Hermione Granger pored over her notes from her previous two years as the Transfiguration Professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. She was in the process of writing up some new exams for the coming term, and she wanted to make them challenging. Not enough to make her students lose too much sleep over it, of course, but enough to make them work hard for good grades. After the retirement of Minerva McGonagall from the teaching post five years prior, Hermione had large shoes to fill. And, of course, she had more than proved herself, as the present Headmistress often remarked. Still, Hermione Granger was known as many things – including brightest witch of her age – but a slacker was not one of them.
For the past five years as a Hogwarts professor, Hermione had built a reputation for being a kind and supportive mentor, albeit a strict one at times. Ron and Harry teased her mercilessly about the similarities she shared with their own Transfiguration Professor, often calling her “McGonagall 2.0” – though never to either witch’s face. Secretly, however, Hermione could not help but feel flattered by the comparison to her favorite professor.
On this particular summer afternoon, Hermione sat diligently at her desk, looking over the exams from the year before. She made sure to never repeat herself too much, and it was an extremely difficult task to come up with new material year after year, but she enjoyed it nonetheless. She was presently writing a rough draft for the first years’ exam for the upcoming term. Her desk was littered with parchments of varying lengths, and a few heavy tomes floated around her, pages open strategically. The cozy office was mostly silent, save for the sounds of her quill scratching away at a fresh roll of parchment and the chirps of Athena, her own. The massive black bird had been a gift from Harry, once she resigned from her position at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to accept her current position at Hogwarts.
Hermione worked in peace and quiet until she heard a soft rapping against her door. She mindlessly flicked her wand at it, as her wards had not alerted her of any unsavory presences. None other than Minerva McGonagall greeted her from the other side, walking up to her former student, now colleague, with a smile.
“Good morning, Miss Granger. Hard at work as always, I see.”
The brunette smile guiltily.
“Good afternoon, Minerva.” The Gryffindor still felt awkward addressing her former Head of House by her first name, though Minerva had insisted. Funnily enough, when Hermione asked her to do the same, Minerva seemed incapable – some things never changed.
The door closed after McGonagall with a soft thud. The Headmistress took a few steps toward Hermione, glancing fondly at the office that had been her own for so many years until relatively recently. When Hermione had first moved in the former Head of House had been pleased to note their sense of interior decorating was quite similar – Hermione also preferred darker woods and tones, as well as bookshelves lining almost every wall. Sadly, the younger woman did not hold the same preference for tartans.
“To what do I owe this visit?” Hermione said with a smile, putting her quill away and facing the older woman directly.
Minerva took a seat by Hermione’s desk, still smiling at the young professor. She was incredibly proud of her former student, and would have liked no one better to take up her old position.
“Oh, no particular reason. Thought I’d pop in for a bit of a chat. How have you been?”
“I’ve been well. Summer is indeed a quiet time for us professors – Merlin knows how much we need it!” Hermione laughed.
“Quiet? Miss Granger, it certainly doesn’t look to be so quiet from where I’m standing. Pray tell, what are you trying to do, a complete exam rewrite for the next ten generations?”
“I’m not that far ahead! These are just for the next term… For years one through four. I’ll get to the rest by the end of the week.” She said gleefully.
Minerva arched an eyebrow.
“I do believe the Muggle term for you would be… workaholic?”
The young witch had taken a while to get used to the friendly banter with her former Head of House. Once she did, however, she had to admit she enjoyed it immensely.
“That would be correct. I am almost done for tonight, though. I plan on seeing Harry and Ginny later tonight.” She said.
“Good” Minerva replied “send them my warmest regards, and to little James as well.”
The two witches spent a few minutes talking – about Harry and Ginny, about a recent incident unwittingly caused by Hagrid that had the school temporarily overrun by pixies, about Hermione’s recent publications on Transfiguration Today, among other things. Conversation was easy between the two, as it usually tended to be. At some point, Dobby had been called, bringing them a pot of tea and freshly made biscuits.
After sipping her tea, Minerva turned to Hermione, her face a little more serious.
“To be perfectly honest, Miss Granger, I wanted your opinion on a matter of staff” she said, delicately munching on a biscuit.
Hermione raised her brow in wonder. The Hogwarts staff had remained mostly unchanged since she had been brought on, with Neville Longbottom stepping in for Pomona Sprout shortly after. Before that, McGonagall had taken on Charlie Weasley for Care of Magical Creatures, and Viktor Krum, of all people, for Defense Against the Dark Arts. Though Krum had been an unusual choice, he had proved to be an excellent professor, taking the position about a year after the war, after a particularly bad encounter with a bludger ended his Quidditch career prematurely. The Healers had managed to heal his spine, but he had walked with a cane ever since.
Since there were currently no open positions and no one was likely to be tired, the young Gryffindor presumed one of her colleagues was about to retire or resign.
“Staff matter? What is going on?”
Minerva sighed as she put down her teacup.
“Horace had decided to retire once and for all, before the term begins. I tried to persuade him to stay, but he says his mind is quite made up. It is understandable, I suppose…”
The young witch frowned. Although she had never been overly fond of Horace Slughorn, even she had to admit he was an extremely important part of the teaching staff at Hogwarts, as qualified Potions Masters were nothing short of a rarity. Slughorn had been the best, besides the late Severus Snape.
“That is too bad” Hermione pondered. “Finding a suitable replacement won’t be easy… Do you have anyone in mind?” she asked, her curiosity piqued.
“As a matter of fact, I do have someone I’ve been considering” Minerva said, righting herself on the chair and looking at her former student intently, as if to gauge her reaction. “I have been thinking of hiring Narcissa Black.” She finally said.
Hermione’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. She hadn’t heard of the former Mrs. Malfoy in years, ever since the very public divorce. It had made headlines for weeks on end as Narcissa and Lucius dragged each other through the mud, trying to squeeze every last Galleon from the other. Of course, being in Azkaban had not helped Lucius much – that, along with his own son testifying against him in court had led the Ice Queen to walk away with a sizeable chunk of the Malfoy fortune and assets.
Before that, Hermione had only briefly seen Draco’s mother during the notorious war trials; where Lucius had been sent to Azkaban while she and her son had been acquitted, courtesy of the one and only Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived. Hermione remembered Narcissa’s cold and menacing expression as her then-husband was taken away in shackles, seemingly giving her title of Ice Queen justice.
After the trials, however, Narcissa had sought out Hermione only once. Her icy demeanor seemed to be exactly the same, that is until Hermione looked deeply into the woman’s electrifying blue eyes and saw that they were brimming with unshed tears. The witch had maintained her stony expression and looked deeply into Hermione’s eyes for a few tense, uncomfortable moments.
“I am so sorry.”
She had walked away before Hermione had a chance to form any kind of coherent response, not that one was needed. Both witches knew exactly what was being referred to.
Hermione had been constantly plagued by nightmares those first couple of years. They were always so vivid and terrifying she was afraid to close her eyes, and outright refused to sleep at one point. Her body had very nearly shut down with exhaustion, and then she realized she wouldn’t be able to keep her eyes open forever. In her despair to escape those crazed eyes and the insane cackling of the madwoman who had tortured her mercilessly, she had taken to a generous helping of Ogden’s Finest and a phial of Dreamless Draught. That, in turn, developed into an addiction that was only broken when Harry, Minerva, and the entire Weasley clan took it upon themselves to stage an intervention for Gryffindor’s Golden Girl. She and Harry attended several therapy sessions together, and that put her in the right track again. The saving grace, however, had been Minerva’s offer of employment. Leaving her stressful job at the Ministry had helped her immensely; it was hard to chase the nightmares away when her job entailed chasing them in real life. They still happened from time to time, but nowhere as frequently as they used to. Most importantly, she managed to work through them on her own.
Focusing on teaching was strangely the best therapy. The nightmares and addictions had robbed Hermione of what she loved most of all: learning. The academic environment and the bright young faces in that temple of knowledge by the name of Hogwarts were the recipe for Hermione’s almost complete recovery.
Regardless, she wasn’t sure she had accepted Narcissa Black’s apology, or forgive her for that matter. She still remembered those electrifying blue orbs watching, as cold as ever, as her deranged sister tortured an 18-year-old girl in her own house.
That being said, Hermione didn’t hate the woman either. She had her to thank for Harry defeating the Dark Lord, even if she did it out of self-preservation, for herself and her son. As cold as she was, Hermione didn’t think Narcissa was as bad as her ex-husband, or her sister. Still, she had her reservations.
“Hermione? What do you think?” Minerva asked. Her former student blinked a few times, taken from her thoughts.
“To be perfectly honest, Minerva, I don’t know. I heard she’s a very skilled witch, but does she have the proper qualifications?”
“Out of our current possibilities, she is by far the best choice. She was an exceptionally gifted student, not much unlike yourself, and had an extraordinary talent for Potions and Arithmancy. Slughorn himself recommended her. In fact, he tells me the only reason she had never gone on to achieve her Potions Mastery was due to her marriage to Lucius Malfoy. I’m sure you know, in traditional pureblood families such as the Malfoys, it is frowned upon for the Lady of the House to work.”
Hermione frowned. She was aware of the practice; luckily it was quickly falling out of fashion. Draco Malfoy himself had encouraged his wife, Astoria Greengrass, to pursue a career of her own when she expressed her wish. She was now an accomplished journalist for The Phoenix Gazette, a publication that arose after the fall of The Daily Prophet.
“Horace also tells me” Minerva continued “That Narcissa has returned to her Mastery studies. She plans to achieve it by the end of the coming year.”
The younger witch could not hide her surprise. Narcissa Black had clearly been working on her Potions Mastery for a while; it was a laborious, academically intensive process.”
“Really? I had no idea. Was she thinking of teaching Potions?” she asked.
Minerva shook her head in the negative.
“She has been working on Potions Research for St. Mungo’s for the past few years. I seem to remember she wanted to be a Healer, back when she was a student, and it seems she has pursued that path after the war.”
Hermione laced her fingers together, contemplating.
“You can look at some of her research on The Practical Potioneer. She has made quite a few advancements in the Polyjuice Potion, I’m sure you’d be interest in that.” Minerva tried.
Hermione pondered for a moment. She wasn’t stupid, she knew precisely why Minerva was asking about her thoughts on the matter. She could just say the word and Minerva would look elsewhere; Narcissa Black would never step foot onto Hogwarts if she so wished. Anything to avoid revisiting the trauma.
On the other hand, Hermione knew Potions Masters were hard to find, especially ones that were willing to take on the teaching profession. If Slughorn had recommended the woman, she must be good enough for the position. So be it.
“Has she accepted the position?”
Minerva looked sheepish for a second.
“I have yet to send her the owl. I wanted to hear your opinion first” the older witch remarked carefully.
Hermione shot her former Head of House a reassuring smile.
“You’re the Headmistress, Minerva. If you think Narcissa Black would be a good addition to the teaching staff, then by all means, hire her.”