In September, the students returned to Hogwarts; and Hermione became a teacher in practice as well as in name.

Skulking in the shadowy clerestory, she watched the students arrive, save for the first years. How young, how small, they all seemed. Hermione watched them disembark, piling out of the carriages, tumbling over each other like puppies. Hardly more than babies, they seemed, even those who had not been more than a few years behind her. It was a sort of illusion, Hermione told herself. She knew very well that it was a trick of the mind. Hermione, herself, had felt like a proper grownup, even when she was a first year; and she hadn't yet witnessed the gruesome brutality of war. These children had already seen more horrors than most adults would in a lifetime. As she watched them, she noticed how they gave a wide berth to the Thestrals, all of them. There were few amongst the mass to whom the dark beasts were still invisible, but even those who could not see seemed to know that something was there.

There was little innocence left in Wizarding Britain.

Hermione left her vantage point abruptly, unable to stand how the Thestrals made the children shudder, even while they tried so valiantly to pretend they weren't afraid. She walked the hall at great speed, her hands clasped tight together in front with nails biting cruelly into white knuckles, accompanied by her own soft footfalls, the rustle of her robes, and by the terror and the screaming that had never ceased to plague her memories.

Hardly calmed by the time she reached the Great Hall, she saw that the staff was already seating itself at the High Table; Hermione took her place, as well. Headmaster Mowatt seemed to favour a merit-based system of placing the staff, and, as a junior member of the faculty, she found herself all the way to one end. The only seat further away from the center belonged to Professor Binns, and then only because his chair remained vacant more often than it was filled. Ghosts had little need for food and the History teacher remained as difficult to pin down as he had always been. He was, in fact, absent when Hermione sat.

The chair to her right, however, was not. Impassive and humourless as always, Professor Snape sat with his arms crossed over his chest, his hands tucked into the fabric of his voluminous robes. It was a thoroughly disagreeable arrangement. Though Professor Sprout sat on the other side of Snape, Hermione could not very well carry on a conversation over him. That was a depth of rudeness to which she was unwilling to sink.

"Sir," she crisply acknowledged Professor Snape.

"Madam," he returned without sparing her a glance.

Hermione resigned herself to quiet, chilly mealtimes and worked at arranging her robes around herself, regretting their design. She had purchased them in Shanghai, a popular style amongst Wizarding folk there. Though the deep blue silk with gold dragon brocade was very pretty, the capaciousness of the bell sleeves made it difficult to keep the fabric from encroaching on Professor Snape's personal space. Hermione was certain she would put a sleeve in his soup before the evening was over.

Outside the Hall, there was an approaching roar that rose to a cacophony as the students crashed in. Hermione watched the students find seats at their House tables, looking for familiar faces. She was shocked at how few she recognized and was relived when Natalie McDonald waved wildly as she took her seat at the Gryffindor table. Hermione wiggled her fingers back while giving Nattie what she hoped was a stern and professorial look. The girl grinned and turned back to her friends.

Snape, to Hermione's right, snorted rather loudly.

"Did you find something amusing, Professor Snape?" she asked. "Do share; I could use the laugh."

Snape did not take his eyes off of the students assembled before them. "I was simply wondering, Miss Granger, if you would be sleeping in the dormitory with the other students."

"Why, Professor," Hermione returned with a warm, though clinical, detachment. "If you wished to know the location of my personal rooms, you need only ask. There's no need to cage curiosity in idle speculation."

"Rest assured, I already know where your chambers are," Snape murmured. "I always know which areas of the school are to, at all costs, be avoided."

This time, it was Hermione who snorted.

There was an amusing sort of symmetry to life, Hermione thought the next day, as she stood in front of her first ever class. There she was, in her black robes, believing as she did that an academic's robes should always be very serious, with a room full of quaking children before her. Slytherin first years, no less. In the faces presented to her, Hermione saw fear, mistrust and, in some, outright hostility. They had been warned, she was sure, to expect a tyrannical Gryffindor despot for a teacher. Bloody idiots, she thought, still taking inter-House conflict so seriously, as though the colour of one's necktie truly dictated one's behaviour.

It was enough to make a girl want to wash her hands of the lot of them.

"Good morning," Hermione said to her students, smiling warmly. "I'm Professor Granger and this is World Magic."

The students met her with stony, sullen silence. Hermione sighed and, with a flick of her wand, she dimmed the room's light.

"The magical world," she continued, "is not comprised of simply these little islands on which we live."

Another flick and the Wizard's Globe floated free of its stand. Up, up, up, it floated, rotating before the children. And then, with a surreptitious swish or her wand, the globe came to life. In India, elephants trumpeted. In Africa, lions roared. Monkeys screamed in the rainforests and the oceans rippled with underwater creatures. Everywhere, people lived and loved; and everywhere, there was magic. The globe glowed with wonders untold, and Hermione spoke of them, her voice unconsciously reverent.

"There is, all around us, a macrocosm of magic to be discovered. There is magic, not just in the traditions we are a part of, but in everything. Magic in every man and every animal. Magic in every grain of sand and every drop of water. On every surface, there is magic; and there is magic in what lies beneath. By learning all that we can about the world in which we live, we shall come to know the value of understanding the untapped sources. We shall come to know the power in magical syncretism and use it for good."

The Globe floated back down to its pedestal, stilling atop it, reverting from miraculous, to simply educational.

"Now," Hermione briskly said, another flick of her wand copying the pertinent points of her lecture onto the blackboard behind her. "Who can theorize what I mean by magical syncretism?"

For a moment the class was silent and still. It seemed, impossibly, that not a child stirred. When a small girl with olive skin and tidy, blue-black hair tentatively raised her hand, Hermione let out the breath she didn't know she had been holding.

It was going to be fine. Everything was going to be fine.

And it was. For two weeks, Hermione flew deliriously through her days. She found that, having acquired so much information in her travels, she was tripping over herself to share it. Classes were over in a moment; she often felt that she'd hardly begun to speak when it was time to let the students move on. By and large, the students responded to her fervour, caught up in her dervish-like methodology. When she demonstrated that the spark of anticipatory fear that came from playing with a Muggle toy, a Jack-in-the-Box, had the same root as a simple Dread Charm, she was the talk of the school for a full day. Though she was called to the Headmaster like a naughty student and chastised for her inappropriate usage of a Muggle artifact, Hermione considered it a rousing success. She was already planning how to incorporate it more successfully into future lessons by the time she left his office.

All things told, Hermione found that, for the first time in years, she was largely incapable of pulling a convincing frown, responding with genuine warmth to faculty, staff and students alike. Still, there was one thorn in her paw, as there is wont to be, even in the most satisfactory of lives; and that thorn, it often seemed, had been stuck for years, throbbing and festering. Though Hermione was no longer his student, Professor Snape continued to be both a nuisance and a source of woe. He made the Headmaster's twice-weekly faculty meetings most unpleasant, with his vocal distain of Hermione's chosen field of practice. She had come to dread mealtimes; though Snape usually preferred to miss breakfast and dinner, he did make an appearance at supper. For Hermione, the evening meal meant icy silence and the constant fear the she would jostle his arm, or tread on his foot, or sit too near him, or too far away, any of which might bring down the wrath of his vicious, scornful tongue. It was quite an impossible situation, which Hermione bore the only way she knew: by squaring her shoulders and bulling through with dogged determination. She was largely successful at ignoring the ireful Professor, and, with frequent use of breathing exercises she had learned in Tibet, avoided losing her own temper. If she could manage the school year without putting her fist to Snape's nose, she would consider it a wild success.

Snape, for his part, seemed anxious for a blackened eye. One night, not more than two weeks after the Welcoming Feast, Hermione sat curled into one of the Staff Room's large, cushioned chairs with a volume on modern Italian spell-poetry. Opposite her, Pegeen graded Third Year parchments, occasionally reading aloud the more amusing effort--in particular, Chrysanthemum Charles' assertion that, while the Pogrebin was native to Russia, one must certainly have a hand in the creation of her own mum's leaden puddings, such were Chrysanthemum's feelings of despair on being presented with one. Hermione was in stitches over the girl's description of how, one night, a treacle tart tried to devour her in her sleep, when Snape swooped into the room, coming to a stop before Hermione.

"Do you believe yourself to be capable of teaching every subject offered here?" he asked without preamble.

Hermione hiccupped over a stifled giggle. "I beg your pardon?"

"I would appreciate it, Miss Granger, if you would kindly stop instructing your classes in Potions, as that is my expertise."

Snape presented her with a piece of parchment. Hermione, looking it over, found it to be notes taken by a Ravenclaw Second Year, from her previous day's lecture.

"Ah," she acknowledged, making mental note of the student. They were very good notes, even if they were getting her into trouble.

"'Ah'? Is that all you have to say for yourself?"

"I'm sorry. What else would you like me to say?"

"Perhaps you'd like to explain why you're teaching Potions in," Snape sniffed disdainfully, "World Magic."

Hermione breathed deeply. "I was not teaching Potions, Professor Snape. I was simply drawing an obvious comparison between the anti-Hoodoo elixirs used by witchdoctors on certain Caribbean islands and protection potions traditionally made by ourselves."

Snape scowled. "There couldn't possibly be any correlation between Muggle superstition and the practices of true Wizards."

"I'm certain, sir, that if you looked into the properties of these elixirs, you'd find them fascinating."

"I've neither the time nor the desire to study the swamp water of Muggle quacks," Snape said imperiously.

"I think Hermione's of the right, and not just because she's nicer than you are about it, Professor," Pegeen stated with her usual bluntness.

Without turning to face her, Snape replied, "And you're an expert on the subject, I'm sure, Miss Cathasaigh."

Hermione scowled at his impoliteness, even while Pegeen continued on blithely.

"Actually, I went to school in the Islands, so I do know a bit about it."

"Not Hogwarts?" Hermione, interested, leaned over the arm of her chair, peering around Snape's voluminous robes.

Pegeen grinned. "Nah. My first year was back when Voldemort was just starting to get a bit tricky, the first time around. Da's Ma was killed by Grindelwald, so, they weren't about to let me fool with Voldemort. Sent me away to school on Nevis. Alexander Hamilton Academy, that's the school there. He was a wizard, you know; Hamilton was. Bloody good one, too. 'Cept for the pistol-dueling-with-Muggles bit, of course. That was right stupid of him. Muggles with some magic ways was accepted practice there, though. Everyone knew that there were Muggles who could bring a mighty hardship down on a person."

"That's ridiculous," Snape interrupted with a sneer, though he did finally turn to include Pegeen.

"It's absolutely not ridiculous, Professor," Hermione said. "I was in Haiti last summer. There was a Muggle woman in Port-au-Prince who could cure the summer fever with a poultice of powdered lizard tail and guano, and not more than an hour of chanting."

Snape's lips had a nasty curl to them. "While I can certainly see how you might be duped by such a clever ruse as bat droppings and mumbling, Miss Granger, that proves nothing. The fever could very well have passed on its own."

Pegeen smiled knowingly at Hermione and gestured at Snape. "Don't take it personal, love. It's hard for them lot to believe such things are possible. English wizarding's got so narrow, you know. I was the only Irish witch at school. Mostly Americans there. A few islanders. A Canadian a few years ahead of me. They find it easier to accept that Muggles aren't always just Muggles."

"Then they're addled," Snape snarled, "and as without worth as Muggles themselves.

Pegeen, despite her experience and typically blasé attitude, was appalled; and Hermione suspected that it wasn't herself from which Snape was in danger of a pummeling.

"I apologize if this interfered with your own lesson planning," Hermione smoothly interrupted the eminent altercation, "but there is certain to be some overlap between the subjects. I shall endeavor to inform you of any mention I might make of anything to do with Potions at all." Hermione tucked the parchment into the dragon's hide portfolio, a Christmas gift from the Weasleys, she carried. "I'll be sure this gets back to Mister MacFusty for you, Professor. I wouldn't want you to have to go out of your way to return it to him."

Snape pulled a truly sour face. "How very considerate of you."

With a swirl of black robes, he swept from the room without further comment, soon after followed by stifled peals of girlish laughter.

That year, Hemione's birthday fell on a Saturday; and, in early evening on the day, she Apparated to Harry's with the intent of spending the night. It was unseasonably warm on the island; the wind was quiet and the sun had just started to set. Hermione's cloak was suddenly stifling. She undid the clasp and shrugged the heavy wool off, leaving her in trainers, jeans and a light jumper--the Muggle clothing she still preferred to wear outside of Wizarding society. With the cloak dragging unceremoniously behind her, she wandered up the overgrown path toward Harry's home.

Hermione found her friend on the cottage's front porch, in the long, cushioned swing that had been amongst Harry's few modifications to the property. He was barefoot, with one foot tucked beneath him, the other pushing the swing back and forth just slightly. Intent on the heavy paperback in his lap, he didn't notice Hermione approach until she was at the steps of the cottage. She was glad to see that, while the tumbler at his feet was empty, the bottle of whisky next to it was nearly full. When he looked up at her, Harry's eyes were clear and sober.

"What are you reading this time?" Hermione asked, setting her bag down.

Harry held up the thick book. "Middlemarch. By George Eliot, who, incidentally, was not a bloke."

Hermione laughed. Harry smiled at her, obvious in his pleasure at her mirth.

"How is it?" she asked, encouraging him.

Harry sighed. "Boring."

He tossed the book aside and beckoned to her. Hermione took his hand and, seating herself next to him on the swing, tucked her feet up.

"Have you had a nice birthday, 'Mione?"

"Better now." Hermione smiled up at him. "But, yes, it's been quite satisfactory. Pegeen took me out to Hogsmeade for a Butterbeer this week and I got some exceptionally impersonal gifts from the rest of the faculty."

"Quills and parchment?" Harry laughed.

"And ink. Don't forget the ink."

"Well, you'll have to write me more letters, won't you then?"

Hermione nodded sagely. "Indeed. After all, I can't let perfectly good obligation gifts go to waste."

"Indeed. I have a present for you, too," Harry said, and made to lift from the chair.

Hermione grasped his hand, holding him there. "It'll keep."

"Alright," Harry said quietly and settled down again. Hermione laced her fingers through his and rested her head on his shoulder. Together, they watched the sun set into the horizon, staining the sky and water orange and gold and pink. It was a long time, the sky nearly dark, before Hermione spoke again.

"You know I love you, Harry." She looked up at him, her voice quiet and intense.

Harry looked down at her, startled.

Hermione squeezed his hand, hard. "You know that, right?"

He smiled and, looking back toward the ocean, said, "I know."