Disclaimer: All characters and the HP universe in general belong to J.K. Rowling. No money is being made from the publication of this story. If there was, I wouldn't be living with my mom, now, would I?
Author Notes: Many thanks to my wonderful beta Jamie. Also to my friend JenniferW for always giving me an honest opinion and for inspiring me to write well. Thank you both!!!
Albus Dumbledore leaned back in his chair and removed his spectacles, sighing heavily.
"Oh Poppy," he mumbled, rubbing his tired eyes with the heels of his hands, "Why did it have to be you?" He let his hands drop to his lap and closed his eyes, his mind wandering to the events of this morning. He had just come back from breakfast and found a large brown owl perched on his desk, a formidable looking piece of parchment tied with a black ribbon attached to its leg. He removed the letter, offered a treat to the owl, and sat down to read. Thirty minutes or more passed in complete silence, the forgotten letter crumpled in his hand, tears of grief running down his wrinkled old cheeks. Madam Pomfrey had been on holiday in Italy when Death Eaters attacked the plaza where she was dining. She had been caught in the crossfire and died from injuries she received in the battle.
Dumbledore stood, tossed a pinch of floo powder into his fireplace, then stepped into the green flames.
"Hermione Granger's residence!" he shouted, then disappeared in a whirlwind of green flames.
"Crookshanks, get off!" Hermione hissed, yanking her blue sweater out from under her grumpy cat. She shook the ginger fur off of the fabric, then pulled the sweater over her head of shining chestnut hair. Her mane of bushy curls had tamed since school, and a dose of shine potion every morning didn't hurt either. It now hung in loose, shimmering waves all the way down her back.
"I'm sorry Crookshanks, but you just can't use my clothes for your bed." She stroked the cat's ginger fur briefly, then went out to the kitchen to make some coffee.
She had just sat down on the black leather sofa when green flames erupted in her fireplace and none other than Albus Dumbledore stepped out of the flames, calmly brushing soot off of his dark green robes.
"Good evening, Miss Granger," he said, smiling at the look of bewilderment on her face.
"Professor!" she exclaimed, regaining some of her composure. She put the coffee cup on the end table and stood to greet her former headmaster. "What a pleasant surprise!" They embraced briefly, then sat down on the sofa together.
"Can I offer you some coffee?" Hermione asked, gesturing to her own cup.
"No thank you," Dumbledore replied, smiling lightly at Hermione. "I find that if I drink coffee past three in the afternoon sleep is an impossibility." The smile faded from his face and he sighed heavily. "I'm afraid this is not a social call Miss Granger."
"What's wrong?" she asked, her brow furrowing in concern. Her heart started to pound, a thousand different scenarios playing out in her mind, most of them involving Harry.
"Madam Pomfrey was killed just this past week by Death Eaters in Italy," Dumbledore informed her.
Hermione clapped one hand to her mouth, her eyes immediately filling with tears. Madam Pomfrey had taken Hermione on as an apprentice in her sixth year and they had formed a rather close friendship. She was like an aunt to Hermione and they had kept in touch all through Hermione's years at medical school.
"Oh God," Hermione moaned, her head falling into her hands, the tears coming unbidden now. Dumbledore scooted over next to her on the couch and pulled her into his warm embrace.
"There, there child," he whispered, stroking her soft hair soothingly. He held her until she ceased crying, then conjured up a handkerchief for her to use.
"Yes, it was very tragic," he said, sliding his wand back into his pocket. "As such, we are without a medi-witch for the coming school year." He looked at her with twinkling blue eyes. "I heard through the grapevine that you just graduated at the top of your class from medical wizardry school."
"Yes sir," Hermione confirmed, smiling shyly.
"Hermione, I am here to offer you a job at Hogwarts," Dumbledore said, handing her an envelope with the Hogwarts seal on the back. She stared at him with her mouth hanging open for a moment, then hesitantly took the letter out of his hands.
Dear Miss Granger,
We would like to extent to you an invitation to join the staff at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as the attending medi-witch. Your duties will be explained to you pending your acceptance of this offer. Please provide your answer to Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, by the first of July.
Deputy Headmistress, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
"I don't know what to say, Professor," Hermione said, slowly lowering the letter to the table in front of the couch.
"You could say that you'll take the position," Dumbledore said, smiling kindly at her.
Hermione smiled broadly and sat up straighter on the sofa.
"I'll take the position," she said, grinning like a child.
"You're what?!" Harry and Ron both exclaimed at the same time.
Hermione smiled at her two best friends sitting across the table gawking at her.
"I'm taking the position as medi-witch at Hogwarts," Hermione repeated, casually sipping her water. She put the cup down and grinned smugly at them.
"Wow!" Harry exclaimed, pulling Hermione out of her chair and wrapping her in a warm embrace. "I'm so happy for you Mione!"
"Thanks Harry," Hermione mumbled against his shoulder. She pulled back and looked into his smiling emerald eyes and sighed. It was strange to think that just four short years ago she would have given anything to be held by Harry Potter. Things change though. Things always change.
"So you're moving out of your flat?" Ron asked, pulling away from their short embrace.
"I guess so," Hermione replied, frowning. Her little flat had been her only home for the past four years and she had grown rather attached to it. "I move into the school at the end of July. Just enough time to get used to my wing."
"You're not going to wear those awful outfits that Madam Pomfrey always wore, are you?" Ron asked, wrinkling his freckled nose in disgust.
"Are you kidding?" Hermione screeched, scandalized. "I loved Madam Pomfrey dearly, but her fashion sense was seriously lacking."
They laughed companionably for a moment, simply enjoying eachother's company and one of the brief moments they got to spend together. Harry had become a professional Seeker for the Chudley Cannons before marrying Ginny Weasley. They lived together near the Burrow and had one child; a little one-year old girl named Lily Hermione Potter. Ron started working for Fred and George and was now the General Manager of all branches of Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. He married Padma Patil three years after school and she was presently pregnant with twins. Probably another Fred and George to grace the world with. Hermione, however, was still single and just as studious as ever.
"Oi!" Ron exclaimed, glancing at his watch. "I have to go! Padma has an appointment with the midwife this afternoon and she'll murder me if I'm late." He stood and embraced Hermione, then shook Harry's hand. "Mione, owl me as soon as you get settled, okay?" He embraced her one more time before turning to leave. "I'll see you tomorrow Harry!"
"Goodbye Ron!" Hermione called, her eyes filling with tears as she watched his familiar, gangly form saunter away.
"Mione, what's wrong?" Harry asked, laying a hand on her shoulder.
She sniffed, then wiped a hand roughly across her eyes.
"I don't know," she said, shrugging. "I just feel like the moment I step into Hogwarts I'm never going to see you two again."
"That's ridiculous!" Harry exclaimed, taking her hands in his. "We'll come see you as often as we can and you know you're always welcome to stay with Ginny and I."
"I know, it's just never going to be the same," Hermione wailed, the tears falling unchecked now, "It hasn't been the same since the moment we graduated! I miss my best friends and it hurts so much to know that you and Ron get to see each other every day and I get to see you when it's convenient!"
"Mione," Harry began, scooting his chair next to hers and pulling her into a warm embrace. "Please don't say that, please. You know that I would love to be able to see you every day for the rest of my life, it's just not that easy." He pulled back and forced her to look into his eyes. "The only reason I see Ron everyday is because I'm married to the guy's sister and he still thinks he needs to protect her from me." Hermione smiled lightly, wiping the tears from her face. "Ridiculous, isn't it?"
"Yes., Hermione replied, chuckling. "Ridiculous." She pulled out her wand and pointed it at her face, muttering a few words to clear her face of the redness it had acquired from her outburst. "I'm sorry Harry, really I am. I guess I'm just a little nervous about taking the position at Hogwarts." She sighed and leaned back in her chair. "Voldemort is still out there somewhere, and no matter how weak he is, Hogwarts is always in danger." She shook her head when she noticed the look of disbelief on Harry's face. "No, it's not that I'm afraid for myself," she began, pausing to gather her thoughts. "It's just that I'm going to be responsible for all of those children in the castle. If any of them get hurt, I have to help them. I have to make them well so that they can go home to their families. I have to keep them alive." She leaned her head down on the table and took a shuddering breath. "It's just a lot of responsibility for my first job out of college."
"Hermione, if anyone can do it, you can," Harry said, smiling down at his friend. "Who snuck into Snape's supply closet and stole ingredients for an illegal potion? Who brought Ron and I back together when we were fighting in our fourth year? Who made sure that Ron and I passed our NEWTs?"
"I did," Hermione mumbled, grinning into her arms.
"Exactly," Harry said, pulling her up to a sitting position. "Now stop moping and get up and finish packing up all of your shit. At the rate you're going now you'll never make it to the school."
Hermione glared at Harry, then pulled herself out of the chair and sighed, looking around her in disgust.
"This is ridiculous!" She spat, pulling out her wand. "Reducto!" Instantly, everything in her flat that wasn't alive shrank down to miniscule size. "Why didn't I do this in the first place?" She waved her wand and spoke a few more words and everything was packed away in one large trunk. "Mary Poppins definitely knew what she was doing, didn't she?"
"Definitely," Harry agreed, laughing.
"Welcome back Miss Granger!" Dumbledore exclaimed, pulling her into a warm embrace.
She pulled back and smiled into his twinkling blue eyes, then laughed aloud.
"Oh, Professor," she began, turning around in a circle with her eyes closed. "It's so wonderful to be back here."
"Please, call me Albus," he requested, laughing at Hermione's bliss. He turned his eyes toward the ceiling, watching with still unveiled wonder as the staircases slowly turned and switched places, while the portraits visited with one another in their respective frames. "Yes, Hogwarts is a very magical place. And I say that without the slightest bit of sarcasm or irony."
They walked in companionable silence to the hospital wing where Hermione would be working and living during the school year.
"Well, the house elves have brought up your things, but-" he stopped when he saw the frown flicker across her face. "I instructed them to leave everything packed so that you could do all of the work yourself."
She chuckled softly, silently in awe of Dumbledore's excellent memory, especially at his age. She couldn't believe he remembered S.P.E.W.
"How in the world did you remember that Albus?" she asked, grinning.
"I remember many things Hermione," he said, turning to leave. "I expect you remember how to get to the dining hall for dinner."
"How could I ever forget?" she asked, after he had shut the door behind him. She turned and began slowly walking through the set of rooms that had been provided for her living space. The first room was large and roughly circular with dark, polished wooden floors and floor to ceiling windows placed at regular intervals along the walls. A huge stone fireplace took up most of one wall, and bookshelves were placed between most of the windows. The second room was her bedroom. Not as large as the front room, but large enough to accommodate a king-sized four-poster bed covered in deep blue velvet and satin, a large oak desk, wardrobe, a dresser, and more bookshelves. A small fireplace across from the bed would provide heat in the long winter months. The last room was her bathroom. Hermione's mouth dropped open in surprise when she pushed open the wooden door leading to the bathroom. In one corner, sunk into the floor, was a deep blue marble Jacuzzi bath, complete with several taps no doubt holding different kinds of bubbles. In the opposite corner was a large glass shower with two showerheads. 'I wonder why that shower has two showerheads?' Hermione thought to herself, blushing at the implications. The floor was made of the same polished wood, with soft rugs placed at intervals along the floor.
"This is wonderful!" Hermione exclaimed, full of childish exuberance. She squealed and took off at full speed through her rooms, throwing the door open and running through the corridors of Hogwarts. She knew she would be happy to be back, but this burst of manic delight took her by complete surprise. Being here, running the halls that she had roamed as a child filled her with indescribable joy and made her believe that everything would be okay.
"Hermione!" a voice called, making her come to a skidding halt on one of the rough stone floors. She turned to face her smiling Arithmancy professor, Professor Vektor.
"Professor Vektor!" Hermione exclaimed, grinning at the short, slight woman. She rushed over and grabbed the little woman in a tight hug. "It's so wonderful to see you again!"
"And you!" Professor Vektor agreed, laughing. "And please, call me Celeste. After all, we are colleagues now."
Hermione felt a rush of pride at being called a colleague by one of her former professors.
"Yes," Hermione sighed, grinning. "Colleagues."
"Well Hermione, I'm sorry that I can't stay and chat with you all afternoon as I would like to, but I have several errands to run in Hogsmeade today," She shifted the large bag on her shoulder and smiled widely at the taller girl. "I'll see you at dinner."
"Goodbye Celeste!" Hermione called, already taking off at a full run in the opposite direction. Three changing staircases later, Hermione found herself at the beginning of the dungeons. She looked around at the dank walls and wondered why this place had always made her so afraid. It really wasn't any different than the basement in her grandmother's house. A little dark, a little smelly, but certainly not scary. She wandered further through the descending halls until she heard a very familiar sound; the sound of a hissing, bubbling cauldron.
"Snape," she whispered, familiar anxiety creeping into her veins. She stepped silently over to the classroom door and peered around the corner. Her mouth dropped open in surprise at what she saw. He was resplendent in black, well-fit trousers, untucked white button-down shirt and dragon-hide boots. His once greasy black hair was now clean and shining and much longer than when she had been a student. He had it pulled back in a ponytail, showing the strong, clean line of his jaw. He was too thin, that was certain, but the deft movements of his hands never faltered as he worked silently over the bubbling cauldron. She steeled her nerves, stepped over the threshold into her old Potions classroom and cleared her throat. He whirled around to see who had interrupted his work, dark eyes flashing with anger. When he saw the tall, shining haired girl standing silently in the doorway his eyes widened in surprise.