"Yes, I'm well now."
"No, Witch Weekly's article was absurd. A foreign spy? Please."
"Oh, thank you. I suppose I've tanned a bit, haven't I?"
Hermione found herself lingering with Luna Lovegood near the outer edges of the crowd on the Hogwarts grounds, weary from telling people that yes, her health was better, that no, Witch Weekly was just writing nonsense, and yes, I am rather tanned now, aren't I? Luna, ever the perceptive one, had picked up on her unease and was keeping her company while they waited to start the ceremony commemorating the War Memorial. It wasn't anything extravagant; in fact, it was all the more powerful for its simplicity—a white marble obelisk stood about fifteen feet tall in the center of a graceful semicircular wall of magically-reinforced obsidian that was partially sunk into the ground. The obsidian wall had a deep green, almost black sheen with a mirror-like reflective surface, and the wall tapered off so the endpoints were at half height at either end, giving it a lovely crescent-moon feel. Carved into the surface of the obsidian were the names of those who fought or were lost in the Second Wizarding War—which included wizards, Muggles, and non-humans alike at Harry's insistence—which put into stark clarity just how many had been lost in Lord Voldemort's quest for power.
"Something seems to be bothering you," said Luna without looking to her. "You can tell me what it is if you like."
"It's nothing," Hermione said.
Which was a lie, of course, but Luna would know that and would know not to press the issue.
Truth be told, she was angry with herself for letting Severus have his way like that. She should have insisted that he was spouting nonsense—that he should have known better than to think of himself in that way—but it would have to wait until after today. After the ceremony and dinner at the Burrow, Hermione had every intention of immediately taking a portkey back to Hawaii to knock some sense into that man. Or kiss him senseless. Perhaps both, and not necessarily in that order.
The thought of returning to finish what he had started ignited a small flame in Hermione, and because of it, she found herself growing more and more able to bear the relentless remarks about her health and her tan. She hadn't looked all that tan back in Hawaii, but she supposed that she did look rather darker when compared to some of the pasty-white people attending the ceremony. Luckily for her, the temperature outside warranted warm clothing—otherwise she would have had to endure people taking notice of the tan lines from her tank tops.
"Did you get a good look at the wall yet?" came Luna's rather dreamy voice as she turned to peer at Hermione.
"No, I haven't."
"I'm going to look for gillywracks by the wall—they like dark surfaces. Would you like to come?" she asked. Hermione stifled a smile—she was the same old Luna, still looking for creatures of questionable existence—but nodded and followed her around the crowd and to the end of the wall closest to them.
The wall was breathtaking up close: it stood about seven feet high at its tallest point and was covered in thousands of names engraved into the glossy surface—a small, elegant symbol beside the name indicated whether the individual was a magical human, a Muggle, or a non-human. The wall was enchanted to repel fingerprints, remaining pristine even after the innumerable gentle touches that the visitors were reverently placing upon it. Hermione could see herself reflected in the obsidian as she slowly walked the length of the wall reading the names carved into it. If the wall was straightened out, it would have been over a hundred feet long. She felt her throat briefly seize up when she found Albus Dumbledore's name, and again when she encountered Sirius Black and Remus Lupin. James and Lily Potter. All those innocent Muggles murdered.
A quiet laugh escaped her lips. What would the world think of him now, lounging around on the other side of the world in penguin shirts and board shorts?
"Good morning, Hermione."
Hermione turned to find Professor McGonagall standing behind her and smiled. "Hello, Professor! How are you?" she asked cheerily.
"I'm well, thank you. It's a pleasure to see that you're fully recovered," said McGonagall. She began walking off toward the outer fringe of the crowd of people, looking at Hermione over her glasses expectantly. Hermione followed immediately.
When they were sufficiently far from the thickest groups of people, McGonagall turned her head slightly toward her. "I heard from Potter that you've managed to cure Mr. Prince," she said lightly, as though they were simply discussing some academic journal while strolling through the grounds.
"I have. I believe he will be fine now," said Hermione, smiling but directing her gaze at the ground.
"My dear, you really are something," McGonagall said, flashing Hermione a smile. She paused briefly, looking out at the trees of the forest in the distance before giving Hermione a sidelong glance. "Potter did mention something else that intrigued me. He spoke of seeing you on the beach with him the other day."
Hermione stiffened a little and hesitated before simply answering, "Ah, that."
"Oh, don't misunderstand, it's not that I disapprove," said McGonagall, and Hermione could've sworn that McGonagall gave another thin smile. "It's good for him. For the both of you, I think."
"I—I see. Thank you," Hermione said uncomfortably. Really, was no one going to be surprised? She was the one involved with the man, and yet she had been the most surprised out of everyone.
"It seems that the ceremony will be starting. We'd better join them on the stage," McGonagall said when they saw Kingsley Shacklebolt, Harry, and others beginning to gather on the low stage set up in front of the marble obelisk.
She and McGonagall joined the small assortment of people on the stage, Hermione immediately straightening her posture and switching to Hermione Granger, Celebrated War Heroine. It wouldn't do to look droopy and depressed on stage, not when the wolves that were the media would pick up on every little thing that occurred within public view. Her smile façade was up in full force—a defense she developed against the photographers and journalists that took note when public figures were troubled—while Kingsley, as the Minister of Magic, and Professor McGonagall, as Hogwarts Headmistress, each shared a small speech with the audience about the purpose and significance of the War Memorial.
Once McGonagall finished, Hermione stepped forward to share a few impromptu words with the crowd staring up at her—a speech was implicitly expected of her as she was the brilliant Hermione Granger, after all. Though she was delighted that the Memorial was complete and deeply believed in what it stood for, her words were not extraordinary in any way and was nothing the people watching her in rapt attention would not have heard in the ten years leading up to the Memorial's construction. But still they applauded as though she had said something revolutionary, which was fine with her. In any case, she expected that Harry would be able to rouse them more than her perfunctory words. He was good at stirring up spirits and would close the ceremony on a good, resounding note.
And Harry delivered. By the time he finished his speech, speaking of the dangers of the pureblood superiority complex and (Hermione felt that he was channeling his inner Dumbledore at this point) the unifying power of love and the crucial role that choice played throughout the war, Hermione could see several faces in tears among the sea of people before the stage. Her smile widened in amusement as she blinked her own tears away; it was almost shocking how good Harry had become at this sort of thing in the ten years since the war.
"That was brilliant, mate. Work on it long?" Ron murmured as they all left the stage and headed toward the group of photographers waiting for them by the end of the obsidian wall.
"All week," Harry replied quietly, visibly stifling a grin. "Made Ginny cry when I practiced it with her."
"You're becoming quite the public speaker," Hermione said as an industrious photographer quickly arranged them—the Trio, Minister, Headmistress, and a few other people instrumental in the construction of the Memorial—for the benefit of the other photographers waiting anxiously to take their pictures.
"You weren't too bad yourself for having only a few hours' notice," said Harry after the bright flashes of the cameras died down. Another photographer pulled the three of them away from the Minister and Headmistress and was immediately joined by a few other photographers. Once they were satisfied, he gave her a sidelong glance, "I take it the professor wasn't all that eager to come. He's not here, is he?"
"No, he stayed home." Hermione found that it didn't bother her as much as it did earlier in the morning; she was going to go back and berate him about it, after all. Ron gave a laugh.
"I really thought he'd show up," he said, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his robes. "How great would it have been if he showed up in that pink shirt?"
Hermione snorted in amusement and the image of Severus showing up in shorts and a pink shirt to the Memorial commemoration. Surely, everyone would think that Armageddon was upon them.
"Hey, Hermione, Professor McGonagall gave us permission to visit Dumbledore's portrait—Ginny, Ron, and I," Harry said once all the photographers had their fill of picture-taking. "Do you want to come?"
Of course she wanted to. So as the castle house-elves were preparing the light refreshments outside near the Memorial, they made their way to the castle. She and Ginny—who had left her children in the care of her parents for the time being—used the time to catch up on all the things she had missed during her jaunt in Hawaii, and in turn, Hermione told her of all the things she did during her little holiday on the island. Well, most of the things, anyway; it seemed that Harry hadn't revealed to her that the gentleman who had nursed her back to health was none other than Severus Snape, and she just barely managed to stop herself from mentioning him and instead detailed her stories using Danny's name in lieu of his.
Hermione felt a wave of nostalgia overcome her when they finally reached the Headmistress's office—she used to visit often and have tea when Professor McGonagall had free time, but as the both of them grew busier over the years, their visits dwindled in number. The office was a much less mysterious place now that Professor McGonagall had taken over: it was a practical room obviously meant for business, but there were a few personal effects like a small tartan tablecloth on one of the spindly tables that used to host Dumbledore's curious instruments, and a tartan tin of biscuits sat where Dumbledore's bowl of sweets du jour used to sit. Hermione peered over by McGonagall's large desk and found that several of the headmaster portraits were fast asleep, but Dumbledore's was wide awake and his eyes were twinkling away at them.
Severus's portrait was conspicuously empty.
"What a pleasure to see all of you again," said Dumbledore, beaming. "How did the ceremony go?"
"Harry had them crying after two minutes," Ron laughed, grinning.
"It really was quite a moving speech, though. I wish you could have heard it, Professor Dumbledore," Hermione added as Ginny gave Ron an irritated, sisterly shove.
"Really, guys, it wasn't that good," Harry said bashfully, laughing and stuffing his hands into his pockets.
Dumbledore gave a jovial laugh that reminded Hermione of the Dumbledore during her school days. "Perhaps Minerva will have a transcript for me later, then," he said, and as Harry laughed again, Hermione suddenly found Dumbledore's attention turned to her. "I heard from Minerva about your condition, Miss Granger. Is it safe to assume that you are fully recovered?"
"Yes, I am. I'm perfectly fine now," she said brightly.
"She also cured the professor."
Dumbledore looked from Harry to Hermione in delight. "Is that so? That is great news indeed. You never cease to amaze, my dear," he said, his smile dazzling. Ginny turned to give Hermione a perplexed look.
"It's—a long story. I'll tell you later," Hermione said, and though Ginny gave her and Harry rather doubtful glares, she didn't protest. Hermione glanced at Severus's empty portrait frame, then back to Dumbledore. "Where is Professor Snape's portrait?"
"Well, it was the most curious thing," Dumbledore said thoughtfully, though the look on his face suggested that he knew more than he let on. "Something was troubling him last night, and he stormed out of the frame when I asked about it."
"I've heard he was sulking in the third floor corridor," Phineas Nigellus interjected. "Won't speak to anyone."
Even through the portrait canvas, Dumbledore's eyes seemed to see right through her, as though to say, "Do you know anything about this?" This news seemed to surprise the others in the room, and soon Hermione found everyone staring at her curiously.
"Is that right?" she said, doing her best to feign nonchalance at both the news of Portrait Severus's temper and Dumbledore's piercing eyes. Portrait magic was something Hermione wasn't too well-read in, but if she recalled correctly, portraits of people still living were linked to their originals. So if Portrait Severus was upset, then surely that meant the actual Severus was as well—and the idea only strengthened her desire to return to Hawaii the next day.
"Well, you'd better get back to the Memorial. No doubt they'll be looking for you," Dumbledore said brightly, as though the matter was suddenly resolved.
"I suppose. It was nice seeing you again, Professor," Harry said, a slight frown on his face.
"What professor were they talking about, Hermione?" Ginny asked after they bid goodbye to the portraits in the office and made their way out of the castle.
Hermione wanted to tell Ginny, she really did, but she felt it would probably be best to ask Severus's permission first before revealing him to anybody. "An institute professor in America," Hermione lied, giving Harry and Ron quick looks and hoping they would give her some support. "He was sick and thought nobody could cure him."
"Yeah, we met him when we went to visit," said Ron casually. "You should've seen him, Ginny. Kept coughing up blood everywhere. I thought he was a goner."
Ginny was convinced—or seemed to be, anyway. "Poor bloke," she said. "That's great that you helped him out."
They all parted once they reached the Memorial area again, with Harry and Ginny leaving to relieve Molly and Arthur Weasley of their children and Ron going off to find Lavender Brown. Hermione felt rather alone right then, even though she was surrounded by people, so she had half a mind to look for Luna and join her in searching for whatever creature it was she had been looking for earlier. Gillbacks, was it? But Luna was nowhere in sight, and she didn't really care to talk to anybody that was in sight; they were all rather older Ministry employees that were busy talking to others.
However, she did catch a glimpse of Marcus Matthews in the crowd and quickly turned to make for the refreshment tables. Matthews was the man high up in the Department of Mysteries that had apparently ordered Richard to interrogate and investigate her back in Hawaii, and she was not in the mood to deal with him or anybody else at the Department quite yet. She picked up a small plate from the end of the table and absently stared at the food spread out before her. She settled on taking a small bunch of grapes and a cute snack-sized éclair and wandered around the fringe of the significantly thinned crowd. A few people stopped to greet her and chat a bit—she ran into Arthur Weasley and had a short discussion with him about the internet ("I just registered for an electric mail address!"), then encountered Neville and talked for a bit about how he was handling being a Hogwarts professor ("It's hard to not want to smack some students in the face…").
"Hermione," she heard a voice say when Neville took his leave, and then felt a soft tap on her shoulder.
Danny Takahashi was standing behind her, a surprisingly somber expression on his face.
"Danny! What are you doing here?" Hermione said in alarm. What might have happened to prompt him to go all the way to Hogwarts just to talk to her?
"Can we talk?" he asked, looking around furtively as he adjusted his deep green scarf.
They walked off a little ways toward the forest, stopping just before the tree line, Danny carefully making sure that his back was to the rest of the crowd. "What are you doing here, Danny?" Hermione asked. "Did something happen?"
"N-no, everything is fine back home. I just…had to come," he said, a pained expression on his face. Hermione frowned in confusion at his words—not because of the actual words, but rather because of his immaculate English accent. She distinctly remembered Danny being absolutely terrible at imitating any sort of British accent, and yet here he was sounding like a native.
She narrowed her eyes and tensed her muscles, readying herself to whip out her wand.
"No. No, I'm not Danny," he said quietly.
His voice was so subdued that whoever this man was couldn't mean her any harm, and so Hermione turned her gaze upon his eyes, searching their depths to see just who was hidden beneath the mask—
And took a step back in realization.
He swallowed and nodded.
"But…Ron never mentioned that he gave you any Polyjuice!" Hermione sputtered, her heart thumping wildly in her chest. It was a wonder that she hadn't yet collapsed onto the ground.
"He didn't—there was no time. I had a little bit at home. Just enough for an hour," he said. Severus's accent heard in Danny's voice—coupled with the fact that he had dared to show up in Europe and on Hogwarts grounds no less—was throwing Hermione for a loop, pulling at the threads of her mind until it threatened to unravel.
"Just one hour?" she asked in alarm, her mind reeling. One hour worth of Polyjuice couldn't have much more than the dregs at the bottom of the bottle. "How long have you been here?"
Danny-Severus glanced at his pocket watch. "Forty-five minutes."
"What? But why—"
"I couldn't find you after you finished taking photos," he said quickly. "Hagrid had disappeared as well, so I thought you and your friends might have gone to visit his home. Clearly I was wrong."
"We were visiting Dumbledore's portrait. But Severus—!" Hermione watched in horror as Danny-Severus's hair began growing longer, his brown eyes turning to a dark black, his nose elongating...
…Until Severus Snape finally stood before her on the Hogwarts grounds.
"Merlin, Severus, what happened to your face?" Hermione gasped. There was a purplish blotch underneath his left eye that exacerbated the startlingly dark lines underneath his eyes. She'd not been gone a twenty-four hours and he already looked like he hadn't slept in days—it wasn't difficult to see why his portrait had been so upset, if his bedraggled face was anything to go by.
"About a minute after you left, Danny called me an asshole and, I quote, 'a fucking retard,'" said Snape, the ghost of a smirk briefly appearing on his weary features as Hermione put a hand to her mouth in shock. "I tried to ignore him, so he punched me in the face."
"But that was hours ago…What are you doing at the ceremony?"
"I thought I would get over it—I thought it wouldn't be any different than getting over her…"
Suddenly, he reached down to take her hand, clutching it tightly in his. "But I realized that it is not. Not this time." His fingers were quivering slightly.
Hermione could barely speak. Her throat seized up and her heart was ready to punch a hole through her ribcage.
"You could have come tomorrow—or later today," she said hoarsely, looking nervously at the crowd milling about obliviously behind him. Severus held her hand tighter.
"I had to come now. While I—while I still have the nerve." His words seemed to resonate in Hermione's heart, and though she understood perfectly, she had one more question to ask.
"Why would you come here? What if someone sees you?" Hermione asked quietly, her voice hardly more than a whisper. "I couldn't live with myself if they found you because of me…"
Severus shook his head and stepped forward so that they were close enough for him to hold her knuckles to his forehead. "No. I've realized that you, Hermione…you are worth it," he whispered, slowly taking her hand from his forehead and gently kissing the back of her hand. The feel of his lips on her skin…A tingle rippled through her body, and she couldn't help but make a tiny gasp of surprise. He smiled. "The rest of the world can go fuck themselves as far as I'm concerned."
"So if you will give this old man a chance…" He was speaking into her knuckles now. "…we can try to make this—you and I—work."
If she'd give him a chance? Was he honestly asking her this? Was this even a question?
Hermione answered by taking his bruised face in her hands and pressing a kiss onto his lips. His mouth spread into a smile underneath hers, and when they finally pulled apart, he pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly as though he would never hold her again.
"You are the best bit of flotsam that I ever found on the beach," he murmured into her ear. Somehow, she knew that if she looked at his face now, she'd find that oh-so-familiar smirk on it.
She laughed into his shoulder, blissfully ignoring the flashing of cameras in the corner of her eye.
"Is that so?"
A/N: Weeeell, that's the end. XD; Sorry, no epilogue for this particular fic since the story I'm going to write comes directly after this one. Again, it'll explain Sinclair's motivation and stuff, and it'll get the whole gang involved. : D
I'm not sure how I feel about this ending. I've never been one for writing romance scenes, so none of this feels right. I feel like it needs some blood and guts and love confessions on the precipice of death and all that jazz. But, I figured that since I always do that kind of thing, it'd be a good challenge to not kill off one or both of the lovers. Ahaha.
I assumed that the headmasters' portraits can leave their frames and wander the rest of the castle. I tried to find evidence of them not doing that, but I couldn't find anything and I can't get to all my HP books to check the actual text. Correct me if I'm wrong, plox.
Thanks for sticking around to the end, everybody! I've never had a story with so many reviews before, so it was all really encouraging. I hope you guys stick around for the next story too.