As the years passed, he fell into despair, and lost all hope, for who could ever learn to love a beast?

It was the hottest summer in a hundred years. Hermione Granger tied her unruly brown hair into a bun that rested just at the back of her head, little curls sticking to the sweat dripping from the back of her neck. The list of items she needed from Flourish and Botts was folded in the pocket of her jeans.

It should be awfully dull spending mornings in the hot sun wandering from store to store picking up items for her boss, but it was a reprieve. No one could know the value of consistency and predictability when they had not endured true chaos like Hermione had. But the chaos was over now. It had been over for three years.

The streets were packed with wizards of all sorts. Hermione bumped and steered her way through the crowd, enjoying the comforting familiarity.

"Miss Granger," an old-bearded man tipped his hat. She smiled and nodded. A few more people acknowledged her as she passed by them. Most knew of her and getting noticed in the street was nothing new.

There was only one new image in the quaint and predictable movements of Diagon Alley. A woman with midnight black hair, and eyes just as dark, stood at the cusp of Knockturn Alley wearing a velvet dress of rose red. She was the most beautiful woman Hermione had ever seen. It was mesmerizing, almost unreal.

"Hermione!" a voice shouted. Hermione blinked, shocked by the interruption. She turned. It was Harry Potter. Round glasses, messy hair, lightning scar. Same as always. Hermione smiled. "What were you staring at?" asked Harry.

Hermione glanced over her shoulder. The woman was gone. "Oh, nothing," said Hermione. It wasn't worth the explanation. "Shouldn't you be at work?"

"Took the day off. I was at Gringotts getting the money for this." Harry pulled a velvet box out of his pants pocket. He flipped it open, revealing a round-cut diamond that twinkled almost blindingly in the light.

"Oh, Harry!" shouted Hermione. "Are you sure?"

Harry's bright smile disappeared. "Of course I'm sure."

"I'm, I'm sorry. It just seems fast."

"It's been three years."

Hermione's stomach knotted. Harry didn't mean he had been with Ginny for three years. He had been with her longer than that. He meant it had been three years since Voldemort's defeat. He meant it was time to move forward. They had been here before.

"I know. It's just not enough time for me."

"Well, I'm sorry, but it is for me. You already lost Ron. What else are you willing to lose?" Harry sighed, shook his head and walked across the street.

Ron asked her to marry him. Three times. Three times she turned him down, asked him to wait. Told him she needed more time. Time for what, Ron had asked. Hermione didn't have an answer for him. Ron had kissed her gently on the lips and said, "There isn't always more time." That was the last time she kissed Ron and about sixth months ago. But life had gone on without him, the way it had gone on with him.

The leaves still changed. The sun still rose and fell. Hermione still had never been in love, not true love. And that was okay with her. Love was dangerous. Love was chaos.

The hot blue sky disappeared under a thick layer of grayish clouds. The temperature had dropped dramatically in just a few hours. It was starting to rain as Hermione stepped inside the Ministry of Magic and headed to her boss's office.

Hermione pushed open the door to Mr. Collingsworth's office, balancing the books from Flourish and Botts in her arms. Collingsworth was sitting at his large black desk, looking at some old maps under a large magnifying glass. When he lifted his head, his bright blue eyes were distorted by the glass.

"You're back, Miss Granger," said Collingsworth as he sat down the magnifying glass, revealing his pointed nose and curly sandy blonde hair. "Good."

"Yes, sir, "replied Hermione as she sat the books down on the shelf.

Collingsworth was head of the Reclamation of Lost Ancient Magical Artifacts office. The job required a lot of looking at old documents and watching old memories in his cracked pensieve and very little reclaiming of actual lost ancient magical artifacts.

"I need you to do something for me," said Collingsworth as he stood from his desk chair.

Hermione started. Her day was always exactly the same. She gave him the books and then she went home. That was the end of it. "Um, okay."

Collingsworth sorted through a stack of official papers on his desk until he found a small black card with silver printing. "This is it." He handed the card to Hermione.

"What is this?" Her eyes searched the card. There was nothing on it other than the silver letters that read. 13 Salazar Street.

"We've discovered something."

Hermione raised an eyebrow. "We have?" They never discovered anything.

"The Fluxon Changer"

The Fluxon Changer had a ridiculous name, as almost all of the artifacts did. But if it was real. It was well, as Ron would have said, bloody brilliant. The Fluxon Changer was rumored to either be a cup, or a jewel, or a necklace of jewels. No one really knew its form, but its powers were well known. The Fluxon Changer was supposed to have been invented in the first century by a transfiguration genius named Fluxocritus (most of the inventors had ridiculous names too) and who ever possessed the Fluxon Changer was said to have the power to be anything, to change into anything at will and take not only the shape of whoever or whatever, but usurp their power as well.

"Impossible," said Hermione.

"Nothing is impossible," he replied. This was Collingsworth's favorite expression. It was highly annoying.

"You think the Fluxon Changer is at this address?" Hermione held up the card. Collingsworth's dusty old brain had finally cracked.

Collingsworth smiled. "That's what you're going to find out."

Oh, heck no. "Me?"

"Yes. And you better get going. It's almost dark."

Hermione's mouth fell open. Not a chance. "Tonight?"

"Discovery waits for no one." This was Collingsworth's second favorite expression.

She stared down at the card again. The address was familiar like something deep and hidden inside her knew what it meant but was keeping it secret.

"What is this place?" she asked.

Collingsworth stared Hermione directly in the eye and said, as if it was nothing, "Malfoy Manor."

Hermione almost fell over. She had vowed to never return to that god-forsaken place. It was where she had been tortured by an unspeakably cruel witch who had carved a word into her arm. Marking her.

Mudblood.

The scar was still there. It was the reason she always wore long sleeves, no matter how hot it was. Hermione never spoke of what happened. And the only way out of this was to start, but she could never start. It would kill her.

"Okay. I'll go," she answered, regretting it the second the words fell from her lips.

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