She'd never wanted to come back here again. She'd told them, all of them, "I'm not coming back. I can't. I won't. Please don't ask me to." Then she Apparated to Bangkok, and no one came after her.

After Ancient Runes, Thai didn't present much of a language challenge. And blending in with the Muggle world wasn't as difficult as she'd feared. Thailand was...wonderful, actually, after a lifetime of damp and dreary England. There were no memories there, nothing at all familiar. Best of all, even though she was English, she could lose herself in Bangkok. The city teemed with people of all races and nationalities. She was just one more tourist in the throng.

She kept her wand, of course. She wasn't stupid. But she put it back in the Ollivander's box in which it had come and hid it in the far reaches of her wardrobe. She didn't need it once she'd cleaned out and exchanged the Galleons in her Gringott's vault. The Galleon had been particularly strong against the baht at that time, and she had more than enough money to set up house the Muggle way.

For the first year, she was understandably on edge. Memories hovered too near the surface, and she spent most of her time looking over her shoulder or hiding in her flat. Loud noises (which were difficult to avoid in a city like Bangkok) made her jump. She slept with a light on, when she slept at all. Though she knew Muggle locks were nothing to a wizard, she had eight of them on her door. A breath of cool air on her neck had her reaching for her wand and looking around for Death Eaters. Happily, Thailand was short on cool breezes. Even the rainy season was oppressively hot after seven years of schooling in Scotland.

After that first year in Bangkok, she enrolled at Chulalongkorn University. Chula had the highest academic rating of all the Thai universities, so it was reasonable that she'd enrol there. Her transcripts she forged. It was a quick bit of magic, but she was of age now and doubted anyone even noticed. For her, Chula was a refuge within the safe haven of Bangkok.

At Chula, she once more made friends with books (not one attempted to bite her or emitted blood-curdling screams) and libraries (where no book was restricted) and professors (none of whom were likely to come to a tragic end at the hands of a megalomaniacal evil wizard with a snake fetish). She studied economics and the politics of opium amidst classmates who had not been cursed at birth by said evil wizard. She even learned to smile again, though that small feat took more study than her course on the history of Siam not covered by Rita Skeeter's contemptible ancestor, Anna Leonowens.

She thought she was happy. She thought she was finally free. She'd never meant to come back here.

"Nee, there's a letter for you!"

When she posted a notice for flatmates on the student notice board, she'd received thirty phone calls in just one day. One of the respondents was Anamaria Vazquez, from the United States. Anamaria had come to Chula on a summer exchange program and simply stayed. Ana was outgoing and bubbly – typically American, she thought. Ana made no apologies for it, though, and against all expectations, the two expats got on quite well. They'd been flatmates for three years now, while the flat's third room was routinely open for a new renter. At the time, it was empty; Ana suggested they turn it into a gym.

"No return address, though," Ana continued. "Just your name, Ms. Hermione Granger. And what kind of address is this? Last flat on the right? Why can't they just write the PO Box and leave it at that? Honestly. Wait!" For the letter had been snatched from Ana's hands.

There it was, in that bold green ink that had marked the end of summer for seven years. Ms. Hermione Granger. Well. She was a Ms now, was she? Amazing, the way her carefully constructed sense of security could crumble with a few strokes of green ink on parchment. She turned over the envelope – there was the Hogwarts seal, as fresh as if the envelope had just been closed. She glanced at Ana, who stood beside the couch expectantly, but gave no explanation before bolting to her room to read in private.

Dear Ms. Granger,
I regret to inform you of the passing of Professor Minerva McGonagall, Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Your presence is required for the execution of Professor McGonagall's estate, which will be read at nine o'clock on January the twelfth, in the office of Professor Severus Snape, Deputy Headmaster, Hogwarts, etc.

Sincerely,
S. Snape


She sniffed. Sincerely, indeed. That man had never been sincere about anything, except perhaps his desire to make Harry's life miserable. And who had written that letter? Snape's handwriting had never been terribly legible, let alone dressed with calligraphy. She highly doubted the greasy git had turned over a new leaf. Hermione crushed the parchment in her hands and cast it away from her as the more important truths penetrated her mind.

McGonagall, dead? Impossible. If ever there was a strong woman, it was Minerva McGonagall. She would never forget the night she saw the professor take four stunning spells to the chest. Two years after that, the old woman had seen Albus Dumbledore die; then she had risen up from his side to fight valiantly in the Last Battle. She had been Hermione's mentor all through Hogwarts, as close to a her as the girl had ever had.

Dead.

Hermione found she had nary a tear to shed for her once-honoured professor. Indeed, she hadn't cried in four years. Watching friends and fellow classmates fall all round while she stood, knowing that her parents had been killed simply because of her relationship to Harry Potter – these things had wrung every tear from her eyes. She simply had none left to shed over Professor McGonagall. She was sorry, of course, but not sorry enough to go back. She was determined never to go back. She couldn't. It was impossible. There were too many people missing, too many gaps where shining young faces had once been. Too many memories of death and destruction and deceit and despair. Too many people cringing when she walked into a room, too many others hailing her as a hero. Too many memories, too many recriminations...

"Nee?" Ana tapped the door open. "Can I come in?" Without waiting for an answer, she crossed the room and plopped herself on the end of Hermione's bed. "Bad news?" she asked, gesturing toward the letter on the floor and the torn envelope still on the bedside table.

Hermione looked at her flatmate with dry, red-rimmed eyes and wondered what she could say. "Yes." She slid off her bed and gathered up the letter and envelope. "An old...professor of mine died. In England. They want me to go back."

"But?" Ana prompted.

Hermione shook her head. "But I don't want to go. I don't intend to go, in fact. It would interfere with my courses here. I don't want to go back," she repeated. "Going back would interfere with my life here."

"Death does tend to do that," Ana said with a small smile, "interfere with life."

"I can't go back, Ana." She was serious, determined. Stubborn.

Ana wisely let the discussion end there. And as January twelfth drew nearer without the topic coming up again, Hermione allowed herself to hope that it never would. The pair had found a third flatmate, a Thai girl, Su, who was a very serious medical student and had told them she would rarely be around. They went shopping "American style" at Central Lad Prao, one of Bangkok's innumerable malls. They even crashed a party at Rangsit University on the northern outskirts of Bangkok, near the airport.

It was January tenth when Ana brought the letter up again, in the most shocking way possible.

"You can just Apparate, can't you?"