Disclaimer: Alas, again, the Harry Potter-verse belongs to J.K. Rowling, not me.
A/N: This is now 1980! So before I get flamed, Hermione is 18 and a fully responsible adult, thank you.
This is it, the end is neigh... Thanks to all those who have reviewed all through the story, who made me smile and laugh, believe it or not but it really helped me finish it. For those of you who haven't, you still can, even long after I have finished, I'll always enjoy your reviews!
Chapter 40: A New Beginning, Again
Hermione had awoken to the sound of friendly voices, familiar names and stories she recognized from her time at Hogwarts with Severus, Lily and the Marauders. She couldn't open her eyes, so she listened, smiling inwardly at the fond memories. Her eyelids felt as heavy as lead, so she just lay there, waiting for her tired and sleepy body to catch up with her alert mind. In hindsight, it wasn't such a bad situation, because she wanted to be on top form when she got up to thwack Severus, her perfidious unfaithful ex-boyfriend, some more and give him the dressing down he deserved. She didn't know why she was yet again in what felt like the Hospital Wing. Last thing she remembered, she was on her way to her original time, hoping to see her parents, Harry and Ron. If she was honest with herself, she had to admit she was kind of relieved her ticket back to the future hadn't worked.. She had rushed through with it, blinded by her anger. But did she really want to leave? Maybe she did... but not before she had a serious discussion with Severus. Her Severus, the one she knew and loved. Because she was sure that once in the future, the likelihood of the foreboding grumpy Potions Master willing to talk to her was next to nil. Actually the more she thought about the whole incident, the less sense it all made... Maybe the whole thing had only been a nightmare? Yeah right, that would be too good to be true. Unable to think about her predicament any more without turning in circles, Hermione focused once more on her friends' trip through memory lane.
"You remember when she turned down the Minister's Order of Merlin? She made it as an honorary Marauder that day." recalled Sirius proudly.
"But...but...but... No one EVER turned down an Order of Merlin, you silly little girl!" quipped James in a fair imitation of the then Minister for Magic.
"And no one EVER called me a silly little girl! I guess there's a first time for everything." finished Lily with a grin, remembering Hermione's parting shot. "Poor Man... And to think he had brought all those reporters with him, too."
Hermione laughed inwardly, that had been a good day. That particular Minister for Magic, Basil Towers, was as bad as Fudge and had only wanted to use her as a means to get re-elected. Albus had tried to warn the political wizard off, but, of course, he thought he knew better and had ended up insulting the saviour of the wizarding world in front of the whole press. No need to say he had been forced out of office by a vote of no-confidence soon after. He would probably be replaced by another Fudge-like character though, politics were all alike in her mind.
When the laughter died down, Lily sighed loudly and said something very puzzling.
"What will she do now? I mean no one has a clear picture of Mirage Greenhorn, although her missing ear and burn is a bit of a give-away. Very few people could describe her accurately in fact, and you announced she had returned to the States, so no one would look twice at her today. But, who will she be from now on? I know she didn't like being the hero of the wizarding world... Hell, she never even asked for any of it! But I'm guessing she can't be Hermione Granger yet, it may cause problems to her younger self when she enters the wizarding world. What do you think Albus? Does she have to get herself a new identity?"
"I don't think she'll take kindly to living another lie." replied the wise wizard calmly. "However, there is a simple solution. One that will give her a legal name and existence, allowing her to live as normally as possible."
"Great!" answered James and Sirius simultaneously, to Lily's annoyance. "What is it?"
The old wizard smiled as devilishly as anyone had ever seen him do.
"She only has to take Severus's name." he announced with a twinkle in his eyes as he looked intently in the brooding wizard's direction.
"Wh-What!?" he sputtered, gripping the arms of his chair.
"I know for a fact you carry a ring in your robe's pocket, my boy. I assume it is for Hermione, yes?"
The Slytherin said nothing, crossing his arms across his chest in and glaring fiercely at the the meddling man sitting across him.
Hermione's heart was beating wildly at this point. She hadn't understood everything... No, actually she didn't understand anything, but she wanted answers, so she tried stirring from her slumber.
"Or maybe I'm wrong. I'm sure Remus will accept marrying her, if need be."
The other three snickered and nodded emphatically. Despite being good friends, Severus and Remus were still a odds concerning Hermione.
"You know very well she will not accept me." Severus told them acidly. "After what I did."
"What you pretended to do, Sev'. I'm certain she'll understand. We had to make her leave, for her own good." Lily tried reassuring him.
Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Hermione yelled mentally at her own body, desperately trying to move her eyes, her hand, even her little finger would be an improvement, anything! What is wrong with me?
Just then, she heard Madam Pomfrey bustle in. Even deprived of her sight, Hermione could recognize her quick steps and disapproving tsk-tsk anywhere. It was not surprising considering the amount of time she had been spending in the infirmary this past year. She could hear the nurse approach, probably checking on her patient.
"Albus? What's this?" she demanded authoritatively. "I remember specifically asking you to remove the bed-bind charm from the poor girl after an hour."
"Oh, silly me. Excuse an old man, will you, Poppy?" the headmaster replied meekly, but not fooling anyone.
Hermione felt her body free itself of the invisible binds and let out a breath of relief, opening her eyes, and immediately meeting Severus' horrified wide gaze.
"Severus." she croaked very inelegantly, causing Sirius to guffaw from the anti-climax and receiving in return twin death stares from the reunited couple. Madam Pomfrey hastily handed the young woman glass of water to relieve her dry throat.
"Hum... We'll give you two some privacy." Lily told them hitting Sirius on the head and scooping her baby boy from the bed.
"Wait!" Hermione exclaimed. "Is that... Is that Harry?" Her eye had caught the startling green of the baby's emerald eyes and, combined with his messy black hair, could only come to that one conclusion.
"Of course, you'd know." giggled Lily. "Here." The proud mother said as she popped her little bundle on the witch's lap. Hermione hesitantly held him in her arms and let out a surprised "Oh!" as the baby, her best friend, looked intently into her eyes as if he was gauging her.
"This is so so weird. But I've missed you, Harry. And I promise this time around, no trolls, basilisks, dragons or dementors will ever bother you, and no mean old snaky man either! Auntie Mione took care of all the bad guys." she cooed, before giving the curious baby a kiss on his forehead, where his lightning-bolt scar used to be, and failing miserably at holding back her tears. She handed him back to his mother, who gave her The Look. The one that means that she was going to have a lot to explain later on and that she would not wiggle out of it. By the expression on James and Sirius' faces, they would probably gang up on her too.
Finally alone, Severus mustered his courage.
"Did you hear everything?"
"Since Albus conveniently forgot to unbind me, yes."
They looked hesitantly at each other, not sure where to go from here.
"I'm sorry!" they both blurted out after a tense silence, before exchanging a shy smile.
"Whatever for?" asked Severus, who had been taken aback. She hadn't done anything, he was the bastard in this story, and he knew it.
"For running away. I wasn't thinking, I was just so angry... I didn't even stop and think for a second that you could never do that to me. Well, you did - with Lily, I mean." At which point, the sombre wizard blushed embarrassingly. "But I get what you were tying to do. I should never have doubted you. And if I had been sent back to 1997... I would have lost you, and left you for so long. I'm so sorry. It was so selfish of me."
Severus stood and went to sit on her bed, taking one of her hands in both of his, caressing them to remember the feel of her, of her softness and warmth.
"If you had been more selfish to start with, we wouldn't have needed to set up that farce." He told her softly. "You always put others first. You bleeding-heart Gryffindor."
"I take that as a compliment, you sneaky Slytherin." she shot back.
Their lips met softly, starting with a shy kiss and breaking it off when passion started sweeping them off their feet, leaving them panting like two love-sick teenagers.
"So... What do you think of Dumbledore's proposal? We're in 1980 and you're stuck here for good now. Preferably with me, but I heard a werewolf might be available." He teased, trying to lighten the mood and the knot that had formed in the pit of his stomach. He had dreamed many times of asking her to be his wife, but they had invariably turned to nightmares as his love turned him down, mocking him for thinking so highly of himself.
"Five years?" she mused, speaking to no one in particular, tracing Severus' face to seek the changes he had undergone in her absence. All traces of boyhood had left, leaving a man much like her Potions professor, except for the permanent scowl and sour expression, as if life tasted bad. The wizard, thinking she was repulsed by his more manly appearance tried to pull away, but she wouldn't let him.
"Would you have me, Severus? Even if I'm still more of a girl than the woman you deserve."
"You've never been a girl in my eyes. A mysterious, powerful, intelligent and courageous witch, yes. I think Time has played enough with our lives, let's decide for ourselves just this once. Hermione Granger," he told her solemnly as he slithered down to the ground on one knee, apparating a simple yet elegant silver ring in the shape of a crown in his right hand "Will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?"
"Yes!" she cried out without any hesitation, throwing herself bodily at him. "Yes, yes, yes!"
They held on tight to each other, they were all the other needed, and they wouldn't let Time, or anything else, take them apart ever again.
A/N 2: My first fanfic is now complete. Thank you again for reading, reviewing, following or favouriting, it helped me a lot to overcome my hesitations and lack of faith in my own writing!
I'm taking a break to plan out the next story, Patronus Totalus, but you can always read the first chapter I put up as a foretaste!