DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Author's Note: This one-shot was written in response to the Veritaserum February 2008 one-shot contest, which was: ' bring back someone who is dead and kill off someone who is alive'. In this fic, Snape survived Nagini's bite, and Ron was killed in the Battle of Hogwarts. Beta read by the BeST team.

If you like this fic, please vote for it by going to www dot Veritaserum dot com slash forums slash index.php?showtopic equals 20475.

Headmaster One, Granger Zero

Hermione looked out the small, oval window at the counterpane of white clouds spread beneath her. The sun glinted off the silver wing to her left, making her close her eyes. They were dry and sticky. She hadn't slept properly in over a week.

First there had been the break-in at Gringotts, the frenzied rush to get the Ravenclaw Horcrux; and then the terrible battle. Everything after that was a blur. There had been depositions, debriefings, interviews, photographers… and somewhere amongst all the furor, a double funeral. The grief of the Weasleys was beyond comprehension. She'd wanted to do something, say something, but it was her loss, too, and so she had been helpless, watching Molly cling to her remaining children, wanting to offer comfort but afraid of intruding. Truth be told, she had been afraid of breaking down and making everything worse. She wanted — needed — to be strong. It wasn't like she and Ron had been engaged. Not even really boyfriend and girlfriend; and at the same time, it had been so much more.

Hermione willed herself to open her eyes again; when they were closed, she thought too much about it. She pulled out the booklet of puzzles from the seat pocket in front of her and began mechanically filling in the squares. It was a twenty-one-hour flight to Melbourne, but she hadn't wanted to take a Portkey. The Ministry was still so topsy-turvy, it wouldn't have surprised her if she'd ended up in Médellin instead. Aside from that, she needed a break from magic. Maybe it was time to put it all behind her and start over, just have a normal life with her parents in Australia.

"Who's it for, Mum?" Ginny asked as Molly expertly plucked the message from the owl's leg.

"Harry. From Hogwarts." Mrs Weasley handed the letter over to Harry with a peculiar expression on her face, and quickly returned to the sausages frying in the pan.

"Ooh, what does it say?" Ginny bounced up from her chair and leaned over Harry's shoulder.

"Let the boy read his post in peace, Ginny," Arthur said from behind his newspaper, but there was a smile playing around his lips.

Harry was in the process of unsealing the envelope when a tap on the window heralded the arrival of another owl.

"This one's for Ginny," Mrs Weasley announced as soon as she'd relieved the bird of its burden.

Ginny snatched the note out of her mother's hand and ripped it open. She eagerly read the contents while her parents watched expectantly.

"They're re-opening Hogwarts—" Ginny began, paused as she read more, then continued, shrilly, "and they've made me Head Girl! Oh, Mum, isn't it wonderful!" She launched herself at her mother, squealing joyfully.

"Well, isn't that fine," Mr Weasley said, laying his newspaper down. "Marvellous news. It's about time. We could certainly use some around here."

Harry, in the meantime, had been studying his own letter. Now he spoke up. "Did you read all the way to the end, Gin?"

Ginny turned to Harry in surprise. "What do you mean?" She picked up the letter and looked at it again. " 'Dear Miss Weasley, school being re-opened, Head Girl' – yes!" She pumped her fist in the air. "'– meeting with the headmaster on arrival –' " She looked up, perplexed. "I don't know what you mean. What does your letter say? Wait… Why did you even get a letter? You aren't coming back, are you?" Her face lit up. "Oh my God, did they make you Head Boy?"

Harry shook his head and smiled sheepishly. "No, I'm not Head Boy. But I will be going back. I think it's important that I officially take my NEWTs, and I really doubt I could pass many of them at the moment."

"I think that's an admirable attitude, Harry," Mr Weasley praised him. "I know it's what Ron would have done as well."

Mrs Weasley sniffled deeply and bestowed a watery smile on her husband. "They would have made Ron Head Boy, Arthur, don't you think?"

"I'm sure of it," Arthur replied kindly. "There wouldn't have been a better choice."

Harry tapped the bottom of his letter. "But look at the bottom, Gin. Who signed it?"

Ginny re-examined her own letter. All the while, Mr and Mrs Weasley were looking quizzically between the two. Then Ginny gasped and looked at Harry in shock. "No!"

"Looks like it."

"But… They can't! I mean, he was a Death Eater! He let the Carrows torture us! You can't tell me he didn't enjoy his little games, even if he was supposedly working for the Order."

"May I see the letter, Ginny?" Arthur took the piece of parchment out of Ginny's limp hand. After a moment, he looked at Molly grimly. "They've re-instated Snape as Headmaster."

"Oh dear Merlin." Molly clutched at her heart and sank onto the nearest seat.

"Post, Headmaster." Minerva McGonagall peremptorily dropped a stack of letters onto the already-full desktop. "Acceptance letters. Nearly all Slytherin, I'd wager." She clasped her hands tightly before her, her lips a thin line of discontent.

Snape pushed his chair back slightly and ran one hand down his face. "This would be easier if you would be reasonable," he said wearily.

"Reasonable? I'm being perfectly reasonable, Headmaster." Minerva emphasized the title. "It is purely and exclusively due to reason that I am staying on. If I were to act on what is in my heart, I daresay you would find me many leagues distant from here, if not in Azkaban, for crimes against a Hogwarts Headmaster!" Her steel-blue eyes flashed dangerously.

Several of the portraits on the walls of the Headmaster's office grumbled warnings.

Snape's expression became hard. "I am sorry you feel that way, but I cannot accept such an attitude from my staff." He stood and flipped his robes imperiously as he came around the desk. "I am the Headmaster of Hogwarts."

This pronouncement was greeted by a chorus of "Hear, hear"s from the portraits, punctuated by a "Well said, my boy".

McGonagall glared at the former headmasters and –mistresses.

"After Potter's moving testimony on my behalf, I had hoped that it was clear once and for all where my loyalties lie," Snape continued, "despite my, in your mind, unfortunate House affiliation. The school governors –"

"Lucius Malfoy! Richard Parkinson!" McGonagall barked out.

"—and Zebediah Smith, Delia Gudgeon, Stamford Terwilliger…" Snape countered. "You can't tell me that they supported my appointment for nepotistic or political reasons."

"They were intimidated… blackmailed… I don't know what machinations were involved, but given what happened last year, under your tenure—"

Snape came close to McGonagall and hissed, "Under my tenure, how many students were provided with the best education the United Kingdom has to offer in all of the basic magical subjects? How many were given a safe place to sleep, free from the fear that plagued the wizarding population at large?"

"The same number as were subjected daily to psychological, and sometimes physical, torture at the hands of those two brutes in the guise of teachers," she retorted snippishly.

"Minerva, don't you think you're being a bit harsh?" Professor Dumbledore's portrait gazed down on her serenely. "If he had not been at the helm of the school, you would all have been replaced by, as you call them, brutes."

"Perhaps," McGonagall conceded, grudgingly. "But that does not excuse what happened. If you had been alive—"

"The same thing would have happened!" Snape insisted. "The Ministry — without Riddle at its head, I might add — forced Umbridge on him, and I think that both of us agree she was no better than the Carrows. Only more subtle."

McGonagall straightened her back. "The ends do not always justify the means. I am staying on to make sure that the 'same thing', as you call it, does not happen again. I have sat by too long and allowed the Umbridges and Carrows of this world to have their way."

"I am glad to hear that. Then we are working toward the same goal." Snape plucked up a handful of the letters she had brought in and brandished them at her. "The first thing we need to do is to ensure that it is not only Slytherins that enrol for the coming year. I am counting heavily on you, Filius, and Pomona to talk sense into the upperclassmen from your Houses who should be returning, and their parents. At my last count, the Gryffindors were woefully lagging in returns. It is your responsibility to make sure that your House is well-represented." He dropped the letters back on the desk with a flourish.

Minerva smirked. "If you are truly the Headmaster of Hogwarts, as you insist, and not of Slytherin, then it is your responsibility to see to it that all eligible students receive the full benefit of a magical education. I'd start planning my itinerary if I were you." And with a sharp glance up at the portraits, she whisked her skirts around and left Snape alone.

"Blasted pig-headed girl," Severus Snape grumbled to himself. He was in a foul mood, having been subjected to two misdirected Portkeys and a very unpleasant run-in with a hag at the Portkey office before arriving, finally, at two in the morning. It was the first time he had been to Australia, and he hoped to all benevolent spirits that it would be the last.

Term was due to begin in two days, and he had just one more truant student to visit. It did nothing to improve his mood that it was Hermione Granger. Why she of all people should refuse to return to complete her education was simply inexplicable. Why, even Potter, the most pig-headed, insubordinate, self-important prat he had ever had the misfortune to meet, had deigned to grace the hallowed halls of Hogwarts with his presence for one more year. Granger had neither been crippled nor lost a family member, and being now over the age of majority according to both Muggle and wizarding law, her parents would be unable to control her movements. Even so, the Hermione Granger he knew would not have let that keep her away, had she wanted to return.

The Australian Department of Magical Cooperation had been kind enough to obtain the whereabouts of Wendell and Monica Wilkins from the Muggle immigration authorities, with the note that they had applied for a permanent visa for their daughter, Hermione.

As the Ministry car approached the suburban subdivision that was their goal, he only hoped this interview would not be a repeat of the scene he had had to endure at the Patil residence, with both daughters ending up screaming alternately at himself and their parents, the mother in hysterics, and the father shooting off wild curses in his direction.

Snape twitched his robes and adjusted his collar as he waited for someone to answer the door. He was nervous, to his intense consternation. He scowled and reminded himself that he was the Headmaster. She would listen to reason, and if not, let it be on her head.

The sound of footsteps thumping on wood let him know that someone was at home, but no one answered for several more seconds. Finally: "What do you want?" a female voice demanded; her voice, no doubt.

"I am here as the Headmaster of Hogwarts. I have school business to discuss."

A pause ensued. Then: "Hand over your wand," the voice said. "Put it in the mailbox on the right."

"I most certainly will not," he retorted. "Surely you don't think I'm here to do you any harm."

"You will if you want to come in," the voice insisted.

Fuming in silent humiliation, Snape removed his wand from his robes and pushed it through the flap in the mailbox attached to the side of the door. Shortly thereafter, the door was pulled open, and he found himself at wandpoint. On the other end was a medium-sized young woman in Muggle clothing, her curly brown hair pulled back into a knot.

"Miss Granger," Snape said with a sneer, "if you would kindly remove that from my face." He reached out and pushed her wand aside with the tip of one finger.

"Mister Snape," she greeted him curtly.

"That's Headmaster to you," he reminded her coolly.

"Not any more. I'm not coming back."

"We shall see about that. Now unless you wish to conduct this conversation before the eyes of the entire neighbourhood, perhaps you would invite me in?"

Hermione narrowed her eyes, but nevertheless took a step back to allow him to enter.

"That's better," he said. "You really don't need to go to all this trouble." He indicated her wand, which she was still holding pointed at him. "I'm sure that Potter shared all the gory details of my memories with you."

"Just because you were in love with his mother doesn't mean I trust you any further than I can spit."

"And I suppose it also means nothing to you that the Hogwarts Governors have entrusted the care of the most prestigious wizarding school in Britain to my care?"

Hermione snorted. "Do you mean the same board that fired Dumbledore and installed Umbridge? The same board that stood by and allowed you to run your reign of terror last year? Yeah, I really trust their decisions."

"Last year was not about fun and games. It was about survival. I should think that would be clear to you."

"Oh, I know all about your fun and games. I had some fun and games of my own. Try living in constant fear that you're going to be caught, tortured, and killed by some psychopaths. Try actually being caught and tortured by those psychopaths. And then try watching as your best friends are killed."

"I have," he replied emotionlessly.

"What--?" She let out a short bark of laughter. "Oh, come on, you can't be serious! You're one of them. You were probably laughing when Harry took the Killing Curse."

"I assure you, I was not — but I am not here to justify myself to you. I am here to tell you to stop feeling sorry for yourself and come back to Hogwarts."

Her eyes got wide and her knuckles became white on her wand. "You dare—"

"Yes, I dare," he shot back. "I dare because this isn't what you fought for. You didn't go through all of that so that you could curl up and hide."

"I went through it to help and protect my friends! I had to help Harry! I had to! And look what it got me! Ron! Dead!" Her face was blotchy and red, and she was gulping down sobs.

"Do you think it helps him for you to throw away the rest of your life?"

"Nothing can help him!" she screamed.

"Miss Granger… Everyone suffered losses. Potter—" He gritted his teeth. "Mr. Potter is returning, as is Miss Weasley. Do you think they are disrespecting your friend's memory by doing so? Miss Brown, disfigured as she is, will be there. The younger Creevey, after much reassurance to his parents, will be there, and so on. Why should you be special?"

"Because… because it was my fault."

"Mr. Weasley was crushed by falling debris. I hardly see—"

"I should have been there! I shouldn't have let him go off on his own!"

"If you do believe that you are at fault, what is this then? Exile as a self-imposed punishment? You will never find peace with yourself that way. Believe me. You are the only one making reproach, and you cannot run away from yourself."

"What do you recommend then? Going back and being reminded of what happened every day? Having to see the place where he died? Where Fred died, and Professor Lupin, and all the others? How is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"There are plans underway to dedicate the Great Hall as a memorial. Meals will be taken in a hall adjacent to the kitchens. I do not know whether that will make you feel any better, but the site will be there for anyone to enter on their own terms, in their own time."

"I can do that from here. I don't need to be enrolled as a student," she pointed out.

"That is true. I cannot force you to come back." He sneered. "If you want to throw away your gifts, along with six years of education, it is your decision. If, on the other hand, there is still a spark of Gryffindor in you, and if you want once and for all to prove those wrong who said that Muggleborns were stealing magic from purebloods, I will expect to see you in two days' time at the Sorting Feast."

"I can't just pick up and leave. My parents—" she protested, but he could tell that it was merely formal.

"Did just fine without you for an entire year. I will see you in two days."

As Snape pocketed his wand on the way back down the pavement to the waiting car, he heaved a sigh of relief. He'd managed to avoid actual tears being shed, and not a single hex had been exchanged. Headmaster one, Granger zero. It only remained to be seen how the score would develop.