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Disclaimer: The characters and world described in this story were created by and are the property of the brilliant J. K. Rowling. They don't belong to me and I'm not making any money out of them.

I wrote the first chapters (basically up to 12) after I had read OotP, so now of course it's completely AU. I stopped writing when HBP came out but when in 2007 I re-read what I had written I still rather liked it and so finally decided to post it anyway and to finish the story.

Thanks to linda798316 this story is now being translated into Chinese! I'm very honoured and thank her for all the work she puts into this.

Your comments are highly appreciated – enjoy the story!

An unexpected Owl

It was the night before her last exam and Hermione was sitting at her desk, trying to concentrate on her notes on Beowulf. Yet somehow her mind kept wandering. So that would be it – probably the last exam of her life, after seven years at school and four at university. It would be strange not to be studying all the time anymore, strange no longer to feel the pressure as well as the exhilaration… Anyway, tomorrow she might be a free woman, but now she really should revise – she certainly didn't want to disappoint in her last exam! Not that anyone thought she would, but that was no reason to slacken in her revision. But it was hard to concentrate when nearly the entire hall of residence was already celebrating. Tomorrow was the last day of exams – lucky her to have to revise when nearly everyone else had already finished and were having the time of their lives.

At least her last exam wouldn't be that hard. Hermione was glad that she had already had all her magical exams. Although the Transfiguration exam had been rather tricky, she was almost certain that she had done well in all of them. She wasn't as panicky about her exam results anymore as she had been at Hogwarts.

Well, back to work. Hermione sighed, took a sip of tea and immersed herself in her notes again, trying to ignore the noises of celebrations and the muffled sound of piano music that had just erupted in the Common Room nearby. Suddenly there was a sharp rap at the window. Turning around, Hermione saw a haughty looking eagle owl pecking at the glass. When she opened the window the owl hopped onto her desk and put down a large envelope. Hermione was surprised. Usually only Harry and Ron sent her owls, and this was obviously neither Hedwig nor Pig. Looking at the envelope, she was even more confused to see that it came from the Ministry of Magic.

The owl was still sitting on top of her notes, hooting impatiently until Hermione started opening the envelope. It contained only one sheet of paper with a rather short message:

Dear Ms Granger

Please meet me on the 7th of June at 3 pm at the Ministry of Magic.

Yours sincerely,

Elektra Anistaphala

When the owl saw that she had read the letter, she gave Hermione an appreciating hoot and swept out of the window. Hermione went to close it again and then sat down on her bed, furrowing her brow and staring at the mysterious letter. She had no idea what it meant. Elektra Anistaphala… – that rang a bell. Hermione got up and went to the huge shelf full of books next to her desk. All her magical ones were bewitched to appear like normal books, and now she was looking for one called Fools in Shakespeare. When she had found it, she fetched her wand from its hiding place in one of her drawers and lifted the spell. The book immediately changed into a rather voluminous tome called Charms of the Antique World, written by Elektra Anistaphala. Hermione opened it to check if there was any information on the author, and found a short text stating that Elektra Anistaphala was the leading British expert on Charms from ancient Greece and Rome, also interested in ancient Egypt and Assyria, who lived in Kent and liked to tend her garden.

Hermione was still puzzled. Why did this eminent expert want to talk to her? And why at the ministry? She hadn't done anything wrong, had she? She was racking her brain, but was pretty sure that she hadn't broken any magical law lately. It seemed as if Anistaphala was working for the ministry – perhaps she wanted to offer her a job? But Hermione hadn't applied for any, and she wasn't so vain to think that the ministry – especially Fudge – would be that desperate to get her as an employee.

Actually she hadn't decided yet what to do after university. For some time at Hogwarts she had thought about eventually becoming an Auror like Harry and Ron had planned to, but now that didn't seem that enticing anymore – perhaps she had had enough excitement at school to last her for several years. The four years at St Andrews had been positively quiet compared to her time at Hogwarts, and although she had been a member of the Order ever since she had left school, she was hardly involved with their work. Dumbledore had only called her five times during the last four years, and then only to meetings where they all just got general information about the present status. Hermione was wondering why. She was pretty certain that Dumbledore trust in her was absolute, so that couldn't be the reason. Perhaps he wanted to shield her, give her a rest after everything she had gone through at Hogwarts. Another reason might be that – as far as she could tell – Voldemort had been lying extremely low for the last years. There had only been a few mysterious killings and other incidents, and many people already made themselves believe that he had disappeared for good. Hermione, of course, knew better than that, but she had also been glad to live in the relative security of St Andrews and to have nothing to do with Voldemort for a change. She would never betray Dumbledore's trust, nor Harry's or Ron's, but sometimes getting back to join the fight again didn't seem appealing at all. Living in the muggle world, were nobody knew or cared about Voldemort, had made her feel strangely distanced from the continuing threat he presented.

She could ask Harry and Ron about Anistaphala. At least they would know which department she was working for. But the two were currently chasing a dark wizard in the Black Forest, and Hermione didn't have an owl…. She could borrow Stella's tomorrow. Or even better, she might ask the Kendricks – yes, they'd know Anistaphala, perhaps even know why she wanted to see her.

Resolved, Hermione finally put away the letter and sat down once again to study her notes. But she still felt uneasy and her concentration was definitely gone now. Well, the exam should be all right – and besides, she could always do some last minute cramming tomorrow morning, couldn't she?

...

It was the evening of the following day and Hermione was walking briskly towards the Kendricks' home, a large Victorian house in a quiet street full of old alley trees in the west of St Andrews. The next day she would go home to her parents and only return for the Graduation Ceremony.

Strange how fast the four years had passed. She vividly remembered the day in her seventh year when Prof. McGonagall had told them about Dumbledore's plan to start a kind of interdisciplinary course of studies at the University of St Andrews. Students in this course would continue their magical training under the supervision of the celebrated couple Aurelia and Winfred Kendrick, but would also have to take non-magical subjects and live like muggle-students in halls of residences. With this course Dumbledore hoped not only to broaden the students' range of studies, but also to improve the relations between wizards and muggles and the knowledge about muggles in the wizard world.

St Andrews had been chosen because it was rather small and far off, and because the Principal himself was married to a witch, his son a graduate from Hogwarts. He was as keen as Dumbledore on improving relations between wizards and muggles. Another important point was that the University in the small Scottish town at the North Sea was not only the oldest in Scotland, but also had a long history of wizards studying there, especially in the Middle and Early Modern Ages (AN). The town was still pervaded with magical undercurrents and shielded by powerful wards, not as strong as in Hogwarts, but still able to give some protection to every wizard living there. There was one spot just outside St. Salvator's quadrangle, where a student had been burned at the stake during the Reformation. An old superstition stated that it was unlucky for students to step on this spot, which was marked with an "PH", the student's initials. Most of the students actually avoided stepping on it routinely, but few really believed in it. Hermione knew better.

The magical subjects she was attending were all subsumed under the fictional cover-subject of Hebridology. The Principal had tried to think up a subject as obscure and boring sounding as possible, to avoid muggles applying for it. There still had been a few, but they had all been deflected, although sometimes an obliviating spell had to be performed. Hermione's fellow muggle students thought that she was studying a rather queer subject and hadn't inquired too much about it after she had given them an enthusiastic and lengthy speech on the intricacies of the early Medieval history of South Uist.

When McGonagall had told them about the new course, Hermione had been intrigued immediately. She had wanted to go to one of the magical universities, but this new offer sounded like an interesting challenge. After talking to McGonagall, her decision was made and she had applied for the course. Ron and Harry had been tempted as well, but had finally decided to apply for Auror training straight away and had – surprisingly – been accepted. "They need more Aurors to be prepared for Voldemort, so they had to lower their standards" was Ron's grim but realistic comment.

Hermione had been accepted for the course, as well as Parvati Patil's sister Padma from Ravenclaw and Matthew Cuthbert from Hufflepuff. There were also two students who had been in the year above Hermione's, Gareth Knightley from Ravenclaw and Stella St John from Slytherin.

When the five of them had met for the first time, they had all been a bit stiff and uncomfortable, the house divisions still deeply ingrained into everyone's minds. Especially Stella had had a hard time, both because the other four hadn't fully trusted her, and because she had countered their guarded behaviour with haughtiness and arrogance. But after the first months they had started to get closer and closer, sticking to house loyalties only for friendly banter.

At the beginning of her studies, Hermione had felt that a dream had come true – there were uncountable subjects and courses to choose from, and she had thoroughly used this freedom. Apart from her magical studies she had also attended courses in such different subjects as Latin, History, Chemistry, Mathematics and International Relations. During her first two years, Hermione had worked nearly as much as in her third year at Hogwarts. Finally however she had decided that university wasn't only about studying and had dropped several courses in her last two years, settling mostly for English as the muggle-part of her course. For the magical part she'd finally concentrated on Charms and Arithmancy.

In their daily life at the muggle hall of residences, the five students had to make do without magic, since that would have attracted too much attention. Most of the magical training took place in the Kendricks' house, and if they wanted to do something in their own rooms, they first had to shield them heavily.

Of the five students, two were muggle-born, and two had at least one muggle-parent or grandparent. So they were more or less familiar with living in the muggle world. Only Stella came from an old pure-blood-family. She had received special intensive training in muggle matters before the beginning of her studies, but in everyday life there had still been many aspects which had puzzled her. Thinking that everyone, even an arrogant Slytherin, deserved a chance, Hermione had offered to answer her questions. At first Stella had been rather cold, but after getting into several embarrassing situations due to her ignorance, she had asked Hermione for advice more and more often, and finally a real friendship had developed.

Tonight their teachers Aurelia and Winfred Kendrick had invited them for an end-of-term and farewell celebration, and Hermione had decided to show up a bit earlier to be able to ask them about Elektra Anistaphala.

When she rang the bell, she was immediately greeted by a loud "Meauw!" Since animals were not permitted in the halls of residence, she had left Crookshanks with the Kendricks – at first she had tried to keep him in the hall hidden under an invisibility spell, but after several students had reported rather strange occurrences Hermione finally had had to admit defeat and had given him away.

When Winfred opened the door Crookshanks shot out immediately and started swishing around her legs, purring loudly. Hermione bent to pick him up, which increased his purring considerably, and followed Winfred into the old house. He looked a bit puzzled, but caught himself quickly.

"I know I'm early," Hermione started, "but I have to ask you and Aurelia something."

"All right then," Winfred replied, leading her into the living room were Aurelia was busy laying the table. "Aurelia, do you have a minute? Hermione has a question for us."

Looking intrigued, both settled down on a sofa opposite Hermione. They were a charming couple: Aurelia tall and erect, with short grey hair and immaculately dressed, and Winfred a bit shorter than his wife, always wearing worn out tweed trousers and jackets, his thick white hair sticking out from his head.

"I'm sorry to bother you when you're busy preparing – but I received a letter from Elektra Anistaphala last night and was wondering if by any chance you knew her?"

Understanding dawned on both their faces. "Ah, so she did write to you?" Aurelia said.

"Yes, she did, but I don't know why – so you know something about the letter, don't you?"

Winfred cleared his throat. "Well, we know a bit, but I'm afraid we aren't allowed to tell you much."

Hermione raised an eyebrow which made Aurelia give a short glance to her husband. Turning towards Hermione, she said: "What we can tell you is that Elektra asked us what we thought about you – about your intellectual and magical abilities as well as your personality. Of course we could do nothing but praise you in the highest terms."

Feeling slightly embarrassed, Hermione smiled at the two of them. "Thanks. But why is she interested in me?"

Before answering, Winfred looked at his wife, and when she nodded he said:

"Elektra works for the ministry – I don't know in which department, since it is all rather secret but given her background it certainly has to do with charms. She has some kind of new project and was thinking of asking you to work for her. That's all she told us, and she said that even that is top secret. Sorry, that's all we know."

Hermione's mind was whirling. She didn't know much more than before, but it definitely sounded interesting. "Do you know her well?" She asked after a few moments. "What kind of woman is she?"

Winfred remained quiet for a few moments, then he continued. "We went to Hogwarts together, so I know her rather well, although she was in Gryffindor while I was in Hufflepuff. Elektra has a brilliant mind, she's definitely the leading British expert in antique Charms. She can be fierce, but she's loyal to her friends. And brave, a true Gryffindor. She has been a member of the order nearly from the beginning and her husband Thomas was killed by Voldemort himself over 20 years ago.

Aurelia had stayed silent, all the while looking at her husband intently. Noticing this, Hermione now addressed her. "What do you think about her?"

The elder woman hesitated for a few seconds and then admitted: "I never liked her much, I have to admit. She used to be very competitive and a bit arrogant. Not a person to get along with easily. But she is certainly brilliant in her field, and was a great fighter against Voldemort – probably still is."

Winfred gave his wife a teasing smile. "Aurelia was always a bit envious of Elektra – the two of them were tied for the top student in our year."

Aurelia shot him an affronted glance. "I certainly wasn't envious of Elektra! But" turning to Hermione, "he had a crush on her, all throughout our fifth and sixth year."

Winfred cleared his throat. "Ahm, well, you see Hermione, we're both somewhat biased. Perhaps you'd better just get to know her yourself."

"I think I will, thanks a lot though. Now, can I give you a hand?"

They got up and went on laying the table, Hermione still wondering what would await her at the ministry in two weeks time.

...

AN: Cf. Sir Walter Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel.