Authors Note: This is set approximately 12 / 18 months after book 7, Voldemort died but his Death Eaters are still extremely active and the war continues. We'll learn more about those months later in a later chapter. I've been toying with this story concept for quite some time and here goes.
Warning – This is going to be a rather darker story than normal – that said I hope you enjoy.
Sections in italics are set in the past (or are text from a newpaper etc.), sometimes they will be 'dated' but others will not be and will have happened at some point in the past.
The day of the funeral had dawned miserable and grey, a slow but constant drizzle of rain had turned the cemetery into a pool of mud. Rows of mourners were seated on wet chairs and still more people were lined up behind them, everyone was soaked to the skin and shivering. Wind whistled through the trees around the graveyard, the kissing gate was creaking and muffled sobbing completed the eerie soundtrack of grief.
"Today we are here to remember the lives of a very special husband and wife, Harry Potter and Ginevra Weasley Potter. They fought bravely as Gryffindors, loved fiercely and were full of integrity and honour. They chafed against the necessity of going into hiding, not wanting 'The Dark Lord' and his followers to win..."
The mourners listened to the minister, watching two coffins slowly being lowered into a huge hole in the frozen ground. A muffled wail was heard from the front row followed by uncontrollable weeping from several people. The soft but hollow sounding thud resounded across the graveyard as earth began to fill the hole bringing a chilling finality to the service.
In the front row Hermione Granger clung to the arm of her former professor; her long lashes were thick with tears, her alabaster skin was pale, her face drawn and tight, there were dark circles under her eyes. The presence of Minerva by her side was the only thing that kept the young woman from falling to her knees in grief, pain and guilt.
Such was the anguish written plainly on her face that few people wondered at the unusual degree of contact between her and Minerva McGonagall. It was obvious that Hermione needed support and that only the older woman was prepared to give it to her.
At the other end of the front row the Weasley family were huddled together, lost in their mutual grief – except for Ron, who was sitting stiffly in his chair staring at his former friend. The young man radiated an intense fury in Hermione's direction; his rage was the only thing that was keeping him from breaking down and surrendering to his sorrow. It was easier to blame her than himself.
Silently Hermione began weeping, it felt almost as though she had lost everything. The murders of her friends had cost them all dearly and she knew that the repercussions would continue for quite some time. She tightened her grip on Minerva, praying that this day would finally end.
Later that day
Hermione dropped her wet cloak over the fire guard watching as Minerva followed suit. Her black dress was rather damp but she paid it little heed now that they were back in the warmth of their flat. "I need a drink... Minerva?"
The young woman moved over to the well-stocked drinks cabinet and took out a decanter of muggle whisky, picking up two elegant crystal glasses and pouring a hefty slug of alcohol into each. Quick economical steps brought her to the coffee table where she put Minerva's on a coaster. Hermione sat down draining her glass in two gulps, she cupped it in her hands looking down as though she had never seen it before.
Minerva meanwhile was pacing backwards and forwards across the floor, looking like a caged animal desperate to escape or attack. The flat which had once been so full of love and joy was silent, was almost as silent as the graves that they had left behind.
"I can't help but feel guilty." The young womans voice was soft but not hesitant – she had to say what was on her mind, had needed to say it ever since that terrible night a week ago... The night that had changed everything. Wordlessly she summoned the decanter and prayed that Minerva would join her.
The older witch did come and sat on the sofa, next to Hermione but somehow seeming like she was much further away. "Mione... you have nothing to feel guilty about." There was a flatness to her words, almost as though she didn't believe what she was saying and she refused to meet the younger womans gaze.
Anger erupted in Hermione, coursing through every vein as she lept from her seat. "Like you don't feel it yourself!" She paused and lowered her voice slightly, unable to sustain it after so long in silence. "You barely even touch me any more – let alone anything else!"
Emerald green eyes hardened, looking up finally, "So this is about sex?" She took a swig of the amber liquid in her glass.
"Yes... No..." Hermione shook her head, "This is about US Minerva... I... I miss you." Her breath hitched, "I look into your eyes and it's like you aren't even there." With shaking hands she reached out and poured herself another drink. "And I don't know how to fix it."
Minerva was silent for a few minutes, she was considering the truth in Hermione's words. The younger woman had always been extremely perceptive but right now she didn't want to hear the truth. When she finally spoke, her words were halting at first but then came out in a rush. "We... were... together... when they were killed. I cannot forget that. People are starting to question the true nature of our relationship. Mr Potter and Miss Weasley are quite possibly dead because of it. I am not sure that I can do this any more Hermione."
Chocolate eyes widened, full of pain at the enormity of what her lover had just said. She had to try and salvage something. "But neither of us is responsible." It was scarcely more than a whisper.
Minerva's voice was tight, carefully controlled, "If you had not been in my bed would you... have been there?"
They stared at each other for a long time without speaking. Hermione's reply was so quiet that only animagus hearing could have picked it up, "Yes."
The older witch let her body sag against the sofa, her entire posture and body language screaming defeat. "I cannot let personal feelings or entanglements get in the way of... my career... or my work with the Order." A tired hand rubbed across elegant features, "I should have known better... I should never have allowed this to start in the first place." She clung to the simple excuses that were little better than lies.
"So, what...? After eight months you are going to throw me away because our relationship isn't convenient? Minerva, we can get through this. I love you and I know that you love me."
"That is not the issue!" The words were clipped, pure Professor McGonagall.
"I am sorry Hermione." The older witch stood and started to gather her belongings. The only sign of how distraught she truly happened to be - was the fact that she had forgotten to use magic. She blindly grabbed a handful of books from the shelf and headed into the bedroom. Her face was tight and pale as though she was trying to repress all emotion.
Minerva couldn't stop moving, the frantic pace was the only thing that kept her from crying or changing her mind. She tossed a suitcase onto their bed, threw the books inside and began to grab clothing out of the dresser. Habitual neatness was forgotten as she stuffed whatever came to hand into the small case.
She turned to see Hermione in the doorway, the young woman still had an empty glass in her hand – the part of Minerva's brain that was still clinical remembered when they had picked out the set together, how happy they had been... She forcibly repressed the memory, the last thing she needed to think about was them setting up the home that she was in the process of destroying.
"So... It's over because you say it's over?"
"It has to be this way." There was not even the slightest amount of regret in Minerva's voice, so tightly had she bound her emotions.
"Get out!" Hermione's words were quiet but spoken with an underlying pain and fury. Grief-stricken chocolate eyes met green orbs filled with something like agony.
Clutching her case in one hand Minerva walked past Hermione and opened the front door. "I really am sorry." Without a backwards glance she left, closing the door quietly behind her. Paying no heed to the sounds of sobbing and breaking glass.
The following week
"Continuing in our coverage of the murder of Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley, The Daily Prophet has breaking news of what seems to be a rift between the two remaining members of the Golden Trio. As previously reported by our own Rita Skeeter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger were not even talking at the funeral. We have discovered that Miss Granger sent an owl to The Order of the Phoenix resigning from the organisation, two days later.
We have been unable to obtain a comment from Miss Granger who is in seclusion in her Sussex home. Head of the Order Minerva McGonagall refused to comment when asked about the rift but did issue a statement about membership being voluntary and that any Order member could resign at any time. When asked why Hermione Granger sent an owl rather than appearing in person McGonagall again refused to comment.
We will bring you more details on this in a future edition."
Five Months Later
The only sound in the flat was the scratching of a quill and the crackling of the fire. It was calm and peaceful, almost like a library. There had been few changes since Minerva had left; the gaping holes in the bookcase had been filled by new volumes and she had moved a desk into the living room. The smashed drinks cabinet had been removed but not replaced.
Hermione cocked her head and stopped her note taking, listening for that unaccustomed noise that had disturbed her peace a few moments ago. The knock came again and she dropped her quill, standing up and facing the door. Instinct and memory told her who stood on the other side – only one person in the world had a knock that distinctive.
A year earlier
Ginny had snuck out of the bedroom they shared in the Order safe house to go and see Harry, leaving Hermione alone. She swiftly brushed her chestnut curls and sprayed on some perfume, knowing that her friends departure would have been noticed. A decisive but quiet knock came on the door and she rushed to let in her lover.
Swift but passionate kisses followed, the two intertwined women falling onto the bed. Hermione's hands slid into Minerva's shirt, caressing eager skin. They tore themselves apart when they heard someone coming up the stairs. "I hate this... hiding... sneaking around to be together."
"It's not forever Minerva... um... I pick up the keys to my new flat next week. Now that it's a bit safer we can get out of this bloody house... Everyone is going their own separate ways in any case... If you want to..?"
"You want me to move in with you?"
Moving numbly as if in a dream Hermione reached out and opened the door, her pulse was racing and her heart was hammering in her chest. Standing on the other side was a rather sheepish looking Minerva McGonagall.
"Hello." The husky timbre in the Scottish brogue, washed over Hermione's senses like a warm embrace, achingly familiar. She closed her eyes for a long moment, letting herself bask in the remembered glow.
They stared for a few minutes, just drinking in the sight of each other.
"May I come in?" No one who knew Minerva would have recognised her voice in that moment, it was shaking as much as her hands were. The younger woman stepped back, not trusting herself to speak.
She watched the older witch walk into the sitting room, watched as she surveyed the familiar surroundings. "I... I'm going to make a pot of tea." Hermione retreated into the kitchen and held onto the sideboard for desperately needed support.
Minerva walked over to the desk, glancing down at the papers neatly stacked on it – using the distraction of the notes to steady herself. Emerald eyes sought the archway into the kitchen, both calmed and agitated by the knowledge that the woman she loved was only a room away. She drifted over to the sofa and sank into the cushions.
Hermione smiled hopefully up at her. "Sit down and see how comfortable it is."
"It is a lot of money for a second hand settee."
"Sit." The smile was intimate now, laughter in her tone. Minerva sat down unable to muffle a sigh of contentment – it had been a long day of shopping in muggle Chichester and she was exhausted, "I told you so."
"It is a little tatty. Distressed even."
"Vintage... it's got character."
The shopkeeper had retreated into the back of the muggle antique shop, giving the two women some privacy. Minerva glanced around to check that they were alone and slid her arm around the younger witch – pulling her to rest against a slender shoulder, dropping a soft kiss on coral lips. "And you really have your heart set on this?"
Minerva stood pulling her wallet from her shoulder bag and raised her voice, "We'll take it!"
An elegant hand ran over the scratched leather arm that was as familiar to her as the furniture in her rooms at Hogwarts. She waited for several minutes until Hermione finally came out of the kitchen with a tea tray, the younger woman was obviously avoiding her eyes and sat nervously on the other end of the sofa.
Another minute passed by in silence. "I got an advance copy of your book."
Hermione finally looked up and took a ragged breath, "What did you think?"
"Brilliant. You have an engaging way of addressing your subject... bringing magical history to life, as it were." She smiled tremulously, "I am truly impressed."
The younger witch nodded, "The reviews have been fairly good."
"Overwhelmingly good in fact. The Prophet called it groundbreaking."
Hermione swallowed hard, not quite daring to ask what she wanted to – why Minerva was here, she didn't want to jinx whatever had brought the older woman back to their home. "How's work?"
Back on familiar ground the Headmistress relaxed a little. "You know Hogwarts, most things never change. Slughorn wants bigger quarters, the governors are arguing and the Ministry is debating policy."
The young woman picked up a tea cup in hands that were no longer shaking, she brought it to her lips and took a sip. Her chocolate eyes were intently looking into piercing emerald green, watching an inner conflict rage within their depths.
"Hermione I..." Minerva shook her head, pausing for a long moment.
"Don't!" The brunettes voice cracked and she put the cup back onto the tray with a clatter, a few steps took her to the window. She stared out at the darkness. "Don't you dare say that you're sorry..." She rested her head against the cool glass, unable to cry - too many tears had already been shed in the last five months and now she only felt numb. Her tone dropped to a barely audible whisper, "Not unless you mean it."
Minerva stood and couldn't stop herself from walking over to Hermione, couldn't help but slide her arms around the slender waist, needing to comfort the younger witch. "I missed you." Another minute passed in silence, the two women trembling in an awkward embrace – something had to give.
When the younger witch turned around Minerva didn't release her arms, in fact she tightened her grip. They were face to face with only inches between them, both breathing faster than normal – the very air was charged, eyes were bright with emotion. Hermione raised a shaking hand to cup the older womans cheek, caressing the soft skin.
They both began moving forward at the same moment, lips seeking the familiar comfort of their mate. Passion flared brightly between them, wiping away everything that had happened in the last five months and in that timeless moment they were just two women very much in love.
Minerva couldn't sleep, she was desperately tired but unable to drop off. Thoughts of the younger woman had been interrupting her rest for months – finally unable to resist the overwhelming need that had built up inside her, she had come to see Hermione.
Brunette curls rested on her bare shoulder, soft breath caressed her skin and the familiar scent of her lover filled her nostrils. She honestly had never intended to end up in Hermione's arms, much less her bed but the events of the previous evening had taken on a momentum of their own.
The Headmistress had never been able to control her need for the younger woman, not since the day when she had first seen love shining up at her from the chocolate eyes of her former student – knowing that her deeply hidden feelings were returned. She buried her face in Hermione's unruly tresses, silent tears cascading down her cheeks. Remembering how their relationship had begun in secret, how they had built a life together in secret, how their secret guilt had torn them apart, how she had destroyed their future in secret and how they would have to move on with their lives – in secret, without even the comfort of each other.
Minerva began to shake; the irrational guilt that she felt over Harry and Ginny's murders and the remorse she had experienced over hurting Hermione was slowly but surely tearing her apart. She couldn't concentrate at work, spending most of her days pacing in her office – thinking about the things that she had lost. The events after the funeral had torn them apart and age obviously did not automatically bestow wisdom because she had no idea how to fix what had happened between the two of them.
She was so focussed on her own misery and inner turmoil that she did not notice the younger witch stirring in her arms. "...Minerva... What's wrong?"
Silent tears turned into choked sobbing, "...Everything."
Hermione turned and sat up, pulling the older womans head to rest on her bare chest. Eyes were brimming with her own tears as she whispered sweet nothings into ebony hair. She couldn't tell Minerva that everything would be ok because she honestly did not know if it would be – or if it even could be.
The sky outside the window began to brighten before the Headmistress managed to stop crying, it was the first time that she had succumbed to what she saw as an indulgence since the day she had left. "I cannot comprehend why this is so hard... so painful."
Hermione tightened her jaw, "Perhaps because you cannot repress your emotions where I am concerned."
Shocked once again by the insight that the younger woman had into her mind, her soul and her heart – Minerva swallowed a sob, closing her eyes for a moment. Hermione was spot on. "In my entire life... nothing... has managed to affect me the way that you do."
Emerald eyes opened wide as Minerva lifted her head gazing into resigned but hard mocha orbs. "But... Nothing has changed in the last five months. I still wake up at night guilty over what happened and our relationship is still as ill-advised as it ever was... I should never have come here last night."
"If that's the way you feel, then no you shouldn't have."
The ebony haired witch pushed herself into a sitting position on the edge of the bed, she lowered her head into her hands and tried to harden her heart, tried to retreat behind the walls that defined Minerva McGonagall. "I have to get back to Hogwarts."
Trying hard to ignore the tone in Hermione's voice Minerva stood and began to dress. She kept her eyes focussed on what her hands were doing and not on the naked temptress lying on the bed that they had shared. She was terrified that if she looked back, she wouldn't have the strength to leave.