A/N: Canon compliant except for the crapilogue and the interim 19 years. Ships will eventually be H/Hr, R/L, N/G. Plan is for shorter chapters and faster updates.
Summary: The death of a former professor brings the survivors of the Second War back together after many years, reigniting long-dormant feelings and giving them all chance to evaluate where their lives have taken them.
The saying goes, "Cut the head off the beast and the rest will fall with it." This is exactly what happened at the end of the Second War when Harry Potter killed the Dark Lord Voldemort in front of hundreds of witnesses at the Battle of Hogwarts in June of 1998. Some Death Eaters and other sympathizers managed to go into hiding; some managed to continue a sort of guerilla resistance for a number of months; but the majority of Voldemort's ranks fell into disarray and chaos as soon as they learned he had fallen, and at the hands of a seventeen year old boy, no less.
The illegitimate Ministry was quickly sanitized of its Death Eater ranks. After such a bloody war, the magical population of Britain had little patience for those that had participated in the coup and the eventual takeover of the country. Justice was administered swiftly and fairly at the hands of the newly appointed and elected Ministry employees; no one claimed Imperious this time, and no supporter of Voldemort escaped unscathed. The worst of the Death Eaters were summarily executed at the Veil of Death. Their crimes were revealed through the liberal use of Veritaserum and controlled Legilimency.
The rest of the pureblood supporters were handed punishments of varying severity, depending on the nature and duration of their crimes. Goblins were commissioned to guard Azkaban after it was decided the Dementors were blight upon the world and destroyed with Fiendfyre. Many of the war criminals went there; some were merely stripped of their possessions and lands; some were cast into ignominy. All were considered traitors and, those with their freedom, eventually realized that Britain was no longer their home.
But all was not perfect. The war in magical Britain had spilled over into Muggle Britain, and it took some concerted diplomacy on the part of the new Ministry of Magic to convince the Muggle government to maintain the tenuous pact of secrecy that had been in place for centuries. The magical infrastructure—Floos, levying taxes, law enforcement, and the like—had been gutted and had to be rebuilt from scratch. All of this took money, something of which the Ministry was in short supply, so the rebuilding was a slow process.
Hogwarts was closed for a year and rebuilt. A memorial was erected on the grounds, honoring those who had fallen in the Battle, and throughout the rest of the war. Most that consequently lost two years of school—one to the war and one to the rebuilding—returned to Hogwarts in September of 1999, but some did not. And conspicuous in their absence were the young heroes of the resistance, namely Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley. Other students that would have finished in their seventh year in June of 1998 did not return as well, but none were missed as sorely as the Gryffindor trio.
After Voldemort fell, there was initially a movement to put Harry in some kind of position of power in the new Ministry, but he made it clearly known he had no interest in politics and eventually, slowly, receded from the public's spotlight. He all but disappeared from public Wizarding life, and his celebrity status soon turned to one of legend. Children born after the fall of Voldemort were told stories of how the seventh year student had stood up to Voldemort during the final battle and struck him down with a simple Disarming spell.
Hermione and Ron were lauded almost as equally as Harry—as were others like Neville Longbottom—but they were not the Boy Who Conquered and enjoyed no such political support. Not that they wanted any, though. Both had their own ideas and plans following that awful and wonderful day at Hogwarts, and, much more quickly than Harry, receded from the public's eye into obscurity.
Nine years have passed since Harry defeated Voldemort. Many things have changed in the Wizarding world; some things have stayed the same. Hagrid remains the Keeper of the Keys at Hogwarts. The Quibbler continues to publish outrageous articles. The Forbidden Forest is still forbidden.
But what of our heroes? This is where our story picks up.
Chapter 1: Hermione
Hermione had just finished writing "synesthesia" on the board and was turning toward the class. She cocked an eyebrow.
"What do you think Keats would have accomplished if he'd lived to old age?"
Hermione moved to her desk and sat, considering how she would frame her answer. The student, Sam, had asked a perennial question in academia: what might Keats have become if he had written more than a few years of poetry? Or, for that matter, what could any famous poet or writer have accomplished if they had not died young, or ceased to write, or shunned fame?
It was all a touch belletristic, and she frowned internally, but she did not show her displeasure to the class. It was a thought everyone indulged now and again, and Keats was an especially vivid example of someone cut down far too young.
"That's hard to say," she eventually said, realizing she'd lost herself in her thoughts for a moment. "Our opinion of Keats has been skewed by almost two centuries of admiration. But in his own time he was moderately successful and had become a part of the literary elite of London at a very young age."
"But he was only 25 when he died!" Sam exclaimed. There were some nods of agreement from the rest of the class. "Surely he could have been amazing! I mean, look at all these Odes we're already reading!"
Hermione smiled, albeit lightly. His enthusiasm was nice to see, especially as this was a relatively young group of undergraduates. Sometimes it was hard to engender the kind of excitement she felt for literature in her students, but something about Keats seemed to have a struck a chord in Sam.
"True," she agreed, "and I'm 28. I'm already three years older than he was when he wrote "To Autumn," "The Fall of Hyperion," and his other masterpieces. Keats certainly grew into his abilities as a poet very quickly. One could even say his rise to poetic fluency was meteoric."
"Think he would have been the next Shakespeare?" another student asked, one who had barely spoken a word the entire term. Belletristic it might be, but this discussion was sparking something in her students.
Hermione shrugged. "He certainly had the natural talent to be whatever he wanted to be. Many critics over the years have considered "To Autumn" to be the most perfect poem in English. Keats wielded synesthesia—which is substituting one sense for another or more than one, and something we will discuss today—like almost no other poet before and very few after. One need only read "The Eve of St. Agnes" to see that.
"But would he have been the next Shakespeare? That is impossible to say. Keats modeled himself after Shakespeare to a certain extent, but they were largely writing in different genres. Today they are almost equally regarded, but for different reasons."
"But…but," Sam started, looking like he was thinking hard about something. "But if he had lived until he was eighty or so, wouldn't that have changed the whole literary history of Britain? Wouldn't the romantic and Victorian periods be different from now?"
Hermione nodded in satisfaction. "I like the critical thinking, Sam. It shows you're wondering about more than just Keats. But who's to say that he would have even continued writing poetry for another fifty or sixty years? It's easy to say he would have been history's greatest poet and fun to wonder about what he might have written, but he did not, and we'll never know if, given the chance, he would have exceeded the poetry we now read."
Sam nodded. Other students were slowly nodding their heads, too. Hermione was satisfied that she had at least showed them all the complexity and futility of these types of "what if?" questions.
"I see, Professor," he said. "But you're right. It is fun to wonder sometimes what he might have done if he'd continued."
"I understand," Hermione answered, standing once again and moving around her desk. "As I said before, we all indulge such thoughts from time to time. But we mustn't let them consume us, because they would take us away from our real critical work.
"Now, if you'll turn to "To Autumn" in your books, we can start to talk about why some critics over the years have called it the most perfect poem in English."
The rustling of many pages filled the new silence.
As the last student of the day walked out of her office hours, Hermione leaned back in her chair and sighed. She tilted her head back, staring at the ceiling momentarily. She closed her eyes and lightly rubbed the tips of her fingers across her aching eyeballs. She was bone-tired, but such was the life of a fourth year Ph.D. candidate. She was teaching two classes this semester and had office hours three times a week for her students; also, she was in the midst of her heaviest and most concentrated research for her dissertation, which she would actually start writing some time later this semester.
She briefly thought over her college career. She had begun as a freshman at the University of Sydney in August of 2000 after sitting for the proper qualifying exams, and had graduated summa cum laude with a perfect grade point average in May of 2004. She had then matriculated with funding—a teaching assistantship—into the Ph.D. program in English at Sydney, so after a brief summer she spent mostly with her parents, she started the next phase of her academic career.
That had been August of 2004. It was now October of 2007. She would likely complete her Ph.D. in either December of 2009 or May of 2010, depending on how quickly and efficiently she was able to write her dissertation. She had a clear conception of her topic and a good focus in her research—but she actually had to write the damn thing, and that would take time. The only consolation is that she would not have to teach classes during her sixth and (hopefully) final year.
After woolgathering for another minute or two, Hermione Granger shook herself and stood; she collected some books, her laptop, and a legal pad from her desk, put them into her knapsack, and turned to find her jacket. She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the window, but she did not give the chocolate eyes, the high cheek bones, the pert nose, and the shoulder-length chestnut hair another look. She had worn her hair shorter for quite some time now and it was no longer a surprise to see it reflected back at her.
She backed out of her tiny office—though one with a window, something most graduate students could not claim—and locked the door. It was just after 5:00 PM and she had to be back to teach another class at 8:00 AM the next morning. She sighed again. She loved the academic life; she loved what her life had become, in fact; but, still, the hours were long and the teaching was a bit tedious at times, especially when the subject had little to do with her specialty.
She passed into the nippy spring air and walked a block to the bus stop. She had no car, but none was needed. The public transportation in Sydney was more than adequate for her needs, especially because her parents lived only twenty blocks from her and their dental practice was even closer.
As she sat on the stopping and starting bus staring out of the window, her mind flitted to a comparison of metro London and metro Sydney. She hadn't thought of London in quite some time; at first that had been purposeful, but over time it faded into the reality of living on the other side of the world. What had once seemed so familiar in Britain had faded with time so that now she truly did consider Sydney her home. She was well-liked in the department and the current Romanticism professor was on the cusp of retiring, so there had been some hints that she would be offered the job as soon as she finished her doctorate. She absolutely would not pass up that opportunity because she had come to genuinely love Sydney, and of course because her parents were here and had a thriving practice.
She exited the bus at her stop, walking quickly to her apartment building. She fished for a moment for her keys as she approached the outer door, but soon found them and was in the lobby in no time. It was a rather ordinary apartment building on an ordinary corner in Sydney, but it was close the university and she had an affordable single. She had desperately wanted to live alone at this stage in her life because of the distractions a roommate would bring; she had enough academic obligations to fill thirty four hours per day, so the quiet of her apartment was a nice sanctuary where she could accomplish quite a bit of work.
On her way through the lobby, she stopped for a moment in the mailroom, grabbing the three or four envelopes in her slot. Without looking at them, she headed toward the elevator; she took it to the tenth floor, where her apartment was. It gave her a relatively nice view of the surrounding urban landscape. She greeted a neighbor in the hallway as she turned out of the elevator, but it was half-hearted because she only wanted to change into comfortable clothes and curl up on the sofa with some tea and the telly. She definitely needed to decompress for an hour or so before she would be able to get any work done.
She unlocked the door, threw it open, set her bag down on the table just inside, and kicked the door closed as she moved into her apartment. She finally looked down at the envelopes in her hands. The first was a bill; the second was an advert; the third was another bill; and the fourth—
Hermione knew something was different about the fourth before she even properly looked at the address. It felt heavier somehow, or thicker. And then she saw the familiar green ink splashed across the front of the envelope in loopy cursive. It was a letter from Hogwarts.
"Whoa, Hermione. Slow down. I can barely understand you," came Jane Granger's voice over the phone, cutting Hermione's babbling off. There was an audible click as she closed her mouth and breathed deeply for a moment.
"Sorry mum," Hermione eventually replied. She was staring dumbly at the tri-folded parchment in her hand.
"It's ok, love. Now who sent the letter?"
"Professor Flitwick," Hermione said. "He was the Charms Professor at Hogwarts. Though now I guess he's the acting Headmaster."
"So what happened? Why is he writing you after all this time?"
Here Hermione's breath hitched briefly as she considered her former mentor and, yes, friend. She also wondered if others with whom she'd lost touch were receiving letters.
"Professor McGonagall, who was the Transfiguration professor and then the Headmistress, has passed away," Hermione told her mum. Her eyes were wet but she wasn't actually crying. The duration of the intervening time had softened the blow somewhat.
"Oh," Jane replied. Hermione sensed recognition in her mother's monosyllable. "Dear, I'm sorry. She was your closest teacher, wasn't she?"
"Yes mum," Hermione answered, quietly.
"Is that all the letter says?"
"No… Filius indicated services are going to be held next Wednesday at Hogwarts for her. He invited me to them."
"At Hogwarts, Hermione?"
"Yes mum," she said again.
"And what do you think about that?"
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked, moving to the sofa near the window, which was catching the warm light from the setting sun. It glowed in her chocolate hair.
"Hermione Jane, you know perfectly well what I mean," her mum scolded. "Just because it has been so long doesn't mean your father or I could forget."
Hermione sighed. "You're right, of course. It's just that it has been so long," she countered. "I'm not the same person as I was back then. I'm sure they aren't either."
"But you don't know, love. And you were out of sorts for so long after all that drama… You are doing great here in Sydney and, as you said, have at least one mostly sure job prospect when you finish your dissertation. Do you really want to go back and dredge up all those old memories now?"
"It would just be for a funeral, though," Hermione pointed out. "A few days at most. And I think I owe it to Minerva to show her my last respects."
"That's true," her mum conceded. Jane sounded a bit tired over the phone.
"What is it, mum?" Hermione wondered, after a short silence.
She heard Jane sigh, too. "We lost years of our lives to that bloody place," Jane eventually said. "And we lost years of our lives with you to it, too. Your father and I have had zero desire to return since you restored our memories, and we have been glad to see the same in you as well. I guess I thought we were shot of Britain permanently, but that was probably naïve."
"I can't always keep running from my past," Hermione said, dropping the letter on the couch and staring out at the Sydney skyline.
"Is that what you think you're doing?"
"No, not exactly, and not like what you think I meant. But I grew up there so I would want to return at some point, anyway. And who knows if they'll even be there?"
"I have a feeling they will be," Jane said.
"Yeah," Hermione replied. "I suppose so. But it is only for a few days. I can't really afford to miss more than two or three of my classes, regardless of everything else."
"Do you want me and your father to come too?"
"No, that's ok," Hermione responded. "You don't need to waste your money. It's just a quick trip."
"Ok… Well, keep me updated, please."
"I will, mum."
"I love you, Hermione."
"Love you too." She hung up the phone.
After staring out into the blaze of the setting sun long enough for it to dip behind the taller buildings, she stood from the sofa and ventured over to her laptop. She needed to look at plane tickets.