Disclaimer: If you recognize it, it belongs to JK Rowling. Plots are mine, of course.
A/N: Well, I think I've finally decided that it's time for a sequel. I'm sure it will be slow going at first. Its exam time soon, papers abound. But summer will start and, while about half of it will be spent with limited computer access, it will give me plenty of writing time. In any case, this will be posted as both an epilogue to my story Changes in Heart and the Prologue of my new story What Once Was. Do enjoy. And please, if you're stumbling upon this as a new story, check out the prequel (a lot of stuff here probably won't make much sense without the background)- if you're reading this as the end of Changes in Heart, add the new story to your alerts!
A/N 2: A difficult decision to make, but I shall have to continue this story from the original ending of Changes in Heart, not the alternate. Just be warned, but don't lose faith. ;-)
Epilogue/Prologue of the soon-to-be-begun sequel
Severus Snape was dead.
It was a purposefully vague and abbreviated speech which Dumbledore gave to the Hogwarts staff and students. Severus Snape was a great potions master, and he'd taught scores of students in the precise and exact art that is potion-brewing for some fifteen years. He will be missed. It was a very detached- even cold- sounding speech and most attributed it to shock over the sudden demise of his long-time colleague.
Many of the Slytherins knew better, however.
Professor Snape had been murdered by the Dark Lord for failing him so epically in regards to Hermione Granger, murdered because he would no longer serve a purpose to the Dark Lord, murdered because Potter and Weasley would have turned him in anyway for his abuses. In other words, he had worn out his usefulness, and those who were not useful to the Dark Lord were disposed of; particularly those who knew as much as Severus Snape.
Of course Dumbledore wouldn't say all of this- he must have been hard-pressed as it was to keep Potter and Weasley silent and allow him to deliver a eulogy not tainted by the horrible deeds of the now-dead man. Parents would panic, withdraw their children from Hogwarts, if such a thing became known. With Snape dead and gone, all that was left was to silence Granger, Potter, and Weasley, and the school could run as close to normal as ever. Yes, Dumbledore could be manipulative in his own way.
The school observed a minute of respectful silence, though few could be observed to be physically upset. A couple of the teachers appeared distraught or teary-eyed. Students were shocked more than anything else.
Draco stood in the center of a group of older Slytherin students, those with close ties to the Dark Lord. He'd become even more of a legend or hero since his father pulled him out of school a week earlier to partake- in the most disgusting of senses, in Draco's opinion- in the downfall of Potter and his friends. News had quickly spread among them of his participation, though they dared not be too vocal about it- it was obvious that Draco was walking a thin line with Dumbledore between following the Dark Lord and protecting his own life by obeying him and his father.
Draco looked up, instinctively but subtly searching for Hermione in the crowd of Gryffindors before stopping himself, realizing that she wouldn't be there. Obviously she would not attend the brief service for the one who had so abused her over the past school years, and the rest of the Slytherins assumed it was all just a part of Dumbledore's plan to keep Snape's real role a secret from parents- why risk a scene? Potter and Weasley were likewise missing in order to avoid spilling the truth. He didn't know if any of them had even returned to Hogwarts yet.
It was a very brief speech, and the crowd dispersed, students muttering speculatively to each other about Professor Snape. Draco barely paid attention to the words of his classmates around him. Instead, he made for the staircase to go up, rather than towards the dungeons.
"Draco, where are you going?" Pansy called after him.
"I have to write a letter to my father," Draco said in as meaningful a voice as he could muster. Pansy and Blaise smiled knowingly as him and continued on their way to the Slytherin common room.
Rather than proceed to the owlery, Draco made his way to the Room of Requirement on the seventh floor. Once inside, he grabbed a fistful of floo powder- conveniently waiting on the mantle of the conveniently-placed fireplace- and stepped into the empty hearth. Throwing down the powder and yelling, "Snape's office," Draco disappeared into the flourish of green flames, sucked nauseatingly into the expansive floo network of Hogwarts.
Feeling himself start to slow down, Draco braced himself for the sudden expulsion from the fireplace in Snape's office, and he was not disappointed. He often suspected that Snape charmed it to spit people out unceremoniously, just to give him some amusement. He had never asked, however, if this was indeed the case.
He proceeded through a large oak door beyond Snape's desk, taking in the bareness of the surroundings. It certainly hadn't taken long to clear out the office, and it just wasn't the same place without an assortment of pickled things lining the walls.
In the small sitting room beyond the office, Draco was faced with a choice of doors. There were two bedrooms, he knew; a kitchen; and, of course, the discreet entrance into Snape's private potions lab. Figuring the latter destination to be more likely, Draco pushed open the door gently- and was not disappointed.
"Draco!" He smiled faintly as her mussed brown hair popped out from behind a large box of ingredients. "You're just in time!"
"In time for what?" he asked with an amused air of suspicion.
A low, silky voice came from behind, startling him.
"The celebration of my departure from Hogwarts, of course."
"It's weird, Harry."
"I know, Ron, I know, but there's nothing we can do about it. She's made her choices."
"Yeah, but Malfoy and Snape? I mean, it's…"
"Yes!" Ron was oblivious to Harry's gently mocking tone.
"Look, Ron," Harry said in a placating voice, "I reckon it's like Remus said; we're jealous or something. No," he added at the look on Ron's face, "not at being 'friends' with Snape and Malfoy, but at having a secret project to be working on, being in the thick of things."
The two were sitting in Snape's parlor back at the manor or Woodyshire Lane. They still found it relatively awkward to be given free reign over Snape's personal space, but Hermione's extensive knowledge of the place made them more at ease. Now she wasn't there though, and they sat awkwardly, awaiting the return of Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall, so they could discuss exactly what they were to do for the remainder of the term. There were still nearly two months technically until summer holiday, but many Order members had expressed concern about the vulnerability of the three, especially now that Snape was no longer a source of information about Voldemort's plans. He would be furious and even more desperate after his latest failure and humiliation- defeat by a seventeen-year-old mudblood girl.
Ron's current state of disgruntlement was due to Hermione's absence. She had gone back to Hogwarts at the same time as Professors Dumbledore and Snape to help pack up Snape's potions lab while Dumbledore was telling the rest of the school about the sad news of Snape's demise the previous day. It was decided that this would be the best line of attack for now. Snape could lay low until the surprise of his survival could do the most damage.
He had made a fantastically fast recovery, nearly completely back to normal within just twenty-four hours of receiving the strengthening draught from Hermione. She had protested when he appeared at breakfast that morning, insisting that he remove all of his things from Hogwarts before any students or other professors found their way into his secure things- and there were definitely things there that merited secrecy. They had compromised, however, with Snape agreeing that she could help and oversee the process whilst Snape took care of some of the more volatile potions and ingredients.
So here they were, an hour later, waiting on the 'committee,' as Harry had begun to refer to it, which would decide the course of action to take regarding the three and their return to Hogwarts. Personally, he disagreed with the very notion that they should remain in hiding, but enough worry was present for him to be shushed and a meeting called for.
"So Hermione and Malfoy…?" Ron didn't finish the question. He'd voiced it enough over the past day that Harry knew what he meant. "Really?"
"You think they're like…a thing?"
Harry laughed. "Dating?" he asked incredulously. "No. Definitely not. How could they anyway?"
Ron nodded, but didn't look convinced. He was spared having to think on it any harder by the sudden arrival of three figures: Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Lupin.
"Where's Hermione?" Ron asked Dumbledore.
Dumbledore smiled kindly at him, hint of a twinkle in his eyes. "Fear not, the task of clearing out Severus's potions lab will undoubtedly keep even the two working together quite busy for some time. In any case, she has given us permission to commence without her."
Ron muttered under his breath. Harry couldn't be sure, but it sounded like he said, "It's weird, Harry…"
"I really should head back to the common room soon," Draco said ruefully. Hermione pulled him into a tight embrace.
"I know," she murmured. "But this sucks."
He chuckled mirthlessly. "That's an understatement."
"We won't get to work together anymore. Ever. It'll be much too risky to even try a brief time together in the Room of Requirement. There are just too many students who would be more than happy to spy on either one of us. Too much hangs in the balance, now more than ever."
"And you might not even be coming back to Hogwarts," Draco pointed out quietly.
Hermione sighed. "I doubt it. I mean, it's just a victory for Voldemort if we appear so scared as to send Harry Potter into permanent hiding."
"Yeah, well we'll see." They stood quietly for a long moment, looking intently at each other.
"Take care of yourself," Draco finally managed.
"You too," she choked out. "Keep a low profile."
He grinned. "You definitely have to worry more about that than I do."
She leaned in and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "Goodbye, Draco."
Once he had gone, she returned to the lab to check up on Snape's progress. Grabbing one of the remaining butter beers from their brief 'festivities,' she proceeded to down it faster than usual.
"Careful, Miss Granger," Snape warned amusedly, "even humans can be adversely affected by too much butter beer too quickly." He analyzed her distant expression and ascertained the problem quickly.
"It is a shame that you will not be able to see as much of Draco," he offered knowingly. Hermione spun to look at him.
"What?" she demanded before catching herself, realizing that her depressive state was getting the better of her. "Sorry…I mean, yeah. We've become rather close, working together here and whatnot. So it's hard, realizing that we won't really be able to have a normal relationship for some time again now."
"Well," Snape returned, "if there's one thing I know about sorrow, it's that trying to drown it in butter beer is NOT the solution."
"Really?" Hermione smiled wryly. "What is?"
"Come with me."
"Wow that burns," Hermione gasped.
"Firewhiskey is not for the fainthearted," Snape told her sardonically. "Think you're up to facing the jury?"
"After that, I can handle anything."
"Come then- we should return to discuss what is to become of you."
A/N: So there's my (short) epilogue/prologue. I know, not much happens…but it shall segue nicely into a new adventure I daresay. :-)
Like I said, go back and read the prequel, or go add the new story WHAT ONCE WAS if you're reading this as the end of CHANGES IN HEART.