Hermione Granger walked through the grey, institutional corridors of the Ministry of Magic for the last time, accompanied by a grim-faced Minerva McGonagall. It was only fitting that the witch who had welcomed her to the wizarding world as a wide-eyed child would witness her exit as a young woman.
A sidelong glance showed that her former teacher's stride was typically brisk and her posture unrelentingly straight, but the lines of worry and grief carved into Professor McGonagall's face had only grown deeper in the thirteen months since the supposedly Last Battle. They had all been so naive, trusting that Harry's defeat of Voldemort would inevitably result in a storybook ending, with the defeated Death Eaters incarcerated in Azkaban and Kingsley Shacklebolt leading the Ministry into an enlightened era of tolerance.
Instead, the Death Eaters had quickly regrouped. Unlike the Order, which had been devastated at the Battle of Hogwarts and before by the deaths of senior leaders and strategists like Remus Lupin, Alastor Moody, and Dumbledore himself, the Death Eaters were objectively better off without a megalomaniac like Voldemort and his partner in insanity, Bellatrix.
Under the leadership of Lucius Malfoy, those bearing the Dark Mark not only managed to avoid Azkaban but also solidified the political power of the old pureblood families. The Death Eaters had begun mere weeks after the final battle with a seemingly innocuous public relations campaign to convince the wizarding world that they should not be held liable for crimes committed under duress or while under the Imperius curse.
Hermione had nearly gagged on her morning pumpkin juice when she opened the Daily Prophet on a warm summer morning to a sycophantic full-page article, written by Rita Skeeter, detailing the pressures imposed on Draco Malfoy by the Dark Lord. The smirking photo above the fold completed the process of putting Hermione off her breakfast, even though Harry confirmed the Prophet had - for once - accurately recounted the facts. The next month, Witch Weekly, in addition to a rumor that the newlywed Ginny Potter was pregnant with the Chosen One's child, featured a sympathetic interview with Narcissa Malfoy. Hermione could not help but notice how both articles highlighted Voldemort's Muggle father, while ironically describing Harry, the son of a wizard and a witch, as the pureblood savior of the wizarding world.
As she and Minerva made their way to a conference room tucked between Muggle Affairs and the Obliviation department, Hermione reflected, with a deep and bitter sadness, that Harry would have made a difference, standing up and fighting against darkness and prejudice as he had done for his entire short life. Harry, however, collapsed just after his eighteenth birthday, and it soon became evident that the two killing curses he sustained had a belated effect equivalent to widespread, incurable cancer throughout his body.
Harry lingered through Hermione's nineteenth birthday, celebrated in a muted fashion at his room in Saint Mungo's. It was there, with his emerald eyes dulled to jade by pain and potions, that her best friend asked her to be the godmother to the son he would never meet and extracted a promise. "I don't like what's going on at the Ministry, with that hag Umbridge reinstated and the Wizengamot handing out pardons to Death Eaters like candy. If they start going after Muggleborns again, don't stick around. Maybe go and join your parents in Australia, but I need to know you'll keep yourself safe." Hermione had promised, soothingly, and Harry drifted off to sleep on that reassurance.
Harry was right to be worried. Thuggish Death Eaters like MacNair and Rowle remained at large and had stepped up their attacks on Muggleborns and members of the Order of the Phoenix. Just the week before, Cho Chang had been snatched leaving her shift at St. Mungo's and dumped three days later - naked, battered, and Obliviated - at the base of Knockturn Alley.
On the political front, well-connected Death Eaters pushed their lobbying efforts within the Ministry of Magic. A new law codified the pureblood status of the offspring of a wizard and witch, a measure that was tremendously popular with the half-blooded majority and made this critical swing group increasingly indifferent to discrimination against those who were Muggleborn.
Within days of Harry's magnificent funeral, the elder Theodore Nott, a prominent solicitor, brought a formal petition seeking the "repatriation" of Muggleborns before the Wizengamot. The Nott petition contended that the removal of the group that had twice been the catalyst for Voldemort's violence would safeguard wizarding Britain and prevent the rise of another Dark Lord.
Progressive members of the Wizengamot and sympathetic Ministry officials like Arthur Weasley fiercely opposed this last measure. For months, there was a stalemate at the Ministry, even as Kingsley Shacklebolt came under increasing pressure due to terrorist attacks carried out by Death Eaters who remained at large. As the attacks became more frequent and deadly, public opinion increasingly favored Lucius Malfoy's offer to broker a treaty whereby all former Death Eaters would take a wizarding oath to keep the peace in exchange for full pardons and the Obliviation and exile of all Muggleborn witches and wizards.
At Yuletide, on the heels of a magical bombing in Diagon Alley that left eleven dead, Kingsley agreed to come to the bargaining table with the Death Eaters. Hermione, furious at the Minister's capitulation, had fumed to her former head of house that Kingsley was not exhibiting the courage one would expect of a Gryffindor. Minerva's tart response shocked her at the time. "He was in Slytherin, Miss Granger, and you should be glad of it. He'll negotiate better terms than you or I could." Now, six months after that heated conversation, Hermione could grudgingly admit her professor had been correct.
Instead of a wizarding oath, which could be easily circumvented and might not apply in the Muggle world, Shacklebolt had insisted on an Unbreakable Vow from every person branded with the Dark Mark, making each a guarantor for the safety of an exiled witch or wizard. It was a clever move, giving each of the Death Eaters, all of whom had a demonstrable talent for self-preservation, a vested interest in the well-being of at least one Muggleborn. And while Voldemort's followers would have preferred to dump the Obliviated exiles into Muggle society, homeless, wandless, and with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, the Minister extracted reparations of 1000 galleons per year lived in the magical world, payable by the Death Eaters. Lucius had readily consented to the Ministry's offer, stipulating only that the Death Eaters select the one or two Mudbloods each would be responsible for.
Hermione, who was being kept apprised of the negotiations by Kingsley, thought it was a sad commentary on wizarding Britain that the number of Muggleborns was only slightly greater than the number of Death Eaters, but was not especially surprised. Muggleborn witches and wizards were rare (she, Dean Thomas and Justin Finch-Fletchley had been the only three in their year at Hogwarts) and had been targeted for extermination in two wars, after all.
What did surprise her was eagerness of most Muggleborns to give up their magic for safety and a few thousand Galleons. When Hermione researched further, she was shocked to realize why. Only a few of the adults were employed by the Ministry of Magic, generally considered the most prestigious employer, and all of those were working in a clerical or menial capacity. Most Muggleborns eked out a living working for more liberal half-bloods - as a seamstress for Madame Malkin, a shop assistant at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, a cook at the Three Broomsticks, and the like. Many had been captured by Snatchers and subjected to a stint in Azkaban for "stealing" a wand. Any prominent, successful Muggleborns from the older generations - Dirk Cresswell, Lily Evans, Ted Tonks - were dead. As much as Hermione hated to admit it, the survivors' willingness to take a Death Eater-sponsored buyout made a horrible sort of sense.
The Wizengamot ratified the treaty as its first order of business in 1999. Two days later, Lucius presented Shacklebolt with a list of forty-two Muggleborns matched with three dozen Death Eaters. Predictably, Hermione's name headed the list, paired with Draco Malfoy. Everyone knew that Malfoys demanded nothing but the best, and there was no better Mudblood than the Gryffindor princess.
Kingsley braced himself for Hermione's Howler, an official protest lodged with the Wizengamot, or even for an angry young witch storming his office and refusing to entrust her life to any member of a family whose very name was a byword for bad faith. However, he received nothing other than the Ministry's form, executed by Hermione, and a brief note requesting that her Obliviation be scheduled for early summer to allow her to attend the christening of the Potter baby.
Hermione's uncharacteristic acquiescence had everything to do with a letter delivered to her by a self-important eagle owl the same day that Shacklebolt received the list. The letter itself was a short but polite note from Narcissa Malfoy stating that her son, unlike any other Death Eater, would be willing to extend the Ministry-approved protective Unbreakable Vow (one that Hermione, Professor McGonagall and ghostly Professor Binns had painstakingly crafted to eliminate any loopholes) to Hermione's blood relations. Narcissa concluded her letter with a graceful sentence expressing her belief in the importance of family, one that she had every expectation Hermione shared. The clincher was the enclosed clipping from a weekly paper serving the northern suburbs of Brisbane, advertising Wilkins Dentistry LLC.
Having made the necessary arrangements with Narcissa, Hermione put her remaining months in the wizarding world to good use. She studied and sat for her NEWTs, despite Ron's certainty that she was mental. She liked to think that her exam results would serve as a two-fingered salute to those who preached pureblood supremacy.
Hermione also meticulously planned for life as a Muggle. Kingsley had pledged the Ministry's resources to create Muggle identities and histories for exiled witches and wizards, so Hermione found her OWLs magically transformed into A levels and admission to the university of her choice assured. With her own arrangements finalized, Hermione found herself acting as an informal consultant to Kingsley, helping to create cover stories for other Muggleborns. The middle-aged and older witches and wizards would be enjoying an early retirement in pleasant locations scattered throughout the United Kingdom, with the Death Eaters' payments explained away as lottery winnings, employer buyouts, or an inheritance from a long-lost relative. Hermione's Muggleborn classmates would be attending university or enrolled in vocational training, with the youngest of the exiles returning to secondary school. She had done her best to give everyone the credentials they would had if their Hogwarts owls had never arrived. Despite her disapproval of the repatriation policy, Hermione knew she had done a much better job easing the transition than any Ministry employee.
Still, she was taken aback in February when Katie Bell asked Hermione to Obliviate her. The Muggleborns had the right to select their Bonder and who would Obliviate them, but the Ministry's professionals were the obvious choice. Obliviation was tricky, dangerous magic, but Katie was insistent. "I trust you much more than anyone who works for the Ministry. Besides, you're brilliant at it. You Know Who himself couldn't break your memory charms." Hermione couldn't imagine how Katie had come by that classified information, but she reluctantly agreed. Katie had been anxious to the point of nausea and Marcus Flint had glowered at Hermione the entire time (presumably the side effect of a Vow that would kill him if he allowed any harm to come to Katie), but the Obliviation had gone smoothly.
After that, Hermione agreed to Obliviate Dennis Creevey, a little brunette Gryffindor third-year she knew only by sight, a Muggleborn couple in their fifties, and Dean Thomas. Dean, however, had been able to stay in the wizarding world after her research proved he was a half-blood whose wizard father had been killed during the First Wizarding War. As for the rest, she hoped they were all doing well in the Muggle world, but had no way of knowing other than that their Death Eaters hadn't yet dropped dead.
Between February and May, forty witches and wizards had been "repatriated" into the Muggle world, stripped of all memories of their magic. Hermione was now the last Muggleborn witch in Britain.
As they reached the conference room, Hermione hesitated. If all went according to plan, in a few short hours she would be found on the verge of a country lane in Wiltshire with a mangled bicycle a few feet away, the apparent victim of a hit-and-run driver. Hermione wasn't afraid of what came after that - she had spent the majority of her life as a Muggle, after all. What frightened her was the prospect of being Apparated away from the Ministry, unconscious and completely helpless, to Malfoy Manor, in order for someone (probably a house elf) to arrange the accident scene just beyond the Manor's boundary wards. She didn't trust any of the Malfoys and could only hope they hadn't found a way to slither around the Vow.
Hermione took deep breath to compose herself, but let it out softly when she caught Professor McGonagall's sympathetic eyes. Her teacher placed a detaining hand on her arm as Hermione reached for the doorknob. Professor McGonagall's brogue was thick in an effort to choke back her emotions. "In nearly fifty years of teaching, I have never been more proud of a student. I planned to offer you an apprenticeship at Hogwarts, but the Ministry's current policy . . . . " She stopped and shook her head. "I will miss you, my dear, and our world's loss is the Muggle world's gain."
Hermione smiled at her favorite professor as they both blinked back tears. "I'm ready," she told her, and was proud that her voice did not waver. She opened the door and began to walk through, but stopped abruptly at the threshold at the unexpected and unwelcome face inside.