a/n - Thank you to everyone for reading and reviewing. This is the final chapter and I tried to wrap everything up neatly. Some of the reactions might be a bit outlandish but hey, that's why they call it fiction. Hope I didn't forget anything, it's kind of early in the morning to be editing, but mostly I hope you enjoy it!
The morning came much too early for Hermione, though she was glad that the dream she was having was over. She was back in class with Severus, but he was treating her like a student again. No matter what she said to him, he wouldn't snap out of it. He was assigning her detention when she awoke with a start to see him sitting up watching her sleep.
"Were you having a bad dream?" he asked softly.
"Yes," she gasped, trying to catch her breath. "Promise me you won't ever forget who I am again."
He smiled before kissing her good morning, "I promise."
Severus allowed her to dress before him. She quickly realized she had no clothes other than those she was wearing the night before. A quick cleaning spell and she was ready to go. The imminent conversation with Ron was weighing heavily on her mind and she wanted to get it over with as soon as possible.
When she came out of the bathroom, she saw that Severus was still in bed, but there was now a fresh cup of coffee on her end table. Her mind still reeling a bit from the events that had happened only hours before, she crossed the room and fondly sipped her coffee.
She smiled, "You sure do know how to take care of a girl."
He laughed, "I assumed you would want to get an early start." He smirked, "In an hour or so, I am going to talk to Albus. I think there is still something he is not telling us." She set her cup down as he slid across the bed to her. After kissing her gently, he added, "Have fun with Mr. Weasley."
She smiled saying, "Now this is the part where I grope you and you fondle me and then I flee the room." He was laughing as she teased, "Watch out for Fenrir."
"Speaking of them," he said as his laughter subsided. "We will have to advise Albus of the escape and Minerva's murder. If what Albus was saying was correct--which it usually is--then those events still have the potential to occur."
She nodded, saying with a sigh, "I'll try to make this quick so I can go with you."
Taking her hand in his, he soothed, "I would come with you, but I doubt my presence would make this any easier."
"I know," she said. "That would be a little more than awkward. I'll see you soon though. Don't go forgetting about me while I'm gone."
He smirked fondly, "That would be impossible." He pulled her into a tight embrace and kissed her lovingly. Thinking it was best she leave, she reluctantly pulled away and told him they could finish that later just before she left.
As she made her way through the dungeons, she got more than a few stares from the Slytherin students whose dormitories were close by. Not only was it quite early for students from any other houses to be down there, but it was Saturday, and classes were mostly finished for the year.
The rest of the corridors were almost deserted, many of the students still in bed or outside enjoying the summer day. She felt herself go pale when she caught a glimpse of Professor McGonagall in the hall. The memory of the ripple, or whatever it was, remained incredibly fresh in her mind. She had to keep reminding herself that she was still eighteen and that Ron and Harry would have no idea about the ripple or of the events that she witnessed. More than once, she tried to focus on what she was going to tell them and how she was going to explain, but the surreal aspect of the morning was daunting. Her mind kept drifting to musings of the early morning lovemaking with Severus and their forthcoming conversation with Albus, not to mention where their lives were going to take them now that so much had changed. She also had to remind herself that Ron, Harry, and Ginny had committed none of the prior slights against her. They were still innocent in that regard.
Luckily, her feet took her in the direction of the Gryffindor dormitory automatically or she might never have reached the large portrait of the Fat Lady. When found herself there, she remembered that she no longer remembered the password. Those six years were all too real to her, and that little piece of information hadn't made the journey with the rest.
"Hermione!" she heard someone exclaim from behind her. She spun around to see Ginny Weasley bounding up the stairs. She had not aged at all since their school days, which Hermione quickly reminded herself shouldn't come as a surprise since they were still in their school days.
"Thank goodness," Hermione sighed.
Ginny looked at her strangely. "I've just been to the hospital wing and Madam Pomphrey said you left early this morning. Where have you been?"
Startled by the simplicity of the question, and the complexity of the answer, Hermione was unprepared, "I…uh…went…um"
"Did Dumbledore take you up to his office or something?" Ginny asked, concerned.
"Yeah," Hermione said, clawing onto the excuse. "He wanted me to tell him what happened. I…uh…fell asleep up there." She was hoping it sounded more convincing to Ginny than it did to her.
"Oh good," she replied. "We were getting worried. Ron and Harry are in the common room and they can't wait to tell you what happened."
"I can imagine," Hermione said as Ginny gave the password.
She followed Ginny through the portrait hole and into the common room. Hermione thought how strange it felt since she hadn't been in that room for years. No, she reminded herself, she had been there just yesterday. This was going to be much more complicated than she thought.
As soon as they turned the corner, all she could see was the flash of robes as Harry and Ron embraced her.
"Hermione, you're all right!" Harry cried.
"Wait until you hear what happened!" Ron exclaimed.
She had to fight the urge to push them away, allowing them their revelry. When they finally released her, Ron was standing, arms outstretched, expecting another hug of his own. She had wondered if when she saw him any old feelings would return, but there was nothing but friendship. The experience had changed her, and the self that she now was had no love for him other than as a friend, as well as pity for the unexpected news she was about to impart.
"Don't I get a hug for bringing you back to safety?" he asked with a smile. This immediately reminded her of why she was there.
Hermione corrected him more forcefully than she intended, "You didn't bring me back--Severus did."
Looking suddenly hurt, he dropped his arms and said, "How do you know? He wasn't sitting there at your bedside like we were."
Annoyance was now inching out the pity in her mind, "Actually, yes he was, unlike anyone in this room."
The look of distress spread to both Harry and Ginny. Harry attempted to explain, "We were busy with--"
Hermione cut him off mid sentence, "No you weren't. You were at The Hog's Head, all three of you."
"How could you know," Ginny said, aghast, but again Hermione interrupted.
"It doesn't matter how I know," she said with surprisingly little emotion. "What matters…you know…it doesn't matter. I've only come up here to talk to Ron and collect my things if I have time."
"Collect your…where're you going?" Ron asked, obviously confounded.
Hermione took a deep breath. She was wavering on several stories that might be sufficient, but she decided on the truth, at least part of it. "The important aspect of a rather long story is that I'm moving out. I know this is sudden, but I realized something last night, or this morning rather," she felt a smirk sliding across her face at the thought. "Anyway, I'll be able to tell you more later on, but for now I don't even know myself what we'll be doing after I graduate." She stopped when she realized she was beginning to ramble.
Ron interrupted, his face turning red, "What do you mean we?"
Sighing deeply, Hermione said, "That's what I needed to talk to you about." She glanced at Harry and Ginny who were both gaping confusedly. "It would be better if we talked alone."
Harry suddenly spoke, "Wait, did you just call Snape Severus?"
Hermione laughed, "Yes I did. I guess I didn't realize it'd become such a habit." As she said the word habit, it reminded her of Snape's hand waving during the wandless magic and their conversation over drinks. She started to giggle. The other three were staring strangely at her as though she must be ill. "I'm sorry," she said as she stifled the laugh, "I just remembered something funny."
"Apparently," Ron said his brow furrowed. "Mind filling us in?"
Hermione shrugged, "As I said, I would rather talk to you alone."
"Hermione, you're scaring us," Ron said firmly.
Another deep breath steadied Hermione, who was wishing that Severus had joined her. At least the shock of seeing him in the common room would have kept them quiet. She smiled at the thought. "Sorry, fine. Something happened last night," again she smirked at the memory. "Sorry…look…something happened and it changes everything. I still want to be friends with you, but I have to do what feels right, and that means being with Severus."
The looks on all three of their faces were of utter shock and bewilderment. A full minute passed into uneasy silence. Hermione considered divulging some of the details, but the explanation would be long and tedious, and most of the information was unnecessary and rather far-fetched. She decided to tell them just what they needed to know. "It's hard to explain. It seems that I was falling in love with him all year and I just never realized it. Not until the ripple, that was what Albus called it. Anyway, the bottom line is that I can't be with you anymore Ron. Trust me, it's for the best."
These statements didn't change their looks at all, if anything they deepened. "You can't be serious," Ron managed through his awe.
"Oh, I'm very serious. I know this must be strange, exceedingly strange really." Hermione could fully understand their misgivings. "You can ask Albus--"
Harry interrupted, "Why do you keep calling him that?"
"Because he told me to," she answered simply. "The point is that I don't want this to affect our friendship. I know that will take some time to rebuild entirely, if that is even possible, but it is better this way. You're just going to have to trust me on that."
Ron was shaking his head as he said softly, "You're breaking up with me for Snape?"
"In a sense yes," Hermione answered. "But mostly for you and for me. You deserve someone who can appreciate you for who you are, and that just isn't me." She stepped towards him to hug him, but he moved away. "I am sorry for hurting you, but you'll meet someone who will make you much happier."
Harry stepped forward and placed a hand on Hermione's shoulder. "Is this what you really want? Snape didn't slip you some potion while you were unconscious did he?"
Laughing, she replied, "No, I'm doing this without the aid of pharmaceuticals." She giggled at the memory.
Harry hitched up a weak smile, "I don't understand this at all, but I've never known you to be irrational." He smiled a bit more sincerely, "Until now, but I'm here for you anyway."
"Thank you Harry," Hermione sighed, hugging him.
She turned to Ginny, who had remained surprisingly silent.
"Well?" Hermione prompted.
"If this is what you want," Ginny replied, quietly pulling her into a hug.
Turning to Ron, Hermione said, "I'm sorry, but it is better this way for both of us."
The look of hurt on his face was almost more than she could stand. "Stop saying you're sorry," he said wearily. "I'll be mad later when this sinks in. Until then, I'll just miss you."
Hermione could feel tears prickling in her eyes. She had expected him to be angry, not eloquent. "Thank you Ron." She hugged him tightly and he placed a very soft kiss on her cheek.
She pulled away and headed for her room struggling not to cry when she remembered something she'd forgotten to say. "Oh and Ginny, don't ever go to work for a woman named Galena. She is an evil, nasty woman."
Ginny laughed nervously, "If you say so."
Hermione collected what few things she had and reduced them for the trip to the dungeons. She briefly thought about how she was going to rationalize this all to her parents, but that was going to be easy when compared to what she'd just done. Having finished packing, she walked back through the common room.
Ron, Harry, and Ginny were huddled on the couch whispering. She felt terribly separate from the group she'd been such an active part of, but the self that she was then didn't exist anymore. Instead, she wanted tremendously to get back to Severus and then everything else would work itself out. They stopped talking when they saw her. Harry and Ginny stood while Ron remained sitting. She could see that he'd been crying. A pang of guilt hit her because she remembered that pain all too well, but she also knew that it would diminish with time.
Harry and Ginny both hugged her, and she thought for a moment about going to Ron, but decided it was best to leave him alone and hope he would forgive her eventually. At least she had confronted him with the information instead of running away. She knew that would make the situation a little easier.
When she reached the portrait hole, she turned to her friends who still looked disorientated. She waved, unable to speak through the tears that were welling up quickly. They waved back and she escaped into the hall. The emotions were so widely varied that she couldn't identify just one. She was still overwhelmed from the ripple, and now she had broken up with Ron and in effect had changed the course of history. Everything from here on out would be different.
She saw many familiar faces through the halls, many of them attempting to talk to her. Pressing past them, she thought the next week was going to be very difficult. So much had changed and she was not prepared to explain the story to every person who thought they needed to know. The story would spread quickly enough as it was without her perpetuating it.
When she reached the door to her new rooms, she'd composed herself. As soon as she walked through this door, her new life would truly begin. A few waves of her wand later, she turned the knob and entered. Severus was sitting in the armchair facing the door and stood as soon as he saw her, his face rising into a warm smile as he crossed the room. She instantly felt better just seeing his smiling face.
> > > > > > > > > >
Snape saw her troubled look. "Did it go well?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered. "It's just that was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do."
"I know," he wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Hoping to make her smile he asked, "Are you ready to go meet with the lunatic?"
She laughed, "Is that what we're calling him now?"
He chuckled, "Only behind his back."
She smiled at him as she crossed the room to the writing desk and emptied her pockets. "I brought my things from the dormitory. I hope you don't mind," she said apprehensively.
"Not at all," he answered with a smile. "If you are ready my lady?" he asked motioning toward the fireplace. "I would like to get this out of the way because I am starving, as I am sure you must be."
She smiled and nodded, walking with him to the fireplace. He took her hand as they walked into the bright green flames and into the office of Albus Dumbledore.
"Good morning," Albus greeted them with a smile from his desk. He stood and walked toward them saying, "I am sorry you've had such a challenging morning already, Hermione."
"Thank you," she said quietly. "I wanted to get it over with."
"That is perfectly understandable," he replied. "Ron will be fine, as will your friends. They love you very much, remember that."
She nodded. Quiet fell upon them as they each waited for the other to speak. Ultimately, Snape was the first, "I suppose we should get on with this. Where do you want us to start Albus?"
The old man just shook his head as he walked to an armchair and took a seat beside the fire. "As I said last night, explanations are not necessary. I am fully aware of the events that the ripple foretold."
Perplexed, Snape said, "That is not possible. This is something you cannot possibly know."
Albus only chuckled, "As luck would have it, I just happened to doze off at my desk for only a few minutes after returning from the Ministry last evening, and I believe I inadvertently got drawn into your ripple."
Stunned, Snape said nothing. Hermione on the other hand looked embarrassed, "You saw everything that happened?"
"No," Albus chuckled as he shook his head. "Only what I would have seen if I had lived it, just as you did. Thus, I am fully aware of the Death Eater escape and of Minerva's death. I spoke with her this morning and have put into place safeguards in case something should happen to any one of us so that the Ministry will be informed and be able to apprehend them should they still succeed." He waved a hand in the air, "But that is years from now. What we should be talking about are your plans now that you have this splendid second chance at reliving these years." He looked at them both expectantly.
"I assumed that I would return to the school in September and resume teaching," Snape said uncertainly.
"I thought I fired you," Albus said with a smirk. "These years are yours to do with as you choose, but don't forget that you were given the gift of knowledge along with the gift of insight." He winked at Hermione, "You remember what it was to work and all the knowledge that you gained during those years, do you not?"
Hermione nodded slowly as Albus continued. "Take that knowledge and this opportunity and go wherever your hearts desire. I will expect you both back here in about six years I think. Slughorn has already agreed to stay on for that long and it would be a shame to disappoint him." He smiled, "Now go, but don't forget to visit."
Absolutely shocked, Snape turned to Hermione who was wearing a similar look. A smile slowly crossed her lips and he felt one of his own coming on. "Would you like to go for a walk into Hogsmeade for some breakfast?" he asked her.
"That sounds lovely," she replied.
Albus waved them goodbye and they stepped onto the spiral staircase and closed the door. Hermione giggled as she said, "This is amazing. But what will we do for money?"
Snape chuckled, "I have spent very little of what I have made over the years. I have never had much reason to." He paused, "Until now."
He kissed her tenderly as they reached the bottom of the stairs and as they exited the stairwell, the stoic faces of Weasley and Potter confronted them.
Weasley walked resolutely up to Snape and held out his hand. Unsure as to the meaning, he shook the boys hand as he said hesitantly, "Have you come to fight me for her?"
"No," the boy answered quietly. "Just to tell you to take care of her or you'll have us to answer to."
Snape nodded, "That will not be a problem."
The two boys nodded to Hermione and then disappeared down the hall. As he stared after them he heard Hermione's stunned voice at his shoulder, "That was odd."
"That it was," he replied.
"At least he didn't try to hit you," she teased.
"Even so, I was not worried," he said looking down into her smiling face. "I had you here to defend me."
She laughed as they walked out of the castle and into the bright sunshine of the morning. They walked briskly toward the small town until they reached the tree Snape remembered kissing her against. He could not resist reliving the memory before he asked the question he so desperately wanted to.
She gasped as he seized her and pulled her into a passionate kiss against the large trunk of the tree. When he pulled away, she was smiling at him. The smile fell away slowly after he spoke.
"Marry me," he said silkily.
"What?" she asked in amazement.
"Marry me," he repeated.
"Now?" she giggled.
"No," he chuckled. "But soon, and then I will show you the world as my wife."
Tears welled in her eyes as she said unsteadily, "Of course I will." She smirked as she added, "As long as you know I'm only in this for the desk."
> > > > > > > > > >
They married in a small ceremony only a couple of months later in the Great Hall at Hogwarts just before the start of the next school term. Albus and Minerva decorated the Hall in lavish ribbons and flowers so that it was almost unrecognizable. They only invited a few close friends, and Hermione's parents. To their astonishment, Harry and Ginny were both present. Much like the other wedding that she still remembered so clearly, Ron chose not to attend.
As she walked down the aisle that day, it was toward the proud face of Severus who was gazing at her with mesmerized devotion. That feeling was enough to sustain her for the rest of her life, wherever it was they might end up.
After the wedding, they traveled to the far reaches of the globe. They traversed almost every continent and spent nearly a year in Chicago, enjoying the places they remembered having been to together though had never actually visited in reality. They replaced the memories of the ripple with memories of their own, six years worth of memories that they were glad to cherish again, except this time with each other.
They received regular owls from Albus and Minerva as well as Harry and Ginny, keeping them filled in on the events that they missed. Ron went into business with the twins and ended up opening his own branch of the store in Sydney Australia, where he met the woman he eventually married. Hermione and Severus traveled there for the wedding.
Ginny avoided working for Galena, whom she met shortly after graduating. By not moving to Edinburgh, she rekindled her romance with Harry and they married shortly after he finished the Auror program. Hermione and Severus traveled to London for their wedding as well.
The years passed quickly. They were in Japan when the time came to return for what was sure to be an interesting career working alongside each other. They had learned so much about each other in the years abroad that they worked seamlessly together. Severus even lost some of his derisiveness during his lessons, though he would say it was simply age and not his contentment with his married life.
Hermione so enjoyed teaching and was pleased she seemed to have a knack for it. In more ways than just her name, she was delighted to have become Professor Snape. She giggled to herself on more than one occasion when the students labeled Severus as Old Professor Snape when referring to them both in conversation. He just chuckled and said that they could call him whatever they wanted as long as he still had the pleasure of returning home to her every night. He always knew what to say to make her smile.
The Death Eaters managed to escape, but they were apprehended as soon as they Apparated into Hogsmeade. There were no casualties this time as Albus had been sitting in front of The Three Broomsticks and stunned the lot as soon as they materialized. Severus had teased him that he should have let the Aurors do their jobs, but Albus said he'd been bored that day and thought he would handle them himself. Severus then reiterated the man's need for a psychiatric evaluation.
To Hermione's surprise, that had occurred only a few days ago as she gazed out over the lake to the place where Albus' sarcophagus had stood and then Minerva's, but neither existed. It was well past sundown on Wednesday, the day that Severus died and the day she committed murder. Those events still etched into her mind, she knew they were now only fantasy. She and Severus had changed those events, and in doing so, had created an extraordinary life together. He loved her deeply as she did him, and somewhere along the way, they became the very best of friends. Many couples envied them, but those same people had no idea of the tribulations that brought them to one another. Nevertheless, she cherished those tribulations as well. They led her to Severus.
She felt a hand on the small of her back as a silken voice met her ear, "It is almost midnight."
She looked up to see her husband at her side. He looked younger than he did the first time they'd experienced that day, she thought. Those years of rest must have done him good.
"What do you think happens now?" she asked quietly.
"Tomorrow," he answered softly, pulling her close against his side and kissing the top of her head.
They stood together looking out over the lake that sparkled in the moonlight. Those sparkles reminded Hermione of the beautiful colors she'd seen when she awoke so many years ago. She thought they must have come to say hello from the crystalline surface of the lake.
Hermione felt no different as the day passed into memory. The day that lie before her was fresh and new like none had been in so very long. This was a day that neither of them could remember living, and they were excited for it.
She still treasured him just as she had in her memories and could not imagine her life without him. He still brought her coffee every morning and gazed at her with the same reverence that told more than paltry words ever could. As Severus suddenly pulled her into a warm embrace and kissed her eagerly, sliding his hand beneath the front of her shirt, she thought she didn't mind if this was another ripple, as long as it never ended.