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).

Author's notes: Missing background: Boudicca Derwent is Hermione's boss at the Ministry, on the War Crimes Commission. The Dementors have returned to Azkaban and their surplus population is roaming the English countryside. Greyback's werewolf packs are still at large. All is well... no, not actually.


1: At Hogwarts, before departing

In Neville's room. Hermione is wearing jeans and Tonks' purple tank top that reads "Defending Against the Dark Arts Since 1149." She's standing and holding out her periwinkle dress robes at arm's length with a critical expression. Neville is sitting on the edge of the bed, wearing jeans and a plain blue t-shirt and tying the laces on his battered trainers. Draco is reclining on the bed behind Neville with his knees up and a Potions textbook propped up on his chest. (These days, he's Neville's shadow, and walks into his rooms freely.) He is pretending to read but actually he is looking over the book at Hermione with an expression somewhere between a smirk and a leer. He is wearing Hogwarts school robes and his feet are bare.

"I don't know if I should bring dress robes. They'll be playing Quidditch after. And it is just Harry's birthday."

Neville frowns. "Gran says that Minister Shacklebolt will be there."

"I'll bring dress robes for both of us. Where are yours?" Neville rummages in the chest under his bed and pulls out a rumpled set of robes. Hermione folds up both sets and drops them into her little beaded bag.

Neville takes his invitation out of his pocket and looks at it. "It says we can bring a guest. See, Neville Longbottom and guest. You would have been my guest except you're already invited."

There's a fleeting expression on Draco's face, which is the sadness of a small boy not invited to the party to which everyone else is going. Hermione notices it and flinches in pity. It's promptly replaced by his Prince in Exile expression. He closes his book and sits up, feeling with his feet for the slippers he left on the floor.

"My regards to Potty and the Weasel," he says, and leaves the room.

Hermione shakes her head. There's no question of inviting him, but she still feels bad about it. And yes, she noticed the expression on his face earlier. You'd think he'd never seen a girl before. Or maybe he just never saw a girl in a tank top and jeans.

Bringing Malfoy to the Burrow would be the social equivalent of tossing a match into a puddle of gasoline. But she still feels wrong for not inviting him. And then she feels wrong because she remembers who he is and why he's here: a suspected war criminal on house arrest.

For a moment she daydreams about an alternate world, in which they're all students at university. In that world, they didn't fight on opposite sides of a war and in fact none of the three is an ex-combatant of any description. Neville's a botanist, she's a computer scientist, Draco is studying chemistry but really wants to be an actor. In that world, they're all going to the party for her friend Harry's eighteenth birthday. And they're all muggles, and don't even know it because what they really are, is normal, and there is no magic.

Except that world's impossible, and it's the other one she lives in.

2: At the Burrow, looking at Neville's presents

Under the shade tree. Neville's sitting with the huge book open in his lap, Luna looking over his shoulder with an expression of wonderment; Hermione and Dean are looking at the drawing that Luna gave to Neville for his birthday. Hermione and Luna were the only people to remember Neville's birthday.

"They're lovely, Neville, see all the little creatures on the leaves… but why aren't they moving?"

"It's a muggle book." He glances over at Hermione, who's looking at Luna's drawing. "Creatures in muggle drawings don't move."

Luna considers. "That's really spooky," she says.

He smiles at Hermione, who looks up just in time to notice.

"Do you like your book?" she asks.

"It's extravagant."

"You'd never buy it for yourself. I saw it and knew it was yours."

"You never got me a birthday present before."

"Well, divide it by eighteen and it's not so extravagant." She smiles back at him, feeling flirtatious. It's probably the effect of the tank top and jeans. She feels jaunty and devil-may-care sexy. Maybe some of Tonks' personal magic still resides in her clothes.

She looks at Luna. "This drawing's amazing. Mistletoe with Nargles. Only I don't see the Nargles."

Luna says in her dreamy but matter-of-fact way, "You don't see them if you look right at them."

Hermione looks at the exquisite linework where the mistletoe joins to the oak branch. In her peripheral vision there's a suggestion of something with tendrils or fingers, twining about the mistletoe berries and wriggling. The withered oak leaves, cross-hatched in black ink, rattle in a winter wind.

Dean says he liked the watercolor she gave Harry, Thestrals in Flight over the Houses of Parliament. Luna went to the Tate with him and fell in love with Turner and Whistler. She is unconvinced that they were Muggles. Hermione remembers the coruscating pale-orange sky and the shimmering blue-grey of the Thames, the underlit architecture and the eerie outlines against the sky. Maybe the wizarding world is about to discover impressionism.

Luna says that the thestrals in her picture are invisible to those who haven't seen death, just like their originals. There's no one at the party to ask if this is true.

3: At the Burrow, as the cake is brought out

Just like last year's cake, this one is shaped like a giant Snitch; Molly Weasley levitates it out to the table under the marquee where it will be cut. The summer sun lights gold and red and silver in her hair. The appreciative crowd does in fact include Minister Shacklebolt, in royal-blue robes with gold stars. Hermione is glad that she and Neville brought their dress robes, although they had to throw them on hastily over their Muggle clothes when they spotted the Minister. Now they're standing at the edge, sweating and trying to look inconspicuous. Neville is looking pink and damp, and she assumes she is too.

Andromeda is standing under the marquee with Teddy Lupin in her arms. His hair has grown out to a fat multicolored corona around his face. He's making baby faces, squeezing his eyes closed and screwing up his mouth. His nose changed shape at least once that Hermione noticed. Ron is tickling his belly and making him laugh.

Harry says something she doesn't hear, but she does hear Ron's reply. "Yeah, but there are cousins you'd rather not have. I bet Malfoy eats babies."

Molly wishes Harry a happy birthday and many happy returns. Minister Shacklebolt makes a brief speech about Harry's outstanding services to the wizarding world, and how proud he is to have such outstanding young people going into Auror training.

Of whom Harry, apparently, is one. She's been out of touch. Ginny sidles up and tells her that Ron is the other one, and she's thinking about it too if she doesn't make the tryouts for the Harpies. She's holding a tumbler of firewhiskey on ice. Hermione assumes she's ferrying it to another guest until she sees Ginny lift it to her lips and take a long swig.

She learns that the diplomatic sanctions against wizarding Britain include a ban from participation in the Quidditch World Cup. Ginny says it's a shame but this should light a fire under those dolts in the Ministry to get the war crimes trials underway. She has on her blazing look as she says this, and her voice is a little too loud for politeness.

4: At the Burrow, eating birthday cake

Ron, Harry, Hermione, Neville are all balancing plates of cake and standing under the marquee. Ginny's standing next to Harry so that there's almost no space between them.

Ron is saying how brilliant it is that they've waived the NEWTs requirement in view of the post-war situation. (Technically it's a state of emergency, but people call it "the situation.") He and Harry have been in training since early June. The situation's dire, of course, with the werewolves and rogue Dementors, but it's a real opportunity since he can't see going back to school. He and Harry have already been on assignment. They're teaching the Patronus Charm to wizarding households in isolated locations. It's gone from "rare and difficult to master" to "essential for survival." There's a Ministry directive in draft recommending that every household in wizarding Britain have at least one member who can cast a stable Patronus.

Harry says, but that's not to be repeated outside here. Apparently there's controversy in the Ministry about whether that recommendation would create panic.

Meanwhile, Ron is telling Neville that he ought to join up, too. The Dark is by no means defeated, only splintered.

Neville shuffles his feet and says he has work at Hogwarts that he really can't leave.

Ron says, "What, you're only working with kids."

Hermione corrects: "He's working with war orphans." And then she reminds them of Tom Riddle who was an orphan fifty years before, and what he came to, growing up with nobody who cared for him.

Neville hasn't heard the story. It clearly stiffens his resolve. "So, I might be preventing the next Lord Voldemort." Ron closes his mouth, abruptly. Neville goes on, "I like teaching." He quips, "And I learned everything I needed to know from Snape." The punch line, unspoken: everything not to do in front of a classroom.

Neither she nor Neville thinks to point out that he's entered a formal apprenticeship with Professor Sprout.

Later it occurs to her that no one begged her to go out for Auror training. Of course, she already has a job. She's one of those dolts at the Ministry.

5: At the Burrow, playing Quidditch

After Shacklebolt leaves, the Weasley children organize a game of Quidditch.

There isn't a full complement on either side, and no one is playing their usual position. Hermione allows herself to be recruited, hoping that she'll fly somewhat better for the recent coaching. She's playing Chaser and Harry is playing Keeper. Ginny's playing Beater on the team opposing her, with Ron as Seeker. There are a few other people playing, too, but they're not in any of the snapshots.

There's a really good picture of her swooping past the Keeper on the other team, Quaffle under her arm, and scoring a goal. She's actually concentrating on the game instead of worrying about falling off the broom. Not that she's as good as any of the Weasleys, but at least she's not a complete disaster. Her hair is sweaty against her neck, her tank top is drenched with perspiration and her jeans chafe against the broomstick, but the look on her face is pure joy.

Tonks used to play Quidditch, she remembers, but can't recall which position. Amazing that someone that clumsy on the ground could take to the air with grace. And then there was Viktor, with his funny duck-footed walk on the ground and his sheer magnificence in flight.

There are no pictures of what happened next.

She doesn't know what hit her.

Or from what direction. Or who sent it hurtling toward her, in what was supposed to be a friendly game. All she remembers is the stunning blow in the face, the burst of stars, and then blackness.

And then she was on the ground, and they were laughing at her. Ron was saying what a rubbish player she was and always had been, and Ginny was saying, "I told you not to pretend you knew anything about Quidditch," and some unidentified Weasleys in the background were laughing. When she started to cry from the betrayal as well as the pain, Ron said what a sissy girl she was and absolutely hopeless, couldn't take a little pain…

She tasted salt. There were tears and blood and snot running down her face. Disgusting as well as painful. A nasty little voice was saying how ugly she was when she cried. She couldn't tell if it were inside or outside her head. These were supposed to be her friends… She tried not to think that thought because it made the tears well up again.

And then someone was sitting her up and tilting her head back and waving a wand over her, tracing a figure-eight in front of her eyes. "No concussion," said a warm deep voice. Neville. Her back was resting on something warm and solid and nicely cushioned—that must be Neville, too. "But your nose is broken. Hold still." She did, not that she was inclined to do otherwise, with her head back against Neville's chest and his other hand on her forehead. "Episkey," he said, pointing his wand at the bridge of her nose, and there was a warm buzzing sensation in the broken part. She reached up to touch her nose and it was fine.

She hadn't even known that he knew that spell.

"No other broken bones," he said. "Which is something of a miracle. And now your nose won't look funny like mine."

She smiled up at him, upside-down, feeling sad and silly. "Neville, your nose is beautiful," she said.

He wrapped his arms around her and said, "Do you think you can stand up?" She took a deep breath.

"I think so." He gently lifted her to her feet. "Thank you." If she said anything more, she would start crying again.

He whispered in her ear, "You were flying really well right before it hit you." She could feel the warmth of his arms against hers, and his chest against her back. I wish somebody loved me like this, she thought.

Harry doesn't say a word, though he must have seen what happened.

Ron yells at her after Neville leaves: what the hell was that about and what is she doing letting Neville paw her? She says he's got no place saying anything about anybody touching her and Neville was fixing her nose, the nose that got broken because somebody decided to score points on her in a supposedly friendly game. And in any case there's no case for him acting jealous, since they've broken up, right, because if they haven't broken up, why is she living in a cubbyhole at Hogwarts?

6: At the Burrow, under the shade tree with Luna

Hermione is sitting out the rest of the Quidditch match. George took her place as Chaser, and she's watching the game with half her usual attention while nursing her shock and humiliation and trying not to cry. Neville has already gone back to Hogwarts, after leaving with her his Gran's invitation for the first weekend in August.

Luna arranges the diaphanous layers of her dress robes and sits down next to her.

She notices that she's taken a sharp breath and is holding it. It's Luna, obviously, about to say something bizarre and unprovable. Constant vigilance. Don't mistake your thoughts for what is really going on. She corrects herself. No, it's her reaction to Luna. Her reaction, she realizes, which is an old habit by now: a reflexive flinch born of irritation. She and Luna don't see the world the same way, but Luna has never done anything malicious or hurtful to her. And she remembers Mr. Ollivander telling them what a comfort Luna's company had been, during their incarceration in the underground room at Malfoy Manor. Hermione wonders if anyone would find her company a comfort in those circumstances. After all, their prospects had been pretty dismal and as a rational person she'd have had to say that.

Luna says, "I wanted to thank you for what you did for Daddy."

Hermione doesn't understand.

"You got him out of Azkaban." Luna goes on to explain that Xenophilius is now on house arrest and is doing much better, though the Aurors are still picking through the ruined tower for evidence. They won't be able to start rebuilding the house until the Ministry gives permission.

Hermione had no idea that Xenophilius Lovegood had been in Azkaban. She had not even thought to ask for the list of those interned. After all, the description had been clear: "Death Eaters and their sympathizers." Then she remembers that once Luna was imprisoned, Xenophilius changed the editorial line of the Quibbler in the hopes of assuring her safety. So she supposes someone could have put him down as a sympathizer, or at least a collaborator.

Luna finishes by saying that she read it in the Daily Prophet, but since for once they were saying good things about Hermione, she guessed that it had to be true.

Hermione turns to face Luna. She takes in the long flaxen hair, the wide, protuberant blue eyes and the dreamy expression. "Thank you," she says. "You're the first person who actually thought I did the right thing."

Or at least who's said so. She realizes that Neville didn't say anything, but she reads that as tacit approval. If Neville disapproved, he would say so.

As opposed to Ron, who ranted about the Malfoys as if they were the only ones on that list. As opposed to Harry, whose take was more merciful but who didn't want to get into who did what. As opposed to Draco, who owed her the same thanks but wouldn't give it. And if she was actually starting to be less irritated by Draco, she could certainly make at least that effort with Luna, who after all was on her side.

She changes the subject, and asks Luna about how she did the wonderful painting with the thestrals. Luna tells her it's an experimental charm. She found it in her mother's notebooks, and she's been using it on sketching excursions to London with Dean. And she reckons it will come in handy once her father is freed and they can go on another expedition in search of the elusive Snorkack.

7: At the Burrow, drinking pumpkin juice with Percy

Long blue-green shadows stretch across the sunlit grass, and the light is taking a turn toward late-afternoon mellowness. Percy sits down in the grass next to her and offers her a tumbler of pumpkin juice.

She accepts, and raises it to him in a toast, "To the unsung hero."

He makes a wry face.

She smiles. "I saw that paperwork. And I found some more. If I had to arraign you for sabotage, I'd say it went back a good six months before the battle."

He takes a deep breath and lets it out in a sigh. "I'd really rather you didn't talk about that." The tone is flat and grim. He's not being modest; it's a serious request. "It isn't over, and it isn't going to help." He gestures toward his brothers and Ginny, who are standing under the marquee with bottles of butterbeer and tumblers of firewhiskey. "They took me back, but they don't forgive. And Penelope didn't either."

Hence the absence of Penelope Clearwater from a social occasion where all the invitations included invitee and guest.

He concludes, "And as I said, it isn't over. I really don't want it noised abroad in the Ministry. It could make things very difficult. Not just for me, but in general." She remembers the pureblood functionaries on the War Crimes Commission, the ones whose previous affiliations she suspects. She wonders if Percy means that he might have to duplicate the feat in future, which would be impossible if they knew what he'd done. Which in turn makes her glad that she hadn't yet taken her discovery to Boudicca Derwent. Naively, she'd meant to recommend Percy for a decoration for valor.

There's a very long, uncomfortable silence. She sips her pumpkin juice. It's cold and sweet. Then she says, conversationally, "So what does the Temporary Ad Hoc Committee on Dispensing actually do?"

Percy launches into a brief history of the Committee, which was originally formed to solve the problem of replacing Ollivander's services as wandmaker of preference to wizarding Britain. The need was urgent due to Ollivander's poor health and the large number of muggleborn witches and wizards who had been deprived of their wands under the Thicknesse Ministry. The problem was not as simple as originally posed, and the Committee's responsibilities have expanded as the extent of the muggle-born refugee problem has become clear, though without any concomitant increase in funding. Hence the stacks of parchment in Percy's office and the long hours at his desk. In fact, he has three or four reports in draft up in his room at the Burrow.

"Not on cauldron bottom thickness, I would guess," she says.

"No, but that was a good rehearsal," he replies. "Getting the details right. Only in this case, the details are pretty grim." He's been cataloguing the ways in which the internal refugee problem is propagating into a Statute of Secrecy problem. Substantial numbers of muggle-born adults no longer feel safe in the wizarding world, in Britain or abroad, and are demanding repatriation to the world of their birth--with compensation and re-training. Some have already crossed over without assistance. Muggle-born children have been withdrawn from the wizarding world, and the Aurors are sufficiently busy with the werewolf problem that no one's been deputed to track down and Obliviate the families. In any case, it's not clear that's proper procedure.

The extent of social disruption isn't clear yet but early indications are disquieting. The genocidal measures against the Muggle-born targeted over a quarter of the population, and the most productive segment at that. Some of the best Ministry workers were Muggle-born, and they've been replaced with purebloods who are long on aristocratic pretension and short on performance, which has further muddled things at the Ministry, as if it needed any help in that direction.

She's taken aback to hear Percy criticize the Ministry, but then he's not the same bright young functionary he was two years ago. His glasses mask somewhat the dark circles under his eyes, but nothing hides the pallor of his skin. This is the first time he's seen daylight in a while.

He adds, not that it's his department any more, but the effect on the Ministry is duplicated in the trade sector, which, she'll learn, is putting yet more pressure on the Ministry for the war crimes trials to proceed in a speedy fashion.

She sees Bill and Fleur beckoning to her. He sees them too and proposes a lunch date for the next week to continue the conversation. His treat.

She apologizes to him for having taken his brothers' opinion of him at face value, and they set the date for lunch. She's impressed with how much he knows, and she thinks some of it may have a bearing on the War Crimes Commission work.

He says, "Oh, very definitely it does. But you're sworn to secrecy, of course."

8: Under the marquee, with Bill and Fleur

Hermione is drinking her first butterbeer of the afternoon while she's talking with Bill and Fleur. Harry is walking through the late-afternoon grass, holding little Teddy in his arms. Teddy was fussing noisily earlier, but he's settling somewhat as Harry walks with him. She can't hear the exact words, but Harry is carrying on a soothing monologue to the baby. Ginny is sitting under the shade tree, watching him. From time to time, Harry looks up from Teddy's fluffy hair to meet Ginny's eyes. If you drew a dotted line across the space between them, the intensity could not be more plain. They're as solidly a couple as her own parents. She's a little in awe of that, actually.

She's congratulating Bill and Fleur on their first anniversary, which is the next day. The day that the Ministry fell, it was. Bill says that he sincerely hopes that all future anniversaries will be solidly dull. Their wedding day was more than enough excitement for a lifetime.

Fleur asks her how she's doing. She understands what's meant. She tells Fleur that she made the potion and is taking it at the recommended intervals.

"No trouble?" Fleur asks.

"None at all," she says, and realizes after the fact that Fleur was referring to Molly. "No, none at all," she repeats. "I got some help at Hogwarts."

Fleur nods, and says, "That Neville is a very nice boy. You have some good friends."

Behind her, the chorus of rowdy male voices is getting louder by the minute. Ron and George, it is. Amazing how loud two boys—men?—can get with a little chemical assistance. Ron is talking about the upcoming trials and how he wants to see the lot of them sent up for a very long time, because he's had enough of this. He's been listening to their trash every year since he was eleven, and it makes him sick that he's been mocked for not having enough money, which thank you very much is a sign of his father's integrity. Not everybody at the Ministry was in Lucius Malfoy's pocket. Some people can't bloody be bought, and if the wanker thinks his money is buying him out of a term in Azkaban, he's got another thought entirely. He'd personally like to see him get the Kiss, and not behind the prison walls either. He'd like to see it up close, just to be sure that it was done for real. It might be a complete waste of time, too, if it turns out that Lucius doesn't actually have a soul--which Ron has more than suspected, given what he did to Ginny. The bastard had some nerve, coming to the bloody Ministry and bloody Hogwarts with his barefaced gall and talking his nonsense about blood traitors and keeping out the mudbloods. Well, he understands Lucius got what was coming to him, if he thought his Dark Lord was such a grand fellow. That wasn't what it looked like at the end. And sorry, but Harry is being soft on this one. No, he wants to see the son of a bitch publicly executed.

And George chimes in that if the Dementors are still hungry after that one, they can throw the little git to them, too, because he deserves it on principle. Little prick let the Death Eaters into Hogwarts, and if it weren't for that, Bill wouldn't have his face cut up like that. Let the little bastard suffer too—and George remembers with relish how the Dementors terrified the brat, third year—yeah, he almost wet himself, and then he had the gall to make fun of Harry. Well, we'll see who's laughing now, won't we.

Hermione notices Bill wincing. Arthur comes over to the marquee and remonstrates with them. She can't hear what he's saying, because Ron and George drown him out.

"Everybody knows they're total shit. Yeah, Narcissa too…"

"You know it's true, and why can't we say it out loud for once?"

At which Arthur takes Ron by the arm and drags him back to the house, with a furiously apologetic glance back at Andromeda, who's been sitting quietly at the edge all this time. George follows in their wake, trying to explain himself.

"Not in public," Arthur says, and the back door slams behind them.