A/N: Sorry for the delay in the chapter, my computer decided to delete all of it and I had to rewrite. I've also been working on a couple of exciting writing projects outside of fanfiction, one of which had a deadline that I had to meet.
An exciting bit of news regarding this fic though. It is a finalist in the Enchanted Awards in the Summer Lovin' (Best Love Story) category. If anyone follows Granger Enchanted and thinks this story is worthy of the title then please do vote. Voting is open until July 28th and details are available on the Granger Enchanted facebook page.
"Thank you for your help today Severus," said Kingsley, rising from behind his desk and offering his hand, "I'm only sorry that you had to go through the experience at all. Rest assured we are treating the incident with the gravity that it deserves."
"Indeed," said Severus taking his offered hand, "I have to admit that I was surprised to find you at the helm of this. I would have thought quite a minor event in the grand scheme of things would have warranted the attention of a lesser mortal than the Minister for Magic."
"The fact that the security of Hogwarts was compromised is only one of the issues," said Kingsley, the mask of the Minister falling away completely to reveal the man beneath, "I honestly thought this threat had been extinguished."
Severus smiled ruefully, "There will always be those who seek to challenge the status quo for their own ends and we are not so far from the war that it is so easily forgotten."
"I know but perhaps we have been too complacent," said Kingsley honestly, "With Voldemort gone it was too easy to believe that everything would fall back in line. I'm sorry that Hermione had to be hurt before we took notice."
Severus held up a hand, "Don't apologise to me for the fact that it was Hermione that was hurt. Yes I am upset on her behalf and I wish she had not been injured but this would have been as serious had it been any muggleborn," he said, "And I cannot fault the response we had to the incidents before this. Harry led his team admirably with the information they had and I don't want to hear that there has been any negativity passed his or Ron's way for their handling of this."
"Trust me, there will only be praise for their team," said Kingsley, leading Severus to the door, "If it is still your wish to see Ernest Calcraft I can arrange for Harry to escort you to the cells. I doubt you'll get much from him though, none of our agents could."
"Having had experience of the Ministry's idea of effective interrogation he is more likely to be afraid of those he could betray," said Severus, "Are you sure you are happy with me speaking to the boy?"
Kingsley cocked an eyebrow as they stepped out into the corridor beyond, "I do not believe you are foolish enough to attempt any sort of revenge within Ministry walls and besides, Harry will be present outside the cell and in possession of your wand throughout the duration," he said, "Though I still don't know why you wish to speak to him."
"I have my reasons," said Severus, the pair of them falling silent as they headed down the long corridor, the black polished tiles echoing their footsteps back to them.
Harry got to his feet as they rounded the corner to meet them, his face tired and more careworn than Severus had seen it but he smiled all the same.
"Minister," he said with a nod of greeting towards Kingsley, "Ready to go down Severus?"
"With the anticipation that it may be an exercise in futility, I am," he replied, "Lead the way."
"Be sure to send me an invite to the wedding Severus," called Kingsley to his back, "I cannot believe that Hermione has softened your tough old heart until then."
"Neither can I at times," said Severus as Harry led them away from the Minister and deeper into the underground tunnels.
"How's Hermione doing?" asked Harry after several more turns, "I'm hoping to visit her after my shift is over but I still don't know when I'm going to get off."
"She was bright enough when I left Hogwarts," said Severus, "The potions Poppy is giving her make her sleepy but better that than the pain she'd be in otherwise. I can't believe it's less than a day since it happened. Feels like the world has spun around more than once."
Harry laid a hand on his shoulder, his glasses doing little to hide the dark circles under his eyes, "I know what you mean," he said, "I'm sorry we had to drag you away so quickly but these things are better done when it's fresh. I did try to convince them to interview you at Hogwarts along with Hermione but they said they couldn't as you were capable of coming here."
"To be fair it made me go home and change," said Severus, "Poppy would have been booting me out later on today otherwise. Besides, having had a chance to think things over, I need to speak with Calcraft."
Harry frowned, "I'm still not sure what you think you'll get out of him."
"Neither am I," said Severus, "But Hermione… she won't give up on him."
Harry came to a halt before a door, taking his wand from his pocket and releasing the charms that kept it locked, "Well don't blame me when he doesn't say a word," he said, holding out his hand, "I need to take your wand. Protocol I'm afraid."
Severus pulled his wand from the sleeve of his black frock coat and placed it in Harry's hand, "I'm entrusting this to you," he said as the younger man closed his hand around it, "No one else."
Harry nodded, "Understood," he said, opening the door, "All yours."
Severus didn't hesitate as he stepped through the door, Harry closing it behind him but he knew he would not move from the other side until Severus chose to leave. He turned his attention to the cell before him, glad to find it a world away from what he had known in his brief stint in Azkaban. The room was sparsely furnished but comfortable, with a low bed in the corner and a small table bearing a goblet of water and a plate of uneaten food, the young man in custody clearly not interested in eating.
Ernest Calcraft cut a small, lonely figure on the bed. His school uniform replaced by a plain, dark blue set of robes that were clearly Ministry issue, the outfit several sizes too large for him and making him look more like a first year than a seventh. His eyes were unfocused as he stared down at the tiled floor, his concentration too far away to realise that he was no longer alone in the room.
Leaning against the doorframe, Severus made certain that the toe of his boot made enough noise to rouse the young man as he crossed one leg over the other, his posture far more relaxed than he would ever have been seen at Hogwarts. He kept his face impassive as Ernest looked up, unmoving as the boy all but threw himself back against the farthest wall.
"Don't kill me," he begged, "How…how did you get in here?"
"They let me in," said Severus, "And as for killing you boy, if I had wanted to do that you wouldn't have lasted long enough to beg me not to."
Ernest shuddered, pressing further back against the wall, "If you're not going to kill me, why are you here?"
"I came to talk."
"To…talk?" squeaked Ernest, before he cleared his throat, "I have nothing to say to you."
"I did not say that I required you to talk," said Severus, crossing his arms over his chest, "At this point in time, you need to sit, or cower if you so prefer, and listen."
Ernest's face hardened and for a moment Severus expected him to argue back but instead he just sat up a little straighter, trying to stare him down. Severus bit back a smirk at the sight, knowing that despite the bravado the boy was far more terrified than he thought he was letting on.
"I'm not about to rehash what happened," said Severus, "But I must to admit that I do not understand why it occurred. Of all your teachers, unless she has been reporting something different to me, Professor Granger has championed you, despite the way your relationship began. She has wanted you to succeed, she has pushed for you to succeed, and she has given up her time to make sure you succeed. She may have been in a different house from you in her school days and she fought against your family in the war but she has never let that influence how she has treated you or her other students. Despite this, you took it upon yourself to lead her into danger, to place her into the hands of people who would do her harm and then, when she was assured of rescue, you carried her off. The resulting fall has caused her injuries that have only been healed by the virtue of speed and the skill of Madame Pomfrey. You have hurt the one person who has fought tooth and nail for you but even now she wants to see the good in you."
Ernest sniffed, shrugging his shoulders as he stared petulantly at the wall opposite him, "More fool her," he said, "The stupid Mudblood deserves more than just injuries. She isn't fit to be called a witch."
Though he felt the familiar bristle rush beneath his skin at the word that had cost him the first friend he had ever known, Severus couldn't help but feel his lips twitch into a rueful smile, a mirthless laugh escaping him as he reached a hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose.
"Those words would carry a lot more weight if there was actually some conviction in them," he said, "Tell me, Calcraft, how long have you been rehearsing lines such as that in the mirror? Do you insult your bedposts in the hope that one day people will believe your words when you actually direct them at someone?"
"I don't have to answer to you," snapped Calcraft, "You're nothing but a blood traitor."
"Yes indeed," said Severus, "I am quite the traitor, to both sides at one time or another. You are hardly insulting me by pointing out the fact. I'm sure you could run off several other insults if I gave you the chance but I do not wish to waste my time. Instead, I intend to leave you here to whatever fate the Ministry decides for you. I will give you a little advice before I leave though. Your family don't always want what's best for you and friends that promise you the world if you go against your own ethics are fair-weather at best. You're young and you have people, whether you deserve them or not, who would support you if you choose to do the right thing. Make the right choice Ernest."
He didn't wait for an answer, not truly believing that he would receive one either way as Ernest continued to stare sullenly at the wall, his legs drawn up to his chest and his arms wrapped around them. He tapped on the door, the hinges creaking as it opened, before he stepped outside without looking back.
He sighed as Harry closed and locked the door behind him, weaving several spells over it before he turned to him with a quizzical look.
"Well I didn't hear any screaming," he said, handing Severus his wand, "And he looked as though he was still breathing."
Severus sighed, leaning back against the wall, "I'm not it the business of harming individuals in custody, however tempting," he said, "It was a wasted trip."
"What exactly did you hope to achieve?"
"I don't know," said Severus, before he straightened up, shaking off the dark feeling that had settled over him, "Hermione is determined not to give up on him and I thought…well, it is in his hands now. I just hope Hermione comes to terms with it. Anyway, I should let you get back to work and I should get back to Hermione."
"Others have turned back when they have been far deeper in," said Harry, "Tell Hermione I'll come to see her when I get off. Do you want me to walk you out?"
Severus shook his head, "I'll find my way. See you later."
Harry waved him off, heading deeper into the catacombs whilst Severus turned towards the exit. He was glad when he finally emerged into the great vaulted halls of the main entrance, finding it quiet enough that he did not have to wait for a fireplace to come free before he flooed back to Hogwarts, straight into Minerva's office.
He had not expected her there to greet him but he had wished she had been, the familiar sight of the large study that had been his during his time as Headmaster oppressive despite the vastness of the space. He suppressed a shudder as he felt the eyes of his many predecessors upon him, not pausing to look up as he resisted the urge to hurry to the sanctuary of his home and instead took the familiar path to the hospital wing.
When he had left for home and then the Ministry it had been early, the students not yet risen for their breakfast but now the school was busy. The weekend meaning the halls were crowded with idle children, Hogsmeade forbidden following the incident with Calcraft and Hermione. He could not blame Minerva for being cautious, the likelihood of their being more Death Eaters intent on disturbing the tentative peace that had surrounded them since the fall of Voldemort too much of a risk. Despite his understanding though, he wished that he had an easier path through to the hospital wing, the mutterings of his name and the sharp looks he received from some of the older students reminding him once more of the ambiguity of his legacy.
He was grateful for the sight of the doors that led to the ward, one of them standing open and he stepped through without bothering to knock, smiling at the sight before him.
Hermione was propped up on several pillows, her clothes changed from the hospital gown she had been in that morning to a more familiar set of pyjamas she had worn several times at home. Her hair was pulled back into a messy bun and she wore a small smile as she conversed with the Headmistress, looking a world away from the distress of the day before but Severus could see the faint lines of strain around her eyes that spoke of her frustration at being bedridden.
"Am I interrupting?" he asked, feeling the morning and his time at the Ministry lift as Hermione's smile brightened at the sight of him.
"Not at all," she said reaching out a hand to beckon him over, "I was starting to worry you weren't coming back."
"You're not getting rid of me now," he replied, quickening his step and taking her hand as he sat down in the spare chair next to the bed.
"Never thought I'd see you so sentimental Severus," said Minerva, "How was your trip to the Ministry?"
"Somewhat arduous," he said, "Kingsley interviewed me himself so it is clearly being taken very seriously. I just hope they can get to the bottom of everything and that no one else gets hurt. How was it here?"
Hermione shrugged, "I couldn't tell them an awful lot more than they already knew," she said, with a frown, "This whole situation is just heartbreaking, not least for all the other students as well."
"Don't you worry about that dear," said Minerva, "I will find someone. You just focus on getting better and come back to us when you're ready."
Severus looked between the two, confusion marring his brow, "What's the matter?"
"Poppy has said it will be at least two weeks until I can even feel my legs again and then another two or three before I can think about going back to work," said Hermione, biting back a sob, "That would take me to the end of term. I won't be around to help them through their exams and I feel terrible."
"You have prepared them well enough already my dear," said Minerva gently, "And I will arrange to get someone in to cover your classes. Horace may yet be amenable to coming back if he knows it's only for a few weeks."
Severus tightened his grip on Hermione's hand, seeing the heartbreak on her face despite Minerva's reassurances. The fingers on his free hand plucked absently at a thread on the blanket covering her legs before he reached up to capture a few strands of her hair that had broken loose from their band, pushing them back behind her ear.
"If it would ease your mind a little," he said, barely believing his own words, "I…as a temporary measure…I could… step in. It's not as though I don't know the subject."
If it hadn't been for the battle between determination and fear that was raging in his gut, he would have laughed at the opened mouth astonishment on the faces of the women before him. It was Hermione who regained herself first, tears springing to her eyes anew, but this time it was pride rather than sorrow in her gaze.
"You would do that?" she said, "For me? But you…"
"Question me and I might change my mind," said Severus, glad when she laughed before he turned his attention to Minerva, "My intentions are only half of it though. The final decision remains with the headmistress."
Minerva nodded, her own smile brightening, "Well it would certainly solve several problems but only if you are certain," she said, sobering slightly, "I know things were trying for you when you were here before and I don't want to risk your health by bringing you back here if it will bring up too many old memories."
"Perhaps it will create some better ones," said Severus, "And I'm intent on remaining at the school to aide Hermione's recovery anyway so I may as well be of use. I fear she may do me an injury if I'm hovering here all day, every day."
Hermione gave him an arch look, "You're quite right there," she said, "I will however also do you injury if you scare my students, my dearest love. You will have to be a nice professor."
"I will endeavour to meet the challenge," he said, feeling her hand tighten around his in support, "My reputation may precede me though."
"Then you will be assured of at least your first few classes being very well behaved," said Minerva, getting to her feet, "I will have to speak to the governors but I can't see them offering much opposition, your name was cleared almost as soon as the final battle was won."
"Well then, Professor Snape," said Hermione, "I'd best get someone to bring me my lesson plans for you to look over, as my substitute I will require you to follow my teaching methods for the rest of the year."
Minerva laughed, "I'll leave you two to hash it out," she said, heading to the door, "But do not exhaust yourself Hermione, Poppy would have my head if I let staffing requirements interrupt your healing."
She left the room with a swish of long robes, her chuckle still echoing back to them even as she passed the threshold of the door. Her absence brought fear to the fore but Hermione reached up, her fingers brushing against his cheek as she turned his attention to her.
"You're very brave my love," she said, "Very brave."
"Says the woman in her hospital bed," said Severus, "The governors may yet refuse."
"They wouldn't dare," said Hermione, "Minerva approves so you're in my dear. Until it is set in stone though, let's talk about other things. We still have a wedding to plan don't you forget."
Severus smiled, capturing her lips with a quick kiss, "I could never forget that," he said, "Though occasionally I have to remind myself it's real."
Hermione shook her head with a smile, "Foolish man," she said, "Now how about a proper kiss. No teachers about to tell us off for it."
"Well then," said Severus, "We must take advantage of the situation, Professor Granger."
"Couldn't agree more, Professor Snape."