Chapter Twenty-One

"If I lose you or if you lose me, we can do just about anything to find the other."

The words hung in the cool air of the castle like a spider's web, bouncing off the stone walls in tiny echoes. The words still rung in Hermione's ears. She stood in the secret room staring at the two young lovers who quite possibly had just done the dimmest thing they could possibly have done. Dark magic, as has been proved countless times over the years is not something to be trifled with. There is always repercussions; a balance of light and dark, goodness and evil.

Slowly the two figures, the memories of Edward Canton and Mariah Dumbledore, began to dissolve and disappear from the secret room. Hermione found herself completely alone. There was a small chair in the corner that looked as if it was on its last leg, as clichéd as it sounds. If there was somewhere she needed to be, Hermione was unaware. She gingerly lowered herself onto the chair and sighed. An overabundance of thoughts whirled through her head.

"I did not read enough about the spell before I performed it," a familiar voice broke through Hermione's thoughts.

Jumping, not expecting to find herself to be hearing the voice of another, Hermione turned. To her left there stood a transparent form… Mariah Dumbledore. The young woman, obviously a ghost or specter or some kind, surveyed the room. In her eyes, Hermione saw a look of sadness and longing that she had never seen in another's. Miss Dumbledore was perhaps the saddest form Miss Granger had ever seen. Mariah searched the room, a yearning gaze for what had once been.

"M… Mariah?" Hermione stuttered, unsure if she could actually trust her eyes.

The ghost of Miss Dumbledore deliberately twirled to give her counterpart a half smile. This action did nothing for the sadness in her eyes. If anything, it only enhanced the emotion.

"Not quite in the flesh," Mariah answered, "But then again, neither are you."

"Wha… wha… I mean, I don't quite…" Hermione had difficulty forming her thoughts and questions into audible, sensible words. She felt she was going to burst. There were a hundred questions to ask, a hundred different facts she wanted to know.

"It is all a bit overwhelming, is it not?" the ghost smiled again. Her smile was as cold as the room they were huddled in. It was as if Mariah was finding irony in the situation that Hermione could not.

"Is this all part of the same dream? Are you figment of my imagination?"

Mariah laughed a tiny squeak of a laugh. It was very unlike Hermione's, a surprising sound from her body.

"I am surprised with you, Hermione," the smile this time was warmer. "You normally have all of the answers."

"How do you…?"

"I know a lot about you," Mariah admitted.

Hermione rose from her seat in one swift, frightened moment.

"Have you been…?"

"I have been watching you from the moment you entered this castle."

It was obvious that Hermione was discomforted with this admission. She involuntarily pulled her arms around her body, an obvious act of someone who has felt their privacy, and their person, has been violated.

"You've been watching me?" Her voice sounded hollow, almost as if she was not really saying the words herself.

"I like to check in on you to see how you are doing."

"Why?"

"Of course I expected you about twenty years earlier." She ignored Hermione's question.

"Why are you so interested in my life?"

Mariah smiled her cold smile again.

"Besides the tiny detail of you having my face, you are a significant part of any future I might have."

"I do not understand…"

"You were supposed to be here twenty years ago. I waited for you."

"When Professor Snape arrived?"

"It seemed only naturally that you would both arrive at the same time. After all, Edward and I were in the same year."

Hermione fidgeted nervously under the cool gaze of the specter. This was, after all, not an experience that one experiences every day. She was accustomed to seeing the House ghosts, Nearly Headless Nick, The Bloody Baron, the Fat Friar, and any of the other dozens of ghosts that for lack of a better term, lived within the walls of Hogwarts Castle. She was even accustomed to the antics of the resident poltergeist. Being in the presence of a young woman who died decades earlier and who also shared her face, made Hermione far from at ease.

"After awhile I began to wonder if you would ever come. Especially after Severus left school," she paused. "The day you were sorted I did not even go to the ceremony. Too many years of being disappointed."

Hermione tried as hard as she could to recall any time that she had seen this ghost who looked so much like her. If Mariah claimed to have been keeping tabs on both her and Professor Snape, it seemed only natural that their paths would cross eventually. As it was, she was positive that she had never laid eyes on Mariah.

"Why have I never seen you? I have seen all of the ghosts."

Mariah's cool gaze became a piercing stare. The question that Hermione posed was obviously not one she wanted to hear.

"I am not technically a ghost."

"What? But you… died, and now… you're still here."

Mariah sighed a loud, dramatic sigh.

"A side effect, I am afraid, from a foolish action of my past."

"The spell?"

"Unfortunately, yes."

The young woman did not go any further in her explanation. Hermione waited impatiently for her to elaborate. There was immense melancholy on the already cheerless face of Miss Dumbledore. Haunting memories, thoughts of what might have been, or perhaps, what should have been raced through her mind. There was much to regret. Her eagerness and naiveté changed not only her life, but also her love's life irrevocably.

"I was so consumed with the thought of being torn from my love that I was imprudent. I did not do enough research. For the past sixty years I have been locked in this castle and its grounds. No one can see me, not even the ghosts, but I can see everything," she was visibly troubled.

"If that is true…"

"Of course it is true!" She was upset. Her piercing words leapt from her mouth before she could halt them.

"But how can I see you?"

"You are not in the conscious world, that is my speculation," Mariah turned her eyes away from Hermione. "Having the ability to see everything, and yet being unable to be seen yourself is torture."

"I would imagine…"

"How could you possibly imagine?" Mariah snapped, quieting Hermione in a breath. "I have seen everything that has happened. I have gotten to know hundreds of students simply by watching them."

She whirled around to face Hermione once more. Her eyes were brimming with tears.

"I saw my uncle grieve for me. Can you imagine anything more frustrating? I was there. I could see him upset, and yet I could nothing. I could not even make him aware I was there."

"That must have been awful."

"You could not possibly have any idea."

From the moment that Mariah had made her presence known to her, Hermione had been thinking up additional questions she wanted to ask this presence. What exactly was this spell that she and Edward cast? Why could no one see her? If Mariah was there, why was Edward not there also? Every moment brought yet another question to her mind. But with each attack that Mariah brought upon the woman, each time she heard her say that there was no way she could understand the pain, Hermione found herself more and more frustrated.

"I have seen much and also been unable to have myself seen."

"What?"

"I have witnessed several events of the past, awful events. No one could see me. I knew what was happening. I tried to scream at them, tried to change everything, but no one could hear me. You say I do not understand what that feeling is like, but I am afraid I have to contradict you. I am very aware of how that feels."

Mariah laughed a mirthless laugh. No joy was in her eyes. Only coolness, anger, and a myriad of other emotions that were known only to her.

"Do you mean Henri and Camille? Isabella and James?" Mariah spat out.

"How do you…?"

"Or perhaps Gabriel and Clara?"

"How do you know about those?"

"Of course my personal favorite would have to be Antony and Cleopatra. Classic, tragic love story." Her words were bitter. They were mocking Hermione; there was no doubt about that at all. "Seeing those doomed love stories made you feel weak and powerless, did they, Hermione?"

"Y.. yes," she muttered.

"That is only a fraction of what I have had to deal with all of these years," Mariah's voice echoed through the tiny stone room. She seemed larger than life, unreal, and a bit frightening. Years of solitude had changed the once love struck teenager into a cold, daunting entity. "And they were not even real."

"Not real?" In complete contrast from the other girl, Hermione's voice was continually getting smaller. Her face fell at the words from Mariah's mouth.

"Only stories I read in books when I was a girl."

"Then how…?"

"How is it that you saw them, you felt you were actually there when it was all fiction?"

"Yes…" A tear dripped from Hermione's eye down her cheek.

"And how is it that each couple you saw bore such a stunning resemblance to yourself and your potions master?"

"Yes…" Tears followed the initial one freely down her face.

"One of my more brilliant plans, if I do say so myself."

Hermione could no longer stand to face Mariah. She turned away completely, hiding her crying eyes in her hands. She felt she had been crying forever. Each one of her eyes stung. Mariah did not even seem to care what her words and indeed, what her actions did to the other girl.

"Why did you do something like that to me?" Hermione asked in a strained whisper. "How could you make me go through something like that? What purpose is there in subjecting me to such sadness and pain?"

"It was not for you, Hermione, that I showed you. I did it all for me and for my welfare," she replied icily. There was no sign of remorse in her words or even on her face.

"Why would you do that?" Hermione screamed, shocking the other.

"Because… because I need your help."

"I am afraid that all makes very little sense to me, Headmaster," Severus sighed.

The two wizards were still seated on the stone bench in the corridor outside of the infirmary. For over half an hour Severus had listened with irritation to the old man's explanations of the odd occurrences of the previous few weeks.

"Then I shall explain it once more, Severus." Albus was exceedingly patient with the young professor, despite the other's frustration. "Three weeks ago I received a strange owl. It was addressed to 'Uncle'."

"But you have mentioned yourself that you have dozens of nieces and nephews. How could this have been so strange?"

"It was mostly a feeling that I received. One of those deep feelings that cannot be explained away. I hid the letter in my robes with the intent to read it later in the day. My curiosity soon got the better of me."

"What did the letter say?"

"Please be patient, Severus. It said only two words: Infinitas Infinitio. Are you aware of what spell that is?"

"Yes, the ancient binding spell! You mentioned it earlier. I have no idea what this has to do with myself or your niece or Mr. Canton or to Miss Granger!"

"It is indeed an ancient binding spell, a dangerous spell if done incorrectly. Three hundred years ago it was outlawed by the International Wizarding Confederation. All books that contained the spell were to be destroyed. Naturally a few copies remained. I remember my niece Mariah asking me about it one day."

"And this did not seem strange to you?"

"Mariah was asking questions almost as soon as she could speak. No doubt she had heard of the spell in passing or in some old book and she was curious. I knew very little about the spell myself when she asked. All I could do was simply point her in the right direction to books in the library that could explain it in more depth. In her last year at Hogwarts I found this book in her possession. She said she found the book in her great-grandfather MacNair's extensive library. She also assured me that she had it for educational purposes only."

"Did you believe her?"

"You unfortunately never knew my niece," Albus smiled at the thought. "She was extremely persuasive. Although I am loathe admitting it, I knew very little about the spell itself. I did not know what it did."

"What does it do?"

"When I received the owl with the name of the spell I grew curious. It had been almost sixty years since I had even thought of it. For days I read every book I could find about Infinitas Infinitio. When two people are in love and they feel that there are obstacles to having a future together, they could perform this spell. They mixed their blood on the eve of a new moon with a number of other ingredients one could easily find in the potions lab. If they were killed or kept apart from the other, they would find each other later."

"Some sort of tracking spell?"

"Not exactly. If they were met with tragedy, then their essence would remain on this plane of existence until they could be together in the future."

"As ghosts or some other entity?"

"No…" Albus hesitated before continuing further. "Until their physical bodies were reincarnated and they… uh, repeated the actions."

No sound was audible in the corridor. Severus could not believe what the headmaster was saying. The first time he explained his part in the events of the last day, Albus had never gone on to explain what the actual spell contained.

"Miss Granger and I… in order to fulfill this past spell, have to fall in love?" He was saying the words to himself more than he was saying them to the headmaster.

"I am not entirely sure about that, but I believe so. In one of the books I read there is an account that explains what happened in great detail. A young wizard fell in love with a noblewoman. Her father would not allow the two to be together. The young man performed the spell, mixing their blood and sealing it with a kiss, so that in time they would be together. As it happened the noblewoman was found to be with child. Her father had the wizard killed and then he in turn, had his daughter murdered.

"The essence of the young wizard remained. He was charged with the task of making certain that the two future incarnations of his love and himself, would meet and fall in love. The young man's essence was trapped. No one could see him, but he was able to perform magic to bring the two together. The first time the two incarnations were unsuccessful. For two hundred years the man waited until he finally succeeded."

Severus Snape did not want to hear any more fairy tales. This spell, this wretched spell sounded as if it came straight from a romance novel he had absconded from a third year girl who was caught reading in class. This was not a reality to him. The old man was insane to believe this rubbish.

"What does this have to do with any of us?" he demanded the elderly wizard.

"I felt that by reenacting what happened sixty years ago it would be possible to break the spell."

"You planned the explosion?" There was not a moment that Severus could ever remember being so angry. "You almost killed Hermione!"

"My niece cannot be in peace until the spell is broken."

"Damn the spell," Professor Snape hissed. "You could have killed Herm… Miss Granger. If she dies… if she dies, you will pay for it, Albus."

With a swift turn of his heels, Severus rushed to the door of the infirmary. His anger had never reached the point it was at that moment. Albus Dumbledore was no longer a wizard he respected. His fears, his feelings for his niece made him responsible for everything that happened to Hermione. She was still unconscious and pale. A gripping emotion of fear made Severus' stomach churn. If Hermione died he would never forgive the man who had given him a second chance at life.

"Why do you need my help?"

Hermione debated with herself for several minutes after Mariah's revelation. She was unsure if she was even willing to help the ghost who had been so angry, the ghost who was responsible for the awful events she had witnessed.

"Only you can break the spell. Only you can give me peace."

Mariah explained the Infinitas Infinitio enchantment to Hermione, just as Albus had done with Severus.

"I was imprudent. I thought that the moment we mixed our blood all of our problems would come to an end. If I had simply read more, done even more researching I would have learned that this would mean I would have no peace."

One question had been on Hermione's mind for the entire meeting. Granted there were about a million queries the young witch wanted answered, but one stayed with her.

"Where is Edward?" Hermione blurted out.

"I do not know." The brashness of Mariah's earlier tone was replaced by melancholy. "I thought that when he died, we would find each other. For years I did not know he died only days after I did. He was able to move on, but because of my foolish decision, I am stuck here."

For yet another moment, Hermione felt pity for Miss Dumbledore. Despite the false dreams full of pain and sadness that Mariah had inflicted on her in her weakened state, Hermione felt real sorrow for the young woman who had lost it all.

"How can I help you?"

"You and Severus have to repeat the process Edward and I did. That is the only way to break it."

"But," Hermione felt doubtful of this plan's effectiveness. "If I do this, won't I end up like you? Stuck between worlds after I die?"

"No, your actions will cancel out my foolish one. I can go on to the next world to be with Eddie. You and Severus can go on to live a normal, happy life."

Mariah touched Hermione's shoulder. Their surroundings instantly faded from the cold, drab hidden room to that of the darkened hospital ward.

"Look at him," Mariah whispered.

Severus was seated in a chair next to Hermione's sleeping form. He was still and silent, but his eyes never left her. In his face both women could see the fear and anxiety that he was feeling. That moment, one that was quiet and personal, revealed his worries and cares about Miss Granger.

"He has hardly left your side," Mariah announced. "He is terrified that you will never wake up, Hermione. Can you not see that?"

"He is simply watching for symptoms… to be certain that I am all right."

"If you believe that, then you are even more naïve than I once was. Can you help me?"

"I will certainly try."

Hardly a moment was lost before Hermione found herself back in her warm hospital bed. The aches and pains that had long since ceased to bother her were back with a full vengeance.

"Ugh," she groaned quietly.

Severus jumped from the chair.

"Miss Granger? Miss Granger, are you awake?"

"My head is pounding."

"That is to be expected."

"Professor Snape?" She tried to sit up, but he gently pushed her down. "Where is Professor Dumbledore?"

With a groan, Severus replied.

"Outside in the corridor."

Hermione needed to see the Headmaster. Before she had a chance to verbalize her desire, Albus Dumbledore swiftly came through the door.

"Miss Granger?"

"I saw her, Professor Dumbledore," she replied breathlessly.

"Saw who?" Severus asked harshly.

"Your niece Mariah."

Dumbledore's eyes filled with tears. He reached once more for his handkerchief to wipe them away.

"She is stuck in here, Professor," Hermione explained. "She is stuck inside Hogwarts."

"I was afraid of that," he said quietly.

There was a piece of parchment next to Hermione's bed. Wordlessly she reached for it and for a nearby quill. As quickly as she could despite the pain she was feeling, she wrote out a list. When she finished, she thrust the parchment into Severus' hands.

"Professor, you and I are the only ones who can help her. Please… please do this for her."

He did not need to be asked twice. If the truth were to be told, at that moment if Hermione Granger had asked him to steal Voldemort's essence from the Ministry of Magic alone and without a wand, he would have done it in a second. He rushed from the ward.

"Are you sure you know what you are doing, Miss Granger?" Professor Snape asked half an hour later when the three of them were once again gathered in the hospital ward.

"I believe so. Mariah told me what I needed to know."

A small cauldron was bubbling away on the nightstand next to the bed. Large flickers of blue flame leapt underneath it. With each ingredient that Hermione threw in the color of the potion changed and a loud hissing noise filled the room. She took a small knife and cut her hand. Dark red blood dripped down her palm and then onto her wrist.

"What are you doing, Miss Granger?" Severus asked with more than a little amount of concern.

She took his hand without warning and sliced it the same way she sliced her own. Their blood-streaked palms clasped around each other. Drops of their inter-mingled blood fell into the steaming cauldron with a hiss. A surge of unnatural energy ran through each of their bodies, leaving them both without air. Hermione was seated in the hospital bed, but she was close enough to pull her professor close to her. When their lips met for the first time, the energy coursing through their veins ceased.

"Mariah?" Albus could not believe what he was seeing.

The figure of Mariah Dumbledore came into full view. The sadness and anger that had once marred her features were gone, replaced instead with a light. She said nothing to her beloved uncle, the young woman who saved her or to the flustered and confused potions professor. She smiled at them silently before slowly fading into a pillar of light.

"Could you have that potion for me in the next hour, Hermione?" an elderly witch in the Ministry of Magic's Department of Mysteries asked the young potions expert.

"I will get it to you in twenty minutes," Hermione promised with a smile.

"Even better."

This was her life now. Two years after leaving Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, she was now a full-fledged expert. She loved her job. Every morning she woke with the sun excited about the prospect of what she was going to do that day. Every morning she had a new task to perform, a new potion to brew. The spontaneity of her career fascinated her.

Her arms were full of books, as they had always been. They were stacked way above her head. She had learned to trust that others in the department would move out of her way when they saw the book tower coming. It just happened that this particular day there was a stranger in the area.

"Excuse me. I am dreadfully sorry."

A strikingly handsome young wizard reached down to help her pick up all of her books. They had collided when he turned his eyes for a moment. He was unused to Hermione Granger and her penchant for heavy tomes.

"It was my fault entirely," she assured him. "I always carry too many books at once. My friends from school would tell you the same."

"Grant Haversham."

"Ahh, of course. I should have recognized you."

She rose from the floor and restacked the books in her arms once again. Only a few feet from her office she did not want to be distracted from finishing her task.

"And what do they call you?" Grant asked after her.

"Oh, uh, Hermione Granger."

"Well, Ms. Granger, perhaps I could make up for my clumsiness by taking you out for lunch this afternoon."

Hermione turned around to smile at Mr. Haversham. It was no secret to anyone that knew her or even about her that she had not dated anyone in years, not since she left Hogwarts. It was always assumed that she was subconscious of the cane she had to use to walk since the accident that almost took her life. Most believed that vanity or pride was what kept her out of the social world. No one, not even Harry or Ron knew that the real reason was because she left the only person she wanted to be with behind in Hogwarts Castle.

Grant Haversham was the gorgeous son of the newest Minster of Magic. Following a much needed retirement, Arthur Weasley appointed Grant's father to replace him. While thoughts of Severus Snape were never far from her mind, she had not seen him since the night they broke the spell in the hospital ward. He disappeared soon after Mariah did. While Hermione recovered in the ward, he hid in the dungeons, saying nothing to anyone. Now that Mr. Haversham was asking her to lunch, she felt for the first time in a long time, the strong inclination to agree.

"I would love to, Mr. Haversham," she replied.

"But she has already made plans for lunch today."

Hermione whipped around, dropping all of her books once more on the floor. Standing in the Department of Mysteries clad in his traditional black, buttoned up to the sky robes, was her surly former potions master. All at once she remembered that night with the utmost intensity. She remembered the emotions and energy that coursed through her body. And all at once she forgot Grant Haversham.

"Perhaps another time then." Mr. Haversham smiled at the two who had not taken their eyes from the other, and gracefully left the room.

"Professor…"

"Miss Granger…"

"I am no longer a school girl," she reminded him gently with a tiny hint of a smile on her face.

"That is something you do not have remind me of, Hermione."

They were silent for several moments. There was so much to say, so many questions that needed to be answered, so many explanations and excuses that had to be made. For several moments they simply stared at the other feeling that no words needed to be spoken at all.

"I am sorry it took me so long to come here," he said quietly, the first apology Hermione could remember hearing from him. "I wanted to forget, but I simply could not. When I read about Minister Haversham, I knew I had to come. I knew I could not let Grant Haversham marry you."

"What?" This was the first Hermione had ever heard mention of the time Severus dreamed the future. In time he would explain it all in detail to her, but it was still a great mystery at that moment.

"I will explain it all later," he promised. "Was I wrong to say you had plans?"

"Not at all," she smiled, reassuring him. "I would love to have lunch with you."

"Great then." He smiled an all-too uncommon grin. It was slight and hardly recognizable, but Hermione felt her breath catch in her throat.

"But first I have to finish a potion. Will you care to assist?"

The two of them entered her office, each knowing that their lives would never be as it once was.

The End

A/N: There it is! Thank you to every one who has read this story and reviewed him. To have my work so accepted has been amazing. I apologize that it took so long to finish, but these few months have been ridiculously crazy in my personal life. I got married in September and just found out that our family is growing again!:) Please know that I was not withholding chapters or not writing because I wanted you all to suffer with the not knowing. :)

There will be no epilogue to this story. Sometimes the best stories are the ones with open endings. If you have enjoyed my work in this piece, please check out my other Severus piece "Of Troubled Minds and Stolen Pensieves". Now that Kairos is finished I will be able to devote more time to it. I have excellent ideas for it just waiting to burst out!

Thanks again and I hoped you enjoyed Kairos!