'Are you all right?'
The voice broke through her protective shell, the wall she had built around herself to keep the world out. She tried to ignore it, to blot it out, not wanting to be disturbed.
But the voice was insistent, pushing and pushing, finally forcing her out of the numb area she had inhabited – for how long, she didn't know.
'Hermione? Are you all right, love?'
The voice was pinched and worried; a tall, looming figure bent over her as she sat sightless and uncaring, her arms wrapped around herself as if drawing in to make herself as small and unnoticeable as she could. Giving herself comfort.
But there was no comfort. There would never be any comfort again.
A hand reached out to brush her hair and she flinched instinctively. She didn't want anyone touching her. Not ever again. Not now that—
'I'm sorry, love. I'm not going to hurt you. But you really need to eat.' The voice was full of concern.
The hand moved away again and the figure moved back a little to give her space.
'Just a little . . . come on, Hermione, you need to eat. There's no point in killing yourself.'
The insistent sound of the voice pulled Hermione back into the room, back to the place where she didn't want to be, couldn't face being. She looked around at her surroundings as if in surprise. Why was she here? How was it that she was here?
Ron's worried face appeared before hers. His eyes caught hers and saw the deep pain in them before pulling away again.
'I thought you'd drifted away there,' he said with a small laugh of relief, 'I thought we'd lost you forever.'
Inside Hermione cried, begging to be left alone with her pain and grief. She didn't want to be here; she didn't want to see anyone.
'Here we are,' another voice said cheerily. Hermione looked up dully as a plate of food was placed before her, the small bustling figure of Ron's mum smiling as she handed Hermione some cutlery.
'A nice home-cooked meal, that's what you need, Hermione,' Molly Weasley said confidently. She stopped, her hands on her hips, and watched the young woman. 'Well, eat up. Look at the state of you. When was the last time you ate?'
Hermione gave a small shrug. Time had no meaning for her now. Everything was just eternity.
She looked at the food on the plate in front of her and tried to focus on it to establish what it was.
'Shepherd's pie,' Molly supplied. 'I know it was always one of your favourites.'
Hermione frowned. Was it? She couldn't remember – couldn't remember anything about herself. All she knew about was the huge chasm of despair that filled her entire being, the black void of loss that threatened to overwhelm her, that would have overwhelmed her . . . had overwhelmed her until Ron had brought her back to the Burrow.
'How could you let yourself get into this state?' Molly asked gently. She sat down next to the young woman and picked up the fork Hermione had let drop to the table. She picked up some food then gently brought the fork to Hermione's mouth.
'Do you think Severus would want you to be like this?' she asked quietly. 'You know he wouldn't. He would want you to live, Hermione. That's what he died for.'
A strangled sob ripped from Hermione's mouth to hear Mrs Weasley talk about Severus in such a blasé way. Her heart, already stabbed right through with the pain of loss, threatened to burst.
Slowly Molly fed her; only a few mouthfuls, but even that, it seemed, was a victory. A few sips of water followed, and the pronouncement that she needed sleep. Hermione had sat still throughout, trying to retreat back to that fortress she had built, away from the pain of remembrance, the pain of loss and desire, the desire for everything to be over . . . to be with her lover once more.
'Come on,' Molly said quietly, taking Hermione's arm. The young woman was a bag of skin and bones; it was clear she hadn't eaten for some time. In fact, if Ron hadn't found her when he had . . . .
Molly shook her head to clear that thought. There had been enough death recently without thinking of more. She looked down at the shell-shocked young woman sitting in the chair, seemingly retreating back into her own world. It was strange how things happened.
'Let's get you to bed,' Molly said matter-of-factly. 'I'm sure you could do with a good sleep.'
Hermione let herself be pulled up and led from the kitchen, up the stairs, and into a small bedroom. She stood unresisting as Molly undressed her, the woman tutting unhappily as she saw the state of her. Finally Hermione was in a clean white nightgown.
'Lie down and get some sleep, love,' Molly said kindly, pushing Hermione gently towards the bed. 'We'll see how you are later. Don't worry about being disturbed. Ginny's staying with friends, so you'll be quite alone.'
She smiled and kissed Hermione gently on the forehead before leaving the room, closing the door quietly as she went.
Hermione lay on her back, eyes open but unseeing as slowly, so slowly, she made her way back to her place of refuge, her prison, her tomb. The quiet soothed her and enfolded her in its arms, claiming her. The journey was a tough one, but she had taken it before; she knew the route and all the dangers that lay ahead and the joy that would be at the end. But would she be allowed to continue? Alone, she had known that eventually she would reach the end; in fact, it had been in sight when the annoying voice had broken through. But now she was no longer alone and they would keep trying to drag her back to where she had no desire to be.
Day had turned to night. Hermione hadn't noticed, so possibly she had slept; she couldn't be sure. All she knew was that soon they would be back – back to drag her into the land of the living, the place she couldn't be . . . didn't want to be, because Severus was no longer there.
The door opened with a creak but Hermione ignored it. She couldn't retreat any longer, but that didn't mean she had to participate here. She wanted to be left alone.
'Hermione?' Ron's voice was quiet as he called her name. She could hear the worry there still.
He opened the door fully and entered, moving to sit on the bed beside her, stroking her hair.
'Are you awake?' he asked, knowing she was. Her blank introspection terrified him, left him feeling helpless and stupid. His best friend was in pain and he could do nothing to help her.
'I'm sorry,' she whispered, only just loud enough to be heard. Tears trickled down her cheeks.
Ron snatched her up and held her tightly in his arms as her tears flowed, her wracking sobs of pain ringing around the quiet room. As far as he was aware, this was the first time since the funeral that she had cried. At first she had continued about her business as if nothing had changed, seemingly intent on forgetting what had happened, coldly and calmly coping with the problems the aftermath of the war had brought. But eventually she had hidden herself away, rejecting her friends as she withdrew deeper into herself. Finally she had given up all contact, and for weeks no one had seen her. That was why Ron had broken into her home, worried that something had happened to her. The more than half-dead, almost catatonic mess shivering in a corner had almost made his heart stop, but regardless of what had happened to her she was his friend and he couldn't leave her like that.
Now she was back in the world, tearful and emotional – something that was almost as hard for Ron to bear as the other state. It wasn't that he didn't understand her grief. He did. Or at least he thought he could understand that she was grieving. What he didn't understand was the intensity and passionate nature of her grief. He would never have considered Hermione as the sort of person who would pine away for love; she was far too strong and sensible for that. Yet it turned out he didn't know her that well at all. The loss of one man had been enough to bring the usually emotionally mature young woman crumbling to her knees.
Hermione scrubbed at her eyes, trying to clear the tears from them. She had vowed at the funeral that she wouldn't cry again and had been successful until now, when her best friend had shown her how worried he was for her and she suddenly, inexplicably, felt guilty. The words of apology were followed by a wellspring of emotion, and the months of sadness and desperation that had been bottled so tightly, kept trapped within that fortress around her heart, gushed forth in a torrent.
'Harry . . .' she whispered.
'He would understand,' Ron said gently, 'but he wouldn't be very happy to see what you've done to yourself, Hermione. Look at you – you nearly died.'
'I know,' Hermione said. She hung her head in a mixture of sadness and embarrassment. 'I just wanted to be with Severus. I can't bear being alone.'
'You're not alone, Hermione. You've got us . . . and your family. You've still got them.' Ron hugged her again. 'I know it's not the same,' he acknowledged, 'but we all love you just as much as he did.' His face held an unreadable expression as he finished.
'Are you ready to get up?' he asked.
'I don't think I can see anyone else at the moment,' Hermione said apologetically. 'It's too soon.' She gave a small shrug. 'But you can stay here with me if you want . . . if you don't mind?'
Ron grinned. 'Of course I don't mind. Do you want something to eat? Mum's dying to feed you again. She was horrified at how thin you've got. She's been downstairs baking all afternoon.'
Hermione gave a small half-laugh, the first sound of enjoyment to come from her lips in almost six months.
'I'll have something. But not too much, my stomach's shrunk. And I'd like some pumpkin juice, too, if that's possible?'
Nodding, Ron rose from the bed. 'Anything you desire, my lady,' he said sincerely and turned for the door. 'Welcome back, Hermione,' he whispered happily as he left the room.
The family relaxed when Hermione finally emerged from the bedroom the following day. She had showered and wore the clothes Molly had cleaned for her while she was asleep. Although she was still feeling fragile, her evening with Ron had cheered her in a way nothing else had been able to do – the way he had always been able to do – and she found that for the first time in months she actually had an appetite when she reached the kitchen and saw the huge mound of food on the table. Somewhat shyly she slid into a seat and poured herself a glass of pumpkin juice as she quietly said good morning to the assembled Weasleys. She felt embarrassed now at how they had seen her the previous day, and horrified that she had put them through it. She was aware that to them she was family, and it must have hurt them to see her like that.
'How are you feeling, Hermione? Better, I hope?' Arthur said as he looked at her over the top of his newspaper. He had folded the paper back on itself and she couldn't see the headlines on the front page. It had been a long time since she had bothered with the world; she needed to read and see what was happening.
'Much better, thank you,' Hermione said, a small flush of red staining her cheeks. 'I really am sorry about—'
'No need to apologise, dear,' Molly said, smiling as she put a plate of eggs and bacon in front of Hermione. 'At least Ronald found you in time. Now you just need to eat. Get some flesh back on your bones.'
'I'll be as big as a house if I eat that lot,' Hermione said, looking around the loaded table.
'You're all right. I prefer big women,' George said, shooting her a cheeky smile across the table. Hermione laughed.
In her grief she had forgotten about her friends, both those alive and dead, dwelling selfishly on her desperate loss and despair. Now she looked at George, injured yet not bowed, still alive and kicking even as his twin, the charismatic joker, had died along with so many others in that final battle. Her laugher died and tears formed in her eyes once again for all those she had lost – not just Severus, the love of her life.
'What's the matter?' George asked, seeing the change.
'I'm sorry, George. I've been so selfish. When I think of everything you've been through—'
George shook his head. 'You're not selfish. You had every right to be upset. We all grieve in different ways, Hermione.' He smiled at her again. 'Anyway, the family were lucky that at least the good-looking one survived. Imagine if we'd had to breed from Fred!'
The whole family chuckled, although there was a bittersweet feel to it. Hermione knew that however much he joked about it, George would never get over the loss of his twin.
'I'm going to Diagon Alley today if anyone needs anything,' Molly announced to the room at large later, as Hermione helped to clear the table. Molly waved her wand and the dishes in the sink started to clean themselves. 'Would you like to come with me, Hermione?' she asked gently.
Hermione thought for a moment. She hadn't been out in months, not since she had left the Ministry, needing to be alone on the day she had decided she no longer wanted to be alive. She was scared of going back out. She was well-known; after all, with everything that had happened, she, Ron, and Harry were household names. She wasn't sure she wanted people gawking at her like she was some sort of circus freak.
'You need to go out sometime,' Molly pointed out kindly, clearly noting Hermione's indecision. 'I need a hand with some Christmas shopping and I'd appreciate your opinion. Time's going so fast it'll be here before we know it.'
Hermione nodded and gave a little smile. Christmas shopping she could manage. At least she hoped she could.
Hermione breathed in as she tried to do up her jeans. She had definitely been at the Burrow for too long. From being almost anorexic, now she was having trouble fitting into her clothes. If she didn't stop eating soon she would have to buy new ones.
'Are you ready?' Ron asked as he slid his head round the door.
'Just coming,' Hermione said exasperatedly, throwing herself onto the bed to try and sort the zipper of her jeans.
'What are you doing?' Ron asked, looking amused.
'Your mother's fed me so much I can't get my jeans done up,' Hermione admitted ruefully. She gave a cry of triumph as the zipper finally reached the top.
'Are you going to be able to walk around in those?' Ron asked doubtfully. 'You don't look very comfortable.'
Hermione sighed and undid the jeans, slipping them off. 'No. I'll never manage to sit down in them. They're already cutting off my circulation.' She laughed and opened the closet to retrieve a pair of trousers with a drawstring waist. She slipped them on.
'You definitely have put on weight,' Ron said as he watched her, 'especially on your belly.'
'Well, thanks for that, Ronald. That makes me feel so much better,' Hermione replied archly.
'That's not a bad thing,' Ron said quickly. 'Actually, I rather like it. It makes you look quite sexy, you know – all those womanly curves.' He blushed furiously.
Hermione laughed. 'It's all right, Ronald, I'm not really angry. But thank you for the compliment.' She leant up to kiss her friend. 'We'd better go.'
As they walked down Diagon Alley looking at the shops covered in festive decorations and snow, Hermione couldn't help smiling. Although she still had a huge hole in her heart, she no longer felt the desire for death that the immediate aftermath of the war had brought. Although she couldn't honestly say she was happy, she was content to be alive, and for the time being that was enough.
'I really need your help, though,' Ron moaned as she told him she was going off on her own for a while.
'No, you want me to do your shopping for you, Ronald,' she said knowingly. 'You can't be bothered to think of presents for people yourself and want me to do it for you.'
Ron scowled, knowing he had been caught out.
'Sorry, Ronald, but I've got presents to buy, too – and I've already helped your mum, Percy, and George with their gifts.'
Ron's face flushed. 'Oh, I see – you'll help Percy and George, but not me. I thought I was your best friend.' He sounded petulant.
Hermione sighed. 'You are, which is why I have to go shopping alone. I can't get your present with you around.'
'Help me first. Please, 'Mione. We can get everyone else's together. Then I'll go to the pub while you get my present. I'll even treat you to dinner.'
'Oh, go on, then,' she said in amusement. 'Anything for a quiet life.'
When she finally left Ron at the Leaky Cauldron he was loaded down with a pile of boxes and bags and looked relieved to finally be getting a pint. Hermione wanted a rest, too; she had come over tired a few times during the mammoth shopping session and her feet ached badly, but she wanted to get Ron's present sorted before she sat down. She wasn't sure she would be able to move again once she did.
She had just come out of the jewellery shop that she had chosen for her purchase when she accidentally bumped into an old lady who was partly blocking the exit of the shop.
'Oops, I'm sorry,' she said sincerely as she stopped the woman from falling. 'I wasn't watching where I was going.'
The woman smiled. 'Don't worry about it, dear, no harm done.' She looked more intently at Hermione. 'When are you due?'
'What?' Hermione was confused.
'The baby. When is it due?' The woman smiled again, a twinkling, friendly smile.
'I'm not pregnant,' Hermione said, suddenly not feeling so contented. A cold shiver ran down her spine.
'Oh, I'm sorry,' said the woman confusedly. 'I could have sworn – but no matter.'
'Excuse me.' Hermione was suddenly flustered and felt a need to get away. 'I have to go.' She quickly turned to walk back towards the pub where Ron would be waiting.
As she walked past the Apothecary she stopped and looked in the window. Could she be pregnant? It was true she hadn't had a period for probably six months, but as she had almost killed herself it wasn't really surprising her hormones were up the creek. But she had put on weight, and as Ron had said it was around the belly, and that woman had seemed so convinced. She couldn't be . . . it wasn't possible. But . . . .
She opened the door, the bell jangling as she entered the shop. The sudden smell of herbs assaulted her nose, making her heart beat faster. She looked around at the potions ingredients. Gods, this brought back memories. She made her way to the counter and waited silently whilst the assistant helped a wizard dressed in bright orange robes with his purchase. She could feel herself fidgeting as she waited. Was it nerves?
'Can I help you?' The woman's voice cut through Hermione's thoughts as she stood looking around the shop. She jumped.
'Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you,' the woman said lightly, smiling in a friendly way.
'That's all right,' Hermione said. 'I was miles away, sorry.'
'Are you after something specific?' the woman asked politely.
Hermione swallowed nervously. 'I think I might be pregnant,' she said, her voice quavering somewhat.
'I see.' The woman looked at her appraisingly. 'When was the last time you had a period?'
'About six months ago, I think,' Hermione replied. 'I've been ill, so I thought it was due to that,' she added quickly when the woman looked at her like she was stupid. 'You know, hormones and that. I lost rather a lot of weight. Anyway, the weight's gone back on but I've got a much bigger tummy than I had before, and while I was out shopping some old lady asked me when the baby's due.' Hermione looked close to tears now.
'Well, it could just be hormones,' the woman said sympathetically. 'I mean, if you're suddenly eating a lot after being very thin it would give you a stomach.'
'She seemed so sure, though,' Hermione said almost wistfully. 'But I don't think it's possible, is it? Surely I'd know.'
The woman shrugged. 'It is known for women to go through pregnancy without any side effects and without realising, although it is rare. Of course, your illness could have covered it up.'
'I need to be tested,' Hermione said quietly.
The woman nodded. 'Yes. I think that's for the best. I assume you don't want to do a home test?'
Hermione shook her head. 'I need to know now,' she whispered.
'Come with me,' the woman said kindly. She slipped from behind the counter to lock the door and change the sign to 'Closed', then she led Hermione into the back of the shop.
'What's the matter?' Ron asked when Hermione finally made it back into the pub. She looked weary and shaken, as if she had been in tears again. 'You were ages. Did something happen?'
Hermione nodded and sat down slowly. Ron rushed to the bar to get her a drink, soon returning with a large mug of butterbeer.
'Sorry, Ron – can I just have a pumpkin juice?' she asked quietly.
Ron rolled his eyes but he returned to the bar for the juice.
'So what happened to you, 'Mione?' he asked when he returned and sat down next to her, gently stroking her arm.
'I just had a bit of a shock,' Hermione said. She took another sip of the juice. She felt sick.
'What happened? Nothing bad, I hope?' Ron was worried now. 'I knew I should have come with you,' he finished, sounding serious.
Hermione shook her head slowly. 'I was just coming out of the shop that I bought your present in and I bumped into this old lady – an accident, you know. I apologised and she was fine about it, but . . . but she asked me – she asked me when the baby was due.'
Ron looked annoyed, 'Stupid old cow. That was rude of her. Don't worry, Hermione – you're not fat, really you're not.'
Hermione looked at Ron intently. 'No, I'm not, Ronald. But I am pregnant.'
'What? . . . But how? . . . Who? . . . What? . . . Are you sure?'
Hermione sighed. 'Yes. I was quite upset, actually, so I went to the Apothecary and she tested me. It's positive: I'm definitely pregnant.'
'The baby's due in January,' Hermione continued quietly.
'But that means—'
'That I got pregnant just before Severus died. Yes.' Hermione nodded her head sadly; there were tears glistening in her eyes again. 'It really wasn't just infatuation, Ronald.'
'Oh, Hermione,' Ron said, and he pulled her into a hug.
'Can we just go home please, Ronald?' she asked. 'I don't feel like eating tonight.'
'Of course. Let's go now.' He finished his mug of beer and started to pick up all the boxes and bags. Hermione began to help him but got told off for lifting things 'in her condition'.
'I don't want to tell anyone else just yet,' she said before they went through the Floo. 'I need time to let it sink in first.'
'Whatever you want, Hermione,' Ron said sympathetically. He knew what she meant. This pregnancy was as much of a shock to him as it was to her, probably more. After all, he had never realised the relationship had been sexual. To be serious, he had never actually realised there really was a relationship, although of course that explained Hermione's reaction at the funeral and afterwards perfectly. No wonder she had wanted to die after her lover had been so tragically taken from her – and she had been a witness to the whole nasty incident.
Once back at the Burrow, Hermione went straight to her room, wanting to be alone for a while. She had things to think about, things she didn't want to share with anyone at the moment, and she needed to be alone before she cracked up again. Ron hid all their presents carefully. He could hear Hermione's soft sobs coming from Ginny's room. He wasn't sure why she was crying but he knew she wanted to be on her own. As much as he wanted to hold her and tell her everything would be all right, he slowly made his way back downstairs, leaving Hermione to weep alone.
Hermione lay on her back with her eyes open, much as she had the day she had been rescued from her home – the day she had got her life back. Tears rolled down her face now as she thought of how close she had come to joining Severus in death and – all unknowing – taking their child with her. But somehow both she and it had survived. She placed her hands on her belly, lying quietly and waiting for any tell-tale sign of life. Was that a kick? Something she had always put down to dodgy guts or her body readjusting could now be seen as movement of the life inside of her. She closed her eyes and smiled, trying to picture her baby.
Boy or girl? She didn't care, but she had a feeling it was a boy. Would he have the dark hair of his father or her mousy brown hair? Whatever, it was sure to be a mess. She giggled. A beautiful child? Probably not, but you never knew; sometimes the most beautiful children came from the most unexpected parents. Clever, for sure, and brave, too; she expected nothing less of their son.
Soon she dropped off to sleep.
'Hermione, wake up. There's someone to see you,' Ginny said excitedly. She shook her friend as she slumbered in the armchair. Not long ago they had finished the huge Christmas lunch and Hermione had been sleeping it off whilst her friends played games and chatted.
'Wha—' Hermione said, struggling awake. She shook her head to clear it and her eyes gradually focussed on the room around her and the people in it.
'Harry!' Hermione screamed as she pulled herself out of the chair with difficulty and flung herself at the figure in front of her. Harry wrapped his arms around her tightly, his lips finding hers, kissing her as he gave her a gentle squeeze.
'You're choking me, Hermione,' he said laughingly as she finally released him. She was crying again.
'Leave the man alone, Hermione,' Ron said thickly. He patted Harry companionably on the back. 'Good to see you, mate. I think Hermione's pleased; hard to tell with her, though,' he chuckled.
'What are you doing here?' Hermione asked excitedly. 'I thought you were off in Europe somewhere.'
'I was.' Harry pulled Hermione onto the sofa next to him, holding her hand. Ron came and sat on the arm next to her. 'But we had a bit of luck a couple of days ago and found a cell. We arrested them and brought them back for trial. It meant we all got to go home for Christmas.'
'That's brilliant!' Hermione said, hugging him again. 'We've missed you so much, haven't we, Ron?' Ron nodded his agreement.
'So have I missed much?' Harry asked.
'Not really,' Hermione said, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. Ron got up quickly.
'I'll just get us some drinks,' he said tactfully. Taking Ginny with him, he went to the kitchen, leaving the two friends alone to talk.
'Ron told me what you did,' Harry said, his emerald eyes boring into Hermione's brown ones, his hand gently stroking hers.
'Oh. Harry, I . . . .'
'I understand, Hermione,' Harry said quietly. 'I know how you felt about Severus – how I guess you still feel about him. But you know he wouldn't have wanted you to die.'
Hermione gave a bark of laughter; she was trying not to cry again. 'Everyone's told me that and I know it's true, but at the time I just couldn't bear the idea of never seeing him again. But now . . . did Ron tell you that I'm pregnant?'
Harry nodded, smiling widely. 'He did mention it one or two hundred times. I think he's quite excited about it, actually.'
'It gives me something to live for,' Hermione said. 'I know part of him is still here with me.'
Harry nodded again. He slipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out a small, dark glass bottle and placed it in Hermione's hand, covering it with his own.
Hermione gasped as she looked at it. 'I'd forgotten all about that,' she said quietly, her voice close to breaking. 'In the aftermath I didn't have time, and then when I remembered I couldn't find it.'
'Someone gave it to me,' Harry said. 'I think you must have dropped it somewhere in the school. They were going to throw it away. I recognised it and stopped them.'
'Why didn't you give it back to me before?' Hermione's voice was accusing.
Harry shrugged. 'At first I completely forgot I had it. Then it never seemed like the right time, with the funeral and everything. Then I went abroad. I meant to give it to you before I went, but you know how we were rushed out. Of course I regretted not giving it to you when I heard what you had done.'
Hermione shook her head. 'Don't be upset. You might have just saved my life. I think if I'd seen Severus it might have pushed me over the edge earlier. I just wanted to be with him again so much.'
Harry looked at her with understanding. 'Do you want to look now?' he asked. 'I have a Pensieve in my bags. I can go and get it.'
'Yes, please,' Hermione replied, looking eager.
Harry squeezed her hand once more, then rose and headed for the door.
'And finally . . . this one is for you, Hermione,' Arthur said fondly as he handed over a beautifully wrapped box. The room was festooned with piles of discarded wrapping paper and ribbons where a mountain of presents had already been unwrapped by the entire family.
Hermione stared at the package for a moment and then slowly undid the wrapping, taking care not to rip the beautiful paper. She could feel everyone's eyes on her, wanting to know what the surprise gift was.
It was a box of a beautiful dark wood, possibly ebony, smooth and varnished. She looked at it for a moment and then opened the lid. Nestled inside on a bed of purple silk was a medal. Holding her breath, she pulled the precious item from the box and looked at the decoration on the front. Letting out the breath, she read the inscription on the back, feeling the tears form as she did so:
'Order of Merlin First Class, awarded to Severus Snape for extreme bravery in the final battle against Lord Voldemort. May 1998.'
'I hope you don't mind,' Arthur said as he looked at her thoughtfully. 'I thought it was right that you should have it.'
She dropped the box on the table and moved to sit in a chair by the fire, tears flowing freely down her cheeks. She rested her hands holding the medal on her belly, gently stroking the baby within.
'Your father really was a hero,' she whispered quietly as she looked at the medal once more.
- FINIS -
A/N: The Pensieve memory, which I chose not to relate in the end, revealed just how much in love with Hermione Snape was, more than even she had suspected. Hermione gave birth to a son, Stephen, on 8th January 1999, the day before his father's birthday. Ron, being the friend and lover he had always been throughout the stories, stood by Hermione and eventually did indeed marry her, and they had the children who were detailed in Jo's epilogue. By the time of the epilogue Stephen had already left Hogwarts after being in Ravenclaw, a talented mix of his intelligent parents, and had left the family to study in America. To Ron and the rest of his family Stephen was no less a Weasley than any of them, whilst at the same time always remaining a Snape.