Dedication: To mischievous_t, entirely; this is absolutely her story and plotline. Thank you, for your guidance, presence and vision.

Additional thanks: This story was written as a collaborative effort. Much thanks and praise must be given to the beautiful girls of House Hufflepuff for their tireless work to bring it to fruition.

Christev: powerhouse beta-extraordinaire, who sent beta-notes from her hospital bed.

Morethansirius: wünderkind alpha-reader, who breathed such life and energy into the story.

Want to Listen to the story? Lastseeninorbit is recording it on her youtube channel.

Many profound thanks to her for her help in making the story accessible to everyone.

Next of Kin.

Chapter 1 - Relation

"Excuse me?" Hermione said, gobsmacked.

"You're listed as the next of kin, ma'am," the Ministry stooge behind the glass window dully repeated.

Hermione's fist squeezed around the crumpled Ministry summons. Her weekend plans revolved around bowls of cereal, her favorite pajamas, a trashy romance novel and catching up on some research for work. Receiving the news that her presence was required at the Office of Ministry Justice (there was a lark), and at seven thirty no less, had been quite unwelcome.

Learning she was only there on Severus Snape's behalf was just the cherry on top.

"I'm the next of kin." The news sank like a stone.

"That's what the paperwork here says," the apathetic administrator noted, holding up a rather thick file. It might have been earth-shattering news to Hermione, but for the files clerk - his eyes darting to the rather long line forming behind her - he just needed to move her along. Azkaban Prison was cleaning house and sixty-odd inmates were scheduled to be released.

"Sign here."

Paperwork was pushed in front of her.

"There must be a mistake," Hermione protested. "I'm not related to him."

It's not that she really had much against the maligned war hero – she'd testified on his behalf once. He'd also been a competent professor and decent enough conversationalist on the rare occasions when he deigned her worthy enough to speak to. But a fan of Snape – no, she couldn't claim that title. Hermione didn't hero-worship him like Harry, and on the whole she felt rather ambivalent towards his plight.

He'd been acquitted of murder and a whole slew of rather serious charges, but convicted of a lesser crime – failing to register his ability to fly – a charge similar to failure to register as an Animagus. While most people were able to talk their way out of the misdemeanor, especially if they greased the right palms, the defense, Voldemort wouldn't let me, just didn't strike the right note with the Wizengamot. And well, that was justice served.

"There's no way I can be his next of kin." Hermione pushed the parchments back to the clerk, refusing to sign.

"Look Miss, just sign them." The room was filling with impatient families. He knew from experience that the longer it took to process the releases, the greater the odds increased that babies would start crying. "If there's no one to sign for him, he can't be released. But Azkaban can't hold prisoners forever. You want we should petition him for euthanasia?"

Hermione's eyes widened in horror.

It worked every time.

She hastily scribbled her name on the release forms and shuffled off to the next waiting room.

The plain room was filled with uncomfortable chairs arranged in efficient rows. She found a seat and scanned the small gathering there. Some children played with toy wands while a nervous-looking young mother tried to keep them quiet. An older woman with silver hair that matched the shade of the yarn she was knitting seemed perfectly calm, except for the slight tremble in her lips. Hermione wondered how long she had waited for the release of a loved one. Two men, presumably brothers, sat tense and very much on edge. Hermione thought they bore close enough resemblance to Gregory Goyle to be family.

And there she was, thoroughly indifferent to her prisoner. Waiting impatiently for a man she barely knew and had no desire to be reunited with. How the hell was she the next of kin for Severus Snape?

Hermione racked her mind for what little personal information she knew about the man. He was a half-blood. Was it possible that she shared a blood relation on the Muggle side? Would that possibly explain why she manifested magic? A recessive gene? No, that didn't even make sense. Aside from which, he was a Northerner. Hermione didn't have family in the North. She had a great uncle who once sought his fortune up there. Was it possible they had a distant relation in common?

Unconsciously, Hermione shook her head.

Two hours later, the room had filled with more eager and emotional families. They whispered amongst themselves and traded stories of happier times. Some checked their timepieces anticipating the moment of reunion. Hermione looked at her watch, wondering how much more of her weekend she had to sacrifice and lamenting her decision not to bring her books with her, but then she was told she only had to be there to sign a few papers. Trust the Ministry to make signing papers an all day affair.

The furthest door opened and several people sat up. Hermione could hear clamor and clanking sounds coming from an echoing hallway.

"Clear the way!" an Auror boomed.

He led a small procession of emaciated prisoners linked together in chains, and a wail went up from several women.

As the first line of prisoners moved through, some people packed up and followed them out the door.

"Clear the way," another Auror shouted as another line of prisoners appeared in the doorway.

Hermione made a moue of disgust. On the rare occasion that she had reason to visit the fetid prison, the conditions appalled her. Cells were tiny and prisoners were packed in, though Hermione thought their body heat probably created more warmth than the insufficient rags they wore. The prison reeked of fish and seawater, and as the second line of haggard prisoners clanked and lumbered past her, Hermione's nostrils were filled with the revolting stench.

Personally, she thought that it was an outrage that Azkaban still existed. It was a scandalous throwback to the appalling institutions of the industrial revolution and had no place in a modern society, but then it was just another example in which the wizarding world was backwards and antiquated. Another Auror marched in a line of shackled inmates. To Hermione's relief, they appeared better fed and seemed to manage basic grooming. The vacant faraway look was still in their eyes, but Hermione held out hope that with some coaxing they might manage to adjust.

Line after line of inmates paraded past and receiving family members dwindled. The condition of the prisoners improved. It seemed as if the first to be released were the worst of the lot, possibly those who'd been incarcerated the longest. Snape had only been in prison for six years. In wizarding terms that was hardly any time at all – a minor inconvenience to people who lived well past a century.

Hermione glanced at her watch as her stomach rumbled. Beneath her breath she cursed him for not being in one of the first groups. Mentally she recounted that she just needed to escort him out of the building, and then she could be on her way.

"Clear the way!" an Auror shouted, despite the fact that most of the waiting room was empty.

Hermione watched with keen interest the slumped shoulders and hung heads of the inmates that shuffled into the room, her eyes on the lookout for a man she might recognize as Snape.

Of course. He was the very last prisoner. How like Snape to make an entrance.

Recognizing him was not a problem. Every prisoner looked beaten in spirit and body, with unfocused eyes and hobbled gait.

Not Severus Snape.

Other than being dressed in drab grey, Hermione didn't think he appeared any different from when she'd seen him last. The jagged pink scar on his neck was the only bit of color on his black and white person. He wasn't dragging his body of bones about him like the rest of the men. Tall, angular, and fierce, Severus Snape projected an unbroken spirit and walked in precisely measured steps – his gait halted only by the length of chain wrapped about his ankles.

Hermione's eyes were drawn to his knuckles. They protruded against the taut skin as if he was ready – at any moment – to strike.

Immediately she decided. She was going to escort him out to Diagon Alley, wish him well and Apparate away. She had more important worries than Severus Snape.

Hermione got up with the other family members and followed the procession into the next processing room. Here small desks were assembled with bustling clerks assigned to each prisoner. Snape was brought to the desk of a peevish looking young man who seemed to be hyperventilating just a bit. As Snape's chains were removed the clerk visibly gulped. Hermione appeared at Snape's shoulder, and the clerk seemed relieved to have her as a buffer.

Snape merely lifted his eyebrow. Hermione shook her head as if to answer his questioning eyebrow, 'Don't ask.'

"If you don't remember me from class sir, I'm Mister Newman. You failed me during my third year."

"Yes, and if it hadn't been for your Head of House, you'd have been expelled. Now get on with it, boy."

"Oh – right," the clerk nervously cleared his throat. "Congratulations on your release. I have some paperwork you both need to sign and fill out. Where you intend to live, how you intend to support yourself, as well as a promise not to recidivate."

Snape pulled a sour face. "And just how would I recidivate – you already know I can fly."

Newman looked helpless and flapped about.

"You could always go back to prison if you don't like it," Hermione suggested, taking her cue from the tactics of the earlier clerk.

Snape glared at her for interfering.

Hermione ignored him in favor of flipping through the paperwork she needed to sign. Again it listed her as the next of kin. She didn't get that, but it stated clearly she was, and in small print on page two it said: 'related by way of marriage.'

Well, there it was.

Some distant relative of her was a distant relative by marriage to him. As she casually flipped through the obscure contract, Snape poured over it obsessively, rapidly firing off questions at the clerk.

Yes, some of the promises were vow-bound.

No, the clerk didn't know which ones.

Snape refused to sign anything without clear answers on which promises were vow-bound. Hermione glanced piteously at her watch; the whole day had gone to pot.

"Oh, for fuck's sake," Hermione hissed at him as Newman tottered off to find his supervisor. "Just sign the papers so we can leave."

"I don't recall asking you to be here," Snape snarked. "And I refuse to vow anything the Ministry hands me without investigating it first." Snape's brow furrowed up. "Just why are you here, Miss Granger? Where's Minerva?"

Hermione gave a longsuffering sigh, blowing an errant curl from her face.

"Supposedly I'm your next of kin – we're family."


"Improbable," she pointed out. "I don't think it's likely either, but that's what their paperwork says, and they're hell-bent on it." Hermione flipped to the small print on page two and pointed it out to his surprise. "Apparently we share some distant relative."

"So, you are my kinfolk - oh, goodie." He surveyed her up and down slowly, those hawkish black eyes inspecting every detail of her body. "Of course, the family resemblance between us is overwhelming."

She snorted.

"It bears investigating," he said pensively.

"In case you ever need a kidney transplant?"

"Something like that."

Newman returned with his supervisor. Their conversation was fairly short. The contractual terms of his release were completely standard and absolutely straightforward: take it or leave it. The Aurors were standing by to escort him back to Azkaban if need be. Snape signed.

He confirmed he had a home to go to and a form of employment to sustain him or someone who would provide for him. Miss Granger was made to sign her part, affirming that he was being remitted to her custody. She signed with wholly too much flourish, with extra-loopy swoops that mocked him. His caretaker? Really!

A bundle containing his wand and the robes he wore to his trial was unceremoniously shoved in his hands. As Hermione had already signed her portion, she was ready to bid him adieu and put space between herself and the dour wizard, but she waited patiently while he changed in the men's room.

He emerged looking as if he'd been under the weather for a few weeks, but otherwise no worse for the wear. Anyone not paying attention to the newspapers wouldn't have known he had been incarcerated.

In the Ministry foyer they parted, Hermione offering him a polite, "Welcome back," and Snape acknowledging the piss-poor attempt at a hero's homecoming with a nod.

She returned home, greeting Crooksy, and had a bowl of cereal, then shared the dregs of milk with the fat tom.

Where Snape returned to, she didn't know.

Fit and trim in her maturation,

Granger'd improved since graduation.

She was so headstrong.

It was a turn on.

Too bad that she was a relation.