Should have…

She should have gone back to the Weasley's hours ago. She should have left Hogwarts and its fabled library long before now, but she had been researching any information she could find regarding Horcruxes; her parents were on holiday and quite agreeable for her to remain at the Weasley's for the duration. She should have not been pushing so hard to find the answers; because in her mind, she should have already found the answers.

She should have…

"Miss Granger." Professor McGonagall's voice ringing in the crisp air, startling her…the ink blotter toppling over.

"Professor…?" Hermione scooped up her wand, and before she could utter the incantation, the splattered ink had already vanished as her head of house stepped into view.

"My apologies," Minerva already tucking her wand back into her voluminous robes. "I did not mean to startle you." Green eyes swept over the books, journals, sheaves of parchment littering the table. "However, the hour has become quite late and…"

Hermione's shoulders sagged as she easily completed her Professor's sentence. "Should have already returned to the Burrow."

Minerva gave a solitary nod, "Yes. However," She reached out, staying Hermione's arm. "You may leave the items." Minerva relayed, her fingers already falling back to her side.

Hermione turned, giving the stately woman a perplexed look. "I don't want Madam Pince to…"

"I spoke with Irma;" She stepped backwards, enabling Hermione ample space to stand. "She will not touch your work."

"Professor, I will be glad to re-pull the items…"

A ghostly smile passed across her face, "I am aware." Her eyes snapped across the library, noticing the time. "However, it is late, Miss Granger and while I know you would; there are only five professors currently here and I believe we can work around the scant space your research is currently taking up."

Hermione stood, a broad smile breaking across her face. "Thank you, Professor."

A genuine smile lit emerald eyes, "You are quite welcome."

Hermione cast one final glance to the reams of parchment and then to her professor. "If it is alright, I'll be back by 7am."

"If you are back at that hour, I shall ask Tily to bring a plate of…" She narrowed her eyes at the younger witch, "Orange cranberry scones and lemon tea for you."

Hermione blinked, jaw slackening. "How do you know that those are my favorites?"

Minerva merely arched her brow, "Are you ready, Miss Granger?"

Hermione stared at her professor's blank face a moment more and then nodded. "Yes." She took a step and then turned back to McGonagall. "I'll see you…tomorrow."

"True," Minerva took a step forward, "And I will be accompanying you to the gates."

"Professor…I'll be fine."

Minerva swept past her, "And I would prefer to keep you that way." She paused at the end of the row, "Coming?"

Hermione's mouth curled into a smile, "Apparently." Quietly the two witches walked across the stone pathways, their boots echoing off the torchlight area and Hermione as they rounded the corner to the main hall, she asked a question that had been plaguing her for the past two weeks. "Do you miss him?"

Minerva's footsteps faltered at the quiet, yet profound question and she found herself eyeing her student, debating on whether to admit something so personal. "Very much." She whispered in response, "I have never known these walls without him."

"I'm sorry." Hermione's voice was soft, sincere. She watched as the usually stoic features disappeared, and the heavy lines of a grieving woman appeared.

"He was a wonderful friend." Minerva's brogue catching as she continued, "Irreplaceable."

"Was he always so…whimsical?"

The torchlight sparkled off misty green eyes, "Even more so in times of stress." She started walking again, Hermione joining suite. "Much to the staff's distress."

Hermione found herself rapt with attention, granted she had spoken to the formidable woman, several times. But always regarding transfiguration or Hogwarts, never once, anything about her.

Minerva continued on as they approached the great oak doors, "And my own. As the staff would always come to me, not Albus, about his latest…" The warm air rushed upon their faces as they stepped onto the flagstone, her gaze automatically pulling across the ground to the white marbled tomb reflecting the pearly moonlight. "Prank."

Hermione's gaze followed Minerva's, "Has the Board of Governors chosen a successor?"

"They have."

Brown eyes shifted to take in the regal countenance and open expression. "You will make…"

"It will not be I, …Miss Granger." Minerva interjected, realizing that she had indeed almost called the young woman by her namesake as she stared into the slack jawed witch.

"Then…who…?" Hermione stammered, her startling intellect momentarily baffled.

"I…" A heavy sigh slipped from normally thin lips, "Am not at liberty to say."

"Just tell me it's not Snape." Hermione retorted, but at seeing an elegant brow arch…she began shaking her head. "I can't…"

"We need to leave." Minerva said, turning. "And I presume," She caught Granger's eyes with her own, "That you will keep your supposition to yourself."

"Professor I would never…"

Her words landed upon deft ears as Minerva's fingers already had her wand out, steps remaining brisk as she automatically responded. "I am aware, Miss Granger." Eyes darting to the tree-line, "Have your wand at the ready."

Hermione didn't need to be told twice as they approached the gates, "I don't see…"

"Neither do I." Her voice dropping, barely reaching Hermione's ears. "But I can hear and smell them."

Involuntarily Hermione's grip tightened on her wand. "Neat trick." She murmured as McGonagall brought her hand to the gates…the lock mechanism releasing.

Minerva reached up, eyes fixing to the young woman before darting to the left and then returning to her. "Give my best to Molly."

Hermione nodded, "I will." She replied, feeling a tingle of apprehension trickle down her neck as McGonagall's arm flexed before stepping forward. And with a breath, she too stepped away from Hogwart's wards…

One step…

Two…

Relief burst in her chest, fingers becoming less tense as they progressed the necessary five meters from the gates to enable apparition. McGonagall was just being too protective…

And then a blinding light crossed in front of her face, as two hexes grazed by her. And it felt like she had been thrust back in to the Department of Mysteries as spells shot from every direction and while she had always believed Professor McGonagall was not a witch to cross; had known that she was a master in transfiguration, but as the flames shot from the long ebony wand…Hermione couldn't help but doubt the connotation that Dumbledore had no equal. She cast protego charm after protego charm, the hexes flying too fast and from too many areas to counter-attack; not that it seemed to stop McGonagall.

From her peripheral vision, Hermione could see McGonagall draw her wand in a wide arc…hair whipping in the wind as she snapped her head to the side as strands fell from her legendary bun; and then a pulse of light erupting before conjuring a shield charm…and then she felt it…crawling up her leg, spontaneous…and before she could utter a word, her world stopped and she toppled over. She couldn't see a thing; could hear a flourish of spells being cast a tremendous pace; undoubtedly McGonagall, she thought.

"I wouldn't, McGonagall." Hermione felt her body being spun around, the stars coming into view. "Or Potter's young friend, dies."

Hermione couldn't see her; but knew from the eerie silence that McGonagall had yet to move, undoubtedly strategizing.

"Drop your wand." Came the same hauntingly deep voice.

NO! Hermione's mind screamed, NO! DON'T! She tried to move, tried to get away with every ounce of willpower, but the spell held true. And she remained, rigid, unmoving…heart hammering in her chest as the silence stretched onward.

Then she heard something she had never imagined, the grass muffling the unmistakable sound of a wand falling to the earth. Minerva McGonagall had dropped her wand; and a tear slipped from chocolate brown eyes…wetting Hermione's stoned face.

Xoxoxo

Debating…had this idea for a dark HG/MM fiction…and…would love your feedback. Time frame is after year 6; before year 7 and then potential after the end of book 7.