Authors note: Well this idea has been kicking around for a while - I don't know why I started writing it tonight! It's 930 in the morning - I'm going to a cold lonely bed.
Hermione had heard that most friendships made at school fade over time, that they would not last in the long term. She had never expected that to happen to her, had not expected the rapid cooling off of her friendship with Harry and Ron. After the Battle of Hogwarts the Weasley family had withdrew into itself, Harry was included in that as Ginny's beau but after turning down Ron's advances she was not.
Her dreams were plagued by nightmares of the past year and by all the death she had seen. She awoke screaming every night. Her parents did not understand, how could they have? She had moved back into the family home but nothing was the same any more. Despite Voldemort's defeat at Harry's hands the anti-muggle propaganda he had started was making it almost impossible for her to get a decent job, the fact that she had no NEWTS was not helpful either.
It was a dejected Hermione Granger that found herself at the gates of Hogwarts one balmy August evening. She merely touched the iron gates and waited; the Headmistress was expecting her and as always Hermione was punctual.
"Good evening Miss Granger."
"Professor." Hermione's greeting was as warm as that of her former mentor, she waited while the older woman opened the gates before stepping through. "Thank you for agreeing to see me."
"My door will always be open for you Miss Granger."
They walked in silence to the Headmistresses office. Minerva addressed the Gargoyle, "Nemo me impune lacessit."
Hermione chuckled for what felt like the first time in months at the password, prompting Minerva to shoot a curious, slightly impressed grin in Hermione's direction. They were ensconced in the office before either of them spoke again. "Something funny Miss Granger?"
"No one provokes me with impunity?"
"Ah yes. Do you know the meaning of the phrase?"
"Aside from the obvious... it's part of the Scottish coat of arms and the motto of several Scottish army regiments."
Minerva smiled, pouring them both a cup of tea. "Over the years I have never ceased to be impressed by the diversity of a Muggle education."
Hermione nodded, having often thought herself that pre-Hogwarts schooling in the wizarding world was somewhat lacking. She took a sip of the scalding tea and suppressed a moan, no one could make a cup of tea like Professor McGonagall – she had certainly missed that in the past year.
When it became apparent that the young woman was not about to break the silence Minerva spoke. "Your letter sounded rather despondent but you didn't go into detail." She paused sipping her own drink, sitting back in her chair to look at her formerly prized student. The young witch was pale and had lost weight, there was a haunted tortured look in her eyes that made Minerva's heart ache.
"Harry and Ron hardly ever talk to me anymore, they're tied up dealing with Fred's death. I can't find a job because I never took my NEWTS and my heritage is not helping matters! My parents don't understand why I can't sleep or eat properly and they're getting frustrated. The events of the last year are tearing me apart!" Her breath caught in a sob, "There's no one I can talk to, no one who can possibly understand. And I don't even know what to do anymore!"
The Headmistress watched as Hermione became hysterical but despite her urge to hug the young woman she did nothing, knowing from experience that Hermione would not want to be touched at that moment.
"I'm sorry..... I should go." Hermione got up and walked towards the door.
"Hermione." The young woman stopped in her tracks at the uncharacteristic use of her first name. "Let me have a think, there may be a way I can help you."
Minerva shook her head, "Give me a few days, I will owl you as soon as I can."
Hermione smiled again, "Thank you Professor."
The promised owl came the following evening.
Dear Miss Granger
I have been in meetings with the board of governors and am pleased to say that they have agreed with me. As I am sure you are aware, in the past Hogwarts offered apprentice positions to some former students, this practice has fallen out of favour in the last century but can still be offered.
I propose that you come to Hogwarts as my apprentice in advanced Transfiguration, you will assist the current professor of that subject and will be paid a nominal sum for that duty. You will also have the opportunity to take your NEWT exams at the end of the school year and attend any lessons that your duties allow.
This will be another extremely busy year for you but I believe that you are more than capable of rising to this challenge. Give it some thought and let me know your decision at your convenience.
Hermione's hands trembled with joy as she held the parchment, not only was she being offered a chance to take her exams but an apprenticeship would take years, by which time Voldemort's influence should have waned. It was more than she could ever have hoped for. She grabbed a quill and began to write her acceptance.
It was a week later that Hermione found herself carrying a small suitcase that held everything she owned, through the gates of Hogwarts. The gates allowed her entry this time, just as Minerva had told her they would. As she made her way through the grounds and castle to the Headmistresses office, she noticed that the repairs were complete and that Hogwarts although scarred was whole again.
Idly she wondered if the same outcome was possible for her.
"Ah Hermione, welcome back."
She smiled at the diminutive Charms professor that stood in front of her, "Hello Professor."
"You are allowed to call me by my first name now that you work here Hermione."
"That may take some getting used to.... Filius."
He chuckled and accompanied the young woman to Minerva's office. With an odd feeling of déjà vu Hermione uttered the passphrase and mounted the stairs up to the office. She knocked on the door.
"Enter." Clipped and to the point, Minerva's Scottish brogue indicated that she was mildly irritated with something or someone.
The young witch entered, pausing as she saw an unfamiliar man sitting opposite Minerva. "Hermione, come on in. This is Matthias Sheppard, our new Transfiguration Professor, you will be working quite closely together."
The dark haired man rose to his feet and arrogantly swaggered over to where Hermione was standing. He shook hands with her while ogling her in a manner that was as obnoxious as it was insulting. "That sounds delightful doesn't it 'Mione? Working closely."
Hermione looked at him with disgust and scorn written on her face plainly, "Hermione..." She waited for her correction to sink in before she spoke again, "I'm sure that we will develop an efficient and professional rapport."
The man snorted, "You sound like Minerva." With that he nodded at the two women and left the room.
Minerva growled in exasperation, "I'm sorry about that Hermione, the man is insufferable."
"I'd noticed." Her observation was wry but she did not say what she was really thinking, about the fact that he was obviously unsuitable for the role that he was playing.
"I did not hire him Hermione." The older woman was obviously rather adept at reading what was writ on her face and had answered the unspoken question. "There were few applicants suitable for that particular position and he has a number of associates on the board – they overruled my objections."
Hermione took the offered seat and the proffered teacup.
"Let me know if he acts worse. Once he appreciates your diligence and skill he will probably treat you differently, at the moment however he is a chauvinist of the worst sort."
"On another matter Hermione, you and I will be working rather closely. We will be having private lessons together twice a week, I will be setting you independent studies to do and you will be required to help me with my research. As a result you need to feel free to speak your mind in front of me."
The young woman nodded, "Yes Prof....Minerva."
"Now I will show you to your rooms, I think that we will take the shortcut if you do not mind – it has already been a long tiring day."
"Lay on McGonagall." Minerva caught the Macbeth reference with an amused chuckle, happy that Hermione had actually gotten it right. She led Hermione into her private rooms and through her abnormally neat bedroom. She opened an unobtrusive door in the corner, it led into a narrow passage.
"This is a private passage between your quarters and mine, masters and apprentices should have access to each other at all times and as historically research was conducted secretly a covert passageway was essential." They reached a further door.
"While your door is closed I cannot enter, nor can I hear anything from within your rooms – the same is true for my door. Both have a magical button that emits a ringing in that persons quarters when pressed."
"Like a doorbell?"
Minerva nodded. "The main entrance to your quarters is behind the portrait of the Blue Lady in the main hallway under the stairs. I have set the password to docendo discimus." She paused, raising an eyebrow in the young woman's direction, wondering how good Hermione's knowledge of Latin really was.
The young woman did not disappoint, "Teach in order to learn."
Minerva smiled warmly at her protégée, "Take your time to settle in. There will be an elf along around six to give you dinner, I'll make sure that it is an elf who is getting paid of course." The pure-blood witch gave Hermione an indulgent smile while shaking her head incredulously, "Would you mind having breakfast with me in the morning? Your schedule is rather complicated and we will need to review it in some detail."
"Of course Minerva."
"Eight o' clock?"
"Certainly." She watched as Minerva left before opening the door to her quarters.
Hermione felt like a fairy princess as she twirled around in the huge room, her traditional robes billowing around her as she did so. Although not opulent, her new surroundings were certainly luxurious compared to what she was used to.
A huge canopied four poster bed dominated the bedroom; a huge walk-in closet was adjoining it – making her paltry selection of clothes look even smaller. The en-suite was almost as large as the Prefects Bathroom that she had used while a student. Her sitting room had a sofa, desk and lots of bookshelves as well as a table for entertaining. It was perfect.
She felt marginally happy for the first time in months.
Exhausted by the labours of her day and months of poor sleep she collapsed still fully dressed on the bed and fell into a deep sleep.
Only a few hours later she woke up screaming.