Chapter 60: New Beginnings

Albus returned, via Floo, to his office. He was in such a state that he completely forgot about Tolmie and the two bodies as he went straight to his bookcase to retrieve the Pensieve that he had stored Andrews' memories in. He had realised that the reason he couldn't perform Legilimency was because of the fact that he had all of Andrew's memories inside the minute Pensieve now cradled in his hands.

The past headmasters and headmistresses that adorned the walls in the office were all up, none of them were pretending to sleep, and all eyes snapped towards the elderly wizard as he strode through the office, mumbling something to himself. They were very interested in what was going to happen next, and a few of them even held their breath.

Tolmie, who was sitting on the edge of his seat as if waiting for instructions, also looked up at what the headmaster was undertaking, but Dumbledore paid Tolmie no mind and went about retrieving the Pensieve.

"Oh," Dumbledore said, in obvious surprise but recovering quickly. "If you don't mind closing the door on the way out, I will take care of this mess," he stated as he held on to the Pensieve in his right hand and waved his other one towards the two bodies in the corner.

Tolmie stood and wished the headmaster a pleasant day before running his hand down his face and staggering from the office, closing the door behind him.

As the door closed with an audible click, the elderly wizard paused for a moment, as if in thought. As he shook his head, a couple of the portraits started whispering amongst themselves. Albus made his way back to the fireplace with a spark of determination in his usually twinkling eyes. The green flames were still in place, indicating that the Floo connection was still open to the infirmary.

Stepping up into the green flames in the fireplace, Pensieve firmly tucked under his arm, he walked through without so much as a falter in his step.

Severus rolled over in bed and flung his arm out. Feeling nothing but the cool sheets against his arm, his hand grasping at air, he stirred slightly. His groggy mind alerted him that something wasn't right about that fact. Slowly he tried to pry his eyes open, squinting at first at the spot where his arm was lying on the crinkled sheets.

He swiftly sat up at that point, as his mind regained its usually clarity, and he looked around the room. Feelings of abandonment came first and forthright to his mind as he clearly saw no one in the darkness. He held out his wand hand and quickly muttered, "Accio wand," and felt his wand slap into his outstretched hand.

"Lumos," he almost shouted, as he strained his ears to hear any sounds of Hermione in the other rooms of his suite. After a couple of seconds of hearing no one, he rose almost silently.

"Nox," he said as he flung open the heavy drapes that covered the windows in his chambers. He closed his eyes briefly as the blinding stream of light hit him full force in the face.

Severus turned away from the window and cursed as he made his way to the cupboard, quickly removing his clothes and getting dressed in his accustomed robes. Once every button was in place, he went out to the sitting room and, glancing over at the table where he had placed Hermione's wand the previous night, he observed it was still there.

A sickening feeling rose from the pit of his stomach as he strode over to the wand and pocketed it for safekeeping. In two strides, he was over at the tapestry, making the intricate patterns which allowed him to exit the suite.

The first thing he noticed were the doors to his classroom ajar. As he surveyed the scene, taking in if there had been any foul play involved or whether his Hermione had just chosen to vanish, a thought he found odd after everything they had shared the previous night.

"Where are you, Hermione?" he screamed out in frustration into his reeling mind. He didn't expect an answer, so when he received one, it startled him and he had to lean on the doorframe to catch his breathe.

"Down by the lake," Hermione replied, in a barely auditable whisper. Feeling his rising panic through their link, she quickly added, "I just needed some time to think."

Severus felt her indecision and sadness. He didn't answer her; his heart was beating wildly in his chest as he raced up the stairs that lead to the dungeons and through the heavy front doors of the castle.

He passed Remus on the way out, but he didn't even acknowledge his presence as he tore past him with the one intent of stopping Hermione from doing something rash.

Remus saw the Potions Master come hurtling towards him, and was about to ask how the mission went, when he took in the look in the other man's eyes and made the quick decision to get out of the way. He made it, just, but he crashed into one of the many pieces of armour in the hall, losing his balance as he reached out to steady himself and the whole damn thing came crashing down on top of him.

He growled out in frustration. He was getting too old for this, with the full moon and his transformation only last night, he felt like he had aged fifty years.

Standing up on shaky legs and brushing the pieces of armour aside, Remus continued on his way to the Great Hall in search of lunch. Shaking his head and running a tired hand through his greying hair, he checked himself for injuries. Finding none, he started muttering to himself.

Severus' heart leapt at the scene before him. Hermione was sitting by the lake's edge, arms folded around her knees with her chin resting on top. Her bushy hair was being blown by the wind and, although Severus couldn't see her face, he could tell that she had been crying.

Slowing down to a brisk walk, Severus made it to Hermione's side and he sat down beside her, stretching out his long legs in front of himself and placing his hands in his lap. He too gazed out at the rippling waters of the lake before them, waiting patiently for Hermione to speak.

Hermione had yet to look at him as she was staring intently out across the lake at something only she could see. Severus was uncertain about breaking the silence and allowed her a few minutes to gather her thoughts.

It was true he could feel her emotions and thoughts as though they were his own; however, he did not want to intrude at this particular moment as their relationship was still being established. Although he felt as if he had known her a lifetime, he still, even now, held onto the fear that one day she would wake up and leave him without so much as a backwards glance.

So he sat there patiently, waiting for her to break the silence surrounding them.

"I can't do this,' she exclaimed, standing and throwing her arms in the air.

Severus scrambled to his feet and faced her. "What?" he asked, as his brow furrowed and a scowl showed quite abruptly on his face as if he were expecting this. His hands clenched into fists at his side.

"I can't stay here," she cried, as she turned to face him. "I can feel them all now, surrounding me, inside my head." Her voice dropped down to a whisper as she fidgeted with her hands, looking Severus straight in the eyes.

At Severus' furrowed brow, she quickly added, "Harry and Voldemort." Saying Voldemort's name made her straighten up as a fiery look came into her eyes. "They are still here, inside my mind." She gestured to her head as she continued, "I don't think I will ever be truly rid of them."

Her voice sounded strange to Severus' ears, haunted, as though she was alone. She went on before Severus could break her line of thought.

"I feel like I have been teetering on the top rung of a house of cards forever," she took a deep breath in, "waiting for someone to pull out the bottom card and for the whole deck to come tumbling down."

Severus could now make out the silent tears that were streaming down her face and his expression changed from disbelief to concern. He took in her appearance then; she wore no shoes and her hair was a mess. She had thrown his black dressing gown over her bare body; it was obviously too big and hung off her slight frame. She was shivering quite forcefully. Although it was high noon, it was a cold late autumn day, typical for Scotland. The breeze dancing across the lake was quite icy.

He opened up his arms, at which she flung herself into them and buried her face in his frock coat, subsequently drenching it with her hot tears. Hermione's hands were clenched quite forcefully in the material as she sobbed loudly; letting the dressing gown fall open so her naked body was rubbing up against him.

Severus' arms came around her, one rubbing soothing circles around her back while the other was trying to contain her hair, which was flying around wildly and getting into his mouth and eyes.

They stood at the fringe of the lake for what seemed an eternity. The wind picked up in its relentless pace, chilling them both, but neither of them noticing or moving. They held onto one another, each relishing in the other's warm body and comfort; they were content.

When Hermione had settled down somewhat, and she was hiccupping, Severus took off his outer coat and draped it over her shoulders, carefully closing the dressing gown and doing up the belt. He then took hold of both her arms. Kneeling down, he held her at arm's length and looked up into her puffy eyes.

"Tell me what you want me to do, Hermione," he pleaded with her, "and I will do it. Just don't push me away, for I can not even bear that thought, not after all we have been through together."

Hermione's face took on a look of shock as she realized that he thought she meant that she didn't want to be with him. 'That daft, adorable wizard,' she thought to herself as a beaming smile broke out over her face.

"Severus," she started, helping him to stand upright once more, "I want to be with you. It's just that I can't do it here," she said as she gestured wildly around her.

The look of relief on Severus' face was priceless as she continued. "Too many memories," she whispered, hanging her head and looking at the ground.

She slowly looked up to see his face in contemplation before quickly adding, "You do understand, do you not?" Her voice wavered just a little.

"Of course, it's just," it was Severus' turn to hesitate now as though in thought. Hermione waited while he gathered his thoughts together. Finally taking a deep breath in, he continued.

"This castle has been the only place that I have known for the past twenty years of my life," he said, indicating with his hands the castle of Hogwarts, but never taking his eyes off Hermione. "With the exception of this last year, it is all I know and I have come to think of it as home regardless of what has happened here." Hermione's eyes shot to the ground once more.

He took both of Hermione's hands into his own larger ones as he finished, "However." He paused as her gaze raised once more to his face. The gleam of hope in her eyes was almost too much for him to bear. "Albus has been telling me to take a sabbatical and, after everything that has occurred this past year, I feel that I can justifiably take it now," he finished, looking deeply into her eyes.

He held a soft look of hope on his face, a look she knew was only for her. When the silence became a little too much for Severus to bear, he stated, "We could go anywhere you want, that is, if you still want me."

Hermione realised in his passing comments that, after all they had been through, he was still unsure within himself.

"Severus," her tone pleading as she let her emotions show through, "I want to be with you, it's just that…" She took a quick glance around the grounds of Hogwarts. "I can't stay here; there are too many painful memories… memories I'm not ready to deal with just yet." Hermione looked up at him, silently imploring his understanding.

Severus then grabbed her hand, an almost passable smile on his face.

"Come on then," he said, pulling her back towards the castle. "Let's go tell the headmaster of our decision."

Together they walked back to the castle, hand in hand. Hermione was smiling openly and Severus was scowling, although inside he was the happiest man alive.

Making their way to the stone gargoyles that marked the entrance to the headmaster's office, they passed a couple of straggling students who were hurrying off to class. These students shrank into the walls as they passed by, their mouths gaping open and identical looks of horror on their faces as they watched the Potions Master and his former student walking hand in hand.

The doors to the headmaster's office stood open, revealing the staircase, almost as if it were waiting for their arrival, and Severus gently pushed Hermione up the revolving stairway before he too climbed on. Dumbledore sat behind his desk, waiting patiently, as though expecting them. Severus' scowl deepened.

'Must he know everything, the damn fool,' he thought to himself, as Hermione giggled next to him.

She squeezed his hand, as if telling him to behave, and he looked over to her, wondering when she had grabbed his hand once more.

"Severus, Hermione," the Headmaster started, that damnable twinkle once more in his eyes, and Severus glared even more.

"Please take a seat as we have much to discuss before you leave." Dumbledore motioned to the two chairs before his desk and both Severus and Hermione sat without question.

"Now, Tolmie was here early this morning and explained everything to me." He raised a hand to forestall any questions, before continuing, "I have taken it upon myself to talk to the Ministry this morning and I feel it would be better if you weren't present."

Hermione opened her mouth as if to protest, but closed it again when Albus gave her a look that brooked no argument.

"Tolmie has gone back to his home and I would suggest that you go there before anything else and see how he is fairing," Dumbledore continued.

"Hermione," he stated, whilst the old fatherly expression came on his face, "you have done a great service to the wizarding world and, for that, I thank you."

Hermione blushed and squeezed Severus' hand tighter.

"I also have a request of you," the headmaster said as he looked pointedly at Hermione. "I would like for you to come to the infirmary with me as it seems that we have a guest in there that is most eager to speak with you," he finished, raising both of his eyebrows.

"Who?" Hermione asked, perplexed at the headmaster's generalisation.

"Ah," was all the reply that she received from the elderly wizard as he stood, eyes twinkling.

"First things first though," Dumbledore said whilst pulling out his wand from his left hand sleeve. "I think that you will want to change your attire."

Hermione looked down at the black dressing gown of Severus', that she was currently enveloped in with his outer jacket draped over her shoulders, and blushed a deep crimson. With a flick of his wrist, Albus Transfigured her clothing into a red jumper and black slacks. She also noticed that he had placed shoes on her otherwise bare feet.

Hermione looked up at Dumbledore and smiled.

"Now that we are ready, just follow me," he said, whilst leading the way to the fireplace.

Hermione walked into her room in Severus' suite. Her heart felt heavy as she took a seat on the edge of her bed.

Memories of Dr Andrew Lopes, 'Poles,' she mentally told herself, and the fraudulence of Cornelius Fudge, the former Minister of Magic, weighed heavily on her mind.

To say she was shocked would have been the understatement of the century, as she walked through the green flames and into the infirmary to see her doctor lying there on the hospital bed.

She guessed he was shocked at seeing her too, as he went into a lengthy explanation as to how he came to be here at Hogwarts of all places. He then went on to explain that he would be returning to Calan Park to continue his work there. He had lots of new plans for the hospital, and Hermione couldn't help but feel a little bit of his enthusiasm as he detailed them all.

He had also apologized profusely to her and told her he was sorry for not believing her story in the first place.

Severus had stood behind her the entire time they were in the hospital wing, lending his support to her although he never touched her. She could feel him and was glad he was there.

Hermione shook her head; she had packing to do if they were to leave today. Glancing around the room, she stood and levitated most of her clothes in first. When finished, she looked around the room, making sure that she had not forgotten anything that she might need.

True, she wouldn't take everything with her, but with no clear idea how long it would take for her to be able to come to terms with all that had happened in the last year, she wanted to be certain that she left nothing important behind.

Hermione's eyes faltered as they fell on the picture of Harry, Ron and herself on top of the dresser.

She puffed out the air in her lungs, and her shoulders hung slightly, as she walked over to the picture. Picking it up, she ran her hand over it and smiled.

"I know you will always be with me, guiding me in my life," she exclaimed to the picture, as Harry and Ron smiled and waved back at her.

Placing the picture on top her clothes, she closed the trunk and reduced it so it fit into her palm. Pocketing it and taking one last look around her bedroom, she made her way out into the sitting room where Severus was waiting for her.

"All ready?" he asked, and she nodded back at him.

Severus extended his hand to her. Walking over to him, she placed her smaller hand in his. Together they made their way outside of the castle and down the well-worn path to the front gates.

Both were uncertain what the future would hold for them; however, they knew that they would not be going into it blindly for they had each other.

Severus turned to Hermione as they passed through the wards. Gathering her in his arms, he pulled her into his embrace. Hermione's arms encircled his waist as Severus bent down and brushed his lips gently over hers.

Pulling away ever so slowly, he nodded his head to her and they both Disapparated.