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In the Unlikely Event

Chapter Text

June 1999

Linda Corbin watched from her window seat at 34 Grimmauld Place as a rather severe looking woman dressed all in black strode briskly down the street. The woman outside paused for a moment before turning and looking directly at her window. Though Linda had as much right as anyone to look out onto the street on which she lived, she had to suppress the urge to duck away from the intense look. The woman’s sharp eyes met hers briefly before she turned back around.

Without warning, Linda’s teacup fell off the table. She picked it up, surprised. When she looked back out the window, the only creature outside was a tabby cat pacing in front of number 13 Grimmauld Place. One moment it was there, in the next it was gone.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Headmistress McGonagall was met by a most disagreeable house elf who introduced himself grudgingly as Kreacher. He shuffled her into a sitting room that was clearly in the middle of renovations. Dust floated through the air as though it had recently been disturbed. Half of the furniture was dark and heavy, whereas the other half the other half was more modern and less . . . evil looking.

Without saying anything besides "Master will be down shortly," Kreacher was gone with a pop.

She sat down gingerly, avoiding a particularly dusty spot of the couch. This was not how she had intended to start her summer holiday, but it could not be helped, and as Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger were all currently residing here, it would give her an opportunity to see how three of her favorite, if not more troublesome, former students were getting along.

Kreacher reappeared with tea and biscuits. This was almost immediately followed by a pounding on the front staircase as at least two people, or perhaps a herd of centaurs, came down the stairs. She clucked softly to herself. Somethings never changed.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"At Hogwarts?!" They cried in unison.

"As a professor? You want Hermione to teach?" Harry asked, seemingly slightly baffled.

Minerva McGonagall glared over her spectacles. “Mr. Weasley, Mr. Potter, I have allowed your presence for this conversation for one reason and one reason alone. If you were not included, I would have to deal with your comments and loud breathing from right outside the door. I am doing this as a courtesy, and I would appreciate if you would give me the courtesy of holding your tongues.”

“Out of school for two years, and we’re still getting reprimanded,” Ron muttered to Harry. Harry tried to turn his laugh into a cough with little success.

“Both of you, stop it!” Hermione Granger scolded. She turned back to McGonagall, “I’m sorry, Professor. You were saying?”

McGonagall sighed. “We are facing a serious staffing shortage at Hogwarts. The school has been rebuilt, students have returned, but professors are leaving faster than they can be replaced. Slughorn has been a thorn in my side this entire year, wanting to know who will be replacing him and going on and on about hiring someone who will take up the head of Slytherin mantle. The Transfiguration professor that I hired when I agreed the role of headmistress had an unfortunate accident last year-”

“What kind of accident?” Ron interrupted.

McGonagall paused, seemingly searching for the right words. “He, well, remember the unfortunate rat/cup hybrid from your early years, Mr. Weasley? Imagine a mistake of that sort with much higher stakes.”

Ron looked queasy. “He’s part rat?”

“Part hairbrush, I’m afraid,” McGonagall said dryly.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione collectively winced.

“Oh,” Ron gulped. “Well that must have been a nasty shock.”

“Quite. As I was saying,” McGonagall continued, “The role of Transfiguration professor is currently available. So to restate my offer, Hermione would you be interested in the position?”

Hermione sat up straighter, face flushed with pride from simply being asked. “This is such an honor, Professor, honestly I don’t even know what to say.”

“Preferably ‘yes’,” McGonagall said. “I need someone I that I know will do an excellent job, and that is you.”

Hermione hesitated, and looked pleadingly at Harry. “W- well, see th- the thing is,” she stuttered, clearly conflicted over turning down the opportunity.

“We were all planning on starting Auror training together this year, Professor,” Harry cut in. “Ron and I took this past year off so that Hermione could go back to Hogwarts and take her NEWTs, and we could start training at the same time.”

McGonagall raised an eyebrow. “I see. Well, Hermione it is ultimately up to you. You know, nine years ago I came to your home to talk to you and your parents about your education. Now I am here to talk about your future. You are a very talented witch, and certainly on of the smartest I ever had the pleasure of teaching. Not to mention that you have always had many areas of interest. Can you honestly say that becoming an Auror is your greatest ambition?”

Hermione flushed red again, although this time it seemed to be out of embarrassment. “I don’t know what I want to do.”

“I’m not asking you to devote a lifetime to teaching. I am simply asking for you to come and teach for a year or two. If you find that it is your passion, then I would be very satisfied to leave the position with you as long as you wanted it. If you choose to move on to something else, then of course that is fine too. Right now, I have over half a dozen positions to fill in the next three months, and I just need someone that can do the job.”

“I am afraid of wasting my time,” Hermione said. “Not that teaching is a waste of time,” she added hurriedly, “but if I don’t go searching for purpose, then how will I find it? You’re right- there’s so much I want to discover and explore, I’m afraid of making the wrong move.”

McGonagall sighed. “I am going to share a truth with you- with all three of you. If you spend your time afraid to make the wrong move, then you will not make any move at all. The three of you have gone through hell and back together. I have seen you all fight with passion and heart. Fear is not what Gryffindors base their decisions on, and it is certainly not what you base your decisions on.”

They all sat quietly for a moment, before Hermione sat up straight again and said, “You’re right, Professor. I would be delighted to accept your offer.”

McGonagall gave her a rare smile. “I find myself equally delighted then. I will owl you with necessary details by midsummer.” She sighed. “This has been a highly successful day. Earlier I spoke with Lavender Brown, who agreed to teach Divination.”

“Of course,” Hermione said. “I heard about Trelawney’s book deal.”

“Raging success,” Ron confirmed, nodding. “Mum says her book club won’t shut up about it.”

“Yes, well, Lavender Brown seemed like the obvious choice. She was always a favorite of Sybill’s.”

Hermione scowled but said nothing. Well aware of his friend’s dislike of both former professor, future colleague, and subject matter, Harry quickly tried to think of something to say.

“That’s good to hear,” Harry said. “I heard she was having trouble finding a position. Hogwarts has always been a home for people who didn't have another, both professors and students. I'm glad she found something where she can be accepted."

McGonagall nodded and glanced at dull faced grandfather clock. “I must be off soon. I have one more meeting this afternoon, and I have a feeling that it will take some time.”

As they all said their farewells, McGonagall grabbed both Harry and Ron by the arms. “I know the two of you are bound to get into mischief of the worst sort, but I wish you luck on your Auror training. Although I should probably save my wishes for you instructors.”

Harry laughed as he opened the heavy front door. “I’m almost nineteen, Professor. There’s no need to worry.”

"Harry Potter, if you think that I can turn off the worry I have carried around since before you were born, you were sorely mistaken!” McGonagall cried. “Grown or not, I will keep an eye on you. I do know where you live after all.”

So saying, she slid gracefully into her Animagus form, and slipped out the open front door.

"I still can't believe it," Ron said, clapping Hermione on the back like she was one of his brothers. "Our Hermione, a Hogwarts professor."
His smile dropped suddenly. "Professor Granger," he said faintly.

He and Harry both shuddered.

Hermione sighed. "I won't be that bad. If anything, all of the trouble to two of you got me into while we were at Hogwarts will come back to bite me."

Ron snorted. “The trouble we got you in?”

They all laughed, but for the rest of the day Hermione heard the words “Professor Granger” over and over in her head. What had she gotten herself into?

Chapter Text

June, 1999

Severus Snape was not overly fond of visitors in any capacity, and Minerva was certain this included a former colleague showing up on his doorstep unannounced. However, within seconds of her brisk knock, the door swung open and there stood Snape looking at terse and unpleasant as ever. His pale skin appeared almost sickly in contrast to the severe black he wore. His hair was limp and in dire need of a cut, and from the scowl on his face, it appeared that even his mood had been unchanged since they had seen each other last.

“Minerva,” he greeted her, looming in the doorway. He wasn’t a particularly tall man, but he filled the frame of the small entryway. Minerva suspected that it was out sheer devotion to appearing as unwelcoming as possible at all times.

“Severus,” she returned, taking a step forward. “May I have a few moments of your time?”

Without a word, he stiffly stood to the side to allow her access inside. Minerva glanced around as she entered. The house appeared largely unchanged since the last time she had been here years ago during Severus’ own years as a student, although it was slightly less unkempt now. The furniture was shabby, the lighting dim, but all in all it was a neat, orderly room.

“To what do I owe this pleasure?” He said, gesturing for her to take a seat, which she did. While the sofa was worn and stained, it at least appeared to be clean, which was more than she could say for the sofa at Grimmauld Place. Harry Potter had many talents, but housekeeping was not one of them, and by the look of his house elf it might be a while before anything was done about it.

Clearing her thoughts of sofas and basic housekeeping, she made an effort to focus on the task at hand. “I would be surprised if you didn’t know why I was here, Severus.”

Snape sat down opposite her. “Skipping the pleasantries,” he said, eyebrow raised. “How- unusual for you.”

Minerva gave him a look. “Now, Severus. I have always known you to appreciate the more straightforward approach.”

“Indeed,” he said, barely moving. For a moment neither said anything. Several times, Minerva thought he would speak. Instead he merely observed her a moment before stating, “You want me to return to Hogwarts.”

She nodded in affirmation, “That is the general point of discussion, yes.”

“Why?” His voice was lazy, almost uninterested, but she knew better. And it hadn’t escaped her notice that he had not immediately said no. His eyes continued to track her gaze, the small movements she made. He was trying to unsettle her. Unfortunately for him, it would not be that easy.

“Frankly, Hogwarts is in trouble. Instructors are leaving left and right, and if I can’t get these positions filled, then students will follow suit. I need people with experience, people I can trust to their jobs and do them well.”

Snape snorted. “I wouldn’t worry about students leaving. Hogwarts is the closest school by far. Where will parents send their children? Beauxbatons?”

“It is not as ridiculous as you make it sound. People are still terribly shaken up over V-Voldemort,” Snape scowled at her but she continued, “And they want their children where they know that they will be safe. After all that has happened in the last few years, people’s belief in the safety Hogwarts offers was shattered. The end of last year was hell on earth, and I don’t expect many students have forgotten it over night.”

Severus blinked once, twice. “I can only imagine,” he said flatly.

They stared at each other for a few silent moments. “I will not apologize for my actions last time we spoke,” she said finally.

“Good. Neither will I,” he replied.

Despite the year that had passed since the Battle of Hogwarts, they had not exchanged words since their duel. Snape had been severely injured and had been kept under magical arrest at St. Mungo’s while his injuries were treated. As soon as he was well enough, he had stood trial. While she had attended, she had been only one of hundreds that came to see the former Death Eater/Headmaster’s defense. His own statement had been greatly overshadowed by the defense’s lead witness: Harry Potter, who had been very forthcoming about Snape’s bravery and inner struggle. While it seemed that Snape would have rather kissed a Dementor than to hear Harry Potter talk about his bravery and love of a long dead married woman to a room full of people, Harry’s testimony had ultimately been his saving grace. Minerva had not seen him since the trial.

“I was simply doing what I could to protect the students and to stand up for what is right” she said, much more calmly than she felt.

“As was I,” came the retort. Snape looked sullen, but no more so than usual, and Minerva felt a warm fondness well up in her. If nothing else, she felt glad to have talked with him again, however brief their conversation might be. Having acknowledged their previous encounter, Minerva was ready to bring to conversation back to the point.

“Oh, Severus. We have passed the point of explanations and excuses. Let’s focus on the present instead of past.”

There was a smile, so small and so brief that she almost missed it, but it was a smile nonetheless. “So, tell me. What sort of desperation has led you to my doorstep? Surely there are candidates with less questionable backgrounds than my own? I can’t imagine that I would be an easy sell to the Ministry.”

She waved off the objection. “I have already spoken to Kingsley. If you want the position, the Ministry is fully prepared to publicly back you and support you through the transition in whatever way possible.”

While some things had returned to the way that they had previously been, the Ministry was still much more involved at Hogwarts than it had been prior to Umbridge’s influence.

“Would it not be in poor taste to bring a professor so many students remember as being complicit in torture, bigotry, and genocide.”

Well, when he puts it like that, she thought.

“Your name was cleared at trial,” she said.

“That doesn’t mean people believe that,” he said sharply. “And it does not answer my question: Why me?”

“You know the answer to that,” Minerva. “But if it’s an inflated ego that you are attempting to achieve then fine. You are the best candidate that I’ve got right now. You have experience in the position, and you are one of the few remaining Potions Masters in the country. I need someone I can trust to do the job; The students scores have plummeted since Horace has resumed teaching.”

Snape did not seem surprised, particularly by the last statement. “Could not the events of the last few years contributed to that? After all, a war is not a conducive learning environment for young minds.”

“Your sarcasm is neither needed nor appreciated, Severus. I will not spend all evening trying to convince you. Will you return or not?”

Instead of answering directly, he said, “You mentioned that there are other positions you must fill.”

Insufferable man. She should have known that that would not have escaped his notice. Just as his evasive tactics had not escaped hers. Really, he wasn’t even being subtle about it.

They spent the next thirty minutes waffling back and forth, neither willing to show their hand. Finally, Minerva took her leave, after stating that she expected to receive his response by owl tomorrow. Upon leaving his house, she continued down Spinner’s End. She felt tired and agitated, emotions not conducive to successfully Apparating. Finally she calmed down enough to return to Hogwarts.

Alone in her office at last, she sighed and sat down at her desk. It was early evening, but a steady stream of snores filled the room. During the summer, the portraits tended to keep strange hours, napping at odd intervals. Right then most of the portraits were fast asleep, but she knew that a certain white bearded former headmaster would make an appearance shortly. Sure enough:

“Minerva,” he greeted her.

“Albus,” she said, not bothering to look up from the papers in front of her.

“I trust the day’s events were successful?” He walked fully into his frame, and took a seat.

“I believe so.”

“How is he?”

“The same as ever,” Minerva said wryly.

Dumbledore chuckled. “I would expect nothing less.”

“You were right. Although he did not say yes outright, he was not subtle in his desire to return.”

“Hogwarts has long been home to those who have needed it,” he said.

“I heard something quite similar earlier today,” she commented.

“Ah, yes. Harry is another person who always found comfort here,” Dumbledore gestured around him to indicate the greater castle. “What were your impressions from the day?”

“I worry that Severus agreed too readily,” Minerva said. “It seems unlike him.”

While he had not technically agreed just yet, she would be surprised if she did not have a letter waiting for her by midmorning.

“You have grown to accustomed to bickering with the boy, Minerva.”

“He’s hardly a boy, Albus.”

“He is when compared to either of us,” Dumbledore said mildly. Before Minerva could say anything in response, he continued. “I am afraid that Severus has spent too long bending to the will of others,” Dumbledore said. “I am not sure he would be able to find fulfillment of any sort without direction. You will have to keep an eye on him.”

“Are you sure that this is right decision? To bring him back so soon? The students might react badly to their former headmaster returning.”

“I am not sure of anything, Minerva. After all, I am only a painting.”

“You might have told me that before I consulted you for advice. I didn’t even apologize to him, you know, on your instruction.”

“Ah. Yes, that was wise. He is not a man that appreciates sympathy in any form. I assume he took it well?”

Minerva was forced to concede that he had. “I avoided telling him about the other new instructors, another decision that I am not sure was wise. After all, he will find out at some point, and for everyone else’s sake I probably should have told him in advance. I dislike being involved in dishonesty.”

“I am unsure of what the correct course of action would have been,” Dumbledore said lightly. “As I said, I am only a painting.”

The subsequent swears in thick Scottish brogue was enough to wake up sleeping portraits from her office to the other side of the castle.

__________

Severus surveyed his trunk, currently half full. After McGonagall’s visit he had methodically began collecting books, papers, and equipment almost without thought. It was only now, as he held his robes in hands that he realized what he was doing. He hadn’t even agreed to take the position yet. Not to mention that it would be well over a month before his return in any case; there was no reason to pack for the fall when students were just unpacking for summer holiday.

He gritted his teeth as he set the robes aside. Is this truly who he was? Agreeing to every request? Bending to every whim? When the Dark Lord returned, there was a singular purpose for obeying. Dumbledore had wielded a similar power over him. And now, truly free of a master for the first time in over twenty years, he had floundered around until someone else had come along to tell him what to do next.

Even worse was the pity Severus had seen in McGonagall’s eyes as they spoke. Despite what she said, he had a strong suspicion that her offer had come not from desperation but from the persuasive suggestion of a certain meddling portrait. Perhaps that is too much power to attribute a painting, but Severus knew that if there was anyone who would have found a way to manipulate things beyond the grave, it was Albus Dumbledore.

He was equally suspicious of McGonagall’s avoidance from disclosing the professors who would not be returning for the next year. If he snooped around, it would not be difficult to uncover who was leaving, and thus who would be replacements. Professors often vouched for favorite former students upon their retirement, although Slughorn -the imbecile- had certainly not played a role in Severus securing the Potions position.

He snorted to himself. Horace Slughorn had been useless since Severus’ own years as a student. Of course students’ Potions marks were abysmal! The man had no interest in anything except cultivating unsettling relationships with students, usually the richer the better. Severus had no delusions of being a favorite among students, but at least he did his job. Or at least he had done his job.

This was pointless. Mulling over Slughorn and old grudges was a waste of time, and really only a testament to how badly Severus needed a change. Give him another year to deteriorate alone at Spinner’s End, and he would be completely unrecognizable to even himself. No, he needed a mental challenge. Probably far more than even Hogwarts could provide.

He promised himself in that moment that by this time next year, he would be doing his old school house justice. Ambition was the trademark quality of all Slytherins, and it was about time he rekindled his. If he had it his way, his contributions to the last two wizarding wars would be the least of his accomplishments. He was done being a heartless traitor, done being a love begotten hero. It was time he found a new purpose.

Chapter Text

August 1999

This was an odd direction for her life to take, although perhaps not completely unexpected, Hermione mused as she packed. Surely most people who knew her would not be completely surprised to learn that she would be returning to Hogwarts as a professor. After all, she had always been an excellent student, and her NEWT marks were record breaking.

She had returned to Hogwarts the previous year before classes to take her NEWTS along with Ginny. Professor McGonagall had decided to hold OWLS and NEWTS before school started so that students could be properly placed after a year of horrendous classes. Hermione had urged for Harry and Ron to go as well, but they had refused. Ron wasn’t much of a surprise. He was a nervous test taker, and as a result never really did very well anyways. She was disappointed all the same. He really was quite bright, and she had hope that he had gained more confidence in himself. It appeared that he had, even if it was not strictly in academics. In addition to beginning Auror training soon, he had been helping George out at the shop.

Harry had been more of a surprise, if only because she did not expect him to pass up an opportunity to visit the school again. So it had just been her and Ginny and a handful of their other classmates. Hermione had been studying for weeks and still was reading three textbooks at once when they were on the Hogwarts Express, much to the amusement of the other students. They could laugh all they want. Her studying paid off.

While she did not spend quite as much time revising, Ginny also did very well. Shortly after receiving the results of her NEWTs in the post, she was recruited for the Hollyhead Harpies and became the team’s newest Chaser.

Reminded of this, Hermione took down her poster of Ginny flying through the air in her uniform. Her signature was scrawled in the bottom corner with a heart. Hermione placed a charm on the poster to prevent it from permanently creasing before carefully folding it and putting in one of the books stacked on her bed.

Most of her packing was done at this point. Her truck was neatly organized, and her clothes neatly folded inside, including the new teaching robes Harry had bought her. Her next project would be to repack her beaded bag that she had taken with her when they had gone searching for Horcruxes two years ago. It seemed a shame not to use it. It was a nifty bit of magic, after all.

She was half way through stacking her books into the purple bag when there was a knock on her door.

“Come in,” she called, sticking one arm down the bag to prevent a teetering stack of books from falling over while she balanced another stack in her hand. Harry entered the room.

"Getting some packing done I see," Harry said, grabbing the tomes out of her hand and balancing her so that she could dig deeper into the bag. He peered over her shoulder into the bag. “How far does it go down again?”

“Farther than you would want to know,” Hermione said, grabbing the stack of books from Harry again and dropping them into the bag with a dull thump.

"I would have thought you would have been asleep already, Harry. You were up first thing this morning." She turned around to reach for the next stack of books, only to see that Harry was holding something out to her.

"I forgot to include this earlier," he said, rubbing his neck.

Hermione eyed the cloak. "I can't take that, Harry, you're going to need it."

"Take it. I'm sure you'll get plenty of use out of it. Sneaking up on students, sneaking out of school. . ." He said, shaking it at her.

She laughed. "I'm going to be a professor. I don't need to sneak anywhere."

He grinned sheepishly. "Old habits die hard I suppose. Seriously, Hermione, I have a feeling that you will find a use for it."

"What about you? Surely this would be useful to have as an Auror."

Harry shrugged, "No one else has an Invisibility Cloak to keep them safe. They rely on their own skills. It's about time that I do the same."

He held up his hand in a wait a second gesture. "And that's not all." He pulled the Map out of his back pocket.

"Harry!"

"Now this is something that I know you would find useful."

"Especially with Weasley products selling the way that they are," Hermione agreed, examining it.

Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes had a record sale after its reopening. Ron had already warned Hermione about some of the products to look out for, most of which included explosions and projectile vomiting to various degrees. In fact, his own gifts was meant to circumvent the effects of the very products he helped his brother sell. He gave them to her when she visited the shop earlier that day.

"Now don't tell George I gave these to you," Ron whispered. "I think these would drive business through the roof, you know, playing both sides of the market, but George says it’s not in the spirit of WWW. It's not what he and Fred believed in when they started the company. Anyways, these are potions that counteract the effects of the line we just started. And this," he heaved a giant box up from the table and handed it to her, "will trap any other trinkets or whatnot. Fireworks? Put 'em in here. Porcupine pills? Toss 'em in, they won't go anywhere."

She gave Harry a hug. "Thank you."

He looked down at the map fondly. "I can't believe that all of our adventures are over," he said.

"Harry, as long as you and Ron are close by, I don't think our adventures will be over anytime soon."

They stood there for a moment longer, leaning against each other. Hermione felt her eyes pricking with tears. She had barely gone a day without Harry or Ron in years, and she didn’t want to think of what it was going to be like not seeing them everyday. She blinked a few times, and when she could trust her voice she said, "Now go and get some sleep. I've got to finish packing."

She gentle pushed him out of her room. Now that the door was open, she could hear Ron snoring down the hall, and as Harry walked down the hall, she could hear the familiar sound of his steps as he headed towards his room. His yawn was muffled half way through as he shut his door. Hermione glanced to towards the seat in the corner of her room where Crookshanks was curled up contentedly. Suddenly her own sleepiness caught up with her, and she quickly finished packing before crawling into bed.

Tomorrow she would be back at Hogwarts.

~*~*~*~*~*~


She would have been lying if she said that she was not nervous as she passed through the gates past the Hogwarts Apparition point. It was already starting feel slightly cooler, but she felt flushed by the time she walked up to the school.

McGonagall had requested that professors return to the school early this year, which apparently she had thought prudent due to the influx of new instructors. Hermione was unaware of who the new professors would be, with the obvious exceptions of herself and Lavender Brown. McGonagall had not mentioned it, and Hermione had been too preoccupied with other aspects of the job to ask. Now though, she wished that she had had the foresight to ask. It would have been nice to know who all of her colleagues would be.

Hermione hoped she was well prepared. She had read several books on the subject, including “Lose a Toe? Try a Tomato: Advanced Transfiguration in the Medical Field”. She personally thought that “Teaching From Tomes, Teaching from Rome” was a little antiquated, but supposed that the book would have done in a pinch. “From Pillar to Pyre: Magikal Teachings Across the Ages”and its sequel “From Broom to Tomb: How Wizarding Education Has Changed in Britain had certainly been interesting reads, although perhaps more historical than strictly practical. Grimmauld Place had a library, but as she had learned on a previous occasion, the books had been jinxed to shoot out pages-turned-spitballs at anyone outside of the Black family, so she just worked with the books that she already had in her possession.

Reaching the entrance of Hogwarts felt oddly anticlimactic. It was so massive, the ceilings as large and sweeping as ever. The stones still dwarfed her in comparison. But as the doors swung open, the majestic feeling that had been present the first time she had ever stepped inside the castle was gone.

As she stepped further into the entryway, she realized that she was not the first one there. Lavender Brown was standing under a flood of light in the entryway. The windows were new, Hermione noted.

Just then Lavender must have heard Hermione’s footsteps, and she turned around.

Hermione tried to school her reaction. She had heard of the attack, of course. Everyone had. But this was the first time she had seen her since the Battle of Hogwarts.

One side of Lavender's face was scarred, claw marks dragging from just beside her eye all the way down her cheek and neck, dipping below her conservative robes. She must have gone to some of the best healers around because the scars looked several years old with only the slightest bit of redness remaining.

More jarring than this was Lavender herself. She seemed hardened, her mouth firm and unsmiling, a far cry from the giggling teenager whose greatest concern was whether her outfit matched. She watched Hermione steadily, as if daring her to look away.

To Hermione's shame, she did.

"Hello, Hermione."

"Lavender. How have you been? I haven't seen you in quite some time."

Lavender grimaced. "How do you think, Granger?" She looked up at the ceilings again. "I told myself that I would never come back here."

"What convinced you to?" Hermione asked, trying to hide her discomfort with the situation.

"Lupin, actually. He and his wife are supposed to be coming as well."

She hadn’t known that. Harry had certainly not said anything. And she had been unaware that Lavender and Remus were acquainted outside of when he had taught during their third year. Before Hermione could reply, another person entered the room.

The newcomer walked over to them. He was a young man with a nervous disposition that was reminiscent of Quirrell, although the similarity seemed to end there as he had much darker skin and a slightly lopsided Handlebar mustache.

"H-hello," he said, sticking his hand out. "I'm Elias Biswas, the new History of Magic professor."

A new History professor? What had happened to Binns? Hermione could see Lavender roll her eyes, but she stuck her hand out. "Lavender Brown, Divination."

Hermione nodded, "And I'm Hermione Granger, Transfiguration."

The man gave a jerky nod of his head, but said nothing else, and a silence descended upon the group.

Hermione found silences to be very uncomfortable, unless, of course, they were due to reading.

Professor Biswas also seemed uncomfortable, more so because of Lavender, who he eyed warily.

Lavender seemed off in her own world, but after his gaze shifted back to her for the tenth time, she snapped, "I'm not a werewolf."

He jumped.

She gave a dry laugh.

The doors thumped open, and Remus and Tonks entered as well.

"Well, hello," Remus called. He looked happier and better rested than Hermione had seen in a long time.

"I hope that we’re are not late to the party. We had to drop Teddy off with his grandmother," Tonks added as they walked over. “Wotcher, Hermione,” she said, giving her a hug.

“I had no idea that both of you would be here!” Hermione said, giving another quick hug to Remus. “No one said anything to me.”

“Well we wanted to keep it quiet. The less people know, the better for now,” Remus said, extending his hand to Lavender who grasped it briefly.

Hermione saw that her right hand was also covered in scars, including what looked like bite marks.

“I’m sure,” she agreed quickly. “It’s wonderful you are back at Hogwarts again. I’m sure you missed it.”
“I did. Hopefully my stay this time will not be as short,” Remus said.

“It’s not fair that you had to leave in the first place,” she said.

“Times are changing I’m happy to say,” he said. “As do some people I suppose.” His comment seemed to be more of a specific reference than a general statement, but Tonks' scowl made Hermione rethink asking him what he meant. She turned to Tonks.

“I must admit that I’m a little more surprised to see you here, Tonks. After all, you always seemed to enjoy being an Auror.”

“Oh I do, but it was time that I made a change, at least while Teddy is so young. I can always go back.”

“A certain friend of yours had a very serious conversation with us about the importance of Teddy being raised by his parents. He visited us in St. Mungo’s a few days after the battle at Hogwarts, although I’m sure this part is not news to you.”

She agreed that it was not. “So what are you teaching?”

Tonks’ features became more sinister. “Defense against the dark arts,” she said in a deep voice.

“Oh, I assumed-”

“No, Hermione. Nora is a much better fit for such a position, although I greatly enjoyed teaching your class. I’ll be teaching Muggle Studies.”

Just then, Filch shuffled up to them, trailed as always by Mrs. Norris. “The headmistress,” he grumped “has asked that you meet her in the staff room.” He eyed each one of them closely, Tonks in particularly. “I’ve spent the whole summer cleaning, so don’t go tracking mud down the hallways before the students have even gotten here yet.”

“Good to see you again, Mr. Filch,” Tonk said cheerfully. He gave her a nasty look.

“Get moving,” he replied. “It’s rude to keep people waiting.”

Remus led the way out.

Chapter Text

August 1999

The headache of last year had convinced Minerva that a change was desperately needed. Several of the professors teaching last year were either completely incompetent or too passionate. While Minerva appreciated teachers passionate about teaching, there were times that a passion began to interfere more than encourage. Slughorn, for instance, had been far too passionate about how much he missed retirement. So passionate, in fact, he felt the need to talk about it at every staff meeting.

This year, she hoped that the right balance would be struck between the professors. She did have several professors who had not abandoned her in her time of need. Professors Sinestra, Flitwick, Hooch, Sprout, and Vector had all stayed on. Sprout was planning on taking her sabbatical soon, but she had assured Minerva that Neville Longbottom would be more than qualified to fill in for her that year. He was currently helping his fiancee, Hannah Abbott, rebuild the Leaky Cauldron, which had been demolished during a Death Eater attack some time back. With the money he had received from his uncle, he had bought it and they were well on their way to restoring the original business.

The first meeting was set to commence that very afternoon in the staff room. Minerva sat in her office, wondering whether it would be better to go down to it early, or she should enjoy the peace while it lasted. Deciding on the later, she pulled out the stack of scrolls she had been working through all week. Distractedly, she reached for a biscuit, cursing the house elves for keeping her goody jar well stocked.

"Breaking the diet already, Minerva?"

She looked up at Dumbledore's portrait and glowered. "It's your fault I'm in this situation, Albus. Besides," she primly touched her dark hair that was as always pulled into a bun, "At my age, better the waistline to go than the hair color."

"Ah," Dumbledore said. "You know, I believe I took the opposite approach."

Minerva took a bite out of a second biscuit and looked at him appraisingly. "I believe you did."

Dumbledore smoothed his beard, appearing unbothered. "It will most certainly be an interesting year, Minerva."

She sighed. "I wouldn't expect anything less. If the first years are as eccentric as their teachers, it certainly will be."

“True, but that was not what I was referring to."

Minerva finished off the second biscuit. "Then what were you referring to?"

Dumbledore smiled. "Sometimes the only way to see the truth is to wait for it to reveal itself."

"If you weren't a portrait, I would hex you, Albus. If there is something going on, I intend to know about it," Minerva said sharply.

"That is a noble notion, Minerva. Might I suggest seeing what our professors have gotten themselves into," he said, winking at her.

Looking at the clock, she cursed the time, Albus, and the wayward crumbs clinging to her robes as if determined to show her weakness to the world.

"I will get an answer from you, Albus. I've had enough secrets to last me a life time," she informed him on her way out the door.

By the time she had gotten there, almost everyone else had gotten there. Filius, Aurora, and Pomona were deep in conversation, as were Septima and Hermione Granger. Tonks was entertaining Hagrid and Rolanda who roared in laughter at her Celestina Warbeck impersonation. Lavender Brown sat alone in a corner. Severus had reclaimed his seat and was sitting in an opposite corner, glaring at anyone who dared to look at him. His scowl only deepened as Remus slipped into the room and sat in the last remaining seat.

McGonagall cleared her throat.

The door burst open, and Elias Biswas entered, out of breath and flustered.

Everyone else’s eyes followed him as he looked around for a place to sit before finally conjuring up a chair. “I apologize,” he said, breathing hard. “I got stuck on the staircase.”

Minerva nodded and continued on."Now that we’re all here, I would like to take a moment to welcome you all back. I trust you have had an relaxing and predictable summer and are now ready to get back to the world of chaos and unpredictability.”

The veteran professors all chuckled.

"I will try to keep this as short as possible, but there is quite a bit to go over this time."

"The first of which is to introduce our new professors. They should be familiar to you. Remus taught here several years ago, and Nymphadora,”-Tonks scowled - “Hermione, and Lavender are all fairly recent attendees. Last but certainly not least, Mr. Elias Braswas is a graduate of Beauxbatons Academy who has spent considerable time learning Muggle history and customs.

"I also want to take a moment to address appointments for the year. Professor Flitwick has agreed to continue on with his position as Deputy Headmaster. Our heads of houses are Professor Sprout for Hufflepuff and Professor Sinistra for Slytherin. Filius has been the head of Ravenclaw for many years now, but," she turned towards him, "I heard that you were ready to pass the on the role to someone else."

"I have greatly enjoyed my time as Ravenclaw's head of house," Flitwick squeaked, "But since I am no longer living in the castle, I think the role would be better suited to someone who lived here."

"I would be willing to take on the duties of Head of House for Ravenclaw," Professor Vector said.

"Excellent. That brings us to Gryffindor." Minerva looked around the room. "We seem to be in a room full of Gryffindors."

Severus snorted.

Ignoring him, Minerva continued. "Are any of you interested?"

Remus looked around to see if anyone was going to say anything. "Unfortunately, I would not be able to do it." He nodded to Flitwick, "I also have a family waiting for me at home."

"Well, Miss Brown? Miss Granger?"

For once, Hermione was silent when she was asked a question. After a brief pause, Lavender tossed her hair over her shoulder and said, "I'll do it."

"I'm glad that's settled. Moving on, I want to mention that house points are still in place, however, there is a limit to the number of points a professor or prefect can give or take away in a day."

"It's about time," Pomona said. There were a murmur of agreements.

"It will certainly help keep things fair," Vector agreed.

"I know some of you were asked to come here rather last minute. I appreciate your flexibility and willingness to help. Others of you have been here for quite some time, and will be leaving at the end of the year. As I’m sure most of you are aware, Pomona and Poppy have their sabbatical next year."

There was a polite smattering of applause.

"I feel comfortable leaving now that I know who will be taking my place," Pomona beamed. "My star student, Neville Longbottom, will be returning next year to teach."

A small amount of chatter broke out. Minerva raised her hand to regain everyone's attention.

"I won't keep you here much longer. I have two more announcements before we can go about our day. There will be two additional NEWT-level classes offered this year. The first of which is Astrology, which will be co-taught by Aurora and Lavender, with guest lectures by Firenze. The second class is Healing Magic, which will also be co-taught, by Severus and Poppy. Both of these classes were highly requested last year. I am also considering additional opportunities for collaboration, so please let me know if you would be interested."

The meeting quickly wrapped up. As almost an afterthought, Minerva called out as people headed out the door, "If you were not an instructor here last year, please come see me in my office by eight this evening." And with that, the first staff meeting of the 1999-2000 school year ended.

~*~*~*~*~*~

He couldn't believe it. Even as he had sat there, he could not believe it. With everything that had happened, surely, surely, he wasn't still paying penance. He had lost every person he ever loved. He had taught dunderheads for years, and he had spent nearly twenty years spying on one of the darkest wizards in modern history only to be attacked by a snake. And, the cherry on top, while he was still in critical condition at St. Mungo's, Potter had shared his private memories with the world. Well, with the Ministry, but the press was present, so Severus didn't see much difference.

Now, back at Hogwarts, he thought that maybe he would find some peace. Apparently there was none to be had. Filius and Pomona had both repeatedly apologized for attacking him right before the Battle of Hogwarts. He had finally been able to wave them away. Minerva, on the other hand, had not apologized, but was clearly feeling some kind of guilt, because she avoided him and if she was obligated to speak to him she did so briefly and stiffly.

But this was arguably worse than the purgatory he had found himself trapped in for the past twenty years. This was hell. He watched, horrified, from his chair in the corner of the staff room as Tonks walked in. Then Brown. Then- and this one was the worse- Hermione Granger herself came in and plopped herself down in a seat like she owned the place. By that point, he did not think his mood could grow any darker, but then, Lupin came in on Minerva's heels. Just like a dog.

On top of an already horrendous evening, he was now obliged to attend a second meeting that promised to be equally horrendous. Although it could not be much worse than discovering he only had a year before he would have to face Longbottom's clueless face everyday.

So lost in thought, he did not notice notice how much time had passed. When he cast a tempus spell, he cursed. It was 7:45, giving him just enough time to get from the Dungeons to the Minerva’s office before 8 PM.
He quickly made his way to the gargoyle that stood at the base of the steps, and it was only then that he remembered that he did not know what the password was. He stood there, at a loss for what to do in that moment. He supposed he could wait and see if someone else had procrastinated, or he could just talk to Minerva tomorrow. He cast another tempus spell. Five minutes til. He might as well wait for those five minutes. Not feeling like staring at the gargoyle, he sat on the cold stone and closed his eyes.

"Ragdoll," a voice said.

He heard the shift of stone, and opened his eyes. Hermione Granger was standing there looking too tired to be how ever old she was now.

"Know it all," he muttered, getting off of the floor.

"What were you doing?" She looked at him, confused that there was not a clear reason for him to be sleeping in the hallway across the castle from his own rooms.

He felt himself prickle at her judgement, and settled with, "Praying that there might someday be a day that goes by without having to answer an inane question." Not his best, but serviceable. When she didn’t move, he gestured for her to head up the stairs before reluctantly following her. Minerva was nowhere to be seen, and the feeling of dread that had begun when he woke up in the hallway only grew. He was stuck in the room alone with Granger for at least another five minutes.

"Phineas! Hello."

Well, not alone. Could portraits act as eye witnesses if he broke something in a fit of rage?

"If it isn't Hermione Granger. I still haven't forgiven you, you know."

"I know," Hermione nodded agreeably. "But I feel like we have reached a point of understanding nonetheless."

Phineas waved his hand in dismissal. "We'll see."

"Is that Hermione Granger I hear?" Dumbledore wandered into his portrait. "How are you, my dear? I heard that Minerva roped you into teaching rather last minute."

"This school has done so much for me. I couldn't just stand by when Professor McGonagall needed help."

"How thoughtful. Transfigurations is an admirable subject. I was quite proficient back in the day."

This seemed like a bit of an understatement from one the most powerful wizards in history who had happened to teach Transfigurations for years before he became headmaster but Dumbledore was always cagey at the oddest moments.

Dumbledore continued,"Do remember that you are more than welcome to address the faculty by their given names. You are one of us now."

Dumbledore turned his attention to Severus. "Ah, Severus. I haven't seen you in quite some time. How are you?"

Severus knew that even the portrait of Dumbledore would not say much more to him in front of Granger, even now that most of their secrets had been laid bare.

"I'm well as could be expected," he answered, "Considering I'm standing here talking to a portrait."

Dumbledore chuckled and twirled his beard around his finger.

McGonagall came into the room, looking unsurprised to see the two of them standing there.

“I must admit that I am not surprised that it is you two that show up mere seconds before being late.”

"I was visiting some old friends," Hermione said. "I hope that this isn't an inconvenience... Minerva," she tried, the name clearly feeling as odd to her as it sounded to him.

"I told you to be here before eight, and here you both are. It is not an inconvenience in the slightest. This will not take long at all as I trust you both to know what to do. Hermione, there will be papers when you return to your room. They contain your class schedules and information on how to set up a lesson plan. Of course, you can always come to me or any other faculty member if you have any questions."

He tuned out the next few minutes of Granger discussing different lesson planning methodology while nodding emphatically.

"I am sure you already know what to do, Severus, but a similar set of papers will be waiting for you also."

"How thoughtful," Severus drawled.

"Quite. Apparition and student advising are part of the responsibilities of each Head of House. I'm sure that you are both relieved to not have that on your plate."

McGonagall and Snape gave each other a look. "Trust me," she said, "It's a freedom worth experiencing. My faith in the next generation has never been higher."

Turning to Hermione, she said, "Substitute teaching is a part of the job description of professor at Hogwarts. While you are teaching Transfiguration, if for any reason another professor cannot make it to class, you might be asked to step in. As you took 7 N.E.W.T.s, it is likely you will be called frequently.

Snape gave her a disgusted look.

"Pay him no mind, Hermione. He’s just bitter because his record was beaten. "

"Of course," she said. "I would expect nothing less."

Minerva smirked at Severus's dumbfounded expression.

"Thank you, Hermione. That will be all for tonight."

"Goodnight, Minerva," Hermione said, glancing at Dumbledore who nodded in approval. "Severus."

He turned, ever so slowly, and stared at her. She apparently had a death wish because she met his gaze, her chin jutted out defiantly.

There was a soft chuckle, and all three of them turned to see Dumbledore smiling down at them, twiddling his thumbs in a mischievous manner.

Feeling like she had just become part of something she did not understand, Hermione bid goodnight once more and left.

After Hermione left, Severus turned back to face the portrait of Albus Dumbledore.

"You told her to call me by my name," he accused.

"It is only right. She is your equal now."

Severus' lip curled in distaste at the idea.

"I assume that you and Minerva have more matters to discuss. I bid you both goodnight," Dumbledore said, inclining his head.

Minerva pulled out a large container of Ogden’s Firewhisky that Snape had been nursing his way through a couple of years later.

Severus stood there and watched her, until she snapped, "Sit down."

She sighed and poured them both a drink. "If we are going to have this talk, I would rather not have to remember it in the morning." She handed him a glass.

He toyed with the glass for a moment. "I was unaware that we needed to have a talk."

“I had hoped to avoid it,” Minerva said. “I rather liked where we left things at Spinner’s End, but frankly I need to see a change from you, and the easiest way to instigate that change is to participate personally. You can’t act like you always have. It is unacceptable.” She paused and looked at him closely. “So… we are going to talk.”

He did not say anything for a long time, and she could only imagine what he was thinking. Finally, he gave a curt nod in agreement.

"When we dueled, I tried to kill you, Severus," she said. "I wanted you to die. I saw what was happening to students under your watch. This is not a squabble over quidditch."

His jaw clenched. "This is not necessary."

"It is. Because I have been a subordinate to someone I had a grudge against. I have no desire to continue the trend." She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Severus. I'm sorry for what I did and for what happened after. I'm sorry about Albus, and Lily, and for everything that went wrong in your life." She took a large sip before continuing. "But-" she said, pointing at him. "I am still so angry at you. You were a coward. You took the easy way out and cried when you found out that it was not as easy as it looked. You treated my House like trash for years, bearing down on my students. Even now, you can't look at Granger like she's a person. You are still so consumed by what Potter did to you as a child that you can't see anything else.

Harry Potter saved you, Severus. He saved you. And as much as you may hate him for that, that is what he did. There is no going back now. I know that you don't want to be here, but you need to make the most of it. It's time for you to find a new purpose, to find some joy in your life. Severus, the only thing less bearable than a miserable, bitter young man is a miserable, bitter old one. You still have a hundred years ahead of you. Do something with that."

Severus had sat in silence while Minerva spoke her piece. When she finished, he drained his glass. "I didn't ask for another hundred years. I didn’t ask for even a second past getting Potter into adulthood."

She refilled it without comment.

He drained the glass again. "I didn't ask for my life to end up like this."

She bit her tongue on the comment about the mark on his arm.

"Then perhaps you should quit keeping a running list of the things that you didn't ask for and find something that you did." Minerva downed her own glass. "I'm still not sure how I feel about you, Severus, but as long as you teach at the institute I run, we'll have to deal with each other. That means that you are going to show kindness and compassion, and that goes for professors, students, and yourself."

He blearily gave his agreement. Minerva refilled both of their glasses in silence, Albus' fake snores the only the sound in the room.

Chapter Text

August 1999

Back in her rooms, Hermione finally had the opportunity to organize them. It was a fairly typical suite for professors, as she understood it, with a small sitting room, a bedroom, and an adjoining bathroom.The house elves had done an amazing job, leaving everything warm and fresh smelling, but her books remained unpacked. She also wanted to see if she could figure out what was wrong her fireplace, which was not connected to the internal Floo network. Organizing her room also gave her the opportunity to organize her thoughts, particularly in regards to the returned Potions master.

When Hermione had seen Severus sitting in the faculty lounge, she had thought that she was imagining things. With the exception of his trial, she had not seen him since the Battle of Hogwarts when he had been bleeding out on the floor. Seeing him that afternoon made her feel like she had been dropped on her face. They made eye contact briefly, but he gave her a blank look and turned away. Even as she chattered on with the other professors, she felt stung. He had not even acknowledged her. The blank look he had given her was a far cry from the look she had seen when she had knelt beside him in the Shrieking Shack. She had fumbled in her bag, pulling out all the potions and treatments that she had been saving for Harry, and she had done her best. Did he not remember?

Their encounter later that evening had been equally odd, if only because she was now on a first name basis with him. She, who had always insisted that Harry and Ron use the title of “professor” to show respect. On the subject of Harry and Ron, she wondered if they had heard yet. Surely Remus or Tonks would have said something. From the way that entered the room, it was clear that they had been expecting him. Or perhaps not. After all, she had not even known that Remus and Tonks would be her colleagues. In any case, she would tell Harry and Ron everything next time she saw them. They were supposed to start Auror training that week, and she was sure that they would have loads to tell her too.

She heard a hissing sound punctuated by a yelp. As she opened her door to see what was happening, she heard a meow and looked down as Crookshanks sauntered into the room. Now that he was back at Hogwarts, he had been given reign of the corridor, which he patrolled for the chance to scare Mrs. Norris. Looking rather pleased with himself, he settled on the edge of her sofa.

“Now don’t you start anything, Crooks,” Hermione said firmly. “You don’t want to get into any trouble with Filch.”

Crookshanks yawned and flicked his tail.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The next few days passed in a whirlwind. Hermione was thankful that she had decided to visit Hagrid the day she arrived, even if it had meant forgoing a proper dinner, as there was simply no time after that first day. She was either planning lessons, talking to another professor, or finding herself saddled with additional responsibilities. None of which she particularly minded, but all the same she was worried at the rate that her schedule was rapidly filling. Starting in September, most of the week would be devoted to class. Then of course there was the grading, planning, nighttime patrolling, Hogsmeade chaperoning, and Quidditch matches. She silently wished Lavender good luck with her additional Head of House duties.

Hermione had some other projects of her own however. Remus had quietly taken her aside and asked her if she would be willing to brew the Wolfsbane that he would need every month. Of course there was no way that she would ever refuse such a request, even if it did eat away at her already limited free time. At this rate, there wouldn’t even be time for reading, let alone seeing Harry or Ron or anyone else. If she was lucky, she might be able to visit Remus and Tonks at their flat in Hogsmeade to see Teddy.

Her “free time” was hardly that though, as she spent nearly the entirety of it studying and planning and worrying and starting all over again. Her parents were still in Australia, and she didn’t how or when or if she would explain what happened to them. After all, weren’t they happy now? They had no child to worry about, and while Hermione knew that her parents loved her very much, surely their happiness was not tied up in a daughter that they did not even remember existed. On the other hand, was this not everything she despised: Taking away the element of choice from those incapable of defending or speaking for themselves? She did not regret her decision to send them away. Their safety was the only thing that she had any surety of during her time hunting for Horcruxes. But, she feared what their reaction would be to learning what their own daughter had done to them. She had not decided whether it would be better to be forgotten or rejected.

Her private reflections were taking somewhat of a backseat to a more pressing matters, namely the other Hogwarts professors. It turned out that Hermione had a lot to learn about her new colleagues. On the last day of August, Minerva requested that Hermione come by her office. She did so, wondering what she could possibly need to speak to her about. Perhaps it was about Transfiguration. She read a few additional chapters from her books just to be safe.

Minerva looked very serious as she sat behind her desk, and Hermione’s hopes of an invigorating intellectual discussion diminished. Minerva offered her some tea, but did not say anything else.

“Have I done something wrong?” She asked when Minerva continued to give her a speculative look.

“Something wrong? Heavens no! No, Hermione, I wanted to know your opinions on gambling.”

“Gambling?”

“Yes, I did not know if you had any moral or religious objections.”

Hermione shook her head.

“You are aware of the other professors interest in the inter-house Quidditch championship that occurs every year, I trust?”

And this is how Hermione learned exactly why so many professors were highly invested in the Quidditch Cup. They bet on everything. For Merlin’s sake, the students had not even returned to Hogwarts yet, and there was already a betting pool about what new members would be added to each team! What had shocked her the most was that Minerva McGonagall was the ringleader of the entire ordeal.

“I suppose as headmistress, it is improper of me to be involved directly,” she told Hermione. “Which is why I would like to you to be my stand in.”

Hermione gaped at her. Not only did Minerva -Minerva- bet on students, she wanted Hermione to act in her stead! And all of this over amature Quidditch!

“I sense that this is not something you have any personal interest in,” Minerva said, sharp eyes not missing a thing. “Which is why our union would be ideal for both of us. You can keep any money that comes your way, and I can enjoy the thrill of planning and winning without taking the money of my subordinates.” She placed her neatly folded hands on the desk. “It’s perfect.”

“I always thought the professors were fueled by inter-house rivalry,” Hermione said distantly, still trying to process the fact that one of the instructors she most admired for professionalism was running a gambling ring.

“Well there is certainly that too. Severus is surprisingly bad at it. He favors his own house far too highly, and it ends up biting him every time. And Filius! Filius can trash talk with the best of them.”

Hermione had a sinking feeling that the “best of them” included Minerva herself.

“I’ll think about it.”

“Be sure that you do,” Minerva said with a nod. “I want an answer after the feast tomorrow.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

September 1999

The evening of September 1st was one of the most disconcerting evenings of Hermione’s life. She sat at the table in the Great Hall with the other professors, and watched as students trickled in, slowly at first and then in large groups. The sound gradually swelled around the room as friends and housemates separated over the summer were reunited again. Hermione was struck for the first time with the number of students that attended. It wasn’t a large school, not by Muggle standards. Her primary school had had almost three times the number of students, and Hogwarts had felt small when she was a student. Now though, sitting with her fellow professors,the prospect of being responsible for so many students’ academic futures felt more sudden and more daunting.

She noticed with a start that some students looked towards the professors' table. Perhaps this should not have come as a shock, as she had done the same as a student, but she still felt very aware of the glances in her direction. She was not the only one receiving attention. After all, there were several high profile new professors sitting at the table as well.

Intending to put her best foot forward, Hermione had taken extra time to control and contain her hair, opting for a coif that took minimal effort but kept her hair out of her face and hopefully out of her soup. The last thing she needed was to make a fool of herself before classes even started. The others had similarly attempted to make themselves more presentable. Minerva sat in the middle, wearing beautiful emerald robes. She knew from speaking with him earlier that Hagrid had worn his second best tie. Snape wore his usual black.

Finally, Filius led the first year students into the room. Instantly she could point out with students they would need to watch out for. Some students tripped over their new robes as they looked around wide-eyed at the room, the older students, and the faculty. Others entered with a devil-may-care attitude and a strut that reminded her of a young Draco Malfoy. Still others did not look around at all. They did not smile at their fellow first years and certainly not at anyone else, instead their entire attention focused on the Sorting Hat at the front of the room.

As they came to the front of the hall, Filius had them line up before he began to call out names. Most of the tiny faces were filled with apprehension as they peaked around shoulders to see the hat that would determine their life for the next seven years at Hogwarts. From this point, the ceremony continued on as it always had. The Sorting Hat croaked out a song, and then after Filius called out the first name, a wobbly-kneed child would make his way to the front. The process was repeated until every new student had been sorted.

All in all, there were twenty one new Gryffindors, seven Ravenclaws, eight Hufflepuffs, and four Slytherins. Hermione could feel the other professors tense up as they saw the disparity in house sizes. Judging by how full each table was, this was not the first year that this had happened. She wondered how the all of the new students would even fit in the Gryffindor Tower. From the expression on Lavender’s face, it was clear that she was thinking the same thing. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the feast began. Towards the end, Minerva gave a good, but concise speech, and then the students went to their respective houses.

Tomorrow, classes would begin.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Hermione had never considered what professors did the night before the first day of classes, but if she had been asked, she would have said that they spent the evening going over their lesson plans before turning in early so they would be ready for the following day.
She would have been completely wrong. Instead she found herself seated at the bar at the Three Broomsticks with a mug of Butterbeer in front of her. Most of the other teachers were nursing drinks much stronger than hers.

"Make sure that you don't go overboard tonight," Septima told her. "You want to be on your game tomorrow."

Hermione doubtfully eyed the older woman's whiskey.

"Oh, this? Dear, I have a reputation decades long that long precedes any classroom that I enter. I could show up completely sloshed and they would be none the wiser. It's all about how you are perceived, not about who you are."

She looked at Hermione thoughtfully, "Although. . . I suppose you've already built up a reputation of your own. I heard you were the recipient of an Order of Merlin. Well deserved."

"Thank you," Hermione said, completely blindsided by the frank discussion from the person who had taught her favorite class when she was a student.

"In that case, drink up." Septima turned to Rosmerta, holding up her empty glass. "Another one of these, please." She winked at Hermione. "Just stay away from Hagrid. He tends to stumble a bit once he's got some ale in him." She gestured to Hagrid who was sitting with Biswas and other several professors as he took great swigs from a- Hermione did a double take- a barrel of ale.

Septima laughed at her expression, "Hermione, I have a feeling that you are going to learn more as a teacher than you ever did as a student."

~*~*~*~*~*~

Hermione was in classroom 34R, which was a classroom she had never been in as a student. Transfiguration, like most classes at Hogwarts, were taught in a different classroom every year. When she had asked why, she was informed that they did not want the school getting the idea that some rooms were more important than others. Hermione did not believe the school, magical or not, was capable of getting ideas at all, and she didn't particularly understand why the school would be offended if some rooms were used more often than others. It was likely a tradition created by Dumbledore that had simply continued because most professors couldn't remember a time when classes were sensibly held in the same room every year. Yes, she decided, that was most certainly what had happened.

34R was a large, sunny classroom, and she could not have asked for a better room, although she was slightly apprehensive about her new neighbor. Apparently Poppy and Severus’ class would conducted in the classroom next door. Not the company would have chosen, surely, but it did mean that she would be mostly undisturbed by trouble makers.

She smoothed the front of her robes, waiting. Students should start coming in about five minutes. All of her notes were ready on her desk, and one of the two large blackboards was already filled up with information about the lapifors spell, their first transfiguration attempt of the year.

Snape stuck his head into the classroom.

"Perfect," he said, looking around the room with distaste.

"Pardon?" She asked, surprised more by his attention than by his attitude.

"I'll have an additional class of idiots to worry about.."

"You won’t have to worry about them,” Hermione said indignantly. “They're not idiots."

He snorted. "See if you're still saying that at the end of the week."

"Classes are meant to be a learning environment! Belittling students is only going to limit them."

He stepped into the classroom. Hermione self-consciously stepped in front of the blackboard as though her petite frame could prevent him from seeing the wall of text.

He chuckled, almost to himself.

She crossed her arms. "They'll do just fine."

"Until you read their papers. Trust me, Granger, you aren't cut out for teaching." He turned back around.

"And you are?" She snapped. He paused in the doorway. "You're standing here getting ready to teach almost every single wizarding child in the United Kingdom and then some. I'll count that as an accomplishment."

She stood there stunned as he left. Did. . . did he just say that he considered her an accomplishment? Surely not.

She was still pondering the odd encounter when students started to enter the classroom.

"Good morning everyone. I am Professor Granger, and this is third year Transfiguration. You should all have your Intermediate Transfiguration textbook. Please turn to page 25 and we'll begin."

And just like that, she started her first day. She had become a teacher.

"This is your third year in Transfiguration class. By this point, you should have mastered the transformation formulas as well as a basic switching spell, and should have a solid understanding of what Transfiguration is and why it works. This year we'll-"
A Ravenclaw stuck her hand in the air. Hermione paused. "Yes?" She said, uncertain of the girl's name.

"Lucy Caspers, Professor Granger. What are switching spells?"

Taken aback, Hermione frowned. Switching spells were covered superficially towards the end of first year and explored thoroughly in second, third, and fourth year. Although. . . Their first year, for the those that even attended would have not been especially educational, and last year the professor had a nervous breakdown during the school year, and the class was taught by the rest of the professors in rotation.

"A switching spell does exactly what you might expect, given its name. It involves switching two different objects simultaneously. Can anyone provide any additional information?" She looked out at the sea of blank faces.

She slowly let out her breath. "Alright, let's start over. Why don't you tell me what you have already learned?"

A Hufflepuff called out, "Professor Hagrid taught us how to do an Avifors Spell last year."

"Good, alright," Hermione said nodding, although she was internally panicking. Out of all of the professors who had rotated through this class, they retained information from Hagrid. A lovely half-giant but not the best source for Transfiguration technique. "Can someone raise their hand," she glanced at the Hufflepuff, "and demonstrate how the Avifor Spell works?"

The entire class, eager to impress their new, famous professor, raised their hands.

"We'll all do it together, then. Go ahead and try it on your textbooks."

Collectively, the class started shouting and waving their wands about. Hermione could not make out most of what they were saying, but she was sure it was not the correct pronunciation, or perhaps even the right words. And those wand movements were definitely not correct.

"Ok that's enough," she called.

The class, in their vigor, did not hear her. A wayward spell hit the desk beside her.

"STOP!" She yelled.

The shouting quickly petered out.

"I think I've seen enough. We are going to start from the beginning. There is no way I am going to start on this material," she thumped her own copy of Intermediate Transfigurations, "until I know that you have a solid foundation on basic material. Your education here has been, at best, spotty since your attendance here. I intend to change that. If you are all willing to work hard, you will be up to class level by the end of term. So, starting at the basic." She uncharmed the half-worm-half-quill squirming on one student's desk who looked immensely grateful to have her quill stop moving.

"What is Transfiguration, and what makes it possible?"

"You turn stuff into different things," the Hufflepuff called out again.

She felt her eye twitch. "Transfiguration is one of the more difficult types of magic you will learn here. It is achieved through concentration, precise wand movements, and the proper pronunciation of an incantation.* It requires a large amount of magical focus and energy."

She heard someone whisper to the person sitting beside them, "So it's just charms, then."

"It is not charms, Mr. Logan. Transfiguration is a scientific process. That is why there is an equation."

Lucy Caspers raised her hand again,"What equation?"

Hermione turned towards the board and flicked her wand, erasing everything that she had painstakingly prepared. She closed her eyes and allowed herself one moment before turning around and teaching her third year class the fundamental laws of Transfiguration.

They spent the rest of class asking questions and going over material that Professor McGonagall had covered in her class on the first day of Hermione's first year. Hermione willed herself to remain calm. Severus was right. She couldn't do this. She was going to lose it before the end of her first week.

Chapter Text

September 1999

Despite Hermione’s scepticism, she did finally reach the end of her first week, and in weary celebration she decided to visit Harry at Grimmauld Place. Ron had also stopped by, and the three of them sat around the kitchen table with their respective work. She was grading papers, Harry was going over his notes for Auror training, and Ron was going over the expense reports for the past month.

“Do you not have Auror notes to go over too, Ron?” Hermione asked.

Distractedly, he murmured, “I already looked over them.”

“Really?” Hermione asked.

“Well, you don’t have to sound so shocked,” Ron said, looking hurt. “Tell her, Harry.”

“He’s been like a madman. As soon as he gets a chance, he reads whatever we’re told to read,” Harry confirmed.

“Well, it’s not like I’ve got much of a choice, do I?” Ron said. “Between Auror training and helping George with the shop, I’ve got no time to spare.”

“How is George?” Hermione asked, feeling slightly guilty for not considering that Ron and Harry had been just as busy as she was.

“He’s about the same, I guess. He thought I was trying to prank him, though, when I said that Snape was back at Hogwarts.”

“Professor Snape,” Hermione corrected automatically.

“So does that mean we have to call you Professor Granger?” Harry asked, grinning. She shot him a look that would have done Minerva McGonagall proud, and he stopped smiling.

“War hero or not, I can’t believe old McGonagall took him back at all. He’s terrible,” Ron said.

"Well, she did, and it’s Professor McGonagall, Ronald. I told you that no one wants to teach at Hogwarts. Its professors have gained quite a reputation over the past few years, and no one is anxious to become a part of it." She went back to grading a paper and almost immediately started cursing under her breath.

“Hermione?” Ron asked worriedly. “You alright?”

“Pammy Brickus,” she said between clenched teeth, “Is trying to kill me. She keeps mixing up spells on her papers, and if she does this in class, she’s going to get someone killed.” Hermione was barely halfway through the stack of fourth year papers, and already felt like she was losing her mind.

“Well maybe it would help if you didn’t make your essay requirements quite so long,” Ron pointed out timidly. “How long is that essay?”

“Don’t start with me, Ronald,” she said sharply. She went back to Brickus’ paper.

Harry shot her a sympathetic glance. "I'm sorry."

"You should be. Do you realize how hard teachers work? How underpaid? And you goof off and-"

"Woah, hey, Hermione. He's not Patty Buttkiss," Ron soothingly placed his hand on her arm.

“Are you five?” She snapped, but even as she said it her anger was leaving her. Harry and Ron were laughing so hard they couldn’t even talk. Begrudgingly, she gave them a smile.

"You know, ever since I've started teaching, all I can think about is how people I know would act in the classroom, and you two," she pointed at both of them, "are pure mischief. Trouble with a capital T."

They grinned sweetly at her. Ron fluttered his eyelashes, "Us? Surely not."

Harry swooned beside him, "We would never."

Rolling her eyes, she returned to her work.

She had hoped that by the time she got to her NEWT level students, the quality of the assignments would have improved. Most of the sixth and seventh years' first class had focused on application rather than theory, but after the disastrous second and third year classes, she had given the rest of her classes small writing assignments that had to be completed by the end of class that covered material they should have learned in previous years.

McGonagall had held the standard that students had to receive at least an Exceeds Expectations on their Transfiguration OWL in order to continue, and Hermione felt that was more than fair, so she had kept the same standard. Now as she looked over their papers, she began to wish she had pulled a Snape and required an Outstanding for entrance into her NEWT level classes.

By the time she returned to Hogwarts, frustrated and tired, it was already late evening. She stormed down to her rooms, setting everything down with a thump on the large wooden desk that had been provided to her.

Hermione knew she should just turn in early and finish grading tomorrow, if only for the students' sakes, but the overachiever in her wanted the satisfaction of grading everything in one day. Deciding that a small snack would help keep her awake while she worked, she headed down to the kitchens.

The house elves were more than accommodating, and Winky assured her that it was no trouble to make her a mug of hot chocolate. She sipped it quickly, not wanting to linger too long. She still made the house elves uncomfortable.

As she walked back to her rooms, she decided that she should visit the Weasleys the following weekend. She had not seen them in a few of weeks, which felt almost traitorous after all they had done for her. After a brief relationship with Ron that had sputtered out almost as soon as it began, she had felt uncomfortable going to the Burrow, which was silly as they had never made her feel anything but welcomed.

Hermione was so caught up in her thoughts that for a moment she was not aware that she was being followed. When the hairs on the back of her neck prickled, she whirled around, wand drawn before she registered what had happened.

Severus Snape looked down at her. Her wand, which was practically stabbing him in his ridiculously large nose, did not move.

"What," she whispered, not keen on drawing the attention of the portraits past midnight, "Are you doing?"

"I could ask you the same thing," he sneered, batting her wand away from his face.

"I'm not a student anymore. I have every right to be outside of my room at this hour," she said, unconsciously straightening to make herself taller.

Severus was not particularly tall himself, but he certainly towered over her, and he appeared unimpressed.

"I thought I had caught a student after hours. Apparently I caught a wayward Granger instead."

She flushed. "What days are you responsible for patrol?"

"What? Why?"

"What days?" She repeated.

He seemed to be reluctant to tell her. "Monday and Wednesday."

"I knew it!" She said, more to herself than him.

"Miss Granger," he started, also keeping his voice low, apparently no more eager to cause a scene than she, "What are you talking about?"

"Harry used to complain about how often you caught him after curfew. I said it was because you patrol every night regardless of whether or not someone else is scheduled to."

"Brilliant deduction," he said shortly.

"What satisfaction does terrorizing children bring you?"

"Granger, I don't think my satisfaction is any concern of yours."

"Hermione."

"What?"

"My name is Hermione. Everyone else on the staff calls me Hermione."

He closed his eyes, "Hermione,” he repeated softly. She liked the way he said her name, pronouncing each syllable, including the “o” that most people seemed to drop. “Your ability to try my patience never ceases to amaze me."

"And your ability to belittle everyone around you so you can feel like a bigger person never ceases to amaze me."

His eyebrow raised. "Getting rather psychological, aren't we, Granger?"

"Hermione," she corrected absently. "I just want you to know that I have nothing against you-"

"Glad that won't keep me up at night anymore," he commented.

"But, I will not take the treatment that you doled out for years. We are equals. I respect you as I respect the other faculty, and I ask for that in return. That is only fair."

He laughed. “After everything, don’t you get it? Life isn't fair, Granger."

"Hermione," She insisted. "And just because life isn't fair does not mean that we have to play along. Change comes from people realizing that things are not good as they are."

He stared at her. "You are genuinely like this aren't you? This isn't some act to drive everyone batty. You actually believe this."

"Of course I do! Everyone has to believe something."

Just then, the sound of smothered giggles came down the hallway. Both of their heads snapped up towards the sound.

"I'll handle this," He said.

"Of course," she replied. "Goodnight, Severus."

He only made a noncommittal, "Hmm" noise in response, but she recognized an admission when she saw one.

As she headed back towards her room, she heard a rather loud squawk followed by "Well, well, well. Three Gryffindors out of bed after hours. How typical."

Don't you dare take more than twenty points, she thought.

"Twenty points." His voice was fainter now that she was further down the corridor. "Apiece."

Bastard.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Hermione was not alone in having to adjust to the lifestyle of a Hogwarts instructor. Elias Biswas seemed to get along with most of the other professors, but his anxious demeanor had already made him a target of Filch’s watchful eye. Unfortunately, this seemed to only exacerbate Elias’ anxiety. Hermione had only spoken to the History professor a few times since the beginning of the school year and although he seemed no less nervous, the trait became more endearing than unsettling as she saw how well his students responded to him.

 

When she asked Filius what had happened to Binns, he had simply grimaced. “Don’t ask,” he advised her. Once, such a comment would only encourage her. Now, however, she decided to take the advice.

Lavender was also having to adjust to her new position. Hermione thought that the Old Lavender (as she thought of her) would have made an excellent teacher, simply because she was so excitable, and that kind of energy was contagious in a classroom. It was something she wished she had. Perhaps her students would be more interested in lessons then.

While the New Lavender carried the same dramatic flare, coldness had replaced the charisma that had drawn people to her as a teenager. She even went so far as to carry on Trelawney’s tradition of eating alone in her rooms, appearing to prefer her solitude to the company of anyone that she might see in the Great Hall.

Her self inflicted isolation had Hermione worried. She had practically grown up with Lavender after all. They had shared rooms at Hogwarts for six years, and even though they had rarely seen eye to eye, it was hard to not know a person after so long. But did she really know Lavender at all? Pavarti was always much more similar to Lavender, and they always were talking about boys and fashion. Hermione never had much to contribute to those particular conversations and had thus stuck to her books.

And then of course there was the Lav-Lav/ Won-Won debacle that had occurred during their sixth year. Oh, how she had despised Lavender then, rubbing Hermione’s face in the fact that she was dating Ron. Lavender would come back to the room giggling and would stay up late talking to Pavarti as she went into explicit detail every time she and Ron tried something new. It was utterly ridiculous now that Hermione looked back on it. They all acted exactly like what they were- children. Their breakup was not even fully satisfying, as Hermione had to abandon her room for the last part of the year. Lavender alternated between crying hysterically and glaring at Hermione for hours.

Nevertheless, Lavender had been in her life for many years. Hermione had no idea what Lavender had wanted to do when she was older or who her favorite designer was, but she knew how much time Lavender put into Divination, and how she slept: sprawled out with her left foot hanging over the bed. She knew that Lavender felt her emotions strongly and viscerally and was unapologetic about it. Hermione had always considered them to be opposites. She, the rational, logical one, Lavender, the pretty but empty-headed one.

It was difficult to see Lavender that way now. She seemed . . . flat, as though her emotions had just been stripped away, leaving behind a shell. Hermione began to wish for the simpering, obnoxious girl she had loathed growing up. This was so much worse.

Eating habits were not the only thing Lavender seemed to have acquired from Trelawney. Shortly after the beginning of the term, a first year walked into Hermione's class looking troubled. When she questioned the student, he had replied that Professor Brown had prophesied that he would be killed in a freak accident on his twelfth birthday.

“Which is next week,” he said tearfully.

Hermione had assured the student that nothing of the sort would happen to them, privately wondering what Lavender had been thinking telling a student that Peeves would crush him with a table.

Indeed, most of the students seemed afraid of her. When Lavender walked down the hallways, they would part, hanging close to the sides. After her classes ended, students would scamper out, practically tripping over each other on the way. They never looked her in the face.

Perhaps worst of all were the things they said.

"I heard that she's a werewolf."

"No way! Have you seen her face? She's definitely just a deformed pixie.” They both snickered.

“Thirty points from Slytherin, gentlemen,” Hermione snapped as she passed by two third years. “For disrespecting a professor.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Severus wanted to use one of his old classrooms. Both Poppy and Minerva had firmly disagreed.

"This is healing magic, Severus," Poppy said. "It draws from light and fresh air. It can't be closed up like your potions."

"Potions that are made for your stockrooms," He reminded her sullenly.

He should have known better than trying to appeal to Minerva. "Poppy is right, Severus. And it would do you some good to get into the sunlight every now and again," Minerva said.

He glared in response.

Now, here he was in the sunny room 36R. Squinting in the morning sunlight, he looked around the classroom. There was plenty of space, several rows of lab tables, and a couple of cots that would be used in Poppy's portion of the class for demonstrations. Because of the intensiveness of this elective, it started the second week of class so that students would not be able to transfer in or out once it started.

Severus and Poppy were both present for this first class, though for the rest of the year, they would alternate teaching weekly.

The class was fairly small, as all NEWT courses tended to be, but the students who were there had strong, determined faces that told him that they were determined to make this worth their while. His year as headmaster marked one of the smallest recorded number of students at Hogwarts, as many parents had prevented their children from returning after Dumbledore’s death. From the looks of it, these were mostly the students that had stayed at Hogwarts.
“Welcome to Healing Magic,” Poppy said. “This is a NEWT level class that combines the knowledge you have been cultivating for years with the practical application of healthcare. Obviously, all of you know both me and Professor Snape. We will be working together to create a diverse but condensed experience that will give you a head start start whether you want to work in the home of a single individual or in the largest ward at St. Mungo’s.” She indicated for Severus to pick up.

“Today,” he said, “We are going to discuss the mentality one must have going into medicine, particularly when administering any sort of first aid, where inaccuracy leads to death, inconsistency leads to death, and hesitancy,” he paused, “hesitancy is one of the greatest sins you can commit.”

The class stared at him, mesmerized. Perhaps this would not be as bad as he had feared. Remembering Minerva’s words to him, Severus made an effort throughout the lesson to bite his tongue.

As the students were packing up after class, he overheard something that made him rather cross, so Severus headed towards the Great Hall for lunch.

"Five points from Gryffindor for obstructing the hallways, gentlemen."

"We were just walking!"

"Another five for disrespecting a professor!"

They scurried on, shooting him dark glances as they did so. By the time he reached the Great Hall, most of the professors were already seated at the dais, but there was one teacher in particular he was looking for.

"Granger," he snapped as he sat down beside her.

"Severus," she replied pointedly. "How did your healing class go?"

"Don't play games with me, Granger. I heard that you took thirty points from Slytherin this morning."

"I'm sure you have already more than evened the points since you found out," she said, cutting into her brisket.

"What, may I ask, did they do?"

"Gossiped about a professor. You've taken more points for less," she pointed out, popping a perfectly cut piece into her mouth.

"So the rumors have started. Tell me, are they gossiping about your love life? Or perhaps your role in the war?"

She gave a caustic glance, but said nothing further.

Just then, Remus plopped down on Hermione's side.

"Hermione! I feel like I've barely seen you since school started."

Hermione turned to talk to Remus without saying anything further to him. He pushed his food around his plate for a couple of minutes before getting up abruptly and leaving the hall.

Chapter Text

September 1999

It did not take long for Hermione to notice something odd was happening between Tonks and Remus. They were perfectly friendly to the other instructors and their students were clearly smitten with both of them, but there was a clear distance between the two of them. She often only saw one of them at a time and when she did see both of them at once, the conversation had a strained cordiality.

Considering all that they had been through, what with Teddy and new jobs and such, it made sense that there was some friction between the two of them. Even so, it was difficult not to notice that the couple did not talk about anything other than their child when they were with each other. Remus, Tonks, and Teddy would often accompany Hermione to visit Harry at Grimmauld Place. Even though it was no longer Order of the Phoenix headquarters, it was still treated as a meeting place, but Harry did not seem to mind.

The last time they had gone, Tonks had spent the entire time talking to Harry and Ron about their Auror training. Hermione had never seen Harry study this hard for anything. For the first time, she realized how badly he wanted this. She knew that he had wanted to become an Auror for years, and she always thought he would be exceptional at it, but she hadn't seen him practice anything so much since Dumbledore's Army. And not just the fun, action parts, with spells and curse detection. He and Ron quizzed each other for hours, stopping briefly while they ate.

She had thought Ron would begin to feel jealous of Harry again, but he was so involved with the shop that he seemed as busy as Harry. He would sit and chat with them, but she would see him scribbling small notes to himself about progress reports while he joked and laughed.

While the Aurors talked shop, Hermione and Remus had talked with Neville, who was also visiting. Ginny, who had a few days off in between practices, was playing with Teddy.

"He's so cute," she cooed, tickling Teddy, whose hair turned bright orange to match her own. “I can’t wait to have kids.”

At this, Harry turned bright red.

Ron frowned, looking at Harry. “Don’t get any ideas.”

“Don’t worry, Ron,” Ginny said. “We’ve already got plenty of those.” She winked at Harry.

Ron’s response was cut off by Neville who self consciously cleared his throat.

"Actually," Neville said. "I have some news." Everyone turned to him, surprised. "Hannah and I are having a baby."

There was a pause and then Harry grabbed him and whooped. "Congratulations, mate. That's amazing."

Neville's face flushed. "I'm going to be a father." He sounded more like he was telling himself than anyone else.

They all gathered around Neville to offer their congratulations as well. "If you need anything, just let us know. Teddy'll have outgrown it all by the time your baby comes along," Tonks said.

"How is Hannah?" Ginny asked.

"She's- she's so happy. We both are. I know it seems kind of sudden, but-"

"No, Neville. Don't worry about what anyone else thinks. You deserve this, both of you. I'm so happy for you," Hermione said, giving him a hug.

They stayed a bit longer to celebrate, but eventually Neville wanted to get back to Hannah, and the Lupins were ready to go home as well. Harry and Ginny walked the others outside where they all exchanged hugs before Hermione apparated back to Hogwarts.

It felt wonderful to see her friends in person. She was keeping in touch with others as well through letters, but it was never same as getting to see someone face to face. She received heartfelt letters from Luna, who was traveling through Siberia in search of some creature of dubious existence. She also frequently wrote Viktor and Fleur. She and Viktor had reconnected after the war when he became Bill’s partner in the curse breaking department of Gringotts.

Her relationship with Fleur had been a bit more unexpected. Fleur had developed somewhat of a mothering complex over Hermione after taking care of her at Shell Cottage. Fleur penned updates on Victoire and Bill, on the mess with Gringotts, and suggestions to help with pain that Hermione still felt from the torture she had endured. Hermione in turn replied with questions about Victoire and talked about Hogwarts, and the horrible state that her third year class was in.

Her third year students had become the bane of her existence. They had two years of terrible teaching behind them and had learned close to nothing. Her second year students were less behind simply because they had less ground they should have covered. The older students had been taught, at least in part, by Minerva, so they at least understood the basics. The only saving grace of the class was that some of her favorite students were in it.

Hermione tried not to let her biases show, but one of her favorite students was Oliver Brisk. For a while, she couldn't figure out why. He had the self assured grin that only the most mischievous boys had, and he seemed far more interested in cracking jokes with his friends than in whatever she was teaching that day. Finally about halfway through September when he proudly announced that he would be trying out for the Gryffindor Quidditch team, she knew why. It surprised her that she hadn’t realized before; he reminded her of a young Harry, with dark, curly hair, heavy-framed glasses that somehow made him more popular instead of less, and had the temperament of the classic Gryffindor. Also like Harry, he seemed to attract trouble.

Only a couple of days had passed since his announcement when Oliver came into her class late, seeming rather fidgety. Hermione took five points from Gryffindor for his tardiness, but he barely seemed to notice. He stayed behind after class, telling his friends to go ahead, but he didn’t say anything to Hermione until everyone else had left the classroom.

Even then, he seemed reluctant to speak.

“I think someone is in trouble, but I don’t know what to do,” he said. “I don’t know whether helping them is going to get me into trouble or not.”

“This sounds serious, Mr. Brisk. Who do you think is in trouble?”

“Never mind, Professor.” He grabbed his bag and darted out of the classroom before she could ask him anything else.

She was still thinking about the strange conversation with Oliver Brisk when she went to dinner. She carried on small talk with Septima, who seemed determined to take Hermione under wing.

Hermione finally felt like she was seen as a professor and colleague rather than a student. The other professors (except for Snape) called her Hermione, and she in turned called them by their name. She was also starting to pick up on quirks that her colleagues hid from students. All except for Tonks and Lavender seemed to drink heavily, and most of their social interactions with each other consisted of either drinking or gambling. Hermione settled for radiating silent disapproval at these events, afraid that outright condemnation would make her an outcast. Everyone else seemed highly amused by this.

Pomona was a morning person, and cheerfully greeted everyone she saw before noon, but she was nothing but grumpy after nine PM. Aurora, who had always been a stern, distant professor, was quite warm with other teachers and seemed fond of them all. Others had quirks as well. For instance, Filius had a habit of humming while he ate, something Hermione neither understood nor particularly enjoyed, but there it was.

Even at that moment, he was humming a little tune on the other side of her. Suddenly, in the middle of the melody, there was a loud ruckus from the Gryffindor table. Two third years stood on top of their seats and yelled "It’s Oliver Brisk’s birthday!" The entire table burst out into “Happy Birthday”. A few from other houses and even some professors joined in. Hermione looked at Oliver, who seemed undisturbed by the concern he had relayed to her earlier that day. Still, it must have been something that was bothering him if he stayed after class on his fourteenth birthday.

She asked Minerva about it when she stopped by her mentor’s office later in the evening.

"Don't worry about it, Hermione," Minerva assured her. "It's likely nothing but the overactive imagination of a teenage boy. I'm sure you can relate," she added dryly, "after years with Potter and Weasley."

"Anyway," she continued. "I heard that Mr. Brisk is not the only one with a September birthday."

Hermione knew that Minerva knew full well that her birthday was in September, but she only smiled. "Yes, I'll be twenty this year."

Minerva nodded. "It's a wonderful age. Don't let yourself get caught up with young men. Or women for that matter. "

Hermione blushed. "I don't think that will be a problem."

Minerva gave her a look that seemed rather unbelieving.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The week before Hermione's birthday, Quidditch tryouts started. It was beginning to look like she would never hear the end of the sport. It was all the students talked about, and Ginny had given Hermione tickets to see the Holyhead Harpies. Hermione promised that she would go to every single game she could to support one of her closest friends.

And if she didn't understand what was happening until people started cheering, who would know the difference? Well, Harry. And Ron. But she had gotten good at faking her enthusiasm over the years. She even had picked up a few terms, like the reverse pass and the sloth grip roll. Ron had scoffed when she had tried to use the terms in conversation, "It doesn't count if you can't point out when they are actually happening," he told her. Feeling bad for discouraging her, he tried to make amends, "But don't worry. You are definitely catching on."

The students were not the only ones who were excited for the start of the season. Minerva's yearly competitive streak was beginning to show itself again and Snape's was not much better.

"This is our year," Minerva said as she watched the students in the Great Hall. "I feel it." She pointed towards Aurora and Severus, "You will be crushed."

Aurora and Severus smirked at each other, clearly disagreeing.

"I doubt that. A team is only as good as its keeper," Severus said dryly.

Minerva gasped. "You will eat your words, Severus! Creevey is an excellent keeper!"

Hermione looked towards the boy in question. Dennis Creevey was now in sixth year, and the shrimpy boy that had entered during her third year now stood tall with broad shoulders and a long gait. He was polite in class and seemed popular enough. Hermione would not be surprised if he were made Head Boy next year.

"I'm in agreement with you, Minerva," Remus said. "It's going to be a good year."

"Of course you're on her side, Lupin," Severus snapped. "You're from the same infuriating house."

"That doesn't mean that they can't pick the winning team," Hermione objected.

"Granger, you don't know anything about Quidditch," Snape said dismissively.

"I do so!"

"You don't know the difference between a bludger and a broomstick."

"Leave her alone, Severus. Save your insults for the Quidditch field," Minerva said, her Scottish brogue becoming more prominent.

"I do so know the difference!"

"Are you willing to make a wager?"

"What?" She asked, surprised.

"Are you willing to bet on the winning team?"

As she had already repeatedly expressed to Minerva, Hermione was not a betting person. "No," she said, "I'm not." Severus did not look surprised.

"Well I think it would be good odds," Minerva said giving Hermione a significant look. The other professors agreed. Hermione deflated, knowing that meant she did not have much choice in the matter.

"We'll see in a few weeks, then."

Hermione looked towards the Gryffindor table and made eye contact with Oliver Brisk, who quickly looked away. She wondered if the students could tell that most of the faculty had just spent the meal bickering over the students' first Quidditch game.

~*~*~*~*~*~

She felt large hands seize her roughly, clamping down on her and pinning her torso to the floor. A weight settled on the lower half of her body despite her struggle. The person on her gave a low chuckle. There was a decrepit smell that only grew worse as greasy curls brushed against her face and lips were dragged across her forehead.She flinched at a light tapping on her head.

“Open your eyes,” Bellatrix sang.

Hermione squeezed them shut, unwilling to look at the woman currently sprawled on top of her.

“OPEN THEM,” Bellatrix roared into her face. Hermione forced herself to open them. Bellatrix’s face was mere centimeters away from her own.

“Now,” Bellatrix said with a horrible grin, “Let’s finish what we started.” There was a flash of silver, and just as the knife touched her neck, Hermione woke up with a start.

She sat up, breathing hard. She was in her bedroom at Hogwarts. She slowly pulled her wand out from underneath her pillow and whispered a shaky “Lumos.”

Hermione put a hand to her face, which was wet. When she inspected her hand in the wand light, she saw that there was no blood.

Am I crying?

She didn’t feel like she was crying, but as she put her palm against her cheek for the second time, she realized that tears were running down her face.

Crookshanks hopped up on the bed, settling into her lap. His weight was a calming presence and erased the weight of Bellatrix that had followed her out of the dream. As she pet him, he began to purr and the noise, too, was calming. She knew that there was no way that she was going back to sleep, but she was too afraid to light any candles that would provide more light in the room. If she lit up the room and saw Bellatrix standing there, she would lose it.

In moments like this, reminding herself that Bellatrix was dead never seemed to help much. So she sat there, numb, clutching her wand. Since Hermione’s time at the Malfoy Manor, sleep had become rather elusive. She had lost count of the number of times similar dreams had jerked her awake.

She sat still for some time. Perhaps it was time to do some research and see if there was a way to prevent the nightmares aside from potions. After all, Dreamless Sleep was both costly and addictive, and she had just run out of her supply.

Hermione decided that a trip to the library might be in order. She sat on her bed for a minute longer, debating whether she wanted to go tonight. Crookshanks jumped off the bed and pawed at her bedroom door. Taking that as a sign, Hermione quickly got up and threw a robe over her pajamas.

The walk from her rooms to the library was not long, and she had visited often enough as a student to have little issue, even in the dark. Crookshanks followed at her heels. When she got there, she paused for a moment, taking in the familiar smell of old books and the faint scent of wood polish that Filch used.

“Lumos.”

Despite no longer being a student, Hermione was quiet as she shifted through the tomes lining the room. Irma Pince had never been particularly fond of Hermione, despite their mutual love of books. Hermione had often brought Harry and Ron to the library with her, both of whom irritated Pince immensely. Hermione had also frequently checked books out, a practice that Pince probably wished she could discontinue altogether.

There was a copy of The Dream Oracle which Hermione knew to be a Divination textbook, so she wrinkled her nose and kept looking. Dream Discoveries, Daydreams or Visions?, and The Advanced Guide for Dreams and What They Mean proved to be equally useless. Most of the books appeared to be about dream interpretation, not dream prevention.

The books in the Restricted Section provided little help as well. How To Help the Sleepless and its companion How To Sleep Less were both interesting, but yielded little relevant information. The same was true with the other books. Maybe she needed to think broader.

She flicked through the other tomes, working around the traps that Pince was known to set, especially in the Restricted Section. Nothing stood out to her until she came upon a dark, slim book. The writing on the spine was so faint that she had to peer at the cover to discern the title: The Logic Behind Legilimency.

Hermione frowned and returned the book to its place, continuing to run her fingers over the titles. She knew little about Legilimency besides what Harry had learned during his lessons with Severus years before. Even then, most of the focus had been on Occlumency. She paused, her fingers skidding to a stop. Occlumency was the art of defending the mind from intrusions or attacks, achieved by suppressing memories and controlling emotion. Would such a practice be useful?

There was only a single book about Occlumency, and it seemed much too short to cover anything in depth. She grabbed it anyway.

“What do you think, Crooks?” She whispered, turning it over in her hand. It was simply titled Occlumency. She looked around into the dark library, holding her wand up. “Crooks?” She whispered louder.

There was a blunt sound as the door to the library swung open. Hermione quickly enlarged one of the pockets of her robe and stuffed the book inside before striding towards the entrance, wand still lit.

A moment later, she came face to face with a rather exasperated Severus Snape.

“Severus,” she greeted him.

“Again, Granger?” he said, eyebrow raised. “I thought nighttime wanderings were Potter’s purview.” He looked behind her, as though he expected that she had left the library in ruins. “What were you doing?”

“Just some light reading before bed, I’m afraid. Nothing too exciting.”

He pursed his lips. “I’m sure.”

“Well, I’m rather tired, so I’ll head off,” she edged past him. He turned to watch her, arms crossed.

“Goodnight, Severus.”

“Goodnight, Granger.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Today was Hermione Granger’s birthday. Severus knew this because he had been informed of this fact repeatedly, as though the sun rose and then set according to the life of a bushy haired know-it-all. And yet, despite his reservations, he found himself roped into the festivities as Minerva had already informed him that she would make sure that he was present for the duration of the evening. That evening, there was to be a surprise party consisting of the faculty, Potter, at least eighty Weasleys, and whatever other poor or misguided souls that had been coerced into attending the ordeal. He did not relish the idea of seeing Potter again, or being at the birthday celebration of one Miss Granger, but some things could not be helped.

As it turned out, the evening unfolded similarly to his predictions. Potter was there, as were an entire flock of Weasleys. All of his colleagues looked joyful and well on their way to an alcohol induced obliteration. Minerva gave him a nod when he came in, equal parts greeting and warning to not think that he could duck out unnoticed.

It was not long after Severus entered that he noticed Potter trying to catch his eye. Curling his lip in disgust, Severus looked around for someone he could stomach talking to for more than a minute.There were small groups of people talking around the room, none of which he was eager to join. Biswas was chatting amicably with George Weasley, who looked older but no less troublesome. Horace Slughorn, who had apparently heard that there was a party where Harry Potter & Co. would be attending, was talking to Ginny Weasley, whose patience appeared to fading quickly. Poppy and Pomona stood hand-in-hand talking with Longbottom, of all people. He looked much too satisfied for anyone with such as ridiculous name.

Seeing Potter make his way towards him, he abruptly moved in the direction of the drinks that were located on the other side of the room.

“It’ll be a busy year for you,” Severus overhead Pomona say to Longbottom. “Between a new baby and teaching next year.”

Severus snorted, but suppressed the comment regarding Longbottom’s inevitably dubious offspring as he walked by them.

He had only just managed to obtain a drink when the room went suddenly quiet with only the sound coming from the rustling of robes. A few seconds later, Septima and Granger walked through the door.

“SURPRISE!” Everyone shouted. There was a cacophony of noise as George set off a couple of small firecrackers, and others blew noise makers. Confetti rained from the ceiling, and Peeves suddenly appeared, dropping an entire cake pan. Frosting splattered all over the floor and people’s feet.

Granger looked around her as tears filled her eyes.

“Wow,” she said, smiling quickly. From his position across the room, Severus frowned. For a fraction of a second, he thought he had seen a look of undiluted fear on her face.Then Potter and Weasley pulled her into a “birthday hug,” and by the time Severus could see her face again, she looked genuinely happy, although still weepy.

“Thank you all so much,” she said sniffling. “This is incredible.”

“Happy birthday, Hermione,” Minerva said.

“Happy birthday!” Everyone chorused.

And so the party continued. Severus counted the entire thing a great success, mainly because he had managed to avoid Potter for the entire evening. It took over an hour, but eventually the crowd surrounding Granger began to dissipate. Seeing his opportunity, he approached her to wish her a happy birthday. Minerva would be after his head tomorrow if he didn’t.

“Quite a passionate bunch your friends are,” he commented. “From what I hear, they’ve been planning this party for weeks.”

She cocked her head and grinned slightly. “From what you hear? I assumed that you planned the whole thing yourself.”

They both looked around at the table laden with food, the bright colors, and the cake frosting that was still on the floor.

“I think you give me too much credit, Granger,” he said at last.

“Really? This entire party has your name written all over it.” She gave him another smile, and he wondered what he had done to earn it. “Thank you for coming, Severus.”

“Happy birthday, Granger.”

“Thank you,” she said, glancing around. She made a shooing motion in his direction. “Minerva is talking to Rolanda, which means she won’t notice what anyone else is doing for at least the next thirty minutes. Now’s your chance to escape,” she offered, eyes sparkling mischievously.

He casually glanced behind him where Minerva was indeed flirting with the flying instructor.

“Thank goodness for lesbians,” he muttered.

“Yes,” Hermione agreed, “Thank goodness for lesbians.”

He bid Granger goodnight before slipping out, neatly avoiding having to speak with anyone else.

Chapter Text

October 1999

Oliver Brisk stayed after class again to report that something was wrong.

“I’m sure everything is fine,” Hermione said. From all the information she had been able to gather from him, it seemed that his certainty that something was wrong came more from a feeling than anything. While Hermione knew that intuition could be a valuable trait, she thought it much more likely that Brisk was simply spending too much time with the Divination professor.

Seemingly unconvinced, Oliver informed her that he had been looking into it.

She tried, and failed, to keep herself from smiling.

"I'm serious, professor. Something is going on, and I'm going to get to the bottom of it."

"You may very well be right, Oliver, but that doesn't mean that you should spend your time trying to work it out. On top of your homework, which I'm sure takes up most of your time," she gave him a look, "you've also got Quidditch practice, I hear."

He stood up straighter. "You're looking at the newest Gryffindor Chaser," he said proudly.

"Congratulations, Brisk. Perhaps you should celebrate somewhere else," drawled a voice from the doorway. Snape entered. Oliver did not budge from his spot in front of Hermione's desk.

"Mr. Brisk, don't you have somewhere else to be?"

"No, sir."

"Then I suggest you find one," Severus turned towards Hermione. She smiled at Oliver, "You can come by my office later and we'll talk about it."

Oliver nodded and made a face at Snape's back as he left.

"Ten points from Gryffindor," Severus called, "For disrespecting a teacher."

Brisk, looking surprised, scampered off.

"Really, Severus. Was that necessary?"

In lieu of a response, he placed a small bottle on her desk.  

She picked up the bottle and gasped. “I can’t accept this.”

“Consider it a belated birthday present,” he said sourly.

"Thank you, Severus," Hermione said, taking the sleeping draught. She felt slightly embarrassed that he had noticed how little she was sleeping. Perhaps she had run into him one too many times after midnight. Instead, she changed the conversation.

"How did you know that Brisk was making a face? Was it Legilimency?"

He gave her an odd look. "It was probability. Students have a nasty habit of making all sorts of ugly faces when professors' backs are turned."

“Oh,” she said awkwardly.

He gave her another look before striding away without saying another word.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Hermione, Hermione, Hermione,” Bella sang. “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?” She cackled, and forced her mouth open. “Oh wait, that’s me,” Bellatrix said as she pressed the blade inside of Hermione’s mouth.

Hermione woke up and stumbled to bathroom where she retched. Crookshanks stood guard in front of the door, as if to protect her from anyone who would enter. When she was done, she went and grabbed the bottle Severus had given her. She would speak to him tomorrow.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Severus was seated in his office grading fourth years’ abysmal essays on wit-sharpening potion, something this lot clearly could benefit from, when there was a knock on his door. Before he could say anything, Hermione Granger was in his office.

“Granger,” he greeted her. “Do you realize the irrelevance of knocking if one is simply going to barge in?”

She blushed. “Sorry, I was afraid that you would leave me standing outside for five minutes. You did that frequently when I was a student.”

“I don’t recall,” he said dryly. He knew exactly what she talking about though. She had a very particular knock, loud and brisk. He had always given himself a few last moments of peace before he had let her into his office. Unfortunately, she seemed to have caught on.

She cleared her throat, but did not immediately say anything. Severus’ senses went on alert. A speechless Granger? Despite the fantasies he had entertained, he doubted that it could actually mean a good thing. She finally tried to speak. “I- ah, there’s something I want to ask of you.”

He narrowed his eyes. “No.”

“But you haven’t even heard what it is yet!”

“If it were a small matter you would have come out and asked already instead of standing here stuttering and wasting my time,” he snapped. “I have spent more time than you know indebted to others, and I don’t plan on continuing the tradition.

“Please, just hear me out,” she protested.

“Get out of my office, Granger,” he said tiredly.

It was a mark of how upset she was that she did not correct him this time. “Just listen to what I have to say. If at the end, you say no, I will respect that and not ask it again.”

“And am I to assume that if I don’t let this happen now, you will continue to pester me about it?”

She crossed her arms and stuck her chin out, which was an answer as far as he was concerned.

“Fine.”

She brightened. “Really?”

“I didn’t say that I would do it. Just go ahead and tell me.”

“I want to learn Occlumency,” she blurted out.

Her declaration was so unexpected that he almost laughed. Other than Potter, he could hardly think of someone less qualified for such a study, but all he said was:

“Really?”

“I imagine that this seems rather out of the blue to you, but I’ve given it a lot of thought. It’s just that the library offers so little information on the topic and with your expertise, you seemed like the logical person to approach,” she explained.

“And why, might I ask, would you feel it necessary to Occlumency? We are in a time of peace, and regardless it is apparent that certain heroes saved the day without any studies of the mind. Another quest for knowledge for the sake of knowledge then?”

“I am interested in the academic merits of Occlumency, the effects that it has on both the mind and magical ability.” Hermione said. “I think it would a fascinating study that would expand my scholastic horizons, so to speak, and provide an intellectual challenge.

Severus who had been listening from his desk with his hands steepled in front of him, now leaned back in his chair. “The problem with that, Granger, is I don’t believe you. I think there is something else driving this. Why do you really want to learn?”

“It’s personal.”

“It’s personal. You do grasp the concept of Occlumency, do you not? And I am sure Potter had plenty of stories for you. Your deepest secrets, your most treasured memories, everything you have ever hid will be on display for me, and will be until you manage to strengthen your mind. If you manage,” He amended. “Not everyone is skilled enough to do it.”

He stopped before criticizing Potter in front of her again, but she definitely understood the barbed remark.

“My answer remains no. I see no reason for Occlumency to capture your academic interest right now. Your days as a student are over, Granger. If you are truly interested in taking up an advanced project, talk to Minerva. She is better equipped than I to indulge your whims and fancies, and she might be willing to provide tutelage to the current Transfiguration professor.  Frankly, after years of dealing with you and your friends antics in my classroom, I am not anxious to put myself in a similar situation.”

“I understand,” Granger said, but she did not look as if she understood. She looked stunned. It was probably the first time she had ever been turned down for anything.

She thanked him before leaving. Severus returned to his grading.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He had not expected that would be the end of it. Yes, Granger had agreed to not bother him about it if he heard her out, but she was nothing if not persistent. Severus had prepared himself for the subsequent pestering he was sure would follow. What he  had not anticipated that Granger would stop speaking to him at all.

It seemed that he had wounded her Gryffindor pride. She had always been rather insufferable, but it had been brought to new heights. Every time she saw him, she stuck up her nose and turned away from him like he had personally wronged her. While he knew that no one would consider him to be a nice man, it irked him that this was the tipping point for Granger. This infuriating behavior continued on for several weeks until fifth year dunderhead had brought them together.

The day had begun as a miserable one. A student in his fifth year class had brought a blast-ended skrewt from Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures class in his bag. The class had been working on a poison antidote when students started screaming and someone’s cauldron caught fire. Severus put it out quickly, but in the moment that his back was turned, another cauldron exploded. There were several students clutching their faces and the entire class had to be treated for burns. Apparently the culprit, Daniel Capper, had dropped the blast-ended skrewt into the his cauldron when it had attacked him and several other students, an act which caused his potion to explode and send green-grey sludge over the entire class. The walls, floors, and students were covered in it.

Severus was unscathed enough to cast cleaning and healing charms that held the students over until they could get to the infirmary. He found the remains of blast-ended skrewt as he cleaned the lab.

Hagrid had been devastated to learn that one of his beloved blast-ended skrewt had been killed, but received a mixed amount of sympathy from the rest of the staff, most of whom had witnessed the mass exodus from the Dungeons to the Hospital Wing. Poppy had already been running low on potions, and barely had enough burn healing paste for the entire class.

“I can treat them all today,” she told Severus. “But most of them will have to stay overnight, and I won’t have enough to treat them tomorrow, and the seventh year Herbology class is dealing with snargaluffs tomorrow, and I’m bound to get receive half of the class after that.”

Severus had grimly nodded before heading back down to the Dungeons. He knew he would be up most of the night brewing so that he could have the potions ready for Poppy in the morning. He had already been at work for several hours when Granger came into the potions lab.

“Poppy asked me to come help,” she informed him, setting up her own cauldron.

“I don’t need help,” he told her, giving the potion to his right a slow quarter turn.

“I’m sure,” she sniffed daintily. “But nevertheless, my assistance was requested. Apparently Lavender foresaw an outbreak of colds within the next month.”

He didn’t bother gracing that particular comment with a response, but she continued on as if he had. “I know, I know. The likelihood of students getting colds during October and November is so high that it hardly seems worth predicting. I see that you already have the burn healing paste and the blood replenishing potion going, so I will begin the pepper-up.”

“Pepper-up only takes a few hours,” he pointed out. “And it expires rapidly. It should be prepared at the last possible moment.”

She continued to set out ingredients. “I have modified the directions so that it lasts much longer than a few hours- almost two weeks as a matter of fact, but the tradeoff seems to be that it takes slightly longer to prepare.”

“You modified the directions? How particularly unlike you. I thought the only rules you were capable of breaking were mine.”

He expected her to explain herself as she always did, whether such an explanation was requested or not, but she said nothing more about it. If she thought that a simple modification would impress him, she would be sorely disappointed. And if she thought that this made them even, then he would let her, especially if it kept her silent while he worked.

He mentally cursed himself as she began speaking again. He had jinxed himself.

“You know, I always struggled with modifying potions, which I know what a major complaint you had with my work, but it is something I have improved on. I definitely don’t have the natural affinity for feeling out what will make a potion better, but I have found that working with limited means causes me to be more creative. When Harry and I were ... camping, there were several instances where either Ron or Harry or I needed some potion or another, and there simply wasn’t the time to do it properly. And creating a fire large enough for the something like a blood replenishing potion? Forget it. We were trying to keep a low profile and a fire that big would have given us away almost instantly.”

Severus pinched the bridge of his nose and went back to work.

“In any case, it always made me think of you,” Granger concluded.

“If you continue to prattle, tonight will only seem longer,” he said. His hair fell over his face, and he moved to tuck it behind one ear.

“Then the night will likely seem infinite,” she said, unaffected by his words. “You know, you should tie your hair back. That way it won’t get in your way.”

“It is not my hair that is in my way, Granger,” he said. He gestured for her to grab a container on her side of the counter, which she did.

Finally, she settled down, and they worked in silence for some time. He was constantly aware of her presence, as he had not worked with anyone else in a long time, and was not particularly keen on starting up again, but she at least she was much quieter now. He had worried that she was someone who hummed while she worked- she looked like someone who would hum- but this was probably the quietest he had ever seen her.

The blood replenishing potion was nearing the critical stage, where it needed to be watched intensely. The heat needed to decrease in two minute intervals while the last ingredient was stirred in.

“Why do you call me Granger?” She asked suddenly. “You’re the only one who does.”

“Because your first name is a mouthful,” he said, lowering the heat slightly.

“But it’s not because you still see me as a student?”

“Hardly. I would never let a student near my personal work bench.”

It was an obvious deflection, but it seemed to satisfy her. She was focused on the potion in front of her, probably more focused than she really needed to be given that it was fairly straightforward to make, but he wasn’t going to tell her that. Her hair had been pinned up, but there was a line of wispy curls from around her temples down to the nape of her neck that he found oddly distracting.

Chalking it up to exhaustion, he turned the heat further down on the potion.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The next day, Severus was in a particularly foul mood. He had stayed up the entire night, and immediately following dinner the next day he had to see to Mr. Capper’s detention. What Severus had not managed to clean off the floor and walls yesterday was now Capper’s responsibility. When he trudged into the classroom, already looking miserable, Severus wordlessly handed him an old toothbrush and pointed at the wall on which he was to begin. The boy had hung his head and went to go fill up a bucket of water. Five minutes before curfew, Severus let him go. If Capper ran, he could make it back before then. Severus made sure to inform him that running in the halls would lose Hufflepuff 25 points.

Typically, he found it difficult to sleep for more than an hour or two at a time, but tonight he knew that he would have slept soundly. Unfortunately, today he was actually scheduled to patrol the corridors, at least for an hour. After closing and warding the classroom, he set off in direction of the Hufflepuff dormitories. It was an area of the castle students often wandered around, even at this hour. On his way there, a large orange cat fell in step beside him. Severus glanced down at it.

“You seem familiar,” he said. The cat glanced up at him. Even with its rather flat face, it managed to appear unimpressed.

“Ah, you’re Granger’s cat. I remember you from Grimmauld Place.”

The cat, predictably, said nothing.

As they neared the kitchens, it was clear that was the cat’s intended destination. Deciding to humor it, Severus followed.

When they entered the kitchen, the cat seemed unsurprised by what it saw and hopped up on the table that Granger was sleeping at. Her head was tucked into the crook of her arm on the table. The cat pawed at her hair for moment before realizing its claws were quickly becoming entangled and frantically batting at the frizzy mess. She slowly propped her head up, blinking slowly.

“Crooks?” She mumbled.

Severus sighed. “Get up, Granger.”

Although he spoke quietly so as to not wake up the house elves snoozing nearby, she sat up fully at the sound of his voice.

“Oh! Severus. Sorry, I must have drifted off,” she said, hurriedly standing up.

“Do these look like your quarters? Go to bed,” he said, grabbing her arm to steady her as she wobbled on her feet.

“That sounds good,” she said. She took a unsteady step towards the door. He watched as she continued to shuffle her way forward and sighed again.

“I’ll walk you.”

“No, it’s ok. I’ve got Crookshanks with me.”

Severus eyed both her and the cat. He was unsure what support she was expecting the cat to provide.

He followed both of them out before losing patience and offering his arm to her. She grabbed onto it, her palm facing his wrist and her index finger touching the bottom of his hand. He adjusted her grip before guiding her towards her rooms. She said little on the way there, and most of she did say seemed to be incoherent mumbles.

After depositing a deliriously tired Transfigurations professor into her rooms, Severus checked the time. Granger’s rooms were very close to the Gryffindor tower, and he had just a few minutes left of his patrol. Wonderful. With a swish of his robes, he was off to search for any lionhearted trouble makers that might be prowling about.

Chapter Text

October 1999

The Friday before Hallowe’en, they finally got the news. The owls swept through the Great Hall that morning like they always did, dropping letters, parcels, and copies of the Daily Prophet among students and professors alike. By the time a copy of the Daily Prophet landed in front of Hermione along with the rest of her mail, the muttering had already started, and students without were huddling around those who had subscriptions.

MALFOY’S MASSIVE MISTRIAL! the title read. There was a photo of a haggard looking Draco Malfoy attempting to duck out of sight as cameras flashed. She gasped, dropping the paper onto her plate. She had known that the likelihood that Malfoy would be sentenced was slim, but she had not prepared herself for the possibility of anything else.

“Granger, don’t call attention to yourself,” Severus muttered beside her. “Unless you want to be the topic of the next front page.”

She took a deep breath. He was right. A glance down the table told her that she was not the only one who was disturbed by the front page. Minerva’s face had twisted as though she had tasted something bad, and several other professors were shaking their heads. Remus and Tonks rarely ate breakfast at Hogwarts, and for once Hermione was glad. It meant that they would receive the news in the privacy of their own home, a luxury that Hermione wished that she had been afforded. Instead she was sitting in front of several hundred students, many of whom were looking at the front table to gauge the professors’ reactions.

She swallowed and plucked the paper out of her oatmeal as though nothing was wrong. She read the entire article, barely taking in what it was saying. Harry had spoken on Malfoy’s behalf, describing his actions at the Malfoy Manor as heroic and lifesaving. He had spoken similarly on behalf of Narcissa, but both she and Lucius had been convicted and sentenced to Azkaban last year. Hermione had not found the news upsetting in the slightest.

There was one reason and one reason alone that Draco had not followed his parents to Azkaban, and it had nothing to do with his heroic and life saving actions. Lucius and Narcissa must have known that they would be sent to Azkaban and that no amount of power or money would have been able to save them. If Hermione had been in their position, she would have funneled all of her resources towards her son.

What had started as a mutter among the students was quickly escalating. The buzz continued to grow louder and louder until Hermione was unable to tune it out.

Minerva stood up. “Please head to your classrooms,” she called. “Now,” she added when some students seemed reluctant to move from their spots. There were a few grumbles, but slowly the students complied, stuffing copies of the newspaper into their bags and pockets as they headed off in the direction of their classrooms.
“We should also get going,” Minerva said to their table. “I have a feel this is going to be a long day. I am tentatively scheduling a meeting for this evening in the staffroom.”

On the way to her classroom, Hermione heard a commotion. Quickly rounding the corner, she saw a group of students standing around in a loose circle. She pushed through them to see what was happening. Two fifth year students were in a full out brawl. One was Bandy Blackwell, a Slytherin student, and the other was Ryan Henry, a Gryffindor Hermione remembered vaguely from her own time as a student.

“Get ‘em, Ryan!”

Blackwell’s nose was bleeding and it looked like his lip was split, although he seemed to be getting in some punches of his own judging by the swelling of Henry’s eye.

“Stop right this instant!” Hermione cried.

It was unclear whether the boys heard her or not, but they certainly did not stop. She had barely gotten the sentence out before Blackwell finally managed to throw Henry off of him. Unfortunately, Henry went flying right for Hermione. She grabbed her wand at the last second.

“Arresto momentum,” she shouted. Henry dropped to the floor in front of her. “Get to class,” she snapped at the students who stood gawking. “If I see any of you still here in ten seconds, that’s five points apiece.” There was a mad dash and before Hermione had counted to eight, the hallways were clear with the exception of the two boys in front of her.

“What has gotten into the two of you?” Hermione said, looking back and forth between them. Both would have some impressive bruises in a few hours. Part of her was exasperated that they had resorted to fists when they were both capable of inflicting much more harm with a wand, but the rest of her was grateful that they had been too caught up to consider it.

“Nothing,” Henry said. “I’m sorry, Professor.”

“Nothing? I find you repeatedly punching a classmate, and you’re going to tell me that it is nothing?” She eyed Blackwell, who stood a couple of steps behind Ryan as though he could hide.

“Well, Mr. Blackwell? Do you agree with Mr. Ryan’s assessment of the situation?”

He gave a sharp nod, but said nothing.

She sighed. “I’m not going to send you to Madam Pomfrey, because you’re supposed to be in class, and I’m supposed to be teaching right now. That being said, I can’t have you bleeding all over my classroom, Mr. Blackwell. Episkey!

He gave a gasp as his nose snapped back into place. She looked both of them over a second time. “I will be speaking to both of your Heads of House about this incident, and I want to see you both after class to schedule your detentions. I’m sure Mr. Filch will be delighted to have help for the rest of the term.”

Both boys looked aggrieved, but neither were willing to say anything. She gestured to the classroom, following them as they trudged inside.

“Did you see her?”

“She had her wand out so fast that you couldn’t event see it!”

“I thought she was going to kill-”

The comments stopped when the class saw her walk into the room. She waited for Blackwell and Ryan to take their seats before addressing the class. “The behavior demonstrated in the hallway just now is unacceptable. It is not something I would allow the first year students to do, and it is certainly not something that I would expect from my OWL level class. Your classmates’ behavior has cost both houses fifty points.”

There was a collective groan from the class. She pursed her lips together. “And another fifty will be taken from each house for those of you who stood by and let this happen.”

She raised her hand against the protests that followed. “Encouraging your classmates to fight is unacceptable, and such behaviors have consequences,” she said.

There was scoff from one of her Gryffindor students, but she didn’t see which one. Irritated, she tapped her fingers on her desk. “Do you have something to add?” she asked, willing the answer to be no.

“How can you say behaviors have consequences?” One of Ryan Henry’s friends, Tanner Van Burm, called from the back of the classroom. “We all saw the newspaper. There’s a Death Eater who’s getting off scot free!” There was a murmur of agreement from the Gryffindor side of the classroom.

“A mistrial is not a verdict of innocence,” Hermione said.

“But it’s not a punishment neither,” Van Burm countered.

“It is not your place to decide the punishment of anyone,” Hermione said. “Death Eater or classmate.”

“What if they’re both?”

Hermione froze for a second. “Voldemort has been defeated. There are no Death Eaters at Hogwarts.”

“Isn’t there?” Van Burm yelled. He pointed at the Slytherins. “There’s a whole lot of them right there!”

The class exploded. Gryffindors and Slytherins were shouting across the room at each other. Some were flinging hexes at the other side, and others were stomping across the room to handle the argument physically.

“Silencio!” Hermione shouted. “Immobulus!” She surveyed the classroom. She had twenty some students unable to speak or move, and she found herself reluctant to change that. Finally, though, she spoke.

“I will remove these spells,” she said carefully. “When I do, I don’t want to hear another word from any of you. You will put away your wands, return to your seats, and turn to page 163 in your textbooks. If you do not follow these instructions, I will ensure that that by the end of the day that your House points will be depleted, your evenings until Christmas will be spent in detention, and any hope of participating in extracurricular activities during the remainder of your time at Hogwarts will be decimated- and yes, that includes Quidditch.”

She removed both spells and watched sharply as students followed her instructions. The only sound was the scrape of chairs against the floor as students returned to their seats. They stared at her warily, and she had to force herself to not return the look. Her hands were shaking in agitation, but she placed them flat against her desk before anyone could see.

“I said page 163, Miss Shimizu. Thank you. Let’s begin.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

By time that the professors had gathered together that evening, they all looked exhausted. Aurora dropped into the chair beside Severus like she could not bear to stand a moment longer. Granger also sat nearby. Her hair, which Severus believed to be the best indicator of her emotions, was enormous and looked as frazzled as she did herself. Severus gingerly pressed his fingers to his forehead. The headache that had been slowly building all day was becoming more difficult to ignore.

Minerva came in and surveyed the room. “I understand that this has not been a pleasant day, and I do not wish to prolong it, so we will keep this short.”

There was a mumble of gratitude from the staff, particularly from Lupin who looked like he would rather be anywhere else. Tonks must have weaseled out of the meeting to take care of that baby. Severus mentally calculated the lunar cycle. The next full moon was in a couple of days, and while Remus was surely taking his Wolfsbane Potion, meetings at the end of a long day would feel excruciating. Severus had little pity.

“Obviously the news we received today has been a great shock for the students, and I am sure that sentiment is true for many of us as well. Tensions are certainly high, as Hermione can attest to,” Minerva gestured towards her.

“Are you alright, dear?” Septima asked. “I heard what happened.”

“I'm fine,” Hermione said. “Luckily I was able to stop the fight before they reached for their wands.”

“I heard,” Filius squeaked. “You're creating quite a reputation for yourself, Hermione.”

“Rather reminds me of another professor who I will not name,” Pomona added, nudging Minerva.

Minerva shushed Pomona impatiently. “How this is handled over the upcoming weeks will determine how the students at this school treat each other. Lavender and Aurora, the two of you will need to work together to ensure that your houses are getting along. Of course you will have the support of the rest of the staff, including myself.”

Biswas raised his hand. “I am also facing a large amount of backlash in my classes from all houses. I would like to recommend that Muggle Studies be considered as a required class for students.”

“That's not a bad idea,” Lupin said. “Our worlds are becoming more integrated. It will be necessary to interact with Muggles, and increasing cultural awareness might be a good idea anyway.”

“It is a noteworthy idea, Elias,” McGonagall said. “But it is something I would like to table for another discussion. For right now, does anyone have any questions regarding what the expectations are?’

Everyone shook their heads.

Minerva dismissed them, and the professors quickly stood, their earlier exhaustion temporarily forgotten as they scrambled out of the staff room. Severus took his time, knowing that his plans would keep him up through the night.

~*~*~*~*~*~


After delivering Remus his potion, Hermione had planned on spending a relaxing Friday night alone. Her plans were somewhat interrupted by a series of overlapping knocks from her door. Worried that it was urgent, she swiftly walked over and opened the door, only to see Harry and Ron standing in the corridor.

“What are you two doing here?” Hermione exclaimed, gesturing for them to come inside. “I thought you had a training trip.”

“Well, it’s a two week long camping trip, and Harry made the very convincing argument that we’ve had our fair share of camping,” Ron said cheerfully as they entered the room. “And then I thought that George would put me to work, but he said that he had some business to attend to in Hogsmeade, so here I am.”

“I’m visiting Ginny next weekend, but I think her team will hex me if I interrupt them anymore,” Harry said.

“As they should,” Ron said. “You’re the clingiest boyfriend in the world. I don’t know how Ginny does it.” Harry halfheartedly shoved Ron as they sat down with Hermione in between them.

Harry caught sight of the corner where Hermione handled most of her brewing, including Remus’ Wolfsbane potion. “Don’t get me wrong, Hermione, it’s certainly a step up from Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, but why don’t you use one of the labs?”

“Because that’s for Remus, and we decided that it would be better if Severus didn’t see it.”

“You think he’d poison it?” Ron asked.

“No,” Hermione said, swatting at him. “I just didn’t want to aggravate an already tense situation, and it’s not a problem. I have plenty of room here.”

“Is this what all professors’ rooms look like?” Ron said. “Because this is huge.”

“Where are your manners, Ronald? Harry, do you let him get away with this? Don’t answer that, I’m afraid I already know the answer,” she said, scolding more out of habit than anything. After such a chaotic day, the amount of comfort she felt at their presence was beyond words. As if they could hear her thoughts both Ron and Harry sighed, and they sat in silence for a few moments.

“You should get your fireplace fixed,” Harry said. “That way we don’t have to sneak in and avoid Filch.”

Hermione laughed. “You forget that I know you, Harry James Potter. Sneaking in is half the fun for you. So tell me, what mission has instigated today’s sneakiness?”

Harry cleared his throat.

“Well, actually, the real reason we came by was to see how you were doing,” he said. “Because of the Malfoy situation.”

Hermione felt her smile freeze on her face. “The Malfoy situation?”

“Yes,” Harry said slowly as though she were stupid. “There was a mistrial today. Draco has been let go for the time being.”

“Oh,” Hermione said. Her voice was shrill to her own ears. “That.”

“That,” Harry said. He gave her a pitying look that made her want to scream at him and crumble into a million pieces at the same time. “I know that the whole process has not been easy for you.”

“For me?” She said. “Harry, I’m sure it hasn’t been a walk in the park for you either. Besides, we already spoke about this when you decided you wanted to speak on Draco’s behalf at trial.”

Ron tentatively put his hand on her back, and she almost snapped at him, but restrained herself at the last second.

“I know,” Harry said. “But, all the same. I know it mustn’t have been easy.”

Bellatrix, Lucius, Narcissa, Greyback, and the snatchers had gotten what they deserved, as they had either been killed in the Battle of Hogwarts or were currently imprisoned at Azkaban. Hermione personally did not feel that one option was necessarily more merciful than the other. Regardless, it gratified her sense of justice, and she found some comfort in the uncomplicated, unambiguous conclusion. Her feelings regarding Draco were somewhat more complicated. She did not want him to go to Azkaban, nor did she want him to walk away as though he had done nothing wrong. Hermione was unsure of what a suitable outcome would be, and thus she was afraid that any resolution on the matter would leave her unsatisfied.

Draco Malfoy was a former classmate and academic rival. He was a bully, or at least he had been. He had witnessed the torture that she had endured and done nothing to stop it. He had saved Harry’s life, and inadvertently, hers as well. His contradicting actions did not bother her as much as her own conflicted reactions to them. Hermione found comfort in logic and in the order it brought to a chaotic world. The illogical web of emotion that surfaced at even the mention of Malfoy’s name brought a wave of discomfort to her, and emotions were particularly dangerous in relation to this topic.

She had seen his pale, pointed face when Bellatrix had dug in the knife for the first time. She had seen how his grey eyes widened, and then, how he had turned away from what his aunt was doing.

He had done nothing to help her. He had saved Harry.

“I don’t really want to talk about this,” Hermione said.

“B-,” Harry began.

“That’s fine,” Ron said, cutting off whatever Harry was going to say. “We just wanted to see how you were, and to remind you that you can always talk to us if you want.”

“Thank you,” she said. “Now, tell me, did you also receive an invitation to this ball that the Ministry is throwing?”

Harry groaned. “Blast the ball. I don’t want to go near it, but Kingsley has already personally asked me to be there.”

“What, does giving a speech to hundreds of suck ups not sound like a good way to ring in the new year?” Ron joked.

“It’s clearly just a publicity ploy,” Hermione agreed. “No one’s been able to get a picture of you in ages, Harry. Having you as the guest of honor is really not surprising.”

“They’re being very slippery about the whole thing. ‘The Millennium Ball’,” Harry read from Hermione’s invitation. “‘An event to remember our past and to look towards our future.’ It’s ludicrous!”

Just then there was a clatter in the hallway. Hermione sighed. “I better see what that was about.”

“We’ll come with you,” Harry said.

The three of them crept into the hallway where Elias Biswas and George stood, surrounded by a load of broken crockery.

“What in the world are you doing?” Hermione hissed.

“Well, I finished up in Hogsmeade and came to the school to get Ron,” George said in a comically loud whisper. “And then I ran into Elias who has never played a prank on Filch.”

“What were you going to do to him?” Harry asked.

“Cover his mops in butter,” Elias said sheepishly. “But I got spooked by that cat of his and dropped everything.”

“And those manacles he keeps in his office,” George added. “We were going to butter those too. That way if he ever does stick some poor chap in ‘em, they’ll be able to get out.”

“In butter?” Hermione repeated. “Oh, George honestly. Elias is new, he doesn’t know any better.”

“Yeah, not your best, mate,” Ron observed. “Butter seems kind of … rudimentary.”

Hermione turned and glared at him.

“Well, that was the idea. Something spirited, but old fashioned,” George said.

“Don’t let McGonagall see you here. She’s already banned your products, and if you get into any more trouble, she might just ban you altogether,” Ron said. He put his hands on hips and surveyed the mess. “Mrs. Norris, you said?" Under his breath, he added, "Will that cat never die, honestly."

“Go on,” Hermione said to Elias, pointing. He made no objections, although his mustache seemed to droop slightly as he bid everyone a goodnight before retreating. She vanished the mess and sighed. She looked at Ron and then at Harry.

“I love you both,” she said solemnly.

“But you want us to go?” Ron said with a knowing nod. “Right. Will do.” He and Harry returned to her room to gather their coats.

Hermione turned to look at George who was silent for a moment as he looked around at the castle “They’ve done a bang up job with the repairs.”

Oh, George. “They have,” she agreed. Could this be his first time back since the battle that had killed Fred? She tried not to give George the pitying look that Harry had given her only a few minutes before.

Harry and Ron exited her room again and after all three men had given her a hug and a kiss on the cheek, they left. She had not even closed her door before she heard Mrs. Norris yowling and Filch’s growl. Deciding that she did not want to know, she shut it firmly.

She thought briefly about turning in for the night, but she wasn’t particularly tired. Every time she shut her eyes, she could hear the hysterical laughter of another person in her head. She usually would pull out whatever book she was in the middle of and read until she passed out or until it was time for breakfast, whichever came first. Tonight, the idea of being alone, even if it did mean being surrounded by books, was not a comforting thought.

Hermione pulled out the Marauder’s Map. Out of fairness, she did not always use the map on nights that she patrolled, but even so, most students obeyed curfew if they thought she would be walking about the corridors. Tonight, for whatever reason, everyone appeared to be in their rooms. She could see that Minerva was still in her office, which was not a particularly unusual sight even for the late hour. Severus was in the Potions lab adjacent to his classroom.

He was apparently as familiar with insomnia as herself. She frequently ran into him past midnight, and the other week they had stayed in the Potions lab into the early morning hours. Awake or not, it was doubtful he was looking for company. Regardless, Hermione decided to pay him a visit in the dungeons, where she found him to be hard at work and as charming as ever.

Chapter Text

Hermione pulled out the Marauder’s Map. Out of fairness, she did not always use the map on nights that she patrolled, but even so, most students obeyed curfew if they thought she would be walking about the corridors. Tonight, for whatever reason, everyone appeared to be in their rooms. She could see that Minerva was still in her office, which was not a particularly unusual sight even for the late hour. Severus was in the Potions lab adjacent to his classroom.

He was apparently as familiar with insomnia as herself. She frequently ran into him past midnight, and the other week they had stayed in the Potions lab into the early morning hours. Awake or not, it was doubtful he was looking for company. Regardless, Hermione decided to pay him a visit in the dungeons, where she found him to be hard at work and as charming as ever.

~*~*~*~*~*~

“The effect is wearing off,” he said, barely glancing in her direction as he consulted his notebook. “Your sudden and uninvited appearance is barely rattling anymore.”

“Good evening, Severus,” Granger said, sitting atop of the table he was using. She sat a fair distance down from his work space and was unlikely to interfere. He gave her a long suffering look nonetheless before turning back to his book.

“I have to inform you that it is long past evening,” he said as his eyes flicked across the surface of the page.

“So it is,” she agreed. She seemed rather settled in her spot, leaning back on her hands.

“Was there something you required?” He asked irritably, moving to roll up his sleeves. As his hand fell to his left sleeve, he thought better of it. The Dark Mark on his arm had faded after Voldemort’s defeat, but it still lay dark and ugly on his skin. Unsolicited companionship or not, Granger did not deserve to be confronted with something as repulsive as the mark. Besides, he would have to be insane to invite the condemnation from the witch, who was always rather free with her judgement of others. It was a trait they had in common.

He paused for a fraction of a second before continuing with his preparations.

“I have noticed that you have a peculiar habit of perching on surfaces that are not yours- a habit you seem to share with that orange menace,” he said after a moment, reaching over to swat at her crossed legs with his book.

“His name is Crookshanks,” Granger corrected. “I can move if I’m in your way.”

He ignored her, making sure that Granger got the distinct impression that she was already in his way. Severus had no idea what had possessed her to seek him out in the middle of the night and on the weekend, no less, but he could assume that any lingering resentment she may have carried over his refusal of Occlumency lessons seemed to have dissipated. That is, if her incessant prattle was anything to go by.

“Is this a new research project?” She asked, peering over at the book, which he had left open on the table nearby.

“No, Granger,” He said, wandlessly shutting the book before returning his attention to the papers and ingredients in front of him. “I’m not discussing this. Any queries or guesses or unrequested observations will be grounds for removal from your spot, am I clear?”

“It’s my spot, then?” She teased, swinging her legs. His reticence to provide any information only seemed to intrigue her further, if her suddenly piercing gaze was any indication, but thankfully she heeded his words.

A moment later, Hermione caught him off guard yet again, “I wanted to thank you. You’ve helped me out quite a bit these last couple of months.”

Now she had his attention. His brow furrowed as he looked at her. Her face shone with sincerity, but it wouldn’t be the first time he had been on the wrong end of a joke.

“How so?” Severus inquired suspiciously.

She laughed. “Do you need a list of your own good deeds? I simply wanted to thank you.”

He flushed, something that seemed to shock and please her in equal measures. Not wishing for either of them to dwell on it, he brought up something that had been on his mind.

“Care to explain the incident in the hallway today?” Severus asked mildly.

She stopped mid leg swing. “With the butter?”

“I was referring to Blackwell and Henry, our resident wrestlers. I assume the butter was uninvolved in the incident.”

“Oh. Well, they were fighting when I arrived. Neither were willing to fess up to the cause of altercation.” Granger shrugged. “I took points from both of their houses and started class.”

“As I recall, you dropped a student on their face before threatening to take the maximum number of house points.”

She blushed. “I didn’t know that you were there,” she said. “I didn’t see you.”

Of course she hadn’t. He had heard the ruckus only in the last moments of the fight. By the time he had turned the final corner, Granger had her wand out and was giving a verbal lashing to the perpetrators. Not with the cool, vicious brutality that Severus would have, of course, but he could certainly appreciate her fierceness, as well as her flair for the dramatic. Something else they appeared to have in common.

“You seemed to have control over the situation,” he gave her an assessing glance, “even if it was by slim margin.”

“It certainly didn’t feel like I had even that,” she said, sighing. “I honestly don’t know what to do with the students. I thought I was going to have a riot on my hands today.”

“Should there be another riot in this school, your friends Mr. Longbottom and Miss Weasley would undoubtedly be involved in its genesis.” Merlin knows that they had given him a fair share of headaches during his year as headmaster.

Granger still looked troubled. For someone so used to success, so accustomed to the idea of education being all important and all encompassing, the thought that some some students simply didn’t care must be killing her.

“What did you expect, Granger? I told you from the first day that this was not the profession for you,” he said.

Hermione was silent for a moment, head cocked. She was seriously considering his question, despite the manner in which he had asked it. “I suppose I didn’t expect it to be this-”

“Futile?”

“Difficult,” she said firmly. “I thought the hardest part of teaching would be teaching, but frankly it’s everything else in combination that is most challenging. It’s exhausting.” She yawned.

Speaking of exhausting. He checked the time. It was well into the early hours of the morning, almost four.

“As much as I depend on your brilliant insights and constant presence to work, I’m sure I can manage for the next few hours on my own. Go rest, Granger.”

Granger protested mildly, but she was clearly too exhausted to put up much of a fight. After she left, the room felt stiflingly silent, although their conversation had not been loud. He returned to brewing, but within the hour it was obvious that the potion would be fruitless. His patience withered with each passing minute, and he emptied his cauldron with perhaps more aggression than strictly necessary before he began cleaning up his station.

Severus added another page of notes to his book, underlining potential next steps. Today had been largely unsuccessful, but he would keep trying. He had known going into this that it would be a matter of trial and error, and certainly the most ambitious project he had ever attempted on his own. Finally, he tapped the book shut and warded it, so that no student or Granger could get into it when his back was turned.

Speaking of things Granger was getting into, Severus had little explanation as to why she showed any interest in him at all. Surely there were plenty of other people on which she could spend her time with. The ambiguity of the reason for her attention left him feeling rather suspicious of the whole thing. It would not be unlikely that Potter had asked her to keep an eye on him, nor would it be out of character for Granger to do so of her own volition.

Even so, it was unlikely that her motivation would make much of difference. He would simply carry on as he always did and keep his distance.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Severus was in a black mood. His coworkers, well acquainted with the increase in irritability and verbal lashings that occured close to Hallowe’en, had at least had the self-preservation to give him a wide berth. His students clearly lacked the common sense of their instructors and were penalized dearly for it. By late afternoon, all four houses had a drop of house points, and Poppy gave a firm suggestion that he take a walk.

“Get some fresh air. Clear your head,” she said. Her deciding tone told him that it was not a point for discussion. He hadn’t fought her on it, instead he had seized a basket and gone. He had been running low on moss anyways. It was one of the few plants that Pomona did not bother growing, but it was still rare for Severus to collect it himself. Usually, Hagrid was willing to collect ingredients from the Forbidden Forest, however Severus had likely hurt his feelings when he snapped at the half-giant over lunch. In fairness, Hagrid had nearly crushed Severus’ foot when he went to sit down.

Severus muttered to himself as he stalked through the Forbidden Forest in the dark. While the sun had not quite set, the wide expanse of leaves overhead ensured that little of the fading sunlight filtered down to the forest floor.

A gnarled root, disguised under the shadows created by the light from Severus’ wand curled around his leg as he stepped by it. He swore loudly, mostly on the off chance that whatever infernal tree was responsible would hear him.

By the time that Severus had retrieved the moss and started back towards the school, the sun had truly set, and the air was crisp and still. The moon, a perfect hemisphere, was bright. Severus muttered, “Nox.”

He had just passed the Whomping Willow, which sat at the edge of the forest, when the shrubbery rustled behind him. Severus turned sharply, recasting lumos. The green-black leaves gleamed in the dim light, but not one appeared to move. Just as Severus was about to turn back around, two orange eyes appeared from the shadowy bushes. He took a cautious step back, and kept his wand lit.

Whatever animal was staring him, it didn’t move. Severus, impatient, sent a probing spell into the foliage to push the creature out into the open. There was no movement. He didn’t have all night to have a staring contest with some anonymous creature. He turned to go, but then he heard a very soft, “meow.”

A cat?

A small black blur tumbled out of the leaves, headed straight at him.

He took another step back, unwilling to come in contact with an unfamiliar creature. As it came closer, he saw that it was indeed a cat. She was exceptionally small and matted, but appeared to be in reasonable health considering she had been wandering around the Forbidden Forest. A quick diagnostic charm verified this, as well as informed Severus that she was not an Animagus, nor under any sort of enchantment.

“Where did you come from?” He muttered, looking down out at her. He knelt down and offered his hand, which she obligingly ran her face and the side of her head over. He grimaced at the crusty grime, idly rubbing his fingers together at the displeasing feeling.

Severus stood up again, looking down at the cat, who gave a pitiful sneeze. He made a decision.

Turning on his heel, he called, “Come with me, cat.” He continued on to Hogwarts, not checking to see if the cat was following him. By the time he was walking across the Viaduct Courtyard, he could hear the soft taps of paws trotting after him.

He heard another sneeze behind him.

The first thing to attend to when they reached the castle was her hygiene. With any luck, it would cure the sneezes.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Severus Snape did not suffer fools gladly. For this reason, he assumed that if he ever had a pet, it would be a sly, intelligent creature. As it so often seemed to happen for him, his assumptions about how his own life proved to be erroneous.

He watched from his armchair in resigned exasperation as the cat walked sniffed the saucer of food that the house elves had provided for her. She pawed at it experimentally. A piece stuck to her paw, and she panicked, scurrying around the room as though she could outrun it.

“You’re supposed to eat it,” he informed her as she passed by for the third time.

Her ears twitched and then without any warning, she pounced on his feet.

“More interested in a sock than in food, hmm?” He asked, pulling his socked foot out of her tiny teeth. “That shows a lack of self-regard that would be out of place everywhere but here.”

Severus got up with a sigh and picked up the saucer of cat food. She padded over to him, winding around his legs.

“Now you want it?”

She meowed at him. Her large orange eyes seemed to have grown in size.

He stooped down and placed the saucer back on the floor.

Her tail flicked twice in annoyance.

He picked it up again and examined it. In every aspect, its appearance resembled cat food. Puzzled, he returned to his seat and set the food on the wide arm of his chair.

She immediately leapt into his lap and began eating at once. He felt a rare smile on his lips at the sight. Whether her preference had been born from stupidity or snobbery was anyone’s guess. She begun to purr as his fingers combed through her recently cleaned fur. He felt idiotic. He should not be so pleased that a cat had chosen to eat her meal with him, but the feeling remained. It was not often that any living thing chose Severus’ company. In that moment, both man and cat were satisfied.

~*~*~*~*~*~

It wasn’t long before Minerva stopped by.

“I heard that you have a new familiar,” she said, looking around the room expectantly.

He should have known. Minerva could sense a new cat within minutes. He was unsure whether this was a result of her abilities as an Animagus, or just her natural affinity for the animals.

The cat tentatively slid out from behind Severus’ seat as though she could hear Minerva talking about her. He watched in disbelief as the cat almost shyly trotted up to Minerva, who immediately pulled her into her arms.

“Pleased to meet you,” Minerva said seriously. She glanced up at Severus. “She’s quite small, isn’t she?”

“I thought she might be young. Still growing.”

Minerva shook her head. “No, she’s several years old at least. This is her full size.”

They both looked at the cat, who yawned, sneezed, and then trotted back over to Severus.

“And she has certainly taken a liking to you. I hope you’ve started thinking of a name.”

“Didn’t she already tell you the name she calls herself? Or must I wait for it to come to me in a dream as she shreds my armchair to ribbons?” Severus asked sourly. He had not even decided if he was keeping her, and Minerva was ready to add the cat’s name to the directory.

“Sarcasm suits you, Severus, but I’m afraid ignorance does not,” Minerva said calmly. “You and I both know that she has found her home.” She rose from her seat.

“Will you be present at the feast tomorrow evening?”

“It is … unlikely.”

Minerva nodded, as though this only confirmed what she had already thought.

“Well then. Goodnight, Severus.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The Hallowe’en Feast marked the first holiday Hermione experienced as a teacher. The holiday also marked Hermione’s first experience subbing for another instructor. Tonks had been called away handle something that she had brushed off as “Auror business,” and Hermione was one of the few instructors with a free period during that time.

Hermione had never had the natural affinity for DADA that Harry had had, but she certainly had been more than proficient in the subject, and frankly it would also be a welcome distraction from Transfigurations. While a highly intelligent and worthwhile pursuit, there are only so many times the same introductory material can be taught without it becoming tedious.

In the spirit of the holiday, Hermione took a leaf from Remus Lupin’s notebook and brought in a boggart. She had some apprehension about the exercise. After all, these students were not oblivious to the war that had been ongoing during their first year at school. Fortunately, the fears of the thirteen year olds in her class were not all that different from the fears she and her own classmates had had at the same age.

Spiders, snakes, dogs. One student had a fear of needles and nearly fainted when the boggart took the shape of a pair of long, sharp knitting needles. They clacked together as they moved in closer, points facing in his direction.

Shakily, he shouted, “Riddikulus!” The needles folded over each other like a large metallic pretzel, causing the students to laugh.

“I was worried Sleeping Beauty was going to pass out on us,” a Slytherin said from the back. The rest of the boys in class hooted until Hermione stopped the demonstration to lecture on importance of respecting others fears and challenges. Once everyone looked properly admonished and bored, the demonstration continued with Morgan Rosier, who turned the boggart-as-lightning into fireworks.

The line of students dwindled as each one faced their greatest fear. Despite the everyone’s nervousness, spirits were high, and the line moved fairly quickly up until it was Gemma McGuire’s turn. Oliver Brisk called out his support from the back of the class where he waited with the rest of her friends. She trembled slightly as she stepped up in front of the boggart.

The second she did, the boggart collapsed on the floor, broken and bleeding. There wasn’t time to see who exactly it was imitating, because it gave a pitious moan as it struggled to its feet. One look at Gemma made it clear that Hermione would have to intervene.

She stepped in between the student and the boggart, “Riddikulus!” She shouted. There was a sharp crack as the boggart dropped back to the floor, but not before it took a new form. Brown eyes, pert nose, bushy hair. The surprise on her face was mirrored on the boggart as it fell, mouth frozen in a surprised O. It hit the ground, its features now comical and entirely unfamiliar as a result of the banishing spell. With a sharp flick of her wand, the boggart returned to the trunk from whence it came.

Hermione turned around. The entire class stood in shock.

“Well,” she said shakily, brushing her hands together. “That’s that. Class dismissed.”

Like her students, she was quick to leave the DADA classroom. Her Transfiguration class was scheduled shortly after, and she was hasty to leave the uncomfortable moment with the boggart. All the same, she took a few moments on her way down the corridor to collect herself and admire the decorations. The entire castle was remarkably festive, even for Hogwarts. Pumpkins were stacked around the halls and staircases, and the ghosts floated through classes without much thought to the disruption that they would inevitably cause.

Even ghosts weren’t particularly fond of boggarts, so Hermione did not encounter any that day until her halfway through her Transfiguration lecture when Nearly Headless Nick made an appearance. His presence was punctuated by frequent and loud complaints about how the Headless Hunt continued to nitpick over a measly ½ inch, as well as stories of his days as a member of the royal court. Hermione tried not to roll her eyes at Nicholas’s predictability. He tended to grow nostalgic around this time of year.

Hermione was already having difficulty keeping her students’ attention. As it was Friday, and a holiday, they were particularly rambunctious. She might have been more forgiving if her Friday class was not her NEWT level class. As it stood, egging on Sir Nicholas and interrupting her with questions that they knew to be timewasters was unacceptable.

“Read chapters fourteen through eighteen,” Hermione called as they stood up to leave. “I want a detailed essay on Human Transfiguration by next week.”

The class groaned. “Don’t you have just a little bit of sympathy, Professor?” Sage Kelleen said. “It’s Hallowe’en! And Professor Snape already has us swamped!”

“You wouldn’t have so much reading if you had paid attention in class, Miss Kelleen,” Hermione said. “And if you have any complaints regarding the amount of work that Professor Snape assigns, I would suggest taking it up with him.” The look she received was rather sullen, but nothing more was said to her. Hermione found that she had very little sympathy for the class. She had done more work as a student, and in fact, at Kelleen’s age, she had been hunting for Horcruxes. They could handle an essay that wasn’t due for a week anyway.

Septima had been right about reputation. Despite what Hermione’s students’ private opinions of her might be, they rarely said anything to her face, and with the exception of days like today, they were well behaved. As much as she might wish otherwise, she was well aware that their respect had come from evidence of her skill and not from any talent she had as a teacher.

While her students might have been restless throughout the day, Peeves was downright mischievous. He had begun to pick pumpkins up and lob them at students in the halls. By the time everyone had gathered in the Great Hall for the feast, orange pulp was splattered in corridors across the school and smeared across some of the students as well.

Minerva stood to give a brief speech before everyone tucked into their meals.The food was as magnificent as always, and the Great Hall was bright and warm. Several of the professors seemed rather jolly, but the whiff Hermione got of alcohol informed her that their moods might have been helped along. Tonks was notably absent, as was Severus, but everyone else seemed to be in attendance, even Lavender. Most of the ghosts were present as well. All in all, it was fairly typical Hallowe’en at Hogwarts.

Also in typical Hogwarts fashion, the unremarkable moment did not last long. It was not even an hour after the feast that Lavender and Hermione, heading back to their rooms, stumbled across an duel in the middle of a hallway.

“What is the meaning of this?” Hermione cried. All six students, including four first year Slytherins as well as a second and third year Gryffindors, froze. Wands pointed in every directions. “Put your wands away, and explain this at once.”

There was some quiet grumbling, but they did as instructed.

“Consider house points to be deducted from both of your houses,” Hermione said, irritably tapping her foot. "You should be ashamed, dueling on Hallowe’en,” she added. Only about half of them looked properly shamefaced. “What were you thinking?”

“They weren’t,” Lavender commented dryly. “Brawling in the hall shows a great lack of foresight, something you will hopefully gain more of through your detentions next week,” she gave a pointed stare to the group, who now truly shrank back in terror. Hermione felt both a little thrill at the successful teamwork between herself and Lavender, and pity for Lavender herself for evoking such obvious repulsion in her students.

Lavender’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Professor Brown,” the Gryffindors muttered. The Slytherins were quick to follow suit. Hermione dismissed them all shortly thereafter, realizing that they were not going to be any more forthcoming towards the faculty about their disputes than she had been during her own time as a student.

“Something has to be done about this,” Hermione said once she was sure that no students were in earshot. “It seems like there has been a fight every week.”

“It will only be worse next week,” Lavender said. “Quidditch season is about to start.

For once, Hermione worried that there might be some truth to Lavender’s prophecy.

Chapter Text

November 1999

Years ago, Harry had told her, "Hermione, you're good on feelings and stuff, but you just don't understand about Quidditch."*

Nearly four years later, this was still true. Harry's atrocious grammar aside, he did have a point. She didn't understand a thing about Quidditch. Why was is so popular? Why did it have to be so dangerous? Why was it so long?

However, the first Quidditch game of the season was that weekend, and Hermione had resolved to attend, if only to support her house. Minerva had also slipped her a few Galleons, which Hermione had reluctantly used to enter the betting pool. Hermione had hoped the Headmistress would forget her reluctant agreement to act as proxy, but the gleam in Minerva’s eye told her that the woman had thought of little else over the past few months. She had already let Minerva know that the boys were planning on dropping by for the game. Hermione expected that there would be quite a crowd when students realized that Harry Potter would be present.

As almost an afterthought, she invited Lavender to come watch the game with them. Lavender agreed after some prodding from the other professors. There would most certainly be a high attendance rate, not only due to the longstanding rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin, but also because of the bets that the professors had made. Hermione had a sneaking suspicion that students were making similar bets despite such activities being banned. That had never stopped the Weasley twins, and she doubted it would stop these students either.

The day of, Harry and Ron arrived early, decked head to toe in Gryffindor red. "Don't you think that's a bit uncouth?" Hermione had whispered to them. "It will end up all over the newspapers."

Harry shrugged, "It's Quidditch. Everyone knows rivalries run deep. Besides, we're not the only ones with house pride -I've seen McGonagall."

"She's a professor!"

"She's the headmistress. If she can wear Gryffindor colors, so can I," Harry said with finality.

Hermione sighed in defeat and then checked her watch. It was about time for them to head to the stadiums, especially if they wanted decent seats with the rest of the staff.

She informed them of this, "All I need to do is get Lavender, and then we can head done."

Ron gulped. "Lavender?"

"She's watching the game with us. Didn't I tell you?"

"No," Ron said, looking slightly panicked. "I don't know about this, Hermione. I haven't seen her since-"

"Ron?" They all looked up guiltily.

Lavender stood there looking uncertain. She had made an effort with her appearance, her hair bright and springy. Hermione thought she was wearing a small amount of makeup. Lavender's Gryffindor scarf was wrapped securely around her neck, obscuring the worst of the scarring.

"And Harry," She walked over and gave them both a hug. Hermione was not sure the last time Lavender had seemed so responsive to people.

"L-Lavender, it's good to see you," Ron said.

Harry chimed in with something similar.

Lavender smiled tightly, and there was a lengthy pause.

Hermione was unpleasantly reminded of the last time she had stood with Lavender in the hall, just before the start of the school year.

She cheerfully suggested that they head to the game, the looks from all three of them confirming that she was overly enthusiastic in her attempt to make the situation less awkward.

Her heart sank slightly when she saw who was already sitting at the stadium. Minerva and Severus were bickering, as per usual. Filius and Pomona both cheerfully waved at the group, and Remus laughed when he saw them.

"Harry! Should have known you would stop by!"

Out of the corner of Hermione's eye, she saw Severus stiffen, looking like a student that had just been trapped by Mrs. Norris.

Harry, for his part, gave both Minerva and Severus a brief acknowledgement without interrupting their argument and then sat down beside Hermione. Ron was sandwiched between herself and Lavender.

“Where’s Tonks, Remus?” Hermione asked, leaning across Harry to better see him.

He sighed. “Teddy caught a cold, nothing serious, but Dora decided to stay home and take care of him.”

 

Harry and Hermione shared a glance.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Hermione said. “I hope he gets better soon.”

On her other side, Ron seemed desperate to make up for his loss of words earlier and was attempting to strike up conversation with Lavender to little avail.

Suddenly a fourth year Ravenclaw cast the sonorus charm and cleared her throat. Hermione squinted. Was that Becky Arncliffe? She was a quiet student; Hermione couldn’t imagine that she would be the Quidditch announcer. “Welcome to the first Quidditch game of school year! GRYFFINDOR VERSUS SLYTHERIN!”

There was a roar from the crowd that only grew as the game began. The bludgers and the snitch quickly shot up into the air, and quaffle was thrown directly after.

“And Gryffindor has the quaffle! Kelleen is moving today, and it doesn’t look like anyone’s about to stop her! And she scores! That’s 10 points for Gryffindor!”

Minerva whooped, and Severus shot her a look, which only made her laugh. Minerva’s delight only grew as Gryffindor scored twice more in quick succession.

“And Kelleen scores for the fourth time today! Hey, Sage, let someone else score for a change!”

There was an appreciative chuckle from the crowd. Remarkably, the usually quiet Becky Arncliffe was the best announcer that Hermione had heard since Lee Jordan.

“Slytherin is not off to a great start this year. They have three players sitting this game out due to injuries and/or detention. I can only hope that the rest of the year goes similar. I wouldn’t be surprised with the way that Slytherins are getting into fights this year.”

“Less gossip, Arncliffe!”

“Sorry, Professor.

“Once again, Gryffindor has the quaffle. Oh! Jaspers just took another blow from a bludger. Without their usual beaters, Slytherin is getting hammered today. Let’s see if they can turn this around.”

Within twenty minutes, the score sat at 100-0 with Gryffindor in the lead.

“If this keeps up, it’ll be a short game,” Harry said, and indeed it was.

“And Ryan has caught the Snitch! Gryffindor wins!” Becky Arncliffe yelled. The crowd gave a weak cheer, clearly torn between excitement over the win and disappointment that the game had barely lasted an hour. Hermione cheered along with everyone else, privately glad the game was at an end.

~*~*~*~*~*~

At the conclusion of the game, Severus begrudgingly passed his money over to Granger. She gave a questioning look to Minerva, who winked at her and gestured for her to keep it. Rolling his eyes at the pair, he quickly stood up to leave, eager to get away before a certain former student had the opportunity to talk to him.

“Professor?”

No such luck. “Potter,” he said, descending the stairs out of the stands.

“I was hoping to speak to you for a moment in private,” Potter said as he followed him down the stairs.

“I’m afraid that I have neither the time nor the inclination to grant such as request.”

“Please, sir. Just a moment of your time,” Potter insisted.

Severus sighed. He had managed to put off a conversation with Potter for this long, but he had known this day was coming. If Harry Potter wanted something, he was going to get it, and who was Severus to stand in his way?

Potter said nothing more to him, but he followed Severus inside the castle to his office. Once inside, Severus allowed the door to slam before sitting down at his desk. Potter sat down across from him.

Severus raised an eyebrow at him and gestured for him to speak. Potter swallowed. “I wanted to thank you.”

“Unnecessary.”

“I don’t believe so,” Potter said, staring him down. “I really don’t.”

“Potter-”

“Harry,” Potter interjected.

“What?”

“Call me Harry,” Potter said. Severus felt his lip curl up in disgust at the feeling of deja vu. If Potter and Granger had their way, Severus would be on a first name basis with every witch and wizard in the immediate vicinity. Potter continued to look at him, although Severus could not imagine what he could possibly want in response.

Harry sighed. “Thank you. For everything that you did, both for the war effort and for… for me.”

Severus simply sat there waiting for the other shoe to drop. Potter had aged considerably since his time at Hogwarts. His face was angular and he had kept his hair longer than he ever had as student. Right then it was tied into a ridiculous knot atop his head, reminding Severus of Granger’s suggestion that he should pull his own hair back. Still the same ugly glasses, though, and the same bright green eyes behind them.

“There was one other thing,” Potter said. “Um, I wanted to talk about my mom.” And the other shoe drops.

“No,” Severus said.

Potter stared at him stubbornly.

“Out of every topic in the world that we could discuss, that would be the last one,” Severus said.

“Why?” Potter said, his voice gratingly gentle. “Because you loved her?”

Severus glared at him. “Because it is not something that we will ‘bond’ over. It is not something that will bring us together and ‘mend our broken hearts’.”

The truth, which he would never admit to Potter or to anyone else, was that his love for Lily Evans had faded rapidly over the course of the trial and the months leading up to it. Like an sunbleached picture, too much exposure had washed it out. It hadn’t happened in one moment, although he suspected that there a few specific ones that contributed to it, like when the world had been made privy of their former relationship, or when her son knew what had happened.

Perhaps it had happened when he had seen the headline with Lily Potter-non Evans-’s Lost Love as a headline in the Daily Prophet. Regardless, he had managed to do what he had never been able to do when she was still alive. He let go. Former feelings or not, Severus Snape was convinced that he had given enough of himself up for the scrutiny of others. For that reason, he never planned on speaking of Lily Evans Potter ever again and that included having a heart-to-heart with Harry bloody Potter.

“I won’t push you on this,” Potter said, rising. “But I want you to know that I will continue to ask, and I hope that one day you will be gracious enough to tell me about her.” He headed for the door, but stopped before walking out. “You know, you’re the only one left who really knew her. Remus knew her somewhat, of course, but he’s already told me everything he knows. I didn’t get a chance to know my mom when she was alive. I hope that I get the chance to know her now.”

So saying, Potter left, leaving Severus sitting at his desk, feeling just a little smaller than he had felt before.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The schedule for professional Quidditch ran slightly longer than Hogwarts’, however both started in November. So the following weekend, Hermione, Harry, and Ron went to see Ginny's first game of the season. Ginny played brilliantly as a Chaser. She moved so fast that Hermione mostly followed the bright streak of Ginny’s hair as she swooped around the Quidditch pitch. Harry and Ron cheered so loudly that she thought she would be deaf by the end of the match. It was not at the level of the Quidditch World Cup, but the crowds and enthusiasm were still overwhelming compared to the relatively quaint Hogwarts’ matches.

Ron was bellowing his support on her right, and Harry was yelling on her right, albeit not quite as loud. Harry looked starstruck as his eyes easily kept up with his girlfriend’s speedy travel around the field.

“How can you keep up?” Hermione called out to him, over the roar of the crowd as Ginny sent the quaffle through yet another ring.

“What?” He yelled, not really paying attention. “YES, GINNY! PERFECT!” He screamed.

Hermione laughed and resigned herself to missing out on the key details that everyone else seemed to get.

The game was reaching a feverish pitch when all of a sudden, everyone jumped to their feet and started screaming as loudly as they could. Peering around the broad shoulders of the tall man that sat in front of her, she saw a member of the Harpies diving towards the ground, her dark hair falling out of its bun.

“GO KATIE!” Ron and Harry were yelling. “Lean to your left!” Harry added, although there was no way that Katie could have heard him from that far away with everyone screaming. Even Hermione was on her feet, screaming with the rest of them.

Almost as if Katie had heard him, though, she did lean towards her left and then jerked up suddenly. She flew around the stadium, proudly holding the snitch. As she passed each section of the stands, the crowd grew louder, and then the whistle sounded announcing the end of the match.

“Hollyhead Harpies win with 270 points!”

Hermione, Ron, and Harry had to wait almost fifteen minutes before a red faced Ginny managed to reach them at the entrance of the stadium. Katie Bell was with her, and she said a quick hello to them before moving on to sign autographs for fans. She had joined the team the previous year when she had been offered the position of Seeker.

Other players began to exit as well. A starry eyed Ron shook hands with Gwenog Jones, the Keeper and team captain of the Holyhead Harpies. She stood well over six feet tall, and her shoulders were broader than Ron’s own. When Ginny introduced him as her brother, Gwenog patted him on the head, which everyone but Ron found highly amusing.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

On one evening Monday when Severus was feeling unusually generous, he opened his door and stuck his head out of his office.

“Granger!”

She turned around at the sound of her name. He beckoned her to his office. “Lost in thought, Granger?” He asked dryly.

“Hermione,” she corrected as she entered. “How did you know it was me before you had even opened the door?”

“You have a particularly stompy gait. I could tell it was you before you even turned down the corridor.”

“That’s not true! I have a perfectly normal gait,” she said. His lips quirked upwards at her indignation. He managed to hide his reaction by turning away to grab a stack of essays.

“Your stomping aside, I have received numerous tomes from the personal library of an, ah, acquaintance,” Severus said. “Some editions I already own, and as such thought you might be interested in looking over some of the duplicates.”

Hermione stared at him. “Are you serious?”

He quirked an eyebrow. “I don’t make a habit of spending my time talking to you for the hell of it.”

“Well, then, yes! Of course I’m interested,” Granger said.

About what he expected. “They’re in my rooms; I didn’t want to leave them around where students might run across them.”

Together they walked down to his rooms, still located deep in the dungeons. Granger, pillar of predictability that she was, chatted the entire way. Outside of the door, he undid the wards to his room and gestured for her to enter.

It was her first time in his quarters, he knew. He rarely allowed other faculty to visit, even regarding business, and never, never students. Both he preferred to confront in his office where he kept all of his experiments from early on. Most of the ingredients he had out were worth thousands of dollars, but students and even his colleagues only saw slimy things in jars. Which was probably for the best. Visits to his office were short and quiet, and theft was a rare occurrence. In fact, the only notable instances of it happening were when Potter & Co. attended.

He glanced at Lackey #1, who fell silent as she stepped into his room. As it tends to happen, the unfamiliar presence of another person allowed him to see the room with new eyes. It was already accumulating a light layer of dust that the house elves had not cleaned off yet, and was poorly furnished, but overflowing with books and papers. He tossed the fifth years’ essays on top of the nearest pile.

As he probably should have expected, Granger made a beeline for the line of bookshelves propped against the far wall. It took a few minutes, but Severus was finally able to pry her away from his shelves long enough to look through the box of books resting on his three legged end table. Granger peeked around him.

“An acquaintance you said?”

“Of sorts,” Severus said. He tapped on the box, which carried the Malfoy seal. She frowned, but did not immediately recoil. There was one book in particular that he thought that she might like: Wounds, Runes, and Yews: Where Moderne and Ancient Collide. In fact, he was almost positive that she would love it.

He held the book out to her, and she took it gingerly, as though just holding it would cause it to crumble to dust. Seeing the cover, her face lit up in recognition, and any hesitation she might have had over holding a Death Eater’s book seemed to vanish. She flipped through a few pages, eyes frantically searching, trying to absorb as much as once. After a few moments, she reluctantly tried to hand the book to him.

He shook his head. “Keep it.”

“What?”

“I said that you can keep it- get off me, you silly witch.”

“It was just a hug!”

“Sentimental fool. You’re worse than Dumbledore,” he accused. “I don’t hug.”

“Thank you, Severus.” Hermione bounced slightly on her toes, gazing adoringly at the book in her hands.

He sighed. “You’re welcome, Granger.”

“Hermione,” she corrected automatically, still staring at the book.

He hadn’t expected her to stay, but Granger had plopped herself down on a chair and began reading right away. Deciding that there were worse ways to spend the evening, Severus joined her, sitting opposite with a book of his own. They read in silence for several hours, Severus comfortably seated on the large sofa, and Hermione tucked into the overstuffed armchair.

After some time, he glanced up and saw that she was blearily rubbing her eyes but seemed determined to carry on.

“Granger,” Severus said. “Go to bed.” If only he had a Galleon for each time he said that phrase to her.

“I’m reading,” she mumbled, eyes shutting.

“Granger.”

Her head bobbed once, twice, and then she was truly asleep. He sighed and went back to his book. He contemplated shaking her awake and then kicking her out, but he figured this was one of the few times he would have the opportunity to be in her presence silently, so there he sat. His reading was slow moving, as research typically tended to be. The cat joined him after some time, and Severus absently combed his fingers through her fur as he read.

Unfortunately, he knew most of this already. It looked like Severus’s project was going to be more trial and error than research. He was looking for answers that had not been found yet, a cure that had not been invented. His fingers thrummed over the spine of the book as he considered his next move.

Granger gave a soft sigh in her sleep, and shifted dangerously close to the edge of the chair. The movement was enough to jar him from his thoughts. While he had been reading, Granger had curled up in his chair like a cat herself, wrapping around herself in a small ball. Shortly after she had drifted off, much to his exasperation and albeit slight amusement, the witch had kicked off her shoes in her sleep.

Severus eyed her precarious position and glanced at the flagstones that awaited her. He was one of the few professors that did not cover the stones completely with rugs, but typically he was not trying to prevent a young woman with a penchant for danger from concussing herself on his sitting room floor. He gently shifted his still-unnamed cat to the floor, where her dark fur disappeared in the shadows. Severus regretted what he did even as he did it, carefully plucking Wounds, Runes, and Yews: Where Moderne and Ancient Collide from her hands and rolling her back to corner of seat. After a moment’s hesitation, he summoned the quilt on his bed and placed it over her.

Her hair, normally a frizzy mess, had turned into a fuzzy disaster shortly after she had started reading that evening, and had only grown more outrageous as she moved around in her sleep. There was a curl that currently in her face, and seemed dangerously close to being inhaled every time she took a breath.

He sighed and brushed the curl back to join the rest of her hair before moving back to his seat.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Hermione awoke suddenly some time later to the sound of a quiet sneeze. Feeling disoriented, she looked around the dim room, trying to get her bearings. She was still in Severus’ sitting room, and as her eyes adjusted to the light, she realized he was still up, reading by candle light.

“Severus? What time is it?”

“Two, perhaps three in the morning,” he replied, not looking up from his book.

“I’m sorry for falling asleep. I barely even remember it happening. I’ll head back to my rooms now,” Hermione said as she uncurled from the seat, pulling the blanket off. “I hope you did not stay up on my behalf.”

He scoffed. “Hardly. It just seemed that some wayward colleague had made use of my bedspread.”

“This is your only blanket?”

“I don’t exactly have need for another, do I?” He said stiffly. “Oh, don’t give me that look, Granger. I’m typically up at this hour.”

“Still, I hope I didn’t inconvenience you.”

His expression let her know without a shadow of a doubt that her very existence was an inconvenience, but he made sure he told her anyways.

She tried to school her expression as she folded the quilt up and stretched. “I’m off to bed. Goodnight, Severus.”

“Goodnight,” he said, making no movement from his spot on the sofa.

“Thank you,” she said as she deposited the neatly folded blanket beside him. He gave a curt nod as she left the room.

Chapter Text

November 1999

On the third week of the month, it began to rain and showed no signs of stopping. The trip to Hogsmeade left everyone cold and damp, and Hermione and Lavender grabbed a table at the Three Broomsticks to recover. While students were not closely monitored on the weekend trips, several professors usually went along to keep an eye on things. Since they both needed to go shopping for the upcoming Millennium Ball, they had volunteered. Hermione also privately thought that it would be a good opportunity to get Lavender out of the castle. She wasn’t sure that Lavender had stepped off the grounds since August.

The rain had driven most of the shoppers inside the pub, leaving the cozy space cramped and loud. Hermione and Lavender’s small table was out of the way, but unfortunately not far from a larger table full of men loudly exchanging dirty jokes.

As per usual, Lavender’s presence drew some attention from both students and other patrons of the Three Broomsticks. Lavender sighed when she felt eyes on her.

“I foresaw that this would happen,” Lavender said sagely to her. Hermione gave a half-hearted attempt at appearing impressed, but inwardly groaned. Lavender vacillated between a sullenness that rivaled Severus’, and an annoyingness that rivaled Trelawney’s. Hermione preferred the Snape-like sullenness.

“She looks like she got chewed up and spit out,” one of the men at the table said loudly. There was uproarious laughter from the table. Lavender stiffened.

“It’s too bad. She would have been beautiful otherwise,” another added.

“Don’t listen to them,” Hermione whispered fiercely, grabbing Lavender’s hand. Lavender jerked back, but the men had already seen it.

“Aw, don’t stop on our account!” One of them protested, throwing his arms out drunkenly.

Madam Rosmerta came over and said something quietly to the men, who only laughed harder at whatever she had said. They stopped laughing when she rolled up her sleeves and single handedly removed all of them from the room, tossing them into the muddy street. She brought two drinks over to Hermione and Lavender’s table.

“On the house,” she said, setting them down with a clunk, before returning to the bar.
They sat in an awkward silence. Lavender ground her teeth, causing the muscle in her jaw to jump.

Hermione sipped her butterbeer, and then began, “Those men-”

“Save it, Granger,” Lavender said. “They were just saying whatever else is thinking.”

They left a short time later and met Ginny at the boutique as planned. While Ginny might have been a professional athlete, she was certainly not inept when it came to fashion, a trait that was enough for Lavender to tolerate the addition to their group. The second they stepped into the shop, Hermione felt herself begin to shut down. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to look nice. The rows and rows of dress robes were just overwhelming.

“Why don’t I help the two of you find something first?” She offered.

Ginny gave her a look that made it clear that she knew what Hermione was doing, but she did not say anything about it.

Ginny, lithe and perfect, was the first to find hers.

“I suppose this’ll do,” she said, looking in the mirror. The dark green velvet hugged her slim figure, and brought out the vibrance of her trademark hair.

“Absolutely! Oh Ginny, you look amazing!” Hermione cried.

Lavender “hmm”d her agreement before returning to the rack she was looking through. After Ginny’s quick success, Lavender’s frustration seemed to slowly balloon. Her cheeks turned pink and her eyebrows became more furrowed as she flipped through dress after dress. She had yet to try on a single one.

“Why don’t we ask for some help?” Hermione suggested, looking around for the attendant.

“No.” Lavender said. “I can do this myself.”

“What about this one?” Hermione said. “It has a higher neckline.”

“It’s like a decade out of fashion, Hermione,” Lavender snapped. “And it’s not like the neckline matters. My face is more than enough to keep people preoccupied.”

Hermione returned the dress to the rack and kept looking.

In the end, it was Ginny who found Lavender’s final choice, a deep blue number with intricate lace detail. Hermione smugly noted that it did, in fact, have a high neckline. Any feeling of indignation or superiority was immediately removed when both Lavender and Ginny looked expectantly at her.

She blinked.

Ginny sighed. “Go on to the changing room. We’ll bring you things to try on.”

“If I could make fifteen year old you look presentable, I’m sure I can do the same now,” Lavender said, sizing Hermione up. Hermione trudged to the dressing room, hoping that this would not be a long process. Her hopes were dashed the second she saw how many robes were dumped into her dressing room.

A dozen or so attempts later, Hermione finally reached one that no one immediately vetoed.

“Oh, Hermione,” Ginny said. “Definitely that one.”

“I look like I’m going to a wedding,” Hermione plucked at the skirt of the gown. “As the bride.”

“Well then maybe someone will take the hint,” Lavender said, assessing the garment. Hermione rolled her eyes.“It really does fit you perfectly, you know. I think you should get it.”

“White is fairly common in formal Wizarding events in any case,” Ginny added.

“I don’t think so,” Hermione began, but Lavender waved her off. “You haven’t even seen yourself yet. She gestured to the mirror, “Go look.”

Despite her protests, when Hermione saw herself in the mirror, she had to admit the dress looked good. It was an ivory ball gown with off the shoulder sleeves that offered a strong contrast to her dark skin. There was little embellishment, just simple folds along the sleeves, and Hermione thought the plain expanse of skirt rather suited her. But still.

“I don’t think so. It would be too odd,” Hermione said. She spun around. “It’s too bad, though. It really is beautiful.”

“It’s a good thing that it’s not your decision then,” Ginny said, crossing her arms. “Because we are making you get it.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Severus’ new research project had utterly consumed him. He often stayed up into the early morning hours, working from dinner to dawn if he didn’t have other obligations. Even when he did, his mind was occupied, mentally turning the problem this way and that, examining each facet and the accompanying challenge.

Teaching made his fingers twitch, as he longed to be working over a cauldron himself instead of teaching dunces how to brew a basic Forgetfulness Potion for the upteenth time. Severus quietly observed Lupin during meals and staff meetings, cataloguing each physical trait and behavior that he could distinguish.

Like any proper Slytherin, Severus’ determination to find the cure for lycanthropy was not borne out of a single reason. Of course the appropriate answer was that it was the “right thing to do.” Caring for others and such. It was more of a fortunate side effect than his reason for attempting it. In truth, his quest provided him with a fresh start. Severus Snape was well aware that erasing the past was impossible, but all the same moving forward required attention to the future. A permanent Wolfsbane meant positive notoriety, clearing his name once and for all. Despite the endorsement of both the Ministry and Harry Potter himself, there were those who still questioned his allegiance during the war. The accompanying income for discovering such a cure would not be unappreciated either. Teaching wasn't entirely bereft of benefits, but having the option to leave would be welcome.

Lastly, it was an olive branch to Remus Lupin. In fairness, Severus was well prepared to use Lupin as his guinea pig, and he would not have an iota of sympathy if Lupin suffered some ill effects of his experimental work. All the same, Minerva’s words to him at the beginning of the year had struck a chord in him. He would never admit it to her, but her opinion counted for a lot. Perhaps it was time that school year rivalries were put aside.

That particular November evening, Severus sat at his desk frowning as he read. He crossed out a sentence in the book in front of him.

“Ridiculous,” he muttered. He should have been grading the essays that he had assigned his NEWT level class, but instead of tearing gaping holes in students’ papers, he was eviscerating a long dead scholar. Apparently not even a good one.

He set the useless book aside and evaluated his options. It was late. Probably later than he actually wanted to know. His neck and shoulders were stiff as they often were when the weather grew colder. Severus had received enough punishments from the Dark Lord that his nervous system would never recover. Nagini’s attack on his neck had certainly not helped matters. He rubbed his temples, moving down to the side of his head and then his neck.

He would have to go to his storeroom to retrieve a balm to alleviate the frayed, sharp pain that radiated through his skull. There was bound to be something that would be of some use. Now more than ever, he was grateful for his familiarity with potions. Few other subjects provided as many opportunities to both harm and heal individuals. While he had always found there to be an … attractive quality in both the dark arts and the defense against them, the art of potions simultaneously relaxing and engaging. As he often informed his students during their very first lesson, potions had the unique capability of capturing both the mind and the senses, enhancing and arresting the body.

It also provided him with a way to distance himself from the impossible or irritable, if only for a few hours. Anger could dim to a simmer along with a brewing potion, fear could be husked away like the shell of a moonseed. Problems might be complex, but solutions were often simple. In other situations, he often found the reverse to be true.

Most glorious of all was his storeroom, which he guarded with all of the possessiveness of a dragon. It was a subtle, yet vibrant room filled with bottles of various shapes and sizes. Smells, some more delightful than others, quietly permeated the room. The front shelves were neatly labeled with ingredients often used in class, and those further back contained more sinister and tantalizing substances, both ingredients and potions. Individual shelves were temperature controlled to ensure that nothing would spoil, which provided a unique sensory experience if one were to run their hand along the length.

It was this room that he had used to structure his mind when he first began to study in Occlumency. There was a certain amount of order required for the subject, and compartmentalization could be aided by a strong visual, such as a familiar room. The ability to bring order to the chaos that was thoughts, opinions, emotions, observations and the like was not owned by everyone, and even those with a natural talent had to hone their craft.

This brought to mind Hermione Granger’s strange request from the previous month. He thought it highly unlikely that her motivation was purely academic, and he had told her as much at the time. While a quick use of Legilimency could present the answer, he had never used it outside of strict necessity, and he saw no reason to change that stance now. Besides, her uncharacteristically vague response made it clear to Severus that she was unprepared to share whatever demon she was wrestling. He had learned the hard way that lessons would be futile in such a situation.

Severus moved to a cabinet located towards the back of the room, moving with practised ease around the shelves and wards that jutted out in odd spaces. The cabinet itself was small, no larger than a medicine cabinet commonly found in Muggle bathrooms, but it contained everything from tinctures to oils to more obscure potions. There were some things that he liked to have on hand even if Poppy did not have an immediate need or use for them. He breathed deeply as he opened the cabinet and the combined scent of tea tree oil and peppermint hit his nose.

Over the years, he had tried various balms, spells, and potions, but it was only recently that he had found a combination with any notable effects. A tension relief potion was always handy, especially when combined with penetrating sting of peppermint oil. Typically he kept some in his rooms, but he needed to restock. Considering how little time Severus spent in his rooms, he was surprised that it had not taken him longer to notice.

He brought the potion and oil to his quarters, placing them on the edge of one of his bookshelves where it would be in easy reach and out of the way. No one would notice the small brown bottles perched on one of the lower shelves. Well, except Granger, but Severus was not expecting her to visit anytime soon. He paused for a second. She did have a habit of showing up in his domains unannounced. On second thought, he moved the bottles to the bathroom. It simply would not do for her to begin to poke around in his personal affairs and not just his personal library.

~*~*~*~*~*~

She dreamed that she was walking through Diagon Alley. It was dark and late in the day. Few shoppers remained on the street. Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione thought she saw a shadow following her. She quickened her pace, looking for the exit. Even though she had been certain that she was headed in the opposite direction, she found herself in Knockturn Alley, where the street was narrower and poorly lit. Here, there was no one else.

Then she heard thump, thump. Thump. She spun around, looking frantically for the source of the noise. An enormous black cat, nearly as tall as the buildings, peered out at her and gave her a wicked grin. It blinked, and for a moment it seemed to disappear completely into the shadows, before it leaped out at her. Tripping over herself, she ran away from the beast. It bounded after her, keeping up easily. It gave her a playful bat that sent her flying through the air. She landed on the cobblestones in a heap.

Hermione tried to scream, but no sound came out.

“Cat got your tongue?” A taunting voice whispered into her ear. Hermione shot up, backing away from the noise, and looked around her. She was alone again. Her breath came heavy and fast as her eyes flicked across rooftops and storefronts, searching.

A low chuckle rang out, reverberating down the empty street. Hermione stood, frozen. Bellatrix slipped into sight mid-transformation with a delighted smile on her face.

“Well, well. The little Gryffindor Princess has finally left her tower,” Bellatrix cackled. “Oh this is a special occasion.”

Hermione reached for her wand, but it was not in her pocket. Why hadn’t she reached for it before?

“Looking for this?” Bellatrix waggled it in front of her. “Let’s see how it works for me. CRUCIO!” As it often happens in dreams, the pain was delayed and incomparable to the real experience. Hermione flinched all the same, jarring herself awake. Sweating, shaking, she sat up in bed, knees curled against her chest.

“It was only a dream,” she whispered, more to remind herself that she could speak than to reassure herself. She put her head on her knees.

Get it together, Granger.

If Harry -Harry- could function after everything he had been through. If the Weasleys could keep going after losing Fred. If Lavender and Severus and all of her students that were there for the Battle of Hogwarts could continue on, then she would have to learn to do it too. They had all lost someone, most more than one person. They had all suffered. Who was she to be the one to fall apart now?

~*~*~*~*~*~

The second Quidditch match of the year between Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw was reasonably well attended, considering the torrential rain that continued to fall. Students stood huddled together under the protection of drying and warming charms, cheering on their fellow classmates. Hermione sat stiffly in the stands, her hair becoming frizzier with each passing moment, and silently cursed Minerva’s apparent devotion to the sport.

At least she was in good company. Most of the other professors were in attendance as well. Vector and Pomona were enthusiastic but kind to each other as they bragged about their respective house teams. Minerva, Severus, and Aurora, the taller professors sat in the row behind Hermione. Her hair had become a bit of an obstacle for Filius and even some of the others.
“Granger, if your hair expands anymore, only a giant would be able to see over it,” Severus said from behind her.

Tonks, who sat to Hermione’s right, grew a large magenta mohawk that cut directly through Severus’ line of sight. When she cheekily turned her head to look at him, his entire view of the Quidditch pitch was blocked.There was a low chuckle from the group, and even though Hermione did not turn around to look, she could practically feel Severus’ scowl burning into her.
“There’s no need to be antagonistic,” Remus said mildly from Tonk’s other side. It was unclear whether this was addressed to Tonks or Severus, but neither of them took the comment well, giving off almost simultaneous growls.

“Snape’s right though. You’re starting to look like a bushy, oversized pygmy puff,” Lavender said with a loud sniff.

She sat on Hermione’s left, bundled up with only her bright red nose visible. Ironically enough, Lavender’s cold prediction seemed to have missed the mark slightly. Poppy had a record breaking low number of colds and flus for the fall. The only one who seemed to have run into a particularly nasty head cold was Lavender herself. Hermione had made sure to take a preventative dose of Pepper-Up before interacting with her. The last thing she needed so close to Christmas break was a case of the sniffles.

Hermione brushed off the comment with an impatient wave of her hand. Criticism from Lavender was almost as familiar as criticism from Severus, although his comments were rarely hair related, whereas Lavender’s comments consisted of little else. The few hair-unrelated complaints were fueled by Hermione’s ( lack of) fashion sense. In her defense, jeans and jumpers were comfortable and weather appropriate almost year round. So what if they made her look “lumpy”?

“Believe me,” she said grimly, giving her hair a ginger pat. “It is of a greater inconvenience to me than it is to you.”

“Perhaps you should take your own advice and pull it back,” Severus said. The words bordered on harsh, but he seemed genuine.

Both Hermione and Lavender laughed at that.

“If you want to be the one to help her untangle hair ties and bobby pins, be my guest,” Lavender said.

Hooch’s whistle blew, and they turned their attention back to the game. Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff games were not always boring, but they certainly were the least exciting. The rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin reached such epic proportions that the stadium was packed, and the game was usually tense and high energy. In comparison, the crowd drawn to Ravenclaw vs. Hufflepuff games was practically placid.

Hermione wished that the current game was as short as the last one. Two hours in, and no one had even spotted the snitch yet. The rain was interfering with the Seekers’ ability to spot the brief gold flicker that indicated that the snitch was flitting by. The rain was interfering with Hermione’s ability to see as well. She couldn’t even make out the numbers emblazoned on the back of the Quidditch robes.

Arncliffe was once again announcing the game, but her boredom was apparent even across the sonorous. Despite the strong and frequent drying charms, an uncomfortable dampness had permeated the seats and clothes of the onlookers. Hermione shivered, but before she could cast another warming charm, she felt a rush of warmth spread along her body.

“Thank you!” Hermione said, smiling. She didn’t receive a response, but perhaps Minerva, who surely had been the one to cast it, hadn’t heard her.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Hermione stood outside the Lupins’ front door, shivering and knocking loudly. It was the 22nd- the night before the full moon. Remus had left the school before taking his potion. When Hermione had realized this, she tried to Floo call him. Unsuccessful, she brought it to the Lupin residence. It was unlike him to be so forgetful, and now no one was coming to the door. She was getting worried. Finally, after a third series of knocks, she tested the wards. Luckily, she was able to get inside and out of the miserable weather outside. As she stepped out of the pouring rain and into the toasty entryway, she realized why no one had heard her knocking.

“If you don’t want to be here, just leave!”

“Oh, like you don’t already have one foot out of the door!”

“I’m bored, Remus. We’re either teaching or at home. I want excitement and- and adventure!”

“You’ve made that abundantly clear. If you didn’t want to come here, you could have just told me!”

Tonks laughed sharply. “Told you? It was your dream to come back and teach. What was I supposed to say?”

“Still! It was your choice to stay with me.”

“And it was yours to be with me, even if you regret it now.”

Silence, and then: “I never said that,” Remus said quietly.

“You never had to,” Tonks said.

They were quiet again. Hermione stood there, horrified, wondering whether she should just put the Wolfsbane Potion on the floor in the entryway and just leave. Before she could decide, she heard footsteps in her direction.

“Hermione will probably be here soon. In fact, I’m surprised that she-” Remus stopped when he rounded the corner and saw Hermione.

“-Isn’t here already,” he finished.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, handing him the goblet, and turning to go. Remus made an aborted movement, like he planned on stopping her, but he let her go with a sigh.

Hermione burst out of the house in a flurry, wanting to put as much distance between herself and the uncomfortable scene as possible.

~*~*~*~*~*~

A little known fact was that the Slytherin common room had a view of the lake and all of the life teaming inside of it. The rest of the dungeons felt more confined. Years ago, Severus had frequently found himself going up the Astronomy Tower where there was the same level of isolation, only with the added benefit of being able to see the expanse of the Highlands. The year leading up to Dumbledore’s death, Severus had spent hours at a time, just staring out across the grounds, and occasionally, up at the sky.

He should have predicted that the spot in which he found solace would be the same place that he would ultimately kill Dumbledore himself. Severus Snape often found himself in the position where his admiration, affection, or even attention would lead to tragedy. It was as if he were a distorted King Midas where instead of gold, everything he touched was simply destroyed.

If he were a better man, perhaps, he never would have returned to the tower again. He never would have wanted to see the place where his master, his mentor, had died. Yet within the first week that Severus had been named headmaster, he had visited the tower. He had gone again every week for the entire school year. The night of the Battle of Hogwarts, he had stood there, looking out over the Hogwarts grounds. The Whomping Willow had shivered as though in preparation. He had stood with his arms crossed, unblinking, until the Potter had entered the castle.

Since his return to Hogwarts, he had not ventured up to the tower until now. It was one of the more impressive and frequently used aspects of Hogwarts. On clear nights when Aurora held class, the roof of the tower would retract, leaving the night sky above completely visible. Tonight, however, the steepled ceiling remained in place. There was an opening in the side of wall that allowed for telescope access. It was wide enough that two skilled flyers would have managed to nudge their brooms into the tower with only a little difficulty.

As he climbed the stairs of the tower, the rain finally stopped. Severus stood in front of the access point, arms crossed, standing as still as he had over a year ago when he had waited for inevitable fight to begin. The sudden stillness of the night seemed tentative and fragile like the sky itself was unsure whether it would release another torrential rain.

In the distance, he could see someone Apparate to the Hogwarts gates. As the person slipped through and walked towards the school, he realized that it was Hermione Granger. Severus had not recognized her at first. She was drenched, and her normally gravity-defying hair was plastered to her head and neck. Even with the distance between them, his dark eyes could pick out the impatience with which she wrung out her hair.

Torn between curiosity and amusement at the sight, he headed back downstairs. His resolve to keep his distance from Granger kept wavering. Half of the time, she forced her presence upon him, and the other half she was doing something so intriguing or infuriating that he sought her out. This water-soaked apparition probably did not deserve consideration at all. She was hardly capable of any sort of malevolent intentions, and he was hardly the sort to be caught unawares.

Chapter Text

December 1999

By early December, both students and faculty were ready for winter break, and even the cavernous halls of Hogwarts had begun to feel stifling. Classes and assignments seemed like an endless torment, though whether professors or students had it worse was up for debate. In addition to the cabin fever that was settling over the school in a suffocating blanket, conflict between Slytherin and the other houses had only escalated. It seemed like Hermione spent every spare moment out of class breaking up fights, and every moment of the evenings had been dedicated to overseeing punishments.

“If they keep this up,” she exclaimed to Remus over breakfast one morning, “I’ll run out of time to oversee their detentions!”

He nodded morosely in agreement.

Now more than ever, she was in awe of both Minerva and Severus’ time management. Minerva was as efficient in the position of headmistress as she had been in her previous roles, and Severus seemed as zealous for assigning detentions as he had always been. Time appeared to be an inconsequential barrier as she knew that in addition to teaching Potions and Healing Magic he was also working on a personal research project. Not that he was willing to share any details.

Once, she saw his notebook that he used while brewing. It was full of the same cramped, heavily slanted handwriting that she had seen in the textbook Harry had brought with him everywhere during sixth year, however Severus had acquired a note taking habit that he had not had as a teenager. In the quick glance Hermione had taken, she realized that all of his notes were in Latin. Hermione fancied herself somewhat of a polyglot and could easily piece together sentence fragments or recognize famous quotes in the ancient language, but these notes were beyond the scope of her understanding, which was almost certainly Severus’ intention in the first place.

Sometimes, when Hermione managed to find the time, she joined Severus in the lab to assist in whatever potions Poppy currently had in short supply. He never seemed particularly grateful for her company, but neither did he tell her to get lost. She counted that an achievement.

To add to the busyness of December, Hagrid’s birthday fell on the Monday of the second week. Hermione joined Harry and Ron in his hut for dinner. It had taken some effort, but they had fortunately managed to convince Hagrid that there was no reason for him to cook on his own birthday. Instead, Harry and Ron brought a heaping basket full of warm food, courtesy of Mrs. Weasley.

Hermione was grateful to finally have a chance to catch up with both Harry and Ron, as she had not seen either of them in nearly a month. The hut’s coziness reminded her of the trips the three of them had taken to visit Hagrid as students. Surprisingly, Hermione had seen Hagrid more as a student than she did now. She had assumed that as a member of the staff, she would see Hagrid frequently, but in fact it was rare that they saw each other at all, and rarer still that they both had a moment to talk.

Despite the amazing food Mrs. Weasley had made, Hagrid had apparently felt obligated to make something. He slipped some rock cakes into their hands as they bid him a goodnight, which they fed to the Giant Squid as they passed the Great Lake.

The following weekend was the last Hogsmeade trip of the year. Many students were anxiously rushing around the town with lists clutched firmly in hand. A thin coating of snow covered the ground with half-hearted flurries occasionally depositing more flakes. Hermione was also among the desperate holiday shoppers. A majority of her shopping had been completed earlier in the month, but there were still several people left on her list.

Her primary objective was to find gifts for her colleagues. She still had not selected anything for most of them, although she was most worried about what she could find for Minerva. Everything that she thought of seemed too childish, presumptive, or out of character.

She flitted from shop to shop before finally stopping at Quality Quidditch Supplies. It was a small branch, certainly more compact than its headquarters in Diagon Alley. She wandered around, not really sure what she was looking for. Ginny, Harry, and Ron were the people who immediately came to mind, but she had already completed her shopping for all three of them. All the same, Hermione drifted over to the brooms, skimming her hand over a walnut handle.

“Contemplating your escape?” A familiar voice asked. Hermione snatched her hand away and turned to face Severus. He was bundled against the cold, although the overlapping layers of black only added to the notorious batlike ensemble. Tiny snowflakes were still stuck to his hair and clothes, and they quickly transformed to tiny beads of water in the warm shop.

“If I was, it wouldn’t be on a broom,” she said, moving away from the display wall.

“I suppose it would not be the first vehicle of escape for someone with acrophobia,” he said, nodding as though he had suspected as much. His unusually agreeable tone only added insult to injury.

“I do not have acrophobia,” Hermione objected.

“Hmm, I must have been mistaken. I suppose I confused you with another bushy haired know-it-all who pales at even the mention of flying or heights.”

She felt her cheeks flush, more out of irritation than embarrassment. “I suppose you must have,” she said defiantly. “Although I should point out that the fear of flying is aviophobia.”
His black eyes glittered, and Hermione was hit with the belated realization that he, Severus Snape, was teasing her. The lack of acerbity in his quiet voice rendered her fascinated.

“Add whichever prefix you prefer, Granger,” he said with a lazy shrug.

“Hermione,” she corrected almost reflexively.

Sensing an acrimonious response coming, she continued on before he could reply.

“It just seems odd, doesn’t it? Considering our newfound relationship, I mean,” Hermione said, launching into the speech she had prepared for this very situation. She had been waiting for over a week to bring this up, and frankly, patience wasn’t her strongest virtue.

“And what ‘newfound relationship’ would that be, Granger?” The emphasis on her last name had been no accident.

“Well, us being colleagues and friends, of course,” Hermione said with a surety that she did not feel. She personally congratulated herself for not stumbling over the word “friends.” It was a surprisingly difficult word to attach to someone who looked like he would turn and run at any moment.

Severus, to his credit, had not yet fled, but his face had puckered as though he were sucking on a rather sour lemon.

“Friends,” he repeated. It wasn’t a question, although it didn’t seem to be an endorsement either.

“What else would you call someone you see in your spare time?” Hermione asked.

“A nuisance,” Severus replied flatly.

Hermione huffed, both for his response and the speed in which he delivered it. “Perhaps my wording was imprecise: How would you refer to someone with whom you spend a significant amount of time with resulting in both parties mutual enjoyment?”

Severus thought for a moment, his long fingers tapping absently against the side of a nearby shelf.

“A pipe dream,” he said finally, and, as though realizing that this was perhaps more consequential than intended, he seamlessly continued on in a more facetious tone, “Irregardless, I don’t see why it much matters what I call you. I suppose you would respond all the same.”

“It matters,” she said, pointedly ignoring the last remark, “Because it is what marks us in relation to each other and as individuals. What you call me is a reference to me, as well as your connection to me. I call you Severus because it is your name, and as your friend, it is my privilege to call you by it.”

“It’s a privilege that you share with an assortment of others,” he reminded her. “Not all of whom you would want to associate with.”

“Perhaps not,” Hermione agreed. “Although I’m sure I’ve associated with them all in any case.”

His eyes narrowed almost infinitesimally, giving him a calculating look that made what he said next all the more surprising.

“I’ll tell you what, Granger. In the spirit of Christmas-” he spat the word out like an insult- “I’ll make you a bet. The next Quidditch match is in February. Ravenclaw vs. Slytherin. If Slytherin loses, I will refer to you by your given name until the succeeding match. Do you agree to these terms?"

Hermione couldn’t help but smile at the seriousness with which he proposed the idea.

“Agreed,” she said, holding out her hand. He grasped it without breaking eye contact with her. She had not taken her gloves off when she entered, but she could still feel the coolness of his palm through the knitted fabric.

“We’ll see in February then,” he said, releasing her hand.

“I suppose so,” she said, unable to stop a smile from playing at her lips. Leave it to Severus to be the one to truly bring her into the arms of the faculty’s longstanding betting tradition. “Are you Christmas shopping as well?”

In lieu of a response, he held up a brown paper bag with the emblem of the local bookshop that Hermione had been in only a few minutes earlier herself.

“Well you seem to be having better luck than myself,” she commented. “I’ve been walking around for over an hour, and I still have several people left to shop for.”

“Don’t bother finding the perfect gifts for every member of the staff,” Severus said. “I’ll tell you now that everyone just gets each other candles and socks.” In that moment, it struck her that Severus likely planned on spending his Christmas at Hogwarts as he usually did. It was a gloomy thought. Not really because Hogwarts was an awful place to spend Christmas, Merlin knows that she had spent her fair share at the school, but because it meant that he did not have anywhere else to go.

Severus must have caught the look of pity on her face, because he withdrew slightly. His goodbye was clipped, lacking the soft cadence his speech held only moments before.

After the odd encounter with Severus, Hermione had all but given up hope that she would find something befitting someone like Minerva. On her way towards the exit, she passed by a memorabilia display. One item in particular caught her eye, a outdated quaffle with the signature of a player the ‘53 Holyhead Harpies team.

Gwendolyn Morgan’s signature sat dead in the center of the ball, large and loopy. 1953 was a long time ago. Her parents hadn’t even met at that point. Most of the professors she had as a girl probably hadn’t even graduated themselves yet.

In fact, if she wasn’t mistaken, Minerva herself would have still be a student and an avid Quidditch player. Everyone knew of Minerva’s burning desire to see Gryffindor crush Slytherin during every match, but Hermione knew that her passion with Quidditch also extended to professional teams as well. She cocked her head she considered the battered quaffle. It looked like she might have managed to find the headmistress a proper gift after all.

As Hermione exited the shop with the carefully wrapped quaffle, she could see Severus trudging back to Hogwarts. At such a distance he appeared as nothing more than a dark smudge in all of the white. Seeing Severus confronted her with her next dilemma: what she could possibly get him. Her brief scan over his bookshelves convinced her that there was nothing of note that she could find that he did not already have. His potions store was well stocked. He had no vices of which she was aware. All the same, she needed to get him something. The idea of choosing a generic gift made her nose crinkle. He would be most pleased with something useful. She just needed to figure out what would be.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The next morning, Hermione was still thinking of impending Christmas purchases as she got ready for breakfast. She was so focused on her thoughts that when she opened her door, she did not notice that Lavender was standing in her doorway until she nearly ran into her.

“Oh!” She said at the same time Lavender bit out “Sorry. I didn’t realize you still barreled through doorways.”

Hermione sighed. “Good morning, Lavender. Is there something I can do for you?”

“Yeah, do you have any extra Everlasting Ink? I’m all out.” She held up an empty purple inkwell as though to prove herself. All of the staff used Everlasting Ink to ensure that students would not manipulate their grades.

“I actually think I do,” Hermione beckoned Lavender to follow her into the room. “Although I can’t promise it’ll be an appealing color.”

Lavender entered and crossed her arms while she waited for Hermione to locate the ink. She looked tired, eyes bloodshot and rimmed by dark circles. The scars on her face looked raised and puffy. She caught Hermione looking at her and glared. Hermione quickly returned her attention to her search. As Hermione believed in keeping a tidy desk, it took only a few seconds to find it hidden at the back of a drawer. Sure enough, it did look rather revolting.

“You weren’t joking. It looks like if puce married barf. Merlin’s beard, Hermione, why on earth would you even own that?” Leave it to Lavender to creatively insult even the color of the ink. It would be only a matter of time before she moved her attention to the room’s decor.

“I’m pretty sure it was a gag gift,” Hermione said brightly, hoping to get Lavender out of her room before that happened. “But you never know when you might run out of ink, right?”

“I suppose not,” Lavender said, although she still eyed the jar skeptically.

Hermione gritted her teeth. It’s not like she was forcing Lavender to take it. Lavender had been the one to ask for it, and as they say, beggars can’t be choosers. In the spirit of the holidays, Hermione refrained from saying any of this and instead asked, “Do you have any plans for the holidays?”

Lavender grimaced. The tight set of her mouth drew more attention to scars on her face. “Not really, no. I’ll be staying here.”

“Oh,” Hermione said. “Well, I’m sure it will be wonderful. Hogwarts is beautiful on Christmas.”

Oh, I’m sure,” Lavender said, nodding emphatically. Her crossed arms belied any attempt at optimism she might have been aiming for.

What is her problem?

“Well, here you are,” Hermione said, holding out the inkwell. “Good luck with your grading.” She made sure to make eye contact, focusing on Lavender’s blue eyes instead of her scared face.

“Why do you do that?” Lavender asked sharply, not reaching for the ink.

“What do you mean?” Hermione said, drawing back.

“Try so hard. Acting like everything is okay.”

“What?” Hermione repeated dumbly, setting the ink back on her desk.

Lavender’s eyes filled with tears. “Why do you act like I look normal?”

Lavender’s eyes filled with tears, “You act like everything’s okay, like I’m not a freak, but you give me the same worried little looks like everyone else. Only it’s worse, because you won’t do it to my face. You pretend like I’m… I’m normal.”

“Lavender, you are normal.” Hermione said slowly. “You fought a war. Plenty of us have scars. Yours are okay- you are okay.” She felt as though she was balanced on a precipice, although she had no idea what she might be about to fall into.

“NO, I’M NOT!” Lavender cried. “What about this,” she pointed to her face, “looks okay?” She jerked at the high collar she had taken a habit of wearing. The buttons flew off, revealing Lavender’s neck for the first time since she had been attacked.

“Does this look normal to you?”

Hermione gasped. The skin hardly looked like flesh. White scar tissue was mottled red along ridges where the collar had scratched against it. While the tissue was whole, it wasn’t a stretch to imagine an animal ripping into the young woman’s throat and shredding it to pieces.

“Oh, Lavender,” Hermione whispered. She was no stranger to scars, even cruel, ugly ones that never faded. Bellatrix’s mudblood still pained her at times, especially after nightmares, and both Bill and Remus bore Greyback’s mark on their faces. But these scars attested to a viciousness that was staggering to witness.

Lavender stood there, sobbing and exposed. In that moment, the emotionless, severe persona that she had implemented splintered, and for the first time since sixth year, Hermione saw the Lavender she remembered.

“My parents won’t acknowledge me, my best friend is dead, and I’m ugly. Me, Hermione. How could all of this happen to me?”

Hermione was at a loss for what to say. She had been through the same war as Lavender, but that hardly meant she was fit to help someone she barely understood even prior to the psyche shattering events of the fight. Hermione reached for her former roommate. “Lavender, calm down. Take a moment to calm down.”

 

Lavender began to wail. “N-no one is ever g-going to love me again.”

“Stop it,” Hermione insisted.

Lavender sank onto the floor, and Hermione joined her, putting a reassuring hand on her back.
“This is nonsense. Lavender, you fought in a war. If people can’t respect that, then you don’t want them around anyway. Everyone who was there that night knows how brave you were to be there, fighting against Death Eaters, and a werewolf of all things. Anyone would be lucky to know you.”

Lavender sniffed, appearing to calm down to think about what Hermione said. “You think so?”

Relieved, Hermione nodded. “I do.”

Oddly, Lavender’s preoccupation with her appearance was the most reassuring part of the conversation. Hermione had no idea how to comfort someone dealing with the betrayal of their parents and the loss of their best friend, but faced with the alternative, she could listen to Lavender’s other insecurities for hours.

Lavender’s eyes filled with tears once more. “I know you still think I’m just a stupid, silly girl, Hermione, and maybe I am, but I want to be pretty. I don’t want my parents to be awaiting their trials for conspiring with the dark arts- I don’t care what they did, I don’t want to see my parents in Azkaban. And most of all, I want to be able to talk Parvati whenever I want to.”

Lavender was crying again, this time harder. “I want to talk about Divination, and boys, and what we are going to do in the future. I want to do her hair, and watch her pick out my outfit. I want her to be in my life- I want her to be alive-” Lavender’s words cut through Hermione. She couldn’t even imagine losing Harry or Ron. She didn’t know what she would do if something happened to either of them.

“I still haven’t visited her grave, you know. I know it’s horrendous of me. I haven’t once went to visit. I never sent her parents anything. I haven’t even bothered to contact Padma.” Lavender made a choked sound. “God, Padma. She must hate me for not even saying anything to her. But I just couldn’t bear to look at her face.”

Hermione held Lavender while she cried. The ink sat forgotten on the desk.

Hermione used it later that day to send a letter to Ron:

Dear Ron,

Everything is wrapping up here. Students are excited for break, and I must say, I am almost as anxious for December 18th as they are! I am so looking forward to seeing you and the rest of the Weasley family at the Burrow. What day is Harry coming? I heard from Ginny that he was planning on staying as well, but he hasn’t said anything to me about it, which is rather unlike him.

While the students are a large part of the reason that I am ready for the break, they are not the only reason. In fact, I’m not even sure if they are the main reason. You see, there has been a lot of fighting happening. I’m sure there’s more to it than meets the eye, and I just want to know what it is. I miss our old mystery solving days! I’m sure the three of us would have cracked the case by now.

That is not the only thing odd happening. I think that Lavender and I might be becoming friends. She has been having a rather rough year. She’s enjoying teaching divination (wooly subject, but to each their own), but the students can be cruel. She plans to stay at Hogwarts over the holidays, and I hate to think that she will have to spend another Christmas alone. Remember when we used to stay to spend Christmas with Harry?

I apologize if this letter comes across melancholy. I really am in good spirits, I swear! But you know how I get sometimes. I can’t help but worry.

Love,

Hermione

PS- Have you gone Christmas shopping yet? You do know that Christmas is only two weeks away. Don’t wait until Christmas Eve again!

~*~*~*~*~*~

For all that Severus wished for a break from teaching, he dreaded the upcoming break more. Most of the students and faculty would be returning home tomorrow to begin the holiday festivities. When Dumbledore was alive, he had always ensured that Severus took part in the holidays to some extent or another. Over the past few years, however, Severus’ only acknowledgment of the Christmas season was a slight uptick in the number of drinks he consumed in a week.

Holidays had never been a particularly happy time for him, even as a child. As an adult, they served as merely a reminder that another year was passing and he was still alone. Solitude was neither unfamiliar nor uncomfortable for Severus. All the same, it was a reminder of frightening clarity that there was not a person on the earth that would choose to spend their most precious moments with him. A lonely thought, if nothing else.

There was one difference this year, however. Now he had Athene. His newly christened cat was rapidly gaining weight, although that appeared to be her only area of growth. She still seemed to lack the basic intelligence one might typically see in such an animal. Though he cringed at oblivious nature and how ignorant she was of her own tail, he could not deny that she was rapidly becoming a large source of comfort.

Right then she was sprawled out in front of the fireplace, contentedly grooming her front paws. Severus was in the process of organizing the overflow of papers that inevitably happened after a few months of assignments. He had worked through dinner, and likely would have to continue well past midnight.

A firm brief knock at the door alerted him to potential company. He straightened, set down the stack of papers in his hand and went to the door. Unsurprisingly, it was Granger who stood on the other side, coat in hand, and radiating the clean, brisk smell that came only from an excursion out in the snow.

“I should have known,” he said, standing in the doorway. “You have a-”

Granger nodded, “A very loud and distinctive knock. I’ve been told.”

He shot her a look. “-a spot of cranberry sauce on your shirt. Tell me, do you make a habit of using your clothing as a napkin, or is this a recent development?”

She blushed and vanished the stain with a quick wave of her wand. After returning her wand to her pocket, she asked, “May I come in?”

Severus gestured for her to enter. This time, Granger did not immediately go to his bookcases. Instead she plopped herself down on his sofa with the confidence that only Minerva possessed when invading his space, tossing her coat carelessly at one end. She wore a cardigan that he was beginning to recognize as a favorite of hers. It was plain and beige, and he didn’t see anything particularly remarkable about it, but then again he had never claimed to be an expert in Granger’s taste.

“I just visited Hagrid. I wanted to say goodbye before I leave tomorrow morning,” Granger said, settling further into his sofa.

“Holiday plans, I presume,” Severus said, sitting down in the armchair facing her.

Granger nodded distractedly. She was glancing around the room as though looking for something. Severus irritably tapped his fingers on his armrest. The noise caused Athene to stir, and she slinked over and hopped into his lap.

“You have a cat!” Granger said, sitting up straighter.

“I do,” Severus acquiesced.

The cat sneezed. Twice.

“A cat!” She repeated triumphantly, more to herself than him.

Severus clenched his jaw briefly. Other than Minerva, no one had been introduced to his cat yet, and he felt oddly … protective of her. “You are familiar with them, are you not, Granger? Though that orange beast of yours hardly qualifies.”

Crookshanks is a splendid cat. And you shouldn’t say such things about him. He likes you, and I can’t say that about most people.” Granger said. “What’s its name?”

“Athene.”

“From Athena,” Hermione said in surprise. “Does Minerva know?”

“Not yet,” Severus said, “Though I’m sure I’m sure she’ll be flattered. The resemblance is uncanny.”

Athene sneezed once more.

Hermione gave him a reproachful look. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Athene. I’m glad to see that you’ve not be put off by your owner’s moods.”

“Granger,” he said warningly.

“Hermione,” she corrected. Sensing she was on dangerous ground, she switched topics, addressing him instead of Athene. “Have you completed your Christmas shopping yet?”

“I have. I hadn’t a particularly long list.”

Granger laughed. “I admire your stringency. I’ve been shopping for a month and a half and still have a few things left. I know that some people have already passed around presents, but I’m afraid that everyone will have to wait until Christmas day for mine. The house elves have already agreed.”

“Do you wish to wait until Christmas you receive yours?”

Her eyes widened. “You got me a present?”

“Don’t look so shocked, Granger. I am not so much of a grinch to spoil Christmas for my colleagues.”

“But still! You didn’t have to.”

“Do you want it now or not?” He said stiffly.

She thought for a moment. “Now,” she decided. “That way I can thank you person immediately.”

Severus almost Summoned the gift out of habit, but at the last second he caught himself. He gently slid Athene off of his lap before retrieving the gift from underneath the stack of papers he had thrown on top.

“Merry Christmas, Granger,” he said, handing it over. She immediately began to unwrap it, taking time to avoid ripping the paper unnecessarily. Severus returned to his seat, feeling awkward as he watched her in silence.

He had been shopping in Tomes and Scrolls when he saw Granger standing just a few feet away. She wore the serious expression she always did when reading, eyebrows creased and firmly set. Nothing remarkable, but in that moment he couldn’t stop himself from looking. She stood perfectly still as she flipped through the book in her hands. After a few moments, she closed it, turned it over in her hands twice, and returned it to the shelf. When he was sure that she had left, he had walked over and plucked the book back off the shelf.

Severus had always known her to be a voracious reader, but it always seemed to be in the pursuit of knowledge. Granger could be depended on to always be lugging around some giant tome with information on transfiguration, magical law, or any other subject. Muggle textbooks covering topics such as chemistry and physics were not uncommon either. In all this time, the only fictional books he could assume she had read were those written by Gilderoy Lockheart.

So, it was to his surprise that the book that Granger had been examining on moments before was a classic, Emma by Jane Austen to be exact. A fictional Muggle book was certainly not what he had intended to get her, but on a hunch he purchased it anyway. The bookseller had wrapped it for him with a wink.

Granger slid the last of the paper off of the book, giving a soft gasp when she saw the title. “Oh, Severus. How did you know?"

Severus said nothing, unsure of whether this was a positive or negative reaction. This confusion was furthered when Granger began to blink rapidly, a tell tale sign that she was seconds away from waterworks.

"It's one of my favorites. My parents took me to the play as a child, and I was absolutely enamored. Mum used to read it to me before bed, although I was really much too old for bedtime stories at that point. We would both climb into my bed and she would read until I fell asleep..." She trailed off suddenly, aware that she was rambling on about her childhood memories.

For lack of a better response, Severus repeated, “Merry Christmas.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Out of all of the many bewildering things that had happened to Hermione while boarding at Hogwarts, this one certainly stood out. Within the span of thirty minutes last night, she had been discovered that Severus had a cat- named Athene of all things. Severus had not only gifted her a present, but one of the best that she had received in years. To round out the unreal experience, he listened to her talk about her upbringing with he clearly neither asked nor cared about. Looking up, she had was surprised to see that he didn't seem annoyed at all. Instead, his head was cocked slightly, his expression was inscrutable.

Best of all, she had finally realized what she would be gifting Severus. Her surreptitious snooping had likely not be as subtle as she hoped, but it had been a success. A present for both Severus and his cat would be passed along by the house elves.

If this was any indication to what this Christmas would entail, Hermione thought as she closed her trunk, it looks like this will certainly be an interesting year indeed.

The morning of December 18th, Hermione checked her packed bags before she went down to breakfast early. She was sure Molly would try to feed her shortly upon her arrival, but there was so much catching up to do, Hermione wanted to be able to focus on the Weasleys instead of her growling stomach.

There a single table in the Great Hall, terribly dwarfed by the expanse around it. There were a few students who had not left on the Hogwarts Express. Pomona and Poppy, who weren’t due to leave until that afternoon, were cheerfully chatting with them. Lavender was also at breakfast, nibbling on a muffin, seeming to be only passively interested in the conversation.

As Hermione sat down, an owl fluttered over to her. Not just any owl, but Errol. There was a quick note from Ron.

Hermione,

If Lavender doesn’t have any plans for Christmas, ask her to come to the Burrow. Mum won’t mind, and I reckon nobody else will either. I hope she doesn’t take it the wrong way. I know I wouldn’t want people to feel obligated to invite me anywhere. It’s just that nobody should have to spend Christmas alone. That’s horrible.

Looking forward to seeing you today. It’s sounds like we have a fair bit of catching up to do. Harry’s going to be here later today as well.

Ron

Though a short letter, it was certainly one of the longest Ron had ever sent her. Despite Hermione once accusing him of a quite limited emotional range, he really had matured over the past few years. Ron had clearly thought through his invitation for Lavender, even though it was last minute.

Not wanting to accidently gain an audience, Hermione slipped the note into her pocket and waited. When Lavender stood to leave, Hermione bid a quick goodbye and a merry Christmas to the others at the table and followed Lavender out of the Great Hall.

“Lavender! Lavender, wait.”

Lavender stopped. “What, Hermione?” Her eyes were slightly puffy as though she had spent a great deal of time crying recently.

“I don’t know if you have any plans for Christmas, but I just wanted you to know that you are more than welcome to come to the Burrow with me.”

Lavender shook her head, “I don’t know-”

“Ron asked,” Hermione said quickly. “Ron asked you to come. It’s not just me that wants you to be there. If, of course,” she added hastily, “You don’t have plans.”

“Ron asked?” Lavender looked off for a moment. Hermione was sure that Lavender was getting ready to turn her down, but when she turned back to Hermione, she was smiling slightly. “I’ll come with you. When are you leaving?”

Hermione had been planning on leaving in the next five minutes, but she knew that would not give Lavender enough time to pack, and thus resigned herself to a later departure.

Despite her qualms, it was not long before they were heading out the front door of Hogwarts, flurries whipping through their hair as they disapparated from the grounds.

Chapter Text

December 1999

That year, the Weasleys had the largest Christmas tree that any of them had ever seen. Charlie had brought back the enormous fir from Romania, although how he managed to travel with it remained a mystery. Despite the extension charm Hermione had added to the living room, the bristly tree still seemed to take up most of the space.

Mrs. Weasley had clucked when she saw it. “How are we ever going to decorate the entire thing?”

The tree was easily as tall as Hagrid and twice as thick. It was a dark green, and the sharp smell of pine cut through the air.

“We’ll have to be sure to keep hydration and flame retardant charms on it,” Hermione said, performing the charms with a couple of flicks of her wand. “If one of these branches gets too close to the fireplace, this whole room will go up in flames.”

“Festive,” Ron commented, stoking said fire.

He glanced back towards the kitchen where Lavender and Mrs. Weasley were baking. Lavender had appeared to be in good spirits when they left Hogwarts that morning, but within moments of arriving at the Burrow, she had reverted to the silent and sour Professor Brown that Hermione was accustomed to seeing in the hallways. Mrs. Weasley, sensing Lavender’s discomfort, had commandeered the newcomer’s help. Now, Hermione could hear Mrs. Weasley chattering about cinnamon cookies.

Keeping his voice low so as not to be overheard, Ron said, “I’m glad she decided to come along.”

“Me too. I think it will do her some good to be around people who can look at her for who she is,” Hermione said. “Most of the students are too young to understand what happened, and those who aren’t don’t like being reminded of the war.”

“Well, we’re all used to seeing Bill, so it’s not much of a shock for us,” Ron said, brushing his hands off as he stood. “I’m sure she misses her family, but hopefully we can offer the next best thing.”

“And what’s that, Ronald?” Hermione asked, casting a cleaning charm on her soot covered friend.

“Friends,” he said simply.

Hermione agreed, fondly tossling Ron’s hair. In this aspect, she could understand Lavender. The holidays brought out the longing for her parents that she squashed most of the time. It was difficult, though. Her parents had been her best friends until she had gone to Hogwarts, but they hadn’t even seen her in two and a half years. They didn’t even remember she existed, a fact that seemed to cut a little sharper during times that were meant for family.

That evening, the Weasleys, Hermione, and Lavender decorated the tree. The tree was so much larger than any tree that they had ever had before, and their entire ornament collection only covered a small portion of the branches, so they were all transfiguring Arthur’s muggle artefacts in the name of Christmas.

Arthur selflessly sacrificed his collection to the cause, although he did pull Hermione aside to assure him that she would help return them all to their former glory. Some of the items were quite odd indeed. Among them was a weedeater, a ceiling fan, and most remarkably, something called a “potty putter.”

Charlie had turned a collection of VHS tapes into a small dragon, which he placed in the branches so that it could roam around. Bill was creating a set of snowflakes from a travel pack of tissues, and Fleur had a small collection of beautiful glass ornaments beside her. Victoire was barely visible behind the thick lower branches as she looked for the dragons Charlie had hid.

George had just come over and he was putting on some of his less nefarious products, including several reusable hangmen that looked rather macabre among the glittery baubles. Hermione was transfiguring the muggle toys in front of her into traditional christmas ornaments. A small figurine became a serene angel. A stuffed dog became a reindeer. She added them to the tree, taking a step back to admire her handiwork.

Ron was cracking everyone up by simply miniaturizing whatever he got his hands on before hanging it on the tree. A small toilet seat, big enough to fit in the palm of a hand, was hanging right at eye-level.

Molly snapped at his head with a dish towel before telling him to get it off of her tree. Grinning, Ron took it down only to replace it with a toilet plunger. Before Molly, or anyone else, could react, there was a laugh. A pure, bell like sound that Hermione had not heard in a very long time. Lavender’s face turned red as they turned towards her.

“Well, at least there’s someone who appreciates your humor,” Bill joked. Everyone laughed, but Lavender’s face remained red, and Ron’s was not much better.

There was a sound from across the house. “That must be Ginny and Harry!” Mrs. Weasley cried. “Oh, it’s about time. I was starting to worry.”

Sure enough, Harry and Ginny entered the room, both flushed from the cold outside. Harry and Ginny exchanged hugs with Hermione as well as the rest of Weasleys, giving polite hellos to Lavender.

“Where have you two been? I was about to send Ron out to look for you,” Molly scolded halfheartedly, brushing snow from their hair. “Did you eat yet? You look hungry. I’m going to go warm some soup up. Oh! I’ll bake another pie.”

Ginny caught her mother’s arm before she could bustle off to the kitchen. “Actually, Mum, there’s something we would like to say.”

Mrs. Weasley reluctantly turned away from her kitchen, eyes narrowed. “What is it? Is everything alright?”

“Everything’s fine,” Ginny looked at Harry and took a deep breath. “We’re moving in together.”

There was a pause; the only sound in the room was the crackling in the fireplace and the small snaps coming from George’s popping poinsettias.

“What?” Mrs. Weasley drew herself up, her pleasant frame suddenly more intimidating.

Ginny stood her ground. “I’m moving in with Harry.”

“Ginny, dear, perhaps we should discuss-” Arthur began.

“Harry,” Mrs. Weasley cut her husband off and turned to Harry, who took a small step back. Everyone except for Ginny followed his example. “I’ve known you since you were a boy. You are like another son to me. I consider you a part of my family- you know that I do, but do you mean to tell me that you are going to take my daughter away from home when she is only nineteen? She’s hardly out of school, hardly an adult! Her life has barely begun.” Mrs. Weasley took what appeared to be an attempt at a calming breath, although it seemed to do little to console her. “What is the rush? There’s no engagement, no baby-” She cut off abruptly. “Is there a baby?”

“No, Mum,” Ginny said exasperatedly.

“Then why?”

Ginny held up her left hand where a shiny gold ring rested. “Because there is an engagement.”

After the initial shock, and Mrs. Weasley’s tears, the young couple was congratulated. While he tried to be more discreet that his wife, Mr. Weasley also had tears in his eyes as he embraced Harry and Ginny.

Hermione was the first one to reach Harry and Ginny after Mr. and Mrs. Weasley and she wrapped both of them in a fierce hug.

“Oh, Hermione,” Ginny complained. “Not you too.”

“I can’t help it,” Hermione sniffled. “I’m so happy for both of you.” Harry kissed her cheek but he didn’t say anything. Hermione assumed that it was because he was also choked up. His bright green eyes were suspiciously watery as he turned towards Ron, who shook Harry’s hand and hugged Ginny. To balance things out, George made sure to hug Harry and shake Ginny’s hand as he congratulated them.

“Harry’s officially going to be a part of the family!” Bill said.

“He already is. Hermione too,” Mrs. Weasley said.

Hermione’s heart twisted slightly. She and Harry had been honorary Weasleys for years, but with the union of Ginny and Harry, she would be only one who was not truly bound to them.

You could have been if you had made it work with Ron, a traitorous thought suggested in her brain.

She looked at handsome, goofy, lovable Ron, who was half jokingly giving Harry a what-for. For the first time, Hermione wondered if she had made a mistake ending things with Ron. Really, it had been a mutual decision, but she had certainly been the one to initiate the conversation.

“A heads up would have been nice. Might have told your best friend that you’d be proposing to his sister,” Ron pulled Harry in for a hug, his lanky frame dwarfing Harry’s smaller build.

Hermione’s heart melted at the sight of her two best friends together. No, definitely not a mistake. This is how it was meant to be. Harry and Ron were like brothers to her. Nothing more, nothing less. None of them had been meant for each other in a romantic sense. She only hoped that both Ron and herself would be able to find the sort of happiness that Harry had found with Ginny.

Ron moved out of the way to let the rest of the family have a chance at grilling Ginny and Harry. He jerked his thumb in his parents’ direction, both of whom were still misty eyed, “Dodged that jinx, didn’t we?”

Hermione laughed. “I did. You’re not out of the woods yet. I’m sure it won’t be too long before you’ll have an announcement of your own.”

Ron scoffed. “Unlikely.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Late on Christmas Eve, Hermione and Harry took a trip together, just the two of them. When Harry had knocked on her door that morning, wreath in hand, she had known immediately where they were going. She was somewhat surprised that he was not taking Ginny instead, but she thought she understood why.

Out of all the traditions she had formed with her friends over the years, visiting the grave of her best friend's parents certainly had been the least expected. And yet, they walked through the snowy paths of Godric's Hollow for the third year in a row. It was eerily reminiscent of the first time that they had made the trek to the graveyard. No one was about, though Hermione could see lights on in the church just beyond.

On this occasion, they did not stop at the house that Harry had been raised in for the first year of his life. Nor did they pause to examine the statue of the Potters. Harry was quiet, but he didn't carry the wounded expression that he had on their previous visits. Instead, he looked serious. Adult-like.

Hermione quietly paid her respects, crouching beside the grave to place the wreath. A thin layer of frost coated the white marble. She rubbed her thumb over JAMES POTTER & LILY POTTER so that their names were visible once more. Harry stood beside her, hands stuffed into his oversized pockets to ward off the cold. His breath, trapped against his face by the scarf wrapped around his neck, created foggy spots on his glasses. Hermione stood up and reached for Harry's arm, which he placed around her without comment.

Harry rarely said much about his parents, and the times he did it was usually in short, restless bursts. In that moment, Hermione was reminded of the eleven year old Harry she had met on the train. Quite a lot had changed over the past nine years, but some things were nearly identical. He had the same unruly hair, though its wild waves reached his shoulders now. Same bright green eyes and famous lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Less skinny, though not by much. In that moment, standing in front of the spot where his parents were buried, he carried the same small, lost look that he had as a child.

Hermione's heart ached for eleven-year old Harry, as well as the friend in front of her now. He pulled his right hand from his pocket and tugged off its glove with his teeth. He placed his bare hand on the headstone briefly. Hermione, still surrounded by Harry's left arm, awkwardly leaned forward with him. Right when she thought that he was about to say something, Harry abruptly turned to leave, releasing his grip on her.

Hermione trotted after him, and as they walked back through the cemetery, she caught his glances that repeatedly landed in her direction.

"What?" Hermione asked.

"Nothing," Harry said. "I'm just thinking."

"Anything you'd like to share?"

"Not yet." He took out his wand and Disapparated. Hermione sighed and followed.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Christmas day was picturesque, both outside where there were mounds of fresh snow, and inside the Burrow, which was packed with Weasleys and family friends. There had not been this number of guests since Bill and Fleur’s wedding a couple of years before. Luckily, since then there had been some adjustments made to the Burrow to make it a bit more spacious, though it was starting to resemble Hogwarts. The haphazard additions to the house seemed to hang on through magic alone.

Mrs. Weasley had insisted on a large breakfast of pancakes before they tore into their presents. Hermione was fine with just a hot chocolate, but the men certainly seemed to appreciate them, going through stack after stack. Ginny, not one to be outdone by her brothers, was keeping up fairly well.

Lavender did not eat anything, and she looked slightly out of place, as if she were afraid to remind anyone that she was there. Apparently sensing this, Mrs. Weasley once again commandeered her help in the kitchen.

As had happened last year, Percy and Penelope stopped by for a short while, mostly to exchange presents.

“Stay, Percy. We’ll have a few leftover pancakes if the boys stop eating soon. I can’t send you off without something to eat,” Mrs. Weasley fussed.

“No, Mum, it’s alright. We were heading on to Penelope’s parents’ house.” He gave his mother a gentle kiss on the cheek before heading off. Penelope did not say anything to them, not even hello.

“Git,” George muttered, biting into another pancake.

Ron offered his agreement around a bite of bacon.

Mrs. Weasley sighed as they left. “Oh, stop that. He’s your brother. I don’t want him to feel like he’s imposing by being with his family- especially on Christmas of all days!”

This statement caused all of the Weasley children to voice their opinions at once.

“Why don’t we head into the living room?” Hermione suggested loudly over the raised voices. Harry shot her a grateful look, and everyone trooped into the living room.

Mrs. Weasley’s Celestina Warbeck holiday record was playing, and the candles on the giant tree burned brightly. It was covered in strings cranberries, garlands, and the transfigured ornaments. Besides the traditional ones, Ron’s miniature toilet seat still gleamed in the light.

While they were passing all of the presents out to their correct recipients, owls fluttered by the windows, dropping off presents from their friends. Minerva had bought her a subscription for Transfiguration Today. Neville and Hannah sent an engagement gift for Harry and Ginny, as well as a small food basket for the others. Luna sent gifts from Russia, which were aptly addressed in Russian. Unsure of exactly which gift was meant for who, they each took one at random. Hermione unwrapped a beard grooming kit, which she traded for the latest edition of the Quibbler.

There were certainly more presents under the Weasleys’ tree than Hermione had ever seen before. After the war, Arthur had finally been promoted and given a raise, easing the financial strain on the family. This in addition to a large sum of gold miraculously turning up in their Gringotts vault, resulted in the Weasleys being wealthy for the first time in centuries. Despite their new found wealth, Mrs. Weasley retained a sense of modesty, most obviously exemplified in her traditional Christmas gift.

Everyone that year, including Lavender, although Hermione had no idea how Mrs. Weasley had found the time, received the famous Weasley sweaters. The boys complained good naturedly, as they always did about them, sliding them on at their mother’s insistence. Harry, who had always seemed to cherish his Weasley sweaters, was already wearing his, his unruly hair further mused in the process. Lavender hesitantly slid her own dark pink sweater on, fingering the cuff, which was more elaborate than on the boys’.

Hermione’s was a dark green that year. It was oversized and looked like the comfiest sweater that she had ever seen. From Bill, Fleur, Ron, Ginny, and Harry, she received a stack of books, much to her delight.

Hermione distributed gifts, keeping an eye on everyone’s reactions. For Harry and Ron, who were nearing the end of their first year of Auror training, she got them both sturdy knapsacks, which Tonks had assured her would come in handy in the next year of training. Ginny received a set of new Quidditch gloves, which she tried on immediately. The rest of the Weasleys seemed equally pleased with their gifts.

She felt slightly bad, not getting anything for Charlie, but he seemed rather unbothered that he received the fewest gifts. He was the Weasley that she knew the least, having never spent much time with him and never attending Hogwarts at the same time. She did have a crush on him when she was younger, twelve or thirteen. He looked so daring, with his long hair and outdoorsy appearance, and he worked with dragons, which is one of the most dangerous professions in the wizarding world.

He had not changed much from the first time she had met him. His hair was about the same length, recovered from the painfully short haircut Mrs. Weasley had given him before the wedding. On top of the presents he received from his family, he received several owls as the day wore on with presents and letters from his friends and former clients and employers, who clearly held a high opinion of him. In all the time she had known him, he had never brought anyone home, or even expressed interest in anyone romantically, but he seemed perfectly content.

Since Harry and Ginny had announced their engagement, Hermione found her own mind turning to the idea of relationships. It was a thought that hadn’t come up recently, what with her recent employment at Hogwarts. Godric knows that the students kept her too busy to pursue much of a personal life. Not to mention she hated dating.

She had found this out shortly after she broke up with Ron. She went on several dates with men who had asked her out upon hearing that she and Ron were done, but they all went horribly. They all were too handsome and smooth and uninteresting. They had never known pain, or fear, or drive, and were happy to let life come to them. Well, that was not how Hermione Granger lived her life, nor was it an admirable quality in others. Everything that she had in her life, she intended to work for, and she would accept nothing less from a partner.

It had left her feeling disheartened, and she had taken an indefinite hiatus from the dating world, thinking that she might meet someone when she took up a job at the Ministry in a few years. Yes, a lot of people worked at the Ministry. It was bound to happen then.

It was not the only thing that seemed bound to happen. It had not gone unnoticed to her that Lavender and Ron seemed to be getting along extremely well, much better than when they had dated at sixteen. It was almost unreal to believe that that had been almost four years ago and that so much had changed since then.

A cheer broke her out of her pondering. Victoire was clapping her chubby hands excitedly, singing in a mix of French and English. She was going to be spoiled beyond repair. At that moment, she was wearing a fluttery, ribbony dress and sitting in the middle of a stack of presents at least twice her size. Not only was she Arthur and Molly’s first grandchild, she also had two doting parents and a slew of uncles and aunts between Bill and Fleur’s family. To add to effect, she had inherited her mother’s looks, and could convince anyone to get her anything she wanted with a bat of her eyelashes.

They laughed as the toddler tore into her presents. Bill took pictures of his daughter, which she posed for before grabbing another box to open.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Later that afternoon, Viktor visited to wish Bill and Fleur a merry Christmas. He seemed delighted to see Hermione as well, and they spent several hours catching up, sharing details that had failed to make it into their letters. It was wonderful to be around so many people, but
when Mr. Weasley’s cousins dropped by afterwards, Hermione was not at all reluctant to slip off to Grimmauld Place with Harry and Ginny. Lavender stayed at the Burrow, promising Hermione that she was fine and she would see her at the Millennium Ball on New Year’s Eve, if not before then.

At Grimmauld Place, Harry drifted off to visit with Kreacher before heading up to his room. Hermione took up her usual room, and Ginny sprawled across her bed as she watched Hermione sort through her recently acquired presents. Crookshanks was curled up beside Ginny and purring loudly. He had stayed with Ginny during the year that Hermione had left, and he was always uncharacteristically cuddly when the two reunited.

“We’re going to start redecorating tomorrow,” Ginny told Hermione. “Ron and Lavender will be coming over to help, and we could probably use your input as well.”

“Of course! I’m sure you’re ready to get this place fixed up” Hermione said. “Gin, you’re getting married! I can’t believe it.”

Ginny blushed in truly Weasley fashion. “I can’t either. But,” she continued, “You know I have you to thank. You were the one who told me all those years ago that I didn’t need a boy and I should just focus on myself instead. And you were right. I had so much I had to find out about myself, and I don’t know if I could have done that if I was chasing after Harry for years.”

“Well, it definitely worked out fine for you,” Hermione said.

“What about you? Are you seeing anyone?” Ginny raised her eyebrow conspiratorially.

Hermione shook her head. “I’m trying to take my own advice right now, and just focus on myself.”

“Well, from personal experience, I have to say that fourteen-year-old Hermione had some smart advice.”

“I always thought so,” Hermione agreed. “Although you have always been much more appreciative of it than Harry or Ron ever were.”

“I appreciate you just fine,” Harry called from his bedroom.

Now,” Hermione yelled back. His laughter resonated down the hallway.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Severus had never particularly enjoyed Christmas. The holidays were never a festive time at home, and he found his mood towards them carried over while at Hogwarts. He had some spectacularly awful Christmases in his day, including the one where his father had locked him outside in the cold and the one after Voldemort’s return, but this one was shaping up to be one of the worst. Perhaps less dire circumstances, but certainly more boring.

His holiday this year was beginning with a check up at St. Mungo’s. The bite wounds on his neck were barely visible and well healed. How he had survived at all was unknown to him and everyone else. Every healer that had been sent his way told him that he should have died. For a long time after he had woken up in that hospital bed, he agreed with them. He should have.

The damage caused by repeated Cruciatus curses, as well as the psychological impact had been another matter entirely, and it were these things that had caused his extended stay at the hospital after the Battle of Hogwarts and the subsequent care since.

The healer went through the typically questions and brief examination, concluding with the same under the breath comments of miracles and not natural, words not commonly uttered in a magical hospital. Well, there was something to be said for an uneventful appointment.

Christmas was a quiet affair at Hogwarts with only Minerva, Severus, Aurora, and five students staying at the school over the holiday.

The day had started with an unusually large pile of gifts waiting for Severus in his sitting room. Most were to be expected: catnip from both Minerva and Granger, a bottle of Ogdens (also from Minerva), a new long-lasting candle from Flitwick, a detailed horoscope from Aurora and Lavender. Lupin and Tonks had bought him a garish pair of socks. He was sure Tonks had convinced Lupin of their stylishness. Lupin certainly would have been dim enough to believe her. Various trinkets from other faculty. A second gift from Granger sat at the bottom of the pile.

In case another wayward colleague makes use of your only blanket. -Hermione

He stared at the note far longer than he did the quilt. The message was somewhat more … provocative than she had to have been going for, though perhaps he was reading too much into it. All the same, he slid the note into a book that he chose at random before putting the rest of the gifts away and heading down for breakfast.

As expected, Severus was free from interacting with his numerous colleagues, plenty of whom he’d rather avoid anyways. Aurora, easily bored by others, opted to spend most of the day walking through the Forbidden Forest. Doubtless that she would also pay respects to the centaurs as well. Severus and Minerva contented themselves to games of chess in her office for most of the day. They sat in silence for the most part with the exception of sounds of disapproval when one of their pieces was smashed.

They used to commonly pass their free time like this. In fact, Severus, Minerva, Albus, and Filius had often played in rotation, especially over holidays. Most of the games had ended in a stalemate.

“Do you remember,” Severus said, moving his knight forward, “When the Weasley twins wrecked Umbridge’s office?”

Minerva clucked her tongue. “Which time? Not that the old toad didn’t deserve each and every one.”

“They smashed her plates, if I recall. And-”

“Filled her office with toads wearing pink hats and slippers. Yes, I remember that,” Minerva smiled fondly at the memory. “It was a wonderful day. Well,” her face darkened. “Until she suggested that we share an office while hers was repaired.” Minerva moved her rook forward, capturing Severus’ knight.

Severus remembered that part well. It had been a rather horrific day. For Minerva, anyways.

“Why, Severus. Is that a smile?”

“Check.”

Minerva calmly moved out of danger’s way without comment.

“You’re rusty,” Severus said.

“As are you,” Minerva pointed out.

They both were silent again, studying the board. Severus had played against Minerva enough to know her weaknesses, most obviously her reluctance to end the game at first opportunity. Like a cat, she preferred to toy with her opponent, moving her pieces as far across the board as possible. She felt a deep satisfaction in taking piece by piece, until her opponent’s king stood alone.

Severus steepled his fingers and continued to examine the board. Recognizing someone’s weakness was one thing. Knowing how to exploit it was another.

Luckily, bringing up Umbridge had apparently made Minerva somewhat nostalgic.

“I remember the first time I played against Albus. He was a strategist through and through.”

One of pieces on the board tapped twice in impatience. Severus narrowed his eyes, considering his next move.

“I too remember my first game with him. He was quick to sacrifice his pieces,” Severus murmured before finally making his decision. Minerva’s queen sat defenseless, almost taunting. A trap that would work on only the most amateur of players. He glanced up at Minerva and was met with her flint-like gaze.

His rook marched forward.

“Sacrifice is a necessary part of chess,” Minerva said. Severus raised his eyebrows at her words before looking at the board again.

“I see,” he said.

“Indeed,” Minerva said, repositioning her queen. “Check.”

Severus made the only move that he could, a desperate effort as his king took the only escape route offered.

It was only a few minutes before Minerva declared, “Mate.”

This was his first loss to Minerva in years. While she was undeniably the stronger player, he had an ability to squeeze out of tight situations that usually resulted in a draw. He studied the board again, examining the wreckage left when his pieces were smashed, committing the game to memory. He hated to make the same mistake more than once.

Chapter Text

December 1999

On Monday, Hermione was awoken to an owl tapping on her window. She jumped up, rubbed her eyes, and pushed up the cold window pane. The owl flew into the room with a graceful flick of its feathers, dropped a letter unceremoniously on her bed, collected some of the spare treats Crookshanks had left on the floor, and exited her room again in mere seconds.

Retrieving the letter from the bed, she saw that it bore the official Hogwarts seal. It contained a brief letter from Minerva, and while not exactly unexpected, Hermione still preened over how well her gift had been received. She was still smiling as she stretched and went to go get ready. The plans for the day were simple enough: make Grimmauld Place look more like the home of a highly respected Quidditch player and Auror-in-training than the home of a dark arts sympathizer.

Ron and Lavender would be dropping by shortly to assist in the makeover Grimmauld Place so desperately needed, but until then Hermione planned on reading with Crookshanks, who liked to curl up at her feet as she read. She had brought along the copy of Emma that Severus had given her, on the off chance that she would find a moment to read it.

The renovations later would inevitably involve some work, but overall it would just a quiet, relaxing day with her friends. Hermione could not think of a better way to spend a winter day.

~*~*~*~*~*~

There was screaming in the hall, followed by several loud thumps. Silence filled the house for a moment and then, "Bloody painting is the bane of my existence!"

Hermione, Lavender, Harry, Ron, and Ginny stood in the hallway, looking at the now covered portrait of Mrs. Black. The home improvements had been interrupted almost straightaway by Walburga who had very little patience for the strangers moving furniture around in her house. They, in turn, had very little patience for her vocal commentary on the subject.

Ron turned to Harry and Ginny. "I still think that you’re both daft for living here. This place gives me the creeps."

Lavender voiced her agreement, glancing at the shrunken house-elf heads mounted on the wall. To Hermione’s continued dismay, Harry had been unable to reach any sort of compromise with Kreacher regarding the heads of his ancestors tacked on the wall.

"It's home for now," Harry shrugged. "We want to live someplace private, and this is about as private as we can get without leaving the city."

"We don't have to face reporters every time we leave from here, and people can visit discreetly,” Ginny said. “You know Mum isn't keen on reporters after everything that’s been posted in the paper."

Ron nodded his head in acknowledgement, "S'pose you're right." He eyed the frame of the bigoted portrait, blessedly silent now that it was covered.

"Gin, do you think that you can hex it off?" Harry asked, carefully examining where the portrait frame met the wall.

"Not unless you want me to blow half the wall down with it," Ginny replied. "We tried to remove it a few years ago when the Order used this place for meetings. There's a permanent sticking charm on it. It's not going anywhere."

“Hermione, you got any ideas?”

“Nothing that hasn’t already been tried,” Hermione said, flipping through a book of curse reversals. Moving closer, she tried another one, moving her wand around in the figure eight pattern described in the text.

Harry apparently saw a movement out of the corner of his eye, because he turned his attention away from the portrait. Kreacher was hovering in the shadows of the hallway, looking agitated and muttering softly to himself.

"Kreacher, do you know if there is a way to get Mrs. Black off of my wall?" Harry asked.

Kreacher glowered at him. "Master doesn't know what he asks." His gaze moved to the portrait, adoration lighting up his scaly face. "My poor mistress has suffered enough."

Walburga Black chose that moment to remind them of her presence. With a loud shriek, Mrs. Black was visible once more, the curtain shooting back. "BLOOD TRAITORS! IMPOSTORS! YOU BRING SHAME THIS HOUSE!"

Hermione, who had still been experimentally casting spells on the portrait, winced at the screaming that felt like it nearly ruptured her eardrum.

"Kreacher," Harry said, trying to keep his patience, despite the screaming beside him. "I understand that you care very deeply for ..." he gestured to the portrait, who was still screaming obscenities at him. "...Mrs. Black. But Ginny and myself are going to live here now. This is going to be our home."

Kreacher shifted guiltily, his eyes back and forth between his old mistress and his new master.

"Kreacher," Ginny began carefully, seeming to think about what she wanted to say next. "I understand that this portrait means a lot to you."

Hermione and Harry shot a glance at each other, neither knowing where Ginny’s mind was headed.

"Would you like it?"

"Miss?"

"If you can help us remove it from the wall, you can keep it in your room."

Kreacher let out a sound that, were it not for rough voice, almost sounded like a squeak.

"Yes, Miss!" He looked to Harry for confirmation that he could have the portrait.

"Of course, Kreacher," Harry said. "You have more than earned this. You have been a most outstanding house elf."

Kreacher puffed out his tiny chest in pride, showing off the scar he had received when he led the house elves into the Battle of Hogwarts.

“Well, will you do it?” Ginny prompted.

Kreacher grumbled a bit more, but then he nodded reluctantly. They stepped back to give him more room, not entirely sure of what he would have to do to get the portrait off the wall. Hermione wondered how long it would take for Kreacher to remove it. She had been working on it herself off and on over the years, to no avail.

Kreacher snapped his fingers, and the black curtain shot back once again.

"Mistress Black," he simpered.

"Kreacher, why are there so many people in my hallway?" Mrs. Black sniffed, looking agitated at the presence of both "blood traitors" and "mudbloods."

"Don't worry none about them, Mistress," Kreacher assured her. Mrs. Black frowned and opened her mouth again, but before she could get out another utterance, Kreacher snapped his fingers again.

With a loud pop, the portrait fell off of the wall and into Kreacher's waiting skinny arms. He staggered under the weight of the large portrait. Ron grabbed the top of the frame before Kreacher was crushed underneath his former mistress.

"She's all yours," Harry said, clearly stunned that with a snap of his fingers, Kreacher had managed in under a minute to do what half a dozen wizards had failed to do over the past three years.

“Thank you, Kreacher,” Hermione said. Kreacher gave her a jerky nod, smoother than the last time he had tried to acknowledge her presence.

Ron rearranged his hold on the frame. "Come on, you nutter, I'll take this to your room."

Kreacher eyed Ron suspiciously but led the way to his closet.

"I can't believe he just did that," Harry said, staring after the elf.

Ginny shrugged, gesturing for everyone to follow her into the living room.

"Hermione might be onto something with the house elves. She’s been saying for years that we undervalue their magic. It’s starting to look like she might be right."

“Of course I’m right!” Hermione said. “But house elf rights should not be contingent on their usefulness to wizards.”

“Of course,” Harry agreed tiredly.

Ron emerged a minute later, his nose and fingers smudged with what looked like soot. "You should get him clean his own room occasionally," Ron grumped, brushing dust bunnies off his pants. “Also, we might want to order in, because I don’t think we’re going to see him for the rest of today.”

Hermione reached for her wand to cast a cleaning charm on Ron as she so often did, but Lavender beat her to it. With a flick of her wand, the smudges were replaced with Ron’s familiar freckles. The tips of Ron’s ears turned red.

In the end, Harry decided to fix lunch himself rather than disturb Kreacher. It was surprisingly good, though he did have to banish his fiancee after she set the dinner rolls on fire. He appeared in the dining room wearing a floury apron and holding a large soup pot.

Ginny, eager to make up for her earlier mistake, stood to help Harry, taking the pot from him and ladling the soup into bowls.

Hermione tucked into hers gratefully. She had forgotten breakfast that morning.

“It’s much more peaceful without the resident banshee,” Ron said around a mouthful of soup.

"That was incredible, Gin! How did you even think of that?" Harry asked, resting his chin on her shoulder. As Ginny was several inches taller than Harry, this was quite a feat.

Ginny laughed and twisted around to give him a kiss.

Ron coughed into his soup, and reluctantly Harry and Ginny parted.

The rest of the day was dedicated the front hallway. No one objected to the removal of the suspicious artifacts and portraits that still littered the front part of the house, though if Harry and Ginny had not had any additional help, they probably would have stopped there. Neither was particularly adept at interior design, and Hermione and Ron were not much better. Fortunately, under Lavender’s supervision, all they had to do was follow orders.

“Harry, you’ve lived in this coffin for over a year. I can’t believe you haven’t done this already,” Lavender said, rubbing her temples as though she had already reached her wit’s end.

Harry gave a good natured shrug, looking nonplussed by the criticism of his home decor.

The troll-leg umbrella stand was tossed, the peeling wallpaper was stripped, and the staircase polished. This last accomplishment was achieved by a grumbling Kreacher who gave a loud fuss when he was extracted from his room. A triumphant Ginny returned to the hall with Kreacher trailed just a few steps behind her, muttering something about how loud the ginger ones were. Crookshanks, who seemed determined to sleep through as much of the Christmas holiday as possible, gave Kreacher a dark stare when the house-elf interrupted his nap at the top of the stairs.

The worn carpet had been pried up with an unsticking charm, which in Hermione’s experience never seemed to work as well as a sticking charm. Ultimately, though, the joint efforts of the group led its successful removal, revealing the dark wood flooring underneath.

“It’ll have to be refinished,” Lavender said, arms crossed as she surveyed the floor. “A lighter stain would be nice. Make the place look less drab.”

It was nearly dark by the time that Hermione and Lavender had completed the delicate charmwork of repairing the chandelier. It was had been rather crooked, and even below the thick layer of dust, Hermione could see that several of the crystals had been damaged.

Afterwards, the five of them regarded their work carefully. It certainly looked much better than it had that morning.

Ron yawned. "It's beginning to get a bit late, don't you think? I think I'd better head back to the Burrow."

"Are you not staying for dinner?” Ginny asked.

Ron shrugged. "No, Mum probably needs help in the kitchen."

“I’ll come with you,” Lavender chimed in quickly. “I’m sure that I can be of help as well.”

No one bothered to point out that Molly Weasley never needed help in the kitchen, and an unsolicited offer would only be taken as an insult.

“I actually won’t be here this evening either,” Hermione said, startling herself as much as everyone else. “I suppose the two of you will have Grimmauld Place to yourself.”

Ron made a sick face at her comment, instigating a Weasley-sibling dispute that continued on his way out the door. Lavender went with him, but Hermione did not miss the quizzical look that Lavender threw her way.

After they left, Hermione slipped upstairs, wrapping herself in several layers in preparation for the weather. She wouldn’t be spending long outside, just as long as it took to Apparate from one location to another, but the winter had been bitingly cold thus far and numb fingers and toes were a surefire way to wind up spliched.

Everything from the past few days seemed to be building up inside her. The first thing had been Severus’ gift, a small spark of a reminder. Then not seeing her parents for the third Christmas in a row and the visit to St. Jerome’s Graveyard in Godric’s Hollow had only served to further ignite the feeling of longing. And finally, after the day of watching the abandoned, melancholic Grimmauld Place melt away into the new home of two of her best friends, she needed to be in a place of her own. In her home.

It was a need that she only recognized in herself as she had stood in the hallways with Lavender, Ron, Harry, and Ginny and realized that it had been over two years since she had packed up the house she had grown up in, Obliviated her parents, implanted the false memory charm, and warded the house. She hadn’t been back since; it seemed odd to go before her parents returned there, if they did at all. The more time passed, the more ridiculous her choice to not return her parents’ memories seemed. On the other hand, the more time passed, the harder it seemed to imagine returning them at all.

When she Apparated onto the street, under the cover of darkness and the bare branches of a birch tree, her breath caught at the sight of her childhood home just across the street. Unlike the houses flanking it on either side, it was dark, and although there was nothing barring the door or windows, it had the shuttered look of a place that had not been used in a long time.

Undoing the wards was child’s play. She remembered everything ward she had cast and in what order she had done so. Hermione doubted that even small critters had managed to find their way into the house, despite its lack of human inhabitants. She cut through the last of the protective spells, feeling as though she were in a dream. Now that she was here, it didn’t seem at all real.

Inside the house, it was pitch black except for the light from her wand. There was no electricity, as the services had been discontinued months ago but she managed to find some candles stowed away under the kitchen sink. She lit several, placing them in different rooms as she went. It would have seemed to strange to leave each room as dark and empty as she found it.

Hermione’s footsteps left impressions in the thick coating of dust that covered floor. There was the living room, the downstairs bathroom, the dining room. She paused at the door of her parents’ home office. Some of her earliest memories were in that room, plucking books from the Grangers’ personal library while her parents worked. Now, all the books and paperwork was neatly packed away for safekeeping, just in case her parents ever returned.

Upstairs was not much different. Another bathroom. The guest room. Her parents’ bedroom sat at the end of the hall, the door firmly shut. She wouldn’t enter that room. Her room was near the stairs, and she entered it without much hesitation. The door still held the disillusionment charm that she had placed to prevent her parents from noticing there was a third bedroom. Like the rest of the house, the abandoned possessions were tucked away into boxes.

The top box contained bits from her early years at Hogwarts. There were robes that she must have outgrown by her third year. The Omnioculars from the 1994 Quidditch World Cup. Old letters and essays. These were all the items that she had decided were useless and insignificant, at least at the time she had left them. She didn’t feel the same now.

She had left most of the heavy furniture untouched, including her bed. When she sat on it, a new cloud of dust poofed around her. For the first time since entering the house, she felt the familiar prick of tears in her eyes. This didn’t feel like home. This was just a place that she had once lived, where she had once been happy. It wasn’t anything without the people who had truly made it her home. Pulling her legs up to her chin, she cried in the privacy of the empty house.

She cried until she until she was exhausted, and the tears on her face had dried. Without even being aware of it, she slipped off to sleep. Perhaps it was sitting on the bed that she had since early adolescence, or perhaps it was simply the resulting fatigue that came from visiting a place that she had physically and mentally avoided for such a long time. Regardless, in one moment she was sitting on her bed, surrounded by boxes and dust, and in the next she was in a place that almost felt more familiar than her boxed up room.

Bellatrix’s cackles had become such a common occurrence in Hermione’s dreams that sometimes when she woke, the sound of the deranged witch’s voice range in her head for hours afterwards. Sometimes, sometimes, her dreams were different. Bellatrix was always involved, but sometimes other people were there too. Sometimes the location changed. Most of the time, though, her dreams were just an agonizingly slow reliving of events exactly as they happened.

“Take the prisoners down to the cellar, Greyback.”*

“Wait. All except. . . . except for the Mudblood.”*

Hermione was ripped away from Harry and Ron as Bellatrix yanked on her hair, pulling her further into the room. Her eyes smarted from the pain of being drug by her hair, and the look on Ron’s face mimicked the terror that she knew was visible on her own.

It was difficult to focus on anything other than the sharp silver knife that Bellatrix gripped tightly. The blade managed to catch her eye regardless of where she looked. Preoccupied by the sharp point being dragged lightly across her skin, she was barely aware of Greyback dragging Harry and Ron out of the room, but she heard his voice echo down the corridor.

“Reckon she’ll let me have a bit of the girl when she’s finished with her? I’d say I’ll get a bite or two, wouldn’t you, ginger?”*

Greyback’s sing-songy tone struck Hermione as hard as her words did. If she survived the hands of the first maniac, it would only be to become fodder for a second one. She whimpered, and sound drew the attention of Bellatrix, and subsequently, her knife. Hermione tried not to scream, a determination that was broken within moments after Bella got bored of her small knife.

“CRUCIO!”

When she finally gasped awake, it was still dark. She stumbled to her feet, disoriented by her location and residual feelings from the dream. It was still dark, so she couldn’t have been asleep for long, but Harry and Ginny might worry if she was not back soon.

Wandering back downstairs, she blew each flickering candle out one by one. With a wave of her wand, she could have easily extinguished them all and returned them to their cubby under the sink, but there was something about the act of doing it herself that made it feel more real.

Maybe it was a mistake to come here. Maybe she had opened a door that was meant to stay closed. She exited the way she came, locking the front door as she left. She turned to go before spinning back around and recasting a protection spell over the house. When she Disapparated, the street was as empty as it had been when she had arrived.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The day of the Millennium Ball was cold. Snow that had fallen over the past few days crusted over into ice, leaving everything from the ground to the air sharp and biting. It was in these conditions that Hermione stood out in, staring across the frozen field in front of the Burrow. She had Floo’d over along with Harry and Ginny to begin getting ready but had almost immediately found an excuse to slip outside.

Her sleep the night before had been insufficient at best, and she had woken up irritable, barely tolerating the presence of her closest friends. Since the visit to her home, she struggled to keep up with the holiday cheer that seemed to infuse everyone and everything. And now she would have to do that in front of several hundred people at a Ministry sponsored event.

As she stood in the cold, arms crossed and shivering, she forced herself to take deep breaths. The freezing air stung as it filled her lungs and with each exhalation, she felt tiny icicles form on the scarf partially covering her face. While it seemed rather silly to stand outside in such weather, it was beginning to help. After a few minutes, Hermione felt more calm, although that could have been the initial stages of hypothermia.

Walking back into the Burrow, she was greeted with the cheerful warmth that was a hallmark of the Weasleys at all points in the year.

She could hear the usual commotion coming from the kitchen, and she was about to enter when she heard Mrs. Weasley’s voice.

“Is Hermione alright? She’s seemed a little distant lately.”

There was a pause and then Harry responded. “Perhaps she is a little quieter, but I assumed she’s just tired from work.”

“I’m sure teaching is very tiring. I’ve just been worried is all.” There was the sound a plates scraped together. “Ah, I’m sure that it’s nothing.”

Maybe so,” Arthur agreed. “But I must admit that I noticed it too.”

A hot, prickling sensation crawled from Hermione’s neck to her face as she listened to the conversation. It was a peculiar feeling to hear people voice their uncensored worries and opinions about her. Now that she thought about it, she had gotten a few worried looks over the Christmas holiday. They were probably just picking up on her tiredness from poor sleep. As she tiptoed away from the entrance, Hermione vowed to herself that she would do what she had to do to ensure that no one would waste their time worrying over her.

Upstairs, Hermione took her time getting ready, applying a copious amount of Sleekeazy to her hair before getting dressed. When Harry knocked on her door, looking for approval on his dress robes, she went ahead and added a few drops to his hair as well, much to his amusement.

He had done reasonably well dressing himself, wearing simple dress robes that were not too cheaply made nor the finest on the market. Especially after Hermione helped flatten his hair to some degree, he looked almost nondescript. Except, of course, for the scar that was situated over his green eyes.

“This is a joke,” he muttered to Hermione as she smoothed out the wrinkles in his robes. “A ball. As if that’s the way to show the world that everything is ok now. With an outdated party.”

“The Ministry is doing what it does best,” Hermione said, turning her attention back to her own appearance.

“Nothing?” Harry supplied.

“Exactly,” she said. She frowned in the mirror, blotting off some of the makeup that Lavender applied. “Though don’t let Kingsley hear you say that. He’s been hard at work trying to restructure the Ministry from the inside out.”

“They’ll make me dance,” Harry complained.

Hermione cracked a smile at that. “Harry, you’re an adult, not a boy at the Yule Ball. If you don’t want to dance, then don’t.”

He sighed, but looked resigned. “You look nice,” he said finally.

She smoothed down the front of her gown. “You think so?”

“Well, you’re no veela,” Ron said from the doorway. “But you don’t look half bad.”

In an attempt to put as much distance between himself and the tragic Yule Ball outfit as possible, Ron had put considerable effort into his appearance for the evening. He looked dashing in his dark blue dress robes, far outclassing any of the others, especially after Lavender smoothed down his errant collar as she also entered the room.

She gave a critical look to each of them. “Harry, fix your glasses. You look like you just got hit by levicorpus. Ron, no more Sleekeazy for you. You don’t need it in the first place. Hermione- what did you do to your makeup?”

Lavender hurried over to her in a bustle of skirts, grabbing the nearest tubes that littered the dresser. “There! That’s better. Now don’t touch it.”

“Don’t I work wonders?” Lavender said, eyeing Hermione’s face like a prized painting. Ron and Harry mumbled an agreement, which did not meet Lavender’s standards at all. “Ron, Harry, tell Hermione she looks wonderful.”

“You look wonderful,” Harry and Ron chorused dutifully.

Lavender shifted so that her dark blue dress shone in the light. “Now tell me I look wonderful.”

“You look wonderful,” Hermione, Ron, and Harry said together.

“That’s better,” Lavender said. If Hermione had not seen Lavender’s anxiety while dress shopping or her breakdown just that month, she never would have guessed that Lavender had any insecurities at all.

Ginny, who was notorious for waiting until the last possible moment to get ready for anything, finally stepped into the room. Harry’s jaw dropped.

“We should head down stairs,” she said. “I think they’re ready to leave.”

Downstairs, Bill, Fleur, Percy, Penelope, Charlie, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were already gathered. Andromeda and Teddy were also there, though neither would be attending. Bill and Fleur had arranged for Victoire to with Andromeda, but the toddler was throwing a tantrum, holding onto her mother’s skirt.

Once the tantrum had been averted and everyone was assembled, they each grabbed a pinch of Floo powder. While the ball was a Ministry event, in the typical fashion of a government rooted in questionable ethics, it was hosted at the home of a member of Wizengamot. Arthur quietly informed everyone that there had been some whispers regarding the man’s true allegiance during the war, though officially no accusations had been made.

“Fantastic,” Ron said. “Ever since our tour through the Malfoy Manor, I’ve always wanted to see the inside of another Death Eater’s house.”

“Hush,” Mrs. Weasley said. “The first sign of dark magic, we’ll leave. Until then, we need to be there to show our support for Kingsley, especially you three,” she gestured to Hermione, Ron, and Harry. “Poor man has had it tough enough as it is.”

Since Kingsley Shacklebolt’s appointment as Minister of Magic, the Wizengamot had been less than cooperative regarding any changes made to the ministry. Hermione knew that the only thing that had kept another coup from happening was the public support that he had received from the more powerful members of the Order, including Harry.

One by one, they entered the fireplace, shouting their destination. The fireplace of the Burrow had been specially cleaned for the occasion to ensure that no one’s dress robes would collect ash during the travel, but even so Hermione was careful with her the hem of her pale dress when it was her turn. In the split second before she threw down the Floo Powder, she sternly told herself to keep her ill mood to herself. It wouldn’t do Kingsley, Harry, or anyone else any good if she went off on someone from the Daily Prophet.

When she stepped into the large foyer behind Ron and Lavender, she was immediately greeted to a flash of cameras. They had all known ahead of time that there would be journalists floating around, though Hermione was relieved to see that the most vile of the bunch seemed to be absent. Rita Skeeter had been uncharacteristically silent since the Battle of Hogwarts, and it appeared that she was not planning on breaking that silence tonight, although Hermione would keep an eye out for any beetle that might make a sly appearance.

Harry had followed her through the Floo and threw up his hand instinctively to protect his eyes. As the rest of their entourage spilled into the entryway, they gave brief, tight smiles to the flashes before they were thankfully ushered into the ballroom.

The room was cavernous in size, the ceilings extending several floors above them. It was packed with people already, all dressed in the best finery. Hermione could easily spot several members of the Wizengamot. There were others, too- people from different departments in the Ministry and members of the faculty from Hogwarts. Anyone who assisted in the war effort seemed to be there. Her heart beat slightly faster as she realized that it was unlikely that they had all been contributing to the same side of the effort.

Classical music swelled through the room, and a score of couples were already dancing.

“Try to enjoy yourself,” Hermione whispered to Harry, knowing they would soon be separated by the wave of people that would approach him.

“I very much doubt that’s possible,” he returned, gripping Ginny’s hand like a lifeline as they moved forward. Despite his cynicism, Hermione believed that if he was left alone for even a second, Ginny would find a way to make him enjoy it.

The Weasleys were already dispersing. Bill and Fleur were dancing, and it looked like Ron was working up the nerve to ask Lavender. The others had already been engulfed by the crowd of people. Hermione glanced around the room, looking for someone to talk with before she was hounded by men with condescending smirks and two left feet.

As luck would have it, Elias stood near the entrance, looking uncomfortable in his high necked robes.

“Elias!” She greeted him. “I didn’t know that you would be here.”

“I-I didn’t know either,” he stuttered. His nervous tick rarely showed itself at Hogwarts, but at a formal Ministry event, he seemed as nervous as he had been on his first day at Hogwarts. “I didn’t intend on coming, but my date obviously managed to convince me otherwise.”

Before Hermione could ask who his date was and why the poor man had been left to fend for himself in the corner of the room, George walked over, throwing an arm around the both of them.

“Look at you, wallflowers,” George said, kissing Hermione’s cheek in greeting. “Why don’t you actually join the soirée instead of depriving people of your wonderful selves?”

“I’m avoiding anyone who looks like they want to be in tomorrow’s edition of the Daily Prophet, and Elias is waiting on his date.”

“Waiting on his date? You don’t mean to tell me that your date has stood you up?” George cried theatrically. “Well, we can’t have that, my man.” So saying, George led him towards the center of the room. “Good luck with your front page fame-seekers, Hermione,” he called back at her. Elias gave Hermione a terrified glance over his shoulder as he was pulled along.

Hermione laughed and watched the unfolding of George’s shenanigans. George, to the younger generation’s amusement and the older generation’s palpable disapproval, was leading a flustered looking Elias in a dramatic tango completely off tempo.

Her enjoyment was interrupted only moments later when Zacharias Smith tapped her on the shoulder.

“Wow, Hermione. It’s been a long time. You look great!” He said, eyeing her appreciatively. Instantly, she felt her dark mood from earlier return. The last time she had seen Zacharias Smith, he had abandoned Dumbledore’s Army and refused to fight at the Battle of Hogwarts. It had not even been two years since then, but time had not been kind to him. At nineteen, he had the paunchy look of a man twenty years his senior.

“Zacharias,” Hermione said stiffly.

“You look great,” he repeated. “Hermione Granger. What have you been up to lately?”

Hermione scanned the room, looking for a good excuse, or even any excuse, to step away. “I’m sorry, I have to speak with my colleague.”

She began to walk away, but Zacharias put out an arm to stop her. “It’s New Year’s Eve! Surely you can spare a minute,” he protested.

“Not for you,” she snapped, reaching for her wand. “Now move before I move you myself.”

“Alright, alright,” he said, putting his hands up in a “what did I do?” gesture. “I forgot how bossy you were.”

“I forgot how much of a spineless coward you were,” she retorted. “Thanks for the reminder.”

So saying, she stomped off to the familiar figure that had caught her eye, keeping to the perimeter of the room to discourage others looking to “catch up.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Severus was a man of many talents, but there was one area that he excelled above all others. The ability to conceal one’s true thoughts, feelings, and allegiances was an uncommon one, and therefore all the more useful, particularly during wars. He was unmatched in his ability; it had not only made his career possible, but had saved his life on numerous occasions.

It was a skill Severus was currently employing. He was as collected as anyone might expect, considering he was dressed in formal wear and surrounded by people. Outwardly, he sipped his drink and watched from his place against the edge of the room as dancers swirled around. The Ministry had certainly not saved a single knut on this whole affair. The ballroom was enormous and decorated with banners, tassels, and all means of embellishment. Against one wall hung an enormous clock, counting down the time until midnight. Platters of food floated around the room, and most people were either dancing or posing for a picture. The entire place was crawling with news reporters, politicians, and other contemptible people.

Inwardly, he cursed his luck. It seemed like the entirety of Wizarding Britain was in attendance, but he still had not spotted the one person he needed to find. His dark eyes casually swept across the room, as though he were taking in the celebratory sight, though his focus was on the entrance.

His current apprehension was almost entirely his own making. Severus would not go so far as to say that he had made a mistake. Afterall, his intuition had paid off, even if his actions had not had been ... entirely advisable. Or easily explained to anyone else, especially Granger. This struck him as particularly ironic, because if anyone deserved to share in the blame with him, it would be Hermione Granger.

It had begun after he had escorted an exhausted Granger to her rooms for the first time. He had watched in horror as she had unlocked the door to her room with a single wave of her wand. In fairness, it was not like she cast something as elementary as Alohomora, but it was certainly not the level of protection that he would expect someone of Granger’s academic and social stature to employ.

He felt this way about many of his colleagues’ wards, including Minerva’s. Within the first week of classes, he had added a spell that would alert the caster when anyone besides designated people tried to unlock the door. Minerva had declared him paranoid, but she had allowed him to place it for his "own peace of mind,” as she put it.

One night, upon walking Granger back to her rooms after a late night brewing, he added the ward to her door. After she had bid him goodnight and presumably retreated to the comfort of her bed, he had cast it without much of a thought. At the time it had not seemed odd. It was almost like a less personal way of wishing someone a restful night.

The problem came the next morning. In the clear reality of daylight, he couldn’t bring himself to tell her. His reasoning from the night prior seemed more paranoid and overprotective than a kind gesture, so he said nothing. The more time passed, the better it seemed not to mention it at all.

None of this would not have come up or mattered at all if the alarm on Granger’s door had not been tripped on the morning New Year’s Eve when Severus knew her to be away from Hogwarts. When he investigated, he saw no tampering with the door, no obvious signs of entry. Nothing to indicate that anyone had even attempted to enter.

Even so, he needed to tell her. He had stopped short of breaking into her rooms himself to see if anything was amiss. That would have been much harder to explain. He had resolved to wait until that evening when he could tell her in person. It grated on him that he had found no sign of an intruder, but his spellwork was faultless. There was no way that the ward was triggered on accident. Some had tried, perhaps even successfully, to break into Granger’s rooms. He was sure of it.

And so Severus would swallow his pride and tell Granger what he had done as soon as she showed up. Which, should have been nearly an hour ago, according to the enormous clock. It taunted him from across the room, counting down to the time that she was supposed to arrive, and then ticking louder every moment afterwards.

The idea that something could have happened to her flitted through his mind, but he quickly dismissed it. There was no evidence that indicated that anything had happened. And surely Minerva would know if something had. From his vantage point, he could see her dancing with her date for the evening, a woman with black hair and a square jaw.

Well, someone certainly had a type. The date looked like Rolanda Hooch, twenty years younger. He tucked the information away to be used during one of their more amiable disputes. Before Severus’ short and disastrous term as headmaster, he had mocked Minerva incessantly over her checkered dating history, something she had weathered with much exasperation and little enthusiasm.

Bright copper hair caught his eye. The Weasleys had arrived, and they were entering in droves. He caught sight of Lavender Brown clutching the arm of one of them. Granger would not be far behind. Placing his empty glass on one of the floating trays, he began to make his way towards the entryway, intending to speak to Granger right when she arrived.

His path was hindered when Tonks, clumsy on the best of days and certainly worse in heels, tripped over a server refilling one of the floating trays, sending hors d'oeuvres flying in every direction.

Severus shot her a scalding look, shaking off the bit of oyster that was stuck to his shoe. “Do mind where you’re going, Nymphadora.”

Her hair, previously a dark brown nearly the shade of his own, mutated into a fiery red. She helped the server up, brushing him off as a mother might do to her child after a day at the beach. “Sorry, sorry,” she muttered to him, handing him the silver tray that had clattered on the floor. Other guests had made a wide circle around them to avoid the spectacle, tutting over the scene.

The server ran off as soon as he could, and Tonks cringed as she turned towards Severus. She gingerly plucked another bit of oyster from his robes. “Sorry, Severus.”

His scathing response was aborted when a figure in white caught his eye from across the room. At some point while he was preoccupied with molluscs and a graceless Tonks, Granger had entered and was currently talking with the history of magic professor. Finally.

Just then, the clock struck ten. Each deafening gong drowned out the music and conversation in the room, though no one seemed to mind that the sound was loud enough to shake the chandeliers and drinks littered about the room.

“Damn it,” he muttered, watching George Weasley swagger over to Granger and Biswas. It would be harder to pry a Weasley from her side than an unusual colleague.

Tonks frowned. “Is something wrong?”

“Nothing that comes to mind except for your lack of coordination,” Severus replied absently, mentally calculating the time it would take to get her alone. The crowd in front of him shifted, and for a second, Granger disappeared. A moment later, the crowd shifted again, and he caught a glimpse of her white dress. Granger was still at the front of the room, laughing as Elias was swung through the dancing couples, cheek to cheek with an utterly sincere George Weasley. Not wanting to lose track of her again, he headed over, plucking two glasses of champagne from the next server he passed.

He was halfway across the room when someone else swooped in beside her, clearly aware that his time with Potter’s girl friend would be limited. Severus would not be surprised if a queue formed soon. Granger was visibly startled, though her discomfort didn’t seem to register with the meaty man in front of her. Whatever they said, the conversation was short one, because Granger caught his eye over Smith’s shoulder. Her face lit up in something akin to relief, and after a brief dispute with Smith, headed in his direction.

“Severus!” She said, “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?”

The irony of anyone finding Severus Snape to be a sight for sore eyes struck him hard enough that the potential urgency of situation was suspended for a moment.

“You might need to get your eyes checked, then, Granger. Early dip in the champagne tonight?” He replied.

“No, but that might change,” she said darkly, throwing a glance in Smith’s direction. “If I have to spend the last hours of 1999 avoiding nearly everyone here, I’m not going going to do it sober.” She took one of the glasses from him with such force that it threatened to spill.

As amusing and pathetic as a drunk Granger promised to be, they had more pressing matters to discuss. While his expression stayed carefully neutral, she must have caught onto something, because she eyed him speculatively as she downed her drink. Unlike with most people, he didn’t have to wait for an opening to quietly slip in something important. She expected to be immediately informed of his thoughts and opinions, which was a level of entitlement that bordered between obnoxious and fascinating.

“I need to speak with you,” he said. “Alone.”

Grange’s gaze focused sharply. She frowned, her eyebrows drawing together, eyes searching his face. “Okay,” she said.

Granger’s almost immediate response, no questions asked, was indicative of how familiar she was with serious, last-minute conversations, or at least of how much scheming had taken place with Potter and Weasley over the years. She motioned for him to lead the way out, a gesture that he was convinced was entirely motivated by her inability to walk without wobbling slightly. Severus had a sneaking suspicion that she was a terrible lightweight.

While the layout of the Estes Estate was not entirely familiar to him, he had visited on two separate occasions, both times under the Dark Lord’s instruction. The decor had not changed much since then, and he doubted that the true allegiance of the estate’s owner had changed much either.

In the foyer, he paused to examine his options. The place would be crawling with house elves right now, not to mention human servers and other staff that would be attending to the many facets of the event. Aside from their current location and the ballroom they had just exited, there was a formal dining room, sitting room, library, bathroom, and conservatory on the first floor. To their left was a side door that led to the gardens and hedge maze. Upstairs were more personal rooms, bedrooms mostly. It was empty in the entryway now, but he doubted that their luck would hold out long enough for him to explain what had happened.

He beckoned for her to follow him to the library, glass still in hand. As expected, none one else was present, though he knew better than anyone that that did not mean that their escape to the library went unnoticed. Typically he would prefer to be less conspicuous when speaking with someone about an urgent matter, but there wasn’t time and no one would find it odd to see two Hogwarts professors speaking in a library anyway.

Granger cast Muffliato, and turned towards him. “Severus, what’s going on?” she asked, her voice hushed. “Is something wrong?”

“Yes… and no,” he said. “You should know that-”

“Excuse me?” a reedy voice quivered from the doorway. Both Severus and Granger whirled around.

“I’m with the Daily Prophet. Can I get a picture?”

“No,” they said at once.

“It’ll only take a moment?” the reporter half asked, half insisted. “Please, just a moment of your time?”

Granger sighed. “Fine.” She leaned into Severus, gave a weak smile for the picture, and then turned her back on the reporter, making a face at Severus.

“Could I get just a few words about how your evening is going?” A timid voice came from behind her.

“NO,” they said. The reporter looked ready to protest, but blanched upon seeing Severus’ face. Severus watched the reporter scamper off before he closed the door with a nonverbal spell. It was unfortunate that that camera would mysteriously break before any photos found their way into the paper.

Granger seemed to have already forgotten about the nuisance all together. All of her focus rested on him. She crossed her arms and leaned on the nearest bookcase, totally at ease in even a stranger’s library.

“You were saying.”

“While at Hogwarts, I noticed-”

An Auror, posted on security detail for the evening, entered the library.

“If you don’t mind, professors,” she said cheerfully, “I’mma have to ask you to head back towards the ballroom. We’re just trying to make sure we’re keeping track of everyone tonight.”

They complied with the Auror’s request, returning to the foyer with minimal conversation. Granger’s irritation was showing. Her hair was beginning to expand ever so slightly, usually the first sign that she was upset.

The second they were left alone again, she stepped forward, minimizing the space between them as though whatever he wanted to say could be transmitted via osmosis.

Severus, for his part, made no move to speak, as another Auror appeared, this one having just returned from a patrol on the grounds.

“Whew, it’s cold out there,” he said to no one in particular.

There was no way that Severus would be able to tell her about the alarm to her rooms being tripped with an Auror standing right there. He leaned away from her slightly, both to avoid the air of secrecy and also to reset the image to two people having a casual chat. He glanced her over surreptitiously as he took a sip from his glass, mentally switching over into small talk. Or, his version of small talk.

“You clean up well,” he said. The top half of her hair was pinned up, away from her face, but the bottom half had been left to be free. It curled over her shoulders and down her back. Her dress was classic and simple and so utterly her.

She also did not skip a beat when he switched to something obviously completely unrelated to what he wanted to discuss. “Really? No ‘left at the altar, Granger?’ No ‘how creative, you transfigured your bed sheet into a dress’?”

He hid his smirk behind another sip. It would seem that she had been spending too much time in his company. His corrosive comments were beginning to wear off on her.

Belatedly, as though realizing the harshness of her words, she added, “Thank you. You look quite nice as well.”

Severus scoffed. “Platitudes will not endear you to me, Granger.”

“Nor would I expect them to,” she said. In that, he believed her.

Apparently it was time for a shift change, because two Aurors filtered out of the ballroom, and another Auror came in from outside. They swapped places, and Severus tracked each of their retreats to their new positions. When he was sure that they were out of earshot, he said, “With any luck, I can get out more than a sentence of utter drivel now.”

“We should have just found somewhere more private,” Granger said with a nod, and Severus wondered if she did that intentionally, making comments that were just shy of suggestive.

“As I was saying-”

“Hermione!” Came a frantic hiss from across the room, followed by the frenzied clip clip of heels across a marble floor.

Severus gritted his teeth. “Not now, Lavender.”

“Yes, now,” Lavender said. “I haven’t got the time to watch the two of you moon over each other. I need help.”

Coming from anyone else, either he or Granger would have addressed the ridiculous notion that either of them was “mooning” over the other. As it was the ever dramatic Lavender Brown, neither bothered to correct her. Granger turned to her friend. “Can’t it wait just a moment, Lavender?”

“It cannot,” Lavender said firmly, marching over and grabbing Granger by the hand. “We’ll be back,” she informed Severus.

Hermione shot him a worried look, but scurried after Lavender without more of a fight.

Severus scowled. Knowing Lavender, it would be ages before they would be done. He tapped his fingers lightly over his glass. Perhaps he was overreacting. Surely anyone trying to get to her would know that she would never spend the holidays at Hogwarts, away from her beloved Dolts One and Two. All the same, invading someone else’s rooms was unlikely to be instigated by innocent motives.

A muffled sound, barely audible over the music and chatter coming from the ballroom reached his ears. The sound by itself meant nothing, but there was an uncomfortable stir in the air around him and a slight sick feeling in his stomach that he had no reasonable explanation for, sensations that were muted enough that most people would not have noticed them at all. Severus, on the other hand, was hyper attuned to them. It was the feeling of the Dark Arts.

Severus carefully placed his glass on the fireplace mantle, retrieved his wand, and walked a lap around the foyer. Near the side door leading to the hedge maze, the sickly, searing feeling grew stronger. He gave a brief glance in the direction Granger and Lavender had gone before heading outside into the labyrinth.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Hermione allowed herself to be dragged along Lavender up the stairs and into an empty bedroom on the second floor.

“Are we allowed to be up here?”

Lavender snorted. “You’re allowed to be wherever you please, as long as you’ve got a good enough reason for it, which I do.”

The room was dim, lit only a lamp hoving about the fireplace mantle. Hermione could barely make out the opulent colors and patterns on the drapes, carpet, and bed linens, but she had no doubts of quality. “How rich are the Estes?” She breathed.

“Rich enough,” Lavender said, twisting around to see the back of her dress. “Come over here and help me.”

Hermione’s shoulders slumped. “Oh, Lavender. I thought it was important.”

“It is important. Honestly, Hermione, do I really need to explain to you why having a giant rip in my dress is an issue? Now hold this.”

Hermione, still weakly protesting, complied. The sooner she finished with Lavender, the sooner she could return to Severus. Whatever he needed to tell her, it seemed urgent, however Lavender’s issue had seemed urgent too, the way that she had fussed. And yet, here Hermione stood, clumsily casting stitching charms to fix her skirt.

“What happened to it anyway?” Hermione asked as she worked.

Lavender sighed. “What do you think? You know Ron. He’s got two left feet.”

Hermione snorted and, thinking that the rip was now small enough, cast reparo on the rest. “He certainly has room for improvement. There, you’re good as new.” Lavender craned her neck to get a better look at Hermione’s handiwork.

“Speaking of room for improvement, can you tell me why my skirt is lopsided?”

Hermione took a deep breath and started over on the left side, praying for the patience to finish before she went off on Lavender.

“Honestly, Hermione, do you even have eyes? How could you not see that?”

Hermione gritted her teeth and worked faster.

When she finally got free from Lavender’s skirt crisis, Hermione returned to the foyer just as the clock in the ballroom struck eleven. Severus was gone, but Tonks and Harry were there, both of whom looked concerned.

“Wotcher, Hermione,” Tonks said.

“There you are!” Harry said. “I was worried that you’d gone missing too.”

“Missing?” Hermione said. “I’m not missing- I’ve just been helping Lavender with her dress. What’s the matter?”

“I was looking for Remus, but I can’t find him,” Tonks whispered. “And he’s not the only one. The Aurors on duty said that several people seem to have disappeared. They’re looking for them now.”

“Maybe they’re in another room,” Hermione suggested. “Or perhaps they went outside.”

“It’s freezing outside, but we’re checking the rooms right now,” Harry said.

“All of them?” Hermione asked.

“All of them,” Ron confirmed, coming up behind her. “Twice. I just checked in the basement again. There’s plenty of questionable things down there, but no people.”

The Auror that walked into the library scurried over to Tonks. “Still no sign of Estes. His wife is getting worried.”

The host of the party was missing?

“That is a bit odd,” Hermione said.

“It’s more than odd,” Tonks said. She planted her hands on her hips as though she were back in the field, and not currently wearing dress robes and heels. “Something about this is fishy.”

As if on cue, there was scream from upstairs, loud enough to reach the group in the foyer, but not loud enough to extend to the ballroom.

“Lavender!”

All of them raced up the stairs. When Tonks wrenched open the bedroom door, she stopped abruptly, sending Ron, Harry, and the Auror crashing into her. Hermione, who did not have the benefit of Auror fitness training, or of an easily manoeuvrable skirt, reached the room several moments later.

Lavender was perched on the bed, trembling. “There’s a man,” she said, “A man just fell through the fireplace!”

Pushing into the room, Hermione saw that Lavender was right. A misshapen body with limbs turned at odd angles was balled up like an old newspaper in the fireplace.

The Auror cast a quick spell to check for a heartbeat. “He’s dead. Merlin. It looked like he would be, but…Merlin,” she repeated.

Tonks sent her patronus out to the alert the other Aurors of the situation. Technically she was not an active Auror, but no one seemed to object to her taking charge of the situation. “We need to get out of here, and we need a headcount.”

“What about him?” Lavender said, gesturing to the man in the fireplace.

“We’ll send someone for him,” Tonks said.

“Should we let the guests know?” The Auror asked, looking to Tonks.

“Not yet. We need to find out what happened. If we tell people now, they’ll panic and try to leave. If there’s others missing it’ll take us hours to find out, and if there’s a killer out there… well, they’d have plenty of time to escape.”

“What do we need to do?” Harry asked.

“Gather the Order,” Tonks said. “The Aurors will be doing a thorough patrol, but we’re going to need some help. Now, we need to move.” They hurried into action.

“Do you think we’ll ever have a normal life?” Ron said as they ran down the stairs.

“No,” Hermione said immediately.

“Not a chance,” Harry agreed grimly.

~*~*~*~*~*~

In the labyrinth, Severus could hear the sounds of shuffling and of quiet footsteps. The feel of Dark magic caused the mark on his arm to ache. It was nothing compared to the pain of being Summoned, but it was more than enough to be noticable. The search soon proved fruitless. Every time he thought that he had caught up to someone, he reached a dead end in the maze and had to retrace his steps.

It was dark and shadowy, and after an hour of squinting into the foliage, his eyes began to play tricks on him. It was cold enough that it hurt to breathe, and after nearly an hour of moving, his chest felt tight and hot. Despite his lack of success in finding the source of the Dark magic, he remained convinced that someone had been casting something very nasty.

Enough time had passed that he decided to return to the entryway. Unsurprisingly, Granger was nowhere to be seen. He needed to find a member of the Order, someone who might have better resources for figuring out what was happening than himself. He returned to the ballroom where it was like the past hour and a half had not happened.

In fact, people seemed even more festive that they had been when he left. Most people were at least tipsy and some were bordering on completely sloshed. Most of the dancing had stopped, though the chatter seemed louder than ever. Severus looked at the clock and swore. He needed to find someone soon, because after midnight it would be impossible to wrangle together even a small group of people. With a minute left of 1999, the crowd turned their attention to the giant clock. In the last seconds, the countdown began.

“Ten!” They shouted. “Nine!”

A few people scurried around, still looking for their potential New Year’s kiss.

“Eight!”

Severus spun around, looking for someone, anyone useful.

“Seven!”

There was no one. Not Minerva.

Six!”

Nor Kingsley.

“FIVE!”

None of the Weasleys were visible.

“FOUR!”

Potter was gone too. Severus swore again. This wasn’t right.

“THREE!”

Not even Lupin was anywhere to be seen. Something had to be going on. It looked like every member of the Order was missing.

“TWO!”

A hand reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder. He turned quickly. It was Granger, looking positively frazzled.

“ONE!”

She said something to him, speaking urgently, but whatever she said was carried away by the crowd before he could make it out.

“HAPPY NEW Y-”

There was a loud explosion that shook the entire room. For the second afterwards, everything was deathly quiet. And then the ceiling began to crumble, and people started screaming.

Chapter Text

January 2000

“HAPPY NEW Y-”

There was a loud explosion that shook the entire room. For the second afterwards, everything was deathly quiet. And then the ceiling began to crumble, and people started screaming.

Hermione was one of several people who drew her wand and cast a hovering charm to prevent rubble from raining down on the crowd below. While the combined spellwork did slow the ceiling’s descent, it was certainly only a temporary solution. Severus, who was standing only a step away, grabbed her free arm.

“We need to leave!” He shouted over the noise. “There’s nothing we can do.”

She knew he was right, but she was reluctant to end the spell all the same. Guests were Disapperating right and left, but there were plenty more who, clearly either uncomfortable or unskilled with Apparition, ran towards the doors and the nearest fireplaces. She looked around frantically for any sign of Ron or Harry. Knowing them, they wouldn’t leave before the room had been evacuated.

“Granger!” Severus shouted, gripping her arm tighter. “ Now!"

“I have to find Harry and Ron!” She shouted. “I can’t leave without them!”

Hermione pulled away from Severus and ran, looking for her boys. As more and more people left, the ceiling began to fall in larger and larger chunks. One fell so close that it tore the hem of her skirt. She heard Severus curse behind her as he ran after her.

Just then, she saw Harry. He was tossing an unconscious guest over his shoulder, and as he stood up, their eyes met. Harry shouted something at her, and even though she couldn’t hear him, it was clear what he said. We need to go.

There was an enormous crack overhead, and the floor beneath her feet shuddered. It felt like the entire building was going to collapse in a matter of seconds.

GRANGER !” Severus seized her arm again. Before Hermione had a chance to react, she felt the familiar sensation of being wrung out like a wet rag that accompanied side-along Disapparition.

They Apparated into chaos. People everywhere were screaming, and some were covered in blood. It took a moment for Hermione to place where they were, but then she heard the sound of the building crumbling behind her. Severus had Apparated them just outside where most of the party guests had gathered. It took her a moment more to register the sounds of spells being cast, barely audible over the hysterical crowd.

Harry and Ron were nowhere to be seen, and she watched in horror as the building fell completely in on itself. A series of shrieks came up from the crowd and people ran from the billowing cloud of dust and rubble. Hermione was separated from Severus by the jostling crowd, and she looked around frantically for him or anyone she knew. It was then she heard the growl.

A werewolf was tearing through the group of people with startling ease, clearly of the mind that it was better to maim many than to take the time to kill only a few. It was not the full moon, so he hadn’t shifted. While not as lethal as he would have been in his wolf form, he was still a fierce wizard with enormous physical strength.

Heart pounding, Hermione cast a stunning spell. The werewolf turned in her direction and growled, his breath visible in the frigid air. His hair was matted, and even with the distance between them, she could smell the scent of stale blood. He prowled towards Hermione, expression changing as he recognized her.

“Hermione Granger?” He tilted his head almost playfully as a slow grin spread across his face. His beard and teeth glinted with blood, a sight that made Hermione’s stomach lurch. She stood her ground and did not answer him, fearing that the tremor in her voice would betray her fright.

“Fenrir Greyback sends his regards,” he said before lunging for her.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Over the years, Severus had learned that regardless of how bad a situation appeared, it could always be worse. It was something he had reminded himself of often in life, not as a source of comfort, but rather as a warning to heed. Though it might be a paranoid notion, it had kept him alive.

For this reason, when he and Granger had Apparated outside the building and into a frenzied crowd, he knew that the situation could get worse. Indeed, it got worse only moments after their arrival. Granger was knocked out of his grasp by the horde of people in hysterics. When he heard an unfortunately familiar howl, he knew that the night would only be going downhill from there.

Ignoring the cold, spidery feeling that sound sent down his spine, Severus forced himself to run towards instead of away from the sound. Within seconds he found himself face to face with a werewolf. She snarled at him and charged at him. He dropped her with a spell before she took more than a couple of steps. From distance, he heard a loud snarl coming from the opposite direction of the werewolf in front of him. Of course there was more than one. He spun around, heading in the direction of the second werewolf.

He was not the only one heading towards the conflict. Aurors were arriving in droves, and appeared to be directed by none other than Tonks. Even in the high intensity of the moment, Severus was able to appreciate the revival of her spirit. As she shouted orders, he knew that she would not be teaching for much longer. This was a taste, a reminder of what her was life before Lupin, the child, and teaching. She was an Auror again, and she was damn good at her job. This brief renaissance would not satisfy her for long.

Another werewolf entered his line of sight, and he dealt with it as quickly as he had the first. He lowered his wand a fraction, hand shaking slightly. He hated werewolves.

The appearance of the cursed creatures had whipped the crowd into an even worse shape. Severus moved through the crowd, looking for anyone was acting completely useless. Honestly, for a ball attended by dozens of war heroes, the reaction to an attack should have been better. It was slow moving, and he bumped into people multiple times. Even with several wands offering light, the frozen ground outside the manor remained shadowy and uncertain, illuminated occasionally by the flash of cameras. The vultures at the Daily Prophet were having field day.

In a flash of camera light, Severus spotted Granger. Her white dress practically glowed in the dim light, and he followed it like a beacon.

“Werewolves!” She shouted when she saw him.

“I’m aware,” he replied grimly.

They split once again, following the perimeter in opposite directions, looking for signs of more fighting. When they met again, they were joined by Potter who shook his head. “I think the rest ran. I didn’t see anything.”

“We need to find the others,” Granger said. Potter nodded.

It seemed almost second nature to call the Order together again. By the time they had gathered at Grimmauld Place, the scene at the Estes Estate had been contained by the Aurors. The guests still wandering around had been sent home. Several werewolves had been captured, though none were saying anything. Tonks had stayed at the estate with the other Aurors. Potter and Weasley were still technically in training and thus were sent home, proving that fame did not buy Potter an entrance into every circle.

“It’s bloody ridiculous,” Weasley muttered. “We’ve handled far worse with far less training or stuff than the Aurors have. And besides, if we’re in training , you’d think they’d want us to be there.”

Potter grunted, though whether it was a sign of agreement or not was lost on Severus. The Order was gathered around the large table in the dining room. Even around the large table, they were cramped for space. Severus sat on one side along with Granger, Minerva, Hagrid, Shacklebolt. Lupin, Potter, and the Weasleys sat around the other. Molly and Lavender had left to check on Andromeda and the children, though for the sake of space, Severus half wished that Hagrid had gone instead.

“I thought I was going to go blind from the camera flash,” George said. “Really, you’d think they’d have something better to do, what with werewolves running around and all. No offense, Lupin.”

“None taken,” Lupin said.

“I’m just glad that you’re all alright,” Hagrid sniffed. “I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to any of you.”

“Yes, well, as much as I echo Hagrid’s sentiment, I believe we have more relevant matters to discuss. There was a staged attack at a Ministry hosted event with some of the most prolific names in the wizarding world in attendance. We need to figure out why and how this happened,” Minerva said.

There was a mumbled of collective agreement from around the table. Severus tapped his fingers silently along the underside of the table. His index finger brushed the soft, white dress that was bunched under the table and he quickly retracted his hand.

“First thing, we’ve got to figure out who we’re dealing with,” Bill said. “Obviously these werewolves were at one time in alliance with Voldemort-,” Severus flinched at the name, “-but we have no idea whether their motive has changed. If there’s someone else that’s directing them.”  

Granger shifted beside him, perched on the edge of the bench. None of them had spared a moment to change, putting her in the precarious position of remaining upright sitting in a sizable skirt. She shuffled over a bit more, nearly tipping over in the process. Severus reached out to steady her.

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake,” Hermione muttered, reaching for her wand. There wasn’t much she could do with the expansive dress robes, but she was not the Transfigurations professor for nothing. Severus felt the press of fabric against his calf fade away as she altered the shape of the skirt, allowing her freedom of movement without fear of toppling over.

“It’s the why that’s got me concerned,” Potter said. “Without their motivations, we have nothing.”  

“Motive and opportunity are peripheral issues at best,” Severus said, still feeling the absence against his leg. “Both can easily be assumed.”

“And what are we to glean from assumptions ?” Fleur cried. “We need facts, we need to know exactly the who, and the why, and the how.”

“We can assume that the motive is a protest against systematic discrimination,” Hermione said. “Voldemort gained their support using a platform of inter-creature unity and equality. While we all know that was completely unfounded, it’s something that was important to them, and not entirely unwarranted. Now we claim to have solved all of our problems. We claim that we are ready to enter a new era- an era that promises additional prejudice and discrimination for those affected by lycanthropy.” She paused. “There’s your why. As for the how, most of the senior level Aurors were invited to event, and security was low. There was little to prevent them from staging the attack.”

“So basically what you’re saying is that it’s a fuck you to the Ministry,” Ron said. “I guess that’s pretty safe to assume.”

“What about the who?” Potter asked. He was watching Granger carefully, clearly weighing what she had to say.

“Fenrir Greyback,” Granger said. “I’m sure of it.”

There was collective intake of breath from around the table.

“He’s in Azkaban!” Minerva said.

“Is he?” Severus asked sharply. He turned towards Kingsley, who up until this point had been largely silent. “When was the last time you received an update from Azkaban?”

Kingsley was already standing and heading for the door. “Yesterday,” he said grimly. “I will send word when I find out for certain.”

“What are we supposed to do until then?” Potter said, half rising from his seat.

“Stay here,” Kingsley ordered. While he could have been addressing the group, it was clear that the comment was directed only at the person who had posed the question.

Kingsley had hardly left the house before Potter was ready to leave as well.

“Patience, Potter,” Severus said.

“I don’t have a lot of that,” Potter replied tightly. Both Granger and Minerva gave Severus pointed nudges before he could respond.

For a while, they waited, tense and quiet, in the dining room, still crowded around the table. Eventually, Hagrid had to return to Hogwarts to check on the state of the school personally, though Aurora had assured Minerva that nothing had been amiss the entire night. The rest of them began to spread out around the house, most of the Weasleys heading to the kitchen.

Severus claimed a chair near the fireplace, keeping out of the way of the others. Arthur dozed in an armchair nearby and Potter alternated between pacing and sitting in a stony silence beside his fiancee. Granger disappeared upstairs, presumably to her room. 

Meanwhile, Ron and Minerva sat steely-eyed across from each other as they examined the chessboard in front of them. They were still playing when Granger reappeared, wearing a green sweater with a large H and jeans. She took one look in at the chessboard, frowned, and crossed to the other side of the room. Severus noticed that she had the book he had given her tucked under her arm.

When the chess game concluded in stalemate, Severus replaced Minerva as an opponent. Despite Weasley’s lack of sense in every other discernible aspect of his life, he was a surprisingly shrewd opponent. Both of them were restrained, remaining on the defensive for most of the game, which also ended in a stalemate after a considerable amount of time.

When Severus arose from the table at last, Potter, appearing to have calmed somewhat, asked, “How’d he do?” 

It was unclear to Severus whether this was addressed to himself or Weasley, but Ron replied with a decisive, “Well, he’s no Aragon or Gagwilde or anything, but he’s alright, I guess.”

“High praise,” Potter observed. “I won’t even tell you what he said about me,” he confided to Severus as Ron cast reparo on his chess pieces.

“Ron envisions himself as one the next Brian Gagwilde,” Hermione added from her spot across the room. “So he can be a little stingy when it comes to praise.”

“That’s rich coming from you!” Ron said, sweeping his newly mended pieces off the board and putting them away. “ Are you sure that’s a real spell? Well it’s not very good, is it? ” he mimicked in a high sing-songy voice. He yelped when she wordlessly sent a spell hurtling his way.

Tonks finally made it to Grimmauld Place. She sent Lupin on to the Burrow to relieve Andromeda of babysitting duty, and Fleur tagged along so that she could pick up her daughter as well.

Hermione closed her book, and left the room. Severus followed her into the library where she placed the now-read book onto a new shelf.

“Granger,” he said.

“Severus! What did you need to tell me earlier?”

Severus opened his mouth and paused. He looked at her. Hair once more untamed, clothing as predictable as his own, brown eyes that looked at him with unwavering trust. Trust that he did not want to lose.

The pause lengthened until Granger tilted her head. “Severus?”

He did have something to tell her. It just was not what he planned on saying only hours before.

“Don’t make me do that again,” he said finally. So saying, he returned to the sitting room.

It was past four in the morning before Kingsley returned to inform them that there indeed had been a prison break at Azkaban and that Greyback, along with several other prisoners, was missing. The tone of the room, which had gradually mellowed since their arrival, sharply changed.

“This is the second Azkaban break in less than five years!”

“We can help. We can track them down,” Potter was on his feet once again immediately. It was clear why Kingsley had opted to deliver the news in person rather than send his patronus.  

Kingsley sighed. "In spite of everything that has happened, none of you have been officially trained in any capacity. You have all proved yourselves, but let the Aurors handle this. We don't want any of you to become a target, either for Death Eaters or for the media. It's for your own sake."

Seeing that Harry still looked mutinous, Kingsley continued. "Stay at home, Harry. I promise that we will wrap this up as quickly as possible."

“That’s what you said last time!” Potter said sharply. “And ‘as quickly as possible’ was over a year later. Me, Ron, and Hermione spent a year basically stuck here under house arrest, because there were still Death Eaters on the loose! We had to argue with people from the Ministry for days just to attend funerals.”

“It was for your protection, Harry,” Kingsley said gently. “And yours as well, Hermione, Ron. The Ministry is well aware of the sacrifices the three of you have made. We are not going to restrict your movement this time, but I do ask that you all -” he turned to face the rest of the room“-use discretion. Until we find these criminals, there is an increased risk of attacks.”

The room was dead silent until Lavender stumbled through the fireplace, sending ash flying onto Severus’ robes. Like the most of the others, Lavender had not yet changed, and her dress was looking worse for wear.

“Go home. Get some rest,” Kingsley said. “Who knows what tomorrow will bring.”

“Well isn’t that reassuring,” George commented.

“Certainly,” Kingsley said, giving him a slight nod before he bid them all goodnight. Severus and Minerva waited no time to leave. Minerva was tight-lipped and pale, and Severus was sure he did not look much better. They said nothing as they exited the house, though they knew exactly what the other was thinking.

When the Apparated back to Hogwarts, Severus felt too wired to fall asleep, but he returned to his rooms anyway. Athene would be waiting for him.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Severus’s words rattled around in her brain long after the man himself had left. Don’t make me do that again. It wasn’t as if she had asked him to chase after her, nor had she expected him to. If there was some deeper meaning, it was lost to her, probably due to sleep deprivation. It was nearly five o’clock in the morning, and Hermione was still wide awake. Luckily, she was in good company. Ginny, Harry, and Ron were also up and about; the four of them had been talking for almost hour. Lavender was sleeping on the sofa. Most of the conversation had been in efforts to convince Harry that there was no point in leaving Grimmauld Place early in the morning on New Year’s Day.

It was Ginny that finally suggested that they go to bed. Hermione had gently shook Lavender awake before giving her friends a hug. She felt dead on her feet, and none of them looked much better.

Lavender stretched and sat up slowly. "Ugh!" She suddenly shot up, brushing at herself frantically. "There's a bug!"

Hermione turned so fast that her vision swam for a moment. "What kind of a bug?"

"I- I don't know. A-a bug, like a roach or a-"

"Beetle," Hermione said grimly. Harry and Ron were on their feet too.

"I don't see anything," Harry said. "Do you think she's already gone?"

"No, there! Look!" The beetle slipped into the crack in the wall.

Hermione cursed. "She knew I would see her! She knew it! I've been looking for her all evening!"

"So she picked the person that didn't know about her!" Harry groaned. "God, she must have been impossible to spot on Lavender's dress."

"You mean to tell me.. there's been a BEETLE crawling on me all night??" Lavender said.

"Of sorts," Hermione said. She got her hands and knees, examining the crack closely. "If you’re not aware, Rita Skeeter is an unregistered animagus. She has the very fitting form of a beetle."

Lavender made a gagging sound. Hermione stood up and pulled out her wand. “ Homenum Revelio !” Nothing.

“She’s already gone?” Ron asked.

“Yeah. If she shows her antennae again, I’ll be ready for her,” Hermione said. “And this time she won’t be left in a jar.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

After the disastrous events of New Year’s, the tension from that night bled over into the first few days of January. Hermione locked herself in her bedroom at Grimmauld Place perfecting her lesson plans for the upcoming term and didn’t come out for a few days. The last day of the holidays rolled around before she knew it.

Lavender returned to Hogwarts early that morning, but Hermione, anxious to squeeze out every moment she could with her friends, decided to head back that night. After the past few days in her room at Grimmauld Place, she was more than ready to get out of the house, and thus accompanied Ginny and Harry for some shopping at WWW.

Both Ron and George were already there, pushing merchandise out at an alarming rate. Signs were posted outside the shop with phrases such as “Weasley’s Blow Out Sale! 50% off All Explosives” and “Everything Must Go!”

“It’s a new year, which means it’s time for new ideas,” Ron said as he rang up an order. “It’s also the start of a new school term, so all these kids are looking to stock up.” He passed the bag off to the waiting Gryffindor who looked a little too excited about his purchases. Hermione gave him a wary look.

“I better not see those in the hallway, Mr. Brisk,” Hermione warned.

“Yes, Professor Granger,” Oliver mumbled, quickly shuffling away.

“Oi, kid!” Ron called. When Oliver turned back around, Ron tossed a couple of puking pastilles to him. “Don’t let mean old professors get you down,” he said with a wink.

Hermione gave him a sharp jab to the side once Oliver was out of sight. As the next customer stepped up just then, Ron was not given an opportunity to retaliate. When he got a chance, Ron stepped away from the till and beckoned for Hermione to follow him.

“There’s not a queue right now, so why don’t I show you around some?” Ron said. They barely taken a few steps when Hermione spotted where her missing friends had gone. Ginny held Harry in a Hydra Headlock with the help of multiple snakes protruding from her shoulders.

“Oh! That’s our new Quidditch-inspired line,” Ron pointed at his sister. “Not intended for intramural use, of course.”

“Of course,” Hermione agreed blandly. There was already a list of students running through her mind that she suspected would be in possession of the Weasley-brand Quidditch products when classes resumed in a couple of days.

Herm-i-ne, help mne ,” Harry rasped.

“Help yourself, Chosen One,” Ginny said, flexing her arm.

“Sorry, Harry,” Hermione said. Just then she saw a familiar looking mustache with an equally familiar face attached to it. “Elias?”  

Elias, halfway up the stairs to the second floor of the shop, did not hear her.

“Odd bloke, isn’t he?” Ron asked as they tracked Elias’ progress up the stairs and over to where George stood by the railing. “He’s been by a few times now, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him buy anything.”

Even from a floor below, Hermione could see that George’s face lit up when he saw Elias.

“Oh,” She said, surprised as everything clicked into place. Ron glanced over at her, and thus missed what happened next.

George pulled Elias in for a quick kiss before saying something that made Elias laugh. Hermione cringed as she remembered her conversation with George and Elias at the ball.

“What?” Ron asked, frowning at her.

“Nothing,” Hermione said quickly. She moved over to a display that provided a poor view to the second floor. “What are these?”

“Now these are truly incredible. We’ve been working on them for some time…”

That afternoon, Hermione and Harry continued to renovate the house. In comparison to the last day of remodeling, it was a mostly quiet affair with only the two of them, as Ron and Ginny had stayed at the shop to help their brother with the post holiday sales.

It was the first time that Hermione and Harry had truly gotten a moment alone together since Christmas Eve. They were currently working in the sitting room. It had been the room Harry had first tried to fix up, evident by the new-yet-outdated sofa and a clashing rug on the floor.

Hermione sighed. “I think you should leave color schemes up to Ginny and Lavender.”

Harry surveyed the room and agreed. “The least we can do today is get the tapestry down.”

They both examined it. It was a ghastly sight, both because of most of the names listed, as well as the scorched sections fabric. It was stuck to the wall in a similar fashion to Mrs. Black’s portrait, although the repeated burning of disowned names had loosened it somewhat.

“I was thinking about asking Luna to paint a mural,” Harry said as they began to take down the tapestry. “Like the one we saw in her room.”

“Oh, Harry, that’s a wonderful idea!” Hermione said. “A painting by Luna instead of an homage to a problematic and frankly incestuous heritage is probably one of the best things you can do to this place.”

Harry snorted, but his face looked serious as they managed to tear down the final bits of the tapestry, and Hermione was reminded of Harry’s glances in the graveyard a few days prior.

The remains of the tapestry were incinerated in the fireplace before Harry spoke again.

"Why do you think McGonagall didn't ask me to come teach as the D.A.D.A. professor this year? She must've known that I would have done it,” he said, continuing to stare into the flames.

Hermione frowned.. "I think that's exactly why she didn't ask, Harry. It's time for you to take care of you. It's time to put yourself first. Becoming an Auror has been a dream of yours for almost as long as I've known you. McGonagall knows that. I don't think she wanted to distract you from what you truly wanted to do."

"Is teaching what you truly wanted to do?"

It was a simple question, and a fair one, but it certainly felt difficult to answer.

"I don't know what I want to do," Hermione said. “I’m trying to figure it out.”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “I guess I am too.”  

In the last hours before her return to the school, Hermione funneled all of her stress and anxiety into preparing for the new year, throwing out old clothes and papers. Her room was pristine, and all of her lessons in order. As always, she hated to say goodbye to Harry, Ron, and Ginny, but they were also gearing up for their return to work. Harry and Ron would return to Auror training, and Ginny’s next match was in a matter of weeks.

After giving each one a hug and a kiss, she left Grimmauld Place and returned to Hogwarts just in time for the staff meeting. Classes would resume the following morning, much to Hermione’s relief. Merlin only knew how little revising they had done over the past few weeks. The rest of the staff seemed to be ready for the return of classes as well, though to varying degrees. Filius looked relaxed and blissful, perched on a footrest near the fire. Other faculty members had gathered as well, including Lavender, who looked more like her old self than Hermione had seen in the past year. It was certainly a welcome change.

She and Lavender shared a mauve settee that had clearly seen better days. Elias had snagged the chair that Severus typically occupied, though as Severus had not entered the room yet, the outcome of that decision remained unknown. While they waited for others to arrive, Hermione and Remus commiserated over the troubles that came from spending the holidays with Aurors.

Crookshanks padded around irritably, weaving between chairs and tables. He had followed Hermione to the staff room, though it was clear that it was not her company he was seeking. When Severus entered the room, Crookshanks kept his distance at first. He eventually meandered over, hopping into Severus’ lap as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Severus, after shooting Elias a withering look, had taken one of the last remaining seats on the settee beside Hermione. She frowned as her cat.

“Traitor,” Hermione told him. Crookshanks flicked his tail, and Severus scratched behind the cat’s ears approvingly.

“He likes to remind me that I can’t tell him what to do,” Hermione said to Severus with a sigh. “Where’s Athene?”

At the mention of this “Athene” Crookshanks ears twitched. He was a notoriously jealous cat, and Hermione reminded herself to keep an eye on him.

“I suppose she’s in my rooms,” Severus replied. “Unless she’s suddenly managed how to open doors.”

“Do you not let her wander around the castle?”

“Not all of us have a mammoth creature capable of taking on the likes of Mrs. Norris.”

“Or a cat as smart,” Hermione cooed at Crookshanks who was throwing Severus a dirty look over his shoulder.

Severus and Lavender shared an exasperated look as Minerva swept into the room. Hermione pretended she did not see it.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The morning of the first day of classes, there was a flutter of activity in the Great Hall. Students were scrambling downstairs for breakfast and reading through their textbooks that had been left untouched for the entirety of the Christmas holiday.

The Daily Prophet landed on the teachers’ table with a fwump . Draco Malfoy’s pointed face was gracing the front page yet again. Severus glanced down, hiding his interest in this development from both students and colleagues. A decision had been reached: Draco Malfoy was exiled from Wizarding Britain for the next ten years.

It was sure to be a controversial decision with supporters and opponents in equal numbers. It was the perfect conclusion to the Malfoy drama, and in Severus’ opinion, the best chance Draco had of ever having a normal life. He had had no contact with his godson, though he suspected that might change, one day, when Draco was ready.

Granger, who sat to his right, also glanced down at the paper. While not quite as skilled in presenting a placid demeanor, she remained a relatively bland expression. Good.

“Glad to see that your ability to catch on extends beyond basic recitation,” he commented, adding butter to his toast.

“It extends well beyond that,” Granger said, stealing the butter dish from him and sending him a hopeful look.

As he had expected, Granger had not forgotten that he had wanted to discuss something with her, but she would have to remain sorely disappointed. The moment to tell her about the alarm being tripped had passed. She had settled into her rooms without a single complaint as far as he knew, and the alarm had not been raised again. He would just have to keep a closer eye on her until he could find out what was going on. And if a happy side effect of her ignorance was that her trust in him remained untarnished, then so be it.

Granger was not the only one that Severus planned on keeping an eye on, albeit for different reasons. Elias Biswas, the mysterious man that had somehow managed to fill a non existent job opening, had caught Severus’ attention and suspicion. The man was the only member of the current faculty that Severus had no prior knowledge of. Not to mention that despite his obvious lack of sense, he seemed to be weaseling his way into everyone else’s good graces with minimal effort. Just then he was chatting with Granger without a care in the world. Stupid man.

Severus’ ruminating was interrupted by a sudden bustle as a new a group of owls entered the room, all carrying newspapers with a green scrawl. Copies were dropped across the Great Hall. One landed on top of the butter dish between himself and Granger. She cursed, loudly enough to draw the attention of other faculty members, and at first he thought she was reacting in surprise. Then he read the front page.

The Emerald Quill

Hello, readers old and new. In your hands, you are holding a complementary publication to announce the launch of a brand new newspaper, edited by the fabulous Rita Skeeter, known for her juicy pieces in the Daily Prophet, Witch Weekly, as well as her book: The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore . After years as a successful journalist in her own rite, Rita is expanding by giving the Daily Prophet a little competition. The Emerald Quill relies on fast journalism and truthful tales, aspects that are highlighted in the paper’s motto: Veracity and Veritaserum. We know that our excitement and enthusiasm will be shared by all of you, our dear readers.  

As a special treat, Rita will be dropping a new scandal every month. Secrets will be spilled, and heads will roll. Turn to page 5 to read about the this month’s top secret gossip!

“I don’t think that veracity is the word that they wanted to use,” Granger said, frowning.

“I would have thought that your criticisms would surpass the vocabulary,” Severus said, holding up the offending paper.

Granger shrugged, took the paper from him, and passed it down so that other professors could read it. “She’ll get what’s coming to her,” she said calmly, cutting an apple into perfectly even slices.

Of that, Severus had no doubt. One look at Granger told him that the The Emerald Quill would not be around long. She bit into the first apple slice with a crunch.