A/N: Chapter 24 is called "WHAT?" for want of a better name. There is one thing mentioned here that came from HBP because I couldn't find a way for the story to move forward convincingly otherwise. So if you haven't read HBP already (How can anyone not have read it a few thousand times?), you know what to do. Again, thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed. Your reviews gave me a kick in the butt to get me started on another chapter. Shiegurl, I can never thank you enough for beta-ing my stories.
Disclaimer: The characters in Harry Potter are trying desperately to escape from my crazy little fic and return to J.K. Rowling, where they rightfully belong. And I promise I'll only have them in this story for just a little while longer.
Hermione sat, curled upon her favourite couch near the fireplace in the common room with her Transfiguration text book in her lap, trying to concentrate on the theory of human-object transfiguration while she absentmindedly played with the gold and silver band sitting on her ring finger. Hermione was lucky that she had managed to return to the presentHogwarts two weeks before the NEWTS exams started; she could not bear the prospect of not sitting for the examination that she had been preparing for since she first realised that she was going to Hogwarts. She had been ecstatic to see Ron and Harry again. However, her elation at having returned to her proper time warred with the sense of loss that engulfed her every time she caught a glimpse of Severus. To the casual eye, her husband's outward demeanour was not all that different from the snarky Potion Professor's, but Hermione could see the slight tension in the way he strode around the corridors, and in the way her husband harshly deducted house points from the Gryffindor students that crossed his path.
Hermione bit her lips and silently reprimanded herself. He's your ex-husband, stupid! Remember what Dumbledore told you when he said your things have been moved from the dungeons back to the Gryffindor Tower! You 'died' and your husband was freed from the marriage to remarry. She stared at the ring she had been fingering and abruptly removed it from her finger. Damn the ministry! She would still be married to Severus if they hadn't interfered in her affairs and she would have a valid reason to approach him and try to salvage the ruins of their marriage. Hell, she wouldn't even have this problem in the first place if they hadn't forced her to marry anyone! Hermione looked up and glanced around the common room as she searched for a safe way to vent her frustration and anger. A pair of first year students, their heads bent together conspicuously, froze like deer caught in headlights as her eyes fell onto them. They glanced guiltily at one another. Hermione had a sudden suspicion that she was the topic of their enigmatic discussion a second ago. She bared her teeth in an effort to smile reassuringly just as the door to the common room swung open. Harry and Ron stepped in and Hermione relaxed at seeing her best friends. "Finally!" she said, turning her attention away from the impertinent first years as they grasped the opportunity to scurry away.
Harry flopped down on the couch next to her, groaning. "The idiot had me scrubbing the corridor outside his dungeons three times! And without magic!" he said vehemently.
Ron grinned. "Real tough, mate, seeing how you had Dobby to help you for the last two times." Ron pitched his voice to imitate the house-elf. "Harry Potter, sir! Dobby is honoured to be doing Harry Potter's detention, sir!"
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "And you managed to get away with it? Severus would have been checking up on you."
Harry winced at the familiarity displayed by his best friend's use of the Potions master's first name. "I knew that. That's why I told Dobby to be careful to stay out of sight. How he did it was beyond me; there wasn't anywhere to hide in the corridor. But Dobby was under my Invisibility Cloak as a precaution anyway. So, no harm done."
"You had your Cloak with you?" Hermione asked incredulously as Harry moved over for Ron. "You planned it, didn't you?"
"Yeah," answered Harry nonchalantly. "I have it with me all the time now."
"Oh," was all Hermione managed to say. She didn't think Harry quite understood her disapproval but she was willing to let it go since she was more interested in why Harry thought he needed the Cloak with him all the time. She also had her own bombshells to drop on the two boys. Dishonesty during detentions was definitely a lecture that could wait.
"You know, it would be better if you put that ring somewhere safe. Maybe thread it through your necklace," Harry said quietly.
"That way, you don't have to worry about them separately. They'll both be around your neck," Ron added helpfully.
Hermione looked up sharply; suddenly aware that Harry and Ron had been staring at her as she distractedly toyed with her wedding ring, wondering what to do with it. Hermione smiled grimly. It was ironic that her best friends, both of whom she had accused of being tactless on several occasions, had answered the one question she had subconsciously been asking herself all night. Hermione grinned as she did what the boys suggested. "Things would probably have gone well for you and Cho back in fifth year if you were this perceptive, Harry. And Ron, you and me would have bickered less." Hermione replaced the necklace around her neck, the ring resting against the pendant that hung from the gold chain.
Ron folded his arms and sat back, smirking. "You're our Hermione. We know our Hermione, don't we, Harry?"
Harry chuckled as Hermione glowered at Ron. His eyes swept over the common room to make sure that the three of them were alone. Lowering his voice, he said, "Yes, Hermione. We know you. So tell us what happened to you and what is still bugging you because-" he held up his hands when Hermione started to protest, "Something's still bugging you."
Hermione gave in. "Oh, alright. I'll tell you everything." And so she did.
Lucius Malfoy slumped onto the ground when the Dark Lord abruptly released his hold on his Death Eater. He groaned as his already battered body hit the hard ground. A few metres away, Bellatrix Lestrange laid unconscious, a tortured look on her face.
"Last chance, Luciuss," hissed Voldemort venomously, "I want an army of one hundred Inferi ready by the end of the month. Fail me this time, and your son will personally lead that army." With a flick of his wand, Voldemort banished the blond wizard. The limp form of Lucius Malfoy flew through the air before crashing into a wall.
Pain shot through an already pain-ridden body. "Yes, master," Lucius gasped before he slid into the darkness.
Harry's head reeled in shock as he fought to take in everything Hermione had told him and Ron. A quick glance at his best friend told him that Ron was ready to blow. Harry nudged him, hoping to defuse the bomb. None of the residents in Gryffindor Tower, both asleep and awake, needed to be alarmed by a shouting match between his two best friends. Hermione, having finished her tale, studiously avoided meeting his or Ron's gaze. Harry reached over and grasped Hermione's hand. "Hey, you OK?"
Hermione shrugged and smiled wanly. "I guess."
"Does Snape know about all this? About the b-baby?" Ron asked harshly.
Hermione shook her head. "And I don't know if I'll ever tell him."
"Right," Ron said. It looked as if he was struggling for something within himself. "We… er… will support you in whatever decisions you make, Hermione. You know that, right?" he said while his eyes looked to Harry for support. He was clearly discomfited at his own sudden display of maturity. It was a valiant effort from Ron, and Harry was prouder of his redheaded friend than he ever was.
Hermione smiled. "Thanks, Ron."
"Right. Now that Hermione's story is out of the way, it's Harry's turn!" Ron announced suddenly. "And trust me, Hermione, when you hear the sort of stuff Harry managed to get himself into, you'll go mental."
Harry rolled his eyes as Hermione giggled. "Really? Let me guess. You're still on the wrong side of Voldemort and he's still after your blood."
Ron snorted. "You're never wrong, are you? But there's more to it this time. This time, Harry wants to go after You-Know-Who!"
There was a ringing silence. Then…