A/N#1: I will not make apologies for the long delay in getting this next chapter out. Life inevitably happens. I will, however, assure my readers that I will continue this story through to the end I envisioned so long ago when I started it. In fact, this story started with the first and last chapters well-formed in my mind. It's all the middle ones that are taking time to get put down. I promise you that as long as I am alive, in possession of reasonable mental faculties, and the internet and fanfiction dog org still exist, "Oblivious" will not be abandoned. Since it's been so long, I encourage you to re-read the story from the beginning. Or at least go back to Chapter 10 and read the brief synopis there and the chapters since.

A/N#2: Standard disclaimers about the ownership, copyrights, and works of fan-fiction all still apply. As others have said before me, I am only playing with characters and a world created and owned by another. I expect no, nor am I seeking any, financial gain for my, perhaps misguided wordplay. Enjoy!

Chapter 13

Nymphadora Lupin née Tonks groaned with displeasure as a bright light penetrated her eyelids and shattered her warm, happy dreams of cuddling with a very cute puppy. Throwing a hand over her eyes, she squinted through the gaps in her fingers to see a young, bushy haired woman balancing a tray in one hand while waving a wand with the other to open the drapes. Confused for a moment, Tonks slowly realized that she was in a room in Number 12 Grimmauld Place. She groaned a second time and pulled the covers over her face when she realized that Hermione's tray held several potions bottles.

"Time for your morning potions," the younger woman said softly with a sympathetic smile. She knew what the former auror was going through, having suffered from the same curse cast by Death Eater Antonin Dolohov a year and a half earlier. Thanks to Lupin, Dolohov wouldn't be using that nasty curse ever again. Recovery from the dark spell was slow and painful, but thankfully, eventually mostly complete. Hermione only had a thin pink scar across her chest and she rarely felt any pain anymore, except for an occasional twinge when the weather changed. She set the tray down on the nightstand and pulled the blanket off Tonks' head. "I can always just force it down your throat," she said with a mock fierce expression, holding her wand up threateningly.

"Merlin woman," Tonks moaned in complaint. "You're just as evil as Madame Pomfrey. Have you ever thought of a career in the healing arts?"

"I'll take that as a compliment," Hermione forced a smile. "Are you feeling any better today?" she asked, concern written on her face, as Tonks winced and gasped audibly while pushing herself up to a sitting position. Three days had passed since the fight at the church in Godric's Hollow. Tonks had only been conscious since the previous afternoon, and even then she'd been barely aware of her surroundings. That first evening after arriving at Grimmauld place she'd woken briefly and anxiously quizzed Harry and Hermione about everything that happened at the church. Only when she was assured that her husband, the baby she was carrying, the elves, and the newlyweds were all OK, had she collapsed into painful, but welcome oblivion for the next forty-eight hours.

"Define better," Tonks grunted, settling her tender back carefully against the pillows that Hermione stacked up for her against the headboard. She took the first of the many potions phials that her friend held out to her and scrunched up her face at the smell. "Just like Pomfrey," she muttered as she held her nose and swallowed it in one go, then reached for the next, wanting to get it all over with as quickly as possible. Her hair turned a disgusting shade of green.

Hermione laughed humorlessly. "I'll take your mood as a good sign, Remus warned me you weren't a morning person." After looking the older woman in the face for a few moments, she began busying herself with straightening out the bed covers and assorted items on the dresser.

"Blech!" Tonks whinged once again, finishing the last dose and grabbing desperately at the large glass of water that Hermione offered. Settling back after rinsing the foul tastes from her mouth, she watched the young bride as she puttered around the room distractedly. "What's up, girlfriend?" she asked.

Hermione looked out the window contemplatively for a few moments before responding. "It's Harry," she said softly.

"Uh oh, trouble in paradise?" Tonks said. Seeing the tightlipped, stony expression on Hermione's face, she decided to change tactics. "I know you're not having problems in bed. I mean, you two were at it for hours last night, then again this morning for another couple of hours. Merlin, I thought Wolfie had stamina!"

"What!" Hermione sputtered, turning to look at Tonks with wide eyes. The older woman smiled, pleased at having evoked a response from her unusually morose young friend.

"Oh, I know you put silencing charms up," she smiled, "and thanks for that by the way. But your room is right next door to mine," she added indicating the adjoining wall behind her head. "Let's just say, you might want to move your bed into the middle of the room, or at least put a cushioning charm on this wall."

Hermione looked at the wall, then covering her mouth and turning beet red, she looked back at Tonks, thoroughly embarrassed.

"Maybe some reinforcing spells, too," Tonks continued, deciding to push it even further. "I mean, there were a few times this morning that I thought the two of you were going to come right through the wall and join me in my bed."

"Oh, you…!" sputtered Hermione, finally realizing she was being teased. The two young women laughed until it caused too much pain in Tonks' still raw wound.

"Speaking of Wolfie," Tonks said after they had settled down a bit. "How and where is that husband of mine?"

"As to where, he's downstairs talking with Harry and Mr. Weasley," Hermione replied, sitting on the foot of Tonks' bed. "As to how he is," she said after a pause. "Physically, he's okay. His partial transformation is generally worn off now. At least the fangs and claws are gone. He is still a bit hairy, and his eyes are kind of yellow, and his voice a might gruff….though that's all fading, too."

"I sense a but…," Tonks said worried.

"Well, he's not in the best of moods," Hermione said carefully.

"He hasn't hurt anyone, has he?" Tonks asked fearfully, knowing how temperamental the werewolf could get in the days leading up to a transformation.

"Oh no, nothing like that!" Hermione responded reassuringly. "No, it's just that he's somewhat of an emotional mess. He's worried about you and the baby. He's confused about transforming without a full moon. He's frightened about losing control and potentially hurting people. On top of that, I think he feels guilty…about you getting hurt and just about everything else that happened. He even apologized for 'ruining' our wedding!" Hermione paused before chuckling humorlessly, "Frankly, he's behaving a lot like Harry does. Thinking all things are his fault and his responsibility."

"That's what we get for marrying sensitive blokes," Tonks said with a smile, reaching out to hold Hermione's hand. "They are two of the most powerful men, each in their own way, yet they are also the most brave, caring and…and feeling of men. Sometimes it drives me crazy. But we love them, don't we?"

Hermione nodded, then said thoughtfully, "I suppose if they weren't like that, they wouldn't be Harry Potter and Remus Lupin…they'd be Tom Riddle and Fenrir Greyback." Both women shuddered at that thought.

"Well," Tonks finally broke the pensive silence. "Arthur will talk some sense into Wolfie, and maybe do some good for Harry, too. He's a levelheaded man."

Hermione nodded, her thoughts turning from their husbands to the Weasley patriarch. In the time since returning to Grimmauld Place from Prewett Manor, they had begun to allow Arthur, alone amongst their captive Order members, a modicum of freedom in the house. He wasn't allowed a wand, and he made a magical oath not to try to leave without permission or to free any of the others. He refused a room of his own, preferring to sleep in the basement cell across from his wife. He spent much of the day talking to her, trying to convince her that Dumbledore had been wrong for what they had done to Harry and Hermione. He had hopes that she was coming around. Hermione still had serious doubts, but was further convinced of Mr. Weasley's good intentions. He was a good man, if anyone could talk sense into Remus, or Harry for that matter, it would be Arthur Weasley.

Tonks interrupted Hermione's thoughts once again. "Getting back to you and Harry, you never answered my question. What's wrong, girlfriend? What's Harry done this time to have you all glum looking?"

"It's not his fault, really," Hermione said. "It's just this whole bloody situation. The prophecy. Tom Riddle after him. Dumbledore and the Order mucking about with his mind, and his life. It's driving me crazy with worry. I don't know how he can take it. Sometimes I just want to curl up in a ball and cry. Other times I want to grab him and run as far away as we can from all the danger and insanity. Yet still he goes on, wanting to fight the good fight."

"You didn't mention it," Tonks said squeezing Hermione's hand, "but I know for a fact that you've been right by his side facing the danger and helping him through all of the insanity as you call it." Hermione nodded reluctantly. The thought of being anywhere but at Harry's side never entered her mind, nor would it ever. "Honestly, Hermione, with what you two have been through, I'm surprised the both of you aren't sharing a room on the mental ward at St. Mungo's."

Hermione smiled at the truth of the comment. "Harry is a man of action," she said. "This morning he wanted to go running off to Hogwarts to look for anything Professor Dumbledore might have left behind regarding destroying horcruxes. He can't stand sitting around waiting for things to happen. He wants to make them happen. After all we've been through, I thought he would be more agreeable to a little planning before acting."

"Did you two fight?"

"Not really," Hermione replied. "It was more of a heated discussion. I did get him to postpone going until we could discuss things with everyone. Part of me is relieved he saw some sense. Another part of me is feeling guilty for arguing with him."

"Like you said, Harry's a man of action. You, on the other hand, while no slouch in the action department, are primarily a thinker and planner. At least he's listening to you now, instead of just rushing off half-cocked. From what I saw before you went to Godric's Hollow, Harry appreciates how good a team you two make. You balance each other out, both in weaknesses and strengths."

Hermione smiled at Tonks and brushed her curly hair out of her eyes, tying it in a loose knot behind her head. She idly wondered once again why it had grown back after the fight at the church. Harry thought it had something to do with stress. She was meaning to cut it short again, but just hadn't found the time. Reining in her stray thoughts to the discussion at hand, Hermione admitted her deep-seated fear, "I just don't want him to think I'm manipulating him. He's had enough of that in his life. But I also want him to see reason."

"I know I've only been married two months longer than you two, but I have been part of teams in both the Auror Corps and the Order of the Phoenix for a lot longer than that. Marriage, like other forms of teamwork, involves compromise," Tonks said sagely. "You both have to give and take to make it successful." Hermione nodded at the advice, feeling somewhat better. "With a passionate guy like Harry, my advice to you, Hermione," Tonks summed up, "is to remain flexible."

Harry chose that moment to walk into the bedroom. Having only heard Tonks' last sentence, he immediately commented, "I'll have you know, Tonks, that my wife is very flexible. In fact," he continued with a cheeky grin, "did you know that Hermione can put her feet behind her…"

"Harry!" squealed Hermione, cutting her husband off and turning deep red in the face again.

Remus entered the room only a few steps behind Harry. "Did someone mention flexibility?" he asked. "Having a limber body is a great advantage. It gives you more stamina for wand work and helps the magic flow more freely." Tonks guffawed loudly while Hermione put her face in her hands muttering curses under her breath.

Arthur came into the room next and looked around at the various expressions on everyone's face with some confusion. "What are we talking about?" he asked innocently.

"Hermione's flexibility," chorused Harry, Remus, and Tonks together.

"Really?!" Mr. Weasley said brightly. "You may not believe it to look at her, but Molly's really flexible, too. Did you know," he said conspiratorially, "that she can put her feet behind her…"

"Enough!" shouted Hermione shrilly, jumping up from the bed to emphasize that she wanted to hear no more about the topic. "Remus, you go to the library and write down everything you know, or even suspect about the protections on Hogwarts," she ordered forcefully. "Arthur, you go interrogate Mr. Shacklebolt about what he knows about horcruxes and how Professor Dumbledore planned on getting rid of them. Tonks, you just shut up and get some rest."

"I love it when she takes charge," Harry whispered to a surprised Remus.

"Harry!" Hermione commanded, "You go to our room and wait for me there." Harry smiled, recognizing the smoldering look in his wife's eyes. He'd seen that look many times during their stay at the inn in Shere. He liked what it foretold.

"Everyone meet back here in two hours and we'll start planning for Harry's and my visit to Hogwarts,"

"Yes, Hermione," the men all shouted, snapping to attention and rushing out of the room, leaving the two women alone.

"Don't forget about reinforcing the wall," Tonks smirked as Hermione started out the door. The young witch turned, and with a devilish smile of her own, waved her wand. Tonks screamed the other's name when the walls, ceiling, bedcovers, and even her nightgown were all emblazoned with giant glowing letters spelling out "Property of Nymphadora."

Severus Snape strode purposefully across what was formerly the office of Albus Percival Wolfric Brian Dumbledore. Pausing at the door, the latest headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry turned his hook-nosed, permanently scowling face back to look at the portrait of his former superior.

Dumbledore's image leaned forward with a stern, yet questioning gaze. "Severus?"

"I will honor my oaths, Albus," Snape snapped at the painting in answer to the painting's query. Pulling his wand, he cast a disillusionment charm on himself before sweeping down the spiral staircase, his black robes swirling and billowing about him like the wings of a bat. Because of the charm, anyone watching would have seen nothing more than a fluttering shadow. Only the gargoyle guarding the stairs heard him mutter under his breath, "All of my oaths."

The shadow that was Snape slipped easily past the two Death Eaters stationed at the front door of the castle without arousing an alarm. Being headmaster had its privileges and what he must do this night, he must do alone, without the eyes of his other master's spies watching. It was a cold, moonless night, unusually cold even for the first of October in the highlands of Scotland. The Dark Lord's servants at Hogwarts didn't see the small clouds of Snape's breath in the darkness outside the castle.

If those spies had truly been paying attention, they would have noticed when, moments later, the branches of the Whomping Willow across the grounds briefly ceased moving and a shadow slid into the gap in the tree's roots.

After a few minutes passage through a dank tunnel and up a set of creaking stairs, the shadow paused at the door to a room in the Shrieking Shack. Inside, two young people sat on a dusty bed, their heads close together as they held a quiet conversation, looking down at a piece of folded parchment on their laps. Snape watched them for a moment before undoing the charm on himself. He stood tall and swept into the dingy room, robes billowing and wand menacingly aimed at the couple.

"I expected this level of stupidity from you, Potter, but I thought that Miss Granger would know better," he snarled at the youths, who, maddeningly didn't even show surprise or fear at his sudden appearance. "Did you not think that I would monitor all entrances to Hogwarts, especially this one?"

"Actually, we counted on it, Professor," Harry said with a small smile, causing Snape's scowl to deepen. The arrogant upstart calmly folded the parchment and put it in his pocket as he talked.

"And it isn't Miss Granger anymore," his insufferable companion added with a broadening smile and a wave of her left hand. "It's Mrs. Potter now."

Snape's face was granite as he stared at her silently for several long seconds, then the corner of his right eye began twitching. "I presume you've regained your memories and have are once again acting out your foolish teenage romance novel fantasies, Potter."

"Don't hate me because, unlike you, I was lucky enough to marry my best friend," Harry said quietly. Snape turned sharply from glaring at Hermione to look at him.

"Why are you here?" he hissed, again pointing his wand at Harry. "Do you have a death wish? Have you come to surrender to the Dark Lord? I only have to say his name and he'll be here within moments. He will take great pleasure in forcing you to watch as he tortures your ...wife...," the greasy haired man spat. "Do not think he will spare any humiliation. Others of his followers will gladly join in the depravity, making perverse use of her as they see fit. Is that what you want for her? For yourself, Potter?"

"Sev," Harry said softly, swallowing back the fear and disgust that the other man's threatening words brought to his throat.

"You dare?!"

"I mean no disrespect," Harry said, his voice hitching only a little at the angry red face of his once hated potions professor and tormentor. "It's what my mother once called you, isn't it? It might have been what I called you if you had remained the close friends you once were."

"Be quiet!" Snape bellowed in a rage. "Do not...!" he stopped abruptly, the veins on his forehead threatening to burst. He struggled, sputtering, to regain his self-control. "Do not," he repeated with a deathly calm voice after a few moments. "Do not speak of things that cannot be undone."

"But there are certain things that can be undone, Professor," Hermione said with a quavering voice, belying the fear she was trying so hard to quell. This confrontation had seemed so less frightening while they were planning it in the comfort of their home in the days since their disastrous wedding night. She swallowed and forged ahead. "We know you've been helping Harry all along. That's why we're here, to ask your help again, your help in the undoing of some of those things."

"What…things?" Snape said looking at the young woman with such intensity that she thought she might be fatally pierced by his gaze.

"Horcruxes," Harry replied, voice just above a whisper.

Snape stepped back as if that word had carried a sharp blow. His dark, beady eyes shifted back and forth between the two teens who now stood holding hands in front of him, looking back at him with pleading eyes. Soft brown eyes on the one and bright green eyes on the other, familiar eyes that pulled at his past with such heart-rending, yet uplifting emotions. He recalled the oaths he had sworn in the name of the woman who also had eyes like that. Suddenly Snape lowered his wand and chuckled, breaking into a true smile. The teens gaped at him in confusion, never having even imagined that his scowling visage was capable of such an expression.

"This is not going at all like Albus wanted," he sniggered.

"We're no longer following Dumbledore's Plan," replied Hermione boldly.

"Obviously," he said, the smile still lingering on the corner of his lips. "As he would be quite put out to discover." Snape turned and walked over to the window, gazing through the filthy pane at the lights of Hogsmeade twinkling in the cold night across the valley. "There are many who are loyal to him even after his death. Members of the Order who would stop at nothing to bring you back onto the path he envisioned for you."

"We know," Harry said sadly. "We've ...encountered... some of them."

"How about you, Professor?" Hermione asked gently, stepping next to him and touching his arm. He looked down at her hand, pale and small against the black sleeve of his robes, an understated set of rings on the third finger. Then he looked up into her youthful, still quite innocent face.

"I?" he said, the scowl returning as he shook off her touch.. "I am bound by many oaths, Mrs. Potter…to more than one master. It would be dangerous to trust me."

"You didn't answer Hermione's question, Headmaster," Harry noted, using Snape's proper title for the first time.

The hint of a smile returned to the man's mouth. "Magical oaths are complicated. The wording is of utmost importance. I've learned to... exploit the exact language to circumvent the intent."

"To do what is right?" asked Harry.

"What is it you wish of me?" Snape asked brusquely.

"Two of Tom Riddle's horcruxes have been destroyed," Hermione said. "The diary by Harry in our second year and the ring by Professor Dumbledore last year. We have a third, Slytherin's locket. We need your help to destroy it."

"Headmaster Dumbledore was fatally wounded in the act of destroying that accursed ring," Snape said evenly. "What makes you think you can survive what the greatest wizard since Merlin himself could not?"

"Albus Dumbledore was a great wizard, but he was also human," Hermione said quietly. "He made mistakes. Even he admitted as much to Harry, several times in fact." Snape looked at the young woman, realizing how much had changed for her to question the actions and decisions of the former Headmaster. This, more than any one thing, tipped the scales in his decision to assist them.

"Then you should have this," he said, putting a hand in his cloak and pulling out a ragged lump of leather.

"The Sorting Hat?" questioned Hermione, a look of recognition followed by utter confusion on her face.

"The Sword of Gryffindor!" exclaimed Harry, stepping forward and reaching for the hat, only to find the new Headmaster snatching it out of reach. "What…?"

"Dumbledore left it to you in his will, Harry!" Hermione exclaimed, "but Scrimgeour wouldn't let you have it!" She remembered their rather nasty encounter with the now deceased Minister for Magic on Harry's birthday, what seemed like ages ago.

"The Headmaster anticipated the Ministry's reluctance to part with such a valuable artifact," Snape said. "He did not wish for you to receive the Sword for several months yet. He foresaw, or rather planned, certain events that the delivery of the Sword to your hands would resolve. Given your presence here, and the recovery of your memories, I do believe those events will no longer happen according to his plan."

"With the Sword of Gryffindor we can destroy the locket?" Harry asked, excited, but confused.

"It is a goblin-made blade," responded their former potions instructor as if that explained everything, increasing Harry's confusion.

"Of course!" exclaimed Hermione slapping her forehead after only a moment's contemplation. "Goblin weapons are infused with protective magic! They resist what would destroy normal blades by absorbing that which makes them stronger!" She said the latter as if reciting from a book she read, which Harry had no doubt she was. He was still confused. Seeing the blank look on her husband's face, Hermione asked patiently, "Harry, what did you use to destroy Riddle's diary?"

"A basilisk fang," he replied. It had been the daring hope of obtaining another fang that brought them to Hogwarts this night.

"And what did you use to kill the basilisk?" she asked, trying to lead him to make the conclusions she herself had made in the fraction of a second.

"The Sword of Gryffindor," said Harry slowly, his green eyes starting to light up with understanding. He turned to Snape and asked, "And you think that it absorbed enough basilisk's poison or dark magic or whatever that it can now destroy the horcrux?"

"I do not think," said Snape with barely disguised impatience, "I know."

"Dumbledore used it to destroy the ring!" Hermione exclaimed.

"Very good, Miss Gr…Mrs. Potter."

"What are we waiting for?" shouted Harry reaching once more for the Sorting Hat, only to have it snatched out of his grasp yet again. He looked at Snape with growing anger.

"As I said earlier," Snape responded as if talking to a particularly dense child, "I am bound by many oaths. I cannot allow you to have the Sword at this time, Mr. Potter. However," he said turning to Hermione, "in time of need, the Sword of Gryffindor will come to any worthy member of his House at Hogwarts."

"Me?!" said Hermione in a tone of disbelief and awe. She gasped when she saw a bejeweled hilt appear inside the hat Snape held out toward her. With a shaking hand, she reached out to grasp it. As if reassured by the solid reality of the sword's hilt in her hand, Hermione quickly and boldly pulled the entire length of the blade from the hat and stared at it. She didn't even notice as Harry reached into the beaded bag hanging from her waist and pulled out the warded box containing Slytherin's locket.

"You want me to do it here?" she asked when she finally saw what her husband was holding out.

"Better here than home," Harry said. "No one will wonder about magical backlash or odd noises in the Shrieking Shack." Hermione slowly nodded and Harry opened the box. All three felt the very salient presence of evil as he took the locket out of the warded container and set it on the floor. Snape hissed and took several steps backwards, away from the defiled object. He was quite familiar enough with the Dark Lord's aura to know that the piece of his soul anchored to the locket was angry.

"What do you want me to…" Hermione started to ask, but cut off in surprise as the locket opened on its own. Inside, instead of pictures, were the images of glowing red eyes with slits for pupils. The eyes darted around the room, pausing at each of those present, and stopping when they came to Hermione holding the Sword in shaking hands.

"So," came a hissing voice that seemed to surround them and vibrate in their chests, "a filthy Mudblood dares to challenge the Great Lord Voldemort!" The statement was followed by the most chilling laughter the young woman ever heard. She was forced to take a single step back as a billow of black mist erupted from the open locket. Harry and Snape were thrown roughly against the wall and pinned there. Hermione could see that the professor and her husband were shouting, but all she heard was the howling of wind and the voice from the locket that permeated her very being.

"I know your heart, Hermione Granger. The only child of parents who never wanted children. The insufferable know-it-all who could only make friends if she bought them off by doing their homework. The ugly little girl with the foolish hope of ever being wanted by a real man. The Muggle with aspirations to fit into a magical world where you don't belong. I know your fears, you weak pretender."

The black mist cleared somewhat and out of the locket flowed a silvery substance that coalesced on the floor into the form of a supine body. Hermione gasped and took another step back as she recognized it as an image of Harry. His clothes were torn and burned. His limbs lay askance, as if broken. Worse of all was the vacant stare in his eyes. Out of Harry's body rose a bluish form she immediately identified as a ghost, Harry's ghost. It turned to her and spoke.

"Why Hermione? Why couldn't you save me? I trusted you. I needed you. But you failed me. Why?"

Hermione sobbed as the ghost held its hands out to her, pleading. "No...," she wailed, letting the tip of the sword drop to the floor in front of her.

"My soul is gone forever, Hermione. Voldemort took it and banned it from ever moving on. I shall never know peace because of you."

She closed her eyes from the horrible sight, wanting to be able to close her ears to the accusations as easily. A moment of silence and she heard other voices. Opening her eyes and blinking away the tears, she now saw that in front of Harry's body and ghost stood the silvery forms of two other, older people.

"We are so disappointed in you," said the image of her mother.

"How could you be such a failure?" her father continued shaking his head. "We let you go into the magical world because we knew you'd never succeed in real life. It was our last hope for you to fit in anywhere."

"But you failed us yet again. You're a failure as a daughter," her mother said.

"A failure as both a human and a witch," her father said.

"A failure as a friend," added Harry's ghost, "and as a lover and wife."

"Such a failure," all three intoned angrily.

"How could we ever love such a disappointing child," scoffed her parents. "We are so much better off now without having you around, without even having memories of your failures anymore."

"How foolish are you, Hermione?" asked Harry's ghost. "Did you really believe I could love you? That I could desire such an irritating bitch? You were good for doing my homework and a bit of fun in the sack. Even then," he sneered, shaking his ghostly head, "I had to keep from retching every time I kissed you or had to look at your pathetically ugly body."

Pinned to the wall, the real Harry saw and heard everything. He kept shouting to Hermione that none of it was true, but knew that his wife couldn't hear him. Snape also shouted, "Close your mind! He's reading your thoughts! He's playing on your fears. Try to keep him out!"

Hermione fell to her knees, the Sword of Gryffindor clattering to the floor beside her. She bent over, covering her face with her hands, her shoulders slumped.

Suddenly, Hermione lurched to her feet. She grabbed the sword as she rose, holding it in front of her purposefully. She strode right through the insubstantial figures of Harry and her parents. Raising the sword, she forcefully brought the sharp edge down on the locket. Riddle's voice screamed its anger and pain. Hermione began chopping at the locket. With each swing the screaming became more distant until, with a final gust of wind and flash of light that banished the misty forms forever, the room became silent.

Harry and Snape fell to the floor. They first looked at each other, then at Hermione. She was standing over the horcrux, looking down at it. Harry got up and stepped toward her. "Hermione," he said quietly, reaching out to touch her shaking back.

She turned and Harry was surprised to see that she wasn't weeping. Rather, she was shaking with laughter. She jumped up and gave Harry a tight hug, still laughing heartily and spinning him around in circles. Harry looked over her shoulder at Snape, who seemed as baffled as he. Both men suspected this was some form of reaction to the shock.

"Dumbledore was right," Hermione said once she had recovered enough to speak.

"How so?" queried Harry, leaning back to look at her face.

"Tom Riddle really doesn't understand love, does he?" she said. "He took my nagging fears and tried to use them against me."

"He is a master of manipulation," said Snape, rising from the floor and brushing his robes off.

"Yes, but I'm well aware of my own insecurities and have made some semblance of peace with them," she said with a laugh to both men. "Besides, I do know what love is. Even if all my failures and self-doubts were to be true, I still know that my parents love me no matter what." She grinned broadly, looking into Harry's eyes, "And after seventeen first kisses and a combined total of seventy six obliviations, I have no doubt that what you and I have is real love."