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Pride of Time

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Big thanks goes out to my wonderful beta, SSB!

Anti-Litigation Charm: I do not own.

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Hermione leaned forward in her chair, fingers smeared with ink as she scribbled away in her notebook. Severus was standing over her shoulder, gripping the back of her chair as he watched her words disappear before his eyes almost as soon as they were written.

"The Edenburghs… E-D-E-N, not E-D-I-N… around noon, tomorrow," he finished smoothly, watching her tap what appeared to be an blank page with her finger to wandlessly fix her misspelling. A moment later, she resumed writing down his dictation. "They work for the Ministry in the Department of International Magical Cooperation. The Dark Lord wanted their assistance in raising support for anti-Muggle legislation, but they refused—twice, so…" he spread his hand to either side. "He's ordered them to be tortured and killed, and then dumped in front of the Ministry. It sends a message, you see."

Hermione finished scribbling the last entry down, and then leaned back in her chair, trying to work the kink out of her neck. "Is that all?"

"The Dark Lord is growing wary the longer the Potters and Longbottoms remain at large," Severus responded quietly. "Restless. I fear he will launch an attack soon. He is more paranoid than ever."

Hermione scribbled that down as well, and then with a nod from Severus, shut her notebook and slipped it back into an inside side-pocket of her robes. "Alright. I'll bring this to the Headmaster. You'd better return to the party—at least make a show of having stayed for a substantial amount of time before getting fed up and leaving."

Severus smirked, and bent down to kiss her neck before straightening up to leave. "Very well. Do you know when the next…gathering is to take place?" he asked, stressing the fifth-last word with a sneer.

Hermione smiled faintly at him. "May fifth. As the Headmaster so nicely put it, 'Happy Cinco de Mayo.'"

"That's a North American holiday," Severus responded, quirking his lips.

Hermione shrugged, grinning. "Any reason is a good reason, I suppose. You don't hear me complaining."

~o~O~o~

All throughout April, Hermione's focus was divided between two very important things. The first was her academic schedule, which was begininning to thicken with chaos at an alarming speed with the promise of NEWT exams in a month and a half's time. The second was her duty to the Order which involved reading out the information from her notebook to Dumbledore out loud, reporting on her progress on working with Severus on a personal and professional level ("Yes, sir, we're getting along fine.") followed by being kept up-to-date on the latest news from her friends still at Order Headquarters. It was an enormous workload, and Hermione felt like Atlas as she took her burden with a grain of salt.

April quickly turned to May, much to Hermione's simultaneous horror and relief. Exams were all that much closer, but it was another chance to see Severus as well as to update her notebook and deliver some more of the time-sensitive information to Dumbledore. She and Severus had a few intimate moments together in the comfort of the Room of Requirement before Hermione was forced to send him back to the party, where he was to look as though he was actually engaging with the other guests. Voldemort had approved his visits, sending Severus was an opportunity to observe and keep up-to-date on the going-ons at Hogwarts, particularly those within his own alma mater, and to see if he could detect trace of people who had otherwise been in hiding but were poking their heads out when they thought the chase had ended. The Dark Lord had finally discovered the value of using Severus as a spy, and it was to Hermione and the Order's advantage that Tom Riddle was so eager to push this usefulness: it made remaining in contact with him that much either.

Hermione began studying for her NEWTs with even more urgency and fervor than she had previously. She once again spent sleepless nights in the library, remaining awake until ungodly hours trying to forcefully re-cram ever factoid she had ever learned over the last two years, despite the fact that she already had a good deal memorized to begin with, and her stress levels began to bleed into her correspondence; Alice made a subtle suggestion that she spend some time reviewing the recipe for Calming Draughts, and Lily reminded Hermione that she had passed her OWLs with flying colors, and that she would do just as well without killing herself. Sirius, James, and Remus all sent her correspondence with varying suggestions on how to study without running herself into the ground, the first accompanied by a box of sugar quills to give her something to nibble on and keep her energy levels up while studying. Marlene jokingly suggested she go on a hexing spree to 'get rid of all that pent-up frustration.' Hermione appreciated their letters immensely, and the accompanying gifts, but she refused to slow down.

She was nearing the finish line of her career at Hogwarts. A finish line she had been looking forward to with wide, awe-struck eyes as a first-year, and now that it was so close, she refused to get anything less on it than an 'Outstanding' in every single subject. Even if it killed her, it seemed. The younger years, who had learned to rely on Hermione for psychological and academic support, quickly learned to part like the red sea on the few mornings that she did come down into the common room, and didn't squeak a single question her way as she rushed off to the library, her hair still an untangled bird's nest. Truth to be told, they were frightened enough of her at this point to believe the rumors that she was distantly related to Medusa.

The first week of exams arrived, and Hermione, a nervous but excited wreck with tangled hair and mind jumbled with memorized facts and wand-movements, threw herself into them with gusto. She slept the entire weekened, having crashed the minute her Friday exams were over, and was refreshed enough the next Monday to go through her second week of exams with similar, nerve-wracking enthusiasm.

During all this time, Hermione kept her notebook tucked securely somewhere on her. She never let it out of her presence except for when she showered which, during NEWT exams, was a sadly rare occurrence. Even then, her robes were in the bathroom with her, and her book was carefully kept within the inner pockets.

When exams were finally over, Hermione was able to take a nice, long, well-deserved bath, fix up her hair properly for the first time in nearly a month, and sleep well into the afternoon. The younger years were either goofing off or fussing over the exam scores they would not receive until later in the summer, the majority choosing to partake in the former, and as soon as Hermione felt refreshed enough to do so, she joined them.

She would be coming back next year as the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Good riddance, she thought with annoyance as she saw Professor Welk limping up to the Hospital Wing one evening, after an unexplained visit to the Forbidden Forest that had unsurprisingly gone horribly wrong. He had been an awful teacher, and Hermione was glad to see him go, if only to then be concerned about whether she would be leaving quietly without a scratch or be sent to St. Mungo's after being driven mad. She was only planning on staying for a year; Professor Faulkner had left without one bit of fuss when he had declared his intention, and Hermione planned to do the same.

Professor Slughorn had announced his intent to retire some two months ago, which was a good excuse for the exorbitant number of parties he had sponsored that year, and Severus arrived the week after exams were concluded to presumably speak to the Headmaster about formally applying for the position. He had introduced the idea of becoming the new Head of Slytherin and Potions Professor to Voldemort with great success, who was eager to have a player close to his most ardent opposition, and Hermione caught up with him on the way to Dumbledore's office to talk.

"I'm finally finished with exams," she told him, tone laced with disbelief. "I can't believe it's all over." She paused for a moment, biting her lower lip, and then admitted, "It feels odd not to be graduating with my friends. I still miss them." Severus turned to listen to her as they walked, and she elaborated, "We always did everything together. Somehow, even after all that's happened…" she trailed off.

"I understand," Severus said, looking away as they ascended one of the staircases. "It will probably feel strange for a while."

Hermione nodded, and then geared up her courage and pushed the thought away. She couldn't dwell on Harry or Ron—especially Harry—right now. "Any news on your end?"

Severus smirked. "Lucius and Narcissa have a son named Draco—he was born earlier this week. He has a mop of hair that is just as blond as his parents'."

Hermione giggled. "I've had to wonder on more than one occasion if they charm their hair the minute they're born."

Severus snorted. "Amusing as it is, I'm afraid Lucius would be quite offended at the notion."

Hermione laughed in agreement.

There was a pause as they reached the landing, and then Severus said seriously, "I've been named as his godfather."

If Hermione had been eating or drinking something, she would have choked on it. As it was, her jaw dropped unflatteringly as she took this in. "You're joking."

"No," Severus responded silkily. "I'm afraid I'm not."

~o~O~o~

"In order to apply for the position, I would like some assurance that you know enough about your subject to teach it," Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling as he admitted them into his office. "Just a few questions, Severus. Very basic, very informal. Now," he said, clasping his hands together, "What is the difference between Monkshood and Wolfsbane?"

Hermione was about to respond from ingrained instinct, but Severus interrupted her first. Throwing the Headmaster a glare, he sneered, "Very simple. One is used to hood monks, and the other is to repel wolves."

Hermione nearly gagged in surprise at this. Dumbledore, however, looked rather amused.

"What is a single object that is often used as a quick solution to counteracting most poisons?"

Severus rolled his eyes into Hermione's direction, and at that moment, Hermione realized he was not taking the Headmaster's questions seriously. She giggled. "I'd pull out my seventh-year Potions book and find the answer scribbled in there somewhere. Most likely on the page concerning Golpalott's Law."

Hermione was unable to restrain a snort of amusement at this. When all else fails, she thought.

Dumbledore was smiling genially at him now. "And the powdered root of asphodel with an infusion of wormwood?"

Severus stared straight ahead at him, his expression dead-set. "I suggest you don't drink it."

At this point, Hermione was reduced to peals of laughter. Severus's expression broke as well, and he was grinning a very un-Snapelike grin.

Dumbledore chuckled. "Needless to say, I believe you failed my little pop-quiz spectacularly."

"As if you would dare refuse me a job on that alone," Severus drawled. "My Hogwarts transcript should be more than enough."

"So it seems," Dumbledore said, beaming at the both of them before he moved to take a seat behind his desk. "Now that we've sorted that out, I believe we have other matters to discuss. Your summer plans?"

"Still the same as before," Hermione told him, covering her mouth with her hand to try and regain her composure. Severus had deliberately made a joke out of the very same questions he would be grilling Harry on when he arrived as a first-year. Questions he would also be deliberately excluding her from answering, though she now suspected that it was a private moment of amusement for him. Sadistic bastard, she thought fondly. "I'll be staying at Spinner's End unless we have some unexpected guests—in which case, my visit will probably be cut short."

"That's not likely to happen, Headmaster," Severus responded smoothly.

"Your plans are perfectly acceptable to me but for one condition," Dumbledore said, steepling his fingers. "I would like Hermione to be officially inducted into the Order. This can be done before or after summer begins, although I rather imagine you would find it far more convenient to have that out of the way."

"That's an acceptable plan," Severus said, turning to look at Hermione.

"I'll go directly to Headquarters first," Hermione said, clasping her hands together, her expression thoughtful. "It will be nice to get a chance to see everyone again—then, of course, I'll come to Spinner's End."

"That's settled, then," Dumbledore said cheerfully, sitting up straight. "You're free to go now, if you wish."

Satisfied, and feeling oddly relaxed, Hermione left the office with Severus at her heels. They descended several flights of stairs down to the first floor, and then let themselves out into the courtyard, which was quite deserted as everyone else was down beside the lake, enjoying the lazy promise of summer. They came to stand under the shade of one of the pillars, watching as two very daring fourth-years played a game of poking the giant squid's tentacles with a stick off in the far distance. She saw Severus hesitate for a moment, before he geared up the courage to speak his mind.

"Will you check up on Lily for me when you see her?"

Hermione turned to look up at him, her expression narrowed in suspicion. "Severus," she began.

Severus shook his head quickly. "Don't go there, Hermione. My request has nothing to do with that."

"Then elaborate, if you please," Hermione said, crossing her arms. "I'm listening."

"Lily was my childhood friend," Severus said shortly, by way of explanation. "You already know this. I still feel responsible for her welfare, especially—particularly since the danger she's in now is largely because of me." He gave Hermione a pained look. "I just want to know how she's doing. I haven't entertained romantic notions of her since after that incident with the werewo—Lupin. She's married and pregnant," he finished, rubbing his face with his hand, and letting out a sigh of frustration. "We're not friends anymore, but I still care for her as one."

Hermione dithered for a moment, unsure of whether to take his words at face value. Because the truth was that she found it very hard to believe, at times that he inquired about Lily, if he was being honest. She didn't believe he would lie to her about this, but she had to wonder if he was lying to himself to begin with. In a moment of decision, she lifted her eyes to meet his, and silently commanded, Legilimens!

She felt Severus recoil in surprise, tightening his defense immediately, despite the fact that when she came up against his Occlumency shields, her request to enter was gentle. There was a moment of hesitation from him, and then some of the walls went down, and Hermione was allowed to slip into the surface of his mind. She didn't bother delving deep; that stuff was still private and still very much hidden. But he had taken down the barriers around his immediate thoughts and emotions, and was able to divine the truth of his words.

A moment later, she retreated.

"Are you satisfied now?" he asked, just a bit bitterly.

Hermione nodded. "Very," she promised. She paused, and then admitted, "You see her sort of in the same way one of my best friends used to see me. Ha—he treated me like a sister. Even when we were angry at each other, or had our fights and disagreements, it was really nothing more than a sibling squabble for us, really." She hesitated for a moment, and then confessed the final piece of the story. "Back in my fourth year, everyone thought we were dating. There were a lot of nasty rumors about it. It's a bit different than what happened with you and Lily, because I could never see my friend in any kind of romantic light, but I understand the type of feelings you have for her now."

"You couldn't take my words at face value?" Severus asked stiffly.

Hermione bit her lower lip. "Sometimes, we lie to ourselves," she admitted softly.

She felt Severus tense at this, his face becoming blank and unreadable. She waited, watching him worriedly, and then to her surprise and relief, he relaxed.

"Its part of human nature to lie to oneself at times," he agreed quietly.

"Over the next few years, you'll be doing a lot of lying to yourself," Hermione pointed out, with a reconcilatory smile. "You might not even be able to remember what's real and what's not, when you're trying to fool You-Know-Who."

"You underestimate me, my dear," Severus responded with a silky drawl, leaning forward so that his face was level with hers. "I shall maintain my distinctions, believe me."

She grinned at him. "If anyone else said that, I'd laugh at their naivety, but coming from you…"

"Glad to know you have faith in my abilities," Severus retorted, straightening. But the tension between them had broken now, and they were back to being at ease in conversation; Severus's words were more playful than retaliatory. Until he brought up a subject that, in hindsight, Hermione should have known might rear its head.

"Are you ever going to let me look inside your mind?"

Hermione squared her shoulders and looked up at him, still unable to wipe the grin off her face. "If you can catch me off guard— possibly. But I warn you that if you catch me at a bad time, I might not be gentle."

"I would know," he groused. "The first time I tried it, you came down on me like a bloody guillotine."

Hermione playfully stuck her tongue out at him, and squeaked in surprise when he took hold of her shoulders and pulled her to him, capturing her mouth with his, tongue and all. She laughed as he abandoned it for a moment to tickle the juncture of her neck with his lips, before returning to savor her taste.

They pulled away only for a moment, and in that time, Hermione wrapped her arms around his neck, while his had moved to encircle her waist and pull her closer to him so that when he straightened up, Hermione had to push herself up on her toes to reach him and continue their snog. Mouths mated, tongues licked and suckled with eagerness, and Hermione closed her eyes, thoroughly enjoying herself. She felt one hand slide downwards to graze her bum while the other moved to tangle in her hair, winding the curls around his fingers, and grinned wickedly as she retaliated by nipping lightly on his lower lip. He reclaimed full control over the kiss a moment later, covering her mouth entirely with his in a rather passionate and very heated kiss.

A stern, exasperated huff interrupted them. Both of their eyes flew open, and they pulled away quickly, faces flushed as they realized who had caught them.

Professor McGonagall gave them both a frightful, hawk-like glare. They stared back at her like startled rabbits, and then relaxed slightly as they saw her sigh in an expression of mere disbelief. She brought a hand to her forehead, as though trying to ward off an impending headache, and then spoke.

"I came to inform Miss Granger that she would not be rowing back to the train with the other graduates," she said stiffly. "You will be flooing to Headquarters through my office tomorrow morning. I have informed the elves that you will take care of packing your stuff, since you undoubtedly have a good many things that need to be sorted through, given you've been living here uninterrupted for the past three years."

Hermione nodded, still blushing red. The Transfiguration teached sighed, and turned to leave.

"Miss Granger, Mr. Snape, you may no longer be students here, but it would be much appreciated if you would set a good example while you are on the grounds."

"There are no students here," Hermione pointed out. "They're all either inside or down by the lake."

"Fair point, I suppose," Professor McGonagall said, with just a hint of a tight smile. Hermione's relaxed with relief that she was off the hook. "I shall see you in my office tomorrow morning. Don't be late."

"Understood, Professor."

As soon as she had gone, Hermione turned to Severus.

"I suppose I'll see you next week?" she said, sounding regretful.

He nuzzled her nose with his, before straightening up and pulling his face back into the blank, stony expression that he presented to the rest of the world—and, most importantly, to Voldemort. "Yes."

One last longing look at him, and Hermione reluctantly allowed him to leave. She watched as he disappeared around the corner, heading in the direction of Hogsmeade, and then she turned away to return to her room. She had packing to do.

~o~O~o~

Hermione sat quietly in Professor McGonagall's office, her bags packed and being carried off by two men through the floo whom Hermione had only ever heard of, but had never met in person. Caradoc Dearborn and Edward McKinnon, Marlene's cousin, were transporting her luggage to Headquarters, and once they were done, McGonagall handed Hermione a small slip of paper.

"Take a moment to memorize it and then toss it into the fire," her Head of House instructed.

Hermione did so.

The Headquarters to the Order of the Phoenix can be found at Tine Cottage, Tinworth.

Hermione memorized the familiar, slanted handwriting of the Headmaster, and then tossed it into the flames. The note burned up into white ash, and then Dearborn indicated the Floo jar. Hermione took a pinch of powder, throwing it into the flames before she stepped inside.

"Tine Cottage," she enunciated clearly.

The world revolved around her, spinning so quickly that she was forced to shut her eyes to avoid becoming too dizzy, and then she stumbled out of the fireplace, stepping into a new, unfamiliar place. She took a moment to regain her senses, and then registered the place around her.

She had flooed into a rather large kitchen, with brickwork floor and wooden walls. There was a stove and a counter at one end of the room; the rest was taken up by a rather large table holding too many chairs for anyone to possibly sit with enough elbowspace to sneeze. There were several windows, each with a small fire-lit lamp hanging from the top of the frame, and peering outside, she could see that the dwelling was on a cliff overlooking the sea. The air smelled of salt and seaweed, and as Hermione cleansed the soot off her robes, it quickly became very apparent to her that the kitchen was not empty.

No, not by a long shot. In fact, it was quite closely packed. Every single chair was occupied, and some people were even sharing laps or standing up behind another chair. The minute Hermione appeared, however, several people got up to greet her amidst the clamor of those who were voicing their own greetings and opinions. Before she knew it, she was being passed around like a teddy bear in need of a hug.

"Hermione!" Sirius roared, pulling her into an embrace. "Good to see you!"

"Finally made it, I see," James joked.

"You're still covered in soot—here, let me take care of the back of your robes—" This was, naturally, Marlene.

"Goodness," Remus said, pulling her into a half-hug since Marlene was still trying to charm soot off of her and James and Sirius had a claim on a full three-quarters of her person. "You've certainly grown. How are you doing?"

"I'm fine," Hermione gasped, squeezing whatever air she had in her lungs out with those few words. "Just fine."

"Give her some room, you lot!" Alice's voice called from the other end of the room. The others obeyed, and then Remus pulled Hermione out of the way in time to avoid being knocked over by Dearborn and the other McKinnon as they flooed in within moments of each other.

Minerva's rapt, stern voice followed mere seconds later as she, too, flooed in—with much more elegance than Hermione had managed.

"That's quite enough!" she said, stepping out of the fireplace. "Caradoc, Edward, please take Hermione's things upstairs." The two hastened to obey, flicking their wands at the three trunks worth of stuff that had been set aside near the doorway, effectively blocking anyone else from entering or exiting without somehow stepping over them. "The rest of you, please find a seat—or stand, at any rate," she amended, glancing at the overcrowded table.

There were a number of jests made in response to this, and then they all did indeed settle down somewhat. Hermione managed to squeeze herself into a spot behind one of the chairs near the wall, by Alice and Lily, which was something of a feat given how much space they took up now. Molly Weasley she recognized immediately, and her eyes widened perceptibly when she saw Ron. He was less than three months old, with a mop of unruly red hair. Mrs. Weasley was not nearly as plump as Hermione remembered—in fact, she still looked to be quite young and in fairly good shape, and had long curly red hair that reached down past her shoulders. She was holding her youngest son, who was asleep in her arms. Hermione forced herself to look away, not quite able to handle the sight. It was a bit too bizarre for her right now— she'd known it would happen, but it would take some getting used to. Bill and Charlie were upstairs somewhere, no doubt being bossed around by a four-year-old Percy and esconced with the twins.

Hermione met five other people with the surname of McKinnon, all related to Marlene, and the rest were a varied lot. Moody gave her a nod and a grizzled smile from his end of the table, and Kingsley waved at her in greeting. There were an absurd number of people in the kitchen, and as they all took a moment to introduce themselves to Hermione and talk, she couldn't help but feel slightly taken aback as they all seemed to know her name and quite a great deal about her, but she didn't know a thing about them. Lily and Alice were now quite far along in their pregnancies, and were one of the lucky few who had not only been granted a chair to sit in, but were even given a bit more elbow room for comfort.

Hermione actually found herself grateful for the distraction in the form of the Headmaster's arrival, which was preceded by a flash of fire, whereupon Dumbledore appeared with Fawkes perched serenely on his shoulder.

The table fell respectfully quiet, and room was made for Dumbledore to get close enough to the table for everyone to see him properly.

"What's the news, eh?" Moody said, leaning forward in his chair. The room was now fully attentive, hanging onto the Headmaster's every word.

"The situation has not changed," Dumbledore stated clearly. "The Potters and Longbottoms are both quite at liberty to return to their homes at this time, should they wish to, though I would like to remind them to adhere to the new safety precautions," he said, looking at James carefully over his half-moon spectacles. James looked restless and dismayed by this, but made no word of protest. Lily placed a hand on his arm, which seemed to appease him only somewhat. "If anything does change, however, we will take appropriate measures."

There were nods around the table, a few whispers that Hermione was only able to vaguely catch, and then Dumbledore clasped his hands together, recapturing the room's undivided attention.

"On another note," he said, smiling genially, "I am pleased to introduce Hermione Granger as our newest member of the Order. Her duties will be largely behind the scenes, performing organizational and administrative tasks, though you may see her pop into Tine Cottage from time to time."

"You're putting her behind the scenes?" Sirius said with disbelief. "That's a mistake, Professor! Hermione's one of the best duelers I've ever seen. She should be on the front lines, like us!"

Hermione cleared her throat, knowing she would have to defend the cover for her handler duties. "There's more to a war than just fighting, Sirius. Things need to be thought through and strategized for them to work. Sending you lot rushing off without a plan is just asking to get you all killed. At least this way, you have an organizer who can't be kidnapped and interrogated for information easily."

"But still…" Sirius muttered.

"This matter is settled, Sirius," Dumbledore stated firmly. "Hermione may be given additional duties in the future, but for now, her talents and skills are being put where they are best suited."

"Is she staying here for the summer?" Remus spoke up with mild curiosity.

"I have other arrangements made, but as Professor Dumbledore said, I might drop by now and again," Hermione responded, trying not to fiddle with her watch.

"Where are you staying?" James pressed. "We can drop by a visit one of these days, to make sure that you're not holed up half-starved from reading books…"

Hermione giggled at this, along with several of her friends, but it was the Headmaster who answered.

"James," Dumbledore said warningly.

James stood up, his face an expression of frustration and irritation. "I feel like a prisoner in my own home, Dumbledore—not allowed to leave except for Order meetings and short walks as long as we have a guard with us! Can't we visit Hermione, at least? Even if you don't trust our skills, I know you trust hers. If we knew where she was staying, she'd just be a floo call or an Apparation away!"

Sirius leaned over to tug on James's arm. "Sit down!" he hissed.

"I don't think that's possible right now, James," Hermione said, trying to imagine just what Severus's reaction would be if James Potter knocked on his door. Trying to be as encouraging and logical as she could, she added, "You should listen to Dumbledore on this one. Besides, I can't imagine that flooing or Apparation will be safe for Lily much longer—she's only two months away from her due date. But I will try to drop by," she stressed.

James reluctantly allowed Sirius to pull him back into his chair. "As you say."

Lily raised her hand. "Not to change the subject, Headmaster, but will we be allowed to visit my parents? They're leaving for France in a few weeks to get out of the country, and I'd like a chance to see them before then. And my sister, if possible, though I'm not certain…" she trailed off, hesitant.

Dumbledore gave her a piercing, considering look.

"No," he said. "I'm afraid not."

~o~O~o~

The meeting broke up an hour later. A good number of them dispersed immediately, either through the floo or by stepping outside to Apparate, although two Order members had brought brooms. Molly went upstairs, no doubt to check on her children. Remus had to leave almost immediately to make it back to his job in time to take over the afternoon shift; Alice and Frank stopped by to chat with Hermione properly for a good ten minutes before making their way to the Floo.

Hermione managed to find a moment to catch James and Lily before they left.

"Just write me a letter, and I'll find a way to drop by," she said, knowing that this was just the beginning of the Potters' misery. They would continue to be restricted, and their leash would shorten as the threat of Voldemort escalated further. "I promise."

James and Lily both looked rather cheered up by this. Hermione pulled James into a hug, did the same to Lily as best as she could, and then watched them floo away. All too quickly, the room that had been so packed by people was now rather deserted, save for herself and Dumbledore.

"What is Tine Cottage, professor?" Hermione asked, walking over to examine one of the windows. The Order meeting had lasted several hours, and as such, the sky was now threatening dusk.

"I'm afraid that this place does not belong to me, but is actually a generous loan from my good friend Nicholas Flamel," Dumbledore stated, twiddling his thumbs absentmindedly. "He and his wife bought this place from a wizard some time ago. The young man had inherited the cottage from his uncle, who was from Ireland, and the Flamels liked the cottage so much that they bought it and turned it into a summer home."

"How long ago is 'some time ago' for Nicholas Flamel?" Hermione inquired.

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "I would hazard a guess of some three hundred years, give or take a decade."

Hermione was now quite curious as to why this place was not used as the Headquarters for the Order in her time, but she kept her mouth shut. No matter how she phrased such a question, no matter how subtly, she would either not get the answer she wanted or end up giving something from the future away. It was best left untouched. With a sigh of mild frustration at having such a burning question eating at her, she nevertheless turned away from the window to face the Headmaster.

"Am I free to leave, sir?"

"In just a moment, I think," Dumbledore said, pulling out a chair for himself. "I wish to briefly discuss your duties this summer."

Hermione slid into a seat next to the Headmaster, pulling it out so that she was sitting across from him. "Yes, sir."

"You are aware, I'm sure, of how the Dark Mark works," Dumbledore said calmly, folding his hands in his lap. "When it burns, Severus will be required to stop whatever it is he may be doing at the time and Apparate to the Dark Lord's side."

"I understand that, sir."

"When he returns, you are to take care of several things, in this order," the Headmaster told her. "Firstly, you will have him discuss the meeting and tell you what information he has learned. Secondly, you will take care of his injuries, if he has any. Much of Severus's information will likely be time-sensitive, which means that it is imperative that I receive it as quickly as possible." He gave this a moment to sink in, and then amended, "Although if he is too injured at the time to speak, I will of course understand. But right now, your duties as a handler are more important than your obligations to him as a friend or as a lover."

Hermione felt a blush suffuse her face at the last word, but she managed to keep her face straight. The Headmaster's words made sense, and though she did not particularly like the order of his priorities, she understood and agreed with his logic. "Yes, sir."

Dumbledore nodded, seemingly relieved that she did not argue the point. "When you are ready to hand in your reports, please simply pop into my office. The Floo into my office will not work, I'm afraid, but it will allow you to Floo out."

Hermione's brows furrowed. "Then how do you expect me to come in, sir?"

Dumbledore smiled and nodded at her wrist. "Your watch."

Hermione's mouth opened into an 'o' of understanding, and then she shut it. "Of course. Yes."

"If I am not there for some reason, please leave the report on my desk and help yourself to a lemon drop and a pinch of floo powder," Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling. "Fawkes will make sure I receive it."

Hermione smiled. "Understood. Is that all, sir?"

"Yes, I think so." Dumbledore gestured at the fireplace. "I suspect Severus is getting rather impatient waiting for you, so I'll let you go. I hope you enjoy your summer."

Hermione nodded her thanks and stood up. She shrunk her luggage enough so that they all fit into her pocket, and then tossed a pinch of floo power into the flames. They turned emerald, and she stepped inside the fireplace.

"Spinner's End," she directed.

The world spun green around her, and she disappeared from the fireplace of Tine Cottage.


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~Anubis Ankh