*** Not mine. Nothing to see here. Read along. No part of the 2.7 billion dollar empire (and growing) is mine. I'm just a monkey banging away at a typewriter and this came up before Shakespeare.

Brightest Witch of Her Age …. Bollocks. Member of the Golden Trio … Friend of The-Boy-Who-Lived … Hero of Hogwarts …. *Snort!* Watching your friends die makes you a hero? Really? Holder of the Order of Merlin, first class …. Given away like candy afterwards … might as well be a chocolate frog. Youngest Unspeakable Ever Unspoken Of ….

She had to pause and smile at that one. I'll get you for that one Tyrone, you wanker. He would have laughed at that one. He would have …. She shook her head, her thoughts once more turning sour.

Don't forget 'Loving Wife'… add that one to the que. Maybe 'Betrayer of Friends'? No, no. Just 'Betrayer' sounds about right. It's more encompassing and covers a lot more sins. 'Accessory to Murder'? Don't downplay your role, girl! If you aren't proud of the honorific 'Murderer,' then why were you a party to it?

The bushy-haired woman sitting at her dining room table took another sip from the glass tumbler in her hands. She grimaced as the amber coloured liquid burned its way down her throat.

'Drunkard'? She paused and swirled the ice in the tumbler. That would at least be a new one. Glancing at the bottle of Odgen's on the table, her mind slipped back into what her coworkers called her analytical mode. After running through numerous calculations, she shrugged. Nope. Not quite yet. But I'm young. I have prospects!

Hermione found herself giggling for a moment and allowed a look of confusion to cross her face. What? That's not right. This is my Personal Periodic Pity Party! No giggling allowed, damnit!

But it's not a proper P-4, is it? How could it be? I've yet to even mention 'Failed Mother' on the list of never-ending honorifics.

With a snarl, she blindly hurled the tumbler away from her. Firewhiskey splashed against the wall as the impact shattered a picture of three young children hugging each other and smiling for the camera.

Her anger disappeared as quickly as it had flared, leaving her feeling washed out and drained. Sighing, she pointed her wand at the remains of the frame. "Reparro," she muttered.

"So young and innocent. So stupid and oblivious. If there were any way …."

She shook herself. None of that, dearie. The past is past. Water under the bridge and all that rot. Reap what you have sown. There are no take-backs, no second chances!

Grabbing a tissue from the box she had ready and waiting on the table for a point usually much later in her pity party, she dabbed at the three smiling children as she carefully placed the picture back on the stand. So much for random targets. Once again, her mind switched gears and entered what Ron called her "scary place." How many times can magic repair something? Given the law of the conservation of magical energy, is there a point of diminishing returns? Will I eventually cast Reparro on the bloody same bloody photo and nothing will happen? Has anyone done a study? Would the volume of the object being repaired influence the ….

Her musings were interrupted by the sound of the doorbell.

"Bloody Hell," she sighed. "Forget your keys again, my beloved husband? Or just too pissed to know which one fits the door? Which act shall we play out tonight, hmm?"

Hermione had to admit that she had almost gotten worried this time. It was not unusual for him to disappear for a day or two after one of their increasingly frequent rows. Four days had been a bit much, however, even for them.

Where had it gone wrong? The Darlings of the Wizardling World, the Heroes of Hogwarts had married shortly after the death of Voldemort. After all the pain and bloodshed, it had only made sense that they seek some sort of peace in each others arms.

Oh, that worked out sooo well, didn't it? Once Tom-The-Bastard-That-Everyone's-Too-Bloody-Cowardly-To-Name-Even-After-His-Death died, where did that leave us?

Me … an Unspeakable. Not too shocking, I guess. It should have come as no surprise that He couldn't make the cut as an auror, though. Follow orders? Obey regulations? That would be like asking Snape not to sneer. Or to use conditioner.

Bad Hermione, bad! She scolded herself. Don't use cheap shots at Severus to divert you away from acknowledging that your life is a sham!

With another shake of her head, she returned to her previous musings as she approached the door. But lucky you, dearest husband … always lucky. How could they fire you! The big hero! The DMLE fire you? No bloody way! So of course they did the only thing they could. Turn you into a poster-boy. A mouthpiece. A puppet mouthing whatever rhetoric is in vogue at the ministry this week. Recruitment is where you are most valuable … bringing in the gullible to protect us from the Dark Lords of the future! Rah! And after years of swallowing Dumbledore's hogwash, why shouldn't you swallow that of the DMLE's?

Enough of the truth! She steadied herself and walked towards the door. It was once again time for The Lie. Time to perform The Dance with her chosen mate. They would both pretend – as usual – that the past few days had never occurred. Everything in their lives, their marriage, was bloody brilliant! Time to pretend that they were a happy couple whose love would last till the end of time. The Daily Prophet said so and it couldn't be wrong, could it? Opening the door, she plastered on the fake smile which she had become so intimately familiar with.

And the fragile house of cards which had made up her life came crashing down.

As soon as the door opened, Hermione was no longer a twenty-five-year-old woman. She was a child of thirteen again. She was a bushy-haired, buck-toothed missile launching itself unerringly upon the figure standing on her front porch.

"God, I'm sorry … I'm so, so sorry," she managed to wail, sputter and hiccup simultaneously.

Her own tears blinded her, but she didn't care. Time could stop for all she cared. She would be happy standing here forever, crying here forever, wrapping this man in a bone-crushing hug the likes of which she hadn't given anyone since that terrible day ….

An iron wall slammed down inside her head blocking out the feelings of guilt and self pity. As Hermione the child was locked away, Hermione the Unspeakable shoved with all of her might. Her mind filed away details at lightning speed. The shove had not moved him in the slightest, it had only thrown herself backwards. The shove had been met with no resistance because … because … he had not hugged her back!

Kit it, woman! she growled at herself. Identify and neutralize! "You're not Harry! He's DEAD!" Spinning around, she ran back to the table and grabbed her wand. A split-second later it was aimed directly at the chest of her unexpected guest. She grimaced at how unsteady the wand was in her hand.

"I got better," chuckled the figure still standing in the doorway.

Hermione snarled out a spell and watched the man pivot smoothly out of the way. The stunner sailed past him and he sighed. "No respect for the classics, Mione?"

She felt her heart rise into her throat. How many times had she wished to hear him say her name … and wake up to find herself in the Grifindor common room? Harry and Ron teasing her about falling asleep while studying and then listening to her recount the nightmare she had?

"You've no right to that face!"

"Sorry, but having been born with it, I've gotten rather used to it. And please don't fire off another stunner. There might be children playing outside." Harry waggled his eyebrows but no mirth shined in his eyes.

"What did I give you for your tenth birthday?"

Harry barked out a laugh. "Manifest Moody much?" With a disinterested shrug, Harry answered, "Nothing … but I don't hold THAT against you. We didn't even meet till first year when you were helping Neville look for his toad. I did actually get a present on my tenth, though. A broken finger and two lost teeth courtesy of Vernon and Dudley." Harry scratched at his chin. "I'm not sure if I ever told you about that. I didn't much like going into details."

Hermione idly stared at the hand holding her wand. It was now almost violently shaking. "Ha – Harry?"

"Yes, Hermione, it's me."

"But … but …."

"You'll have your answers." Harry gestured towards the couch. "Shall we sit? It's a bit of a tale. And could we have some tea? I haven't had a good cup of tea in years!" Hermione simply stood there staring at him. "I'll take that as a 'no,' then. Pity," he dryly chuckled.

Sitting down, Harry gestured again to the seat opposite him. He waited patiently until the woman finally sat down, her back stiff and her wand still in hand.

"I … I saw you die."

Harry shook his head. "Wrong on two counts. One, I didn't 'die.' I was murdered. Let's not get all PC and cloud up the facts. Two … you didn't watch."

Startled, Hermione looked up. She was about to protest when Harry snapped his fingers and some … thing … faded into view. As she was raising her wand, Harry interjected, "Don't be alarmed. He's with me. Think of him as a house elf … just not as bright and twice as loyal."

"Meez Horatio! Meez Horatio!" The green creature was practically dancing in place and smiling with a mouth which seemed somehow wider than its face. It did look something like a house elf perhaps crossed with a lizard.

"Please don't hex him. It took forever to teach him to use that kiddie camera I got for him."

"Six monzs! Six monzs! Meez mastah's Foe-Toe-Tagger!" The creature puffed out his chest proudly making himself look quite ridiculous.

Smiling nervously, Hermione lowered the wand back to her lap. It seemed friendly enough and reminded her so much of Dobby.

"Horatio?" Hermione raised an eyebrow towards the dead man relaxing on her couch.

Harry sighed. "I was quoting Shakespeare and the little bugger thought I had named him. He was so happy that I didn't have the heart to correct him. But back to the matter at hand …." Extending his arm, Harry waited for the Green to stop puffing and gingerly hand over a thick folder.

"Youz Foe-Toes, mastah!"

"Thank you, Horatio. Now do me a favor and try to bounce quietly. This young lady and I have much to discuss." Harry opened up the folder and started rifling through its contents. "Amazing advances the muggles have made since my death. I must admit, though, once the little blighter got the concept of 'point and shoot' down, he seems to have a definite eye for composition." After turning a few pages, Harry selected one and tossed it to the table between him and Hermione. "That's a really good one. It really captures the drama of the moment. Skeeter would set her own knickers on fire while still wearing them to get a hold of that picture."

Hm, he thought. Not a bad idea. I really should file that away for later.

Looking at the photograph on the table, Hermione's blood immediately turned to ice. Her constantly recurring nightmare had somehow been captured on film.

Harry and Voldemort were facing each other, energy linking their wands together. Both were screaming while Dumbledore hit Harry in the back with the spell that had killed both Harry and the Dark Lord.

"And all my friends standing around in the background. Not one making a move to prevent my cold-blooded murder. Not so much as a raised hand and an 'Um, Headmaster … why not try shooting Voldemort instead?'" Harry went back to rifling through the stack of photos. "Death, murder … po-TAE-to, po-TAH-to. Now as for the second point of contention …."

Another photo joined the first on the table. This one was merely a blown up image from the background of the first. "You didn't watch. You were crying into Ron's shoulder as it was happening. You knew in advance what was coming. And you did nothing. You said nothing. Thanks for the tears, by the way ... at least I know you cared."

Hermione sat silently for a long time, trembling. Tears ran freely down her face.

"Harry, I -" she finally whispered.

He continued on, ignoring her. "But that's not the best part. Definitely not. At least Dumbledore had the decency to look all serious and grave. I've got to grant you … the man knows how to handle a photo-op. Your hubbie, well, that's another story. Take a look at his face. See the man you married … the man you spread your legs for."

Hermione was completely numb. She felt like she had been shattered into a thousand pieces. The last part of Harry's statement hadn't even registered yet. Part of her thought she might have handled it better if he had ever raised his voice. There was no anger in Harry's tone, no accusation. He was having a casual conversation and simply espousing facts. No matter that each fact was a dagger being thrust into her soul.

"Come on, Mione," Harry said gently. "Take a look. I'm actually thankful that you were facing away from the camera. If I had seen that expression on your face … even I could not have guessed what kind of monster I might have become."

It took a while, but Harry waited patiently. Hermione finally raised her head and looked at the second photograph. It was of her and Ron. She was clinging to Ron, crying into his shoulder. Her eyes went wide upon seeing the expression on her husband's face.

She had never seen Ron look so cold. It couldn't be. He wouldn't!

"Smug satisfaction at the death of his 'best friend'? Rubbish! There must be some other explanation. Not Saint Ron, Hero of Hogwarts, Loving Husband, and Best-Mate-of-the-Boy-Who-Lived!" Harry tossed several other photographs onto the table. "Maybe one of these will reveal the true Ron. Hm, there he is with Katie Bell at his stag party. Well, some believe that blokes should get a free pass in that situation. How about this one? Wearing a tux and snogging … strange, that bride's maid outfit looks familiar, don't you think? This one's from last week. Some bird he works with at a hotel near the ministry. Bloody Hell, Horatio! Did you crawl into the bed with them?"

"Zoom, zoom!" burbled the Green, bouncing around and glad to have been of service.

One at a time, Harry just dropped picture after picture down to the table. "It's amazing how many women will drop their knickers for an Order of Merlin. Now this one … gah! Him and Millicent. That's just … wrong." After an exaggerated shudder, Harry's voice became gentle once again. "This one. This one is special." Carefully, he placed the latest photo in front of the stunned Hermione. "The girl is no one special. The place is no where special. The sex is laughable, but again nothing special."

Hermione was drifting along in a fog. She had never even noticed when Horatio had slipped the wand from her hand at a slight signal from Harry. "What's so …." she finally whispered.

Harry leaned back into the couch. He was about to motion Horatio for the wand but changed his mind after seeing the minion using it to pick his nose. Returning his attention to the shell of a woman across from him he continued in the same gentle voice, "There's a date stamp at the bottom."

To Hermione's mind, it seemed like an hour before she could even begin to focus on the date. Everything was a blur. Once she could make out the numbers, she just looked at them without comprehension.

"You were in St. Mungo's. That was the day of your miscarriage."

Place the flame on low, cover, and allow to simmer. Harry stood up and walked towards the kitchen. Hermione wasn't going anywhere for a bit. He started rooting around in her cupboards. There had to be some tea somewhere in here. This was England, for God's sake!

Finally finding some tea, Harry scrounged up a kettle and placed it on the stove. While waiting for the water, he opened the back door to allow a few more Greens into the house. They had been well briefed beforehand and would not reveal themselves until ordered.

"Still five sugars, right?" Harry called out while fixing his own. Not receiving an answer, he took the two cups and returned to the living room. Placing her cup on the table near the photos, he leaned back and casually sipped at the tea. "Ah! Strange the things we miss most after a few years. I can't wait to introduce the Browns to espresso. That'll be fun."

Harry took the time to enjoy his tea and appraise the woman the girl of his memory had turned into. After his last sip, he simply shook his head. Ron … what an idiot! She went from strangely cute, to pretty, to gorgeous. Brains and beauty, the full monty. A bit of a problem with loyalty, yes, but you can't have everything. Quality over quantity, mate.

"Hermione? Are you still with me? Honey? Kitten?"

Her tears had stopped, her body finally having no more to shed. Puffy, dead eyes raised to look blankly in his direction.

"I'm not going to ask you why. We'll get to that later. For right now, I just want to know if it was worth it?"

For a bit, Harry was worried that he had broken her already. She just stared at him. Finally, she made the slightest of shakes of her head. Then, to his complete surprise, she spoke in a voice completely lacking in spirit. "Where's Ron? What did you do?"

Harry burst out laughing. It was the first real laugh he had experienced in a long time. Horatio dived under a table and cowered, fearing the worst.

Pressing his hands to his gut in a futile effort to diminish the pain, Harry eventually brought himself under control. This time, his smile actually reached his eyes and there was no hint of sarcasm in his voice. "The Brightest Witch of Her Age … the most brilliant witch of her – or any – age. God's, I missed you, Hermione! Even before I remembered you, I knew I was missing something. Or someone."

Harry shook his head with a final chuckle. "Ron betrayed me. And then he betrayed you. Neither is forgivable. I have the right to hurt you after what you did to me, but not him. Never him." Harry picked up the folder once again and started dropping more pictures onto the table. "He was on his way home – pissed like you couldn't believe – a few days ago. I had my minions pick him up. Yes, I have minions now. Tons of fun; everyone should have a few. We entertained him in my dungeon – well, the torture chamber just off the dungeon, to be precise – and had a long talk about friendship."

As he spoke, Harry dropped more and more photos onto the table. Hermione had had the mistaken belief that nothing more could faze her. To her horror, she found that she had been mistaken. She turned greener and greener at each revealed photograph.

"The prat had no staying power … but I'd guess you would know that better than me. I think he went insane before we even finished the first day of our talk. Truly disappointing. I sincerely hope that our talks go much better."

Harry dropped the last three photos from the folder. Seeing them, Hermione simply vomited onto the table, covering the photographs with Odgen's, bile, and what little she had eaten for the last two days.

"Phew, Hermione. You should really lay off the sauce." Harry stepped back and brushed at his pants before wiping his hand against the couch. "Yes, well … my minions deserved a reward after all their hard work getting me back here. They deserved the feast. I kind of had the image of Ron roasting on a spit, but they actually prefer their meat raw. It worked out better, in the end, though. I think he managed to keep screaming until the second course."

Walking to the dining room, Harry picked up the box of tissues. Returning to Hermione, he carefully raised her head and wiped at her lips. "You can see some of him later, if you'd like. I think one of the minions turned his head into a puppet. Are you ready to go?"

Harry held her chin while she just stared at him blankly. Harry sighed. Leaning down, he gently kissed her on the forehead. He might have gone a tad too far too soon with her, but he couldn't help it. "Greens. Take her through the portal and put her in the dungeon. Clean her up first, though. No harm is to come to her. Have the Blues give her a few calming draughts and put her to bed. And someone wipe down and gather up those photos."

Moving like a zombie, Hermione was carefully pushed, pulled, and tugged by a number of minions around her. They knew that their master considered this human special, and none of them were going to tempt his ire.

Harry mentally activated the link between himself and his … well, major domo, maybe. Even after all these years, he didn't really know what to make of the ancient minion. The amber jewel on his wristband glowed as the connection was made. "Gnarl?"

Yes, sire? How might I aide Your Malevolence at this time?

"The woman coming through the portal shortly is not to be harmed or even improperly touched in any way. Have some Blues meet her and the Greens in the dungeon. I was going to tell the Greens to put a suicide watch on her, but I don't think they'd understand the concept."

I'm sure they would be able to watch her commit suicide just fine, sire.

Harry grinned. "Getting a mite cheeky in your old age, Gnarl?" Harry could almost sense the returned grin.

We'll take good care of her until you're ready to attend to her. Shall we prepare for your return?

"No … not quite yet. It's going to take Hermione some time to recover. I think I'll go ahead and tackle the conundrum wrapped in an enigma before I head back."

As you wish, master.

*** Monkey Banging Notes: First story. No beta. Post-story apologies to those who use the Queen's English. I speak North American ... the dialect known as "Southern Good Old Boy." I apologize for mangling the lingo. I'm not as twisted as this story implies. Oh, such a lie! But this story insisted on being written first.