Chapter 16

Minerva spun around, wand gripped within her fingers as her hair swished across her shoulder and a spell laid upon her lips; only to feel her shoulders ease at seeing who had entered the infirmary – Hermione.

"Minerva," Hermione moved forward, eyes taking in the woman whom she had needed to see. Needed to ensure that she was in fact, still alive. "I…"

Minerva wanted nothing more than to rush forward, to utter nonsensical reassurances that they would in fact live through this dreaded night; but she couldn't. And she wouldn't. And with a sigh, she turned back to the task at hand – procuring liniments, potions, salves, draughts and a sundry other medicinal supplies to take back to the Great Hall and those in need. "I can use a hand, Hermione." She stated with as little emotion as possible, as she could ill afford to let her heart believe what could be…because what if it didn't come to pass?

"Ahhh…" Hermione willed her legs to move forward as her brain processed why Minerva was in fact here, and at once her gaze flickered about the devastated room. She summoned a large tray while walking the rest of the way; "here." She stated holding it up for Minerva to place a sundry of bottles upon.

"Excellent," she replied as sure fingers picked across the broken bottles and withdrawing whole ones, placing them on the tray; but paused after the first set and peered for an extra moment at the face less than a meter away from her own. "Is the burn superficial or do you need balm?"

Hermione shook her head, "I'm alright," she tried to smile but it was in vain as her lips barely moved as her eyes drunk in the rare moment of Minerva being…herself. Gone was the stalwart, reserved, formidable Deputy Headmistress and in her stead was the woman...whom Hermione yearned to learn more about but was also scared to – because she already cared for Minerva and she hardly knew anything about her. But she couldn't help that she wanted to learn more. Instinctively, she shifted the tray, resting one of the edges on against the lip of the table; freeing up her right hand which she out, "Are you?" She quietly asked as her fingers ghosted across her jaw and moved to the gash along Minerva's cheek.

For a fraction of a second, Minerva thought of trying to hide the truth; but knew the woman before her would see through her obfuscation. "I have a few bruises and scrapes," emerald eyes remaining upon sincere brown ones for a few moments more, "nothing I shan't live through."

The heel of her hand connected with warm flesh as her fingers gently brushed stray ebony strands before coming to rest just beneath Minerva's ear, "Be sure to stay that way."

Minerva pulled back, while reaching her own hand up and taking Hermione's within hers, "I shall endeavor to, but I cannea promise Hermione." She said with unfettered honesty, "Nor will I seek a promise that ya cannea keep." Her thick burr rumbling from her lips, "But I shall wish ya ta be safe." She squeezed cool fingers, eyes remaining upon brown ones for another heartbeat before finally letting Hermione's fingers lose as she turned back to the cabinet, "Please try ta keep your head down while helping Potter."

"I will," Hermione took the second handle, pulling it off the edge of the table, "but I ask that you do the same with regards to the staff and what remains of Hogwarts."

Minerva placed another batch of bottles upon the tray, "Take these to Poppy," she relayed, not answering Hermione's previous comment.

Hermione though remained, "Minerva, I just want you to know…"

"Please, Hermione," Minerva breathed she swallowed her own heartache, "don't." She could see the tears forming in Hermione's eyes, and the undoubtedly matched the ones stinging against her own, as she forced the Deputy Headmistress to return dampening out the woman…as she had a duty to perform, though her brogue still remained. "Please take these to Poppy, and tell her there aren't any more in the hospital's stores; and that I'll try to access her stores in the dungeons."

Hermione wanted nothing more than to drop the precious tray of potions and reach forward and grab Minerva; force her to listen, and for a moment forget that Hogwarts lay in shambles and that the hour was quickly waning until Voldemort and his forces attacked again. But Minerva had disappeared behind the mask she so often wore, and Hermione didn't have the strength to counter it – because what if she tried, and failed? "Be careful, and…Minerva…I will find you after."

Minerva paused mid-turn to glance at Hermione from over her shoulder, a semblance of a smile fluttering across angular, tired features. "I have no doubt." And without another word, Minerva took another step and with a pop; she was gone and her alter-self was scampering out the door as if a Giant had stepped on her tail.


Xoox


Minerva raised an unsteady hand upward as she gazed at the newest edition to the esteemed gallery, "It seems you were the lucky one my friend." She breathed as the fire crackled in the background throwing shafts of light outward in what remained of the Head of Hogwarts office.

He remained quiet, appearing asleep as she lifted the heavy tumbler to her lips and downed the entire glass of amber liquid – relishing the way it burned against the back of her throat.

"Minerva, you should truly see Poppy." Albus gently stated as he peered at his longtime friend and colleague.

"I shall tomorrow," she set her glass down, "she and the healers from St. Mungos are assisting those whom are critical."

"I daresay she, along with Helena, would agree that while you may not be critical; you need immediate medical attention."

"I had far worse this past year between the Carrows and the Death Eaters; let alone the injuries from last summer." With great care, she moved away from the desk making her way to the dust covered chesterfield. "I'll rest a few hours and then see her."

Albus immediately understood, "At the very least, use the Heads of Hogwarts chambers."

"I don't have the energy, Albus." Minerva murmured while waving her hand, banishing most of the soot before easing onto the golden piece of furniture. "Nor the desire," Minerva's voice dying off as her body collapsed onto the sofa utterly fatigued – mind, body and soul.

And as her eyes fell closed, it wasn't the several minute duel she engaged Voldemort with or the way Harry had seemingly sprung to life, or even the rare image of Peeves joining the foray; nor did she wallow in grief at all of bodies of her previous students…rather, her last thought before oblivion finally claimed her was of how elated she had been to see Hermione's distinct hair as she rounded the entry way – and that Hermione had lived…

She had opened her mouth to call out…but the words stalled on her lips as her stomach plummeted while her heart shattered upon seeing the way she was embracing and kissing Ronald Weasley.


Xoxo


Hermione sat down, back to the Burrow as her eyes scanned the last of the evening's twilight; needing to be away from the Weasleys for a few minutes as she absorbed what had happened.

And that they had indeed – won.

And lived.

The sun would indeed rise tomorrow, and she would be able to see it. As would Ron and Harry. After everything they had been through…from the horcruxes to the snatchers and even Voldemort…

She took in a deep, warm breath and slowly let it back out as she eased back against the rock.

I made it, she thought, a smile pulling along her tired muscles. We all did, she mused.

Harry.

Ron.

Luna.

Ginny.

Neville.

Minerva. Her body went rigid as her heart skipped a beat, breath catching at the mere mention of the elder witch's name. She had lived too, thankfully. Hermione had tried to see her; and only managed to see her from afar as immediately following the battle everyone had wanted a moment of her time.

And…then Ron had come to say they were leaving; and the hug she had tried to bestow he had mistaken and kissed her once more.

Confused, she had joined him along with Harry and the rest of the Weasleys; seeking the sanctity of familiarity to enable her to once again find her bearings.

But now after washing, changing into a fresh set of clothes and having a meal; her thoughts moved past the recent days and returned to long, warm summer nights where she had begun to learn and get to know the woman whom she had only known prior as her mentor and Deputy Headmistress – but whom she now called Minerva.

Her heart lifting at the notion that they had both lived.

That despite the odds that had lain before them at the beginning of last fall; they had bested them…and lived.

And as the moon's light began to take shape against the twilight; her heart soared…as she couldn't help but contemplate what could be.

And ultimately, the life she could now possibly have.


Xoxo


a/n: We have come to the end of Could Have; as it was set up to only last the length of Deathly Hallows – existing in the between and in conjunction with canon moments. I had problems finishing this story, in part due to the wide number of flaming and hostile PM's surrounding Chapter 10 involving Severus and Minerva. It made me pause and reconsider at the time, if I wished to finish this story amongst all my other open ones in this fandom – and yes, that included Bonding.

Obviously, I opted to finish this story and am slowly working towards finishing Bonding and will also continue to painstakingly wrap up my other open ones. But the hateful remarks with regards to how dare I post a story in this fandom that involves someone else other than HG/MM and how Minerva cheated on Hermione etc. did leave its mark...sapping the muse/life out of this entire story line. And while it is not because of 'you' who are reading this; that I write this note. I wanted to let those of you who've finished this story and are looking for a sequel to know why I doubt there will be a third and final installment of this series – entitled 'Would Have'. I may change my mind; but I did leave the end of Could Have slightly farther along than originally intended so if 'Would Have' isn't written at least there is a semblance of hope and closure.

Best wishes and I thoroughly hope you have enjoyed this piece ~ thank you. asouldreams.