Author's Note: So this chapter is about a million words long. Please don't expect this to ever happen again in this story or any other I write. This almost killed me!

Chapter Ninety

August 27, 1980

12:05 am

She wasn't sure what she was even going to say to the man who tried, once again, to murder her wizard. Every step she made towards his front door had been made entirely on instinct. How could he be so brazen? So unworried about his crime being traced back to him? Maybe the incompetent Ministry wouldn't be able to put the facts together well enough to understand that he was the culprit, but she knew him better than that. Knew what lurked inside the cold, black heart in his chest.

There was no answer to her knock. Not that she expected one. When she raised her fist to pound on the door a second time because she wasn't about to leave until she'd seen her ex, the door opened entirely on its own. For one who was so paranoid about security wards and protections, Antonin didn't seem to understand how to properly latch a door. She didn't care about proprieties or his rights to privacy. He deserved nothing after the stunt he'd pulled that night.

The sound of his deep groan from the kitchen caught her ear. Without giving it even a second thought, Hermione stomped across his living and pushed the kitchen door with all of her strength. The flimsy piece of wood slammed against the wall with a loud crack. Another frustrated groan, a squeak of surprise and a sickening, wet pop. Antonin, leaning against the table with his trousers around his ankles and completely unashamed of anything happening in the room, pointed his wand in Hermione's direction.

But it was the exposed wand still glistening with Alecto Carrow's saliva that caught her attention. The other witch remained on her knees to glare daggers at the intruder. Hermione rolled her eyes with all of the dramatic disgust she could muster. Perhaps he only neglected to close his front door properly when he was committing indecent acts on or against his dining table. If that little display was put on entirely for her benefit, she wouldn't have been surprised. He had to have known that she would confront him at some point once she learned what he'd done. And, everyone was aware all it would take was a nod in Alecto's direction and she would come running to him like a loyal lapdog.

"Could you excuse us for a few minutes, Carrow?"

Alecto rose to her feet, her sallow cheeks turning bright red with either embarrassment or anger. Before she even had the chance to step towards Hermione, Antonin roughly grabbed her arm. Heartened by the grip of the wizard on her body, Alecto found her voice.

"You can't just come barging in, Dumbledore! This isn't your house."

"Get. Out."

Even a simpleton like Carrow knew it was unwise to challenge Hermione. She had a reputation, whether she liked it or not, for being dangerous and powerful. Why else would the Dark Lord be so interested in her? The younger witch's confidence waned. Antonin spun her around, assaulted her mouth with his for several seconds much to Hermione's continued annoyance and disgust, and gently pushed her from his body. A dazed smile and even redder cheeks replaced her anger.

"Wait for me upstairs. This will only take a minute."

She didn't need to be told twice. The witch practically floated out of the room, very excited for the coming events. When the wizard she had desired above all others for as long as she could remember shouted out his demand that she be naked when he got there, Alecto's girlish giggles could be heard from the next room. No doubt she was anticipating an evening to remember. Something to keep her warm on the nights after he rejected her again.
His eyes, however, never left his guest. There was something unsettling about his gaze, something almost feral. She couldn't remember him ever looking so frightening before. Not even in the Department of Mysteries after years of being locked up in Azkaban slowly being stripped of his wits. If she allowed herself a moment to really dwell on the implications on the change, she might have been afraid. He'd already tried to kill that night. Maybe he wasn't satisfied with his failure.

He kicked out of his trousers and crossed the length of the kitchen completely nude from the waist down. She knew he was trying to intimidate her, to make her ill at ease, but she wasn't deterred from her mission. There was nothing that he possessed that she hadn't seen dozens of times before. When he picked up an open bottle of fire whiskey, he took a deep drink and turned around to face his ex-girlfriend again entirely unashamed. Despite attempting desperately to look anywhere else, Hermione couldn't focus on anything but the very thing she was trying to avoid. It made her uncomfortable that he was so casual about how he stood. How was she supposed to have a serious conversation with the man when he was so blasé about being found half naked in his kitchen with a woman's lips wrapped around his favorite appendage? Knowing the effect he was having on her, Antonin smirked.

"Would you put your trousers back on, Antonin?"

She didn't mean for her voice to come out in a shrill shriek. He grew even more amused. Instead of reaching for his discarded clothes, Antonin reached for the hem of his shirt and pulled it over his head. Once he was completely naked, he leaned back against the kitchen counter, gulped another mouthful of liquor straight from the neck of the bottle and dared her to say another word.

"If a man can't be free to be naked in his own home, where can he, daragaya?"

"Stop calling me that."

"Is it my lack of clothes that's bothering you or something else?"

It was evident that he was enjoying their encounter. He'd been drinking for awhile. She knew the signs all too well, the flush in his cheeks, the cocky grin that only came out when he had too much to drink. It was difficult to believe that it had only been a matter of weeks since the last time she saw him naked. Memories of the night she wished she could scrub from her brain assaulted her mind as he continued to watch her with that same expression she wanted to peel off his face.

"Are you and Carrow serious or are you just stringing the poor girl along?"

"What happens in my bed is none of your business… unless, unless you're in it with us."

Hermione scoffed. He must have been drunker than she realized to make such a disturbing suggestion. There wasn't enough fire whiskey in the world to make her intoxicated enough to even imagine that horrifying scenario. Antonin chuckled again. He enjoyed watching her squirm.

"It could be a night you'd never forget."

"Oh, I'm sure that would be an experience I would never be able to get out of my mind again."

"She'll do anything I tell her to do. Anything. She's desperate for a fuck. Been begging me for years."

"You two have never?"

She was bothered by the fact that she was so curious about his nocturnal activities. What right did she have to know anything about what he did? Why should she even care? Antonin found her question to be very amusing. In the midst of taking another swig from the bottle, he almost choked. Rivulets of fire whiskey rolled down his bare chest. Hermione hated herself for noticing the details of the foul wizard's body. He was nothing like the man he used to be. Nothing.

"I've let her finish me off a few times like she was earlier. Never any further. She's all right for leaving her belly full, but I'm not sure I'd like to stick her anywhere else. But, she's not bad at sucking me off. Almost as good as you. Not quite though."

Her cheeks grew hot. Who was this man? He never used to be so… degrading. There was simply no other description for his behavior and the words that came out of his mouth between gulps. With his hand still gripped around the neck of the bottle he refused to release, Antonin made steps toward Hermione. He stood inches away from her, a leer on his lips that made her want to run away.

"Of course, she's not had the experience you've had being a right little whore."

Instinct forced the palm of her hand across his cheek. The sound of the contact between flesh reverberated in the silent room. Antonin threw the bottle of fire whiskey across the room to crash against a bare wall. The rage and fury in his eyes terrified Hermione. She wasn't fast enough to run out of his reach. His large hands clamped down on her upper arms, squeezing them tight enough that she worried they might actually break. He slammed her back against the nearest wall and kept her pinned in place with the length of his naked body pressed up against hers.

"You should know better by now not to provoke me."

"Let me go, Antonin."

She hated the sound of her voice in that moment. Pleading, so very, very weak. He was frightening her, reminding her too much of the man she knew he would be. The man he already was. With no intention of doing as she asked, Antonin pressed against her harder. Clearly, he was enjoying making her scared. His body was showing all of the signs that he liked what was happening very much indeed. The evidence rose against her stomach as she tried to choke down her fear and remember why she was there in the first place.

"Are you enjoying scaring me, Antonin?"

His laughter made the entire situation so much worse. Once upon a time she loved the sound. For someone as serious as Antonin, when he allowed himself to relax enough to laugh, he was a different person. She used to imagine a world where he had been free to be happy his entire life. What a change that would have made. Inevitably, thinking about all of his lost potential only made her sad. Standing pushed up against his kitchen wall, she could've wept at the thought of who he could've been if his experiences had been kinder, his choices less self-destructive.

"Very much, daragaya. Very much."

In one swift and violent movement, Antonin grabbed both of her wrists in a crushing grip. He forced her arms above her head. It was an intimate position that bought back echoes of long-ago nights when their world was simple, uncomplicated. She wanted to both purge them from her memory and never let them go. How could one person create such a conflict inside her heart?

They were both breathing heavily. The intensity of the moment threatened to take Hermione's entire breath away. What was his plan? A frightening thought she'd never considered before overtook her senses. Maybe Voldemort wasn't the one responsible for her disappearance. There was another dangerous man who was just as capable of ending her existence and who possessed more than enough reasons to do so. Spurned lovers had been killing their paramours since time began. Hermione could very well be simply the next one in a long, never-ending line.

He didn't take his eyes off of hers for a moment. The dark brown eyes had never looked so menacing. She wished she knew what was happening inside his mind. How far was he going to take this act to frighten her? He was never a man who did anything by halves. Whatever he set out to do, he usually accomplished. Several tense seconds passed where neither of them spoke. Finally deciding that she could bear to be there no longer, Hermione gathered up her courage. Hadn't she just faced down Lord Fucking Voldemort in an eerily similar position hours earlier? She had no reason to be afraid of Antonin if she survived that lift ride. With an extra burst of confidence, she met his eyes, once again without fear.

"I know you are the one who cursed Kingsley."

The corner of Antonin's lip curled up in an amused smirk. She didn't expect him to deny the truth. He was proud of what he had done.

"Would've killed him too if he hadn't silenced me first."

"I asked you to never use that spell again."

"And you thought I'd actually listen to you? Come on, Hermione. You're not that naive."

Of course she knew that he wouldn't listen to her when she asked him not to use the horrible curse. The scar across her chest was proof of that fact. Despite knowing it was foolish to do so, she hoped that he would take her request to heart and maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't use it again until the Department of Mysteries.

"You've scarred him for life. Are you happy?"

"Actually, no. I would've preferred that he was dead."

"Why can't you both grow up? Get over this ridiculous rivalry! Neither one of you will be satisfied until the other is dead."

Antonin furrowed his brow, a sign he was confused about something or thinking hard about a problem. She didn't imagine he was overly concerned about her words. They had had this exact same conversation many times in the past in varying degrees of civility.

"You said he has a scar?"

"What does it matter?"

"It's not supposed to leave a scar. There's not supposed to be any sign at all. I designed it to be excruciating and impossible to detect. Are you sure there's a scar?"

"Of course I'm sure! I saw it with my own eyes. It looks just like…"

She stopped herself before she went any further. How could she explain that the scar Kingsley earned was just like the one she carried? Explaining that he would try to kill her in the future when she was younger didn't make any sense at all. A suspicious and curious man like Antonin might try to puzzle out why there were similarities. The first time he saw her scar he'd been bothered by the mark on her flesh. He asked a dozen questions about its origin that she didn't know how to answer. It had been simple enough to stop him by making it clear that she wasn't comfortable with his line of questioning. His curiosity wouldn't cease, of course, but she wouldn't need to provide an explanation he would accept.

"It looks an awful lot like… well, my scar."

Antonin moved her wrists closer together so he could grasp them with one hand. She tried to struggle again to no avail. Even with one hand he was still physically stronger than she was. Magic could be a great equalizer. Sometimes it was easy to forget how little power she had without a wand in her hand.

One of the fingers on his free hand traced the edge of her collar. Forgetting her promise to herself to not show any fear, Hermione gasped when he gently pulled the edge down to reveal more of her skin than she was comfortable with him seeing again. With the tip of her scar exposed, he ran his finger down the puckered, damaged flesh. She squirmed and kicked out at him when his unwelcome hand ripped the buttons from her shirt, forcing the fabric to open. His response was to press his body even closer to hers. She detested the feel of his flesh against hers. It was too familiar, too intimate. Antonin didn't care that she didn't want to feel his fingertips brush over the flimsy fabric covering her breasts. He wasn't bothered at all that she tried to move away when his hand reached her hip.

"I've always been curious about this scar. You've always been mysterious about where it came from."

"It's none of your business where it came from. Let me go, Antonin. Get your hands off of me."

To prove that he wasn't about to acquiesce to her demands, his hand squeezed her hip. She hissed at the sharp pain. He smiled.

"Just be thankful that all Baby Shacklebolt ended up with was a scar. If the spell worked as it should have, he'd have been in agonizing pain for several minutes as his insides burned."

"Is there a countercurse?"

"Of course there's a countercurse. What fool creates a curse without one? That's just irresponsible. You know me better than that."

"What is it?"

He lowered his lips to just outside her ear. The moment she felt his breath against her neck, she felt her stomach twist and churn. Nothing about the scenario she found herself in was desirable. Antonin wasn't going to let her go until he was satisfied. And, she hated to even contemplate the options, she wasn't sure what it would take until he felt that way. In a whisper that ran up and down her spine, he answered her question.

"Not going to tell. You might try to save his life again. The next time I curse him, I'm not going to let anything distract me or stop me. I will see him in his grave. I promise you that."

His tongue traced the outside of her ear. Disgusted that he would dare, Hermione turned her face away from him. Her reaction only made him laugh again. She didn't want to hear it again.

"You're the fool if you think I would want anything to do with you if you killed Kingsley. I love him."

"What makes you think I still want you?"

Hermione scoffed. He had done everything except come right out and use the words. His pride might have been hurt after she ignored all of his letters and rejected him in person, but she knew that just like he could do with Alecto, all she had to do was smile in his direction and he'd follow her anywhere. It was a heady power to hold over someone.

"I think it's pretty obvious."

Entirely without considering the consequences, she used her stomach to push against all the proof she needed. A deep growl in the back of Antonin's throat terrified Hermione more than anything else he'd done that night. Still crushing her wrists together in one hand, he released his hold on her hip. The invasion of her mouth with his tongue startled her enough into freezing. Her rash act had given him encouragement she didn't intend. Not pleased with her participation in the kisses he forced on her, Antonin moved his mouth down her throat, nipping and biting as he went.

She couldn't believe what he was doing. Did he really think that she was interested? That she was going to just go weak at the knees as he kissed her and she'd forget how much she loved Kingsley? It wasn't as if she could blame bad decisions on alcohol. She was completely sober. Antonin, on the other hand, likely began drinking minutes after making it out of the building he attacked Kingsley in. Whether or not she was receptive to his advances didn't seem to matter in the slightest to him.

"Let me go, Antonin."

He ignored her demand. The pressure of his mouth on her collarbone increased. When his free hand sought out the waistband of her skirt, she worried for the first time that he might not actually stop what he was doing. How far would he go without her permission? He had already crossed the line, but how much worse would it all get before it was over?

"Antonin, stop! Get your fucking hands off of me!"

Still, he persisted. When his hand dipped down into her knickers, panic overtook her. She didn't want him touching her like that. Didn't want him anywhere near her at all. Her mind kept replaying the morning Voldemort removed her locket from her neck in her kitchen and Greyback pawed her in places she didn't want him to touch. She was breathless in her fear of what Antonin was going to do next.

Once again that night moving entirely on instinct, she quickly moved her head and latched her teeth onto the closest flesh she could find. Antonin yelped when she broke the skin on his neck. Both hands were off her body almost instantly as he covered the wound. It was all she needed to get the wand out of her pocket. He glared at her and before she could do anything else, the back of one of his hands slapped across Hermione's cheek, forcing her head to turn on its own. Ignoring the pain and unsure whether the blood she was tasting in her mouth belonged to Antonin or her or a combination of the two, she shouted a spell and watched as he flew backwards cross the room.

He landed with a crash on top of the glass shards from the bottle he'd broken earlier. It hadn't been Hermione's plan, but it worked out. The fall knocked his breath out. As he struggled to get it back, he cut his arm and side in several places. She didn't care. She felt no sympathy for the man. Five steps took her across the room to where he lay gasping for air. Five steps and she pulled her foot back far enough to kick him between the legs harder than she had ever kicked anything before. The sound of his retching could be heard even as she walked out the front door. It appeared Alecto would have to wait even longer for her special night with Antonin.

10:30 am

The sound of high pitched muttering woke Hermione up long after the sun had risen. After she returned home to the pub from her impromptu meeting with Antonin, she gave her dad all of the details of what was wrong with Kingsley and what had happened at the hospital. No mention was made of what happened afterwards. With the emotional toil the entire experience had one her, she slipped into bed with no plans to get out of it until her body woke itself up all on its own.

She slowly opened one eye to identify the source of the commotion that had ruined her plans to sleep longer. It only took a couple of seconds to realize that her theory about Aberforth secretly having conversations about her with Regnault was confirmed. Why else would Rosie be moving around her bedroom packing up all of her belongings again? Part of her thought their mutual concern for her was sweet. Most of her, however, was annoyed. She feared that neither man really trusted her to make good decisions.

Her history in the past proved that while she wasn't willing to admit it, she did have a little trouble choosing the path of least resistance. It was naive and ignorant to claim that everything that happened to her was someone else's fault. She was a strong believer in personal responsibility and knew she had screwed up more often than not. Unfortunately, there wasn't a book in a library somewhere with all of the answers of what she should do or not do. If there was, she would've devoured it cover to cover years ago.

"Is Missy Hermione finally awake?"

Even the news that her master's niece was getting back together with the wizard she adored wasn't enough to temper the house-elf's dislike of the witch. Hermione had long ago given up any hope that they would ever get along. Rosie was too loyal to Regnault and Hermione had been too opinionated for too long.

"Did Uncle Regnault send you here, Rosie?"

"Of course he did. Master Reggie was very pleased to hear that you and Mister Kingsie aren't fighting anymore. He ordered me to pack everything up this morning."

"That's not necessary, Rosie. Thank you, but I am perfectly capable…"

"Rosie always obeys Master Reggie."

Hermione knew better than to continue the argument.. The bossy house-elf would do just as she pleased whether she liked it or not. She climbed out of the bed to begin the day with a bit of reluctance. As much as she wanted to go back to the hospital to see Kingsley again, she was nervous. Could they really just start back up from where they left off? He seemed determined to pretend like that horrible night and the lonely six weeks following it never happened. Or, rather he apologized for it repeatedly and begged her to let them try to forget it. She was more than willing.

Rosie was making the bed when Hermione emerged from the bathroom a short time later fully dressed and showered. Neat stacks of boxes and suitcases filled most of the spare space in the room. Somehow she hadn't realized she'd accumulated so much stuff over the years. It had been a very long time since she'd left the pub for Kingsley's home seemingly for good. The reminder of the move back should have made her happy. As she stared at the souvenirs of her life in the past, all she could think about was that she wasn't going to be there much longer to enjoy the life she'd created.

Voldemort was going to kill her. Or Antonin was going to kill her. The way Salazar looked at Thomas that day in the Magical Menagerie and hoped that one day she would get to experience what it felt like to have a brother murdered made her worry that she finally knew who was going to bring about his violent end. She wished she knew the how so she could at least feel like she was trying to stop it before it happened. Every time she watched Thomas hold baby Dean, she had to choke down all of her emotions. Crying in front of them would only bring about questions from Grace they couldn't answer. And besides, she hated that the knowledge that he would soon have to say goodbye to his family was hanging over his head and keeping him from enjoying what should have been the best days of his entire life.

If she'd never been sent back in time, she might have been saved from the worst of the tragedies and horrors that had been committed against her, but she would have lost so much as well. She had an entire family that she loved dearly. Friends she couldn't bear to say goodbye to. Many of them would die very soon. Even if she could ignore the glaring probability that she was going to be murdered by the Dark Lord or one of his henchmen to hope for even a moment that she would be able to find her way back to the future, she would lose so much. It was enough on her shoulders to make her crumble to the floor with no strength to pick herself back up.

"Rosie will take everything to Missy Hermione's proper home." The house-elf snapped her fingers and all of the boxes and suitcases disappeared in a flash. She stood next to the bed, however, glaring at the witch. "Maybe Missy Hermione can try to be kinder to Mister Kingsie so Rosie doesn't have to move everything again."

It certainly wasn't the first lecture she'd received from the elf and she knew it would not be the last. Even with time running out for Hermione in the past, she knew that Rosie would find reasons to let her know how she was disappointing her uncle or disgracing the family. She might have been offended by the elf's treatment if she wasn't twice as rude to Bellatrix. Rodolphus' wife loathed the creature and the feeling was mutual. At least Hermione could cling to the fact that she wasn't the most hated member of the family. The thought was enough to make her laugh as the house-elf blinked out of the pub.

"Off to the hospital?"

Aberforth stood behind the bar restocking the shelves with clean glasses. His mouth curled into a rare smile that he reserved only for Hermione. She didn't answer his question at first. Instead, she removed the glasses from his hands, placed them on the correct shelf, and wrapped her arms around his middle. Startled at first by the unexpected affection, Aberforth's body tensed for only a second before he wrapped his arms around his girl.

She breathed in the familiar fragrances that always clung to his clothes: the fire whiskey he poured all day and night, the bacon he ate too much of, the rich dirt from his vegetables in his back garden. They all combined to make a scent that was entirely his. It calmed her, centered her, allowed her the strength to take the steps she didn't want to take. She had no idea when she first woke up in his spare bedroom nine years earlier that she would come to love him so deeply. Knowing that she would be leaving him behind too made her sad beyond measure. And knowing that she would be leaving him behind to turn into that cranky, old wizard in the filthy bar threatened to break her heart anew. How much of that change in him was her fault?

If she hadn't already learned that shared blood meant nothing when it came to love and family from Harry, she would've discovered it with Aberforth. She struggled to even remember what life was like before he was her dad. As much as she still loved her Muggle father and missed him every single day, she'd been fortunate to find such love with the wizard who took her in when she was nothing but a scared stranger.

"Are you all right, my girl?"

She didn't know how to answer the seemingly simple question. In truth, she wasn't. Far from all right. If she allowed herself even a single moment to give in to her fears, she would be useless. She had to remain strong, upright, someone her loved ones could be proud of. Huddling in a corner waiting for her doom wasn't good enough.

"I already miss you and I haven't even gone yet."

The words spilled out of her mouth in an unintentional whisper. His response was simply to hold her tighter. She felt her eyes well up with tears, but she refused to let them fall. Too much time had been spent crying. Cathartic or not, she couldn't allow herself to break down. This was not the time to think of herself. Her resolve was tested when she heard the unmistakable sound of Aberforth sniffing above her head. She would do anything to spare him the pain she knew he was going to go through. Hadn't he already had enough in his life? She couldn't stand that she was just adding more.

"You're not giving up hope, are you?"

Hermione kept her arms around his waist, but leaned back enough to look him in his watery blue eyes. With a great deal of effort, he managed a small smile. She wanted to lie to him. Tell him that she was going to be fine. She was only going to disappear and then reappear again in the future perfectly safe and whole. As much as she wanted to, she loved him too much to speak anything but the truth.

"I've made very powerful enemies, Dad. Last night, I… the details don't matter. I just think that we should both prepare ourselves for the very real possibility that when I disappear in a few months, it will be because I'm…"

She couldn't bear to say the words out loud. Not to Aberforth. He pulled her back against his chest for a tighter hug. She wondered if he was squeezing her so tightly because he wished that's all he had to do to keep her safe. It was how she hugged Thomas. And Caradoc. And Ted. And little Dorie. If wishes alone could change the future, she would keep them all safe. Even exchange her life for theirs.

"I won't lie to you, my girl. I've been afraid since the very beginning for you. As much as I wanted to believe that you would get that time turner working and pop back into your true time, I didn't have much hope."

"I'm sorry that I have to leave you. If I could…"

"Shh, now, lass. We have only a little bit of time left. Spending it all worrying about our regrets is a waste. Let's save our tears and make the rest of this year count."

Aberforth kissed the top of her head and broke the embrace. She knew he was correct. He was almost always right even if no one else in the world seemed to have enough sense to know how wise the man actually was. She vowed to herself to make sure the rest of her time in the past or in the world wouldn't be spent crying and lamenting all that she was going to lose. Instead, she would do all that she could to make sure she was being grateful for all that she'd already gained. Hermione stood on her tiptoes to brush her lips against his cheek.

"Now, head on to St. Mungo's and visit your wizard. If he's awake, you know he's anxious to see you."

September 19, 1980

6:35 pm

Kingsley remained in the hospital for ten days. By the end of his stay, he was so grumpy and irascible that Hermione threatened him, insincerely, of course, with leaving him at his grandmother's house until his attitude improved. Marjorie Shafiq wouldn't put up with his irritability. She'd give him three seconds to stop complaining before she gave him something actually worth complaining about. It didn't take him long after the threat was made to stop whining and making his newly reinstated girlfriend miserable.

He wasn't allowed to return to the Ministry until the beginning of October. Hermione assumed that also meant that Moody wouldn't allow him anywhere near the Order of the Phoenix either. Perhaps it was wrong to be thankful that he'd been attacked so brutally, but part of her was glad that he didn't have to get back out there so soon to continue fighting. She wanted him home, safe, where she could see him and touch him. His injuries meant that he wasn't able to properly welcome her back home in the manner he wished. Not that he didn't try, of course. Hardly able to stand on his own feet without help, she told him he was being ridiculous. There would be plenty of time later to make up for lost time. She wasn't going anywhere ever again.

It was a lie that she repeated over and over. Somehow she assumed that it would get easier the more she told it. She was wrong. As the days passed, she became even more aware of the fact that she wouldn't be there much longer. Every time she ran into an old friend she wondered if that would be the last time they ever spoke. Several of them were startled when she made certain to wrap her arms around them for a tight squeeze before she said goodbye. Augie even made it a point to tease her with the falsely stern reminder that he was a happily married man and father of two. Her response was to hug him tighter.

On her birthday, she wanted nothing more than to spend the entire day away from well-wishers and loved ones. She knew it was cowardly to want to hide at home, but she found she didn't really care. An entire day spent alone with Kingsley in their home was what she wanted. He'd woken her up as he had every other birthday they were together, with her thighs on his shoulders. The confident manner in which his mouth and his hands moved over her body gave her the chance to forget all of the negative for a blissful few minutes that were over entirely too soon. Ignoring the Healer's orders, he made certain that for the first hour that she was awake on her twenty-eight birthday, they were both satisfied. Unable to spend even a short time with her cousin and Caradoc on such an emotional day, she sent them an owl begging her forgiveness for not being there to welcome the new owls. Kingsley insisted they stay in bed all day long or until his stomach couldn't bear to be empty any longer. They made it only until nine before he could stand it no longer. After a large breakfast, they moved to the sofa.

She'd been stronger than she thought it was possible to be when he brought up the future. Excited to have her back in his home and back in his bed, Kingsley was determined that there would never be another time in their life that they were apart. The subject veered eerily close to marriage a few times before he changed course. They weren't ready for that discussion yet, he realized. Hermione was glad he was perceptive enough to realize they should wait. The thought of even trying to imagine getting married threaded to bring her to her knees with fear and regret. What she once desired more than anything else was no longer even an option. It was sinking in to a devastating degree.

"Come on, Hermione. You have to at least see your dad on your birthday."

"I don't want to go anywhere, Kingsie. Please don't make me."

"Ab will be disappointed if you don't stop by for at least one drink."

Kingsley was a shit liar. At least as a young man. Hermione could remember many times in the future when he kept a secret from everyone or when he held something back in a conversation. He had his tells, of course. Even professional liars did. He blinked too frequently when he was lying. Because he was the perfect mixture of Gryffindor and Hufflepuff traits, none of his lies as a young man were serious enough that she didn't find his attempt to lie perfectly adorable. She wondered if he still blinked too hard and fidgeted with his buttons as an adult when he was lying. It had been so long ago and even though she had an embarrassing crush on the older, mysterious wizard, she couldn't remember.

She knew without a single doubt in her mind that he'd thrown her another surprise party at The Hog's Head. His repeated insistence that he didn't really want to do anything special coupled with the frequent glances at his wristwatch throughout the day were the first clues. When he suggested they both take a hot shower and he hardly touched her under the water, she was even more suspicious. As soon as he suggested she put on the new light blue robes Seraphina sent over the week before, she was positive it was a party. There was no reason to sit around their home in nice robes. Not even on her birthday.

In the end, she knew she couldn't deny him as much as she wanted to. It was sweet of him to care so much about her to throw the party and it was selfish of her to not want to enjoy it. So at a few minutes after six in the evening, she walked to the front door in her brand new clothes with her hair perfectly fixed.

"All right. Let's get this party over with."

She made sure to smile as she said it to give the illusion that she wasn't really annoyed. Kingsley didn't need to be told twice before he hopped up from the sofa with the big grin she loved so much. He wasn't even upset that his surprise was a surprise no longer. After sending his lynx patronus on ahead to warn Aberforth and the rest of the guests gathered that they were on their way, he proudly took her arm and Side-Along Apparated her to her father's pub.

As much as she hated to admit it, she enjoyed the party. Everyone in her family, his family, and almost every single person she befriended at some point in the past was there to shout out 'Surprise!' To see the sheer number of people that had touched her life had been almost overwhelming. She didn't hesitate to scoop little seven year old Nymphadora into her arms. No longer able to pick her up, she knelt down to squeeze the funny girl until she complained of being squished and forced her to let go.

Every time she tried to move through the crowd of people gathered in the main room of the pub, she was stopped by another well-wisher for a conversation. It was heartening to know that so many people wished her well. Heartening, and a bit sad. Would they all be gathering together next to mourn her death instead of celebrate her life? No, she had to remind herself that no one would even be sure what happened to her when she disappeared. There would be no funeral, no memorial. Just years of wondering, years of questions with no answers.

"Hermione, do you think you could show me the cellar your dad was talking about? He's asked me to bring up more fire whiskey and I haven't the foggiest where to even find the blasted room."

Ted appeared at her elbow just as she wishing she could run away from another conversation. Why Kingsley felt that she actually wanted the boring shopkeeper from Dogweed and Deathcap to attend her party to bore everyone present with the seventeen uses of mooncalf dung she would never understand. With an apology to the wizard she wished to never speak to again about anything, Hermione dragged Ted with her to the kitchen. Only when they were down in the peace of the cellar did he admit that her father just sent him over to save her from the conversation. There was plenty of fire whiskey upstairs. Relieved to have a few minutes of peace and thankful for the interruption, Hermione sat down on a heavy box of gillywater.

"Thank you for rescuing me, Ted. You have no idea how boring that man is!"

"Oh, I don't? I got stuck in a twenty minute discussion with him last Hogmanay about the various properties of the leaping toadstool. I've never thought it was possible to die of boredom until that night."

They both laughed. Hermione knew it wasn't always fair to complain about the lonely wizard. He wasn't a bad man, only very, very boring. After his wife died of an unfortunate potions incident in the backroom of their shop, he had had difficulty finding anyone who could bear to listen to his stories. Rumors existed that his wife's accident hadn't been an accident at all, but a desperate move to keep her from being forced to listen to one more lecture about the various plants they carried. Hermione was only half-convinced that it was a false rumor.

When Ted sat down on another box a few feet away and stared in her direction, she got the impression that this wasn't a rescue operation at all. There was determination in his eyes, a promise that he would follow through with his plans. If she was ever forced to attend an intervention about how her heavy drinking was affecting those she loved, this was the stance that Ted would make. She began to worry about his intentions. Just why did he make up an excuse to get her alone in her own party?

"You know I love you, Hermione, don't you?"

His choice of words made her stomach drop. She could only imagine where Ted was going to take their discussion next if that was how he began. Beginning a conversation with a reminder that the other person was loved wasn't always the most encouraging start. It usually meant bad news was about to follow.

"Yes, I do. I love you too, Ted. What is this…"

"I had a visitor last week. Someone came to my home that I didn't much care to see."

Hermione wanted to crawl into one of the boxes in the darkest corner of the cellar to hide. Instead of being angry with her, she could clearly discern that Ted was disappointed. Somehow, that was much worse than him being furious. She had an idea who the visitor was and she prayed she was wrong.

"Lord… You-Know-Who, came to my house, Hermione."

"Oh, Ted! I'm so sorry."

"I'm only thankful that Andy and Dorie weren't there at the time. I have no idea what I would've done if they were home."

"What did he want?"

Ted was a Muggle-born who preferred to keep his head down. Marrying a disowned daughter of the notorious Black family hadn't made his desires to live a simple life easy. Hermione knew some of the discrimination that he experienced working in his career. There were many in their society who wanted to snap his wand and force him back to live with Muggles. She'd been afraid once she made her statement to Voldemort in the hospital lift that he might come after her friends and family out of fear that she'd told them his secrets.

"It was a bizarre meeting, to be honest. He asked me my name and as soon as I gave it to him, I felt a bit dizzy. Took me a couple of hours after he left to feel somewhat normal again. But that's all that happened. He showed up, asked me my name, and I started feeling strange after I answered. He left immediately without giving me any explanation or asking me any other questions."

She was worried that Ted was describing an incident where the Dark Lord used Legilimency on him and then made him forget what he'd done. It was the only option that made any sense with those details. Was Voldemort so frightened by the knowledge she carried that he was going around to everyone she might have told to violate their minds? She didn't put it past him. Knowing that Voldemort was, at minimum, willing to go to the Tonks home at all was upsetting.

"Ted, I don't know what to say. That's… terrible."

"I'm not blaming you, Hermione, but I know you've had some dealings with him in the past."

Every Monday night it was possible, Hermione had been going over to Ted and Andromeda's house to open a bottle of wine and catch up with her beloved friends. Some nights it was all of them, others just the ladies. As the violence of the war escalated, their conversations often took more serious turns. They had all discussed several times what Andromeda's older sister Bellatrix was doing. Her involvement with the Dark Lord wasn't exactly a well-kept secret. She was too proud of what she was going to keep quiet for long.

More than a few times the topic of Voldemort was brought up in hushed whispers long after Nymphadora had gone to bed. Hermione never told them all of the details, of course, but they knew enough about her entanglement with the evil wizard to worry. She'd always carried around the fear that her interactions with Voldemort would wind up being what killed her. Both of her friends tried to remain positive even if it was obvious they were in agreement. Andromeda confided in her many times over the years that she was worried about Hermione. Worried that she would be another in the black print of the Daily Prophet announcing disappearances. Her friend begged her to stay as far away from that evil as possible.

"Do you know why he would come to my home and behave so oddly?"

Her immediate reaction was to cover her face with her hands in shame. Expecting tears to flow out of her eyes, she found it strange that she had become so inured to the idea of Voldemort seeking his vengeance against her that there was hardly any emotion left inside her body. Her end was inevitable. What was the use in getting so broken up about it? Removing her hands from her face, she stared at one of her closest friends in the entire world.

"I imagine he came to verify I haven't been telling any of my friends and loved ones secrets about him that he would rather I did not know."

The entire story of the hospital lift came falling out. She didn't want to burden Ted with too many facts and concerns, bur deep down, she wanted him to know how much danger she was in. Wanted him to be aware that his family was also potentially in danger because of their association with her. He deserved to know. Even if it meant the last few months of her life would be spent no longer allowed in their home or around their precious daughter, Hermione knew she had to tell him the truth. When she gave him all of the details of essentially blackmailing the Dark Lord without even hinting at what information she held over his head, she felt both relieved and worried. She loved each member of the tiny Tonks family. Being forbidden to be around them, which she might certainly do if the roles were reversed, would be devastating.

"You know, Dromeda refuses to believe anything bad is going to happen to someone she loves. Many times we've read the Daily Prophet articles about disappearances or murders and she's been in complete denial that one day we might see a name we love in print. I confess, Hermione, that I've been worried about you for a long time. Between your history with the… well, with the werewolf, and your stories about You Know Who and your friendships and relationships with so many I've long suspected to be a part of his followers, I've been very afraid to see your name. Or…"

He seemed reluctant to continue. Over the nine years that she'd been in the past, she had come to love Ted Tonks dearly. She had also come to value his opinions and his observations. There had always been a connection between the two of them, whether he knew it or not, because of their mutual statuses as Muggle-borns. Though she had been on friendly terms with other Muggle-borns throughout her entire life, future and past, she had never been so close to one as she was with Ted. It was encouraging to know that she wasn't alone in their big, scary world.

Ted didn't sugarcoat anything. Hermione wasn't sure if it was his Hufflepuff nature or just something that was long engrained in him by his parents. Maybe he found the world harsh enough that he wanted those he cared about to be as prepared as possible for whatever awaited them. Even when she'd been able to witness him teaching Nymphadora something important, he had always been honest almost to a fault. He didn't want anyone to miss the importance of the content of his words because they were hidden beneath superfluous flowery words lacking substance. It was a trait of his that Hermione admired most.

"Go ahead, Ted. What is it?"

"If I may be perfectly honest with you, Hermione, I've always been afraid that one day I'd find out that you were one of them."

Hermione sighed. Not in anger or disappointment that he would think such a thing about her, but because she knew how close her strength had wavered a time or two in the past. When her life was on the line or when someone she loved was threatened, she'd considered taking the 'easy' way out. Only the reminder of how strong Harry had remained in the face of his own certain death and the reminders of all of the people, past and future, who gave their lives fighting against Voldemort kept her from throwing herself at his feet and offering his arm. What was it that Muggle American said hundreds of years earlier? 'Those who would give up liberty for safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.' Something like that. She couldn't remember the exact words or the context of why Benjamin Franklin said them, but she could appreciate the sentiment. If she turned her life over to Voldemort just to stay alive, she didn't deserve to stay alive. It would be the weak, cowardly thing to do. She never wanted anyone to claim she was either.

"I'd be a liar if I said I never considered it, but no, I'd rather die."

"I'm glad to hear it. You're so much better than they are. I'm afraid that no matter how much I wished to help him, I wasn't able to save Tony from himself."

"It was good that you even tried, Ted. I'm afraid I wasn't much help."

"Yes, well, none of that matters anymore, I suppose. What's done is done. As much as we might like to, we cannot change what has already happened. Not unless you possess a time turner, that is."

His cheeky wink caught Hermione off-guard. She knew he was only teasing her. There was no way he could've known about the second necklace she always wore disillusioned around her neck, but it still startled her slightly. But, at least in that instance, he was wrong. She did possess a time turner and there was nothing she could do to change the past. That had been a bitter potion to swallow years earlier. No matter what she tried, the past would remain the same because it had already happened when Kingsley and Aberforth made the somewhat self-serving decision to send her back.

Her friend rose from his makeshift seat on the box signaling their serious, private discussion was at an end. They'd been rude to the other guests long enough. Ted had made his point already and there seemed little else to discuss. Before either of them began the climb up the narrow staircase, Hermione grabbed his arm.

"I love you and Andy very much, Teddy. And little Dorie too. I would never want to put any of you in danger."

His arms wrapping around her back was his response. She could feel the familiar outburst of emotion threatening to make its appearance, but she knew she had to be honest. Even more honest than she'd already been with him. If Voldemort had come to his home for an unexpected visit, he already knew she was in grave danger. She didn't want him to keep on living without understanding how much she valued him, how much she loved his little family.

"We love you too. Very much. I have my eyes wide open, Hermione. I might not want to openly discuss it with Dromeda, but I've been worried. Practically expecting something to happen to you. I hate it, but I'm being honest."

"I wouldn't want you any other way."

"I'll keep my girls safe. The depths to which I'll sink to make that happen have no bottom. I'll make sure they come out of all of this alive."

She forced herself to not think about the fact that he would fall in the future. He would die and so would his daughter. Even willing to do what it takes wasn't always enough. Everyone had their limitations. Ted kissed the top of her head and pushed her gently away. The serious expression on his friendly, handsome face was replaced with the happiest of all his grins.

"Now, danger or not, you will be at our home Monday evening with an exorbitantly expensive bottle of wine. My Dromeda has tastes that I cannot afford, but we know your vault is overflowing with galleons to spend."

His cheeky wink made her laugh. If she'd thought for even a second that they might actually accept, she'd share every last knut she owned with them. But, they had their pride. Andromeda was a savvy businesswitch and Ted worked harder than any two men put together. They would be all right without her help.

"And bring that wizard of yours too. I'm sure he's going mad being stuck in that house all day with no excitement."

Hermione followed him up the cellar stairs with bottles in each of their hands. The intense conversation wasn't forgotten as she enjoyed the rest of the night with everyone she cared about, but she no longer felt such a heavy weight hanging over her when it came to the Tonks family. Whether either of them were willing to admit it or not, they'd said their goodbyes down in that cellar. Though they might see each other again a hundred times before she finally disappeared, she felt good about the fact that nothing was left unspoken between the two of them. She would say her own goodbyes to Andromeda and Nymphadora in her own way. Neither of them needed to understand that it was likely to be the final goodbye.

She spent the rest of her birthday party moving amongst the people she loved with a new appreciation for them. Each one had their own special time with the birthday witch. She was even uncharacteristically kind to Fabian after she hugged Emmeline tight. Even if she didn't come out and tell them goodbye, she hoped that each one of them would carry a happy memory of her around with them when she was gone. What started out as a birthday she wanted to hide from became the best birthday she had ever had.

December 18. 1980

11:59 am

December was quickly becoming Hermione's least favorite month of the year. What should have been a season of excitement for the coming holidays and the new year was anything but. Not knowing the exact date of her disappearance, only a vague idea, she wandered through the month with her head consistently turning to peer over her shoulder at a danger she knew lurked just out of view. It was coming. She knew it.

The three months since her birthday passed in record speed. Another one of those examples of how time almost sped up when one wished to slow it down. As the end of her life ticked ever closer, she made sure to enjoy the little moments as much as she could. Though she often had to fight back the urge to unburden her soul to Kingsley about the night she spent in Antonin's bed months earlier, those few months were the best months of their entire relationship. Maybe their time apart taught them to cherish each second. It didn't really matter why it was so special, only that it was.

Once her wizard was cleared to return to the Ministry for active Auror duties, their time together was precious simply because there seemed to be so little of it. Kingsley was often home long after she was in bed and gone long before she woke up. Some days the only time she saw him was when she woke up in the middle of the night. As much as she wanted to wake him up just so they could have some time together, she knew he was exhausted and needed his sleep. The nights of the Full Moon were always spent sleeping at her dad's. Kingsley was out every Full Moon as the werewolf activity increased. She began even staying over at her dad's for a few nights before and after the Full Moon just to be safe. She didn't want to even imagine what it would be like to be caught alone by Greyback when he was gearing up for or recovering from his monthly transformations.

The werewolf hadn't been keeping to himself like she hoped he would. He continued watching and following her when he felt like it. She knew just by what history she'd read in the future and from what little Remus Lupin told her about his role in the first war that Greyback was amassing a large, dangerous pack. He was doing what he could to unite the poor souls afflicted with the same curse he had. Most of them were simply society cast-offs with no support system and nowhere else to go, but some of them were becoming as fanatic as their leader. Where he found the time to periodically drop by to interrupt her daily routine with an obscene remark, a disturbing conversation or just a dropped purple thistle, she didn't know. Nor did she care. She had too much happening in her life to worry about Greyback.

Voldemort was leaving her alone. That fact alone was enough for concern. She wasn't naive or stupid enough to believe that he had forgotten the incidents in the hospital lift. If he hadn't been so busy trying to take over the country with violence and ensure his own immortality, he might have been bothering her more. Hermione pushed her fears aside as much as she could. There was too little time remaining to concern herself. He would come when he did. She had to make her time left matter.

"Ahh, there you are, Hermione. You were almost very nearly late."

One minute before their weekly lunch was schedule to begin, Hermione arrived at her customary table to find her Uncle Regnault waiting impatiently. Though their relationship had improved an enormous degree she never would have imagined when she first met him years earlier, he wasn't a completely altered man. His feelings on punctuality would likely follow him into the grave, whenever that was. Hermione knew nothing about his future, but worried that he wouldn't get to enjoy the benefit of a long life. So few did in those days.

She accepted his kiss on her cheek before sitting down in her usual chair. Even the rising fear that she only had days left alive didn't excuse her from the weekly meal. To be honest, she wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else. She loved Regnault with all of his faults and antiquated ideals. There was more to him than she used to give him credit for. Once a chore she despised, her weekly lunch with her uncle was often the highlight of her entire week.

"I'm very sorry, Uncle. Lost track of time at the pub."

"It's awfully early to be at the pub. Surely your father isn't open for breakfast now, is he?"

"No, I spent the night there last night. I was checking the inventory before I left."

"I didn't think Aberforth finally gave in to your repeated insistences that he begin serving meals. Is everything all right between you and Kingsley?"

An involuntary smile crossed her face at mention of her wizard. Everything was going wonderfully. Even if they couldn't see each but a few hours a week because of his crazy schedule, they were most definitely hours worthy of remembrance. Maybe it was because every second that passed was sweeter because she knew they were nearing the end. Maybe they were both trying so hard to assuage their respective guilts over what happened in July. Whatever it was wasn't important. All that mattered was they were no longer taking the other for granted.

"Ahh, I suppose so." Regnault chuckled softly. "Why were you at your father's?"

"Kingsley works long hours. He doesn't like me being alone so close to the Full Moon. If he's not working, he wants me with Dad."

Her uncle nodded his head in approval. The time of the Full Moon was rapidly becoming quite dangerous all over the country. No longer concentrated in certain areas, there were reports of attacks in every corner. When one of the young children in the Rosier family was attacked and killed by a vicious werewolf near their home, it became evident that even the most respected members of the Sacred Twenty-Eight families were at risk.

"Is he working a great deal?"

She sighed. Not wishing to bring up any thoughts of the arguments they'd had about his erratic work schedule, she took a small sip of the wine already waiting at the table.

"Just last night I was telling Dad that sometimes I feel like we are two ships passing in the night. We rarely see each other. Days pass when the only interaction I get with him is the kiss he gives me on my forehead when I'm asleep."

"This can't last forever. I'm sure it will all get better. Christmas is just next week. Will he be coming with you to dinner?"

"That is still the plan. He begged Moody to let him have the night of Christmas Eve off and all Christmas Day. Unless something major and unavoidable happens, he'll be there."

It felt strange making plans for a day she knew she wouldn't be around to enjoy. Aberforth told her years earlier when she first arrived that she disappeared a few days before Christmas. Since that slip-up, he'd resolved to never tell her anything else that he learned from his older self inside the letter and pensieve memories. He didn't want her to know too much. It was dangerous, he'd insisted.

She wasn't ignorant enough to not be aware of the fact that her end was coming at some point during the upcoming Full Moon cycle. Whether it was Saturday, Sunday or Monday, she couldn't ignore the arrival of the worst time of the month. All that kept her from being too terrified of Greyback's involvement in her disappearance were memories she had of him in the future.

The night she and the boys were captured by the Snatchers was one she would never forget. It was burned forever in her consciousness. Greyback's eyes had fallen on her only moments after the enchantments protecting their tent fell. At the time, she didn't understand why he seemed so confused and even a bit stunned. Everything that passed happened so quickly that she didn't have the chance to dwell too much on his initial reaction. The cretin Scabior was the one to grab her arm. She despised the feel of his hand on her body, the disturbing twinkle in his eye. If the two of them were alone, she had no doubt he would hurt her in ways she couldn't imagine then.

Greyback's deep growl in the back of his throat frightened everyone, including his compatriots. He took hold of Hermione with a glare that dared Scabior to protest. In the end, he'd released her when he realized Harry was in the group. His attention had to be paid to the most important of the prisoners. That didn't stop him from glancing in her direction over and over again. When she had been handed over to Bellatrix for torture, he'd enjoyed tormenting her himself a few times while she laid on the floor unable to move. Whispers of the obscene acts he would commit on her when she belonged to him. Promises that he'd never let her get away from him again. Repeated sniffs of her hair and the skin at her neck.

"You smell just like your mother."

She hadn't understood his words at the time, but it hadn't taken her long in the past to discover the true meaning. Greyback believed that Hermione Granger was the daughter of Hermione Dumbledore. If he didn't seem surprised that she existed in the future, he must not have been the instrument in her murder. She couldn't imagine that he wouldn't try to approach her in the next few days. He had been making himself a nuisance more than usual. Years earlier, he'd known that she was pregnant with her lost child before she knew it herself just by the change in her body's scent. If he didn't smell the change when he saw her next, his reaction to finding Hermione in the future made sense. He likely assumed Hermione ran away when she disappeared.

"I hope that we will see you both there."

Regnault's voice broke through the haze of memories afflicting Hermione's mind. She looked up to meet his concerned eyes. Though he might have tried to keep from allowing any emotions to show on his usually stoic expression, she'd learned a great deal about the man. She felt confident in her abilities to read him. He wasn't nearly as cold and unfeeling as she once believed him to be.

"You're looking tired. Are you sure you're all right?"

"Thank you, Uncle. I am. Sleep's been eluding me a bit lately, but I'm sure I'll be perfectly fine soon."

"I will have my Healer send you a sleeping potion."

"That's not necessary."

"I insist."

She smiled at her uncle, grateful that he was so determined to see her provided for. There was much to love about the man she once loathed. If she really was his favorite like his sons declared, she worried what would become of him when she was killed. Would he revert back to the cold, unfeeling man he used to be? Regnault would suspect Lord Voldemort the moment she disappeared. Would that get him into trouble too? He was a man who was relentless in his pursuits. If he wanted to discover the truth, Regnault would stop at nothing. She feared that the likelihood of getting on the wrong side of the Dark Lord was strong. If she was the reason her uncle was brutally silenced, she would never be able to forgive herself.

"Did you know when we first starting meeting for lunch, Uncle, I hated it?"

Regnault's reaction to her confession wasn't what she expected. Far from being offended by her statement, he laughed out loud. Unused to hearing such a sound of mirth from one of their most formidable customers, several of the restaurant staff halted in complete surprise. Hermione couldn't stop a smile. Between her love for making her uncle laugh and the amusement she felt at watching the poor witches and wizards who had bent over backwards to serve her uncle over the years, she was happy.

"How thick do you imagine I am, Hermione? Of course I knew you hated it. If I may be so honest, I didn't particularly care for them either."

"Then why did you insist we keep meeting?"

The smile on his face slipped by a couple of degrees. Though still handsome, Hermione noticed how rapidly her uncle had aged in the years she'd known him. Once she thought he was a bitter, angry man who lived purely on spite and hatred. It had taken time, but she learned how very wrong she had been.

"Because I'm stubborn and I wanted it to get better. I suppose I believed that eventually you would give in to me out of sheer exhaustion."

His smile brightened slightly and she softly laughed. There might have been humor in his words, but she knew he was completely serious. Over the years they'd had countless conversations about the similarities between their relationship and the one his father and her supposed mother had. Roesia Lestrange had eventually given up any hope of having anything to do with her family. Their father had been much harsher and less likely to bend than his son. Regnault was far from being an uncomplicated man. He simply learned the valuable lesson that his father never did. No one could control another person. Not entirely. He could never force Hermione into the mold he wished her to fit in. However, he could recognize opportunities within himself for growth and reflection. Hermione believed that there were many ways Regnault differed from his father whether he realized it or not. Just their drastic difference in opinion of how a wizard should never beat his wife or children was a big one.

"I hope I haven't proven to be a disappointment to you, Uncle."

Regnault reached across the small table to take Hermione's hand in his. The simple public act of affection meant more to her than she could articulate. It showed that there was a human side behind the man who always worked so hard to prove otherwise. She looked up from his hand on top of hers to meet his serious, light green eyes.

"You are far from being a disappointment, my dear. I am so proud of the person you are that sometimes I fear the very buttons will pop off my robes. There are not adequate words to express what you have meant to this family, what you have meant to me."

Feeling her eyes prickle with unshed tears and her chest tight with emotion, Hermione didn't know how to respond. Regnault had been honest with her many times in their acquaintance, but never had he been so raw. Only the evening he stormed into the hunting lodge and held her in his arms had he been as open. He squeezed her hand and released it. She tried not to lament the loss of the simple touch. Every time anything happened in those days, she wondered if it would be the last time.

"The strength of character you have shown in these years, especially considering what You-Know-Who put you through, is remarkable. You would have made your mother very proud. I know I am."

"Thank you, Uncle."

They were interrupted briefly by the waiter requesting their orders. When he stepped away from the table, some of the heightened emotions surrounding the pair dissipated slightly. Hermione met her Uncle's gaze and smiled.

"I used to hate these lunches, but now they are my favorite time of the week."

"As they are mine."

Much as she might have wished to ignore the truth, Hermione found it impossible to forget that this would be the last lunch she ever had with her uncle. Late or early or just barely on-time wouldn't matter again. This single hour that she looked forward to with dread in the beginning and then with joy would never be repeated. When she was gone would Regnault continue to return each Thursday at noon? Would he sit at an empty table and stare at the chair where she should've sat? Or, would he refuse to return to the restaurant ever again? None of the possibilities were good.

When their meal concluded and there was no logical reason to keep from getting up from the table, Hermione sat in her chair and stared at her uncle. She wanted to sear the memory of his face and the imperious manner in which he sat at any dining table into her psyche. For however long she remained alive, she wanted to remember him just as he was that day. He smiled at first, but when he grew uncomfortable with the stares, stood up from the table with a flourish of his expensive robes. She smirked to herself and rose.

"Christmas dinner will be served promptly at seven. Do not be late."

Regnault kissed her cheek once more and headed for the front door of the restaurant. The thought of her uncle's last words to her being potentially about her punctuality struck an amused chord within her. She loved him dearly, but the wizard's obsession with time was more than a little obnoxious. His words, however, captured his personality more effectively than anything else.

Out in the cold December afternoon on Diagon Alley, Hermione wasn't ready to go back home. Despite the constant fear of death and danger lurking over everyone's shoulder, Christmas was only days away. Shoppers were braving the area to purchase gifts. Though the season wasn't nearly as bustling and filled with the laughter as it had been in years past, she felt an excitement in being amongst the others. She pulled her heavy cloak tighter and began walking down the Alley.

She always had so much on her mind that it was truly a wonder she was ever able to find any small amount of sleep at all. There certainly was no peace to find in her mind. She did what she could to push aside thoughts of the worst of her troubles to attempt to enjoy the walk. Nearing Flourish and Blotts, she tried to decide if she wanted to go inside. Books had always held an attraction to her since long before she could even decipher what the print inside of them meant. But, the practical side of her reminded her that it was foolish and wasteful to spend money on books that she wouldn't live long enough to read. The final decision was made when a chilly burst of wind blew up her robes inches from the door. There was no harm in simply looking at the volumes for sale while she enjoyed the warmth of the store.

A crush of shoppers filled the ground floor of the store. After being run into by a witch not paying the slightest bit of attention to where she was walking and an elderly wizard elbowing her in the side when he turned too abruptly, Hermione made for the stairs. The rarer, more obscure books that didn't sell well were kept up there. She'd uncovered many hidden treasures up there since she was a child.

Only steps into a section devoted to the rarely studied field of Alchemy, she caught sight of a familiar silver beard and half-moon spectacles. If her uncle hadn't turned in her direction in that exact moment, Hermione would've been tempted to sneak back down the stairs and into the cold. When neither one of them could deny that they were aware of the other's presence, Hermione sighed and stepped forward while Albus set down the book he'd been examining.

Neither of them ever knew what to say to the other beyond perfunctory pleasantries they would've made to any stranger. To Albus, his niece was a mystery he longed to understand, but to Hermione, her uncle was a flawed man who made poor choices that she didn't want to forgive. She tried to ignore the irony of the fact that she'd just left the presence of the one uncle she actually adored to wander into the presence of the one she wanted nothing to do with. Would her pleasant afternoon be marred by unpleasantness? She thought it likely that it would.

"Good afternoon, Hermione. I trust you are well."

"Yes, thank you, Uncle Albus. How are you?"

"Intrigued by a number of books I shall likely never find the time to read."

It was a sentiment she understood all too well. Her uncle kissed her cheek and instantly stepped back as if she would strike him. Nothing about their interactions ever felt comfortable or relaxed. Part of her felt guilty that of all the people she would be leaving behind in mere days, Albus Dumbledore was not one she would miss.

There had been opportunity in the previous nine and a half years for the two to strike up a cordial relationship. Neither of them had been interested. Albus might have claimed to have cared deeply for Hermione, but she wasn't sure she believed him. He always made her feel like she was nothing but an annoyance, an embarrassment he wished to ignore. To sum it up succinctly, he treated her exactly as he treated his younger brother. Hermione hadn't been interested in trying simply because of her knowledge of what he was willing to do for the Greater Good. Some wounds would never heal. She would never forgive him for raising her best friend as a lamb for slaughter.

"I find that I feel much the same way each time I enter a bookshop."

"Yes, but you are young. There's still time for you."

"I hope you have a happy Christmas, Uncle Albus."

She turned away from the Headmaster to head back for the stairs. Before she'd made it even a single step, the touch of his hand on her arm stilled her movements. To run away when he clearly had more to say would just be rude. She didn't want to give him any excuse to think any less of her than he already did.

"Mr. Fenwick and I have found it strange that you haven't requested any further names from us in quite a while."

"While I appreciate your help, Uncle, I'm no longer in need of it."

"Has Tom been able to secure your loyalty at last?"

His words, spoken in a whisper, felt like a slap across her face. She spun around to face the horrible man with determination and no fear. After a quick glance around the immediate vicinity to ensure they were truly alone, she pulled up the sleeve covering her left forearm. She held it out for him to gaze on the unmarked flesh.

"It's always such an encouragement to know what faith you have in me, Uncle."

If he had anything to say in response to her display, Hermione didn't wait to find out. She practically ran down the stairs and pushed through the crowd to the front door. Only when she was far from the bookstore did she slow her pace.

December 19, 1980

9:20 am

It had been tempting to stay in the warmth of her bed all day instead of get out into the cold. When Hermione's alarm went off on the Friday before Christmas, she whimpered and snuggled back under the covers. The sound of Kingsley's amused chuckles inches away didn't help. He lifted the top of the blanket to peer down at his witch underneath.

"The owls will be there soon. If you don't get up now, Roddy'll probably get himself put in St. Mungo's again. Don't want to ruin Christmas for everyone, do you, Little Witch?"

She groaned and turned just enough that he could see her glares. Some coaxing had been necessary to finally get her out of bed, but she'd managed. Though certainly not with a pleasant attitude.

A large group of owls had been ordered for the last shipment before Christmas. The demand for post owls increased with the violence. Fewer people were willing to venture out of the safety of their homes. A personal post owl could also help keep families informed of the welfare of their relatives that lived outside the home. They made imminently practical gifts and the Magical Menagerie was struggling to keep the supply up with the demand.

Hermione needed until almost half past nine, a full two hours after their arrival, to settle each of the animals down enough to feel confident about leaving them for the remainder of the day. As she swept up the inevitable mess that always followed dozens of owls around, she felt a presence at her back. Her nerves had ben perpetually on edge since the incident in the hospital lift. Determined that she wasn't going to back down without a fight, she grabbed the handle of the broom with both hands and spun around to prepare for an attack by a very confused Caradoc.

"Shit, I'm sorry."

"A bit jumpy, are we, love?"

She muttered out a response that he didn't quite catch. Being around Caradoc was difficult. One of the kindest souls she'd ever had the fortune to meet, she wasn't ready to say her goodbyes to him. Her end was rapidly approaching. For all she knew, she wouldn't be slipping back into the bed she shared with Kingsley that night or any other night.

"It's all right. I understand."

Hermione dropped the broom to the floor with a loud crash. To his complete surprise and a bit to hers, she wrapped her arms around Caradoc's neck and squeezed him. There was hesitation in the beginning, but soon he gave in to the unexpected embrace. She was grateful for an odd break in the incessant stream of customers that plagued their doors. A few minutes was all she needed.

"You know there's no shame in running away, don't you, Caradoc?"

The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. Not once had she ever even hinted to her friend that she knew he was a member of the Order or that she knew he would one day soon disappear just like she would. When she was worried about his dangerous choices, she remained silent. Caradoc would follow Gideon anywhere he went whether she approved or not. As much as he still continued to care for Rodolphus, Caradoc had found the love of his life in the kinder of the Prewett twins. Knowing that he would likely still be around to learn the fate of his wizard, Hermione's heart broke for the pain she knew he would endure.

"What are you talking about, Hermione?"

She pushed away from him, but kept her arms around his neck.

"Don't be such a fool that you feel like you have to stand your ground and fight. You can just run away if you need to. Vengeance never made anyone happy, not truly."

"I'm not sure where this is coming from, but I'm no coward."

"Of course you're not. You are a loyal Hufflepuff who believes in the good in others. It's one of your strengths, but it's also one of your weaknesses."

"Loyalty and faith are never weaknesses, love. If there's a reason to fight, you can be sure I'll be right there doing my part."

"That's what I was afraid of."

She placed her palms on each of his cheeks before kissing his forehead. A tiny voice inside her told her that it was a good thing she was going to die soon. Imagining a world without Caradoc Dearborn in it to make her laugh was a nightmare. He returned her kiss and with a dazed and still quite befuddled expression on his face, walked to the backroom. If he truly needed something from the stockroom or if he was simply needing a moment alone, it didn't matter.

"Did I walk into something serious?"

Rodolphus didn't even have a chance to stop walking before Hermione's arms were around his waist and her head on his chest. She'd been extremely emotional for days. A feeling she tried to ignore that this would be the last time she was in the store was overwhelming. Remembering that there was still a weekend ahead and Christmas still hadn't arrived, she realized it was a foolish thought. Unless she was killed that night, she'd be back in the morning to help open the shop.

"You've been acting strange today, Hermione. Are you feeling all right?"

She stepped away from her worried cousin to continue the restocking. It was an inane task that gave her hands something to do while she feared her mind would go mad. Rodolphus didn't hesitate to turn the corner around the shelves to follow her. The worry lines on his forehead grew even more pronounced.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong, Roddy."

"Don't lie to me, Cousin. I know you too well."

Telling him the truth wasn't an option. If he suspected for even a moment that she was in serious trouble, he'd shove her under his arm and run. There was nothing he wouldn't do to keep her safe. Rodolphus would spend the rest of his life running if it meant she would stay alive. As much as it warmed her heart to know the depths he would go to help her, she knew she couldn't be selfish. She couldn't tell him everything. Instead, she leaned up on her tiptoes, kissed his cheek, and reminded him about Neville.

"Are you ever going to explain to me what that means?"

"No. You'll figure it out for yourself soon enough."

He'd tried many times over the years to wriggle out of the secret, but she wasn't budging on her determination to remain silent. It was her own way of trying to keep him safe. Maybe one day he would realize her intentions. She hoped so.

"Want to tell me what was happening with you and Caradoc?"

"Nothing serious. I was just telling him not to do anything stupid."

"Are you planning on doing something stupid?"

Rodolphus was more perceptive than she usually gave him credit for. Sometimes he surprised her with a well-timed remark. He also knew her very well. Her secrets might have never been revealed to him, but he was close enough to her to know more than she probably realized.

"Who plans to do anything stupid, Roddy?"

Her attempt to joke off his concerns fell flat. Just as she was about to try another approach to assure him that she was all right, a commotion in the shop caught their attention. Subtle at first, some of the animals grew restless. Owls hooted. Kitten mewled. The lizards and rats paced their cages. It steadily grew worse. Hermione felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up when the animals reached a fever pitch. Afraid to turn around to face the front window, she summoned up her courage.

Greyback made no secret that he was staring at them both. None of the animals calmed with the werewolf outside. When she made eye contact with the monster, his lips quirked into a feral grin. He winked at her and stalked off. Slowly, the animals began to quieten down. Hermione, however, could still feel her heart pounding. If his purpose was simple to remind her that he was nearby and always watching, he'd made that clear.

"What the bloody hell was that about?"

The entire event lasted less than a minute. She hardly had enough time to give her cousin standing next to her a second thought. The fearful expression on his features made it clear that he was fully aware of the identity of the man they'd just seen outside on the pavement.

"Nothing you need worry about, Roddy."

He refused to let her brush him off. After demanding repeatedly that she tell him what was going on, Hermione relented. Nothing but the truth would satisfy him, so she gave him an edited version of her history with Fenrir Greyback. Leaving out all mention of the night he attacked her or the other times he'd managed to get his filthy hands on her body, she explained that he had an unnerving obsession with her, but it wasn't something that she worried too much about.

"If you're not worried, why did Igor give you the locket?"

"I suppose because he was worried."

"And yet you continue to wear it?"

"Call me a sentimental fool, if you wish."

She would tell him no more. Already she'd revealed more than she ever intended. Her owls were settled and between the two men in the shop, there really was no need for her to be there. It bothered her to step outside knowing Greyback was nearby, but she had an appointment that couldn't be missed. Hermione removed her apron, kissed her cousin's cheek and swore to him that he had nothing to fear. She really hated lying to him.

Outside in the cold a few minutes later, she could still feel Greyback's presence. A quick scan of the area proved that he was just a few stores down watching her every move. She wasn't sure if it was frightening knowing where he was or just annoying. The Full Moon would be the next night. He was usually restless and desired to at least smell her scent nearby. She never forgot the warning that Igor gave her about allowing him to catch her alone right before the Full Moon. There was a desperation in a werewolf in that time. He would be even more dangerous than usual.

Not taking any chances, Hermione kept the monster in her line of sight as she Disapparated away from the busy Diagon Alley to a quiet alley in a less fashionable part of London. She'd been mentally ticking a list of all of the people in her life she wanted to see before she disappeared. Each visit had been difficult in their own way, but an addition to her next would prove to make it just a little harder, just a smidgen less palatable than all the rest. She would not only be saying goodbye again, but breaking a rule for herself she swore she'd never break again.

Grace opened the front door to their tiny flat with a bright smile on her face. Baby Dean, on her hip, reached his arms out towards his godmother without a single hesitation. Hermione scooped him up in a heartbeat, covering his giggling face with kisses. She had grown to love the baby a great deal. His precious mother who was always so quick with a smile and a joke had become a cherished friend. Life was cruel in its punishments.

Hermione didn't linger long in the flat. Her heart couldn't take too much of it. When Dean's beautiful eyes that he'd inherited from his father began to droop, she gladly accepted the task of laying him down for his mid-morning nap. For several minutes she stood over his cot watching his tiny chest rise and fall with each contented breath he took. She would give her very life and all that she had to spare him from pain. After a final kiss to his face, she whispered that she loved him and slipped out of his nursery.

It was tempting to take Grace up on her offer to stay for tea. Hermione had enjoyed her visits with the charming Muggle in the past. Each second she remained in the flat, she began to lose her nerve. If she stayed too long, she wouldn't be able to walk away. Thomas promised her that he would obliviate her from his wife's memory that night. It was for Grace's protection. And little Dean's too. They would both be safer if neither of them knew of her existence. She was grateful that at least she didn't have to cast the actual memory spell.

She made her excuses for not being able to stay longer and slipped out of the flat. Hermione thought about Thomas' statement about there coming a day when he kissed his wife and son goodbye and never returned. It was difficult to walk away from them when she knew it would be the last time she ever saw them again. How much worse was it for Thomas not knowing?

Snow began to fall as she walked down the Muggle street. It seemed fitting somehow, a physical manifestation of her mood. How much gloomier would it all get before it was over?

December 22, 1980

6:00 am

Her alarm woke Hermione out of a restless sleep. Not ready to get out of bed just yet, she rolled over on her side to stare at the sleeping wizard next to her. She could feel it in the air. Something was about to happen. Her time was almost up.

December 22, 1998

5:00 pm

The Minister for Magic was only able to endure being in his office until five in the afternoon. Waiting around all day for the arms on his clock to tick on was no way to live. He couldn't bear it for another second. Though his final plans for how he would wait out the rest of the day were unclear, Kingsley knew he had to get out of the Ministry. If he had to sit still for another minute, he would lose the last few strands of his sanity.

Gemma tried to stop him when he stepped out of his office, but he ignored his assistant and kept walking. Nothing but a national emergency would keep him. He knew his behavior was wrong and more than a little rude. Perhaps when he had Hermione back, he'd make it up to his assistant in some way. Flowers would probably give her the wrong idea about his intentions. A bottle of wine or fire whiskey might encourage the deluded witch to try to force him to partake in a glass with her whether he wanted to or not. Maybe a small bump in pay and removal to the Auror Department. Iain thought her pretty and it was past time he got over his unrequited love for Nymphadora Lupin.

Almost as if thinking about the man summoned him forth, Kingsley heard Iain's shout behind him in the Atrium. Even though he was reluctant to stop and give in to any impediment to his swift exit, he stopped moving to wait for his friend. Iain's face was lit up with an excitement he'd only seen when there was an exciting development in a case he was working on. He resolved to definitely move Gemma into the younger man's path. Work seemed to be the only thing he had in his life. Kingsley knew better than most that that was no way to live.

"I have a lead on that investigation of yours."

Iain winked. The Minister bit back a laugh. It was a good thing Iain had his talents in other areas. Stealth and secrecy were something of a struggle for him at times, auror or no. Better suited to using sheer force and intimidation, he wouldn't have lasted long in any position that forced him to keep a secret well. Unspeakable was a title he would likely never carry.

"Think I've almost got him. Just need some permission to try something a little unorthodox."

"If you think it'll catch the werewolf, you have my authorization."

"Excellent! Where are you off to in such a hurry?"

There seemed no reason to lie. Especially considering he wasn't giving the full details.

"Hogsmeade. I'm hoping to meet a pretty witch there later tonight."