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And Loyal Hope Survives

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Is life worth living? Yes, so long
As there is wrong to right.
So long as faith with freedom reigns
And loyal hope survives,
And gracious charity remains
To leaven lowly lives;
While there is one untrodden tract
For intellect or will,
And men are free to think and act,
Life is worth living still.

Alfred Austin 1835-1913

And Loyal Hope Survives

I can feel the power of the spells crackling past me. They’re being shot left and right and center; people are getting over zealous in their desperation. Slowly I back us up down the hallway, trying desperately not to remember this from Fifth Year, this same hallway, this same feeling of being trapped and scared and soon to be dead.

I wish to myself that I’d had the courage to approach Severus. I know how he feels about me. I also know that he would never come to me. Both his natural Slytherin caution and his many many years of disappointments would prevent him from being able to reach out.

“If I get out of this, I promise I will tell him how I feel. I promise.” I whisper my new mantra over and over, wishing it didn’t sound like Famous Last Words.

I can see Harry’s comforting dark shape, just beyond me, walking sideways to me to cover our left side. Ron has our right. I am covering front and back; we’ve lost Julie Esterhasy somewhere in the maze of corridors. I hope she makes it out.

My back hits something solid, and I spare a glance behind me. Good, we’ve arrived at our destination. The Time Room. Harry has been Seeing something recently, in Voldemort’s mind, something about the different time streams. Harry had spent as much time as he could in Voldemort’s mind, trying to get a clear picture of what ritual that bastard was going to try, but he could only get something about merging the timestreams. When he’d gotten as much information as he could and presented it all to Albus and the rest of the Order, there was pandemonium for several moments.

We couldn’t allow this to happen, that was clear.

So, we are raiding the Ministry, trying to set specially designed wards on the Time Room.

I gesture sharply to my co-raiders, and we skitter into the room. Harry groans as he sees that something, some ritual, has already been worked in the room. The room has changed shape, and there are different bits of paraphernalia on the shelves. Most striking, however, is the tremendous tapestry that dominates one wall. It looks like a rushing river, flowing ever downwards, pouring, no - cascading down the wall. Parts of it flicker and change, it is easily the most beautiful and awful thing I’ve ever seen. Harry spares it barely a glance, except to mutter about things being later than he’d hoped.

I drag myself from the tapestry and set the locking wards on the door. Then, reaching into my pocket, the one I always keep spelled to be bigger on the inside, I pull out the ritual supplies I’d been detailed to bring. The three of us settle into our different roles quickly, Harry provides raw power and a flexibility with spells, I provide the knowledge and understanding of how to aim the spell we are attempting, and Ron provides the strong anchor, without which Harry and I would have been lost to the power as it overwhelmed us. The three sides of a triangle, that’s what we’ve always been, I think, giddy for a moment when I see how quickly we all settle into our work. Three is a good number… and then there isn’t time for me to think anything else.

The triangle is, in fact, the shape we always take when we try these powerful magics. We sit, tailor fashion, with knees touching and arms reached out towards each other. I have Harry on my right and Ron on my left – my right hand grips Harry’s left arm just below the elbow, he grasps me in the same way. The three of us make a tight, strong shape, unbreakable from the outside.

We begin our chant, working quickly in an attempt to hurry through the beginning. This part is mainly set up; what Harry means for us to do is ask the Fates to lock the room entirely. He figures that if there’s no way Voldemort can get into the Time Room, then he can’t continue with his plans. I just think that locking the damn room up makes some basic sense. I don’t want Voldemort or the Death Eaters having any access to Time Turners or any of the other devices in here.

What we’re actually trying to do is to lock the Time Room in every time line. Just … seal it entirely. There’s a chance that we’ll be trapped inside unless we’re very careful, but we have to try. This is too important, and leaving the time lines vulnerable to Voldemort and the Death Eaters is just too risky.

As we work, I can feel the powers outside the room thicken. The locking spells on the door are bulging in with the pressure from the Death Eaters trying to break them. Just as they shatter, we get our first set of Wards set. With a gasp we break our triangle and catch our breath.

None of us turns to look at the door. We all felt the door wards break. The only thing holding Voldemort out is our collective will, at this point. We focus inwards again and lean forwards, gripping each other tightly. Time for the hard work. Through the murk of spells I can see the stone doorway to the Fates’ Domain we’re looking for begin to form in front of me. There are wide stairs leading down into their domain.

We have practiced this, as much as we were able to, without actually performing these spells. Each of us has a different task. Harry will be drawing fire from Voldemort; providing a distraction, I guess. Ron will be making sure that we’re both defended – he’s always been the one to protect us. I have to perform the sealing spell. This will require that I bargain with the Fates for their help. I don’t know what they’re going to demand of me; all I know is that whatever it is, I will willingly give it. Sealing this room from Voldemort is worth anything they ask of me. Including my life, if that’s what they want.

Harry was the one who found this spell. I teased him about his long hours in the library at Grimmauld Place, but we both knew that things were getting dangerous. He asked, when we discovered what casting the spell would require of me, if I wanted to talk to Severus about how I felt for him. I thought about it, but decided that I should have something to do in this time line – maybe it would make sure I came back to it. I didn’t want to think about what it would feel like to be myself on every single time line in existance. I could only hope that the Fates would allow me to come back to where I started.

As the forces of dark press into the room, I can feel the powers we’ve raised ripping through me. My last thought, before the power becomes me, is of Severus. If I get out of this, I will tell him how I feel.

I promise.

 

Year One

Severus never knew how hard it had been for the Grangers to accept him. They had got to know him when he was at his absolute worst. First he’d been dealing with the tail end of the war and the Reconstruction, and then he’d been utterly destroyed by Hermione’s death. He’d had no reason to hold his tongue and no thought to controlling his acidic words.

There were two reasons they didn’t hate him for everything he said and did. One, he was clearly devastated by their daughter’s death, devastated to the point of becoming completely self-destructive. It was hard to despise someone who loved their daughter that much.

The second reason was one they never mentioned to him.

He’d almost convinced them that he was the hateful, evil man he wanted to believe himself to be. Then, late one night they'd heard odd sounds coming from the baby monitor set up in what had been Hermione’s room. They eyed each other and crept silently down the hall.

Peeking carefully into the baby’s room, they saw Severus in Hermione’s old rocking chair, Ariel in his lap. He was holding the baby bottle for the baby and was humming. They recognized the song as an extremely old tune, one they’d heard Hermione singing when she was pregnant. She had said it was an old Wizarding lullaby, a spell to bring peaceful sleep. While he hummed and cradled the baby, he allowed tears to fall down his cheeks. Quietly, the two older parents walked back to their room to listen to the soft sounds coming from the baby monitor.

Severus was gone by the time Mrs. Granger went in for Ariel’s morning feed and changing. She picked up the baby and cooed at her. As she cleaned and wrapped the baby, a baby she’d never expected to see, she laughed as Ariel kept trying to capture the exotic and elusive Feet that were waving around just beyond reach.

Sitting down in the kitchen, with a cup of hot coffee to drink while she fed the now whimpering Ariel, she watched the baby girl’s face. It felt like the first time she was really looking at her grandchild. She had looked for hints of her lost daughter, but now she saw both the little girl’s parents in her face. Her eyes were a brilliant snapping black, with irises almost indistinguishable from the pupils. Her face was still round and soft, but the eyes were really striking.

Ariel’s hair was the same soft brown as Hermione’s … here Phillipa’s thoughts skittered to a halt. She’d thought she’d lost the ability to think about Hermione easily, but something about seeing Severus’ obvious grief last night had helped her begin to accept both her loss and the joy of having at least a small part of Hermione to love.

“So, love, what are we going to do today?” She posed the question to little Ariel, and got the expected response. Yes, it was time to eat. Maybe do a little scooting around on the floor. Big plans.

Her voice felt rough and ragged to her own ears, but at least she felt better on the inside.

*** 

Hermione’s office in the Ministry of Magic was a smallish room off to the side of the Department of Information. Hermione loved the lift ride down to the Atrium, and enjoyed seeing the beautiful open space grow around her as the lift doors opened.

She strode towards the fountain, refusing to look at it. The new Minister had rushed the repair job on the Wizard Society statue and Hermione hated the sight of it. It was still golden, and portrayed the same basic grouping as it had when she was younger, but the feeling was completely different. This statue felt angry. The Wizard, instead of looking beneficent, looked stern. The Witch, at his side, didn’t look up at him worshipfully; she looked Imperio-ed, her eyes were absolutely blank. None of the accompanying Beings looked happy to be there. In fact, they looked terrified. The Centaur was wearing a rope around his neck and the House Elf was cowering at the Wizard’s feet.

Hermione hurried past the fountain, averting her eyes from what she felt was a perversion of everything she and her friends had fought for.

Downstairs in her own department, she stopped to chat with some of the other witches and wizards who were also doing research with her. Many of them were working on projects she didn’t understand, but she was sure they were all as interesting and vital as her research was. Most of them were older than her, but she did have a few colleagues who were her age.

“Hey Hermione!” called Dean. “Look at what I found last night!” He vigorously waved her over to his cubicle, and she grinned at his irrepressible exuberance. Moving carefully, she maneuvered her always overfilled bag past the others' desks, worried about disturbing someone’s carefully arranged stacks of paper and ruining months of study. Proud of herself for making it to Dean’s desk without knocking against any of the dramatically overfilled surfaces, she smiled up at Dean’s bright eyes.

“Yes? What is it?”

He smiled down at her and pulled out an old battered book from behind his own desk pile. With a nervous smile, he handed it over to her.

She looked at him curiously, raising an eyebrow at his attitude, and opened the book to the first page. Suddenly she sucked in her breath and held it. The pictures on the pages in front of her wavered as her eyes filled with tears.

“Oh, Dean, your old sketchbook,” she murmured, “Look. There’s Ron. And Harry... Gods above, they’re so young.” She turned page after page, lost for the moment in the dearly missed past. Dean moved around her so he could look over her shoulder.

Chuckling softly at one drawing, he said, “Remember that day? Ron was so sure he could beat Seamus at chess. Seamus was so proud when he won.” The pictures showed Ron, sitting behind the chessboard looking sulky and frustrated with Seamus grinning in his chair, practically glowing from the joy of having beaten the Chess Master.

Hermione and Dean laughed at several more of the images, enjoying the memories the pictures triggered. However, Hermione’s laughter died at the sight of the next image.

It showed the old Potions classroom, set up for the NEWT classes Dean and Hermione had been in. Professor Snape was sitting at his desk, in an unusually relaxed position. He was resting his chin in his hand, studying the student sitting in the front row on the right. That student, unaware of the scrutiny, was carefully adding precisely measured ingredients to the small cauldron in front of her. What had caught Hermione’s breath was the expression on the usually dour and scathing teacher’s face.

He was gazing at his student with undisguised longing and misery. The expression was so open and vulnerable, and such an unthinkable one for that person, the most hated and feared teacher in Hogwarts, to be wearing - let alone showing in public. With a shock that made Hermione feel as if her very heart had stopped, she realized that the student being so regarded was herself.

Blankly she turned to Dean. He smiled sadly down at her baffled face, and reached out to cover the hand with which she was stroking the picture of her teacher.

“I drew this in our Potions NEWT class. I was just sketching – you remember how he would have each of us working on different potions so we couldn’t compare notes and cheat? I was working on the Memoria Potion, the one that can recall memory from Obliviated people; you know that one has to simmer for 30 minutes. So, rather than jump around, bored, I would bring my sketch book and draw. I saw that expression on his face and had to catch it. It wasn’t until later that I realized he was looking at you that way.” He gently tugged the book from her hands. Looking thoughtfully at the complex and difficult man in the image, he continued, “I think I knew from that moment how things would work out with the two of you. I’m so sorry,” he looked at her, “so very sorry that things didn’t work out better. They didn’t go the way they should have.” He closed the book and held it out to her. “I want you to have this book. Consider it a belated birthday present.”

Hermione’s eyes sparkled with unshed tears as she took the book from him.

“You’re the best, Dean. You know that, right?”

With a big laugh, he threw his arm over her shoulders and said, “Only too true, my darling!”

Later that week, Hermione was in the middle of a particularly complex Arithmancy problem when an owl arrived. Rather distractedly, she untied the letter from the owl’s offered leg and hunted around on her desk for a treat to feed to it. Instead of waiting, however, the owl leapt up off of the desk, its powerful wings causing a minor paper whirlwind in the back draft from its first wing beat.

With an irritated humph at the mess she’d have to clean up, Hermione set the letter aside unopened and returned to the puzzle she’d been working on. Within moments she forgot that there had been a delivery at all.

Every so often, she’d glance up from her writing, but she was clearly not looking at her office. It had dark brown walls, with one window in the middle of the farthest wall. That window was set to look out over the North Sea; the Maintenance Department had found out that Hermione loved the wild raging storms there, so they set the window to show her that view. She’d responded to the gift with a home-baked cake, left on her desk for them to take and share.

Surrounding her were tables holding strange instruments and covered in drifting banks of parchment. She’d made sure to clear off the small table at the side of the door, and she kept her purse and jacket there. The others were fair game for any experiment or equipment she had. Currently, since she was working on Arithmancy, every piece of open desk and table space was covered in parchpads with numbers. There was an odd, flat device with floating balls over it – that one appeared to be sparkling every third minute. Next to the sparkling balls was a round orrery globe, but instead of showing planets, it appeared to display the movements of her friends. Each of the smaller globes was labeled with a person’s name. Several of them were settled in one place, and were shrouded oddly, as if they were under a heavy shadow.

She was perched up on a tall stool at the main desk in the center of the room. Her back was to the window; she’d discovered that if she could watch out the window, she would drift off. Her hair was pulled up and back into a roll, with the curls cascading out of the top of the roll and down her neck. Her Wizarding robes were hung on the wall near the door, and she was in Muggle jeans and a soft woolen jumper. And socks – she didn’t wear shoes in her office. Sometimes the experiments were damaged by the sound of hard shoes.

She was working on a way the Order could figure out who’d really been affected by Imperius Curses and who hadn’t, and had therefore been actively working for Voldemort. She knew there had to be a way, and since the Order no longer had access to any Master level potions, they were all working on alternate methods of information retrieval. Hermione was working with Professor Vector, who’d been wounded badly in the Battle of Hogwarts the year before. The two women had been working together for months now, and Hermione thought they might be close to a partial solution.

“So, if we just add this variable…” she began, muttering to herself, “and then divide by the Runic symbol for will, I think we can start controlled trials.” Triumphantly she turned to her companion, but she chuckled when she saw that her colleague wasn’t even in the room. I didn’t even hear her leave! She laughed at herself.

Hermione sat up at the desk and raised her arms over her head. Smiling softly, she stretched up as far as she could reach and then put her hands at the small of her back and twisted from side to side. The stretch felt wonderful to her cramped back and shoulders. Standing up, she bent over forwards and grasped her ankles to pull the stretch further.

I really should remember to move more when I’m at my desk, she thought, but then that wouldn’t be me, would it? Still smiling, she turned to the door to see if Dyava Vector was coming in soon. A moment later, she heard the distinctive sound of her companion’s footsteps and smiled at the news she had to give.

Dyava had lost a leg during that last battle, and had refused a magical replacement. She'd asked for and received a wooden leg, and secretly confessed to Hermione that she’d wanted one ever since she had met Alastor Moody. During the months of recovery and physical therapy, Dyava had carefully carved her new teak leg until it crawled with wild animals, Muggle and wizarding. Then, she bespelled it so that the creatures climbed around and played with each other. She’d shown it to Alastor the next time they met and was amused at his reaction. He’d been unable to keep his magical eye from fixing on the creatures, and had looked flabbergasted for the only time Hermione had ever seen him. The two women had laughed until they cried after the man left the ward.

Hermione’s smile faded as she saw the stricken look on Dyava Vector’s face.

“What – what is it?” Hermione’s hand clenched so hard that one of her fingernails poked a hole right through the parchment.

“Oh, Hermione,” Dyava started. “Sit down, pet. You’re going to need to be sitting.”

Slowly, not taking her eyes off of her colleague’s face, Hermione lowered herself back down onto the stool she’d been perched on at the tall desk. Dyava’s face was pale and drawn, but that wasn’t as scary to Hermione as the complete lack of any humor in her dark eyes.

Dyava leaned a hip against a desk and reached out to hold Hermione’s hands. “Hermione. They found Draco. He’s been,” she took a deep breath, “he’s been tortured, but he’s alive. He’s asked for Ginny. Do you know – could she…” Dyava’s voice failed her. “They’ve gone to get her to bring her to him.”

Hermione’s face had lost all its color. “He’s alive? But we thought – “ her voice broke also and she put her hands to her face to cover the sudden tears that were pouring out of her eyes. “Oh, but this is such good news…” she sighed and rubbed her face with her hands, only then noticing the parchment still clutched in her left hand. Bursting into laughter, she held out the parchment to her old teacher and said brightly, “I have good news for you! Look, I think I’ve found the place to start on the testing!”

The two women found themselves laughing and crying and hugging for several minutes after that. With a joyful feeling burgeoning within her, one she hadn’t felt in far too long, Hermione grabbed her cloak and prepared to whisk out to St. Mungo’s to see her friends be re-united.

Dyava’s hand on her arm stopped her in her quick progress to the door.

“That letter,” said Dyava, “when did it come?” She pointed at the large letter the owl had delivered earlier that morning.

“Oh,” cried Hermione, “I’d completely forgotten. You know,” she blushed, “I don’t even remember if I offered that poor owl a treat or not.” With a happy smile on her face, sure that nothing in the world could change how happy today had made her, she pulled open the flap without even checking the return address.

She pulled out a thick packet of parchment and set the envelope aside. Opening the folds, she began reading the words on the first page. With a fierce gasp and shaking hands, she began shuffling through the papers in her hand.

Blindly looking up, she stared at her friend. “Dyava?” Her voice was small and scared. “Dyava? Where’s Lightbringer and Janus, the law firm? I need to go there.” Her hands were shaking so hard she dropped the parchments and, with a soft cry, she covered her face with her hands, crouched down and began to cry into the safety of her hands.

Dyava carefully got down on the floor and gently reached out to hold her younger friend. Crooning softly, she stroked Hermione’s back. When the tears and sobs had abated, Dyava pulled back to look into Hermione’s face.

“Are you better now? Can you tell me what that was all about?” she asked.

Hermione’s eyes, large and haunted in her pale face, stared out at her friend. With a hitching sigh, she turned and gathered up the papers again.

“It’s Severus’ will. The reading is tomorrow.”

Dyava sucked in her breath sharply. She opened her mouth to say something, then clearly thought better of it. After a moment, she came out with “They want you there?”

Hermione nodded, looking down at the stack of parchment in her hands. Her hair had come partially out of the roll and strands were stuck to her face, making soft curves on her cheeks.

“Oh, Dyava. I miss him so much…” her voice trailed off as she gulped and took a deep breath. Visibly forcing herself to stop crying, she folded the papers and pushed them into her overly large bag.

With a few more quick and deep breaths, Hermione rubbed her hands on her face, erasing as much of the tear damage as she could.

In a brittle and bright tone of voice she said, “Let’s go see Draco and Ginny.”

With an answering smile, one that didn’t change the sadness in her eyes, Dyava led the way out of the workroom.

The next day, Hermione stood in front of the imposing green marble building and fidgeted. She twisted her hands in her pockets and turned away from the front door. She walked briskly towards the corner of Diagon Alley and Leeg Alley. Once past the corner, she leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. Beating her head against the wall slowly, she concentrated on just breathing.

Why am I doing this? Why would they even want me here? Her thoughts were running in circles and she knew it. She was already late for this appointment and she knew that Wizarding lawyers were generally crotchety and unwilling to wait for anyone, let alone a random Muggleborn witch. Why would Severus want me at the reading of his will? Gathering up her courage, (Am I a Gryffindor or not?), she walked back down Leeg Alley towards the lawyer’s office. She checked in with the building’s concierge, a small woman who reminded Hermione forcefully of Professor Flitwick.

After signing her name in the Visitor’s Register, Hermione walked to the lifts. She said her name and the name of the law firm she was headed for to the empty air in the lift and then staggered as it whisked off at an angle, aiming for her destination, which was apparently on the other side of the building and around a corner. By the time the lift had gone around two corners, Hermione was clinging to the railing on the wall with her eyes screwed shut, hoping that her bag hadn’t popped open. The lift made one last ninety-degree right turn and came to a shuddering halt. Hermione slowly peeled her eyes open at the sudden lack of movement. Carefully, not sure if she could trust this dangerous stillness, she stood up fully, picked up her bag, and scooted out of the lift.

Oh, god. I’m going to have to get back in that monstrous thing to get out of here…

She looked up and down the long hallway she found herself in. It seemed to extend further than it should, and there was a window next to the lift door. Attempting to put off the moment of truth, she glanced out the window and saw that she was looking out over Diagon Alley, but several street crossings up from where Leeg Alley met it. Shaking her head, she checked the Building Directory on the wall across from the lift. The face on it was calm and had its eyes closed.

“Excuse me?” she started, timidly. “But, could you tell me where to find .. uhm …” she checked her papers again, “the law firm of Lightbringer and Janus?”

Slowly, the Directory Face yawned, then said, in a tired sounding voice, “Three doors down to the left…” and drifted off to sleep again.

“Thank you,” replied Hermione, politely. Now I just have to figure out if it meant my left or its left.

It had meant its left. After greeting a startled old witch, and being forced to take some pamphlets on the restoration of the Wild Walking Forest of Britain, Hermione managed to find the correct office. Opening the door, she was immediately calmed by the smooth lines and gentle colors of the reception area. The young receptionist looked up from the work on her desk at Hermione’s entrance.

“Ms. Granger?” She stood, and waited for Hermione to arrive across at the desk. When Hermione nodded, the receptionist continued with, “Oh, good. They’ve been waiting for you. Please, follow me.”

“Um, miss?” Hermione’s voice was very soft. “Do you know why the lawyers wanted me here for this?”

The receptionist gave her an odd look but just responded that all persons named in a will were required to be present at its reading.

With a chill, Hermione entered the conference room. She relaxed slightly on seeing that she knew a few of the people in the room. She glanced around as the receptionist announced her and then followed the younger witch to the only remaining empty seat.

“Professor – I mean, Headmistress McGonagall? What are you doing here?” The surprise in Hermione’s voice was clear and she blushed as she realized that her favorite teacher might be offended at Hermione’s blatant curiosity.

Minerva smiled genially. “Severus had several friends, even though he didn’t act as if he did. His estate was never as small as he made it out to be. I think,” here she paused for a small moment, “I think that his impressions of what was a large estate and a small one was distorted by the fact that he was taken up by ..” she appeared to think better of the word she was about to use, “other wizards with larger estates.”

Hermione sat in the plush dragonhide chair before the large, overly ornate desk and waited. After several minutes, her eyes began to rove around the room. It was large, easily the size of Minerva McGonagall’s office at Hogwarts. There were several large portraits and paintings on the walls; this office seemed to be inhabited by someone who enjoyed watching ships tossed about by torrential rains. A few moments of watching this made Hermione feel slightly sick to her stomach.

Her contemplation was broken by the arrival of an extremely withered old wizard, followed by several bright-looking younger wizards. They all carried stacks of folders, with the exception of the last one, who carried a tray full of tea things.

“Is everyone finally here?” The wizard’s voice was cracked and gravelly, and everyone in the room sat up straighter to listen.

“Good,” he continued, “then we can get to it. Now, this firm has been the legal firm for generations of Snapes. We are very sad that this connection will no longer be in force. Due to the changes that are named in the will which you are all here to listen to, the status of the Snape properties and estate might not be in our hands any more.”

After this startling announcement, he sat back to watch as the attending people made confused noises.

“So, this brings us to the will itself.” He gestured to the first of the Bright Young Wizards, and a parchment roll was placed into his hands. “I will not be reading the entirety of the will out loud, as there are younger men with easier voices to do so. I will, however, be reading out the main bequests.”

He cleared his throat and eyed the tea tray. With a start, the youngest of the boys began handing out tea cups and offering additives to everyone’s desire.

Once sufficiently fueled with tea and milk, the aged lawyer began to read.

The Last Will and Testament of Severus Snape
I, Severus Snape, being of sound mind and body –

Here he broke off. “I think we can all assume that this part is written and get on with it.”

Item the first: to wit, one summer house, left in trust to me, being of
5 bedrooms and lands thereto held, to be given in entirety and perpetuity
with clear title to Miss Hermione Granger;

Item the second: to wit, one Gringotts vault, number 131, containing
the Snape family jewelry and monies, to be given to Miss Hermione Granger;

Item the third: to wit, my Potions office furnishings, complete with
unmarked essays and all other various items, excepting the large
case in the Aumbry, to be given to Headmistress Minerva McGonagall,
with my compliments and commiserations;

Item the fourth: to wit, one Gringotts vault, number 318, which contains
most of my Hogwarts salary for the time I have been employed at that
facility, to be given to Headmistress Minerva McGonagall, for her friendship
and services to me;

Item the fifth: to wit, the large case in the Aumbry in my study, to be given
to Rubeus Hagrid should he outlive me; if he does not, this gift devolves to
Mr. Charles Weasley. If neither of these two persons remains living, the
gift devolves to the Dragon Preserves in Romania.

Hermione was startled by a large honking sound and turned around in her chair. Peeking over the top edge, she realized that what she’d taken for the side wall of the room was, in fact, Hagrid’s coat, draped over several chairs. The honking sounds were coming from the half-giant himself, who’d squeezed into the back of the room and was crying loudly into a handkerchief the size of a small tablecloth.

“Allus knew,” honk, “Sev’rus was a good man.” Snort. “I’m jus’ sorry he din’t know I liked ‘im…” and Hagrid dissolved completely into sobs.

The old law-wizard looked appalled at the noise and gestured to one of his lackeys to attempt to move Hagrid. Minerva waved him off with a glare and stepped to the large man’s side.

“Rubeus?” she asked softly. “Rubeus, let’s move to another room, shall we?” She placed her hand under his larger elbow and tugged. Still sobbing, he allowed himself to be guided out of the room. Minerva followed him, but turned her head to look at Hermione, who was staring after her, feeling a bit abandoned.

“I’ll talk to you as soon as we’re done here,” Minerva whispered to Hermione and was rewarded by seeing relief spread across Hermione’s expressive face.

A few moments of quiet followed the couple’s departure. Hermione took the opportunity to ask the legal wizard, “Are you sure he – I mean, Severus – wanted to leave me those two things? They’re very valuable… didn’t he have any family to leave them to?” She was wringing her hands and looked terrified of the answer.

Looking grave, the wizard gazed at her. He seemed to be taking her measure, and she was worried that he’d find her wanting in some way. She straightened up unconsciously under his eyes, and he smiled to himself.

“Yes, young lady. Severus added those parts of the will over two years ago.” He fell silent, watching her. Hermione didn’t know what to think or say. Two years ago she’d just graduated from Hogwarts and the war was still raging around them. They’d only all just managed to fight off the smaller attacks on Muggleborns' families, and she’d thought that Snape thought nothing of her except that he was happy to have got rid of the Golden Trio. To think that he’d been planning on giving her all of this even at that time was … deeply startling.

“In fact,” the wizard continued, “he left me with strict instructions to give you this letter and see that you are allowed as long as you need to read it. I am to,” and here he achieved a crisp diction completely unlike his own, but so evocative of the voice of the lost Severus Snape, “allow her the time and space to read the letter with her usual degree of understanding and depth.”

He gestured again to the remaining lackey, and a letter, addressed in Severus’ distinctive hand, was placed in front of Hermione. Her hands shaking so hard she could barely grasp the envelope, she reached out and took it. With a glance around the room, she stood up and asked, “May I have a room in which to read this?”

The lackey gestured for her to follow him and led her to a door in the back wall of the meeting room. This led to a smaller room, with two comfortable chairs and a small hearth filled with a small, sparkling fire. There were tea things set out on a small table by the side of one of the chairs. Hermione never even saw the young wizard leave the room.

She sat down in the chair next to the tea table and turned the letter over and over in her hands. This would be the last time anything he said would be new to her. After this, everything from him would be just a memory. She was torn between reading the letter immediately and knowing what he wanted to tell her, and waiting, drawing this last ever contact out. Savoring it, so to speak.

After a moment of indecision, she cracked the seal of the envelope open, scattering chips of dark green sealing wax over her lap. The envelope was filled with parchment.

I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry.

Knowing that this would be the last chance for her to have any contact with the man who hadn’t known she loved him, she closed her eyes and pulled out his last letter to her.

My dearest Hermione,

I love you.

I have never had the courage to say these words to your face. I have no idea how you would take them and I find myself quite unable to ruin the friendship we have discovered by telling you of my true feelings.

I admire you for your quick thinking and clever mind, but this you already know. However, my feelings have been growing and changing over this past year. Your bravery in facing the Death Eaters, your courage in defending your friends and companions, you have shown me truly what it means to have Gryffindor’s courage.

I will not cry.

I do not know when I first fell in love with you. I do know that I first realized it when you came back to Hogwarts after graduation, wounded in the fighting to save Mr. Thomas’ mother. You were determined to be of help to the Order, even though Mr. Potter refused to allow you to fight any more. You showed up at my door, limping and bloody, demanding to be allowed to help me brew the potions the Order needed most.

Hermione let her head fall back against the chair. She remembered that exact day. She’d gone to him before going to Madam Pomfrey, even though Harry had expressly told her to get healed first. It wasn’t that bad a wound; just a cut on her side that had bled heavily but was already scabbing over. She knew that if they just had more healing potions the Order members could get more done. So she’d gone to beard the lion in his den. Well, the snake in his nest, she amended, with an internal laugh.

He opened the door at her knock, his face sneering and imposing. She had been a little scared as he turned completely white and grabbed the door so hard she could hear it creak on its hinges.

“Professor?” she started, but got no further than that when he scooped her off her feet and into his office, threw the door closed behind her with his elbow and deposited her onto one of the chairs by the fire.

“Where are you injured?” he barked.

She stared up at him blankly. This hadn’t gone at all the way she’d been expecting. While she was staring at him, he snarled and pulled at the hems of her robes.

“Well, Miss Granger! Where? Show me or I’ll –“ he broke off, looking as if he’d literally swallowed his words. With a swirl of robes, he strode to the fireplace and tossed a pinch of Floo powder into the roaring fire, calling for Madam Pomfrey to come to his study immediately.

While they waited for the mediwitch, Hermione tried to convince him that she was well enough to work with him on making the potions for the Order. He wandered around his office, not responding to her arguments, and then stopped behind her chair, making it impossible for her to see him.

Poppy came through the fire just at that moment. She stumbled slightly as she came out of the fire, and glanced up to see who she’d be working on. With a smile to see one of her favorite students, she began to walk towards Hermione. Her eyes traveled up from Hermione to Snape behind her and suddenly she sucked in her breath, her eyes growing quite large. Hermione heard Snape growl out “She has injured herself and refuses to tell me where,” before the sound of his shoes striding quickly away from her on the stone floor informed her that he’d left the room.

It’s so much clearer now, thought Hermione, what was going on there. I wish I’d known; I wish I’d been able to see his face.

I had to hold myself back that day, I nearly fell at your feet begging you to stop fighting and stay safe. Ultimately, that’s why I agreed to let you work with me. You would be much safer at my side, away from the actual battles. The fact that you would be helping me with potions was secondary to my true reason for keeping you in my workrooms.

Working with you was both wonderful and torturous. There were many times I was cruel, I could hear myself being cruel. You would leave my office or our workroom near tears, and I would rage at myself for hurting you so deeply. I wished that I could charm you. I wished to see you look at me with the look of happiness on your face you gave so freely to Potter or Weasley. I also knew that I had no hope because you could never feel for me the way I feel for you.

Oh, but I do, Hermione wailed in her head.

Over the time we worked together, we have become friends. I never expected that. I enjoyed our friendship, the times spent reading by the fire after working all day on potions, just content to be together. You laugh at something in one of the books you read and I revel in the fact that you allow yourself to laugh with me in these dark times. We have so few opportunities to laugh now.

If you are reading this letter, then I am dead. I do not know how I will die, but I do know that I only regret that I did not approach you. You deserve so much happiness and joy in your life, things I fear I would never be able to give you. The Wizarding world is capable of being a place of true wonders and amazing experiences, and it pains me to know that you’ve only seen the darker side of my, now our, world. I hope that, if you have a place of your own to live and enough money to live on, you will be able to use the intellect and clear sight with which you have been blessed to gain these things on your own. I want to give you these things, these comforts and easements, and so please do not refuse these gifts from a dead man.

The house is not part of the larger Snape estate. That was sold off during my childhood, to pay for my father’s ever present debts. This house came to me through my maternal grandmother and was kept in trust for me . The vault at Gringotts is yours entire. None of the monies come from Death Eater activity; those monies are disposed of in other ways through my will. There are very few pieces of the old family jewelry left; the most important piece I enclose in this letter.

Hermione shook the papers, but nothing fell out. Scrabbling frantically in the envelope, she found a small wrapped bundle tucked into a corner of the envelope. Apparently the papers had been pushed on top of it, forcing it to stick in the corner.

With shaking fingers, she unfolded the paper. This paper, too, bore Severus’ writing.

Wear this, my dearest Lioness, and think of me.

She looked at what had fallen out of the paper and cried out softly. It was a ring, made of heavy gold, in the shape of a lion and a snake wound together. She sat for a time with the ring held in her curled hands, staring blindly into the fire. After her grief abated, she firmly placed the ring on her left ring finger and smiled as the lion and snake wrapped themselves tightly enough around her finger to stay on, but not so tightly that it hurt.

Stroking her new jewelry, she returned to the letter. There wasn’t much left, and each unread word was that much more precious to her.

This ring was my mother’s, and her grandmother’s before her. Our family has been predominantly Slytherin, but my great grandmother was a Gryffindor, and very proud of her House. Until I met you I could not understand why she felt that way. I am proud to have you wearing this ring, my ring, and I know that my Great grandmother and my mother would have been proud to see it on your hand as well.

Please, live in my house and live a happy life. I do not ask you to think of me and remain faithful to me – I want you to be happy, and I know that you will be happiest having many loving friends and family members around you. Think of me sometimes, and know that I will always think of you.

Your loving,

Severus Snape

I will not cry.

Year Two

Severus was having a hard time with Ariel’s nappies. They seemed to joyfully defy him at every turn. With one hand, he held the whole thing closed, and with the other he reached for the pins. By the time he’d got the pin ready, the nappy had unfolded. Finally, he managed to get pin and nappy into the same place at the same time and realized (much too late) that the baby this disaster was supposed to enfold had rolled over.

Phillipa’s laughter brought his head up sharply. For one long moment he teetered on a knife’s edge of fury, then he allowed the laughter to soothe him. He knew, from almost twelve months experiences with Phillipa and Brayden, that they didn’t see him as the enemy. Whether he’d live to prove their trust and faith true or not was an issue still in doubt.

The War itself was finally over, and the wounds had been deep. Many were dead, their lives cut short – Severus guessed that he felt so strongly about this because wizards could live several hundreds of years, so seeing his students, children he’d been entrusted to guide, die before they even had a chance to live as adults was particularly painful. He knew that all gave their lives willingly, but the grief was still strong and the pain too fresh for the deaths to seem anything other than the painful travesty of justice that they were.

He’d been coming to see his daughter secretly for several months before he’d been caught by the Grangers. He would Apparate into the neighborhood and sneak past the wards to enter the house without anyone knowing. The time, stolen from his work in the Reconstruction, was the only time he allowed himself any hope for the future. One night he’d been too exhausted to get up from the rocking chair and he finally gave up any hope of not drifting off to sleep. He told himself he would wake up in an hour, well before the Muggle parents of his lost love were awake.

He awoke to the terrifying feeling of his beloved daughter being removed from his arms. With a hoarse cry he snatched her back, jerking her out of the hands which were trying to steal her. He reared up, his eyes wild, staring around the nursery, looking for the threat that was trying to take away the last thing keeping him sane. The only thing he saw was the soft face and sympathetic eyes of Hermione’s mother.

“She’ll need a new nappy,” came her uncertain voice, “and you still need to rest. Let me take her. I’ll give her back soon.” Her eyes were gentle and kind, and her hands remained easily at her side. She held herself carefully, with the kind of stillness one presented to a wild animal that hadn’t decided whether or not to attack.

Severus clenched Ariel to his shoulder for a few more heartbeats until he heard her begin to snuffle and whimper. The second she began to wail he dropped his hands down so he could look at her face.

“What’s wrong?” he demanded, looking worriedly from his daughter’s face to his mother-in-law’s.

“She’s hungry,” smiled the grandmother, “and probably wet as well. Let me have her and I’ll get all that fixed right up.” She reached up and gently insinuated Ariel out of Severus’ nervous hands. “No,” she continued, as Severus tried to keep holding the baby, “you sit right back down and rest for a little while longer.”

At his mutinous expression, she looked at him firmly. He could see where Hermione had got her Strict Look from. Her mother was different physically, but her expressions were hauntingly similar.

“Or,” Phillipa continued, “you can sleep in a real bed just down the hall in the guestroom…” She trailed off, allowing the tempting thought of a soft bed with comfortable pillows and a warm duvet to pull at Severus.

With a groan he rubbed his hands over his face.

“I have to – “ he started, “I’m … I need …“

Phillipa looked over her shoulder at her husband, who’d been quietly watching the whole interaction. He read her intent and tentatively reached out to the younger man’s arm.

“Come with me. We’ll get you right set up in here,” Brayden said as he tugged gently at Severus’ arm.

Severus blindly followed his father-in-law down the hall to heed the siren song of a goose down duvet.

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

Severus was very nervous. His part in the Reconstruction was coming to a close, and he wanted to live with his daughter. He knew that he didn’t know anything about raising a baby, and he was desperately afraid he’d ruin everything. At the same time, he wanted to be the one raising her. He wanted to have that connection to the future and to Hermione.

He had no idea of how to tell the Grangers this, let alone convince them of it. And of his ability to actually perform the work of being a parent. He knew that his temper was suspect, but he wanted to try at least.

He stared up at the front of the Grangers' house and went over his reasons and arguments in his mind.

He was the child’s father. He loved her. He was no longer buried in grief. Being around her would help him deal with the remaining grief. He loved her. He wanted the same chance every other parent had, to help their child grow up. He had a good income and a nice little house in the country in which Ariel could live. He could ensure that she grew up knowing about and being able to use her magic. He loved her.

He was so afraid that Phillipa and Brayden would fight him. He didn’t want his baby girl, the only thing he had left from his marriage to the only woman who’d ever loved him, to cause anger between members of the baby’s family. He was so happy that his daughter could have a better family than the poisonous disaster he’d known. He didn’t want to risk that, but .. he wanted so badly to have her with him.

Inside the house, Phillipa and Brayden watched through the lacy curtains in Ariel’s room as Severus paced back and forth and gestured wildly in front of their house. It was clear to them that he was upset and worried about something, but they couldn’t help but giggle together at the sight he must be making to the neighbors.

With a final grin, Brayden walked downstairs and pulled open the front door.

“Whatever you’re debating, don’t you think you should do it with the debate partners?” He grinned at the younger man whom he’d come to care about deeply, and bit the inside of his cheek to make sure he didn’t just laugh out loud at the look of shock that came over Severus’ normally composed face.

“You saw me?” Severus asked, the red flags on his cheeks showing how dismayed he was at having been seen.

“I’d think the whole street saw you. You’ve been there for at least a quarter of an hour.” Brayden’s voice didn’t reveal any of the amusement he was feeling. “Come in, Severus, there’s clearly something you want to talk to us about.”

With a nervous look, Severus entered the house he’d come to think of as the only safe place he could find. He wanted to be able to make more safe places…

After tea had been served and Ariel’s latest accomplishments discussed, praised and discussed again, Phillipa leaned back into Brayden’s arm on the couch they shared and looked steadily at Severus.

“Now, Severus. You say the Reconstruction is almost over.”

Severus nodded slowly, wondering where this was going.

“Does this mean that you’ll be able to stay in one place longer and make a home for yourself?”

He nodded again, now even more at sea.

“Don’t you think, then, that it’s time you took Ariel to live with you?”

As his normally calm face evinced complete shock, Phillipa burst into laughter. Covering her eyes, she collapsed into Brayden’s shoulder and just relaxed into the humorous moment.

Severus, at first shocked at Phillipa’s statement, soon began to be disturbed that she seemed to find this so funny. He was beginning to wonder if she and Brayden were having some sort of malicious joke at his expense.

Just as he was gathering up the nerve to ask her what was going on, she dragged her shredded composure about her and gasped her laughter to a shuddering halt.

“Now, don’t get mad, dear. You know I love you, right?” She gasped this out past the last bits of laughter, and then sat up ramrod straight when his expression made it perfectly clear that he didn’t understand this. Her expression changed from happy and open to fierce so fast Severus felt chilled.

“You are my son-in-law, the man my beloved daughter loved beyond words, the father of the cutest little grandchild anyone could wish for. I love you for these things - and for your own strength and abilities.” She said this in the clearest and firmest tone he’d ever heard from her.

“Now, where will by grandchild be growing up so I can visit her regularly?”

*** 

Hermione dragged herself out of bed. She knew she had to go to work today, but the soft blankets were tempting. To herself, she admitted that the oblivion offered by sleep was more tempting even than the warmth. It seemed like she was never warm enough anymore. Living here at Grimmauld Place was depressing her more and more. Especially now that she might have somewhere else to go.

Pulling a brush through her hair, she stared unseeing into the mirror.

“That’ll never do, dearie,” it murmured at her, “you want to pull more gently.”

Startled out of her daze, Hermione looked at herself clearly for the first time in the difficult time since Severus’ death and the end of the war. She saw the pallor and darkened circles around her eyes, but that wasn’t what had caught her attention. Her hair. It billowed around her head, falling past her shoulders in knots and tangles down to her waist. He’d always commented on her hair.

At the beginning he’d been unfailingly rude about it, but Harry said he’d once seen Severus’ hand twirling some of the curls when she wasn’t looking. He’d hate it now. He’d hated mess and anything ugly.

With a wry twist of her lips, she acknowledged that her last thought pretty much explained a lot about the man and his character.

He hated anything ugly. Well, her hair was certainly ugly like this. Closing her eyes for a last moment, she took a deep breath. This just doesn’t get easier. Not at all. They keep saying to give it time, but how much time am I supposed to need? I hate this. I know he - She broke off her thoughts here and opened her eyes again.

With a firm tone of voice, she called “Accio scissors.” and watched carefully as they flew to her hand. She certainly didn’t want to get stabbed in the hand the way Hannah had the first time she accio'd one of the kitchen knives.

Taking another deep breath, for strength, she opened the scissors and firmly cut off a large, snarly hank of hair. The short strands bounced up, curly and light. With the beginnings of a smile, she sawed at the rest, wondering why she’d never done this in the past.

“Oh my,” her mirror said, “that certainly does look … different.” Hermione had the impression of the mirror turning its “head” from side to side to look at her. “Yes, different. Not bad, now, don’t think that, but … your friends will be surprised,” the mirror finished.

Hermione was surprised herself. She liked it. Yes, it was choppy and rough, but it was curly. All that weight had been hiding … curls. Cute, bouncy curls. She could live with this.

With a lighter heart, she changed from her night clothes to Muggle jeans and a soft cotton top. She would be wearing robes over this later, but here at home she liked to be comfortable. Having grown up in Muggle clothes, she was still most at ease this way.

Without feeling her personal dark cloud following her for the first time in ages, she bounced into the kitchen and was greeted with three shocked faces.

“Hermione! What did you do to your hair?” Trust Fred to just yell at her in shock. Typical.

“I cut it all off. Can’t you tell?” she asked sweetly.

He goggled at her as she continued, “I really looked at myself this morning. I need to be better. I know that I - I need to get over …” her voice stopped. Swallowing so hard her throat squeaked, she continued, “I need to get back to being myself. I can’t let this - stop me.”

“Of course you can’t,” came the soft voice of the one person in the room whose face hadn’t been a study in shock when she walked in. Hermione turned with relief to Ginny, and then started slightly.

“Oh!” She quickly stepped over to where Ginny was sitting. “Gin? Gin, I cut my hair. It’s short now, and … shorter than my shoulders and it’s curly! Did you know that my hair could be curly?” She knew she was babbling, but she wanted to share her joy with her friend.

Ginny lifted a hand from the table and put it out into the air. Hermione grasped it and pulled it to her head. Ginny’s hand gently stroked down the newly released curls until she got to the end. With a growing smile she thrust her fingers through the heavy strands.

“You like this, don’t you, Hermione?” she asked. “I knew you would. I’m surprised it took you this long! Now, someone, tell me what she looks like before I hex you into next week!”

With a slightly shaking voice, Fred began to describe the effect of wild short curls on his good friend’s head.

“She’s … she looks like she’s got a brown halo.”

This sent everyone off into peals of laughter. As the laughter faded, the friends all sighed deeply.

Hermione looked down at her hands, relaxed in her lap. “We needed that,” she said softly. “Thank you all for being such lovely kind friends. I don’t know what I’d have done without you.”

“Probably been killed by a troll, years ago. In First Year, come to think of it,” came a drawling voice from the doorway.

Ginny’s head came up and her face began to glow.

“Draco! When did you get back? Are you okay?” The joy in her voice was dazzling, and Hermione closed her eyes.

She’d never get to feel that again, that joy. Everyone kept telling her that holding on to her feelings this way was getting in the way of her recovery, but she wanted to feel this. This pain was what she deserved for not being brave enough to approach him. I’m not Gryffindor enough.

Breathing deeply again, she turned her head to see Draco looking down at Ginny’s blind face with the softest expression she’d ever seen. Averting her eyes to give the two lovers some privacy, her gaze locked with Fred’s dismayed one. She grinned.

None of the Weasley boys had quite got used to the fact that their greatest enemy at school had turned into their baby sister’s true love.

*** 

This was easily as terrifying as facing Voldemort. Severus stood just outside of Ariel’s bedroom, watching the toddler sleep in her bed. She was sprawled half under and half out of her covers, and her favorite stuffed toy was perilously close to falling off the bed onto the floor.

He’d spent weeks getting the house ready for his daughter to live in. He’d thought of the house long before Phillipa had asked him where they would be living. The house was one of the few pieces of property that his father hadn’t sold off before Severus was even in his Fourth Year at Hogwarts. This house had been his maternal grandmother’s and she’d written her will so that Severus’ father couldn’t touch the house or its land. Severus had thought, during the dreadful years of Voldemort’s first reign, and then the awful years of waiting for the expected resurgence of that excrescence, that he’d never use the house. In fact, he’d thought several times of just selling it; he expected either to die, or to be forced to remain at Hogwarts forever.

He was very glad now that he hadn’t sold the house. He’d have to think of a name for it – he liked the idea of having a house with a name. He knew that Harry loved visiting the Weasleys at The Burrow, and having seen that house, he believed that the name was remarkably apt for that edifice. He wanted his house to have a name that indicated how wonderful it felt to have the freedom of living in it.

He was sure he’d come up with something. Sooner or later, but he hoped for sooner.

Leaving Ariel to her dreams, he wandered down the stairs to the library. This was the room he liked best. It was in a corner of the building and was large and open. There were two sets of large French Doors; one looked out over the rolling hills and growing lands to the side of the house, including a small garden, or he could walk out the other set to stand on the front patio and view the small village down the hill. The walls of the room were covered in books, from floor to ceiling. He’d made sure to purchase several shelves of books suitable for Ariel, and had put a smaller table and chairs in one of the corners for her to use.

Right now he just wanted to sit and read in his new chairs. He’d seen them in the window of a Muggle shop in London and just known that they’d be perfect in this room. He walked into the shop and bought them without even asking the price or trying to haggle.

Phillipa had been with him, and had laughed at the joy in his face.

“Moving in with Ariel is good for you, I can tell,” she’d said, and she was right. He could feel himself relaxing and enjoying his life more. There were still things he’d change, and there were still days where his bitterness and cynicism were overpowering, but he could feel the relief--the lack of having to hide what he was doing from everyone around him.

He was very scared of being alone with Ariel. She knew that she wasn’t going to be living with Granny and Granpa any more, and she’d seemed happy that she and her Daddy would be together. Severus knew, though, that she’d been used to having her grandparents around. She might be upset when she woke up and was in the new house.

What would he do if she tripped and fell on the stairs? He started to get up and check on her again to make sure that she was still sleeping safely, but stopped himself. The Grangers had said he could do this, and by damn, he was going to try.

He forced himself to settle back down into his chair and read.

A few hours later, he heard sounds coming from the Monitus spell he’d placed in Ariel’s room. She was waking up. He bolted up the stairs and only caught himself at her door.

She’d be pretty startled if I came barreling into her room! He laughed at himself, then walked into her bedroom to be there when she woke up.

“Da?” she called.

He found her lying on her back, staring up at the ceiling. He’d had the whole room redone – he had no one else to spend the money on and it pleased him to see her happy. He’d thought she might like something like the Great Hall at Hogwarts, but her ceiling was spelled to just show sunny skies or bright stars. He didn’t want her having to try to sleep with storms or rain clouds pelting her.

She was watching the enchanted clouds drift past the central overhead light, which was spelled to be the sun or the moon. When the clouds went by, the ‘sun’ darkened for a moment.

The walls were painted a pretty shade of lavender, with white trim. He’d given her a room overlooking the back garden, and the lavender color seemed to glow in the afternoon sun. Her toys were strewn around the toy chest, making him wonder if he shouldn’t get a house elf. He knew he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the cleaning and make sure that he got all of his work done.

He sat down in the rocking chair from Hermione’s room in her parent’s house and watched their daughter wake up slowly. He could see so much of Hermione in her daughter. Her hair, slightly darker and less wild, but still a beautiful wild tangle of curls, her incessant questions and need to learn, her quick movements and deep moods all reminded him forcefully of Hermione. Gods, he missed Ariel’s mother.

However, now it was lunchtime and Ariel had to eat. Much to do and only a lifetime in which to do it.

Several weeks later, he acknowledged that a house elf would have to be the correct idea. The house was a disaster. He was much less ready for this parenting thing than he’d thought. Molly had stopped by several times, and had offered to take Ariel during the days. He’d been convinced he would be able to do his work for St. Mungo’s and the Ministry with Ariel in the house, but somehow there was a disaster needing his attention every day.

He hadn’t got anything done, and he was beginning to get frustrated and angry. He found himself snapping at Ariel for doing normal toddler things; he was scared he’d turn into his father.

It was after nine in the evening and Ariel had just got to sleep. He sat, despondent, in his kitchen and surveyed the damage. There was week-old food in a pot on the cooker. Somehow Ariel had spilled juice on the counter two days ago. Severus thought he’d wiped it up, but the spot was still sticky and collecting dirt. His clothes were covered in hand prints from the knees down, and he shuddered to think of the enormous pile of laundry collecting in Ariel’s room.

The kitchen smelt of the potatoes he’d burnt this afternoon when he’d had to run off to the living room to rescue Ariel, after she’d climbed onto the top of the back of the tallest chair in the room and attempted to climb into the painting of the seashore above the mantel.

He put his elbows on the table and let his head sink into his hands. With a startled yelp he realized that he’d put his right elbow in the marmalade.

Right. House Elf. First order of business. Then, Ariel’s waking wail interrupted his thoughts, then we find a nursemaid.

~*~*~*~*~

“Oh, Severus, she’s lovely!” Headmistress McGonagall spoke softly so as not to wake the sleeping child in Severus’ arms. Severus smirked, knowing that the true terror his daughter embodied wouldn’t show until she woke. Then, all of Hogwarts would cower in fear. Or at least, they’d be cowering in worry.

“I am so glad you came by. I know there are several of the other Professors who would enjoy a chat with you,” she continued. “Why don’t we first discuss what brought you here, though. Your letter was … not specific.”

Severus placed Ariel on the couch in the Headmistress’s office, looking for something to place at Ariel’s side. He didn’t want her to fall off the couch. Minerva saw him looking around and silently offered him several pillows she’d transfigured from small items on her desk.

After they sat down across from each other, Minerva occupied herself with the tea service, knowing that Severus would want to look around the room. He hadn’t been in it much since Albus died and she was sure he would like a little time to reacquaint himself with the office.

It was still the same quirky round shape, but many of the odder trinkets were no longer in the room. It was filled, more prosaically, with bookshelves overflowing with books and papers, several different settings of chairs and tables, (clearly for working in small groups); a small cat tower stood in one shadowed corner.

Severus found himself missing the whimsicality and unpredictability of the office, but he knew that what he was really missing was the man who’d inhabited this room so completely.

“I know,” Minerva said quietly, “I miss him also. He was a great man.”

Severus nodded and sipped his tea. Taking a deep breath, he plunged into the reason he had asked Minerva for this interview.

“You know that I have Ariel with me now, correct?” he started. “I mean, we’re living in my grandmother’s house. It’s quite nice – I can work in one of the basement rooms. I have it set up to be a laboratory, and I’ve been working on…” He pulled himself abruptly short.

Minerva looked at him enquiringly. She'd found that he responded just as well to his own raised eyebrow trick as those he used it on.

“I need help. Please, Minerva, I know I can do this, but…” He looked mortified to be saying this, and she knew that things must have got dire for him to ask for help directly.

“Of course, Severus. You know I’d help you – anyone here would help you without question. What is it? Ariel’s not ill, is she?”

Severus blanched. “No, why? Does she look ill?” He turned to look over his shoulder at the little girl, and missed Minerva’s sudden smile.

“Ah.” Minerva schooled her features to a more suitable expression. “No, I just … jumped to a conclusion. Tell me, Severus, what is it you need help with, and how is it that we here at Hogwarts can help?”

 ***

Hermione stood in the entrance hall of her new home and sighed deeply. This was very intimidating. Severus’ house. Her new house. Had he ever spent any time here? Would she find bits of him…

“Oi! Outta the way!”

With a startled squeak, she jumped out of the way of the overly large pile of boxes flying towards her. The boxes all crashed loudly against the floor as the wizard levitating them lost control of the stack.

“I know you’re trying to help, Fred, but you could help a little less violently, you know!” she bellowed at the laughing redhead just on the other side of the door.

“You were just … standing there. All, you know,” he gestured, “in the way. I thought you might have been going to sleep.” With a raffish grin, he waggled his wand and the boxes levitated up again. “Now where, my dear lady, do you want these?”

Laughing at his antics, Hermione went to sort the boxes.

After some basic sorting and arranging, she wandered out of one of the lovely French Doors in the living room and found herself in a garden. Beyond the garden, she could see rolling hills, brown now in the late autumn, and orchards off to the side. Sparing the time to marvel at the thought of fresh fruit in the summer, Hermione continued her inspection of the house. Around to the right was the patio by the front door. She could still hear the odd crash as her enthusiastic helpers … um… helped. Off to the left was more of the garden, with a nice walkway through it.

The garden clearly hadn’t been kept up at all. The walk was almost completely overgrown, with assorted plants even taking up residence in the cracks between the pavers. Idly Hermione leaned down and pulled up some grass that had taken up root in the area under a lavender bush. Dropping the grass stalks, she pulled a stalk of lavender instead and rubbed the scented frond with her fingers. Pulling the lavender pods off of the head of the stalk she’d pulled, she dropped them in the pocket of her robes and wandered on around the house.

In the back was the kitchen garden, now just an extension of the side garden. She could see where the plants had been laid out, but the rosemary was the only thing really thriving now. In fact, the rosemary had taken over entire swaths of the garden area. Well, pruning that back will allow me to have lovely scented fires in the winter.

Curious about the kitchen, she walked in the back door of the kitchen and smiled at the cozy image it presented. Nothing modern or Muggle about this, that was certain. There was a stove that surely must have been new at the turn of the century, several cabinets… she idly opened and shut them, admiring the empty space.

Once back in the main part of the house, she followed the sounds of merriment to the happy sight of her friends, all sitting on boxes, laughing at the antics of the remaining Weasley twin. It was so good to see him laughing again.

“Well, who’s ready for lunch?” she called out.

Hours later, when everyone had gone home, she lay in her new bed in her new room and looked around. She’d chosen a room towards the back of the house. It was clearly the Master Bedroom, and she felt incredibly decadent sleeping in a room this large and well appointed. She was sitting up in the four poster bed she’d purchased at a wizarding auction once she’d learned she really was going to get to keep this house. She’d known she had no furniture, and thought it might be a good idea to have something to sleep in the first night. She’d buy more as she needed it. She didn’t want to overspend.

Looking around her new room, she wondered what her parents would have thought about all of this. They had always been so supportive of her, accepting all of her quirks with joy and love. She missed them fiercely, on days like this most of all.

With a sudden rush of tears she realized that she’d wanted them all day long. She’d been listening for them, wanting to hear their voices, their footsteps.

I don’t want to cry on my first night in my lovely new house. I want Severus, wherever he is, to know that I’m happy and grateful that he cared about me. I just wish… she cut the thought off. Wishing was something she no longer believed in.

With a determined nod at herself, she curled up under the soft covers and went to sleep.

She found herself walking down the upstairs hallway, listening to a small voice speaking nonsense words in another of the bedrooms. She felt no fear, this sound wasn’t threatening. In fact, it was almost … familiar.

Now, as she approached the door of the bedroom where the sounds were coming from, she could hear that there were two voices--one high and very childlike, and the other much deeper. It was a soft, but masculine voice, and she wondered who was in her house.

Pushing open the door, she stopped in shock as she saw a beautiful child’s room, with bright walls and a sunny sky for a ceiling. In the room was the loveliest child, a little girl with dark curly hair. She was crouched over a pile of blocks, clearly trying to get one of them to levitate. The little girl was talking to the blocks and also to her companion. Hermione moved her head slowly to see who this child was talking to, and caught a glimpse of dark robes before she woke up.

Gasping and sitting up abruptly, Hermione stared wildly around the room. It was the middle of the night. The moonlight streamed into the room, lighting patches of the floor but leaving the walls shadowed and mysterious. Carefully, Hermione scooted to the edge of the bed and off. As she passed her nightstand, she picked up her wand. She snuck down the hallway, using every trick old Alastor had taught her about silent walking, then pushed open the door to the room where the two people had been.

It was cold and empty. There was no enchanted ceiling, and no earthbound blocks. It was certainly the same room, for the trim was the same configuration and the room had the same shape. Hermione stood uncertainly in the center of the room and wondered. Could that have been a ghost? Two ghosts? She didn’t think so.

She walked back to her room, only now noticing how cold her feet had got. Maybe some wool socks would be in order. With a smile at the reminder of Albus Dumbledore, she crawled back into bed and decided to do any more worrying tomorrow.

In the morning, things looked much clearer. Her house was haunted. She gave it some serious thought as she waited for the water to boil for her morning coffee. Huh. A haunted house.

After the coffee, a few oddities began to surface in her orderly mind. Retrieving a parchpad from a box in the library, she wrote out the dream as well as she could remember it. Then she began adding details.

The girl had not been using a wand, but she’d certainly known about magic. That ceiling, for instance, couldn’t be anything but magical. And her companion had been wearing robes. She, however, had been wearing … Hermione’s brow knotted. The little child had been wearing Muggle clothes. That was what had seemed so odd. Muggle clothes?

Giving it up as a bad job, Hermione spent the rest of the day unpacking and getting things set up to live in the house.

By that evening, Hermione had worked any thoughts of odd dream children out of her head. She ate a small dinner (I must do something about that stove. Maybe there’s a museum that would want it!), used her wand to wash the few dishes she had, and went to bed.

Three days later, Hermione thought she was finished. There were still gaping holes where it was clear there was furniture missing, but the house was starting to look livable again. She sat back on one of the chairs in the library, staring idly into the fire. With a sudden smile, she grabbed the Floo jar off of the mantel and tossed some into the fire.

“12 Grimmauld Place.”

She fell out of the fire at the other end and sprawled onto the rug. With a groan, she pulled herself up and futilely dusted herself off. At least these weren’t her good clothes.

She left the sitting room and found the family, as expected, in the kitchen.

“Hermione!” called several voices. She was welcomed into the group eating around the table, and leaned companionably against Ginny’s chair as she listened to the stories the other people, her family now, told her about how they’d spent the last day. Once she’d heard every story and told a few of her own about the new house, she bent and whispered in Ginny’s ear.

“Come with me. I have a … a request for you.”

Ginny stood immediately and said, with a sweep of her hand, “We’re leaving you louts alone. We are going to have a nice intelligent conversation.” The regal delivery of this was ruined by her giggle at the end, and it resulted in an bout of silly jokes.

Hermione started walking slowly down the hall towards the sitting room, Ginny’s hand curled in the crook of Hermione’s arm.

“Well, what is it?” demanded Ginny, with a sparkling smile.

“Wait until we get to the sitting room. I want to do this carefully,” said her friend.

Ginny’s eyebrows rose, but she subsided and followed Hermione’s lead.

“Ginny. Do you like living here? I mean, I know you’ve family in and out all the time, but .. it’s so loud here and it’s right in London and …” Hermione trailed off. She’d thought of this and decided to just do it, but remembered now why she always preferred to have things planned out before she jumped.

Ginny looked up in her direction. “Hermione? What are you asking me? I like London well enough. I’d like to go further, but you know we can’t until we find something to help with my –“ her voice broke, then firmed, “my eyes.”

Hermione sighed and sat down at Ginny’s feet. She’d made a muddle of this.

“The thing is, Gin, my new house is big. I think it’s too big for me, but …if you’d like to, I’d love you and Draco to move in with me.” Hermione caught Ginny’s hands in hers. “If you’d like to, of course. I don’t want either of you to think you have to or anything. You know Harry will let you stay here as long as you like. It’s just… I’d like to have you both.”

Ginny closed her eyes for a long moment.

“Let’s go find Draco and ask him. I like the idea, but what if he tells me the house is a fright!” Ginny’s laughter reassured Hermione that she really did like the idea.

*** 

Severus sat in the comfortable, overstuffed chair he’d put in his bedroom. He looked around, and was pleased again at his choice of rooms. At first he had been thinking to take one of the smaller rooms nearer to Ariel, but he’d decided to take the Master Suite instead. It was a huge room, big enough to house his larger four poster bed as well as having room for a small sitting area in front of the fireplace. He’d hung curtains around his bed, remembering how much he’d enjoyed the exotic look years ago when he was very young. Now, looking at his bed, he thought it looked somewhat silly, but he’d keep the draperies. They were a rich dark green and they fit well with the rest of the room.

He looked at the clock. It was getting late, and he was finally going to get to work tomorrow. After his visit to Hogwarts (and Ariel certainly did get her share of attention. I’m surprised Poppy let her come home with me!) he took a few days to allow all of them to get used to the new schedule and routines.

He’d finally accepted Molly’s offer of schooling for Ariel. She had been overjoyed at the thought of another baby to spoil and help raise, and he knew that, no matter how much she’d been frustrated with him during the war, she’d never see the child as anything other than Hermione’s baby. His main worry was making sure that Ariel wasn’t totally spoiled.

He had been surprised when, while he was at the Burrow discussing the terms with Molly, George pulled him aside.

“Hey, mate,” George started, “we all wanted to get together and thank you.”

Severus attempted to hide his confusion. “Yes? All of you?”

“Yeah. Mum’s been … mum’s been struggling with the, well, you know, the losses. She took –“ George’s voice became hard, harder than Severus had ever heard from one of the easygoing twins, “she took Percy very hard. Another baby is just what she needs.”

“Plus,” came Fred’s voice from around the corner where he was keeping an eye out for Molly returning from the kitchen with more biscuits, “it’ll make her let up on us to get married and have kids of our own. Mum! Why does he get the chocolate ones?” At his aggrieved voice, George burst out from the hallway and snaked a hand onto the tray to snag a pair of the sweets.

With a bemused look, Severus rejoined the group in the living room.

So now, Severus just had to get up tomorrow morning. He’d be dropping Ariel off at the Burrow before heading in to work, and picking her up on his way home. He had felt so relieved at how well things had worked out that he had a special dinner made tonight for a celebration.

He’d gone upstairs after dinner with Ariel and they’d played in her room for a while. He’d been sitting on the floor, listening to her chatter in her nonsense way, and responding to her with serious questions and offers of help. She’d been piling up stacks of blocks and was frustrated when the blocks wouldn’t float to where she wanted them to go. Suddenly, in the middle of the game, the door had swung open. Severus turned to see what had caused it to open, but there’d been nothing in the doorway.

Well, he thought he’d caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of someone with short curly hair and a long white dress, but when he got his head around to look at her, she was gone.

He hadn’t thought the house was haunted, but he wasn’t sure. He made a mental note to do some research into the place in the next week.

Three months later, he still hadn’t found time to do the research. He also hadn’t seen the ghost again, so he decided to let it go.

Year Three

The library table of Grimmauld Place was covered in parchments and quills. Half full cups teetered on stacks of books nearby and plates with crumbs and crusts littered the carpet. Hermione, Ginny and Draco sat together, looking at the piece of parchment held in Draco’s hand.

“Well, I think we’ll be able to make this work,” Hermione said. Leaning back slightly, she rubbed her face with her hands. They’d been working at this for hours.

Ginny yawned ferociously and twisted in her chair, trying to release the tension that came from sitting in one position for too long. “I’m glad,” she said, “that we can do this. Living here is getting more and more difficult.” Her eyes closed and she pressed her cool fingers to them.

With a sigh, Hermione looked around the room. We certainly made a mess in the deciding of it. She pulled her wand from her pocket and waved it at the dishes. They disappeared with a small ‘pop’, and the three friends heard a slight yelp from the kitchen as the dishes filled the sink. Draco grinned at the sound.

The sound of the front door opening interrupted them. Hermione stood up and walked to the door, looking down the hallway to see who’d come in.

“Harry!”

The others could hear the happiness in her voice as she greeted her oldest friend. His voice was an indistinguishable murmur, but they could hear that she was pulling him along with her towards the library.

“Come and look at what we’ve been working on,” Hermione said, as they entered the room. Draco sat up, smiling, to greet his old enemy, but his smile faded at the expression on Harry’s face. As soon as Hermione had turned away from him, Harry’s face had changed from a faint smile to a look of vicious anger. That look disappeared as soon as Harry’s eyes met Draco’s, and Draco was almost unable to believe that he’d seen the previous one.

Harry dutifully took the parchment from Draco and glanced at it. His face slowly contracted into a deep scowl as he read all the way to the bottom of the page.

“So you see, Harry, we’ll soon stop sponging off you. Severus gave me this house. Wasn’t that amazing of him? There are enough rooms for all of us and I can’t wait until you can come visit. I think it would be good for you to get away from here….” Hermione’s voice trailed off into confused silence as she realized that Harry wasn’t happy about her plans. “Harry? What’s wrong?”

He slammed the parchment onto the table, upsetting several piles of papers and books with the sudden movement.

“What’s this?” His voice was flat and angry.

Hermione’s eyes were troubled, but her voice remained calm. “I’ve invited Ginny and Draco to live with me at my new house. These are our plans. We’ve worked out where we’ll sleep and how we’ll work out the money…”

“So, you don’t want to stay here with me?” Harry was breathing hard, his face growing red.

“There are always people coming in and out here… This way you’ll have a little more space to yourself. We rather thought it would be nicer for you to have a little privacy.” Ginny’s voice was soft and soothing.

“You just didn’t think,” Harry snarled and stormed from the room.

Hermione collapsed back into her chair and the three friends sent baffled looks back and forth at his behaviour.

*** 

One Thursday afternoon, one of Severus’ colleagues - a young woman named Octavia Ardra who was in her mid thirties - poked her head into his laboratory to ask a question about one of the potions he was working on. She found him sitting at his table, with his head in his hands. His elbows were planted on the table and he was shuddering. Gently, for the entire staff had learned early in his tenure at St Mungo’s that he was explosive if startled, she asked, “Severus? Are you alright?”

He froze. She could see his fingers tighten around his skull until she thought he might rip his hair out by the roots.

“GET OUT!!” he roared and she fled. She barely heard the door slam behind her.

Inside the room, Severus stood, panting. His hands were rocks at his wrists, clenched so tightly he knew he’d bruise his palms. He hated this time of year. He could feel The Day approaching as if it were a storm. It made his skin tighten and his temper shorten. It felt to him like the oppressive heat of a summer storm mixed with the violence of storms in the North Sea, baking and freezing at the same time. He forced himself to calm down enough to make a fire call to Molly to ask if Ariel might possibly spend the night. Just this once. Molly took one look at his pinched, white face and agreed. Molly understood how these anniversaries were.

He stopped off at several pubs on his way home. After the last one, Apparition had been difficult, but he could tell he wasn’t drunk enough. He Apparated to the village near his house, purchased several bottles, and staggered up the hill towards his house.

After wrestling his cloak and outer robe off in the entrance hallway, and leaving them in a pile on the floor, he made his way to the library, where he carefully poured more liquor into an unpleasantly empty glass. He caught himself staring at the light the fire made, shining through the soft amber color of the brandy. It was just the color of her eyes.

Slowly, he drained the glass and stood up. There was something he wanted to look at. He’d had this for three and a half years, and he had only seen it once. It was his, and he wanted to look at her again.

After stumbling around in the basement for half an hour, he found the crate he was looking for. Dragging it upstairs was difficult, but he wanted to do this in the library. The library was warm and safe.

Several drinks and a quarter of an hour later he knelt in front of a cloth covered portrait. He’d had this painted during the war – he’d joked with Hermione that this way she could study with a partner, and she’d laughed at him. He’d had her painted at a desk, with bookshelves behind her and parchment and quill ready for use. She’d thought it was funny and sweet. Now it was all he had left.

He closed his eyes and pulled the covering aside. He knew she would say something about how drunk he was, and even though she was just a portrait, the thought of hearing her voice again was making him shake with sorrow and joy.

She was silent.

He opened his eyes and looked at the painting. There she was, his beloved Hermione, but… she was still. He knew he’d had the spell cast to make the portrait into a wizarding portrait. He had been there when it was done. The artist had tested it, as much as it could be tested while its subject was still alive, and he’d seen it move.

She wasn’t even breathing. She sat there, unmoving, watching him out of flat, painted empty eyes.

He screamed out his horror and loss and anguish, howling with pain. Finally, he collapsed onto the floor in front of the portrait that showed him only his misery and fell unconscious.

 ***

Hermione was dreaming again, she could tell. She’d visited this house, this Other version of her house several times now. Each time she’d seen a part of it she hadn’t seen before. It looked like a happy house, this other house. Once, she’d been drifting in the garden, admiring the way the plants had been cut back and cultivated. Another time, she’d seen the kitchen, and envied them their lovely new stove. Once, she’d even found herself in the master bedroom, but she hadn’t been able to see if there was anyone in the bed.

This time it felt different. She was in the entryway. She stepped over a pile of clothes and then nearly fell backwards as the most horrible scream sounded from the library right in front of her. She immediately ran to the room, but her hands went right through the doorknob. She tried a second time to grasp it, then, frustrated, just pushed on the door. Her hands didn’t go through the door, but it wouldn’t open. The sound went on and on, and she felt as if her skin was being flayed off. The pure misery in the sound cut right through her. She knew how that person felt – that nothing would ever be right again. That the world itself was off its axis and even though it kept spinning, the center had been removed.

Finally, though, the sound abated into sobs and softer cries. A few minutes after that all sound ceased. Very worried now, she grabbed at the library door handles and nearly sobbed herself at the way her hands just skimmed right through the door handles. Suddenly she sucked in a breath. She could go into the library from outside – the French Doors were a direct route in. Spinning around, she sprinted for the front door. It opened before her and she skidded around the corner to the front patio. Just as she got to the doors into the library and caught a quick glimpse of a body sprawled in front of a large portrait of a girl sitting at a desk she woke up in her own bed.

Her pillow was soaked with her tears. She must have been crying in her sleep in sympathy with the mourner. She rolled over in bed and scrubbed at her face with the sheet. After a couple of hitches in her breathing, she settled back down and drifted back off to sleep, her right hand caressing the gold ring on her left.

In the morning, she woke up slowly. She had the most amazing headache. The dream was still echoing in her head, and she could still hear that incredible howl of pain. Rubbing her eyes, she moved out of bed and towards the bathroom, where she was sure she’d be able to find something to help her aching head.

 ***

Severus had the painting mounted over the fireplace in the library. It was painful at first, to see her so flat and unmoving, but eventually he learned to accept it. He would talk to her, sometimes, late in the night, telling her unhearing ears about his day or describing things Ariel had done.

Phillipa and Brayden were surprised, deeply surprised and dismayed to see it hanging there. At first, they weren’t quite sure what to make of Severus’ display of his lost wife. Severus had been so destructive in his initial grief, they were amazed that the portrait had survived his temper.

One evening, during one of their frequent weekend visits, Brayden ended up in the library late. He was in a chair facing out towards the side garden, with its back to the library door. He heard the sound of Severus entering the room, and was about to speak when he heard the younger man’s voice.

“Your parents are here. They love watching Ariel.” He stood in front of the fireplace and was looking directly at the flat painting. “You’d be pleased to see how big she’s getting. She’s almost four now, and she’s enjoying her classes with Molly.”

He continued talking about the day he’d had, and when he’d run out of events, he took a deep breath. “I miss you,” he said, and walked quietly out of the room.

Brayden stood up slowly and looked over at the portrait. It still wasn’t moving. He and Phillipa had been sure that Severus had a Wizarding portrait made, but this one seemed very Muggle to him. He approached the fireplace and studied the picture. There was Hermione, surrounded by the things she’d loved. Books and information. Her wand was pictured at her right hand, and a quill was ready to use.

She just … wasn’t moving.

Brayden sighed and went off to tell his wife about what their son-in-law was doing.

Year Four

Draco had been unable to find work in the Wizarding world. Hermione and Ginny, and the entire Weasley clan had been unable to get anyone to be willing to give work to the son of one of those hated Death Eaters. The fact that he’d been working, at great personal risk, for the Order for almost 2 years before the fall of Voldemort meant nothing. He was the son of a Death Eater, and was therefore untrustworthy.

Hermione knew that Severus would have found the situation amusing; his reputation, in contrast, was golden. The fact that he’d died trying to save Muggles wiped away his previous sins. Hermione was convinced that it was more Severus’ death that had made people believe he was working for the right side, rather than the fact that he’d been attempting to save her parents, Muggles though they were.

Draco, however, was more sanguine about his job opportunities. Once the three friends had settled in, he began disappearing for several hours each day. The girls questioned him, but he just put them off with jokes and distractions.

One day, after two weeks of being pestered daily by his housemates, he gave in. They were all sitting at a round table Hermione had found in the basement. She’d levitated it up the stairs and placed it in the kitchen. It was comfortable and cozy in the kitchen, and they tended to eat all their meals there.

Draco sat back, and laced his fingers together.

“All right,” he drawled. “What do you want to know, exactly?” His eyes sparkled with mirth as the two girls nearly tipped their chairs over in their anxiety to ask their questions.

Ginny got there first. “Where do you go every day?” she demanded.

Hermione, watching the two of them, could see how Draco’s eyes softened even though his voice remained crisp and sharp.

“I've been working.”

Hermione raised her brows. “Working?” she enquired. “Where, if I might be so bold as to ask?”

Here, Draco looked slightly nervous. His hands, so calm earlier, twisted slightly. Looking carefully at nothing in particular, he said, “In the village.”

“The village?” gasped Ginny. “But that’s a Muggle village!”

“Yes, I know.” Draco’s voice now reflected his apprehension. “I went there on my first day here. I was wandering around, just looking at all the shops, when I saw a shop with a Help Wanted sign in the window.” He was looking down, so he didn’t see Hermione’s look of amused comprehension. “I went in and asked what help they needed. After a few questions, they let me start on a temporary basis. Just two days ago they hired me full time as an Assistant Manager.” He brought his eyes up to look at Ginny. “I was worried…. I know it’s just Muggle work, but … I want to work for us, Ginny. Please –“ He stopped what he was about to say when he saw her face.

She was beaming at him, her joy in his accomplishment showing in every line of her body.

“Did you hear that, Hermione?” she crowed, “I’m living with and in love with the future manager of …” she stopped, giggling. “What kind of a store is it, Draco?”

Draco appeared to be having a hard time opening his mouth and forming the words. “It’s …” he took a deep breath. “It’s a toy store.”

He was not prepared for the burst of laughter from the two women sitting across from him, and smiled at his ability to surprise them. They sat there, leaning on each other, speaking in fits and starts.

“A toy store!” Snerk...

“Oh, think of him with little children…” Giggle…

“Yeah, and demonstrating… the different types of dollies…” All-out shrieks at that one.

“Then,” his cool drawl cut through the sounds of laughter, “I suppose you two don’t want to see what I’ve brought home for you from work?”

They gasped and giggled their way to silence and sat, looking attentively at him.

He pulled out a small bundle. Tapping it with his wand to restore its original size, he peeled off the outer layer of brown paper revealing three oddly shaped packages. Keeping one, he pushed the other two across to his two housemates.

“Open them.” His eyes watched, amused, as the two women tore into the paper.

“Oh!” Hermione’s voice caught. He’d got her a miniature stuffed cat that looked exactly like Crookshanks. “Oh Draco! He’s lovely…” she stroked the soft plush, remembering her brave cat and how he’d helped her so many times.

Ginny had opened hers and was feeling it with her fingers. It was larger than Hermione’s and long, and had … wings? With a curious twist to her eyebrows, she turned to her lover and asked, “So, what’s mine?”

Draco, smiling anxiously, said, “Um. It’s a dragon. She’s green and purple – they didn’t have one that was realistic, those Muggles will put any colors together, but…” he stopped talking at the look of happiness on Ginny’s face.

“A dragon? For me?” Her voice was amused and shaking at the same time.

“You’ve got two dragons now, love,” he replied.

“Well, Draco. I see you’ve got one for yourself,” Hermione stated. If she let the two lovebirds start billing and cooing she’d never find out what was in the third package. She was amused to see Draco’s blush.

“I’ll open mine when I’m by myself.” The two women shouted at that and he gave in with a smile. “All right! I’ll open it here. Sheesh.” He pulled open the paper to reveal a small, black, furry teddy bear. “He was the only black one they had. I never had a bear when I was little.” He looked up to see twin expressions of sorrow and loss.

“Well,” Hermione’s brisk voice belied her gentle expression. “What are we going to name them?”

 ***

Christmas at the Weasley’s was excessive. That appeared to be the general theme, and it’s expression was giving Severus a headache.

The entire Weasley clan came home, if at all possible, filling the house beyond capacity. Severus managed to wangle an private room, all the way at the top of the house. Ron warned him about a ghoul living in the attic, but he was just happy to have a small room to himself.

Ariel slept downstairs in a larger room with Ron’s children and any pets that the family had. Currently, the Weasley’s had a mated pair of cats; they were part Kneazle and could be trusted to keep an eye on the smaller children for short periods of time. Severus had already refused several attempts to give him one of the kittens.

It was the day before Christmas Eve, and Severus had left work early. Arthur had gotten the Floo Department to hook up the Granger’s fireplace to the Floo Network for the day, and Severus was going to bring the them through to The Burrow.

Standing in the middle of the Granger’s living room, he smiled at the two people he’d come to care about deeply. They were anxiously triple checking to make sure that they had everything. Brayden was giving the plants one last watering and Phillipa was searching the house for any present or gift that might be unintentionally left behind. After a few moments of this, Severus called out, “Enough! If you don’t have it already, it’s not here.”

Phillipa clattered down the stairs, carrying Brayden’s coat. “You’d forgotten this upstairs, dear. Severus, where is this house? Will it be colder there than here?”

As Severus reminded Phillipa where in Britain the Weasley’s lived, Brayden gathered up their things into one large bundle. Absently, Severus tapped the stack with his wand, shrinking it until it was small enough to fit into the large bag Phillipa was carrying. He handed her the now manageable stack and pulled a small leather bag from a pocket in his robes.

“This is Floo Powder.” He opened the mouth of the bag all the way and showed his two listeners. “Take a pinch of it, just a pinch, and toss it into the fire. When the fire turns green, step into the fire and say, loudly and very clearly, your destination.” He looked from Phillipa’s pale face to Brayden’s excited one. “In this case, you will say ‘The Burrow’. Be very sure you articulate this clearly or the Floo Network might be confused.”

He offered the bag to Phillipa first. She’s the most nervous; we’d better get her through this quickly. She took a small pinch and, looking nervously into Severus’ face for a moment, tossed it into the fire. Immediately, it roared green and she froze. After a few panicky moments, she took a deep breath, stepped into the fire and yelled, “THE BURROW!” With a whirl, she was gone.

Brayden took his pinch, his face a study in nervous excitement. Just as he was about to toss it into the fire, he jerked back. “Severus. If we all take the … um .. Floo, then how will the fire be put out here? I can’t just leave the fire burning; it’s a dreadful risk.”

Severus smiled slightly at him. “I will not be Flooing to the Weasley’s house. I will be staying behind to douse the fire. Then, once it’s fully out, I will be Apparating directly to The Burrow.”

“Ah. That’s all right then.” And Brayden confidently tossed his Floo Powder into the fire.

Severus watched to make sure that both of Hermione’s parents had safely made it through the Floo network. Once he was sure, he pointed his wand at the remaining fire, muttered an Extinguising spell, and Apparated to The Burrow.

Upon arrival, he was greeted with the sight of Brayden being led off to Arthur’s shed and Molly enthusiastically hugging Phillipa. He followed behind Molly and Phillipa, bracing himself for the volume of sound in the house. His worst fears were realized. All the children were in the kitchen, eating lunch and shouting. Severus shuddered and inched past the overcrowded table, hoping to make it into the living room without being noticed. He saw that Phillipa had seen him, and was grateful to her for her silence.

His efforts went to ruin when Ariel saw him. With a shriek worthy of a Fwooper, she launched herself off of her chair and into his arms. He couldn’t help smiling as she burst into excited chatter about what she’d been doing while he had been collecting her grandparents.

“An’ then Uncle Ron said that he’d tell us stories ‘bout a flying car! He said, he said that he once drove a flying car. Could you make Gramma and Grampa’s car fly? I want a flying car. Or a kitty.” Here she looked up at him with acquisitive glee in her eyes. “Kitties are cute. Did you know they have kitties here? I was playing with them and with Remus and Nev. They’re little, but they’re cute too. ‘Cept Nev got me wet.” She held out her pant covered leg for inspection and Severus dutifully inspected the drool spot.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Molly and Phillipa turn away from him and smile at each other. Disgruntled that his emotions were so obvious, he tried to smooth away his smile, but Ariel’s continued prattle pulled at him and he looked back at his daughter.

She was wiggling in an attempt to get put back down, so, with internal reluctance, he set her back on her feet. She immediately scampered back to her place at the table and entered whole-heartedly into the cries of “Bickie!!” begun by the younger children.

Deciding that it might be safer for him outside, he scooted back to the door and looked around to see where Arthur and Brayden had gone.

Year Five

Severus watched as his latest potion bubbled gently in the cauldron over its low flame. He needed to take careful notes about the colors it turned and when and what he’d added and in which order and amounts…

I love this part of it, he thought, I love watching my ideas become reality this way.

He reached out and took up the quill sitting next to his note book.

Time to add the mare’s sweat. Half a cup ought to do it…

There was a knock at his door. He called “Enter," keeping his eyes on the cauldron to make sure he recorded all the changes that came from the addition of the newest ingredient.

He glanced up quickly to see who had come in, and was slightly startled to see his co-worker Octavia standing in front of his work table looking nervous. Normally, Ms. Ardra was calm and collected – he couldn’t think of a time she’d been nervous in the past few years that he’d been working with her. With a raised eyebrow, he spoke.

“Yes, Ms. Ardra?” He checked his notes one last time, making sure that he’d entered everything. He’d worked with Octavia several times on new and experimental potions, and assumed she was there to discuss something regarding the uses or need for more new concoctions.

“Um. Mr. Snape? Severus? May I call you that?” She looked even more anxious, if that was possible. “There are several of us who have been going out to The Drunken Dragon once a week for drinks and conversation. I’d really like you to come with us – it’s this Thursday evening.” She trailed off and looked everywhere but at him.

He sat back onto his stool, deeply surprised. He’d known of the weekly gatherings for months, and had assumed that it was something the younger workers were doing for themselves. It had never occurred to him that he might be invited. He was, after all, much older than many of the attendees and a Senior Researcher as well. Most of the people who went to the gathering, which he’d heard could get rather chaotic, were the younger, newer researchers. He could not imagine a group of young people who would actively invite him to attend what had been described as drunken revels.

Having Ms. Ardra, one of the older of the Junior Researchers, invite him was very unexpected. He remained in thought for a few moments, then opened his mouth to begin to respectfully decline. The habits of solitude were deeply ingrained in him.

“I guess you wouldn’t be interested in it,” Octavia said, before he could get further than opening his mouth. “I just…” she trailed off for a moment, “I just thought you might enjoy some company.” She turned to leave his room, trying to hide her expression of chagrin.

“Wait,” he called. Am I about to do this? “Wait. Ms. Ardra –“

 

 

“Octavia. Please. Call me Octavia.” She turned and smiled up at him with sudden sparkle.

“Octavia. I’d be pleased to attend the gathering with you. What time on Thursday should I be at the Dragon?”

“Oh! You’ll go?” She quickly realised that she sounded surprised, and changed her tone. “Don’t worry about meeting us. I’ll … I’ll meet you here at the end of the work day. We can Floo there together.” She smiled at him brightly and then finished with, “I’ll let you finish here. I’m sorry to have interrupted…” and left the room.

As he sat staring at the door, he could hear her voice as she spoke to someone she met in the hall. She sounded excited as she said, “Yes, I asked him. He said he’d come. I’m so ..” and then her voice faded out as she went too far for her voice to carry to his ears.

Severus turned back to his work, feeling confused. It sounded as if she really did want to go with him.

Thursday morning he dressed with special care. He didn’t let himself think about why he might want to dress any differently from his usual plain, serviceable black robes and cloak. Yes, plain black it would be.

He listened quietly to Ariel’s morning chatter, laughing to himself as she dropped several not very subtle hints about her hoped-for Christmas presents, and making sure to pack her favorite stuffed bear in her bag so she’d have it at Granny Molly’s house. Then, once breakfast was over, the two of them Floo'd to The Burrow.

There, they were greeted by chaos and noise. It seemed that Charlie had come home in anticipation of the coming holiday.

“Hey there, stranger!” he called to Severus. He’d been in Romania and had been promoted to one of the Managers of the Dragon reserve just half a year before, so had missed the usual summer Gathering of the Weasleys. Charlie strode over to Severus and clapped him on the back, grinning at Severus’ grimace of distaste and step backwards.

Severus countered by dropping Ariel in Charlie’s arms. The wiggly girl giggled at Charlie’s silly faces, then demanded to be let down. He bent down and set her on her feet. She took off running, screaming at the top of her lungs.

With his hand over his eyes, Severus moaned, “I’m letting my daughter be raised by wolves…”

Charlie burst out laughing and replied, “No, just Weasleys, but I’m sure that’s bad enough.” The two men strolled into the house discussing Charlie’s work and Severus’ latest experiments for St. Mungo’s.

Ron was also home, having let his Assistant Manager for the Wimbourne Wasps take over for the holidays. Ron had brought his two small sons to visit with him. (He’d had twins. Severus was never so thrilled at leaving Hogwarts as when he'd heard the news about the newest set of Weasley twins.) Luna would be visiting on weekends – she’d been unable to get time off during the week, as she was the managing editor of her father’s old paper. However, since the offices were in her father’s house, she was fairly close by and was planning on making it to The Burrow for some dinners during the week. She and Ron were hoping to make use of Molly’s ever-present willingness to have her grandchildren in order to have some private time over the holiday weeks.

Ron was on his back in the center of the living room floor when Severus entered the house. He was being vigorously attacked by Ariel and his own two children, Neville and Remus. He greeted Severus, and then, with a loud roar, grabbed all three children in his strong arms and rolled over. The children squealed with joy and wriggled until they escaped the “Monster’s” hold. He pushed himself up on his arms and then struggled to get up all the way.

Charlie twitched forward for a second, but Ron’s steady gaze held him where he stood. Finally he made it up to vertical. Reaching out for his wooden leg, he muttered the sticking spell as he settled it onto his right leg. Then, he clunked his way over to Severus and grabbed his hand.

“Thanks for sending in your monster. She distracted Nev and Remus. I need a break!” He laughed and wandered into the kitchen to beg for treats from his mother.

After a few minutes of further conversation with Charlie, Severus walked into the kitchen to talk to Molly about that evening. He’d need to leave Ariel here for a few extra hours.

“Molly?” he began. “I’ve been …” he started again, “There’s a gathering planned at St. Mungo’s this evening. I’ve been invited, I .. I agreed to attend.” Severus very carefully didn’t look at Charlie while he said this.

Molly eyed him interestedly. “Of course you can leave Ariel here. Why doesn’t she stay overnight? The boys would love to have her over. They love their big cousin…” She turned away to hide her changing expression.

He looked at her for a moment, feeling torn. He hated being away from Ariel, but he knew she’d love to stay at The Burrow. This was very complicated.

*** 

Hermione had been moved, in the Ministry, from the Clean Up Crew (as they jokingly called themselves) to the Research department in the Department of Mysteries. She loved the research opportunities, and spent many happy hours reading and studying. She’d been discovering some odd things, though, and was growing uneasy at what she thought she was seeing. The Ministry was moving in some … strict, possibly excessively strict directions, and she wasn’t sure what was going on.

She also missed her closer contact with people she’d known since childhood. The Department of Mysteries was closed off from most of the rest of the Ministry, so she didn’t have the chance to run into her friends in the same casual way.

She didn’t really realize how isolated this had made her until one day she decided to take lunch out at Fortescue’s. She had been bringing her lunch with her; she and Ginny and Draco had decided that they wanted to save up for a trip to France, so she’d been stretching her Galleons.

However, it was a lovely summer day and she wanted to be outside. She picked up her purse, signed out at the desk at the front of the Mysteries Department, and entered the lift, not looking at anything as she continued to think about what she’d been working on.

A familiar voice coming from over her shoulder startled her.

”Hi! Long time no see!” Dean’s smiling face twinkled at her. “I was beginning to think you’d never be allowed out of the Department of Mysteries.”

She smiled back at him and said, “Wow. You’re right. It’s been over a year! Where are you headed? I’m going to lunch – I’m treating myself to Fortescue’s. Want to come along?”

“Oh, I can’t,” his voice was regretful, “I’m meeting Susan for lunch today. You remember Susan, right? Susan Bones?” He relaxed against the back wall of the lift. “We’ve been dating for about a month now.”

“Really?” Hermione couldn’t figure out why she was so surprised. She wasn’t interested in Dean for herself, but she hadn’t realized how much she and the other Unspeakables were isolated. “I do remember her. Tell her I say hullo to her, okay?”

“Of course. And, I’d love to catch up with you. Do you think you could escape from there two days in a row to have lunch out with us tomorrow?”

She realized she missed his company. “Of course!”

He got off the lift at her old floor and she peered out of the closing doors at his retreating back. She was confused by her mixed feelings. She wasn’t that out of touch with her old friends, was she? Much more thoughtful, she wandered out of the Wizarding entrance to the Ministry and looked around herself at Diagonal Alley with fresher eyes.

She hadn’t been to the Alley in several months. When she’d been transferred to the Department of Mysteries, she’d been told by her new boss that she would be expected to work hard, and she had. She was beginning to realize, though, that there was an unspoken rule that Unspeakables were expected not to visit the rest of the regular Wizarding World.

She strolled slowly down Diagon Alley, looking into the shop windows and watching the press of wizarding humanity pass by.

Reaching Fortescue’s, she found an outdoor seat at a lovely table near the wall of the building. She leaned back and continued watching as people walked by. Slowly, she sat further and further forward as she became aware of the fact that something was wrong. At first, because she’d been away from Diagon Alley for so long, she hadn’t seen it, but now that she was looking it was obvious.

Almost no one was smiling. Everyone, but everyone, was speaking in low tones. She remembered from trips here when she was a child the wonderful bustle and noise that used to echo off of the brick walls and glass store fronts. That was gone. In its place was … quiet.

“May I help you?” a soft voice prompted at her elbow, interrupting her concentration. She jumped slightly and turned to see a very young witch wearing a Fortescue’s apron standing and waiting for Hermione to order.

“Uhm. Yes, right. Lunch. Do you have a special today? I’ll just …” Hermione trailed off, looking closely at the younger girl. “I’ll have the today’s special.” Hermione glanced around again, “Did something happen today to make everyone so quiet?”

The waitress looked at her confusedly. “Quiet? No, nothing happened.” She looked around the street herself, then glanced, blankly, at Hermione again. “I’ll just go get your lunch then, miss.”

Hermione felt very unsettled. Was she just not used to being here anymore? Any time she wasn’t at work, she’d been spending at the house with Draco and Ginny.

Now that she thought about it more, she realized that the three of them hadn’t had much contact with the wizarding world for quite a while. Draco had his Muggle job, Ginny was at home and she was here at the Ministry, but beyond her daily work she had no idea what was going on in everyday Wizarding life.

Her meal came and she ate it without even noticing what it was. Only after she finished mopping up the gravy from the bangers and mash did she even realize that she’d been eating. Glancing at her watch, she saw that she had another twenty minutes before she needed to be back at her desk. She stood up, dropped some coins on the table to pay for her meal, and walked determinedly out into the street.

She spent the time before having to go back looking at everything she could think of. Ollivander’s was the same, but it had always been quiet. Eeylop’s Owl Emporium was still full of screeches and hoots, but they seemed … less loud, somehow. Gringotts was imposing, of course, but the guard goblins were more plentiful. She saw what looked like eight of them out on the stairs leading up to the front doors.

Time for some research.

That night, at dinner, she brought the subject up with her two housemates. Draco shrugged and seemed to dismiss it. Ginny, however, was very intrigued and asked Hermione to go over everything she’d seen and found out.

Hermione repeated her discoveries and ended with, “And then, when I went back to my office, I glanced at the book when I was signing in and noticed that my name was the only one in the entire page which was signed out as going out to Diagon Alley. When I got back to my desk there was a new pile of work to do, so I couldn’t do much with my discoveries.”

Draco had lifted his head before this last bit. “You have to sign in and out?” His voice was odd.

“Yes. I have ever since I was transferred there. Isn’t that how it’s always been?” she replied.

He seemed lost in thought, then roused himself to say, “No. When I went there, oh, years ago now, with my father,” his hand sought Ginny’s, “the Department of Mysteries was as open as any other department. Well, there were some locked doors, of course, but…” his voice trailed off and he stared blankly at the far wall.

“Well,” Ginny’s voice was crisp, “what are we thinking here?”

At this, Draco sat up sharply. “When did we stop getting the Prophet?”

Hermione glanced at Ginny and answered, slowly, “Draco. We’ve never got the Prophet here at the house. I haven’t taken delivery of that rag since we lived at Grimmauld Place. Why?”

“Because, although it always printed the lies and falsehoods of the Leader of the Day, at least reading it gave one a handle on what the Accepted Lies were. Tomorrow, you’d better pick up a copy.”

Hermione nodded, slowly. She was having the oddest feeling. “Draco. Ginny. I don’t …” she stopped. “This sounds odd, but I don’t want to get delivery of the Prophet here. I …” she stopped again and looked helplessly at her hands, knotting themselves together on the table.

Draco looked at her piercingly. “You feel safer knowing that you’re on fewer Wizarding lists, don’t you?”

Her eyes snapped up to meet his.

“Yes. How did you know?”

He didn’t answer directly. “Did you even tell anyone at the Ministry you’d moved out here?”

Hermione’s eyes widened. She hadn’t. She hadn’t told anyone that she’d moved. Since she’d always come in by Floo, and her pay was sent directly to her Gringotts account, she had never bothered to tell anyone at the Ministry. Her eyes clouded as she tried to figure this out.

Draco smirked at her. “I take it from your silence that you haven’t told anyone where you live.”

Ginny made a small noise. “I have. I’ve told Mum, of course, and … she’s told Harry and the rest of the family.”

“Yes, yes,” Draco waved his free hand impatiently. “But what I’m talking about is –“

Hermione interrupted. “You are telling me that no one official knows where the three of us are. What do you think is happening?” She’d begun to pale as the conversation had gone further and further away from what she’d expected.

Yeah, I’d expected this to be blown off. I had no idea that I’d been hiding… Now to figure out what I think I’m hiding from.

Draco sat forward and grasped Hermione’s hand as well.

“I’ve been wondering about this for almost a year. I think that the Minister is closing the Wizarding world off.”

Ginny gasped and pulled her hand back. “What do you mean? Are we going to be cut off?”

He reached out and grabbed her hand firmly. “No. That’s not quite what I mean. I think…” he eyed Ginny warily, “I think that the people who are holding power right now are so afraid of what happened with Voldemort that they’re going too far in the other direction. This feels like the power grab my father told me about that happened just before …” again he glanced at Ginny, “before Harry stopped Voldemort the first time.”

Ginny sat, still, looking baffled and frustrated. “I don’t understand. You’re saying that Minister Smidgett-Jones is so afraid we’ll be taken over that he’s going to do it himself?”

Draco smiled. “You, as usual dearest, are entirely correct.” His demeanor changed suddenly. “Now, what, if anything, are we going to do?”

 ***

That afternoon, before Octavia whirled into his office, Severus had a headache. He’d been trying to decide if he was going to go with her or not. Would Hermione want him to go? Should he go? Was he reading too much in this? Octavia had said nothing that indicated anything more than friendship.

He knew he was lonely. He missed his wife, his beloved, gentle, intelligent Hermione. He didn’t know in which direction to go.

Octavia saw him at his desk, mirroring his stance the earlier time she’d gone into his office and found him sitting at his desk with his head in his hands.

She slowed her quick steps and walked up to him. She’d changed out of the plain robes most of the researchers wore into softer ones of a brilliant red, worked with silver embroidery. He looked up at the sound of her shoes on the stone floor.

She stopped moving at the bleak expression he showed before it slipped beneath his usual calm mask.

“Is it time already?” he asked.

Silently, she nodded.

“Excellent.” He rose and pulled on his cloak, the full length of it swirling around his ankles and feet. He smiled at her and extended his elbow. “Shall we go, then?”

Hours later, he sat at a table with his back to the wall of The Drunken Dragon, and laughed with his colleagues at the jokes another one of the Senior Researchers had been telling. Octavia was sitting quite close to him, had pretty much clung to him all evening. He was confused at his own reactions. He enjoyed the companionship of his coworkers; he was quietly pleased that he could form friendships with these people. However, Octavia and her actions left him feeling angry and frustrated. She wouldn’t leave him alone. He could see the questions in his colleagues eyes, and he didn’t want anyone to misunderstand. He was flattered that someone pretty and young could find him attractive (if that’s what she’s really up to…), but he didn’t feel anything other than pleasant enjoyment in her company. He also was deeply disturbed to see how quickly the other people he worked with assumed that there was more to the relationship than actually existed.

He needed to go home. He couldn’t figure out what he was feeling here in all of this noise and company.

After the next round of conversation, he started to excuse himself, trying to extricate himself quietly.

Octavia cried, “Oh, are you leaving so early?” and reached over to touch his arm.

He held himself still and looked down at the table. “Yes, I want to see Ariel tomorrow before I come in to work.” He knew that he was the only one at the table who had a child, so he was unprepared for the enthusiastic response from his entire group.

“You should bring her in with you!” This didn’t come from Octavia, but from her office mate, Jonas. Severus looked around at the faces surrounding him and felt some small, hidden part of himself soften. Lowering his eyes back to the table, he stated, “I’m not sure that would be appropriate.”

Octavia answered for the group. “Of course it is, Sev.” She missed his wince at the nickname, and continued, “We’d love to have her in. You haven’t brought her to work with you for a while.”

He answered vaguely and continued to attempt to escape. He’d made it halfway across the room, weaving carefully around the other patrons of the pub when he heard his name spoken loudly in the group he’d just left. With a sudden decision, he changed direction and aimed for the men’s room.

Once there, he pulled out one of the Extendable Ears he kept on him. Standing alone in the loo, he looked down at the toy in his hands. He knew that he only kept tools like this on him out of habit. There had been times in his life when trinkets like this had been the difference between life and death. Free and easy access to them was one of the benefits of becoming an honorary Weasley.

Am I really going to use this to spy on my co-workers? With sudden firmness, he straightened up and shook his head. No. This is not who I am any more. I’m clearly tired. I’ll go home.

He vacated the lavatory, hoping his actions had been unnoticed, and left the pub. He didn’t see Octavia’s eyes watching him, thoughtfully.

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

Ariel knew she was getting a lot bigger. She loved playing with the other children she’d met in the village below the house and also with the ones Molly was teaching along with her. She was speaking in full and complete sentences, and her Da had been proud the day she started reading on her own. He’d given her a special pudding and extra hugs when she started reading.

He told her stories every night before bed time, and her favorites were the ones about Mummy. She liked to sit on her Da’s lap, wrapped up in her nightgown and a blanket and listen to him tell stories about how her Mummy was smart and funny.

He told her stories about what her mum had done in school. He told her how brave her mum had been during the war. She loved hearing about Mummy; it made her feel warm inside to hear her Da tell her all about the things they’d done together. Sometimes he sounded sad, and he said he missed her, but he always said that at least he had his little Ariel, and that they would be a family together.

Sometimes he would bring her with him to his work. He worked in a hospital, where he helped invent potions to make sick people get better. Her Da was very good at helping people. He was also the best potions maker ever. She was sure of it.

There was another reason she liked to go to his work. Her uncle Harry was there too. He didn’t work with her Da (her Da had muttered under his breath something about a dunderhead, but then he refused to tell her what that meant.), but he did work with sick people. Uncle Harry said odd things too, occasionally. He said that he liked to use his gift for good and not just to save things.

She had been confused when he said that, because he wasn’t holding a gift. She waited to see if he had a package in his office, but he just had a tea set with nice hot tea and chocolate biscuits for her.

Her Da and Uncle Harry would sit together and talk. When they did that, she was supposed to wait for them, and that was usually an easy thing to do. She would bring a book and read it, or she’d draw with the paper and pens that Uncle Harry always kept in his room.

Today, however, she was bored. She read a little of the book she’d taken down off of the shelves at home (Wizarding Animals, by Amanda Genus), but there weren’t enough pictures. She couldn’t think of anything to draw. Aimlessly, she wandered around the room, trying to be quiet. She looked over at her Da and her Uncle, but they were talking loudly and smiling, and she knew that they weren’t going to stop any time soon. She crouched down in front of Uncle Harry’s bookshelf and began looking through the books.

Most of them were very dull looking. The Laying on of Hands, and Its History in Muggle and Wizarding Medicine by Manuale Digit. Your Spleen is Your Friend. (This one had the most disgusting illustrations, and they moved.) After poking at them for a few minutes, she transferred her attention back to the book case. Looking closely, she saw that something had fallen to the back. She looked over at her Da. He was still talking. She pulled out the bigger books in front and reached her arm all the way down past the remaining books to catch the one that had fallen down.

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. This one looked more promising. At least it wasn’t something about body parts. Suddenly she gasped and sat up very straight.

“Uncle Harry?” she called, uncertainly. “Uncle Harry!” She rushed over to him, holding the book carefully in her hands.

“Yes, little bumblebee?” he asked, looking down at her.

She held up the front page of the book. “Did you know my Mummy, too? That’s her name, isn’t it? Her… Her My Own Ee?”

She didn’t see her father pale slightly and tightly grasp the arms of the chair. His dark eyes moved to rest on Harry’s face. Harry, in turn, had raised his widened eyes to meet Severus’.

“Um. Yes, that’s right,” Harry choked out, “you got her name just right. And yes, Ariel, I knew your Mummy very well. She was a wonderful woman and we all miss her.” He held out his hand, shaking slightly. “Can I see that? Please?”

She handed the book over to him and he flipped open the cover to reveal a handwritten inscription.

To my dearest Harry, may you never have to slay another dragon.
Your loving, Hermione

In a soft voice he read the inscription out loud. He and Severus gazed at each other for long moments, both seeing the woman they’d lost, and the many other losses of the war. With a start, Harry realized that Ariel was still standing at the side of his chair, looking at him with an baffled expression on her face.

“Did you slay a dragon?” she asked.

Still holding his eyes on Severus’, he nodded slowly.

“Did you save the maiden?” she continued.

“What!” he gasped out. His eyes, wide with shock, moved to her face,.

“Well,” she explained in a reasonable tone of voice, “I mean did you save the maiden from the dragon? That’s the way it happens in the stories Da’s read me…”

Harry froze, caught in memory. Images flashed quickly across Harry’s vision. Images of Draco, in that last pitched battle, forced by his father’s iron-clad Imperio to fire hexes and curses at those he loved. Ginny, caught in the crossfire and killed by her lover before Harry could stop him. The passion and anger caused by the loss of these two beloved figures had galvanized the Order’s forces and they’d swept the Death Eaters away. Harry himself had been the one to kill Lucius Malfoy.

Harry gradually came back to the present, and when he looked up at Severus he could see that Severus was re-living the same horrific day and battle. The losses they’d sustained were crippling, even now.

Feeling as though he were hundreds of years old, he turned to the little girl, now almost six years old, and said, “You might be a little young to understand everything that goes on in this book, but I think you’ll like some of it. Maybe your Da can read it to you at bedtime. There is a neat map in the front, if you’d like to look.”

She smiled happily, and took the book back to the reading area to look at the map.

Over at the fireplace, the conversation sagged under the crushing weight of Ariel’s questions.

Oh, Merlin. I never knew Hermione gave Harry that book. What an inscription. Severus let his head fall forward, wishing for the impassivity he’d used to cultivate. I miss them both, Draco and Hermione.

Harry sat across from him, with his eyes trained on the fire. He was completely lost in thought. He had worked hard to put the war behind him. He’d done hateful horrible things to save other people, people he loved and cared about. Unfortunately, he had been unable to save some of the people he cared about most deeply. His nightmares were stalked by the ones he hadn’t saved. The two people Hermione had referred to in her inscription were probably the only ones of Harry’s dead who hadn’t come back to Harry’s dreams.

Both men knew that the Anniversary was coming up. They were, neither of them, looking forward to it. Severus could feel himself getting more and more irritable. He knew that his co workers had learned to avoid him at this time of the year; in fact, he’d noticed that his supervisor had stopped giving him new projects for this entire month. Apparently the one time he’d caused an explosion that had nearly destroyed half his office was enough for his supervisor, the head of the Magical Research Department at St. Mungo’s, to learn that March was a bad month for him.

Everyone was sympathetic. They all had experienced losses of their own and they understood how difficult it could be to deal with reminders of their loved ones. The sympathy made Severus’ skin crawl. He didn’t want people to be pitying, he wanted this weakness to disappear. To be the impassive, untouched man he’d been before Hermione had broken through his walls.

The two men, who’d both been so animated earlier, were sitting frozen in their chairs. Their eyes kept avoiding each other.

Finally, Harry said, “Well. Imagine her finding that old book. I.. uhm… you will be okay reading it to her, won’t you?” He looked at Severus, trying to make it look as if he were just … casually asking about the latest results of the crossword in the Prophet.

Severus’ head had dropped. His hair, which during the rest of the year he kept smooth and pulled back, had fallen forward to cover his face. His hands were clenched on the arms of his chair and Harry was worried that Severus’ fingers might just poke straight through the upholstery to the other side.

“I will manage,” Severus said tightly. “We should go.” He stood and unclamped his fingers from the chair, flexed them, then deliberately uncurled them so they lay flat against his thighs. He began to stride toward Ariel, when Harry caught his arm.

“Severus.” His voice was very low.

The only answer he received was a slight bending of the other man’s head.

“… We all miss her too. She was a great witch and the best friend a person could ask for.” Harry released Severus’ arm and watched as the older man visibly pushed his pain to the back and put on a softer face for his daughter. Then, everything was bustle and chaos as the two Snapes left Harry’s office to go back home.

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

Severus ran down the street, his feet moving in that gluey sticky way they do in dreams. He could see the house he was trying to reach, just ahead of him, but no matter how fiercely he forced his feet to move, he advanced as slowly as treacle on a winter’s day.

It was a winter’s day, today, even though it was late March. The weather hadn’t broken yet, and he’d forgotten his gloves. He could feel the biting cold as he struggled to hold onto his wand with frozen fingers.

Finally, in one last burst of speed, he managed to make it to the front door of the house. With a roar, he blasted the doors open, just in time to see Hermione sag to the floor as the sparkling green light from the Death Eater’s wand struck her. She turned her head and said, softly, “Severus…”, then collapsed.

“AVADA KADAVRA!” he bellowed, and the green jet from his own wand swelled until it was as wide as the hallway he stood in. The Death Eater turned in surprise and was hit directly in the face by the killing curse. Severus ignored his enemy’s falling body and rushed to Hermione’s side. There was no hope, he could see that immediately. Sobbing and howling, he cradled her limp body to his chest.

He woke up, his tears soaking into his pillow. He hated these dreams. They were never accurate.

Slowly, stiffly, he dragged himself out of bed. He knew he wouldn’t get any more sleep tonight. Feeling as if every single one of his years had been doubled, he creaked over to the sitting area and lit the fire with a muttered “Lumos”. With a pained groan he dropped into one of the squashy chairs and rubbed his face, trying to dry the tear tracks off of his cheeks.

Those damned dreams. Why must I keep having them? With a sigh he forcibly relaxed his body back into the chair and closed his eyes. The firelight made red swirls on the dark insides of his eyelids.

He hadn’t gotten there in time to kill the monster who’d killed Hermione. He hadn’t even been in the same city when she’d died. Harry had been the one sent to tell him what had happened; he’d guessed that everyone assumed that Harry would be able to control him if he’d gone berserk. As he pretty much had. Harry hadn’t had to control him, though. All the destruction had been internal.

He could still feel that terrible place inside him, the place where all was lost and it didn’t matter if he lived or died as long as he could destroy the thing that had destroyed him. The only thing which kept him from Apparating directly to Voldemort’s side and attempting to rip him apart by main force was the fact that Harry had killed the bastard the month before. This was the work of one of Voldemort’s henchmen. Some small time, knut ante, second string Death Eater. Miserable. Useless. Spineless…. Hopeless…

Finally, Harry’s voice had penetrated the red haze he’d been seeing. “Professor? Severus? Molly has Ariel, do you want her? Severus?”

Feeling as if he had been frozen, locked in a glacier for millennia, Severus turned his head to look at the younger man. “Ariel?” His voice was raspy and broken, the sibilant tones ruined.

“Yes, Ariel. She wasn’t with Hermione, she’s with Molly. Do you want to go to her? Or do you want -“ Harry’s voice broke, and from some far away place Severus remembered that he’d loved Hermione also. “Do you want to see Hermione?”

The only thing worse than those dreams are the ones where I get there in time to save her. Waking up from those kills me… he let the thought drift off, not wanting to acknowledge how much that was true. It felt as if, no matter how much he loved Ariel, loved being with Ariel, that he’d died when Hermione had and this life he was living now was just marking time until he could go find her.

He sat in his chair, not warmed at all by the crackling fire before him, and allowed his misery to overtake him.

Year Six

Hermione took the entire week of Christmas off and spend the time with Ginny, preparing the house. She knew that she needed the time with her family, her chosen family. They still weren’t sure what was happening to their world, but they were withdrawing more and more from it in many subtle ways.

Draco would be working every day at the toy store, but he had told the owner of the shop that he needed Christmas Eve off. He and his girlfriend celebrated on the Eve ever since the “accident” which had taken her sight. The day before Christmas was the first day she’d been conscious, and so that was their Christmas.

His employer, Hector, having met Ginny several times by then, was grudging, but willing. Giving up one more set of willing hands on one of the busiest days of the year was difficult, but he saw how devoted the two young people were to each other.

“All right. Call it my Christmas present to you.” He smiled at Draco’s sudden grin. The young man was much too serious most of the time. You’d think he’d been through more than just a bad year or two after school. He and his girl were certainly devoted to one another; the young man always said she’d rescued him from Hell, but it seemed to Hector that the girl, Ginny, saw Draco as her rescuer.

Draco worked late on the 23rd, to help make up for the fact that he wouldn’t be there the next day. He was exhausted from chasing the children around, answering redundant questions, refusing impossible requests while still being polite, and constantly opening boxes to restock the shelves. Finally, the store closed.

He carefully added up the day’s totals, knowing that as tired as he was, he might easily make a mistake and he didn’t want to have to come down here on his day off to fix something. Once that was done, he slowly pulled his coat on over his clothes and tugged the collar up to warm his neck. He was startled to see the smiling face of the owner peek around the doorway that led to the front of the store. This made him realize that the front of the store was unnaturally quiet. With a curious twist to his eyebrows, he walked softly to the doorway and peered around carefully.

What he saw touched him deeply. Every other employee was standing there, clearly waiting for him to come out from the back room. They all looked nervous and excited. Carefully, not knowing what to expect, Draco came into view in the doorway.

“Surprise!!” they all yelled, as they reached out and pulled him forwards. He was spun several times, and had to forcibly stop himself from reaching up his sleeve for his wand. After three revolutions, many hands steadied him and he saw Ginny and Hermione standing in front of him, laughing. His face was a study in shock.

“We thought we’d surprise you and walk you home!” they called to him, with large goofy grins. “We had no idea Hector would make it into a big surprise.” He had, in fact, bundled them into a side aisle so quickly that he’d nearly pushed them off their feet.

Now he shoved his way through the crowd of employees. “I have an announcement. Shut up, all of you heathens!”

The group quieted, laughing at his friendly abuse.

“Draco has been with us over a year as Assistant Manager. He’s worked very hard, keeping his temper even at the most trying times. The only person who’s worked more hours than he has is me, as owner. I’m tired. So… “ he drew out the last word, “so, I’m hereby promoting Draco Malfoy to full time Manager of the shop! I’m going to work 3 days a week now, and spend some time playing with my grandchildren.”

The shop was in uproar, with every one congratulating Draco and hugging him. Hermione and Ginny were holding each other and jumping up and down. Hermione bent down slightly so she could speak directly into the shorter girl’s ear.

“You should have seen his face. He was so shocked I thought his face would fall right off. He still doesn’t believe it, I can tell!”

Draco finally battled his way through his friends to where the two women stood. Ginny leaped at him and proceeded to hug him while continuing to jump up and down with joy. He tried to go along with it, but ended up just looking like a shaken drink. His face, usually closed, was open and surprised, filled with wonder.

Once Ginny had calmed down slightly, he looked down at her brilliant eyes and beaming grin. He put her away from him for a moment and grasped her shoulders.

“There’s… there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” he said softly. He’d meant it to be unheard in the general hubbub, but somehow the whole shop went quiet as soon as he started to speak. Looking very nervous, he continued. “Ginny? Ginevra?” He let his hands slide down her arms to link with her fingers and then he slid down onto both knees in front of her.

“Ginevra Weasley. Will you marry me?”

The silence was deafening. It seemed as if everything in the world was holding it’s breath, waiting for the copper-haired girl to respond.

“Of course I will,” she said softly. Her face changed, the glow deepening as tears began running down her face. “Now come up here and kiss me!”

He gave her a long, sweet kiss that only broke apart as Hector began howling. “Wait! Draco – do you have a ring for her?” Hector’s voice was teasing.

Draco realized, with horror, that he did have a ring. However, it was at the cottage; he had planned on asking this question the next day. He blushed. “Uh. Yes? But, it’s … it’s… Not here.”

“Not good enough,” roared Hector. “Here, take this!” He handed one of the store’s novelty rings over to Draco who looked down at it in bemused horror. It was plastic, with a large fake diamond in it. There was a button on the side, which, when pushed, caused the diamond to light up in different colors. He looked to Hermione to rescue him from this situation, but she was laughing too hard to do anything except flap her hands ineffectually.

With a humiliated sigh, he grasped Ginny’s left hand. “Here’s a ring, to pledge our troth,” he proclaimed in ringing tones. Never let it be said that a Malfoy couldn’t play along and do it well. Ginny’s right hand came over to feel the monstrosity and she began giggling helplessly.

***

It was the week before the Anniversary. Severus found himself staying at work later and later. Ariel was staying at Molly’s for a week, because Ron’s twin sons would be going to France for several months with Luna while she was traveling for the Quibbler. She wanted to bring them with her, and since Ron was going to be traveling for that time (the Wasps were doing well under his management), they thought that this would be good for the children. Ariel had wanted to spend some extra time with her cousins before she couldn’t see them for months and months. Everyone was happy with that arrangement.

Everyone but Severus. He missed his daughter. He saw her every evening, as he stopped in at The Burrow to bid her goodnight. However, he’d started staying at work late – late enough to just Apparate directly to The Burrow for the bedtime ritual. He didn’t let himself think about how he was avoiding his empty house.

Octavia had noticed his late hours. Since that first time, he’d attended the Drunken Dragon evenings on a semi-regular basis. He was careful not to arrive with Octavia, but several times had been … ambushed … was the only word he could think of by her outside the pub on his way in so it appeared that they were arriving together. He didn’t know what to do about this situation.

She was his co worker, and he liked her. He just wasn’t attracted to her and wished that there was a way to let her know this without jeopardizing their work relationship. She was decent as a lab partner, but he wasn’t interested in anything else. He was afraid, though, that her actions were causing severe misapprehensions with some of the other staff members.

Now that he was staying later each night, she’d taken to staying also, and meeting up with him “accidentally” in the halls. He was getting frustrated.

That evening, he was in his office, watching the latest of a series of experimental potions prove itself unreliable. He was about to get up and wash out the cauldron when he heard voices from the other side of his door. Standing up and moving silently to listen, he overheard two of his colleagues talking about him.

“So, has Octavia gotten him yet?” That voice was certainly Smythe. Smythe was a wizard older than Minerva, and an incurable gossip and rumour monger. His voice was the most nasal Severus had ever heard, and he had adopted what he thought was a posh sounding accent to “cover” his lower class Muggle roots. The resulting sound was harsh and repellant.

The answering voice was softer, and Severus had to lean closer to the door to hear the response. “No, she hasn’t. She’s getting very irritable, also. She thought that he’d be easier than this. What’s odd is that I think she really likes him.” Severus couldn’t place this voice. It was lighter than Smythe’s and female, and he could see the face that went with it, but he didn’t know the name.

“Reeeally?” sneered Smythe. “You think she likes him? He’s so … skinny.”

The witch continued. “Octavia’s gone home several times in the past year crying because she can’t get through to him. I’m sure she really likes him. I don’t know what he’s going on about, blowing hot and cold like this.”

The two voices were past his office now, and beginning to fade. Severus could just hear Smythe’s reply, “I think he’s just trying to make the most of what he’s never gotten. You know, someone pretty to look at him.”

Severus stood at the door, frozen with shock and anger. How dare that hateful man imply that Hermione… he stopped the thought there. How dare that woman insinuate that I’m leading Octavia on? I’m not interested in anyone but Hermione. Smythe has never met Hermione. None of the people here have. Oh, Hermione. I miss you so much. You’d know what to do here…

After some minutes, Severus calmed down enough to realize that the best thing to do would be to talk to Octavia. Clearly the two of them had some things to discuss.

He found her in her office, staring absently at her empty desk. She looked up at his entrance and her face lit up. Oh, Merlin. How did I ever miss this? I used to be good at figuring out what the people around me were thinking.

He carefully closed the door behind himself and leaned against it.

“Octavia.”

At his closed voice, her face contracted. “Don’t,” she said. “You’re going to tell me that you’re not interested in me. Just don’t.”

“I must, Octavia. I’m not interested in you as anything but a friend. I am married –“

Octavia’s voice was hot and bitter. “She’s DEAD, Severus. Why don’t you see that? She died years ago and you’re still punishing yourself. I know how she died. It was her own stupid fault!”

He jerked back against the door. His face had gone bloodless. “You … you…” He could feel his control slipping. He grasped desperately at the shredding edges of his self control and tried again. “You know …”

She was screaming at the top of her lungs now. “Yes. I looked it up. The stupid bitch went into that building following what she thought was a baby crying. She didn’t even stop to use a simple discovery spell. She just went charging in and got herself killed. Why are you still pining for her? There was no baby. The Death Eater had deliberately lured her up there, knowing that she’d come to investigate. She died to save nothing. She wasted her life and you have her up on a pedestal for it…” Octavia was gasping and choking. She had stood up and was holding her clenched hands buried in her stomach, with her body leaning forward. Her face, normally a pale cream color, was blotchy red and purple and her usually well groomed hair had fallen everywhere around her face. She didn’t even seem to see him standing frozen to the door, with his eyes wild and his breath hitching in his chest.

He tried several times to get something, some sound, any sound, past his closed throat and clenched teeth, but finally could only manage to gasp in enough air to say, “You will never understand the sacrifices a truly brave woman is willing to make if you think for one instant that Hermione’s life was wasted. She would never think that.”

He stumbled out of Octavia’s office and into his own. Leaving his cloak on its hook, and completely ignoring his ruined experiment, he moved across his office towards the fireplace. His foot caught on a table leg sending what had been resting on it cascading to the ground. He turned to see what he’d knocked over, but all he could see was Hermione’s face in the coffin. She’d looked so peaceful, just as if she were sleeping. Harry and Ron both had ended up wrapping him in giant hugs just to keep him from jumping up in the front row of the church and shaking her to make her wake up.

He staggered to the fireplace and felt around the mantel until his hand knocked over the flowerpot of Floo powder. Grabbing a handful, he tossed it into the fire and said, as clearly as he was able, “Hermione’s House.”

Seconds later, he fell out of his fireplace in the living room. He pulled himself off the hearthstones and collapsed onto the carpet. After several interminable minutes, he pushed himself up to his knees and tried to stand the rest of the way up. Deciding that he’d have to use one of the chairs, he turned to his right and saw someone sleeping in his favorite chair.

The figure was stirring, probably at the horrible grating noise he was making. He stayed there, on his knees, with his eyes widening and his skin going ice cold as his gaze traveled up from the bare feet uncovered by the sensible soft cotton pyjama pants under a black robe past the hands resting in the intruder’s lap up to stop at the curly mass of brown hair crowning the woman’s head. She raised her head and turned, sleepily, around to look at what had awakened her. As her eyes met his she paled and whispered, “Severus?”

The room spun around him. He cried out in horror and confusion and collapsed, unconscious, on the floor.

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

He woke up slowly. He could feel his body, but he couldn’t move. He remembered the hated feeling of collapsing on the floor. There had been much less of that in recent years, but he’d learned intimately what it felt like during the most awful years of the war. After what felt like hours, he regained feeling in his body and turned his head. He wanted to see if she was still there.

He saw the draperies of his bed, and beyond that, the papered walls of his bedroom. With a groan, he sat up and tried to make sense of what had happened.

All of a sudden, the door swung open and Harry walked in. He was carrying a tray filled with tea things and pastries. When he saw that Severus was sitting up, his face cracked open into a smile and he hurried to put the tray down on the low table near the fireplace across the room.

Once his hands were free, he came over to Severus. “So, you’re finally awake,” he chuckled. “Care to tell me what you’ve been dreaming about? You were tossing and turning like crazy…”

Severus’ hands clenched in the blankets. “Where is she?” he asked harshly. “Why isn’t she in here with me?”

Harry’s face twisted in confusion. “Where is who? Severus? What happened?”

“Hermione, dammit,” Severus shouted. “I saw her in my library last night. Where is she?” He was panting and shaking, his whole body running hot and cold.

Harry’s confusion deepened. “Severus. You couldn’t have seen Hermione last night. You were in this bed last night. You’ve been unconscious for two days.” He stopped at the breaking expression on Severus’ face. “Why don’t you tell me what happened, from the beginning…?”

Severus’ eyes were flat and confused. “Two days?” He seemed to barely believe his old nemesis. “What happened?” He looked blankly around the room as if he’d never seen it before. “I. Oh. I was at work, about to clean up when I heard…” he trailed off and stared at Harry again. “Hermione’s not here?” His voice was small and lost.

At Harry’s befuddled shaken head, Severus crumpled and pressed his face to his drawn up knees. His whole body shook as he tried to figure out what he’d seen. Harry’s hand came out tentatively and rested a few inches above Severus’ heaving back. After a moment’s hesitation, Harry began stroking small circles on the older man’s back, trying to soothe him.

Finally, Severus turned his head towards Harry, keeping his forehead resting on his knees. “I was at work. I’ve been working on something for children, something to help prevent rubella, and it’s not going well. I was about to clean up my latest failure, when I heard two people talking outside my door.

“I’ve been staying late – You know Ariel…” He sat up suddenly and looked, horrified, at Harry. “Ariel. Does she know what happened? Where is she? She’s never gone this long without seeing me… what did you tell her?” His voice grew more uneven and anxious as his questions escalated.

Harry, in the most soothing voice he could find, said, “Ariel’s fine. She’s been coming here to sleep, and she spent the day with the Twins at their shop. I’m sure she’s having lots of fun right now,” his voice became rueful, “but I don’t think you’ll be amused at the tricks she’s learned.”

“What did you tell her about me?” Severus repeated. He was very worried that his one precious daughter would have been terrified by her father’s illness.

“We told her that you were exhausted from working hard on a new potion – did you know she thinks you can make a potion that will fix anything? – and that you needed the sleep. She’s been making a game of how quiet she can be.” Harry stood up. “Why don’t you visit the loo and put on some clothes. Then, come on back here and we’ll eat breakfast.”

An hour later, Harry sat stricken as Severus finished his story. Harry’d started out with a cup of tea and a fruit pastry, but once Severus had begun recounting Octavia’s words, he’d plunked the items down on the tray before he dropped them in his lap. Severus had managed to eat a small muffin and had drunk half a cup of tea before he became so enraged again by the memory of what his colleague had said that he couldn’t hold anything. His hands were clenching and unclenching as if they were looking for something to crush.

Harry’s face was white and still as he looked up at the older man. “Severus? Has anyone ever told you how Hermione died?”

Severus froze. His eyes burned on Harry’s face. “You know?” His voice was the barest thread of a whisper.

Harry just looked at him. “Severus. I was there. That’s why I was the one sent to get you – everyone thought I could tell you what happened. But,” his throat closed. After a few tries, he started again. “You were so dead to anything I said. I tried to tell you, but …” He looked up at his friend, and his best friend’s husband. “I didn’t know you still don’t know what happened.”

“Tell me.” Severus’ voice was still just a whisper, but the threat it contained was immeasurable.

Harry took a deep breath. “We were looking for Windling, Anther Windling. You remember him? He used to steal children and …” he stopped with his mouth open but no sound coming out.

“He would torture them. Until they died. I remember him.” The threat in Severus’ voice was still there, but it was underlaid now with a growing anger.

“We’d been hunting him for weeks when we finally heard rumors that he was in our neighborhood. Hermione was livid; the only thing she could think of was making sure to kill him before he found out where Ariel was. There were several Order members and a few Aurors out looking for him. Hermione and I were a team – we used to work so well together.” Harry’s face was pensive. He looked up and was chilled by the frozen menace on Severus’ face. Hurrying, he continued retelling that awful day’s events. “I was running search spells on the right side of the street when Hermione said she’d heard something. She rushed off towards a building I hadn’t searched yet, calling something about hearing a baby. I yelled at her to wait, but …”

“She didn’t.” The difference between the dead voice and the menacing face was terrifying. Harry had never seen Severus look so much like the Death Eater he had been. The threat was fearsome.

“No, she didn’t. She wanted to save… to save… the baby. She saw Ariel in every baby she saved from that bastard.” Harry’s face was covered with tears now, and he brought his hands up to cover his face. “If I’d managed to get there faster I might have been able to stop her…”

“No, you couldn’t have.” Harry looked up again at Severus. The anger and menace were gone, replaced by anguish and sorrow. “She would have stopped at nothing to save a child. She was courage personified.” He collapsed back into the chair and held his face in his hands.

“I know I saw her last night.” At Harry’s movement, he added, “Well, alright. Not last night, then. Two nights ago. She was here. I heard her.” The hope in his voice terrified the younger man.

“Severus.” Harry looked extremely nervous. “You saw her body, years ago. She’s dead. You can’t have seen her two nights ago.”

With a final rub of his eyes, Severus looked straight into Harry’s eyes. “She was wearing clothes I’ve never seen on her. She can’t be a ghost, because they manifest in clothes they’ve owned. She was wearing something I’ve never seen on her. It was… black and soft.” His eyes became troubled. “It looked like one of my old robes from when I taught at Hogwarts, now that I think about it.”

***

Hermione hated it when she dreamed of Severus so vividly she could still see him after she woke. Although, this is the first time I’ve ever dreamed him up drunk like that, she mused.

It had been three days since she’d awakened from a late night study session in the library and found Severus thrashing on the floor. He’d gotten up to his knees and frozen, staring at her with the most unreadable expression she’d ever seen on his face. Then, when she’d called his name, his face had exploded into hope and he’d fallen forwards. When he hit the floor, he’d disappeared.

If he hadn’t, she wouldn’t have believed that it was a dream. He’d seemed so real. It seemed as if she could feel the heat rising from his body. Draco and Ginny hadn’t known what to make of it either, but they were sure that she’d figure it out.

The three of them had been spending time trying to decide what they wanted to do. They didn’t like what they had been learning about the Ministry and it’s activities. They’d taken out a subscription to the Prophet and used Hermione’s work address as the delivery address. Hermione wasn’t sure how it was delivered, as she never saw the owl arrive at her desk in the Department of Mysteries, but faced with larger and more dangerous mysteries she chose to not track down the method of delivery.

Ginny had been the one to compile all of the information in all of the articles into something they could use to try to work out what was going on. She had used the Dictare charm and had listened to every article with unwavering attention. Hermione was trying to figure out who at the Ministry might know what was going on.

To that end, she was sitting at a back table in the Leaky Cauldron, waiting to meet Seamus and Neville. Seamus had been working for an international Broomwright and Broom Supplier and might have some interesting information. Neville had gotten a job at the London Herbological Society and would be able to shed some light on what was happening in other research areas.

She felt conspicuous sitting back here in the dark, all alone. Every other table was filled and spilling over, and she had been forced to ferociously guard the two empty chairs at her table. Finally, when she was on her third butterbeer, she saw Neville’s friendly bulk walk in from the London Door. He waved cheerfully at Tom and wove his way over to her table.

“Hi!” he called. “It’s been a long time. I keep meaning to drop into Grimmauld Place to see you, but things keep coming up.” He pulled out one of the chairs and settled into it.

Hermione grimaced. She still didn’t want to tell too many people about her new house. Until she had some idea of what was going on in her adopted world, she wanted the safety of a hidey hole.

She smiled back tightly. “I’m barely there, what with work and all. How are you? You’re looking quite well.”

Neville smiled happily. “I’m great. The Society is wonderful to work for. Did you know that we just got a shipment of Morinda citrifolia. They’re really interesting and I’m getting to work with them.”

Seamus came over to the table, startling them. “You, getting to work with a plant? What ever will happen next!” His teasing grin made the other two Gryffindors laugh.

Hermione cast a discreet Quietus Tintinnus charm, and the three of them settled down to have a quiet chat, confident that anything they said would be completely private. Anybody listening in would hear a quiet chatter, as if the three of them just were speaking quietly.

Hermione pulled out the notes she and Ginny had worked up. “Have either of you been to Diagon Alley recently?” She looked up in time to see Neville’s face change slightly.

“Yeeees.” He looked puzzled for a moment, then added, “It felt odd there, somehow. I thought I must have been imagining it. I’m in with my plants so much that I think I forget how to deal with people.” He chuckled, but Hermione just nodded and made a quick note on her parchment.

“How would you say it’s different from the way it was when we were children?”

Seamus was looking from Hermione’s face to Neville’s in confusion. “Are you saying that there’s something wrong with Diagon Alley? Our shop is right there on the corner of Diagon Alley and Horizont Alley. I’m there all the time and I haven’t noticed anything.”

Hermione looked back and forth between them. “Seamus. Have things seemed … quiet to you? Quieter than usual, I mean. For example,” she gestured around them, “look at the size of this crowd. Big, huh? But, do they sound boisterous? Happy? Loud?”

Her two companions looked out at the other patrons. They looked subdued. Some even looked nervous. They turned puzzled eyes back to Hermione. She nodded at them and pushed her notes towards them. “Read this. This is what’s been in the Prophet for the past two weeks.”

The parchment showed a listing of each time a topic was mentioned. Hermione, Ginny and Draco had been horrified to see how often Death Eater threats were still mentioned, and Harry’s name had been in every issue. He’d been portrayed as the only thing that could protect the Wizarding world from the Evil lurking all around them.

“I know that the Clean Up Team has been going on raids. I’m still keeping in touch with Dean Thomas. However, he’s said that every time there’s a raid, they find a pile of rubble and there are some hexes shot their way, but by the time the Clean Up Team gets into the demolished building, the hex throwers are gone. He’s begun to wonder if there isn’t just one team of …” she hesitated for a long moment. “He’s begun to think that they’re not fighting real Death Eaters. He’s one of the few members of that team that fought in the real Voldemort War. He said that these people aren’t acting at all like the Death Eaters used to act.”

The two young men at her table stared at her with horrified faces. Finally Neville cleared his throat. “So, if it isn’t really Death Eaters, then who is it?”

Before Hermione could answer, a heavy hand slammed down on the table. The three people looked up, startled, to see an older wizard looming over them.

His eyes narrowed at them. “Don’t you know about the rules? Or do you think you’re above the new rules?” He pointed at a large plaque over the entrance to the Wizarding World Door. “Or is it that you can’t read?” he went on. “It says right there that secrecy spells aren’t allowed in public places. For the good of us all, don’t you know…” With a final leer, he strolled away, nodding once to Tom.

The three young people sat, frozen, and then, with unspoken agreement, stood up and walked to the London Door. Hermione turned back at the last minute and handed Tom several Sickles as payment for their drinks. Then, she followed her two friends into the London evening.

With a nod, all three Apparated away.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Hermione hoped that no one still living at Grimmauld Place would mention the fact that she wasn’t living there anymore. The three of them were sitting at the kitchen table, wondering when Remus and Harry would be back. Hermione was just glad that those two had always had such unpredictable schedules that no one would think it strange that she didn’t know what their schedules were.

As it happened, Harry was the first one back. He walked into the kitchen and stopped cold at seeing the three of them at the table.

“Oh, it’s you,” was all he said before grabbing an apple from the bowl on the table and leaving the room.

Well, he’s still as personable as he’s been since the end of the war. Why did Percy have to do that hateful thing, anyway? Hermione knew that thinking about those awful last days of the war was sure to make her upset and hysterical, and she forced the thoughts back into the mental box she normally kept them in. I just miss my friend… I miss all of them.

She took a deep breath. They had to figure this out. Maybe then Harry would come out of his shell again.

She, Seamus and Neville all hunched over the table and started to work.

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

She was back in that Other version of her house. It was night time, and she was wandering around the rooms. This time she could touch things – she always found it unnerving when her hands passed right through things. She looked in the child’s room, and saw that it no longer had the baby crib. There was a regular bed there now, and the books in the room were much more advanced. She walked closer to the bed to see if she could see what the little girl looked like now, but the bed was empty. Glancing at the nightstand, she pulled her breath in with shock. There, on the nightstand, was a hardcover edition of The Hobbit. There was a ribbon placed in the book, as if to hold someone’s place. Next to the book was a miniature model of a dragon. It was curled up in sleep, and she leaned close to look at it. It looked just like she’d always imagined Smaug to look. There were even small puffs of smoke rising from it’s nostrils. Smiling, she turned to leave the room.

What she saw in the doorway made her freeze. Severus stood there, looking bleakly at her. She stepped towards him, but he didn’t move. Only after she took one more step towards him did she realize that he wasn’t looking at her. He couldn’t see her at all. He was looking at that empty bed. The sadness in his eyes felt like a knife in her stomach. She watched as he approached the bed and gently stroked the covers before tucking in the stuffed bear that was lying on the bed. Then, his hand brushed the sleeping Smaug and the cover of the book. With a deep sigh, he left the room.

She followed him down the hall and into the kitchen. He began pulling together a meal and she was reminded of how he had always said that cooking was easy after working on complicated potions. There was a noise at the front door and his head lifted with a lightening expression. Hermione turned to see who was entering, and saw the little girl, all grown up now into a young lady of about seven, followed by a familiar looking darker haired woman who smiled at the child’s exuberance upon seeing Severus. Hermione watched as he hugged the woman and the girl. As they sat down to eat, she found herself drifting back to her bed.

At work the next day, Hermione was distracted. She’d been working on the latest set of numbers generated by her co-workers, but she just couldn’t keep her mind on her work. All she could think about was her dream from the night before. Finally, she gave up and rested her forehead on the open books on her desk.

That Other place seems so nice. I wish ¬– she lifted her head slightly. Then, slowly and deliberately, she stuffed all non-work related thoughts into a small trunk in her mind and closed and locked it.

 ***

The day of the actual Anniversary, Severus didn’t go in to work. He’d been forcing himself to go for the past few days; the atmosphere had been difficult. Somehow, everyone knew that Octavia had stopped wanting to see him, and there were many who blamed him and thought that he should have been grateful to have had any attention. He pulled his old dignity and impassive demeanor about him and continued about his daily work.

To his surprise and deep pleasure, a few of his colleagues had stopped by and casually discussed things with him in the same way they would have before Octavia’s outburst. He was ashamed of how deeply touched he was that not everyone thought he was the villain of the piece.

Only one person went so far as to openly comment to him about the situation. She was an old witch, one who’d been working at St. Mungo’s research facility for longer than Severus had been living.

“You have to understand,” her cracked voice poked at Severus, “that working so closely with people will make some of the more unstable develop … I think the common term today is ‘crushes’, although in my day we called it a ‘pash’. You’ll see. She’ll soon turn to someone who will give her the attention she craves. Just you go on with your life and your work. You can’t let someone like that get in the way.” She nodded her head fiercely at him and then moved out of his office and into the hallway.

He’d just stared after her when she left. He hadn’t had many people take his part and it was still a wonder to him. He kept expecting to hear sarcasm and lies in his supporter’s voices.

However, once the day actually came around, he found himself unable to go to work. He Fire Called the Head of his Department and asked for the day off, claiming he was sick with some virus or another. His supervisor was sympathetic, but the look Severus saw in her eyes appeared much stronger than was truly warranted for a simple viral attack.

Since Ariel was at Molly’s for the day, and would be coming home late, Severus spent the day getting drunk. He knew that Molly would come with Ariel and get her put to bed. He felt awful, knowing that he’d been ignoring Ariel for the past week, but he needed to come to grips with his latest experiences before he talked to his daughter. She was sure to ask him questions that he wasn’t certain he had the answers to.

By that evening, he was sitting in his library on the floor leaning back against the seat of one of the chairs. Bottles decorated the carpet around him, some tipped over, some standing, but all empty. He felt great. The whole world was floating and the fire was making lovely shapes. If he concentrated they looked like long curly hair.

Before he knew it, he had passed out.

***

Later that evening, she decided to see how far she could investigate into the Department of Mysteries. She took her purse, but left her big carrying bag at her desk. Stretching after the long hours spend studying in her office, she walked casually out her door and down the hall. She thought she remembered where she and the other Fifth Years had gone that one memorable time they’d come to the Department of Mysteries.

Yes, if I turn here and then … Hermione looked left and right. Okay, there’s the hallway. Now, where’s that room with the time and the clocks? Oh! Through here? I thought it was-

Her thoughts broke off suddenly as she realized that she was in the middle of the round room that they had gotten lost from all those years ago. With a twisted smile of mingled horror and memory, she walked across the room and entered the door one to the right from the one directly across the room.

Yes. This is the right hall. Now, I turn and … she trailed her hand along the wall as she walked slowly down the hallway. She remembered all of this. She’d been putting off coming down here for a while; knowing that it would bring up memories of earlier times and younger, missing, friends.

With a final glance around, she stood in front of the Room of Time. Carefully, not knowing if there were wards set up to guard the doors, she moved the handle and opened the door. Someone had fixed the ever falling shelves of Time Turners. The Bell Jar was missing, though. She stepped into the room fully and looked around. Now that she had a quiet chance to really look around she saw many interesting gadgets in here.

There were the Time Turners of course, but she’d seen them. She saw some large ones that must be for going back years at a time; they were on the bottom of the cabinet. On the wall to the left of the cabinet she saw a collection of clocks. None were quite like Molly’s clock (I’m glad I don’t have one of those. I couldn’t stand it if I had to see the hand depicting someone I love move into Mortal Peril. I don’t know how Molly did it for so long.) but were showing other things. She moved closer to see if she could figure out what they were for. That one’s got to be a regular clock. Funny seeing a cuckoo clock here, though. She made sure not to touch anything, but let her eyes rove over every object she saw.

Next to the clocks was a large Tapestry. It was hanging on the wall, unfinished. As she stepped back to ponder it, she realized several things. It wasn’t just unfinished, it was huge. In fact, the top of it went straight through the ceiling and continued up. She leaned close to the Tapestry to see if she could see where it was hanging from, but all she saw was dusty air. It seemed to go on up forever. Moving her eyes back to the fabric, she saw that it was a jumble. All sorts of colors, all sorts of fibers were woven into the giant Tapestry. As she peered at the unfinished edge, she saw that it was weaving itself, slowly, with the fibers being pulled up from large opaque jugs on the floor. She took a few large steps back to see if she could see a pattern from a distance. There did seem to be large swaths of color, but something was very odd. The Tapestry was striped from top to bottom. Not all the stripes had the same concentration of colors. Some were darker than others. There were firm divisions between the vertical stripes, and in some parts of the Tapestry it was almost as if there were dark and light stripes going up and down. Other areas were more evenly matched. She stepped up to the fabric again to see if she could distinguish what was making the stripes stay separate from each other, but she couldn’t see anything to divide the weaving. It did appear as if there was a tiny glowing strand in several of the stripes, but she couldn’t make it out clearly…

Through that other door there – that’s where the brain room is, right? She queried her memory. She knew she didn’t want to go there; Ron had never fully recovered from what the other brains had done to him. Some of those other brains’ memories were useful, though.

She turned to continue wandering through the rooms, not noticing that her purse had knocked one strand from one of the stripes into the weaving of the stripe just next to it.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Hermione made it back to her office and realized that it was quite late. She’d been wandering around in the Mysteries for quite a while. Tiredly, she looked at her desk, filled with study that had become less and less important to her. She knew that there were projects she should work on, projects that she needed to finish soon, but she just couldn’t bear to look at them now. Her trip down Memory Lane had exhausted her.

Also, she recognized that she had been putting off going home. Draco and Ginny were spending some time at The Burrow. Since the engagement, Molly had been working on the two of them, trying to force them into one extravagant plan or another. Draco was taking it in stride, but it annoyed Ginny to no end. Hermione found the whole situation funny and sad at the same time. She had no parent left – if she ever got married (Which is very unlikely now, isn’t it?) she’d have to do all the planning by herself.

Gathering up some work so she could honestly say she’d brought some home (Whether I work on it or not is my own business…), she blearily walked to the Floo Point. After a few moments of waiting in line, she grabbed her handful of Floo Powder and tossed it into the fire. Once the flames shot green, she stepped into the center of them and carefully said, “Hermione’s House”.

She, Ginny and Draco had decided to name the house that; it was sensible and it could be anywhere. A flat in London. A shack in the woods. It disturbed Hermione a little to see how far the three of them would go to hide where they were, but they all felt the unpleasant atmosphere of the Wizarding World and enjoyed the safe feeling it gave them to be hidden, even slightly.

When she fell out of her fireplace at home, she grimaced.

I hate Flooing. All that ash and the stupid twirling is hell on my hair. Oh well. Time for dinner, I guess.

She dropped her bags by the side of the chair she’d adopted as ‘her’ chair and went off to coax dinner from the food they had left in the fridge. Once she’d convinced the fridge and cooker to cooperate on a nice curried lamb with rice, she brought a bowlful into the library and ate while reading. She’d intended to read up on political attempts in the Wizarding World’s past, but couldn’t bring herself to open the thick and dusty book she’d brought home.

With a smile of pleasure, she walked to one of the shelves nearest her chair and pulled out a copy of The Hobbit. Seeing the copy in the Other House had reminded her of how much she liked that book. Surely the others won’t mind if I read something lighter, just this once, she rationalized.

She finished her dinner almost without noticing it, and in fact only realized it when she’d put an empty spoon into her mouth two or three times. Laughing softly at herself, she brought the now empty bowl back to the kitchen. She left it to soak in the sink and brought a teapot and some biscuits to the library to finish her relaxing evening alone. She’d clean up later.

She lost herself so completely in the book and its story of discovery and exploration that she didn’t see the walls shimmer. Once or twice she’d glance up from the pages, and sip her tea, but she was still so deeply immersed in the story that she didn’t notice the growing insubstantiality of the objects around her.

In fact, the effects of her emotionally draining day caught up to her before she got much further than halfway through the book and she slumped softly in her chair, deeply asleep. The book fell from her loosened fingers. She never noticed that it didn’t thump on the floor, but disappeared as if it had fallen right through.

***

Severus groaned as he awoke. I really should have known better than to do this. I’m much too old to be getting drunk and Ariel will want to see me at breakfast. At least I won’t have to cook it. Concentrating hard on the door so that his head wouldn’t shake too much and set off the large trolls with hammers he could feel hovering at the back of his brain, he slowly dragged himself up and left the bottles behind, blindly staggering off to find an Anti-Hangover potion. He was sure he still had one. Somewhere.

After an excruciating half hour of search he found his collection of morning after potions in the back of the kitchen cabinet over the fridge. Who the hell put it there? he groused, knowing that it was probably his own fault. He really didn’t intend to do this often. He steeled his nerves and popped the cork on the vial. Tipping his aching head back on a neck that really didn’t want to move that way, he drained the entire vial of potion. Yes. Just as foul tasting as I remember.

I’d better go clean up the library before Ariel sees it. I don’t want to have to explain the new bottle shaped decorations on the carpet to her.

He conjured up a large basket to put the bottles in and walked back into the library. After a few moments of stooping and gathering, he decided to just gather the bottles together and levitate them into the basket for disposal. He was glad he’d taken the potion – the noise of clattering bottles was quite loud.

As he came around in front of the chairs by the fire, he waved his wand for what felt like the hundredth time and muttered “Wingardium Leviosa.” One of the bottles knocked against something and he looked to see what was stopping it from flying towards him.

It was a foot.

He froze. His eyes slowly traced up the figure to rest on the intruder’s face.

The sound of breaking glass woke Hermione from her deep sleep. She jumped up out of the chair, still mostly asleep. “What – “ she started, then stopped when she saw Severus standing, pale as a ghost, in front of her. He was surrounded by shards of glass and there was a largish basket tipped over at his feet.

Her eyes widened and she sank back into the chair. “Oh, god. Not again…” she moaned, wondering when these dreams would stop. She couldn’t take her eyes off his face.

The frozen expression of horror was fading slightly now, and being replaced by … anger? Why would her dream Severus be angry?

“Who are you?” he demanded. Then, with a quick glance over his shoulder at the door, he changed that to, “Don’t say anything. Be absolutely silent.” His eyes narrowed at her. “Don’t move. Don’t leave.” He backed to the door, not taking his eyes from hers, and groped for the handle behind him. With a sudden wrench, he turned his head and walked out, slamming the door behind himself.

“Da?” The voice came clearly to Hermione’s ears. “Are you okay? That was an awful crash.”

“Yes.” She could hear the tension in his voice. “Yes, I’m fine. I think breakfast is ready in the kitchen. You have school today, so you can’t dawdle.” By the end of the sentence, his voice had firmed and attained something like it’s normal timbre.

Hermione sat, transfixed, in the chair. Her dreams had never been like this. She knew where she was. She was in the Other version of her house, but this time he could see her. Her thoughts were spinning out of control.

“But what broke, Da?” The voice of the little girl was clear and light, the worry in it a little disconcerting.

“Never you mind, imp.” What Hermione couldn’t credit was the teasing emotion in Severus’ voice as he responded to the child. He has a child? Oh, Circe. That little girl I saw was his daughter. He’s married here. “By the time you finish breakfast, the glass will be all cleaned up, you know that. Now hurry along to the kitchen, she’s waiting. You know she hates it when you don’t appreciate her work.” His wife’s in the kitchen, waiting to feed their daughter…

Hermione felt the realization of Severus’ relationship chill her to her soul, then his words about cleaning up struck her. Does he mean that I should clean up? Shaking, she stood up and felt in her robe pocket for her wand. Its smooth length reassured her. She pulled it out and cleared her throat a few times experimentally, knowing that her voice was shaking so hard that the wand might have trouble determining what she wanted it to do.

Reparo,” she whispered, and watched as the glass shards slithered around and remelted into the bottles they’d been originally. Her eyes widened as she read the labels on the bottles. Firewhisky. Dragonrum. Amontillado. There was nothing light here, no butterbeer or wine. Just enough strong alcohol to kill a manticore. Who had been drinking all of this?

She tipped the basket upright. Carefully, so as not to be heard, she crouched down and began putting the bottles back into the basket. A small sound by the door startled her and she turned, spinning on her toes. Since she was crouched down, this made her lose her balance. She fell backwards and landed on her rear with a squeak.

The humor of this didn’t lighten Severus’ face at all. He was staring at her, with a completely impassive closed face.

“Now that this is cleaned up,” he stated, coldly, “you will sit in that chair over there. You will be totally silent until I speak to you again.” He gestured to a chair far away from the fireplace, with a tall back and wide arms. She saw that in it she would be completely hidden from anyone using the fireplace.

When she didn’t move immediately, he snarled and strode towards her. He pulled to a halt in front of where she sat on the floor and glared down at her unmoving form. “Either you move on your own, or I will petrify you and move you myself.”

She jumped slightly, and stood up to skitter across to the chair in which she was to hide. Her hair, never calm, brushed against him as she swirled around. His eyes closed and his face tightened, letting the strain of the past few days show.

By the time she was perched in the chair, the pained expression was gone. He followed her and came around her seat to stare down at her for a long moment. She gazed back up at him, noting how time had wrought changes in his face. His eyes were the same flat black, snapping now with some unidentifiable emotion. The lines around his mouth were slightly deeper, and his face was still its usual sallow mixed with pale color. For a moment, something changed in his face, but then he firmed his expression and repeated, “Be absolutely silent.”

She curled up and pressed her cheek to her knees, looking up at him. Still frozen inside, and wondering how she got here, she shivered. He stared down at her, his expression closing off even more. Then, abruptly, he turned away, his robes swirling around him in great billows.

“Severus…” she whispered, once he was gone.

He heard her voice and his lips rose in a snarl. After Harry had left a few days prior, Severus had thought for hours about what might have made him see Hermione. He could only think of one thing – someone was pretending to be Hermione, for reasons he didn’t know or understand. That this person would come into his home and possibly hurt his daughter with her machinations made his temper flare. He would allow nothing to threaten harm to his daughter.

He walked into the kitchen and joined the morning routine, only his years of experience at hiding several things from different people kept him from losing track of the conversation. Ariel was looking forward to today at school. It was Friday and Molly had promised the class that they could have the afternoon to just read in exchange for having done well on their last test in Elementary Charms. Severus enjoyed her laughter and enthusiasm, and tried not to think of the intruder in the library.

Finally it was time for her to go. She gathered her book bag, (as overstuffed as her mother’s ever was, Severus smiled to himself at the thought) and galloped off to the library. Severus followed, worry that the intruder had disobeyed him making him hurry after her. He stepped into the room after Ariel and then nearly ploughed into her as she stood, still, in the center of the carpet. Biting back a curse, he looked at her curiously, then followed her gaze up to the portrait over the mantel.

“Look, Da. Mummy’s moved.” The bright face turned to look at him, bathing him in the wonder she was feeling.

Hermione had moved.

She was still at the desk, still facing out, but this time she held a book in her hands. She was reading it. In a trance, he moved forwards to see what she’d chosen, after all this time. Her face had changed, also. She was smiling down at the book she was holding, and her fingers were moving slightly on the spine of the book. Suddenly, Severus gasped as her fingers uncovered the title of the book. Hermione was reading The Hobbit.

“Da? Do you see that? Mummy’s reading my book.” Ariel’s voice was soft with wonder, and her hand crept into his, the little fingers curling around his longer ones. “Do you think she knows we’re reading it also?”

Severus felt as if there wasn’t enough air in the room. Breathing shallowly, he turned and caught Ariel in his arms. “Oh, my dearest one. I’m sure she knows. She loved you so much.” Ariel’s shorter arms wound around his waist and they stood together for a long moment. Severus pulled back and crouched down so he could look directly into her eyes. “Ariel. I’m positive your mummy knows everything about you.” He took a deep breath. “Now, you’re going to be late if you don’t hustle to school. Off with you.”

“Oh! I nearly forgot. Tell me when I get home if she does anything else? I love you.” She tossed her Floo powder into the fire and ran through it to school.

He watched the fire turn back to flames and whispered, “I love you too, pet.”

His joy and confusion was overlaid by frustration and anger when he turned around. He saw the intruder, standing by the chair he’d placed her in.

“Oh, Severus. She’s beautiful.” The voice was Hermione’s as he remembered it, mixed honey sweet and ginger snap.

“Yes.” The agreement was automatic. “You weren’t supposed to move.” He moved towards her, his emotions a confusing jumble.

“I waited, but …” she trailed off and looked ashamed. “I wanted to see how she looked now.” As if realizing what she’d said, she paled and stumbled on with, “ I mean… I wasn’t sure that she was the one I saw before and … Oh, this is awful.” She sat down on the arm of the chair she’d been sitting in, closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the back of the chair.

Severus had gone ice cold at her words. “What do you mean ‘how she looks now’? When have you seen her before?” He grabbed her arms and pulled her up, lifting her until her feet barely touched the ground. “You admit you’ve been watching us? WHO ARE YOU?” By this time he was shaking her violently, punctuating each word with a tightening of his fingers.

She just stared up at him, her face bone white and her dark brown eyes enormous.

“It’s me … Hermione. Hermione Granger. Don’t you know me?”

He had thought he couldn’t go any colder than he was now, but hearing her call herself ‘Hermione Granger’ filled him with icy shock. Anyone trying to make me think she’d come back from death would have her call herself Hermione Snape. She’d been so strident about taking my name after the wedding.

Hermione had no idea why Severus had gone from white with rage to frozen with shock. His fingers were clenched into her upper arms so hard she knew she’d bruise later. His face had been terrifying in its rage, but she was even more scared now, as he stared at her as if he didn’t even see her.

For that matter, how did I get here? Where is here? “Severus? Can you put me down? You’re hurting me.” She tried to keep her voice calm and reasonable, thinking that a calm voice would be least likely to make him rage again. This is so strange.

At her voice, his eyes focused on her again. He let go of her so suddenly that she stumbled against the chair. She caught herself and turned to look at this man who looked like Severus but was acting so oddly. He stood now, in front of her, staring blankly at his hands as if he’d never seen them either. His eyes slowly lost their confusion and shot to her face.

“You have still not answered me. Who are you, in truth?” At her incoherent sound, he continued with, “Hermione,” here he paused, sounding almost choked off, “Hermione Granger died seven years ago. Do not try to pretend that you are she. She died a hero and deserves better than to have people sully her memory by impersonating her.”

Hermione felt all the blood in her body drain to her feet. Dead? I’m dead? What happened here…? Her eyes widened as the room spun and she fell, unconscious, to the floor.

Cursing his inability to let even a hateful impostor wearing Hermione’s form come to harm, Severus stepped forwards and caught her before she hit the ground. Gently, he lifted her and turned so he could put his arm under her legs as well. Carrying her, (She’s so light. Hasn’t she eaten?) he strode to the sofa and placed her there.

She seemed so stricken when I told her about Hermione’s death. Oh, Merlin. Why is this happening? She looks so like Hermione would have looked. His eyes roved over her face, coming to rest on her mouth. With a start, he reached out and took her left hand in his and began to chafe it to help rouse her. He stilled once more as he saw the ring she wore on her finger. My great-grandmother’s ring. But Mother lost it years ago…

She stirred under his moving hands and her eyelids fluttered open.

She opened her eyes to see him watching her, his hands gentle on hers. Oh, Severus. Why didn’t you talk to me before you died? We could have had so much. Now it’s all gone… She could feel the tears welling up and tried to hold back, but the shocks of the past few hours had weakened her. To her shame, this Severus saw the tears start and began stroking her hair. I can’t keep up. Does he hate me or not?

He muttered something under his breath and pulled a crisp white handkerchief with a stark black border out of his sleeve. He reached out and gently wiped her face, then he handed her the handkerchief.

“I want to wake up,” she whimpered. “The dreams have never hurt before…”

He knelt on the floor at the side of the sofa, gently stroking her hair back from her face. “You say you are Hermione Granger.” His eyes were steady on hers. “Are you married?”

She looked at him, puzzled. “No… No one’s ever…” she trailed off, twisting the handkerchief in her hands, “No one ever wanted me that way.” Her eyes were full of sorrow, and she felt the tears rising again. “I thought there was someone, but he … he never said anything to me.”

His face was smooth and unrevealing. “Ah.” He sat back onto his heels and looked at her. “Please wait here. I need to arrange for a few things.” His dark eyes were unreadable as he looked at her for a long moment.

Then he rose and walked to the fireplace. He tossed a pinch of Floo Powder into the flames and, when they’d turned green, stuck his head in. He remained in that position, kneeling at the fireplace talking, for several minutes. Hermione couldn’t hear what he was saying, but she could tell that he was relaxing slightly. Finally, he said his goodbyes and pulled back. He didn’t come back to her, but stayed in place, staring into the fire for a long time. Eventually, he turned and looked at her.

With a grimace, he stood and brushed off his knees and shoulders. His face was calmer as he approached her.

She felt suddenly uncomfortable lying down in front of him, and swung her legs down so she was sitting up.

“Now. Why don’t you come with me to the kitchen and tell me everything that you think might be helpful.” He held out a hand to her, clearly intending to help her up. She moved so she could attain her feet on her own and then realized that she didn’t want to go to the kitchen.

“Uhm. Severus? I mean – Professor? Don’t you think you should … well.” Damn. This is peculiar. How do I ask him if his wife is used to strange dead girls showing up at her table? “Will your wife be okay with me coming in there?” She felt completely humiliated and couldn’t lift her eyes to his face.

At his harsh gasp, she did look up. His face had gone pale again and his eyes snapped at her with the ferocity she was used to from her times working with him. In a strangled voice he said, “I’m sure you’ll be fine. Your presence in any room of this house will not be remarkable.” At that, he took her hand and strode off out of the library.

My wife? What is this imposter playing at? Everyone knows of my marriage and how it ended. His thoughts were dark and confused as he pulled Hermione along behind him. Whoever this is, they can’t be using Polyjuice; that requires the hair of a living person. Could this be a glamour? What else could make such a good duplicate of her?

By this time, they were at the kitchen door. He’d dropped her hand as they crossed out of the living room and she’d fallen slightly behind him as they walked through the hallways to the other room. When they reached the kitchen, he stepped aside so she could precede him through the door. After one short glance up at him, she did, pushing open the door and stepping into the sunny room.

She stopped cold, two steps into the room. Directly in front of her was a tiny, bat eared figure with large, bulging eyeballs and long flexible fingers. The little person was wearing a pair of tea towels tied with large decorative knots at the shoulders. There was an apron wrapped several times around the being’s waist, and it was wearing hand knit socks in the most amazing hues.

Those giant eyes widened as they traveled up from Hermione’s feet, in socks, past her robe-covered body, and to her face, stilled with shock.

“Mistress!! You is HOME!” shouted Winky.

“Winky?” Hermione staggered back into Severus’ solid warmth. What’s going on here? “Winky? You’re alive?” Hermione moved away from Severus (Don’t think of how he felt against you, Hermione. He’s married and off limits.) and slowly approached the house elf. “Are you … why are you away from Hogwarts?”

Winky looked completely confused and glanced over Hermione’s shoulder to Severus. “Master? Is Mistress feeling badly? I’ll make tea. Scones…” The tiny being puttered off to her stove, happy to have something else to do for her family.

Severus looked at the young woman swaying in front of him and felt pity wash through him. Whoever this person is, she was clearly not given any information at all. I wonder who sent her… He reached out and softly touched Hermione’s arm. “Hermione? Miss Granger? Sit down. Winky will be serving us tea very soon; she’s happy to have someone else to serve. I’m afraid I don’t give her much to work with.”

Hermione sank down into the chair he’d guided her towards and was staring at him, confused by the changing events and his light, teasing tone of voice.

“I don’t understand.” She sounded entirely baffled, her voice wavering on the edge of tears again. “All the house elves were Bound with Silence Geases. How did you rescue Winky? Where am I?” She’d given in to the tears again, but they just coursed unnoticed down her cheeks. “I don’t know what’s going on. Why are you …” she cut off her questions and buried her face in her hands, not even bothering to use the handkerchief she still clutched.

After several quiet moments, she calmed down and scrubbed her face dry. “May I wash up?”

Severus stood, and started to tell her where the lavatory was, but she brushed past him and was gone before he could even get two words out. Startled, and a little angry, he dived after her through the kitchen door. He was just in time to see her disappearing into the downstairs lavatory.

How did she know where it was…?

With a rapidly growing list of questions for the young woman, he returned to the kitchen and told the excited house elf that they’d be taking the tea things to the library to eat while they worked on the problem before them. Then, he went to the hall to wait for Hermione to emerge.

What am I doing here? I know I’ve been dreaming of this place, but it’s just a dream. Hermione stared at her reflection in the mirror over the sink. I wonder if the rest of the house is the same as my dreams. She leaned forwards over the sink and rinsed her face with cool water until she felt calmer. Then, she began to work on her tangles. The motions of pulling her fingers through the length of her hair was soothing; it was something she’d been doing for as long as she could remember. Finally, she looked in the mirror again and was pleased to see that she looked much calmer.

“There, now, dearie. Don’t you look much nicer now.” The mirror in this room was clearly bespelled to be a soothing one, as it had been spouting platitudes and calming niceties since she’d plunged in here several minutes ago. Ignoring it, Hermione stood and pulled her hair back into a long braid, fixing it at the bottom with a quick Elastus charm. Last, she opened the handkerchief and spread it out over the toilet top. “Scourgify.There, that looks better. She took one final deep breath and left the room only to start backwards when she saw Severus leaning insouciantly against the far wall.

“So.” He began, and she wondered where the light tone from the kitchen had gone. “How do you know where the lavatories are in this house?”

Gazing at him in complete bafflement, she answered, “I live here. I’ve lived here for almost 5 years now.” She stood still, aware that he was glaring at her in frustration. After several minutes of silence, he unbent enough to say, “Winky will be serving us our tea in the library. I suggest we adjourn there.” He strode off towards the library, not looking to see if she followed.

She trailed after him, looking around at how different the house was here. She, Ginny and Draco had tried to fill the house, but they didn’t have many things between the three of them. They’d purchased furniture when they could and when it seemed there was a need for it, but none of it matched. The pictures they had on the walls were mainly images Harry had given Hermione from Grimmauld Place, so they were either portraits of long dead Blacks or landscapes, often of empty moors or castles from a distance. Also, since Ginny was blind, Hermione and Draco had taken care to not leave too many things out and loose in the rooms. They’d wanted to make life in the house as easy as possible for Ginny.

Hermione walked back into the library. Severus was at the fireplace, fussing with a curtain that he’d drawn over a large painting over the mantel. He spun to watch her as she walked slowly to the table set up in the doors leading to the side garden. She could feel his eyes burning into her as she walked past him.

She passed the table to stand in the doorway and look out at what the people here had done with the garden Ginny had put so much work into. This one was much more organized, that much Hermione could see immediately. However, she was surprised to see that it was designed as much for beauty and scent as for usefulness of plants. She wondered if Severus was growing other useful, but less attractive plants elsewhere around the house.

With a wistful sigh, she seated herself at the table and leaned her head on her hand. How funny that the world looks the same and yet it feels so very different…

Severus stood at the fireplace, and watched her. She looks so much like Hermione, but she seems so different…

With sudden decision, he strode towards her and seated himself across from her. She didn’t acknowledge his presence, but continued to look thoughtfully out at the garden.

“Ginny’s been working so hard on that garden, and it still looks like a jungle. I wonder if we’ll ever be able to get it to look so finished.” She turned to look at him and surprised a look of deep pain shooting across his face.

“Ginny?” he choked out. “You live here with Ginny?” He’d gone white again and was gripping the edge of the table so hard his knuckles stood out in tight relief.

“Um. Yes. Ginny and …” she began, and was interrupted by Winky’s arrival in the room with several trays of food and tea floating around her.

“Winky made tea and scones and muffins and sandwiches and crumpets and …” the house elf sounded as if she was going to name every item on the many trays. Severus interjected, “Yes, Winky. We can see that. Bring them all over here, and we’ll get to work appreciating your hard work.”

She shot him a suspicious glower but sent the trays over to the table. Her eyes settled again on Hermione and the concerted stare made the young woman feel pinned. Severus seemed to notice this; he cleared his throat and Winky jumped.

“Yes. Well. Master and Mistress must tell Winky if they is needing anything else.” With that last imperative, Winky disappeared again with a slight pop.

Hermione turned to look at what had been prepared for her and was slightly stunned. Winky had worked wonders in the short time she’d had. Hermione took a small plate and filled it with a sandwich and a crumpet. She hadn’t eaten since that curried lamb last night and ages ago and she was getting hungry.

While she ate, Severus watched her. She ate with quiet determination, working her way through the sandwich, the crumpet and then two muffins before she stopped.

“You were hungry,” he commented quietly. Her eyes came up to his, then she blushed deeply and answered, “Yes. And I’d forgotten how good house elf made foods were. I haven’t eaten any in … oh, at least seven years.”

“Are you in a calmer mood now?” He gestured and a parchpad and quill appeared in front of him. “If so, I have some questions that I think will clear several things up.”

She nodded and held her teacup in both hands hoping to disguise the shaking she began to feel ripple through her body.

“Now, we can start with your name. You say you are Hermione Granger. Correct?” He didn’t look up at her, but made a quick note on the parchment.

Her “Yes” was almost inaudible.

“And you say you live here with Ginny. That would be Ginevra Weasley, the youngest child of Arthur and Molly Weasley?” His eyebrow quirked at her.

This time all she could do was nod.

He regarded her across the table and it’s clutter. “Why don’t you tell me about where you live.” His voice was deep and soothing and she relaxed into the sound she hadn’t heard in too many years.

Taking a deep breath, she met his eyes and nodded firmly.

“Well, after the war was over, everyone was sort of at loose ends. There’d been so much death that we were all pretty much unwilling to let go of each other…” she drifted silent, thinking of the misery they’d all lived through. Her face was strained and distant.

“We were all living in Grimmauld Place – “ a sharp movement across the table drew her attention and she asked, “What?”. Severus just made another note on the parchment and gestured for her to continue. She looked deeply into her teacup and started up again.

“I was working with the Clean Up Crew at the Ministry – that was what we called the group going out to straighten up the messes the Death Eaters had made – and I got a letter from Lightbringer and Janus. It was a notice about… about the reading of a will.” Hermione shifted in her seat, uncomfortably. She looked everywhere except at the man sitting across the table from her. She could feel the weight of his dark gaze on her.

“They said that everyone who was named in the will needed to be at the reading of it. I, uh, I was there because … you’d named me in your will.” She said the last few words in a rush, hoping to just keep going past this part.

Severus sucked in his breath sharply. “You … you said my will?” He was pale and looked startled. His quill had stopped taking notes and was dangling from his fingers.

Hermione glanced at him from the corner of her eyes. “Yes.” Her voice was very soft. “You’ve been dead for seven years now. We had been working together on potions – oh not the new things that you were developing – but the daily stuff. BoneSet and HexHeal, that sort of thing.” While she was speaking, the fingers of her right hand were absently rubbing the ring on her left hand. “We’d become friends, and I used to hope…” she stopped speaking abruptly and turned her head to look at the garden again.

The two sat for a few minutes in silence. Severus was trying to figure out what was happening, and Hermione was just letting her mind wander. None of this made sense to either one of them.

With a deep sigh, Hermione turned back to face the table. “Well. Where was I?” Her voice was brittle, and Severus flinched slightly. His eyes were resting on her hands and he seemed very tired.

“So. The will. Yes. Um. Let’s see. You left the house and the Snape vault to me. You gave Minerva the contents of your school office and quarters and you left a large mysterious box containing something that really should have gone to the Dragon Preserve to Hagrid.” She smiled softly down into her lap. “Hagrid was quite pleased. He grew that little beast until it was too big to hide. He named her Severa and she used to play in the castle ruins…”

Another gasped breath from across the table interrupted her speech.

“Ruins?” Severus looked as if he was about to vomit. “Hogwarts castle in ruins? I think you’re not telling me everything.” He stood up abruptly and walked to the doors leading to the garden. “Excuse me a moment. I need…” he stopped speaking and, glancing back at her for a moment, walked away into the garden.

Hermione sat at the table, feeling a little abandoned and very scared. She had no idea where she was or what was going on. How did I get into my dreams? Have I been seeing this place all this time – can I have been dreaming of another dimension? I wonder if there are any books in here about multiple dimensions…

Feeling much surer of her footing when she could do some research, she stood up and walked to the shelves. She idly stroked the books, reading the titles to herself. She was in the Potions section, she could tell. Copies of Ars Alchemica, bound in volumes. Moste Potente Poisons shelved neatly next to Moste Potente Potions. Maybe in the next section?

When Severus returned, he found her on the floor, surrounded by books. She heard his approach and looked up at him, smiling happily. It was such a familiar image that he could feel his heart tightening in his chest. Oh, Merlin and Medea. I never thought to see that smile again…

“You have books I’ve never read before. This one here,” she waved the one she was reading at him, “it’s got all sorts of information about Truth Sera and the compulsions they carry.” She looked back at the book and stroked it gently. Severus stood above her, thunderstruck.

Truth serum. I have that. I have lots of that. Do I dare?

Hermione watched sadly as he strode off again, this time into the house. She heard a couple of clatters and a small bang, as if some door further in the house had been slammed. Then he returned, looking sulky and stubborn.

“Drink this.” He crouched down beside her, grabbed her wrist and forced the small vial into her hand. The small clank it made as it hit her ring made him flinch, but he continued gripping her wrist tightly. “Drink it. That will make sure that you tell me what’s really going on. And why you’re here.”

Hermione looked up at his tense, angry face. “I don’t know why I’m here.” Her voice was small and sad. “I’ll drink it anyway. It doesn’t matter what happens to me. Ginny and Draco get the house if I’m not there, and no one else will notice I’m gone.” Pulling her hand away from his, she drained the vial and let it fall, empty, to the carpet.

She turned her head to see Severus on his knees before her, gasping and choking. His hands were buried in his hair, fisted into the strands as if to tie themselves there forever.

“Draco?” he choked out. “Draco’s alive?”

She knew she was supposed to be feeling something now, but the potion was blocking any emotions. Her voice was toneless and empty as she answered. “Yes. Draco is alive.” Her body fell limply to the side as the potion finished taking effect. She lay crumpled sideways over the piles of books.

Severus rubbed his face with his hands and then leaned forward. Watching her, he took her face into his hands. He turned it to his and looked at her eyes. How much of that did she take? Her pupils have dilated to take over her entire eyes… He searched around until he found the vial. Empty? Oh, gods. She took all of it? She was only supposed to drink half.

He pulled her up and carried her boneless body over to the fireside chairs, arranging her in one of them and tucking her in under a blanket so she couldn’t fall out. He looked at her limp, empty face and suppressed a deep shudder. I have to do this. I have to find out what’s really going on. He ignored the small voice at the back of his head that said that this was a bad idea.

Then, he collected the parchpad and quill from the table and charmed the quill to record everything said, word for word onto the parchment.

He sat down in the other chair and set the quill and parchment on the small table to his right.

“All right. Now. Start at the beginning. Tell me, who are you?”

“Hermione Granger.” Her voice was dead sounding. He took a breath, held and released it.

“Start with Draco. Tell me about him; what happened to him?”

“Draco escaped from the Death Eaters. They had lured Ginny away; we found out later that Percy had owled her and asked her to come to him. He said that he had information about the Death Eaters that could save lives and that he’d finally seen the right way, the way things were supposed to be. He said she was the only one he trusted, and that she must tell no one and should come to him at his flat immediately.

“She did as he asked. He, however, had been lying. When she got there, he Stunned her and took her to Voldemort. She was taken to a Revel and was … used. Draco only found out about it after the Revel had started and so he arrived late. He managed to convince the other Death Eaters that he’d always wanted to own the Weaselette, as he called her, and he begged Voldemort to let him have her to keep for himself. He got permission, but it was too late. She’d been cursed and hexed so much that she nearly didn’t recover. Her sight is permanently lost. The curse apparently cut the optic nerve; no one has found a way to help her.

“Before she regained consciousness, Ron was lured away the same way. He –“ Hermione’s voice broke. Apparently the dosage of the Veritaserum wasn’t quite strong enough to dull her emotions at the next part of the story. “He went to Percy’s flat. Percy Petrified him and brought him before Voldemort. Voldemort then showed Harry a vision of Ron being tortured by the Death Eaters. Harry wasn’t sure that this wasn’t the same as Fifth Year, but he had to go try to see if there was something he could do. He brought the entire Order with him, and they managed to overcome the massed Death Eaters. Ron, however, had been tortured to death in the time it had taken Harry to convince the Order that he was going to have to go rescue his friend. Alastor was the main holdout, and I don’t think Harry has forgiven him the delay.

“Harry blames himself for all the deaths. He won’t speak to anyone much, and those he does speak to he wounds.” Her voice drifted even lower, and Severus had to strain to hear her over the thundering sound of his own heart, “I think he reminds me of you when we first met you. Bitter and angry and unforgiving of himself and everyone around him.”

Her body was still under the blanket Severus had cast over her. Her head lolled to the side and her eyes were completely blank. When she was speaking of something that hurt her under the potion-induced calm, her eyes would flicker slightly, but it was as if she was an empty shell and the words were just pouring themselves out of air.

“Draco wasn’t discovered as a traitor by the Death Eaters until halfway through the final battle. He had been hexing Death Eaters down from behind during most of the battle, but then he saw Fred and George get separated from the rest of the Order. They were back to back, fighting against Dolohov and the Beast Rabastan. Draco ran to try to help them and was hit in the back by a Death Eater who’d seen him hex Dolohov. Draco managed to save Fred, but George didn’t make it. Fred’s first son will be named Draco George Weasley. Fred swore that at George’s funeral. That was before we found Draco; everyone thought he was dead at the battle. They found him in, of all places, a Muggle hospital, near the battle site. Apparently he had managed to stumble off, away from the actual fighting. He was unconscious for quite a while, and then the Muggles didn’t know where he’d come from. They did a good job of healing him.”

Her voice was starting to crack. Severus was sitting, staring at her blank face in horror. He’d had no idea what he would hear. So many events, so many deaths, compressed into this tiny timeframe. After a few gasping breaths, he fell to his knees in front of her on the chair and said, “Stop. Hermione. Stop speaking. Please. Be quiet. You don’t have to tell me any more.”

Her head drooped over to the side further and he could see that she’d been crying while she spoke. The tears wove their way down her cheeks, dampening her hair and making her brown eyes glimmer like shadows at the bottom of a well.

With a choked sob, he slid his arms under her form and lifted her to his chest. Then, carefully, he stood up. He cradled her to his body and just stood for a few long minutes.

Oh, Merlin. I am justly punished for my anger and curiosity. I should not have made her relive that much.

He strode out of the room, reminded again of Hermione’s excessive thinness. Without letting himself think about anything other than her nearness and the need to protect her, he brought her upstairs and put her to bed to sleep off the effects of the Veritaserum.

~*~*~*~*~*~

She woke up slowly. She was tucked into a warm, large bed. The blankets were soft under her hands and the pillows smelled slightly of lavender to her nose. Where am I? Have I woken up from the dream? I feel so lost…

She opened her eyes. The room she saw was unfamiliar. There were dark green draperies on the bed, the walls beyond were brightly colored. She could see the flickering shadows from a fire somewhere she couldn’t see. Her eyes moved slowly down the walls, seeing framed pictures covering much of the available wall space. Some were photographs, people she couldn’t see clearly staring back at her. Others were paintings, many looked as if they had been painted by someone very young. The overall impression the room gave was one of openness and light. Finally, her eyes came to rest on the one dark spot in the room.

Severus sat at the bedside, watching her silently. His face looked tired and old. She realized that he was holding onto her left hand, his thumb stroking the SlytherGryff ring idly in small circles.

“You’re awake,” he said, softly.

She nodded in reply, not sure if she could trust her voice.

“I should not have made you do that.” The condemnation in his voice was acid eating through soft velvet. “You should not have been made to endure that …” His eyes had never left hers, resting on her as if unable to turn away. “I’m very sorry for what I have done.”

She opened her mouth, then closed it, not knowing what to say to him. The expression on his face tightened, and he sat up further in the chair, pulling away slightly from her. His hand didn’t let go of hers, though.

She struggled to sit up slightly, feeling at a distinct disadvantage. “What … “ she cleared her throat, “What was that you gave me? I’ve never felt like that … ever.” By the end of the sentence she could feel that her voice was again under her control.

“It was Veritaserum. You, ah, took a slightly larger dose than I had intended.” His voice, so smooth, sounded almost amused. “Are you feeling less overwhelmed now?” Seeing her continued attempts to move up in the bed, he waved his wand and the pillows scrambled to get out of her way; once she was sitting up, they crowded behind her as if eager to make her comfortable. The blankets had taken the moment of her distraction with the pillows to tuck themselves back in around her so she was cocooned in warm fluffiness.

“Professor?” she began, but the stopped when she saw his wince. She watched him, puzzled. Should I not use his title? Maybe he’s not a professor anymore? “I’m sorry. Are you no longer working at Hogwarts? Should I be addressing you with another title? I’m very sorry if I’ve offended you.”

His face had frozen halfway through this speech. “No. I am not working at Hogwarts. My current title, although you do not need to use it, is Head Potions Researcher. I am working at St. Mungo’s, researching medicinal potions. Among other things.” Thinking about his work, and what had been happening there recently made his cheeks flush. He looked down at their joined hands and tried to clear his mind.

“I understand that you must have questions you would like to ask of me.” His voice was slightly stiff, as if he was afraid of any questions she might ask.

She looked at him for a long moment. I guess I should just ask the big question. He asked me, almost at the first. Why am I so unwilling to ask this…?

“Yes, sir.” She lowered her eyes to their joined hands, and missed the pain that shot across his face at her steadfast unwillingness to use his name. She called me Severus when she first saw me. Why will she not call me that now?

His thoughts were brought up sharp by her first question. “Are you… are you married?” His gaze shot to her face, but she had averted it and was looking at the folds of the blanket as if she’d never seen anything quite so fascinating before.

“I am married, yes,” he answered, his voice tight. Her hand pulled out of his firmly and she twined her fingers tightly together. Well, that answers that. I’d better figure out where to go before she comes home. I don’t want to get this Severus in any trouble with his wife.

He looked at her lowered head and wondered if he would ever understand what she was thinking. She was such a puzzle to him, all fire one minute and shuttered windows the next. He turned away from her and looked out the window over the back garden. The afternoon sunlight filtered through the fruit trees and made lace patterns in shadow on the walls. Ariel will be home soon. What will I do then? How do I explain this?

Severus turned back towards the woman he saw as his wife reborn. He had no idea what to do next. He was convinced this was Hermione, but he was increasingly convinced that it wasn’t his Hermione. He resolved to give the situation more thought, more reasoned thought.

Hermione was looking more closely at the room she was in. Her brows began to draw together in confusion. It looked like it was Severus’ room – there were signs of his habitation everywhere. She saw, across the bed on the night table, a small pile of books. The topmost one had a long ribbon bookmark marking a place about halfway through. There was a photograph of two people, leaning against each other, framed in a silver filigree picture frame. Oddly enough, the photo appeared to be a Muggle one as neither person depicted was moving.

Her eyes traveled over the art on the walls to the windows. This was the same room that she’d chosen for her bedroom at home. Home? Am I home? Will I ever go back to my home? What will Ginny do? I can’t just leave the two of them there…

As she continued to study the room Severus had brought her to something began to worry at the back of her mind. There was something … wrong with what she was seeing. He’d said he was married. Where were his wife’s things? The room only showed his presence.

Get a grip on yourself, Hermione. It’s none of your business how he and his wife arrange things. None. Now, it’s time you started working on where you’re going to go. Maybe the Ginny or Draco of here will put you up for a while.

“Excuse me, sir?” Her voice was quiet, but it seemed to startle the man sitting, lost in thought, at her side. He raised one eyebrow. At least that’s the same, Hermione thought to herself and then began speaking quickly in case he could see that thought. “I was wondering. Shouldn’t I … go somewhere else? I don’t want to get in the way and I’m sure my presence here,” especially here in your bed, as I’m beginning to firmly believe that I am, “will cause confusion and dissension. I don’t want to cause you any trouble.” Her voice displayed none of the worry she was feeling. Where am I going to go?

He glowered at her. Now what? Where would she go? What trouble does she think she could cause? “You will not. You will stay here, in this house, until we work out what has happened.” He stood up, to block further questions. “I will endeavor to find you something …” he paused and glanced at her, “more appropriate to wear.”

“Oh, I don’t think - . I mean, shouldn’t you ask your wife if it’s okay to loan her clothes out?” She blurted out the question before she could think to stop her mouth. Damn. That was not suave.

He froze, an arrested look on his face. Slowly, he turned to face her. She saw the flattened expression on his face and shrank back against the pillows.

“Oh no,” he began, his voice at its silkiest, “I’m sure my wife will have no difficulty with me loaning her clothes out. She,” his voice caught, “she’s a very giving person. Willing to share the shirt off of her back…”

There’s something going on here and I can’t figure it out. I hate not knowing what’s going on… Unwilling to show how uncomfortable he was making her, she just nodded at him. “Yes, sir,” she whispered.

“I’ll just see if there’s anything in your size,” he continued, still in that confusingly silky voice. His eyes were holding hers and burning through her. She could feel her hands clenching into fists hidden in the folds of the blankets.

Suddenly, he shuddered and stood still with his eyes closed. He clenched his fists at his sides, then brought them up to his face. Struggling for steady breath, he held the fists against his forehead for a few moments, rocking the knuckles back and forth against his skin. When he opened his eyes again, he appeared more the person she’d seen in the calmer moments downstairs.

Wordlessly he turned and walked across the room. Opening the door of the closet, he riffled through some clothes on hangers. All of a sudden, his quick hands stopped and moved back to something he’d previously rejected. He stroked the outfit softly, then, with a muttered curse, pushed it back into the rear of the closet. He roughly grabbed the next thing that came to hand and pulled out a long, soft red dress. He swiveled around and brought it to her.

“Here. This will do nicely, I think,” he said and then continued with, “From what you said, you should know where all the rooms are in the house. You may use the upstairs lavatory.” He spun on his heel and left the room, leaving her feeling off balance and disturbed. She looked at the dress he’d dropped on the bed next to her. It was a lovely red, not quite Gryffindor red, but darker, more subtle. There was embroidery around the cuffs, hem and neckline and when Hermione looked carefully at it she chuckled. There were silver dragons embroidered on this dress, silver dragons with green eyes.

Half an hour later, she walked downstairs again, feeling nervous. She had no idea where Severus was or where she was supposed to go. As she stood, uncertain, in the middle of the downstairs hall, she heard voices from the kitchen. She could distinguish the lower tones of Severus’ voice and then heard a sparkle of laughter from someone who could only be Severus’ wife.

Not wanting to disturb them, she walked towards the library again, thinking to see more of the garden, or maybe just find a book and hide in it. As she walked down the hallway, she passed a full length mirror. Seeing her reflection in it was like seeing a shadow underwater, real and yet illusory. She turned and looked closely, then twisted right and left.

Something is definitely not right here. This dress fits me as if it were custom made for me. It’s even the perfect length. Where am I and what is going on?

Severus found her in the darkest corner of the library, cradling a large, dusty book. She was turned so that her back was to him and he walked up to her to see if he could read the book’s title over her shoulder. Her choice made him wince. It was Hogwarts, a History. Her shoulders were shaking and he felt himself shudder deeply. I can’t take this. She’s hurting and I don’t even know where she came from. Or if I can keep her. Or, and this next thought made his blood cold, if she’d want to stay and be kept.

“Hermione?” His voice was as gentle as he knew how to make it. She spun around to face him and he saw the questions roiling in her eyes. “I think I’ve found a way for us to get some answers. There are a few other people who should see you, and maybe between all of us we can figure something out.” She remained still and silent, the shimmer of previous tears the only sign she wasn’t turned to marble. “Are you hungry? Dinner is set out in the kitchen. Winky will be disappointed if you don’t eat.” He added that last, remembering how she’d been so hungry for foods prepared by a house elf.

After an excruciatingly long moment, one in which he didn’t allow himself to breathe, she nodded slightly. He offered her a small smile, removed the book from her hands, and pivoted to extend his arm to lead her into the other room. The light touch of her fingers on his forearm sent shivers down his spine.

She looked up at him. The sliver of his face that she could see was still, but she thought she could see underlying tension. “Who did you bring? You said there would be more people here?” Her voice was pitched low – she wasn’t sure she wanted to let anyone know she was here. She was unsure if she even wanted to be here.

He stopped and regarded her uncertainly. He wasn’t sure this would go well, but he couldn’t think of any other way to begin to figure out what was happening. “There’s only one person you haven’t met yet. Everyone in that room will be happy to see you.” His eyes were gleaming down at her, the light from the fixed Lumos Globes on the walls shimmered in the dark pools. Hermione felt she was drowning in his gaze. She felt lightheaded and swayed slightly on her feet. With one final unreadable look in her direction, Severus led them both into the kitchen.

Hermione felt herself pull back slightly, so she entered the room behind Severus’ imposing height. It allowed her to see the brightly-lit room for one moment before Severus was pounced on by his daughter. He laughed slightly at her antics and lifted her to his hip. However, the laugh was tight and his face betrayed his underlying tension. He stepped to the side to allow Hermione room.

She looked around at the smiling faces and cried out sharply. “Ron! Ron, you’re alive?” Without realizing it, she reached out to hold onto Severus’ arm for reassurance. Her fingers buried themselves in the soft fabric of his sleeve so tightly he could feel the nails through the many layers. A secret part of him was overjoyed that she’d turned to him, at least a little, for stability and support. He moved so he was slightly behind her, providing her with his strength to draw on, if she wanted.

Hermione’s vision had gone blurry with tears. Ron’s alive here? Who else? Where is everyone? Oh, I should make a list… She groped at where Severus stood, trying to find something familiar to hold onto in a world which was becoming more and more confusing and unsettled.

The combined shout of “HERMIONE!?” from the gathered guests nearly knocked the wall sconces down. After a few moments of shock, everyone moved forward to talk to her. She turned her face, blank with confusion from face to face, looking at Ron and Luna and Padma and Harry…

Harry was the only one who hadn’t come towards her. He was staring at her, his face white. Slowly his eyes ran down her body, then up to her face again. They moved off of her to meet Severus’ roiling, challenging, black gaze.

“Severus?” Harry’s voice was a whisper, but it cut through the chaotic noise as if he’d shouted. “Severus. What is this?”

Hermione staggered and turned to look at the only person she felt familiar with right now at all. As she turned, Severus moved his head so their eyes met. He saw the horrified confusion in her gaze and his gaze softened.

In a gentle, coaxing voice, he said, “Hermione. Sit down? Please? You look as if you’re about to fall over.” He gestured to the chairs crowding around the table, which was clearly ready for the household to eat a full dinner. She couldn’t take her gaze from his, but stumbled in the direction he’d pointed her in. Once she was seated, her eyes went to the face of the little girl he was still carrying.

Hermione didn’t even hear the sounds around her as she lost herself in the soft eyes of the child. Ariel smiled shyly and wriggled to be let down. Then she came up to Hermione and said, “I’m Ariel. Ariel Snape. Da told me that I’d meet you at dinner. Are you hungry?”

Hermione stared, silent, at the tangible proof of Severus’ love for someone else. In a dulled, shocked voice she answered, “I guess so. I wasn’t prepared to meet so many people. Do you know everyone here?”

The girl lit up, her eyes, as dark as Severus’, sparkling with a joyful light that made them look like stars in the midnight sky. “Oh, yes. I play with Neville and Remus all the time at Granny Molly’s house.” She rattled on, telling stories about the fun things the three of them did at school, not seeing Hermione’s face go whiter and more pinched. Neville and Remus? Oh, gods. That can’t be the two I’m thinking of… Unconsciously she turned her face to Severus for reassurance. She saw him surrounded by the others, with Harry speaking directly to him. Severus was leaning back against the door, casually, with his arms tightly crossed. The others were arrayed behind Harry, all silently watching the two men’s conversation.

It looked to her as if they were all ganging up on him, as they had used to do before Severus was killed, and she stood up sharply. “Don’t you yell at him!” she exclaimed firmly. “Haven’t you done enough of that over the years?”

At her voice, everyone but Ariel started. Severus raised his dark eyes to her, burning with something he hadn’t felt in six long years. She can defend me after what I put her through earlier? Harry, on the other hand, just looked at her in horror and shook his head.

“I’m not yelling at him, Her-“ he choked. “Hermione. I don’t know what to say to this. I just don’t know what to say or think.” He sank down into a nearby chair. “Severus said that he’d found something amazing, but he didn’t say anything like this…” He stared at her, his eyes growing wider and mistier until he had to cover his face with his hands. “Hermione, I saw you die. I was there.” He stood and left the room, abruptly. With a soft noise, Padma left after him, shooting a quelling look at the other occupants of the kitchen.

“Ron?” faltered Hermione. “Ron, are you … are you okay?” He turned and started to walk towards her, but stopped when he saw her notice his missing leg. “Ron! You’re …” He rushed to her side and lifted her chin with his strong hand.

“Hermione. Hush. I don’t know how you got here, or where you’re from, but I’m happy to see you.” His smiling face, damp with tears, shook from side to side at her. “I’m fine. I just … have a souvenir from the war. I’m sure we all do…” He then enveloped her in the large, long-armed Weasley Hug, and laughed as her arms wound themselves tightly around his waist.

“Ron. Oh Ron, you’re dead. We didn’t save you… Oh, please, I don’t know where to look to find out what’s going on.” She was sobbing and speaking into his shoulder, and he stood and rocked her gently back and forth.

Suddenly, she felt a smaller set of arms go around her own waist. Ariel had decided to join into the hug. This pulled Hermione back from Ron’s shoulder as nothing else could have, and she turned to smile down at the concerned face looking up at her with worried, creased brows.

“Don’t cry, Hermione,” the small voice was anxious.

“I’m okay, Ariel. I’m just …” Hermione’s eyes roved over the occupants of the room, “I’m just overwhelmed. You know what that word means?” Ariel nodded seriously up at her, and she heard Ron’s snort over her shoulder.

“I should think she’d know all the biggest words in the dictionary, what with who her parents are!” Hermione caught the combined looks of annoyance and frustration everyone in the room shot at Ron, who winced.

At this reminder, Hermione looked around again. Harry, Ron, Luna, and Padma. It looked like Harry and Padma are a couple, but … She took a deep breath and turned to Luna. I wouldn’t have thought Severus and Luna would make a good pairing, but they certainly made a wonderful child together. I wonder who Ron married.

“You must be very proud of your daughter, Luna.” Hermione was proud of herself for getting the sentence out without stumbling or sounding as dismayed as she felt inside.

Ignoring the combined shocked indrawn breath of horror from everyone in the room, including Harry and Padma who had just returned, Luna looked dreamily at Hermione. Every reason Hermione had always been annoyed with Luna flashed through her mind then; the driftiness, the vagueness, the insistence on impossibilities… How can Severus stand it?

“As much as I love Ariel, she is not my daughter. I have two sons.” Luna’s voice was crisp, not reflecting her dreamy look at all. Ron stepped closer to her and she stepped into his arms. “With my husband, Ron.”

Hermione managed to keep her jaw from dropping, but it was a close call. She looked across the room at Severus, who looked back with his expression carefully neutral. She tried to meet anyone’s eyes and found that they were all fascinated by the hardwood floor, or the lavish table setting (Winky had spared no napkin or candlestick), or the room’s high crown moulding. The only people who would look at her were Severus and Ariel, who’s face was crumpled in confusion.

“But, you’re my Mummy. Don’t you know?”

After that, all thoughts of eating dinner were discarded. Hermione sat down hard in the chair and stared at the little girl’s baffled face.

“Oh, honey.” Her voice was sorrowful. “Where I’m from, I didn’t get to have a child. I’m sure that I loved … love you here.” She wasn’t sure if this was the right thing to say, but from Ariel’s visible joy, she assumed it wasn’t the worst thing she could have said.

Severus’ soft baritone came to her next. He’d stepped up to the pair by the table and crouched down behind Ariel, taking her body onto his knee. She leaned back against him, her very comfortableness with the position a statement of the kind of parent he must have been for her. Hermione just watched him, shocked and deeply confused. Well, that explains the dress. It was made for me. Oh, this is creepy.

“Ariel’s mother is the Hermione from here. We worked together before the war ended, on potions for the Order and on ways to ensure Voldemort’s death was his final one. This time.” Harry shot him a slightly annoyed look for the last two words, but the look held no real ire. “We found ourselves …” he appeared to be looking for words to say what he felt without confusing his child or overwhelming Hermione. “We discovered that we were happier together than apart, and before the war ended we married.”

Hermione watched him, mesmerized by the soft, reminiscent look in Severus’ dark eyes. His expressions were so fleeting and yet so compelling; she felt she learned more of the story from what his face said than his words. His expression was darkening, trembling on the edge of the despair she could feel radiating from his warm bulk. She wondered how his daughter, perched on his knee, couldn’t seem to feel the pain that she saw so clearly.

“After the war was over, after our daughter was born, you insisted on helping with the Reconstruction.” Hermione tilted her head at the unfamiliar word, but Severus wasn’t seeing her, was only seeing the past. “There was a –“ he suddenly realized that his daughter was listening avidly to every word. I’ve never told her the Mummy’s Died and Here’s How story, have I? How do I get myself into these situations? It’s the damn Gryffindors, and their openness, I know it. He rubbed his hand over his face.

“Ah. I suggest, if we are not going to eat dinner at this moment, that we move this discussion to the library. It is much more conducive to a conversation of this nature. I’m sure Winky will be able to provide nourishment and refreshments for us there.” He stood up, bringing Ariel with him, and turned to walk out the door and down the hall, hoping that the few moment’s distraction would help him through the rest of the story. He was completely unprepared for Ariel to reach over his shoulder and stretch her arms out towards Hermione.

“Da? Can I walk with Mu – Hermione?” Her question stopped Severus as thoroughly as if he’d stepped into a brick wall. Oh Mithros. How do I protect Ariel?

“Of course you can, if it’s all right with Hermione. Miss Granger.” His voice was chill and stiff. He didn’t turn, but placed Ariel on the floor and continued out the door to the hallway.

Hermione watched him leave, feeling broken and confused. He was so kind one minute and so unwelcoming the next. It must be terrible to have me here as a reminder of his lost marriage. Maybe I shouldn’t be here. Hermione could tell the confusion she was feeling was reflected in the other adults around her. When Ariel approached her, with a small hand upraised to meet hers, Hermione just sighed (Severus is going to hate this, I know it.) and took Ariel’s hand in hers. Then, Ron and Luna held the door open for the two.

Once the group had gathered in the library, everyone seemed to be feeling a little less overwhelmed. Winky had arranged the tables in the room to have dinner buffet style, so the people could wander and eat and talk at the same time. Ariel had gone straight to Severus when they came into the library and pulled him down to talk into his ear. She seemed to have a question about the painting over the mantel. Severus just shook his head at her and murmured quietly back. Then, they went to the table and gathered a plateful of food for her to eat.

“Ariel will be going to bed as soon as she’s finished her dinner,” Severus announced, “so I will finish telling the story of how my wife died.” His voice was clear and firm, but all the adults in the room could see the strain he was under. He sat down in one of the gathered chairs, laced his fingers together so tightly the knuckles whitened, then began. His voice started out rough and cracked, but eased as he continued his story. He made sure that it was suitable for the youngest member of his audience, but the adults were able to see and understand the true horrors he was declining to elaborate upon.

By the time he’d finished, and Harry had put in a few quiet words, Ariel had finished her meal. At her father’s insistence that it was her bed time, she stood up and complained, “But everyone else will get to hear the other stories about Mummy.” Her voice was sulky and high pitched. Hermione could hear the fatigue in it.

She spoke to Ariel. “I’m sure that there will still be stories for you to hear later. Tomorrow is Saturday, isn’t it? We can find stories tomorrow, then.” She smiled at this child, the child she could have had if she’d had more courage. I don’t belong here. His Hermione, the brave one, she belongs here with this brilliant daughter and loving husband. I’m too weak and scared.

Ariel was scooped up by Severus and borne off to bed. He and Winky both helped at bedtime, Winky supervising the nightly bath and he reading the bedtime story. I wonder what story Ariel will want tonight. Severus was feeling deeply confused and baffled. He knew that he couldn’t have hidden Hermione from Ariel all weekend, but he was terribly unsure about what damage might be done to his beloved daughter if this Hermione didn’t want to stay with them.

Downstairs, the others were finishing up their meals, nibbling on last minute tastes of this or that confection.

“Well,” Ron started, “Winky clearly thinks this is a celebration. She hasn’t put on a spread like this since Christmas two years ago. Remember that, Luna?” He smiled at his wife, who was perched on an ottoman. Her plate was on one knee and her drink was hovering in the air next to her. Her pale eyes glimmered at him and she nodded, causing her earrings to sway back and forth.

Great. She’s still wearing radish earrings. Sheesh. Hermione still found the other woman frustrating, but somehow she was less irritating when she was Ron’s wife rather than Severus’. I will not think about the reason for that.

At Ron’s comment, the four people began to chat and discuss previous gatherings. Hermione sat, tucked back into a large overstuffed chair, and watched them. They clearly all know each other so well. It’s so nice to see my friends so happy. I wonder who else made it through the war here…

Severus entered the room so silently that no one noticed his presence. He stood in the doorway and watched the interactions. The four old friends were laughing and talking, Luna gesturing with the stick of celery she’d been munching on. They seemed to be discussing something that required wand waving. He knew that Luna had been working on an article about Ollivander’s and wands; maybe they were discussing that.

Hermione was sitting off to the side, curled up in his favorite chair. He watched her, watched her face settle into sombre lines as she watched her old friends go on without her.

His brows twisted together. Was Hermione shimmering? There was something … odd about her. He looked closely and realized with a horrific shock that he was able to, just slightly, see right through her to the pattern of the upholstery behind her. She was fading.

“Hermione!” he snapped out, filled with dismay. At his call, she solidified, and looked in his direction. The bleak expression in her eyes chilled him. Is she unhappy? We have to fix this.

“We have to fix this.” He strode to the center of the room and looked at the people he’d gathered. “There must be something we can do.”

“Well,” said Harry, reasonably, “why don’t we start with where our two worlds are different.” He glanced around at everyone, then continued. “Obviously in the two worlds people have had different … um. Life paths.” He didn’t look satisfied with that phrase, but plummeted on. “Hermione, clearly,” (Severus’ answering “Clearly” was not quite low enough to be unheard.) Harry shot Severus a quelling look, “Hermione survived in her world. Ron didn’t. We should make lists…”

Hermione attempted to muffle her slightly hysterical laugh. Just what I’d been thinking. “Um. Yes, that sounds good.” She attempted to sound less edgy than she felt.

Severus turned to her and smiled gently. I have to calm down and approach this more slowly. I know I’ve been acting oddly; I just can’t figure out what I’m feeling. I don’t want her to feel bad. I want to keep her – I know she’s not the same one, but she’s Hermione. I want to make her happy here. “I think I already have some of the information we’re looking for. Hermione and I, this morning, ah, discussed two of the people whose lives are different in the two worlds.” Hermione’s face was a study in suppressed emotion. “I have notes I took, over here on the table.”

The group moved to the table nearest the garden doors and found chairs. Severus held his hand out for Hermione’s, lifting her gently from her comfortable chair. She stood, then walked to meet the others, leaving her hand in Severus’ larger one. It felt to her as if he were the only truly familiar thing in the room. Harry had noticed her continued touch and his eyes rose to meet Severus’, with a questioning glint in them. Severus looked back at him, keeping his gaze neutral and steady.

“The first thing to do is to list everyone, I guess,” Ron started, “ and see who’s done what.” He pulled some parchment towards himself, then grabbed a quill. “Okay. We can start with Hermione,” the quill scratched as he began writing, “and Severus.” He looked over at Hermione, seated in a chair with her back to the garden. “Well? Are you two married there?”

Hermione’s face stilled. Her eyes flicked to Severus’ dark face then back to Ron’s open one. “No. In fact, Severus is dead. He died before the war ended.” She looked down at her fingers, which were lacing and unlacing themselves in her lap. “He died trying to save my parents. They were killed just before we could get them to a safe place. Severus found out that the Death Eaters were planning to attack them, and tried to convince them to delay the attack. Somehow this made Lucius suspicious, we’ve decided that it must have been simply the last in a series of slips… we were all so tired by then, we were all making mistakes. Lucius convinced Voldemort to include Severus in the attack. Severus agreed, thinking that he could try to save them at the last minute. Instead, he was killed with them. We found their bodies …” Hermione’s voice, which had been growing fainter and more strained, finally gave out. She brought her hands up to her face and just sat, still, trying to breathe slowly and calmly. Maybe if I breathe calmly I can be calm.

“Your parents are dead?” Padma’s soft voice queried. Hermione didn’t show her face, but nodded her head. She didn’t see the looks everyone else shot around the table. They all ended up looking at Severus questioningly, but he shook his head and mouthed, “No. Not yet.” They all nodded and went back to their parchments.

Ron shook out his hand and wrist and moaned. “I hate taking notes. Can we just charm the thing?” At this, the small group laughed slightly and the feeling of tension lifted. Hermione smiled, wiped her cheeks and tapped the quill with her wand. “Scribere,” she said, and the quill sprang up, ready for action.

Severus then pulled out the parchments he had from the earlier questions he’d asked her. He placed them on the table, but kept his hand over them. Looking around the small group, he stated in a firm voice, “The information here will be startling to many of you. I don’t know where the two worlds diverged, but – if we collect everyone’s actions, then maybe we can discover where they split off from each other.”

Luna’s calm, vague voice broke the resulting silence. “We should continue the listing, I think. It will help us to understand the differences and what things may have happened.” Everyone swiveled to look at her and she gazed back, impassively. “At the very least, we are all curious, and it would do us all good to discuss these things. We don’t discuss the events of the war and,” her gaze swung to Harry and Severus, “for some of us the discussion and its aftermath is long overdue.”

There was a collective settling in at her statement and the conversation took off. Several hours went by, with someone asking about another person and Hermione telling stories about the events in her time. Each time she’d say something, it would bring up another person or another event and the discussion would become sidetracked. Hermione began to be much more appreciative of Luna’s apparent vagueness. Somehow, Luna always seemed to remember the last bit but one that they’d been discussing and managed to bring the group back on topic every time.

Hermione was the only one who noticed that Severus was barely involved in the discussion. He seemed to be deliberately pulling back from everyone at the table, leaning his head back in his chair and looking out the window at the lights of the village down the hill.

Finally, the discussion trailed off, every immediate question having been posed and every person they could think of having been detailed. Hermione felt completely wrung dry. She discussed things that she’d deliberately refused to think about for years and people she hadn’t thought about in years were now practically sitting next to her.

Hermione’s voice was tired and raspy. “I’m trying to think of what I was doing yesterday… I keep thinking that there’s something I’m forgetting. Oh! The Time Room!” she said. “I was in the Time Room yesterday… of course.”

“But,” interjected Harry, with Ron only a beat behind, “the Time Room’s sealed. Don’t you –“ They broke off, sharply, looking hard first at each other, then at the table.

Hermione was thinking so hard she didn’t even hear them. Her voice had lost it’s confused tone. “Oh, there must be something… Severus, do you have Glock and Sprockette’s Treatise on Time? I think I’ve jumped … That’s what that Tapestry was…” She was speaking so quickly that her companions were left several thoughts behind. Only Severus seemed to have followed her to the end of her thought process.

“You think you’ve jumped dimensions? Did you touch the Tapestry?” He leaned forward, looking urgently into her face. That would explain everything, but it means she won’t stay here. She can’t anchor here; her thread is cut here. She’ll go back …

She looked back at him, slightly dazed. “Um. Touch it? Nooo… I looked at it, but I didn’t even try to touch it. One of the threads seemed to be glowing, though…” She tilted her head. “What do you know about that Tapestry, Severus?”

His eyes were very black and he appeared suddenly exhausted. “The Tapestry is Time itself. I’m surprised your Ministry displays it where people can see it. The glowing thread you saw was your own. Any person who views the Tapestry is allowed to see their own thread.” He stopped speaking for a moment. Then, he cleared his throat and began again. “Well. This explains much. Everything, in fact.” He didn’t sound at all happy about the explanation.

Hermione leaned back, the events of the past day catching up to her all at once. She could feel her head pounding and her eyes ached.

Severus’ face came into her field of vision. “She’s exhausted. Let her be, for now. There will be time for more questions later.” He slid his arms under her knees and behind her shoulders, and lifted her to his chest again. There won’t be enough time. I will lose her again, only this time it will hurt more. If that’s possible.

With a nod to the other guests, who were gathering up their things, he turned to leave the room. At the door he turned and spoke, “I think you all should return tomorrow so we can continue this. We haven’t discussed what we’re going to do in the future.” Then, he pushed through the doorway into the hall.

Ron’s voice could still be heard in the library. “But… in the future? They’re going to get married again, of course. Right?” The sound of a hand smacking his arm was the last thing Hermione heard from them as Severus carried her upstairs.

“I can walk, you know,” she started, but subsided when he rumbled in her ear, “Let me. I … think you need more care than you’ve been getting in the last few years.” She relaxed into his warm strong arms and refused to think of what might happen further forward than the next hour. I have no control over this; maybe I should just relax and let it happen. Whatever it is…

He felt her body slump against him and held her more tightly. She was so light and fragile in his arms, he was worried that she’d crumble if he held her too firmly. The scent of her hair drifted to his nose and he breathed in deeply. He had debated bringing her to his room again, but decided that she probably wasn’t ready for that. He knew he was ready to commit to her, he’d seen enough of her during the day to know that, different time line or not, she was still the Hermione he loved and would always love. I really don’t know how this Hermione feels, though. Maybe she doesn’t want to be with me. She didn’t mention being with anyone else…

He ended up bringing her to one of the guest rooms. It was a smallish one, to the front of the building, overlooking the fields and distant mountains to the north. When he’d been having the house worked on and renovated, he’d chosen to have the guest rooms not done with individual themes. He’d thought that a tacky and obsessive decoration idea. He’d settled on a general color scheme for the entire house, and had used a little of each of the colors in every room. Harry had teased him about using only Slytherin’s colors, but in reality he’d liked the effects of a nice range of burgundies and reds against creams and greens. A nice, safe, mix of Slytherin and Gryffindor.

This particular room, due to its northern light, had been done mainly in a light wine color with trim in cream and leaf green. The strong north light would have reflected harshly off of cream walls, but the darker burgundy color that he’d had used in the library would have been too dark and caused the room to look even smaller than it truly was.

He wrapped one arm around her as far as it would go and used his other hand to pull the blankets down. He settled her down onto the soft mattress and gently pulled his arm away from around her. He could feel her hair wrapping itself around his wrist, seemingly as unwilling to release him as he was unwilling to be released. Her face turned to his, and he was shocked to see how pale she looked.

“Oh, Hermione. I know this must all be difficult for you.” He sat, silent for a moment by her bed, then began moving to tuck her into the bed. “There’s something you should know about all of this.” He looked at her lying in the bed, her body so still and her eyes resting on his. Slowly, he lowered himself to sit on the edge of the bed. She curled a little so there was more room for him to sit. He took her hands in his again, then commented, idly, “My mother lost this ring, you know. We couldn’t find it anywhere. I had intended it to be your wedding ring, but it was missing from the vault when I looked for it. I’m very glad to see it again. It’s one of the true treasures of the Snape family. It belongs on your finger.”

She lay still, watching him from her tangle of soft brown hair. Well, at least both Severuses agree on that. I wonder if this one wants to try again (is that the right word for it? I wonder…) with me. Do I have the courage to try? I didn’t before, and look how lonely I was. “Severus?” her voice was hoarse from all the talking in the library earlier. “When did you and I …” she blushed, “figure out how we felt for each other?”

He looked down at her, a little surprised. Since she’d said nothing about her relationship with her Severus, he wasn’t sure how they had felt about each other in her timeline. This is confusing. Her Severus. My Hermione. Her Ron, my Ron. There’s got to be another way to deal with this… He smiled down at her sleepy face. “Would you like a bed time story?”

She smiled back at him, enjoying the small lightheartedness. “Yes, please.” Then she turned onto her side, neatly capturing his hand in the process, and snuggled deeper into the blankets. Ariel really is her daughter. Stories at bedtime are her favorite. Odd to be telling a Mummy story to the Mummy, though.. he mused.

Turning his eyes back to the woman he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep, he began the story.

“Well. Let’s see. We’d been working together on basic potions, restoratives for the Order. You had forced me into it; you showed up injured after fighting to save Mr. Thomas’ mother from Death Eaters. I realized then what I felt for you, what I had been hiding from myself.”

“I remember that,” she muttered into her pillow. “You went absolutely white when you saw me.”

He scowled at her. “Stop interrupting or I’ll send you to bed with no story!” Smiling at her giggle, he continued. “We began working together then. I decided that, since I couldn’t keep you from the fighting, I’d at least make sure that I kept you in excellent restoratives. We would work together for a month, then you’d go off and deliver our latest batch to Grimmauld Place. After a few days of staying there, you’d return to me in my dungeons and we’d work feverishly on more potions, or more advanced potions, depending on what Albus needed.

“While you were at Grimmauld Place, you’d help with the planning or the battles, depending on how the war was going. I knew you were at risk, but I couldn’t stop you. You were so brave, so determined to protect your new world. Then, you nearly died.” His voice, which had been flowing along, silk and velvet, began to fray about the edges slightly, growing harsher and less comfortable. He’d also begun to tell the story as if he were actually reliving it and she wondered if he had ever told this story at all.

“You went on a raid to the Ministry. I don’t know what happened there, I was working elsewhere on something to do with blocking the effects of Truth sera, yes that’s why I had all those books, don’t keep interrupting! I was immersed in trying to wring the juice from griffin feathers when Luna came to tell me you were in St. Mungo’s. I don’t think I’ve ever run quite so fast as that before or after. When I got there, I had to deal with your devoted fans.” His voice had slid all the way down into cutting sarcasm, but Hermione thought she could detect a hint of amused forbearance in it.

“They were determined to keep me from your room - something about ‘Why would she want to see the greasy git?’” Hermione suspected that particular sentence originated in a Ron shaped package. “I was bellowing and shouting, not my calmest moment, I must admit. I nearly hexed everyone out of the way when Harry’s voice stopped everyone. He said, calm as toast, ‘Oh, thank you Severus. You came immediately. She’s been asking for you.’ Then he opened the door and gestured me inside. At the time I couldn’t make any sense of the stern look he shot me and what he said next.”

Severus glanced down at Hermione’s face, smiling to see her attempting to hide her giggles at the scene he’d painted of the chaotic and crazed group in St. Mungo’s. “Yes, dear. We were all a little … tense.” At that, she burst into slightly hoarse laughter. Turning onto her back, still curled around him, she held onto his hand and asked, like an eager child, “So, what did Harry say next?”

Smiling down at the face he’d thought never to see again, he answered. “He said, ‘I hope you’re going to finish what you’ve started.’ I had no idea what he was talking about, but I’d have agreed to anything that got me into your room at that point. Once I got there, I was surprised again that he shut the door behind me, allowing us to be alone.

“You looked so still there, in the bed, that I almost couldn’t approach you. The thought that you might be dead literally froze me to the spot. After a few moments, I began moving and you heard me. You turned your head and smiled at me, the broadest, happiest smile I’d ever seen in my life. And, wonder of wonders, you were aiming it at me. I very nearly turned around to see who was behind me that you’d be smiling like that.

“I made it up to your bed, and just looked at you for a moment. I still don’t know what you’d stumbled into at the Ministry, but it must have been fierce. You had bandages around your chest, wrapping over your shoulders and one around your head. They’d cut your hair, leaving you with short curls which fanned out from your head like a curly halo.”

He looked sharply at her. She’d snorted, remembering Fred’s description of her when she’d cut her hair off. Halo, indeed.

“I began by stammering something vague about hearing how you couldn’t stay out of trouble, but you caught my hand and pulled it into yours. It was the first time I’d allowed us to touch, you have no idea how careful I’d been to avoid touching you. I was convinced you’d hate me and never come back if you knew how I felt. I kept trying to tell myself that I was worried because if you left the dungeons we wouldn’t get as many potions finished, but I really just couldn’t stand how empty they’d become when you left.

“So, there I was, dumbstruck because you were holding my hand. Finally, looking for something to say that wasn’t ‘Please don’t ever do this again, it’s killing me.’ I repeated what Harry had said when I entered the room and asked you if you could explain it. You began to glower and I backed up, thinking you were angry at me.”

He looked down at their hands, joined again, and sighed. Her eyes were sympathetic and sparkling with mirth at the same time. He tried to impress this moment upon his memory to save for ever.

“You snapped at me, ‘Well, are you going to finish this?’ and I just stared at you. Clearly the damage you’d sustained had addled your mind. Before I could think of a way to calm you and get the St. Mungo’s mental healers into the room, you pulled my hand so hard I nearly fell off my feet. I caught myself on the edge of the bed, but the momentum bent me forward at the waist and I kissed you. Well, rather, our faces met in my usual nose first way. All I could think of was that you were going to kill me for this.

“I decided, that if I was to die for kissing you, I might as well die for a knut as for a galleon, so I began to really kiss you. It wasn’t until several minutes had passed that I realized you were kissing me back and that Harry had let everyone else into the room. In fact, I didn’t notice anything until you began giggling into my mouth.”

Hermione was, in point of fact, giggling at this very moment. He glared down at her, his very best Evil Professor glare. It only served to make her giggles more violent.

“I pulled back from you, ashamed that you found my kisses laughworthy, when I was nearly deafened by the applause from all of your friends. Later, much later, you told me that they’d all thought you wouldn’t be able to get me to do anything about how we felt. You, showing a very sneaky side,” he sneered down at her, “you used your illness to get me.”

Hermione’s giggles had faded now, but she was still sparkling up at him. “Ah yes,” she said, “very sneaky. I’m sure that’s what finally impressed you. The sly, sneaking part. Slytherin!” She stuck her tongue out at him, amazed at how quickly they’d become comfortable together. Maybe this Severus is easier to get along with. I know I’m still in love with him. I wonder if my Severus would have acted the way this one did.

He sneered back. “Gryffindor!” I missed this, the banter, the play. Gods above and below, I miss her. I wonder how long Lachesis will give her to stay here before she puts Hermione’s thread back where it belongs.

“Now,” he began, “you need to get some rest. You have been through some very stressful things today and you should get some sleep. I’m sure that tomorrow will be hectic.” He busied himself straightening out her blankets, tucking her in carefully.

“Severus?” Her voice was soft and slightly uncertain.

“Yes?” He had to concentrate on sounding natural. This is very hard. I want to say so many things to her…

“Would you kiss me?” He was flabbergasted at the question. Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting.

He turned towards her and sat back down on the edge of the bed. Slowly he lifted his hands to her face, stroking the gentle curls away from her soft cheeks. Carefully, gently, he leaned down and pressed his lips to hers. He could feel their smooth warmth against his, and he had to fight not to sob. She felt his breath hitch and pulled back into the pillow to look at him, but he followed her with his lips. He pushed against her mouth, tasting the chocolate she’d eaten for dessert, then brushed his tongue against her lips. Her mouth opened to his with a slight whimper and he found himself lifting her up, her arms twined around his neck and her fingers buried his hair at the nape of his neck. After a few breathless minutes he released her mouth and buried his face in the curve where her neck met her shoulder. He discovered, to his dismay, that he was crying.

She clung to him, and they sat, wrapped around each other, for many long moments. Finally, he lowered her back to the bed, pulled the covers up to her chin and looked down at her for a few heartbeats. Then he lowered his head to her and kissed her forehead firmly.

“Go to sleep.” His voice was quiet and still.

***

Hermione woke up, feeling headachy and confused. Why had she fallen asleep in the spare bedroom? Wait! Where am I? Which house? Which time? She stumbled as she stood up and realized that since she hadn’t been in a bed, she must be back in her own timeline.

Oh, no! What do I do now? Am I stuck here? I don’t know how to deal with this… I had better see if there are any books on timelines and the Tapestry.

She walked out into the upstairs hallway, and made her way down the stairs to the kitchen. Coffee, that’s what I need now. Lots of coffee…

Once she was in the kitchen, she stood, leaning a hip against the counter as the coffee pot burbled and bubbled its way to caffienated bliss behind her. She was so lost in thought she didn’t notice her housemates coming in.

“So, you were off shopping without us yesterday, I see,” drawled Draco in his driest voice.

Hermione started and looked at him, confused. He raised an eyebrow and gestured to the dress she was wearing. She looked down and saw that she was still wearing the long red embroidered dress from Severus’ time line. With a sad expression, she smoothed the fabric down along her hipline.

“Coffee’s up,” she said, trying for cheerful. Her voice wasn’t quite up to sounding chipper; it came out slightly hoarse still. She poured three cups and plunked them all down on the table in front of her friends.

Then, dropping down into a seat herself, she looked around at the two people she trusted most in the world.

“I have to tell you something,” she started. Ginny and Draco reached out and took each other’s hand. “I wasn’t here yesterday.”

Draco’s raised eyebrow was the only response to that. Ginny kept a pleasant, and vague, expression pasted to her face.

“Oh, no it was nothing like that!” Hermione snapped at her two friends, then blushed to her roots as she recalled the one kiss she and Severus had shared. “Well, it wasn’t. It was something much worse.”

At her words, her friends stopped teasing her and leaned forwards.

“What is it?” Ginny’s voice was brisk. “Whatever it is, you know we’ll be there to help you.” Draco, at her side, nodded firmly.

“You rescued the two of us when we had nowhere to go,” he continued for Ginny, “you know you have our assistance in anything. Just tell us what you need.”

Hermione wrapped her fingers around her coffee cup. Okay. How do I say this? I went to a different time line and found out that the three of us are dead there and that I married Severus and we have a daughter and I want to stay there… Yeah. That makes sense.

“You remember that dream I had in the library several days ago? The one where Severus showed up, drunk and then disappeared when he hit the floor?” At their nods, she continued. “Well, it wasn’t a dream. It was really him.”

They looked at her, faces completely still. She could see their joined hands clenching. Ginny opened her mouth to try to say something, then closed it again, clearly at a loss for words.

Draco just looked at Hermione steadily.

“Really, it was him. I just spent all day yesterday in this house in a timeline where he didn’t get killed. I know it sounds insane, I know it…” her voice faded away, and she buried her face in the steam rising from the coffee. “I was wandering around the Mysteries late Thursday night, Ginny you remember, all those rooms? The Brain Room and the Space Room and the Time Room? Well, I was wandering around just thinking and remembering. I found myself in the Time Room, looking at all the different things there.

“I saw this incredible Tapestry there. It was striped, vertically, in all sorts of colors.”

She was interrupted by Draco, who’d gone deathly white. “You saw the Tapestry of Time? That’s not supposed to be visible. That’s supposed to be completely hidden, the Three never let it be seen. Are you sure of what you saw?” He was visibly shaking, clinging to Ginny’s hand as if to a lifeline.

In a small voice, Hermione answered, “That’s almost exactly what Severus said. I didn’t touch it, but we think that somehow I brushed it or something and I was moved over to that timeline.” She sighed. How do I tell these two wonderful people what I saw there?

 

 

Ginny rescued her. “I think we need breakfast. What about you two? I’m hungry. And, I think that if this Tapestry thing is choosing to be visible, we should all go, well, not see it, exactly but… visit it. If it’s going to be stealing our Hermione, we should at least know where it is.”

The two older people looked at Ginny and then each other. Smiling slowly, Draco said, “I think a breakfast out would be a lovely idea. How about you, Hermione?”

She nodded back and stood up.

“Let’s go to the village and get some breakfast.”

***

Severus woke up to a smallish demon pouncing on him.

“Get up! What did you talk about after you made me go to bed?” Ariel’s voice was clear and crisp in the morning air. Severus growled and grabbed her, throwing her down on the other side of the bed and tickling her mercilessly. She collapsed in giggles and then tore off down the stairs, demanding breakfast.

Shaking his head at the manic energy displayed by the young of every species, he sat up on the edge of the bed. I wonder if Hermione is awake yet. Should I check? He knew he’d check immediately. The question was redundant.

As he walked down the hall, he smiled, thinking about the way she’d teased him last night. That kiss was explosive. I didn’t expect it to have that powerful an effect on me.

He pushed Hermione’s door open carefully, not wanting to wake her if she wasn’t already awake. One peek into the room, however, made his blood run cold. She’s gone. Lachesis, why let her come at all if you were going to send her back so soon? Oh gods. Why? I’ll do anything to get her back… I can’t live this way, this broken… He could hear short whining noises, and he realized they came from him. His throat had closed so hard on his screams that all he could do was pant and whine. He found himself at her bed, running his hands over the crumpled blankets, looking for any reminder of her. Hair. Warmth. Anything.

There was nothing. The sheets were stone cold, the pillow smooth and unviolated by loose hairs. She was gone.

He curled up on the bed and pulled Hermione’s blankets over his head.

***

After a lively breakfast, spent discussing her adventures as if they were the plot to a good book she was reading, Hermione took her two housemates to the Ministry. They were going to clear this up now and be done with it. She couldn’t see living the rest of her life like this, separated from one of the people she loved most.

She had spent some time trying to feel out how Ginny and Draco felt about the other timeline. She had the tiny spark of an idea in the back of her head, and she didn’t know how to go about asking her friends what they thought of it. It might not matter, anyway, if the Tapestry is gone… I’ll wait until we find out what’s at the Ministry before I bring it up.

Once at the Ministry, she had to convince the weekend guard that she was just there to show her friends around work. They were so impressed with her important work at the Ministry, and they’re on holiday over from Dublin, don’t you see, that they just were desperate to see her office. Hermione thought she’d never be able to look that guard in the face again. Draco and Ginny were biting their lips, trying not to burst into laughter.

“Oh, my, Hermione. You do such important work. How do you ever find the time for unfortunates like us just over from Dublin?” Draco managed to hold his sarcastic question for after the lift doors closed, something Hermione was deeply grateful for.

She smacked him gently on the arm. “You pillock. You just wish you were as important as me.” Then she grinned at him and stuck out her tongue.

The three of them tumbled out of the lift at Hermione’s floor. She could see Ginny remembering the one time she’d been there, even without being able to see the area now. Ginny shuddered slightly and stood closer to Draco. The three friends looked at each other, then clasped hands and began to walk towards the Time Room.

“It was down this hall and to the right…” Hermione chattered nervously as they approached the room. She really didn’t have any idea what they’d see once they entered the Time Room, and she was almost afraid to look.

When they actually opened the door, she could see immediately that the Tapestry was still there. It took up one entire wall of the room and was still as breathtaking as the first time she’d seen it. She inhaled sharply and looked at Draco and Ginny.

Draco looked stunned. “No one alive is supposed to see this. The Fates don’t show this to anyone. Why is it showing here?” His voice was a harsh, strained whisper.

Ginny was clinging to his hand and arm. “Draco? Draco, I can see something. Sort of… There’s a glow in that direction!”

Draco and Hermione both stared at Ginny. She was pointing at the Tapestry.

“Oh, Ginny. You can see the glow?” Draco’s voice was soft and his eyes were suspiciously shimmery. He held her, making sure not to block her view of the Tapestry. He didn’t want to take away any vision she had, even if it was just a glow or a glimmer.

Hermione stood aside, her hand pressed to her lips, her cheeks streaked with happy tears. Ginny was seeing something for the first time in years.

After a few silent moments, Ginny wiped her face on Draco’s shirt. Then, she deliberately walked towards the Tapestry. “So, what am I looking at?” She turned her head back towards Draco, who came up beside her and wrapped an arm around her waist.

“You are looking at the Tapestry of Time. This is the actual fabric of time itself, as it’s woven by the Fate, Lachesis. She is the middle of the three sisters, the Fates. The youngest, Clotho, spins the threads of life; Lachesis measures them and weaves them into the Tapestry; and Atropos, the eldest sister, cuts the threads. You are looking at something that no one living has ever seen.” The three young people stood, regarding the mythical artefact in silent awe.

“Well,” Hermione said, after several minutes had passed. “What now?” Draco and Ginny looked at her blankly.

Then the three of them began to laugh. What now, indeed? Hermione moved away from the Tapestry and pulled her friends with her. She looked back and forth between them and then took a deep breath.

“Ginny? Draco? There’s something I want to ask you. It’s something really big, something important.” She twisted her fingers together, locking them so she could pretend they weren’t shaking. “I want to go back to Severus’ timeline. Things were better there, the Wizarding world didn’t go the way ours is. People are happier there…”

Her audience stood, regarding her with twin confused looks. “Ooookay,” said Draco, “but what’s the question?”

“Will you come with me?” Hermione blurted it out then immediately turned around, unable to look at her friends’ probably dismayed faces. She felt hands grip her shoulders and turn her around. The faces looking at her weren’t dismayed. They weren’t even upset.

“We’d love to.” Ginny’s voice was firm. “We have been discussing going completely Muggle here in this time line. There’s nothing for us any more in the Wizarding world. Harry’s… broken, my family’s torn apart, Draco’s despised. The Muggles are kinder to us than our own kind. If there’s a way for us to come with you, then we’d be more than happy to go to a place where we could be happy in the Wizarding World.” Draco stood beside her, nodding his agreement.

Hermione looked back and forth between her two friends. “You’re the best. You know that, right?” She pulled the three of them into a big, long hug.

“Now all we need to do is figure out how to go there. And how to stay.” She turned around and looked for the door out. It’s time to visit the Ministry Library.

The door was gone. In its place was a stone archway opening on dark stairs. There was a strange, rhythmic thumping sound coming up from the stairs. Hermione gasped, and tugged on Draco’s sleeve. “That wasn’t there before, was it?”

He shook his head, not trusting his voice to answer. She could practically hear him thinking of his earlier words, “something no one living has seen”.

“Well. It looks like we have to go downstairs.” She took her two friends hands, placing Ginny in the middle, and they walked down the long flight of stairs together.

The thumping grew steadily louder as they neared the bottom of the staircase. There was a bright light in the room at the bottom of the stairs as well. Ginny suddenly cried out and clenched her eyes shut. “That light. It’s so bright…”

Hermione and Draco exchanged glances over Ginny’s head. She could see again?

They stopped on the last step and looked out into a large, oddly shaped room. In the very center of it was a tremendous loom, the passing back and forth of the shuttle creating a soft susurration of sound that filled the space. It sounded like water rushing one moment, then like the wind through thick branches, then like the sound of traffic on a far off throughway. Every time the shuttle passed through the warp threads, the beaters came down and slammed into the fabric being woven. It was this that had been causing the thumping sounds.

With a small start, Hermione realized that the loom was working itself. She looked around for any occupants and found her trio being observed by three women at the far end of the room, sitting comfortably in front of a large, blazing fire.

Hermione felt her hand get tugged on. Ginny was looking straight at the women, and smiling slightly. “I can see them,” she whispered. “I can see the whole room.” She began walking towards them, dragging her two older companions with her. Hermione tried to look at the tapestry as she passed it, but the design was so random it hurt her eyes.

“Would you like some tea?” The soft voice of the youngest of the three women startled her. She turned to look fully at the people in this room and gasped.

The eldest woman, a crone hunched over in her own chair, which was pulled closest to the fire, cackled at her. “You’re no dummy, are you? You know who we are. You don’t, however, know everything. Sit. Drink.” She thrust tea cups into the young visitors’ hands.

Hermione sat, stunned. She lifted the tea cup to her lips then stopped before drinking any of it. Draco’s eyes had caught hers and he was trying to shake his head without being seen by any of the three women. The crone caught this however, and began to laugh so hard she fell back into her chair. “We don’t poison people, laddy. We don’t need to.” At that, the silver scissors in her nearby knitting bag shimmered slightly. Hermione took her first sip of tea.

She felt her entire body relax. The tea was the perfect temperature, the perfect taste. Whatever these three women wanted, they would get, Hermione knew that. She just hoped that she would be able to come out of this encounter with everything with which she entered it. She saw Ginny and Draco sip their tea and relax as well. She wondered, idly, what magic had been in the tea.

“Now,” came the crisp, no nonsense voice of the middle sister. “There is something you asked for. We are … willing to give you what you requested, in return for an act you performed in another timeline, at a different time.” She fell silent, watching her three guests.

Hermione eyed Ginny and Draco, seeing her own confusion mirrored on their faces. What act could I have performed? What’s going on here?

“Uhm. Ma’am. That’s a very generous offer.” Hermione didn’t quite know where to go with this. “Would it be permanent? Do we all get to go? Are you sending us or do we have to do something, perform a ritual?”

The three sisters glanced at each other silently. Then, the middle sister, clearly the spokeswoman for now, said, “You will all three go at once. There is nothing you need do. You have already done what you needed to do at the start.”

Draco cleared his throat, making Ginny and Hermione jump. “Ma’am? If I may?” At the replying nod, he continued. “I think you should remove the Tapestry from up there. It’s not safe –“

The crone began cackling again, and this time her two sisters joined in. After several very uncomfortable moments, where the laughter echoed oddly off of the walls, they subsided.

“Oooo, sonny. You’re quite sharp, you are.” The crone eyed him. “That tapestry’s as safe as houses, it is. It’s not the real thing. The real thing is right behind you. Your friend,” she pointed a long, bony finger at Hermione, “discovered that it’s not for human eyes to see, didn’t you dearie?”

The middle sister took over the conversation again. “You may go now, if you wish. Your presence is much desired in that other time.”

Hermione stood up. She wasn’t going to look a gift … tapestry in the mouth. “Thank you very much ma’am. Um. How do we get there?” She went to stand next to Draco and Ginny and clung to them the way they were clinging to her.

The youngest sister pointed to a long tunnel they hadn’t seen. “Go through there. You must not look back or the trip will,” she paused, “end poorly.”

Draco started to ask, “Where does that go?” but stopped himself.

Hermione looked carefully around at the room and the three women. “Thank you,” she said firmly. “Thank you very much. I do have one question, though. What is it we’ve done for you? What service did we perform?”

The three sisters regarded each other for a moment, then the youngest replied, “For you, that is immaterial. We were there and saw you perform an act of great bravery. We are grateful.”

With that, Hermione and her friends found themselves at the mouth of the tunnel, facing a long dark path with a small half-circle of bright sunlight at the end. With a sudden laugh, Hermione grabbed her friends hands and began to walk down the tunnel towards the blinding light.

***

Severus lay in the bed, utterly defeated by this latest loss. He knew he was going to have to tell Ariel something, but for the life of him he couldn’t even muster the strength to sit up. What am I going to do now?

He heard noises outside the house, but ignored them. It was just Ariel, playing on the front patio. Then, the sounds became clearer and sharper.

“Severus! Severus! Where are you?”

It can’t be. That sounds like –

He threw the covers back and tore out of the room. Turning at the head of the stairs he flew recklessly down them, but drew up sharply when he saw just exactly who was standing at his front door. His face drained of all color and his progress changed from full tilt to an almost drunken stagger.

There stood Hermione, holding onto Draco and Ginny. She’d brought them with her.

He reached the bottom stair and she met him, throwing herself fiercely against him and wrapping her arms around him so tightly he could almost believe that they were real.

“I’m home, love,” he heard her say, softly. “We’re all home.”