"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome."

-Anne Bradstreet

Chapter 1

The first time Hermione Granger met the so called, "Greasy-Bat-of-the-Dungeons", it didn't go well.

Which was a shame, but certainly not a surprise to her now, some fourteen years later. Rather, it was her eleven-year-old self that had a difficult time grasping the immediate dislike that emanated from the Potions master.

She remembered the day well enough - Professor Snape had strode into the cool dungeon classroom dramatically, slamming the heavy wooden door behind him with a resounding thud. It would be, Hermione reflected ruefully, the first of many slammed doors while in the Potion's classroom.

She had been overly prepared, or so she thought. Having reread the first four chapters of One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, Hermione fully expected to please the Potions master, to have him smile down at her fondly as the other professors had, to praise her enthusiasm.

What she recalled best that day, however, was having her paradigms forcefully rocked, literally knocking her off her feet.

"Potter!" Hermione remembered Snape snapping. "What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"

The Draught of Living Death!

Her hand flew so quickly into air, her wrist had nearly snapped.

Beside her, Harry had shifted uncomfortably. "I don't know, sir."

Me! Pick me! I know!

"Tut, tut," Snape had sneered, his lip curling. "Fame clearly isn't everything."

His black eyes had looked everywhere but her, ignoring the arm waving high above her head.

"Let's try again. Potter, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?"

A goat's stomach!

Again, Hermione had thrown her hand into the air, as high as she literally could without leaving her seat.

Harry had glanced in her direction, looking increasingly anxious. "I don't know, sir."

"Thought you wouldn't open a book before coming, eh, Potter?"

Snape still pointedly ignored Hermione's quivering hand.

"What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?"

Oh, honestly! They're the same plant!

Hermione remembered, with a small smile, at Snape's last question to Harry that she had literally stood up, her patience wearing, stretching her hand toward the dungeon ceiling.

"I don't know," Harry had replied quietly. "I think Hermione does, though, why don't you try her?"

Finally! Hermione had thought, nearly rolling her eyes.

But Snape had none of it.

"Sit down," he had snapped at her, his black eyes flashing. Taken aback, Hermione had literally fallen back into her chair, confused and hurt.

And so, Hermione's first encounter with perhaps one of Britain's greatest wizards had gone less well than she had hoped.

"Hermione," the distant voice of Minerva McGonagall called, breaking Hermione from her reverie. "Goodness, child. Down here again?"

Hermione turned, her thick hair blowing with the summer evening breeze. She smiled softly as the older woman made her way carefully down the little pathway that led to where she stood, looking down at the gleaming headstones of Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape.

The Headmistress didn't bother hiding the disapproval from her voice.

Minerva McGonagall appeared mostly unchanged from what Hermione remembered as a student. Her hair was still neatly fashioned in a tight, meticulous bun; her back still proud and straight, her eyes sharp and bright. And since the deaths of her parents, the Headmistress had been every bit as much like family to her as Harry and Ron had.

"Headmistress," Hermione greeted the older woman respectfully.

"Hermione," the Headmistress tutted, with a disapproving click of her tongue. "How many times have I asked you not to call me that in private conversation?"

Hermione smiled sheepishly. "Sorry, Minerva."

Minerva nodded, though her mouth was still resolved into a firm line. They stayed like that for a few quiet moments, the warm breeze gently whipping their robes at their ankles as they both stared at the white marble in front of them. A few birds that were brave enough to enter the nearby Forbidden Forest called loudly to one another.

A look of sadness passed over Minerva's face briefly before she regained her composure. "This is the third time you've been down here this week."

It wasn't a question.

Hermione's back stiffened. "I wasn't aware I was being followed."

Minerva sighed, her eyes softening. "Hermione, dear, you know as well as anyone that there are some things even magic cannot undo," she said gently. "Albus and Severus have been gone from us for a long time, now. And you know my office is always open to you if you ever need to speak with Albus' portrait on any matter. When the man isn't inebriated or singing, he's rather pleasant to talk to."

Hermione closed her eyes and chuckled softly.

"And Severus," Minerva trailed off, suddenly looking infinitely sorrowful. "Well, Severus can now rest peacefully. And that is something that was denied him much of his adult life. We should feel happy for his solace."

Hermione opened her eyes and stared ahead unblinking at the nearly identical white tombs. "It seems so long ago," she whispered, somewhat despondently.

"Yes," Minerva agreed with a terse nod. "But as in all things, life goes on. And we, as survivors, must choose to go forward in a way that is fitting to honor and represent those whom we have left behind. Your decision to become a professor was a worthy one, Hermione. The wizarding world expected nothing less."

Hermione nodded, though her gaze still lingered on the white marble. "Last year was a disaster. I still have some big shoes to fill."

Minerva took a step forward and took Hermione's hand in her own. "Transfiguration is perhaps one of the most difficult subjects to teach, but I would not have appointed you to that post if I did not think you capable, Hermione. You expect too much of yourself. You did wonderfully your first year. And with each passing term you will gain experience and it will become easier. You'll see, dear. You are still so very young. There has never been a professor appointed here as young as you."

She gave Hermione's hand a reassuring squeeze. "I regret to inform you, however, that the students will always be a handful," she smiled and held her head high. "Though I have yet to met a group of students that gave me as much trouble as you, Mr. Weasley, and Mr. Potter did."

Hermione smiled warmly and turned to the older woman. "I can't even begin to imagine. Though, in all fairness, I truly did try to talk some sense into the two of them on more occasions than I can remember."

Minerva waved her hand dismissively in the air. "Oh, I don't doubt that you did, dear. In fact, I'm quite certain that if you hadn't befriended those two boys, they would have gotten themselves killed before the end of their first year."

Hermione chuckled lightly. "Not much has changed there. They still choose not to listen to me. Ron's become rather good at feigning ignorance."

Minerva offered a small smile and released Hermione's hand. They were both quiet for a few moments, Hermione breathing in the deep scent of pine, Minerva watching the younger woman warily. At length the Headmistress cleared her throat and said softly, finally, "Hermione, you know that if anything is bothering you that you can always speak with me. What is it, child? I know you well enough, I think, to know when something is amiss."

Hermione tensed and turned back to the white marbled tombs, her gaze fixed on Professor Snape's name. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. At length, she opened them again; the last glimmer of daylight lit up their depths for a brief second, and then the sun flickered out beyond the massive trees of the Forbidden Forest. She swallowed and kicked at a small rock in the tall grass. "I'm sorry," she said helplessly, after a moment. "I don't know what's gotten into me." She shook her head. "I just...I had a dream about that night...and now I can't get it out of my head."

Minerva frowned. "The night your parents were - "

"No," Hermione shook her head, cutting the older woman off quickly. "The night of the final battle. The night Professor Snape was killed." She swallowed and turned to Minerva, utterly lost. "His face...the agony...I can't shake the image. And every time I close my eyes, I see him. I see the snake biting his throat."

She was looking at the ground, at anywhere but her former Head of House. But she heard the soft footfalls come closer, and then felt a hand on her shoulder. It was then that she realized she was trembling. At the Headmistress's touch, she stilled herself.

"I don't know why," Hermione admitted, still looking at her feet, "after all this time, that I'm having some sort of post-traumatic stress episode," she laughed grimly. "You'd think I'd be past all that now."

Reluctantly, she met Minerva's gaze, like a young child refusing to take their medicine.

"Hermione," the Headmistress said gently, grief and compassion etched into her former student's name. "We all grieve in our own way, dear. And in our own time. You went through an ordeal that night. You witnessed something beyond horrible. And experiences like that, unfortunately, rarely leave us. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You are stronger than you know."

"I do feel embarrassed, though," Hermione said softly, half to herself, her cheeks flushing slightly from her mentor's compliment. "If Professor Snape could hear this conversation, I'd bet he'd be rolling over in his grave."

"I have no doubt of that," Minerva replied mildly. "If he were buried here, I assure you, he would be doing just that."

Hermione's brow shot up into her hairline. "What do you mean, if he were buried here?"

Minerva appeared mildly startled. "Surely you knew." But at Hermione's perplexed and anxious face, she continued more slowly, "They, they never found the body, dear. I thought Mr. Potter would have told you as much."

Hermione's head whipped around to the white marble with the carved inscription of Professor Snape's name. She felt her heart pound more frantically in her chest, her breath coming in more frequent intervals. And then she closed her eyes and felt sick. If Professor Snape wasn't buried beneath her, where was his body? Why had no one found it? Had the Death Eaters returned to the Shrieking Shack and taken it? After Harry's vocal duel with Voldemort in the Main Hall, everyone had learned of Snape's true allegiances - the Death Eaters included. Had they defiled his body in some way? Shuddering, she almost did feel like she would retch at that particular thought.

Reaching out with a trembling hand to steady herself, her fingers grasped the rounded curve of Professor Snape's headstone. With a shaky breath, she asked, "But who would take it?" She opened her eyes and looked at Minerva in the dimming twilight. "What could they possibly want with his body?" And then more angrily, "After everything he went through...why couldn't they just leave him be?"

Minerva stepped forward and wrapped her arms around the younger woman's shoulders, pulling her away from the little cemetery and toward the lighted castle. "Hermione," she said, with an odd note of contrition in her voice. "It's best not to think about such things. Dwelling on that which you cannot change will only drive a person mad. Come, dear. Let's get you some tea."

Hermione laughed raggedly. "Yes, a spot of tea is a fitting replacement for a man's life."

"You are far too young to sound so bitter," Minerva scolded, looking over at her sharply. "Now come inside and drink something warm. I won't hear another word about it."

Numbly, Hermione made her way forward with Minerva's steadying hand on her back, putting one foot in front on the other. And, as had happened innumerable times in the past week, she closed her eyes, felt one hot tear gather in the corner, and thought of the night she saw Severus Snape die.

The cold, clear sound of Voldemort's voice is not an easy thing to forget.

Hermione remembered hiding in the Invisibility Cloak with Harry and Ron that fateful night. She remembered peering through the empty crate into a dimly lit room. She remembered Nagini, swirling and coiling like a serpent underwater, safe in her enchanted, starry sphere.

She remembered Severus Snape sensing the danger around him.

"I have thought long and hard, Severus...Do you know why I have called you back from the battle?" Voldemort's shrill voice had asked.

"No, my Lord, but I beg you will let me return. Let me find Potter."

"I have told you, no!" Voldemort had hissed. Hermione remembered catching the glint of red in the monster's eyes as he turned around, swishing his cloak like the serpent he truly was. "My concern at the moment, Severus, is what will happen when I finally meet the boy!"

"My Lord, there can be no question, surely - ?"

" - but there is a question, Severus. There is."

"My Lord - let me go to the boy - "

"All this long night, when I am on the brink of victory, I have sat here," Voldemort had said, his voice barely louder than a whisper, "wondering, wondering, why the Elder Wand refuses to be what it ought to be, refuses to perform as legend says it must perform for its rightful owner...and I think I have the answer."

Hermione remembered swallowing thickly.

Professor Snape did not speak.

"Perhaps you already know it? You are a clever man, after all, Severus. You have been a good and faithful servant, and I regret what must happen."

"My Lord - "

"The Elder Wand cannot serve me properly, Severus, because I am not its true master. The Elder Wand belongs to the wizard who killed its last owner. You killed Albus Dumbledore. While you live, Severus, the Elder Wand cannot truly be mine."

Hermione remembered stuffing her fist into her mouth to keep from crying out.

"My Lord!" Snape had protested, and Hermione heard the tremble in his voice.

"It cannot be any other way," Voldemort had said. "I must master the wand, Severus. Master the wand, and I master Potter at last."

And Voldemort had swiped the air with the Elder Wand. The snake's cage rolled through the air, and before Professor Snape could do anything more than yell, it had encased him, head and shoulders, and Voldemort had spoken something shrill in Parseltongue.

There was a terrible scream. Ron had pulled Hermione back down to his side as she struggled against him, to do what - she did not know. But the scream had been awful, and her eyes had filled with tears. She pulled herself back up, fighting with Ron's grasp, to look through the empty crate and saw Snape's face losing the little color it had left; it had whitened as his black eyes widened, and then the snake's fangs had pierced his neck.

Hermione saw his knees give way and he did fall.

"I regret it," Voldemort had said, coolly.

And then he was gone, without regret or remorse. And Hermione had cried after Harry as he hauled himself out of the little space and crawled into the room.

She had followed, of course, and had nearly sobbed when she saw Snape's long fingers try to staunch the bloody wound at his neck.

A blood replenishing potion? What spell, dammit? What spell would work? Think!

But Hermione couldn't think of a spell to stay the blood and the gaping wound. She remembered a terrible rasping, gurgling noise that came from Snape's throat as he had pulled Harry down to him. And the moment she realized he was giving Harry a memory, she at least had the presence of mind to conjure a flask - but only just.

And then he had said the words that Hermione had thought on every day since he had been killed.

"Look...at...me..."

She remembered the depths of his dark eyes flicker as something vanished. Without warning, they had become fixed, blank, and empty. And then she remembered sobbing into her sleeve as Snape's hand thudded to the floor.

"Hermione."

"Hermione?"

"Hermione!"

Hermione shook her head in a vain attempt to clear the awful memory, and she turned to look at Minerva, still slightly dazed. What the Headmistress saw in Hermione's eyes in that moment, she did not know; but Hermione watched her mentor swallow thickly, and the older woman briskly hurried her through the massive entrance gate to Hogwarts.

"Perhaps I should fetch Poppy - "

"No, Minerva. Really, I'm fine. I think," she rubbed her eyes tiredly. "I just need some sleep, is all."

But sleep really was the last thing Hermione wanted. Sleep was where she saw Professor Snape's face - the devastation in his black eyes, writhing in agony. It was where she bolted awake in sweat and exhaustion, her breath shaky, as she tried to shake the image from her mind. An image, she knew, that would be ingrained in her memory for the rest of her days.

"Actually, Minerva," Hermione said pensively, after a moment, "I have a few errands I need to run. I shouldn't be too late."

Minerva raised a skeptical eyebrow over the rim of her glasses. But after a brief hesitation, she said levelly, "See that you aren't, Hermione. You know how Argus gets when people come parading in and out of the castle late at night. And while I know you are old enough to look after yourself, do be careful. These are still perilous times, as you well know."

Hermione offered a little half-smile. "Of course, Minerva. I'll be back shortly." And then with an effort to lighten the moment, she added, "You needn't worry - it's not Harry or Ron you're dealing with."

The Headmistress nodded, repressing a small smile of her own. "Thank Merlin for that."

Fastening the clip at the base of her neck to tighten her traveling cloak, Hermione made her way across the grounds, the lights from the interior of Hogwarts reflecting brightly off the Black Lake. Though it was mid-summer, the Scottish nights tended to be somewhat chilly, no matter the season. Pulling her cloak closer to her chest, Hermione tried to corral her oddly sluggish thoughts into some semblance of order.

Minerva's parting warning had aroused a dormant anxiousness within her, something that should not have been forgotten or dismissed in the first place. Though Voldemort had been defeated some seven years prior, Death Eaters and dark wizards still lingered much like a terminal disease - attacking when least expected, and stealthily avoiding being seen. Like the mythological Hydra, it seemed as though each time one head was severed, another three emerged.

In a way, the Auror Department had been making some headway in that regard, mainly due to Harry and Ron's efforts. But there were still unexplained muggle disappearances and deaths. Handfuls of known Death Eaters remained unaccounted for - several of which had been sympathetic to Voldemort's views. The Order, in conjunction with the Auror Department, intended to pursue each lead, however seemingly insignificant, until every last cell of Azkaban was filled.

It wasn't a task for the faint of heart.

Hermione, herself, had been personally involved on a handful of Order missions, one of which had resulted in the capture of Creighton Hines, a notorious Death Eater the Auror Department had classified as a 'top priority'. But the task was daunting, and the Aurors were often overwhelmed with misinformation, false leads, and the like.

And Hermione's heart, which had once beat with strength and purpose, seemed to have failed her. Her parents were dead - murdered by the very Death Eaters she and the Order had been trying to hunt down. And so of course she blamed herself - for not being there, for not arriving on time to save them. To do anything.

Her immediate response had, naturally, been vengeance.

But the years had been hard, and the trail was soon cold. Grief consumed her. Each passing day was dull and empty. And it wasn't until a year ago, when Minerva had approached her on a warm summer afternoon and had asked her to consider taking up a post at Hogwarts as the Transfiguration professor, that her life had begun to feel somewhat normal again.

And suddenly, she felt a sense of purpose.

And that had driven her forward. She had fallen into the pattern of teaching easily, throwing herself into the work without a backward glance. It was arduous, but she was apt and ready for the challenge. Minerva had become a great mentor, offering insight and encouragement along the way. And for the first time since her parents had been murdered - since the final battle, really; Hermione had begun to feel lighthearted. Happy, even.

Of course, that was until her paradigms had been warped not a few moments before, when Minerva told her Severus Snape's body had never been found.

Walking quickly past the wards, Hermione flourished her wand, closed her eyes, and felt the uncomfortable sensation of Disapperation as she vanished into the night.

000

"It's me, Harry," Hermione called impatiently, closing her eyes and leaning against the heavy wooden door. "Open up!"

She heard muffled footsteps making their way toward the door and stood back just in time for the door to swing inwards, saving herself from tumbling forward and into the entryway.

"Hermione!" cried Harry, enveloping his friend in a huge embrace. "Didn't expect to see you tonight! Brilliant! Come in - Ginny's just putting dinner on. You hungry?"

Hermione shook her head and smiled as Harry ushered her through the doorway of Grimmauld Place. Initially, she had been surprised when Harry announced that he and Ginny would make Grimmauld Place their home. To her, it housed memories of horrid portraits, Horcruxes, and cruel, harsh voices. But not long after Harry and Ginny had been married, Hermione had come with a housewarming gift, and had been shocked to discover that the place had been virtually transformed.

The sitting room was warm and inviting - a healthy fire burning in the hearth. No longer were the hallways dark and dingy. The post and lintel entryways were fully erect, no longer buckling in on themselves from the unevenly dispersed weight. And Kreacher, in his infinite grumpiness, had even seemed somewhat more pleasant. All in all, the place had seemed strangely cozy and warm.

It was, in Harry's words, brilliant.

"No, thanks, Harry; I'm not hungry."

But Harry pushed her eagerly forward to the kitchen. Whatever Ginny was cooking, it somehow smelled distinctively like the Burrow, and for a brief moment, Hermione felt a rush of homesickness.

The kitchen was bright and friendly, unlike anytime Hermione had ever been there previously during Order meetings. And Ginny, with her sleek, straight hair pinned up glamorously at the nape of her neck, stood with her back to the entryway, wand in hand, as pots and pans clamored together in the air in front of her.

"Who was it, Harry? Oh, hell, I forgot to add the sugar before kneading. I hope that won't ruin - "

But she trailed off as she cast a quick glance over her shoulder.

"Hermione!" Ginny shrieked, turning on the spot and rushing to her friend, causing the pots in the air to collide violently with one another. "Harry didn't say you'd be stopping by! Oh, sit down! Won't you stay for dinner?" She embraced her friend and unknowingly wiped a smudge of flour onto her cheek. "I'm no where near as good at cooking as mum, but I think I'm starting to get the hang of it."

Behind her, Harry's eyes widened and he shook his head back and forth.

Hermione suppressed a laugh.

"No, thanks anyways, though, Gin. I've just come to talk to Harry for a moment and see how you both were doing."

The pots that were hovering over the sink clanged together loudly.

"Oops," said Ginny, turning and stilling them with a quick flick of her wand. "Well, I'm so glad you stopped by, Hermione, if even for a moment. Oh! I have another bottle of Sleekeazy for you upstairs," she smiled. "You said you were nearly out. I'll go run and grab it before I forget."

The ginger haired woman swept by Hermione, giving her a quick squeeze on the arm as she brushed through the entryway and up the stairs.

Harry raised a thick brow. "Sleekeazy? Since when did you start using that rubbish?"

Hermione laughed ruefully, "Honestly, Harry. Did you think my hair just started managing itself on its own accord after all the hell it gave me at school?" She touched her head self consciously, pulling at a thick curl with her thumb and forefinger. "It'll never be anything like Ginny's, but it's infinitely more manageable now."

Harry folded his arms and chuckled, shaking his head in dismay. "I'd never thought I'd see the day, Hermione."

Pulling out the cedar bench, Hermione sat down heavily at the kitchen table, loosening her cloak at the neck. "Despite what you might think, Harry, even I appreciate being able to comb through my own hair. Now drop it, or I'll hex you into next week."

Harry held up his hands, feigning surrender. "I've seen what's happened to those who've been on the receiving end of your hexes, Hermione. I'd like to keep all my parts in place, thanks."

Hermione nodded, grabbing a copy of the Daily Prophet that lay on the opposite side of the table. The front cover had a picture of the Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, at a press conference inside the Ministry.

"Good."

"So, how are you, Hermione?" Harry asked with a teasing smile. "Hogwarts a bit boring in the summer without a thousand screaming kids to keep you on your toes?"

Hermione opened the front page of the Prophet, and without looking up, asked quietly, "Why didn't you tell me they never found Professor Snape's body?"

There was silence for the space of six seconds, she counted.

"What?"

"I know your hearing is perfectly sound, Harry."

When Hermione raised her gaze from the paper, Harry was frowning, his brow knit together. "What..I mean, where did this come from? What brought it on? It's been, what? Seven years now?"

"Why didn't you tell me?" Hermione pressed, looking up from the paper, her brown eyes raw with emotion.

"I didn't," Harry shrugged helplessly. "I didn't think it mattered."

"You didn't think it mattered?" Hermione repeated, hearing the volume in her voice increase with each word. "Of course it matters, Harry!"

And suddenly, she found herself standing, having pushed back from the bench, and was pacing around the small kitchen, waving her arms wildly and demanding justification.

"Did you keep it from me on purpose, Harry? Was it intentional? Does Ron know? Ginny?"

She stopped and looked at him, panting with the pent-up fury of the past few years, at him for lying to her, and at herself for thinking he would do anything different.

Damn his protectiveness.

"Hermione," Harry said helplessly after a moment, coming around from his side of the table to stand in front of her, "I didn't tell you because I was afraid you'd react like this - almost, I knew you would." He raised one hand to place it on her shoulder, but thought better of it, and let it fall to his side. "What you know, you can't unknow. I knew, right after everything happened, that you were having nightmares," he hesitated, unsure of how to continue, "I just, I didn't want to add to those."

Hermione kept her eyes on the ground, willing the hot tears that were gathering in the corners of her eyes to stay where they were. "What," she asked quietly, nearly inaudibly, "would they want with his body?"

She heard Harry's footsteps over the hardwood floor, and then felt him reach out and gather her to his side. She was nearly as tall as he was, but she tucked her head and rested it on his wiry shoulder.

"It won't do anyone any good to dwell on it, Hermione." And she felt his breath on her hair. "No one can change the past. Stewing over it will only upset you."

Hermione laughed grimly, her cheek rubbing hard against his shoulder bone. "That's what Minerva told me."

She felt him pat her back awkwardly. "So it was McGonagall who told you, then?"

Hermione nodded against him, and then disengaged and took a small step backwards. "Yes. Inadvertently."

"Hermione," he said uncertainly, warily, "please don't think on it. There are some places the mind shouldn't go, and that's one of them." And then he added more quietly, "Please trust me on this. You'll only make yourself sick."

Hermione stared ahead, not looking at anything in particular. "How can I not think on it, Harry? Merlin, it's not as though I'm choosing to imagine the poor man's body, beaten and defeated."

She closed her eyes then for just a moment, and then wished she hadn't.

Images of Death Eaters doing unspeakable things surfaced, unbidden, and she swallowed thickly and felt nauseous.

"Harry," she managed shakily. "The Aurors," she shook her head. "I mean, there haven't been any sightings, have there? R-remains found that were never identified?"

He closed his green eyes briefly, and opened them again, looking at her with something of compassion. "No, Hermione," he said softly, his Adam's apple working just under the skin. "There hasn't been anything found. And I'm sure you realize," he continued gently, "what the odds are of finding human remains that have been missing for seven years."

She nodded numbly, looking down at the cedar table, not seeing anything at all.

"Okay," she whispered, her voice trembling. "Okay. I get it. Just...give me a minute." And she turned away from him, fighting the hot tears that threatened to fall for the umpteenth time that day.

She heard him take a step closer.

"Hermione..."

"I should be getting back, Harry," Hermione whispered, stilling herself. "Mr. Filch will have my head if I'm late and wake him up or his precious Mrs. Norris." She shook her head incredulously and said quietly, mostly to herself. "I can't believe that damnable cat is still alive." And then she met his gaze, levelly. "Tell Ginny I'll stop by again soon to get the bottle of Sleekeasy from her."

"Hermione," he said, reaching out to grab her shoulder. "Wait."

She stopped without turning, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath.

"Are you okay, otherwise? I mean, I know it's all shocking, still, but with everything else that's happened...how are you holding up?"

Sighing inaudibly, Hermione thought of her parents.

She thought of her mum's warm brown eyes that had always lighted up each time she recounted a favorite book. She thought of her dad, of his infectious laugh that literally shook his entire body, when the joke he was laughing at really wasn't that funny at all. She thought of holidays past; of Christmases; of autumn evenings, sipping hot cider by her father's hideous lounge chair, shaggy and orange.

She thought of the last time she hugged them both; her father resting his chin on her head, and then planting a kiss into her hair. Her mother had all but thrown a worn book into her hands, animatedly recounting her thoughts on the protagonist's plight.

"Harry," Hermione said, trying for his sake to keep her voice as gentle as she possibly could. "I'm fine. It's just...a lot. And I know it's been three years since," she shook her head. "Well, since...it happened. But I'm fine. Really."

Harry folded his arms and sighed. "That's drivel, Hermione, and you know it."

She laughed once, and then shrugged helplessly. 'What do you want me to tell you, Harry? That I'm a wreck? That I'm a complete mess? That I sob myself to sleep every night because I can't handle it?"

"I want you to tell me the truth."

"That's a two way path, Harry," Hermione pointed out, stingingly. "And you should have told me about Professor Snape from the start."

And then she turned and headed out the entryway.

"Hermione," Harry called after her, as she made her way down the hallway. "Hermione, wait."

She whirled around once she got to the front door, startling herself as she nearly bumped noses with him. Taking a deep breath and feeling a little reckless, she readied herself to lay into him, to tell him to leave her alone already, because she was tired of him fretting over her like some clucking hen. But just as quickly as the anger flared, it instantly subsided, and she felt that hollow emptiness resume its place within her that had become so commonplace as of late.

"Look, Harry," she said slowly, suddenly realizing how tired she truly was. "You don't need to worry about me. I appreciate your concern, but really, it's unnecessary - not to mention unwanted."

He was looking at her fondly, but something in his green eyes told Hermione how little he cared about her revelation. He would continue to worry, she knew, whether she scolded him, or not.

"Really, Harry," she sighed. "I have you, Ginny, Ron, Minerva, and Hagrid - this list goes on." She took a deep breath. "I have the memories of my parents. It's more than most people have."

He was regarding her skeptically, but eventually he ran a hand through his unruly hair. "Hermione, this is no good for you. And I know you know that."

She sighed but said nothing.

"Please, I want you to forget about Snape. It...was a long time ago. And there's nothing you can do change that now. The one thing you can do is to remember him for the man he truly was," he said solemnly. "I can't even begin to imagine everything he went through." He shook his head. "Even though he was a git to us the majority of the time."

Hermione laughed once, as if she couldn't help it.

"Well, more like all of the time," Harry amended with a lop-sided grin worthy of Ron. "But in all fairness to him, I suppose, the bloke had no choice."

She looked over at him with a sudden affection that looked utterly genuine.

And Harry took a step forward and pulled Hermione's head toward him, and kissed the top of her dark head. She sat very still.

"Look after yourself, Hermione," said Harry. "Come to the Burrow this weekend for dinner. It'll be good for you. Evidently George has come up with some new concoction that will, in his words, 'put the Extendable Ears to shame'."

Hermione smiled warmly, pulled the latch on the door handle and made her way down the concrete steps. "I'll be there, Harry."

Harry returned the gesture, following her out onto the landing. "Good. I'll tell Ginny you can pick up your hair goop then."

Hermione chuckled softly. "Goodnight, Harry."

"Be safe, Hermione."

And then she turned on the spot and Disapperated.

000

Hermione was halfway up the path that led to Hogwarts. It was quiet, a few crickets sounding somewhere nearby. She stopped for a moment, closed her eyes, and breathed the night air in deeply. And then, against everything Harry and Minerva had told her, she veered left and made her way down a little side path, opposite the direction of the castle.

Hermione looked up at the silhouette of the great trees that marked the entrance of the Forbidden Forest, just barely visible against the already black night sky. It was strange how the Forest could look so peaceful and serene, when in reality, it was the home of abnormally large spiders, centaurs, giants, and the like. She smiled to herself as she reflected on her adventures there with Harry and Ron, and made a mental note to visit Hagrid in the morning. Perhaps should could join him for one of his various tasks in the Forest for his Care of Magical Creatures class.

Oddly, the thought of a little danger in the Forbidden Forest felt mildly therapeutic.

Adventure, she corrected herself. Adventure was a better word.

The path was slightly overgrown; tall blades of grass caught onto the bottom of her robe as she continued forward. Only when she got to the point where her visual recall couldn't place the descent perfectly in her mind, did she flourish her wand.

"Lumos!"

The light was momentarily blinding, but after squinting and blinking rapidly for a few brief moments, Hermione pressed on. The light from her wand cast dramatic shadows on the foliage with each passing step. And at length she arrived at her destination, her wandlight making the white marble appear all the more bright. Her eyes flickered to Dumbledore's headstone first, but only briefly. With her heart pounding, her gaze shifted to the headstone on the left.

She stood there, absolutely still, looking into the darkness.

Involuntarily, she imagined that night, and the what might have beens. The horrible things that could have happened to his body, and just why whatever celestial force controlled the earth would stand by and let it happen. Didn't the man deserve to rest peacefully? To have the honor and respect of what he did for the wizarding world to just be left alone?

And so, while her vision almost literally swam with fury, she closed her eyes, and felt weak.

No telling what could have truly happened. No telling if anyone would ever find what was left of Severus Snape. The odds, she knew, with a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, were heavily against her. And even if on the odd change the Auror Department found some skeleton stashed somewhere on the outskirts of Britain, she knew that the fact checking would be hell. Professor Snape had been a half-blood; but there was no telling if he had any sort of muggle dental records that could be used for a reference. Or, if there was some spell she didn't know of that would do the work for her.

With a shaky breath, she took one step forward, bent, and reverently leaned her head against the top of the headstone. Strangely, almost as if her hand was acting on its own accord, she brought her shaking fingers to her lips, pressed them there for a moment, and then touched the cool stone over the inscription of Professor Snape's name.

And suddenly, the profound changes of the past twenty-four hours pressed down on her reality like a dead weight, and she realized she was sobbing.

"I'm...I'm so sorry," she managed, lamely. "But I promise," she sniffed. "That somehow, someway, I'll set this right." She closed her eyes for a moment and tried to get a hold on her breathing. "This is where you should be. Right here. Next to Dumbledore."

She paused and looked up at the stars, realizing how ridiculous she sounded. Here she was, speaking to a dead man. And a dead man that wasn't even buried beneath her, no less. Sighing, wondering if she should be admitted to a psychiatric facility, she put her forearm on the rounded curve of the headstone for support, and managed to get to her feet. With one final glance over her shoulder at the little cemetery, Hermione wiped her nose on the sleeve of her robe and headed up the narrow path and back to Hogwarts.

000

The night air was pleasant and light. The treetops of the Forbidden Forest waved gently on the breeze. Silently, a dark figure made its way across the little path that led to the white, marbled stones. There was no light from the figure's wand. He had, evidently, made the journey before. Standing perfectly still, the figure heard an owl hoot to its companion as it soared over to the Hogwart's Owlery.

With a deep sigh, the figure closed his eyes, and knelt, knees cracking sharply at the change in position. Hesitantly, reverently, the figure reached out with pale, nimble fingers, and slowly traced the inscription on the white marble. The calloused fingertips stopped and hovered in a particular spot, where the woman had pressed her own fingertips there, having only just rested them on her warm lips.

Eyes still closed, the figure stood, the breeze whipping the shock of black hair across his face. And without a backward glace, the figure turned, and silently made his way back to the Forbidden Forest.

A/N: Well, I'm back. :) I couldn't stay away for long! Just a quick disclaimer - I'm sure you noticed the refereces to The Scorcer's Stone and the Deathly Hallows. Those are JKR's words; not mine. She is lovely and brilliant, and I don't claim any of her genius. Whew! Okay, now that that's out of the way...I've been so, so, so excited to start writing this story. I'm still not completely certain how a few things are going to work out...like, the ending. (Oops.) But hopefully as I get going, the plot will go smoothly enough to where I'll be able figure it out. So, please leave your thoughts and let me know what you like, what you don't like - you know, all that good stuff. I intend to be fairly consistent on updating...and with Requiem I was, for the most part, good on my word on that. Just know that comments encourage me to update faster!