Mum's A/N: Thanks to everyone who has reviewed and responded, and stuck with this story from the beginning. I've enjoyed sharing it with you. Thanks and much love to Jocelyn, who has encouraged me, beta'd for me, and frequently jumped in and written it with me. It's been great fun.
Joce's A/N: Let me echo Mum's thanks to everyone for all the encouragement and feedback. Mum and I have a great time writing together and one of the best parts is reading your reviews.
Hermione dropped the parchment into her lap, and sighed. She'd been working most of the day on this same paper, and it just wasn't coming together. Midway through the term at university, she was already tired of schoolwork. Part of the problem was her mood – dull enough to match the weather outside. From her window, she could watch the dismal rain, dripping down on the rough landscape. The accompanying mist nearly obscured the waters of the lough, and did block the view of the hills beyond.
Contributing to her mood was the card sitting on the window seat beside her. She picked it up and read the address again. Italy… Harry was in Italy. Although, she still felt she'd made the right decision to get away and take some time to find herself, she missed him.
The University had been an excellent choice, and she'd written to Professor McGonagall to thank her for the recommendation. Contrary to what she'd first hoped, the students here had heard of Harry Potter, and some had even heard of his friend Hermione Granger, but they left her alone and respected her privacy. She wasn't besieged with questions about the "Chosen One," and the other students seemed content to accept her on her own merits. It was a refreshing change.
She'd made a few friends, and got on with her roommate, a local girl by the name of Keara; she was a student of Charms, with solid academic credentials, but preferred socializing to studying at any given time. It could be irritating when she arrived back at the dormitory at quarter to midnight with an army of friends from the pubs; on the other hand, she didn't turn up her nose at her more studious roommate, and never failed to invite Hermione, who began going out with her once or twice a week. Keara was also determined to find mates for every single boy and girl at the school. However, her campaign on Hermione's behalf was going nowhere, and a frustrated Keara demanded an explanation one night.
"Out with it, girl. I've been throwing men at you for weeks, some of them quite… nice, but you turn up your nose, and don't make an effort at all! There's only one possible reason. Either you don't like men… and I don't believe that for a minute, or you have someone already, and you haven't told me. So… which is it?"
Hermione opened her mouth to respond, started laughing, and then burst into tears. Keara was immediately contrite.
"Oh, Merlin, I'm sorry. Put my foot in it, didn't I?"
It took Hermione a few minutes to collect herself. "It's all right. You couldn't have known." But she didn't elaborate. Keara and the other girls in the dormitory naturally assumed that some great tragedy had befallen Hermione's love life, and that it was too much of a wrench for her to talk about.
Hermione didn't enlighten them.
So the pestering on the boyfriend front stopped, for the most part, and Keara ended up owing Hermione more than a few favors when Hermione caught her sneaking her own boyfriend-of-the-month into the female students' dormitory on several occasions. But contrary to the mutterings of some of the other girls at the University, Hermione was no prude, and so long as Keara's liaisons didn't wake her in the middle of the night, she held her peace.
Keara waited quite awhile before questioning her about Harry Potter, although Hermione had no doubt the other girl knew who he was and was curious. One rainy afternoon, she slogged into their rooms to find Hermione adding another postcard to the small boxful she'd already received.
"You ever go out with Harry Potter?"
Hermione blinked. "Me? Lord, no!" The idea made her laugh, but her roommate looked puzzled.
"That's what people around here figure; he's off doing heroic things and left you crying." Hermione laughed harder. "No? You do seem… sad, when you get letters from him. Er… I haven't read them," she added quickly.
"He's just a friend I miss," Hermione replied. She eyed his last postcard and muttered, "And he's very warm and sunny in Sicily at the moment, the prat."
Keara wrinkled her nose. "Lucky bloke." She tossed her umbrella into a corner of the stone floor and began performing Drying Charms on clothes and hair. "We just wonder; you never talk about him."
Hermione shrugged. "He's just a school friend like any… really. There's nothing terribly amazing about him. He'd tell you the same." She paused for a moment, then pulled the postcard up and read aloud, "I crossed over from Italy yesterday on a fishing boat. Tonight I'm watching Mount Etna; the fireworks are terrific. There are Muggle tour guides who will take people a little closer. I'd kind of like to do that. Volcanoes are amazing. I saw Mount Vesuvius when I went to Naples and walked through the two towns it buried."
"But what's he doing in Italy in the first place?"
"Just traveling. Harry's never really been outside the country. Now that the war is over, he wants to see the world a bit."
"Why didn't you go with him?"
"I thought about it," she replied. "He probably wouldn't have minded, but we spent all of school together; I think we both needed to experience a little bit of life on our own."
"Does he have a girlfriend?"
"Oh honestly, you're incorrigible!" Hermione shook her head, but they were both grinning. "Not that I know of. One never knows who he could meet around the world, I suppose. And unlike some people, I have no intention of prying about his love life."
Keara just snorted.
Her first term at university went well, although the workload was heavier than anything Hogwarts had ever thrown at her. Harry sometimes speculated in his letters about the possibility of going to university when he returned, but she privately thought that if he wanted to do that, he'd have to develop a better work ethic than he'd had in school.
Ron was in Romania with Charlie; it took his letters a bit longer to get to Hermione, and vice versa, but they did correspond. When the first one arrived three weeks after the winter term ended, Hermione endured another round of interrogation. "So is this the one?"
She didn't tell Keara and the gossips that she and Ron had been involved once; it was a moot point anyway and would only open her up to more speculation. To her intense relief, he no longer seemed to have any reservations about her, and rambled freely about life among the dragons and what news he'd had from home. Harry turned up in Romania mid-way through Hermione's spring term, and their letters arrived together that time, both twice as long as normal, with obnoxious commentary scrawled into the margins of each letter by the other. She'd giggled for two hours reading those.
So Charlie and I took Harry on the grand tour and re-introduced him to an old friend. His Hungarian Horntail from the First Task of the Triwizard Tournament! Thought Harry was going to wet himself!
That is NOT true, you bloody lying prat!
We also have Norbert here. Remember Norbert? Hagrid's Norwegian Ridgeback? As foul-tempered as ever, according to Charlie, but he's getting on well. He's almost full-grown; dragons mature at 10, you know. Can you believe it was nine years ago that Hagrid hatched him in that bloody kettle?
Hah! And the ferret ended up in detention after he reported us to McGonagall.
She put the letters away, and headed out to meet with a group of students working on an Applied Arithmancy project. Afterwards, she had plans to join Keara and several friends at a local pub. It was going to be a late night, but as tomorrow was Sunday, she'd have the chance to catch a nap in the afternoon.
It occurred to her, not for the first time, that she wasn't missing Harry and Ron as much as she'd thought she would. She missed their companionship, it was true, but the need to be with them every minute was gone. Perhaps it was because she finally had a life of her own, spending time with people who shared the same intellectual interests, and people who enjoyed being around her for some reason other than that she was Harry Potter's friend. In a way, it was very satisfactory.
After her first year, she decided against going home for more than a short visit to her parents, and spent the summer on a research project. It came together very nicely and topped off, according to her tutors and lecturers, a most promising beginning to her academic career. She was exhausted, but very pleased with how things were turning out. With a few weeks before the fall term was set to begin, she selected her next courses of study with her tutors' help and thought to do some preliminary work, but a letter arrived.
My dearest, adored Hermione,
I could not bear to restrain myself a moment longer; knowing how desperately you have been pining for the sight of my devastatingly handsome face, I have decided to take pity on you. No doubt your life has been most terribly dull without my wit and charm to brighten your days, I invite you once again to partake of these delights:
If you can tear yourself away from your intellectual pursuits (and I know you can, Granger, your blasted summer work is done and Michaelmas doesn't start for a month!), would you deign to grace my Brittany estate with your presence for a fortnight?
I await your reply, heart in my throat.
Everlastingly and devotedly yours,
Lord Draconis Tiberius Augustus Malfoy.
Dearest Lord Draconis Pratius Ferrutus Malfoy:
Upon receiving your most eloquent missive, I quivered and wept with delight. Such an honor that such an upstanding and noble and pointy individual as yourself would deign to soil your doorstep with my humble presence.
Yet how may I refuse?
At once I have commenced in canceling my planned torrid liaisons with my numerous wealthy and highborn lovers in Italy, South America, and around the globe so that I might fly to your side! I shall arrive at the hour of midnight veiled in black as you have long demanded and hope that you will have your wicked way with me at once as you have long desired!
Until then, my love!
Hermioneus Janetus Muggleness Grangerus
Well, she wasn't veiled in black, and it wasn't midnight, but she did go to Draco's summer home. When she arrived at the impressive estate, which looked quite suitable for a luxurious holiday, and knocked at the door, neither Draco nor any servants greeted her. The door simply swung open.
She frowned. The entry hall was rather dark. How odd. With some apprehension, she stepped inside, debating pulling her wand out, but deciding against it.
All at once, figures lunged at her from the shadows, and the silence was broken by deafening bellows of, "HERMIONEEEEEEEE!"
She dropped her bag with a shout of surprise as she was tackled from three different directions and whirled about. "What—who?"
She got a confused look at hair of many colors, then her assailants stepped back with three matching, ridiculous grins. "Surprise!" said Draco, looking triumphant.
Harry and Ron looked equally smug, and as reality finally caught up with Hermione, she let out a squeal and hugged each of them in turn. "Harry! Ron! What are you two doing here?"
"I sent for reinforcements!" said Draco gravely. "After reading that letter, I decided you were too much woman for me alone."
"What do you say, Hermione?" Ron waggled his eyebrows. "Ready for a threesome?"
"There's four of us!" she protested.
Harry leered at her. "I like to watch."
"Just be sure to take notes," said Draco.
"I'll even hold your coat!"
"Honestly, couldn't you three go back to hating each other?" Hermione said with exasperation. "On the same wavelength, you're more than I can stand—like the Weasley triplets!"
"Hey!" exclaimed Ron.
"What's a wavelength?" Draco asked.
Harry and Hermione both burst out laughing. "Never mind," said Harry. "Come on in, Hermione, we've got catching up to do."
Draco immediately turned into the charming host and ordered Hermione's bags taken to her room and tea on the terrace.
"Malfoy and I met up again in Paris, completely by chance, in July," Harry told her.
"Just in time for Potter's birthday," Draco declared. "I couldn't very well let him celebrate it alone, so I took pity on him."
"Honestly, you 'take pity' on a lot of people when you want company," Hermione snorted.
The boys ignored her. Harry was grinning, "We hit every hot spot in Paris."
"Did you get drunk?" she demanded in outrage.
"Completely and utterly… I don't think there's a word to describe exactly how drunk we got," Harry replied easily, grinning still broadly.
Draco frowned, "What nightclub was it we were coming out of…"
"When I fell down?" Harry asked. He pulled a face. "Buggered if I remember!"
"Blimey, wish I'd been there," Ron muttered.
"And we were singing… what were we singing?" Harry asked.
"The Hogwarts song," said Draco.
"No, that was earlier… we were going in to a nightclub that time, I think…"
"… or we got turned around… can't remember."
"Oh honestly, you two do not have a shred of sense between you!" Hermione groaned.
"Anyway," Harry went on, "I fell down!"
Hermione stared. "You what?"
Draco nodded. "Flat on his back."
"Bloody hell, I wish I'd been there!"
"Was a sight, I can tell you."
"I can't… I barely remember anything!" Harry did not seem the least bit troubled by Hermione's appalled reaction to his behavior. "So there I am, lying on my back in the middle of a street… somewhere in Paris, and the next thing I know, this person bends over me and says, 'All right there, Harry?'"
"Oh lord, someone recognized you?" Hermione cried.
Draco laughed. "I'll say they did!"
"And I recognized him."
"Which was surprising, given the state you were in," Draco remarked.
"You were just as bad, Malfoy, considering what you'd been doing in the gutter the nightclub before that!"
"So you recognized him? Who was it?" Hermione demanded.
Harry looked at her with a broad grin. "Remus Lupin."
Her mouth fell open. "Remus? In Paris? And he saw you… like that?"
"Wasn't quite as put out with him as I expected," said Draco. "Think he missed you, Potter."
Harry shrugged. Hermione regarded him. "So… what happened?"
"Well, first he dragged us home…"
"And then he got us sober," Draco said.
Hermione shook her head, no longer interested in the boys' drunken antics. "You know what I mean. What happened?"
Harry avoided her eyes, but said, "We talked… for a long time."
"And… well, things are all right. I went back to England with him for a bit… just to see how everyone was doing, y'know?"
Hermione nodded, and Harry went on. "I saw Ron and all of his family."
He swallowed. "And Ginny."
Hermione held her breath.
Harry shrugged. "And… things are all right."
Tentatively, Hermione probed. "All right between you and Remus… and you and Ginny?"
Harry nodded. "By the way, she said to tell you hello."
Hermione smiled, and the knot that had been inside her for a very long time finally loosened. "I'm so glad."
They had spent a wonderful three weeks together, enjoying a slightly different brand of Malfoy hospitality than what Draco's parents might have offered, and getting to know each other all over again. Only this time without any shadow of war or threat of death hanging over them.
By the time the holiday came to an end, they knew an annual tradition had begun, and promised that whatever awaited them in the coming year, they would be back again.
In her second year, Hermione expanded on her previous Arithmancy project, and with the help of her professor, was able to publish a treatise that updated the application of Arithmancy in modern magic for the first time in a hundred years. It was well received, and they went to several different universities to give presentation on her findings. As a result of this, Hermione's name began to circulate in professional and academic circles, as one of the foremost up and coming magical scientists.
As her second year drew to a close, she was bombarded with offers for apprenticeships and post-graduation employment, that more or less guaranteed her entry into almost any career path she fancied.
"I honestly haven't made up my mind yet," she told the boys, when they reunited in Brittany the following summer, for an even longer holiday this time.
(Well, it wasn't just a holiday. Ron had the entire summer off, and when the boys approached her with the suggestion of extending their reunion, Draco bribed her with the unlimited use of the Malfoy family library. As a result, Malfoy house elves frequently arrived from the family vaults, their arms loaded with books, and the three boys had to sometimes resort to dragging her physically away from her desk, to get her to spend any time with them.)
"Well, you've still got two years to decide, don't you?" Ron asked.
Actually, no… I'm completing my requirements a bit faster, and I'll be finished after this next year."
Draco laughed. "Bloody hell, woman, only you would manage to rush through university."
"It's not uncommon for those of us who apply ourselves to our work," Hermione answered primly.
Draco bowed. "Yes, oh goddess of wisdom!"
Harry and Ron chortled.
Hermione glared at them. "A little more education wouldn't do any of you any harm, I might add!"
Draco said, "As it happens, I'm starting my formal apprenticeship this fall."
Hermione almost choked on her wine. "You didn't tell me that! What apprenticeship? Where? With who?"
"With whom," Ron corrected in a snooty voice.
"Ooooh," said Harry.
Draco shot them a quelling look. "Well, I'm… uh… apprenticing in Potions, you know." He faltered, and glanced at Harry.
Hermione's chest was suddenly too tight to breathe. Harry swallowed and said carefully, "You know Professor Snape was talking about taking formal apprentices… he got started just before we all got together last year, and, well, he's still one of the best Potions Masters in England."
Ron nodded, "Got himself a good business growing up. About five apprentices, with what, five years per term?"
"Six," said Draco. "Mastery is the ultimate goal, but he's doing well already. He'll be one of the foremost Masters in the world within a few years, I'll wager."
Hermione pulled her scattered wits together. "And so… he must not be at Hogwarts any longer."
The boys nodded. "Can't teach at school and handle apprentices," Harry confirmed.
"But could he afford to set himself up with that?" she mused, steadying herself with practical thoughts.
"He's got backers," said Ron. Hermione blinked, and noticed that neither Harry nor Draco would meet her eyes.
"Oh. Well, good." She took a deep breath. "I think that will suit him."
"It does," Harry confirmed. "There's already competition for his apprenticeships."
She nodded again stupidly. "Is he…" the word stuck in her throat. "Satisfied?"
"Satisfied. Yeah," Draco said.
With six weeks to go before the end of their university career, Hermione and Keara solidified their post-school plans and lamented their impending separation.
"Even though you have to put up with Simon every other night?" Keara teased.
"Every other night? You two practically live here," Hermione retorted playfully. "It's quite unfair that I should have to pay rent for a double room!"
"I would never have complained if you'd brought a boy home!"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "So you two are off to Dublin, then?"
Keara nodded. "Starting my internship in the MediCharms Department at St. Brendan's Hospital. You?"
"I think I'm going to accept the Research Position at Oxford's Magical Development program."
"Bloody hell, do you have any idea how elite they are? You make me sick sometimes!" Hermione laughed. "So you'll be living at Oxford?"
" Oxford or London—it'd be an easy commute," Hermione said. "And I've got some good friends in London."
"Harry Potter?" Keara raised her eyebrows. "People say he's turned into a right idle rich! Doesn't do much of anything!"
Hermione dropped her book. "That is not true. Harry may not be 'employed' as you and I will be, but he's no bum either. He did go travel for a bit, but he bloody well deserved it, and now he's at the Ministry every day."
"Doing what?" Keara asked curiously.
"Consulting… or lobbying, really." Hermione said proudly. "He does a lot of work on behalf of Hogwarts—magical education matters. I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up on the Board of Governors in a few years. There's a whole slew of werewolf legislation that's going to be repealed, thanks in no small part to Harry, and he works very closely with Arthur Weasley in Magical Law Enforcement."
Keara looked impressed. "I'd no idea!"
"Harry prefers being out of the spotlight," Hermione replied, and changed the subject. "Has Simon had any luck with his Potions apprenticeships yet?"
"No, although we've high hopes for the one with Master Padriac O'Connor. I'd like that one; he'd be in Dublin with me. The one with Josefina de Valles in Spain would be a good opportunity too, but he hasn't had a reply to his application yet. He's sent out letters to six more this morning."
"Did Professor Montoya give him a recommendation?"
"Yes, so that should help," Keara mused. "What he really wants is to land one with Severus Snape in London, but that's the longest bloody shot of them all!"
Hermione managed not to wince or blush. "He's very exclusive, they say," she mumbled.
Keara was too distracted to notice, thank heavens. "And a real tyrannical git from what I've heard, but brilliant as they come. I'm glad to be going into Charms, the Professors in that field are so much more agreeable."
"That would be true."
"You would've had Snape at Hogwarts, wouldn't you?" Keara asked.
Hermione gulped. "Er… yes."
"So? Is he as bad as they say?"
Smiling weakly, Hermione replied, "Worse."
That night, while Keara and her boyfriend were out at a late-night exam-cramming session - in a pub, Hermione couldn't sleep. Even after three years, hearing the name of Severus Snape still made her heart pound.
But something had been different this afternoon; although her palms had sweated and chest had felt as tight as ever, for the first time in ages, it wasn't an entirely unpleasant feeling.
Now she was turning over in her mind everything they'd said, everything they'd done, the way it felt to be kissed, the way she'd reacted to his touch. More than anything else, she could recall the intensity in his dark eyes, the depth of understanding there, and his words… a farewell that was so much more.
"Throughout the war, it was I who made the plans for myself, and then, for you. I know they were not easy for you. It is well that now you should make the plans yourself. I will not interfere, but will await my place in them, if you will have me."
If you will have me…
Keara and Simon stumbled through the door the following morning to find Hermione in her pajamas laboring over the kitchen table. That in itself wasn't unusual. "Don't you ever sleep?" Simon demanded, going to make coffee.
"I might ask you two the same thing," Hermione muttered, not looking up from her work. She picked up her completed project and carried it to the window.
Keara was trying to focus her eyes. "What's that? What are you doing?" she demanded as Hermione leaned halfway out the window to hang the brightly-colored object on a hook from the outside wall.
"It's a feeder… for hummingbirds," Hermione said.
Simon stared at her. "Uh, Hermione, you may be brilliant, but we don't get hummingbirds around here."
"And even if one should happen to be blown ashore, how are they going to find your feeder?" Keara added dubiously.
"You'd be surprised," Hermione told them. "They have a way of knowing when they're wanted."
With the end of term came goodbyes that were both reluctant in parting and eager to begin the next stages of life. Hermione pushed aside nostalgia as she packed up the last of her belongings. Simon and Keara's things were already set to go, and they'd had their farewell party at their favorite pub the night before.
Even Hermione had required a Hangover Potion that morning. She was going to miss them.
Her tutors and professors had given her heartfelt wishes of success and happiness, and more than a few expected to remain in touch with her as colleagues as well as mentors.
Ron was home from Romania again, and he and Harry were planning to meet Hermione at the Portkey Station to help her move into her flat in London.
She was putting the last of her boxes on a hover cart when Keara and Simon burst through the door at a dead run. They barely gasped out a greeting before diving for their boxes; Keara was panting for breath, and Simon was dead white.
"Bloody hell, bloody hell…"
"What is it?" Hermione exclaimed in alarm.
Simon ignored her, rifling desperately through a box, muttering, "C.V., recommendations… shite…"
"WHAT?" Hermione demanded.
"He's here!" Keara sputtered. "Him… here… in the quad… everybody's going to…"
With a huff of frustration, Hermione shook her shoulders. "Talk sense, girl! Who is here?"
"Snape!" Simon exploded, clutching a handful of parchments. "He just showed up… nobody knew… gonna give him…" He rattled his application papers.
A strange and not-unpleasant calm settled over Hermione. She walked over to Simon, took his papers, and began straightening them. "In that case," she said evenly, "you need to get grip on yourself. Is he here for interviews? Shouldn't you ask the school to put you on his schedule?"
"Not here for interviews," Simon said, but he seemed to gradually collect his wits. "No one knows what he's doing here, but everyone's going to be giving him applications and try to get an interview anyway."
"Hurry!" Keara squeaked.
Hermione dusted off Simon's robes and steered them both towards the door. "Let's go, then. Calm, you two."
With little whimpers of assent, the pair let Hermione guide them down to the quad. There, they joined a milling crowd of semi-hysterical Potions students, all debating who should be the first to approach the most sought-after Potions Master in the British Isles.
Hermione stayed where she was on the bottom of the stairs. Across the paving stones at the entrance, in conversation with one of Connemara University's deans was the imposing, black-clad figure that had occupied her thoughts and haunted her dreams for the last three years. He turned, as if he'd known exactly where she stood, and met her eyes.
She didn't realize that she was moving, until they met in the center of the quad. With just the faintest twitch of his lips, he offered her his arm, his eyes never leaving hers. She smiled, lifting her chin, and steadily took it. He nodded to the astonished dean, she to her classmates, and then they were away.