Disclaimer: JKR owns all recognizable characters and settings. No copyright infringement is intended.
The sun hung low on the horizon, its fading light leaving the sky ablaze with colour. A faint breeze rustled through the trees, and a few leaves parted way with their branches, gently floating across the winding path that led to the oddly-shaped house on the hill. A single light in the window indicated that the occupants were home, patiently waiting for the three visitors who were currently walking up the path.
Hermione Granger Weasley focussed all her effort on reaching the house. The day had been the longest she could ever remember, and she would be well-pleased when it was over and done with. There had been no fight, no argument, not even a single word of disagreement. She had simply gone through the house in a hurried but methodical fashion, taking only those things that she could not do without. She had shrunk her book collection, as well as the children's toys, clothes, and baby pictures, and then calmly placed them into the old beaded bag that currently was held in the crook of her arm. Then she had handed him her wedding ring, gathered her children, and quietly departed, leaving her husband and the life they had shared without ever having said a single word.
He might have shattered her heart, but her dignity would remain intact.
With her head held high, she resolutely walked up the familiar path. Her son's head jostled against her shoulder, his even breathing and heavy weight indicating that he had fallen asleep. She hitched the toddler up a bit, settling him more securely on her hip as she firmly gripped her daughter's tiny hand in hers. The girl's small, slender fingers tugged her mum's, wanting her attention. Pausing in the middle of the path, Hermione looked down into her daughter's large, brown eyes.
"Mummy, do you have Mr Wiggles?" the small red-haired girl asked fretfully, concerned that her favourite toy had been forgotten in their haste to leave.
"Yes, love," she murmured soothingly, mindful of her young daughter's tender feelings and ignoring the fact that the question had already been asked a dozen times since they had left home.
Home. The word had once filled her with feelings of happiness, joy, comfort … love. Now, it brought nothing but pain; they would never be going home again.
She gave Rose what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "Don't you remember? We made him very small and then put him right here in my bag. As soon as we're inside, we'll make him big again, all right? Now, come along, Rose," she said, encouraging the child to resume walking. "Aunt Luna is expecting us, and we wouldn't want to disappoint her by being late, would we?"
"No, Mum," Rose answered dutifully, though her lower lip trembled.
Hermione felt a twinge of guilt at the sadness in her daughter's face, but then she reminded herself that the situation was not her fault. No, the blame belonged entirely on Ron's shoulders. Angry tears clouded her vision, but she viciously blinked them back; she was finished crying over Ronald Weasley.
Finally, they arrived at the well-worn gate. Pushing it open, Hermione felt her daughter's hand slip from hers. She watched as Rose ran to the front door, then turned, her expression questioning. Hermione nodded, and Rose grinned before knocking loudly. By the time Hermione had reached the front step, the door had been flung open, and Rose had catapulted herself into Luna's waiting arms.
"Hello, my loves!" Luna exclaimed, twirling a giggling Rose in a circle and then leaning in to press a kiss to a sleeping Hugo's ginger hair. "Come in," she said, ushering them into the kitchen. "I hope you didn't run into any Nargles in the garden. With the warmer weather, they've been hiding in the mistletoe until the cool of the evening."
Hermione breathed a sigh of relief at the familiarity that was Luna Lovegood. The two friends exchanged a brief hug, carefully manoeuvring around Hugo, who was still sleeping in his mother's arms.
"Luna, thank you—"
The dreamy-eyed witch waved away Hermione's gratitude. "Think nothing of it. You're my friend, and you and the children are always welcome here. Have you had any supper? I made a rather delicious stew, if you'd care for a bowl."
Rose hastily agreed, and Hermione attempted to awaken Hugo to see if he wanted a bite to eat, but the poor lad was simply too tired. "Don't you want something to eat, darling?"
Hugo blinked tiredly and shook his head. He rested his cheek on his mother's shoulder and found comfort in his thumb.
Hermione kissed his forehead and then said to Luna, "If you don't mind getting Rose started, I'll put Hugo to bed. He'll likely sleep the rest of the night."
Luna nodded and directed Hermione to the guestroom. As she walked up the stairs, Hermione heard Rose giggle as Luna began telling her a story about a garden gnome and a fairy princess.
Thank Merlin for good friends, Hermione thought as she made her way to the guestroom. She hated to intrude—especially when she was unsure of how long they would need to stay—but there had been no alternative. She simply could not abide one more moment in the house she had once called home.
She continued down the hall on silent feet, cuddling the sleeping boy in her arms. Thankfully, the door to the guestroom was already open. She slipped inside and carefully placed Hugo atop the quilt. Reaching into her beaded bag, she pulled out Hugo's well-loved blankie and tucked it close to his body, in case he should wake before she returned for the night. She kissed the tips of her fingers and then touched them to his forehead. He looked so angelic when he was sleeping. He was such a good boy. Always so happy, so loving, so stubborn, so much like his—
Releasing an unsteady breath, she gently touched a lock of his hair. "I love you," she whispered and then quietly left the room, closing the door behind her.
An hour later, Mr Wiggles had been returned to his normal size and sent to bed, along with his owner. In the guestroom, Rose lay curled next to her brother, her arms wrapped tightly about her favourite floppy-eared companion.
Downstairs in the kitchen, Luna and Hermione sat at the table with a pot of tea. Hermione sipped the hot liquid, allowing its warmth to calm and soothe her frazzled nerves. She was grateful, not only for Luna's hospitality, but that Luna understood her need to unwind a bit before she would be able to explain the events that had led to her current circumstances—to explain why she had left Ron.
She had left her husband.
The thumb of her left hand immediately moved to her ring finger. It was bare. A strangled sob escaped her throat, and Luna was instantly at her side. Hermione wept, allowing her anger and sorrow to truly be vented for the first time since Ron had revealed his duplicity. Luna simply held her, rocking back and forth and murmuring nonsense words in an effort to calm her distraught friend.
When Hermione had cried herself out, Luna Summoned a handkerchief and handed it to Hermione. She returned to her chair but maintained a tight grasp on Hermione's hand. "You've left him."
Once again, Hermione was grateful for having enough presence of mind to come to Luna; she had known that of all her friends, it was Luna who would be least likely to judge. She dried her cheeks and wiped her swollen eyes before blowing her nose delicately. She nodded. "Yes."
Hermione shrugged one shoulder. "He said he's in love with someone else. He wants a divorce."
"Merlin," Luna breathed. "Have you decided what you're going to do?"
She nodded as she delicately blew her nose. "I'll give him what he wants—the sooner, the better."
Luna tilted her head to one side, her expression uncharacteristically solemn. "You'll be in need of a place to stay for awhile, then, until things are settled. You're welcome to stay here for as long as you like."
Hermione fidgeted in her chair. "Are you certain? My parents—"
"Of course I'm certain," Luna stated matter-of-factly. "Daddy is spending the next few months in Sweden on an expedition, and so I'll be glad of the company. And you know how I adore spending time with the children."
Hermione breathed a sigh of relief and then pressed her palms to her watery eyes. She was exhausted and emotional; the day's events had taken their toll. Unable to express her gratitude in more eloquent terms, Hermione murmured a choked, "Thank you."
Since having children, early morning had become Hermione's favourite time of day. It was the only time she could enjoy a cup of tea and relish the quiet. And so it was that she found herself sitting at Luna's kitchen table, just before dawn, cup of tea in hand. It had been two weeks since she and the children had arrived at her friend's home.
Two weeks. She sighed. Two weeks ago she had been happily married with two lovely children and gainfully employed at the job of her dreams. Now, she was single and, temporarily, a stay-at-home mum. What a difference two weeks could make.
The divorce had been a simple matter. There had been no fighting over the division of assets, and both she and Ron had agreed that the children would remain in her physical custody, with Ron receiving liberal visitation rights. They had gone to the Ministry, signed the official parchments to dissolve their marriage, and that was that.
Simple, easy, fast.
And utterly crushing.
After eight years of marriage and two decades of friendship, it had been so easy for Ron to walk away. For Hermione, it felt as if a piece of her were missing. She had loved her husband, but even more devastating than that loss was the loss of her best friend. She missed him.
And to be honest, that stunk.
She didn't want to miss him. She wanted to be happy, to think that she was well rid of him. Hermione knew that at some point in time she would feel happiness again, but she wanted it to be now, not later. That wasn't realistic, however. They had spent over half their lives together, first as friends, then as a couple, and it would take time to overcome the pain and loss she felt at his betrayal.
She propped her elbows on the table and held her head in her hands. She was mentally and physically drained, and the emotional turmoil had been far greater than she had anticipated. The betrayal of their marriage, of their friendship, had left indelible scars that Hermione was not certain would ever fully heal. Ron had sworn to love only her, to be faithful to her, and although he had insisted that no physical intimacies had taken place, he had been carrying on an emotional affair for months. Regardless, the end result had been the same—the loss of her marriage.
Hermione hadn't anticipated the feelings of guilt and inadequacy that had reared their ugly heads. Intellectually, she knew what Ron had done was not her fault, but every now and again, especially late at night, she found herself wondering what it was about her that had been unable to hold her husband's interest. It was foolish, she knew, yet she couldn't help but wonder ….
She sighed, then sipped her tea. While it had been a difficult time for her, it had been even more so for the children. Determined not to make the situation any worse than it already was, Hermione had concentrated on easing her children's fears as much as she could. She might not have been able to do anything about their father's absence, but she was their mother and she would be damned if they would suffer unnecessarily for a single moment.
She'd had quite a bit of holiday time that she had not yet scheduled, so she had contacted her office at the Department of Mysteries and informed them she would be on holiday for a few weeks. It had been a good decision. She had been able to spend the entire time with the children, sometimes laughing and playing and other times crying and comforting.
Rose's pain was palpable. She had always been Daddy's little girl, and she asked for Ron constantly, wanting him to tuck her in, to read her a story, to tickle her and play with her. She had cried herself to sleep almost every night, desperately missing her father and worrying that he no longer wanted her. Despite Hermione's reassurances, the little girl asked if her daddy still loved her several times a day. Each time, it tore at Hermione's heart to hear her daughter in such pain. Even the baby was affected. Hugo toddled about Luna's house looking in various nooks and crannies, even under furniture, as if his father might be playing a game of hide-and-seek. His big blue eyes would fill with tears when he couldn't find him. He clung to Hermione, as though convinced that if he let her go, she too would disappear.
It was agonising to see how their father's absence was affecting them. Ron adored his children—of that Hermione had no doubt—and she knew he would be devastated to see them pining for him as they were.
Perhaps she should make a Pensieve for him.
She sighed and then finished off the last of her tea. No. While she was angry at having to be the one to sort the mess Ron had left behind, she was determined not to be the proverbial bitter ex-wife.
After all, she was partly to blame.
She had known when she'd married Ron that he wasn't the most dependable sort. He had proved that often enough over the course of their friendship. She had loved him—she still did—but it was the comfortable sort of love rather than the passionate, all-consuming love of a truly grand romance. Still, Hermione had believed that having a solid friendship as the foundation for their marriage would be enough.
Apparently she had been wrong; it certainly hadn't been enough for Ron.
The patter of little feet coming down the stairs indicated that Rose had awakened and pulled Hermione from her thoughts. She took a deep breath, readying herself for the day's events.
"Mummy, is Daddy here yet?" Rose squealed as she threw herself into her mother's lap.
Hermione lowered her face into her daughter's bushy, red hair and inhaled the sweet scent. She willed her voice to remain steady. "Soon, love," she murmured. "Daddy will be here soon."
Rose ran immediately to the door the moment she heard the knock. Thrilled to see her daughter so happy, Hermione chased after her, a giggling Hugo perched on her hip. She opened the door with smile, having mentally prepared to see her ex-husband for the first time since finalising their divorce.
What she was not prepared for was seeing her ex-husband with his new girlfriend.
Hermione's smile froze and then slipped from her face as she looked from Ron's hopeful expression to the witch on his arm's nervous one.
It was all Hermione could do not to throttle Ron where he stood.
She was about to open her mouth and issue a scathing verbal attack when she saw Rose fling herself at her father. Ron scooped the little girl up into his arms and held her tightly against his chest, his eyes tearing up as he kissed her hair. "I've missed you, Rose," he said softly.
Hermione felt her throat tighten as she watched the reunion between father and daughter. With a glance at the woman awkwardly standing off to the side, Hermione stepped out into the garden and closed the door; there was no way in hell she was inviting them inside, even if it wasn't her house.
Hugo lunged for his father, and Ron set Rose on her feet as he took Hugo in his arms. Rose wrapped her arms about her father's leg while Ron blew raspberries on Hugo's cheek before settling the boy against him with one arm.
"Ronald," Hermione said, her tone polite but cool. She took a malicious pride in Ron's slight cringe at hearing her use his full given name.
"Hermione, this is Eleanor Branstone. Eleanor, Hermione." Ron tugged at the collar of his robes with his free hand; then he reached down to twine his fingers with Eleanor's.
Hermione tore her eyes from Ron and looked at the witch standing beside him. She extended a hand; after all, it wasn't this woman's fault that Ron was a complete prat. "Pleased to meet you," she lied.
"I'm very happy to meet you, as well," the blonde-haired witch said, her tone warm despite her timid smile as she clasped Hermione's hand briefly. "Ron's told me so much about you."
"I'm sure he has," Hermione said tightly. She returned her gaze to her former husband. "Ron, if you have a moment, I'd like to discuss a few things with you about the children before you go."
Ron's eyes widened, and his Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed reflexively. "Oh. Erm … right. 'Course." He lowered Hugo to the ground and then asked Rose if she wouldn't mind if she and her brother could show "Ellie" the garden. Rose nodded enthusiastically.
Hermione hesitated. She didn't want to have this discussion in front of the children, but she wasn't sure she trusted a stranger with them, either—especially this particular stranger. Rose smiled up at Eleanor, however, and something about the witch's easy response soothed Hermione's fears.
She encouraged Hugo towards his sister. "Hold his hand, Rose, all right? And don't go far."
As soon as the children and Eleanor were at a safe distance, Hermione turned and focussed the full force of her ire on Ron. "What the hell were you thinking, bringing her here?"
Ron seemed genuinely taken aback. "I—I wanted the children to meet her. I wanted you to meet her."
Hermione curled her fingers into fists, her nails digging into her palms. Unbidden, her eyes filled with outraged tears. "How could you think it even remotely possible that the children were ready to meet her? Do you have the slightest idea what they have been through these past few weeks? Do you? Rose has cried for you every night, Hugo has been utterly lost without you, and when you finally come to see them, you bring a total stranger with you. And not just any stranger, but her! Did you consider for a moment that your children would want to spend time with you, without the distraction of someone else? They want to be with you!"
She shook her head violently and slashed an angry arm through the air. "No! I have been silent until now, but no longer. You had no business bringing her here. It is selfish, and it's hurtful to the children and to me. Did you really think I wasn't hurting? Until quite recently I was your wife! Honestly, Ron! I gave you what you wanted—did you have to twist the knife?"
Ron appeared absolutely mortified, his face red and his eyes brimming with guilt and remorse. "I'm—I'm sorry. I didn't think … well, you were so … you didn't say anything when you left, and you seemed all right at the divorce proceedings." He paused and rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. "I thought you were okay … with everything."
Hermione stared at him as if he'd grown a second head. "You know what, Ron? You are an idiot."
"Of all the unmitigated gall! How dare he bring her here! What on earth was he thinking?"
Hermione angrily paced about the circular kitchen, flailing her arms in wild gesticulations, while Luna sat impassively at the kitchen table.
"How could he have done such a thing? I can't believe he did that. I just can't believe it!"
Her voice broke as tears of anger, frustration, and pain finally spilled down her cheeks. She collapsed into a chair, hung her head, and cried. "Does he honestly care so little for my feelings? How could he be so stupid … so selfish?"
"He's a plonker," Luna said so matter-of-factly that Hermione could not help but laugh through her tears.
"He is," Hermione agreed, wiping her damp cheeks with her fingers. She sighed and turned sorrowful eyes toward Luna. "I hate feeling this way. I hate it. It's awful, and I want it to stop."
Luna tilted her head to the side and looked at Hermione speculatively. "You need a diversion."
Hermione's brow furrowed. "What?"
"A diversion—something to get your mind off things for awhile. Maybe a project or …." Luna smiled. "I have just the thing. Come with me."
She stood from the table and walked to the stairs that led to the first floor. "Are you coming?"
Hermione sniffed and then smiled tremulously. Her other friends would have allowed her to wallow alone in her misery or would have commiserated with her, but Luna—whom so many disregarded as an eccentric loon—was very observant about people. Luna knew what Hermione really needed—something to occupy her mind … something that had nothing to with Ron Weasley.
She rose to her feet, and Luna grinned as she led her all the way to the top of the staircase and into the attic.
"What is all this?" Hermione asked as she and Luna returned the sitting room on the first floor, followed by several floating boxes and a large trunk.
"You'll see. Let's put them down right here," Luna said, using her wand to clear a spot in the middle of the room. "You might want to sit down. There's a bit of an explanation involved."
Hermione's eyebrows rose. "All right," she said, curious as to what Luna intended.
Luna settled into the armchair opposite the sofa and said, "What do you think of Severus Snape?"
Caught unawares by the abrupt change in subject, Hermione said the first thing that came to mind: "He was a hero."
Luna's expression was more serious than Hermione could ever recall having witnessed. "I agree. So do a lot of people … or at least they do now. The British Museum of Wizardry certainly thinks so. They're planning an exhibit on the War, and they want to have an entire section dedicated to him and his role."
Although she was confused as to how Severus Snape had anything to do with the items they had just hauled down from the attic, Hermione nodded. "I read something about that. According to the Prophet, the Ministry is waiting to hear from Professor Snape's beneficiaries as to what personal items they will allow to be part of the exhibit."
Luna smiled. "Yes, that's right."
Hermione waited for further comment, but there was none. Her brow furrowed as she slowly pieced together the puzzle. "You mean … you …."
"Yes. Well, actually, he left everything to my father and me. These—" Luna said, waving a hand at the trunk and boxes, "—make up the entirety of his estate."
"I'm sorry, Luna, but I don't understand. Why would Professor Snape have named your family as the beneficiary to his will?"
"Oh, that's simple," Luna replied breezily. "He and my parents were friends—very good friends."
Having met Luna's father a time or two, Hermione had doubts as to the accuracy of that statement but wisely said nothing.
"I know what you're thinking," Luna said as she stood and crossed to the room to the fireplace. She appeared to pick up an object from the mantle and then tapped its edge with her wand. A framed picture shimmered into view, and Luna handed it to Hermione. "This is the only photograph of the three of them together."
Hermione glanced down at the photo. "When was this taken?" she asked softly, intrigued by the unusual group.
"In 1980. Mum was pregnant with me, as you can see."
Hermione smiled sadly. Yes, she could see. Luna's mother was very pregnant, indeed. One hand rested on her swollen belly, and the other was held by her visibly proud husband. They appeared blissfully happy, their smiles joyous and unrestrained. Xenophilius looked younger but much the same, with one eye pointed toward his nose and his silvery blond hair puffed out about his shoulders. Hermione had never seen a photo of Eglantine Lovegood before, and she found her to be quite beautiful, with her deep blue eyes and golden hair. But it was Severus Snape and his incredibly uncharacteristic pose that quickly garnered Hermione's attention.
It was the only time she had seen her former professor without his frock coat and teaching robes. He wore slim black trousers and a crisp, white shirt, the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Hermione's eyes widened at the sight of his Dark Mark, but no one in the group seemed to be concerned about it. He looked younger than she recalled, of course, and Hermione supposed the absence of his ever-present scowl contributed to that effect. He was standing next to Luna's mother, his right arm casually draped about her shoulders, and he was quite obviously laughing. Not smiling—Hermione had seen that a few times over the years during dinners at Hogwarts—but outright laughing. His shoulders shook, and his dark eyes glittered with amusement. The change the expression made in his appearance was startling.
He seemed … free.
Hermione wondered how that could possibly be true; the photograph would have been taken when he was still an active Death Eater. Perhaps it had been before he had realised that he had pledged his loyalty to a madman, and he had not yet known the horrible mistake he had made. Or maybe it was because Lily Potter had not yet been killed. Regardless, it was an intriguing glimpse at the real man before his soul had been torn asunder by lost love and the manipulations of two of the world's most powerful wizards. He'd had friends, she realised, true friends who had obviously loved him and whom he had loved in return. The easy camaraderie captured in the photograph reminded her of the friendship she had, until recently, shared with Harry and Ron.
Hermione raised a hand, as if to touch the photograph's surface, but stopped herself. She tore her gaze from the photo and delicately cleared her throat. "I assume there is a very long story involved."
"Quite," Luna said cheerfully. "But that's not for me to tell."
Reluctantly, Hermione returned the photograph to Luna. The picture had unsettled her; she didn't know why.
Luna returned to the arm chair after restoring the framed picture to its place on the mantle; she didn't bother Disillusioning it. She looked pointedly at the boxes and trunk. "The majority of his clothes and that sort of thing were donated to charity. This is what remains. Everything in here must be sorted and catalogued so that Daddy and I can decide what to send to the Museum, what to keep, and what, if anything, to hide or destroy. We've kept it all in the attic since it was delivered to us—Daddy hasn't been able bear the thought of going through his friend's things until now. He thinks the exhibit would be a good way for people to learn the truth about who Severus Snape truly was."
She paused, giving Hermione time to process what was being asked of her. "He was a good man, Hermione, if not a nice one. And I think this would provide you with a much needed distraction, at least until the children return. So, what do you say? Will you help?"
Hermione yawned and rubbed her tired eyes with her palms. The sun had gone down hours before, and the clock on the wall informed her that it was well past time for bed. She knew she should probably turn in for the night and begin again in the morning, but it was all so fascinating. She couldn't bring herself to stop yet.
She glanced about the cluttered sitting room—it was organised chaos, with piles upon piles of books stacked up all around her and empty boxes tossed into a corner. She had gone through all of the boxes that belonged to the professor, leaving only the trunk and one rather small box of mementos.
It seemed as if whoever had packed up the professor's office had been respectful of his things. Everything appeared to have been sorted by category, which made Hermione's task that much easier. The first box had held his personal and teaching journals. She was terribly curious and had considered reading them, but she had been unable to bring herself to breach his privacy. So she had tagged them with her wand as having been catalogued, marked them on her parchment, and then set them aside.
The majority of the remaining boxes appeared to have been filled with books—his personal library. Hermione had been simultaneously delighted and surprised by the wide variety of titles. The potions and defence books had been expected, but they weren't all she had found. There were history, philosophy, and medical texts, both Muggle and wizarding, as well a vast array of Muggle literature, from fairy tales to Shakespeare to Hemingway. There were biographies, novels of all sorts, and poetry. She had even found several cookbooks and a small collection of old Muggle comics.
"The Beano," she murmured under her breath with a small giggle, recalling her own childhood memories of the popular comic book. The professor's collection was small, only a dozen or so, and well-thumbed, as though they had been read repeatedly. Hermione smiled as she pictured Professor Snape as a small boy, hiding under his blankets with a torch and reading Dennis the Menace.
Suppressing another yawn, she decided she would sort through the items in the professor's trunk and then go to bed. She could catalogue the contents in the morning.
As she knelt in front of the open trunk, she felt her heart squeeze unexpectedly. She had known, of course, that there would be personal effects, but she hadn't realised that she would be affected so profoundly. After all, he had only been her professor. And a hero. And she had respected him a great deal. Perhaps that's why she felt so unsettled.
Taking a deep breath, Hermione reached inside and lifted out the heavy wool teaching robes that she remembered seeing him wear every winter she had spent at Hogwarts. The scent of potions ingredients and herbs filled her nostrils, and she was assailed by memories of Potions class, Professor Snape leaning over her shoulder, his scent permeating the air she breathed as he looked into her cauldron. Hermione closed her eyes in recollection; the robes smelt like him.
She chided herself. Of course they did. They had belonged to him. She rolled her eyes at her own silliness and gently laid the clothing aside. Reaching again into the trunk, she pulled out a piece of worn, grey cloth. She shook out the material and gasped—it was his nightshirt.
"Right," she said aloud, immediately refolding the grey fabric and tossing it back into the trunk. Going through her former professor's clothing—especially his nightclothes—was too much for her to handle right then. "Bit too creepy. I'll save the trunk for tomorrow."
She replaced the robes, as well, and then closed the lid.
As she stretched her aching back, Hermione's gaze fell on a small box. Written on the side in his familiar, spidery script was the name Eglantine. She shrugged and decided to go ahead and catalogue the contents. She pointed her wand and intoned, "Wingardium Leviosa." The box gently floated across the room, and Hermione lowered it to the floor beside her.
There were only a few things inside: a stack of letters, tied with a yellow ribbon, and a small, wooden paperweight.
Hermione assumed it was a paperweight, anyway. She removed it from the box and held the spherical object between her hands. It was quite beautiful. She estimated it to be about twenty centimetres in circumference—bigger than a Snitch but slightly smaller than a cricket ball. The smooth, richly-coloured wood gleamed in the firelight.
Turning it in her hands, she wondered if it had been a gift to Professor Snape from his friend. She smiled in delight as she considered the idea that perhaps it was a puzzle or had magical properties of some sort. She carefully examined the surface, looking for flaws or seams or anything to indicate a way inside, but she found nothing. Undaunted, she pressed her fingers against every square centimetre, in case its secret would be triggered by touch.
"Hm. Could be magical," she muttered under her breath. Her brow wrinkled in concentration as she took her wand in hand and pointed it at the wooden sphere. "Specialis Revelio."
A bright light burst from the orb like rays of the sun, blinding Hermione. She dropped her wand, the slender length of wood clattering to the floor.
"Luna!" she yelled as loudly as she could. "Help!"
The object began to shake and spin at an ever-increasing velocity in Hermione's hand. She unclenched her fingers from around the spherical piece of wood, hoping it that, if it fell to the floor, the magic emanating from it would cease, but the ball remained firmly in her palm. A frisson of magic shot up her arm, from her fingertips to her forehead.
"Hermione!" Luna cried as she ran into the room, wand drawn.
It was too late. Hermione felt as if she were caught in a vicelike grip, the magic squeezing tightly as the sphere gave one final pulse.
And then everything went black.
Hermione woke to the voices of a man and a woman. She thought she recognised one of them, but she couldn't remember who he was. Both voices sounded strange, as if she were hearing them through a tunnel. She tried to open her eyes, but she was too tired. She listened as best she could.
"I'm sorry, sir. We don't know when she'll wake up."
"And what, may I ask, do you know, Healer Merriweather?" the man retorted.
Hermione could hear the concern in the man's voice, even though his tone was sharp. She surmised that she was in hospital, but why?
"We've run every test we can think of, and we can't find anything wrong with her. We're hoping that she'll wake up on her own."
"And if she doesn't?"
"We'll deal with that then, should it happen."
There was a pause in the conversation, and Hermione heard what sounded like a yawn.
The Healer tutted and said, "You've been here since last night, and you haven't slept a wink. Why don't you go home for an hour or so and check on your children … maybe rest for a bit?"
"The children are with their grandparents. They are fine."
"How about a cup of tea, then? I promise to stay right here until you return. You'll do your wife no good if you collapse from exhaustion."
He must have agreed, because Hermione heard his fading footfalls and then the sound of the door gently closing.
"There now," the Healer said. Hermione felt the sheets being tucked more firmly against her sides. "What a lucky witch you are. That wizard hasn't left your side since they brought you in last night. The poor man looks dead on his feet, so I sent him out for some tea. Don't you worry, though. I'm sure he'll back as fast as Fiendfyre."
Hermione listened as the Healer moved around the bed and began adjusting the sheet on the other side.
"Yes, you're quite a lucky witch to have a husband who obviously loves you so much. You hold on to that one."
That was odd. The man's voice had been familiar, but she hadn't thought it was Ron. And Hermione distinctly remembered divorcing Ron at his request. He didn't love her; he loved Eleanor Branstone. He had told her so himself and then had the audacity to parade the witch in front of her with no thought to her feelings whatsoever. Why, then, would he be playing the part of the dutiful, loving husband by sitting vigil at her bedside?
But the Healer had said it was her husband. Perhaps Ron was attempting to salvage some small portion of their friendship. It made sense; it wouldn't be the first time Ron had abandoned her, only to come slinking back later to beg her forgiveness. Well, she wasn't about to forgive him this time. He had divorced her—she was done.
Hermione fought to regain full consciousness, struggling against the fog that was clouding her brain, so that she could tell Ron where he could shove his apologies. Finally, from beneath her eyelids, she could see the lights from above her hospital bed. She slowly forced her eyes to open, blinking until she made out the smiling face of the Healer.
"Hello, dear. I'm Healer Merriweather. I see you've decided to join us. We've been quite worried about you."
Hermione wanted to tell the Healer to fetch Ron so she could tell him to get out, but she could only manage a guttural moan.
"Don't try to speak yet. You don't want to push yourself. I expect you want to see that fine wizard of yours. He's been here all night, and I finally convinced him to pop out for a bit of tea. He'll be here any moment, I promise. Why don't you rest, and I'll tell you what happened."
Hermione nodded and closed her eyes. Perhaps she would able to speak by the time he returned and could tell him off properly.
The Healer explained that Hermione had been at a friend's house the previous evening and had collapsed, hitting her head on a table as she fell. Hermione instantly attempted to recall the events of the evening—going through the professor's things, feeling a bit odd about his more personal belongings, and then …. She frowned. She remembered nothing after levitating the small box to the centre of the room. Why couldn't she remember what had happened after?
She returned her attention to the Healer, who said that Luna had brought her in and contacted her husband. Apparently, his arrival had been so dramatic that it was the talk of St Mungo's.
"I've never seen anything like it. Oh, we heard the rumours after the war that such things were possible, but to actually see it …. Well, it was rather dashing. Had all the witches swooning and the wizards seething with jealousy." Healer Merriweather chuckled and then continued to relay the story. "He flew right up to the welcomewitch's desk, not a broom in sight. Even she became flustered! Never thought I'd see that happen, I can tell you that. And then he stalked off down the corridor, straight to this very room, those black robes of his billowing behind him like a storm cloud."
Hermione stopped listening. She didn't know whom the Healer was describing, but it certainly was not her former husband. Ron would never have dropped everything to sit at her bedside, wouldn't have known how to fly without a broom, and definitely did not have robes that billowed.
In fact, if she hadn't known better, she would have sworn the Healer was describing—
"Did she wake?"
Hermione stiffened; it sounded exactly like—
"In fact, she did! Just a moment ago," Healer Merriweather assured him.
But that was impossible. He had been dead for years.
And even if he were alive, he certainly was not and had never been her husband!
"Open your eyes, Hermione."
It was a dream, she decided. She would open her eyes and find herself on Luna's sofa, covered in parchments and surrounded by books. Slowly, she peeked out from beneath her lashes, then opened her eyes fully, until she was staring at the worried visage of the man looming over her.
Not knowing what else to do, Hermione opened her mouth … and screamed directly into the face of a very much alive Severus Snape.
A/N: This story is complete, and I will post a new chapter every other day or so.
Huge thanks to my beta readers, DeeMichelle and Subversa, and to my Brit picker, LettyBird, for all their help. They're amazing!
The basic plot for this story was inspired by an episode of a television show. In order not to ruin the story, I'll reveal what show and which episode after the last chapter.