CHAPTER 25: THE CALM AFTER THE STORM

The summer passed quietly. Harry and Hermione made the most of being carefree teenagers with no need to worry about an upcoming war. This was the first time they had felt truly free in a very long time. The one who had the hardest time adjusting, however, was Severus. He had been fighting for much longer than the two teens, in both lifetimes. Harry and Hermione frequently saw Severus stop in his tracks and look around in awe, shaking his head, as though he was uncertain if this life of peace was real; when the realisation then came over Severus that he was not in fact dreaming, he would break out into the biggest smile they had ever seen on the man who had once been so dour and bitter.

Sirius and Augusta leapt at the chance to nominate Severus to the Hogwarts Board of Governors and with so many dismissed from the Board thanks to having been proven to be followers of Voldemort, his appointment went through without a murmur. As soon as he was confirmed as a Governor, Severus put in place the plan he had developed with Minerva to provide a better system of pastoral care, thus lightening the load of the overburdened Heads of House.

While Severus himself did not counsel children in need, he supervised the programme. Severus was in the school once a week for the Duelling Club, which he was running in conjunction with Filius Flitwick, and he had made it widely known that he would be available for an hour prior to and after the club. Anyone who felt overwhelmed, or in need of emotional or practical support should come to him at that time and he would arrange help for them, whether it be the services of a counsellor or the more practical services of a social worker.

Treated with suspicion at first, it initially took referrals from Poppy Pomfrey or the Heads of House to force the children to meet with Severus. They went reluctantly but they did go, since they had no choice in the matter. Gradually, however, Severus began to build trust in the children by the simple means of never lying to them and always living up to his promises. By the end of Harry and Hermione's fifth year, the programme was well established. Counsellors visited the school once a week for a group session, to which any student could refer themselves, and several other times for individual sessions with those who required more personal, on-going support.

The Duelling Club itself was a resounding success. In the first week, Severus and Flitwick gave a demonstration duel that had the children in awe of their skill. So many of the charms taught by the cheerful little Charms Professor were benign that many pupils forgot that most of the hexes and jinxes they learned in Defence were in fact charms, and they did not realise just how skilled a duellist Professor Flitwick was until they saw him in action. Filius was a modest man who did not boast of his credentials as a Champion Dueller. As for Severus, he was known to be helping train Harry and his friends, but none of the pupils, other than the extended family, had actually seen him in action. The majority of the student body only knew Master Snape as a Potions Master and had not really believed he would be much of fighter—it had been some years since Severus had last entered a duelling competition and the students in Hogwarts today were too young to be aware of that aspect of the Potions Master. Watching Severus and Filius duel taught them all a valuable lesson in not making assumptions, pigeonholing a person or under-estimating opponents, in itself an important feature of Defence.

.

The two men bowed and then began circling each other warily. In this duel, Severus would be at a distinct advantage as he had often duelled the other man during the previous timeline and knew Filius' duelling style very well, whereas the Filius of this timeline did not really know what to expect from Severus. That, however, did not make Filius a less formidable opponent—on the contrary, it was likely to make him even more aggressive—and Severus had no intention of dropping his guard at any time.

Suddenly, Filius made his opening move. Severus could tell that Filius did not really expect his opponent to be brought down by the stunner he had cast, but was rather trying to get a feel for Severus' reflexes and duelling style.

Severus lazily flicked his wand and Filius' stunner hit Severus' shield. At the same time as casting the shield, Severus silently and wandlessly cast an Expelliarmus, but Filius was too wily and experienced to be caught by that.

The two men continued circling each other as they duelled lightly, restricting themselves for now to low-level spells that the students could be expected to know. Gradually, however, the two men increased the level of their spells from the merely distracting to more dangerous spells. Filius, with his goblin heritage, was a powerhouse who never seemed to tire, while Severus utilised his martial arts training to dodge, thus enabling him to send spells Filius' way almost constantly, rarely needing to stop attacking Filius in order to cast a shield. The watching students were fascinated by Severus' more physical style of duelling, being more used to Filius' more magically traditional approach. While most of the attacks were based in Charms, the two men did not confine themselves to this one discipline and used Conjuration and combative Transfiguration as well.

When Filius sent a horde of hornets Severus' way about twenty minutes into the duel, Severus was alarmed to see some of the hornets heading in the direction of the watching students. Severus was sure Filius had erected duelling wards but those were primarily designed to prevent spectators from being caught by stray spell-fire, and did not normally take into account creatures. Not wanting to risk the students being harmed should the vicious insects be able to penetrate the wards, Severus did not waste time trying to redirect the hornets or transfigure them into anything else but simply banished them all.

While Severus was busy dealing with the hornets that Filius had conjured, the Charms Professor took advantage of Severus' momentary distraction to tap himself on the head with his wand and apply a Disillusionment Charm to himself. When Severus looked up just a moment later to see that Filius had disappeared, he sighed, knowing that a simple Finite Incatatem would not be sufficient to lift the spell. The counter-charm for Disillusionment required direct physical contact, with the same tap of the wand on the head that was required to apply the Disillusionment.

Suddenly, an old memory flashed through Severus' mind. When a mischievous two-year-old Lucas had grabbed a tin of drinking chocolate that was sitting on the kitchen table while Cara was making hot chocolate for the children, he had ended up tipping it all over himself. Whirling around at the sound of the crash, Cara had shrieked in dismay at the resultant mess. Severus had instantly come running, wand at the ready, in response to Cara's shrieks, and had stood open-mouthed in shock at the sight of his son covered in brown powder from head to foot. Doubling over in laughter at the sight, Severus had shakily flicked his wand to clean up the mess in the most expedient way possible—although not before summoning his camera and taking a photograph to preserve the memory for posterity.

Remembering this, Severus promptly conjured powdered chocolate, sending it shooting out from his wand in a jet as he turned in a circle. Most of the powder fell harmlessly to the floor but the Disillusionment Charm was no proof against the powder that settled upon the Charms Master and Severus smirked as he saw the brown mound that represented Filius, who was trying to sneak up behind the younger man. Filius began coughing as he inhaled some of the powder that was coating him, but fortunately for Filius, he could do silent and wandless magic and the fact that he was coughing too badly to speak clearly did not stop him from cleaning away the annoying powder with a wave of his hand. However, the wand that was pointing at Severus was wobbling somewhat as its owner continued coughing.

Severus promptly pressed home his advantage, and silently cast a Pepper Spray hex that Hermione had invented, which very potently disabled an opponent. Instinct is to cast a Shield Charm against an unknown spell, but that would have no effect against the gaseous hex, rather a Bubble-Head Charm was required instead. However, the stream of Pepper Spray heading towards Severus' opponent was invisible, thus giving no indication as to the nature of this particular hex. By the time Filius would realise what was needed, he would already be suffering from the effects of the magical simulation of Pepper Spray and it would no longer be possible to cast the Bubble-Head Charm until after the effects of the hex had dissipated.

Filius had still not quite recovered from accidentally inhaling some of the drinking chocolate and the Pepper Spray hex finished him off. Filius collapsed on the ground, tears streaming from his eyes, and Severus stunned him, signifying the end of the duel.

Upon hearing that Severus and Filius were to duel, Poppy Pomfrey had decided it would be advisable for her to observe in case of injuries and now she came rushing over to tend to Filius, first casting an air purifying spell, used by potioneers and medicals alike to maintain sterile areas when needed, and then cast another spell to clear out Filius' airways before Rennervating him.

Harry, Hermione and the extended family—those among the student body who knew Severus well—came running over to congratulate him on winning the duel while Poppy tended to Filius and helped him to his feet.

"That was an interesting way to tackle the Disillusionment, Severus. I'll have to remember that in future," said Filius, as he came over to shake Severus' hand. "And chocolate, too. However did you think of it?"

"Lucas… and the drinking chocolate…" gasped Harry who was in floods of laughter.

Severus smiled and explained to his former Head of House, who joined in the laughter of those who had seen the photograph of the chocolate covered Lucas Snape.

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At the start of fifth year, Tom Prewett was selected as Keeper for the Gryffindor Quidditch team. The only other realistic contender was Cormac McLaggen, who was an antagonistic personality with no concept of the meaning of teamwork. If Quidditch was a solo sport, Cormac might have had a chance, but as it was, the entire team breathed a sigh of relief when Angelina chose Tom above Cormac.

"Why didn't Ron try out for Keeper?" Hermione asked in bemusement.

"Because he's too busy strategising with Angelina, and helping her with the training," said Harry with a grin. "Your suggestion back in first year worked. Ron is an amazing coach, and he puts the team first, which I don't think he'd have done last time round when he was so desperate to be noticed. Believe it or not, it was Ron's suggestion that Tom try out for Keeper. Oliver's already spoken to Puddlemere about taking on Ron as an assistant coach after he finishes school."

"I'm glad Ron's found his niche. He must be over the moon," smiled Hermione.

"He is," Harry agreed.

Harry and Hermione had of course been made prefects. Harry was wondering if he might be made the Quidditch Captain in sixth year like previously, but hoped that Ron would be made Captain instead.

"I know that the captaincy traditionally goes to the most senior player on the team, which would be me or Katie, but Ron deserves it," Harry commented to Hermione. In the last timeline, the Gryffindor team had been formidable. In this timeline, with Ron having helped with the coaching since his first year, combined with Harry's extraordinary skills as a Seeker, they were simply unstoppable, and the other three Houses were counting the days until Ronald Weasley and Harry Potter would leave Hogwarts, so that they might have a chance once more at the Quidditch cup.

"Ron's the reserve Keeper, isn't he? So, technically, he is an active part of team and has been since first year," Hermione shrugged, her interest in Quidditch minimal at the best of times.

"I'd rather have the fun of playing Quidditch without the responsibility of being the Captain," Harry mused. "I'll be very glad for Ron if he makes Captain next year."

Harry was continuing to compete occasionally in weekend Silat competitions, and was also helping Severus with the Duelling Club. He had been worried that the other students might object to his helping out but none of the students were complaining after having seen Harry's skills in that area during the Triwizard Tournament and, most especially, during the duel in the graveyard in Little Hangleton. While Quidditch was still important to Harry, he regarded it as light relief rather than a possible career option for himself personally. Rather, he was enjoying assisting with the Duelling Club and was seriously considering Hermione's suggestion that he become a teacher. Harry was still wavering between becoming an Auror or a Curse Breaker as a means of gaining practical experience before undertaking his Mastery in Defence and then hopefully coming back to Hogwarts to teach. He was not particularly enthusiastic about working for either the Ministry or the goblins, but the Auror Office was currently winning, simply because as an Auror he would at least be in the UK, near Hermione.

In the meantime, now that Voldemort and his followers had been dealt with once and for all, and Dumbledore was safely out the way, Severus had informed Filius Flitwick and Septima Vector about the charms Hermione had created (the blindfold spell Minerva had tried to use on Quirrell in their first year; the Impedire Visum charm used to prevent the fake Moody looking through people's clothes; the jinxed parchment spell, although he glossed over the background to that; the Pepper-Spray hex; plus a number of other spells) and they had both been highly impressed, especially when they learned her blindfold spell had been created in her first year, not knowing that at that point she already had six years' worth of Hogwarts education under her belt.

Both members of staff had already made arrangements to mentor Hermione jointly, in much the same way Severus himself had been mentored by Eileen and Horace Slughorn during his school years, but in Hermione's case, it was with the intention of gaining a double Mastery. It would take Hermione longer to complete than it had taken Severus to get his Potions Mastery, due in part to her not having the same amount of prior knowledge that he had had at the same stage in the new timeline and partly because she would be undertaking two Masteries at once.

Despite this, Severus, Remus, Sirius, Marsali and the Longbottoms had a bet going as to how soon Hermione would be approached by the Department of Mysteries, all of them agreeing that she was prime Unspeakable material and the Department of Mysteries would not be able to resist recruiting her. Hermione would sit her Potions, Arithmancy and Charms NEWTs early, at the end of her sixth year, and would then begin her Mastery studies during her seventh year.

When Harry had bought his wand from Ollivander just before his first year at Hogwarts, Severus had adapted Hermione's jinxed parchment charm to force Dumbledore into unknowingly making an oath that would prevent the interfering old coot from speaking about Harry's wand being the brother wand to that of Voldemort. Severus was of course aware that it had not been Dumbledore himself who had made this announcement at the end of the third task but rather Garrick Ollivander, meaning that Albus had not technically broken the unknown oath. However, Dumbledore had nevertheless had the intention that this information should become public knowledge and the only reason he had not made the announcement himself was because the jinxed agreement he had signed had physically prevented him from so doing. Much of magic is about intent and Severus therefore had a sneaking suspicion this intention on the former Headmaster's part had contributed to his mental breakdown. Severus had not anticipated this result and preferred that no one would learn of it, thus he did not mention this amendment to the jinxed parchment charm to either Flitwick or Vector. Fortunately, it had not occurred to Sirius that the jinxed agreement might have had this result. Sirius only knew that Dumbledore had been unable to speak about Harry's wand, hence the former Headmaster dragging Garrick Ollivander up to Hogwarts to speak for him. Severus saw no reason to share his suspicions with his brother-in-law or, indeed, anyone else since it would not help the Headmaster in any case.

With Hermione's Mastery studies already arranged, even though she had not yet sat her NEWT exams, Severus himself was inspired to obtain his own Mastery in Defence, having put it off until now because he did not want the interest and scrutiny he would inevitably receive from Albus Dumbledore when he received this particular Mastery. Fortunately, Bayu was a Master of Defence and was able to sign off on Severus' eligibility to become a Master, Severus having proved beyond a doubt that he was more than ready to receive his Mastery. Indeed, Bayu had offered to vouch for Severus in the past, and had often wondered why Severus had not seemed interested in taking this final step in becoming a Master of Defence, but had ceased to raise the issue after Severus had explained that he wished to remain off Dumbledore's radar for the time being. When Severus approached him during Harry and Hermione's fifth year, Bayu was delighted to endorse Severus' second Mastery. Between Bayu and Severus, Harry would certainly not have a problem finding a Master to apprentice himself to when he chose to do his own Mastery studies, unless he preferred to look for a Master who had not been training him since childhood, much like Severus had done when he had spent time working in Brazil with Potions Master Ventura.

Much to Harry and Hermione's relief, despite it being OWL year, fifth year ended not with bang but with a whimper.

"No Battle at the Department of Mysteries," said Hermione in relief.

"Sirius didn't die," Harry agreed gratefully. Although Sirius was alive, Bellatrix Lestrange was not, having been given the Dementor's Kiss, much to the satisfaction of the three who were reliving their lives. Her body had not long outlasted the removal of her soul, and had been buried on Azkaban island.

"No flying on invisible Thestrals," Hermione shuddered.

"I'd no idea they could fly so fast," Harry commented thoughtfully. "It didn't take nearly as long to get to London as I would have expected."

"Isn't magic great?" Hermione agreed with a grin and Harry snorted with laughter.

The big surprise of the year was that Fred and George Weasley had finished school and had actually sat their NEWTs.

"I'm not close enough to them to offer to fund their start-up costs for their joke shop," Harry observed sadly.

"Don't worry," said Severus with a smile. "I brought up the subject of the Weasley twins when in the company of Padfoot, Gideon and Fabian one evening at the Hogs' Head, and Padfoot was so impressed by everything he heard from their uncles about their ability to cause mayhem, that he's given Fred and George a loan. Minerva was less impressed, but Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes will happen."

Sixth year started with some changes. Although Cedric Diggory lived, he and Cho Chang had broken up. Cedric had finished school at the end of the last academic year, while Cho was just starting her seventh year. The Chinese witch wanted a boyfriend who would be available to dance attendance on her daily, not one who she would only be able to see a few times during the course of the year on Hogsmeade weekends. Already arrogant because of the attention she received for her physical beauty, being appointed head girl had only swollen Cho's head even further.

Much to both Harry's and Hermione's annoyance, Cho had turned her attention towards Harry, who had aroused Cho's interest during the Triwizard Tournament. Harry and Hermione's friends had all warned the older girl away—even Cho's own friends had warned her against making a move on Harry—but the determined witch, who was so used to boys falling over themselves for her favour, paid no heed.

"I'm going to hex Chang soon," snarled Hermione through gritted teeth one evening when they were hiding out in the Room of Requirement before curfew. "That witch really doesn't like it when any boy shows an interest in anyone other than herself. I remember the glares she gave me when I turned up on your arm at the Yule Ball."

"Looking beautiful, I might add. Chang didn't hold a candle to you that night," Harry commented, and Hermione kissed him sweetly in response.

"I'm just surprised it's not Ginny behaving like that!" said Harry.

Hermione shook her head. "Ginny's dating Dean again, but I don't think it'll last. Ginny's only fifteen, she's not looking for a relationship at this time. She just likes the idea of having a boyfriend, that's all. She's growing up and she's exploring the boundaries of adulthood. She's far more concerned about herself than about us."

Harry looked at Hermione with raised eyebrows and she laughed. "Oh, Ginny and Dean aren't actually doing more than snogging a bit—especially not after Ron and Tom had a brotherly talk with Dean. It's all very innocent yet, but part of growing up is beginning to seek out relationships. Actually, I think the twins' friend, Lee Jordan, has his eye on Ginny, and has done for quite a while now. She's quite like the twins in many ways—bright and feisty—and I think that appeals to him, but he's eighteen and she's only just turned fifteen, so I imagine he's waiting until she finishes school, if she's still available then."

"Yes, I can see that relationship working," Harry agreed. "Hasn't Lee become a professional Quidditch commentator? In the last timeline, Ginny wanted to become a professional Quidditch player after the war. If she still wants that—and she's certainly good enough—then they'll have plenty of opportunity to meet after she leaves Hogwarts." Ginny had again proven herself to be a very talented Chaser and had been on the Gryffindor reserve team ever since she started Hogwarts. With the departure from Hogwarts of Angelina Johnson and Alicia Spinnet at the end of the previous school year, Ginny was now the star of the main team, together with Harry.

"Lee works for the Wizarding Wireless Network, although his main duties seem to be Quidditch reporting and commentating," Hermione explained.

The situation with Cho finally came to a head a couple of weeks later in the Great Hall when Harry and Hermione arrived for dinner. Cho approached Harry, inserting herself in between him and Hermione, trying to cut Hermione out.

"Would you like to come for an evening walk with me, Harry? We could clear our heads and get to know each other better," Cho said, flirting shamelessly with Harry as she clung to his arm.

"Leave my boyfriend alone, Miss Chang," said Hermione calmly.

A look of cunning came over Cho's face. 'Well, it would be cunning if it weren't so dreadfully obvious. Anyone would think she's a Gryffindor!' thought Hermione in amusement, as she waited for Cho's next move.

"Graynge has had her claws into you since the first day you met on the train, Harry. Don't you want to get to know some other girls?" said Cho winsomely, completely ignoring Hermione.

At that, Harry, Hermione, Neville, Luna, Susan Bones, Leo and Corbin all burst out laughing.

"What do you mean, 'since the first day they met on the train,' Chang?" spluttered Neville. "Harry has been Hermione's since the day he was born!"

"Very true," Harry agreed complacently, sharing a quick grin with his soul-mate over the top of Cho's head. "My Aunt Petunia was babysitting Hermione that day, so when Aunt Tuney came to the hospital to visit her sister and meet her new nephew, she brought Hermione with her. According to my grandparents and all my aunts and uncles, Hermione laid claim to me the moment she saw me. And I wouldn't have it any other way," Harry added, freeing himself from Cho's grasp and holding his hand out to Hermione, who clasped it with a beaming smile for Harry.

"Despite what this lot is saying," said Hermione, mock glaring at their friends, "Harry is a person with his own likes and dislikes, and it's his choice who he wants to be with."

"You, Mi," said Harry, tilting her face up with a gentle finger under her chin, and kissing her. "Always you."

Hermione melted into the kiss. "Always you, Harry," she whispered as she cuddled into him.

"You can't seriously tell me you prefer Graynge to me!" exclaimed Cho, preening herself to show off her beauty.

Harry turned and looked Cho up and down. "I agree you appear to be very beautiful, Miss Chang," he said. "But," he continued as Cho began to look smugly triumphant, "Hermione is beautiful inside as well as outside."

Amidst the gasps of shock from around the room at this insult, Harry and Hermione turned away from Cho and went to sit at the Gryffindor table. Ignoring Cho, who was working herself into a tantrum, Harry and Hermione quietly sat down and began conversing with Neville and Corbin, who were sitting opposite them, while the rest of the school watched in fascination to see what the Chinese girl would do next.

"You… you… she…" Cho stuttered in rage, and drew her wand, aiming it at Hermione's back. "Eat slugs!" she cried, much as Ron had done to Draco Malfoy in their second year in the previous timeline.

"Protego!" Neville said, calmly. Although he was perfectly able to cast most spells silently, he made a point of speaking this spell aloud so the staff would hear he had done no more than cast a shield. Severus had influenced all the children, and they had all picked up his Slytherin cunning, even if Harry and Hermione were the only ones to recognise it for what it was.

"Thanks, Nev," said Harry with a grin, and the other boy winked at him.

"Miss Chang!" snapped Minerva as she came bustling over. "Never have I ever seen such a disgusting display in the Great Hall!"

"Graynge must have given Potter a love potion," Cho snapped. "There's no other reason he'd want to be with a know-it-all with no station!"

The Great Hall roared with laughter again. "No station? She's titled! Lady Hermione has more status than you do!" Susan Bones called out gleefully from the Hufflepuff table. Photographs of Hermione at various society events during the school holidays over the years had made their way around Hogwarts—there had even been pictures of Hermione at royal events—and no one doubted the Graynges' place in Muggle high society. As Hermione had predicted back in Death's Domain after they had died the last time, this had done much to help change the attitudes of many Purebloods in Hogwarts towards Muggleborns, as they began to realise that Muggles were not primitive, barbaric savages and that there were those among them whose status was as high as, or even higher than, that of the oldest Pureblood families. They were perhaps not completely over their ingrained prejudices, but the first steps had been made.

Hermione had once remarked to Harry and Severus that if you looked at the Pureblood ideology minus the Nazi-style, genocidal, racial-cleansing aspects of the Death Eaters, then what remained was little more than a highly-exaggerated form of social elitism, and she had used her own status to great effect over the years to discredit and refute that ideology. As a result, the attitudes of those who were at school with them, even Draco Malfoy, had gradually changed. Harry and Hermione had also shared around the school games and, more importantly, books from the Muggle world, and that had also helped change attitudes, as the student body had begun to appreciate Muggle culture. Harry and Hermione also got Muggle newspapers delivered regularly and the Daily Prophet had not fared well in contrast. This had inspired Justin, and he was now considering opening a new and more serious newspaper in Wizarding Britain after he finished school. Although a few years younger than Justin, Corbin Black, who was the more politically-minded of the two Black sons, was equally enthusiastic about the idea and hoped to go into partnership with the older boy, while Colin Creevey had already been promised a position as a photographer for the new newspaper.

"Besides, isn't the very definition of a Ravenclaw a know-it-all?" chortled Corbin. "Doesn't that mean you're one, too?"

"Claiming that someone has used a love potion on another is a very serious accusation, Miss Chang. What evidence do you have?" asked Elphinstone soberly. By this time, he, Minerva, and the two relevant Heads of House, Gideon Prewett and Filius Flitwick, had all come over to the Gryffindor table to break up the confrontation.

"Absolutely none whatsoever!" roared Harry angrily, as he stood up and ripped off his robes, leaving him in trousers and a shirt. Everyone looked startled when he began to unbutton his shirt. Only those few already in the know remained calm.

Stripping off his shirt, Harry cancelled the glamour on his back. Ignoring the wolf-whistles from his fellow Gryffindors, he turned to show his back to Cho. "Do you know what this is, Miss Chang?" he demanded, indicating the bond mark on his right shoulder blade.

Hermione likewise stood and took off her robes, silently and wandlessly cancelling the glamour on her back as she also removed the shirt she was wearing underneath her robes. Fortunately, since her shirt was quite thin, she was wearing a tank top below that, so she was still covered up even without her shirt. Silently transfiguring it into a racerback style tank, Hermione turned around and showed Cho, along with the rest of the school, her matching bond marking on her left shoulder blade. Whispers, gasps and mutterings began to spread around the Great Hall as people began to realise just what they were seeing.

"These are bond marks!" Hermione pointed out, an angry bite in her voice. "Harry and I are soul-mates, and love potions won't work on either of us."

"How do we know they're bond marks and not just tattoos?" Cho sniffed disdainfully.

Filius sighed and pointed his wand at the marks, muttering a goblin spell under his breath. There was a flash of light and the bond marks glowed brightly, almost like Patronuses. "I'm sorry, Miss Chang, but these are definitely bond marks and not tattoos," he said before cancelling his spell.

"Those marks could represent anyone," said Cho desperately.

"Our bond marks match, Chang," said Harry wearily.

"What are the marks, anyway?" asked Katie Bell with interest. "What are the animals?"

"They could be any animals!" Cho scoffed.

"That's a very unusual cat and both Harry and Hermione are marked with it," Katie pointed out, a gleam of satisfaction in her eyes. She was none too fond of the Ravenclaw, with whom she shared many classes.

Harry and Hermione looked at each other and nodded. Taking out their wands, they simultaneously cast their Patronuses. Harry's Northern Goshawk flew out of his wand and circled the couple, while Hermione's jaguarundi came prowling towards Harry. Although ethereal and unsubstantial, Hawkeye came to perch on Hermione's shoulder and nuzzled her cheek, while Cinnamon came up to Harry and rubbed against his legs, almost as though he were Crookshanks.

"Well, the Patronuses certainly match the bond marks," observed Gideon Prewett neutrally, as the silvery animals faded away. "And Mr Potter's Patronus seems very fond of Miss Graynge, and vice versa."

Harry had put his shirt back on but left it hanging loose and unbuttoned for the present. "My Patronus is a Northern Goshawk. Hermione's is a jaguarundi," Harry answered Katie with a smile, as he sat down again, once more ignoring Cho. "Don't you think Hermione is very cat-like?" he added, teasing his soul-mate.

"Just like your Patronus could only be a bird, given how well you fly," laughed Katie in agreement.

Being ignored like this was too much for the Chinese girl, who was all too well aware that she had just made a fool of herself. With a frustrated scream, Cho launched herself at Hermione, who had been busy refastening her shirt and putting her robes back on. Unfortunately for Cho, she knew nothing about physical fighting, while Hermione was of course quite skilled in that area, having been trained in Capoeira and then Silat since she was very young. Hermione had the older girl on the floor in mere moments. Stepping over her prone rival, Hermione seated herself at the Gryffindor table and continued on as if the confrontation had never happened, while Professor Prewett stretched out a hand to help Cho to her feet.

"I'm sorry, Miss Chang, but Mr Potter and Lady Hermione's soul bond was confirmed when they first bonded, just before their fourth year," said Eileen gently, having come to join the group.

"I will see you in my office after supper, Miss Chang," added Professor Flitwick grimly. "We need to have a conversation about your behaviour." He held up a hand as Cho started to object, and continued. "I appreciate you couldn't have known about Mr Potter and Lady Hermione's soul bond, as they didn't make it publicly known." Filius sent an admonitory glance over towards the couple and they looked suitably abashed. "However, making false accusations and then attacking a younger student, both magically and physically, is not the kind of behaviour we expect from our head girl."

Cho burst into tears and ran out the Great Hall, followed by her best friend, Marietta Edgecombe, who glared at Harry and Hermione on her way past. The two teens just barely refrained from rolling their eyes, but instead concentrated on their meal, as the gathered members of staff returned to the Head Table, Eileen giving Harry and Hermione each a gentle squeeze on the shoulder before rejoining her colleagues. Harry smiled at his honorary grandmother before turning his attention back to his plate. Harry and Hermione chatted with their friends, all of them pointedly avoiding talking about Cho or the soul-bond.

Eventually, the interminable seeming meal ended and Harry and Hermione made good their escape, the members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team good-naturedly running interference to prevent anyone following them. The newly outed soul-mates heaved a sigh of relief as they entered the Room of Requirement undetected.

"Well!" Harry puffed out a breath of air as he flopped down onto the couch the room had provided.

"Well, indeed," said Hermione ruminatively as she sat down beside him.

"What are you thinking?" asked Harry suspiciously. "You're not going to hex Cho like you did Marietta last time, are you?"

"Noooo. Besides, Marietta kind of did it to herself."

"Hermione," said Harry warningly and she made a face at him. "I don't want you to end up in Azkaban—or worse, expelled!" he added mischievously, remembering a comment she had made in their first year during the previous timeline¹.

"Don't worry, I'm not going to be vindictive," Hermione assured her soul-mate, completely missing the reference. Either that, or she was ignoring it.

Harry said nothing, but merely raised his eyebrows. "Marietta," he reminded her again.

"Marietta betrayed us during war, so she deserved all she got," Hermione huffed indignantly. "Cho simply isn't worth it. She had a good relationship with Cedric and she threw it away for no real reason. She's just pathetic."

"Cedric's a good guy and he was willing to make the effort needed to keep their relationship going while she's still at Hogwarts," Harry agreed. "It's a shame she didn't appreciate what she had."

The pair had heard much on the subject from Susan Bones, who had been quite scathing with regard to the shallow Chinese witch. The Diggory and Bones families were close friends, and Cedric had confided in Susan about the reason why Cho had chosen to break up with him. When Susan had noticed Cho making a play for Harry, the indignant Hufflepuff had passed on the information.

"I don't think I'll need to do anything. No one at school's going to be interested in her after she made such a fool of herself this evening—besides, I think all the guys she might make a play for are already taken—and I'm pretty sure Susan's going to write to Cedric and tell him all about what happened this evening, so he probably won't want to get back together with her, either. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Cedric spreads around the message that she's not worth the effort, assuming he hasn't done so already. She's brought her own punishment on herself," Hermione explained thoughtfully, and after considering Hermione's reasoning, Harry could only agree.

After that, Cho remained at a distance, but continued to send longing looks in Harry's direction. As long as she confined herself to that, however, neither Harry nor Hermione minded and they just carried on ignoring the older girl. On the few occasions when Cho did try to make a move on Harry, a few stinging hexes aimed at her posterior, mainly by her fellow Ravenclaws, Luna Lovegood and Leo Black, quickly stopped her in her tracks.

"Karma," said Hermione with satisfaction, remembering how badly Cho and her gang had treated Luna in the previous timeline.

Hermione was glad when Cho finally stopped approaching Harry because between her studies and spending time with Harry, she did not have the time to worry about the older witch. Hermione was determined to achieve exceptional results in her Charms and Arithmancy NEWTs, to prove wrong those who claimed she would not do well if she sat those exams early. No one criticised her for taking her Potions NEWT early, however, because it was widely known that Severus and Eileen had been training Harry and Hermione in Potions since they were both very young. Likewise, no one was surprised when Neville decided to sit his Herbology NEWT early; he had already been offered an apprenticeship by Pomona Sprout and, like Hermione, would begin his Mastery studies during his final year of school. Dumbledore had discouraged the mentoring of apprentices during his Headmastership, mainly, Severus suspected, because the old man had liked to hoard knowledge. Severus remembered having many conversations with his colleagues in the past timeline about how knowledge would be lost if it was not shared, and was pleased to see Hogwarts gradually, and unofficially, reintroducing its apprenticeship programme.

Sixth year finished as quietly as fifth year had done.

"No dangerous adventure to round off the year. I could get used to this," said Hermione happily.

"Even better, between you having studied the material already and you not doing all your NEWTs together, I don't need to worry about you driving yourself insane over your exams," replied Harry pointedly.

Hermione huffed in indignation, but she could not deny that Harry was correct. "I am calmer this time, aren't I?"

"Much calmer," said Harry emphatically. Like Hermione he was also taking his Potions NEWT a year early, but had decided not to sit his Defence NEWT yet, despite being urged to do so by Sirius and Severus. Harry knew he would have no problem with the practicum, but felt he needed the extra year of teaching in the theory. While Hermione wanted to sit her exams and begin her Mastery studies early to prove that a Muggleborn witch was as good as anyone else, Harry felt he needed to live up to his legacy as the Boy-Who-Lived by achieving the best possible results he could in his NEWTs, especially his Defence NEWT. That being the case, they were both under tremendous pressure, but Harry was not taking on as much as Hermione, and so was not quite as stressed as she was. Fortunately, for everyone's peace of mind, Hermione would achieve the exceptional NEWT results she hoped for in the three subjects she was sitting early, while Harry and Neville would do equally well in their Potions and Herbology NEWTs respectively.

"I think it's having lived through a war," Hermione replied to Harry, her face screwed up in thought. "It's not that I don't recognise the importance of school and exams, and it's not that I don't love learning, but I have my priorities right. There are some things that are more important than exams, like family, friends, being happy, healthy, safe, alive…"

Harry interrupted what looked like being a long list with a steamy kiss and Hermione quickly stopped thinking about anything at all.

.o.O.o.

When Harry and Hermione returned to Hogwarts for their seventh and final year, they were accompanied by Lucas and Isobel Snape, who were just starting their first year. Much to Severus' relief, both twins were sorted into Ravenclaw. Although secretly disappointed that neither child had been sorted into Slytherin, he was grateful that they had not been sorted into Hufflepuff, which had been quite possible with Isobel. Severus did not look down on Hufflepuff House as many others did, but he appreciated the characteristics of Slytherin and Ravenclaw more than those of Gryffindor or Hufflepuff.

It was during this year that the Death Eaters who had avoided Azkaban decided to plan a coup. Their mistake, however, was trying to involve Lucius Malfoy. It was understandable, of course, since Lucius had been the most influential of them all, and had far more funds at his disposal than they. What they had not taken into account was the fact that due to his restricted wand use, Lucius had become quite dependant on his house elf, Dobby. While Lucius privately still regarded Dobby as an inferior being, he had, however, been forced to treat Dobby far better than before, since he was now so reliant upon the little elf. Dobby was perhaps not as happy as he might have been had he been bound to one Harry Potter, but he was no longer the downtrodden, abused creature he had been just a few years earlier, and as a result, he and his Master were slowly forming a far healthier bond.

Lucius had been quite surprised when two former Death Eaters had come to pay a call to Malfoy Manor and had laid their plans before him, fully expecting his enthusiastic cooperation.

"Well, that is certainly an interesting proposition," Lucius drawled, his mind racing frantically. "I'll consider it further and get back to you. I wish to be sure I believe your plan has a chance of success before I put my name to it."

"You could help us ensure it's successful," growled Kyland Bullstrode.

"Or perhaps you want us to leave so you can alert the DMLE," said Campbell Wilkes shrewdly, his eyes narrowing as he regarded the blond wizard suspiciously. "You did betray our brethren to the DMLE, after all."

"I was questioned under Veritaserum," Lucius protested. "I'm not able to overcome it. Are you?"

"No, but I think we'll just wait here until you commit irrevocably to the plan nonetheless," announced Wilkes, whose cousin had been killed by Alastor Moody in the first Voldemort Blood War. "I don't trust you, Malfoy, and I'm giving you no chance to betray us."

.

Amelia Bones frowned when she heard the crack of apparition. No one should be able to apparate into her office. Discreetly palming her wand, she looked up and to her surprise saw a house elf standing nervously before her.

"You must help Dobby's Master," the elf squeaked. "Nasty men are wanting Dobby's Master to do bad things. Master is not wanting to help them but they is not giving him a choice."

Amelia raised her eyebrows. "Who is your Master, Dobby?" she inquired.

Seeing the elf hesitate, she continued in a calm and reasonable tone, "If I don't know who your Master is, I can't help him."

"Malfoys. Malfoys are Dobby's Masters," the elf said, fidgeting nervously.

Amelia paled as she considered the implications of this. 'Bad men' could only mean former supporters of Voldemort.

"I need to get together a team. How many men are there?"

"Two men. Two men were with Master when Dobby came here."

"All right. Can you take us through the wards, Dobby?"

"Dobby is not supposed to," he whimpered.

"But you want to help your Master, don't you, Dobby?"

"Master doesn't want to help the nasty men do bad things," he replied.

"Stay here, Dobby. I won't be long," Amelia ordered.

Ten minutes later, the Head of the DMLE had put together a team and they were ready to go. Dobby would have to take the team in relays but it would be worth the extra time it would take in order to make a surprise attack.

At Alastor Moody's suggestion, Dobby apparated half the team directly into the manor, to a strategic point where the noise of the apparition would not be heard by the men sitting in Lucius' study. They promptly disillusioned themselves so the family portraits would not see them and raise the alarm, and silently made their way to the door of the study, where they waited for their cue to burst through the door.

The other half of the team was taken by Dobby to a copse of trees on the grounds. From there, also disillusioned, they crept up to the grand windows of Lucius' study. When they were in place, they waited until the agreed time and then smashed the windows with blasting curses and started firing stunners and concussion curses—upon hearing Alex talk about concussion grenades, Severus had worked with Sirius to develop a spell for the use of the Auror Office which would have a similar effect. Upon hearing the noise, the other half of the team burst through the study door to assist their colleagues in capturing the plotters.

Campbell Wilkes, undoubtedly the more intelligent of the two, had dived behind a heavy table at the first sound of the windows smashing and despite the spells flying around, had not yet been taken down.

"Traitor!" he yelled furiously, aiming his wand at Lucius.

However, before he could let off a single spell, a furious house-elf appeared between Lucius and the unwelcome visitor. "You shall not harm Dobby's Master!" the little elf yelled. There was a loud bang, and Wilkes was thrown backwards, crashing into the wall behind him and landing in a crumpled heap². The Aurors were quick to take advantage of the moment and Wilkes was stunned and clamped into magic suppressing handcuffs before the man could recover.

"Are you all right?" asked Amelia, approaching Lucius.

"Yes, thank you. But… how did you know?" he gasped in shock.

"Your elf came to me for assistance," Amelia replied, smiling at Dobby. "You have a very loyal elf there."

"I'm not sure I deserve that. I haven't always treated Dobby well," Lucius admitted abashedly.

"Well, you're obviously doing something right now," said Amelia encouragingly.

"It would seem so," Lucius drawled. "Thank you, Dobby. You have my gratitude," he added sincerely, without any drawling affectation.

Lucius willingly handed over his memory of the meeting during which Wilkes and Bulstrode had not only detailed their full plans but had also listed all those who were involved in the planned coup. This resulted in another round of trials, with many of those who had previously avoided Azkaban now finding themselves in the fortress prison.

.o.O.o.

"Dobby saved Lucius Malfoy?!" Harry exclaimed in disbelief when Severus filled Harry and Hermione in on what had happened.

"Apparently so. It would seem their relationship is much improved due to Lucius' restricted wand use," drawled Severus, equally astonished.

"That… that's a good thing, right?" asked Harry uncertainly.

"Yes, Harry. It is," said Severus soothingly. "I know you felt guilty that you weren't able to free him, but now you don't need to worry. He's being treated well and he must be happy or he wouldn't have voluntarily gone to get help for Lucius. You know that Dobby was under no obligation to do so if he wasn't ordered to."

"Yes," said Harry with relief. "I'm glad Dobby's happier now. But what if Lucius is ever granted full wand use again? He won't go back to treating Dobby badly, will he?"

"We'll keep an eye on the situation, should that happen," Severus reassured him. "In the meantime, you can consider sponsoring a bill to ensure better treatment of magical creatures when you take up your seat on the Wizengamot."

Harry made a face. This was more Hermione's kind of thing than his. "You'll help me put it together, won't you?" he asked the curly-haired witch desperately.

Hermione giggled. "Of course I will, Harry," she said, kissing him sweetly.

"Speaking of taking up your seat on the Wizengamot, that's not so far away now. You'll have to do it once you finish school, Harry," Severus commented. "You won't be able to put it off any longer. Have you decided what you want to do after school? I know you've been wavering."

Harry nodded. "I want to do a Mastery in Defence, but I've decided to undergo Auror training first. I think I'll benefit from spending a couple of years working as an Auror before I begin my Mastery."

"Weren't you also considering curse breaking?" asked Hermione.

"I don't think the goblins will appreciate spending time and effort training me, only for me to turn around and walk away almost as soon as my training is complete. The Auror Office won't be thrilled either, but according to Uncle Siri, they would regard my taking up the Defence position at Hogwarts as an acceptable outcome. They want competent people teaching Defence, so they don't have to waste time teaching the basics that new recruits should have learned in school. Of course, the position probably won't be available any time soon, as Professor Prewett seems quite settled at Hogwarts. But whether I end up teaching or not, I want my Mastery."

"That seems an eminently sensible plan, Harry," said Severus cordially. "What about you, little one?"

Hermione made a face at him. She was growing up and felt that nicknames of this nature should be consigned to the past if she were ever to be taken seriously as an adult. However, she loved Severus far too much ever to tell him to stop using the pet name he had called her since her babyhood.

"I've been approached by the Department of Mysteries to become an Unspeakable. Actually, they made an overture at the end of sixth year, when the results of the NEWTs I sat early were announced. I told them I want to finish my Masteries before I take up their offer and they were happy to agree to that. The idea of researching magic is fairly irresistible for a know-it-all like me," she said, with a self-deprecating grin.

"I thought you were considering teaching?" asked Harry in surprise, not sure whether or not to be upset about this change in her plans. He had been quite looking forward to them both teaching at Hogwarts together.

Hermione nodded. "I was. I still am. But I think I ought to have an idea of life outside Hogwarts first. As schoolchildren, we've led quite sheltered lives, despite all we experienced in the last timeline, and I need to have a better idea of the real world before I try to mould impressionable young minds. Besides, it'll probably be some years yet before there are positions available for us at Hogwarts, so you'll be an Auror and I'll be an Unspeakable until then."

"A very sensible attitude. Your teaching will be all the better for having that wider experience of life," Severus approved, trying not to be too smug that he had won the bet as to when the Department of Mysteries would try to recruit Hermione. The others who had participated had all insisted she would be approached only after she had sat her remaining NEWTs and the results were published.

Harry heaved a sigh of relief that Hermione's plans had not changed completely. Rather, teaching at Hogwarts was a long-term goal for them both, and beginning their professional careers at the Ministry was a step on the path to achieving that goal. He had to agree with her assessment that there were currently no vacancies for them on the Hogwarts staff, but he knew that when the time came, Eileen, Minerva, Filius Flitwick, Pomona Sprout and Poppy Pomfrey would all be retiring round about the same time and that would make several positions available. Of course, none of these were the Defence position, but that would come in time.

When Harry, Hermione and Severus had been planning for events in the graveyard at the third task of the Triwizard Tournament, Severus had been adamant that Hermione could not join them.

"Hermione, I can't possibly justify taking a schoolgirl with me to this confrontation. The only reason I'm allowing Harry to be there is that his presence can't be avoided," Severus had explained, firmly putting his foot down. This had not stopped Hermione trying to be included in the rescue party but, knowing that Harry was not expecting to see her, Severus was not willing to allow her unexpected presence to startle his nephew at the worst possible time and so had refused, again, to take her.

When Severus had initially declined even to consider allowing Hermione to join them in the graveyard, she had first sulked, had then taken her frustrations out on some duelling dummies, before finally appeasing her feelings by going off and inventing some offensive and defensive spells to prove to herself that she was not a liability. She knew Defence was not her strongest subject and had been feeling insecure that Severus seemed to regard her as a hindrance in this instance. In her more rational moments, she knew it was simply that allowing her to go to the graveyard could not be justified to anyone who did not know about them reliving their lives, but instead of talking out her feelings, Hermione had looked to her strengths to find a place for herself in the upcoming war should things not be resolved in the graveyard, and had soon realised that she was quite happy to be Q rather than James Bond; the offer from the Department of Mysteries had cemented that for her.

Harry's mind flitted back to the earlier part of their conversation. "If I sponsor a bill to promote the better treatment of magical beings, shouldn't that go through the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures?"

"I'm not sure," Severus admitted. He had never paid that type of attention to the workings of the Ministry. "You should ask your Uncle Siri about that."

Harry nodded. Sirius had already begun training him in all he would need to know in order to take up and hold his family seat on the Wizengamot.

Hermione's mind had been racing furiously as she considered what she had learned from her father about the House of Lords. "Do you need to give a maiden speech³, like in the Muggle House of Commons or House of Lords? I know that maiden speeches should conventionally be uncontroversial, with just a general overview of your beliefs and background rather than partisaning a particular cause, but that doesn't mean you can't touch briefly on the fair treatment of magical creatures. That might be enough to prod the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures into reviewing that issue, as they'll understand it's a cause you intend to champion."

"I don't know. Padfoot hasn't mentioned giving a maiden speech," Harry faltered, extremely nervous at the thought of addressing the entire Wizengamot.

Hermione giggled at the look of panic on Harry's face. "Cheer up. The Wizengamot isn't necessarily the same as the Houses of Commons and Lords, so you might not need to make a maiden speech."

"You don't need to make a maiden speech, Harry. It does happen occasionally, but it's not common. That doesn't mean you'll never need to address the Wizengamot, however, so you should be prepared for that," said Severus firmly.

"Oh, I know that," said Harry in relief. "I was just hoping for a chance to get used to sitting in my seat before I first have to address the full Wizengamot."

"Hmm," said Severus, as he considered the value of the Boy-Who-Lived making a maiden speech, and if Harry noticed the speculative gleam in his uncle's eye, he chose to ignore it for now.

Hermione revelled in her seventh year. Although her workload was very heavy, she loved the challenge of her Mastery studies and gushed in happiness about all she was learning, much to Harry's amusement. He had stepped up his practical defence training in preparation for his Auror training and was enjoying the break it afforded from his school work. Harry freely admitted that he was not the academic that Hermione was and he much preferred practicum to theory, no matter how necessary that theory may be to his studies. However, both teens came through their seventh year with flying colours, easily achieving the NEWT results they had hoped for.

Fortunately, Harry and Hermione were both far too busy during their seventh year to compare it to the same year in the previous timeline, when they had been on the run from Voldemort and his Death Eaters, cold, scared, hungry and in constant danger. The two teens did take a moment on the second of May to remember the Final Battle and to give thanks that the Year of Hell, as they and Severus referred to it, and the devastating loss of life would not happen again.

It was with a mixture of elation and dread that Harry and Hermione finished school. On the one hand, they were both elated about having a future to look forward to. On the other hand, however…

"But why can't I live at home and apparate or floo to Hogwarts every day?" Hermione complained to Minerva.

The older witch sighed impatiently. "Because your Masters both require you to be on-site to make the most of the time they have available to spend with you," she explained yet again. "Harry can live with you after you're both married. Otherwise, you'll just have to make do with seeing each other less frequently for now."

"You do know I won't have much free time once I start my training, don't you, Mi?" Harry asked the love of his life.

"Which is exactly why I don't want to be stuck at Hogwarts. I want to be able to make the most of whatever time you do have free," explained Hermione crossly.

"Well, you're not getting married before you're ready just because you have to live in different parts of the country for a while. I'm sure you'll have plenty of freedom to visit Harry when he has free time, Hermione, so stop whining," said Severus sternly and Hermione desisted from making further complaints, much to Harry's relief.

Sirius and Severus had put their heads together and had decided that Harry should indeed make a maiden speech when he took up his seat on the Wizengamot, and between that and his training, he was happy not to have to think of planning a wedding right now. Even more so when he realised that he and Hermione would have to have two wedding ceremonies, one in the Muggle world and one in the Wizarding world. Hermione was too prominent in the Muggle world and Harry too prominent in the Wizarding world for them to escape that, and a joint ceremony would not work either, as the magicals could not be trusted to refrain from using magic once they had imbibed some good cheer.

"In France, it's quite common to have two ceremonies," Hermione commented. "Only a civil ceremony is legally valid, so those who want religious wedding ceremonies have a second ceremony afterwards. I'm not necessarily suggesting we get married in France, but the principle is the same. I'm sure we can cope with two ceremonies, if need be."

"Well, as you're not even engaged, we don't need to worry about that just yet," retorted Helen Graynge acerbically. She knew the children would marry young, as was common in the wizarding world, but she wanted them to wait a while yet.

Harry and Hermione were now legitimate targets for Rita Skeeter since they were of age. Knowing that the unscrupulous scandalmonger was probably ruthlessly determined to get a story—any story—on the Boy-Who-Lived, Sirius and Severus wanted to stop her learning about Harry's intention to make a maiden speech, so that they could maintain the element of surprise. Therefore, at Harry's suggestion, Severus steered Rita in the direction of one Gilderoy Lockhart, who had departed from Hogwarts at the end of Harry's second year relatively unharmed and with his false and undeserved reputation intact. All it had taken was a few comments from Severus about "Isn't it interesting how so many events in Lockhart's books take place at the same time as each other, and in different countries, too? And such unique methods for dealing with dangerous creatures—why, when I was researching my Werescure Potion, I had no idea that it would be possible to cure a rogue werewolf with a mere Homorphus Charm." With that, Rita's investigative zeal had been set afire and she was now happily immersed in bringing the obnoxious fraud down, much to Harry's satisfaction when he recalled how Lockhart was going to memory charm him and Ron in the previous timeline, which would have caused Ginny Weasley to die and Voldemort to be reborn.

Harry and Hermione both did very well on their NEWTs. Harry received an exceptionally good mark in Defence Against the Dark Arts—an O*, indicating that he had achieved 90% or more in that exam—regular O scores in Charms, Herbology, Potions and Transfiguration, and an EE result in Ancient Runes. Hermione achieved an O* grade in Arithmancy, Charms, Potions and Transfiguration, with regular O results in Ancient Runes, Herbology and Defence Against the Dark Arts. Everyone was delighted with these results. Harry, in particular, was quite stunned. Even though he had been a far more diligent and dedicated student this time around, he still found it hard to believe the difference that made in his exam scores. A quietly smug Hermione refrained from saying, "I told you so," but only barely.

Harry began his Auror training straight after school. He took it very seriously, not wanting anyone to say that he was only an Auror because he was the Boy-Who-Lived and not because he deserved it. He also knew this training would give him a head-start on his Mastery studies, and so wanted to do as well as he could. Knowing that his distinctive scar and green eyes were a detriment to his passing the Concealment and Disguise part of his training, Harry worked with Hermione to develop not only magical methods of disguise but also Muggle. He learned to cover up the last remnants of his scar with concealer and foundation, and to change his eyes with coloured contact lenses. He even occasionally used temporary hair dyes. None of these methods of disguise could be ended with a simple Finite Incatatem and Harry's ingenuity was praised by his trainers, who asked him to teach others about these Muggle means of altering his appearance. Between that and his dedication to his training, he graduated top of his cohort, and was subsequently paired with a certain Metamorphmagus of his acquaintance. Tonks had taken advantage of the opportunity afforded by her marriage to Remus to change her given name as well as her surname. She was now officially Dora Lupin, and had put Nymphadora firmly behind her, much to Andromeda's fond exasperation.

Despite having declared that he was fed up with fighting, Harry quickly proved himself to be a very talented Auror and looked to have a promising career ahead of him, until such time as he should be ready to teach Defence in Hogwarts—which would not be until Professor Prewett retired, as Gideon was very happy in his position. Harry had now reached the top level in Silat but while Hermione still sparred regularly with Harry, she had not pursed the martial art to the same degree, and was therefore of a lower level. Quite frankly, given how little spare time she had had while doing her dual masteries, she was surprised she had made it even as far as she had!

.o.O.o.

Three years had passed since Harry and Hermione had finished Hogwarts. Harry had taken up his seat on the Wizengamot. He had been wrangled into making a maiden speech and had fiercely espoused the fair and equal treatment for all who were part of the wizarding world: Pureblood, Half-blood or Muggleborn; witch or wizard; human or magical being. Sirius and Severus had fully supported him—indeed Sirius had been striving for this for years, but had had to face opposition on all sides. Now, however, with both Dumbledore and Voldemort's supporters out the picture, not to mention the Boy-Who-Lived having taken up the cause, the wizarding world was being turned upside down and inside out in its efforts to reform.

Hermione had just finished her double Mastery, finishing both Masteries in an impressive three-and-a-half years; although she had begun her apprentice Mastery studies during her last year of school, she had been unable to work on them full-time during that year, as she had still had her NEWTs in Ancient Runes Defence, Herbology and Transfiguration to complete. She was now working for the Department of Mysteries as an Unspeakable, and would begin a Mastery in Transfiguration part-time with the start of the new academic year, under the tutelage of Minerva McGonagall. Everyone teased her about her insatiable desire to learn, but she swore that three Masteries would suffice her. Despite that, Harry, who had decided that he would do his Mastery in Defence while Hermione was doing hers in Transfiguration and would be apprenticing jointly with both Bayu and Severus, had no doubt that Hermione would not be able to resist for long the lure of obtaining further Masteries in Potions, and possibly also Alchemy. His soulmate truly was addicted to learning, although as far as addictions went, this one was fairly innocuous.

Severus was resigned to the fact that he would be the next Headmaster of Hogwarts after Minerva. Hogwarts was happy in the meantime, as Minerva was an excellent Headmistress, especially as unlike her predecessor, Albus Dumbledore, she always put the students' welfare and education first. Severus hoped she would remain in the position at least long enough for Isobel and/or Lucas to complete Masteries in Potions, so that they could take over the apothecary shop. Severus had no doubt that Isobel would be a superb Potions Mistress, but Lucas, although above average in Potions, was not quite as good as his twin and he was wavering between careers in Potions and Curse Breaking, the latter of which seemed much cooler and more attractive to a boy who had grown up admiring Indiana Jones.

Upon Severus' urging, Minerva had introduced a compulsory physical education class, to which the Board of Governors, most of whom did not place much value on Muggles' theories of fitness, had agreed solely because Severus had tied it into Defence. Bayu and Cara were overseeing the programme, and Severus had followed up on Hermione's suggestion and had bonded to Winky since Cara could not, with the instructions that Winky was to take care of Cara and help her in the magical environment of Hogwarts. Winky would not only help compensate for Cara's lack of magic, but was a permanent, and unseen, companion and bodyguard for Cara when she visited the castle. Minerva had followed suit and had similarly assigned a house elf permanently to Argus Filch, with the result that the caretaker was much happier now than he had been previously.

Harry and Hermione had struggled being apart during the last three years, but despite getting engaged as soon as they finished school, they had waited until now to marry, because Harry really wanted to excel in his Auror training and Hermione tended to become absorbed in her studies to the exclusion of almost all else; this way, neither had been too distracted from their studies, and they were now free to focus on each other.

During this time, many of their friends and acquaintances had paired off. Upon completing his Mastery in Herbology, Neville had started his own garden nursery, and was already developing a reputation for the superiority of his plants. He was engaged to Hannah Abbott, who had taken over the Leaky Cauldron from Tom, the previous owner. Susan Bones had just completed her Healer training and had married Cedric Diggory the year before; she had deliberately chosen not to follow her family's footsteps into the Ministry, although Cedric was doing very well there. Luna, who was apprenticing with Newt Scamander to become a magizoologist, was engaged to Leo Black, who was studying to be a Healer for Magical Creatures. Justin was currently dating his fellow Hufflepuff Muggleborn, Megan Jones, and an engagement announcement was expected imminently.

As for the Weasleys, the twins had again made a great success of their shop, and Fred was now married to Angelina Johnson, while George was married to Alicia Spinnet. As Hermione had suspected would happen, Lee Jordan had indeed begun dating Ginny as soon as she finished Hogwarts, and they were now engaged. Ron's relationship with Demelza Robins had not survived beyond the year of the Triwizard Tournament, but when she had joined Puddlemere United after school, where Ron was an assistant coach, they had started dating again and had recently married.

Fleur Delacour and Viktor Krum had continued dating after the Triwizard Tournament, but Fleur was not cut out for the life of a WAG⁴, especially not when all the other WAGs she had met were uniformly vapid and shallow airheads. The final straw came when one of Viktor's team-mates began to treat Fleur like a whore because she was a Veela, always pawing her and making vastly inappropriate remarks. Fleur tried to deflect him, but without success; he was too egotistical and far too convinced that not only did being a Quidditch star make him irresistible but it entitled him to whatever he wanted—and he wanted Fleur. What Fleur wanted was of no consequence to the arrogant oaf, because as far as he was concerned, the WAGs were nothing more than arm candy to be shared around the team. The French witch bore it silently as long as she could for Viktor's sake, but one day, the team-mate in question went too far and Fleur snapped, turning into a harpy without conscious thought and firing off fireballs in the obnoxious fool's direction. The team-mate was rapidly removed from the vicinity before Fleur could do him too much damage and Viktor applied himself to calming the irate witch down.

After Viktor had succeeded in getting Fleur to return to herself, the couple settled down for a long talk. Fleur finally admitted that she was unhappy following the team on tour. She wanted the opportunity to expand herself and she did not want to spend weeks at a time during the Quidditch season living out of a suitcase, sleeping in a different hotel room every night. Not only that, but with nothing to challenge her intellectually, she was bored. The alternative, which would mean staying at home and barely seeing Viktor during the season, was equally unacceptable as she did not want to be apart from her life partner. She also did not like the assumptions people made about her because she was a WAG. Reluctantly, because they were both still very fond of each other, Fleur and Viktor decided to call it quits. Fleur then took a position with Gringotts and was sent to provide support to an active team of curse-breakers in Egypt. She would be rotated through a number of positions until the goblins decided where they wanted to place her long-term. This team was led by Bill Weasley, and what would become of Bill and Fleur working together had yet to be seen.

Outside the wizarding world, Holly Tonks was studying Horticulture at university and was hoping to get a job in Durham University's Botanic Garden upon graduation. She was very close to Severus' younger brother, David, and although they had not officially confirmed they were dating, no one who knew them would be surprised when they did finally admit it. David had followed in his older brother's footsteps, albeit from the Muggle perspective, and was in the midst of a degree in Pharmacy. David and Holly both wanted to remain in the Durham area, near the family.

Hermione's brother, Benedick, was sports mad but had never settled down to specialise in one sporting discipline, perhaps because, like his little sister, he was also highly intelligent and knew that he needed a career that would challenge him on an intellectual level, which he did not feel a career in sports would do. He was not too enthusiastic about a strictly desk job, however, and had completed a degree in Mechanical Engineering before joining the Royal Engineers—the Army Engineering Corps. His family was not thrilled about the fact that he would undoubtedly be going into danger, but he was relishing the opportunity to pursue a career which provided both an intellectual and a physical challenge. Benedick had begun dating Jessica Finch-Fletchley almost as soon as he realised that his best friend's little sister had grown up; Jessica was at university and was planning to become a sports physiotherapist. She and Benedick would marry when she finished her first degree, before she began to specialise in her chosen area of physiotherapy.

Having now completed her first two Masteries, Hermione and Harry had decided the time was right for them to marry, before they would begin their Mastery studies in Transfiguration and Defence after the summer. Hermione had already chosen her wedding dress, which had a sweetheart neckline and a flared skirt with a beautiful, laser-cut rose design. Now it was time to choose the bridesmaid dresses⁵ and as soon as Isobel returned home from Hogwarts, Hermione took Holly, Jessica, Luna and Isobel shopping.

Hermione was looking through the rack of bridesmaid dresses. "Luna!" she called softly, to get the attention of the younger girl. "Don't you and your father believe that you should wear sun colours to a wedding for luck?"

Luna nodded and her face lit up when Hermione pulled out a dainty lemon yellow dress. It had a tulle overlay with white embroidered flowers, floaty cap sleeves, and a lemon satin band around the waist. Noticing Holly also light up at the sight of the dress, that decided Hermione, and with Isobel and Jessica also giving their approval, the girls all went off to be measured. The dresses were very feminine and pretty, and were equally as suitable for the nearly fifteen-year-old girl as for the older girls.

Having seen many dreadful bridesmaid dresses over the years, Hermione was pleased her bridesmaids were all happy with the choice of dress. The young bride thought the bridesmaid dresses were charming and felt they fit very well with her own white dress with the stunning rose pattern.

"You'll all look beautiful," Hermione said sincerely.

Hermione was one big smile as the girls left the bridal shop. Nothing short of Voldemort returning—which she knew would not happen—could puncture her joyous bliss.

"You look very happy," said Holly softly, giving her cousin-to-be a quick hug.

Hermione thought back over all she, Harry and Severus had achieved: the lives they had saved, the changes for the better in the wizarding world and, best of all, the life she would be living with Harry. Mentally she thanked Susan Sto-Helit for breaking the rules to allow them all to relive their lives so they could get it right this time.

"I am very happy. The future has never looked better," Hermione said, and she knew that her co-conspirators would agree.

.o.O.o.

The year was 2143, and it was the first day of August. The day before had been the one hundred and sixty-third birthday of Harry Potter, once known as the Boy-Who-Lived.

Harry and his wife Hermione had spent the previous day celebrating his birthday with those of their friends who were still with them and with their family—their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great-grandchildren. It had been a bittersweet occasion for the senior Potters, as they knew that this would be their last year. Susan Sto Helit had once told Harry that he would die at the ripe old age of one hundred and sixty-three; Hermione had later researched soul bonds and had discovered that soul bound couples would die together, something which had relieved the couple immensely, as neither wanted to be left on their own.

Harry and Hermione had achieved much in their lives. After finishing Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, both had been employed by the Ministry of Magic, Harry as an Auror and Hermione as an Unspeakable. Both had risen rapidly in the ranks, due solely to ability and their achievements.

Over the years, both had undertaken multiple Masteries. Hermione had achieved Masteries in Arithmancy, Charms and Transfiguration, while Harry had achieved Masteries in Defence and Warding. Hermione had even studied Potions to Journeyman level, although, to her disappointment, she did not have the ability in this field of magic to attain a Mastery.

Even though he was Head Auror, Harry had gladly resigned from the Auror Office at the age of forty-four when Gideon Prewett had retired from the position of Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor, in order to replace Professor Prewett. He had done his job as an Auror well out of pride—he refused to do anything less than his best—but he had not particularly enjoyed the job. He had, however, loved teaching.

Not only did Harry do his best to teach his pupils Defence to the very best of his ability, but he also took the opportunity to mould young minds.

By the time Harry joined the staff of Hogwarts, Minerva McGonagall had retired from her position as Headmistress and had been replaced by Severus Snape. Harry and Severus had made a conscious effort to combat prejudice and teach tolerance in Hogwarts. Minerva had done her best, advised by Severus, but she did not have the experiences of Harry, Hermione and Severus in their previous lives, and did not fully understand exactly what needed to change or why. This hampered her ability to bring about the needed changes. Harry and Severus, however, had known exactly what needed to be done and, with the aid of Hermione, had mapped out a plan of action. It had taken time but, eventually, they had made a noticeable difference.

When Severus became Headmaster, he was finally able to force important changes in the curriculum. The Board had already, grudgingly, agreed to allow orientation classes for Muggleborns before Harry and Hermione had even begun their first year at Hogwarts. Now it was time to tackle Muggle Studies.

Severus made Muggle Studies compulsory for first and second year Purebloods, and an elective subject thereafter. (Wizarding Studies was already compulsory for all Muggleborns, while Half-bloods were allowed to choose which subject they should take depending upon their knowledge of the Muggle and Wizarding worlds.) Severus also sacked the Muggle Studies teacher, who was a Pureblood with minimal practical knowledge of the Muggle world—she ended up taking over Wizarding Studies from Elphinstone Urquart—and appointed a Half-blood professor who was equally at home in the Muggle and magical worlds to replace Charity Burbage and teach Muggle Studies. An informed teacher who had no bias, combined with field trips to the Muggle world, made a world of difference.

Changing the attitudes of the next generation through education was vitally important but one of the most significant factors in social reform amongst Harry and Hermione's generation and those older, was the economic growth afforded by peace. Jason Finch-Fletchley, the older brother of Justin, had read Economics at University and Justin persuaded him to write a monthly column for his newspaper, which had put the Daily Prophet out of business. Jason wisely kept his column simple and at first focused heavily on the undisputable advantages of economic growth, using historical examples to illustrate how war adversely affected that, and the magical world sat up and took notice. The Slytherins among them soon realised that there were better ways to gain power than by brute force, and that wealth and political influence had a power of their own.

Those same Slytherins also began to appreciate the importance of Muggleborns not only in supporting the economy but also in bringing in new blood into the community. As an Unspeakable, Hermione had taken Muggle research into the adverse effects of inbreeding a step further by researching this from the perspective of magic. She soon managed to present undisputable evidence that inbreeding was the biggest cause of Squib births.

"There will probably always be some degree of Squib births, even with no close familial connections between parents, but the physical and mental disabilities caused by inbreeding in Muggles instead appears primarily as a magical disability in Magicals, something which is easily avoided by the injection of new blood into magical lines," she concluded in her published findings. She had also touched upon possible mental problems caused by inbreeding, pointing out that there were magical lines that were even more closely inbred than most, which had experienced a decided drop in intelligence or a known history of insanity, although she diplomatically avoided mentioning specific names, such as the Blacks, Crabbes, Goyles and Flints.

Apart from making her fellow witches and wizards understand the dangers of inbreeding, one of Hermione's most significant achievements as an Unspeakable had been the study of the Dark Mark, with the grudging cooperation of Lucius Malfoy, the only Marked Death Eater who was not in Azkaban. Severus had been surprised that Voldemort had not taken his followers with him upon his death.

"I know Voldemort didn't believe he could die, but I was sure he would have made absolutely certain his followers couldn't survive beyond him. He would never have tolerated that," Severus had remarked.

This had sparked Hermione's interest and the then Head Unspeakable had agreed that with followers of Voldemort still living, it would be advisable to know more about the Dark Mark, especially considering the attempted coup attempt. Hermione immediately began to research the Mark the Dark Lord had branded onto his followers, wanting to establish if it had any sort of power or dark influence on the minds, magic and even life-force of those who had been Marked.

Hermione had discovered that the Dark Mark did indeed corrupt the magic of those who had received the brand. This had a ripple effect, and the corrupted magic then warped minds, especially the minds of those who fed the corruption with use of Dark Magic, in particular the use of the Unforgiveable Curses. What made matters worse was that all those who were Marked had been linked not only to Voldemort but to each other, and so each time one Marked follower had used Dark Magic and had corrupted themselves further, they had also added to the corruption experienced by each of their brethren. Not only did this affect those individuals who had received the Dark Mark, but it also had a negative impact on all children conceived after receipt of the Dark Mark.

Of course, Severus had been right to be surprised that Voldemort had not taken all his followers with him upon his death. Hermione's research led her to the undisputable conclusion that had he died in his original body, that is exactly what would have happened. The construct Voldemort had briefly inhabited had a diminished link between Tom Riddle and his followers, and that had saved their lives. Hermione's findings, upon publication, had appalled the wizarding world and had ensured that no witch or wizard would again link themselves to another in this fashion; it did not preclude the rise of another Dark Lord or Lady, but it did ensure that people would think twice about the degree of commitment they would offer to such a person.

Hermione continued working at the Ministry longer than Harry, and achieved the rank of Head Unspeakable at a remarkably early age. She did eventually join Harry at Hogwarts, however. The prestige of Harry and Hermione Potter ensured that students listened when they spoke, and the Hogwarts that their descendants attended was vastly different to the Hogwarts they had attended, in either lifetime.

By the time Harry reached his one hundred and sixty-third birthday, the British Wizarding World had long since become prosperous and peaceful.

On the morning after Harry's birthday, he opened his eyes and rose up, only to see a woman standing next to the bed.

"Susan," he said in surprise. Then, "Oh!"

Harry looked at himself properly and realised his spirit was talking to Susan Sto-Helit but his lifeless body remained on the bed. Susan had severed his soul from his body at the moment of his death.

"Hermione?" he asked in a panic.

"Right here, Harry," came her sweet voice from behind him.

Harry turned around and saw Hermione's spirit coming towards him. "We're ghosts?" he asked in trepidation, looking at their ghost-like forms.

"You can be if you want to, or you can pass on," said Susan shrugging. "It's your choice."

Harry looked at his wife and smiled. He knew what her answer would be. "We'll pass on," he said and Hermione nodded in agreement.

Susan watched as, hand-in-hand, the ghostly forms of Harry and Hermione Potter began to fade away, and smiled, pleased that this time they had achieved their fated destiny and had lived a long and happy life together.

"Good luck," she whispered as they went to join those who had passed away before them on the Next Great Adventure.

.o.O.o.

¹ Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling.

² Paraphrased from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, chapter 18.

³ en dot wikipedia dot org /wiki/Maiden_speech and parliament dot uk /site-information/glossary/maiden-speech

⁴ WAG is a somewhat derogatory term used in Britain to refer collectively to sportsmen's Wives and Girlfriends. In this instance, the wives and girlfriends I've depicted, other than Fleur, all fit into the stereotype of women whose primary purpose in life is to look pretty while hanging off their men's arms. Of course, most sportsmen's wives and girlfriends don't actually fit into that stereotype in real life, but that's often the perception of them regardless. It was useful here to play into that stereotype.

⁵ In DH, most people at Bill & Fleur's wedding seem to be wearing dress robes, but Hermione is in a lilac dress and Fleur, Gabrielle and Ginny are dressed as follows: "Fleur was wearing a very simple white dress and seemed to be emitting a strong, silvery glow… Ginny and Gabrielle, both wearing golden dresses, looked even prettier than usual…" Therefore, I'm letting Hermione and her bridesmaids wear actual dresses, as Fleur and her bridesmaids did, rather than dress robes.

.o.O.o.

A/N:

» Thank you to everyone who reviewed, followed or favourited Reboot; I appreciate you all.

» Well, it's been quite a journey and I must admit, there were times when I thought I'd never manage to finish this fic. An enormous thanks to everyone who stuck it out with me to the end.

» An enormous thanks also to my beta, the wonderful StrongHermione, for all her help and support throughout the writing of this story. I highly recommend having a look at her stories; they're all well worth reading.

Fin