleborns, too. The curse. It's getting worse." Hermione trailed off. It was hard to look at this man and admit her situation. Hard to be here. Winning should have meant the end, healing. It hadn't for her. Not yet and maybe it never would.

"Shooting or creeping pain?" His voice was raspy and she wondered when he had last used it.

"Shooting." Her heart was beating faster now and she knew it was hope. Even telling herself that it didn't actually help made no difference.

"Ah. It's a poison then. Magic not body. That's not really what's happening, just a sick decoy." He looked a thousand miles away in his mind. She couldn't have cared less! A poison of her magic. That was bad, and she had never heard of it either which was worse. It was something though, it also answered the lack of results on the few tests she had allowed to be done.

"Do you know if."

"There isn't an antidote."

Both of them had spoken at once. She nodded at him. Feeling dread sink into her at the look on his face and that he just opened and closed his mouth before shaking his head quickly twice.

Okay. No antidote. Or not a known one anyways. She would go directly to the Black library, well not today. Maybe not this week. When she could. The letdown was hard to deal with and she knew that her arm, magic, was worse when she was tired or upset. Wishing, not for the first time, that she had been the one to kill the bitch. At least she would have some satisfaction.

"Ask 'Toni." She barely heard the words. Didn't understand them at all. Her head snapped up just the same and he licked his lips before saying again.

"Ask 'Toni, Dolohov." He seemed to understand that she didn't know who that was and added the surname as clarification. Dolohov. Of course. Well, perhaps she would get to ask those questions from fourth year then. Her lips quirked a wry twist. Surprised to see an answering expression similar to hers on the prisoners face.

"Wish I could be there." So he knew then, not surprising. Draco and Theo had refused to talk about Azkaban but they had spoken a bit about what they had heard about her. Gossip mostly as they were both young and not invited to closed meetings. Twice she had escaped Dolohov alive, publically. It gave her a reputation, not that she didn't already have one after the Department of Mysteries and the Astronomy Tower. By the time they went on the run every person Voldemort could get his hands on was questioned about Harry and her. Not as much Ron but the two of them. Her being muggleborn and a witch made her harder to respect. Thus the subject of scorn, causing the same to be heaped on those who failed to take her down.

"I'm sure. I would prefer not to. I'd rather listen to Umbridge at the moment." That had been an honest thought and she hadn't really thought through saying it at all. She didn't regret it though. His bark of laughter made Hermione feel much better. Though it reminded her of Sirius, which wasn't something she wanted to think about here.

"I will have to do it I suppose. It's hard though. You know." She felt he did know and that maybe she was going a bit mad, speaking to him. His nod heartened her a bit though. Maybe he did know and maybe he was humouring her. Either way she appreciated it.

"Your friend, the blond." Hermione felt defensive at the mention of Luna and it must have showed in her posture. He dropped his eyes, clearly conveying no threat with his limited mobility.

"Luna." She stated a bit gruffly. As a friend, Luna had come out of the war ahead. No one could understand others emotions, at least hers, better than the Ravenclaw. As an individual it was hard to say. She had many memories that bothered her and they weren't all of things that happened to her. She had been in the dungeons for nearly four months and knew more about what life was like for the other side than anyone else in Hermione's circle. She had started to go on creature hunting trips and both girls saw a positive change happening. Eventually, he nodded and looked at the wall.

"Tell her there is no sign of nargles here. I've been looking." Hermione just blinked at him for a moment and then grinned. She too had looked for signs Luna pointed out, even though she really didn't believe. The way Luna explained things made it seem like you would and could see them.

"I'll tell her. She got to you too then? I've done it many times." Her smile fell and his slight grin did too.

"Thank you." It was simple but it was true.

She opened the door and cast her patronus before calling the guard, the thought occurred to her that maybe, just for a minute she could help. He had been nice to her and Luna hadn't mentioned him when they talked about the moments they tried to forget. Hoping it would help. It did, sometimes. The relaxation in his shoulders was thanks enough and she made sure her patronus stalked back and forth in front of her as she walked back out of the prison. Trying to give everyone she passed a moment of peace.

As she made it to the park she usually used to apparate to and from the pub she shook herself mentally. That had been when it started. The change. The interest in the people behind the names and reputations. It had led her to Kingsley's office with a list of questions and complaints. Which had led to the bargain. Her employment for his behind the scenes support and help accomplishing whatever she thought important. Even then she had known that she didn't want to work for the Ministry forever. She wanted to be free to create and explore magic. Learn about it outside Hogwarts structures and rules. Now it was her turn. A new start and opportunities. September was the best.