"Change is the constant, the signal for rebirth, the egg of the phoenix."
1. The Return
"I don't believe in love," Hermione Granger stated slowly, clearly.
The room at large fell into a deep hush as the panel of Aurors whispered amongst themselves. Hermione could feel her heart pounding loudly in her chest as she shifted nervously in the uncomfortable chair they had provided her at the very center of the room. Her eyes scanned over each of the Aurors at the head table where a shiny name plate lay discreetly bearing the words, 'Board of Directors, Auror Department', until her gaze, at last, rested on the Auror on the far right side of the panel; her best friend, Harry Potter.
Harry's brow was furrowed with intense irritation at her last comment, but before Hermione could mouth him an apology, the Head Auror had stood and was now loudly clearing his throat.
"Hermione Granger," spoke William Buckley with such an authoritative tone that Hermione's undivided attention was immediately honed into his pale, weathered face, "You have hereby been interviewed, tested, and tried; and are found capable to serve as an Auror under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Magic's Auror Department in London."
Hermione's breath hitched up slightly as she gripped the wooden armrest of her chair while Auror Buckley's focus turned to every other wizard in the room.
"Those in favor of Hermione Granger's initiation may manifest it by way of hand."
Hermione slowly glanced around the room as she saw the vast majority of hands rise in the air, including her dark-haired best friend's.
"Those opposed, if any," Auror Buckley asked as he glanced around the room.
A few hands rose in deathly silence and Hermione felt much like the time when she had scrambled to open her O.W.L. scores - a feeling of complete and overwhelming dread.
She sank further into the rickety chair.
"Hermione Granger," Auror Buckley stated loudly as his pale blue eyes locked with hers, "Welcome aboard. You are hereby known for now and always as an Auror under the service of the Ministry of Magic." A small smile appeared over his thin lips, "Congratulations."
And suddenly, the deafening silence that had just previously overwhelmed the room was interrupted with several chairs moving, papers shuffling, and the voices of Aurors speaking one with another regarding the day's events.
Hermione stood quickly from the uncomfortable chair just as Harry made his way down from the stage to greet her.
"Merlin, Hermione," Harry said by way of greeting, "Did you have to sound so damn bitter and cynical?"
Hermione regarded him exasperatedly, "Harry, I was under Veritaserum, I obviously was incapable of telling a lie."
Harry was ready with a retort before Hermione interrupted him, "And I wasn't the one that chose the questions, Harry. So just drop it."
Harry rolled his eyes as he looked fondly at his friend. Beneath the twenty-five year-old woman that stood before him was the same eleven year-old bossy know-it-all that he knew and loved so well. Hermione was nearly as tall as he was (though he never claimed to be all that tall for a man). Her bushy brown hair had darkened some with age and was infinitely less wild. Harry knew that she would never have the silky, straight hair that his fiancé, Ginny Weasley, had - though he had seen, on two separate occasions, Ginny commandeering some of her hair straightening potions and giving them to Hermione when they both thought he wasn't looking.
He wondered if it would ever do to bring it up.
They walked in silence for a moment as they exited the very room where Harry had his trial of being falsely accused with the misuse of underage magic so many years ago. He still hated coming down to the Department of Mysteries after everything that happened with his godfather, but the frequent hearings with the Auror Department were unavoidable, and he slowly began to realize that pressing on to catch dark witches and wizards would have been what Sirius wanted him to do.
Eventually, the pain had dulled.
"Hermione," said Harry as they worked their way around a group of congregating wizards, "I still don't understand how you can say that you don't believe in love. I mean, after everything that we've been through - "
"Harry," Hermione interrupted as they made their way to the lift that led back up to the main Atrium, "...really, I'm not bitter. Ron and I...well, we just weren't meant to be. No matter how hard we tried, it just wasn't going to ever happen."
Harry eyed her skeptically as he stood back for her to enter the lift.
"Really, Harry," Hermione continued, as she walked into the small space, "I'm happy for Ron. Quiddiitch, I think, has always been his first and only love," she chuckled, "I couldn't stop him even if I wanted to. How would that have been fair to him if I had held him back?"
Harry folded his arms as he leaned back against the grated wall while the lift began to rise. Hermione regarded him with quiet wonder as they rose to the Atrium. Harry, she was readily convinced, was more hurt by her fallout with Ron than she had been. After the fall of Voldemort, she, Harry, Ron, and Ginny had all entertained the fantasy of some long awaited Utopia. The 'happily ever after' part had worked out well for Harry and Ginny. With Voldemort gone, Harry was finally able to emotionally allow himself to fall in love without the fear of anyone using that love against him, and he and Ginny had been inseparable ever since.
Hermione and Ron were, well...a completely different story. They had dated immediately after the war only to discover that the bickering and fighting that had been playful and endearing while they were at school was something more of a problem. Simply put, Ron was in love with Quidditch. And his dream to play for some Quidditch team in some distant country was all that consumed him.
Hermione, on the other hand, was in love with academia. And so while Ron made great plans to try out for any Quidditch team that would so much as look at him, Hermione had continued with her education. Continued so far, in fact, that at the age of twenty-four, Hermione was appointed as the youngest witch in history to take a post and teach at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Differences aside, Hermione and Ron had called it what it was and went their separate ways, much to Harry and Ginny's dismay.
It had hurt at first, as all fallouts do, but what surprised Hermione more than anything was that she missed Ron's companionship really only in the line and sight of friendship. The 'Golden Trio' and their infamous days at Hogwarts. That was how she missed Ron - solely in the context of being her and Harry's friend. Greatly frustrated with this newly acquired revelation, Hermione had decided that love, whatever that infernal word was or meant in any sense, was not for her.
If everything that Ron and I went through wasn't strong enough to bring us together, then there is no force on earth that could possibly move me to feel whatever it is that 'love' truly is.
"Hermione," Harry said, interrupting her from her reverie, "I just..." he trailed off, as their lift reached the Atrium and they emerged head-first into a crowd of hundreds of witches and wizards, "...I guess, I really just want you to be happy."
Hermione eyed him fondly as they made their way over to the lifts that led to the Auror offices.
"Harry, whatever you may think or believe," Hermione began as they made their way through the crowded Atrium, "I really am happy. I love being at Hogwarts, and I love teaching. I can't wait for term to start again - "
"Which still blows the mind," Harry interrupted as the crowd began to thin, "...that you think you have time to be a professor at Hogwarts and to be a practicing Auror, as well."
"Part-time Auror," Hermione corrected as they boarded another lift.
"Are you sure you're happy?" Harry asked as the lift closed and they were encompassed in silence.
Hermione looked into his striking green eyes and nodded.
Of course there were times when it was just herself, Harry and Ginny, and she felt strangely out of place. But like everything that life had thrown her way up to that point; Hermione was confident she could handle it. She didn't need love. She had Harry, Ginny, her parents, and the professors at Hogwarts. That was enough. That was more that what most people had.
She knew she was lucky.
The lift opened once more and Hermione and Harry walked through the quite hallway that intersected the Auror offices. There were a few witches and wizards mingling about that had not been part of Hermione's initiation and a few of them stopped her.
"Just heard the news!" Christopher Willden exclaimed as he passed both Hermione and Harry en route in the opposite direction, "Wonderful that you'll be joining us, Hermione!"
"Thank you, Christopher," Hermione replied kindly as Harry moved passed her.
After a few strides, Harry paused at a door on the left and fished out his wand. As he silently unlocked the door, Hermione's eyes moved to the golden name plate on the center of the door which proudly stated:
HARRY POTTER - AUROR
Board of Directors, Auror Department
"Subtle," said Hermione, and Harry stood back to let her in.
Harry rolled his eyes, "Always were quite the comedian, weren't you?"
Hermione entered the cluttered office and turned back to face him, "After an entire childhood with you and Ron, how could I not be?"
Harry smiled as he reached for a file on his desk. The entire office, Hermione mused, looked as though it had been hit by a hurricane.
"I see you're organized as always," she offered.
Harry smirked, "Of course."
He fingered through the files for a moment before continuing, "They just moved me into this office. Haven't quite had the time yet for housekeeping."
"I see," Hermione supplied with a passive face. Her tone, however, indicated to Harry that his explanation was a poorly offered excuse.
"Here they are," Harry finally said, as Hermione struggled around a precariously leaning tower of boxes. "These are all the forms that you'll need. Just go through and sign them. Oh, and don't be too deterred to all the references to 'in the event of said person's death' - it's all precautionary."
Hermione chuckled softly as she rounded the boxes, "Right. There's no beating around the bush at all here, is there?"
Harry grinned, "Not really. No."
Hermione fingered through the files and scanned over a few documents as Harry approached her, sandwiching himself between two stacks of filing cabinets.
"So, do you have any questions or anything?"
Hermione shook her head, her eyes still scanning over the paperwork she needed to sign.
"Right then, well, since you're a part-time Auror, when you report, you'll be reporting to me as your immediate supervisor."
Hermione looked up with a wide smile on her face, "Bet you've been waiting all day to say that," she baited.
Harry smiled broadly, looking much like the eleven-year old she had met on the Hogwarts Express so very long ago, "Of course."
Hermione was just about to counter the jab when, without warning, a blinding white light from something small and silver came bursting into Harry's disastrous office. Graceful and gleaming, the owl perched itself onto of a particularly precarious tower of files. The Patronus's beak opened with power and purpose and spoke authoritatively in the voice of Minerva McGonagall.
"Emergency Order meeting. Old Headquarters. You have five minutes."
Several seconds after the owl faded into nothingness, Hermione and Harry both continued to stare atop the file tower it had only just previously occupied. Hermione was the first to speak.
"Order meeting?" she stammered, "We haven't had an Order meeting since before - "
"Since before the war," Harry concluded for her.
Finally, Harry snapped into action. "Come on, let's go. NOW, Hermione," he added loudly as he grabbed her arm when she continued to stare at the top of the clutter.
Hermione unceremoniously threw her paperwork down on top of Harry's chaotic desk as he pulled her roughly out of his office. He barreled heavily down the hallway, much to the surprise and dismay of a few startled wizards, with his grip firmly on Hermione's wrist.
"Harry!" Hermione protested as she struggled to keep up with him, "Let go of me! I can't run with you dragging me!"
Harry released his grip on her wrist only to take her by the upper arm and practically threw Hermione into the lift that would take them down to the main Atrium of the Ministry of Magic.
Their heavy breathing dominated the silence of the lift.
"Has it always gone this slow?" Hermione asked impatiently, rubbing her wrist and looking at the level marker on the top of the lift.
Harry seemed to have not heard her.
"What if...Ginny...what if something happened to Ginny?"
Hermione turned her head to look back at Harry with something of compassion in her eyes, "Harry, I doubt McGonagall would call an entire Order meeting about Ginny without alerting you to the problem first. I'm sure Ginny's just fine. She was with George all day, right?"
Harry, still in some sort of daze and staring straight ahead at nothing in particular, nodded.
"Yeah, at the joke shop. She's practically full-time there, now - helping George out, and all."
Hermione nodded as she grabbed his hand firmly, "I'm sure she's fine, Harry."
Her touch seemed to awaken him from his daze and his piercing green eyes locked with Hermione's for a brief moment before the lift came to a halt.
The Atrium was packed.
Cursing loudly and grabbing Hermione by the upper arm once more, Harry pulled her through the crowd. They bumped, collided, and smacked into a countless number of witches and wizards that were heading in the opposite direction.
"Hey, watch it!" Someone shouted as Harry slammed into an innocent bystander. The wizard, turning to see that it was Harry Potter who had run into him, continued with his shouting, "I don't care if you are bloody Harry Potter or the queen; watch where you're going!"
Harry, too distraught and determined to deem a reply, continued pushing his way through the crowd.
"We're sorry!" Hermione shouted for him, as Harry continued to cart her through the traffic, "It's an emergency! Oh! Sorry!"
After what seemed to be an eternity, Harry and Hermione reached the main entrance, and without a second glance, Harry had dragged them both up and out of the Ministry. Searching frantically through her robes for her wand, Hermione turned towards Harry, who already had his arm around hers.
"Side-along?" She asked with confusion.
Harry nodded, "I'm not taking any chances. I don't know what's happening."
Before Hermione had time to reply, she felt the familiar, albeit uncomfortable, compression of Apparation as she was whisked away into darkness.
The front steps to Grimmauld Place looked as much the same as Hermione had remembered them to be, some seven years prior. Slightly worse for wear, they creaked loudly as Harry and Hermione quickly scaled them and pounded heavily on the front door.
Not two seconds later, the sound of muffled footsteps briskly approaching resonated from within.
"Who is it?" The muted voice of Minerva McGonagall called from behind the front door.
"Harry Potter and Hermione Granger," Harry shouted, impatiently.
"What happened in Ravenclaw Tower the night that Voldemort was defeated?" Minerva's stern voice asked.
"Bloody hell," Harry swore under his breath as he ran a nervous hand through his unruly hair, "I was under the invisibility cloak and Carrow had broken in, searching for me. He spit at you and I cursed him."
There was the deadened sound of hinges unlatching as Minerva undid the wards. A few seconds later, she stood before them, eying Hermione suspiciously.
"Trust me," said Harry as he ushered Hermione into the dark and narrow hallway, "It's the real Hermione."
The Headmistress's expression softened immensely as she quickly embraced them both.
"What's going on?" Harry demanded as he walked further into hallway, careful to close the blinds of Mrs. Black's portrait for Hermione's sake. "Is Ginny here? Is she okay?"
Minerva nodded quickly, "Yes, she's here and fine, dear. The Order's all here. You two were the last to arrive."
"What's happening, Headmistress?" Hermione asked quietly from behind Harry's tense form, "We've been extremely worried."
Minerva gave her a sympathetic smile before patting them both fondly, "Everyone is fine. Please, come in so that I can explain why we're all here."
Harry didn't need to be told twice and strode quickly down the lengthy hallway and into the kitchen, where the entire Order of the Phoenix sat, looking extremely puzzled.
Harry's eyes sought for ginger hair, and the moment he saw Ginny, he practically threw himself at her.
"Alright everyone," Minerva began as she and Hermione appeared through the sagging post and lintel entryway to the kitchen. "We're all here now, so we can begin."
Hermione quickly walked forward and wedged herself through the long bench of the kitchen table between Mr. Weasley and Professor Sprout.
Without knowing why, her eyes scanned the table until she found Ron, who was looking at her, rather indifferently.
"I apologize for the panic and the secrecy," Minerva McGonagall began, as she stood at the head of the lengthy table and addressed the room at large. The table consisted of every Weasley, minus Fred, who had been killed in the final battle, Fleur Delacour, Professor Sprout, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, Hagrid, Lee Jordan, Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan, and three Aurors who worked at the Ministry that Hermione only knew from brief acquaintance: Desh Blackwater, Rebecca Brandon, and Bowen Keetch.
"Let me first assure you," Minerva continued, "...that there are no injuries, abductions, or deaths to report. Out meeting here this evening is on an entirely different purpose, I assure you."
Harry glanced across the table and locked eyes with Hermione. She knew he was thinking the same thing that she was.
Then why drag us all here for an emergency meeting?
"Our meeting here tonight," Minerva pressed on, "...is something quite the opposite, actually. Of gaining an old comrade, as it were."
Hermione's brow furrowed in confusion.
An old comrade?
"Everyone here in the Order, I am certain, was made aware of certain events surrounding and just prior to the death of Severus Snape."
Hermione's eyes darted over to Harry's as her heart began pounding furiously and her breath hitched up in her throat.
"I want all of you," Minerva said as her eyes, shielded behind spectacles, locked specifically on Harry, "...to take a moment to reflect on those events before I continue any further."
Now, everyone at the table was looking around at one another, trying to determine if Minerva McGonagall, Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and current leader of the Order of the Phoenix, was completely and utterly mad.
Snape, as they all knew, had been killed by Voldemort's snake and personal Horcrux, Nagini, during the final battle at Hogwarts. Hermione, along with Harry and Ron, had witnessed the grizzly death first person. The scene of Nagini biting viciously at Snape's pale throat had haunted Hermione's dreams more times that she had cared to remember.
A shadow moved behind McGonagall, just outside the tiny entryway to the kitchen, and Hermione felt as though her heart might explode just out of shear inability to continue pounding as quickly as it currently was.
A creak of the floorboards, and a man emerged from out of the shadows. His black eyes carefully surveyed each person in turn, and paused briefly on Hermione's startled face.
The silence in the room was nearly tangible - every breath held in some sort of reverence, some sort of wondering bewilderment as the entire Order of the Phoenix stared in fear and awe at the looming form of Severus Snape.
A/N: Hey folks! Please, if you would, take a second and let me know if you think this looks like an interesting fic. I've been stewing over this one for quite some time now, and am really looking forward to writing it. Reviews are always encouraging to me! Thanks!