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Changing the Epilogue

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Changing the Epilogue

Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is an eternity. ~~Henry Van Dyke

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

Minerva put down the parchment, took off her glasses, and rubbed her eyes. This note brought the number of student withdrawals to nearly a hundred. That meant this term at Hogwarts would see the lowest attendance level since the war.

Not that she could blame the parents. Every wizard and witch throughout the world was terrified of the epidemic that was sweeping through Wizarding Britain. There was not any pattern or logic to the spread of the mysterious disease that leached first the magic, and then the life force, out of every person who contracted it. Even with the best healers, scientists, and potions masters from around the world working on the research, not only was there no cure—they were no closer to understanding the disease than they had been at the beginning.

As a result, the enrollment levels at Hogwarts kept dwindling.

“So.” The voice from a portrait on the wall caused her to jump. “Will Hogwarts have any students at all this term?”

Minerva closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath before replacing her glasses and turning toward the familiar, sallow countenance of Severus Snape—who was currently scowling down at her from his place next to Dumbledore on the wall.

“Of course there will be,” she replied rather more irritably than she meant to.

“Oh, that is a relief. At the rate the owls are arriving, I was beginning to wonder.”

Minerva marveled, not for the first time since becoming Headmistress, that someone could retain all of their bitterness, resentment and acrimony even after death.

“Has there been any progress in the research?”

“Some.”

Snape made a rude noise. “If I were capable, I am certain I would be able to find the answer.”

“I’m sure you would, Severus,” Minerva replied tiredly. “Unfortunately, that is not possible as you so frequently remind me.” She turned and walked over to the coat rack. She plucked her tartan cloak from its hook and flung it around her shoulders. “If you will excuse me, I must check on the patients in the infirmary.” Without another word, she fled the office.

“Severus.”

“Yes, Albus?”

Dumbledore looked over his half-moon spectacles at his successor. “I wish you wouldn’t speak to Minerva that way. She is doing the best she can under the circumstances.”

“I do not believe I said anything that was untrue. Students are staying away from the school in droves and I would be able to help develop a suitable potion to stop or slow the progress of this disease.” Snape crossed his arms and glared at his former Headmaster. “If Minerva cannot cope with hearing the truth—that is not my problem.”

Dumbledore pressed his lips together and raised an eyebrow. “You never have accepted the fact that you died, have you?”

“My death might have been easier to accept,” Snape replied, his voice edged with steel. “If I’d had any opportunity to actually live before my life was taken from me.”

Dumbledore had the grace to look discomfited. “Your sacrifice was instrumental in saving the world.”

“Oh, yes,” Snape’s voice dripped disdain. “For everyone else.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Most worthy Vice-Chancellor and the whole university, I present to you this woman whom I know to be suitable as much by character as by learning to proceed to the degree of Master of Chemical Engineering for which I pledge my faith to you and to the whole university.”

The words were spoken by Cambridge University’s New Hall College Praelector in Latin, but Hermione understood them perfectly.

“Hermione Granger.”

The willowy 26 year-old who stepped forward and knelt in front of the Vice Chancellor was dressed in a black academical gown, with a black mortarboard cap pinned on top of her unruly hair. The Vice Chancellor took her hands and gazed into her eyes as he spoke.

“By the authority committed to me, I admit you to the degree of Master of Chemical Engineering.”

There was a flash of light. Hermione flinched inwardly and reminded herself it was only the photographer documenting the moment. She rose, bowed to the Vice Chancellor, and exited through the Doctor’s Door of the Senate House to receive her degree certificate.

She had gotten into Cambridge through their “Special Access Scheme.” Hermione had been eligible because her education had been … “significantly disrupted…through health or personal problems…or difficulty with schooling.”

War will certainly “disrupt” education and schooling, no doubt about it.

The letter of recommendation from Headmistress McGonagall hadn’t hurt.

Now, seven years after Voldemort was defeated, she had her degree. The question was: What the hell was she going to do? And in which world was she going to do it?

After the war, Hermione had restored her parents' memories, and then brought them back to England. After which, she had withdrawn from the Wizarding world in order to cocoon herself in her family’s embrace. After she was accepted at Cambridge, she dove into her studies with the enthusiasm of her Third Year at Hogwarts—without the Time-Turner.

Also without her friends.

Years ago, Hermione made a conscious decision to pull away from Ron, Harry and the entire Wizarding world. Owls arriving with letters were sent back with polite but firm admonitions to give her some time and space. Before long, the only communication she received was on Christmas, her birthday and the occasional wedding or birth announcement. Harry had married Ginny, and Ron had finally given up on her and settled down with Lavender Brown. Both couples had produced a couple of children and seemed to be very happy.

After the graduation ceremony, Hermione sat with her parents in a trendy London restaurant.

“So, Hermione,” her mother began. “What will you do now?”

Hermione took a bite of her chicken to buy time to compose her thoughts. After she swallowed, she replied, “I’m not sure, Mum. Maybe I’ll go back for my Doctorate.”

Her father raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you think it’s time you reconnected with your friends from Hogwarts?”

Hermione reddened and sputtered, “I’ve been in touch…don’t know what you mean, Dad—I…”

The well-loved, familiar warmth shone from his eyes as her father reached over and clasped her hand. “My dear child, you do not have to stay home and protect your mother and me any longer.”

Something inside of her broke. Tears filled her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. “I really don’t know what you’re talking about, Dad.”

Her mother smiled as she opened her handbag, retrieved a handkerchief and handed it to her daughter. “Of course you do, Hermione Jean, for heaven’s sake, credit us with a few brains. Now, we have been quite happy to have you at home, make no mistake about it. But,” she leaned forward and met her daughter’s watery gaze, “your father and I have talked and we think it’s time you reconnected with the Wizarding world.” She reached into her handbag once more, pulled out a parchment envelope with a familiar red wax seal and held it out. “They need your help.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Minerva wrapped her comfortable old dressing gown around her and belted it as she moved into her sitting room. She poured herself a generous portion of scotch and then sat down in an easy chair in front of the fireplace.

Incendio.

The fire sparked to life. She closed her eyes and stretched her slippered feet toward the blaze with a tired sigh. After a couple of sips from her glass, the knots in her shoulders began to loosen.

“Minerva, my dear—I do apologize for barging in on you at this time of night.”

The headmistress opened her eyes and turned her attention to the portrait which hung above her mantle. It was usually empty, but tonight Albus' familiar twinkling blue eyes gazed down on her. Minerva wondered, not for the first time, if he’d had the artist add extra twinkle to the painting.

“Well, that’s why we had a painting hung in here before you died…so we could talk privately. What is on your mind?”

His twinkling expression turned to one of concern. “It’s not like you to drink anything stronger than wine during the week…”

“I’ve had some bad news after I left the office today, Albus. The worst.” McGonagall fortified herself with another swallow of the golden liquor. “An owl from Ginny…Harry has contracted the disease.”

“Merlin’s balls.”

“My reaction, precisely. It's early days yet, but still.”

Dumbledore cleared his throat and continued. “I have been thinking about what Severus said this afternoon. He may be correct. We need his knowledge and skill if we are to have any hope of finding a cure for this disease before it’s too late for everyone.”

“I’m sure you’re right, but I don’t know how he can help in his present position on the wall in my office.”

Albus raised an eyebrow and his mouth quirked up at the corners. “Well, of course not. What we need is Severus back in his potions lab.”

“Again, I agree with you, Albus. Unfortunately for us, that can never happen.”

The twinkle was back in his eyes. “Never say ‘never’, my dear.”

Minerva snapped to attention. “What are you up to Albus Dumbledore?”

Dumbledore’s portrait smirked. “There are still a couple of Time-Turners squirreled away. Here. At Hogwarts.”

The glass slipped from her hand and shattered on the floor. “I was under the impression that they were all rendered useless after the battle at the Ministry of Magic?”

The twinkle was practically blinding. “Certainly. But, only the ones kept at the Ministry. A Time-Turner is such a useful object to have around. So I, shall we say acquired? a couple through the years and, ah, kept that fact to myself after the Ministry battle. One in particular that I found is a rather complex bit of engineering. Quite different than the others we both are familiar with. This one is able to move a person years back in time and then bring them forward again. Fascinating object.”

McGonagall murmured “Reparo.” The glass mended itself and jumped back into her hand. She moved slowly back to the sideboard, poured herself another, and tossed it down before she turned to face the portrait once more.

“And of course, you never thought to mention to anyone that you had it."

Dumbledore gazed at her solemnly. "That is because the device can only be used once and one must consider all the ramifications. I did flirt with the idea of using it to go back and stop Merope Gaunt from marrying Tom Riddle, but that would have changed the timeline too drastically. Something worse might have happened instead."

"I suppose you believe the time has come to use it. What do you intend to do with it?”

Dumbledore’s smile returned. “Why, save the world, of course. What else?”

Minerva’s answering smile was genuine for the first time in weeks. “What else, indeed?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The resounding crack of Apparition sent a flock of ravens soaring into the sky above the Forbidden Forest, their caws a cacophony of scolding.

Hermione shivered and pulled her jacket closer, grateful she had worn the leather over her wool jumper. She had not forgotten how cold it was in Scotland at any time of the year, but in the winter the cold could take one's breath away. The castle gates opened as she approached, then closed behind her. She paused for a moment and looked around before she set off—not in the direction of the castle—not yet, but in the general direction of the lake. She passed Hagrid’s house, rebuilt now and looking as familiar as home. Well, the huge addition at the back was new—which told her that Grawp had joined his brother and now lived at Hogwarts as well.

As Hermione continued her brisk walk, some of the tension she hadn’t realized was there began to drain away. It was her first time back on Hogwarts’ grounds since the end of the war. She took a deep breath of the cold air and looked around. The grounds, and what she could see of the castle, had been restored. Everything looked just as it had before the battle.

Tears stung her eyes when a lazy tentacle rose from the lake and seemed to wave a greeting before settling back down beneath the water once more. After several more minutes of walking, she finally reached her destination.

Dumbledore’s tomb. The white marble had also been restored to its stunning glory. It seemed to glow with supernatural brightness in the snow. So bright, she almost didn’t see the smaller sepulcher of dark green marble beside it. Hermione moved closer and read:

Severus Snape 1960-1998
Dumbledore’s Man, To the End

Hermione shivered. Harry often called Professor Snape the bravest man he ever knew and Hermione agreed. Everything he'd done for them during the second rise of Voldemort had led to the Dark Lord's ultimate defeat. Severus Snape was a true hero and it was a tragedy that he hadn't survived to enjoy his Order of Merlin, First Class. She laid a hand on the freezing marble.

“Rest in peace, Professor.” She turned and made her way purposefully toward the castle.

As she approached, Hermione noticed the figure of her former Head of House, now Headmistress, standing on the top step in front of the castle doors. Minerva McGonagall did not appear to have changed at all. For a moment, as she bounded up the stairs, Hermione was again a schoolgirl arriving for a new year of discovery and wonder at the most incredible place in the world. She reached the top of the stairs and was enveloped in a warm embrace--and a warming charm.

“Dear Hermione, it’s wonderful to see you again.”

“And you.”

Minerva ushered her through the castle door and into the Entrance Hall where Hermione paused and looked around.

“Everything looks almost exactly the same.”

“We have all worked very hard to restore the castle and the grounds,” Minerva said as she started up the staircase. “But we did leave a few of the battle scars—as a tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and as a reminder of all we lost during that terrible time.”

When they reached the third floor, Minerva led her down a familiar corridor and stopped when she came to a spell-scorched part of the wall. She indicated a brass plate which had been affixed above the scorch marks. Hermione leaned forward and read:

“Fred Weasley fell here.”

And all the memories Hermione thought she’d put behind her came crashing back to the surface with a vengeance. The smoke, the chaos, the shattered wall, the blood and the pain—

Tears filled her eyes as she remembered Fred’s grin, still frozen on his handsome face even after death. The others who had been lost seemed to force themselves up from the depths of her subconscious…Tonks, Remus, Colin…too many to count.

“Oi, Hermione! Don’t look so glum, mate.”

She started violently, and whirled toward the sound of the familiar voice.

"Fred?"

A silvery apparition had materialized behind her, the well-remembered grin firmly in place.

“You’re a ghost?” Hermione found herself smiling through her tears.

Fred’s ghost turned to the grinning McGonagall, put his hands on his hips, and shook his head with a sigh. “How little they knew us, our friends.” He looked at Hermione with a raised eyebrow. “You never thought that George and me might have made some preparations for this eventuality? I mean, really, Hermione—what were the odds of both of us surviving the war?” He leaned forward. “I was hanging out with George at the joke shop, but he got tired of me, and forced me to move here instead. I have to say that wasn’t very brotherly of him. But, on the whole, I think it has worked out for the best since it was a bit lonely there in Diagon Alley. At least here I have Peeves to play with.”

Hermione was smiling so much her face hurt. “Oh, Fred, I could just hug you!”

“No, you can’t, more’s the pity—but I guess it’s the thought that counts.” The ghost looked her up and down slowly then whistled appreciatively. “Wow, Hermione, you really grew into a gorgeous bird, love. My brother was a git not to wait for you.”

Hermione felt her face grow warm. “Fred, you know as well as I do that it would never have worked out between us.”

“I still say he’s a git.”

“That’s enough, Fred.” Minerva chastised him with the air of having repeated herself too many times.

“Uh-oh, that’s my cue to go see what Peeves is up to—it is great to see you Hermione!” Fred winked at her before he soared into the rafters and disappeared.

Hermione turned to face Minerva whose smile simply beamed.

“Are you surprised?”

“Am I! Oh, it’s wonderful.”

“Yes, well—until he and Peeves decide to stir things up with the First-years.” She shuddered with a grimace.

Hermione felt lighter somehow after her encounter with Fred’s ghost. She turned toward the staircase to the upper floors, but the Headmistress shook her head and led her in the other direction.

To her questioning glance, Minerva simply said, “My private rooms.” And before she knew it, Hermione was standing in what used to be McGonagall's office.

It had been renovated into a cozy sitting room. If possible, there was even more tartan plaid decorations than before. As Hermione looked around, she spotted the portrait above the fireplace.

Dumbledore was smiling at her over the well-remembered half-moon glasses.

“My dear Hermione, how delightful it is to see you once again.”

“It’s nice to be back, Professor," she said carefully. Her opinion of her former Headmaster had changed after she had seen Professor Snape's memories. "I have to admit I’m wondering why you both wanted to see me.”

Dumbledore’s smile faded. “Straight to business as always, I see. Quite right, of course.”

"Won’t you sit down?" Minerva gestured to the sofa and, with a wave of her wand, conjured a tea service. Hermione settled herself on the settee and accepted the steaming cup that Minerva floated to her.

“You may be wondering why we wanted to see you here instead of in Minerva’s office.” He acknowledged her inquiring eyebrow with a smile before he continued in a conspiratorial whisper: “Too many ears in there. Who knew becoming a portrait made one such a busybody? Ah well, it does make sense, I suppose—hanging around watching people all day.”

Hermione couldn’t help wishing he would get to the point. “Of course.”

Dumbledore sobered. “Hermione, what is your opinion of our current troubles?”

“I only know what was in the letter I received from the Headmistress—that I was needed urgently to help with a problem. I came here straightaway. What ‘troubles’?”

Minerva looked down at her teacup, and then raised her eyes to meet Hermione’s. “There is an epidemic among magical folk. Some kind of disease or virus or whatever it is that only affects fully mature wizards and witches. The best healers have been working for months, but still they are no closer to finding a cure. It is spreading fast…and,” she paused.

Hermione had an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. She wasn’t sure she wanted to hear what her former Head of House was so hesitant to say but once a Gryffindor...she plucked up her courage. “…and?”

Minerva looked her in the eye. “And now Harry has contracted it.”

If she hadn’t already been seated, Hermione might have collapsed. “Harry--? Is ill?”

“Yes. The very early stages, but there’s no doubt about the diagnosis. The loss of his magical abilities will be irreversible within a month if a cure cannot be found.”

Hermione closed her eyes and swallowed hard. It simply was not fair that Harry, of all people, should be going through something like this after everything he’d done to save them all. She took a deep breath, opened her eyes and found Minerva gazing at her with concern.

“Obviously, you believe there’s something I can do to help—but for the life of me, I cannot imagine what it could be. The Ministry must have their best people working on this…?”

“Yes, they have the best available alchemists and Potions Masters…”

Dumbledore cleared his throat and the women looked up at him.

“Unfortunately, we do not have the finest Potions Master of our time.”

“Professor Snape.” Hermione murmured. She tried for a civil tone. “If only he were here.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Dumbledore smiled.

Hermione’s eyes narrowed. “Professor Dumbledore—what are you up to?”

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

Several hours later, Hermione strode up the cobblestone walkway toward a cozy, thatch-roofed cottage in Godric’s Hollow. She reached the door and had raised her hand to knock, when golden writing began to appear, spreading across the wood and gleaming like a beacon in the twilight of early evening.

Enter at your own risk—Contagion Within.

Fury rose within her as she read the words. How could the Ministry treat the savior of the Wizarding world in such a callous way? Intellectually, Hermione understood that some sort of warning was necessary. But something like this was, in her mind, uncalled-for. With a defiant sniff, she knocked. The magical writing dissipated.

The door opened a crack and a blue eye appeared. “Yes? Hello? Oh, my gosh!” The door flew open and Hermione found herself enveloped in a huge hug. “Hermione! What a wonderful surprise. We wondered if you’d gone back to the Muggle world forever—don’t stand out there in the cold, come in! Harry! Guess who’s here?”

Hermione was ushered inside and found herself in a cozy sitting room. A fire crackled in the red brick fireplace that was surrounded by comfortable-looking furniture. Photographs crowded the walls and mantle. Friends and family members smiling and waving at her from within the frames. A movement caught her eye and she turned to see Harry appear from the hall across the room with a baby in his arms.

At first glance, he did not look any different from the last time she had seen him, although he did have the secure, settled appearance of a happily married man. She smiled and he grinned in return. A flash of crimson drew her attention to a small boy of about three, wearing pajamas of that color, peering out from behind Harry’s legs, a thumb stuck firmly in his mouth.

“Hello,” she said, squatting down and addressing the child. “You must be James.”

The boy nodded.

“I bet you’re a good wizard like your dad.”

The boy took his thumb out of his mouth and replied, “I can move toys wif no hands.”

Hermione’s smile widened. “How very clever!”

“I can ride a broom, too.”

“You know James, your daddy was the best broom-rider I ever saw.”

The boy’s green eyes grew solemn. “Daddy don’t ride his broom no more ‘cause he fell off.”

Ginny strode across the room with her arms outstretched. “Give Al to me, dear.” Harry handed over the bundle reluctantly. “Come on, James, it’s bedtime. Say goodnight to Miss Hermione.”

“G’night, Miss Her-mi-me.” James put his thumb back into his mouth as he took his mother’s hand. Ginny led him down the hallway.

Harry and Hermione came together in the center of the room in a warm embrace.

“So, how are you?” Hermione asked.

“I’m doing okay.”

Hermione looked Harry in the eye and smiled. “Liar.”

He grinned sheepishly and ran his hand through his messy hair. “You’re right.” His expression was stricken. “I’ve started to lose my magic, Hermione. As my son so eloquently explained—I can’t ride my broom anymore. The last time I did, my magic ‘winked out’ and I fell.” He smiled at her horrified gaze. “Oh, don’t worry; I was only about ten feet off the ground at the time. Just taking off. Nothing bruised but my ego. And my bum.”

“Oh, Harry, I’m so sorry.”

He motioned her to a chair in front of the fireplace and he seated himself across from her on the sofa. “The Ministry is working to find a cure—but I’ll tell you what,” he paused, looked at his hands and chuckled softly. “When I was fifteen, if you'd told me I'd be saying this I'd have thought you were mad." He looked into her eyes. “I wish Snape was still alive. He was a miserable git--for good reason--but he knew his way around a cauldron.”

Ginny came back into the room, sat down beside Harry and took his hand. “Don’t worry, love, the Ministry will find a cure.”

Hermione leaned forward and looked hard at them. She lowered her voice and said, “That’s why I’ve come back.”

They looked at her sharply and said together: “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Professor McGonagall owled me at Professor Dumbledore’s request because I have some experience with a—” she paused fractionally, looked from one to the other, “—Time-Turner.”

Ginny gasped and put a hand to her cheek while Harry looked sharply at Hermione.

“Aren’t all of the Time-Turners caught in a constant falling loop at the Ministry?”

“Professor Dumbledore managed to squirrel a couple away before the battle there. One of which I am going to use to try to save Professor Snape’s life so he will be here to help find a cure.”

“But—what about changing the past?”

“Minerva and Dumbledore believe that as long as I time it correctly, that won’t be an issue. Since I’ll be bringing him back after his ‘death’, he won’t have been ‘living’ after the War. I'll save his life in the Shrieking Shack and bring him forward seven years so nothing else should change. Hopefully. If this mad scheme works.”

“I take it this Time-Turner is different from the one you used during Third Year?”

“Yes. It's a one-use only model that can, in minutes, take one back years at a time. And then," she snapped her fingers, "...just as quickly, bring one forward again. Years, you guys. Not the hours I had back then.”

Ginny’s expression was thoughtful. “What are the dangers?”

“The biggest risk is that I could run into our younger selves and interfere with history. I might also encounter a random Death Eater. Snape could give me a hard time.”

Harry snorted. “I think that's guaranteed.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m hopeful that I will be able to convince him—but if not—I have the advantage of knowing when and where he dies. I am bringing Essence of Dittany, Blood-Replenishing potion and Antivenin potion. Once he's unconscious...” She shrugged. She'd rather have Snape's consent, but she'd do what she had to regardless.

“Hermione, we watched him die…watched the life and light fade from his eyes.” Harry’s voice was a haunted whisper. “Snape was dead before we left the Shrieking Shack.”

“I know,” Hermione agreed. “That’s why I have to connect with him before that and convince him to take the Antivenin potion before he goes to meet Voldemort that night.”

“When or where are you planning to try to talk to him?”

Hermione bit her lip. “I've decided that I'll try to catch up with him the night he planted the Sword of Gryffindor in the Forest of Dean.”

“That’s so risky, Hermione!” Ginny cried. “Why not try to meet with him at Hogwarts?”

“I would have to go back to when he was named Headmaster, early in the school year--August or September--before things got really bad. Remember, I have to stay in that time until after Voldemort kills Prof--Headmaster Snape. Even going back the day after Christmas is earlier than I want to go, but it's one of the few times that I know exactly when and where Headmaster Snape will be outside of Hogwarts. And alone. If I try to see him after the Christmas hols, well, it was very dangerous at Hogwarts at that time, Ginny, as you well know. Remember the Carrows?”

Ginny shuddered. “You’re right. I had banished those miserable gits from my memory.” The redhead’s gaze was troubled. “You were in the forest in December. The battle of Hogwarts was in May.”

“I know. I'll have to live through those months again.”

“You guys were on the run, so maybe you don’t remember what it was like then—Death Eaters in the Ministry, not knowing who you can trust, gangs of Snatchers roaming everywhere rounding up Muggle-borns and blood traitors, the Taboo—remember not to say Voldemort’s name out loud!—and what about Hogwarts? I was there; I know how awful it was with those Slytherins in charge there!” Ginny shuddered at the memory.

Hermione looked into her friend’s troubled eyes and smiled ruefully. “It would have been worse if Snape hadn't been Headmaster. I must go. If I don’t, what will happen to Harry—and all the rest of the people who have contracted this disease? I’ll be careful. If I have to, I’ll get a job and live as a Muggle in London until the Battle, and then Apparate in and save Snape's life whether he likes it or not.”

Harry turned to his wife with a rueful grin. “Do you see why I didn’t bother arguing with her back then?” He turned back to Hermione. “When are you leaving?”

Hermione’s cheeks were pink. “Tomorrow. Now, Harry, refresh my memory about a few things…”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hermione materialized in the Forest of Dean and shivered in spite of the warm clothing she was wearing. She tucked the Time-Turner away in the magical bag beneath her sweater and rubbed her gloved hands together as she looked around. According to the calculations she and Harry had made, this should be the correct point in time. But there was really no way to be certain.

CRACK!

The sound of Apparition gave her enough warning to duck behind a tree before her younger self--she christened the girl Hermione the Younger--and Harry appeared.

“Where are we?” Harry’s voice was crystal clear in the forest night.

“The Forest of Dean,” Hermione the Younger replied. “I came camping here once with my mum and dad.”

Hermione closed her eyes and listened to them setting up camp with her heart hammering. She was too close. When she heard the tent flap being zippered, she started to breathe again. Murmuring a charm to obliterate her footprints, she carefully backed away from the tent. A short distance away, she found a small thicket of bushes, stripped of their leaves for the winter. She pulled a camp chair, a blanket and a book from her old beaded bag and resized them. She cast a warming charm, and then settled down to wait.

“No…Come back!”

Harry’s strangled shout startled her to wakefulness. Hermione saw the shining light of the white doe—Snape’s Patronus—in the trees and leaped to her feet. She silently shrank and stowed her things back into her bag, and then trailed Harry at a safe distance as he followed the beautiful doe deeper into the forest. When the doe stopped, Hermione angled away from Harry, moving toward the group of trees with the two oaks standing side by side. Harry had told her that was where Snape was hiding—watching to make sure he obtained the Sword.

As she moved, she kept a sharp eye out for Ron, who was in the area by now and would be catching up with Harry at any moment. She was so focused on what was in front of her; she was taken completely by surprise when she was grabbed from behind. A strong arm pulled her against an equally strong body. A hand was clamped over her mouth, stifling a reflexive outcry.

“I will give you one chance to tell me why you are here.” His voice was low and familiar and its menace sent a shiver over her. “Or you will die tonight.”

Snape’s arm around her body was replaced by magical ropes which bound her hands to her sides. He kept his hand over her mouth as he hustled her toward the oak trees. Once there, a wand was pressed against the side of her head.

“I’m going to remove my hand. Please do not try to scream. If you do, I will not hesitate to kill you,” he growled into her ear. “Do you understand?”

Hermione nodded.

Snape removed his hand from her mouth and at the same time, increased the pressure of the wand tip against her head. "Turn around. Slowly."

Hermione complied. She could not restrain a smile at his startled reaction when he recognized her. “Good evening, Headmaster Snape," she whispered.

Snape composed his features, lowered his wand, and raised an eyebrow. His voice was equally soft when he replied. “Well, well, well. Can this be Miss Hermione Granger, famed Insufferable Know-It-All, all grown up?”

“Yes, sir. I’ve been sent back by Dumbledore to—”

“Sent back? As in ‘back in time’? Has he finally lost his mind?” Snape hissed.

“Probably. However...”

“How did you get here, Miss—I presume it is still ‘miss’?—Granger?” He glared at her balefully.

“Yes, yes—it’s still ‘miss’,” she whispered impatiently. “And you know Dumbledore better than anyone—don’t you think that he would have made sure to keep his options open somehow?”

Snape scowled. “Of course he would, the manipulative bastard. He can't stop himself from interfering for the ‘greater good’. Especially when it comes to my life. What is so important that he has sent you back in time to interrupt me in the current task he has assigned?”

“Please untie me. I will tell you everything. Don’t worry, Harry is going to discover and retrieve the sword.”

Snape made an impatient motion and her bonds fell away, then vanished. He moved several metres away from the oak trees. She trotted behind him and stopped when he turned and glared.

“Thank you for untying me.” Hermione looked at Snape from the top of his dark hair to the tips of his boots peeking out from his robes. She was startled at the thrill of delight she felt at just seeing him, warm and alive, standing there scowling at her.

Snape snarled. “Well?”

Hermione felt her face grow warm. “I’m sorry, Prof--er--Headmaster Snape. Only, it’s—it’s just so wonderful to see you.”

Snape crossed his arms over his chest. “Is it. That is a thrill for us both, then. Are you going to get on with your explanation, or shall I just use Legilimency and save some time?”

An unexpected rush of affection for the scowling wizard who stood in front of her hit Hermione with the force of a sudden storm. She raised her hands. “There’s no need for Legilimency. I’ll tell you.” She swallowed the Bludger in her throat. “I’ve come back to warn you that you—you won’t—”

“I will not survive the war?” He snorted. “Miss Granger, this may come as a shock to you, but I do not expect to.”

Hermione’s mouth dropped open. She composed herself quickly and replied: “But, you must. That’s why I’ve come—to give you the tools you need to make it through the coming—difficulties.”

Snape drew himself up to his full height. “Miss Granger, if you would be so kind as to tell me what makes you think I have any desire to –as you say- ‘make it through the coming difficulties’?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she retorted. “No one wants to die.”

“Ridiculous, you say? Tell me—why exactly should I want to live?”

“Why don’t you try it sometime and see?” This was not going well at all.

“Miss Granger,” Snape suddenly sounded very tired. “You have no idea…”

“Oh yes, I do!” Hermione snapped. “I know all about the abuse you suffered at the hands of your father when you were a child. I know how you were bullied in school by Harry’s father and his gang of toerags. I know about your love for Lily Evans and the awful way she treated you…”

Snape whipped up his wand and pointed it at her once more. “Do not talk about Lily that way.”

Hermione was too angry to care. “Why not? She's no paragon of friendship. The exact opposite, if you asked me. You made one mistake…ONE. And she dumped you…abandoned a lifetime of friendship because you lost your temper and snapped at her? Called her a name? That was an awful punishment for such a small crime, if you ask me.”

Snape’s wand trembled and his face was twisted in anguish. Hermione stood her ground, brown eyes glued to black. She stepped forward without breaking eye contact, closing the space between them, until the tip of his wand was pressed against her chest.

“Headmaster Snape—” she pitched her voice low, willing him to listen and understand. “Severus.” He winced but did not object. “I do not believe that was the act of someone who loved you or even thought of you as a friend.”

“I-I deserved her contempt…my interest in Dark Magic, the Dark Lord…”

Hermione’s anger flared. “Because you made some poor choices? You were a child. Where was she when you needed her? Why didn’t she try harder to help you fit in with the others? Stop her friends from bullying you? It seems to me that SHE did not deserve YOU.”

The crunch of running feet in the snow snapped them both back to the present. With a glance, Snape erased the disturbed snow and then he grabbed Hermione, pulled her close and Disapparated.

Hermione felt the familiar squeezing sensation and in moments they landed on the walkway of a small, shabby house. Snape released her at once and hustled her inside.

Lumos. Incendio.

The candles in the lamp which hung from the ceiling ignited, illuminating the room below. At the same time, a fire burst to life in the fireplace.

Hermione looked around and found herself inside a neat but shabby sitting room. She was struck immediately by the number of books crammed into such a small space. There were dozens of shelves that covered the walls. There were books stacked on tables and on the floor, some of which towered nearly to the ceiling. It was as if she were in a library that had been overrun. There were a few pieces of furniture grouped together in the center of the room—a sofa, an old armchair and a table which had seen better days. When her gaze returned to her former professor, he stood barely a meter away, glaring at her. His arms were crossed defensively and he still held his wand in one hand.

“How do you know these things about my past?” His voice was deadly quiet.

Hermione knew Snape was using all of his immense self-control at the moment to refrain from hexing her or worse. “You gave some of your memories to Harry before you died.”

His eyes narrowed. “I’m sure you three had quite the laugh—poor old Snivellus and his grey pants.”

Hermione’s anger flared. “For your information, we did not laugh. We understood. And we kept it to ourselves. Except for that bit where Dumbledore asked you to kill him in order to save Draco's soul. That bit Harry made sure the Ministry saw--oh and the bit where Dumbledore forced you into working as a double agent. It got you a posthumous Order of Merlin, First Class. So, save your sarcasm.”

Snape’s façade cracked and he seemed to deflate before her eyes. He slipped his wand into the sleeve of his robe and rubbed his eyes. “My love for Lily made me the man I am today,” he said quietly. “No family—no friends. The perfect spy.”

“Severus Snape, you are the bravest man I’ve ever known.”

“Do not pity me, Miss Granger,” he snapped.

“There’s a difference between pity and compassion, Professor. With all the books you own, surely one of them must be a dictionary.”

“Several. Any particular language preference?”

Hermione’s anger dissipated. “Whichever language will help me get through to an obdurate wizard.”

Snape raised an eyebrow. “I do not believe such a language has ever been written.”

She couldn't restrain a smile. Who knew Professor Snape had a sense of humor? “Nor I.” She replied, then she sobered. “The future needs you, Severus Snape.”

“I ask again, what’s in it for me? Another hundred years of my cauldrons keeping me warm?”

“There is more than one woman in the world, Snape!” Hermione retorted irritably. “If you weren’t so damned prickly, perhaps someone could get closer to you.”

Snape’s nostrils flared and his gaze was challenging. He raked his gaze over her, and then leaned forward. “Are you volunteering, Miss Granger?”

She closed the space that separated them until their bodies were almost touching. Hermione could feel the tension crackling between them as she lifted her eyes to meet his. She rose on her tiptoes until their lips were a hairsbreadth apart and murmured. “And what if I am?”

Then she closed her eyes and kissed him.

Snape’s lips were soft—and unresponsive. She opened her eyes and leaned back so she could look into his. She saw confusion, pain and a glimmer of something she could not name. Hermione lifted one hand and laid it against his cheek.

“I would like to at the least be your friend—if you’ll let me.” She wrapped her arms around him, laid her head on his chest and simply held him. His body remained stiff and Hermione was beginning to wonder if she’d made a mistake when Snape heaved a great sigh.

His arms surrounded her and he pulled her close. After a few moments, he took her face into his hands, turned it up and, after a moment’s hesitation, Snape lowered his head and their lips met for the second time. His kiss was firm and thorough. When their lips parted, Hermione opened her eyes and met his. There were questions there and a bit of doubt that only time could wipe away.

She smiled. “Does that mean ‘yes’?”

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

Snape spent the last week of the Christmas holiday dividing his time between Hogwarts and Spinner’s End--where he had decided that she should stay—in spite of her concern that it was too dangerous. Hermione had to admit that she was glad he had insisted, because she had not been looking forward to six months in London all alone.

They agreed that she should sleep in Wormtail’s old room at the top of the hidden staircase. Snape explained that he was not always apprised of visits from his fellow Death Eaters. After Yaxley dropped in unexpectedly one day, they practiced clearing up and getting her hidden until they could go from afternoon tea to Snape reading alone in the sitting room in less than half a minute.

Of course, none of this would do any good if Voldemort himself should show up, but Snape assured her that was unlikely since the Dark Lord preferred the comforts of Malfoy Manor.

They spent the days tidying the house and securing her room and the evenings getting to know each other better. At first, Hermione did most of the talking. She told him about her travels after the war and the time she'd spent at Cambridge. She told him about the epidemic and gave him all of the information she had from Poppy. He took the parchment and the vials and assured her he would find time to look everything over.

Three days before the Christmas holiday ended, they were sitting on the sofa reading in front of the fire when Snape began to talk.

“It was Bellatrix Lestrange who suggested to the Dark Lord that the Carrows should come to Hogwarts. She wanted someone there she could trust.” He smirked. “Someone she could trust to watch me whom she doesn't trust at all. I was compelled to place those two savages in charge of school discipline, aside from their "teaching" duties.” His smirk turned into a grimace. “They are brutes with no imagination. They force the students to practice the Cruciatus Curse on those who have detention. I’m sorry to say that some of the Slytherins seem to relish that particular task.”

"Crabbe, Goyle, Malfoy and Parkinson."

He nodded. Then he inhaled deeply and his face hardened.

“Do you know how difficult it is to have to sit back and watch these sadists torture my students?” Snape’s voice shook with anger. “To have to appear to approve? To watch Minerva and the rest of the professors look at me with loathing and disgust because of it?”

She reached out and laid a hand on his arm. “What choice do you have?”

“None.” Snape looked at his hands. “Fortunately, the other professors have sharply curtailed the issuing of detentions.”

“That’s good.”

“Yes, it is.” He ran a hand through his hair. “The Carrows…do you know that they have placed curses at all of the secret passages inside the castle? The Body-Bind Curse, the Impediment Curse, Jelly-Fingers, Leg-Locker…these I can understand and even agree with. But—the Blasting Curse? The Entrail-Expelling curse? In a school? Full of children?” He shook his head and sighed in frustration. “I’ve had to set sentries at all the passageway entrances outside the castle. The Dark Lord “helpfully” sent the Dementors to assist with patrolling the grounds. Hogwarts is, at present, almost a copy of Azkaban.”

“Oh, Severus, I’m so sorry you are in this position.”

His expression was rueful. “The irony is that I always hoped I’d get to be Headmaster someday, after teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts.” Snape looked at her for the first time. “And so I have. I never thought it would be like this.”

Hermione squeezed his arm. “It will all be over soon. You will be a hero for what you’ve done.”

“If I survive.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

~~~~~~~~~~

After the holidays were over and Severus went back to his duties at Hogwarts, Hermione only saw him very sporadically. If he wasn’t at the school, he was with Voldemort or the Death Eaters, so he had little free time to come to Spinner’s End. He did manage to sneak away at least once a fortnight, and for this Hermione was grateful.

The time between his visits hung heavy on her hands. During one visit, Snape brought her a wireless so she could tune in and listen to Potterwatch. The broadcasts were sporadic at best, not to mention the awful memories they evoked, so Hermione spent most of her time reading. Occasionally, she would Apparate to London for a change of scenery and wander around the British Museum or have a cup of tea in a café. She always brought back some kind of treat--digestives or candy--to share with Severus when he was able to come home.

One night in early February, Hermione was reading in her bed when she heard the crack of Apparition downstairs. She froze.

“It is I.”

Hermione heaved a sigh of relief, got up, put on a dressing-gown and descended the stairs. When she opened the hidden panel, her smile of welcome froze when he turned on her and snarled:

“What the hell are they playing at—are they mad? Do they have a death wish?”

Hermione was taken aback. With effort, she kept her temper by reminding herself of the pressure he was under. “Who?”

Snape began to pace around the room in agitation. “Longbottom, the Weasley girl, Finnigan. I am not certain who else. Irresponsible and foolhardy! How did Longbottom become so clever? Too clever, by far—he’s gone straight over into recklessness!”

“What has he done, Severus?” She asked, even though she knew.

Snape stopped in front of her and his anger distorted his features so much she felt a stab of fear.

“He and, I am certain, several accomplices have written: Dumbledore’s Army: Still Recruiting on most of the corridor walls inside of the castle.”

Hermione bit her lip but could not stifle a smile.

“Oh, yes, I am certain that is quite amusing to you, Miss Granger,” he snarled. “Do you realize what will happen to him? Neither he, nor the rest of Dumbledore’s Army bother to hide their disdain for the Carrows. They will torture him and any other student they suspect. Not only that, it gives them an excuse to go after the students they simply do not like as well.” He strode across the room and loomed over her. “And do you know what the punishment will be?”

“The Cruciatus?” she whispered.

“For starters. When they get bored with that, out come the knives.”

Hermione heard the anguish behind the anger. She stepped forward, put her arms around him and held him. He stood stiffly for several moments before his resolve shattered and he crushed her to him. Hermione could feel him tremble and ached with the desire to take some of his burden away.

“I cannot help Longbottom or his friends any longer.” His voice was flat.

She rubbed his back and murmured, “I know. He will get through it, Severus, and it will make him stronger. There is a lot more to Neville Longbottom than anyone ever gave him credit for, believe me.”

Snape stepped back. He held her at arm’s length and looked into her eyes.

“How did I get through all of this before--without you?”

Hermione smiled. “Because you remained focused on one goal: keeping Lily’s son alive.”

Snape pulled her to him, lowered his head and kissed her. When they parted, he murmured, “I believe my goal has expanded.”

A couple of weeks later he arrived on Friday after school. They had a quiet dinner together and were enjoying a glass of brandy on the sofa in front of a roaring fire. Snape seemed nervous and Hermione wondered what was bothering him. He finished his brandy, reached into his robe and pulled out a brown paper parcel tied with string which he handed to her.

“I can't wait until tomorrow--my time is not always my own, so...here. This is for you.”

Hermione took the package and opened it. Inside was a leather-bound copy of The Sonnets of William Shakespeare.

“Oh, Severus, thank you.” She looked at him quizzically.

He flushed, cleared his throat and looked everywhere except at her.

“Happy Valentine’s Day--a day early.”

Hermione looked down at the book, and then met his anxious gaze through tear-stung eyes. Without a calendar she had lost track of the time. “I didn’t get anything for you—”

Snape slid across the sofa, gathered her onto his lap and held her close. “Hermione...you have given me so much more than you know.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When the Easter holidays arrived, the students were sent home and Severus returned to Spinner’s End.

“I have a fortnight,” he announced. “Give or take, depending on the Dark Lord’s whim.” He noticed her troubled face. “What is it?”

“You-Know-Who is going to go for the Elder Wand any day now." She had explained the Deathly Hallows to him weeks ago. "You will have to stay at Hogwarts until he retrieves it. He will expect you to be there.” She looked at him helplessly. “I’m sorry, Severus.”

His face turned to stone. “As am I,” he replied as he put his cloak back on.

Hermione wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his cloak. “We have to maintain the timeline.”

“Of course. And the Dark Lord must not suspect me—or your presence here.” He cupped her face, bent and kissed her. “I shall return when I am able.”

He stepped out of her arms. He gazed at her for a moment, and then turned and left the house with his cloak billowing behind him.

Hermione watched him go and wished with all of her heart that she could call him back. Or go with him. She had grown to care for him, perhaps more than she should, and she knew that he had feelings for her too. It was getting more difficult to keep sending him back into danger—to keep information from him until the right time—to be apart from him.

And she knew the worst was yet to come.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was late spring, and the garden outside was a riot of wildflowers. Hermione gazed out of her bedroom window but could not appreciate the beauty gleaming in the moonlight. The situation at Hogwarts had deteriorated rapidly in April. Ginny had not returned after Easter and neither had many other students whose parents were resisting the Dark Lord.

Severus had to be at the school almost constantly these days. He could occasionally sneak away in the evenings for a few hours, but it was getting more difficult. The last time he had visited, he informed her that the Ministry intended to go after Neville’s grandmother—to hold her hostage against the young wizard's behavior. But Severus had anonymously warned them both about the plot, so the old woman was ready for a fight and Neville had just enough time to disappear.

That had been two long weeks ago.

Hermione paced back and forth in her room. She was nervous and on edge because today was the day. The second of May. Everything was about to come to a head and she had to see Severus once more before it did. She had warned him the last time he had been here to meet with her at all costs on this date—and it was getting late. The clock on the mantle struck half past ten which startled her almost as much as the sound of Apparition downstairs. She held her breath until she heard his weary voice.

“It is I.”

Hermione ran down the stairs and burst into the sitting room. Severus was sitting on the sofa, grimacing. Terror gripped her and she flew to his side.

“It has begun,” he said without preamble. “Potter is at Hogwarts. I had to duel Minerva without actually harming her—while giving every appearance of trying to kill her. Of course, she had no compunction about trying to hurt me…and neither did Flitwick.” He rubbed his arm. “I had to go through the window. Fortunately, the Dark Lord has seen to it that I learned to fly without a broom. ”

“I’ll bet you looked like a huge bat.” Hermione said, trying for levity.

Severus raised an eyebrow. “We have very little time before the Dark Lord summons me, Hermione,” he said as he rose from the sofa and pulled her up with him. “And I do not intend to waste it.”

She found herself yanked into a crushing embrace as Severus lowered his head and took her breath away with a scorching kiss. Hermione molded her body to his, buried her hands in his hair, and kissed him back voraciously. The feelings for each other that they had both suppressed for weeks burst forth in a conflagration of desire. Their kisses were ravenous as their greedy mouths finally tasted the feast they had longed for. Their clothing vanished, and finally, finally Hermione felt his flesh against hers.

Severus lowered her to the floor and his hands and mouth seemed to be everywhere at once; her lips, her breasts, her belly. She kissed his chest, laved his nipples and ground her mons against his erection. Severus growled and kneed her legs apart. Hermione welcomed the invasion of his thrusting cock. Their coupling was a desperate frenzy of need and fear and sweat and want. They fucked like beasts, wild and fierce, biting and scratching in a fierce battle for domination. He won by virtue of his superior strength, and she submitted-this time. He bit her where her shoulder met her neck and growled, then laved the spot. Hermione grabbed him by his hair, pulled his head down and kissed him hard. Severus met her tongue with his, then slipped his hand between them and found her clit. He circled it as he teased her with his cock, not quite giving her everything. Hermione screamed against his mouth as she came, arching against him in a silent plea. He grabbed her hips with both hands and answered when he drove his full length, hard and fast, into her warmth. In moments, his orgasm was upon him and with a final thrust, he spilled his seed. Then he collapsed on top of her and they lay intertwined on the floor, breathing hard.

“I’m sorry, Hermione--” Severus whispered in her ear when he regained the use of his voice.

“I’m not.” Hermione replied, holding him close and nuzzling his ear. "Not at all."

“You misunderstand,” he said as he raised himself on his elbows and looked into her eyes. “I’m sorry because our time tonight is so short.”

“If everything goes as planned, there will be plenty of other nights.” She smiled at him and kissed his nose.

Snape bent and kissed her gently before he rose to his knees and Summoned his wand. He cast a cleansing spell, helped Hermione to her feet, and then cast a spell that re-clothed them.

Once they were dressed, Hermione walked to the sideboard and poured them both a measure of scotch. She rejoined Snape on the sofa and handed him a glass before taking a swallow from hers. They drank in companionable silence; each lost in their own thoughts until the mantle clock struck twelve and startled them both.

“The Dark Lord will summon me soon,” he said with a meaningful look.

“Yes.” Hermione closed her eyes and leaned against him for a moment. He was here, warm and alive and she hated to let him go.

“Hermione,” he said gruffly. “This is the only way. Our only chance for a future together.”

“I know,” she whispered, wondering when their roles had changed. "This is the culmination of everything we've been working toward. But, I'm still frightened." She shook herself, rose and climbed the stairs to her room. She found her beaded bag, and returned to sit next to Severus on the sofa. She opened it and rummaged around until she found what she was looking for.

“Here.” She handed him a vial. “Drink this now. It’s an Antivenin potion specifically created for Nagini's venom after Arthur Weasley was bitten.”

Snape looked at the vial and then back at her, a question in his eyes.

“Obviously, in my timeline, you are not there. Slughorn made it.”

That seemed to satisfy him. Snape took the vial from her, uncorked it, drank it down with a grimace, and then handed it back to her.

Hermione accepted it, and then looked deeply into his eyes. “Please, Severus. Do not forget to give Harry your memories—the one’s we talked about. That is vitally important if he is to defeat the Dark Lord.”

Snape scowled and Hermione knew exactly what he was thinking. They had been over this again and again during the last few weeks. He still did not like the idea of sharing his most personal memories with Potter of all people.

“Severus,” Hermione said, exasperated. “It's really quite simple. If you don't give those memories to Harry, I won't be able to find you in the Forest of Dean. We must maintain the timeline if this is going to work. Just look into his eyes—everyone says he has Lily’s eyes. Remember Lily and the love you've had for her all of these years. That will help you to let those memories go.”

Snape looked at her with an expression she could not read. “Hermione, you are an extraordinary young woman. I want you to know how much it has meant to have you here. Sometimes I think I might have gone mad without you. Thank you.”

He stood, drew her to her feet, and took her into his arms. He lowered his head and captured her lips in a kiss that promised her all he had to give. If they made it through the night.

A sharp knock on the door startled them apart. Hermione embraced him fiercely once more and whispered. “Stay alive, Severus.” The knock sounded again, more impatiently this time. Reluctantly, she released him and retreated into the bookcase. She locked it with a thought and then pressed her ear to the wall to listen.

She heard the door open and Snape say, “Malfoy.”

“The Dark Lord requires your presence, Snape, as you should be well aware. The battle has begun at Hogwarts and our Lord is anxious to have all of his followers with him in his hour of triumph.”

“Of course,” Snape replied. “Then let us not keep him waiting. Shall we go?”

The door opened and closed and then Hermione heard the sound of them Apparating away. She opened the bookcase once more, made her way to the sofa and sat down. Tears she couldn't control streamed down her face.

It was the longest half hour of her life.

When the clock chimed twelve-thirty, she rose, blew her nose, slung her bag across her shoulder and Apparated.

Hermione landed hard beside the trunk of the Whomping Willow amid the utter chaos of the battle. She quickly cast a Disillusionment charm over herself before the tree noticed her, and then looked around in time to see the spiders carrying Hagrid off into the Forbidden Forest.

“HAGRID!”

Harry’s roar drew her attention and she spotted him on the castle steps. Hermione also saw something Harry didn’t—a massive giant who was lumbering toward the front of the castle—right toward him.

“HARRY!”

Hermione knew he hadn’t heard her above the din. She watched as Hermione the Younger and Ron caught up with him. All three paused to gape at the giant who was now reaching into the castle window. It looked as if they might be crushed underfoot.

Then Grawp was there, searching for Hagrid. The other giant spotted him and they went for each other. Hermione heard Harry yell “Run!” She watched as he, she and Ron dashed down the steps. Then, suddenly, Hermione felt something she'd never wanted to feel again.

The air seemed to solidify in her lungs, and the sounds of the battle became muted.

The Dementors had arrived.

As the wretched creatures glided overhead, Hermione suddenly realized she had come back for nothing—that Severus would die at Voldemort’s order and she had been a fool to think she could change anything. She had seen the wound. It was too awful, there was too much blood, she would be too late. She had promised him she would save him and she had lied. She was going to fail and Severus would die, then Harry would die and everyone else would die too. And it would be all her fault.

She watched hopelessly as both Hermione the Younger and Ron tried, and failed, to cast their Patronuses. She slid down toward the roots of the tree helpless and alone, and knew she was going to die here and now…the ultimate failure.

Suddenly there was a flash of silver. A hare, a boar and a fox seemed to push the dark creatures back, and then Harry’s stag burst from his wand and drove the Dementors away.

Hermione shuddered and drew a long, ragged breath. Damn, she had forgotten how much she hated those things. And also the heroics of Luna, Ernie and Seamus. She shook off her dark thoughts and focused again on Harry. She saw him and the others evade another giant, and then head directly toward her. She resisted the urge to move as they skidded to a halt just out of range of the swooping branches. Hermione could not help but smile when she heard Ron wishing for Crookshanks and Hermione the Younger shout:

“Are you a wizard or what?”

Ron stopped the branches. After a moment of hesitation (“Harry, we’re coming, just get in there!”) the three of them disappeared into the tunnel beneath the tree.

There was nothing left to do except wait.

Time slowed to a crawl as she waited for Harry, Ron and Hermione the Younger to emerge from the tree. She had been in there before, inside the tunnel listening. She knew what was going on in the Shrieking Shack, only this time—her fear was multiplied because she had so much to lose. She watched the battle rage around the castle with unseeing eyes as her mind counted the minutes.

“You have fought valiantly.”

The high, cold, booming voice startled Hermione. She pressed herself against the tree, even though she was invisible.

“Lord Voldemort knows how to value bravery…”

As the Dark Lord continued, threatening everyone who dared to help Harry, Hermione focused her attention on the tunnel entrance.

“Hurry, hurry,” she murmured.

Almost immediately after Voldemort stopped speaking, Harry, Ron and Hermione the Younger finally emerged from the tunnel and pelted toward the castle.

Hermione dove into the tunnel and crawled as fast as she could. Adrenaline pounded through her and urged her to move faster, faster before it was too late.

She burst from the tunnel into the shack and paled when she saw Snape on the floor. Oh, gods, she had forgotten how much blood there was. She rushed to his side and fell to her knees, fumbling through her bag until she found the other potion vials she'd brought from the future. She grabbed the Dittany, took the cork in her her teeth, yanked it out, and then poured it into the gaping wound on Snape’s neck. Hermione used her wand to ease the torn flesh into place and was relieved to see it begin to heal immediately. She bent down, positioning her cheek above his mouth. Relief flooded through her when she felt the smallest breath against her face. She lifted his head and laid it carefully into her lap.

“Severus, please, please don’t die,” she begged. Her hands shook as she replaced the cork in the empty vial, put it into her bag, and then opened the other.

Hermione tilted his head back so his jaw fell open. She held his nose as she poured the potion down his throat. He nearly gagged, and then swallowed reflexively. As she smoothed his hair back away from his face, Hermione hoped that enough of the Blood Replenishing potion had gotten into him. All she could do now, was wait.

Tears stung her eyes, then overflowed and ran down her cheeks as she looked at the pale face and hooked nose and reflected on how dear that face had become to her over the last few months. Was his color getting better? It was so hard to tell here in the shifting shadows of the Shack. Did his chest just rise? What if what she had done was too little, too late?

Hermione leaned over and whispered into his ear. “Please don’t leave me Severus—I love you.”

Something scurried across the floor in the dark, startling her. She was tired, dirty and bloody and had been pushed beyond her limit. Hermione intended to find out once and for all whether or not Snape had improved and damn the risk.

She whipped out her wand and shielded the tip with one hand. “Lumos.” She directed a stream of light toward Severus.

His color was better and so was his breathing. He was still unconscious but Hermione was anxious to get away, before she was discovered. Hermione eased Severus’ head back down to the floor, stood and hung her bag over her shoulder. Then she raised her wand.

Mobilicorpus.

Snape’s body floated upward and Hermione maneuvered it with her wand until it was in a mostly upright position. She wrapped her arms around him and Disapparated.

They landed in the sitting room at Spinner’s End. She swayed under his weight, eased him to the floor, and then checked the wound on his neck. It had begun to knit and his breathing was almost normal. Hermione cast Mobilicorpus again and moved Snape into the bathtub. She got rid of their filthy clothes with a thought, turned on the shower, and rinsed the blood from their bodies. Once they were clean, Hermione cast a drying and re-clothing spell before she floated his body out to the sitting room and settled it onto the sofa. She covered him tenderly with a quilt. She sighed and then turned to make her way back to the bathroom to tidy up.

“It worked.”

Hermione whirled at the sound of the raspy whisper. Her face split into a joyful smile when she saw Snape’s dark eyes shining at her. She rushed to the sofa and knelt beside him.

“Severus, you’re alive!”

“Obviously.”

“Save your strength, sleep if you can. We are safe for the moment. We have until dawn. I would prefer you to be stronger before we attempt the Time-Turner.”

“So bossy,” he grumbled without heat, as he closed his eyes.

“What else do you expect from an ‘insufferable know-it-all’?”

Severus smiled. Hermione felt her heart swell. It was the first smile from him that she’d ever seen. Even though she knew it was because of his weakened state, she held it close and treasured it.

In moments, his regular breathing told her he slept.

Hermione pointed her wand at the floor and murmured “Scourgify” before she dashed into the bathroom and cleaned the blood from it, as well. Then she slung her bag over her shoulder and made her way into the sitting room where she collapsed into the chair, completely done in. She pointed her wand at the mantle clock, and transfigured it into an alarm clock which she sent soaring over to the rickety table with a flick of her wrist.

Only then did Hermione put her head back and fall into an exhausted sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The insistent beep of the alarm awakened her with a start. She reached over, grabbed the clock and fumbled with it until she found the switch to silence the infernal thing. She set it back down on the table and glanced at the sofa.

Severus sat up slowly and met her gaze.

“How do you feel? Are you in pain?”

He raised his hand to the place on his neck where Nagini had bitten him and winced.

“Not bad for a dead man. And nothing unbearable.”

Hermione couldn’t restrain a smile. She rose and walked over to examine the half-healed wound. Fortunately, there was no sign of infection. However, Severus would bear the scars of his encounter with Nagini for the rest of his life.

Which he would now be alive to experience.

“Then we should be off.” She reached into her bag and pulled out the Time-Turner.

“May I see it?”

Hermione handed the device to him. It certainly was much different than the one she had used in her Third year. Rather than an hourglass, it resembled the solar system. The sun was suspended inside a sphere and the planets revolved around it. There were knobs on the outside and, similar to the other one she had used, the entire thing was suspended on a delicate golden chain.

“Fascinating.” Snape commented as he handed it back.

Hermione looped the chain around their necks and asked, “Are you ready?”

Severus wrapped his arm around her. “As ready as I will ever be.”

She twisted the knobs and the space around them blurred as time sped up. Images passed in front and around them like a speeded up film. Someone who might have been Harry came in moved around and went out. Then more people came in and appeared to tidy up and organize the books. After that, display cases were erected and it seemed as though tours were passing through. Those trickled down to nothing and the display cases and furniture were covered with drop cloths and the activity in the house stopped. Her vision cleared.

“We seem to have ceased moving through time,” Severus observed.

“You’re right.” Hermione looked around. The sitting room had the look, smell and dust of disuse. “We’ve stopped. But when?” She met his gaze. “I’ll be back in a moment.” She Disapparated without another word.

Hermione appeared on Harry’s front doorstep. When she saw the magical writing begin to appear, she felt a flutter of excitement, but she had to know for sure. She knocked.

Footsteps echoed inside and the door was thrown open.

“Hermione, I thought you said you were leaving today?” Ginny’s face was puzzled.

“Leaving today? When was I last here?”

Harry appeared behind his wife. “Yesterday, of course. Hermione, has something gone wrong?”

Hermione let out a whoop and pulled them into a hug. “No, no! I’m back! It worked! I’ve got Sev—er—Professor Snape here and he’s alive and…I’ve got to get back!” She started to spin, but Ginny put out a hand to stop her.

“Wait, wait—take some food with you.” She hurried inside and Hermione bounced from foot to foot with impatience as she waited.

Harry looked at her in amazement. “You really brought him back?”

Her smile was radiant. “Yes. Back! Now there’s real hope for a cure.”

Ginny returned and handed over a cloth-covered basket. “Here. Tell Professor Snape hello from us.”

“I will! Send an owl to Headmistress McGonagall for me, will you? Thanks.” She turned on the spot and in moments was back in the sitting room at Spinner’s End.

Severus was on the sofa, exactly where she’d left him.

“I take it from your expression that we were successful?”

“Yes! Harry and Ginny told me it’s the day after I left.”

“Excellent. Especially since the Time-Turner disintegrated while you were gone." He indicated a mound of debris next to him on the dusty sofa. "Now what?”

“First, we eat.” Hermione began unpacking the basket. There was bread, cheese, wine and fruit--and bless Ginny--paper plates, napkins and wine glasses. Hermione moved the table over, divided the food between the plates, and poured the wine.

They ate in silence and when they were finished, she cleared away the mess with a wave of her wand.

“I asked Harry and Ginny to send an owl to Minerva,” she informed him. “I’m sure it won’t be long before we hear from her. I have a feeling you’ll be back at Hogwarts by tonight.”

Severus’s black eyes captured her gaze and held it. “And where will you be?”

Hermione was taken aback. “I hadn’t thought that far ahead, to be honest.”

“If I am to find a cure for this disease, I will require a lab assistant. I seem to recall that you had a certain talent for potion brewing.”

“I haven’t brewed a potion or cut up any ingredients for seven years, Professor Snape,” she warned.

“Neither have I, Miss Granger,” he reminded her sardonically with a raised eyebrow.

"But I do have a degree in Chemical Engineering."

"That might be useful."

“Let it be on your head then. And don’t bite mine off if I’m rusty.”

“I will take the risk. And I make no promises as to my temper.”

“As long as you understand I will not accept it as quietly as I did before.”

“Fair enough.”


TWELVE YEARS LATER

At ten o’clock in the morning, the scarlet steam engine exhaled its heated breath into the crisp September air in a billowy white cloud that floated across the station platform.

They were early, of course, having come with the train. But now that it had arrived, the platform was filling up with parents, children, trolleys and noise. The Weasleys passed by, their children in tow, and Ron gave a small nod of acknowledgement.

“Mummy, why did I have to come all the way here just to ride the train back home?”

Hermione crouched down to look at her daughter. The child who was conceived on the floor of the house on Spinner's End on the night of the Battle of Hogwarts, and then born seven years later. Her dear face was all angles like her father’s, thankfully without his nose. Her hair was a black riot of curls, and her brown eyes were puzzled as she awaited the answer to her question.

“Because, Sarah, you are now a First-Year student at Hogwarts. So you must come to the school by train just like every First-Year does. It's a tradition and a wonderful way to make friends.”

There was a derisive snort behind them. Hermione sighed and glared over her shoulder. “Severus, please.”

“Well, it is not logical,” Sarah said.

“It is required.” Her father stated with finality.

“Which house do you think I’ll be sorted into?”

Hermione smiled. “The Sorting Hat is very wise. You will be placed in whichever house you belong. Houses aren't as important to people as they used to be.”

"You do have some influence, as well." Severus added.

The child nodded. “I think, based on my research, it may be Ravenclaw.”

"You might be right. But remain open to the possibilities."

There was a clatter at the entrance to the platform, and the Potters appeared.

“Look, Sarah—it’s Albus’ second year. So, you already know someone.”

Harry and Ginny smiled, and James and Albus waved to Sarah as they passed the Snapes and met up with the Weasleys, who were standing toward the center of the train.

Sarah watched as Albus Potter and Rose Weasley greeted each other. “Yes, and Rose is here too.” She smiled for the first time that morning. “I think it will be okay.”

Severus handed Sarah the carrier that held her cat, Merlin, and then he went down on one knee in front of his daughter.

“You will be fine, Sarah. There is no need to be nervous. Did you know that the Sorting Hat considered placing your mum into Ravenclaw?” His mouth quirked up at the expression on her face. “It’s true. Remember, your mother and I will be proud of you no matter which house you are sorted into." He winked at his daughter. "Even if it's Gryffindor.”

Sarah smiled, threw herself into his arms, and hugged him fiercely. Then she turned and embraced her mother as well. “Thanks Mummy and Daddy.”

“Sarah!” Albus and Rose were waving. “Come and sit with us!”

With a final smile at her parents, Sarah Snape turned and ran down the platform. She boarded the train without a backward glance.

Her parents stood arm in arm and watched until the train pulled out of the station and disappeared around the bend.

Hermione looked at her husband. His face was composed, but she understood the turmoil he felt inside—because she was feeling it too. She wrapped her arms around him, stood on tiptoe, pulled his head down, and then whispered into his ear:

“Why don’t we pay a little visit to Spinner’s End before we go back to Hogwarts? We don't have to be back at the castle until the Welcoming Feast.”

Snape met her eyes and raised an eyebrow. “And reenact the rendezvous we had before the Battle of Hogwarts?”

Hermione’s smile became predatory. “Oh yes, that will be...exciting." She looked him up and down. "Especially with the dashing Severus Snape, Potions Master Extraordinaire, Headmaster of Hogwarts, Hero of the Wizarding World twice over, Order of Merlin, First Class."

Severus smirked at her. “I do have a soft spot for insufferable know-it-alls.”

Her eyes danced as she pressed herself against his growing erection. "Don't you mean a hard spot?"

The Potters and the Weasleys gaped as Headmaster Snape gathered his wife into his arms right in the middle of Platform Nine and Three Quarters and snogged her silly before they Apparated away.

fin

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All excerpts from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, (American Edition) copyright JK Rowling, 2007.