Chapter Thirty Eight
The last months of school passed quickly and with much celebrating. Minerva became acting Headmistress while Albus made a full recovery, though his powers were no longer what they once were. He formally retired on July first, and the Board of Governors voted overwhelmingly for Minerva's succession.
Hermione returned to London, to the new flat the Ministry assigned, but in actuality she was surprised she wasn't still at Hogwarts and that Minerva hadn't offered her the Transfiguration position -- given her competency as Minerva's best pupil -- and she was a bit disappointed as well. At the same time, she was glad to be away from the castle, though she did miss the company of Severus, Minerva and Anne, but mostly Severus.
Things had been left ambiguous upon her departure at the end of the term, and she was hesitant to contact him since arriving in London, for fear of what he would say -- or more specifically, how he would end things.
So she resumed work as an auror immediately and she found adjusting back to the bureaucratic life awkward. Many things had changed at the Ministry, for the better. Fudge received a forced retirement and Arthur Weasley took over as Minister of Magic, though quite a few did call for Harry Potter; he politely refused.
Hermione caught herself checking -- occasionally at first, then weekly and daily towards the end of August -- as to whether the position at Hogwarts had been filled. At last she allowed herself to admit she missed Hogwarts for more than just the company.
On Monday of the last week of August, she noticed that the DADA slot had been filled. She smiled and wondered what sucker they had found. Yet there was still no word on who would be teaching Transfiguration and she debated owling the Headmistress, had gone so far as to scratch out a greeting on a leaf of parchment before tearing it up. Surely Minerva would have already contacted her.
She stared blindly at some overdue paperwork on her desk.
Ron's voice startled her from her reverie and she frowned at him as he trotted to her desk.
"Do you mind?" she asked, summoning her best glare. "I'm trying to finish some paperwork."
"The same paperwork you started an hour ago?" he teased, but his voice quickly grew serious. "You haven't heard yet, have you?"
"I don't know, what?"
"He's finally doing it, he's quitting!"
"Who is, Ron?" Hermione asked impatiently.
"Harry! This is his last week!"
"What are you talking about? He hasn't said a word of this to me."
Ron nodded. "Me too. Kingsley just told me I would be taking over some of his cases at the end of the week."
Hermione frowned. "Where is he? I think we ought to have a little chat."
"Out on a raid. He should be back this afternoon. I'm going to see what Dad knows about all of this."
Ron disappeared, leaving Hermione alone to sulk. Suddenly, she hated her job, hated Harry for bailing on her, and especially for doing so without telling her first.
Harry was at home, reading on his sofa, when she flooed him later. She stepped through the green flame into his living room after his invitation. Hermione took a moment to observe him. A quiet sadness had settled about him since Draco's death, and his green eyes had lost some sparkle.
"I'm sure I know why you're here," he said with a muted smile and he laid down his book.
"To find out why my best friend is leaving and I'm the last to know?"
Hermione's voice contained a quiet viciousness that he attributed to her time recently spent with Severus Snape.
"I wanted to tell you myself -- and Ron, too -- but I also wanted to do right by Kingsley. I told him just this morning, right before we left to check out that tip on Borgin & Burkes. I stopped by your desk when I got back, but you were out."
Hermione sighed and sat down on the other end of the sofa, saying, "I went home early. Told Kingsley I was feeling sick."
"Hermione Granger, who always let us have it for skipping class, pretended to be sick to skip out of work?" Harry asked with gleaming eyes.
She shrugged. "I think I might ask for a transfer to another section."
"Because of me?"
"Yes, because I couldn't live without the great Harry Potter," she said, her voice bleeding with sarcasm, and Harry grinned sheepishly. "No, because I'm tired of chasing Death Eaters now that Voldemort's dead. And I realised how much I really enjoyed teaching at Hogwarts."
Heavy silence descended as Harry watched his fidgeting hands and Hermione eyed him suspiciously.
His mouth moved but it took a moment for the words to actually come out: "I'm leaving to teach at Hogwarts."
Her jaw dropped and her voice lowered. "What?"
"Professor McGonagall owled me last week asking if I would like to teach Defence Against Dark Arts this year and first I told her maybe, then I decided that I did. Same reasons as you." He paused and then added, "I'm sorry, 'Mione."
"Well, I was more expecting the Transfiguration position, since everyone knows DADA is cursed and you'll be gone after a year," she said with a smile. "Maybe they still haven't found anyone."
"From what Minerva told me, she has someone in mind, but Snape is butting heads with her on it."
"Any idea who?" she asked, her pulse quickening a bit.
Harry smirked. "I'm not sure I should really be discussing this with you."
She grinned back, knowing he would have told her straight out if they were considering someone else.
"Then can you tell me why the disagreement? It's not me, is it?"
"Well, not you in principle." A blush crept over his face and ears as he said, "She did offer me Head of Gryffindor."
"I refused, because I knew I could never be the type of Head that Gryffindor needs, and Minerva knew it too. And so did Snape, which is exactly why he wanted me as Head of House. I told McGonagall that Gryffindor needs someone like her. Someone like you."
"What did she say?"
"That she felt the same but Snape still had reservations and she needed his cooperation."
"So I should give my notice as well?"
"Not until Minerva owls you, I should think. Because I suppose it's possible that they never agree and decide upon someone else. Or the governors do."
"Hmm," she said and grew pensive. "Perhaps I should go for a visit."
Harry shrugged. "I can't see how that would hurt. Besides, you might be able to--" he broke off and leered at her, eyebrows wagging -- "persuade Snape of your capabilities."
"Are you suggesting that I use my feminine wiles to ensure my job offer?" she asked with a forced look of shock. "Harry Potter, what sort of woman do you take me for?"
"Well," he said slowly, raising his arms in preparation of defending himself, "you did sleep with the greasy git. That alone deserves an Order of Merlin."
Hermione swatted at him and said, "I already have an Order of Merlin, First Class, thank you. Besides, you slept with a Malfoy."
Before she could check them, the words left her mouth and she desperately wished she could take them back. Harry's shoulders drooped and he looked away.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly. "Harry, I didn't mean --"
"I know you didn't," he interrupted. "You didn't do anything. I still wake up sometimes thinking he's next to me, or that maybe he's in the loo, and it takes a few seconds to remember that he won't be coming back to bed."
Hermione grabbed his hand and entwined her fingers with his and kept quiet.
"How long will I miss him, do you think?" Harry asked wistfully. "Forever?"
"I think you'll always carry Draco with you," she said. "I know it sounds silly, like out of a children's book, but I do think so."
He gave a sad smile and squeezed her hand.
"I hope so," he said, then his face brightened. "Now, how are we going to get you back to Hogwarts?"
Severus paced the office of the new Headmistress, keeping his scowl focused the newly installed portrait of Albus Dumbledore that hung just to the side of the enormous desk, but the picture was dozing and oblivious that he was the object of scorn.
The room felt unnaturally empty since Albus packed up and removed his trinkets and belongings and Minerva had yet to redecorate. Fawkes, sitting idly on his perch, was the only physical reminder of Albus Dumbledore. She had insisted he take the phoenix with him, but Albus simply said the school needed him more than any old wizard did.
The new Headmistress sat primly at her desk, watching Severus move back and forth through the room, refusing to look at her.
"Severus, if I do not present a candidate to the governors by Wednesday, they may choose someone for me." She paused. "And it most likely will not be Hermione. Several of them have mentioned Neville Longbottom after his participation in the rescue of Hogsmeade, and given his close personal relationship with the daughter of the Minister."
He stopped, shifting his glare to her, and growled, "You know I would rather have the entire Weasley brood in the castle rather than Longbottom."
"She still hasn't owled?" Minerva asked gently.
He slipped into a wingback chair before the desk and sighed, "No."
"Then why don't you owl her instead?"
Severus gave her a long-suffering look and drawled, "I already have little pride as it is. No doubt she has returned to her previous life and occupation and has no need for my company."
"Don't be so sure of that. Harry seems to think she is depressed, and that it has much to do with you and Hogwarts."
He simply scowled at her.
"Severus, at some point you have to decide what you want, and quickly. I can't make all decisions based on your relationship with Hermione Granger."
His scowl deepened and he looked out the window for a beat before turning back to her.
"I will not withdraw my objections until I speak with her directly."
"Then go see her."
Severus snorted. "I will not."
"You'll wait for her to make the first move? How surprising," Minerva said, shaking her head. "And should things turn sour, what will happen then?"
His shoulders raised in an inelegant shrug.
Minerva sighed and rubbed her forehead. "Well, after what I let slip to Harry I'm sure we shall be hearing from Miss Granger shortly. He won't keep any of it to himself."
"I hope you're right about her." His voice carried a quietness that she rarely heard from him, and his eyes lost focus as he stared at a point past her, but the moment passed quickly and the usual sharp tones returned as he added, "I certainly don't want Longbottom back in this castle."
"And I do?" Minerva asked with a look over the top of her spectacles that was quite reminiscent of a recent Headmaster. "Fancy a drink? Albus left me several lovely bottles of sherry."
For the second time in a year, Hermione Granger stood before the heavy oak doors leading into Hogwarts and felt uncertain of herself. The first time, she was nervous about teaching; this time, she had to confront her own feelings.
She visited Minerva first and she found the new Headmistress in her office, busy readying for the new school year.
"I'm surprised you haven't come to see me sooner," Minerva said immediately as Hermione took a seat across from her. "I'm sure you've spoken to Harry."
"I have. I saw him last night. He told me you offered him Head of Gryffindor and he turned it down, said Gryffindor needed someone more like you. Or me."
"And he would be right," she sighed. "Hermione, dear, Severus has reservations about you returning to the castle, and he has lodged objections about you receiving such a permanent placement as Head of Gryffindor. But I am certain they are personal concerns, not professional. Perhaps you could talk to him and straighten things out, since I haven't had any luck."
Hermione hesitated, staring at her hands. "But what would I say?"
"Child, he has missed you, not that he has told anyone in so many words. But since you left at the end of the year, he's gone back to being to the bastard we all knew. You were good for him, everyone agrees."
"But what? Just go see him. My deadline to fill positions is Wednesday and if he and I can't come to terms, the Board of Governors will have the option choose someone and I cannot guarantee it will be you."
Hermione left the office and slowly made her way down to the dungeons, her courage flagging with each progressive step. She had no idea what to say to him, even though she had anticipated such an encounter. It was reassuring to some degree that Minerva felt he missed her, but until Severus himself admitted it, she wouldn't place stock in the Headmistress's feelings.
She detoured through the castle to buy some time, stopping by her old rooms and office, even though they held few memories, until suddenly she stood in his office and before the door to his quarters.
Within moments of her knock, Severus pulled open the door with a great scowl that slipped off his face when he recognised her. He looked at her for a long moment, drinking in her appearance, before stepping back and letting her pass. He watched silently as she moved through the sitting room before settling on a chair beside the empty fireplace. He sat in the far corner of the sofa.
They sat in mutual silence, each waiting for the other to begin, and several minutes passed.
Finally Severus broke the quiet and asked, "How are things at the Ministry?"
With a small frown she answered, "You detest small talk, so why don't you simply ask me why I'm here?"
"I don't ask because I know why you are here: to find out why you haven't been offered Transfiguration yet. I'm sure Mr Potter has mentioned that you are being considered."
"He didn't quite say that."
He watched her for a moment with unguarded eyes, surprising Hermione with tenderness. Then he said, "I had hoped to avoid any unnecessary antagonism if you were Head of Gryffindor."
"I don't remember you having such a difficult time with Minerva," she answered.
"Minerva and I didn't share certain ... feelings."
"Meaning you didn't fuck her," Hermione threw in quickly, knowing it wasn't what he meant, but she felt a sudden desire to lash out at him for his silence since her departure.
He stared at her for a moment, a glimmer of anger crossing his face but it passed and he said, "I thought you and I shared more than that, but I could be mistaken."
"If we shared more than that, why haven't I heard from you?"
"I should ask you the same thing," he countered and she glanced away, to the empty fireplace.
After a moment, she spoke quietly, "I thought ... once I left, you wouldn't have any interest in me."
"Perhaps you weren't the only one to think that."
The sadness in his tone pulled her eyes back to him, and again Hermione was surprised to find him so easy to read, until it dawned on her that he was letting her. At long last, Severus was allowing her to see his true feelings.
"For a week or so, it was nice, being out of the castle. But then I was miserable. I hate working there, I hate the paperwork, the bureaucracy. I realised how much I liked teaching here, even though the students are little shits. I missed it." She paused. "But mostly I missed you."
He watched idly as she crossed the room to sit beside him, guided his face down to hers and pressed her lips to his. The chaste kiss burst with pent-up passion and she found herself quickly wrapped in his embrace. After several minutes, they pulled apart for air and she leaned back against the couch.
In the ensuing silence, Severus watched her, frowned as he felt something new, something he couldn't place immediately. He analysed it, prodded it before finally accepting it for what it was: he was content.
He tucked a stray curl behind her ear and traced his fingers along her jaw and pulled her back for another kiss.
"Do you think Minerva will let me stay with you?" Hermione asked when he released her again.
He smirked. "I think she will be thrilled that she has a competent replacement and let us do what we wish."
And Minerva was thrilled. Hermione threw herself into preparing for the new Transfiguration classes, so much so that she nearly missed the start of term feast. She hurried down to the Great Hall to find the new first years already sorted and Minerva in the middle of her speech. Hermione slipped into the empty chair between Severus and Harry, grinning at each of them in turn.
"As you already know, Professor Dumbledore retired after last year, and we will all greatly miss him. However, he will visit, as he has assured me he does not intend to miss a single quidditch match this season.
"Professor Granger has returned to teach Transfiguration and as the new Gryffindor Head of House --" the entirety of Gryffindor clamored at that and Hermione blushed -- "and replacing her in Defence Against the Dark Arts is Professor Harry --"
A deafening roar sounded throughout the Great Hall, drowning out Minerva's introduction of Harry, though of course he needed no introduction. Nearly all of the students were on their feet applauding him, even the Slytherins, though a few with known Death Eater ties stared sullenly at the table.
If Hermione had blushed at the small amount of recognition she received, Harry turned positively red at his and ducked his head. Slowly the whistles, shouts and applause died down and students resumed their seats as Minerva looked over the tables with pursed lips before continuing,
"Hopefully Professor Potter will not have to start each lesson with a standing ovation." She was answered with a wave of laughter that quickly quieted. "Sign ups for the quidditch pitch will begin next week, so team captains may speak with Madam Hooch about reserving their practice times. The N.E.W.T. and O.W.L. schedules will be available by Christmas."
"Is she going through the entire academic calendar?" Hermione whispered to Severus, who appeared quite bored. He shrugged.
"I'm starving! At least Dumbledore didn't prattle on like this," Harry muttered under his breath and on the other side of Hermione, Severus snickered.
Hermione herself fought to keep a straight face as she elbowed both of them.
"What was that for?" Severus hissed out of the corner of his mouth.
"You're the Deputy Headmaster," she hissed back, "and should act as such."
This time Harry sniggered and Severus fixed him with a dark scowl just as Minerva finished up her speech.
"-- and you may enjoy the feast!"
Cheers went up as Minerva sat down and the plates on the tables filled with anything and everything delicious. Harry attacked the roast beef before him and passed it on to Hermione before starting in on the Yorkshire Pudding. Severus raised an eyebrow as she passed it on to him, then quirked his lips in a smile and she couldn't help but smile back. She glanced to Harry, who conversed with Sinistra in between, then out at the students, laughing and talking excitedly about their summers, and back to Severus. It promised to be a good year.
Well, that's it. It's done. Happy ending and all. Thank you to everyone who has read over the last two years. Seriously. You gave me a reason to keep writing. Really. And all the little prods from everyone for updates did help. Thanks so much. This has been quite a learning experience.
A really important thing that somehow I never remembered until a few weeks ago and could kick myself in the arse for: the mortalis fallax potion isn't mine completely. I borrowed the idea of a potion that could defeat the killing curse from Tegan1 from her fic Echoes (with her permission) and I failed to properly credit her for it. Forgive me! And check out her fics too.
Credit for the name "All Secrets Sleep in Winter Clothes" goes to the band Neutral Milk Hotel from a line in the song "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea." Don't ask how it came to be the title of this fic, I really can't explain it as I don't remember.
So, here's my last request: one final review, final thoughts, anything you think could help me tighten the story up. Because I'm feeling a need to go through and fix some things, not too much, just a few little details that bug me. As for future fics, there will be some, just keep an eye open.