Disclaimer: Everything recognizable from the Harry Potter universe belongs to J.K. Rowling, no infringement is intended to any copyright holder

Rated: R for violence and sexual situations

Summary: During Christmas holidays, Hogwarts is attacked. Sequel to Dark Land, though it can be read as an independent story. SS/HG Romance

Chapter 1: Then and Now

"Ronald Weasley, stop it this instant!" Hermione shrieked as another snowball pelted her in the back of her head.

Trudging through the newly fallen snow, Hermione, Ron, and Harry made their way back from Herbology with Professor Sprout. It was a sunny, but cold December afternoon. The sun reflected brightly off the newly fallen snow that rose to Hermione's calf as she stomped heavily with her black boots, her breath misting in the crisp December air.

Hermione smiled and breathed in deeply. Her surroundings felt fresh and pure. The white snow covered the dirt and grime of winter, and gave the barren trees a brilliant glow. It was cold, but her cloak kept her body warm and the sun baked her face.

Herbology was their last class before Christmas break.

Suddenly another large, speeding snowball hit Hermione from behind, splattering soft mush down her thick cloak. She turned sharply to see Ron smiling innocently at her. Hermione could tell he was up to something. She glared at him suspiciously. The next moment, she was assaulted by a bewitched snowball that exploded just above her collar sending wet snow down the skin of her back. She yelped and jerked forward from the cold sensation. Shaking the snow out of her clothes, she feigned a scowl.

"Playing dirty, are we? We'll just have to see about that," she glared at him.

"You'd better watch it Ron, or she'll hex you something nasty," Harry warned.

"Ugh," Ron said as he grabbed his heart and fell over backwards into the soft snow.

Hermione laughed loudly. Ron could be absurdly entertaining. She adored his free spiritedness, and found most of his antics endearing.

In the distance, she saw Ginny waving to them. Most probably, she was waving at Harry, but Hermione returned the favor smiling. Running ahead of Hermione, Harry called back, "I'll catch up with you later," as he made to join a very pleased girl.

Hermione's smile widened as she watched them laughing and flirting all the way to the lakeshore.

Ron stepped up his pace to move next to Hermione walking closely. She smiled and bumped playfully into his side.

Their jovialness turned serious as Ron pleaded one last time, "Why don't you come to the Burrow with me this Christmas?"

"I spent practically the whole summer there Ron, I don't want to be a nuisance."

He stopped moving and put his gloved hand on her arm.

"You're hardly a nuisance Hermione," as he said this, his eyes moved up to meet hers. "My family adores you, and I would love to have you there," He stared at her with such deep feeling, Hermione became quite uncomfortable.

She looked down at her feet and kicked bits of snow around, silently collecting her thoughts.

"You know I would love to spend Christmas with you, as much as I would my own family. You and Harry have always been like brothers to me. I love you both." She hoped this clarification of her feelings would end their conversation.

Ron's face went dim with rejection.

She continued, "But with things the way they are, this is the safest place for me right now. I would never wish to endanger myself or your family with my Muggle presence."

Hermione sighed. She hoped his heart was not broken. She truly loved Ron, just not as he wished. It had taken her some time to find out how he felt about her. His strange show-off behavior only confused her, until Ginny pulled her aside one day and explained that it was all done for her benefit, to get her to notice him.

Hermione thought of the Burrow and of her own home, as they walked in silence through the snow. The Burrow was a magical home with a ghoul in the attic and enough family to fill a house twice its size. Wild, ruleless games of Quidditch and unexpected explosions would be common place once Fred and George arrived. Such liveliness and love were hard to pass up, but even more difficult was being apart from her own parents. Her mother was not nearly as maternal, in the traditional sense, as Ron's, but she did love and support Hermione in every way she could.

When Hermione had gone home for the holidays, nearly three years ago now, she and her parents had visited museums and art galleries. They encouraged her love of knowledge and spent many hours learning and experiencing together. Her time at home involved more Muggle education than most Muggle children received in an entire school year. Christmas dinner would include only her parents and herself, but it was loving and quaint. They had a tradition of placing a new ornament on the tree every Christmas Eve.

Both homes were so different, yet both held places in her heart. It saddened her to be separated from the people she loved.

Professor McGonagall had appealed to the Department of Magical Transportation, so that Hermione could receive her Apparating License early. Hermione had hoped that by Apparating, she would be able to spend a day or two with her family this Christmas holiday. But now, even a day at home was too dangerous.

She glanced over at Ron who still appeared discouraged.

"Come on," she coaxed. "Your train doesn't leave until 5:00, we still have time," and she trotted in the snow down to the lake by Harry and Ginny, her cloak and loosely dangling scarf floating behind her in the cool breeze.

The pair smiled at her and Ron, as they formed the ears of a very short, wide snow goblin. A long narrow nose stuck out and magically blinked green and red. A huge pot belly filled its short stubby body. Snow seemed the perfect medium for the goblin image.

"Your ear is too round Gin. Look at Harry's," Ron said motioning towards the tall pointy lobe Harry was forming.

Hermione stared out onto the water. Wide thin sheets of ice surrounded the shore. Further in, chunks of unconnected ice bobbed with the wind. She remembered the last time she had really looked at the water. A deep sadness took hold of her, when she thought back to that night. The lake had been unnaturally calm, but his words were harsh and cruel, 'You are confusing love with loneliness and desire.' Hermione winced as she remembered his voice. She had been hurt more that day than she would ever admit.

Shaking the unpleasant thoughts from her mind, she looked at Harry and Ginny as they spent more time gazing into each others eyes than sculpting their creature. They were obviously in love. Neither had ever mentioned that they were dating, but Hermione could tell by the way they treated each other.

Ginny gave Harry a sly grin and flicked a bit of snow at his face. Harry responded by charging at Ginny and tackling her into the snow. Kneeling by her, he threatened to cover her head with a large snowball. Their deep stares, playful smiles, and frequent touches all spoke more than words ever could.

She wished she could feel as happy in love as those two.

Unfortunately, love does not always bring happiness, as Hermione well knew. She had been in love only once. It was a deep, thought-provoking, breathtaking love, and she had felt this with only one person, Severus Snape.

She and Professor Snape had been sent to an alternate universe, where time was unmoving. That still, dark world was void of all living creatures. They had been forced to rely on each other, and they had become close, too close. Hermione had been such a fool. She threw herself at him, and he had taken her. But soon they returned to reality, where they could not be together. He was her professor and she, his student. In this world, he had no interest in continuing their relationship.

Initially, she had convinced herself that she had been lonely and confused. But as her feelings of loss lingered, she came to realize that her pain was that of unrequited love. It was because of this love, that she could not return Ron's affections.

It had taken poor Hermione a while to return to her normal state of independence; longer than she had expected. She was able to act herself soon after, within a week or two, but an emptiness haunted her for months. To own the truth, these feelings of loss and emptiness had never completely subsided. She truly loved Snape, though he felt differently. She thought of him often remembering his soft touch, spicy scent, and silky hair and voice. Yet, these were nothing to his thoughtful stares, and his sarcastic wit. She missed him still, even months after their separation.

Classes with him had been awkward. Hermione never spoke or raised her hand unless absolutely necessary. Her need to please and share her knowledge did not extend far enough to allow herself to speak easily in front of him.

She was jolted from her thoughts by Ginny informing them, "It's getting late, we should be heading back."

And so the quartet laughed and giggled their way towards the castle.

"I can't believe Snape gave us a test, on today of all days." Ron complained as they walked back to the castle.

Hermione rolled her eyes, "I wonder at your surprise, since he has every year for the past seven." At least the mention of his name no longer brought up feelings of dread.

Ron hurmphed.

Hermione knew Ron's complaint was not with out merit. The other professors realized that focus and concentration the day before Christmas break was impossible. Professor Flitwick had the seventh years help him decorate for Christmas, placing Angel Charms on various trinkets. The items sprouted wings and flew gently to rest on the needles of the large fir trees in the Entrance Hall. Professor Sprout had them pruning small harmless Jiggler trees in the first year greenhouse. Even Professor McGonagall did not try and pull any real knowledge from the students on this day.

As they entered the castle's hallways with the suit of armor caroling, the four were far too engrossed in their thoughts and laughter to pay much attention to anything. Unexpectedly, they were almost run down by a very tense, very angry looking Snape rushing out of Dumbledore's office. His face was hard with frustration, his knuckles white with tension.

He glared fire down at them as he sneered, "Students wandering the halls when they should be preparing to leave, I see. Five points from Gryffindor for loitering."

As quickly as he had spoken, he strode away towards the dungeons, robes billowing behind.

"He's not much for the Christmas holidays I see," Harry remarked.

Ginny smiled slightly squeezing his arm.

Though everyone was a bit flustered by this encounter, Hermione was the only one worried by it. Snape was always bitter and angry to the others, but she had enough experience watching and observing his subtle facial expressions to know when something was wrong, and by what she had just witnessed, something was seriously wrong. She had a feeling she knew the reason for his unease.

Tensions were mounting in the Wizarding world as Voldemort's reign of terror continued with a vengeance. Since the beginning of their school year, the situation had worsened.

In early November, the Dementors abandoned their posts as guards of Azkaban. Voldemort's strongest supporters were held within its walls. With no bars or captors to hold them, the prisoners, at least those still in their right minds, escaped. The Dementors' absence also held an ominous sign as to which side they had chosen. They were pure evil, draining the happiness and hope from humans, but they were not stupid. They had always gone for the easiest prey. So in held their bargain with the Ministry, which allowed them to feed on the condemned. However accessible the prisoners of Azkaban had been, they were not as tasty as the variety of victims Voldemort offered. Throughout November, bodies of catatonics, empty shells of people, had been found. Most were ignorant Muggles, but several known enemies of Voldemort were among the victims. There was now no question as to which side the foul creatures had chosen.

For the past two or three weeks, Voldemort and his followers had been quiet, too quiet. They were planning something.

Hermione looked over to see a portrait of a family gathered by a Christmas tree. The father held his youngest up to place a star on a high branch. They turned and waved warmly at Hermione, who became saddened with thoughts of her own family.

The troop made their way up the main stairs and through the long corridors to Gryffindor Tower and the portrait of the Fat Lady. Muffled chatter and noise seeped through the wall.

"Wattlebird," Hermione said and the picture opened up to reveal a mad house of rushing students.

The common room was a hustle and bustle of people flinging luggage and animals here and there getting ready to board the train home. Almost everyone was preparing to leave. Besides Harry and herself, only Dean Thomas and a third year were staying for the holidays.

Dean and the other student were Muggle-born like herself, and felt it best to avoid endangering themselves or their families.

The commotion was nearly overwhelming. Hermione was amazed at the sheer number of bags people thought necessary for a short visit home. She was certain they had some clothes and supplies at their homes, that they needn't bring everything back with them. Hermione decided that unless it became riotous, she would not intervene.

Taking a seat by the fire, she ignored the ruckus as best she could.

She was intrigued by how easily she could now ignore chaos. She did still notice annoying little habits. Her attention to detail had improved significantly over her three months in the dark world, however the awful feelings of anxiety that these things use to cause her, had subsided considerably.

She glanced around and spotted a very upset cat hiding under a table in the far corner of the room. Crookshanks must have become curious and made his way down here. His mistake had forced him to take shelter from the many large pieces of flying luggage that were being piled and shoved into disorganized heaps throughout the room.

His bright orange fur was standing on end as he hunched up, claws out, hissing at the oblivious people and belongings that passed by.

Hermione walked quickly to him, "Oh poor old boy, let's get you upstairs."

She lifted the large fur ball, and he clung to her shoulder, his head hiding in her robes.

Crookshanks had been her one confidant during her time of adjustment. He would listen and not condemn. He was also the only creature in the world she could tell. She and Snape had agreed to keep her involvement, their involvement, a secret. She was glad that at least one other living soul had heard her out, so that she hadn't been completely alone, her thoughts building up inside.

Hermione looked over at a group of very confused first years. She sighed and went to help.

"My Remembrall is red, but I don't know why," a thin, pale girl said timidly.

Hermione helped the girl search through her bags pulling all sorts of clothes, and trinkets out onto the floor, until she realized that she had forgotten to pack the pin cushion she had transfigured for her mother. The girl ran upstairs to retrieve her forgotten present.

Professor McGonagall soon entered to tell Hermione it was time to organize the students, so they could board the coaches for the train station.

Hermione turned to Ron saying, "Wait on the platform, so I can say goodbye, all right."

He gave her an affirmative nod and ran upstairs to grab his bags.

Hermione had the students line up by year in the common room. She sent the eldest first, through the portrait hole, in a long line of large trunks, smaller bags, thick cloaks, hooting cages, and meowing baskets.

She waited by the portrait of the Fat Lady until it was the first years' turn to board. She helped the younger students levitate their bags and load them onto the coaches.

As she rode with the children to the train station, Hermione watched as the leafless trees swayed gently in the breeze and the sun slowly sank lower in the sky. She wondered how so much can change, yet still remain the same. She sighed heavily hoping that next Christmas, she and her family might be reunited.

As Hermione said goodbye to Ron in front of the Hogwart's Express, she smiled and hugged him tightly.

He boarded the train, and Hermione watched his image flicker in and out of sight as he moved to sit near a window.

The train began steaming and she waved.

"I promise to owl you something besides a Weasley sweater," Ron shouted out the window as the train eased forward on its tracks.

And as they waved their goodbyes, the trio had no idea that their lives and the lives of the Wizarding world would soon be forever altered.