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Pride of Time

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Enormous thanks goes out to my amazing beta, SSB!

Anti-Litigation Charm: I do not own! I do not own! I do not ow— hey, something shiny!

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Molly's reaction to the news of her brothers' deaths was an expected one. She was shocked, terrified, tearful, and then when Hermione pressed Fabian's watch into her hands, overwrought.

Moody was as paranoid as ever about the reasons the Death Eaters had attacked, and he and Sirius had words, loudly, at the table with all the other Order members and Hermione present, about whether or not she should be sent out on such assignments again.

"She's the one doing the organizing, boy!" Moody snarled. "She can't just hand out fliers to everyone and ask 'em to pass them along!"

Sirius slammed his hand down on the table. His hair had grown longer, he was looking slightly unkempt, and he had been aged by grief. His eyes, which had once been full of easy laughter, were as pitiful and mournful as a basset hound's, shadowed by sleep deprivation and grief. "We keep losing people because you waste their lives by taking unnecessary risks! If Hermione's got a message to deliver, she can do it here at Headquarters!"

Their argument had lasted nearly half an hour, by which time Hermione had slipped away to return home, in no mood to involve herself in their debate. She found out later that the argument had been cut short by the arrival of Albus Dumbledore, whereupon he insisted that precautions would be taken, but that Hermione would not be removed from her current duties.

Severus was summoned two days later, and returned with his back covered in welts. Hermione emerged from the library to find him kneeling on the floor at the foot of the couch, clutching the wounds that trailed over onto his shoulders, and panting with pain. She took the liberty of transfiguring the couch into a low, wooden table, lifting him onto it and removing his shirt in order to see the extent of the damage. The bloody fabric had dried and turned into a crust atop of the wounds and had to be extracted carefully.

Severus talked to her while she worked to apply healing potions to the raised and bleeding skin on his back. "He was furious when he found out it was you," he muttered, wincing as a dollop of potion sizzled and burned before the skin began to close up, leaving a faint scar in its wake. "Enraged… said I was losing control over you… I wasn't the only one beaten, the dozen or so who arrived on the scene were struck multiple times with Crucio for not capturing you… but I got the worst of it."

Hermione stroked his newly healed back, kneeling beside him. "It'll be over soon," she whispered.

"How do you know?" He asked faintly.

"I just know," Hermione responded, her voice firm.

He let out a low, slightly hoarse chuckle. "Have you been a seer all this time?"

Hermione tapped him lightly on the side of the head. "Don't be ridiculous. Divination is still rubbish, if you ask me."

"I wasn't asking you."

"Prat."

He was up by Monday, teaching class with his usual acerbic intolerance, and Hermione took this as an indication that he was well again. His back was littered with the faintest of scars from where the cuts had run deepest, and they were barely noticeable. Yet, when they were intimate, and Hermione ran her hands down his back, she could feel them beneath her fingers, and knew that they were there.

After the incident that had given Severus his scars, he was rarely summoned. Voldemort had summoned him a week after the beating to inform him that his job would now involve keeping a closer eye on Hermione as well as continuing to spy on Dumbledore and report the on-goings at Hogwarts to him, which Severus was only too happy to do. In addition, Hermione was only called to Order meetings once a week, her workload having been reduced due to the fact that she was now back to a full-time teaching job. This meant that during the week, when their only obligation was grading and patrolling the halls at odd ours, their spare time was dedicated solely to each other. Something that Severus took shameless advantage of at every opportunity.

It was how Hermione found herself being yanked into a niche in a corridor on one of the evenings when both she and Severus had been assigned the patrol the sixth and seventh floors, on one of those rare occasions when their schedules happened to coincide. She let out a squeak of surprise, and promptly had the living daylights snogged out of her.

"Severus, we're supposed to be patrolling…"

Her protests died a quick, heated death, as Severus's hands proceeded to roam over her body, hiking up her skirt enough for him to slip a hand underneath so that he could tease her in her most sensitive spot while another hand began unbuttoning her shirt with only five fingers to do the job. Five very skilled, nimble fingers at that, for the job was soon done, and he was flicking and suckling her nipples even as he worked her core.

Hermione moaned and cried out as he had his way with her, responding with growing enthusiasm as he warmed her up before pulling away to undo the flak of his trousers. Hermione took the initiative to kneel down in front of him, pulling the waistband down and placing her mouth on him as soon as she could manage it. She teased him in turn, licking and nipping lightly at his shaft until he pulled her back up, yanked her skirt aside, and took her up against the wall.

This was not an isolated incident. It became a habit for them to request that they be partnered together for patrols, and on Hermione's birthday—which happened to roll around on a school night—they were wandering the library togther, splitting up periodically to check that the library was as empty as it should be before they ended up at the corner between two bookcases, in front of the stained glass window, where Severus had first kissed her.

He had kissed her then, too. And again. They had dragged each other to the floor, and then over to a nearby study table, where Severus proceeded to demonstrate exactly what else he had been on his mind when he had thrown caution into the wind that day. Hermione had received a thorough and very enjoyable birthday shag, one that had left her boneless and beyond satiated, and she didn't think she would quite see that particular section of the library the same way again.

With less stress concerning outside obligations, they had a good deal of time on their hands, and resorted to being the randy, young adults that they were.

This stretch of good fortune lasted until mid-October, when Severus was once again summoned—and whereupon he began to be summoned with upsetting regularity. In response, Hermione was again called to the Order with the news that the Potters would be going under deeper protection, and decisions concerning who the Secret Keeper should be as well as what additional wards and protections should be used were being discussed. James and Lily were present for these meetings, and they unanimously agreed that they wanted Sirius to be their Secret Keeper.

Hermione didn't like the look on Peter's face as they discussed additional protections. She was sorely tempted to hex him to the ground and choke the life out of him, the slimy worm-tailed creature that he was, but restrained herself.

Tensions grew high. Hermione and Severus spent every waking moment they had grading, which included bringing their work with them on patrols and using spare time to mark essays and tests. Severus had avoided the wrath of Voldemort's displeasure since the beating he had taken back in September, but it was clear that the Dark Lord was still not pleased with him. Hermione was busy discussing protection details with the Potters and the small circle of those involved, and in late October, the plans were finalized. On October 29th, Godric's Hollow was placed under the Fidelius Charm, and Sirius sent Hermione a letter indicating that he planned to go into hiding himself.

Hermione spent that half-week restless and frantic, on edge with near-hysteria as the hours and days slowly whittled by. She wanted to visit the Potters. She wanted to say goodbye. Would Harry survive in this new timeline she had altered? How was she going to be able to live with herself when all was said and done?

On the morning of October 31st, Hermione shakily got up and prepared for class. She was distracted and off-kilter all day, leaving her students feeling wrong-footed as they tried to deal with her snaps and barks of irritation when they did not do something exactly right. She barely ate at the Halloween feast. Severus had not managed to get an honest explanation out of her, and when the two were finally excused from patrol duty, they returned to their quarters in silence.

Hermione paced in her room, checking her watch every so often, and then eventually, she put her foot down. She pulled her robes back on over the sleepwear she had donned, and headed for the door.

"Where are you going?" Severus demanded.

"Out," Hermione said sharply.

Her tone brooked no argument, and Severus stood there, his face pulled into a blank expression as he absorbed her odd behavior. And then she was gone.

~o~O~o~

Hermione strode down the street, her robes fluttering behind her, as she kept to the shadows afforded by the other homes in the vicinity. She had just thrown on her slippers, and if anyone saw her now, they would probably think she looked quite ridiculous, walking around at this odd hour of night in nothing but her pyjamas and a robe.

It was pitch black save for the streetlamps, and as Hermione walked, dread began to sink into her. At this point, she didn't know what she thought she was doing. Yet, she could not bring herself to simply go back home, pretend nothing happened, and sleep until the news broke that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was dead…

She stopped in front of the space where Godric's Hollow was. She was privy to the Fidelius Charm—Sirius had let her in on the Secret before keeper-duties were switched over to Pettigrew—and she waited.

She was one of James and Lily's closest friends. She was Harry's godmother, for Merlin's sake. Why wasn't she doing anything more to save them? She blinked for a moment, raising a hand to her mouth to chew on her fingernails. Everyone else could claim ignorance concerning Pettigrew's true loyalties—furthermore, none of them knew what would happen tonight. But what about her? She had no such excuse. She was in full understanding of what was going to happen here tonight, and furthermore, she was doing nothing to stop it.

She couldn't stop it. It had to happen. Lily, at least, had to die protecting her son so that he could live to destroy Voldemort through his mother's love. James had to die in order for Lily to be put in such a desperate situation. If she interfered, if she tried to stop it, time would be atltered with such severe repercussions that Hermione did not really want to contemplate it. But she wished there was another way, other than standing here waiting for them to die.

She let out a sudden gasp of surprise as the upstairs window on the left suddenly burst and exploded, the glass shattering. A moment later, a series of explosions followed, and the entire house began to slowly shudder inwards on itself before Hermione's eyes. She let out a whimper as something whispy and white began to seep out of the cracks and breaks, the pallid and poisonous-looking entity let out a ghostly scream. It coalesced into some undefinable shape, and then vanished into the night air. Hermione took a step back as the house began to crash down on itself, and she looked around wildly, waiting for someone—anyone else—to appear.

The house let out a warning creak, on the verge of total collapse, and Hermione made her decision. She whipped out her wand, pointing it at the now-ruined structure.

"Fundamenta stabilis!"

The creaking stopped, just barely. Hermione ducked forward quickly, entering the front yard and skipping around the broken glass shattered around the ground, stopping in front of the front door, which was cracked in two and bent outwards, ready to snap at any moment. She couldn't get in. She didn't dare try a summoning charm—in a wreckage like this, Harry could run up against something sharp, and the spell might even go so far as to smash him through a wall to bring him to her.

A wailing sound caught her attention, and she looked up to the window just above her. Stowing her wand, she gritted her teeth, grabbed hold of the nearby window ledge and began to climb. It wasn't easy; glass was embedded everywhere, splinters dug into her hands at every opportunity, and when she made it half-way up there a few moments later, her leg got caught on the broken edges of the window, tearing into her skin.

Heavy footsteps suddenly caught Hermione's attention, and she glanced back at the yard, where the enormous form of Rubeus Hagrid making his way through caught her attention.

"Oi, what're yeh doin' there—?"

"It's me, Hagrid!" Hermione called back, twisting her neck around to look at him. Her grip slipped for a moment, and she struggled to hold herself in place. "Help me up—I've got to get to that room—"

Big, meaty hands grabbed her feet, lifting her upward, and Hermione stumbled into the room.

"Where's Harry?" Hagrid asked, peering into the room from his enormous height. "Can yeh see 'im?"

The walls looked ready to fall in on themselves, burnt black. Everything was in ruins. Laying on top of the wreckage that had been his cradle, was one-and-a-half-year-old Harry, crying loudly in a pitiful sound of fear, distress, and general upset. Hermione swallowed and knelt down next to him, lifting him up gently and trying to sooth him even as she stared down at the lightning-bolt scar freshly emblazoned on her best friend's forehead.

She glanced around at the room, which had been strewn into disarray. Part of the wall had been blasted off, including the door, and on the floor—on the floor…

Hermione's feet crumpled beneath her, and still gripping Harry tightly to her chest, she stared down at the still form of Lily. She heard shouting below, but did not register it as she carefully set Harry down and reached out a trembling hand to touch Lily's face. Her green eyes were open, glistening with unshed tears, and her body was lukewarm to the touch. Her hair spread around her face, like a burnished halo. A moment later, she whipped around in surprise as she felt familiar, long fingers grasp her shoulder.

"No…" she heard Severus whisper. Hermione scrambled to pick Harry up, holding him protectively as Severus fell to his knees beside Lily, pulling her into his arms to cradle her. He made a choking sound, and then a moment later, he was sobbing. Something snapped inside Hermione, and she broke down as well, crying bitterly as she finally registered the raw pain of the situation.

Lily was dead. James, too, though Hermione had not seen him yet.

Not wanting Harry to remain in here any longer than he had to, she approached the window, gingerly placing him in Hagrid's hand. The half-giant took him carefully, and then she turned away, kneeling beside Severus for a moment before she shakily stumbled off down the destroyed hall. She made it to the end, and down the stairs, where she saw the still body of James Potter lying feet away. She knew he was dead—she knew that this man she considered to be an older brother, a best friend, was dead—but still, like Severus, she could not help but get down on her knees next to him, pull him into her arms, and ascertain for herself that he was really, truly gone.

The pain wormed its way into her heart, brutally wrenching a hole in it. James's glasses had cracked and were askew on her face, and his eyes were empty, gazing off into the distance. She heard Hagrid call her name from above, but she ignore him, pulling James more tightly against her, and crying helplessly. She had thought that she could just stand by and let what needed to be done happen, but life was just not that easy. Tonight, she had lost someone important to her, just as Severus had, and he was gone—gone—

The sound of broken, choking, sniffling sobs drowned themselves in her ears, but they felt so far away that she could not tell whether they were hers, Severus', or both of them combined. All she knew was that when she eventually stood up, blinking more tears out of her eyes and pulling out her wand to try and lift James's body into the air, she realized that the crying had not stopped. In a daze, she staggered back up the stairs, where she saw Hagrid still peering in through the window, his expression worried.

Wordlessly, Hermione maneuvered James toward the window, where Hagrid took him and disappeared from sight for a moment to set him down on the ground. She came to kneel by Severus, who was still on his knees, his face pressed into Lily's arm even as his shoulders shook.

"We need to go," Hermione whispered, her voice cracked and wet from crying. "We c-can't—we can't stay here forever…"

With great effort, Severus stood up, lifting Lily into his arms. He refused to look at Hermione as he handed her to Hagrid, and then without another word, Apparated down to the ground with a loud crack. Hermione did not dare attempt Apparition at the moment, so Hagrid helped her back down. She landed on the ground with a soft 'oomph', and stumbled a few feet away from the house before pulling out her wand and pointing it behind her.

"I'm sorry," she whispered into the air, as she flicked her wand, ending her spell with a silently-cast Finite. The house let out a final warning creak, and then promptly began to fall in on itself, like a bunch of kapla blocks, with wood and bricks that were still intact and sticking out at odd, splintery angles as it came down, looking as though someone had taken a sledgehammer to it.

Hagrid was cradling Harry with all the care he might give a newborn kitten, who was still wailing loudly, plaintitively. Hermione held out her arms for him, and hesitating for a moment, Hagrid handed him to her. She hugged Harry to her chest, trying to soothe him.

"Shh," she whispered, glancing down the street as a few lights in the nearby houses came on. The Fidelius Charm on the house was slowly breaking apart by its destruction, but it would take several minutes for that to happen. Then the ruins would be visible for all to see. "It's alright, Harry, it's alright…"

She saw Severus walking away, and gathering up the strength, she called after him croakily, "Where are you going?"

Severus turned to look at her. His expression was partially hidden by his hair, which hung forward over his face, but the look of great, twisted pain on his face was unmistakable.

"I must speak with Albus."

There was a sudden rumbling sound, and Hermione and Hagrid's necks both swivelled to seek it out, caught like deer in the headlights as a huge motorcycle slammed down on the cobblestone, skidding to screeching halt just a few feet away from them. Another crack snapped across Hermione's hearing, and Severus was gone. Sirius leapt off of it, his eyes wide with shock, as he registered first the wailing baby in Hermione's arms and then the wreckage of his best friend's home that lay behind them. Beside them, on the street, James and Lily lay peacefully, eyes still open, gazing up at the stars.

"Hagrid—Hermione," he whispered, his voice cracking with disbelief. He was pale and shaking. "What happened—James, Lily…?"

Hagrid let out an enormous sob, pulling out a giant handkerchief from one of his enormous his pocket, and blew his nose with a honk. Hermione swallowed, glancing down once at Harry, who had turned quiet, and then back at Sirius.

"They're dead," Hermione said quietly.

Sirius let out a whimpering sound like a wounded animal, and then sank down to the ground with a loud, keening wail. Hermione handed Harry to Hagrid, and quickly moved to kneel next to him, wrapping her arm around him.

"I'm so sorry, Sirius," she choked, as the full force of tonight's event hit her, and she too broke down and began to sob once more. "I'm so sorry."

Something seemed to snap within Sirius, for in the next moment, he stood up shakily, wiping his eyes.

"Give Harry to me, Hagrid," he said, holding out his hands. He wore a look of scared determination, and Hermione rather thought that it was taking all of his willpower to stand strong in the face of his best friend's murder. "I'm his godfather. I'll look after him."

"No can do, Sirius," Hagrid said, holding Harry close. He looked genuinely sorry, and though he was firm, his voice was as soothing as it was hoarse. "I've got me orders from Dumbledore. I'm sorry."

"I'm his godfather," Sirius shot back, his expression dead-set. He rubbed his eyes, trying to clear them of the tears, but his face was now a blotchy mixture of red and white from crying. "Tell Dumbledore I'll take him. James would have wanted me to look after his son, Hagrid."

"I can't," the half-giant replied hoarsely. "Dumbledore's got his reasons fer wantin' him to go ter his aunt an' uncle's, an' I trust that he knows what he's doin'."

Hermione placed her arm on Sirius's shoulder. "Lily gave up her life defending Harry," she told him quietly. "The kind of love it takes for someone to do that is a powerful one. There is magic in love, Sirius, and Dumbledore of all people would know that. I'll bet that's what he's capitalizing on, trying to find protection for Harry until he's old enough to look after himself."

"But…" Sirius rasped.

"Even if V-Vol—even if Voldemort's gone," Hermione said, stumbling over the name. The monster's death seemed to have triggered the breaking of some kind of dam within her, for Hermione felt as though everything she had reined in so tightly, even the stuff she had let out occasionally, was threatening to escape into chaos within her. "His followers… they're still out there, Sirius, and neither of us are well-equipped enough to care for a baby. Dumbledore knows this, Sirius, and he's obviously made arrangements that he believes are in Harry's best interests." She swallowed. "We have to trust him."

Hagrid retrieved his handkerchief with one hand and blew his nose, the tangled brambles that were his beard turning damp from the enormous tears leaking out of his eyes. "Tha's right, Sirius. James an' Lily are dead, and now we have You-Know-Who's followers ter look out fer—it's not safe fer Harry, I reckon."

Sirius bowed his head, and then strode over to his bike. He placed a hand on it. "Alright," he whispered hoarsely. "Take—take Harry to Dumbledore. You can use my motorbike." His voice shook. "I won't need it anymore."

"Where are you going?" Hermione asked, as Sirius walked the bike over to Hagrid.

Sirius shook his head, refusing to respond. He hesitated, pulled Hermione into a startled hug, and then with a crack signifying Apparition, he disappeared.

Hermione stood still for a moment, her robes billowing faintly in the cold autumn wind, and then she slowly turned to look at Hagrid.

"I guess—I guess you'd better get going," she said thickly.

"Yeh're not coming with me?"

Hermione shook her head, staring down at her leg, which had begun to sting painfully. "I need to return to Hogwarts. You know where you're headed, right?"

"Dumbledore told me where ter go— his aunt an' uncle live in Little Whinging," Hagrid said, pulling out several blankets from the pocket that thankfully did not contain his stained handkerchief, and beginning to wrap little Harry up in them. "Yer sure yeh'll be alright?"

Hermione nodded tightly. "Yes. Little Whinging is a long way from here—you probably won't get there for a couple hours. Make sure to stay out of sight."

"O' course." Hagrid climbed onto the motorbike, tucking the bundle of blankets containing the Boy-Who-Lived in the crook of his arm. "Would yeh do me a bit o' a favor—cast a Disillusionment Charm on me?"

Hermione nodded, pulling out her wand. A tap on Hagrid, and then on the motorbike, and she stepped back as Hagrid, now shimmering, started the engine. The bike lurched forward, and Hermione bent down over her watch, twisting the third dial that would porkey her back to Hogwarts.

A yank behind her navel, and she left the scene of the ruins that she was certain would haunt her for the rest of her life.

~o~O~o~

The next day found the Wizarding world in an uproar. Classes had been cancelled, and owls were swooping in and out of the Great Hall in masses every few minutes. Groups of students had gone around the castle shooting up sparklers and fireworks with their wands in celebration, laughing and cheering and hugging each other. House rivalries were disbanded for all of twenty-four hours among the Hufflepuff, Gryffindors, and Ravenclaws, who all engaged in an exorbitant amount of celebratory crying, embracing, eating, dancing, and comforting. Dozens of students practically ran down to the kitchens, to request that fine food be brought up, and this kind of celebration was only a microcosm of the true extent of celebratory catharsis that had gripped the community.

In the distance, shooting stars could be seen coming up from Hogsmeade, and Hermione heard reports that Dedalus Diggle was responsible for a very noisy bunch of them down in Kent. It was like Guy Fawkes night, with lots of fireworks, only for a different cause. She heard rumors, tales, and gossip about the celebrations and parties that were taking place all over, and she could not help but smile faintly at this.

But that was the extent of her cheering. After working relentlessly for the past two years, she was very tired, and enormously relieved. Exhaustion and relief were the extent of her reaction, when she finally slumped against a wall, sank down, and registered that for the next decade, at least, Tom Riddle would be out of their hair. That, and a little bit of hysteria, for she was torn between sobbing and laughing, and it took her a good four hours to work it all out of her system.

Severus's reaction was one of stupefied shock and horror. Hermione didn't see him that night, and she knew he would be in the Headmaster's office. She was in just about the same state of mind as he was, to be frank, and while the world around them exploded with cheers, she curled up in their quarters, on the sheepskin in front of the fire, and cried.

She did not see Severus again until the next day, when he finally returned, staggering into their quarters. He looked terrible. His hair was unkempt, his face blotchy from crying, and he looked as though he had aged several years in the few hours that he had been shut up with Dumbledore. He took one look at her, letting out a sound like a wounded animal, very much like the one Sirius had made, and then collapsed onto the rug as Hermione quickly sat up to accommodate him.

They sat there, with Severus staring listlessly into the flames, as Hermione wrapped her arms around him, trying to provide what comfort she could. She cried, too, but it was in quiet, choked sobs. He did not speak for a long time. When he did, his voice was raspy and hoarse, and full of such pain that it nearly broke Hermione's heart.

"Lily," he whispered raggedly. "Lily's dead."

"James too," Hermione croaked. "I'm sorry."

"He said he would protect them. He said…" Severus trailed off, turning away. He took a deep breath, trying to continue, his voice cracking. "This is my fault, Hermione. All my fault…"

"No," Hermione retorted, and when he did not respond, repeated more loudly, "No!"

"I relayed the prophecy to Voldemort, I painted the target on them…"

"Severus," Hermione said firmly, painfully. "There are many people who are to blame for James and Lily's deaths. You are not one of them."

Severus choked on his next words. "There's only one thing I can do to honor her memory."

Hermione waited.

"I'll help protect her son, when he comes to Hogwarts," Severus whispered. "The Dark Lord won't be gone forever, Hermione, and when he returns—I'll be there to help her son."

Hermione nodded, burying her face in his shoulder.

"I'll be there too," she whispered. "I promise."

He tensed, and then one arm limply came around her, pulling her closer to him. They sat there for the rest of the night, with barely a word spoken between them, each mourning the loss of the Potters in their singular yet mutual way.

The Potters' remains were retrieved from the ruins of what had been their home in Godric's Hollow, and the funeral was planned to take place in two weeks' time. The Dursleys were not attending, a facet of news that had made Hermione tear up with fury at their coldness, but there was nothing she could do about it. Two days after the funeral plans were made, news broke out around the Wizarding World: Sirius Black had murdered twelve Muggles and blasted Peter Pettigrew to smithereens, and was awaiting sentencing in Azkaban.

"No!" Hermione had cried, against her better judgement, when she stood at Tine Cottage with the rest of the Order. Severus had finally been let in on the Secret, and was in attendance, standing by her side as the meeting commenced. "That's not—that's not possible! You know it isn't!"

Dumbledore looked grave. "He was the Potters' secret keeper, and in light of his recent actions, I'm afraid that not only is it possible, it is reality."

"No…" Hermione whimpered, before she managed to regain control over herself.

Everyone else looked grave. Severus was bitter. Alice, who was no longer in hiding, took Hermione's hand in hers and gave it a gentle squeeze.

"I know Sirius was your friend," she whispered. "I'm sorry."

The Headmaster cleared his throat. "The next order of business, I believe, is that Milicent Bagnold is planning to retire. There has been lobbying to convince her to retain her position, at least for a bit, but she has made it clear that she will be leaving office soon."

"You've got plenty of votes to make it to Minister," Frank pointed out.

"I have said this before, and I will say this again," Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling slightly. "I have no interest in becoming the Minister of Magic. Who else would be at Hogwarts to offer everyone lemon drops?"

Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose at this. Several of the other Order members tittered.

Once that meeting was over, Severus pulled her aside, taking her to the small garden behind the house to stand in the brisk November air. His face was still pulled by the pain of his loss, but his expression was a mixture of determination and relief.

"Hermione, you said that as soon as the Dark Lord was gone, we could talk about—about circumstances being as they are, if you would marry me," Severus said slowly.

Hermione rubbed at her face with one hand, and then nodded. "Let's go see the Headmaster," she agreed miserably.

~o~O~o~

They sat together in Dumbledore's office, with the man himself sitting behind his desk, looking as old and weary as Hermione had ever seen him. The war had taken a heavy toll on them all, despite their relief that it was over—at least for now—nothing could erase the marks of their servitude. Hermione had filled Severus in on a few basic details as they had made their way to the office, and now they sat, waiting, as Dumbledore explained Hermione's tale.

He had pulled out the pieces of the broken Time-Turner, which still gave off heat, but no longer threatened to burn, and laid them out on his desk for Severus to examine.

"Miss Granger came to us quite by accident from her fifth year at Hogwarts in 1996," Dumbledore stated, as Severus poked the broken glass of the Time-Turner with his wand, an expression of curiosity and disbelief marring his features briefly before they turned stony. "There was no feasible way to return her to her own time, and I advised her to make a life for herself here until things could be rectified."

Severus's jaw tightened and he sat back in his chair. "She was a child," he said coldly. "She could have altered everyone's timelines—you couldn't have expected her to act with that constant threat in mind!"

Hermione shook her head. "I kept everything as it was supposed to be," she said, twisting her watch around her wrist with nervousness. "So far, everything is playing out as planned."

Severus turned to give her an odd, incomprehensible look.

"I have been working on a solution for Hermione that would allow her to resume her old life in 1996, but it will take a bit more time to make it work," Dumbledore continued smoothly.

Severus did no appear to be fully listening. His fingers dug into the side of his armchair, and his expression was contorted into one of anger—and fear.

"Tell me something, Hermione," he asked coolly. "When you were keeping everything in order, did that include knowing that the Dark Lord would kill Lily?"

Hermione swallowed. "I had to let things be."

Severus lurched out of his seat, twisting around to face her. "That's it? You just stood by and watched them die?"

Hermione stood up, anger—and something a bit like terror—rising in her chest. "I had too!" she responded quietly, willing him to understand. "I couldn't stand by and pretend nothing would happen, so I went to Godric's Hollow that night—but it was too late, and even if I had gotten there sooner, it would have been useless."

He bared his teeth. "You're a coward."

Rage flared in her eyes, and she took a menacing step forward. "If I had stopped Voldemort," she spat, enjoying the way her lover flinched at the use of the name, "he would have only found them again—and killed them, possibly in a way that would not have invoked Lily's protection. Harry would not have lived to see his next birthday, and hundreds, probably thousands of others, would have died!"

"You sold out people you professed to be your friends for a stint of peace," Severus said, his voice dangerously quiet. "What kind of friend does that?"

Tears prickled at Hermione's eyes, but she held them back. "You act as though this didn't affect me—but James and Lily were my friends, and in my own timeline, Harry is my best friend. How do you think I feel, knowing I watched this happen and could literally do nothing to save them?"

"Hermione, Severus," Dumbledore interrupted firmly, "This conversation is not productive. Kindly sit down and let us discuss this—"

"I think I'm done here, Headmaster," Severus sneered, turning away.

"Severus," Hermione bit out, "do you remember last December, when I had to sit by and watch a dozen Muggle women be killed and tortured before my eyes?"

"That was different," he roared, whipping around to face her. "You didn't know them! Your presence there was purely as an observer—there was nothing you could have done!"

"I see no difference!" Hermione yelled back at him, balling her hands into fists by her side. "It hurt me to see them die painful and useless deaths just to fulfill a madman's urge for entertainment, and it nearly kills me to know that I had to see the same thing happen to James and Lily! I was purely an observer then, too, because I can't change time no matter how much—" she broke off as her voice collapsed into a ragged sob, and she inhaled deeply, trying to get the rest of her words across. "No matter how much I want to, I can't save everyone… this situation was no different from all the other deaths I couldn't stop."

Severus stiffened for a moment, and then the doorhandle clicked underneath his fingers.

"This is why I told you to wait," Hermione said bitterly. "I knew this would happen. Everyone else—everyone else is absolved of guilt because they didn't know, but I did, and for that, I am to be condemned. At the very least," she added coldly, "you can thank me for not agreeing to marry you before you knew what you were getting into."

A vein pulsed along his jaw as he tightened it convulsively, but his next words were calm and controlled. "I thank you for your consideration."

He left, the door banging shut behind him.

Hermione sank back into her chair, feeling pain lace through her. She had known this would happen. She had known it would come. She had hoped, that somehow, he might be able to see past his own pain long enough to realize her own, and perhaps even forgive her, but…

She sniffled, wiping at her nose as the hot, wet tears began to pour down the sides of her cheeks, and then stumbled her way toward the floo.

"I'll—I'll come back later, Headmaster," she whimpered, reaching for the powder. "I need to be alone."

"My dear," Dumbledore said, rising out of his chair. "All is not lost. I am certain Severus will come around once he has had time to think—"

"He gave up his freedom and safety within Voldemort's ranks to spy for us—for her," Hermione sobbed, trying to suppress the hiccups that threatened to interrupt her speech. "Perhaps he didn't love her the way he loved me, but that doesn't mean she didn't matter more. And now he's found that it was all for naught—and the blame is being placed squarely on me for not preventing it. Do you really expect him to come around, Headmaster?"

With those final words, she stepped into the floo, and managed to stumble out the words to Tine Cottage.

~o~O~o~

School had been out for nearly three weeks now, and it was not expected to resume until December at the earliest, though it would most likely actually happen after New Years Eve. The entire country seemed to be on a national holiday. Many of the students had been sent home on impromptu vacations to reunite with their families, particularly those whose had gone into hiding. Several teachers had left as well, and many shop owners had closed their doors in lieu of hosting celebrations. Almost everyone had gotten the news by now, and anyone who had left the country in light of the war was returning home. People were reuniting with loved ones who were alive, and mourning and preparing proper funerals for those who were not.

Hermione had taken the loss of James and Lily, on top of Severus's abandonment, very hard. She spent her days moping around Tine Cottage, barely able to function. The only good James and Lily's deaths had achieved was to make Hermione abandon her previously-held notions that she should not deliberately change the time line, and had come clean to Dumbledore about the Longbottoms' fates in her time. She did not know when they were to be attacked, but she knew that with Dumbledore alert for it, they would be safe.

Hermione sat in the kitchen at Tine Cottage with a cup of tea and a book, watching rain pour outside, pattering loudly against the windows. She had not spoken to Severus for nearly a week now, and she had not gone back to fetch her things. She made do at Tine Cottage, staying with the written permission of Nicholas Flamel, and spent her time in a bit of an isolated retreat, trying to recover what bit of sanity and dignity she could.

She wished Harry and Ron were here. She could imagine the discussion they might be having now.

Blimey, Hermione, you've really gotten yourself into a mess this time. Ron.

Harry chimed in. I can't believe you were shacking up with the greasy git.

Don't call him that, Hermione found herself mentally chiding them.

Still, he shouldn't have blamed you for all of this, Harry stated pragmatically. It's not your fault.

He's hurting, Hermione pointed out reasonably. We all are.

Quidditch helps, Ron suggested unhelpfully.

Thank you, Ron.

Moody decided to interject himself into the conversation. Are you planning on sitting here for the rest of your life, girl?

"Of course not," Hermione said out loud.

She was startled when Moody's grizzled, ragged voice barked her out of her complacency. "Then get up and get ready!"

"I—what?" Hermione said, twisting around in her chair to find Mad-Eye Moody standing at the entrance to the kitchen, soaking wet, his electric-blue eye whizzing wildly, and his claw-foot braced against the doorway. He was wearing a pair of nice robes that were soaked all the way through, and quite honestly made him look like a mad pirate captain. All he needed was the parrot and the hat.

"The Potters' funeral is today, Granger! Or have you forgotten?" Moodly clunked his way into the kitchen, stopping next to the table, where Hermione's jaw was gaped open in horror. Seeing the expression on her face, he muttered, "It would appear you did."

"Shite," Hermione breathed, standing up quickly and shoving her things aside. "I forgot!"

"I thought so." Moody clunked over to a free chair and helped himself to it, eyeing her tea suspiciously. "You've got twenty minutes to make yourself presentable, Granger. Of course it's raining hard, so anything you wear is probably going to get ruined, but it's the thought that counts, eh?"

Hermione fled up the stairs, and came back down with barely five minutes to spare, tugging on her boots under the plain black work robes she had managed to throw on, and they were out the door and into the pouring rain in three.

~o~O~o~

They all stood in the little churchyard of Godric's Hollow in the rain, which had slowed to a thrumming drizzle. The Order—or what was left of the Order, such as it was—stood by the marker signifying James and Lily's grave, heads bowed. There were a few who were not members of the Order, and there would have probably been far more were it not for the fact that they had agreed unanimously that it would be a private ceremony. Without reporters. Without the fanfare of important figures who had not actually known the Potters, but wanted to get up and make fancy speeches anyway.

They made an odd picture, dressed in various odd non-Muggle things, except for Hagrid, who was wearing what looked like his best jacket. The bodies were finally laid to rest in front of the headstone, and amidst the pouring rain, they all had a chance to shovel in a bit of dirt—which was now mud—into it before Dumbledore raised the ground over their coffins, sealing them from the view of the world forever.

During the time that Dumbledore had been speaking, praising the lives of Lily and James Potter with an odd bit of honesty and frankness that most people did not receive at their funerals, Hermione saw Severus standing near the back of the group, soaked through to the bone and staring not at Dumbledore or the gravestone, but the ground. She did not try to catch his eye, nor give any signal that she was there.

Did she love him? Yes, still. She probably would for the rest of her miserable life. But it seemed clear to her that she had done something both irreparable and unforgivable in Severus's eyes, and as much as it made her heart break with anguish, she respected his feelings and gave him his distance.

People stopped by the freshly-packed, muddy earth to pay their private and personal respects, some charming grass to grow on the otherwise sodden earth, others conjuring flowers and wreaths to place on the grave. No one had bothered to cast any kind of rainproofing charm on themselves; they were all alive, James and Lily were dead for their sakes, and that kind of comfort seemed to go against the grain for all of them. Yet, soon enough, people began Apparating away, no doubt to return home to their own hearth-fires.

Alice, sopping wet, came to stop by where Hermione was standing and squeezed her hand while pulling her into a hug, telling her that she was free to pay them a visit anytime she liked, before she left with her husband, no doubt to rescue their son from his grandmother. Hermione watched her go, feeling at ease now that she was assured her friend would be all right. A few other Order members stopped by her—Hagrid to thank her for helping retrieve Harry from the wreckage of his home, Dumbledore to thank her gravely for the work she had done, and Moody and Kingsley to give her their regards for the efforts she had put in on the behalf of the Wizarding world. Remus was there to pull her into a hug and tell her that he would be spending some time trying to find a job in the Wizarding world, but that he would still be there if she ever needed him.

Hermione thanked each of them in turn, reminding them all as somberly as she could that it had been their combined efforts. She stopped to hug and thank Remus for being the good friend he was, before she turned to leave.

A pale hand reached out to grab her shoulder, turning her around. She stared into the dripping wet face of Severus Snape, and wondered if he was there to berate her for helping put James and Lily in their graves. She opened her mouth to prepare a retort, when she realized that the expression on his face was not one of anger, but rather a sad mixture of pain and resignation.

The first thing out of his mouth was entirely not what she had expected, however. "Hermione, I'm sorry."

Her jaw dropped for a moment, and then she shut it quickly.

He stooped down to lower his mouth to her ear, saving his words for her alone, despite the fact that the pounding of the rain and the fact that there were very few people left to witness them meant that hardly anyone was expected to eavesdrop on them.

"You were right," he said hoarsely. "I—I had time to think about it, while you were gone… you were right, when you said there was no difference."

Hermione swallowed. "You forgive me?" she whispered.

His hands came to grip her shoulders, pulling her close to him, an answer in of itself. The tears pouring down her face now were intermingled with the rain, which meant that they would not be noticed—but she buried her face in his chest nonetheless.

"Lily… she and Potter were never certain they would survive the war, but they—they spent every waking moment they had together," Severus admitted quietly. "It's given me time to think. I still love you, Hermione, and as much as I was angry when I heard about their deaths, it isn't your fault. It's the Dark Lord who has to pay for it, not you." He pulled away, cupping the side of her head with one hand, running his fingers through her damp, water-logged curls. "Yes, Hermione. When I think about it, I know I don't want to spend the rest of my life without you—I want to spend what time we do have together. However long that is."

Hermione stared at him, gaping in near-disbelief, and then her face broke out into a brilliant smile that was completely at odds to the miserable weather and the pain that still went bone-deep. His words had lifted her. "You still want me?"

"I want to marry you."

"Then yes, Severus." Hermione wrapped her arms around him, and pulled him into a wet, rain and tear-stained kiss. "Yes!"

They stood there, kissing, Severus's cloak coming to wrap around her shoulders as the rain began to come down harder. When they finally broke apart, turning to give the Potters' grave a final glance before they left, Hermione experienced a feeling of utter absolution.

~o~O~o~

Severus's trial in Courtroom Ten, in front of the Wizengamot, took place a week later. He might have had a rougher time of things had Dumbledore not been there to vouch for him. When he returned to her that night a free man, Hermione demonstrated how grateful she was to have him by peppering her lover's face with kisses. Other trials made the news—Igor Karkaroff, Walden Macnair, and most interestingly, Lucius Malfoy. The lattermost's excuse was the Imperius, and Hermione could not help but find herself frustrated with the predictability of his pardon.

It was not until the beginning of November that the trials for Barty Crouch Jr, Bellatrix Lestrange, and the two Lestrange brothers occurred. Hermione had nearly been knocked to the floor when she heard the news that Frank and Alice had just been admitted to St. Mungo's—the last time Hermione had seen them alive, happy, and very much sane, had been at James and Lily's funeral. At that moment, Hermione vaguely had an inkling of how Severus had felt, upon Lily's completely unexpected murder.

She had been counting on Dumbledore to protect them. He had assured her he would. Last she had seen, they had been making plans for the Longbottoms to go back into hiding again. But the day they were scheduled to be moved to their safe house was two weeks too late; Voldemort had not even been dead a month when Lestrange, her husband, and younger cohort had taken it upon themselves to attack Alice's family, drunk with the delusion that she and her husband knew where the Dark Lord was. Alice and Frank had wanted to stay out of hiding to be with their family until after Christmas, and now Hermione sank into despair once more: why hadn't she insisted that they go into hiding immediately? Why hadn't she demanded that Alice and Frank stay with them in Spinner's End until arrangements were made? Or Hogwarts? Why?

Dumbledore could not have forced them to go into hiding if they did not want to. They had agreed to do it, but had wanted to wait, to have a chance to spend the Yule holidays with the family they had not seen for months. And now… and now…

While Dumbledore attended the trial, and Severus tried to keep a low profile as a result of his, Hermione paid St. Mungo's a visit.

Guilt had become a familiar knife twisting in her gut, and she felt another jarring stab as she walked into the ward that Alice and her husband were in, on what the Healers hoped to be temporary basis, but what Hermione knew would be a permanent one. She came to stand by the bed Alice was sitting in, and after a cautious moment, she placed her hand over Alice's, giving it a gentle squeeze.

"Alice?" she said softly.

Alice's eyes grew wide, and the shadows underneath them became more prominent as she stared up at Hermione like a frightened animal. Hermione looked guiltily back at her, and then pulled out a bag of Droobles Best Blowing Gum and cautiously handed it to her. They had always been Alice's favorite sweets. The empty shell of her friend stared down at the bag uncomprehendingly for a moment, before she slowly pulled out a stick, fiddled with the wrapper as she tried to figure out how it worked, before she carefully extracted the piece of candy and lifted it to her mouth.

She chewed, her face blank and unexpressive for a moment, and then she pressed the wrapper into Hermione's hand.

Hermione wrapped her fingers around it, tucking it into her pocket. She sat down on the edge of Alice's bed, talking softly to her for a few minutes, before getting up to leave. She handed the bag of Droobles' to the healer currently checking in on patients at the ward.

"This is for Alice Longbottom," she told her.

"We can't give this stuff to patients," the healer said, shaking the sleeves of her lime green robes out of the way as she examined the bag. "They might choke."

Hermione jerked her thumb at Alice who was chewing her gum with a placid look on her face, very different from the expression she had worn when Hermione had first walked in.

"She seems to be doing fine," Hermione responded coolly.

The woman gave her an odd look, and then stuffed the bag in her robes. "I'll speak to the healer in charge and see if he'll allow sweets, provided we can ascertain she's able to feed herself, and if her relatives agree to allow it…"

Hermione's mind turned to her memory of Augusta Longbottom with her grandson, and felt the wrapper in her pocket, and was certain that yes, Alice's relatives such would allow her this small consolation.

She was finding it more and more difficult to live with her guilt. The war had ended for now, and the aftermath was terrible. It would take time for the ache to heal.

~o~O~o~

Christmas was spent at Spinner's End. Hermione managed to push her lingering depression aside and force herself to perk up for the season, hoping that a jolt of holiday cheer might help her. They had brought in a proper Christmas tree this year; Hermione had insisted on it. She decorated it with her wand, conjuring and transfiguring bits and bobbles and glittering strings, decorating the tree with such growing delight that Severus had snarked that he might have to exile himself from their living room lest it contaminate him.

"Don't be such a git," Hermione had teased him playfully, earning a sneer and a scowl from her lover before he retreated from the room—though not before charming several of the bright-red baubles Slytherin green.

For the first time, they had gone through the trouble of buying each other proper gifts. Hermione, knowing he was at perfect liberty to buy himself whatever books he liked, had taken her time in picking out a set of clear glass bell-jars for storing ingredients. The spells placed on them would keep them in suspended stasis until the tops were lifted, keeping them fresh until the minute they were needed. She received a kiss on the cheek for her efforts, and was then taken upstairs, to the room at the far end of the hall that she had only ever stepped foot in to clean.

What she saw made her jaw drop.

Severus had scoured it out completely—somehow managing to do so without catching her attention—and had placed in it several tables and a bookshelf, along with a row of cupboards along the far end of the wall, above a desk. As soon as the shock had finished registering, he informed her that it was her personal workspace—and a very comfortable and functional workspace it was. He explained that he had his private lab in the basement, and given that they were both living in this house—their house—it was only fair that she have a place to do her own work.

Hermione had her own research plans and ideas brewing in her mind, among other things. Ideas she had let slip to Severus to bounce off on him, and ideas she fully planned to see through, but she had not expected this—this gift of support, his confidence in her ability to succeed. That was truly a far greater gift than the actual workspace, but it was a two for one, and Severus found himself both extremely pleased yet slightly embarassed by her reaction, particularly when it ended up with him against the wall receiving a collection of very passionate, very heated kisses.

Hermione rarely went to Severus's private lab, and never without knocking first. The same privileges were afforded to her here, and while the rest of the house was free for them to roam, they each had a private retreat where they could unload. In Hermione's mind, it was glorious—and a very effective distraction from the guilt that occasionally reared its ugly head. She was able to push it aside when she focused instead on her work.

That was the better side of Christmas. The more grave event was them sitting down in the living room and discussing what they could of the future. Severus's expression had turned tight-lipped and ashen when Hermione admitted that he had indeed been her Potions professor, before calmly pointing out that it hardly mattered now. He was less than a year older than her in this timeline and they were both consenting adults of sound mind—he was hardly taking advantage of her as his student when she was his equal as a professor, had given authority over him as his handler, and was a good ten years away from having her counterpart as his student, not her as she currently was.

"I don't know what Albus has in mind, but I suspect it's along the lines of slotting me back in my timeline when it comes around," Hermione said smartly. "As soon as my sixteen-year-old self disappears in time, I can step in and take her place—at least," she added somberly, "I hope so."

Severus eyed her askance. "And what happens then?"

"The age of consent is sixteen," Hermione reminded him. "Up until then, assuming this scenario works out as imagined, I would have been living with you as your wife for fifteen years. I'd also be two years older than the rest of my classmates due to time-turner usage, as addition. I started my schooling just before turning twelve, not eleven, because my birthday is in late September." She paused, and then admitted, "I don't know what the future holds for us then."

Severus held her close to him, burying his face in her hair. "I confess there might be… difficulties with the situation," he murmured, "but I imagine they can be worked through, even if all it takes is waiting."

Hermione leaned her head back against his shoulder, closing her eyes in contentment. "I suppose that means we'll cross that bridge when we get to it?"

He nibbled at the side of her neck. "Indeed."

"Besides," she added in agreement, "I honestly have no idea what the Headmaster's plan is. He's kept it a bloody great secret up until now."

~o~O~o~

On New Years Eve, Hermione tried to coax Severus into going to Diagon Alley with her. He dug in his heels on the matter.

"Absolutely not!" he growled, when Hermione first brought the subject up. "We'll come back toting another bloody expensive rug!"

Hermione grinned mischeivously, cocking her head to the side as she assessed their positions—he was leaning against the front of the couch on the floor, she was standing—and gracefully slipped down to the floor, straddling him. He was hard before she began properly grinding herself against him, and the flaring of his nostrils and quickening of his breathing told her exactly what she needed to know.

"Witch," he hissed under his breath, though it came out as a distinct whimper, as she began peppering kisses along the column of his neck. "You can't get everything you want with that."

"Hmm," Hermione said, nibbling on his ear next. "With you, I think that might actually be possible."

"Witch."

"We can go to Fortescue's for ice cream," Hermione promised, running her hands across his chest, privately marveling as she always did about how he was hers—all hers—as she continued, "I'll bet they've started letting the owls out again—and there'll be fireworks…"

He gave her a heated glare. "We're not stopping for new furniture."

Hermione glanced back at the couch he was leaning against. "New books," she bargained.

He eyed her consideringly for a moment, and then promptly pushed her off his lap and backwards onto the rug, pinning her wrists down and straddling her with a victorious smirk.

"Only after I've made love to you," he purred, his voice a deliberately smooth and silky cadence that made Hermione shiver underneath him.

Hermione tapped him on the nose. "Absolutely not. We have all the time in the world, with the Dark Lord gone—that," she said, pushing him away, "can wait until after we've seen the fireworks."

He scowled at her, a look of supreme disappointment that conveyed just how much his libido had in making that decision, and that the postponing of sex was enough to ruin a possible good mood.

Hermione's next words seemed to make it up to him, however. She slipped her hand down his chest, taking a moment to pinch his nipple, before giving him a sensual, mischievous smile. "Which means that we have all… night… long."

He was sold. Pulling her to her feet, they fetched a bit of pin-money from a small tin they kept on top of the mantle, and a few moments later, they were Flooing to Diagon Alley. They skittered out of the fireplace in time to hear the crack of a loud firework going off, and Hermione stared up at the sparkling blue and green lights.

"They're setting fireworks off already?"

"A bit precipitous of them, but yes," Severus said, taking her arm firmly and pulling her along until they were two blocks down the street—and did not stop until they were at Fortescue's. Hermione noted that he had conveniently avoided leading them close to the shops Hermione liked to frequent, and couldn't help smiling as he placed their order. Or rather, tried to. The minute Florean had seen them approaching, he had already started scooping their ice cream, and had it almost ready to hand to them by the time they made it to the window.

"You're regulars," he told them with a wink, and was about to speak again when there was a boom of fireworks. He looked up, smiling. "I should have known you'd come, even with all the fireworks."

"The fireworks are sort of why we're here," Hermione said, licking her ice cream and letting the flavor melt over her tongue. She let out a happy sigh, and then her eyes widened as she saw the wingtip of an owl pass by. Taking a step back as Severus paid for the frozen treats, a wide grin spread across her face as, moments later, a flock of owls began swooping through the air, hooting delightedly, quite unafraid of the sparklers.

"And the owls," she said, pleased, as more fireworks began going off and feathers began to float down here and there. "What a beautiful sight."

Severus's lips tipped up in a controlled smile, visible more for her benefit than anything else. The streets were heavily crowded now, and she could already see shades of the intensely private, secretive man she remembered from her earlier school years; getting him to smile in public was so difficult when he continued to grow even more reserved. And yet, it was still a nice smile, one that encouraged Hermione to smile back in return, simply happy to see that he, too, was happy.

He let out a grunt of surprise when Hermione grabbed his hand and ran out toward the middle of the street for a better view of the fireworks, and then retailiated by pulling her to him so that she was tucked under his arm. Angling his head so that his face was not in her hair while he supped at the melting but otherwise frozen treat, he gave her a squeeze and then turned his gaze skyward.

It was only eleven-thirty. The real fireworks would not be for another hour. And yet, the view was still spectacular.

"This must be your birthday present," Hermione told him mischievously as they stood back, trying to find a spot that wouldn't have them being knocked into by the younger children running through the street waving charmed sparklers. Snow was still on the ground, but that hardly seemed to deter the troublemakers, despite the threat of slipping on ice.

Severus finished the last of his ice cream cone, taking a moment to chew it languidly before burying his face in his hair. "Absolutely not."

"What more could you get?" Hermione countered, twisting her head to look at him.

He gave her a smug, self-satisfied smile that was frankly on the dark side of lascivious.

"I can think of a few things," he said, stroking the under-curve of her cheek with two fingers as his other hand gripped her waist. "It's cold now, but once the fireworks have run their course, we can go home…"

Another firework went off and Hermione shivered, accentuating her reaction to his words.

"Have a seat on the rug in front of the fire…"

The fact that he could make a suggestion so simple and otherwise innocent into anything but was a talent Hermione was able to appreciate, but at this moment, all she wanted to do was to get him to shut up before the heat rising in her cheeks could bloom any further. The ruddy bastard! He knew exactly what got her attention.

Another loud firework caught her attention, and then within the crowd, Hermione could hear the murmurs of a countdown from ten rippling wildly. The bringing-in of the New Year, to be celebrated beyond all others because it was free of Voldemort—the excitement was contagious.

"Ten, nine, eight—!"

Hermione struggled to remain calm. "And what do you suggest we do with our lovely sheepskin rug?"

"…Five, four…!"

Severus smirked, and then spun her around so that he was facing her, stygian eyes flickering over her with a mixture of love and Slytherin appreciation.

The countdown reached one. There was an enormous crack, followed by a series of almighty booms, and light exploded into the sky, blinding them all. And instead of replying, he kissed her. Hermione let out a moue of surprise, but responded quite eagerly the next moment, wrapping her arms around his neck and deepening the kiss, tasting him as though she simply could not get enough. They stood there for several moments, surrounded by the cheering crowd and the roaring, multi-colored fireworks, wrapped up in each other, before they Disapparated away.

They landed in the living room, a few feet away from the rug, and they kicked off their boots and eagerly dragged each other down to the floor. Severus had her pinned down as before, her hair splayed around her like a curly halo, and snogged her thoroughly for a moment before pulling away.

"My love, we had better block the floo," he purred.

~o~O~o~

Hermione woke up the next morning to find that they had fallen asleep on the rug—unsurprising, to be frank—and furthermore, when she tried to shift so that she could sit up, Severus's arms pulled her tighter to him as he mumbled something in his sleep. Hermione tried to twist her neck around so that she could get a look at him, spooned against her, but the angle was too awkward, and frankly, she was too full of lassitude to try. She sighed and snuggled back down, pillowing her head on his shoulder, and ran through a mental list of things they had to do.

School would resume today, though admittedly not until the Welcoming Feast—or what would technically be the second Welcoming Feast of the year. They had several hours to spare until they were required to be in attendance. Until then, she marshalled her mental efforts into thinking through issues that, at the moment, required serious consideration.

Sirius was still in Azkaban. That, first and foremost, was her most pressing concern. He was innocent, and she needed to find a way to get him out.

What kind of friend does that? Frankly, Severus was right, even if he had been somewhat in the wrong with regards to throwing those words at her in that instance. And yet, it seemed very relevant here. Particularly since those words still bothered her deep down, even now.

Her hair had reverted back to its naturally bushy state, and Hermione shook her head and brought up a hand to try and trap it down under her cheek before pressing her face back down on her lover's arm. Her body rested placidly beside Severus's, but her mind was a whirling vortex of thoughts, ideas, Plans with a capital 'P' that needed to be made. There was no reason Sirius should spend twelve useless years in Azkaban. She certainly could not conceive of a way to get him out now, but it was now January of 1982. In eight years, Milicent Bagnold would retire, allowing Fudge to take her place—and Hermione knew first hand just how corrupt and easily blinded Fudge was.

Money. Money and support. He would need that in order to succeed in his run for Minister of Magic when the year of 1990 rolled around. Hermione turned over onto her back, thinking, turning over the tendrils of the idea in her head, weaving them together into a concrete, possible plan of action.

Money and power made the world turn. Hermione had learned that lesson well.

The question was—now that she had learned the lesson, and had knowledge of the future to apply them to, how should she put the two and two together?

She wriggled in Severus's grasp just a bit, trying to see if she could extract herself subtly enough so that she could escape to the kitchen and grab herself a cup of tea. He responded by wrapping his arms more securely around her waist, pulling her tighter, and burying his face in her neck in clear protest. Hermione writhed harder, trying to get loose, now quite determined to get herself a cup of tea to help her think things over—and a hand wickedly slipped down between her legs, giving her clit a warning stroke.

"Severus, much as I enjoy being here, we have only a few hours left before school starts and I have things to—ohh—ah!" Hermione threw her head back with a sudden jerk, letting out an unanticipated moan as her lover—damn him!—began to toy with her lazily. He knew her body so well by now, his ministrations such a far cry from the hesitant and then later almost frantic, if somewhat clumsy and untutored, attempts at the start of their relationship; he could pleasure her in his sleep if he wanted to. On occasion, he did, much to Hermione's mixed reaction of consternation and delight.

He ground his morning erection against her, in very clear demonstration of his intentions. In that damnable silky voice of his, in just the manner that he knew both made her melt and consequently stalk, gag, and throw her Good Judgement into a godforsaken closet, he gave her a look that defied description and murmured into her ear: "I want you here."

"You know," Hermione muttered, her tone mutinous even as all thoughts of grabbing herself a cuppa flew out the window, "You really can't just pin me to the rug and have your way with me every time."

"I don't see why not. That is clearly what this rug was designed for." He was stroking and caressing her now, one hand drifting up to squeeze her breast, demonstrating that he was now far more awake than he had been moments ago. And very much aroused, judging by the way he was now rubbing insistently against her. "Additionally, I don't believe I have ever actually pinned you, but if you would like to give it a try…"

Hermione let out a chortle of laughter, and twisted around so that she was on her back, looking up into his face, where he was smirking with unabashed smugness. "You would love that, I'm sure."

"You surely realize that you're not prepared to marry a nice man," Severus said, treating her to a morning sneer.

"I am fairly aware of the difference between niceness, moral repugnance, and simply being a bit dark," Hermione responded dryly, as Severus pulled himself onto his elbows and began suckling on one of her nipples. "You're the lattermost, I'm afraid."

"Understatement of the year, my dear. Now hush." Severus was like a needy cat with his movements; that was the only comparison that did him justice. He litterally slinked and slipped his way on top of her, much in the way a housecat might worm his way onto his favorite lap, without seeming too obtrusive, and yet reaching his goal in the end.

"I will not hush," Hermione defied him mockingly. "When is this marriage supposed to take place?"

"The first of April." He was sucking on her with more intensity now, both his hands now rather preoccupied with squeezing, toying, and caressing the mounds of flesh that fascinated him so.

"In that case, I vote February the fourteenth."

"Absolutely not." He pulled away to give her a sour look. "Furthermore, I was merely joking."

"Then let's pick something a tad more reasonable, shall we, husband?"

He tilted his head to the side for a moment, giving her an incomprehensibly scruitinizing look, before he pronounced, "June."

"The day you first kissed me?"

"Indeed."

"Severus Snape, you are a sentimental man!" Hermione teased.

"Where it counts. Now hush." He returned his attention to her body, slipping one leg over her so that he was straddling her, and then began to grind against her core with increasing, unrelenting persistence. "I'd prefer to spend my morning making love rather than considering wedding plans."

Hermione tried to mutter a witty response, but failed, throwing her head back before her voice cracked and gave way to a moan. Her lover—fiance—husband-to-be—gave her a victorious smirk, and took a moment to adjust himself before thrusting into her, letting out his own hissed epithet of appreciation before nudging her into wrapping her legs around his hips. A look of delightful wickedness stole across his face, mingling with the smirk he had worn moments before, as he took hold of her wrists, tugging them to lay on either side of her head, and held them down as he moved.

She moaned and bucked underneath him. Very often, she pushed away thoughts of the Professor Snape she knew from her original timeline, because she felt it was inappropriate to think of a teacher in such a manner. And yet he was fast becoming less her professor and more her lover, and she was able to allow herself to entertain certain notions without repulse, and she did so now as she registered how simply intense was. In her memories, he had a bottled passion for potions, visible self-restraint and discpline, and a dark, intense presence that had made controlling the classroom possible with a motion alone.

He was both intense and dominating. Those were the two words she could best come up with to describe him during their most intimate moments. He was not on such a power trip that he forgot to attend to her needs, but it was clear to her that he thoroughly enjoyed taking charge of their sexual encounters. He had been hesitant to be overt about it, but as time went on, his inclination to hold back on such urges was simply pushed aside in favor of trying them, in seeing how far he could push her, how much she would allow him. Because make no mistake, she was not a witch to be walked over, and he knew this all too well—and yet, somehow, he seemed to realize that it was different for her during sex.

She would certainly never let him decide what to do with her life or make the important decisions that were hers to make in regards to her duties as his handler, but when it came to moments like these it seemed to dawn on him that she enjoyed letting him have his way. That perhaps she even enjoyed provoking him into being just a bit more passionate, in allowing himself to do so.

But this morning, it seemed he was taking his testing of boundaries a few steps farther. With her hands pinned down, he was rendering her physically incapable of stopping him—and when his mouth came to cover hers, drinking in her moans and muffling her cries, he was also leaving her vocally unable to explicitly tell him to stop. He clearly did not expect to be told to stop. And with her held in a rather vulnerable position underneath him, he took her on the sheepskin rug that she had so determinedly talked him into buying.

He took her—no, possessed her—and when he was done, he still refused to let her go, instead rolling her over onto her belly and nibbling on her neck, tugging her hair to the side and curling it around one hand. Hermione had by then resigned herself to the fact that she was certainly not getting up and ready for the day—much less collecting herself a cup of tea—any time soon; that was now the least concern on her mind. She wanted this, and responded with sounds of encouragement, resting her chin on her arms and letting him have complete and pleasurably undisputed access to her body. She let him have his way with her delightfully.

It still amazed her that she fascinated him this much, that he found her so alluring that he simply had to be allowed to explore her. It both amazed her and warmed her deep down, to feel so lovely and appreciated under his gaze. He wanted her constantly and in what seemed to be as many ways as possible, the result of a mixture of his deep-seated love for her and his natural inclination to randiness.

Hermione despised the idea of thinking about another man—or boy, for this matter—while her husband-to-be was lavishing such attention on her, but she couldn't help taking in certain considerations. It had always been expected that she and Ron would at least make a go of things—they had been part of the trio for so long that it would simply have been impossible for them to not have at least tried it out when their hormones kicked in. And yet, she could not possibly imagine him being as considerate, as loving, as passionate as Severus.

He simply was not Severus—he shared very few interests with her, and had a tendency toward selfishness that Hermione did not think she would have tolerated. Severus was selfish, yes, but it was usually in regards to his personal space and his sexual wants—and largely limited to those. Hermione could not only live with them, she loved them, for she required a certain amount of personal space herself and Severus's wants did not push her own aside. Ron was selfish in regards to just about everything—Quidditch, food, and limelight were among the top contenders. He came first for himself, and though he was certainly loyal and a good friend, and often struggled to put others first as well—it was not something Hermione could have lived with. It would have been a fight with them every day, on everything, at every level.

They would have driven each other mad and then mutually arranged to have the other sent to a different ward of St. Mungo's.

Severus was merely driving her mad with lust, at the moment. At this point, she couldn't complain. He was being most thorough.

Their relationship was not an equal one, even if it was still an incongruously balanced one. Hermione was almost entirely in control of their life in professional and pecuniary matters, while Severus took charge of the intimate aspects of their relationship. It was not that Severus was incapable, or that Hermione never took initiative, but rather that Hermione was the better choice for managing their money because she was a person who thrived on keeping top of such organizational duties, and because she enjoyed the way Severus took the more sexual aspects of their relationship. Hermione and Severus were both control freaks—self-admittedly so—and they adjusted to this in different ways; Hermione by allowing Severus control in a situation where she could afford to do so, and Severus by taking control in the one situation where Hermione undisputedly did not have to—and often times, simply did not want to. It was an exchange of power, and though it was arguably unconventional, it not only worked for them, they thrived on it. It was their relationship—all theirs—and what was more, it worked far better than the prospect of dividing everything equally like a line drawn in the sand.

They took charge of what they had to and what they wanted to, and relinquished control in just the same way. Hermione simply, deliciously enjoyed everything Severus did to her, even when a good three-quarters of his attention was focused on self-gratification, and Severus truly did not relish the idea of making sense of bank statements and trying to organize their money for the year.

The only activities independent of this power exchange were their private projects. Hermione had the workroom Severus had gifted her, and Severus had the lab they had set up for him. Both areas were private and off-limits to the other unless they knocked and were explicitly invited in. They were their personal sanctuaries, their retreats, and neither were in charge of the others' individual pursuits. In fact, they largely left each other alone in such things, because they both preferred it that way. Severus did not want Hermione nosing about his potions, and Hermione wanted him going through her private charts and equations even less.

And yet Severus did take almost exclusive charge of their sexual encounters with the attitude of a dominant. He was always pushing her boundaries, something Hermione took great pleasure in—and made certain that he knew it, too—in ways that he had been hesitant to try at the beginning of their relationship.

But there was no Dark Lord hanging over their heads, and they knew each other well enough that Severus had grown bolder—and this morning was one of those instances where he decided to up the ante several notches, flipping her over onto her belly and massaging the curves of her buttocks, contemplating whether or not he ought to smack them.

When Hermione finally did get up that morning to prepare breakfast, it was with a reddened, rosy backside and a satiated, if slightly silly grin on her face.


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~Anubis Ankh