a/n: I do not own these characters, just the steps I put them through. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Your feedback is greatly appreciated.
Chapter 1 – So Long Ago, It Was Yesterday
Years have a way of obscuring and immortalizing the past at once. The more the years collect, the more the dust settles upon them and yet some form of magic allows them to remain forever etched into the subconscious. It had been six long years since Dumbledore's death. Though dulled by time and experience, those years remained carved into Hermione's memory.
Snape had killed Dumbledore. The story Harry told immediately after was of a cold, callous Snape hastily killing the man. Offering no triumphant words or insightful dialogue, Snape simply killed him. Shortly after Harry's seventeenth birthday, he discovered a series of memories Dumbledore had seen fit to set aside for his edification. One such memory contained a conversation between Dumbledore and his killer. This was the very conversation Hagrid had overheard while coming out of the forest.
"Albus, you don't know what you're asking." Snape plead.
"Sadly, I am fully aware of the situation. I am also aware that it is my fault you're in this predicament. It is either my life or more lives than I wish to count…"
Snape interrupted, "You take too much for granted, sir. When I took the Vow…I didn't know. It was foolish of me, I see that now…"
Dumbledore bowed his head. "No Severus, you did exactly as I asked. Now you must finish it." His tone was resolute. "The Order cannot fight this war without you. You know as well as I that you must stay within the ranks of Voldemort. You also know that I cannot tell anyone…" he paused, "…of our arrangement."
"Maybe I don't want to continue! This is too much!" The anger in his voice tempered with grief, Snape continued. "I will be killed, one way or the other, but this way you will still…"
Dumbledore raised a steady hand. Snape fell silent.
"I am sorry Severus. I need you to trust me. There is no going back. You must promise to stop the investigations in your house; you know the investigations to which I refer. Draco is in more than enough danger without our meddling. You must also promise, when the time comes, that you will not hesitate. I am counting on you Severus. You are more important now than ever before. Will you promise me these things?" His eyes twinkled. "I promise that I will not make you take another Vow." The corners of his mouth curved into an uncertain smile.
Obviously not amused, and still unconvinced, Snape nodded his head reluctantly.
"Good, now let's go have some tea before rounds this evening. I must tell you, I have been reading the most fascinating tome about gardening…"
If Hermione hadn't heard these words for herself, she would never have believed them. Dumbledore gave his life to protect the innocent. The innocent were, of all people, Draco and Snape. Snape had sent Draco and his mother into hiding shortly after Dumbledore's death. Hermione had never been enlightened as to how Snape managed to pull that off.
The search for the four remaining Horcruxes consumed the summer. By September, they had found and destroyed three with the aid of their old potions master. Snape helped them both willingly and grudgingly. His dislike for Harry had not diminished, but his duty required him to be of assistance.
Hogwarts opened on schedule with Professor McGonagall sitting as interim Headmistress. To Mrs. Weasley's displeasure, Hermione, Ron, and Harry did not return to school in September. They were getting close to the final Horcrux and they could not allow school to distract them. This was heartbreaking to Hermione. She was so hoping, however selfishly, that they could finish this and return to school, perhaps even having a normal year.
It was nearly December when Snape discovered the final Horcrux. The last to be located turned out to be the easiest to find, seeing as it was hiding in plain sight. They obtained Tom Riddle's Award for Services to the School and destroyed it. There were no spells protecting it, strangely signifying that there were no longer any obstacles in their path to Voldemort.
Now, all they awaited was the call of Voldemort himself. He was still mercifully oblivious to Snape's true allegiance. The day before Christmas, the Mark burned. After alerting the order, Harry, Ron, and Hermione along with Ginny, Luna, and Neville went to fight the battle that they hoped would be their last.
The final battle was as all war should be, vicious and swift. During the fray, Neville sacrificed himself, taking a killing curse sent by Bellatrix LaStrange originally intended for Harry. At the same point in the battle, Lucius Malfoy killed Charlie while he protected Ron. Those two sacrifices converged, filling Harry with a rage that he had never known before. This rage was not anger or hatred. This furious flood was love--lost friendship, lost family, every loss Harry had known in his life came crashing into him and burst in a wave of pure love. This wasn't visible to anyone. They merely saw Harry standing frozen and vulnerable. Voldemort seized what he saw as weakness and grabbed Harry, fully expecting to kill him. The wave washed through Harry and into Voldemort. The scream came from both of them. Harry's was a scream of sorrow and release. Voldemort's was a scream of utter terror.
It was all quite anti-climactic, Hermione reflected. Voldemort purely flickered out of existence--erased by the love he had rejected his entire life. After rounding up the Death Eaters, Lucius Malfoy among them, they were tried and imprisoned in a facility built solely for their life terms. There were no Dementors to keep them company, just a 24-hour guard and more wards than anyone thought possible. There would be no escape this time.
In short, everyone went back to their normal lives, as normal as they ever could be.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley returned home, inconsolably distraught over Charlie.
Tonks and Lupin returned home, grieving for the fallen, but glad to be at peace. Lupin agreed to take up his old job at Defense Against the Dark Arts since Professor McGonagall found herself in a lurch by the most recent candidate's unfortunate hospitalization during the Christmas holiday. Professor McGonagall had told him not to call her that. Hermione smiled at the memory.
Bill went home to Fleur to settle into married life and grieve for his brother.
Professor McGonagall returned to Hogwarts to take on the full-time post of Headmistress and attempt to replace herself, as it were, though Hermione knew she would continue teaching Transfiguration as long as she possibly could.
Hagrid returned to Hogwarts to carry on his post as usual.
Professor McGonagall extended Snape an offer to return to his old position as Potions master. After quite a bit of cajoling--"Severus, how will I fill two vital teaching positions…?"-- he conceded.
Draco and his mother never returned to England, their lives and reputations shattered by Lucius' associations.
Hermione, Ron and Harry--along with Ginny and Luna--returned to attempt to complete the school year that was already half gone. It was difficult, overly frustrating at times, but they managed it. The trio graduated, Hermione with honors.
Harry and Ron entered the Auror program, again much to the displeasure of Mrs. Weasley. Mr. Weasley tried to quiet her by saying that they were in much less danger now with Voldemort gone and the Death Eaters more than detained, but she still wasn't keen on the idea.
Hermione continued on to university. She went to a small wizarding college situated just north of London called Greybring. Though they were close in proximity, Harry and Ron did not visit her, nor did she visit them. They wrote long, detailed letters of their exploits, but only met up on holidays at the Burrow. Though she would try to deny it if questioned, Hermione preferred it this way. She missed her friends, but she welcomed the independence and the calm that university life permitted her. She took double majors, Potions and Transfiguration, extending her school duration to five years. Upon the completion of her fifth year, she received her Mastery of Transfiguration Degree, but she would have to complete a 12-month apprenticeship to receive her Mastery of Potions.
Hermione sat, knees drawn to her chest, in a chair facing the open window of her flat absently chewing a thumbnail. It was a beautiful afternoon in late June, the sun shining on the scrubbed wood floor, creating a warm spot in which Crookshanks was snoozing. To tell the truth, she was staring expectantly at the open window awaiting her acceptance and hopefully her assignment to a Master of Potions so that she could begin her apprenticeship.
There were only a handful of Masters in the world and the anticipation of where she would be going was almost overwhelming. Would she be traveling to a new country, she wondered. There would be new people, new places, and new languages to discover. She was just beginning to ponder the possibility of a placement in the United States when a sleek horned owl disrupted her musings, gliding through her window and dropping a heavy envelope onto her lap. She absently handed the owl some treats and he left.
She gazed at the envelope. Inside it was her future, the culmination of 5 years of study and the next year of her life. Tentatively, she sliced through the wax seal and pulled out the letter. Again, she hesitated. All this time, all this work, reduced to the words on one little silly piece of parchment. It's now or never, she thought as she unfolded the letter.
June 25th, 2003
Dear Miss Granger,
We are pleased to inform you of your acceptance into the Mastery of Potions Apprentice Program. This apprenticeship will begin on July 1st, 2003. This assignment will extend to July 1st, 2004. The final day of apprenticeship will be a review. Providing you pass, you will receive your Degree.
The completion of this program is a requirement of the Mastery of Potions program. Failure to complete your apprenticeship will delay your graduation. If you should receive a Fail, you must resubmit your application for approval and complete a full year with another master when a placement becomes available.
Congratulations on your success and good luck to you on the up-coming year.
She let the letter slip through her fingers to the floor. Accepted. She was accepted. The thoughts were again swirling in her head. Only one more year, she thought. Springing to her feet, she ran across the room to her desk to write to her parents, and she would have to tell Professor McGonagall of course. She could never get used to calling her Headmistress. Things couldn't be any better.Suddenly, it hit her. With whom was she apprenticing? And where? They had failed to mention that in the letter. She ran back across the room, snatched up the letter, and scanned for any words she might have missed. At the very bottom, she found what she was looking for.
Your Master for the next year will be Professor Severus Snape. Please report to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry no later than 8am on your scheduled start date. Again, congratulations.
What? Oh, this cannot be happening, she thought in panic. Caught in a whirlwind of emotion, Hermione knew that returning to Hogwarts was something she never planned to do. No matter her respect for the school and most of its staff, many of the memories contained in those walls were ones she longed not to revisit. Snape, on the other hand, was a different story entirely. He was someone she certainly did not want to revisit. He was someone she chose not to remain in contact with, not that she ever thought to contact him. She had not seen, heard, nor spoke of him since her last day at Hogwarts and she was not any the worse for it. He was cold, humorless, chastising, and summarily unkind. Now she would be spending the next 12 months of her life learning from him. No, trying to impress him. No, trying not to strangle him. There was no way to change the appointment, especially considering she was lucky to have gotten a placement so quickly. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad. Where had she heard that before? She really did not care at that point, but she thought that whoever they were, they were being terribly optimistic.