This is my first fanfic story, written in late 2018. When I posted it on AO3 in late 2020, I did a little revising, and now I'm updating the chapters here. The story is the same, but I fixed some typos and a couple of POV slips, and added a bit of extra description and dialogue here and there, so the story is about 2.000 words longer than when I originally posted it.
The incomparable turtlewexler started beta reading and Brit-picking the 2018 version for me on Chapter 8, but any errors that remain are because I tinkered with something after she saw it.
The characters and their world belong to J. K. Rowling. I own nothing, and earn nothing.
Hermione can't stand the fourth years. Not the Gryffindors and Slytherins she's glowering at now, and not the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws she glowered at earlier in the day. They were the first class to start Hogwarts after the war, the first who weren't here during that last awful year when Snape was trying to keep children from being tortured. The year Hermione was hunting Horcruxes, cold, hungry, and sleeping in a tent. The year Harry killed Riddle and was killed in turn by the accidental horcrux in his own head. The year Ron and Fred were killed in the final battle, and George started drinking himself to death.
The year they found out that Dumbledore, that tosser, was nearly as bad as Riddle when it came to ridiculous plots and machinations.
"Miss Prentice," Hermione says, "a Death Eater is attacking you. Why are you giggling?"
The Death Eater in question, a skinny boy with pimples and a red and gold tie, is casting a series of weak jinxes that barely cause a ripple in Prentice's equally weak shield.
"Ow!" the girl cries when Hermione sends a mild stinging hex through her shield.
"Will shouting 'Ow!' at him stop the Death Eater from killing you, Miss Prentice?" The girl looks back at her in sullen silence. "Will it stop him from using the Cruciatus curse on you? Will it stop him from putting you under Imperius and forcing you to torture someone? Will it stop him from raping you?"
Prentice rolls her eyes. "There aren't any Death Eaters today, Professor Granger."
Hermione knows the war isn't real to these kids. To a few of them, yes, ones with parents or older siblings who died or were tortured. But to most of them it's just something the grown-ups talk about, as irrelevant to them as the Goblin Wars that Binns used to drone on about were when Hermione was a fourth year.
"There would be a great many Death Eaters if we had faced them with shields like yours. Ten points from Gryffindor for a pathetic Protego, Miss Prentice, and ten more for cheek."
This class was all right when they started. First years are little enough to be cute, and intimidated enough to be well behaved. It goes downhill from there, familiarity with their professors breeding contempt and teenage hormones running amok, until they're full-blown monsters in fourth and fifth year. By sixth year they've started turning into young adults and become bearable again. When she first started teaching, even the hormone-addled fourth and fifth years took DADA seriously. They had, after all, been at the wrong end of the Carrows' wands.
A hand goes up. Hermione nods at the boy, who says, "Actually there are Death Eaters today. There's one right here at Hogwarts."
"Are you certain this is a discussion you wish to begin, Mr. Carter?" she asks. Her voice is deadly quiet, like Snape's used to be when he was about to pounce. It's astonishing how much she learned about how to teach from a teacher most of her classmates hated.
Carter holds her gaze for a moment, then looks away. "As I thought," she says. "For those of you who might be unaware, Mr. Carter is talking about Professor Malfoy." She looks at Carter so long he starts to squirm, then asks, "Mr. Carter, how old was Professor Malfoy when he was Marked?"
"Eighteen? Maybe seventeen?"
"Sixteen. He was sixteen years old. How old are you, Mr. Carter?"
Murmuring an incantation, she waves her wand and a life size image of Voldemort, with his red eyes and non-existent nose, appears before the class. A few of the students flinch, but some, including Prentice and Carter, make a show of looking bored.
"Riddle," she says. She always calls him Riddle, even in her head, refuses to use the ridiculous name he gave himself. "Tell me, Mr. Carter, if this…thing were living in your house, threatening to kill your parents, what would you do when it demanded your allegiance to its sick little band of murderers? Do you imagine a simple 'No, thank you, Mr. Dark Lord, sir?' would suffice?"
"How did a creature like that get anyone to follow him in the first place?" Prentice asks. "I mean, weren't they totally grossed out?"
"Good question," Hermione says, and conjures an image of a young and fully human Riddle to stand beside his noseless alter ego. "When he started building his following, Tom Riddle looked like this."
"He was hot," a girl whispers to her friend.
"He was indeed, Miss Kasubowski," Hermione agrees. The class laughs. "But he wasn't only handsome. He was also charming. He was intelligent. And without moral scruples of any kind. A Muggle psychologist would call him a sociopath."
"Not a psychopath?" asks one of the Muggle-born students, who would know the difference.
"Possibly," Hermione replies, "but the actual psychosis may have begun only when he started creating Horcruxes. In the beginning, he was just a clever, charming, handsome young man who was seduced by the Dark Arts." She pauses and looks around the classroom. "Why do we teach Defence Against the Dark Arts?"
"So we can learn to protect ourselves from evil people who practice the Dark Arts."
"In part, Miss Kasubowski. Why else?" After an uncomfortable silence, a hand goes up in the back. "Mr. Entwistle?"
"To teach us how to resist being seduced by the Dark Arts and practicing them ourselves."
"Twenty points to Slytherin."
The class gasps. Professor Granger has never awarded that many points at once in all the four years she's been teaching them.
"Like we would!" Prentice huffs.
"You don't think you could ever be seduced by the Dark Arts, Miss Prentice?"
"What about you, Miss Kasubowski? What if you'd gone to school with young Tom Riddle?" She smirks. "Young, hot Tom Riddle."
The class laughs, and Kasubowski blushes.
"What if a charming, handsome, brilliant classmate was starting a political movement, and invited you to be a part of it? There's no talk of torture or killing or even world domination. Just sensible proposals for reforming the Ministry. Only the best and the brightest are invited. Only the cool kids," she adds with a sneer.
The class shifts uncomfortably.
"When I was at Hogwarts, we had another former Death Eater on the staff. When I was in sixth year, he taught Defence. He told us that anyone – anyone – could succumb under the right circumstances. We scoffed, naturally. He asked who in the class – it was combined Gryffindor and Slytherin – was the least likely ever to be seduced by the Dark Arts. The class debated for a while, and finally settled on me." She smiles. "I was quite the goody-goody little swot back in the day."
Smirks and giggles from the class.
"Our professor told me to take a dueling stance. Then he took a wand oath and swore that nothing I said or did during our duel would be punished by loss of points or any other means."
"Because during that duel he pushed me so far that I tried to Crucio him."
Gasps from the class. "And you didn't get expelled?" Carter asks.
"You do know what a wand oath is?" She pauses. "Two feet on wand oaths and Unbreakable Vows by next class." Groans, and more than a few sullen glares are cast Carter's way.
"But professor," Kasubowski says, "how could he get you to do that? You've always been on the side of Light. You teach us how to defeat the Dark."
"And the reason I can is because I understand it. You can't fight what you don't understand."
"Are you going to try to get us to Crucio you?" Entwistle asks.
"You think I want to get sacked?" Hermione laughs. "Though I'm sure some of you would be delighted if I did."
"Did Professor Snape get sacked?" Entwistle asks.
So they weren't entirely ignorant of history, Hermione thinks with satisfaction. At least not all of them. "No," she says. "but he disarmed me before I could actually cast the curse – and Headmistress McGonagall runs a tighter ship than Headmaster Dumbledore did." And thank all the gods in all the pantheons for that, she adds silently.
"Have a good weekend," she says. "Don't cause too much trouble in Hogsmeade tomorrow." On second thought, since Sybill is chaperoning, they can cause all the trouble they bloody well like.
Entwistle is the last to leave. "Professor? How did he get you to do it?"
"That's a story for another day," she says. It's been a long time since she's let herself think about the things Snape said and did that day and the disturbing feelings they aroused in her. He actually apologized after class, said he hadn't meant for that to happen—he didn't say what that was, but they both knew—that he'd only been trying to make her angry enough to cast the curse. Snape apologizing was almost as much of a mind fuck as what had happened while they were dueling. Almost, but not quite.
Since the fourth years are her last class of the week, she locks up the classroom and heads out to the lake, as she does most Friday afternoons. That class was supposed to be just practicing shielding, and instead she'd got dragged into a conversation about good and evil, Riddle and Malfoy and Snape. Now, her head is full of the war and its aftermath.
All that year they were teaching themselves Defence because Umbridge wouldn't, the year they were hunting Horcruxes, they just assumed that once Riddle was dead, everything would be okay. But nothing is okay. Harry and Ron are dead. Molly can't even look at Hermione because Ron threw himself in front of an Avada for her. If it wasn't for her, Ron would be alive. Molly doesn't actually blame her – Molly said so often enough, in a the lady doth protest too much kind of way – but it's there, poisoning everything.
It's ironic that now, after all those years without money and status, the Weasleys have both now but they're miserable. Arthur is Minister, and Ginny acts as Arthur's hostess at Ministry events because Molly won't leave the house. She doesn't even cook anymore. They have a house elf, and Molly sits and stares at the clock that shows Fred and Ron Beyond the Veil. And watches George drink. The once vivacious, flirtatious Ginny wears subdued black dresses like Queen Victoria in perpetual mourning for Prince Albert. Without her Prince Harry, she goes decorously through the motions, the soul of a 40-year-old widow in the body of a 21-year-old girl.
Hermione thinks of all of her friends now gone. Ron and Harry and Luna dead. Fred and Remus and Tonks dead. Ginny like the walking dead. Neville is alive and well but since that Parkinson bitch married him in hopes of restoring her shredded reputation, Hermione hardly ever sees him.
And her parents. God, her parents. She went to Australia to try to reverse the memory charm, but she couldn't. They thought she was a lunatic and tried to call the police. In the end, she'd had to Obliviate the memory of her visit and accept that they too were lost to her.
It is the irony of ironies that the only person she has now is Malfoy. Oh, Minerva and Filius and the rest of the staff are kind to her, but she's not close to any of them. Not really. Only Malfoy, the ex-Death Eater. Malfoy, who spent six years calling her Mudblood. Malfoy, who risked his own life and his parents' lives by refusing to identify her and Harry and Ron when they were captured.
Malfoy, who's as lonely and fucked up as she is.