Oh my goodness y'all. I am so very sorry I've been MIA for so long. None of my excuses are good enough and I really don't deserve any of my amazing reviewers. Thanks to any of you who stick around to read this. Special thanks to eharo1 for actually getting me to update :)

This chapter is mostly Sev's memories, I'm sorry if it gets confusing, and uploading it messed with the spacing ...almost all of the chapter is in a pensieve! And this is the longest chapter I've written. Some things are taken directly from the HP books (yay for quotes, and I don't own any of it (obviously)), some I made up, some are changed, etc, but my dad has my 6th book so that changes things...

Yeah. So. Here's chapter 13. Sorry.

"No! Sev! Please..." Hermione cried. "Severus Snape, don't you die on me!"

"Hermione, he's gone," Harry whispered and put his hand on her shoulder comfortingly.

She almost pushed it away in denial, but the stab of truth tore through her and she accepted his hug.
"We should go to Dumbledore's pensieve and see what he gave you." Harry said after a moment and she nodded.

"What else had changed, Harry?" She managed to ask.

"I don't know, I'm not sure how it was..."
"Is Ron...?" She trailed off and Harry shook his head.
"Scabior."

"The other Weasley's? Neville? Luna? The Order? Dumbledore's Army?" The name stung her throat.

"We haven't heard from Percy, but the rest of the Weasley's are alive. We almost lost Fred when a wall fell on him, but he's ok. George lost an ear, Remus and Tonks are fine, Kingsley's fine, Neville and Luna too. Moody is dead, but you were here for some of that though weren't you?"
She nodded. "And the horcruxes?"
"Probably the same as when you were here. I think I know where the diadem is. Nagini is going to be almost impossible to kill. I can tell he knows when a horcrux is destroyed. He's keeping her close. If he hadn't taken her so fast I could have killed her just now. We destroyed Hufflepuff's goblet a few days ago."
She poured the memories into the basin and watched as dozens of silvery strands drifted around each other.

"Do you want me come with you?"

"Yes, please, Harry. Thank you." Taking a steadying breath, she leaned in.

Harry appeared next to her in the first memory. He gave her a single nod, as if to confirm that they would be silent and watch. He put a comforting arm around Hermione's shoulders in a knowing way. Hermione was thankful her best friend understood without her having to explain. Harry always tended to have the most random, but important bursts of knowledge and understanding that she would never comprehend.

She saw a few early memories he had told her about, with his parents, with the Marauders.

The scene changed and it was right before their summer together.

"Severus! Have you seen my hair ribbons? I can't find them anywhere!" Lucius Malfoy asked, stepping into Severus's room and shutting the door behind him.

"No." Severus replied sullenly.

"You need to sort out where your priorities lie. We just got you disassociated with that Gryffindor mudblood, and now you're dating another? At least she's in Slytherin. But Sev, think about it. We can get rid of her the same way I made you get rid of the other one."

The scene changed again and the pair recognized their fifth year potions class.

"You will notice," said Severus in his low, sneering voice, "that we have a guest with us today."

He gestured toward a corner of the dungeon to Professor Umbridge sitting there, clipboard in hand.

"We are continuing with our Strengthening Solutions today, you will find your mixtures as you left them last lesson, if correctly made they should have matured well over the weekend. Instructions-" he waved his wand again and neat words formed in chalk, "on the board. Carry on."

Hermione saw herself correct Harry's potion. "Salamander blood, Harry! Not pomegranate juice!"

"Well, the class seems fairly advanced for their level," Umbridge said briskly to Snape's back as he strode around the room, glaring into various cauldrons. "Though I would question whether it is advisable to teach them a potion like the Strengthening Solution. I think the Ministry would prefer it if that was removed from the syllabus."

Severus straightened up slowly and turned to look at her, an incredulous frown on his face.

"Now...how long have you been teaching at Hogwarts?" she asked, her quill poised over the clipboard.

"Fourteen years," Snape replied. His expression turned sour.

"You applied first for the Defense Against the Dark Arts post, I believe?"
"Yes." Severus said voice dropping.

"But you were unsuccessful?"

His lip curled in a sneer. "Obviously."

"And you have applied regularly for the Defense Against the Dark Arts post since you first joined the school, I believe?"
"Yes," said Severus almost silently, barely moving his lips. He looked very angry.

"Do you have any idea why Dumbledore has consistently refused to appoint you?" asked Umbridge.

"I suggest you ask him." Severus replied and turned away.

"Oh I shall,"

"I suppose this is relevant?" He muttered at her.

"Oh yes. Yes, the Ministry wants a thorough understanding of teachers' – er- backgrounds..." She trailed off as the scene faded.

Severus looked at Harry, who was staring frantically as if trying to communicate without words.

"He's got Padfoot!" Harry shouted. "He's got Padfoot at the place where it's hidden!"

Severus froze with his hand on the doorknob.

"Padfoot? What is Padfoot? Where what is hidden? What does he mean, Snape?" Umbridge demanded.

"I have no idea. Potter, when I want nonsense shouted at me I shall give you a Babbling Beverage. And Crabbe, loosen your hold a little, if Longbottom suffocates it will mean a lot of tedious paperwork, and I am afraid I shall have to mention it on your reference if you ever apply for a job."

He left the room with a frown. The pair saw him try to contact Sirius, and then Remus, to no avail, finally going to Dumbledore.

"Good afternoon," Severus lurked behind the three first-year Gryffindors. "You shouldn't bee inside on a day like this." He tried to smile.

"We were..." Harry trailed off.

"You want to be more careful," Severus said. "Hanging around like this, people will think you're up to something. And Gryffindor really can't afford to lose any more points, can it?"

"Be warned, Potter. Any more nighttime wanderings and I will personally make sure you are expelled. Good day to you." He strode off with a flourish of his billowing cloak.

"He knew." Harry mumbled beside her as they watched him stalk down the hall. "He was trying to keep us safe."

Dumbledore was pacing his office. "Miss Granger will be starting this term. Be sure to show no favoritism. Keep up your persona of Gryffindor hatred. Do not call on her in class."

"Yes, sir." Severus replied, a slightly happy look being replaced with a sad frown.

"Severus, Miss Granger has top marks in your class. And she's been answering all of your questions." Dumbledore said in a warning voice.

"She's brilliant. She answers even when I don't call on her."
"Well then, take points if you must. You need to keep a distance and maintain their hatred to appear on Voldemort's side and gain her pity in the future."
"She said she didn't pity me." Dumbledore gave him a pitying look.

"Don't look at me like that!"

"Severus. Do what you must, but ensure her dislike. And remember, I will be watching."
What followed was a rapid flowing series of her hopeful hand-raising being ignored and deep feelings of regret at taking points off.
She heard him call her an insufferable know-it-all numerous times, only to see tears in his eyes when no one was looking.
She saw the teeth-incident, and felt his pain when he forced himself to insult her and make her cry.

She saw him studying and practicing Occlumency. He could keep out both Voldemort and Dumbledore easily.

She saw him creating the Seven Bottles and the riddle. She could fell his pride and assurance that she would figure it out. He made sure to appeal to her obsession with logic.

"Filch? What's going on?" Severus called to the caretaker jogging up a staircase.

"It's Peeves, Professor. He threw this egg down the stairs."

"Peeves?" said Severus softly, staring at the egg in Filch's hands. "But Peeves couldn't get into my office..."
"This egg was in your office, Professor?"

"Of course not! I heard banging and wailing-"

"Yes, Professor, that was the egg-"

"-I was coming to investigate-"

"-Peeves threw it, Professor-"

"-and when I passed my office, I saw that the torches were lit and a cupboard door ajar! Somebody has been searching it!"

"But Peeves couldn't-"

"I know he couldn't, Filch! I seal my office with a spell none but a wizard could break!" He looked directly at the invisible Harry. "I want you to come and help me search for the intruder, Filch."

"Pajama party is it?" Moody came out of nowhere.
"Professor Snape and I heard noises, Professor, Peeves the Poltergeist, throwing things around as usual- and then Professor Snape discovered that someone had broken into his off-"
"Shut up!" Severus hissed at Filch.

They saw the argument continue for a bit, Moody and Severus obviously not getting along. At one point, Severus looked at the fallen Marauder's map, then pointedly at the still-invisible Harry.

She saw herself punch Draco Malfoy in the face and felt his small amount of pride, then confusion as she followed herself out of the castle. He knew she had been using a time-turner for classes, but she was obviously more skilled than that if she was able to change past events while keeping herself concealed. He grasped the cool metal chain in his pocket as a small glimmer of hope washed over him.

He was standing off in the corner at the Yule Ball, glaring at anyone who came within a few feet of him. His face softened into a look of longing and almost sadness. She turned around and saw her fourth-year self enter the Great Hall. His look turned into jealousy for a moment when Viktor Krum held out his arm, but after a quick glance at Dumbledore, masked his face back into his angry glare. She could feel his reproachfulness towards Viktor and his worry that she would stay with him. He wanted her to be happy, but it pained him to see her that way with another.

"It's meant to be this way, Severus." Dumbledore said quietly as he walked past. "Go see what Karkaroff is up to..."

The scene dissolved to the top of the astronomy tower.

"Severus, please." Dumbledore said quietly, eyes begging for Severus to kill him. Everyone else thought he was begging for mercy, but Hermione knew this was planned. Severus raised his wand, desperately trying to convince himself that this was for the best, that he was helping Dumbledore, but he could not contain his feelings, his hatred toward the man who ruined his life.

"Avada Kedavra!" he yelled and the curse flew out of his wand with such emotional force that Dumbledore was propelled off the tower. His last look was one of pity towards Severus, and Severus hated him.

The other Death Eaters ran off the tower, Severus following a bit, but stopping after he rounded the first corner with a gasp. He felt his soul begin to destroy itself. He knew this would happen. Dumbledore knew this would happen; and he let it. Severus collapsed against the wall, head in his hands. He felt so utterly lost. Hermione could feel all the emotions running through his mind and wanted nothing more than to comfort him.

The scene began to fade as he pulled the locket from his robes and absently began flipping it open and closed. Then he paused, staring at it, and Hermione felt the glorious feeling of the stirrings of a brilliant idea forming.

"Severus, you will need to keep Lily and James Potter safe. In the future, their son Harry Potter will be Miss Granger's best friend. Her safety and well-being relies on him and his family's survival."
Severus looked up in shock.

"You'll forgive me, Dumbledore, but I've never heard of a curse scar acting as an alarm bell before..."

"Look, I saw Voldemort come back!" Harry shouted. He tried to get out of bed, but Mrs. Weasley forced him back. "I saw the Death Eaters! I can give you their names! Lucius Malfoy-"

Snape made a sudden movement, but as Harry looked at him, Snape's eyes flew back to Fudge.

"Malfoy was cleared! A very old family! Donations to excellent causes..."

"Macnair!"

"Also cleared! Now working for the Ministry!"

"Avery – Nott – Crabbe – Goyle -"

Fudge continued his denials and Harry argued back.

"He can't be back, Dumbledore, he just can't be..."

Severus strode forward, past Dumbledore, pulling up the left sleeve of his robes as he went. He stuck out his forearm and thrust it towards Fudge, who recoiled.

"There," said Snape harshly. "There. The Dark Mark. It is not as clear as it was an hour or so ago, when it burned black, but you can still see it. Every Death Eater had the sign burned into him by the Dark Lord. It was a means of distinguishing one another, and his means of summoning us to him. When he touched the Mark of any Death Eater, we were to Disapparate, and Apparate, instantly, at his side. This Mark has been growing clearer all year. Karkaroff's too. Why do you think Karkaroff fled tonight? We both felt the Mark burn. We both knew he had returned. Karkaroff fears the Dark Lord's vengeance. He betrayed too many of his fellow Death Eaters to be sure of a welcome back into the fold."

Hermione knew it took a lot for him to say all of that. She could feel his self-loathing and hatred towards the Mark.

"Severus...you know what I must ask you to do. If you are ready...if you are prepared..."

"I am." he said, almost regretfully.

"Then good luck." Dumbledore said after his retreating form.

As soon as he was out of the castle, Severus apparated to Voldemort's location. His fear was obvious but he kept himself moving forward.

The scene dissolved. They stood on a hilltop, forlorn and cold in the darkness, the wind whistling through the branches of a few leafless trees. The adult Severus was panting, turning on the spot, his wand gripped tightly in his hand, waiting for something or for someone… His fear infected the pair too.

Then a blinding, jagged jet of white light flew through the air. Harry thought of lightning, but Severus had dropped to his knees and his wand had flown out of his hand.

"Don't kill me!" Severus cried.

"That was not my intention."

Any sound of Dumbledore Apparating had been drowned by the sound of the wind in the branches. He stood before Severus with his robes whipping around him, and his face was illuminated with an eerie glow from his wand.

"Well, Severus? What message does Lord Voldemort have for me?"

"No - no message - I'm here on my own account!"

He wrung his hands together and his hair blew around his head in the storm.

"I - I come with a warning - no, a request - please - "

Dumbledore flicked his wand. Though leaves and branches still flew through the night air around them, silence fell on the spot where he and Severus faced each other.

"What request could a Death Eater make of me?"

"The - the prophecy…the prediction…Trelawney…"

"Ah, yes," said Dumbledore. "How much did you successfully relay to Lord Voldemort?"

"Everything - everything I heard!" said Severus. "That is why - it is for that reason - he thinks it means Harry Potter!"

"Exactly."

"He is going to hunt him down - kill his family - "

"If she means so much to you," said Dumbledore, "surely Lord Voldemort will spare her? Could you not ask for mercy for the mother, in exchange for the son?"

"I have - I have asked him - "

"You disgust me," said Dumbledore, and Harry had never heard so much contempt in his voice. Severus seemed to shrink a little, "You do not care, then, about the deaths of her husband and child? They can die, as long as you have what you want?"

Severus said nothing, but merely looked up at Dumbledore.

"Hide them all, then," he croaked. "Keep her - them - safe. Please."

"And what will you give me in return, Severus?"

"In - in return?" Severus gaped at Dumbledore, and Harry expected him to protest, but after a long moment he said, "Anything."

The hilltop faded, and Harry stood in Dumbledore's office, and something was making a terrible sound, like a wounded animal. Severus was slumped forward in a chair and Dumbledore was standing over him, looking grim. After a moment or two, Severus raised his face, and he looked like a man who had lived a hundred years of misery since leaving the wild hilltop.

"I thought…you were going…to keep her…safe…"

"She and James put their faith in the wrong person," said Dumbledore. "Rather like you, Severus. Weren't you hoping that Lord Voldemort would spare her?"

Severus's breathing was shallow. "You could have -"

"The boy survives," said Dumbledore.

With a tiny jerk of the head, Severus seemed to flick off an irksome fly.

"Her son lives. He has her eyes, precisely her eyes. You remember the shape and color of Lily Evans's eyes, I am sure?" Dumbledore tried for a reaction.

"DON'T!" bellowed Severus. "Gone…dead…"

"Is this remorse, Severus?" Dumbledore said, almost amused.

"I wish…I wish I were dead…" he mumbled, more to himself.

"And what use would that be to anyone?" said Dumbledore coldly. "If you loved Lily Evans, if you love Hermione Granger, then your way forward is clear."

Severus seemed to peer through a haze of pain, and Dumbledore's words appeared to take a long time to reach him.

"What - what do you mean?"

"You know how and why she died. Make sure it was not in vain. Help me protect Lily's son, Hermione's best friend."

"He does not need protection. The Dark Lord has gone - "

"The Dark Lord will return, and Harry Potter will be in terrible danger when he does., along with Hermione and the rest of the wizarding world."

There was a long pause, and slowly Severus regained control of himself, mastered his own breathing. At last he said, "Very well. Very well. But never - never tell, Dumbledore! This must be between us! Swear it! I cannot bear…especially Potter's son…I want your word!"

"My word, Severus, that I shall never reveal the best of you?" Dumbledore sighed, looking down into Severus's ferocious, anguished face. "If you insist…"

"Severus, you must do everything in your power to keep Harry safe. It will help Hermione in the long run. The fate of the wizarding world relies on him. Remember the prophecy."
Severus frowned. Didn't the prophecy only have power because people were listening to it? Couldn't they avoid this altogether?

As if reading his mind (which didn't happen, of course, because of the constant mental shield Severus maintained) Dumbledore answered, "It's already begun, Severus. The prophecy will be fulfilled."

The office dissolved but re-formed instantly. Severus was pacing up and down in front of Dumbledore.

" - mediocre, arrogant as his father, a determined rule-breaker, delighted to find himself famous, attention-seeking and impertinent - "

"You see what you expect to see, Severus," said Dumbledore, without raising his eyes from a copy of Transfiguration Today. "Other teachers report that the boy is modest, likable, and reasonably talented. Personally, I find him an engaging child."

Dumbledore turned a page, and said, without looking up, "Keep an eye on Quirrell, won't you?"

Dumbledore sagged sideways in the throne-like chair behind the desk, apparently semiconscious. His right hand dangled over the side, blackened and burned. Severus was muttering incantations, pointing his wand at the wrist of the hand, while with his left hand he tipped a goblet full of thick golden potion down Dumbledore's throat. After a moment or two, Dumbledore's eyelids fluttered and opened.

"Why," said Severus, without preamble, "why did you put on that ring? It carries a curse, surely you realized that. Why even touch it?"

Marvolo Gaunt's ring lay on the desk before Dumbledore. It was cracked; the sword of Gryffindor lay beside it.

Dumbledore made a face.

"I…was a fool. Sorely tempted…"

"Tempted by what?" Severus's curiosity got the best of him.

Dumbledore did not answer.

"It is a miracle you managed to return here!" Severus sounded furious. "That ring carried a curse of extraordinary power, to contain it is all we can hope for; I have trapped the curse in one hand for the time being - "

Dumbledore raised his ruined hand, looking at it in interest.

"You have done very well, Severus. How long do you think I have?" He asked softly, too softly for one who didn't already know their fate.

Severus paused, and then said, "I cannot tell. Maybe a year. There is no halting such a spell forever. It will spread eventually, it is the sort of curse that strengthens over time."

Dumbledore smiled. He didn't seem to care if he'd live or not.

"I am fortunate, extremely fortunate, that I have you, Severus."

"If you had only summoned me a little earlier, I might have been able to do more, buy you more time!" said Severus furiously. He looked down at the broken ring and the sword. "Did you think that breaking the ring would break the curse?"

"Something like that…I was delirious, no doubt…" said Dumbledore. With an effort he straightened himself in his chair. "Well, really, this makes matters much more straightforward."

Severus looked confused at the headmaster's smile.

"I refer to the plan Lord Voldemort is revolving around me. His plan to have the poor Malfoy boy murder me."

Severus sat down in the chair across the desk from Dumbledore. Scowling, Severus said, "The Dark Lord does not expect Draco to succeed. This is merely punishment for Lucius's recent failures. Slow torture for Draco's parents, while they watch him fail and pay the price."

"In short, the boy has had a death sentence pronounced upon him as surely as I have," said Dumbledore. "Now, I should have thought the natural successor to the job, once Draco fails, is yourself?"

There was a short pause.

"That, I think, is the Dark Lord's plan."

"Lord Voldemort foresees a moment in the near future when he will not need a spy at Hogwarts?"

"He believes the school will soon be in his grasp, yes."

"And if it does fall into his grasp," said Dumbledore, casually, "I have your word that you will do all in your power to protect the students at Hogwarts?"

Severus gave a single nod.

"Good. Now then. Your first priority will be to discover what Draco is up to. A frightened teenage boy is a danger to others as well as to himself. Offer him help and guidance, he ought to accept, he likes you - "

" - much less since his father has lost favor. Draco blames me, he thinks I have usurped Lucius's position."

"All the same, try. I am concerned less for myself than for accidental victims of whatever schemes might occur to the boy. Ultimately, of course, there is only one thing to be done if we are to save him from Lord Voldemort's wrath."

Severus raised his eyebrows, "Are you intending to let him kill you?"

"Certainly not. You must kill me." Dumbledore said as if it was obvious.

"Would you like me to do it now?" asked Severus after a moment, his voice heavy with sarcasm. "Or would you like a few moments to compose an epitaph?"

"Oh, not quite yet," said Dumbledore, smiling. "I daresay the moment will present itself in due course. Given what has happened tonight," he indicated his withered hand, "we can be sure that it will happen within a year."

"If you don't mind dying," said Severus roughly, "why not let Draco do it?"

"That boy's soul is not yet so damaged," said Dumbledore. "I would not have it ripped apart on my account."

"And my soul, Dumbledore? Mine?"

"You alone know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man avoid pain and humiliation," said Dumbledore. "I ask this one great favor of you, Severus, because death is coming for me as surely as the Chudley Cannons will finish bottom of this year's league. I confess I should prefer a quick, painless exit to the protracted and messy affair it will be if, for instance, Greyback is involved - I hear Voldemort has recruited him? Or dear Bellatrix, who likes to play with her food before she eats it."

His tone was light, but his blue eyes pierced Severus as they had frequently pierced Harry, as though the soul they discussed was visible to him. At last Severus gave another curt nod.

Dumbledore seemed satisfied.

"Thank you, Severus…"

The office disappeared, and now Severus and Dumbledore were strolling together in the deserted castle grounds by twilight.

"What are you doing with Potter, all these evenings you are closeted together?" Severus asked abruptly.

Dumbledore looked weary.

"Why? You aren't trying to give him more detentions, Severus? The boy will soon have spent more time in detention than out."

"He is his father over again - "

"In looks, perhaps, but his deepest nature is much more like his mother's. He is Hermoine's friend after all, do you think she'd put up with someone who acted how you remember James Potter? I spend time with Harry because I have things to discuss with him, information I must give him before it is too late."

"Information," repeated Severus. "You trust him…you do not trust me."

"It is not a question of trust. I have, as we both know, limited time. It is essential that I give the boy enough information for him to do what he needs to do."

"And why may I not have the same information?"

"I prefer not to put all of my secrets in one basket, particularly not a basket that spends so much time dangling on the arm of Lord Voldemort."

"Which I do on your orders!"

"And you do it extremely well. Do not think that I underestimate the constant danger in which you place yourself, Severus. To give Voldemort what appears to be valuable information while withholding the essentials is a job I would entrust to nobody but you."

"Yet you confide much more in a boy who is incapable of Occlumency, whose magic is mediocre, and who has a direct connection into the Dark Lord's mind!"

"Voldemort fears that connection," said Dumbledore. "Not so long ago he had one small taste of what truly sharing Harry's mind means to him. It was pain such as he has never experienced. He will not try to possess Harry again, I am sure of it. Not in that way."

"I don't understand."

"Lord Voldemort's soul, maimed as it is, cannot bear close contact with a soul like Harry's. Like a tongue on frozen steel, like flesh in flame - "

"Souls? We were talking of minds!"

"In the case of Harry and Lord Voldemort, to speak of one is to speak of the other."

Dumbledore glanced around to make sure that they were alone. They were close by the Forbidden Forest now, but there was no sign of anyone near them.

"After you have killed me, Severus - "

"You refuse to tell me everything, yet you expect that small service of me!" snarled Severus, and real anger flared in the thin face now. "You take a great deal for granted, Dumbledore! Perhaps I have changed my mind!"

"You gave me your word, Severus. And while we are talking about services you owe me, I thought you agreed to keep a close eye on our young Slytherin friend?"

Severus looked angry, mutinous. Dumbledore sighed.

"Come to my office tonight, Severus, at eleven, and you shall not complain that I have no confidence in you…"

They were back in Dumbledore's office, the windows dark, and Fawkes sat silent as Severus sat quite still, as Dumbledore walked around him, talking.

"Harry must not know, not until the last moment, not until it is necessary, otherwise how could he have the strength to do what must be done?"

"But what must he do?"

"That is between Harry and me. Now listen closely, Severus. There will come a time - after my death - do not argue, do not interrupt! There will come a time when Lord Voldemort will seem to fear for the life of his snake."

"For Nagini?" Severus looked astonished.

"Precisely. If there comes a time when Lord Voldemort stops sending that snake forth to do his bidding, but keeps it safe beside him under magical protection, then, I think, it will be safe to tell Harry."

"Tell him what?"

Dumbledore took a deep breath and closed his eyes.

"Tell him that on the night Lord Voldemort tried to kill him, when Lily cast her own life between them as a shield, the Killing Curse rebounded upon Lord Voldemort, and a fragment of Voldemort's soul was blasted apart from the whole, and latched itself onto the only living soul left in that collapsed building. Part of Lord Voldemort lives inside Harry, and it is that which gives him the power of speech with snakes, and a connection with Lord Voldemort's mind that he has never understood. And while that fragment of soul, unmissed by Voldemort, remains attached to and protected by Harry, Lord Voldemort cannot die."

"So the boy…the boy must die?" asked Severus quite calmly.

"And Voldemort himself must do it, Severus. That is essential."

Another long silence. Then Severus said, "I thought…all those years…that we were protecting him for her. For Lily."

"We have protected him because it has been essential to teach him, to raise him, to let him try his strength," said Dumbledore, his eyes still tight shut. "Meanwhile, the connection between them grows ever stronger, a parasitic growth. Sometimes I have thought he suspects it himself. If I know him, he will have arranged matters so that when he does set out to meet his death, it will truly mean the end of Voldemort."

Dumbledore opened his eyes. Severus looked horrified.

"You have kept him alive so that he can die at the right moment?"

"Don't be shocked, Severus. How many men and women have you watched die?"

"Lately, only those whom I could not save," said Severus. He stood up. "You have used me."

"Meaning?"

"I have spied for you and lied for you, put myself in mortal danger for you. Everything was supposed to be to keep Hermione safe through Harry. Now you tell me you have been raising him like a pig for slaughter - "

"But this is touching, Severus," said Dumbledore seriously. "Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?"

"For him?" shouted Severus. "Expecto..." he trailed off, shaking his head slightly, as if trying to come up with a happy memory. "Expecto Patronum!"

From the tip of his wand burst a silver otter. It landed on the office floor, bounded once around the office, and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched it fly away, and as its silvery glow faded he turned back to Severus.

"After all this time?"

"Always," whispered Severus through his tears.

And the scene shifted. Now, Harry saw Severus talking to the portrait of Dumbledore behind his desk.

"You will have to give Voldemort the correct date of Harry's departure from his aunt and uncle's," said Dumbledore. "Not to do so will raise suspicion, when Voldemort believes you so well informed. However, you must plant the idea of decoys; that, I think, ought to ensure Harry's safety. Try Confunding Mundungus Fletcher. And Severus, if you are forced to take part in the chase, be sure to act your part convincingly…I am counting upon you to remain in Lord Voldemort's good books as long as possible, or Hogwarts will be left to the mercy of the Carrows…"

Now Harry was flying alongside Severus on a broomstick through a clear dark night: He was accompanied by other hooded Death Eaters, and ahead were Lupin and a Harry who was really George… A Death Eater moved ahead of Severus and raised his wand, pointing it directly at Lupin's back.

"Sectumsempra!" shouted Severus.

But the spell, intended for the Death Eater's wand hand, missed and hit George instead.

And now Severus stood again in the headmaster's study as Phineas Nigellus came hurrying into his portrait.

"Headmaster! They are camping in the Forest of Dean! The Mudblood - "

"Do not use that word!" Severus yelled.

" - the Granger girl, then, mentioned the place as she opened her bag and I heard her!"

"Good. Very good!" cried the portrait of Dumbledore behind the headmaster's chair. "Now, Severus, the sword! Do not forget that it must be taken under conditions of need and valor - and he must not know that you give it! If Voldemort should read Harry's mind and see you acting for him - "

"I know," said Severus curtly. He approached the portrait of Dumbledore and pulled at its side. It swung forward, revealing a hidden cavity behind it from which he took the sword of Gryffindor.

"And you still aren't going to tell me why it's so important to give Potter the sword?" said Severus as he swung a traveling cloak over his robes.

"No, I don't think so," said Dumbledore's portrait. "He will know what to do with it. And Severus, be very careful, they may not take kindly to your appearance after George Weasley's mishap - "

Severus turned at the door.

"Don't worry, Dumbledore," he said coolly. "I have a plan…"

And Severus left the room.

"Hello, Hermione." Severus appeared to be talking to himself. "If you're seeing this, I must be dead and you must remember our time together. I am doubtful of you remembering, but I cannot fully give up hope. It is the only thing keeping me alive. I'm sorry you've had to see all my memories, but there is hopefully some good to come of this." He pulled the locket he had given her out of his pocket. "I have created a sort of reverse time-turner. I'm not able to test it, but I trust my work. Some of the ideas came from you, even. If you fold it backwards, it will take you back to sometime within the year you were sent back to your time. You'll only be there for seven minutes. Find me and explain, I should trust you. Give me the choice I never had. The choice for a better life, for hope, for love. All you have to do is give me the locket and if it is put together with the one in the past, I should be able to travel to your future time, within a year of you seeing this. It'll only work for the next minute or so in your time. And please, if he's not with you now, tell Harry that I don't hate him. I love you, Hermione. Always."

And the final memory dissolved.

"Harry?" Hermione whispered, frozen.
"Go. Go, Hermione, he needs you. You'll be back soon enough, we can keep it together without you for a few minutes."
"Thank you, Harry" she hugged him tightly.

Then, stepping back, she closed the silver locket backwards and disappeared.

She stumbled forward as she landed in Dumbledore's office.
"Hermione!" she whirled around and saw Severus staring in shock. She threw her arms around him and kissed him quickly, pulling away much too fast for his liking.
"I only have seven minutes, come with me!" She grabbed his hand and practically dragged him out of the headmaster's office, blatantly ignoring Dumbledore's protests and confused objections, running to the first empty classroom and slamming the door.

"Seven minutes?" he said.

"Just listen! This is going to sound crazy. When I went back, you died. But you left this for me. For us." She held up the locket and he pulled the one he had found from his collar.

"It's like a reverse time-turner. You invented it. You gave me all your memories and told me how this works. It temporarily takes me back here but in seven minutes I'll return to my time. If you put the two together, it will take you forward to my time as well, hopefully. The exact date isn't known, but it should be within a year of now in my time."
He reached for it.

"But you have to know, if you do this, you will see and feel all the memories you gave me and more. It's not an escape, but a way to hopefully be happy again. You wanted to give yourself the choice you never had, with warning. I love you Severus, so much, but I'm not going to tell you what to do. These memories are not happy. You've gone through so much. And we're in the middle of a war in my time, and who knows what condition the world will be in when...if you come. But please take your time to think about it. You can't see the memories until you're moving forward in time. I want you to make the decision for yourself, just know I'll be there, and I'll wait for you if you want. But I understand if you don't want to go through all of it. I love you."

"I love you too."

Their lips met a final time and she pushed the small bit of metal into his hand as she faded away.