Hermione took a deep breath and opened the doors. She walked into the large room, deep as it was wide, and took her seat in the center of the floor in the single chair that waited there. She looked up into the faces of the witches and wizards of the Wizengamot, the faces of the people who would be deciding her fate. They stared back, their gazes piercing and distrustful. She glanced at the Minister of Magic, and he was looking back, but the expression on his face wasn't the picture of sureness that she would have liked. Then she let her eyes fall upon her small group of friends—her only supporters—who were seated across the room from the Wizengamot. Harry was there, along with the Weasleys and several of the Professors from Hogwarts School.

Hermione felt trapped and cornered here in this bowl-shaped room with seats rising high above her on all sides. She swallowed and looked to Kingsley Shacklebolt, the Minister of Magic, when he cleared his throat. And then the interrogation began.

Only moments later it was coming to a close, and yet still she found it hard to breathe. It was as if there was some heavy weight on her chest, making it extremely difficult and strenuous to draw even a single breath. And as she looked around at the faces among the Wizengamot again, she felt fear coursing through her and her blood seem to run cold in her veins. Then they voted.

Hermione heard a strangle cry echo through the room, and was surprised to find that it wasn't from her own mouth. Once more, her eyes found her small group of friends. There she found shocked, disbelieving expressions, faces twisted in denial. Molly Weasley and Ginny were crying silently, though now Hermione was sure that it was older of the two women who had cried out.

Hermione turned back to face the Minister of Magic when he tapped his gavel sharply on the podium in front of him three times and the heavy, complete silence returned. He took a single moment to compose his face and his voice, and then his words boomed throughout the large room: "Hermione Granger, you have been found guilty of saving the life of, aiding and assisting, and otherwise being in conjunction with a fugitive who is wanted by the Ministry. I hereby sentence you to a lifetime spent in Azkaban Prison."

Now Hermione found that she couldn't breathe at all. She could only bow her head, nodding once and accepting her fate. She watched as the Wizengamot stood and exited the room, and then she rose from her chair and turned towards the doors. There, two aurors were already waiting to escort her out of the Ministry of Magic and to the wizard prison. In spite of the weak, frightened state she was in, she found it in herself to walk proudly, her shoulders back and her head held high.

Before she reached the aurors her friends all but ran down from their seats and surrounded her, forcing her to stop walking and turn to look at them. Ron had tears in his eyes now, too. "'Mione," he said breathlessly, "'Mione, I- I just . . ." he stopped talking and broke down crying.

She turned away from him and looked at Harry. He looked just as torn up as Ron, though his eyes were questioning. He obviously couldn't believe that this was all actually happening. "Harry," she said, smiling widely as she hugged him, probably for the last time. They exchanged terse nods, and she turned and hugged Ginny, who clung desperately to her when she tried to break away. "Ginny," she said sternly as she took the sobbing girl's arms from around her. "It's all right. Everything's going to be all right." She had only just finished speaking when Molly was there, crushing her in a bone-cracking motherly hug. Arthur patter Hermione's shoulder and shook his head, looking like he'd just lost another one of his children.

When at last Hermione managed to slip out of Molly's arms, she hugged George, who was like a brother to her. She shook Percy's hand. They had tears in their eyes, too, but she smiled at them all the same. For some reason, she hadn't started crying yet. Perhaps she was still just a bit too numb.

Then she turned back to Ron, who seemed to have gotten ahold of himself again. "I'll do whatever it takes to get you out," he said hoarsely. "I swear it, 'Mione, I swear! If it's the last thing I do, I'll get you out of there. I will!"

"Shh," she said, putting her finger to his quivering lips and shaking her head gently. "No, Ron. You're not going to get me out, you're not going to wait for me, and you're not going to obsess over helping me escape of finding a way to free me. You're going to go back to your life and forget about me."

His eyes widened. "No! I won't! I'll get you out! I will!"

"No," she said again, but now she was firmer.

"'Mione," he said quietly, "I'm not gonna leave my girlfriend to rot in prison for something she didn't do."

Hermione gave him a small smile. "You're right," she said, her voice barely a whisper.

He frowned, narrowing his eyes and searching her face because he knew that there was something more behind her words.

"Ron," she said quietly, "you're not going to let your girl rot in prison, because you don't have a girl."

His eyes widened slightly and the muscles in his jaw twitched. "'Mione," he began, but she cut him off.

"No, Ron. Just . . . no. You have a life to live. You're going to go and find a nice girl, and fall in love with her, and marry her and have a big family with lots of children. You're going to have a happy life, and you're going to forget that I was ever your girlfriend. Do you hear me?"

He started shaking his head, but she raised her hand, keeping him silent.

"You're going to become an auror and work for the Ministry. We both know it'd be no good for an auror to have a girlfriend who was in Azkaban. And I'm not getting out, Ron. You know that."

He was breathing hard again and more tears pooled in his eyes, running over and sliding down his cheeks. "Hermione . . ."

Not letting him finish, she stepped forward, closing the space between them, and pressed her lips to his, kissing him for the last time. All too soon, it seemed, she pulled away. "Goodbye, Ron," she said. And she turned and walked to stand by the door, between the two waiting aurors.

She nodded to them and they pushed open the door, marching out with her, one on either side. She walked proudly once more, head held high, shoulders back, lips set resolutely in a grim-but-unafraid line.

She heard her friends leaving the courtroom behind her, but did not turn to look. Passing witches and wizards stopped to watch Hermione as she was escorted out of the room and along the corridor. They were just about to enter the lift when Kingsley practically flew down the corridor and stopped them. He looked at the aurors. "We will go to my office."

The two wizards guarding her exchanged a glance, but they nodded to the Minister. Then the four of them entered the lift. They stepped off moments later and walked to Kingsley's office. Outside of the door he turned to the aurors once more. "You will wait here," he ordered. "I must speak to her privately, and then we will take her to Azkaban."

Once again, the two wizards exchanged a glance, but once again, they nodded. Kingsley nodded back and then opened the door and let Hermione in first. He closed the door behind her and walked up to his broad desk, but rather than going to sit behind it, he turned to face her. She stood in the middle of the room, but didn't feel threatened or cornered, not when Kingsley's kind, apologetic eyes were the only ones looking at her.

She was more than surprised when he turned suddenly away from her, so that he was facing the fireplace. He took a velvet bag the size of his fist from its peg on the wall. Then he drew a leather bag twice the size of the first, along with her wand, from his robes. He held the leather bag and the wand out to her and Hermione felt her eyes widen as the bag clinked, obviously containing money. She looked up into his face, not touching the bag. "Sir?" she asked, the word no more than a breath leaving her lips.

He pushed the leather bag and the wand into her hands and opened the velvet bag, holding it out to her. "Quickly! You must go now."

Hermione took a handful of powder from the bag and stepped into the fireplace, turning to face him as she tucked her wand and the bag into her own robes.

"I trust you have that beaded bag somewhere on your person, and that it has whatever you might need stored within it?" he asked, not waiting for her to respond to his earlier words.

She nodded dumbly.

"Good," was all he said.

They stared at each other for a few seconds, speaking with their eyes. She was thanking him while also asking him a million questions, and he was telling her to go, but also apologizing that she was being forced to run.

"Thank you," she said quietly.

He nodded. "I know the truth about you, and about him," he said. "Neither of you deserve this, but both of you must make yourselves scarce until I can sort things out here. Feel free to floo here if you ever have need of something—after hours, of course. And you do know that you cannot return to your friends? They will be questioned as soon as word gets out that you have escaped. " Then he nodded towards the place she'd stored the bag and said, "That contains our money and muggle money. Use it well."

They exchanged one more nod, and then Hermione said clearly, "Diagon Alley," and threw the powder down at her feet. Green flames leapt up, consuming her, and then she was gone from the Minister's office. He nodded to the empty fireplace and muttered, "Good luck," before pointing his wand at the wall and blowing a hole in it. Then he started shouting and rushing about his office, pointing his wand out the gaping new orifice there and yelling curses and spells at the street, where the illusion of a young woman was rushing away. The aurors burst in through the door and leapt out of the opening in the wall, charging after the woman, who was still running. She went round a corner only seconds before they did, but when they turned onto the alley, she was gone.

Kingsley continued to shout, but stopped his carefully-thought silent incantation, no longer generating the illusion of the escaping girl. He then rushed out of his office, alerting everyone else there that Hermione Granger had escaped and was now a fugitive on the run.

He spent the afternoon organizing aurors into parties that would hunt for her, and put a price on her head. The Daily Prophet was more than eager to have the story as soon as possible, and they didn't even want to be paid for featuring an article on the two escaped fugitives; they just wanted the full story and the details, which Kingsley gave. Hermione's friends were all brought back to the Ministry to be questioned, and they were given veritaserum for their interrogations, but none of them knew a thing about Hermione's escape or where she might be. Because they were useless without information, they were released and allowed to return to their homes.

Unbeknownst to the Ministry and its workers, Minerva McGonagall organized a meeting, which took place at Hogwarts the very next day. Harry, the Weasleys, the Lovegoods, Neville Longbottom, and Pomona Sprout were present at the meeting.

It had only been a week since the Battle of Hogwarts, and it was very difficult for the Weasleys to return so soon after losing Fred, but they came anyway. Everyone had lost someone in the battle or in the war, and they had only been free of the dark lord for a week, so none of them were quite recovered yet. And here, after the war and everything was over, they'd lost Hermione. Or they had been about to lose her, before she "escaped."

McGonagall had everyone seated at one of the tables in a corner of the Great Hall. No one had been back to Hogwarts after all of the deceased had been taken away by their families and the other participants in the battle had left, so the school was empty besides the ghosts, who came around and joined the meeting.

McGonagall cleared her throat, and everyone fell silent, watching. "It has occurred to you all, I'm sure," she said, "just how difficult it would be to get past the Minister of Magic, should he want to stop you."

There were nods all around.

"Then I assume you have all come to the same conclusion that I have; Kingsley allowed Miss Granger to escape and created a diversion so that she could do so without being followed."

Everyone nodded again.

McGonagall was silent, then, and everyone started talking at once. Kingsley had been on their side multiple times before, and as he was a former member of the Order of the Phoenix, they had expected him to know that Hermione was innocent, as was the man she had saved.

"Now," said Arthur, causing the others to quiet down, "there is more to think about. No doubt the Ministry will be keeping a close eye on all of us because they'll suspect that we're helping Hermione, so as much as we want to, we shouldn't try to contact her or meet her anywhere. It would be extremely dangerous for her and for us if we did so."

"Knowing Hermione," Harry said, "she'll be perfectly fine blending in with muggles. I'm sure she had her beaded bag with her in the courtroom, and no doubt Kingsley gave back her wand before she left. That means she'll have muggle clothes and a bit of muggle money. She's brilliant; she'll set up protective boundaries and such wherever she decides to stay. And we'd only just come back from hunting horcruxes, so she's still got our extra tent and a lot of supplies and things. She knows how to take care of herself, even if she lives in the wilderness for a while. She'll be just fine."

Everyone nodded, and the talking picked up again.

And Hermione was just fine. She did have the tent and the supplies, along with the money Kingsley had given her and the money she'd had beforehand. She'd flooed to Diagon Alley so that she wasn't seen by her friends, and from there she'd gone back into the Leaky Cauldron, out of which she had stepped back into the muggle world. While she was in Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron, she'd had the hood of her cloak pulled over her head. And once she entered the muggle world again, she had stepped into the nearest loo and changed into muggle clothing.

Now she was back in the Forest of Dean, where she and Harry had camped not long before, and where Ron had used the deluminator to find them again and come back. This was where they'd found the sword of Gryffindor. This was where Harry had seen Snape's patronus.

A chill ran down Hermione's spine when she thought of Snape. She held her cup of tea close and sat down on the edge of her bed in the tent, sipping the hot liquid and wishing she didn't feel so cold, so alone. Part of her wondered, where was Snape now?

She hoped the man was still on the run. He'd better not get himself caught; he was after all the reason she was now forced to run. It wasn't his fault, not really, but the greasy git better be alive and free still after all this trouble she was going through.

She hadn't actually saved his life. Rather, after Harry had taken her and Ron aside and told them in full about Snape's memories, she'd felt sorry for the potions professor and gone back to retrieve his body. Ron had refused to go with her, so she'd gone back to the shrieking shack alone, and there she'd found Snape, quite bloody and seemingly quite dead. She'd only just taken out her wand to lift his body magically and float it back to the castle when a flash of bright red feathers had caught her eye. Seconds later, a phoenix had landed lightly on Snape's chest, clinging to his robes. Hermione had been too shocked to react, and had only watched as the beautiful bird bent its head over Snape's gaping neck wounds and several tears fell into the gashes in the man's flesh. The wounds had shimmered, steaming slightly, and then they closed off, healing until there was nothing left but thin, pale scars.

Hermione had heard of Dumbledore's pet phoenix, Fawkes, but had only seen the bird once and it had been a fleeting glance, at that. She couldn't be sure whether this phoenix that had healed Snape was Fawkes or another bird. They were supposed to be extremely rare. She had puzzled over this momentarily and then, just as suddenly as it had come, the phoenix was gone, soaring back through the tunnel that led out of the shack.

Hermione had stood there, stunned, and watched as the man's chest began to rise and fall ever-so-slightly. She had been convinced that he was dead, but for Fawkes to heal him he would have to be alive. So she assumed that he must have been slipping away, on death's door, barely holding on to life. She had watched, awestruck by the power of phoenix tears, as Snape opened his eyes, which focused on her immediately.

And just then, several aurors from the Ministry had burst in from the tunnel. When they got to their feet, they looked from Hermione to Snape and back again, and then all of them had pointed their wands at Snape. They began spouting off plenty of talk about how Snape was a wanted man and he would pay for his crimes by going to Azkaban, and how he didn't even deserve death because he had killed Dumbledore, and countless others before that.

Not knowing why she did it, Hermione had suddenly pointed her wand at the three wizards and shouted the first spell that came to mind. The Ministry wizards were thrown backwards against the wall, and all but one had been knocked unconscious. Hermione had then pointed her wand at the still-conscious one and said, "Stupefy!"

Then she had turned back to Snape, who was recovered enough to get to his feet, though he was leaning against the wall for support. He raised his eyebrows at her, and his eyes were still cold, but there was a strange, grateful look in them. He then stepped away from the wall, towards the tunnel, and left the room. Hermione waited several moments, trying to get over her shock as she looked over the ministry workers she'd just attacked, and then she too left the shrieking shack. To her surprise, Snape had been standing there, near the tree. Though she didn't like to think of it that way, she had no choice but to assume that he'd been waiting for her. She stood there, glancing at the paralyzed whomping willow beside her before she looked back to Snape, who was watching her.

Unwillingly, she met his eyes, and though he didn't thank her with his words, his gaze said enough. Likewise, she didn't thank him for all those times he's been helping her and Harry and Ron, or at least, not verbally. She returned his grateful gaze for a moment and then both of them looked away. Without a single word, they nodded once to each other and parted ways. Hermione turned back towards the castle, and Snape walked away from it and towards the protective boundaries near the forbidden forest. Hermione knew that he would cross the boundaries and then disapparate. When she reached the castle courtyard she turned and looked back, and sure enough, he was gone.

Hermione had entered the school to find Harry and Ron and tell them about what had happened, and they hadn't looked half as concerned as she felt over the unconscious Ministry wizards who were sure to wake up soon. But as it turned out, she had been concerned for the right reasons; as soon as they did regain consciousness they stormed in, and before she knew what was happening Hermione was taken into the Ministry by Kingsley, who was unwilling but had no other choice.

Harry and Ron had rallied together a small group of people who would support Hermione and speak on her behalf, but none of them had gotten the chance to testify because the Wizengamot had decided right off that this was about Hermione and none of her friends' opinions could do anything to change her fate. She was accused of somehow saving Snape's life and then of preventing the Ministry wizards from doing their jobs and bringing him to the Ministry, therefore aiding him in his escape. And that was how she ended up at the Ministry, in the courtroom, feeling trapped and cornered and knowing that she deserved to be punished for attacking Ministry aurors but not feeling in the least bit sorry for what she'd done. She didn't regret it.

She had still been wondering then just why it was that when she was faced with a choice between the Ministry wizards and Snape, she'd chosen to attack the wizards. She supposed that she had saved his life in that, had he been taken in by the wizards, he'd be in Azkaban and not free. Or he'd be a dead man. But now she knew why she had chosen to help Snape escape. She'd acted on a whim, not thinking ahead or planning. She'd basically just seen Snape resurrected, and she didn't want to see him sent to Azkaban in the same moment. She'd been overcome by the idea of the phoenix tears being wasted or use to bring back a man who would have been better off dead, and had acted on impulse. But even after she realized why she had done it, she still didn't regret attacking those wizards.

With a sigh, Hermione came back to the present. She was in the Forest of Dean. She was on the run. She was a wanted fugitive with a price on her head. Her friends couldn't help her, because then they would get into trouble. She was completely alone, and the feeling was intensified by the emptiness of the large tent and the knowledge that it was so quiet because she was the only one there. She needed to look at her options, to start planning where she would go next. But she had time. She had already set up the protective boundaries around the place she was camped, and she wasn't far from the river, so she had a source of water. There wasn't exactly a pub nearby where she could get a drink and a hot meal, but her months spent with Harry and Ron had done her good, and she'd done a little reading, so now she was familiar with the wild herbs and plants that grew nearby and could be eaten.

Setting her unfinished tea on the desk beside the small bunk where she would sleep, Hermione curled up beneath the quilts even though she hadn't changed into her night things and it was midday. She didn't want to be running in her pajamas if something happened in the middle of her nap, and preferred the idea of being ready. But she needed her rest, as she hadn't gotten much in the last week. She didn't fall asleep for quite some time, and when she did, she tossed and turned, and didn't feel relieved or rested in the least when she woke that afternoon.

She felt both thrilled and terrified at the idea of running, and at the knowledge that she was in this alone. Yes, she could go back to Kingsley's office, but only after hours and only if she flooed into his fireplace. It would be impossible to apparate right into the Ministry of Magic, and visiting any local fireplace that was in the floo network would be very dangerous, as she could easily be recognized. She could trust no one, she had no one to rely on, and the only person she could depend on and turn to was herself.

She never did come to the realization that there was one other person who was on the run as well, one other person who had no one to turn to, and one other person alone who she could perhaps put her trust in. And even if it had occurred to her—which it didn't—that there was someone, the last person she wanted to trust at the moment was Severus Snape, even if she knew the truth about him and didn't have any other choice.

Hey there. I'm super-excited about this story, as it will be quite a bit different than my previous one, though of course there will still be the romance between Snape and Hermione! I've been deciding which idea of mine to start writing about, and in the end this idea won over the others!

This time around I probably won't be able to update every day, but I will update at least once a week, I promise! Besides, I usually get into the story just as much as you guys do, so I'll probably be updating every couple of days.

I know this chapter wasn't the longest, but it's the first one and I'm still working out exactly where this story is going, so bear with me. Leave a review? I'd love to hear what you thought of it, and if you have any comments/advice/corrections they're always more than welcome. Have a magical day! ~Taelr