Author's Note: Harry Potter is the property of J.K. Rowling
Note 1: I am American rather than English, so please forgive me if the characters sound too American.
Note 2: I don't hold with character bashing. I try to stay true to the characters, but they may seem OOC due to the situations I will put them in.
Note 3: So, apparently, it's the polite thing in the Harry Potter fandom to put relationships out front and here is the plan: Hermione/Julian, Daphne/Cyrus and Harry/Ginny.
Despite this fic having original characters center stage, I hope you give this fic a chance! =)
Hermione Granger stared at the brick wall separating her from Platform 9 3/4. She had already walked through multiple times throughout the years and yet this time seemed different. On one hand, she was entering for her last, full year at Hogwarts, which brought on a wave of happiness and sadness at the same time. On the other hand, this was the year succeeding the war and, of course, the Battle of Hogwarts.
She, Harry, and Ron had helped where they could over the summer to restore the castle to its former glory. It wasn't until a month ago that Hermione decided to step away and weave the remaining threads of her old life back together. The first and most painful step had been retrieving her parents and restoring their memories. Upon restoring them to their original selves, her parents proceeded to "ground her for the rest of her life" for erasing her from their lives and having to live without their darling daughter. In the next instant, however, their anger melted into grief and Hermione's mother swept her daughter up in her arms and they sobbed into each other's shoulders.
It would take them longer to back to Britain than she had before Hogwarts, so her parents insisted on a small vacation, which consisted primarily of touring the Sydney Opera House, the Harbor Bridge, and visiting the Botanical Gardens. It had cheered her immensely to be with her parents on carefree vacation for the first time in what felt like ages and it seemed as soon as she stepped out of the Portkey Arrival room at the Ministry, that a familiar leaden feeling fell on her. The Wizarding World may be safe now, but it would be years before she felt the immense weight of the last year die away.
Her trip to Diagon Alley hadn't done her any favors, since half the shops were still shuttered. It was slowly being rebuilt, but Mr. Ollivander seemed even more feeble and frailer than ever and Florean Forestcue's spot was alarmingly vacant. However, a young man down the way had taken up the corner of Flourish & Blott's and played a flute-like instrument she had never seen before, but his music was heartening.
The boys had taken out a flat right next to George's Weasely Wizard Wheezes shop to work on their Auror Apprenticeships. In the few weeks she had left, Hermione bunked on the couch in their flat and helped George with the shop. He was, of course, still struggling with Fred's untimely death and she worried about how he would manage once she left for Hogwarts. Lee Jordan had been helping out with the shop for the summer and she had pleaded with him to take care of George.
"Don't you worry, Hermione. I can manage George. You just go and try to focus on kicking those NEWT's arses. I'll let you know how we're doing. Good luck!"
She still remembered Jordan's sardonic smile, although it still did not reach his eyes. No one's smile did anymore. The war had scarred them all so deeply that she felt it would be sometime before she felt a true smile blossom on her face again.
Deep breath, Hermione. You can do this, she thought as she steeled herself up and walked purposely towards the wall and through. Just as before, the scarlet steam engine of the Hogwarts Express appeared before her eyes. To some extent, she always wondered if the last few years had simply been a dream and that the next time she'd try walking through the wall, she would come to the painful realization that it was solid brick and magic was not real. She sighed and gave herself a small smile.
She almost started to haul her trunk on board by hand before she remembered that she was of age and could simply do that by magic. Crookshanks didn't appreciate her use of magic and hissed as she floated the trunk on board. "It's okay, Crookshanks. I'll let you out as soon as I get a compartment."
"Hullo, Hermione. You're here awfully early," Susan Bones said, giving the muggleborn a bright smile. Her chest was puffed out not unlike Percy and there gleamed a shiny new Prefect badge.
"Yep, I just wanted to be here when the other students arrived so I can lend a hand. It is part of the job description, right?" Hermione said, flashing her own Prefects badge to Susan.
"Oooh, well of course you are a Prefect! I'm just a little surprised you weren't made Head Girl."
"I don't think I'm allowed since I skipped a year. That might be frowned upon."
"But surely as one of the heroes – "
"It's fine," Hermione said. "I'm bossy enough already without the job, McGonagall probably thought I wouldn't need it."
"Well, okay. The Head Girl and Boy haven't arrived yet, but I imagine everyone will start arriving in the next ten minutes. Better go claim your compartment and get dressed."
Without the boys, it seemed silly to reserve an extra compartment, so she just stuck her trunk in one of the designated Prefects compartments and allowed Crookshanks out to roam while she changed out of her robes.
It hurt missing out on being Head Girl. Not that she really needed anything else to add to her extensive resume, but it felt like a rite of passage that she had been destined for and declined it to aid her best friend. There was not a thing in the world she would change about aiding Harry to defeat Voldemort, but the lack of a Head Girl badge merely reminded her of yet another sacrifice she had to make for the greater good.
She stopped and thought back to the last four words and shuddered. It had been a favorite phrase of Dumbledore's, which made her uneasy. Harry seemed to have come to terms with the way the old Headmaster had manipulated him his whole life, but Hermione still had trouble forgiving and forgetting.
Speaking of which… Her small smile flat-lined at seeing a familiar bleach blonde head, pulling his trunk behind him. As with previous years, Draco was dressed in a smart pin-striped suit, but he seemed small without his two hulking goons. She felt a pang thinking about Crabbe's fate, but she wondered where Goyle was. Then again, his school work had been so abysmal that maybe he didn't see the point of returning.
Good riddance, she thought. It would at least be one less thing to worry about.
"Hermione! Good to see you!"
She was jolted out of her thoughts and then grinned when she saw Neville's cheerful face.
"Oh, Neville, hi!" She didn't hesitate to sweep him up in a hug. "How are you? Were you at Hogwarts all summer?
"Nah. Headmistress McGonagall had us all leave a week ago. She thought it was important that we spend some time with our families," he replied with a lop-sided grin.
They chatted for a few minutes when the Head Girl started calling for all Prefects and they met out on the train platform. Hermione was surprised when Neville joined them, still straightening out his robes, but clearly showing a Prefects badge pinned above his heart.
The Head Girl was a chestnut-haired Hufflepuff named Rosalind Warbeck and the Head Boy was a Ravenclaw named Byron Polmear with smooth blonde hair.
"Welcome back, everybody," Rosalind said with an excited smile. "We have a larger group than usual so everybody's shifts on the train are only one hour instead of two." She took a piece of paper in her hand, multiplied it, and handed it out.
"We'll have our first Prefects meeting tomorrow night to discuss your shifts for the week," Byron said, in a much more stoic tone.
"To make it simple right now, your House counterpart of the same year is the person you will be patrolling the train with," Rosalind said with a bright smile. As if by magic, a good number of students started to trickle in through gate. "They're here! Malfoy, Parkinson, Donnor, and O'Connell, please mingle on the platform and assist anyone who needs a hand. Everyone else, simply be available. We'll see you tomorrow evening."
"Overly chipper, that one," Neville muttered to Hermione as they dispersed and she had to agree, which caused her good mood to falter once more. It was yet another effect of the war.
"I'll see you on the train, Neville. There's someone I'd like to find first."
She strode off onto the platform, carefully dodging the young children and their trunks. It was a few minutes, but she saw her just as she was exiting the arch from the train station.
"Why hello, Hermione," Luna said in that strangely quiet way of hers that somehow still managed to catch her attention above the buzz and hustle of the crowd.
"Good morning, Luna. How are you?"
"Quite well. My nargle infestation seems to be under control. I feel like my senses are all cleared."
Some things never change, Hermione thought as she smiled at the remarkably carefree girl, who persevered despite her ordeal last year. "Would you like some help with your trunk?"
"That's very kind of you, but I've got it." So, just like any witch who'd just come of age, Luna pulled out her wand and hovered her trunk inside. "It's so nice to be able to do that now. I've started learning household charms to help dad around the Rook. It's quite cozy."
Hermione grimaced behind her back. She realized that Xenophilius Lovegood had been between a rock and a hard place when he betrayed her, Harry, and Ron, but that didn't lessen the sting. She was glad that they got the opportunity to rescue her. As odd as she was, Hermione felt that Luna suffered enough hardship. She heard her name being called and it took her a moment to realize she had been staring into space. "Yes, Luna?"
"I just wanted to tell you that my dad is really sorry for what he did to you, Harry, and Ron." It was a rare moment when Luna looked unsure of herself, but then she seemed to find the right words. "It's just that I'm all dad has left."
"I know, Luna. Those were dark days. It's forgiven." She highly doubted it would be forgotten though. "Oh, I think I see Ginny." Hermione learned out the window and waved to the tall redhead. "Ginny! Luna and I are here!"
They were soon joined by Ginny, but also Parvati, Padma, and Lavender. The two Indian girls seemed well enough if a little subdued. Lavender also appeared to be in good spirits, but Hermione had to fight not to stare. The girl's once flawless skin was now marred by large scars. One seemed to distort her mouth, a few bite marks on her neck, and two claw marks above the eye. It could have been so much worse if Greyback had been transformed, but it was still shocking to see. Chills ran through her as she remembered seeing Greyback crouched over an unmoving Lavender. Thankfully, no one seemed to notice her far off look. She dismissed herself and walked back to her compartment, which had since filled with Susan Bones, Justin Flinch-Fletchley, and Neville's trunks. Hermione and Neville's rounds were scheduled for when the witch with the trolley was coming around, so Hermione left her friends with a little money to grab something for her.
For the most part, everything went smoothly. Students seemed to be genuinely excited to head back to Hogwarts. Her name was called multiple times and she spoke to students she had never met before. Most of them thanked her profusely for her part in stopping Voldemort, but she waved it off as merely the right thing to do.
Just as she moved into the next carriage, raised voices caught her attention and she swiftly made her way over to find Neville pulling what looked to be two first year students apart.
"Do you need help, Neville?"
"Everything's under control. Now knock that off or it'll be a detention."
"I haven't even been sorted. How can you give a detention?" A small boy with nicely brushed brown hair snarled at them.
"I'm sure your future Head of House would love to hear about a detention before the term even starts." At that, the boy flushed and cast a side-eyed glare at the boy he had been fighting with. "Now, I want you to tell me what started this?"
The boy remained silent, but the other boy dirty blonde hair said, "He called me a 'mudblood!" Hermione gasped and Neville became sterner if that is at all possible. "He said my 'kind' were scum and we didn't belong."
"What's your name?" Neville asked the boy who was still glaring at the floor.
Finally, he sat up straight and glared into Neville's face instead. "Samuel Havelock."
"Hogwarts welcomes witches and wizards of all blood statuses. If you disagree with that, you're free to transfer to another school, though I doubt you'll find any more welcoming of your kind of attitude. If I hear you call anyone that slur ever again, it will be detention. For now, I think it best you switch compartments. Which trunk is yours?"
Samuel sullenly pointed towards the one beneath his feet. Neville ushered him out and levitated it. Hermione stepped in this time and asked the rest of the boys what their names were. They reluctantly gave them and she smiled at them.
"I'm sorry you had to go through that kind of introduction, but you are perfectly welcome at Hogwarts. Don't be afraid to come to me, Neville, another Prefect, or any of the teachers if you have that kind of problem again. Good luck with your sorting,"
She continued with her rounds, but her earlier cheer had vanished with Samuel's words. It seemed like in spite of the battle of Hogwarts, the new generation was still being brought up with the same filthy attitude that perpetuated both civil wars to begin with. Will it ever end?
When the hour was up, she and Neville walked back to sit with Susan and Justin, who greeted them with a stack of Licorice Wands, Pumpkin Pasties, Cauldron Cakes, and Chocolate Frogs.
"What? No Bertie Botts?" Neville asked as he dug into a pasty.
"I can't stand Bertie Botts," Susan with a grimace as she worked on a licorice wand.
"Ron and Harry were fond of them, but I can't see why," Hermione replied as she opened a Chocolate Frog.
"When we were younger, everyone in my room would sometimes stay up late and dare each other to eat Bertie Botts," Neville replied.
"Those were the days," Justin said, with a wistful smile.
A comfortable silence fell among the group of friends as they continued making their way through their pile of snacks. Finally, Hermione said, "So, this is officially our last year of Hogwarts. What do you all plan to do once you've graduated?"
For a moment, everyone just looked at each other as though daring someone to go first, until Susan drew herself up with a sad smile and said, "I think I want to follow in my Auntie's footsteps and join the Law Enforcement branch. I always greatly admired her work."
Hermione's breath hitched in her throat, but she smiled. She never actually met Amelia Bones, but from the little Harry had told her, she sounded like an upstanding witch. She remembered that the magical world had seemed shaken to hear of her untimely death and it seemed to be the first spark of the rebellion.
Justin decided to ignore the dragon in the room and said, "I'm not sure. I was thinking about Curse Breaking, but I've been told that's dangerous work. I love Arithmancy, but I guess it's just a matter of how much danger I want to get into."
"I don't think anyone's surprised by what I want to be," Neville said with a grin. "I'm hoping that Professor McGonagall and Professor Sprout will allow me to stay on as an assistant. One day, I'll be the Herbology Professor."
"I know you can do it, Neville," Hermione said. "I was actually hoping to go into the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. I think it's entirely unfair how sentient creatures can be treated so unfairly in this day and age."
Neville nodded his understanding and offered encouragement, but to her surprise, Susan's seemed uncomfortable and her smile fake.
"You don't agree, Susan?"
Her eyebrows shot up at Hermione's implication and she quickly said, "No, I do. The Bones Manor has a house elf and she is very well treated, but I heard about Harry Potter's elf friend, the one who belonged to the Malforys and was forced to beat himself. I can't imagine treating Milly like that! It's just that…I'll be the first to admit that the Wizarding World needs to make some progress in the equality department in more ways than one."
"What do you mean?"
"Hermione, Hogwarts may not care about your blood status, but your superiors at the Ministry will."
Susan nodded grimly and shifted uncomfortably. "My auntie was a Pure Blood witch and she still had to fight like hell to become department head. It's even worse for Muggleborns and Half Bloods."
"That's not fair! Isn't there a law against that?"
The Hufflepuff shook her head. "No, there isn't. Since the Wizengamot passes all the laws and there are no Muggleborn representatives on it…"
"Then the issue is ignored because no one important cares," Hermione finished with wide eyes.
"Unfortunately, yes. There have been attempts in the past to update the laws. I know an effort was made after the first civil war by Dumbledore, but the conservative faction, headed by Lucious Malfoy – " At this Hermione's eyes darkened and she frowned. Susan nodded in understanding – "had enough power even then to stop a real effort. Most of the rest of the wizarding world was still reeling from the losses and no one was really thinking about Muggleborns. Several good Pure Blood families went extinct and lost their seats, which swung the votes the other way too."
"Someone has to do something!"
"Why not you?" Neville asked quite plainly.
"What?" Hermione asked, taken aback.
"You said yourself you want to champion equal treatment for sentient creatures. Why not your own group? I'm not head of my house yet, but I know Gran would back you."
"You've also got Harry Potter as a best friend," Susan said, her eyes sparkling with excitement.
"Harry won't like the politics though."
"He's still the head of an important house. Two houses, in fact, since he inherited the Black seat from Sirius."
Hermione sat up straighter and a fire entered her eyes. "Thank you, Neville and Susan. You're right. If I'm going to fight for equal treatment, I may as well start with my own."