TAKING STOCK

The morning after the Triwizard Tournament, Severus woke with a start when he felt a hand gently shaking his shoulder.

"Here you are, son," said Eileen, handing him a cup of coffee.

"Thank you, Mum," said Severus in heartfelt tones. He looked over to see Remus being similarly woken by Minerva, and satisfied himself with a glance that Harry and Hermione were still fast asleep.

"I flooed Cara last night to let her know what had happened and that you would be staying in the infirmary with Harry overnight," said Eileen.

"Cara! I was so worried about Harry that I wasn't thinking straight last night! I should have flooed her myself!"

"It's all right, son. She understood, and sent you and Harry her love. You married a good girl, Sev."

"I know, Mum," Severus smiled, thinking back to the days when Eileen was so hesitant about her son being interested in a girl who was several years younger than him and, at that time, was still in school. "She was worth waiting for."

"Yes, she was," Eileen agreed, with a warm smile of her own.

At that moment, Poppy came bustling over, and ran her wand over the children. "Were any of you ever going to tell me that these two are soul-bound?" the Mediwitch asked in exasperation.

"You can tell that from your scan?" Remus gasped.

"Marsali told me last night. This is the kind of thing I need to know, because it can affect how I treat them. A soul bond is heavily tied into one's magic. And don't worry, it falls under medical confidentiality until such time as they choose to make their soul bond public," Poppy assured them, much to everyone's relief.

"Oops," said Severus, mildly embarrassed. It had not occurred to him that Poppy might need this information. Although Cara was a squib, she had sufficient latent magic for the soul bond to manifest; however, certain effects of the bond were either diluted or did not manifest at all due to Cara's lack of magical ability. Severus now realised that the bond would be far more intense for Harry and Hermione and that Poppy did indeed need to know of it. It now made sense why Poppy had, most unusually, allowed Hermione to stay with Harry overnight. "Sorry," he added.

Poppy sniffed haughtily, but Severus could see that she did not really mean it. While she was not bitter and acid-tongued like he had once been, she had much in common with the Severus of the old timeline. Like Severus, Poppy covered her softer side, although in her case it was with a brisk lack of sentimentality rather than snarky and sarcastic distemper.

When Remus, Minerva and Eileen all had to head off to work, Severus had a quiet word with Eileen before she left. Then, as he sat waiting for Harry and Hermione to awaken, he summoned Fluxy to request parchment, quill and ink. Scribbling a quick note with instructions for the day for his current apprentices, he sent it off with Fluxy and then settled down again to watch over the teens.

Once Harry and Hermione had awoken and Harry had been released by Poppy from her care, Severus took the pair down to Eileen's quarters so the three of them could speak privately.

"No one will disturb us here," Severus said reassuringly, before summoning Fluxy to bring a meal for them all. "Perhaps porridge," he suggested with a smile as he saw that Harry and Hermione were still holding hands firmly. "You can eat it one handed," he teased but the youngsters were still too overcome by the previous day's events to rise to the teasing and simply nodded at Fluxy, who disappeared and popped back a minute later with big bowls of creamy porridge with sliced bananas, chopped nuts and cinnamon.

"How are you feeling?" Severus asked, looking at youngsters carefully when they had finished eating. To his relief, the food had helped, and the teens had lost the washed-out, pinched look from their faces. Severus had to remind himself that despite all their previous experiences and knowledge from the last timeline, they were still only teenagers, and Harry had had to face Voldemort on his own until help had arrived.

Harry shrugged, and Severus stifled an exasperated sigh. This was not the time for Harry to start behaving like a sulky teen. "In words, Harry," he said gently.

"I don't know," the green eyed boy replied. "I know I should be feeling relief that's it's all over, and with no loss of life. I'm sure that deep down I do feel that. But I just feel a bit numb right now."

Severus sat back and looked at the boy thoughtfully. Hermione snuggled into Harry, and Severus noticed that Harry immediately looked better with her in his arms.

"There's nothing more you can do now. It's only mopping up operations left. Amelia has already moved in to start arresting Death Eaters. Fudge tried to object but found himself under investigation instead. Sirius has been gathering allies in both the Ministry and the Wizengamot. He has his own vote, your proxy and, of course he can count on my vote as well, in addition to the votes of our other allies."

(Even though Eileen had been disowned, due to lack of any other relatives in the Prince line Severus had found himself the Head of the House of Prince after Cassius Prince's incarceration in Azkaban, thus gaining control of the Prince seat on the Wizengamot. He had declined to take up residence in the Prince ancestral home, no matter how much he would have enjoyed kicking Elbertine Prince into the street, knowing that neither he nor Eileen would ever be happy in the house where she had been abused throughout her childhood. He even paid his erstwhile grandmother a small stipend on condition that she never contacted either Eileen or his family. Severus had been brutally clear to Elbertine that should she break this agreement, he would happily cancel the stipend and evict her from her home. Elbertine had been furious but had realised that Severus had meant every word and so swallowed her wrath, knowing that she would otherwise find herself both homeless and penniless.)

"I just feel… I don't know…" Harry's voice trailed off as he struggled to express himself.

Hermione puffed out a breath of mild exasperation. "You've been fighting this war for twelve years, Harry. Seven years in the last timeline, and the five years since we got our memories back in this timeline. Neither of us has had a chance to think of our futures or what we'd like to do after the war was over, we were far too focused on simply surviving long enough to beat Tom Riddle. You're feeling discomposed, lost, like you don't know what you should be doing or what your purpose is now."

"Yes," Harry agreed in relief. "That's exactly it."

"Well, one thing you should be doing, although not for a while yet, is marrying me and having a family. How's that for a starting point?" Hermione asked impishly, love shining in her warm brown eyes.

Severus snorted in amusement. "Well, you're certainly not getting married for a while yet," he declared firmly.

"Harry, you don't need to save the world anymore. Just think instead about what you'd like to do for a career—and don't worry if you don't know now, most students don't begin to think about it until their careers counselling in fifth year. Think about what you enjoy doing, what subjects you like, what type of job you think you would like to do? Do you want a desk job, a job where you'll be partially interacting with people like I do, or a job that offers action and excitement, an adrenaline buzz?" Severus smiled wryly, knowing how easy it was to get hooked on danger. "Take your time to think about it. Ask people about their jobs. See what sounds interesting to you."

As Hermione nodded in agreement, Harry just rested his head on her shoulder and closed his eyes. He did not want to think right now. He was emotionally exhausted, all the years of knowing that finishing the war was his responsibility finally catching up with him. Now, Harry just wanted to bask in the peace and quiet for a while.

As Severus regarded the young couple in front of him, he thought about what they would be facing if they were to go back into school today, and made a decision. "Why don't you two go up to the Room of Requirement? Very few people know about it, so you'll have privacy there. Ask for somewhere you can relax and spend a quiet day, just the two of you. Fluxy will bring you food whenever you want to eat. I'll let Minerva know where you are; I doubt she'll mind you disappearing for the day. I'll come back this evening and we can talk properly then. Make sure to specify that the door should appear only to you, me, Minerva or Fluxy."

The youngsters smiled with relief and Severus summoned Fluxy to take them to the corridor outside the Room of Requirement without bumping into any of the other students along the way. Hermione paced three times along the corridor and slipped into the room, smiling with relief when the door disappeared again once they had entered the room and closed it behind them.

Harry and Hermione sank down gratefully onto the comfortable couch which had appeared in front of a blazing fire, grateful to be safe from the curiosity, stares and gossip that were no doubt spreading through the school like wildfire. Hermione had specifically asked for a neutral atmosphere, and the cosy sitting room had appeared in earth tones, with accents in copper and cream. Harry did not himself have earth magic, but this was very reminiscent of Petunia's home and it soothed and comforted him.

"This is nice," said Harry looking around. "No House colours, no rivalry, no conflict or discord."

"Mmm," Hermione hummed as she leaned into Harry. They sat snuggling in silence, neither of them feeling a need to talk.

Eventually, Harry stirred and reluctantly began to speak. "I know Uncle Sev is right and there's no reason I shouldn't take my time, but I think I'd feel more settled if I had a plan. I'm too used to having a purpose, I don't like feeling rootless. And I'm not sure I can just be a heedless teenager, who doesn't think about the next day, let alone the rest of their life. I feel too old for that."

Hermione snorted. "No one's asking you to become Ron Weasley, Harry!"

Harry laughed. "It might be nice to be that oblivious and naïve," he observed wistfully.

"I feel like I lost my rose coloured glasses a very long time ago," Hermione agreed. "You know, Sirius is going to want to teach you more about politics so you can be effective in the Wizengamot when you take your seat," she commented.

"Joy," Harry sighed. "I always wanted to be an Auror because my dad was, because Defence was what I was best at and because I thought it would help me learn to fight. Given what I was facing, learning to fight was important. I'm tired of fighting now, though."

"Me too," Hermione agreed. "You're still much better at Defence than anything else, though, despite our having taken our Potions OWL early. What other professions would require excellent defensive skills?" she mused.

"Curse-breaking probably," Harry considered. "But I'm not sure it interests me. I don't really want to be stationed in Egypt or anywhere else unless you're with me."

"Professional duelling?" Hermione suggested dubiously.

"Like I need more public attention!" Harry retorted and Hermione laughed in agreement. This was why she had not suggested professional Quidditch, which generated far more attention than the duelling circuit did.

Harry looked at Hermione curiously. "What do you want to do? We've never had this conversation before because we never allowed ourselves to think that far ahead."

"I used to think, in the last timeline, that I'd like to work in the Ministry, to try and help house elves. I know better now," she said, gently hitting Harry when he began to laugh. "I'd still like to see them be treated well but I don't want to free them all. This time round, though… I don't know. It'll be another three years before we finish school. Hopefully, the clean-up of the Ministry will have taken place by then. I don't feel a particular desire to be involved. I think I'd like to find something outside the Ministry, working there doesn't appeal anymore."

"That's exactly how I feel, but I won't have a choice. I'll have to take up my seat on the Wizengamot. Perhaps becoming a curse-breaker and being stationed in Egypt or Brazil or somewhere else outside the UK might not be so bad after all! And in this timeline, we didn't rob Gringotts, escaping on the back of a dragon we… ahem, liberated, from the goblins, so there's no reason for them to reject my application on that account!" Harry grinned, as Hermione rolled her eyes. "Then I can just leave my proxy with Sirius," he finished triumphantly.

"If you truly want to become a curse-breaker, I'll support that, but not if it's only to avoid having to take up your seat on the Wizengamot," Hermione rolled her eyes and Harry grinned at her.

"Have you considered gaining a Mastery in Defence?" Hermione continued. She had an idea but was not sure what Harry would think of it.

"And then do what?" asked Harry practically.

"Teach defence?" Hermione suggested. "You were very good when you taught the DA."

"Are you also thinking of doing a Mastery and then teaching? Is that where that idea came from?" Harry chuckled.

"I think so. Possibly," Hermione said reflectively. "Like you, I'm fed up with fighting. Of course, as a Muggleborn, I'll have to fight much harder than anyone else to get a job, any job, at the Ministry, something the Purebloods won't need to worry about, regardless of their qualifications or suitability for the position. At Hogwarts, especially if Uncle Sev or Aunt Min is appointed Head, the only things that will matter will be who the best candidate for the job is, irrespective of their blood status."

Harry nodded slowly. "You're probably right about that. And I did like teaching the DA. I don't know if it's what I want to do, but it's definitely an idea to consider. What subject would you teach?"

"I don't know. I can see myself doing multiple Masteries… Arithmancy is still my favourite subject—it was last time, too. I also love Charms, Transfiguration and Potions. I can easily see myself doing Masteries in any or all of those subjects."

It was Harry's turn to roll his eyes. "You don't need to learn everything, you know. Remember the time-turner? You didn't really need to sign up for every elective."

Hermione grinned. "I know, and if I do undertake multiple Masteries, it'll be consecutively, not all at the same time. I've also considered Healing; I imagine that would appease my desire to help people," she said ruefully. "Like you, I'm not sure what I want to do, but those are definitely the options on the table for me at the moment. Although, thinking about it now, I don't think I'll do a Mastery in Potions. Despite all the years of teaching, I don't have the kind of creativity in Potions that Uncle Sev has—or even that Isobel and Lucas already have, especially Isobel. I do have that kind of creativity in spellwork though."

Harry nodded in agreement, pleased that Hermione was being self-aware rather than seducing herself with the idea of learning as much as possible about as many different subjects as possible. "So just Arithmancy, Charms and Transfiguration?" Harry laughed. "They're all good ideas, Mi. As is the idea of my doing a Defence Mastery and then teaching. Do you think they'd let me include a physical defence component in my course?" Harry speculated.

"It'll probably depend on who the Head is at the time you try to introduce it. I don't see Auntie Min or Uncle Sev having a problem with it. Quite frankly, if Auntie Min or whoever else is Head at the time has any sense, they ought to welcome it. We know from personal experience that physical fitness improves your magical stamina just as much it does as your physical stamina, and in growing children it can help expand their magical cores. It's ridiculous that only the members of the House Quidditch teams take part in any sport. So the students would be improving their fitness, their stamina and gaining additional defensive skills. It's all good, as far as I can see."

"Okay, so we've begun to consider our long-term plans. It still doesn't help me know what to do next," Harry frowned. "I feel as though I should be busy, doing something, not just sitting here."

"Would you like to spar? Silat, not magical duelling. Might that help you get rid of the fidgets?" Hermione suggested, stretching. Both youngsters were sufficiently skilled in the fighting techniques they had learned from Bayu and Cara that they were well able to spar without supervision, and the physical activity might help to settle them.

"Yeah, that would be good," said Harry standing up. He tugged Hermione to her feet and out the room. Harry then paced outside the Room of Requirement, asking for a dojo. When they reentered, he called Fluxy and asked for the clothing they wore when working out with Bayu. The room provided them with screens to change behind and then Harry and Hermione settled into a long, sweaty sparring session.

"I feel much better now," said Harry eventually, flopping down on his back on the mat in exhaustion.

"Me too," said Hermione, leaning over to kiss him. Wrinkling her nose, she silently asked the room for an area in which they could shower and change. "Bagsy the shower first!" she called, scrambling to her feet and racing off to the shower area when it appeared.

When both teens were showered and back in their school uniforms, they changed the room back to the relaxing space in which they had been sitting previously and called Fluxy for some food. Flopping back down onto the couch, they spent the rest of the day quietly reading, not feeling a need to talk, just happy to be together. Harry was chuckling over David Eddings' Belgariad, while wonder of wonders, even Hermione was reading solely for pleasure and was buried in Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series.

'If only dragons on this world were like they are on Pern, I would have been a lot less scared for Harry in the first task,' Hermione thought in amusement.

The two teens did not even notice the passage of time and looked up in surprise when Severus walked into the room that evening. Severus informed the young couple of his conversation with Minerva and her appointment as Headmistress and waited for their reaction.

Harry frowned in concentration. "I think she'll be good," he said at last. "To be honest, Auntie Min wasn't really a great Head of House in the last timeline, which was probably largely due to interference from Dumbledore—not to mention the fact that between teaching, being Head of House, Deputy Head and a member of the Order, she was wearing rather a lot of hats. With all her duties, it was Head of House that fell between the cracks. She's been much better this time round, though. I think the Auntie Min of this timeline will care for the students' health and well-being as Headmistress, unlike the Albus Dumbledore of either timeline."

In the previous timeline, the Heads of House had largely stayed out of student affairs unless there was open fighting in the corridors. Three of the Heads of House had extra duties in addition to teaching and being Head of House: Minerva was Deputy Head, and had ended up doing much of the Head's work in addition to her own, since Albus was also wearing three hats, as Headmaster, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot and Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, the latter two of which positions took him out of the school for significant periods of time; Pomona Sprout was responsible for the school's greenhouses; Horace Slughorn and later Severus had to brew potions for the infirmary—and then, of course, there were Severus' duties as a spy on top of everything else he had to do as Head of House and Potions Professor. Filius Flitwick did not have any extra duties within Hogwarts other than teaching and being Head of House but had outside interests as a former Duelling Champion, since he was Britain's representative on the international governing body of the Duelling Circuit. And so, when Albus insisted that bullying was merely harmless pranking and refused to let the Heads of House become involved, they were so busy that they had adhered to Albus' wishes and let their responsibilities to the students fall by the wayside.

In this timeline, however, Severus had changed much of that. By becoming Lily's foster brother, being sorted into Ravenclaw instead of Slytherin and thus making friends with the Marauders, the worst of the bullying simply did not happen, because the Marauders had previously been the very worst bullies, the culmination of Albus' turn-a-blind-eye policy, only this time round Severus had kept the Marauders under control. Once Severus had confided in Minerva about his past life, she began to look differently at Albus and the patterns of behaviour he had steered her into and she supported Severus' efforts against bullying. When Eileen was recruited to replace Slughorn, having been abused both during her childhood and her marriage, she completely agreed with Minerva's anti-bullying stance. After some frank speaking on the subject from Eileen and Minerva both, Pomona and Filius had soon fallen in line with the Gryffindor and Slytherin Heads of House.

Hermione nodded in agreement with Harry. "What about you, though, Uncle Sev? I thought Hogwarts wanted you to be the next Headmaster?"

Severus sighed. "Hogwarts has agreed to give Minerva a chance as Headmistress. I'll probably be the Headmaster after her."

"Uncle Sev? You remember we talked about me possibly bonding to Winky if things went wrong in the graveyard?" Hermione interrupted.

Severus and Harry and both nodded and she continued in a rush. "I don't think I should bond to her. I think Aunt Cara should, if she can. Otherwise, if she can't bond with Winky because she's a squib, you should bond with Winky and assign her to be Aunt Cara's personal elf. If you do become Headmaster, then you'll have to live here in the castle, so Winky could help compensate for Aunt Cara's lack of magic and it would be best if she had an elf who's loyalty is first and foremost to you and your family, rather than to the castle or the school."

Severus looked thoughtful. "You may be right," he said after a while. "But I'm not going to be appointed Headmaster for some years yet, and right now we live in a Muggle environment. It wouldn't be suitable for an elf."

Hermione shrugged. "You can always assign her to work in the apothecary or ask her to continue helping out at Hogwarts in the meantime and she could just pop in and out of your home to help out as required."

"It's something to consider," Severus conceded. "Meanwhile, I'll become more involved in the school, taking a place on the Board of Governors and instituting a system for pastoral care. With my previous experience as Head of House, I know how necessary this is, especially after so many decades of Albus' mismanagement."

Harry and Hermione tried not to laugh. They really did. But the thought of the extremely formidable and acerbic Professor Severus Snape handing out handkerchiefs to distressed students and muttering, "There, there," was too much for them, and they burst out into howls of uncontrollable laughter. Severus watched the teens with twitching lips. He knew exactly why they were laughing, and had indeed expected that reaction.

"Ow, that hurts!" gasped Harry eventually. "Oh, I feel better now. I needed that."

Severus smirked in satisfaction. He had been hoping he would manage to get Harry out of the funk he had been in. "So did you come to any conclusions today?"

The teens filled him in on their conversation and Severus nodded slowly. "These are good ideas," he agreed reflectively. "And you're right, you don't need to keep fighting, either of you. There's certainly no need for you to become an Auror if you don't want to, Harry."

"There's more than one way of fighting," Hermione pointed out. "Bringing about change through education instead of legislation, for example. The legislation is there, Uncle Siri has seen to that, it's the attitudes that need to change in line with the new laws. The older generation may be reluctant to change, but our generation and the next could be persuaded to, if they're exposed to new ideas during their formative years."

Severus was nodding. "That's very true," he agreed. "Do you have any immediate plans? What would you like to do this summer, for example? We're free to do whatever we like now, after all."

Harry and Hermione exchanged glances. They had not discussed this yet.

"I think," said Hermione biting her lip in thought, "I'd like to spend a family summer. I was so worried about what would happen and the thought I might need to send my family away again, that I'd just like to spend time with them. Perhaps then I'll believe it's all over and they're not in any danger." Pausing for a minute to think, Hermione suddenly perked up. "I'd like to redecorate my bedroom," she announced brightly.

It was Severus' turn to exchange a glance with Harry, in male incomprehension. Hermione giggled and explained further.

"My room is still very little girly, it hasn't been redone since I was eight. Last time, it irritated me to have such a childish looking room when I got older but I never did anything about it because as the war heated up, I was spending more and more time in the wizarding world away from home to keep my family safe. I haven't got around to doing it this time either, because we've been so focused on what we had to do to defeat Tom Riddle. So taking the time to decorate my bedroom now will be a sign that it's all over. It's almost like signalling we're getting a fresh start and we'll be able to lead a normal life from now on. Best of all, I won't need to pull away from my family so that I won't put them in danger. I'd really like to spend the summer just doing something normal."

The two men nodded in understanding. Well, they did not understand the appeal of decorating but they did understand the significance of spending the summer just being normal, with no special demands on their time.

"I wonder if Holly would like to redo her room, too?" Hermione continued, thinking out loud. "We could do our rooms together. What about you, Harry? Would you like us to do up your room, as well? It hasn't been decorated in years either."

Severus smirked at the panicked look on Harry's face, and Hermione smiled sweetly at her soul mate. "You wouldn't need to be involved unless you wanted to. You could leave it all to us," she suggested, looking hopefully at Harry.

Harry sighed. He could not resist her spaniel eyes. "All right," he caved in, and was rewarded when Hermione's face lit up and she sent a megawatt, beaming smile at him. Harry smiled back in a bemused fashion. He was not used to Hermione showing such excitement over what he classed as a girly pursuit. A new book? Yes, most definitely. But decorating? This did not seem like her. Harry mentally shrugged it off and turned to Severus.

"Do you remember the summer before first year? We stayed at home and made lots of different day trips. I'd like to do that again," said Harry hopefully.

"Hmm, yes. I remember you particularly enjoyed the adventure park and the paintballing," drawled Severus, his black eyes shining with amusement.

Harry nodded eagerly. "And Benedick even went go-karting with some of his friends, which I wouldn't mind trying." Harry particularly enjoyed competitive activities. It was his turn to perk up. "Do you think there might be any martial arts competitions we could go to see in the summer? I'd love to enter a Silat competition. It would be nice to judge my skills in a sporting arena."

Severus stroked his chin thoughtfully. While he felt that Harry and Hermione needed to keep up their defensive skills, he understood the appeal of competing in a Silat competition just for fun, rather than learning it solely because it might one day save his life. Like Hermione decorating her bedroom, it would be Harry's sign that the war against Voldemort was over. "I'll see what we can find for you, Harry," he promised.

After that the year rolled to a quiet close. People who had finally begun to treat Harry as just Harry suddenly remembered that he was the Boy-Who-Lived, but Neville, Luna, Susan, Hannah, Justin, Leo and Corbin all rallied round like the good friends they were and provided a buffer between a very grateful Harry and Hermione and the rest of the school. Harry and Hermione clasped hands tightly and shared a look of relief and satisfaction when at the Leaving Feast, there was no need for a memorial to Cedric Diggory. Indeed, Headmistress McGonagall did not mention the events in the graveyard at all, and Harry had no problem with that.

"Viktor and Fleur have become close," Hermione commented neutrally, as they watched the visiting schools depart.

Harry looked at Hermione curiously. "Do you mind?" he asked nervously.

Hermione shook her head. "Of course not," she smiled at him. "I've no idea if they're dating, and it's really none of our business either way. But I must admit I'm curious to know what will happen—if Fleur will date Viktor or if she'll somehow meet Bill."

"Bill's a good guy," Harry observed. "But I doubt Molly and Ginny would ever accept Fleur. It took Bill being attacked by Fenrir Greyback to get them to accept her last time, and that's not going to happen now. And Ron never did manage to control himself around Fleur and her Veela allure. She'll have a very hard time of it if she marries Bill again."

Hermione shrugged. "Bill transferred back to Britain because of the war. As there won't be a war this time, they could stay in Egypt and they wouldn't have to deal with his family very often. Or they could move to France, near her family. If Fleur does meet and marry Bill, I'm sure they'll work things out somehow. She really did love him, after all."

Harry snorted. "She must have done to put up with all the crap from various Weasleys that she had to cope with last time," he agreed.

.o.O.o.

Three weeks after the events at the end of the Triwizard Tournament, Severus walked along the corridor of St Mungo's towards the office of Healer Galen Ross. Wondering why he had been asked to come, he knocked on the door. To his surprise, upon entering the office when bidden, Severus saw Aberforth Dumbledore in consultation with the specialist in mind healing.

"I'm sorry for intruding," said Severus politely. "I'll just wait outside."

"No need for that, Master Snape," said the Healer amiably. "Please do come in. It's on Mr Dumbledore's behalf that I've asked you for a consult—both Messrs Dumbledore, that is."

Severus raised an eyebrow and entered the room, closing the door quietly behind him and taking a seat. Healer Ross took out her wand and raised security wards to prevent anyone from interrupting them or overhearing what needed to be discussed. Severus' eyebrow went even higher at the strong wards which were being used.

"Thank you for coming, Master Snape. We have asked you here to request your assistance with regard to the treatment of Mr Albus Dumbledore," the Healer explained.

"I presume you require some special potions," said Severus thoughtfully. "Existing potions that require Master level brewing or the development of something new?"

"Yes," Healer Ross agreed with a sigh.

Aberforth spoke up gruffly. "Ariana, our little sister, was attacked by Muggles as a child when they saw her doing accidental magic. She was never right after that and her magic became dangerously out of control. In fact, it was a burst of uncontrolled magic from Ariana that caused our mother's death. Of course, Ariana didn't mean it, didn't understand…" Aberforth's voice was thick with emotion, and he cleared his throat a couple of times before he was able to continue. "Since being committed to St Mungo's, Albus' magic has deteriorated into the same sort of wild, uncontrollable state that Ariana's was, only he's far more powerful. If he were to lose control of his magic…"

Aberforth's voice trailed off and understanding dawned on Severus. Albus Dumbledore was so powerful that if he were to lose control of his magic, the resultant magical explosion would easily take the entire building along with him—and, very possibly, the entire surrounding area as well.

"I see," said Severus slowly. Taking a moment to reflect with inner glee on the irony of Albus, who was so obsessed with what had happened to his little sister—and who was, directly or indirectly, responsible for her death—becoming exactly like her, he considered what to say to Aberforth and the Healer.

"You genuinely think there's a real possibility that he will actually lose control of his magic?" Severus asked in concern.

Healer Ross nodded. "It's nearly happened a few times already. We have him permanently dosed up on Calming Draughts at present, but he's beginning to overcome them. We put him in stasis earlier today, but that's not a long-term solution." The Healer flushed in embarrassment. "The castration potion that your grandfather administered to Silenus Selwyn… we were hoping you could perhaps work out what went wrong with it."

Severus suddenly realised what Galen Ross and Aberforth Dumbledore were trying not to say. They were hoping to remove Albus' magic, not realising that it was not actually the potion that had removed Silenus Selwyn's magic. As planned when he initially locked the memory of his magic removal spell away, the return of that memory had been triggered upon Harry's name being entered into the Triwizard Tournament in case it would be needed in the second Voldemort Blood War. However, Severus had no intention of disseminating this spell to the world at large—not even to a Healer who had sworn the magical Hippocratic oath. He did not want the consequences of this spell becoming widely known upon his conscience.

"What will happen if I succeed in developing this potion?" asked Severus carefully.

Incomprehension flickered across Healer Ross' face. "We administer the potion to Mr Dumbledore," she said in a "What else?" tone of voice.

'Well, she's clearly not a Slytherin. She obviously hasn't begun to think about long-term consequences,' thought Severus in derision. "And just who will be given knowledge of this potion? Under what circumstances will it be administered to others? What's to stop someone using it to remove another's magic out of malice? For example, what if it's administered to a Muggleborn, under the bigoted belief that they're not deserving of magic?" he explained further.

"No Healer would do such a thing!" exclaimed Galen in outrage. "We make oaths to heal, not to damage."

'Meaning that I would be expected to administer the potion, were I to succeed in making it, because none of the Healers can do so,' thought Severus cynically. "And what of your potioneers?" he asked. "They make no such oaths. I should know! Despite being a Master of Potions, I have not been required to make such an oath, and your potioneers are not even Masters. Nor do the hospital administrators make any such oaths. It would be easy enough for someone else to brew the potion, or to slip the recipe to another."

The Healer flushed in embarrassment. "Well, of course, you would be the only one to know the recipe and you would only brew the potion according to need."

"And would I be expected to become an executioner of magic? To administer the potion on your behalf? No, even if I were to succeed in developing such a potion—and I'm sure, given the prejudices that abound in our world, that others have tried and failed—I will not be the one to administer it," Severus snarked adamantly, in tones that would have done Professor Severus Snape proud.

Severus watched without expression as the Healer—a mature, responsible, professional, confident woman—actually squirmed in her seat like a first year Hufflepuff.

"I make no promises, and I will need a signed contract from St Mungo's before I even begin to make the attempt. A contract which ensures the protection of all knowledge pertaining to this potion and my involvement in its creation. Furthermore, this contract should confirm that I will not be the one to administer the potion. Finally, the contract should not bind me to succeeding in developing this potion, only to making the attempt. If I am not successful or if I wish to break the contract at any point, there are to be no consequences to myself, magical or otherwise," Severus said firmly.

Although it appeared to the Healer and Aberforth that Severus was simply trying to cover himself, Severus was in fact also trying to stall. For once, the consummate Slytherin was so dumbfounded that he did not know how to react or what to think. He was not convinced the hospital would be willing to put its name to something like this and actually put in writing that they were contracting him to develop a magic removal potion, rather they would want it done in secret, hence the security wards Healer Ross had raised. Severus was thus hoping to gain time to recover his senses and consider what he should do next. However, to his great surprise, the Healer produced a contract, which had been prepared in advance. Grabbing a quill, she added Severus' conditions to the parchment, and handed the contract to Severus to sign.

'I wish I'd never invented that spell,' Severus thought gloomily. This was the one act in this timeline that he truly regretted. Although he did not regret punishing Silenus Selwyn—and doubted any of Selwyn's other victims or their families would be in any way upset about what had happened to the vile man—Severus still wished he had come up with a different means of revenge. Even though he understood the need to strip Albus' magic from him, Severus was reluctant to be the one to do so; this reminded him too strongly of when Albus had insisted that the Potions Master kill the much-vaunted leader of the Light in the previous timeline.

'Merlin, I wish there was someone I could talk to about this,' Severus thought desperately as he read the contract. Unfortunately, in this instance he could not turn to Minerva. Not only had he no intention of ever telling anyone what he had done to Selwyn but Healer Ross was actually Minerva's cousin—or would be, if Minerva's mother, Isobel, had not been disowned for marrying a Muggle. This was a sore subject with Minerva, and she would not be able to look at any request from Healer Ross objectively. Nor did Severus want to burden Harry with this, as he knew how much it would weigh on Harry's conscience. Hermione would be better able to provide a balanced opinion but she could never keep something of this magnitude from Harry, nor would Severus want or expect her to.

"All right," Severus agreed reluctantly after reading the contract. "I'll do my best, but I make no promises."

"That's all we can ask, Master Snape," said the Healer in relief.

'Albus' situation must be truly desperate,' Severus concluded.

Severus reluctantly took the quill being offered by Healer Ross, but before he could put quill to parchment and sign, Serafina appeared and began to trill angrily. A moment later, Fawkes joined her, and Serafina snatched the parchment out of Severus' hands and burned it to ashes, before disappearing with Fawkes in a burst of flames.

"What was that?" asked Galen Ross in shock.

"That was my phoenix, Serafina, and Albus' Dumbledore's phoenix, Fawkes. I have no idea what they were doing, though," said Severus, equally shocked.

Several minutes later, the two phoenixes returned and perched on Severus' shoulders, and the question was very soon answered.

"Healer Ross, come quickly!" panted a junior Healer, bursting into the room. "Two birds just appeared and…" The Healer stopped and looked at Severus in amazement, then pointed, with trembling fingers, at Fawkes and Serafina. "Those two birds," he continued shakily, "just engulfed Headmaster Dumbledore in flames, and now his vitals have gone crazy."

"They burned him up?" Aberforth gasped.

"No, it was some kind of magical fire that didn't burn him. I don't know what the birds did," replied the junior Healer anxiously.

"Wait here," the Healer barked at Aberforth and Severus as she rose and followed the junior Healer to Albus' room. Due to his condition, Albus had been permanently committed to a secure—and heavily reinforced—mental health ward at St Mungo's, one with far more stringent security than the Janus Thickey ward, where Neville Longbottom's parents had resided in the previous timeline. It was impossible for anyone other than specifically designated staff to gain entrance, and it was not worth the time and trouble it would take for Healer Ross to admit Severus and Aberforth through the stringent security wards.

Although the two men were actually friendly with each other due to them both owning businesses in Hogsmeade and Aberforth's pub being Severus' preferred choice of watering hole in that village, they both sat in tense silence until Healer Ross returned.

"Based on a very cursory, preliminary examination, it seems that those phoenixes have somehow burned away Albus Dumbledore's magic. He now appears to be a squib," announced the Healer upon returning to the room some time later. "The phoenixes also seem to have soothed him. He no longer appears agitated and a danger to himself or anyone around him, however, he's also not the sharp-minded Albus Dumbledore we once knew. We'll be undertaking further tests, but should the status remain quo, we'll move him to the Janus Thickey ward, where he'll very likely remain long-term. Now, if you'll excuse me, gentlemen, I need to go back to Albus."

'Thank you both,' Severus thought fervently, gently stroking each phoenix as they both preened under his attention.

Once outside Healer Galen's office, Aberforth stood looking awkwardly at Severus. "Thank you," he said nervously. "For agreeing to try. And thank you too, Fawkes, Serafina," he added, nodding at the two birds who were still perched on Severus' shoulders.

"Yes, thank you," agreed Severus in heartfelt tones. "Serafina and Fawkes, you have saved me from a truly unpleasant situation." If the phoenixes had not intervened, Severus would have had to find some way to sneak in and remove Albus' magic by means of the spell, all the while producing a failed attempt at the magic removal potion to cover himself; he was immensely grateful that this would no longer be necessary. "I can't imagine that either of you will wish to floo with me, so perhaps you would like to make your own way home?" he continued conversationally.

The phoenixes both trilled happily, making people stop and look at them in awe, before launching off Severus' shoulders and flying away in a burst of flames. Severus smiled at the point from whence they had disappeared, and then marched down to the floo, whence he flooed to his apothecary shop and, with a quick word to his apprentices, shut himself away in his lab with Serafina and, to his surprise, Fawkes.

'I promised you I'd remove all memory of that spell when the war was over, Uncle Alex, and I'm living up to that promise now, even though you can't remember that conversation,' Severus thought before proceeding to block away all memory of it, in such a way that the memory could never be retrieved.

Blinking, Severus focused on the phoenixes perched in front of him. He could remember what had occurred, both with Silenus Selwyn and with regard to Albus Dumbledore, but he could not remember the actual spell. When he tried to recall it, all he got was a void; the more he tried to probe the void, the more disoriented he became.

"I know I've said it already, but thank you both again, with all my heart," he said, satisfied that the spell was lost to him. Handing the phoenixes treats, Severus lightly stroked both birds, and then Fawkes rose in the air, circled around the room once, and disappeared. Moments later, Severus, who was still connected to the wards of Hogwarts, could feel a change. Concentrating on the castle's wards, he realised that Fawkes had just bonded to Hogwarts. Not specifically to the Headmaster or Headmistress, but to Hogwarts itself.

Severus smiled. "Now Fawkes can remain in his home and be there for the school and the students, but no Headmaster will be able to force him to conform to their own personal obsessions or prejudices," he commented to Serafina, who trilled in agreement.

It took only a couple of days until Galen Ross and her fellow Healers reached a conclusion regarding Albus Dumbledore. Apparently, the phoenix fire in which Albus had been engulfed had not only left him a squib, but it had also burned away much of his mental cognizance, leaving him at the mental age of the average six year old. While it was no longer necessary for Albus to remain in the high-security ward in which he had originally been housed, Aberforth was unable to care for his brother in his pub, and so Albus had been consigned permanently to the Janus Thickey ward, where he spent his days happily occupied with various toys, games, puzzles and children's books—although not The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

There had been many outcries of outrage and sorrow when news of Albus' squibbed and mentally damaged condition broke, but those who knew how it had come about did not share that knowledge. The full nature of Albus' situation prior to the phoenixes' very welcome intervention was not being shared, as it was not deemed to be in the public interest to know just how far the great Albus Dumbledore had fallen.

After the confrontation with the House ghosts at the end of the Triwizard Tournament, which had been broadcast on the Wizarding Wireless Network, it was known that Albus had become delusional and disassociated from reality—something which Rita Skeeter had been professing for the majority of this academic year—but the exact details of his condition had been keep secret. Privately, Severus was sure that Albus had been descending into Dementia for years and that the phoenixes had merely sped up the process.

'This is the best thing that could have happened,' Severus reasoned. 'Albus has been dealt with in a gentle and compassionate manner, a manner with which it is difficult to take issue—who's going to argue with a couple of phoenixes, after all? Had Serafina and Fawkes not intervened, the old man would otherwise have been disgraced, between being ousted by Hogwarts itself and what Padfoot and I had planned to do to protect Harry from him. Even if I'd removed his magic, I would still have felt him to be dangerous, and given the fact that they affected his mental abilities as well as his magic, it would seem that Fawkes and Serafina agreed.'

.o.O.o.

With the problem of Albus resolved, a now much more light-hearted Severus turned his attention to what was happening to the marked Death Eaters. Severus had not involved himself in this, trusting to Amelia Bones to deal with it properly, but with the arrest of Minister Fudge, all prosecutions were on hold until a new Minister could be appointed. With Albus neutralised as far as Severus was concerned, he instead pointed Rita Skeeter in the direction of the upcoming Ministerial election.

"I'm not telling you what to write," Severus informed the unscrupulous journalist. "Nor am I telling you to support any particular candidates. All I'm asking is that you investigate each candidate thoroughly, asking yourself who really has the best interests of the British Wizarding World in mind rather than their own personal interests, and then present your findings. Personally, I feel that it would be best to write your article on each candidate in as neutral a manner as possible with no scandalmongering in case people feel like they're being told who to vote for and object to that. It would be a shame if all your hard work was to backfire, after all, but I'll leave that decision up to you."

Despite the calm demeanour Rita was projecting, Severus could see the gleam of interest in her eyes. Judging by the predatory look he could detect, it was obvious that not only did the idea of investigating all the Ministerial candidates appeal to her but that she would do a most thorough job.

The deal was sealed when Severus murmured enticingly, "I'm sure the public would like to know if they're getting another Fudge in office…"

Rita's eyes lit up. The evidence against Fudge had been kept very confidential pending his trial. The scandal-mongering reporter immediately went to work. It would seem that she did not at all mind her alliance with the Potions Master, as she took Severus' words to heart and really did present a neutral piece regarding each potential Ministerial candidate, laying out their good points and bad in a brutally honest manner that was quite unlike her usual reporting style.

Instead, Rita reserved her vitriol and passion for scandal for Cornelius Fudge. She even managed to dig up information regarding the former Minister that not even Sirius' or the DMLE's investigations had turned up yet. Severus was quite impressed with Rita's articles and if he suspected that Rita was also investigating Albus, whose name came up quite frequently in the articles about Fudge, then he kept his mouth shut and let her pursue the old man or not as she wished—Albus Dumbledore may no longer be a problem for Severus and his family, but that did not excuse all his previous actions.

Amelia was acting as Interim Minister, but had made it clear that she was not interested in standing for Minister herself at this time as she did not trust anyone else to oversee the investigation and prosecution of Voldemort's sympathisers. Unspoken went the fact that there would be many who would strongly oppose her appointment as Minister and the fact that even the neutrals would probably not be inclined to support her, because that would come too close to taking a side. Sirius and all his allies had therefore thrown their weight behind Amos Diggory, who had a far better chance of being elected than Amelia. As Sirius and Severus had discussed at the start of the Triwizard Tournament, Amos was acceptable to both the neutrals and also to those aligned with the Light, including even Dumbledore's supporters.

"Amos is determined to clean up the Ministry," Sirius observed to Severus.

"That's good enough for me," the other man responded.

It was also good enough for the wizarding public, it seemed. Sirius considered trying to help Amos with his public image but it soon became obvious that Amos' gruff and bluntly honest nature was standing him in good stead. Although most of Dumbledore's misdeeds and delusions had been kept from the public, enough had become clear at the end of the third task that most people were now highly suspicious of electing a leader with too much charisma.

"Not many are willing to admit it but everyone knows Albus pulled the wool over their eyes. They now want a Minister who won't use his twinkling blue eyes to deceive them. Amos' social awkwardness is actually working in his favour," Sirius commented smugly.

Those who were still aligned with the Dark did field their own candidate, but as a result of Rita's articles, both the neutrals and those who were Light oriented were solidly behind Amos. With so many Dark witches and wizards under arrest and therefore unable to vote, and with the Light and neutrals all favouring Amos Diggory, his election was a foregone conclusion. As soon as he was confirmed as Minister, Amos ordered Amelia to proceed with the prosecutions.

Every Voldemort supporter, both marked and unmarked, named by Peter Pettigrew and Barty Crouch Jr under interrogation was rounded up and interrogated in turn. Each subsequent interrogation revealed more and more names. All those who had the Dark Mark, thus signifying their membership of the Dark Lord's Inner Circle, were automatically sentenced to Azkaban, with only one exception.

To Severus' surprise, Lucius Malfoy had primarily been Voldemort's recruiter and his main financial supporter after the downfall of Silenus Selwyn, but had not been actively involved in terror activities, having somehow managed to persuade the Dark Lord that it would be good to have a public front with an untarnished image. It would seem that Severus' confrontation with his grandparents and Selwyn in Lucius and Narcissa's presence had had a profound effect on the Malfoys. Their disgust over Silenus Selwyn's actions and fear over what he, or indeed any of Voldemort's other main supporters, might do to their son if ever they had the opportunity to come in contact with Draco had prevented Lucius from becoming as fully involved as he had been in the previous timeline. Severus wondered why this had not been the case last time, until he remembered that it had not been until after he had already been drawn very deeply into Voldemort's ranks that Severus had learned the truth about Selwyn, and presumably the same could have been said for Lucius.

.o.O.o.

"What is your name?" the interrogator asked after the Veritaserum had been administered.

"Lucius Malfoy."

"Are you a Death Eater?"

"My father insisted I take the Mark in my youth but I didn't know what it truly meant until after I had received it. I don't support the Dark Lord."

"What does it truly mean? Why don't you support You-Know-Who?"

"Too many of the Death Eaters are utterly depraved. Silenus Selwyn, he was the Dark Lord's financial backer, and what he did to children, even Purebloods... what might he or the other Death Eaters have done to my son? To other children? How could I as a father possibly agree with that?"

"Why didn't You-Know-Who kill you for rejecting him?"

"He didn't know my true feelings."

"Did you go along with what he required you to do?"

"Once you've received the Dark Mark, it's too late to back out. I couldn't say no, but I didn't want to be involved in acts of terror and violence, so I used Selwyn's example to persuade the Dark Lord he needed one person to represent him who appeared to be above suspicion. He punished me for it but he agreed—he needed my money too much to do otherwise."

"So you don't support You-Know-Who's ideals?"

"I do believe that Purebloods are superior, that Muggleborns have no place in our world, but I don't agree with the Dark Lord's methods. There's no need to kill the Muggleborns, just bind their magic. Or if that's not possible, then teach them enough so they can control the buildup and release of their magic so we won't need to worry about accidental magic giving us away to the Muggles, and then send them back to their own world."

"What did you do for You-Know-Who if you were not involved in acts of terror?"

"I couldn't remove the Dark Mark, so I strived to minimise my involvement instead and, luckily, the Dark Lord went along with it. I was his recruiter and he wanted me to be persuasive. If I had sunk to the depths of the other Death Eaters, I wouldn't have been able to hide it completely and I wouldn't have attracted fresh, new followers. The Dark Lord didn't realise it but I actually stopped approaching potential new followers after deciding to minimise my involvement in the Death Eaters. Instead of actively trying to recruit, I was passive. I let it be known that those wishing to join the Dark Lord should contact me and waited for people to approach me, rather than making the effort to seek out potential recruits. I tried to discourage as many as I could and I only took to the Dark Lord those who I couldn't persuade to change their minds."

"Did you ever commit violence in You-Know-Who's name?"

"No. Most people had to prove themselves to the Dark Lord before being marked, but in my case it was sufficient for him that I was the son of Abraxas Malfoy. I don't suppose I would have been able to avoid committing violence in his name forever, but fortunately, he was defeated in 1981 before things had reached that stage for me."

"Do you regret joining You-Know-Who?"

"Every day of my life."

.o.O.o.

Lucius was by no means innocent but, despite his opinion of Muggleborns, he was not judged to be dangerous or a rabid, fanatical Death Eater and so he was given the same punishment as the lesser followers of Voldemort instead of being sentenced to Azkaban.

'My warning to Lucius and Narcissa must have come before it was too late, before Lucius got sucked in so deep that the warning wouldn't have been of any use,' Severus concluded, pleased for his former friend. 'I'm glad to see he's capable of remorse. I wonder if the issue with the diary was due to the Horcrux actually controlling him? I didn't think he'd willingly risk Draco like that.' Unfortunately, Severus could not ask Lucius that without giving away information he very much wanted to keep secret, and so the question would have to go unanswered.

Voldemort's unmarked supporters were placed on lifelong probation with restricted wand use, and Lucius joined them despite being marked. Cornelius Fudge was sentenced to Azkaban for corruption, while Barty Crouch Jr and Peter Pettigrew were both sentenced to the Dementor's Kiss.

Much as Igor Karkaroff had done after the first downfall of Voldemort, Lucius had willingly given whatever information he could to help the DMLE as a gesture of his remorse, including much information that the Aurors had not even thought to ask about. As Voldemort's bankroller, Lucius knew more about the Dark Lord's plans and intentions and his supporters than anyone, even Severus, had expected.

One of the secrets eagerly volunteered by Lucius was the whereabouts of Fenrir Greyback's various hideouts and an operation was mounted to capture the dreaded werewolf. It was known that the werewolves in Greyback's pack were as much under the control of their alpha as if he had cast the Imperius Curse upon them. Instead of being questioned for crimes committed in their werewolf forms, of which they would have no recollection in any case, his pack were all forcibly injected with the cure for lycanthropy and then confined to St Mungo's while the Mind Healers had their way with them. These former werewolves were gradually deprogrammed from Greyback's conditioning, and other counsellors and tutors were recruited to teach them whatever skills they would need to get jobs and support themselves upon their release from St Mungo's. The hope was that they would eventually be able to become accepted and productive members of society, although they would remain under probation for the foreseeable future. Greyback, however, was very clearly beyond rehabilitation and so was sentenced to the Kiss, together with Pettigrew and Crouch Jr.

To ensure the compliance of those who had been sentenced to restricted wand use, they had all been tagged with monitoring bracelets, a concept which had been adapted from the Muggle world. These magical equivalents to electronic bracelets monitored the wearers' magical signatures to ensure they abided by the restrictions on their use of magic. Of course, they were allowed to defend themselves should they be attacked but the use of combative spells would send an alert to the Auror Office and a team would immediately apparate to bracelet wearer's location. Similarly, any unauthorised attempt to remove the bracelets would alert the Auror Office—with the added kick of sending out a blast of magic that would stun both the wearer of the bracelet and the person trying to remove it. The bracelets were humiliating for the wearer but were a better option than Azkaban.

When the trials were over, Severus, Harry and Hermione all drew a breath of relief. Although second and third year had been quite quiet and normal, Harry and Hermione had always had the knowledge of the upcoming confrontation with Voldemort hanging over their heads. Now they could look forward to the rest of their school career without a feeling of impending doom hanging over their heads. Indeed, not only were Harry and Hermione infinitely more light-hearted, but Severus was as well. All three conspirators felt that their part in the war was mostly over and they were happy to hand over the cleanup to Sirius, Amos and Amelia in the Ministry, who were supported in that by Griselda Marchbanks. The elderly witch had been voted Chief Enchantress of the Wizengamot, with Augusta Longbottom as her Deputy and new Head of the Hogwarts Board of Governors. The two teens and Severus had faith that these people could be trusted to complete the cleanup and reform of the Ministry and the Wizengamot.

.o.O.o.

Hermione and Holly were sitting in Petunia's garden talking about decorating. Harry, who was trying to ignore the subject as much as possible, was instead playing football with Adam Tonks and the two Blacks, Leo and Corbin.

"Well, I'm easy," said Holly with a laugh. "Not floral—I think I've finally grown out of wanting everything to be smothered in flowers, but perhaps shades of green. Moss green, forest green, something like that."

"What I was thinking for my room," said Hermione slowly, biting her lip, "was to have one feature wall and keep the rest plain, except for perhaps some pictures. I'm hoping to get wall decals, since I'm not exactly artistic enough to paint a mural on the feature wall."

"Decals are a good idea," Holly agreed.

"I just don't want to use any Hogwarts colours in my room. I want no connection to House allegiances," Hermione declared firmly, screwing up her face in distaste. Hermione was extremely fed up with the House rivalries and how divisive they were; her bedroom at home was her sanctuary and she wanted it to reflect that fact.

"What should we do for Harry?" asked Holly.

"Blue," said Hermione firmly. "A nice light to medium shade, with decals of birds, I think. Or a sky-and-clouds theme if we can find wallpaper that isn't babyish."

"Birds?" asked Holly. She was not yet privy to Harry and Hermione's Animagus forms—indeed, only Severus, Sirius, Remus and Amelia Bones knew that the teens had even attempted the transformation, never mind actually succeeded—and they intended to keep things that way for now. It was not that they did not trust Holly, rather as a Muggle, she had no Occlumency shields and they did not want anyone to pick the information from her mind, not when they had gone to such trouble to keep it a secret.

"Harry loves flying," Hermione explained. "He'd probably think a sky-and-clouds theme was a bit too babyish, depending what we find, but he'll like the idea of birds in the sky. And if he doesn't like the decals, it'll be easy enough to take them down and just leave the room in a blue colour."

"Okay," Holly agreed easily.

When the girls went shopping with their mothers, the plan to buy bird decals for Harry's room went straight out the window as Hermione immediately pounced on a display of very realistic, photographic mural wallpaper and pulled out a sky-and-clouds mural.

"It's designed for the ceiling," Hermione said, reading the information on the packet. "It's very large, so we just have to cut it down to size, once we've measured Harry's ceiling."

"Are you sure he'll like this?" Helen asked dubiously.

"He'll love it," Hermione said firmly.

"All right," said Petunia briskly. "We can give Harry white walls and get blue bedding and curtains."

"What about furniture?" asked Helen. "Or will his present furniture be all right?"

"It should be," replied Petunia, as Hermione and Holly nodded in agreement. "It's plain wood, so we could just leave it as is now, or else we can easily sand it down and paint it blue. It'll keep the children out of trouble for a few days, at least!"

"Indeed it will," Helen agreed with a wink. "Now, what about you girls?"

The next stop was bed linen, the two mothers declaring it would be easier to match the wall paint and even the decals to the linen than the other way around.

Holly quickly found a bedding set in a light sage green and cream. "My furniture is already cream, so that won't be a problem, and perhaps cream curtains too?"

"That'll be fine," smiled Petunia.

Hermione knew exactly what colour she wanted and only hoped there would be something suitable in the store. To her delight, she found bedding and curtains in a deep plum colour. She had no desire to change her bedroom furniture, which was light wood and would blend in well. All she would need now was plum paint for the feature wall and white or cream paint for the other walls.

Holly and Hermione then turned their attention to the bedding in blue for Harry, while Helen and Petunia watched in amusement. In the end, after much debate, the two girls chose simple blue and white bedding, which they felt would blend in nicely with the sky-and-clouds mural, before heading off to look at wall decals. Hermione definitely wanted one, but Holly was not so sure and stood back to let Hermione browse through the stack of decal packets. Hermione smiled at the bird decals, thinking of Harry, but put them back in the pile.

'The sky-and-clouds ceiling is perfect for Harry. The birds are unnecessary,' she thought.

Noticing a white dandelion-and-spores set, Hermione took that out and showed it to Holly. "If you want a feature wall, this might do," she suggested. "It's quite simple and not overwhelmingly floral."

"That's perfect. Thanks, Hermione," said Holly happily. The decal set was neither chintzy nor overpoweringly flowery, and she could not resist adding it to her shopping cart.

While Hermione continued to leaf through the pile of decals, Holly and Petunia went to get blue furniture paint and white wall paint for Harry's room, plus cream and sage green wall paint for Holly's room. Holly would have three cream walls and would arrange the dandelion decal on the one green wall, with the spores blowing across it. Helen went with them to get the paint for Hermione's room.

Hermione did not see any decals that interested her until, at the very bottom of the pile, she found one single text decal in a simple script font, which happened to be a quote from Mark Twain:

Sing like no one's listening,
Love like you've never been hurt,
Dance like nobody's watching,
Live like it's heaven on earth.

'If I believed in Divination and omens, I'd take this as a sign. How better to express the fact that the war's over and we can now live our lives to the fullest?' Hermione grinned, tucking the packet under her arm and racing off to join the others.

The next week was spent decorating. All the extended family pitched in to help. Sirius pouted when told he was not to use magic, but had to admit in the end that he had enjoyed the experience; it had been fun to work together with everyone. Benedick Graynge and David Snape were responsible for Harry's ceiling and everyone else pitched in with the painting with good will. Harry was banned from his room until it was finished, as Hermione wanted to surprise him, and he good-naturedly took up residence at the Blacks for a week. Although he was forbidden to participate in the decorating party at Petunia and Gareth's home, he could—and did—participate in decorating Hermione's room, while she and her gang of helpers decorated Harry and Holly's rooms.

When the decorating was finally finished, Hermione led Harry into his room with her hands covering his eyes. Taking her hands away, Hermione was practically dancing with impatience as Harry gazed around the room. The smile on his face as he looked up at the ceiling was worth all the frustration Benedick and David had experienced when measuring the ceiling and cutting the wallpaper to size.

"Hermione!" Harry breathed in awe.

"Do you like it?" she asked anxiously.

"I love it!" he said, taking her in his arms and kissing her soundly.

After the decorating was over, it was time for the boys' chosen activities. Harry went off to compete in a Silat competition and did very well, while Hermione sat in the audience to cheer him on, not being interested in competing herself. Harry did so well in fact that Neville, who was sitting next to Hermione in the stands, was inspired to enter a local fencing competition, and surprised himself by coming in second.

"Shame we can't do this when we're off at school," Neville commented sadly.

Harry murmured in agreement, but in fact, combined with a comment Hermione had made after the third task, this had given him an idea. "Why don't we ask for the Duelling Club to be reinstated?" he suggested to his friends.

Neville, Hermione and Justin all groaned in response.

"Well, of course, Lockhart won't be in charge of it!" Harry retorted. As in the previous timeline, Gilderoy Lockhart had tried to resurrect the Duelling Club in their second year, only this time round, it had been Filius Flitwick who had humiliated the useless wizard instead of Severus. Without the bitter Professor Severus Snape encouraging Draco Malfoy to conjure snakes, the fact that Harry had been a Parselmouth had remained secret, however, the Club had still not met a second time, even without that particular revelation causing chaos.

"We could ask Professor Flitwick or Professor Prewett if they'll take charge of the Club," suggested Justin thoughtfully.

Harry and Hermione shared a look. With Severus wanting to become involved in the school, an extra-curricular club could be a good way for the students to get to know him in a more informal setting.

"I'll ask him later," Hermione whispered in Harry's ear, and Harry nodded with a grin. Severus Snape was constitutionally incapable of resisting Hermione Graynge, and everyone knew it.