A/N: Well here it is: last chapter. Ah!
Thanks so much for all of my faithful readers and reviewers… it has been great knowing that someone out there has enjoyed my writing ;-)
Disclaimer: Still not mine.
"Hermione? There's something you and I should talk about."
She looked up at him, not moving from her position where she was curled against him. They were back at Prince Manor for the night, and would be returning to Hogwarts in the morning to help begin repairing damage to the school, grounds, and wards- along with other members of the Order who were not already helping do clean-up at the Ministry.
"Shacklebolt came to speak to me earlier regarding the treatment of Lucius Malfoy. I recommended they leave him under house arrest until the trial so he would not be at risk from the followers he betrayed."
Her brow furrowed. "Hm…" she murmured.
"He will go to Azkaban," Snape said quietly. "Isolated, for his protection. The question is for how long."
"How long do you think?" she asked in an even voice.
He hesitated. "It depends. I relayed the events of earlier today, truthfully. His defection was forced by vow, and therefore not grounds on which to grant him full clemency. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that he was greatly helpful to bringing about the Dark Lord's fall. Under that scenario alone, I would expect no more than three years in Azkaban. Possibly less."
"So what are you telling me? That I should go to the Wizengamot and testify against him, put him in for longer?"
He shook his head. "I'm telling you that it is your choice. You have the power to affect his sentence drastically. Also," he took a deep breath, "you're probably the only one who does. Everitt has already decided he will pursue no action regarding his brief imprisonment. Otherwise, Lucius was crafty in his support of the Dark Lord- as he rarely partook directly in the violence, the Wizengamot would have trouble finding greater evidence against him than his own admission to being a death eater during this war and the last."
"It also doesn't help that he's maintained such an influential role over the wizarding bureaucracy- there are likely several members of the Wizengamot who will take note of his generous donations to, say, St. Mungo's." He tilted her face to his. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "I don't mean to put so much pressure on you." He pulled her to him and embraced her.
"When is his trial scheduled?" she asked stiffly.
"One week. As a technical defector, he is given a shortened waiting-period, expecting that the trial will be less convoluted, and the sentence minimal. If you do decide to testify, simply owl Madam Bones; she will set up an appointment with you. The choice is entirely yours, however."
Hermione sighed and stood. "I'll need some time to decide what to do," she told him.
The next day, the teachers, students, and volunteers helping return Hogwarts to its usual state all ate lunch as one large group in the Great Hall. Even Dumbledore was there, though he still looked somewhat unwell and weak. Before the meal began, Harry stood in McGonagall's place to give a small speech.
"Welcome, friends," he smiled broadly. "Before we begin our meal, I'd like to take a few moments to think about those who could not be here with us today.
"Alastor Moody," he said somberly, "affectionately called 'Mad-Eye'; he was a longtime opponent of the Dark Arts and worked tirelessly in his prime as an auror, eventually becoming head of the department. He fought fiercely with the Order of the Phoenix during both wars- and I suspect that, if he'd been forced to choose how the story of his life would end, he would have had no complaints- for he not only died a noble death, fighting the last fight against Voldemort- but he also gave his life for a friend.
"That friend could not be here today either- Arthur Weasley was transferred to St. Mungo's last night, but is doing well and expects a full recovery. His wife remains with him, but all of his children are here- look for the red hair," he grinned, and there was a smattering of laughter.
"Auror Yates was a junior member of the auror department; he graduated from Hogwarts six years ago and passed training with flying colors. He suffered several fatal curses in the attempt to stop death eaters from attacking students in the school."
Auror Caldwell was also a junior member of the department; she was under the especial tutelage of Auror Shacklebolt and specialized in tracking and deception. She died in the second wave of attack yesterday, attempting to hold back the trolls. Her body was recovered by her longtime friend and partner, Auror Hinton." Harry paused and closed his eyes.
"These three brave warriors exemplified strength and courage against a dark and powerful enemy. They gave their lives for the idea that there was a stronger force of good in this world- and yesterday, we honored their sacrifice by proving the truth of that ideal.
"Many- too many- others of our number were injured. Some have recovered quite nicely and managed to return today- my own classmates Hannah Abbott and Seamus Finnigan among them," he smiled at them. "But let us take a few moments to remember those who cannot be here- the brave sacrifices of Aurors Moody, Yates, and Caldwell- as well as the injuries suffered fighting for a noble cause."
Everyone sat, heads bowed in respect for several seconds.
"Lastly," Harry said, "I'd like to extend a particular thank you to two people who helped us enjoy the success we did have yesterday; without them and their hard work, many more of our number would likely have died. Severus Snape and Hermione Granger spent months developing and brewing the potion- so dubbed 'Grape' by Professor Dumbledore, though I suspect Professor Snape will soon be lobbying for a change in name-," more laughter. "This potion rendered our side immune to the killing curse, and likely saved countless lives."
Hermione blushed, and Snape's expression was unreadable. There was a loud and excited round of applause for the two of them and when it subsided, Harry continued.
"The students of Hogwarts have been sent home for the remainder of the week- of course, those who chose to stay yesterday who wished to remain have done so, to help with this new task. Plans are already in the works- with the help of Professor Clark Everitt- to bring the muggle-born students back from the Salem Academy so they may continue their education at Hogwarts if they so wish. As for myself- well, I'd like to complete my final year of school, though I don't know when I'll find the time to make up the homework I've missed in the last two months." There was more laughter, especially from the students who remained. "Knowing Hermione, though, she's been keeping up with hers from a distance- so maybe I can just copy." She grinned at him and shook her head good-naturedly.
"I suspect you're tired of listening to me ramble," he concluded. "So once more, thanks to everyone for all you've done, especially yesterday and today. It's been an honor.
She turned to see who it was- and broke out into a broad smile. "Hi, Draco. I didn't realize you were here."
"Showed up late, but I caught most of Potter's spiel. How are you?"
She hugged him, and for the first time in months, he returned it comfortably. "Couldn't be better. I feel like I'm truly able to breathe for the first time in ages. How are you?"
He shrugged. "Things are a little- off- at home." Hermione felt suddenly insensitive- she'd forgotten that his father was facing at least a couple of years in Azkaban. "My mother is in a bit of shock still that father killed her sister… but I think she'll be okay."
"And," she spoke hesitantly, "how are things with your father?"
He shrugged, a bit bitterly, Hermione thought. "He's resigned himself to the repercussions of his actions, though I think it has mother more on edge than him. He'll be lucky to get off with just a couple of years in Azkaban; though without the dementors, it isn't nearly so bad. Probably better than he deserves to be honest."
Hermione thought long and hard about that conversation for the rest of the day.
She stood, staring at the letter, unsure whether or not she truly wanted to send it.
I would like to make an appointment to discuss the trial of Lucius Malfoy, which is to take place in three days' time, and, if necessary, arrange to testify at said trial.
Please let me know when I may come in to discuss this matter.
With a sigh, she returned it to the envelope and carefully checked the address. She then tied it to the leg of one of the school owls and watched him fly away, full of trepidation.
When she received a response the next day, she told Snape that she'd be going in to speak with chief members of the Wizengamot the day following.
"Do you want me to go with you?" he asked concernedly.
She seriously considered it- but only briefly. "No," she smiled lightly. "This is something I have to do on my own."
When she left the Ministry the next day, she did not return directly to Prince Manor. Instead, she apparated to Hogsmeade and took the long and curving path up to the gates of Hogwarts. The grounds were empty- the students were due to begin returning the following day. She thought about entering the castle, but veered across to the lake. She stood, staring at the smooth water, interrupted occasionally by ripples of the various creatures living below the surface; she remembered falling in last year, and Draco pulling her out.
Despite the chilliness of the November weather, she sat down by the water and remained there for some time. She wasn't aware of how much time had passed when she heard quiet footsteps approaching.
"Didn't expect to see you here again so soon." It was Everitt.
"I needed some space," she smiled. "I've spent so much time in the same two places in the last six months, it's difficult to fathom the freedom I have once again. And Hogwarts- well, it's home," she said. "My parents haven't returned yet, but even so- in the past year and a half, I've hardly been to their house." She sighed. "Everything is just so jumbled right now."
He sat down beside her. "Is everything alright?"
"Oh, yes," she murmured. "I'm just wondering if I did the right thing today- that's all."
He looked pensive. "Right and wrong are usually not so simple, so black and white as we might like," he suggested helpfully. She sighed. That was the truth.
"You know," Everitt said, "sometime I'd like to hear your story, Hermione. If you'd be willing to tell it, of course."
"Sometime," she agreed. "Once I work out everything that has arisen since Voldemort's death." She smiled. "I'd enjoy the opportunity to really talk again."
Lucius Malfoy entered the court room of the Wizengamot, his auror guard in tow. Aurors Knightley, Bey, and Vroman had rotating duty during the week of his house arrest. They were unobtrusive, but Malfoy was tired of their presence; just a reminder of what awaited. This morning, it was Bey's shift- she was young but serious and efficient, and probably Malfoy's preferred of the three.
He had once before entered this room under similar circumstances- he'd left a free man that day. True, he'd lied about the willingness of his support for the Dark Lord, but the Wizengamot was unable to find any solid proof to the contrary. Even if he was tempted, he knew such a ploy would not work a second time.
He knew Narcissa would be observing from the gallery, but he had encouraged Draco not to attend. It hardly seemed the type of atmosphere for the teenager who had very clearly on his own opted for a path free of the Dark Lord; he did not really need to listen to the Wizengamot drudge up the crimes of the death eaters they ran through the court. He'd been trying to deal with his own family's support for long enough. And besides- it was the first day students were returning to Hogwarts, and classes resumed soon.
"Lucius Malfoy," Amelia Bones looked up at him fleetingly before returning to her perusal of some parchments in front of her. "No, do not sit," she corrected as he moved to take the chair of the accused, "come stand before the bench. This won't take long."
She took a deep breath and then regarded him severely from the high podium. "Mr. Malfoy, you have been excused for your crimes. Previously given testimony has revealed that yes, you were a loyal follower of Voldemort; however, subsequent evidence was presented which, upon great deliberation, was sufficient to clear the charges against your name.
"However," her voice became very firm and strict, "the Wizengamot does not take this decision lightly. You hardly have a clean record on matters unrelated to the war- the blackmailing of Hogwarts school governors not least- and we will be very interested in any further discrepancies in character. You will, therefore, be subject to a three-year, no-tolerance probationary period; even beyond that, however, I should warn you that it will not take much for the Wizengamot to change its mind and reverse its decision. We will be watching you very closely. Do I make myself clear?"
Malfoy was barely able to formulate words around his shock. "Yes, Madam," he managed. "Thank you."
"Very well. You may go. Auror Bey, you may resume your normal functions in the department."
As he turned to exit the courtroom, he caught sight of Narcissa's smiling face up in the gallery. He signaled that he would meet her outside the courtroom and continued walking- and then stopped again, looking quickly at the door in the back of the gallery from which he'd caught a flash of movement. A cloaked and hooded figure was hurrying out the door- but several long, brown curls fell outside the hood.
"Lucius," she smiled softly as she embraced him. "I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I'm quite surprised."
A voice rang out from behind her. "I think we all are, Narcissa." Snape approached them quickly, robes billowing and eyes flashing. "I must say, Lucius, I didn't think you'd be able to pull it off, not this time."
"So who was it this time?" Snape continued roughly. "Who did you pay off, bribe, coerce into convincing the Wizengamot to let you off scot-free?"
"Severus, I've been under house arrest," Malfoy snapped. "I've been allowed no visitors, not been able to leave my own house, and my post is checked, incoming and outgoing. Who exactly do you propose I've bribed, and when do you propose I've done so?" He paused. "Besides," he added quietly, "don't you think Amelia Bones an able enough witch to see through such a ploy?"
Snape looked at him closely, trying to judge his level of sincerity. Finally, with a snort of disgust, he turned and headed back towards the gallery.
"Severus," Malfoy called after him. He stopped, but did not turn. "I'm as surprised as anyone, I can promise you that. If someone did come to speak to the Wizengamot on my behalf, it was done without my knowledge. It also must have been someone well placed in your 'Phoenix' organization…"
Snape turned, stalked towards Malfoy, and shoved him against the nearest wall, leaning in close to speak in his ear so that Narcissa could not hear.
"The only such person who expressed any desire to speak to the council regarding your case was Hermione Granger; you tell me Lucius- what incentive would she of all people have to see you walk free today?" Malfoy paled slightly. "I personally don't much fancy telling her what happened here." Malfoy shot him a quick quizzical look, but Snape had already turned once more. "I have to sit in on one last case- they're determining whether or not Aldous Levinson had any complicity in the murder of Minister Yestin. I bid you both a good day," he inclined his head towards Narcissa. "Do enjoy your freedom, Lucius," he sneered.
Narcissa watched him go, wide-eyed. "What was that all about?" she asked when he'd disappeared back into the court.
"Just Severus trying to protect his interests," he hooked her arm in his and began to walk towards the lifts. "Come- let's go home."
She stared at the eagle owl which bore itself in a similarly self-important and haughty demeanor as its owner. The open letter had been sitting on the table for ten minutes, untouched, while she tried to decide if it merited a response.
I saw you sneak out of the court chamber today; as Severus was unaware of your presence, I must suspect that you purposely remained discreet- perhaps because your testimony to the council was not what he expected?
I can think of no one else who could have driven the court to the decision they reached- let me, therefore, extend my gratitude, not least for allowing me a small measure of redemption to my family, rather than the possible horror which could have resulted from today's proceedings.
I am well aware further pleasantries would be ignored and disdained; nor will I attempt to apologize for my actions, for I am sure such appeals would fall on deaf ears. Suffice it to say, your verbal and physical assault on me during the battle woke an abhorrence of myself I did not think possible.
Merlin alone may know why you came to my defense when by all rights you could and should have condemned me- know, however, that I am grateful.
She re-read it for what must have been the twentieth time. It was well-written, she could not deny that. She doubted, however, its sincerity, but could not fathom why he would send it otherwise. In all likelihood, she supposed, it was curiosity that drove him to send it- clearly he was baffled, he must have sent the letter almost immediately upon returning home. Perhaps he hoped to better understand her motives by eliciting a reply. Well, she didn't particularly feel the need to explain herself to him, so that was too bad.
She heard movement from the drawing room and quickly folded up the letter and replaced it in the envelope, tucking both away in her robes. Moments later, Snape walked into the dining room looking grim. He approached the table wearily, removing his cloak as he walked.
"Is everything alright?" Hermione asked hesitantly.
He sighed heavily. "The Wizengamot has exercised its complete inability to perform its duties in the designated fashion," he grumbled as he hung his cloak. Turning back to the table, he continued. "I don't know how it happened but they…" he paused, noticing the owl, "…let Malfoy off… Levinson's been cleared of involvement in Yestin's death… has there been post?" he looked confused.
"I-" she blushed, realizing her stupidity, "yes. For me. Since you removed the Fidelius charm, owls are actually able to find me again…"
"That owl belongs to the Malfoys," he said quietly, almost accusingly. "You say it was for you?"
She raised an eyebrow. "It's hardly as though Draco and I must maintain our distance anymore," she retorted.
"True; but that is not Draco's owl. And since he is already at school, I am forced to infer that you received something from either Lucius or Narcissa," he said evenly. "What was it? I would not recommend attempting to lie to me again."
She stared at him blankly, surprised by the veiled threat. When several seconds went by without a response, he became angry.
"Damn it, Hermione!" she jumped. "What are you trying to hide? If he's done something- threatened you in some way…"
"Here!" she snapped, throwing the letter down on the table. "I have to go pack," she muttered, stalking out of the room. Snape watched her go, waited until her footsteps disappeared up the stairs, before turning his attention to the letter on the table. It was addressed very neatly to Miss Hermione Granger- and it was, in fact, in Lucius's handwriting. He angrily ripped the single piece of parchment from the envelope- and could not have been more shocked at what he read. And yet, it fit- Malfoy's obvious confusion at his own fortune had forced Snape to reconsider his accusations. But why…?
He walked slowly and pensively up the stairs and knocked gently on the door to Hermione's room, letter still in hand. He heard her cease movement, and then pause for several seconds, perhaps considering whether or not to let him in, when she called monotonously, "Come in."
She was shuffling about the room, pulling things from drawers and out of the closet, stuffing them unceremoniously into her trunk. He was tempted to accomplish the whole task with a wave of his wand, but suspected she was merely venting frustration- at him.
"Is he correct in his assumption?" he asked quietly. "What did you tell Madam Bones yesterday?" Silence. "Hermione?"
She took a deep breath. "I did plan to tell you tonight," she said. "But I had to see it through first- I didn't want you or anyone else trying to change my mind."
"I do admit, I am rather confused," he told her lightly. "Why you would lie on his behalf…"
"I didn't lie!" she said adamantly. "Everything I told her was true; I just restricted my story to that which happened during the battle, nothing before."
"What happened during the battle," he laughed mirthlessly, "was that Lucius was under a vow to protect your life, with his if need be- failure to do so would have killed him, and he knew it! His actions were still out of self-interest. I thought the Wizengamot had been made well-aware of that fact."
She shook her head. "You weren't there," she reminded him gently. "Don't you see? We- myself and Malfoy- thought you had betrayed us. When Voldemort cast the Cruciatus curse on Harry and Draco, we truly believed them to be dead." Realization was beginning to creep onto Snape's face. "He tried to stop me from leaving the castle, and I scorned him; I told him that the vow was forfeit, since you failed to uphold your promise of Draco's safety, or your own life. He believed me, and that's why he let me go when I forbade him to follow.
"He did not believe himself to be under any obligation anymore to the Unbreakable Vow when he saved my life, Severus; it was purely his choice to do so. Not to mention the fact that he could have stunned Bellatrix Lestrange, or done any number of other things- but he chose to kill her, reveal his defection to everyone, in order to protect me.
"It is true that, by the time he killed Nagini, he knew Draco had survived- but it is my belief that he would have killed the snake regardless. And that is what I told Madam Bones yesterday."
Snape spoke quietly. "It's still far better than he deserves."
She sighed. "I know; and in truth, I did it more for Draco than for Lucius. We were talking last week, and I really realized how much faith he had lost in his own father- I think it would have hurt him irreparably to learn the full truth of Lucius's misdoings. No, I believe that there is some chance at redemption and living a good life with the family he obviously loves… even if the rest of his priorities could use a severe renewal- it seemed a waste to destroy that by sending him to Azkaban for Merlin knows how long.
"Personally," she murmured, "I'm not willing to forgive my own grievances against him for a belated act of redemption and self-realization. But as long as he behaves himself from here on out, I am willing to keep my mouth shut. If I do learn he has betrayed the trust of the court, however- well, let's just say that I won't wait for courtly justice to be done."
He nodded. "While I may not necessarily agree that he should be let off completely- I think I understand your points. Though I suspect you may need to explain that to Potter later, he was fairly shocked today." He narrowed his eyes shrewdly. "Speaking of which- where were you?"
She grinned. "I crept in quietly right before Malfoy's session, and left right after. I was in the back, near the door- I had my hood up on my cloak the entire time." She looked at him serenely. "Let's not worry about this anymore," she asked. "What's done is done, and they're my choices to live with."
"Okay, Hermione," he acquiesced, eyes glittering darkly as he watched her begin to pack once more. "Would you like some help with that?" he asked.
He flicked his wand once, and she stood back in surprise as all of her possessions which were going to Hogwarts flew neatly into her trunk.
"Some witch you make," he smirked. She sauntered over to the bed where he was sitting, grabbed a pillow, and smacked him in the face with it.
"I'm a fantastic witch," she smiled slyly. He grabbed the pillow and threw it back to the head of the bed before grabbing her and pulling her down to the bed with him.
"Agreed," he murmured, kissing her neck and all around her face before at last seizing her lips in a bruising kiss.
"Mm," she sighed as his hands caressed her body and face, "I've missed this."
"Blame…the Dark Lord," he grumbled between kisses, hands at the clasps of her robes, "for keeping… us all… too distracted…"
In retrospect, as Hermione lay curled in Snape's arms sometime later, she realized that the ongoing quest against Voldemort had, indeed, deprived them of a lot of time they might have otherwise spent together. But, she supposed with a smile, he was dead- and the wait had been well worth it.
You are correct; I did speak on your behalf to Mme. Bones.
Do not take this as a sign that I in any way like, respect, or forgive you.
My respect and admiration for your son (and increasingly for your wife) is infinitely greater than for you.
I believed your defection to be sincere- it therefore did not seem worth Draco's devastation to learn the full truth, rather than giving you a chance to rebuild some semblance of familial trust.
If I hear you have betrayed this undeserved opportunity, do not think I'll hesitate for even a moment to do what, by rights, I should have done in that court room.
I will regard this as the end of our correspondence- do not write me again.
Lucius Malfoy stood staring at the letter in his hands for some time- and wondered, not for the first time, what exactly was the relationship between his son and Hermione Granger, as well as between the girl and Severus; not to mention what precisely had occurred when she was a prisoner of the Dark Lord's in the spring. He sighed. Those would be questions for Draco for another time.
He sent the owl back on its way, having been assured in no uncertain terms that a response of any sort was unwarranted… not that he'd have anything further to say to the girl anyway.
He was still in a mild state of disbelief over the events of the preceding week or so; the Dark Lord was most assuredly dead, and Lucius himself had even completed the final step to completing his mortality- or so he understood belatedly. He'd also outright killed Bella to save the Granger girl, and when he asked himself, even now, he still could not provide a satisfactory answer to why he'd done so, especially considering he could have incapacitated her in any other number of ways.
Maybe it was anger that Bella had clearly made no effort on his son's behalf, when Severus had given him to the Dark Lord.
Maybe it was the fact that she was a raving fanatic with an unhealthy obsession for a deranged psychopath.
Maybe it was as simple as he'd come to value Hermione Granger's life more than his wife's sister's. Something in the way she had berated him and his shock that students would be fighting…
In any case, his actions had served him well- much better than expected really, considering Granger could have had him put away for decades… and instead, chose to give him the chance to start afresh in life. He felt slightly beholden to her, and that was definitely a feeling which made him uneasy; but, as she wanted nothing to do with him, he really was under no obligation to express any sort of gratitude beyond what he'd already done.
"Is everything alright, dear?"
He glanced up at his wife, carefully folding the letter and placing it in his pocket. "Of course," he murmured. "Just wrapping up a correspondence regarding… well, my trial, or lack thereof."
"Lucius," she smiled, "let it go. If someone wants to help you out, it hardly seems the time to complain about anonymity."
He sighed. "Right you are, love." He hadn't told her about Hermione Granger- it was too long, too complicated, and too shameful a story, once one told it in full.
He supposed he did feel a twinge of guilt for what he'd done to the girl. Whether that was because he'd since learned she and Draco were friends, or because she had chosen to remain silent for his benefit- well, he couldn't be entirely sure. The truth of the matter was that he did not feel any particularly strong ideological changes- he would, however, take her warning seriously, as well as that of the Wizengamot.
His recent dealings with Granger had given him no reason to doubt the sincerity of her threat.
Minerva McGonagall sat behind her desk and surveyed the three students sitting before her. She'd watched Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, and Hermione Granger grow from mismatched eleven-year-olds to self-confident and accomplished of-age wizards and best friends.
Classes were due to start the following morning, and the three had recently transferred their belongings to their long-missed dormitories- and then promptly departed again, not wanting the awe and attention which would undoubtedly follow their return. Now they sat down to discuss how exactly they were to begin their last year at Hogwarts, considering they had missed the first two months.
"Here's the thing," she sighed, "and I'm sorry- I would have told you earlier, but we only just got the matter resolved a couple of hours ago, after you'd already moved. But Kingsley would really like the help of the three of you at the Ministry right now- if you'd be willing, of course."
Harry frowned. "Has he resigned the Defense post them?" he asked.
"Ah. Well, he did not plan to, but a solution presented itself which I believe works out best for everyone; Severus has offered to take the position for at least the remainder of this year." Hermione sat up straighter, surprised. "That frees Kingsley up to return to the Ministry, where popular support is crying for him to supplant Scrimgeour as head of the auror department."
"What exactly does he want help with?" Ron asked.
She shrugged. "Rounding up any remaining death eaters, routing out sympathizers within the Ministry itself, that sort of thing. They're scattered and leaderless right now, but fast action is essential to ensuring no one else sets themselves up in a position of power again. And right now, having people he can trust is essential to his plan of action."
"What about completing school?" Hermione asked, and Ron and Harry chuckled at her worried tone.
"You would have a couple of options," McGonagall told her seriously. "You can, of course, choose to remain- though from what I understand, you, Severus, and I would need to have a long discussion, if that were the case. You can return at a later time, when the Ministry is restored. You could request special permission to take your N.E.W.T.s now, or wait until the end of term- I have little doubt that you'd pass them all as it is. Also, you could divide your time; obviously, you need no further Defense or Potions education- but if you felt you would like to take on a part time schedule, we could accommodate that, and you could aid the Ministry on your free days."
Hermione bit her lip worriedly, but Ron and Harry seemed more than eager to continue championing the forces of good.
In the end, she decided to take her N.E.W.T.s in June with the rest of the seventh years- in the meantime, she divided her time between work at the Ministry, doing some at-home studying of the seventh years' material, and helping resettle her parents. And of course, on free weekends, she would return to Hogwarts to visit Snape, and sometimes talk with Everitt- the two of whom, she was surprised to discover, were now getting along quite well. She also did her best to check in with Ginny and Draco, who seemed to be enjoying his home life a lot more than he had the prior year. Which, of course, reassured her that perhaps she had done the best thing after all.
Dumbledore died the following summer, quite contentedly at home with Harry, McGonagall, and Snape at his side. He'd been declining physically for some time- ever since the incident in Gringotts, he had his up and down days, but was never truly recovered.
"'Death is but the next great adventure'," Harry said quietly, teary-eyed, but calm and accepting. "Professor Dumbledore said this to me during my first year here at Hogwarts- and it took me most of the past six years to truly understand his meaning."
A vast crowd of people and other magical creatures were gathered near the great tomb, around the edges of the forest, or on the banks of the lake.
"In the few minutes I have, it is difficult to attempt to sum up so extraordinary a life; even in the comparatively short time I knew him, Professor Dumbledore proved himself an exceptional wizard, a keen intellectual- and a compassionate, caring man. He was eager to help others and could always find the good in someone, no matter how far he or she may have strayed- he was also willing to overlook more than a few personal violations of school rules, so he will forever be in my gratitude for not expelling me when I smuggled an illegal dragon out of the school, or snuck into Hogsmeade without a parental permission form." He grinned as many people chuckled through their tears.
"In his life, he performed many great services to the wizarding world; for decades, he work tirelessly for the education of young witches and wizards, always believing in a school based upon acceptance and safety- be you half-giant, or werewolf- or muggle-born. He saw the uprising of two infamous dark wizards, and in the end, would work to bring about the defeat of both.
"Albus Dumbledore was a humble man- he once expressed his greatest honor in life was to be featured on chocolate frog cards. While I acknowledge a certain teasing nature of this comment, it was through this means, nevertheless, that I was first introduced to him. On my first train ride to Hogwarts, my only exposure to the wizarding world was while school shopping. I had the honor of meeting a great friend on that trip, and the beginning of a lifetime mutual loyalty was forged over the sharing of dozens of sweets from the trolley- and my first chocolate frog card carried the face of Albus Dumbledore.
"Never could I imagine what a man he would be, despite the description of his glorious feats in life; never could I imagine that this man would become, not only the astounding mentor- but also the compassionate friend- that he eventually would be to me.
"I thought long and hard about what sort of token I could place in this tomb, something which would be meaningful, yet simple, as he would have liked. And as I thought about this eulogy I was to give, I stumbled across my answer," here, Harry drew something out of his pocket. "All these years later, I have saved my very first chocolate frog card, bearing the portrait of Albus Dumbledore- with him it shall remain." He placed the card gently in the still-open tomb. "Good-bye, Professor Dumbledore," he said quietly. "You will be missed, but I am confident that you are, indeed, enjoying that next great adventure."
A long, mournful note rang out, and the attendees all looked up, blinking fiercely against the bright sunlight of the July morning. Fawkes the phoenix was singing the most beautiful, but the saddest cry Hermione had ever heard.
As they joined the procession of people filing by the tomb for one last look at the great wizard, Snape reflected on his last moments with the man who had given him a second chance, when no one else would have.
"Is everything alright?" McGonagall asked.
"Ah," Dumbledore responded quietly, "you're wondering why I've called you three in particular. Well, as surely as all things must end, I sense my time is drawing to a close."
Harry gasped quietly, but Dumbledore heard anyway. "Harry, my boy," he whispered, reaching out an old, wrinkled hand to touch his cheek, "you of all people should realize that this is not the end, but the beginning of something new and exciting."He turned his attention back to McGonagall. "Minerva- you've been a remarkable student, colleague, and friend in the vast time in which we've known one another. I wonder if there's one more request I might ask of you?"
"Anything," she murmured, clearly distraught.
"If at all possible- if it is allowable per the governors- I would very much like to be buried at Hogwarts. It's been my true home for more than a century now."
"Of course," she sniffed, trying not to cry.
"Come now," he smiled. "You're a marvelous headmistress, Minerva, I always knew you would be. Continue to perform admirably, and remember the importance of the children- so much is determined in the young years." He sighed. "Severus?"
"Albus," he acknowledged quietly, grieved himself, though he had known for some time that his time was short.
"Your young years were difficult, and you very nearly lost your way- you possess an extraordinary capacity for love, however much you may try to hide it, and this is what saved you. Never forget that. Especially for Hermione's sake, don't forget it."
"Yes, Albus," he murmured.
"Harry," Dumbledore smiled once more. "Harry, continue to use your heart and your head, and you will continue to do great things. It is tragic that one so good at heart was forced to do and see what you did- but that moral strength of character is what allowed you to be the chosen one, allowed you to save those you love."
Dumbledore closed his eyes serenely. "I once sought a means to undo death, and bring back those I had lost- I now acknowledge my naïveté, and go to join them where we may all be equals in the adventure."
He spoke no more after that, and soon fell into a deep unconsciousness. Harry and McGonagall each took one of his hands, while Snape monitored his condition. He seemed to be in no pain or discomfort, and it was hardly noticeable when his body finally did succumb and cease to function.
Snape replayed this scene in his mind later that night as he finally left Hogwarts, where many of the teachers had remained for some hours, along with some of Dumbledore's closest friends outside of the school.
He headed wearily up the stairs of Prince Manor, and turned to head towards his room- and stopped. He changed directions and found himself, instead, outside Hermione's door. He entered quietly; the light was off, and she seemed to be asleep- she'd left Hogwarts some time ago, claiming exhaustion.
Settling gently down on the bed, he pulled her sleeping form into his arms. She stirred, adjusting to the new position, but did not fully wake.
"Hermione?" he murmured close by her ear.
"Mmm?" she muttered.
"I love you."
"I know," she yawned and settled more cozily against his body. "And you know that I love you too…" her voice grew quieter as she spoke, and soon enough, she was breathing deeply again, mouth slightly open, hair askew.
He kissed her forehead once before laying down fully himself.
"You possess an extraordinary capacity for love, however much you may try to hide it, and this is what saved you. Never forget that. Especially for Hermione's sake, don't forget it."
For her sake, he wouldn't.
A/N: Ah. I'm practically in tears, and I'm not sure if it's because Dumbledore is dead, or because I just finished this story.
So, first things first- I suspect some of you despise me for letting Lucius off- but let's face it, JK Rowling let him off, and all he did was go running through Hogwarts looking for Draco. At least in MY story, he saved Hermione and killed Nagini…
Secondly, I'd love to hear feedback and comments- this is my longest story yet (same number of chapters, but at least 20,000 words longer than Changes in Heart)- and I'm curious about what ups and downs you thought it had (both content and style, of course).
Lastly, I want your thoughts on the following: someone asked me if I were planning another sequel to make it a nice, round, 3-part series; the current answer is no- no such plans are in the works- maybe one day… but I wouldn't expect anything.
However: I am very strongly considering a separate 'story' which basically contains filler chapters from this and Changes in Heart- the reason a separate story is because a) it would give me more rating flexibility, since I wanted to keep this story below an M and b) I could include chapters of characters who are secondary or not necessarily relevant to main-plot. For instance- elaboration of Harry's discussion with Grindelwald & Dumbledore; elaboration of Hermione/Everitt's imprisonment at Malfoy manor or a scene in which Lucius asks Draco about Hermione & Snape; from Changes in Heart, an explanation of the death eater meeting in which Voldemort first saw Hermione in Snape's mind…
That sort of thing. Does that sound remotely interesting? I just have a certain desire to explain certain scenes more, but either couldn't fit them in this story, or did not find the full scene to really be doable or crucial to the central story- that, or scenes were shortened for intrigue purposes (such as Harry's 'death' & subsequent discussion). If it does sound interesting, are there any particular scenes you'd like to see more explicitly?
Thanks so much to all of my faithful readers who have stuck with me since Changes in Heart began. Further thanks to those who stumbled new on this story back in April and have held out these long months- look on the bright side though- this took 8 ½ months, and most of it was written in the last 4 ½ … Changes in Heart took what? 3 years and change?
I daresay I'm improving. :-D
And of course, thanks to everyone else who has caught this story somewhere along the way, or those who have been waiting until it was complete to touch it- again, I'd love to know your thoughts. :-)
Cheers, best of luck, and much love,