The Day of Miracles

May 1, 1998 Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Hogsmeade, Hogsmeade District, Scotland

A smoky haze, redolent of sulfur, copper and iron hung over the grounds of Hogwarts and filled the hallways. A momentous battle had been fought in the last few hours in the Great Hall, and only now was the air freshening, only now the voices which had been raised in fear or anger or triumph were hushed. The people who, earlier, had filled the Great Hall and spilled out into the corridors and over the lawns, locked in battle, were now patrolling the grounds with a much more hopeful task, paired two by two to search for injured survivors. Others performed mortuary duty, gathering the dead, separating them friend from foe, so the bureaucrats could make their death counts and notify distant families. Tom Riddle's body had been sealed into a glass coffin from which wizarding scientists and healers had pumped all the air. This time, they intended to make sure he stayed dead. Those of Riddle's followers who'd survived the battle had already been rounded up and taken away by Aurors.

So many had died.

Harry Potter, at the center of conflict, had been hailed as a hero. The Boy-Who-Lived was now The-Boy-Who-Triumphed, and everyone wanted to touch his hand, to have a precious moment of his time and attention. He'd never wanted the acclaim but he was too tired to fight it, and greeted everyone who spoke to him with the kindest words he could manage, knowing that they needed him to do this, right now, for them. He looked around the crowded room and smiled at the sight of his friends. Ron Weasley was hovering over Lavender Brown, who occupied a transfigured cot in the makeshift infirmary which Madam Pomfrey had set up on the teacher's dais. Ron and Harry's other best friend, Hermione Granger, had shared an exuberant kiss upstairs in one of the halls earlier, but it was clear that Lavender held Ron's heart, and Hermione seemed content that it should be so. Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom were trying to console Parvati Patil over the loss of her twin, Padma, and Hermione was sitting with them at what been the Ravenclaw table, a lifetime ago, or so it seemed.

The Weasleys were seated at a long table, near the guarded chamber where the body of their son, Percy, lay in state. Molly Weasley was quietly weeping, while her husband, Arthur, and her remaining sons and daughter patted and hugged her. In the end, Percy had returned to his family and the Order and had helped in the fight against Voldemort. An Avada Kedavra cast by a masked Death Eater had felled him as he raced across the Great Hall to help his mother in her duel against Bellatrix LeStrange. Percy Weasley had died a hero. Harry was glad that he would be able to remember Percy like that, rather than as the son who'd never come back to his family.

The doorway between the Great Hall and the entranceway was suddenly filled with two tall, spare figures, silhouetted against the afternoon light, and for a moment, Harry simply shook his head, convinced he was hallucinating. As impossible as magic wands and unicorns, Harry could swear that Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape stood in the doorway. Harry blinked, expecting that the hallucination would go away.

It didn't. The two figures remained silhouetted in the doorway.

That couldn't be, Harry's mind protested. He had seen Snape die in the Shrieking Shack a few hours before, and Albus Dumbledore had been dead for nearly a year.

But the visions or ghosts or whatever they were strode into the Great Hall and then paused. Snape spotted Harry first, and indicated to Albus, with a nod, which direction to look. The Headmaster looked over at Harry, and his eyes lit up in delighted pride. The two men changed direction and hurried to Harry. Hermione had seen the men, too, and she came to Harry's side at once, as did Ron, who dropped a tender kiss on Lavender's forehead before hurrying to join Harry and Hermione.

"Mr. Potter, Miss Granger, Mr. Weasley." Professor Snape acknowledged them with an inclination of his head, and the trio nodded in return, but Harry kept shaking his head.

"I'm dreaming, or something's gone wonky. You're both dead. I watched both of you die."

Dumbledore chuckled, his eyes twinkling. "The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated, Harry." He smiled happily, like a child with a new toy. "I've always wanted to say that."

The Great Hall was so quiet that the tiniest sound could be heard throughout the room, therefore everyone heard Harry draw in a ragged breath and demand, "Professor Dumbledore, how do I know you're really you? Tell me what you said to me when we were talking in the broom shed at the Burrow at the beginning of my sixth year."

"How refreshing that you have finally learned some caution, Mr. Potter." Snape's words were acidic, but his tone was mild, even laudatory, and Harry shook his head again. This simply had to be a dream.

"Harry, I said that I would tip my hat to you if I were not afraid of showering you with spiders."

"But how—why? You were dead."

"You shall have a complete explanation in due time, Harry. Suffice it to say that I knew Tom Riddle had tasked Draco Malfoy with killing me, and I strongly suspected the boy would be unable to fulfill his commission. Severus and I plotted my apparent death to spare Mr. Malfoy and consolidate Severus's position in Riddle's Inner Circle of Death Eaters. It was necessary to play for time, Harry, so you could find the soul fragments that Riddle had hidden, and destroy them so that when you confronted each other in battle, he would be mortal and not be able to come back. A task which you did very well, and for which I commend you. All of you." His gaze encompassed Harry, Ron and Hermione.

Harry looked to Severus Snape, tall and spare in billowing black robes, with touches of immaculate white showing at the edges of his collar and cuffs. "I saw the snake attack you."

"Professor Dumbledore was hidden in the shack with me, and he cast a protection charm and an illusionary spell on me which simulated the injuries you saw when the snake attacked. I gave you the memories you needed, and then crushed an ampoule of anesthetic vapor which put me into a deep, death-like sleep, so you would all believe I had died. As soon as Riddle and the snake left, and you followed them, Professor Dumbledore gathered everyone not already fighting at Order Headquarters. Once everyone in the Order knew of our return and my innocence, Professor Dumbleore went to the Ministry to start getting that mess sorted out, and I came here to join the battle, only to find you had already won the decisive victory, Mr. Potter. For which you have my utmost respect and sincere congratulations."

Harry pinched his own arm almost viciously at that point, convinced he must be dreaming.

He looked back as Snape finished his explanation.

"I informed Albus that the battle was nearly over and he organized squads of Aurors to come and help with the mopping up, before coming back to Hogwarts himself to start setting things in order here, as well." Snape lookedat the destruction around him in resignation. "Though it looks as though that may be a rather lengthy process." Despite the damage around them, as far as the eye could see, Snape was content. He stood in the Great Hall now, a free man, not that he intended to regale all and sundry with that news. It would come out soon enough, and Severus had other things to think about.

"Amazing!" Hermione was looking from Professor Dumbledore to Professor Snape with open admiration. "I never wanted to believe you were a traitor, sir," she said sincerely to Professor Snape. "It's a great relief to know that you have been on our side all long." Her words were appropriate for a student to a respected professor, but her heart was filled with so much more, and like all Gryffindors, her heart was in her eyes as she spoke.

"I am grateful for your concern, Miss Granger, and for the—shall we say—suspension of your disbelief?" Professor Snape caught his breath when their eyes met. How long had he waited for this moment, he wondered. Surely, it had been an entire lifetime.

Snape took a few steps closer to the Trio, offering first Harry, then Ron, his hand. "Well done, Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley." When both of the boys had dazedly shaken hands with him, he turned and grasped Hermione's hand in his, but instead of shaking it, he bowed low over her hand, and kissed it.

"Miss Granger. I can now tell you what a pleasure it has been to teach you, and I hope you will consider a career that will bring you back to Hogwarts."

Hermione's eyes widened in surprise, and she wished with all her heart that she was wearing something other than ill-fitting jeans and a ragged jumper, especially when she saw that Snape's robes were freshly pressed, and his fine linen shirt was an immaculate, blinding white. "Professor Snape," she finally managed to stammer, "That has been my dream for many years. It seems I would be welcomed?" Her eyes were raised to his in breath-holding hope.

"Most welcome, indeed." His soft baritone voice wrapped around her like a cloak of black velvet and she shivered.

Dumbledore watched Hermione and Severus for a moment then turned once again to Harry.

"And now, Harry Potter. You have succeeded. You have vanquished the Dark Lord and our world is safe. There aren't words which adequately convey how proud I am of you, Harry. For now, though, I think I need to make some explanations."

Dumbledore strode to the podium on the dais, and as he ascended, cheers and murmurs of astonishment filled the huge room. He raised his hands in a gesture of silence. He also pointed his wand at his throat and chanted Sonorous to amplify his voice.

"Dear friends, may I have your attention?" Almost instantly, the huge room grew silent. "As you can see, I am safe and well, and so glad to be back with you on this momentous occasion. As you undoubedly know, our dear Harry Potter has vanquished the Dark Lord, a day for which the wizarding world has been waiting for seventeen years. Mr. Potter's journey has been fraught with danger, and filled with much grief and pain, but he has triumphed, and we rejoice over him." Cheers from the crowd drowned out the Headmaster's voice until he waved his hand again, and the crowd grew silent. "Mr. Potter deserves all of your admiration and regard, but there are others whom we need to recognize, and others we need to remember, as well."

Some of the sparkle seemed to go out of Dumbledore's eyes. "Let us first acknowledge all of those who have paid the ultimate price in this war against the Tom Riddle. Please join me in a moment of remembrance for Professor Filius Flitwick, Professor Pomona Sprout, Professor Horace Slughorn, Colin Creevey, Percy Weasley, Professor Rolanda Hooch, Oliver Wood…" The list of names went on for a while, and Hermione shuddered, and turned to her companions, seeking comfort as tears blinded her. It wasn't until she felt the scratchiness of wool under her cheek that she raised her eyes and found she had been weeping on Professor Snape's shoulder, his arms holding her, his cloak enveloping her. Harry and Ron were watching Dumbledore and neither one seemed disturbed at the sight of Hermione in the arms of their former Potions master.

Hermione tuned in to listen as Dumbledore finished his list of casualties with the names, "…Charity Burbage, Cedric Diggory, Bartemious Crouch, Sr; Bertha Jorkins, Regulus Black, and James and Lily Potter." For a space of time the huge hall was silent. After a moment Dumbledore broke the reverent silence. "As you know, Harry Potter fought Tom Riddle alone, and prevailed over him. That was a great feat, and nothing can or should detract from Mr. Potter's heroism. However, I am so grateful to acknowledge the heroism of another man, a man whose work has been behind the scenes, a man who has taken fully as many risks as Mr. Potter, and faced every bit as much danger. My dear friends, I give you my trusted friend and colleague Severus Snape. Without Severus, this victory would not have been possible."

Harry, Ron and Hermione started the cheers and applause, which quickly spread through the members of the Order to the students and parents. Looking flushed and confused, Severus Snape looked around at the cheering crowd, and then he actually smiled as he tipped his head. But he didn't leave Hermione's side.

"Professor Snape accomplished several very important things while acting as a spy for the Light. By appearing to kill me, Severus consolidated his position among the Death Eaters. Gaining Riddle's favor meant he was appointed Headmaster of Hogwarts, which enabled him to protect our students and teachers against the very harsh implementation of Riddle's doctrines. He was able to keep a tight rein on the Carrows and others; conditions at the school would have been much worse without Severus." Several of the students were nodding to one another. They'd recognized that he'd done much to keep them safe; when Dumbledore's Army continued to recruit members and some of them had gotten caught, the most stringent punishment had been detention in the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid.

"He passed information to us to enable us to protect those who otherwise would have been attacked, perhaps killed. He protected one particular student who was tasked with killing me, an act of violence that would have wreaked havoc on that student's soul." Draco Malfoy, sitting at one of the tables with his parents, dropped his head into his folded arms and wept.

"He delivered information and necessary items to members of the Order and to Mr. Potter, though Mr. Potter didn't know that at the time."

Harry looked at Ron and Hermione and nodded. "The doe Patronus was his," he confirmed.

"Severus was in mortal peril every moment. Tom Riddle would have wreaked horrible vengeance if he had ever learned of Severus's deception. On top of everything else Severus has done for us, I personally owe him a great debt. He searched for months for a remedy to the curse that was slowly killing me, the curse I brought on myself in trying to destroy a fragment of Riddle's soul."

He held up his wand arm, which was whole again, instead of being blackened and shriveled as it had been Harry's entire sixth year.

"Seeing as I am, in fact, alive, and hearing my testimony of Severus' bravery and sacrifice for our side, the Ministry has cleared him of any and all charges that might be leveled against him, and further, he has been awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class, for his courage, his many sacrifices and his service to the wizarding community. There will be other Orders of Merlin awarded, but it's only fitting that Professor Snape be the first to be recognized for the sacrifices he has made for many years in our cause."

This time, Dumbledore led the applause. When it died down, he motioned for everyone's attention once again.

"And now, to more practical matters. The Ministry will take care of those who have fallen in battle. Teams of Aurors are already here to sort things out, and officials from the Department of Magical Education will be here tomorrow to assess the damages that have been done to the school. Professor Snape will remain as Headmaster through the period of restoration and reconstruction, and then, at his request, I shall resume the office of Headmaster of Hogwarts."

He paused, and when he spoke again, his voice was softer, and filled with compassion.

"This has been a most difficult time for us all, and we have suffered terrible losses. Nothing can bring back our dead, but it falls to us to make sure they did not die in vain. To that end, I encourage everyone here to rest, to cry, to grieve, and to support one another. If you have hard feelings for anyone, I urge you to try to make peace. Unless it helps you to do so, I urge you to leave the work of recovering the fallen to the trained professionals. You will have a chance to pay your respects later. Our house-elves have already requested permission to put the kitchen to rights and are planning and preparing food for anyone who is hungry. I will need to see all the members of the Order of the Phoenix in the Headmaster's office in an hour. Severus, Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, and Miss Granger, and Professor McGonagall, will you come to the Headmaster's office now?"

Harry, Ron and Hermione looked at each other, then up at Professor Snape, and nodded. Professor Snape tucked Hermione's hand into the crook of his elbow and covered it with his own hand, clearly signifying that he intended to escort her to the Headmaster's office. Professor McGonagall shepherded them out of the Great Hall by the teacher's entrance. There was a small staircase just outside the door, and she led them up the stairs, which ended in the hallway outside the Headmaster's office.

The stone gargoyles hadn't been placed back on their pedestals yet, but the doors opened at a word from Professor McGonagall and the moving spiral staircase whisked them up to the office, which Professor McGonagall entered after a perfunctory rap on the door.

Professor Dumbledore was already there waiting when the two professors and Harry, Hermione, and Ron entered the office.

"I'm still having a hard time believing this," Harry murmured as he approached the desk. Professor Dumbledore came out from behind his desk to enfold Harry in a crushing hug. The others could see tears streaming down his cheeks. When he spoke, his voice was choked with tears and pride.

"Harry! I am so very, very proud of you." He pulled back and placed his hands on Harry's shoulders. "You have exceeded my fondest hopes, Harry, and now the ordeal has ended. The Wizarding world is safe from Tom Riddle, and your soul is intact and untarnished. We do owe you a great debt, Harry."

"I just did what I had to do, Professor." Harry dropped his eyes, uncomfortable with any sort of praise.

"But you didn't give in to your hate, Harry. You handled yourself with honor, you gave Riddle a chance to repent, if he would. And your actions protected others. The prophecy has been fulfilled, and Tom Riddle has gone on to the next big adventure. I hope he will find peace though I doubt that he will."

Harry nodded his head. He was tired to the marrow of his bones, but he wanted answers to his questions more than he wanted to sleep. He turned to Professor Snape.

"I viewed your memories, sir. I'm so sorry my dad and his friends were such GITS! I'm really ashamed of the way they treated you, sir."

Professor Snape listened to Harry's apology with a grave, serious expression, and inclined his head towards Harry when Harry finished speaking.

"Thank you, Mr. Potter."

"I owe you an apology for my own behavior, Professor Snape, as well as for my father's. Hermione was always telling me that I should be grateful to you for all the protection and help you gave me, and I never wanted to admit that, but Hermione was right. I don't know why you would have been willing to help me, after all my dad did to you, and all that I did, too. I was disrespectful and I intruded on your privacy and was a hateful prat. I'm very sorry, sir. I hope you can forgive me."

Hermione didn't realize she was holding her breath till Professor Snape nodded his head slightly and said, a bit stiffly, "I accept your apology, Mr. Potter. I could not let the Dark Lord see that I was helping you, so I am glad that you didn't like me or trust me. Your hatred of me was necessary for our plans to succeed. You are forgiven, though I ask that you, in turn, forgive me for the unpleasant way I behaved towards you. You resemble your father, as I am sure you've heard, but your behavior is much more like your mother's. You have her warmth and kindness, her innate desire to protect those who were weaker or less fortunate."

"Of course I forgive you, sir."

Albus Dumbledore was crying again, silent tears that bathed his face even as he smiled as widely as he'd ever smiled before. In fact, the elderly wizard's face was beaming as he watched them.

Professor Snape turned to Ron and Hermione. "Mr. Weasley, I had to be unfair to you in order to protect my cover. I apologize for any distress that my subterfuge required."

"No apology necessary, sir. It's like Hermione said-you did protect us even though it didn't look like it."

Then Snape turned his attention to Hermione.

"Miss Granger, you were, perhaps the greatest danger to me, and I am sorry that I had to be so harsh with you."

"I was a danger to you, sir?"

A little smile twitched the corners of his mouth.

"You are, in fact, the brightest witch of your age. Despite your intelligence, you sometimes displayed a rather marked propensity to try to impress me, and so I had to work harder to make you dislike me. If you believed my loyalty to Dumbledore, your conclusions would have been well-reasoned and sound. Had Riddle seen into your mind it would have aroused his suspicions and been disastrous for me."

"I wanted to learn Occlumency to protect all my friends in the Order, sir."

"I know. Of that I have no doubt. I would have liked to have been able to encourage you in your studies, Miss Granger. But now I can tell you what I have not been able to say for six years—it has been a great pleasure to be your teacher."

"I'm honored, sir." Hermione felt her face flush, and she had a hard time blinking away the tears that filled her eyes at this praise from the Professor whom she had respected and admired the most, but despaired of ever pleasing. She couldn't stop looking at him, and was deliciously terrified to see that he, in turn, was watching her. The game of 'catch-a-glance-and-look-away' could have gone on for hours, but Harry was speaking again.

"I got rid of the thing that was hidden in the Snitch, Professor Dumbledore. I hope no one ever finds it."

"I think that's very wise, Harry."

"And—this belongs to you It always has, it was never really mine." Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out the Elder Wand. "But I would like to try to use it for one thing, please?"

Dumbledore chuckled. "The wand does belong to you, Harry."

"But I liked my old wand better, sir." As he spoke, he reached into the little pouch he wore on a leather thong around his neck, and carefully pulled out his old wand, two pieces of holly still joined by the ragged threads of phoenix feather. He carefully laid the wand on the corner of Dumbledore's desk, and touched the Elder Wand to it, murmuring "Reparo" under his breath. With a soft sigh, the feather fluffed and pulled together, the ragged, broken ends of wood aligned themselves and the wand knit itself back together.

"I don't want the Elder Wand to become a temptation for anyone else, sir. What can I do to make sure it's safe?"

"We shall have to ask Mr. Ollivander, I think." Dumbledore smiled. "Wand lore is a very obscure branch of magic, and, I daresay, no one who has ever possessed it has ever wished for it to pass to another. There are very few who could turn their backs on the kind of power the Elder Wand could give you."

"But that's the whole point, isn't it, Professor? When you have a lot of power, you have to be careful how you use it."

Hermione couldn't help herself, she giggled.

"Miss Granger?"

"There was this movie my dad loved, about a Muggle comic book character called Spider Man. He said 'With great power, comes great responsibility.' I'm sorry; I can't think why that came into my head just now."

Dumbledore beamed at her. "We find truth in the oddest of places, Miss Granger."

Ron gave her a puzzled look, but Professor Snape squeezed her hand against his side.

"I wanted to congratulate each of you, but I can see that all three of you need to rest, and eat. We have been watching you, and you've come through a terrible ordeal. I offer you the hospitality of the school for as long as you wish to stay here."

Hermione thought of the Prefect's bath, and went a bit weak in the knees. "A proper bath would be amazing, Professor Dumbledore."

He twinkled his eyes at her. "I am sure we can provide that, Miss Granger."

Predictably enough, Ron thought of food. "I've missed Hogwarts breakfasts, I'll tell you."

"If I know our house-elves, they will be more than happy to feed you, Mr. Weasley."

"I need to check on Lavender, though." His face flushed bright red. Hermione nodded at him, and said gently, "Ron, go to her. Maybe you can have something to eat while you wait for her to wake up. I know she will be glad to see you."

Ron looked at Hermione with eyebrows raised almost to the top of his forehead. "You're not upset? After what happened—before?" He was remembering the passionate kiss they'd exchanged up in the hall earlier.

"Ron, I think if we hadn't been so over-wrought, it wouldn't have happened. Be honest. Do you really think it would have?" She spoke softly, and he could tell, looking at her, that she wasn't angry; she was speaking as one of his very best friends. Something straightened up in Ron's world, something that had been slightly out of balance but now had been put right.

"No, I don't think it would have, 'Mione."

"It was a lovely moment and a wonderful thought. But it's not for us." She let go of Snape's arm to cross over to Ron and put her arms around him and hug him tenderly. When they drew apart, she said softly, "Give Lavender a hug from me, and tell her I hope she gets better soon."

Ron nodded his head then turned to Harry and the Headmaster. "Will it be okay if I go find Lavender? And—I want to see my mum, too. I've NEVER heard her talk like that. I want to make sure she's alright."

"Right, go on then. I'm glad you were with me, watching my back. Give your mum my love."

"Yeah, same here, Harry."

And as quickly as that, Ron had nodded at Snape and Dumbledore and practically raced out of the Headmaster's office.

"I'm being selfish, keeping you all here in my office. Harry, you look tired enough to fall asleep standing up."

"Am I awake? I just really want a sandwich and to go to bed."

"I'll see that there are guest rooms prepared for each of you," Professor McGonagall offered, and Harry and Hermione both nodded gratefully to her.

"Severus, your old suite next to the Potions classroom is cleaned up and available. I had the house-elves keep it ready for you, just as I promised."

Severus Snape inclined his head towards Dumbledore, and said softly, "Thank you, Headmaster. Can anything else wait till tomorrow?"

"Indeed, it can."

"Then I shall take my leave of you, and escort Miss Granger wherever she wishes to go. After the events of today, she is in dire need of peace and quiet, as well as being in no shape to fend off any attack that might be made against her. I charge myself with keeping her safe, Headmaster."

Dumbledore beamed again. "I am confident of her safety with you, Severus."

Professor Snape took Hermione's hand again, and guided her out of the Headmaster's office with his arm around her waist to support her. She thought she heard McGonagall making some protest as they left the office, but the door closed behind them, cutting off any sound or interference.

They went down the stairs from the Headmaster's office, but instead of going back into the Great Hall, Professor Snape guided her down the teacher's corridor to the Entrance Hall, and thence to the dungeon stairway.

"I don't think you're in any condition to be wandering the halls of Hogwarts, Miss Granger. I have a feeling you'd blow away with a reasonably strong breath. You look so fragile." He was staring at her again, as if he could not stop, a look in his eyes that Hermione couldn't interpret. A look that nearly stopped her breath, a look that made her weak in the knees. She gathered what courage she could, and tried to speak normally.

"It's been a—a difficult year, Professor."

"I know that it has. But here, let's get you out of this drafty hall. Take my arm—I don't want to let go of you."

"Please don't."

He stopped on the landing to look at her with a quizzical expression, an expression that softened into a smile when their eyes met.

"May I call you Hermione?"

"You may. I would be honored if you would, in fact."

"And you must call me Severus. Please?"

"I—thank you. Severus." His name was soft on her tongue, and somehow elegant. "It suits you, you know. Your name. I like it very much."

He smiled briefly and nodded but changed the subject.

"No one ever comes to my old rooms in the dungeon. I can offer you peace, quiet, a warm fire and whatever you'd like to eat. Even a bath, if you trust me not to intrude upon you. That is—if you're not planning to go home?"

She smiled a little sadly. "Home isn't home, anymore. I—er—modified my parents' memories and convinced them they have no daughter and they'd always wanted to go to Australia. I thought it would be the safest thing for them, and if I didn't make it back, they wouldn't miss me."

"Very sound reasoning, but hasn't that made this last year even more difficult? You must miss them very much, though I am sure they will be very proud of you when you do find them again." He guided her down the hall a short way and then stopped, tapping his wand on the wall to unward the door and make it visible. Another tap of his wand and the door opened, but he looked back at her when her hand tightened on his arm.

"Do you know, Professor, peace and quiet, a warm fire, something to eat and a bath are quite enough for me?"

She saw him swallow hard, but his voice sounded normal when he asked, "Why is that?"

"I've had quite enough excitement and adventure this last year, and being able to spend time with you is something I've dearly wished for a long time." She drew in a breath for courage, and continued, "I've always admired and respected you, sir. You're the most brilliant teacher at Hogwarts and the one from whom I learned the most. After the end of last year—thinking you'd killed Professor Dumbledore…Honestly, that nearly broke my heart. I had wanted so badly to be friends with you, some day when I was sufficiently grown up. To know that you were really on our side all along, and Professor Dumbledore isn't really dead is like a miracle. So this is very sweet, indeed."

He ushered her in through the door, murmuring spells for lights and fire as he closed the door behind them. The rooms were in perfect order; there was no dust or damp. There wasn't much furniture, only two big armchairs and a small sofa before the fire, but there were little tables placed in convenient spots for resting a cup of tea or a plate, the rug underfoot was thick and warm, in richly blended shades of midnight blue and forest green. The only decorations on the walls were books, and Hermione turned around in wonder to look at them all. Severus watched her, an amused smile turning up the corners of his mouth.

"I recommend you take a nap before you dive nose-first into my library, Hermione."

She smiled impishly back at him. "Knowing that you're an accomplished Legilimens, I'm not going to ask you how you knew that."

"One hardly needs to be one to see the interest in your eyes. But here, won't you sit down? What can I ask the house-elves to bring to refresh you?"

"I can't think of anything better than tea, please." She sank down onto his couch with a grateful sigh.

"I'll order tea for us, then." He went to the fireplace and threw in a handful of Floo powder and spoke to someone in the kitchens. A moment later, an elf appeared with a loaded tea tray.

For a few moments they were silent, as Professor Snape poured the tea and handed Hermione a plate with a selection of sandwiches and cakes on it.

"Please eat. You're far too thin, Hermione." There was a haunted look in her eyes, and he intended to find out why, but not just yet. The girl had just been through hell; she needed time to catch her breath and rest a bit before he asked her to go over those memories

"Thank you." She sat back and sipped her tea, hands wrapped around the cup in appreciation of its warmth.

"Hermione, may I ask you something?" He spoke gently to break the silence, and she looked up, surprised at the softly urgent note in his voice.

"Of course. You may ask me anything you like."

He raised his eyebrow and gave her a very pointed glance, and she flushed. Perhaps that wasn't the best way to protect her privacy, she thought, but then pushed the thought back. Professor Snape, above all others, had proven himself to be trustworthy. She had nothing to fear from him.

"When I was installed as Headmaster of the school, Professor McGonagall brought me a most intriguing item. She didn't recognize it for what it was, but I did, and my curiosity has been a most painful thing ever since."

Hermione sat up a little straighter in her seat and he could easily see the tension in her shoulders and the set of her jaw. She carefully set her tea cup down on the small table next to her seat on the couch, feeling as though she might want her hands free. He smiled a little bit. This was going better than he'd hoped.

She pushed down her feelings of dread and hope, and forced herself to speak calmly.

"What was it, sir—er, Severus?"

"A picture in a silver frame. It was found in your old room in Gryffindor Tower."

"A picture?"

"To the casual observer, it was a Muggle picture of your parents, Hermione. But I cast revealing charms on every item left behind by students in the school, and I was utterly astounded to find that the picture of your parents concealed a wizarding photograph of—myself. And when questioned under Veritaserum—not my doing, I assure you—Miss Lavender Brown identified the picture as one she'd seen on your bedside table. She seemed quite surprised that anyone should be curious about a picture of your parents, which indicated to me that she didn't see through the concealment charm."

Color flooded Hermione's face now, and she dropped her eyes.

"I could readily deduce that the picture has some significance to you. You would not have taken such care to conceal it otherwise"

She didn't answer.

"Hmmm. A shy Gryffindor. I have never encountered that." There was gentle humor in his voice.

"Excuse me for one moment." He got to his feet, and seemed to glide out of the room, his steps light and silent on the thick rug.

Hermione watched him go, wondering whether she'd been hit on the head during the battle and was now laying in a bed in the hospital wing hallucinating. Her musings were interrupted by his silent return, an ornate silver picture frame in his hand.

"Perhaps we would get further in this conversation if I show you this."

The frame held his Master's certificate for Potions, and it was truly a lovely thing, with its elaborate calligraphy on heavy, elegant paper.

"I know—what does my certificate have to do with this picture you'd hidden so carefully?" He handed her the framed certificate, but before she could do much more than look at it, he waved his wand and murmured "Revelio" and she gasped as her image appeared in the picture frame.

"Now that you know I have a similar picture, carefully concealed, tell me what inference you can draw from it."

Hermione studied the picture in the frame with a shocked expression on her face. It had been taken the night of the Yule Ball, but the picture didn't include Viktor Krum, or anyone else, just her. It was the most flattering photo she'd ever seen of herself.

She swallowed hard, and then decided to try to answer the question he'd posed for her.

"When a person keeps a picture, it usually means that it's important to the owner for some reason. Pictures are used as evidence, and scientific proof, also, but I don't think that's very likely in either of our cases." She inhaled and exhaled quickly, twirling a strand of curly hair around her finger in her nervousness. "To hide a picture like this probably means that it would be misunderstood or it was forbidden in some way. Unwise, maybe, or inappropriate."

"Very objectively stated, Hermione."

"If I speak subjectively, and not objectively…" If ever there was a time for Gryffindor courage, this was it. She drew in a deep breath and then said softly, "I care very deeply for you, Severus. I hid the photo of you because I knew no one would understand why I had it. At best, my roommates would have thought I had a silly crush. I could never have convinced anyone that I care for you as I do. It comforted me somehow to have your picture there. I—sometimes spoke to it. It was a very good listener." She looked directly at him, and there was such affection in her gaze, such warmth, that he felt his heart speed up. "I was devastated when—the night—you know, when the Death Eaters got into the castle, and we thought you'd killed Professor Dumbledore."

He hesitated, and then spoke softly, his voice revealing all the regret he still felt, nearly a year later. "My betrayal of Albus, even though it was only an act, was the hardest thing I have ever done. I had long wondered if I actually still had a heart, after twenty years as a spy; the memory of that horrible night on the tower haunted me. And do you know what was hardest to remember?" His eyes held hers. She shook her head. "I remember you coming into my office with Miss Lovegood, asking me for my help. I remember the trust in your eyes, and it nearly broke me, to think of what you would be going through in the next few hours. It had to be done, but I would that I hadn't seen you that night."

Her lips trembled as her mind raced back to the night of Dumbledore's 'death'. "You were protecting Luna and I, weren't you? When you told us to stay there and take care of Professor Flitwick?"

He nodded. "I hoped your staying with Filius would keep you safe. I thought if you stayed in the office with Professor Flitwick, it would keep you out of the fight that I knew was coming. I didn't want you to catch the attention of any of the Death Eaters, especially not Bellatrix or Greyback. You would have been a prize to either one; to Bellatrix because she knew of your friendship with Mr. Potter; Greyback because he is especially fond of young girls. You can't possibly have any idea how hard I prayed to whatever gods were listening, that you would stay in my office."

He placed the photo of her onto the mantle, and then sat down beside her on the couch. Taking both her hands in his, he spoke very softly. "I kept the photo of you because it comforted me, Hermione. I am aware that you have always defended me to your friends. I had known that you were on my side, so to speak. That you believed I had truly turned away from the dark. You were my talisman, my proof that redemption was possible. That prejudice didn't infect the entire world. You were a symbol to me that the Dark Lord was wrong, as well."

He paused then continued, "I would have enjoyed being your friend, would have been proud to be able to acknowledge you as my protégée, had the situation been other than it was. But I had never expected— this. I never expected to ever find anyone who would overlook my dark past and darker deeds and genuinely care for me, which, by some miracle, you seem to."

The words tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop them. "You made all my potions for me, after I was injured."

The ghost of his usual smirk turned up the corners of his mouth. "I wished to repay the enterprising young woman who'd so astutely rid us of Dolores Umbridge."

She giggled. "She was poisonous, wasn't she?"

"Very. Your playing on her fears the way you did was brilliant, and almost Slytherin in its execution."

"I shall take that as a compliment."

"As it was intended," he agreed smoothly. "But this does not explain why I have your photograph. And I would like to explain it."

"The night of the Yule Ball, the entire school saw a different Hermione Granger—a lovely young woman. Viktor Krum had seen what none of your classmates had—that you were more than a bookworm, that you were charming, and so breathtakingly beautiful that you would leave other girls looking plain by comparison. There is a peculiar kind of blindness that strikes us all with people we know well, or that we see every day. Once you appeared at the Yule Ball with him, no one else would be able to see you as an inconspicuous, brainy swot ever again. I believe that was the night that I—began to love you. I do love you dearly, Hermione."

"You do?"

"Yes."

He expected her to be flustered, maybe even to turn away in confusion or embarrassment. He did not expect her eyes to tear over, and he was completely unprepared for her momentary silence, and then her next, tear-roughened words.

"What do you say when every dream you've ever had suddenly comes true?"

"I think—in that situation, you don't really need to speak. But you might allow me to kiss you."

And then she was there on his lap, her arms wrapped around his neck, hands anchored in his hair as he bent his head to kiss her.

The kiss seemed to go on and on. Neither one wanted to be the first to break the contact but finally, Severus drew back far enough to look into Hermione's eyes.

"As I was saying…"

She smiled and tried to draw his head down to kiss him again. He reached up and covered her hands with his, stilling her movements.

"Wait. Please. I do love you very dearly, but I must—we must—talk. There are things I must know, Hermione."

"Alright? It's just that I never, ever thought I would be in this situation, as dearly as I wished for it. I—really liked that kiss. I didn't want to stop."

"Nor did I." His response was immediate, and Hermione could hear the urgency under the smooth, silky words. "But if we start again, I shall not stop, Hermione. Not till you are mine, and we are bound in every way God or man can devise."

She shivered, but smiled at the note of demand in his voice.

"It might be best if you climb off my lap and sit there on the sofa beside me, Hermione. I don't want you that far away, but with you this close, I can't trust myself."

She scrambled off his lap, blushing furiously.

He watched her with tenderness in his eyes.

"To one as solitary as I have always been, you seem like the brightest and most desirable of dreams, my dear. And I know you don't fully realize the effect you have on me."

"Nor do you realize the effect you have on me." Her voice was the softest of whispers.

"Think of all we will have to discover—together."

Severus captured her hands and pressed fervent kisses into the palms.

"Please, Hermione. We must sort this out."

She smiled and then sat back demurely on the sofa and folded her hands in her lap.

"Is this better?"

"You look very prim and proper." And warm, soft, touchable—adorable—spoke the little voice in his mind.

"Ok."

"You've always been brilliant; the wonderful, perfect student that every teacher hopes to have, and originally I was impressed by your intelligence. I used to regret that I couldn't suggest projects for you, or speak with you after Order meetings, or include you in any of my research projects. I thought you would make an able assistant and I did regret that I could not encourage you, but this was all on a very impersonal level. Logically, it was a shame that we could not work together and I could not help further your studies, but it wasn't emotionally wrenching for me. It was the simply the way things were, and I didn't suffer too badly over it. You were still very young—under age, obviously—and you were a student under my protection. I had responsibilities to you, to your parents, to the Headmaster. The thought of a relationship with you was impossible, and so it didn't enter my mind at all."

He paused and looked over at her, smiling tenderly. "And then came the Yule Ball."

His gaze grew distant, and she knew he was remembering.

"You were so lovely that night. Hesitantly, uncertainly lovely. It was clear that you didn't expect the interest you garnered. I don't think you have any idea, even now, how many people commented on your beauty that night. Professor McGonagall was glowing with pride, and even Professor Dumbledore admitted that you cleaned up very nicely. And I found myself eaten up with jealousy of an 18 year old boy whose only claim to fame was being an excellent athlete and Quidditch player. He couldn't possibly understand more than a third of things you said— his grades were always at the bottom end of the acceptable range—he walked like a duck—and he was escorting the most desirable female in the entire school to the Yule Ball."

"I had no idea you'd seen me in that way."

"I was shocked, and somewhat horrified that I did. But there was no help for it. You were so very lovely that night." He paused, lost in his memories of Hermione in her frilly pink evening dress. She blushed, and made a soft sound and drew his attention back from his thoughts.

"I didn't feel as strongly about you then as I do now. But he was a complete dunderhead, he wasn't worthy of two minutes of your brilliant conversation. Of course, you were still only 15, only a fourth year. But you were lovely."

He sighed. "And then came your fifth year."

"The year of the toad," Hermione added helpfully.

"The toad?" Severus's eyebrows rose in surprise.

"Dolores Umbridge, of course. She looked like a toad; her personality was cold and slimy like a toad's. She was horrible."

"Indeed. And I was caught between a number of rocks and hard places. I needed to keep my position at Hogwarts in order to continue to spy for the Dark Lord, as I convinced him that I was doing. I needed to continue to spy for the Dark Lord so that I might keep the Order informed of Riddle's plans. And Umbridge wanted to fire me because I insisted that Riddle had returned, which the Ministry couldn't acknowledge. And then the Headmaster tasked me with teaching Occlumency to Mr. Potter, and that proved to be an utter disaster."

"Harry told me. He was a complete GIT to invade your pensieve, Severus. I scolded him severely when I found out what he'd done. He really did regret it, later, when we were hunting Horcruxes and he couldn't keep the Dark Lord out of his mind."

"That was why we had to keep him in the dark about his scar for as long as we did. It would have been disastrous for the Order if Mr. Potter had known as much as we need him to about Horcruxes and the Elder Wand. And equally disastrous for me if Dolores Umbridge had succeeded in getting me sacked."

"She was horrible, and I hope that she is tried for war crimes and spends the rest of her life in Azkaban."

"I agree with you, Hermione. It was very clever of you to lead her into the Forbidden Forest the night of the attack on the Ministry. I wish you could have prevailed over Mr. Potter and kept him from going there that night. Sirius Black would not have died."

She looked at him, expecting to see a sneer on his face. Instead, there was a thoughtful look in his eyes.

"Sirius Black was my tormentor in my Hogwarts years. But I did not wish him dead. I hope you can believe that."

"I...do believe you. I can see you didn't wish him harm. And Harry—Harry has realized how unfair he's been all these years. I've known him for a long time and I can tell when he's ashamed of himself. After he saw your memories, he felt horrible for how he treated you."

"Well, that is in the past, now. He has forgiven me and I have forgiven him, and maybe we can let it be."

He paused and his expression grew thoughtful.

"If I realized how lovely you had become your fourth year, it was in your fifth year that I began to appreciate you for the person you are. I had already seen what a brilliant mind you have, and seen, too, your determination to succeed. I hadn't seen until your fifth year what a devoted friend you were to Harry Potter. And seeing your friendship with young Mr. Potter made me see how alone, how isolated I had become. I have always been a rather solitary person, Hermione, and I thought myself well content with my solitude. When I saw your devotion to Harry's cause, and your friendship for him, it reminded me of my early friendship with Lily Evans, before I lost my temper and drove her away. I envied Harry because of the depth of your friendship for him, and I fully expected that you would wind up married to him one day. I daresay I shall sound like some obsessive pervert now, but I dreaded that day. It would have been James and Lily all over again, with Harry as undeserving of you as James was of Lily."

Hermione's shook head, protesting, "Harry and I were never attracted to each other. He was the little brother I never had."

"And I was—heartened to see that, until you went off with him to the Department of Mysteries that night at the end of your fifth year. I was mostly angry at Potter for being so foolish, but I was angry at myself as well. If not for this double role I play, I might have been able to stop you from going. I must confess, when we figured out that you had gone with Potter to the Department of Mysteries, I seriously wanted to strangle you and then confine the remains to your dormitory for the remainder of the school year. You had to have seen it was a trap?"

She blushed and hung her head in embarrassment. "I was pretty sure it was a trap, I even told Harry that it was, but there was no stopping him. He wasn't rational about Sirius. And if I couldn't stop him, then I wasn't about to let him go alone."

He nodded his head, almost as if confirming something to himself. "You see, that's exactly what Lily Evans would have done, too. She would have tried to persuade me not to go, but if I was hell-bent, she would have gone with me. She did go with me once to an early meeting with Tom Riddle. We were fifth years, and he was beginning to recruit followers. He wasn't as strange as he became, but he had already changed so much from the student he had been. Lily was afraid of him, and she saw the evil in him that I was too angry to see. That was the beginning of the rift in our friendship."

"I didn't know that."

"She made it rather clear at the meeting that she didn't agree with Riddle's goals and wouldn't be joining his supporters. I have often wondered if that meeting was part of the prophecy made about Harry—'Born to those who have thrice defied Him'—because Riddle was impressed by her. Lily was very bright and personable. If she had chosen to follow him, she would have been good at recruiting others to his cause."

"But she was Muggleborn."

Severus looked away, and Hermione saw tears glimmer in his eyes. "He was willing to overlook the misfortune of Muggle birth in his followers if they were dedicated enough. They were required to—prove themselves—but he would accept them."

Hermione shuddered. "I would rather not know what he would have required as proof of their devotion, if you don't mind."

"I would not tell you if you begged me, Hermione. It doesn't bear thinking about, much less discussing."

They both fell silent, but after a moment, Severus began to speak again.

"She made it clear to me that she didn't want me to support him, either. I didn't agree with his policy of excluding Muggleborns—with Lily as my friend, how could I? But I wanted revenge against those who'd hurt me, and Riddle promised power. I was foolish and hot-headed. I chose power over friendship and have regretted that decision ever since."

She looked up at him shyly and he smiled at her. "Look at you, listening so patiently to me. I see understanding and compassion in your eyes, Hermione, and the knowledge that you don't judge me for my mistakes—that you can see how much I regret what I did, and forgive me for all that I have done—you take my breath away."

"You made a horrible choice when you were very young, Severus, and you've spent the rest of your life atoning for that one bad choice. Of course I forgive you. Any of us could have made the same choice. There aren't many of us who would have had the courage to make the sacrifices you did to atone, Severus. You are the one who takes my breath away, when I think of your courage and dedication." He could read the truth of her words in her eyes, and he felt her forgiveness settle on him like a mantle of redemption. But he had to get hold of himself, and finish telling her what was in his heart.

"I spent your sixth year watching you. Subtly, I hope. I did not want you to be aware of my interest. I saw your unhappiness over the situation with Mr. Weasley and Miss Brown, and I told myself that you were better off without him. That he wasn't worthy of your affection, especially if he should be taken in by such a bubblehead. Things were growing progressively more serious with the Dark Lord. I had been forced into making the Unbreakable Vow to Narcissa to protect Draco. I believed that vow to be my own death warrant. I knew Draco would not be able to kill Headmaster Dumbledore; I would be required to help him, or finish the job for him, and I did not think I could. Dumbledore was actually glad I had made the vow though. It consolidated my position with the Dark Lord, and almost assured that I would be Headmaster when Hogwarts fell. I would be in a position to protect the students and teachers to some extent. We made our plans and hoped we had read the situation correctly. But you moved to the back of my mind for most of your sixth year."

"How did Professor Dumbledore fool the Unbreakable Vow?"

"Magic is very much a matter of intent, as I am sure you know. Professor Dumbledore knew of a very Dark spell that would replace his living self with a Doppleganger, and he cast it that night as I said the "Avada Kedavra". Because I did not intend to kill him, and because I did not use the proper wand movements, he, of course, did not die. Instead, I used a levitation spell that cast him over the wall. The binding magic of the Unbreakable vow saw me raise my wand against him, saw him go over the wall and "die" and that fulfilled my vow to Narcissa Malfoy. Professor Dumbledore needed no cloak to make himself invisible. His Doppleganger fell to the ground. He had an accomplice in the Castle. I am sure it was Madam Pomfrey. Albus's Doppleganger was taken to the Hospital Wing and pronounced dead. Albus and I were in constant contact after he left the school. Fawkes acted as post owl and we communicated through the portraits and by house-elf intermediaries."

"Did you know what we were doing?"

"To some extent. Phineas Nigellus reported whenever he could and that was how I knew where to deliver the sword. I didn't know you had been captured and taken to Malfoy Manor until you'd escaped. The Dark Lord was enraged. I have never seen him so angry as he was then." He couldn't stop himself; he reached out and stroked one finger gently over her cheek. "I was so sorry when I heard what Bellatrix did to you. I would have spared you that if I could have."

She covered his hand with her own. "It's past, now, and I'm fine. Let's not think about that."

He smiled. "No, let's talk about the future."

She nodded shyly.

"I am a very serious man, Hermione. I'm not given to light flirtations or transient relationships. I love you very dearly, but I want it to be for always."

"I understand that."

"And do you want the same thing?"

She looked up and met his eyes with her own.

"Yes, I do. I can't imagine anything more wonderful than spending my life with you."

He caught her hand in his, interlacing their fingers.

"We need to find your parents, so I can tell them of my intentions and ask their permission to marry you."

"It might be better if you ask me, first." Her smile was tender.

"Indeed. Hermione Jane Granger, will you marry me? I love you so very much, nothing would make me happier than to be able to call you mine."

Her fingers twined with his, her thumb stroking over his hand in a caress that made him shiver. But she spoke seriously.

"I love you very much, Severus. But there are things I must ask you."

"Of course."

"I want to continue my education at a magical university. Maybe Oxford. And I want to be a teacher. Maybe at a college, maybe, eventually, back at Hogwarts. Would you—could you—support that?"

"Hermione, my dear, I am a teacher myself. Of course I support your obtaining more education if you desire it. More than that, I want for you what you want for yourself. Speaking pragmatically, with the Floo network and our ability to Apparate, I'm sure we could combine my job with your education and career plans. You will make a fine teacher and any educational institution would be lucky to have you."

She drew in a deep breath and continued, "There's something else that's very important to me. Not right away, but when I have finished my studies…I want to have a child. Actually, children, though I don't want to follow Molly Weasley's example. One or two children, maybe three—four at the most. But I was an only child and I was miserable." She hesitated and then looked right into his eyes. "I want very much to bear your child someday, Severus."

He drew her to him, reverently kissing her, drawing back to look into her eyes and kiss her again. When he finally, gently, pushed away from her, he smiled but she could see the way his hands trembled. "Good Merlin, woman, you must warn me when you're going to say something like that. The thought of you carrying my child, is quite enough to take my breath away. But you will have my enthusiastic cooperation when you're ready."

"Then I would be thrilled and honored to marry you, to take your name, and give myself to you, Severus."

And this time, as he drew her into his arms and whispered to her of his love, as she confided her own love and faith in him, they realized that the miraculous day they each had dreamed of, had finally arrived.

~Finite Incantatem~