Author's Note: Since the very moment I clicked 'submit' on the last chapter of TMS years ago, readers have been begging for some sort of epilogue or sequel. Though I was very pleased with where to the original story ended, I had an idea that hopefully will make everyone happy.

Special thanks to Aureliandreams and Bookishteddy for inadvertently giving me the idea.

"You Will Always Own a Piece of Me…"

Hauntings aren't only bound to creepy, abandoned buildings or two hundred year old houses with nefarious pasts. Most are fairly ordinary, in places no one would suspect. Sometimes it wasn't a location at all that housed the piece of a spirit that hadn't fully moved on. Objects could be haunted: a once-beloved piano, a cherished doll, a photograph. Anything that held any amount of sentimental value to a person while they were living could trap a part of their soul when they were gone.

Even a silver locket.

January 1, 2000

2:35 am

A cool breeze blew over Hermione's face, waking her up from a sound sleep. Confused at first, thinking that maybe Kingsley left a window cracked open before he came to bed, she looked up to see where it came from. All of the windows in their bedroom were closed tightly and the windows drawn. Perhaps it had all been in her head.

Frustrated that she had been woken up, she turned on her side to try to fall back asleep. Her body ached, a pleasant reminder of what she'd been up to right before they fell asleep an hour earlier. To make up for the previous New Year's Eve when her body was still healing after Greyback's final attack, Kingsley made certain their best New Years were carefully recreated right there in their bed. It had been a marvelous way to bring in the new year. She had no complaints. If the fates were kind, it would be an indicator of how the rest of the first year of the new century would go.

Another chill went straight through her. Kingsley didn't seem bothered. The man could always sleep through anything. Concerned that she was missing some sort of draft or maybe a window was left open in another room for some reason, she knew she couldn't stay where she was until she uncovered the source. Careful not to shake the mattress, though it likely wouldn't have even mattered if she did, Hermione placed her bare feet on the cold wood floor. Thankful that she remembered to leave slippers close by, she quickly put them on. On the way out of the bedroom she picked up her dressing gown off the hook on the back of the door.

She didn't know where she was going or what she would find whenever she arrived. An odd compulsion she couldn't explain kept her from just giving up and not worrying. Though she didn't feel afraid in the slightest, she knew her mind would rest better if she could find the source of the chill. It might have been January and their house might have been nearly a hundred years old, but she just knew there was something unusual going on.

As if she was walking down a path lined with ice, she could feel where the cool air was, where it had been strongest. It wasn't difficult to follow it down the corridor to the staircase leading down to the ground floor. The house was dark and silent, but she kept going. In the lounge there was a faint light from the embers in the fireplace. Just enough to see the silver locket laying on the stones of the hearth.

"What the..?"

Hermione was startled by the placement of the familiar piece of jewelry. How did it get there? She knew for a fact that it was usually kept inside a carved wooden box on the third shelf of the bookcase next to the fireplace. There was no way it would have just fallen there on its own. Absolutely none. Especially not perfectly laid out like it was just waiting to be found. Though it had been a near-constant part of her life for many years in the past, she hadn't even looked at it since the day she placed it inside the wooden box when it was finally returned to her. It was enough to know where it was. She didn't have to look at it every day. She couldn't look at it every day.


The soft unintelligible whisper behind her back startled her enough to spin completely around with her wand in her hand. Old habits died hard. Voldemort might be dead and so was Fenrir Greyback, but she was certain a part of her would always be on the alert for another attack as long as she lived. Seeing no one, she wasn't sure whether she should be relieved or more alarmed. As was determined when she was a young girl in second year, even in the wizarding world it wasn't a good sign when someone heard voices no one else could.

Another cool blast of air slammed into her back. Startled, but still oddly not afraid, she spun back around. Hermione nearly burst into tears when she saw the greyish-silver apparition standing, no, floating, above the silver locket. Looking every bit as he did the day she met him in The Magical Menagerie decades earlier, she would recognize her old friend and lover anywhere.


She always thought it should've been a sin for one person to be so handsome. Even merely an imprint of his former self, the ghost nearly took her breath away. Igor's cheeky, confident grin was contagious. Before she could even think to ask one of the dozens of questions swirling around in her brain, she had to smile. Unless she was very angry, she had never been able to keep from smiling when he did.

"Charodeyka, you are as beautiful as ever."

"And you are…" She sighed, her shoulders slumping. "…dead. Oh, Igor, I'm so sorry."

"There is nothing that you need to be sorry about. I am not dead because of you."

Seeing the silver locket still on the floor at his feet, she couldn't help but gesture to it. Of course she had to bear some responsibility in the manner in which he was killed.

"Greyback tracked you down to murder you because of that locket. I know he had to kill your sister first too. I'm so sorry that it was my fault that two members of your family were killed so close together."

After hearing the horrible tale of what happened to his older sister and then to him in retaliation for all of the years Greyback was unable to fulfill his goal because of her silver locket he hated so much, a knot of guilt settled into Hermione's stomach each time she thought back to the past. So much unnecessary destruction could be traced right back to her. Would she ever be able to forgive herself? Should she be able to forgive herself?

"I would've been killed regardless of whether or not Greyback did it. I was a marked man. Someone was going to kill me for what I did."

"But your sister…"

"Always had a taste for danger. Believe me, Sveta and I have already had many discussions about her poor choice in lovers since we were reunited. Apparently, she was nearly killed on a couple of other occasions and knew it would likely only be a matter of time before she invited the wrong one home."

The frustrated rolling of his eyes and his heavy sigh was all he needed to express his opinion on the matter. With Igor being closest to Svetlana than the rest of their five other sisters, Hermione was able to meet the fascinating Russian witch a few times in the past. A fierce and interesting woman, she felt sad that she had to get wrapped up in the dangerous drama related to Greyback's obsession with her and desire to make her his mate. How many other lives did the damned werewolf fuck up because he couldn't bear rejection? Just as she prepared herself for the influx of heavy guilt that always accompanied any thoughts about that monster, she focused on what he just revealed.

"Since you were reunited? You mean you and your sister are together… wherever you are?"

Igor smiled brightly again, the more difficult thoughts of his sister pushed away.

"Yes, we are. And our father is there and our sister Tatiana's little boy. We expect our mama to join us any day now."

"So you're not…" She gestured to the locket where his feet would be if he had need of them. "…trapped in…"

"Trapped in the locket?"

Not trusting her own voice, she could only nod. He smiled again. Each time he did he looked more and more like the wizard she'd known before he allowed his arm to be forever marked by Voldemort.

"No, I'm not trapped. A part of my soul has been inside that locket ever since I added my heart's blood and placed it around your pretty little neck."

"Not like a horcrux, right?"

His amused chuckles put to rest some of her darker fears. How she missed the sound and didn't even realize it! So many happy memories of her past included his laughter.

"Nothing like a horcrux. I died, didn't I?"

"Oh, of course."

"But a piece of me is there. I'm not trapped here like those poor souls who aren't ready to go on to the next life. If I try hard enough, I can go wherever the locket is for a short time."

Completely overwhelmed by all that she experienced since getting out of bed, Hermione sat down on the sofa. Was it possible she was still asleep and only dreaming? No, as soon as she had that thought she knew it couldn't be right. Ghosts were common enough in the wizarding world and she couldn't deny when she held the silver locket after it was returned to her, she could feel Igor.

"Have you… have you come to visit your locket before?"

"Only one other time. It takes a lot out of me so I can't do it very often."


"A year ago. I poked my head inside your bedroom and saw you sleeping safely in your auror's arms. I didn't stay long. It wasn't necessary once I knew you were safe."

Seeing his sad smile brought the tears to her eyes she'd been trying very hard to keep under control. She knew there was a part of him that desired nothing more than to be the wizard whose arms she found comfort and safety within. Once upon a time he was. Were his regrets still eating away at him even so many years later?

"I suppose I'm a little late to offer up my congratulations, Mrs. Shacklebolt. Or do I say 'best wishes' to the bride? I never can remember the custom."

"Thank you."

"Was it a grand affair? I'd imagine it must have been with the groom being the Minister for Magic and the beautiful bride being part of the Lestrange Family. All of their weddings have been grand affairs."

Hermione couldn't help but laugh at his assumption. Their wedding had been nearly as simple as Ted and Andromeda's had been so many decades earlier. The only main difference was instead of the Ministry, it took place in the main room of her father's pub. Though it was a place of frightfully awful memories, she was pleased that more good happened there than bad. She refused to allow it to be forever tainted. Her plans were to continue to make more and more wonderful memories there for as long as she could. Pointing to the silver frame on the mantel behind him, it wasn't long before Igor laughed too.

"Your Uncle Regnault will be very disappointed when I tell him you didn't take advantage of his immaculate gardens for the wedding of the decade."

"Oh, I'm well aware of how he will feel. Roddy and Rosie told me over and over again at great length what a disappointment my wedding would be to my uncle. But, you know, I'm not entirely sure any of you are right. I think Uncle Regnault cares only that I'm happy and in love with a good man."

"Perhaps you are right. You did seem to know him better than anyone else. I'll make certain he knows that you were the most beautiful bride I've ever seen even if you were standing inside a disreputable pub."

Igor turned to take another look at her wedding portrait. It had been a memorable day she would cherish for the rest of her life. After so much pain and loss, it had been wonderful to have a reason to celebrate with those she loved most. A wistful smiled crossed the wizard's lips and she worried what he was going to say next.

"I was such a fool to let you go. My greatest regret, even more so than choosing to follow the Dark Lord, was not realizing how much I loved you until it was too late."


"The promise I made to you that awful night when I said I would love you until I died? That wasn't entirely true. I continued loving you even after I died. In my last moments when I knew the pain wouldn't last much longer, all I thought of was you and how I hoped I would get to see you again soon."

"Oh, Igor."

She didn't know what to say. Each time he crossed her mind after Greyback cruelly taunted her about his vicious murder, she felt sick at the thought of how he suffered miserable and alone. Had she been able to provide him with at least a little bit of comfort? She hoped so.

"You were the love of my life, Charodeyka. I wish I'd realized that sooner."


"No, you don't have to say anything. I know the truth. I've always known. You were the great love of my life but I wasn't the great love of yours."

Tears freely rolled down her cheeks at his statement. There was nothing she could say to deny it.

"I wish that wasn't true. I wish I could've loved you the same way."

"No, no, please don't be sorry, Charodeyka. I'm glad I wasn't the love of your life. You have the chance to grow old with yours. I can't imagine anything better than that. If I was your great love, you would have to go on without me. Believe me when I say there is nothing more miserable than continuing to live when your great love is dead. I wouldn't wish that on even my worst enemy."

"I'm sorry you were alone."

"Don't be. I wasn't entirely on my own. Even thought I could be in love a couple of times. Almost got married once, but she deserved better than a man who couldn't offer her his whole heart."

A heavy silence fell over the room. What could she possibly say after that that hadn't already been said? Igor turned away from the mantel to look at her again.

"This auror of yours… was he really the wizard you wanted? Because I'll be candid when I say I never saw that lasting forever. Especially not after that horrible fight you two had."

"When he said something he didn't really mean when he was mad in an argument? Kingsley wasn't the only one in our relationship who could say cruel things when our tempers flared. If you knew all of the nasty things I said to him when I was mad and… and I had too much to drink, you would wonder why that kind, patient man put up with a vindictive shrew like me."


"Yes, well, I was hardly the perfect girlfriend and I fear that no matter how hard I try, I'm going to fail at being the perfect wife too."

"Perfection is boring."

His wink helped calm her down somewhat. It had been a struggle for her to come to terms with her own failings in the past. Being stuck in a timeframe when she knew every terrible awful event that was going to happen and being powerless to do anything to prevent it thanks to the damned mechanics of time had been harder to bear than she realized. Coping with the constant fear and trauma stemming from the attacks she'd endured had taken her down a bleak road where she knew she relied far too much on alcohol just to make it through the next moment. Hermione didn't like the person she became when she was drinking. At the beginning of the year she just ended, she made a promise to herself and to the patient man upstairs asleep that she would stop. It hadn't been easy and she'd relapsed a few times that embarrassed her down to the very bones, but she was trying. She never wanted to be the same horrible person who screamed insults at the people she loved most in the world.

"I know Kingsley and I don't always make perfect sense. Lots of people have told me that over the years, even Kingsie. I think a part of me has been at least a little bit in love with him since I was fifteen years old. I admired him and felt safe in his presence. It may sound strange, but I missed him when I was in the past. I missed the man I remembered from the future. I never realized that part of what I missed about him was how he changed during those years he thought I was dead, how hard and sad he grew. It makes me sad to know that I was the reason he had to endure so much loss and pain."

"No, Charodeyka, you weren't responsible for that. If Greyback hadn't attacked you and Thomas that day in Diagon Alley, would you have stayed?"

"Of course I would have. I never wanted to leave. I wanted to stay right there and then."

Her voice cracked and she had to cover her face with her hands. Tears she'd held inside for so long wouldn't stop coming. Hermione wished every single day that she could've stayed back in the seventies and spared all of her loved ones from the years of pain thinking that she was dead. When she imagined her Uncle Regnault sitting in front of that damned tapestry with a bottle in one hand staring at her name over and over, she thought her heart would shatter. Seeing how far her dad's pub had regressed to what it was before she ended up in his back room with a bump on her head was difficult too. So many of the people she loved were hurt by her absence. Some she would never see again. It made her long for nothing more than to return to the past to live it alongside them.

"You were given a second chance. Never feel guilty for that, Charodeyka. Live your second chance. Love your Minister with all that you have. Looks like he finally grew out of that awkward gangly stage he was in for so long."

A soft snort of laughter helped calm Hermione enough to smile again. How many times had she had the teasing argument with Igor that she had chosen a less handsome wizard when she was with Kingsley? Too many to count. Igor had been one of her best friends and she knew she would miss him every single day of her life.

"I'm afraid I can't stay much longer. I need to get back."

Hermione wasn't ready to say goodbye to him. What if he was never able to return?

"Are you… are you happy where you are, Igor?"

His bright smile lessened the knot that was forming in her stomach.

"Very. Some day, many years from now when your hair has turned silver and you have more wrinkles than you can count, I'll be proud to show you."

All she wanted to do was to wrap her arms around the wizard and hug him tightly. Knowing that all she would feel was a cold emptiness if she tried threatened to make Hermione cry more. It seemed so wrong for someone who had been so vibrant and full of life to just be nothing.

"Why did you come to me tonight, Igor?"

"I would think that was obvious, Charodeyka."

It wasn't. She didn't understand why he wouldn't have tried to come more than just the one time the year earlier. How difficult was it to leave wherever he spent his time to come to his locket?

"I made you a promise a long time ago that I would make certain you were never alone on New Years. As long as I am able, I'm going to keep it."

Gradually his silvery form disappeared until there was nothing left. Hermione stared at the space above the locket for a long time trying to decide if everything that happened was real or not. It was too easy to convince herself it wasn't. She didn't know how long she stayed down there just staring. Long enough for her body to grow cold and her eyes heavy. Deciding it was time to return to the warm bed upstairs, she picked up the locket to put it back inside the wooden box it belonged. The silver felt warm to the touch, a comforting reminder that Igor's visit wasn't all in her head.

She felt calmer and more at ease than she had since she returned to the present. Careful to keep her movements quiet, she climbed up the stairs and walked back to the bedroom. Her husband continued to sleep soundly, unaware that she'd even left. She removed her dressing gown and kicked off her slippers next to her side. When she pulled up the covers to slide back in, Kingsley turned his head to look over her shoulder. Evidently he was more aware than she gave him credit for.

"Where did you go? I thought I heard voices."

Hermione wrapped her arms around his back and kissed the side of his head.

"Go back to sleep, love. I'll tell you all about it in the morning."

Rarely one to argue about sleeping, Kingsley placed his hand over hers and laid his head back down. Both of them were asleep soon after.

January 1, 2001

2:05 am

Hermione sat on the sofa in front of the fireplace anxious to know if Igor would make another appearance. All year long as she waited for the new year to begin, she played the conversation she had with Igor over and over in her mind. The morning after his first visit, she relayed every detail she could remember to Kingsley. He had been interested to know what he missed while he slept upstairs.

"Are you sure that he will return this year? I don't know a lot about ghosts, but I would think that it takes a lot of energy to travel so far."

Her husband insisted on sitting next to her to wait for the guest that might not even show up. Worried at first that Kingsley would only be there because he was jealous or concerned that there was something inappropriate about her old boyfriend showing up after he was dead to visit, he put her mind to rest when he promised her that he only wanted to share a few words with Igor before he gave them privacy. Maybe it was the diamond ring she had on her finger or the fact that the two rivals for his witch's affections were both dead, but he had more self-confidence than he used to possess. Or perhaps it was simply because he'd gotten older and lived through two wars that could've killed him.

"I don't know for certain, Kingsie. I'm really just assuming he'll be here. He told me last year that he checked on me the New Year's before too. For all I know he could randomly show up next Tuesday."

"No, he made you a promise. He'll be here."

In an effort to calm her nerves, her husband reached over to take her free hand in his. The other held tightly to the locket she hadn't dared to remove from the wooden box for the past year. It meant a great deal to her that Kingsley was waiting with her. After a long night at his grandmother's Hogmanay party, they were both ready to slip beneath the sheets of their bed upstairs to celebrate the New Year alone before sleeping well into the next morning.

Almost as if he had been summoned purely by Kingsley's confident tone, the temperature in the immediate area dropped considerably. A silvery mist emerged from the middle of the locket. Still holding tightly to it, Hermione couldn't keep her eyes off. It only took a few seconds before Igor's full transparent form appeared in front of them. Surprised to see them waiting, he laughed.

"I didn't expect to see two Shacklebolts this evening, but I suppose I should use this opportunity to congratulate you on your beautiful bride, Kingsley."

"Thank you, Igor. It's honestly because of you that I was able to marry her. I didn't know how much you protected her until you were already gone. I wish I could shake your hand and properly thank you."

Igor seemed a little embarrassed by Kingsley's statement. Why, Hermione didn't know. He was responsible for keeping her alive or at least out of the dangerous clutches of the werewolf for years. Without the locket who could say for certain what would've happened to her? For all she knew, she would've been dead years earlier or at the very least, wished she was.

"There is no need to thank me for that. I assure you that I did everything for purely selfish reasons."

No one in the room believed him entirely, but all three smiled. At the very least it helped to ease some of the awkward tension that existed. No matter what the circumstances, it would likely be a little bit uncomfortable for a loving husband to know his wife's ex was going to be popping in for a visit in the middle of the night years after he died. Sometimes Hermione couldn't believe her life and the experiences she'd been able to have since learning she was a witch.

"I promised I wouldn't stay long. I just wanted to make sure that I finally had the chance to thank you for what you did. Of course, I wish I had known what was happening back then, but…"

Kingsley stopped himself before he could really get going. It was an argument they had had a few times since she returned to the present. For the rest of his life, Hermione knew that her husband would continue to wish that he had been involved or at least informed of what Greyback desired. She had some regrets that she would carry around with her forever, but keeping her headstrong, reckless Gryffindor away from the fearsome werewolf years before he was strong enough to defeat him on his own would never be one of them. Even though he understood why she didn't tell him anything, he would always wish the circumstances were different.

"Thank you, Igor."

The two men stared at each other for a couple of seconds without speaking. Needing only a nod from Igor to be satisfied that his point was made, Kingsley stood up from the sofa. With a promise that he would be waiting up for her but to take all of the time she needed, he started to leave the room.

"Wait, Kingsley. I almost forgot."

Before he was more than a couple of steps away from his wife, Kingsley turned back around to face his ghostly guest.

"Word got out that I was going to come here tonight. Your mother asked that I pass along a message to your father."

"My mum?"

"Yes, Katie can be quite insistent when she wants something. She's a marvelous woman. I've always admired her immensely."

No doubt part of what Igor admired about Kingsley's mother Qadira was the fact that she was a stunningly beautiful woman. Probably the most gorgeous woman Hermione had personally ever known, she couldn't help but feel inadequate sometimes when she compared herself to her late mother-in-law. Not only beautiful, Katie was kind too.

"She said to tell your father that she's happy for him, not angry. If she's angry about anything, it would be that he waited too long."

The corner of Kingsley's mouth curled up into a half-smile. For two years his father Dean had been cultivating a friendship with his ex-girlfriend Roxanne's mother. Though it hadn't progressed beyond friendship, Healer Johnson introduced Dean to her best friend and fellow Healer Elizabeth. Despite claiming on more than one occasion that he would never love another witch, Hermione's father-in-law found himself deeply in love with the charming Beth almost immediately. He had been embarrassed to admit so even as he also tried to figure out how he could go back on his promise to stay faithful to his beloved wife's memory for the rest of his life. His two sons were frustrated with him daily. Both of them wanted him to move on and find happiness.

"I will. Please tell Mum that I…" Kingsley's voice cracked with emotion. It seemed that no matter how many years passed he would still struggle with the loss of his mother. "…I miss her every day, but I'll make sure Dad stops being so damned stubborn. I'll have him marry Beth before this year is over if I have to drag him to the altar myself."

Once he had another nod from Igor promising that he would relay the message, Kingsley made his exit. No doubt it was a bit of a relief for him to have some time alone with his thoughts. Neither of them expected it would be possible for Igor to bring messages from their loved ones on the other side. Knowing that it was likely he had at least one message for her, Hermione grew nervous. What would he say?

There had only been one real loss that year. After countless losses just a couple of years earlier with the war, it had been a pleasant change to not have to worry about seeing the names of loved ones in the Daily Prophet each morning. Of course, while the one loss had certainly made her sad when she thought about the better days of the past, only poor Thomas truly struggled with his grief when his best friend Antonin's lifeless body was found in his Azkaban cell three months earlier. While she didn't think Igor would willingly bring a message from his old nemesis, strange things happened when people died.

"Your Uncle Regnault confirmed that you were absolutely right. He said he would have preferred that you have a grand wedding like Roddy's or Rabastan's on his estate, but he would've been just as happy for you to get married in a swamp if you were marrying Kingsley. He's very pleased and happy for you. Apparently, he's always been of the opinion that you would make a much better Mrs. Shacklebolt than a Mrs. Karkaroff, but that's not exactly a surprise."

Igor's dramatic sigh and eye roll might have made her laugh any other time. His jokes usually amused her and reminders of how much he was hated by her uncle in years gone by were hilarious. But, hearing the message from her uncle only reminded Hermione how much she missed him every single day. She covered her face with her hands to try to hide the tears. Would it get easier with time? She hoped so. If it somehow got worse, she didn't think she would make it.

"He's very proud of you, Charodeyka."

"Even though I haven't made much of myself since I came back?"

Though she rarely admitted it out loud to anyone, Hermione felt a little ashamed of the fact that she continued to live her simple life after she returned to the present. Before she was sent back in time and was Muggle-born Hermione Granger, she had a large number of plans for her future. Once she was out of Hogwarts she would go straight to the Ministry of Magic to begin making really important changes that would better their world forever. Everything changed when she became Hermione Dumbledore and she no longer had to prove that she was worthy to be a witch. The thought of having to return to the same mindset she had as Hermione Granger just because she was in her correct timeline again was exhausting.

"Why would you say that about yourself?"

"Because I've done nothing important. Nothing like I said I would do when I was young. I just do what I did in the past. I help Dad out in his pub and sometimes I help Roddy with the new owls in his shop. Neither of these things are changing the world."

"You help your elderly father run the family business. You help your cousin who spent far too many years wrongfully imprisoned while he is rebuilding his life. You take care of your husband and keep a warm, relaxing home for him to come back to after a stressful day of being the Minister for Magic. My dear, how can you say you've done nothing important?"

She didn't know how to respond. It never felt like she did enough. Sometimes she knew that her old friends from Hogwarts looked at her like she was a complete stranger when she mentioned being content to live a simple, quiet life. Where was the witch who was so convinced that the house-elves all needed to be freed? Or who wanted to overturn all of the werewolf restrictions and get rid of the pro-Pureblood laws? Hadn't she once claimed she wanted to be the Minister for Magic? How could she sit back and be happy simply being married to the Minister? It wasn't like her at all.

And it really wasn't. Hermione would be the first one to admit that she changed. Just as Kingsley assured her the night he proposed in bed two years earlier, eventually she was able to mend her friendship with Harry and Ron. Different in so many ways than it had been before she disappeared, there was still enough familiarity in it that she was happy. They often teased her about her seeming lack of ambition. How could she explain to them, two wizards who had never once been accused of stealing magic or of not really belonging in their world, that after learning what it felt like to not have to prove herself, she just simply didn't want to do it again?

"I know about everything you did to help bring down the Dark Lord, Charodeyka. For that alone, you've done more than most will do in their entire lives. You should sit back and enjoy your life. Stop thinking you have to do more. As much as you might wish you were, you aren't superhuman. You're just an ordinary witch."


Despite the serious nature of the conversation, Hermione couldn't keep from smiling. Neither could Igor.

"No, you're right. There's nothing ordinary about you at all, is there, Charodeyka?"

A silence fell between them that neither quite knew how to breach. Was there more that he wanted to say on that subject? If he wanted only to return long enough to make sure she wasn't alone on New Years, he would've already completed that task within the first moment of seeing Kingsley seated next to her. Igor seemed to be holding something back. She worried it was another message, one that might be harder to hear than the one she heard from her uncle.

"Like I told your auror, when word got out I was coming back, there were several who approached me to ask that I pass along a message. I'm not sure that…"

"Is he there too?"

Igor sighed. There was no reason to ask her to clarify just who he was. They both knew.

"He is. The after-life is strange. You would think that after all of the horrible things he did in life that he would be sent somewhere quite warm in death, but I suppose many of those terrible nights I was right alongside him doing exactly what he did. Maybe I should be somewhere quite warm too."

"What did he want to tell me?"

"It was to you and Thomas. He wants to apologize and beg your forgiveness for… well, for everything really. He didn't elaborate and I didn't ask."

Hermione chose to forgive Antonin years earlier. It was difficult and a process that sometimes she still had to repeat from time to time when she was hit with a particular difficult memory of his betrayal. There was so much about the wizard she once loved that had been good and admirable. Never would it fail to break her heart to know what a wasted life he led. He had so many opportunities and chances to be a good man and chose poorly every single time. It was a tragedy that would never cease to make her sad.

"I suppose Tommy will be relieved to hear that he's not… somewhere quite warm."

"And does it relieve you too?"

"Perhaps a little. He wasn't all bad. You know that too even if you want to try to deny it. There were parts of him that were good. He just made bad choices."

Neither of them wanted to continue to waste any of the limited time that Igor had on Antonin. The less said, the better. There would always be sorrow and regrets where he was concerned. What was the point on dwelling on what could never be changed?

"I shouldn't stay much longer. I feel myself getting weaker. I'd hate to disappear in the middle of a sentence."

"Thank you, Igor."

"Happy New Year, Charodeyka."

Moments later he faded away again. Overcome with emotion just as she was the year before, Hermione burst into tears. Not wanting her husband to see her upset, she waited until the last one fell before wiping her face and climbing the stairs.

January 1, 2006

1:47 am

The last of the party guests exited the front door of Marjorie's… no, Thomas' house just a few minutes before two. No longer forced to play the part of the perfect hostess, she kicked off her shoes into a corner of the messy kitchen. Her brother-in-law wouldn't care if the dishes from the annual Hogmanay party were left overnight to be dealt with in the morning, but she did. At the very least it gave her something to keep herself occupied with while her husband and his older brother completed the tradition of being the First Footer for most of the village. By the time they returned to the house, both of them would likely be far too intoxicated to do much of anything other than collapse into bed. Never one to say 'no' to a glass of whiskey that was generally offered in compensation by their neighbors for their part in ensuring the good fortunes of the inhabitants for the next year, both of them would be nursing serious hangovers through most of the next day.

"I think these are the last of the glasses unless someone has decided to hide them underneath the furniture."

Hermione looked up from the sink to offer her cousin Rodolphus a grateful smile. At least a dozen dirty glasses levitated in the air in front of him. When the Shacklebolt brothers ventured out in the snow to complete the annual tradition, he insisted on staying behind to keep her company. She didn't mind. As their respective lives had grown more busy with the passing of time, she felt like she didn't get to see as much of her cousin as she would like to. That was the reason why she still continued to insist on being present for every single shipment of new owls in his shop despite his son Jack being perfectly capable of settling the new creatures in. She needed the excuse.

"You were kind to stay back, Roddy, but it's not necessary. Are you sure Mafalda didn't mind taking the girls back on her own?"

"Of course not. She knew that this was likely to be a difficult night. It was her suggestion that I stay, but I would've done it anyway."

Tears welled up in Hermione's eyes at the reminder of the significance of the night. For the first time, Marjorie Shafiq wasn't there to host her Hogmanay party. Everyone knew that it would only be a matter of time before the elderly witch decided she was done with being amongst the living to cross through the Veil to be with her beloved husband Masud and her only daughter Katie. When she passed away earlier that year, the family had been as ready as it was possible to be. Each of them still struggled with missing the matriarch of their family. Sometimes when Hermione thought that she was likely to be expected to step in to fill up Marjorie's shoes in some way, she grew nervous. How could anyone replace that remarkable woman?

"And Jack promised to tear himself away from his Miss Pewsey long enough to make sure his mother and his two little sisters made it back to the manor safely."

"I saw the way they were looking at each other at midnight, Roddy. You might need to prepare yourself to become a grandfather before too much longer."

Though he knew he should encourage his only son to take his time before settling down, the pleased grin that crossed Rodolphus' face at the thought of his family growing even larger couldn't be missed. Yes, if he heard a grandchild was on its way, he would be in danger of busting the seams of his robes he'd be so elated. Hermione never grew tired of visiting the once-cold Lestrange Estate to hear the laughter that filled its corners and rooms. It only made her sad when she thought about the people who should have been there that weren't. Of course considering the fact that she had to physically stop her cousin from casting the purity charms that she so hated on his twin daughters' beds, maybe there was more Regnault in Rodolphus than anyone ever suspected. Even though they were only seven years old, he was prepared for the trying years ahead.

"Jack confided in me that he's going to ask her to marry him soon. Maybe he will let me plan the grand wedding you should've had, my dear."

Hermione smiled. Yes, each passing day he became more like his father in all of the best ways possible. Mostly. At the very least she knew that if her Uncle Regnault had been fortunate enough to still be alive, he would be more proud of his son than in years past.

"I wish you luck on that, Roddy. I was perfectly happy with my simple ceremony and wouldn't change it for anything."

"If Father had been alive, you wouldn't have had a choice."

"You're right and I would have begrudgingly loved every moment of him bullying me into getting his way."

She returned her attention back to the sink that was stacked with dirty plates. A few spells set them to washing themselves. Some aspects of magic would never cease to amaze and delight her no matter how long she was a witch.

"Do you think he will come again this year?"

The weight of the silver locket hanging around her neck seemed heavier when Rodolphus asked his question. Unsure how long she might be at Thomas' house following the party, Hermione didn't want to risk missing Igor. It had become a tradition to see him. Even in death he took his promises seriously.

"He hasn't missed a year yet. I imagine he will make his presence known soon."

"Does it not..?"

Rodolphus stopped himself before he completed his question. Curious to know what he was going to ask, Hermione turned away to meet her cousin face to face. Since they returned to each other's lives they had stopped keeping any secrets. She wasn't going to let that change.

"Does it not what?"

"Does it not bother Kingsley that your old boyfriend drops by in the middle of the night to check on you once a year?"

She had to smile. Of course it was a bizarre situation she'd found herself in. Only three other people alive knew that she had a yearly visitor: Kingsley, Thomas, and Rodolphus. It was a bit odd which was why she didn't advertise his visits to just anyone.

"Kingsley appreciates Igor, if you can believe it. Once he understood the significance of the locket and how much Igor did to keep me protected when I was vulnerable, he's never been anything but grateful for him. Kingsie doesn't struggle with his jealousy like he did when he was younger. He grew up."

"I suppose it also doesn't hurt matters that as a ghost, he doesn't have to worry about Igor trying to seduce you again."

They both chuckled. If there was a way that a ghost could seduce a living person that Igor was aware of, it would have already happened. She hoped he wasn't spending the majority of the year researching how that might be possible. Igor was tenacious. Though she wouldn't fall for the ghostly seduction, she couldn't deny that it might be a tiny bit tempting.

"Yes, you're right. If Igor was alive and in the flesh, I highly doubt my husband would appreciate the visits. I think history would be repeating itself with a slight change in the cast of characters."

"You picked the best one. You realize that don't you, cousin?"

"I do. I've always known Kingsie was it for me even when it seemed like I forgot there for a bit."

"We can't help the ones we love, can we? Life might be a lot easier if we could."

A comfortable silence fell between them again as they moved around the room casting charms and spells to clean up the mess. It never failed since the first time she saw Igor six years earlier that she was nervous as she waited. What if that was the year he failed to show up? Would that mean something was wrong? To calm her nerves, Hermione closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

The sound of a glass crashing to the hardwood floor and smashing into a hundred pieces startled her out of her thoughts. Feeling the chill in the air, Hermione turned around to see Rodolphus staring with wide, unblinking eyes at the smirking specter of one of his best friends.

"Roddy, you got fat."

Igor's teasing insult helped to break the tension. All three started to chuckle. While he wasn't fat, Rodolphus had certainly been living a comfortable life since he was released from prison into the loving arms of his wonderful wife. More likely to prefer a cup of hot tea in front of the fireplace after dinner to aid digestion than to insist everyone in the house march around the gardens, he wasn't as fit and trim as his own father had been at his age. It only proved, in Hermione's opinion, that the man finally was living the happy life he deserved.

"And you got pale, Igor."

"Unfortunate side effect of dying, I'm afraid. I don't always look like this. When I'm back where I came from, I look perfectly healthy."

"It's marvelous to see you again, old friend."

Hermione felt like an intruder while the two old friends stood only steps away unsure what to say to the other. Their friendship hadn't always been easy and especially in the years following her disappearance, it had grown tense. She knew that they could spend an entire day doing nothing but speaking to each other and still not have completely cleared the air. History could be difficult.

"I know you're here to see Hermione, so I'll just pop into the next room to give you some privacy."

"Roddy, wait."

The wizard wasn't even one foot out the kitchen door before Igor's pleading stopped him. Nervous and overcome with emotion that he no doubt was saving to express alone in the next room, Rodolphus turned back around.

"Caradoc says that he knows you're still trying to figure out what happened to him."

Hearing Igor confirm that his other best friend was dead despite him knowing it already in his heart, Rodolphus' shoulders slumped. Big tears filled his eyes. Hermione could feel a choking in her throat where she tried to keep her own emotions under control. Thinking about the funny wizard and his loss never failed to make her sad. There was too much unnecessary tragedy in their pasts.

"He's ashamed of what happened and he doesn't want you to think poorly of him. He wants you to know that he's at peace now. There's no reason for you to keep searching for answers. Some day he'll tell you himself."

No one knew what happened to Caradoc in the last days of the first wizarding war. All they knew was one day he was there and the next day he wasn't. Lots of people disappeared with no trace or clue of their fates. Rodolphus nodded his head, desperately trying to keep it together.

"Thank you, Igor. I… thank you."

Without waiting for a response, Rodolphus rushed out of the kitchen. No doubt he was off to an empty bedroom or bathroom to give in to the tears he was trying to hold back. Hermione watched him leave, wishing she could offer him some sort of comfort, but knowing it was best that he be left alone for the moment. Later when he was calmer they could sit down and talk about their old friend and dissect what his message might have meant. Why would he think Rodolphus would be ashamed of what happened to him? She didn't have the first clue and one look at Igor's face told her that he wasn't about to break Caradoc's confidence to enlighten them about his death.

"You're wearing the locket again."

Igor's voice was a whisper. Alone again, Hermione felt awkward under his intense scrutiny. It had been a last-minute decision to put the locket back around her neck before she left her own house for the party. While she could've easily just carried it around in her pocket waiting for him to find her, she couldn't deny that it felt nice to feel where it used to hang. Even though it represented pain and danger and a part of her life that wasn't always happy, it also was a physical reminder that she was loved by many wonderful people.

"It's a beautiful locket. I've always thought so. While I can't promise that I will wear it often, it felt wrong to just leave it in that box. And… and well, it feels like at least when I'm wearing it that I still have a piece of you."

"You will always own a piece of me, Charodeyka."

His visit lasted a little longer than the year before. It seemed that with each trip he made he was getting just a tiny bit stronger. No visit would ever be long enough to say all that they wanted to say. When his silvery form disappeared, Hermione wiped the tears from her eyes and went to check on her cousin.

January 1, 2011

2:07 am

The gentle rocking of the chair was nearly enough to put Hermione to sleep too. She was exhausted. There was always so much that needed to be planned and put together for the Hogmanay party that Thomas insisted he would keep throwing every year for as long as he was able. While his sister-in-law and best friend was glad to help him out, she was always glad when the party was finally over. She claimed she could sleep through the entire first week of every year just recovering. Thomas' new wife was willing and eager to help shoulder some of the burdens, but giving up control had always been difficult for Hermione. Besides, she didn't often agree with the choices that the newest Mrs. Shacklebolt made when it came to entertaining and decor. Some day she knew she would have to fully step back. She just wasn't ready to yet.

"You have been working too hard, Charodeyka. I can tell by your eyes."

Hermione started to snort out a laugh, but quickly suppressed it as much as she could. Looking up she could see Igor staring down at her with a bright smile. How had she missed his appearance? Maybe she was more exhausted than she realized.

"No, Igor, my eyes just look like this because I'm getting old."

"Psshh, impossible. You still look as beautiful as the day you walked into the Magical Menagerie and I forgot how to breathe."

She did allow a soft snort that time. Even in death Igor was full of pretty words that he didn't mean but never failed to make her laugh.

"You knew how to breathe just fine, thank you. Don't try to pretend you fell in love with me at first sight. That wasn't love. It was lust."

"You're right. I can't deny that. One look at you and I wanted to push you up against a wall. Even a goat pen would've been fine."

"You're still an incorrigible pervert. You really shouldn't speak to an old, respectable married lady like that. Especially not the Minister's wife."

"So your auror is still important?"

If Igor stopped teasing her about Kingsley, she knew that would be serious. He had been doing it for as long as she'd known him, dead or alive. Hermione just smiled. No one was prouder of her husband than she was.

"He's always been important, Igor, but if you're asking if he's still important in our government too, then yes. He is."

"Too important to spend time with his beautiful wife? Is he aware that you're alone in the middle of the night with a much younger wizard?"

He gestured to the bundle of blankets she held in her arms with another of his cheeky grins. Her tiny nephew hadn't been feeling well and she jumped at the chance to sit up with him knowing that she wouldn't be going to bed early that night. Any time she could help his exhausted parents get some rest, she was glad to.

"Oh, Kingsie knows all about this little wizard and how crazy in love with him I am. We often fight over who gets to hold him. He would be pushing me out of this rocking chair if I didn't force him to go home to bed after the party. The silly man works too hard and has a cold."

"You should be in bed too. Where are the parents of this charming little wizard?"

"Down the corridor asleep. Or at least they should be. They haven't had a decent night's sleep for weeks and I thought I could help them tonight, but knowing Tommy and Luna, they're just using this time to make him a little brother."

"And would that be so terrible?"

She had to smile again.

"No, it wouldn't. I want this house to be filled with children. Tell my Uncle Regnault when you see him next that I finally understand his desire to see me married off with a family of my own. The more nieces and nephews I have, the better."

"Perhaps if I hadn't been a fool, we could've married and had our own little ones before…"

Igor stopped himself before he finished his thought. There was no need to continue. She knew what he referred to. No matter how many years passed there would always be a touch of bitterness in her heart that she had been denied the children so many others took for granted. The universe could be cruel and unfair. Why were there parents out there who had more children than they wanted or could love while there were other couples who dreamed in vain of having just one? Wherever Tom Riddle's blackened soul ended up in death, she hoped he burned in agony for what he did.

"We shouldn't even think like that, Igor. There's no point."

"I hate him most of all for what he did to you. It doesn't matter what he did to me, I chose him even if I didn't know what I was really doing. But to know that you… fuck, my darling, I wish… I wish I could go back in time and keep that evil bastard away from you."

It was a sentiment she had heard over the years from more than one man in her life who loved her. Not only her husband, but the other men in her family who knew the secret of the dark magic spell that had been cast on her each wished they could have protected her better. As difficult as it was to relive and remember, Hermione was glad none of them were able to. The loss of the hope of children wasn't as bad, in her view, as losing one of them to Voldemort. She could have a full life without being a mother, but each one of them would've left a hole in her heart she couldn't have filled.

"My life hasn't been tragically empty just because I haven't had a child of my own, Igor. There are still many children that I love and adore. This little man, for example. And Roddy's children and grandchildren. I love Dean and Seamus' two little ones as if they were my own. And Harry and Ron both have children now too."

"But it's not the same."

She sighed, wishing the tears that were gathering in her tired eyes would go away. How many times would she cry about the exact same thing? It was maddening.

"No, it's not."

What else could she do but agree? It wasn't. As much as she loved all of the wonderful children in her growing family, she still felt cheated. If she felt that way, she knew Kingsley must too. Of course he would never say so out loud. Not since that awful fight in their kitchen months before she disappeared in time. He swore a thousand times since that day that he didn't mean the hateful words that came out of his mouth in a fit of anger and frustration, but sometimes she wondered to herself if that was true. She certainly didn't feel like she was enough for her husband at times. Maybe he did too.

"This time of year is always hard for me. I think about my… you know I often dream about a little boy that looks just like Kingsie? Except in the eyes. His eyes are just like mine. I dream about him and when I wake up my heart hurts so much I can barely breathe."

"Oh, Charodeyka…"

"But I don't suppose he would be a little boy anymore, would he? He'd be a grown man likely with a family of his own already. I could be a grandmother. I should be a grandmother."

Tears rolled freely down her cheeks and she hated every single one of them. Usually she was more capable of keeping her emotions tamped down when she was in front of others. It was a skill she had to learn the hard way. For whatever reason, maybe it was because of the precious baby she held in her arms, but that year had been harder than all of the others since she lost her first and only pregnancy.

"I love my nieces and nephews, but sometimes I get so jealous that I feel like I'm being choked."

"That's completely understandable."

"I'm sorry, Igor. I didn't mean to make your visit so sad. I can't talk to Kingsley about this. If I try… he only blames himself because he was the one that sent me back in time."

"You need never apologize to me, Charodeyka. Never."

Aware that even her ghostly visitor had tears on his cheeks, Hermione resolved to be a more cheery hostess for the remainder of their too-short time together. It seemed silly to waste another precious moment crying over the past that couldn't change.

January 1, 2019

1:50 am

After a careful kiss to her sleeping husband's cheek, Hermione crawled out of bed. For a man in his mid-sixties, he was still able to surprise her with how physical he could still be. If she peeked in one of the drawers in the bathroom to find an empty vial of a special stamina potion, she wouldn't be shocked. No, she would more than happy to purchase an entire case if it meant her toes could keep curling up like they had soon after they returned from his brother's Hogmanay party.

Kingsley might have been exhausted, but her brain wouldn't shut itself off. Once she was wrapped up in a heavy dressing gown, she descended the staircase to wait for her annual visitor to make his appearance again. Nineteen years, twenty if she counted the year she didn't know he was there, Igor had never failed to appear. It had become such a tradition that she looked forward to seeing his silvery form even as it continued to make her sad for all the potential that was lost.

"Happy New Year, Charodeyka."

She hadn't even made it to the bottom of the staircase before she saw her old friend and lover. Seeing him looking as he did in his prime never failed to make her smile. Even as the face that looked back at her in the mirror turned into a stranger's, he never changed.

"Happy New Year, Igor."

"Is the Minister not joining you this time?"

"No, he's not. He wished to pass along his greetings, but Kingsie is exhausted and unable to keep his eyes open."

"I take it he has been enjoying the pleasures of the flesh this evening? Good man."

His cheeky remark earned him an embarrassed grin. Hermione's cheeks flushed pink, a fact that made her feel like a silly schoolgirl instead of the nearly fifty year old woman she was.

"He stepped down as the Minister, you know. He said that twenty years was long enough for any one person to do that job."

"And are you pleased with that decision?"

"Ecstatic. He was working too hard. I worry about him. If he takes after his father…"

Before she said another word, she stopped herself. It was an old argument. Big Dean Shacklebolt (they never quite found a better name to distinguish him from his grandson Little Dean) refused to take any of the advice that his second wife the Healer offered him about his own health. Unfortunately, the heart problems that affected so many of the Shacklebolts didn't pass Big Dean by. Though it had been over two years since he passed, it still felt like only yesterday they were standing next to his bed at St. Mungo's telling him goodbye. She begged and pleaded Kingsley to take better care of himself. Hopefully, a relaxing retirement was all he needed to return to the very picture of health.

"Igor, I know you're not a messenger…"

"No, Charodyeka. It's all right. I expected you to ask me about him tonight."

Both Kingsley and Hermione lost their dads within the same two year span. After Dean died, it was a little over a year before Aberforth did too. She had been heartbroken, unable to get out of bed for days. Even though he lived well over a hundred years and she was fortunate to have thirty years with him as her dad, it would never be enough.

"Aberforth wanted you to know that you made the right decision. Not just for Pomona but for yourself as well."

A sob came out of her that she quickly tried to stifle. Perhaps the hardest part of losing her dad was knowing what to do with the pub he left behind. So many wonderful memories had taken place in that dingy building, but there were awful ones too that she would have been glad to forget. The decision to sell the pub had been difficult. Thanks to her still legally being a Lestrange and her cousin who refused as the Head of the family to change that status, Hermione had more money than she knew what to do with. Not needing a single knut from the proceeds of the sale of the pub, she was able to help her stepmother find a charming cottage in Hogsmeade. When Professor Pomona Sprout-Dumbledore was ready to finally retire, she would never have to worry about where she ended up. The day Kingsley and Hermione helped Pomona move her belongings out of the pub into the cottage, her stepson-in-law asked the innocent question about whether or not they intended to build a new goat pen in the back garden.

"Oh, dearie, I think I'm far too old for that, don't you?"

Pomona caught her stepdaughter's eye to wink. Both women erupted into a fit of giggles that Kingsley still didn't understand. Some topics were better left unexplained.

"He also wanted to thank you for watching after his 'Mona'."

"Why would I not? I've come to love her like a mother. As long as she's alive, she'll want for nothing. If something happens to me or to Kingsley, I've almost lost count the number of nieces and nephews I have that would be glad to step in for their Aunt Moanie."

"You really have created a remarkable family for yourself, haven't you?"

Igor's smile made her cheeks burn again. Sensing she was at a loss for what to say next, he continued.

"I don't think you truly understand how loved you are, Charodeyka. The number of people who come up to me to ask after you when I return each year would surprise you. Many, many decades from now when you're ready for me to bring you back with me, you will be surprised by how many souls whose lives you touched will be waiting to greet you."

January 1, 2041

2:07 am

The door to the spare bedroom down the corridor from hers and Kingsley's was left open a crack. Given clear instructions that he was to be available for his aunt if she had the slightest need that night, Pan Shacklebolt was certain he would be alert enough to hear from the comfortable guest bed if he only left the door slightly open. Perhaps any other night he might have been correct, but considering the fact he allowed his older brother to keep pouring him glass after glass of fire whiskey to celebrate the New Year at their parents' Hogmanay party hours earlier, he wouldn't have been able to hear a train pass through his borrowed bedroom. So much like his Uncle Kingsie, Hermione had to chuckle to herself as she peeked her head into the guest room to check on the one who was supposedly there to check up on her.

"Have you finally left your husband the esteemed former Minister for Magic to run off with a much younger man, Charodeyka?"

Still laughing softly, Hermione verified one more time that Pan was comfortably sleeping before carefully closing the bedroom door. She was in her seventies but she wasn't an invalid. Why certain members of her family, namely her overprotective brother-in-law insisted on treating her that way, she would never know. Once she flew on the back of a dragon and fought Death Eaters. She could spend one night alone in her own home while her husband recovered in St. Mungo's.

"Some days I'm tempted to run off, Igor, but what handsome young wizard would want an old witch like me?"

"You keep telling me you're old and yet, I can't see it."

"Then your eyes must not work so well in the after-life. Look at my face and tell me you can't see my wrinkles."

Igor made a dramatic show of floating closer to her face. For several seconds he stared intently at every square centimeter of skin.

"Nope. You're still beautiful. I think any young wizard would count themselves lucky to run away with you. Do you still do that thing where you..?"

"Igor! I can't even get on my knees without needing at least three people helping me back up to my feet, so no, I can safely say that I cannot still do that."

His cheeky grin made her feel fifty years younger. Vivid memories of days spent in Diagon Alley entirely in bed flashed through her memory. Maybe it was wrong to think such thoughts when she was her age and still quite happily married, but she couldn't help it. With the ability to return to those idyllic days, in her young body of course, even for just a few hours, she wouldn't hesitate. Some days it felt like all of the best days in her life were behind her instead of ahead. It was a sad feeling, one that she never really understood until she reached a certain age.

"Where's your auror?"

"St. Mungo's, I'm afraid. He had a…"

Hermione forced herself to take a deep breath. Despite having explained the current issue with her husband over a dozen times recently without having any sort of emotional break, somehow being open and honest with Igor was different altogether. Tears she'd been so careful to keep to herself threatened to overpower her. She knew that if Igor possessed a corporeal form, he would wrap his arms around her to comfort her and she would lose it entirely.

"Kingsie had a procedure on his heart. Last week he was feeling a little dizzy during Christmas brunch and he… well, he fainted. The Healers say he will make a full recovery and there's no reason to worry that…"

Unable to continue, Hermione covered her face with her hands and sobbed all of the tears she had been trying to keep to herself. Even just feeling Igor's cool presence reminded her that she wasn't entirely alone. She didn't want to imagine the moment that would one day come where she had to say goodbye to her husband of over forty years. It was too hard to imagine waking up to a bed where Kingsley wasn't snoring next to her.

"I'm very sorry you're going through this, Charodeyka. I know how much you love him."

"You must think me terribly selfish. He had to live eighteen years without me thinking I was dead and I can't even bear to think about a second without him. Not to mention that you would've given anything to be able to…"

"Shh, Hermione. Shh. It's all right. You don't ever have to apologize to me. How many times have I told you that over the years I've come to visit you?"

"A lot."

"And I've meant it each and every single time. If you weren't saddened by the thought of losing your husband, you wouldn't be the same loving, caring person I've known you were all along."

His words helped calm her. Maybe he was right. With every other person in her life, she was able to keep up a strong face. Her nieces and nephews and in-laws needed her to be strong, so she was. No one wanted to imagine what life would be like without their funny Uncle Kingsie with the big, booming laugh. She had to be the strength and it was exhausting.

"Don't worry about how many moments you have left with him. Just make certain that every single one you have is better than the one before."

January 1, 2052

1:37 am

For the nearly eleven years that Hermione had remaining with her husband, she tried to follow the advice that Igor gave her New Year's when she was so scared and unsure how she would be able to move on alone. Kingsley made a full recovery, just as the Healers assured his worried wife he would. They made the most of their retirement, mostly traveling between the various homes of their scattered nieces and nephews and grand-nieces and grand-nephews to make certain that everyone was eating enough and taking advantage of all of the opportunities afforded them in a peaceful world that hadn't been rocked by another Dark Lord with ambitions to take over everything.

In the fifty-first year of her marriage, there came a day when Kingsley smiled at his wife, told her he was the luckiest man to ever live, closed his eyes, and never opened them again. Hermione was grateful that she hadn't been alone. When her husband reached a certain point in his illness and the stairs were difficult to climb in their home, Tommy and Luna insisted they move into the ground floor of their home in Hogsmeade. As much as she missed the home she spent so many wonderful years in with Kingsley, it had become a burden. She was glad to hand it over to Pan and his lovely bride for safekeeping. Though she said repeatedly that she would one day move back in it, part of her knew that was never going to happen. Living in her home without Kingsley was never going to be bearable.

She felt the temperature drop down in her bedroom, a clear indication that her old friend was once again there to make certain she wasn't spending the evening alone. It amazed her to consider the very true fact that since the night she was attacked in her father's pub by Greyback so many years earlier, she had never been alone. Igor's promise was taken seriously by everyone who knew it existed. Even if they didn't know the details why Hermione needed to have company that night, there were plenty of loved ones who were always willing to volunteer, especially after her beloved Kingsie left.

"Hello again, Igor."

"Charodeyka, you are as ravishing as ever."

Hermione carefully sat up in bed to look her old friend in the face. Nothing about him would ever change, she'd decided long ago. No matter how old she grew or how white her hair became, he would still make those same remarks like he was the same horny, young wizard desperate for a shag up against a goat pen. It was a trait that she admired and looked forward to every year.

"Marjorie Shafiq once warned me about wizards like you. 'Always beware a wizard that sounds just as good as he looks. Somewhere there's a flaw.' What's your flaw, Igor?"

"I would think you would've already figured that out. When I love, I love with my whole heart."

"That's not a flaw."

"It is if the one who you love doesn't feel the same way."

He may have said it with a smile, but she knew there was still a tiny amount of pain at least still in there. It grieved her that she was the love of his life. What a terrible waste! Hermione knew very well how wonderful it was to be loved and love in return the one person destiny determined was the best match. Why couldn't Igor have found the same?

"This seems a terrible time to ask…"

"But you want to know if your husband is content and happy where he is?"

Unable to trust she could form coherent words in response, Hermione simply nodded. Worried at first that Igor might be offended, she relaxed when he smiled again. Why couldn't he have smiled half as much when he was alive? It was such a waste.

"Kingsley is very content and happy. He's surrounded by many loved ones."

"Can he… I mean, you are able to come visit when you try hard enough. Do you think that he…?"

"No, Charodeyka. I'm sorry, but he can't. I'm able to visit because a part of my soul is in that locket around your neck. Your husband lived a good, full life and though he misses you greatly, he has nothing holding him back here. When you are ready to meet him, he will be waiting."

Somehow she knew that was going to be the answer she got when she asked the question. It brought her a great measure of joy even as it still made her sad. All she wanted to offer her husband was a lifetime so filled with joy that he wouldn't leave with regrets. If she was able to help him accomplish that enough that he didn't have any unfinished business and was ready to move on to the next life, she had been a success, right? She hoped so.

"Now, we are going to discuss in depth what your plans are for life now that you no longer have to worry about caring for a sick wizard who whines far too much."

"I never said that."

"Oh, but you did. Just last year. You told me that Kingsley might be nearing one hundred years of age, but he could be a right obnoxious baby when he didn't get his way."

She had to smile. Of course he had to quote her directly. Even in his advanced years, her husband never did learn how to be sick and not annoy her at the same time. Whether that was a Kingsley specialty or a trait shared by all men throughout history, she still wasn't sure.

"You still have many happy years ahead of you, Charodeyka. Have you considered taking a much younger lover?"

Igor always knew exactly what to say to make her laugh until tears rolled out of her eyes.

January 1, 2080

1:43 am

Every single part of Hermione's body ached. Never, not in the one hundred and ten years or so that she'd been alive in both the past and her correct timeline, had she been aware that it was possible for her toes to ache. Was that a sign that she was nearing the end? It seemed likely.

She knew that she didn't have much time left. For once, the thought didn't make her sad. Death was just the next great adventure after all, according to her Uncle Albus. They might not have seen eye to eye much when she lived in the past, but he sometimes had a bit of wisdom she agreed with. Living any sort of life always left a person with at least a handful of regrets. If she could go back and change them, she knew she wouldn't. They had gotten her to the point where she was content. Perhaps she hadn't changed the world like the young, idealistic Muggle-born expected she would. She had, however, changed the individual lives of countless people who came in and out of her life. Igor claimed there would be a large number of people waiting for her when he came to take her to the next world. No longer did she doubt he was telling her the truth.

"If you get any more beautiful, Charodeyka, I don't think my poor eyes will be able to look at you long."

Hermione chuckled, ignoring the quiet wheezing that came out of her lungs when she tried. How many years had he been visiting her? Over eighty? Between those years and the ones she knew him when he was in the flesh, he never changed. Still full of it and she loved it.

"You always did know how to charm the knickers off a girl, didn't you, Igor?"

"It was one of my many talents."

"Oh, I remember fondly. Remember that time that you…"

A loud scoff coming from the chair next to Hermione's bed made her laugh even harder. For a moment there she forgot that Tommy promised to sit up with her while they waited for Igor. Apparently, he had a few words he wanted to exchange with her old friend.

"Hermione, love, my darling sister, how many times must I tell you that hearing any details about any of your sexual escapades from your youth just turns my stomach?"

"You've always been jealous of my life, Tommy."

"No one would blame you for that, Thomas. She has led an interesting life. I can vouch for that and I was only present for a few short years of it."

Unimpressed, Thomas merely rolled his eyes. He had nearly one hundred years of experience putting up with his best friend. Some days it made Hermione smile to think about the similarities that existed between her and Tommy and his grandmother Marjorie and her dad Aberforth. History really did repeat itself from time to time.

"I'll have you both remember that I kissed her once and it wasn't anything special."

Thinking about the moment Hermione chose to kiss Tommy instead of his brother or best friend just to make them annoyed in the Shrieking Shack never failed to make her smile. Those were perhaps the most innocent days they'd shared together. She wouldn't have minded being able to relive them again knowing she needed to savor every second.

"Karkaroff, for whatever reason, my sister over here has always valued your opinion."

"That's a rather rude way to make your point, Tommy, don't you think?"

"It's all right, Charodeyka. I haven't forgotten the past. You never did like me with Hermione, did you?"

"Not for a single second. She was always supposed to be with my brother. Unfortunately, it just took both of those idiots time to realize it."

The argument had been made far too many times for Hermione to be the least bit offended by his language. It only made her laugh and her heart feel full to know that Tommy wanted her in his family from the very beginning. He had been a true friend, one that she had cherished for the majority of her life. When it was time for her to move on, she knew she would miss him for the short period of time he remained behind.

"Now, because she values your opinion so much, you should be able to assure her that it's time she moved on. She's in more and more pain every single day. Luna and I can hardly stand to see her this way. As much as we will all miss her, we would rather she be free from pain and with Kingsie again. Tell her it's time to let go."

Feeling her eyes fill up with tears again as they had so many times in recent days as Tommy promised her over and over again that she should feel free to move on, Hermione reached for his hand. The Healers at St. Mungo's made it clear that there was nothing further they could do for her other than to just offer her potions that would make her comfortable for the last bit of life she had left to live. She hated swallowing them. They made her feel too much like she had in her youth when she drank too much just to be able to make it through the next moment. It was better that her mind was clear even if the pain that riddled her body made it hard to focus sometimes.

"Charodeyka, I promised you a long time ago that when your hair was silver and your face so full of wrinkles that you couldn't count them that I would be here to take you on to the next life. Are you ready for that?"

Staring into Tommy's teary eyes, she squeezed his hand. How was she going to say goodbye to him? He had been there for her when no one else had or no one else could. Without him, she would've been dead back in the seventies at least a dozen times. Her brother-in-law leaned across the bed to kiss her forehead.

"I'm going to be okay, Hermione. I promise you. I have Luna and all four of my boys and their families. Thanks to you and the interference of my idiot brother, there are generations that will live on. You don't have to be strong for us any longer."

"I love you, Tommy."

"I know. I love you too. And tell my little brother when you see him… tell him that I couldn't be prouder to be his brother."

She knew it meant a lot for him to make such a statement. Bringing his hand she still clutched in hers to her lips, she kissed the back. Already she felt lighter, less pained. Would it be easy to just let go? She'd always been afraid that death would be painful. What if it was just like falling asleep in her own warm bed at home?

"Igor… Igor, I think I'm ready."

"Just close your eyes, Charodeyka. I will take you there."

No longer strong enough to keep her eyelids open, she did as she was told. At once the rest of the weight that she felt on her shoulders seemed to float away. The hand that had been tightly clasped in Tommy's was dropped and the other picked up. A warmth spread over her entire body. Surprised by the bright lights she could tell were in the room, Hermione dared to open her eyes again.

Igor smiled back at her, the same handsome grin that used to make her stomach flip and flop plastered across his face. The hand that held hers tightly belonged to him. No longer the sickly grayish-silver of his ghostly apparition, he looked just as he had in life. When she dared to look down at the hand that he held in his, she couldn't see the dark blue veins that made her feel self-conscious. It was as if she was nineteen again and just arrived in the seventies.

"Come with me. There are so many who are waiting to see you again."

As they walked she dared to take a look at their surroundings. She had been there before. Exactly like the Lestrange Estate's gardens except perfect beyond anything her Uncle Regnault could've dreamed up, it was where she ended up that awful day so many years earlier when Greyback nearly tore her throat out with his teeth. Her uncle promised her that she would be able to come back one day, far, far in the future. Excited by what she was walking towards, she all but dragged a laughing Igor in her wake.

Around a tall hedge she saw the first of the loved ones waiting. Startled and overwhelmed with emotion, Hermione had to stop moving just to stare into the faces that she had missed so dearly. Aberforth stood with his arm around the waist of his wife Pomona. They had bright, welcoming smiles just for her. Next to them stood her Uncle Regnault, more handsome than she could remember him ever being. He had his arms around the shoulders of his two sons, proud of them in death like he failed to show them in life. Seeing Rabastan free from his Azkaban cell with his beautiful wife Sollie holding his hand and his young daughter who never had a chance to experience much of living on Earth standing in front of him was nearly too much. What he failed to find in life, he recovered in death. His broad smile was so like the young man he'd been the day he leaned across Aberforth's bar to try to clumsily flirt with her that Hermione had to remind herself to keep breathing. Whether air was really all that important or not wasn't clear yet, but she feared she was on the verge of passing out.

Rodolphus had been reunited with his loving wife Mafalda. They hadn't been able to stay apart long, dying within months of each other. Next to him was his best friend Caradoc who kept a tight hold of his true love Gideon's hand. Surprised to see his twin brother Fabian with him, she nearly burst into tears when she realized their sister Molly Weasley was with them too. With Molly, there was Arthur and all of their children that had gone on ahead already. There was Andromeda finally standing with her husband Ted and their daughter and son-in-law. So many more faces that she knew she would be too overcome if she kept looking.

How was it possible that that many people thought her important enough to welcome her home? She always feared that her life hadn't been that special, that she hadn't made any big impact. When she wished for a simple life that first New Years back in the present, she was given just that. Sometimes she worried it was too simple, that she had wasted the gift that had been given her.

Igor let go of her hand. Feeling the loss of it immediately, she nearly gasped when he placed both hands on her back to forcefully push her into a direction she hadn't dared to look in yet.

"I have missed you so, Little Witch."

Hermione met her husband's twinkling eyes. All around him were the Shacklebolts and Shafiqs she'd come to love dearly over her life. Each one of them meant the world to her.

"We've been waiting a long time."

Kingsley pulled her into his arms for a deep kiss. Cheers erupted as they chose to forget for the briefest of moments that they weren't the only two in existence. She didn't know what to do, what to say. As she watched Igor start to slip away into the crowd, she stopped him with a touch on his arm.

"Thank you, Igor. For keeping your promise, for being my friend, for… for everything really."

It felt wonderful to be able to finally throw her arms around his neck and feel him again. Their hug only lasted a matter of seconds before she heard a throat clearing behind her.

"Now, Karkaroff, I'm grateful for the friendship you showed us over the years, but Hermione is my wife."

There was no heat behind Kingsley's words, only amusement.

"Ahh, but you forget, Shacklebolt. You might have been the love of Hermione's life, but… well, none of us are exactly alive anymore, are we? It seems like the rules of the game have changed."

Kingsley's deep, booming laughter was infectious. He reached his hand out to shake Igor's.

"May the best wizard win, Karkaroff."

"Oh, I intend to."

Laughing that some things never changed, Hermione rolled her eyes and headed straight for where her dad and Uncle Regnault stood. There were far too many loved ones she hadn't yet been able to hug to worry about the silly games wizards played.

The End.