Author's notes: The Decommissioning is the final removal of the magical defenses of Malfoy Manor. Boudicca Derwent is Hermione's boss and a member of the War Crimes Commission. Everything else you already know.

Disclaimer: I'm not J.K. Rowling; I'm only visiting her universe for nonprofit fun and edification. (No profit is being made and no copyright infringement is intended).


From the journal of Hermione Granger

Thursday 15 October 1998

On the eve of the Decommissioning. Tomorrow morning at ten o'clock I will step through the Floo to St. Mungo's, meet Derwent at her office, and proceed onward to Malfoy Manor. My clothes are laid out on the chair by the fire: Tonks' black jeans, her furry black tunic, my best hiking boots—tweaked to look like black dragon-hide—and a severe set of black dress robes. I tried them on just now in front of the mirror and it commented favorably. Well, it said that I looked like the earthly representative of the Furies. Nicely put. I like a mirror that knows its classics, because that's exactly the look I'm aiming for.

Everything's in order. I should be able to sleep.

Derwent was quite clear that I didn't need to bring parchment or quills. No writing implements at all, in fact. I am there as an observer; there's already a note-taker, the Secretary of the Task Force on Decommissioning. I have no real role at all, really; she was quite clear on that.

I can't sleep.

So what is it that I'm dreading?

That room. The master and mistress of the house. The last time I saw them, they were eagerly scanning my face to see if I were in fact the wanted fugitive… and deciding that I was, and handing me over to be tortured.

No, that's not quite right. The last time I saw them, they were sitting in the Great Hall, bruised and disheveled, huddled protectively on either side of their son, who looked even worse with his torn robes, sooty face and singed hair. But I don't count that, because that's not the picture that haunts my dreams. Their humiliation is a coda, a footnote.

When I lie down to sleep, the face on the back of my eyelids is actually out of date. It's Lucius Malfoy in the pride of his power, five years ago in Diagon Alley, sneering at me and then smiling his jaguar's smile at my parents. One month before my thirteenth birthday, the last day of my childhood. He talked over their heads to Mr. Weasley, saying, "I thought your family could sink no lower."

The ensuing fist-fight between Mr. Weasley and Mr. Malfoy shocked me. It's not that I'd never seen grown men fight, but they both looked like grown-ups, dignitaries even, and they came to blows in a bookshop. To me, that was even more scandalous than brawling in church.

I still remember my parents' silence afterward, behind Mrs. Weasley's reproaches to her husband. That was the first time I had ever seen my parents terrified, and the worst thing was that they were trying to hide it from me. As far as they were concerned, I was still their little girl. To this day, I curse Arthur Weasley for reassuring them of their safety and telling them all about his Muggle Protection Act—and the backstory for why such a thing was necessary. My parents are not stupid people, and they're not politically naïve enough to think that mere laws are going to keep them safe, especially when Arthur made such a point of this being a revolutionary change.

That night, I couldn't sleep, any more than I can sleep tonight. I knew they were talking it over, out of my earshot. I saw my mother in their study before supper, looking over all of the correspondence from Hogwarts, and I guessed that they were going to be deciding if I should be allowed to return there. I was furious at the idea. If they did that, it would be backing down, and I wasn't going to be intimidated, not by Draco Malfoy's father. And the truth is, that's how I thought of Lucius, because he looked just like Draco, and I assumed he was as little to be feared, in spite of everything that Arthur Weasley told us. Two people couldn't look so much alike and not be the same in character, I thought.

That thought proved that I was still a child.

I lay in bed for a long time, and after a while I heard them talking downstairs. The staircase had a blind turning, an eavesdropper's perch I'd used before. I crept out of bed and tiptoed to the head of the stairs.

I heard my mother's voice say, "He's a school governor."

My father said, "It's her choice."

She said, "What kind of school lets a war criminal sit on the Board of Governors?" I heard a rustle of parchment. "And his son is that nasty piece of work she wrote home about. A little sneak, no better than he ought to be."

"I don't think you have to worry about the son. He's all talk, by the sound of him," my father said. I mentally congratulated him for getting it right in one. Draco was irritating but not fundamentally dangerous, even with backup from daddy.

"I'm worried about the father. If even half of those stories are true, he could make things very difficult." She paused. "He has a dangerous face," she said.

I thought about that one, because I'd been looking at that face myself. Lucius Malfoy was actually the first grownup with whom I'd engaged in a staring contest. He'd looked at me with that sneer, and I'd looked back, and I hadn't given way. I'd felt as if I were being immersed in icy water; the man radiated chill. His features might have been attractive in their symmetry and sharpness were it not for that expression of arctic contempt. It wasn't the sneer that bothered me. He hated me all right, but he recognized me. It was the smile that succeeded it, when he looked at my parents. That was a predator's smile, lips pulled back and teeth not quite showing; the look in his eyes reminded me of Draco eyeing Neville, except more so: a bully sizing up perfectly helpless prey and mulling over the possibilities for tormenting it.

My parents were the pillars of my world, but they were defenseless in the face of threats from that other world. He could have killed them right there, and not even used an Unforgivable. It would have been sufficient to loft them fifty feet up and drop them to the pavement. Under existing law, it would have qualified only as "Muggle-baiting."

That fact turned my stomach over. I was reassured that my parents recognized the danger—well, they were never oblivious—but that might work against me. What if they refused to let me go back to Hogwarts? Not that I would have thought it in so many words at the time, but damn Arthur Weasley and his helpful historical lecture on Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Mr. Weasley was nice, but he was the least discreet person I knew.

Well, except for Draco Malfoy. If they let me go back to school, I swore I was going to pay attention to anything that Draco said that was prefaced with "My father says." The boy was daddy's little intelligence leak, and I had every intention of making use of that direct line into Death Eater central.

If my parents would let me go back.

"It's her choice," my father repeated.

The argument went on for some time. Interestingly, they never touched on the danger to themselves, only on the risk I might be facing. They had heard about the troll incident, of course. Mr. Weasley had told it, when he was talking about what good friends Harry, Ron, and I were. Ron was making mortified faces but it's not as if he could kick his dad to tell him to stop talking.

I went back to bed after an hour or so, because it wasn't clear that they were coming to any conclusion, and my eyelids were growing heavy. I didn't want to fall asleep and be found on the stairs.

The next morning, the subject came up at breakfast. My mother said, "So, some people object to you because your mother is not a witch and your father is not a wizard. The thinking would appear to be that we're inferior stock."

I nodded.

She continued, "I see that you had the highest marks in the first-year class." She had a parchment with a list of names. All of the Hogwarts first-years, my schoolmates, color-coded by house; I saw my name in Gryffindor red at the top. (I'd long ago learned to read upside down; it was an important skill to have when dealing with those in authority.) She smiled, and I felt proud, because it wasn't often that my mother pointed out my accomplishments. Doing the best was simply expected. She said, "So that Mr. Malfoy we met yesterday is a racist, and no gentleman. I don't think he should be encouraged in his opinions."

"So you'll let me go back?" I said.

"Of course, no question of that," my father said. Then he added, "I do feel a bit sorry for that runty little fellow, the son. I wouldn't think his father thinks much of him. Not much in the schoolroom, and too young for sport."

"You'll be careful," my mother said to me. It wasn't a question.

"Yes," I said. I was already being careful, and I was sketching a list of other books I might take a look at before classes got seriously heavy. You couldn't go wrong reading up on history, because it had such a way of repeating. "Thank you for letting me go back."

I resolved that I was going to be discreet with them in future. The less they knew, the better. This was just a veiled threat, and they had actually considered not letting me go back. I also resolved that I was going to learn everything I needed to defend myself and them as well. They would not be casualties of someone's resentment of me. Whoever meant them harm—be it Lucius Malfoy or Voldemort or the devil himself—would have to come through me first.

Across the border, on the other side of the Leaky Cauldron, I was going to have to be their protector. That realization was the end of my childhood.