When she wakes up, Arthur Weasley is sitting where Draco was before. "Hello, Hermione," he says, casting a silent Muffliato.
"Apparently I work for you?" Hermione asks.
"In the Department of Mysteries, yes."
"You're an Unspeakable?" Okay, this just keeps getting weirder. Neville Longbottom is a Potions Master. Arthur Weasley is an Unspeakable. What's next? Mundungus Fletcher as Minister for Magic?
"Yes, as are you."
"I am?" She didn't see that coming either. "Arthur, how much do you know about…all this?"
"About five years ago I asked Severus to do some work for us on a potion to extend the length of time someone could use one of the modified Time Turners. Once he knew I was head of DoM, he told me everything."
"He told you everything?"
"Well, not everything," Arthur smiles kindly. "He said some of it was private, and since he was a better Occlumens than I was a Legilimens, it was going to stay private."
"You're a Legilimens? So the whole dotty fellow who plays with Muggle appliances thing—"
"Keeps our Department flying under everyone's radar, yes. One the boys works with me. It's become quite the family business," he chuckles.
If he tells her Ron Weasley is an Unspeakable, her head will explode. "Bill?" she guesses, and he shakes his head. "Charlie?" Definitely not Percy. The absence of public acknowledgement would kill him.
"Fred?" Hermione gasps. "Fred Weasley is an Unspeakable?"
"And a damn good one, if I do say so."
Hermione can see how he would be, actually. She supposes that sneakiness is one of the primary requirements of the job. "He and George don't have their joke shop?"
"They do," Arthur says, "but Fred was bored by the tedious parts of actually running a business. He still does some consulting for them and brainstorms ideas with George, but Ron handles the management and expansion. They're in America and Canada now, opening in Australia next month. Ron's absolutely brilliant with investments and finance."
Ron the business mogul? She supposes it makes sense. He's a superb chess player, and strategy is strategy.
"He's the only one in the family who's any good with money, thanks in large part to Lucius Malfoy's mentoring."
"Lucius Malfoy is Ron's mentor? I thought you and Lucius Malfoy hated each other?"
"Water under the bridge," Arthur says with a wave of his hand. "When you starting dating Draco, you'd bring him to the Burrow with you, and the boys all became friends. When my boys and Harry found out there was a full-size Quidditch pitch at Malfoy Manor, well, we barely saw them anymore. Lucius would play chess with Ron because he was the only person besides Severus that Lucius couldn't beat in four moves."
"You were Minister of Magic in the timeline I obliterated."
"Severus told me. Dodged a bullet there, didn't I?" Arthur chuckles.
"You don't mind? I was feeling a bit guilty about that."
"Even if I wanted a political career—and I damn well don't—I'd want Fred and Ron alive more." He puts his hand on her shoulder. "You saved my boys, Hermione."
"He thought it would be best if you had time to absorb all the changes, deal with the integration of the memories that will be coming back, without the, erm, complications of, erm, all that."
"What if I want the complications? What if I want all that?"
Arthur sighs. "Hermione, things are going to be very confusing for a while. You've essentially lived two different lives for a seven year period."
"Arthur, where do I live?"
"You and Draco have a flat in London."
"I can't go back there. I have to tell Malfoy."
"I can't live with him and pretend to be in love with him."
"Being an Unspeakable means doing things you 'can't' do." His voice is hard, almost dangerous, a very, very un-Arthur-Weasley-like voice. Unlike the Arthur Weasley she used to know, anyway. "It's in the job description, and you signed up for it."
"But I don't remember signing up for it."
"I know," Arthur says, more gently. "But you will, soon."
Can they hold her to an agreement another version of her made? "Malfoy's going to hate me if I break our engagement without telling him why."
"Then either you don't break the engagement, or he'll just have to hate you. And stop calling him Malfoy. His name is Draco, and you're supposed to be in love with him."
"You're not the Arthur Weasley I knew."
"That's also part of being an Unspeakable. No one outside the Department ever really knows you."
Hermione thinks about this, nods.
"In a few months," Arthur says, "you may not want to break your engagement."
"Oh, my God. That's why Severus left."
"Is he…with anyone?"
"I have no idea. Severus a very private man, as you know."
She does know. And she knows that a few seconds for her were seven years for him, seven years in which to sulk and brood and talk himself out of loving her, seven years in which he might have fallen in love with someone else.
The days before she can leave the hospital wing are filled with visitors—Harry and Ginny, Ron and Lavender (apparently she's actually friends with Lav-Lav), Neville of course since he's here at Hogwarts (teaching ruddy potions) and – here's the cherry on top of the mindfuck sundae—Neville's girlfriend, who is apparently no longer that Parkinson bitch but Pansy, Hermione's bosom chum. Has she no standards in this timeline?
Her parents can't come because they're Muggles, but she owled them when she woke up from the first round of potions, and she's going to stay with them for a few days once Poppy says she can leave. Malfoy's pouting about that, because apparently in this timeline no one ever tells him no. She seems to have kept her promise to the point that he's not a racist arsehole, but she's beginning to suspect that he's rather a spoiled brat who sulks when he doesn't get his way.
She also owled Severus only about six hundred or so times, but he hasn't answered. If he was trying to be noble and give her time, he'd write back and say so, wouldn't he? If he still cared about her he'd give her some indication. He wouldn't be this cold. Not the man she left just a few days ago, the man who seemed to love her as much as she loved him. He wouldn't do this. He couldn't.
Mum and Dad are flummoxed when she falls sobbing into their arms upon arriving home. She explains that her illness has her emotions in a bit of an upset, and she'll be fine, really. For the first few hours she doesn't want to let them out of her sight, following them around the way poor addle-brained Lucius used to follow Narcissa. Lucius whose mind is still brilliant for business in this timeline, and who has taken Ron Weasley of all people under his wing. Will any of this ever start to seem normal?
She's too embarrassed to ask if she can sleep in Mum and Dad's bed with them, so she brings the cat to bed with her instead. Does she have a cat (or more likely a Kneazle) at the flat she shares with Draco?
She does indeed have a Kneazle, she remembers the next day. His name is Peeves, because when he was a tiny kitten he was so mischievous that Draco kept threatening to let the elves make Kneazle stew. And yes, that's elves plural, because obviously two people living in a flat can't make do with a single elf, can they?
Memories started coming back when she was still in the hospital wing, and they're coming fast and furious now—studying for her NEWTs, meeting Neville's parents after they recovered, the emerald necklace Draco gave her in sixth year to formalize their courtship, working on projects at the Department of Mysteries (at least she loves her job), laughing with Fred at the office, shopping for a wedding dress with her friends, Mum, and Narcissa.
Her Muggle mother, shopping with Narcissa Malfoy, whom Mum calls Cissy. And Cissy (apparently Hermione also calls her Cissy) actually touching Mum without a getting a look on her face like she needs to be disinfected.
She remembers her first kiss with Draco, who can kiss just as well in this timeline. He obviously developed his skills with that Parkinson bitch (no, Pansy) before they got together. Without that surge of Dark magic heating her blood in sixth year, it never occurred to her that there was anything beyond Draco's lovely kisses to want. There was no little voice in her head telling her there was something more.
She remembers her first time, with Draco rather than Severus. It was a little awkward, as first times between inexperienced young lovers generally are (he apparently didn't get beyond extensive snogging with Pansy) but they were both eager and curious and things got better quickly. She's apparently very happy—with her career, with her sex life, and with her unlikely friends.
After three nights at her parents' house she supposes she can't put off going home any longer. She stops at the Ministry first to use the Pensieve. She watches every memory she's regained with Severus in it. During Potions class, she sees him look at her once in a while when she isn't looking, and he looks so sad.
There aren't many memories of him yet, but she sees a disturbing pattern in the ones there are. As the years pass, he looks at her that way less and less, until in recent years he seems completely indifferent. Finally, she watches the memory of him finding her in Remus and Tonks's rooms and taking her to the hospital wing, watches her throw herself at him, playfully demanding he take her to bed, and watches him respond with perfect indifference.
And that's when she knows he doesn't love her anymore. He didn't leave so she could reintegrate her memories without interference. He left because he simply doesn't want her, and it's easier this way. No pleading and crying and feminine histrionics. Just a clean break.
Hermione can't Apparate to her flat because she doesn't remember it, so Fred side-alongs her. He kisses her cheek and leaves her at the front door. She gathers her courage. She's going home to her fiancé, not into the arena to face the lions like the martyrs in Roman days. She's one of the lions, she reminds herself. She's a bloody Gryffindor and she can do this.
Peeves is full-grown now, and leaps into her lap the moment she sits down on a sofa that looks like it cost a year's salary. Draco vanishes the cat hair from the cushions and sits down beside her. He pulls her close. "I've missed you," he murmurs.
"Poppy said no, erm, conjugal relations for a few more days," she lies.
He grins. "They're not technically conjugal if we aren't married yet."
"You never call me Malfoy unless you're angry at me, which you clearly aren't." He kisses her neck. "Or unless you're demanding something unspeakably naughty in bed," he says, and his lips move from her neck back to capture her mouth in a kiss she can't quite respond to. He pulls away and frowns. "What's wrong?"
"I don't know," she lies again. "I just…I need a little time, okay?"
He looks confused, and hurt. "Okay," he says, and she leans against his shoulder.
He looks like her Malfoy, smells like her Malfoy, even kisses like her Malfoy, but he isn't her Malfoy. He's not that beautiful, broken boy she clung to in the grim days after the Final Battle. He didn't grow up to be the sad, self-aware young man who knew he shouldn't want the world to burn so he could be redeemed.
And more to the point, he isn't her Severus. Except that Severus isn't her Severus anymore. He's the cool, controlled teacher she remembers from the classroom, not the man who burned for her with a passion that matched the heat of her own. That man had seven years to cool his ardor and move on with his life.
How does she move on with hers? Marry Malfoy—Draco—and force herself to forget a life that isn't hers anymore? Or break it off because it isn't fair to marry him if she loves someone else? Arthur says she should wait until all her memories come back, but how can she wait here, going to bed every night with one man when she's in love with another?
Come on, you didn't really think we were already at the HEA, did you?