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Unlikely Allies by HermioneJaneWeasley
Chapter 1: Chapter 1
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Hermione looked down at the mess before her. She could brew brilliant potions, cast powerful spells, and translate ancient runes, but for the life of her she could not cook. The toast was burnt, the eggs were runny, and she didn't even want to think about what happened to the sausages. Not only that, but her fingers were in agony. She had taken to keeping some of her salve in the kitchen due to the amount of times she had burned herself trying to cook.
Sighing, she pulled down her old standby – a box of fresh breakfast buns that she kept handy. Perhaps I'll have to ask Molly for help one of these days, she thought and then dismissed the idea. It would be better to wait until she and Ron were married, or at least engaged.
Hearing Ron come out of the shower, she took the plate of buns and the fresh pot of tea to the table just as Pigwidgeon and Diana flew through the window. Because of Pig's small size, she had purchased her own owl so that she could make the deliveries that Pig couldn't. The assorted mail dropped onto the table in a heap as she dropped into her chair.
"Morning, love," Ron said as he kissed the top of Hermione's head. "Mmmmm, buns and tea. What's in the post this morning?"
Hermione smiled as he sat down. "Probably a lot of junk mail. You know, the Daily Prophet, the Quibbler..." she said, sorting through the mail. "Oh, it looks like your Quality Quidditch Supplies catalogue came in. Here's a letter from Harry and Ginny..." She stopped dead as she came to the next letter in the stack.
"Brilliant!" Ron said. As he took both the catalogue and the letter, he noticed Hermione looking strangely at her letter. "What's that?" he asked.
"It's a letter from Hogwarts," Hermione replied, looking at the envelope curiously.
"Hogwarts?" Ron asked whilst chewing on his bun. "What'd they want you for?"
"I don't know," Hermione said, opening the letter and reading it. Her eyes opened wide as she read the contents of the letter and her mouth dropped open. "I don't believe it."
Ron looked over her shoulder. His eyes widened as he read the contents.
"Blimey, Hermione!" he exclaimed. "Minerva wants you to teach Transfiguration!"
"I know. I never expected this." Hermione took a sip of her tea as she read over the letter again. Looking over at Ron, she noticed that he'd opened the letter from Harry and Ginny. "What do Harry and Ginny have to say?"
Ron grinned. "Ginny's pregnant," he said. "She's two-and-a-half months along."
"That's great!" Hermione smiled. She was happy for her friends, but she also was a little jealous. She wondered if and when Ron would get around to proposing. "I'll have to owl them later. After all, I have some news too."
Ron's eyes widened. "Other news besides Hogwarts?" he asked.
Hermione laughed. "Don't worry, our contraception spells are still working. No, just about the offer at Hogwarts."
Ron laughed nervously. As much as he would have wanted children, now was definitely not the time. He mentally sighed – he and Hermione had been dating each other since after the final battle, and yet after all this time, he was still trying to come up with the courage to propose to her. He knew she was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
Which then brought him to Hermione's news – a teaching appointment at Hogwarts. On one hand, he immediately felt happy that such an offer would be made to her; after all, she was always and forever helping others with their studies. She had helped Neville avoid a T in Potions, and had constantly been badgering Harry and him to do their homework. She'd probably make a great teacher. On the other hand, he felt it was another sign that the picture he had in his mind would never come to pass. The so-called Golden Trio would not always be together. He and Harry had trained to be Aurors; Hermione had decided to take an apprenticeship in Transfiguration instead. With the possibility of Hermione accepting Minerva's offer, he wondered if they would still be able to live together. If Hermione would have to move to the castle, where would he live? Would this affect Hermione's answer if he were to propose to her?
He took a deep breath, and smiled at Hermione. "Yeah," he said, "I didn't think they'd fail; after all, you're brilliant at Charms."
Hermione blushed. "Thanks. Not that I wouldn't mind being a mum someday. Just not now." She looked at the letter again. "She says she needs to know in a week's time. It's almost August, after all. She would need time to find someone else."
Ron nodded. "Yeah, and September is just around the corner." He glanced at Hermione, who was still examining the letter. "Uh, 'Mione?"
She looked up from the letter at him. "Yes?" she asked, taking a sip of tea.
"What does Minerva's offer include?"
She consulted the letter again. "Forty Galleons a week, and she is giving me the option of staying at the castle or commuting since we live in Hogsmeade."
Ron gave an inward sigh of relief. If Hermione would be allowed to continue living in their flat, then there really wasn't anything that should prevent her from accepting Minerva's offer. The only issue was that their time together might very well be curtailed. He never recalled the professors having much of a social life outside of school, but then again, how many students were friendly enough with their professors that they would seem "normal"?
"How many hours per week would you have to work?" he asked.
"In general, thirty-five hours would be the minimum, which may or may not include marking essays or preparing for lessons or exams. On Wednesday nights, however, I have to patrol the corridors until midnight, so I would stay at Hogwarts through dinner that night and then come home when I am finished."
Ron nodded. It could have been worse. But he wasn't very happy about the thought of not being able to spend at least one day a week with her. He wondered what he'd do with himself when she was busy in the castle. He enjoyed their mealtimes. Well, she couldn't cook like his mum, but it was nice just to be with her. "Would you have to work on weekends? Or even on Hogsmeade weekends?" he asked.
"I don't think I will have to work on weekends, but I might have to help with Hogsmeade weekends from time to time. Not that it would be a problem, really, since we do live in Hogsmeade. Besides, I have a feeling that once Quidditch season starts you will want to come and watch the games, won't you?"
Ron chuckled. "Right in one." He smiled. "But... well, it just seems like a lot of time away, and I'd really miss you terribly when you have to stay in the castle. And... well, I just... "
Hermione smiled, stood, and went over to put her arms around him. "I would miss you too, but don't forget: you work about the same schedule, and sometimes you are called out at late hours. And it's only one night a week that I will have to stay late. We'll have the nights and the weekends." She frowned a bit as she felt a burning pain in her chest. "That last sip of tea must have gone down wrong."
Ron looked in alarm at her. "'Mione? Are you okay? What's wrong, love? Your face is getting red."
"Yes, just some heartburn, that's all," Hermione replied, giving him a reassuring smile. "I think I'll go see if we have some of that antacid potion." She kissed his cheek and went back to the bathroom.
Ron looked at Hermione's retreating form, then sat back down in the chair. For the past several years, friends and family alike had been pressuring him to finally ask Hermione to marry him, but for some reason, he had resisted their suggestions, coming up with varied excuses ("We're not ready yet," "She's really busy with her apprenticeship," "Things are really busy at work, and it wouldn't be fair to her if it meant she'll have to spend all her time alone."). Now that there was the possibility of not seeing Hermione every day, he wondered if perhaps it was too late for him to think of proposing to her. Or should he just do it, right then and there, once she emerged from the loo?
Whatever objections he might have to Hermione taking the Hogwarts job was outweighed by the look of sheer rapture on her face when she first opened the letter. It would be a dream job for her and was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. He decided that if she really wanted the job, he should not stand in the way of her accepting it.
Hermione returned, feeling a little bit better. The pain hadn't gone away completely, but it didn't hurt as much. "Thank goodness we had some of that left."
Ron took her hands in his and squeezed them. "I'm glad, love," he said, smiling. "'Mione, I was thinking – I know how much it means to you to be able to work as a master in a job you love. I'll admit that I'm not exactly happy about the thought of spending too much time away from you, but at least you'll be able to do something where you can make a difference. Is this a job where you feel you can truly be happy?"
"Yes, Ron. Ever since we were going to Hogwarts I thought about how great it would be to teach there. I didn't think I'd ever get the chance, or that I would get it this soon. After all, I'm only twenty-five years old. But I would love to take this opportunity."
Ron nodded. "Then I'd say why wait a week? Let's celebrate, Professor Granger." He drew her in his arms and gave her a kiss.
Hermione wrapped her arms around him and kissed him back. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
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Hermione got up bright and early the next morning. Putting on a pot of coffee, she started making a list of the things she wanted to get in Diagon Alley. It was Saturday, so she knew that Ron would want to go with her, but he was still sleeping.
As she made the list of the things she'd need, she thought about how proud her parents would be to see her now. It was coming up on four years now since they'd been killed. She remembered the day like it was yesterday…
"You are doing so well, Miss Granger. After today we'll stop for the holidays and resume after the new year. Then it will be just a few more months and your training will be complete." Master Smythe smiled at her. "Have you thought about what you'd like to do once your training is complete?"
It hadn't taken Hermione long to reply to him. "I've always dreamed about teaching at Hogwarts. I'd love to – "
Just then a terrier bounded into the room and up to Hermione.
"'Mione, I have to come and see you. I'll be there in ten minutes," the terrier said in Ron's voice.
A sense of foreboding came over Hermione and her heart started pounding. "That's Ron. He's an Auror. Something must have happened. I hope Harry's okay," she explained to Master Smythe. What if another Dark Lord had arisen? It had only been three years since Voldemort's fall and there were still Death Eaters around.
Master Smythe poured her a cup of tea, seeing how shaken up she was. "Why don't you sit down? We can stop for the day, or at least until you know what is going on."
Hermione accepted the cup of tea and sat down, feeling her heart pounding. True to his word, ten minutes later Ron appeared, but he wasn't alone. Harry was with him. They both looked very serious.
Ron walked over to her and gave her an embrace, then took her hand. Harry drew up another chair so that Ron could sit next to her and stood on her other side.
"Hermione, Harry and I were called out on a raid this morning," Ron said quietly. "It was at your parents' practice." He put his arms around her, all professionalism gone. "I'm so sorry, Mione."
Hermione gasped as a sharp pain went through her breast. Her heart was breaking…
A tear ran down her cheek as Hermione remembered the painful memory. She could still remember that pain in her chest. In fact, it still hurt from time to time. She supposed it would never go away. She fished in her pocket for a tissue and wiped away her tear.
"Morning, Mione," Ron said, coming into the kitchen.
"Morning," she said, trying to brighten up. "I'm sorry, did I wake you?"
"Only 'cause you weren't beside me," he replied with a grin, coming over to kiss her. "Whatcha doing?"
"Making a shopping list. I wanted to go to Diagon Alley today and get some items for my classroom. I also wanted to owl Master Smythe and let him know about going to work at Hogwarts, since I told him that was my dream. I know he'll be happy for me." Hermione couldn't keep the sadness out of her voice
Ron noticed the tissue on the table and the tear track on her cheek, "Hermione, what's wrong?"
"I was just thinking about how proud my parents would be of me, that's all. It's hard to believe it's been almost 4 years since they died."
Gently running his hand over her cheek, Ron looked at her tenderly. "I know, Mione." He wrapped his arms around her and gave her a hug.
Several minutes later, they broke apart. "There's coffee if you want some. I thought maybe we could get breakfast at The Leaky Cauldron. I'm sure you want to go to Quality Quidditch Supplies. Guess I'd better check our potion supplies too since we may be running short on some things. I know that I'm getting low on the antacid potion so I'll have to brew some more of that."
"Ok. Let me go get dressed and we'll get going,"
Fifteen minutes later Hermione and Ron were in Diagon Alley.
"Do you have your list, love?"
"Yes, let's go get some breakfast. Then I'd like to get some new robes for teaching. That will take the longest."
The Leaky Cauldron wasn't very busy that time of day since it was early, and they were happy to see Neville and Hannah having breakfast there.
"Neville, Hannah! Great to see you!" Hermione said as they went over to their table.
"Good to see you too," Hannah replied. "Do you want to join us?"
"You don't mind?" Ron asked.
"Of course not. I'm waiting for the rush to come in when everyone starts coming shopping for their school supplies." Hannah beckoned to the waitress, who brought Ron and Hermione some menus.
Sitting down, Hermione and Ron looked over their menus and placed their orders. "How are you enjoying teaching at Hogwarts, Neville?"
"I'm loving it. It's hard to believe I'm going into my third year now. How about you? How have you been doing?"
"I'm doing well. You might have to give me some pointers on keeping students in line. It's funny that you mentioned people coming here shopping for school supplies, Hannah, because that's what I am doing here," Hermione said with a grin.
It took Hannah and Neville a moment to realize what she just said.
"You mean – you're teaching at Hogwarts this year, too?" Neville asked.
"Yes, Minerva sent me an owl yesterday and offered me the Transfiguration position. So of course, I said yes!" Hermione grinned broadly.
"I'm so happy for you, Hermione! I always knew that one day you'd be back at Hogwarts!" Neville said. "After all, look at all the help you gave me."
"And Harry and me," Ron chimed in.
Just then their food was brought to their table and the next few minutes were spent eating while Neville told stories about some of the more memorable times he had teaching over his first two years. after a while the Leaky Cauldron started getting fuller and Hermione and Ron decided it was time to go. He waved the waitress over, but Hannah told him not to worry about it.
"You're out friends. We're happy to treat you to a meal."
"Thank you, Hannah. You and Neville must come over to our flat sometime. We live in Hogsmeade. Maybe we can do that before the start of term."
"We'd like that," Neville replied.
Saying their goodbyes and leaving a generous tip for the waitress, Ron and Hermione left the Leaky Cauldron and went into Diagon Alley.
"Why don't you go in Quality Quidditch Supplies while I go get fitted for robes unless you need new dress robes too?"
Ron thought for a moment. "I think I'm okay with dress robes for now. The ones you got me when Harry and I graduated from Auror training are still like new. Besides, I want to go to Gringotts. Do you have enough money on you, love?"
"I have my card that's linked to my account, so I'm good." She was glad that Gringotts had adopted a card similar to the Muggle debit cards which removed the need for carrying a lot of heavy coins around.
"Do you want to meet up at the Apothecary in an hour? Will that be enough time for you to be measured and get your robes?"
"I think so." Standing on her tiptoes, she gave him a kiss. "I love you. Be careful."
They both knew that there were still a few rogue Death Eaters around and there was always the possibility of danger. The fact that the two of them were well-known in the wizarding community for being friends of Harry Potter and helping take down Voldemort made them prime targets for any sympathizers who might still be lurking about.
Hermione sighed as she watched Ron walk off in the direction of Gringotts. Would she ever be able to stop worrying about whether a Death Eater would sneak up and attack her, whether another Dark Lord would arise? She made her way into Madam Malkins and the bell tinkled merrily over the door.
"Oh, good morning, Miss Granger. How are you today?" Miss Malkin asked warmly.
"Fine, thank you. I have been hired at Hogwarts and I wanted to get some new robes. I'd like some robes for teaching and some robes to wear for the special feasts."
"I'm sure we can arrange that," Madam Malkin said, coming over to her. "Let me just measure you and we'll see what we have available. Do you have a preference on color?" she asked as her tape measure magically measured Hermione.
"Well, I was a Gryffindor. So at least one set of robes in red and gold would be nice. But the Sorting Hat almost put me in Ravenclaw, so blue would also be nice."
"What will you be teaching?"
"Transfiguration. Nothing really messy that I have to worry about getting dirty, like Potions or Herbology."
"Okay. Why don't you look around and see if there are any robes you like and then I'll fit them to your sizes?"
Hermione looked around the shop and found a few that she really liked. Then she found a gorgeous set of robes in emerald green. She smiled as she remembered the set that Professor McGonagall wore on September 1st her first year at Hogwarts and how nice she looked at them. Without a second thought, she chose the emerald green ones, too.
"I think I'm ready," she said, handing the robes to Madam Malkin.
Madam Malkin made the required alterations on the robes and rang her up.
"Thank you very much. Have a great day."
"You too, Miss Granger."
Hermione shrunk her bag down and put it in her pocket. She realized that there was one possible problem with her buying the emerald green robes – what would Ron say? After all, green was the Slytherin color. But if he did say something, she would simply point out about Professor McGonagall wearing them. She'd liked the lavender robes too, but the last thing she wanted was to wear robes that reminded him of his old girlfriend or their fraud of a teacher from their second year.
Diagon Alley was much more crowded now. She smiled as she saw young students with their parents shopping for the coming school year. Was it really 14 years ago that she came to Diagon Alley for the first time with her parents as an almost 12-year-old? The time had gone by so fast. A sense of sadness overcame her and another wave of heartburn reminded her that she was meeting Ron at the Apothecary. A familiar tall, redhaired man came up to her as she approached the shop.
"Hi, love," Ron said, coming up to her and falling in beside her. "Did you get what you needed?"
"Yes, I got some beautiful robes. How about you? Did you do any shopping?"
"Not yet, just went to Gringotts and stopped in Quality Quidditch Supplies to check out the new brooms. Where else do you want to go besides the Apothecary?"
"Well, I should get some new quills and parchment and I should see what's new in Flourish and Blotts. I think we're getting low on Kneazle food and owl treats. So, we should go to the Magical Menagerie, too. Then I think we should head home. This heartburn is getting quite bad and I want to get brewing some more of the potion."
Ron put his arm around her and gave her a hug. "Maybe they have some already brewed in there that you can buy. We can check." He opened up the door for her and watched with concern as she went in.
"Good morning," she said to the shopkeeper. "I was wondering if you have any antacid potion for sale? I can brew my own, but I am running low and I really need some now to hold me over until I can get it brewed."
"Got two vials of it. Have to buy the ingredients if you want more."
"Right, thanks," Hermione said, rolling her eyes. She gathered enough ingredients to brew three months' worth. "Are there any other potions we're low on?" she asked Ron.
Ron thought for a moment. "Maybe burn paste."
"Oh, yes." She gathered up all of the potion ingredients and once they paid they went out the door.
Hermione took a dose of the potion and closed her eyes as she felt a bit of relief from her heartburn.
"Have you thought about seeing a healer?"
Hermione shook her head. "It's just heartburn. I probably have to eat healthier. I really should eat more salads and greens. What we eat is rather rich."
"That's what I like about it!" Ron said with a laugh.
Hermione rolled her eyes and shook her head.
"Speaking of rich food, Mum and Dad are expecting us for dinner tonight. Maybe you can wear one of your new sets of robes."
Good thing I stocked up on the antacid potion, then, Hermione thought. She loved Molly but she wasn't happy unless you ate thirds of everything that she served. Next stop was Flourish and Blotts and then Scrivenshafts. The final stop was The Magical Menagerie.
As soon as they walked into the door, a black cat jumped into Ron's arms, then climbed up to his shoulders and onto his head before settled there.
"Ebony!" the shopkeeper called.
Hermione laughed, looking up at the cat on Ron's head.
"You're in for it now," the shopkeeper said. "Ebony has claimed you as her owner."
"She's what?" Ron asked.
"She's a female kneazle. There have been so many people who have wanted to adopt her. She hasn't wanted to go with any of them."
Hermione laughed. "Well, I guess we have found a mate for Crookshanks. We also need some owl treats and some Kneazle food, please."
It was definitely an interesting day.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
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Hermione smiled as she walked towards Hogwarts. It took her back to the first year she’d gone there as a student. Who knew on that day nearly 15 years ago that she’d be going back, this time as a professor?
The only dark cloud to her good mood was the small argument she’d had with Ron that morning before he left for work.
“Aw, 'Mione, why do you have to spend two weeks at Hogwarts?” Ron whined.
“Ron, I have to get my classroom set up. I haven’t been back there for so long and I’ve never been there as a professor. I want to make sure that everything’s the best it can be.”
“But can’t you come home at night? I mean, we live right here in Hogsmeade.”
“I’ll see what I can do. I just want to prove that I can do this, Ron. You know me – I throw myself into everything I can.” She shrunk her trunk and put it in her pocket. “Please understand.”
“I do,” Ron said, leaning in and giving her a kiss. “You’ll send me owls, right?”
“Of course, and I’ll come and see you when I have some free time. I just want to make sure that everything’s perfect.”
Coming back to the present, Hermione sighed. The other issue was that she still had the heartburn problem. Once she got settled in, she’d have to brew some more of the potion.
At last she was outside Hogwarts’ gates. The school was just as awe inspiring as ever, having been repaired and rebuilt after the final battle against Voldemort.
“’ermione! Good ter see ya!” a familiar voice boomed.
“Hagrid!” Hermione exclaimed, turning around and smiling at him. “Good to see you, too! How are you doing?”
“I’m good. Couldn’t tell you how excited I was when Minerva told me you were taking the Transfiguration position.” He gave her one of his bone crushing hugs, and then opened the gate for her and gestured for her to go ahead.
“I’m glad to be back. I came in early to get my classroom set up and make sure everything’s perfect,” she said as he fell into step alongside of her.
“It will be an honor to teach alongside of you,” Hagrid said, beaming.
“And you, Hagrid. I think I’ll go see Professor McGonagall first. Talk to you later?”
“Talk to yer later.”
Hermione’s shoes echoed as she walked along the empty corridors of the school. It reminded her of when she was patrolling as a Prefect, when most of the school was asleep. She smiled as she saw Nearly Headless Nick floating towards her.
“Good morning, Miss Granger. I’d heard you were coming back to Hogwarts to teach. It’s a pleasure to see you again,” he said, doffing his hat.
“Good to see you too, Nick,” she replied.
Hermione made her way to the Headmistress’ office and realized she didn’t know the password. She went through some of the authors and the gargoyle finally leapt aside when she spoke “Jane Austen”. It wasn’t long before she stood before the door to Minerva’s office.
“Come in, Hermione.”
The door swung open and Hermione smiled as she saw Minerva seated behind her desk.
“It’s so good to see you, Hermione.” Minerva smiled at her, standing up and offering her hand.
“Good to see you too,” Hermione said, taking Minerva’s hand and shaking it, then sitting down in the chair in front of her desk. “Good morning, Professor Dumbledore.”
“Good morning, Miss Granger. Welcome back to Hogwarts.” Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled behind his half-moon spectacles.
“Thank you. I thought I’d come over and get my classroom and office ready and make sure everything’s in order before September 1st. By the way, I want to thank you for allowing me to live at home.”
“You’re welcome.” Minerva Levitated a tea seat to her desk and poured them each a cup, then handed one to Hermione.
“Is there anything I need to know as a teacher here?” Hermione asked, taking a sip of tea.
“It’s a good idea to have a set time for office hours so that students can come to you if they have questions or they want some extra help. Madame Pomfrey will report any injuries any injuries to me. Your class isn’t as dangerous as something as Potions or even the flying lessons, but accidents do happen. There is one thing that each professor does when he or she comes to teach for the first time. We have an oath that we require each teacher take before starting here at Hogwarts. It’s a simple oath that you will promise to protect each student when you’re a professor here.” Minerva sighed. “Thankfully we don’t have to worry about as many things as we did years ago but as you know, there are still Death Eaters out there.”
Hermione nodded. “I can’t count the number of times Ron has been called out in the middle of the night because of some raid. But he loves his work and it’s nice that he and Harry were able to become Aurors.” She looked up at Professor Dumbledore’s portrait, which seemed to be listening with interest to their conversation. “I often wondered if perhaps one of the reasons why you gave Professor Snape the Defence position in our sixth year was to give Harry a chance to become an Auror. After all, had he continued teaching Potions, Harry wouldn’t have been able to go to N.E.W.T level. He only got EE in Potions on his O.W.L.”
Dumbledore chuckled. “Now you know that I can’t show favourites, Miss Granger. I’m sure you know the reason why I brought on Horace Slughorn, because you are very close to Mr. Potter.”
“I do, and so does Ron.” Hermione took another sip of her tea, noticing that he’d not really answered her question. “Harry and Ginny are expecting their first baby,” she said, changing the topic. “We’re all very happy for them. We got the owl about it the same day I received your owl.”
“That’s amazing. Please offer them my sincere congratulations.”
“I will,” Hermione finished her tea and stood up. “I think I’ll go get settled in and fix up my classroom. Did you want me to take the oath before I leave or is it done closer to the beginning of school?”
“We can do it now,” Minerva said, standing up. “Do you, Hermione Granger, promise to watch over the students in Hogwarts and protect them from harm to the best of your ability?”
“I do,” Hermione said solemnly.
“Hold out your wand and touch its tip to mine,” Minerva said, holding out her wand.
Hermione held up her wand and touched it to Minerva’s. The wand’s tip glowed golden.
“Thank you. Please let me know if you need anything else.”
“I will, and thank you again for this wonderful opportunity.” Hermione left the office and made her way to her office, a feeling of warmth spreading through her.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
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Hermione stood up from her desk and stretched. Everything was all ready for the start of the school year, and she was very excited. The last two weeks she had been at Hogwarts, preparing her classroom and getting everything prepared for her students. She had spent some time with Ron, but she had been distracted by her coming job.
Going into her rooms at the school, she took out the robes that she had chosen for the evening. Molly was having a dinner at the Burrow, and she was looking forward to it. It would be the first time everyone had come together since Ginny and Harry had announced Ginny's pregnancy and she had accepted the job. Her robes were red and gold, the Gryffindor colours, and she put her hair up in a French twist. All in all, she was happy with the results.
Heading out of the castle to the Apparition point, she pictured the Burrow's orchard and Disapparated.
Ron was waiting for her in the orchard. He was a little nervous but quickly calmed himself. He was dressed in royal blue dress robes that were cut in such a way as to emphasise his broad shoulders and slim waist. He shuddered slightly as he remembered the hideous dress robes he had worn at the Yule Ball during his fourth year and was grateful he had earned enough money to ensure he'd never have to wear such things ever again.
When Hermione appeared, Ron stood up and noticed how elegant she looked. He admired the way the robes hugged her curves and the way her hair framed her face. He smiled broadly and greeted her with a hug and a kiss.
"Oh, Hermione," he said, breathing in the floral scent of her hair, "you look beautiful!" He gave her another kiss and said, "I missed you, love."
"I missed you too, Ron," Hermione said, looking at him and smiling. "And you look very handsome. Almost makes me want to skip the dinner and go spend some time alone with you." She gave him a wink.
Ron grinned back. "As do I," he said. "But Mum will kill us if we're not there. And besides, who can pass up all that wonderful food!" He took her hand, and they walked through the orchard toward the house.
"So, is your mum in a good mood? I know that she's not exactly happy with our living arrangements. I just want to be prepared in case."
Ron shrugged. "To be honest, she hasn't said much since you left for Hogwarts," he said. "I guess she thinks you've moved to the castle and have your own quarters there. As far as I'm concerned, she can continue thinking that way. I think it will make life easier for us."
"Okay. That's good to know." They reached the house and Hermione was assaulted by Harry.
"Congratulations, Professor Granger!" Harry said, giving her a hug. "I always had a feeling you'd wind back up at Hogwarts one day."
"And congratulations to you, Dad," Hermione said, returning the hug and kissing his cheek. "Where's Ginny?"
"Loo," Harry said with a shrug. "Seems like she's there most of the time these days."
"Well, from what I've read, that's pretty normal," Hermione said with a smile.
Ron made a face. "Eww," he said, making a face. "That is a bit too much information." He turned to Harry. "So, mate, how are things?"
Harry chuckled. "Not much new since we last saw each other a couple of hours ago at work." He stepped aside as Ron and Hermione entered the Burrow. "Everyone else is here already. Fleur, Audrey, and Angelina are helping Mum in the kitchen, and Irina, Katie, and Tonks are with the kids."
Irina, Charlie's wife, had come from a large family in Romania and had been accustomed to taking care of a lot of children. She always enjoyed spending time with her Weasley nephews and nieces. Fred and Katie's twins, Gideon and Fabian, were already showing signs of the mischievous behaviour that characterised their father and his twin when they had been children. Tonks, who was pregnant and clumsy as usual, was entertaining the children by changing her nose into various animal noses. Ron smiled as he heard the often-raucous laughter coming from the sitting room.
He sighed. The almost relentless pressure from his relatives to propose to Hermione intensified in the days following her appointment as Hogwarts' newest Transfiguration professor. The more he spent time with his extended family, the more he knew he wanted to be with Hermione and to raise their children together. He subconsciously patted the pocket which contained a small, black box. Before he had arrived at the Burrow, he'd made a quick trip to Diagon Alley to visit his Gringotts vault where he'd collected the parcel he was hoping to present to Hermione before the day was done. His musing was interrupted when Percy and Audrey's four-year-old daughter, Molly, ran toward him and attached herself to his legs. He noticed she was shaking. He gently detached the girl from his legs and wiped away her tears.
"What's wrong, Molly?" he asked.
Molly raised a shaking finger toward the sitting room. "Teddy's mean," she wailed. "He called me pox-face."
Ron tried to keep a straight face. She’d inherited the infamous Weasley complexion with her flame-red hair and a face full of freckles. "Molly-love," he said gently, "you have a great face. Maybe you can tell Teddy he has mousy hair."
"But when I do that, he makes his hair turn purple," little Molly wailed.
Ron chuckled. Remus and Tonks' son, Teddy, was an Metamorphmagus like his mother and occasionally liked to tease the younger children. "Come here," he said as he picked her up. He walked over to join Hermione, Ginny, and Katie. Molly was very happy to see Auntie Katie and held her hands out to her. Katie laughed and said, "Come here, you little imp. I'm sure you'd rather be with me than with Uncle Ronniekins."
Molly rubbed her face into Katie's shoulder, then gave the others a toothy smile. "Molly loves Auntie Katie," she announced.
Hermione smiled at her. "Your Aunt Katie is a very good Quidditch player. Maybe one day she'll take you for a ride."
"You bet I will!" Katie told her niece. "Besides, don't you listen to Teddy. I think your freckles are beautiful."
Just then Teddy came over to them, and little Molly announced, "Auntie Katie says my fweckles are bootiful. So there!" With that, she stuck her tongue out at him.
Teddy stuck his tongue out at little Molly as his hair turned a bright shade of red and his face appeared to have over-large red specks that made him look like he had spattergroit. "Pox-face, pox-face, ickle bickle poxy-face!" he cried as he ran to the other room.
Molly wriggled out of Katie's arms and chased after Teddy, her hair streaming behind her. "Teddy meanie!" she cried.
The adults laughed as Angelina came into the room. "Oi, you miscreants," she said, "dinner will be served soon."
Katie came over and gave Angelina a hug. "It's great to see you again, Ange," she said as she linked elbows with her and marched out toward the garden. The others followed them.
Remus smiled as he saw Hermione coming outside. "Well, Professor Granger. I understand that you are taking over the post of Transfiguration this year. It will be a pleasure working alongside you."
Hermione's eyes opened wide as she understood what he had just said. "You're teaching again at Hogwarts?"
"I am," he replied, his eyes twinkling merrily. "Minerva owled me a couple of months ago and offered me the Defence position again."
"That's wonderful. We never forgot the year you taught us at Hogwarts."
Ron and Harry joined Hermione and Remus. "Wicked!" Ron said. "At least we'll know the kids will be in good hands."
Harry nodded. "You were one of the best Defence teachers we ever had," he added.
"It will be nice to teach alongside two of my former students. It was no surprise to find out that Neville Longbottom took over Herbology from Professor Sprout when she retired."
Molly started giving them looks, so they finally took their seats around the table. Hermione sat in between Ginny and Ron and gave Ron's hand a squeeze.
Ron felt a calming reassurance when he felt Hermione squeezing his hand. He smiled at Hermione as Fleur, Audrey, and Angelina started bringing the food to the table.
"Mmmmm, cottage pie!" Ron exclaimed when Audrey put the dish near him. "Excellent!"
George grabbed the dish and pulled it toward him as he scooped out a generous serving. "I'm sure this was Angelina's contribution," he said. "She makes a wicked cottage pie."
"Good thing I made three of them," Angelina said, coming outside and shaking her head at her husband. "You know, George, you have that every week at home. You could save some of it for everyone else."
"Take it from me, Harry," George said, looking at him, "once your wife gets pregnant they get ornery!"
"Oh, is that so?" Ginny said, glaring at her brother. "Well I will have you know that being pregnant has not made me ornery."
"Oh, right," George said with a nod. "I forgot. You were ornery before." He grinned and then ducked as Ginny shot a Bat-Bogey Hex at him.
"Ha, ha! You can't retaliate!"
Molly shot George and Ginny a glare that could freeze fire. "George, Ginny, you will stop that at once," she said sternly.
George and Ginny looked down at their plates and mumbled their apologies.
"Now," Molly said as she wiped her hands on her apron, "of course we are celebrating the appointments of Hermione and Remus to the Hogwarts academic staff tonight. And Ginny and Angelina will be adding to our growing family. Let's drink to that."
Everyone else stood, raised their glasses, and drank to the health and good wishes of Hermione, Remus, Ginny, and Angelina.
After the toast, there were sounds of silverware clinking and multiple conversations around the table.
"Daniel, chew with your mouth closed."
"Do you have any names picked out yet?"
"Are you ready for the school year to start?
"I haven't had a lot of morning sickness like I did with George Jr."
"No morning sickness here, thank goodness."
"So how does it feel to be a father, Fred?"
"You know how your parents keep telling you to wait until you have children when they're frustrated with you?" he asked Angelina.
Angelina rolled her eyes. "Believe me, I've heard that many times."
"Well," he said, "Gideon and Fabian are a handful-and-a-half, and I can see what Mum meant when she told George and me that!"
Right at that moment, a clump of mashed potato hit him squarely in the face. Teddy and Victoire were holding their hands over their mouths, trying but failing to hold in their laughter.
"You see what you have to look forward to, Harry?" Fred asked, glaring at his niece and Teddy.
Suddenly, a pea hit George in the nose, and it wasn't hard to tell where that one had come from, since George Jr was getting ready to throw another one.
"Now, do you see what you two taught –" George started to ask, but then a roll sailed across the table and Harry caught it neatly. Soon the food was flying fast and furious over the table.
"Victoire, zat iz not proper!" Fleur scolded her daughter.
"Molly, no. Now behave!" Percy said sternly.
Angelina shook her head as she stood up and cast a Sonorus Charm on her throat. "Everyone stop, right now!" she announced.
Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked up at Angelina.
"Children, you know better than that. Now sit down and behave, or we will send all the children off to bed without your sweets."
She looked around, cast a silent Quietus on her throat, and started Vanishing the mess from the table.
"And here I thought we wouldn't have to worry about something like this until we got to Hogwarts," Hermione said, grinning at Remus.
Remus shrugged. "It's good practise. However," he said, turning to Teddy, "you are the oldest, young man. So you need to set a good example for the other kids."
"Thank Merlin they are not all the same age. Can you imagine if all of them went to Hogwarts the same year?"
"Well, there are going to be at least three children going in the same year, since Angelina, Ginny and I are due about the same time," said Tonks. "And that will be a year or so after the twins enter."
Teddy's hair turned a deep midnight blue as he tugged on his mother's sleeve. "I'm sorry, Mumsy and Dadsy," he said.
Tonks pulled her son into a hug. "At least I know you're sorry for what you did," she said.
Eventually, the plates were cleared away, and Molly and Fleur helped bring out the cakes and the tarts to the table. Angelina followed with a full tea service floating behind her.
As the cakes were served and the tea poured, Ron stood up and cleared his throat.
"Yes, Ron?" Charlie called out.
Fred and George looked at each other with widened eyes. "A Galleon says he'll finally do it," Fred said to George.
"You're on," George said.
"Erm," Ron started.
"I can't hear you!" Fred exclaimed.
Harry frowned at Ron as he pointed his wand at Ron's throat and silently cast Sonorus at him.
Ron looked at Hermione and took her hand as he went down on one knee. He pulled out the little box from his pocket with his other hand and presented it to her.
"Hermione, we have known each other since we were firsties at Hogwarts. We have gone through so much together, and... erm... well, uhhh..."
His face turned as red as his hair, and he took several deep breaths.
"Hermionewillyoumarryme?" he asked in a rush.
Hermione squealed and threw her arms around Ron's neck, giving him a kiss.
The table erupted in cheers.
"Finally!" Ginny exclaimed.
George slapped a Galleon into Fred's hand, and Fred pointed his wand toward the sky and shot fireworks from it. Molly, Fleur, Irina, and Audrey were wiping tears from their cheeks, and Remus, Arthur, Percy, Charlie, and Bill were pouring Firewhisky for each other.
Ron and Hermione finally broke their kiss, and Ron slipped the ring onto Hermione's finger.
"Oh, Ron, it's gorgeous!" Hermione gushed, looking down at the beautiful ring on her finger.
All the women gathered around Hermione to look at the ring.
"Auntie Katie, what happened?" Molly asked, looking at Katie.
"Molly, your Uncle Ronnie and Hermione are going to get married. That means you're going to have an Aunt Hermione."
"Auntie Hermi, Auntie Hermi!" Molly cried, running over to Hermione.
Hermione looked down at the little girl and bent down to pick her up. "I love that name."
Molly put her arms around Hermione's neck. "Auntie Hermi," she said. "I'm glad you're going to be my auntie," she said.
"Me too, Molly. Maybe you, Dominique, and Victoire can be my flower girls. Would you like that?"
"Yeah!" The little girl struggled to get down and then ran over to Victoire and her sister Dominique. "Auntie Hermi says we can be flower girls!"
Ron chuckled as he saw her run to her cousin. He turned his attention to Hermione. "Hermione, you have made me the happiest man on the planet," he said. "This ring has been in the family for many generations. It belonged to my great-great-great grandmother. You do me and my family honour by agreeing to wear it."
"I feel honoured to wear it," Hermione said with a smile. "It's so beautiful." Hermione smiled as she saw Molly and Arthur walking over to them.
"Hermione," Molly said as she took Hermione's hands. "We are so pleased and honoured that you will be an official part of our family. Arthur and I always hoped you two would come together, and our wishes have come true."
Arthur placed his hands on Hermione's and Ron's shoulders. "Indeed they have," he said. "We offer our blessings to you, and our congratulations."
"Thank you, Arthur and Molly," Hermione said with a smile, giving them each a hug. "I have always felt like a part of your family, and since my parents died a few years ago, you really are the only family I have."
"You are like a daughter to us," Molly said, wiping away tears from her eyes. She then turned to everyone else. "Let's drink to the happiness of Ron and Hermione."
Everyone stood up, mumbled Ron's and Hermione's names, and took a sip of their drinks in tribute to the newly engaged couple.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
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Ron sipped at his tea as he reflected on the events from the night before. He smiled when he thought of Hermione, and how happy she had made him when she’d accepted his proposal. It felt like a huge weight off his shoulders, especially considering how much pressure he was under from friends and relatives alike to propose to her. He grabbed another bun from the plate and was nibbling on it absentmindedly when Hermione joined him at the table.
"Good morning," she said, going over and giving him a kiss, then taking her seat.
"Good morning, love," he said. "So, today is your big staff meeting. Are you ready for it?"
"I'm as ready as I will ever be. Remus will be picking me up here at nine." She took a bun, took a small bite out of it, and then swallowed. "You wouldn't believe the dreams I had last night. All good, of course," she said with a smile, pouring herself a cup of tea. "How did you sleep?"
"Very well," Ron said with a smile. "And of course, being with you makes everything so much better."
"Same here, Ron." She reached over and took his hand. "And my ring is beautiful. I couldn't have imagined a more beautiful ring."
Ron twined his fingers with Hermione's, turned her hand over, brought their joined hands to his lips, and kissed the inside of her wrist. "And I couldn't imagine a more beautiful woman." He leaned over and gave her a chaste kiss on the lips.
Hermione blushed as she smiled at him. "You are such a charmer, Mr Weasley. And a handsome one at that."
"And I'm sure that's why you love me, Miss Granger."
"Of course. Well, that and your taut body," she said, giving him a scandalous wink. "But that's something to get into at a later time."
Ron blinked as a blush spread across his face. They heard a knocking on the door before he could respond. "Oh," he said. "Is it time already?"
"Yes, I guess it is," Hermione said, standing up. "I should go brush my teeth, but then I'll be out. Do you want to let him in?"
"All right," Ron said as he stood up and went to the door. "Ah, Remus, right on time. Please do come in."
Remus smiled as they shook hands. "Good morning, Ron," he said. "I assume Hermione is not ready yet?"
"Not yet, but she'll be down shortly," Ron said. "Would you like a cup of tea?"
"No thanks," Remus said. "We should be going soon, as Minerva has called a staff meeting at ten."
At that moment, Hermione came down the steps and gave Remus a smile. "Good morning, Remus. How are you doing this morning?"
"Quite well," Remus said. "Are you excited about today?"
"Excited and a little nervous. At least you don't have to travel on the train like you did in our third year." Hermione looked at her watch and then at Remus. "I guess we should get going." Going over to Ron, she gave him a hug and a kiss. "I'll be back later, probably this afternoon. Why don't you go for a flight? It looks like perfect flying weather outside."
"Indeed," Ron said as he hugged and kissed her back. "But I should be getting into work. Harry might wonder what is keeping me if I don't turn up soon."
"True. Well, it's almost the weekend, so perhaps the weather will be nice then. Have a good day and be careful, okay?"
Ron smiled. "You take good care of me, love," he said. "Let me know how the meeting went." He gave Hermione a goodbye kiss. "Remus, I'm leaving her in your capable hands. Don't let her get too carried away," he said with a wink.
Hermione and Remus both laughed and then headed out the door.
"He can be completely nutters sometimes, but I would never have it any other way. I imagine you feel the same way about Tonks' clumsiness."
Remus smiled. "I do indeed," he said, a note of fondness in his voice. "Tonks just wouldn't be Tonks without her running into the occasional glass door."
"It's as much a part of her as her ability to morph," Hermione agreed. They started walking up High Street and toward Hogwarts. "I never imagined that I would get to teach alongside you."
"Neither did I," Remus admitted. "But it will be an honour I will cherish forever and ever." He grinned at her mischievously.
Hermione rolled her eyes at him and laughed. "You are as nutters as Ron, you know that?"
Remus' eyes widened, and he pressed his hand to his heart. "No, really? I had absolutely no idea," he said in mock indignation.
Hermione smiled to herself and thought how nice it was to see Remus joking. Everyone had been so happy to know that Remus and Tonks had both survived the war, despite their serious injuries.
"So, what night do you have for patrol? I'm on Wednesday nights," she said, changing the subject.
"I believe I'm on for Thursdays," Remus replied. "Take some comfort that you had already left by the time the current seventh years were firsties. At least then they'll take you seriously when you try to take House points from them."
"Yes, I am thankful for that. Can you imagine their reactions if it had overlapped?" Hermione looked up and realised that they had come to the gates of Hogwarts.
Remus noticed Hermione's reaction and placed his hand on her shoulder. "It's still as majestic as ever," he said. "So much has happened over the years, but despite it all, life goes on." He touched the gate, and it opened of its own accord. "Shall we? After you, Hermione."
They made their way through the gates, up the steps, and through the doors to Hogwarts. "Where is the meeting usually held? In the Great Hall or in the staff room?"
"Under Albus, it was either in his office or in the staff room," Remus answered. "I believe Minerva mentioned the staff room for today's meeting."
They made their way to the staff room. As they entered the long paneled room, they noticed the professors already present and seated in the various mismatched dark wooden chairs. Neville waved his hand at Remus and Hermione to get their attention and gestured to them to take the two chairs next to him.
"Remus, Hermione, so nice to see you," Neville said as he handed cups of tea to them.
"It's nice to see you too, Neville," Hermione said, putting down her cup of tea and giving him a hug. "How is Hannah doing?"
"She's doing well," Neville said. "Business is going very well at the Leaky, and she's always busy. How are Ron and Harry?"
"Harry is doing well. We just saw them last night, and they are very excited about the baby. The Weasley family is growing by leaps and bounds," she said with a grin, holding out her left hand.
Neville's eyes widened as he noticed the ring glistening on her finger. "Hermione," he whispered, "he finally did it. Ron's finally proposed."
"Yes, he did," Hermione said with a grin. "And we're very happy."
"Congratulations!" Neville exclaimed as Minerva cleared her throat and called the meeting to order.
"Thanks," Hermione whispered back. "We can talk after the meeting."
"Thank you, everyone, for joining me. It looks as if we are all here..."
Just then the door opened, and Hermione gasped as the figure stepped in. She felt the room spinning, and then darkness engulfed her.
Severus Snape walked into the staff room and scowled when he noticed Remus and Hermione sitting next to Neville. He had never thought he'd ever see any of these people ever again. But then again, he had never expected to survive the war. And when he had found himself unexpectedly alive after having been bitten by that thrice-damned snake, the last place he'd ever expect to find himself was back at Hogwarts. In the past, he had successfully resisted Minerva's pleas for him to return to Hogwarts, but for some inexplicable reason, he had decided to accept her offer to return after she had promised an unlimited supply of potions supplies and other ingredients, and the chance to continue his research unimpeded in exchange for his time teaching.
He frowned as he realised he would be surrounded by Gryffindors. It would be trying enough to deal with the constant flow of dunderheads in his Potions classes. Adding the new Gryffindors to the staff list would add to his unpleasant-things-to-deal-with list. He swept past everyone and took a chair in the farthest corner of the room. A commotion brought his attention back to the centre of the room where he noticed Remus, Neville, and Poppy Pomfrey tending to Hermione.
"She'll be fine," Poppy said. "It looks like she's just fainted." She cast a diagnostic charm over Hermione, and when she was satisfied the readings were stable, she pointed her wand at Hermione and muttered, "Enervate."
"Hermione," Poppy said, "can you hear me?"
Hermione heard Poppy's voice and slowly opened her eyes. "I can hear you," she said quietly. "I just... didn't expect to see him."
Poppy frowned at Hermione. "Him?" she asked. "To whom are you referring?"
Hermione's eyes drifted over to Severus. "I saw him die..."
"I must admit that I am surprised as well," Remus said quietly, looking at Severus.
"He's most certainly not dead," Poppy said briskly. "He's been with us for the past seven years."
"Seven years?" Neville asked. "But I've been here for at least three years, and this is the first I'm seeing of him."
Poppy shook her head. "No," she explained, "I meant that he has been alive and hopefully well for the past seven years. I believe he's been doing some private research when Minerva begged him to return here and take the Potions classes."
"If Professor Granger is feeling better, perhaps we can continue the meeting," Minerva said in a kind but stern voice.
"Yes, I'm okay," Hermione replied, sitting up a bit straighter in her chair. She picked up her cup of tea and took a couple of sips out of it, hoping it would raise her blood sugar a bit. The tea did make her feel better, and she gave Minerva a smile.
"As I was saying, thank you for attending this meeting. I would like to welcome Severus Snape and Remus Lupin back on staff as our Potions and Defence Against the Dark Arts professors, and welcome Hermione Granger as our new Transfiguration professor."
Everyone grew quiet as Minerva mentioned Snape's name. They all turned their heads to the corner where he was sitting. Severus very slightly inclined his head in acknowledgement, but otherwise made no other indication to the others.
Minerva took out a stack of parchments from a pocket in her robes and tapped her wand against the stack, which caused the parchments to float toward the other staff members.
"Here are your timetables," she said. "Please make a note of your patrolling nights. Also, please make a note of Hogsmeade weekends. I expect all staff members to be on duty at those times.
"With the retirements of Horace Slughorn and Clarence Haskell, it necessitates the need to assign new Heads of House for both Slytherin and Gryffindor. Severus will resume his position as Head of Slytherin House, and Remus, you will now be Head of Gryffindor House."
Both Remus and Severus acknowledged Minerva with a nod.
Minerva distributed more parchment to the Heads of Houses.
"Here is the list of prefects for each House," she said. "Also, please note Victoria Gershenson of Ravenclaw and Stephen Bizzell of Slytherin are our Head Girl and Head Boy this year."
There was more mumbling amongst the staff before Minerva cleared her throat.
"Please don't forget your duties. I would also like copies of your syllabi by the end of the day today, which you may send by Floo at your earliest convenience. Thank you for your time. We shall meet again in one month's time. Off you go."
Hermione turned to Neville. "It's nice to be working with you." She quietly thought how proud she was of him, of how far he had come since they had met in their first year.
Neville smiled. "It'll be fun," he said. "The students have generally been very good, and they've enjoyed my classes. I'm sure you'll do just fine."
"You were always so good in Herbology. It wasn't a surprise that you were chosen as Professor Sprout's replacement."
Neville blushed. "Thanks, Hermione," he said. He frowned and shook his head. "I just can't believe Snape is still alive though. And blimey, he's going to be teaching with us! I don't know if I can handle that!"
Hermione put her hand on Neville's arm. "Do you remember our third year, Neville? How you pictured him in your gran's clothing?"
"I remember that. I quite enjoyed that class," Remus said with a mischievous smile.
"Neville, he is not your professor anymore. He is your colleague, and we are all on even standing. If you show him respect, he will show the same to you." Hermione gave Neville an encouraging smile.
Neville sighed as a pained expression crossed his face. "I suppose," he said. "But still, he scares me. I know I'll be so nervous when he's around."
"Neville," Remus said, "if you can wield the Sword of Gryffindor and decapitate Nagini, surely you can face Severus." He put his arm around Neville's shoulders. "And besides," he added, "considering how he nearly died, I would think Severus would be grateful to you for killing that ruddy snake."
Neville sighed as he nodded. "I suppose so," he said quietly.
"The three of us, Harry, Ron and I, saw his body in the Shrieking Shack. There was so much blood," she said with a shudder. "I have never been afraid of him. I was shocked when I saw that he was alive, and that is why I fainted. But although I know that I was in the minority, I enjoyed his classes very much, even though he clearly did not like us Gryffindors."
Remus gently shook his head. "Keep in mind he was deep under cover," he said. "He could not afford to show favouritism to any other House but his own, and Merlin forbid if he were to compliment a Muggle-born and the child of a Death Eater were to hear that and report back to his or her parents. I didn't appreciate what a difficult role he had back then, but then again, I'm sure the two of you have heard about my not-so-friendly past with Severus."
Neville and Hermione nodded.
"Severus has never been an easy man to get along with," Remus continued. "Lily was the only person I knew who truly knew him before he fell into bad influences within Slytherin House. Give him a chance, but don't take any vitriol from him personally."
"I won't," Hermione said with a smile. "My skin is as thick as it was while I was at Hogwarts and thicker. One thing that the final battle taught me is not to sweat the small stuff. Even Ron has matured greatly since our time at Hogwarts."
"As have we all," Neville said.
Severus did not linger after Minerva dismissed the staff. He immediately left the staff room and swept down to his private quarters in the dungeons, his black robes billowing dramatically behind him. When he entered his quarters, he removed his teaching robes and sank into his settee in front of the fire. He massaged his head as he Summoned a glass and a bottle of Firewhisky. After pouring a generous measure into his glass, he took a sip and reflected on the past few months. He had not been entirely pleased to see Minerva make her annual trip to Spinner's End. He’d known she was going to try to convince him to return to Hogwarts. It had been the last thing he wanted to do, as there were too many bad memories associated with Hogwarts. Never mind that for a long time, Hogwarts had been the only home he’d known. He was not sure what had induced him to accept her offer this year. He had never been enamoured of teaching, but it was a stable source of income for him, plus the idea of being able to do research on an unlimited budget was highly appealing.
He had not been all that happy to see the knot of Gryffindors in the staff room, however. He had become accustomed to working alongside Remus during his first stint as Defence professor; however, the thought of working alongside Longbottom and Granger was a bit distasteful. Longbottom had been a dismal student, and Severus was exceedingly surprised to see him on staff. Granger was nothing but a book-quoting parrot, and if she was as irritating as an adult as she had been as a child, this would be a very long year indeed.
He downed the rest of his drink and threw the glass at the fireplace where it shattered into many pieces. He put his head in his hand and thought he truly must have been mad for thinking he could return to Hogwarts and function as a normal staff member. Only time would tell just how his relationship with the others would turn out.
It was fifteen minutes after they had been dismissed when Hermione stood up and gathered her papers that she had been given. "I believe I'll go turn in my syllabus and check once more to make sure everything is set; then I'll be heading home. I live right in Hogsmeade, so I won't be staying here at the castle," she said to Neville. "I shall see the two of you tomorrow."
She left the staff room and made her way to the office that had once belonged to Dumbledore. She looked on the sheet that she had been given and found the password to the gargoyle.
The gargoyle turned and allowed her access to the stairway. It wasn't long before she stood outside the office and knocked on the door.
"Come in, Hermione."
She opened the door and smiled at the older witch as she entered. "I brought you my syllabus."
"I wondered how long it would be before I saw you," Minerva said, accepting it from her.
"I want to thank you again for giving me this opportunity."
"I remember how good a student you were, and how you encouraged Mr. Weasley and Mr. Potter to do their work. You were one of my very best students, and I knew that one day I would offer you this position if I were still alive."
Hermione blushed slightly, knowing that a compliment from Minerva McGonagall was rare. "Thank you. Well, I will leave you to your work." Hermione turned away from the desk and started toward the door.
"One moment, Hermione," Minerva said sternly but with a hint of a smile in her voice. "I believe you have forgotten something."
Hermione turned back, confused. "Have I?"
"Yes. Don't you have some news to share?"
Hermione laughed. "Yes, I do. Ron proposed last night." She held out her hand to show her supervisor. "I believe we are planning a summer wedding."
"Congratulations. I always had a feeling about the two of you."
Ron Apparated into the sitting room as he cried out, "Oi, 'Mione! I'm home!" He listened carefully and heard the sloshing of water coming from the bathroom. He smiled as he realised she was upstairs, bathing. A couple of thoughts sprang immediately to his mind: he could join Hermione in the bath or he could be nice and put the kettle on for tea. The Ron-that-was would probably have used a vanishing spell to remove all his clothes and joined her. However, he thought it would be nice to have a cuppa after a relaxing bath. Kettle it is, he thought as he shuffled off to the kitchen.
He had the tea and a tray full of tea sandwiches he brought from the office ready by the time Hermione appeared in the sitting room, refreshed after her bath. He stood up, gave her a hug and a kiss, and greeted her, "Hullo, love. How was the meeting?"
"Hi, Ron," she said, returning his affectionate embrace. "It went well on the whole, but it was not without its surprises." She sat down and took a cup of tea off of the tray. "You probably should sit down before I tell you this." She knew that he was going to be as surprised as she had been.
Ron sat down. "Okay, love," he said. "What news have you to tell me?"
She took a sip of tea and a deep breath before saying, "Severus Snape is alive, and he is teaching Potions again at Hogwarts."
Ron's mouth dropped. He stared incredulously at Hermione. "Pull the other one," he said. "He is not alive! We saw him die!"
"We thought we saw him die. But we also thought Remus and Tonks were dead, remember? Apparently, he has been in hiding all this time, doing research. I, of course, made a spectacle of myself. I am quite certain that everyone is wondering what Minerva was thinking when she hired me."
Ron raised his eyebrows. "What do you mean 'made a spectacle of yourself'? What happened?"
"I fainted. I saw a man I thought was dead walk into the staff room, and I fainted." Hermione blushed furiously at the memory. "Poppy checked me over, and there wasn't anything wrong that she could find. I think it was simply the shock."
"Honestly, 'Mione," Ron said, balling his hands into fists, "if I hear that greasy git does anything to you, I swear, he'll be hexed six ways to Sunday."
"He won't do anything to me," she assured him. "We are all staff, we are all equal. I am no longer the insufferable know-it-all student that he had so many years ago. I know that Neville is nervous, though. Of course, Severus always made him nervous. I just reminded him of our third year, and I think that helped him a bit."
"Severus?" Ron asked, his voice rising up an octave. "You call him Severus?"
Hermione looked confusedly at Ron. "Yes, like I call Remus Remus, Neville Neville, Minerva Minerva, Filius Filius, and every other teacher by their first name." She thought for a moment. "Well, I didn't actually call him anything. He came into the meeting late and left as soon as we were dismissed."
"But this is Snape, the bat of the dungeons, we're talking about!" Ron exclaimed. "He was horrid to us when we were in school. And what he did to poor Neville! How can you see him as anything but that now?"
"Ron, even Remus was acting civilly towards him." She told Ron what Remus had said to both her and Neville. "You remember what Harry had told us about the memories that he had seen."
Ron sighed. "I know, 'Mione," he said, "but I still can't get over how badly he treated us. But mark my words – he'll do something that'll make you remember what an evil git he is, and I don't care if he was trying to save Harry's arse all that time."
Hermione mentally shook her head at Ron. Deciding to change the subject, she took a sandwich. "Thanks for bringing home these sandwiches. Why don't we go over on the settee and enjoy the rest of our night together?"
Ron smiled as he took her hand. "I'd like that," he said.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
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Severus woke up early the next morning. A constant pounding in his head reminded him of the events of the day before as he reached for the Sobering Potion on his bedside table. The realisation that students were expected to arrive that evening made him shudder. Grimacing at the taste of the potion, he wondered why he had given in to Minerva's demand that he return to Hogwarts. He sighed as he went through his morning ablutions.
Severus eventually made his way to the Great Hall and was relieved to find a large pot of coffee and a copy of the Daily Prophet waiting for him. He poured himself a generous amount of coffee and immediately hid himself behind the paper.
A raucous laughter came from the staff entrance, and Severus glanced surreptitiously above the paper to notice Granger and Longbottom arriving for breakfast. He turned the page and buried himself in the paper as they reached the table.
"That really sounds like an interesting predicament," he heard Granger say to Longbottom as they neared the table. "What did Hannah do?"
"Oh, you know Hannah. She was hardly fazed. She handled it a lot better than I would have."
"Good morning, Severus," Hermione said, taking her seat at the table.
Severus raised an eyebrow at Hermione and grunted in return.
Hermione shook her head at him and poured herself a cup of tea.
"So when are you and Ron planning to get married?" Neville asked as he poured his own cup of tea.
"The wedding will most likely be this summer. I have several friends who I want to be in the wedding, and we'd like it to be a convenient time for everyone. How many years have you and Hannah been married?"
"Four wonderful years," Neville replied. "We were married on a beautiful August evening, and on Luna's recommendation, we spent a couple of weeks in Majorca before she returned to the Leaky and I continued my apprenticeship with Professor Sprout."
At that moment, Remus entered the Great Hall and took his seat at the staff table. "Good morning, everyone," he said pleasantly. "How is everyone this morning?"
"Fine, thank you, and you? We were just discussing weddings," Hermione said, giving him a smile.
"Is that so?” Remus asked. “It's hard to believe that Tonks and I have been married for eight years now."
"It's hard to believe time moves that quickly," Neville said. "It seems like yesterday that Hannah and I were married."
Hermione looked over at Severus and tried once more to include him in the conversation. "I think it's great that you are teaching again." She didn't get an immediate response, so she looked over at Neville and Remus and shrugged.
Remus leaned over to Hermione and whispered, "I wouldn't try it. He's all wrapped up in his paper, and it's obvious he doesn't want to be disturbed."
Hermione made a noise that sounded a lot like, "Hrmph," and turned her attention to her tea. "So, what House is going to win the House Cup this year, do you think? I am quite certain that it will be Gryffindor."
Filius entered the Great Hall and glided straight over to the Gryffindors. "I highly doubt it," he said as he picked up a piece of toast. "Gryffindor hasn't fielded a decent Quidditch team since Ginevra Weasley left."
"Well, it is possible to win the House Cup without winning the Quidditch cup," Hermione said thoughtfully. "If the students are smart and they don't insist on causing a lot of trouble." The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them.
Severus raised an eyebrow at Hermione as he looked over his newspaper at her. "And what makes you think this current crop of students won't reveal themselves to be troublemaking dunderheads?" he asked with a sneer.
"Maybe because I am an optimist and my opinions of dunderheads differ from your own," Hermione retorted. "Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Even the best witch or wizard has things that they can't do."
Severus made a coughing sound that sounded like, "flying," and he grunted and went back to his newspaper.
"I know mine, thank you very much," Hermione said, glaring at him. She took some eggs and sausages from the platter in front of her and started eating. She inwardly wondered if he knew what his weakness was or if he thought he was all-powerful.
Remus laid a hand on Hermione's arm as she viciously tore into her sausages. "Hermione," he said softly, "is it really worth it to pick a fight at this time?"
"No. I just don't understand why he has to be the way he is," she replied softly so that only Remus and Neville could hear her. "It seems like he makes himself this way on purpose so that no one will ever get close to him again and he doesn't have to worry about losing someone else like Lily."
"Well, that's his problem, isn't it?" Remus said. "Why don't you just drop it and leave him be? Enjoy breakfast, as this will be the last peaceful, student-free breakfast we'll have for a while."
Neville nodded in agreement. "And believe me, meals here can get rather boisterous at times."
Hermione took a few more bites of food, choosing to ignore the side of the table where Severus sat. "How are you doing this morning, Filius?" she asked, including the small man in the conversation. "I still remember the lesson where you taught us Wingardium Leviosa."
Filius chuckled. "That is my most favourite lesson," he said. "It's always a pleasure to see all the feathers float up to the ceiling when the students are successful. Although," he added with a twinkle in his eye, "I do remember one student from your year who had a tendency to explode things with his wand."
Neville and Hermione laughed as they remembered some of Seamus Finnigan's more memorable spells-gone-awry.
"And I'll never forget the night that you stood up to Ron, Harry, and me in our first year., Neville. It was thanks to you that we won the House Cup that year," Hermione said with a fond smile at Neville.
Neville blushed. "Yeah, well, I was afraid that we were going to lose more points."
"And who could forget our first flying lesson?" Hermione asked with a small shudder.
Neville also shuddered. "That was scary," he said. "But you'll have to admit that my Remembrall did play a role in getting Harry on the Gryffindor Quidditch team."
"Oh?" Remus asked as he swallowed his eggs. "Is that how it
"Yes," Filius said. "Minerva kept going on and on about how he caught that thing. Mr Potter was the youngest Quidditch player in at least a century."
"I often wondered if Harry might try out for professional Quidditch. But he wanted to be an Auror, and that is what he and Ron became." She smiled proudly as she remembered them becoming Aurors.
"Good thing they did, too. We lost a lot of Aurors during the war and retirement," Remus added.
"Well, Merlin willing, none of us will have to go through anything like that again anytime soon. Once in a lifetime is enough for me."
"Me too," Neville added.
Severus headed to the library to check if the latest copy of Helvetica Alchimica Acta had arrived. He was not looking forward to dealing with young students again and was particularly dreading facing the first years, as some of the most spectacular accidents had generally involved them. The Gryffindor/Slytherin classes had historically been the most difficult to teach, and he was expecting history to repeat itself, as it had in previous years when he had taught Potions.
He left the library with journal in hand and was looking forward to returning to his office to read it over a nice cup of tea. His musing was interrupted when he felt someone physically run into him. He dropped the journal as he caught an armful of a very flustered, red-faced Hermione Granger.
"Miss Granger," he hissed as he abruptly let her go, "what is the meaning of this?"
"I want to know why you insist on isolating yourself from everyone," Hermione blurted out. "You know, I was attempting to include you in the conversation at breakfast, and all you did was either ignore me or try to reply with snide answers."
Severus arched an eyebrow at Hermione. "I fail to see why this should concern you," he said softly.
"Why? Because believe it or not, I enjoyed your class. Yes, you tried to alienate me with all of the other students you had. Yes, you did your darndest to make me hate you. But you taught me a lot, and because of you, I can brew my own potions for my needs."
Severus was taken aback by her words. His momentary astonishment was replaced by his usual expressionless mask. He grabbed Hermione's arm and led her rather ungracefully to an unused classroom. He threw her into the room, and as the torches came to life with a non-verbal spell, he sealed the door and cast a Silencing Charm. He turned around to face Hermione and folded his arms across his chest.
"What do you want, Miss Granger?" he asked.
"What do I want? I want, first of all, for you to start treating me like a colleague instead of one of your students. I am almost twenty-six-years old, and I am not a child." Hermione's anger was building up in her chest. "I rather doubt you would have thrown another one of your colleagues into a classroom like you just threw me."
Severus narrowed his eyes and scowled at her. "First of all," he said in a voice of deadly calm, "respect must be earned. Secondly, I treat everyone as I have always done. Do not assume anything about me, as you have no idea how I would act or react under any situation."
"I know more than you think I know," Hermione said, mimicking his stance. "I know what you went through for so many years. I know what you had to endure. Harry told me about what he saw in the Pensieve. He told Ron and me everything." She felt some pain in her chest but ignored it. "I can't imagine what it had to have been like for you all those years. But you were given a second chance, damn it. Why can't you let yourself enjoy life instead of making everyone shy away from you?"
Severus clenched his teeth and gave a low growl as he loomed over Hermione. He was so close that Hermione could see a vein pulsing at his temple. It was generally a sign that Severus was close to the breaking point.
"Miss Granger," he hissed, "that is none of your damned business. I certainly do not need your pity or your concern, and I do not need anyone clucking over me like a flock of damned hens. I demand you cease your busybody nattering immediately."
"You didn't scare me when I was your student, and you don't scare me now," Hermione said, her voice rising higher. "You know, I thought I understood why you were so difficult after Harry shared your memories. Yesterday, when I found out you were alive, I thought maybe you might have changed. But now I see that working for Voldemort was just an excuse that you were using for being the way you already were!" The pain was building up in her chest, but she wasn't backing down.
Severus moved so that his face was just mere inches away from Hermione's. "Don't presume you know me based on memories that Potter whelp had no right to share with anyone else," he said with a deadly quiet tone to his voice. "I will admit was I none too pleased to see I am colleagues with you, the werewolf, and the clumsy oaf," he added. "You were nothing but a parrot, needing to impress everyone with your ability to memorise texts without truly understanding what they meant. Why Minerva thought hiring such an insufferable know-it-all was a good idea is completely beyond me."
"I was apprenticed to one of the best masters of Transfiguration around, and I earned my position on staff fairly!" Hermione yelled, angered at the fact that he refused to raise his voice. "I guess you don't know how many times I defended you to Harry and Ron. But I guess that doesn't matter to you!" She gasped, feeling the pain inside her chest burn her like a Stunner right to the heart, and felt the room spin as darkness engulfed her.
Severus noticed her wince in pain and reacted very quickly when he saw her fall face-forward towards the floor. He caught her and gently laid her on the floor. As he wordlessly unlocked the door and lifted the Silencing Charm, he conjured his Patronus and sent it to Poppy Pomfrey. He then turned his attention to Hermione and cast a diagnostic charm over her. The dark aura emanating from her chest puzzled him greatly – only Dark curses would give auras like that. He cast a few Dark-detection spells over her chest as Poppy came barrelling through the door.
"Severus," she said breathlessly, "I came as quickly as I could. What happened to Hermione?"
Severus shoook his head. "We were having a discussion when she appeared to experience sudden pain in her chest, and she fainted." He cast the diagnostic charm over Hermione again and pointed out the dark aura over her chest. "That was undoubtedly caused by some sort of Dark curse."
Poppy nodded. "I agree with that assessment," she said. "But how could this be? And who would go around hexing her like that? The war ended seven years ago."
Severus shrugged his shoulders. "I wonder if this might be a vestige of any injury she may have suffered back then," he said. "To my knowledge, the Aurors have captured most of the remaining rogue Death Eaters who could have been a danger to her."
Pomfrey nodded as she stood and conjured a stretcher. Both she and Severus levitated Hermione onto the stretcher. "Thank you, Severus," she said. "I'll take over from here. In the meantime, perhaps you can try to determine what that curse is and figure out if there are any counter-curses or potions that could help her."
Severus nodded curtly as he left the room and went down the hall, his robes billowing behind him.
When he returned to his office, he paced the floor, wondering how Hermione could have been hit with that particular curse. It appeared to be a Burning Curse that was embedded under the skin. He also wondered how many years she had suffered from it. He sat down heavily on his chair and put his head in his hands. Not only was her condition first and foremost in his mind but her words also cut through his consciousness, and it made him feel guilty for causing her the stress that might have triggered her pain. I guess you don't know how many times I defended you to Harry and Ron. But I guess that doesn't matter to you! Her words echoed in his head as he sank into despair. He couldn't understand why she had defended him, but he found it oddly comforting. He vowed to himself he would work to figure out exactly what curse had been cast on Hermione and would not rest until he found a counter-curse, a potion, or a combination of both. It was the least he could do.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
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Minerva sat in her office, her mind occupied. Her thoughts lay on the young woman down in the hospital wing. She remembered how enthusiastic Hermione had been when she had accepted her offer of a position and how she had been the first to turn in her syllabus.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a voice she hadn't heard for a few days. She looked up at Albus' portrait to see him smiling at her, his blue eyes twinkling.
"Minerva," Albus said, "you seem occupied. What do you have on your mind besides the return of the students?"
"I never could keep anything from you," Minerva replied. "It's Hermione Granger. She collapsed earlier today. I just received a message that Severus and Poppy are on their way to talk to me about their findings."
"Oh?" Albus asked as he pulled out a sweet and popped it into his mouth. "Sherbet lemon?"
"No, thank you," Minerva said, raising her eyebrow at him and wondering how he could give her one to begin with since he was in his portrait. She also was surprised that all he had to say about Hermione collapsing was, 'Oh?'
Albus chuckled. "You know where they are usually kept, Minerva, just in case you change your mind." His eyes twinkled once again. "So, about the esteemed Professor Granger. I was wondering when you would have a meeting of the minds concerning her condition."
Minerva looked at Albus' portrait sternly. "Do you mean to tell me, Albus, that you knew about her condition?"
Spreading his arms, he answered, "Heavens no, Minerva. Not at all. But she is good at hiding things, isn't she?"
"I don't know how it is possible, Albus Dumbledore, but you are more annoying in death than you ever were in life." Minerva rubbed her temples in frustration. "I have no doubt about her abilities, but her health concerns worry me."
Albus chuckled. "Your esteemed Severus Snape used to tell me the exact same thing," he said lightheartedly. "But indeed, her health would be something of concern. Do ensure that she is being completely honest with you. If she has a secret she feels she must hide, she will do it with no regards as to how it will affect her."
"I will be certain to do that, and yes, I know that she is an overachiever. Look at what she did during her third year here. She was one of my very best students, but she was always afraid that what she was doing wasn't good enough."
"But of course, how can I ever forget?" Albus asked. "She was an exceptionally bright student, and I am sure she will be an excellent teacher and mentor."
Minerva nodded and was about to say something else, but then a knock came at the door. "Please, come in," she called out.
The door opened, and Severus and Poppy swept into the room. "Minerva," they both murmured in greeting.
"Good afternoon. Please, sit down," she said, offering them each a chair in front of her desk. "I understand that you are here to give me an update on Hermione's condition."
"Yes," Poppy said. "She's resting comfortably right now and will hopefully be well enough to attend the Welcoming Feast tonight."
Minerva took a sharp breath in. "Have you been able to determine what is wrong with her?"
Poppy and Severus looked at each other before Poppy made a facial gesture to Severus to indicate he should be the one giving the explanation to Minerva. Severus sighed as he faced Minerva.
"Unfortunately, yes," Severus said quietly. "She was hit by a curse whilst she and her... friends were in the Department of Mysteries in her fifth year –"
"What does that have to do with her current condition, Severus?" Minerva interrupted.
Severus scowled at Minerva. "As I was saying," he said even more quietly, in a tone which indicated he was annoyed, "she was hit by a curse whilst she and her friends were in the Department of Mysteries in her fifth year. The deliverer of that curse was Antonin Dolohov."
A gasp interrupted Severus, but he ignored it and continued his explanation.
"Luckily for Miss Granger, Dolohov delivered that curse non-verbally, which essentially bought her more time –"
Minerva looked sharply at Severus. "Are you saying that she could die?"
Severus snarled at Minerva. "If you would stop interrupting me, woman, you would know the details as we know them at the moment." He glared at Minerva before he continued. "The curse Dolohov used was one of his specialities. It’s a slicing hex, which, if cast verbally, would have surely resulted in death if not attended to immediately. However, because it was cast non-verbally, it became a time-released slicing hex that’s triggered by stress. The more stressful the event, the more pain she will experience."
"So that is what caused her to pass out today," Minerva concluded. "Do you know the extent of the damage yet? It has been nine years since that curse was cast on her. What can be done for her?"
"She is on a course of pain-relieving and Blood-Replenishing Potions at the moment," Poppy said. "It's a shame she is not living in the castle because she really needs to be monitored very closely. I will insist that she meets with me every morning to ensure the curse doesn't cause any more damage than it has already.
"The most important thing is that she not be exposed to high amounts of stress," Poppy continued. "And, Severus and I agree on this point: until we figure out a cure, the fewer people who know about this, the better."
Minerva nodded gravely. "I will do everything I can to make sure her stress is minimised. Do you know for certain that she has told you everything? Albus and I were just discussing how she likes to keep things a secret, especially when she is trying to prove herself."
Severus nodded. "I figured as much," he said softly. "However, she confided in us the relevant injuries she had suffered during the war."
Poppy nodded her assent. "She was less than forthright, that is for certain," she added. "But we impressed upon her the importance of telling us everything if she wanted to be cured."
"Thank you for telling me, Poppy and Severus. I will advise the other professors that she is not well, but I will not tell them the nature of her illness. I am certain that Remus and Neville at the very least will want to go and see her."
"Of course," Poppy said. "I hope they will exercise restraint and not spread this news."
"It would be highly preferable if they do not know the exact nature of Miss Granger's injuries," Severus added.
"But then again, we cannot prevent her from telling the others if she so chooses," Poppy interjected.
Minerva nodded. "I don't know that she will want to tell anyone. She has never wanted anyone to pity her, for as long as I have known her."
Severus raised an eyebrow at Minerva, but didn't make any comment.
Poppy nodded and added, "Well, that should be enough to reassure us."
Severus looked as if he was deep in thought. "Minerva," he started slowly, "Miss Granger expressed interest in assisting us in developing a cure for her affliction. Given that we need to minimise her stress levels, what are your thoughts as far as granting or denying her wish is concerned?"
Minerva thought for a moment. "Given her persistence, I would grant her wish conditionally. As long as it does not affect her negatively, I would allow her to help you. However, if she starts to show any sign of tiredness or pain, she will have to stop. I understand her need to be involved; she was always proactive. But if it starts to make her the slightest amount worse, she will need to be pulled from the project."
Severus sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose. That was not exactly what he wanted to hear from Minerva, but he knew he shouldn't have been surprised at her response. Apparently, Poppy seemed to share his sentiments.
"But, Minerva, to subject that girl to more work when she probably has enough to be getting on with might be the death of her!"
Severus glowered at Poppy. Poppy's expression softened somewhat as she added, "Well, you know what I mean; I didn't mean having her join this project would literally kill her."
Minerva offered Severus one of her rare smiles. "I seem to recall a certain Potions master who was very ill this time seven years ago. Someone who did not want to rest, who wanted to help with his own cure. It's not easy to wait for results when you can be a part of the process."
Both Severus and Poppy scowled at Minerva. "You do have a point," Severus muttered.
Poppy shook her head. "I certainly can't refute that." Then she turned to Severus and started shaking a finger at him. "If I hear that girl is being overworked, a pox shall be upon your black, glossy head, Severus. Mark my words."
Severus rolled his eyes while Minerva tried, but failed, to hold in her laughter.
"You two are going to be the death of me yet," Minerva said, shaking her head. "Now, I will give Remus and Neville the barest details. I am certain that the two of you have better things to do than to sit here, keeping me company all day. Please keep me up to date on how Miss Granger is doing."
Severus and Poppy stood up. "Very well," Severus said as he turned on his heel and swept out of the room.
Poppy looked rather amused as she watched Severus leave the room. "Honestly, Minerva," she said, "I think that man is really a drama queen in disguise."
They were startled by a familiar voice, clearing his throat rather loudly.
"Ladies," Albus' portrait said, "please do remember who the true queen is in this room."
Poppy rolled her eyes. "Honestly, Albus, if you were living, I would be throwing a pillow at you right about now."
Albus laughed a deep, rich laugh.
"And to think I fancied you, Albus," Minerva said, shaking her head.
Albus laughed again. "Oh, Minerva, I am truly flattered. But alas and alack, I am but pigment on canvas."
"Not to mention being the queen of Hogwarts castle," Minerva said, giving him a wink. "With classes starting tomorrow, I daresay our first years will have their share of explosions, spills, and injuries. Shall I see you tonight at the Welcoming Feast tonight, Poppy?"
Poppy smiled as she inclined her head. "You shall, Minerva," she said.
Hermione stood up slowly from the bed she had been resting on since the afternoon. She was feeling no pain, but she felt a little shaky. Nevertheless, she was determined to attend the Welcoming Feast. Remus and Neville had come to visit her a couple of hours earlier, and it had been apparent that they didn't know what was wrong with her, since they had told her that they had hoped her anaemia would improve and that she would feel better soon. The explanation that they had been given worked out so well that she thought she'd use it with Ron as well. After all, it was the truth. The visit had cheered her up greatly, and she had thanked them for coming to visit.
She pulled on the robes she'd bought for the feast and checked herself in the mirror. Other than looking a little pale, she didn't think she looked that bad. Even though her hair had calmed down considerably since her student days, she still used liberal amounts of Sleekeazy when she wanted to look nice, and she had applied it before putting it in a French twist. As she examined her work in the mirror, she was very happy with the results.
Poppy came out of her office with a pain-relieving potion and a pitcher of water. "Hermione," she said, "if you are so insistent on attending the Welcoming Feast, you will have to drink more of this potion and an entire glass of water before you may go." She then put a stern expression on her face as she started wagging her finger at Hermione. "But, young lady, at the first sign of pain or discomfort, I will order a house-elf to bring you straight back here where you will stay until breakfast tomorrow morning. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Poppy," Hermione said meekly. She took the potion and drank it, then drank the glass of water. "I wouldn't admit this when Severus is here, but I am a little scared. I don't want him to look at me as someone who is weak because I still think he looks at me as one of his students. But I know I can tell you."
Poppy took the vial and the glass from Hermione and looked at her with an assessing eye. "Hermione," she said, "it's okay to be a little scared. And please do give Severus a little credit. I don't think he sees you as weak."
"I hope not," Hermione replied. "Well, let's go to the Welcoming Feast and greet the new students."
Hermione and Poppy made their way to the Great Hall, and Hermione took her seat next to Neville and Remus.
"Oi, Hermione," Neville whispered, "when it comes up, you'd better eat the spinach. I don't want to see you have another anaemic episode."
Hermione made a face. "Well, I guess if it's going to make me feel better, it will be worth it. Maybe one of these days, someone will develop a spell that will make food like spinach taste better."
Remus leaned over and whispered into Hermione's ear. "It's not that bad," he said softly. "In fact, it's quite good for you."
"I know how good it is for me," Hermione said brusquely, then lowered her voice as the older students entered the Great Hall and took their seats. "I want to enjoy my first Welcoming Feast, so let's discuss this later, shall we?"
Remus and Neville rolled their eyes as they looked over the students at the tables. Neville was sharing his impressions of some of the more memorable Gryffindors amongst the current crop of students with Remus and Hermione when everyone quieted as Filius, fulfilling his role as Deputy Headmaster, led the first-year students into the Great Hall.
"Oh, Merlin," Remus breathed, "I'd forgotten how small the firsties look!"
Hermione smiled as she watched the newest students enter the Great Hall. "Remember when we first arrived, Neville? How Trevor got away from you and how Draco got Sorted into Slytherin right away?"
"How could I forget?" Neville asked. "I was so scared that I didn't belong because everyone thought I was the closest thing to a Squib!"
"And look at you now, you're a professor! A lot of people told me I didn't belong because I was a Muggle-born." Hermione smiled at Neville.
"I was a bit of a misfit myself," Remus said. "No one knew I was a werewolf, and Albus had to make so many special arrangements for me."
"Here's to being misfits!" Hermione said, smiling at Remus and Neville. "I really wouldn't have it any other way, would you?"
Remus and Neville looked at each other. "Erm, no, Hermione," Neville said softly. "It was really painful at the time."
Hermione reached over and gave Neville's hand a squeeze. "You have become a wonderful wizard, and I am very proud of you. You are one of my best friends."
"As are you," Neville said with a smile.
Remus cleared his throat. "As touching as all this is, I believe Filius is getting ready to start, as he's got the stool and the hat in hand."
Sure enough, Filius placed a three-legged stool on the ground in front of the first years and then set the Sorting Hat on top. This effectively silenced everyone in the Great Hall as they waited in anticipation for the hat to break into its annual song.
I've been around for many years.
Seen a lot of smiles and a lot of tears.
I've seen peace and I've seen war
I've witnessed these walls fall to the floor.
But now the war is over and the day is here
To do away with anger and unfounded fear.
The raven and the badger, the lion and the snake
Should call a truce for the future's sake.
For years ago, the founders of this ancient school
Sat around and thought of each and every rule.
I know that there was one who did not like the plan
But now there's no more bloodline of that ornery man.
So let's all work together and each do our part.
Cast aside your prejudices and look into your heart.
We know that we can do it, together we can live.
Each of us has a part, a gift that we should give.
What will be your answer? Will you hear my call?
Will you turn away, or will you be standing tall?
For now I look you over, each and every face.
I know that we can make our world a better place.
As soon as the Sorting Hat finished, applause rang out throughout the Great Hall.
"That's a nice message of unity, don't you think?" Neville asked.
"I agree," Hermione said, daring to glance down at Severus and wondering if the Sorting Hat knew more than they gave it credit for.
Filius took a large scroll out of his pocket ("I often wondered how he managed to fit that huge thing in his robes," said Neville), unrolled it, and announced to the first years, "When I call out your names, you will sit on the stool, and I will place the hat on your head. When it announces your House, you will go and sit at the appropriate House table.
A small, brown-haired boy walked hesitantly forward, sat in the chair, and had the hat placed on his head. After what seemed like a few minutes, the hat shouted, "HUFFLEPUFF!"
Filius removed the hat, and Adrian Alexander hopped off the stool, ran off to the Hufflepuff table, and sat down amidst applause and cheers from his fellow Hufflepuffs.
Hermione watched as the rest of the students were sorted. There was one young girl who was Sorted into Gryffindor who reminded her of herself at that age. She was eager, excited, and even had curly hair, although not as curly as hers had been at eleven.
It didn't seem long before Fidelia Zamora was sorted into Ravenclaw, and Minerva stood.
"Now, everyone, tuck in."
Hermione looked eagerly at her plate as the food appeared, and soon the hall was filled with students and staff alike talking as well as the sounds of dishes being passed.
"Ah," Remus said as he put some steak and kidney pie on his plate. "I had forgotten how wonderful the Hogwarts food is."
Neville placed a slice of watercress and herb quiche on his plate. "If you're not careful, you could gain a lot of weight here. We're not young students with a wildly high metabolism rate anymore."
"Says the one who probably spends all his free time wrestling exotic plants in the greenhouses," Remus said as he piled some chips on his plate.
Hermione chuckled. "I probably will have to take Ron some food home each night. Thankfully, we know where the kitchens are and have known where they are for some time, thanks to you," she said, winking at Remus.
Remus blushed. "Well, erm, it's not exactly information that should be made freely available," he said.
Neville chuckled. "You'll have to admit, it was very useful information to have whenever we wanted to have a House party after Quidditch victories."
Hermione, Neville, and Remus laughed merrily as they continued their meal.
Severus, who was sitting at the far end of the staff table, wasn't eating much himself. After having provided for himself for so long, he was finding the food a little bit too rich for him. He served himself a bit of spinach salad, but spent most of the time pushing his food around his plate. From time to time, he stole a glance across the table to Hermione to assess how well she was tolerating the crowd and the food.
Poppy glanced pointedly at Severus' plate and at Severus before following his gaze across the table to Hermione. "I think she's holding up pretty well, Severus," she murmured.
Severus gave a curt nod in response as he sipped his pumpkin juice.
Poppy looked again at Severus' plate and frowned at him. "You're not eating all that much, Severus."
Severus scowled at Poppy. "And why does this concern you?" he hissed.
Poppy rolled her eyes. "Don't play that game with me, young man," she said sternly. "You need to eat to keep up your strength."
Severus scowled at her again before turning his attention to his plate with a muttered comment that sounded like, "Bloody busybody."
After the food had been eaten, both dinner and dessert, and the plates were once again gone from the tables, Minerva stood up and walked to the podium. Pointing her wand at her throat, she cast Sonorus and cleared her throat.
"Now that we have all eaten, I have a few announcements before we are dismissed for the night. First of all, our Head Boy is Stephen Bizzell of Slytherin House, and our Head Girl is Victoria Gershenson of Ravenclaw."
This announcement was met with much chatter, as, usually, the Head Boy and Head Girl were from the same House.
"Prefects, please look for notices from our Head Boy and Head Girl regarding Prefect meetings." Minerva consulted her notes. "As always, the Forbidden Forest is off-limits to all students, as is Hogsmeade Village to anyone who is not at least a third-year student. Quidditch tryouts will be held next week. Please see your Quidditch captains if you are interested in trying out for the House team. Lastly, Mr Filch has a list of items that are banned from use at Hogwarts, most of which may be purchased at Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes. Any student found with these items in his or her possession will have them confiscated and may receive detention."
She took a deep breath and continued. "Those of you who were here last year will notice that we have a few new faces on staff. First of all, I would like to welcome back Professor Severus Snape, who will be resuming his positions as Head of Slytherin House and Potions professor."
Severus inclined his head slightly in response. There was a smattering of applause, with the loudest applause coming from the Slytherin table. Mostly, students were looking at him curiously, as they had heard many stories about the "brave, selfless Potions master who had spied on He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and protected the son of his long-time love." There were a few gasps from those who thought Severus had died shortly before the end of the war.
"I would also like to welcome back Professor Remus Lupin, who is the new Head of Gryffindor and the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor," Minerva added.
Remus stood and acknowledged the applause, with the loudest cheers coming from the Gryffindor table. There was also some curiosity from the students, particularly from those who had heard he was one of the war heroes. There were also a few gasps from those who thought Remus had been killed by Death Eaters along with his wife during the final battle. Overall, the applause greeting Remus was more warm and sustained than that which had greeted Severus.
"Finally, I would like to welcome a new professor to Hogwarts. Please join me in welcoming Professor Hermione Granger, who will be teaching Transfiguration."
Hermione stood up and smiled at the applause and cheers she received, giving the students a slight bow. She wasn't surprised when she saw students whispering to one another, as she knew that her name was known by most people in the wizarding world. At last, she took her seat, her heart feeling light.
Everyone in the Great Hall stood and joined in singing the school song. Once the song was over, Minerva cleared her throat once more.
"Now, I know how excited and eager you are to get to bed, so off you go. After all, classes start early tomorrow morning." Minerva cast Quietus on her throat after making this announcement.
When the students were dismissed, Hermione was surprised at how tired she was. She looked up and noticed Poppy coming to her.
"Hermione!" Poppy called out.
Hermione smiled at Poppy because she had almost expected it. "Hi, Poppy."
"Hermione," Poppy said as she came up to Hermione. "I just wanted to check on you and see how you're doing."
"I'm fine," she assured Poppy. "I'm just a little tired, that's all. I'm going to go home and get a good night's sleep."
"You haven't experienced any burning or light-headedness all evening, have you?" Poppy asked.
"No, I just feel tired. I'm looking forward to going home and getting some sleep."
Poppy nodded. "All right, young lady," she said. "You may go. But don't strain yourself, and try to go to bed straight away. I will need to see you early tomorrow morning before your first class. Please give me at least thirty minutes of your time tomorrow morning."
"All right, I will make sure that I am here in enough time. Thanks for all you did today, Poppy," Hermione said. "I really appreciate it."
Poppy nodded and placed her hand on Hermione's shoulder. "You're very welcome, dear."
Hermione turned to leave the Great Hall through the staff entrance. Much to her surprise and irritation, Severus was waiting for her at the door. She blew some stray hairs away from her face in an irritated huff as she approached him.
"Miss Granger," Severus said quietly, his head inclined slightly in greeting.
Hermione's eyes narrowed as she regarded the Potions master. "Mr Snape," Hermione returned quietly. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"
Severus raised an eyebrow at her. "I must discuss a matter of utmost importance with you."
Hermione looked at him and nodded. "I am feeling rather tired. Would it be okay with you if we walk while we talk, or do you have to patrol tonight?"
Severus shook his head. "No, no patrol," he said. "And yes, that is acceptable."
"Thank you." Hermione took her cloak from the hook hanging just inside the door and put it on, then went through the door as Severus held it for her. When the two of them were outside, she turned to him. "Am I correct in guessing that this has to do with my wish to assist you with finding a cure?"
Severus gave a slight incline of his head. "Indeed," he said. "The Headmistress, Madam Pomfrey, and I had a discussion about this earlier today. We agreed that you may assist us in finding a cure on a few conditions: the most important being you must ensure your stress levels are down to a minimum, as your symptoms are entirely stress-induced, and secondly, you must not tell anyone about our work or the true nature of your condition."
Hermione nodded. "I won't tell anyone. I have been using the excuse that I have anaemia, and that is what is causing my symptoms. Ron has enough on his mind, and I don't want him to worry about me. If he knows about my condition, it may only make things worse."
Severus gave a curt nod, and they lapsed into silence for part of the walk. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed how tired and pale Hermione appeared. He sighed inwardly as he thought of what he was going to tell her. "Very well, Miss Granger," he said. "We will need to do some research first before we can devise a plan of action. If I recall correctly, you are quite adept at library research, considering some of those essays you had written whilst a student here."
Hermione was wondering exactly what he was going to say to her, but she didn't expect what he said. A disbelieving chuckle escaped her before she could stop it. Was he really giving her a compliment, or was he simply using it as another way to say that she was a parrot? She glanced at his face and did not see a sneer upon it, so she figured that was a good sign. "It is true, I do enjoy doing research."
Severus gave another curt nod. "Indeed. For the first couple of weeks, I recommend we research this curse. It will be easier at the beginning of term when there won't be as much homework to mark. Most of what we will need should be in the Restricted Section in the library. I may have a couple of books that could assist us in this endeavour.
"We should start with slicing hexes. Another area to examine would be the effect that casting a normally verbal spell non-verbally would have on the target of interest. If we start with trying to understand completely the theory behind these hexes as well as the theory of verbal versus non-verbal spells, we could start thinking of possible ways to counteract the curse that afflicts you."
Hermione listened and quietly processed the information that he had given her. It seemed like quite a daunting task, but it wasn't the first daunting task she had undertaken in her almost twenty-six years. The difference was that the task was usually done for someone else, namely Harry. She looked at Severus and wondered something. She wanted to ask him, but she also was afraid of what he would say in response.
"Once we study our notes, we can start devising a cure," Severus continued. "I think we will need to use both charms and potions or, most likely, a combination of the two. Once we get to that point, we might have to work in the lab. I have ample lab space near the Potions classrooms in the dungeons where we should be able to work undisturbed."
Hermione nodded. Noticing that they were close to the flat she shared with Ron, she turned to him. "Thank you for walking me home and for allowing me to work with you." They arrived at the front door, and she smiled at him. "I'll see you tomorrow at breakfast, then?"
Severus bent his head as his hair swung forward to cover his face. "Indeed, Miss Granger. Good evening."
"Good evening." Hermione gave him one last smile before opening the door and entering the flat. Crookshanks ran to greet her, and she bent to scoop him up in her arms. "Hi, Crookshanks. Did you miss me?" she asked, rubbing her face into his thick fur and listening to him purr.
Ron went halfway down the stairs, clad in a fluffy orange and black towel. "Oh, you're here," he said. "I didn't hear you come in." He went downstairs and gave Hermione a kiss, much to Crookshanks' displeasure, as he growled when Ron crushed him against Hermione's chest. "How was your day, love?"
Crookshanks squirmed from her arms, and she let him drop to the ground to return Ron’s hug. "You know, you two are going to need to get along," she said, shaking her head. "As for my day, it went very well. I don't think I told you yesterday, but Remus was made Head of Gryffindor. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer man," she said. "And for the first time in history, we have a Head Boy and a Head Girl from two different Houses. The Head Boy is from Slytherin, and the Head Girl is a Ravenclaw."
"Oh, really?" Ron asked. "But that's really good on Remus that he's the Head of Gryffindor." He winked and nudged Hermione in the ribs. "I'll bet he'll let them get away with a lot of things. He won't be as strict as McGonagall was."
"No, probably not," Hermione agreed. "How about your day? When did you get home? Did you have something to eat?" She gently broke away from him so that she could remove her cloak and hang it up, then made her way over to the couch. "I need to get these shoes off. Maybe I'll try a Cushioning Charm on them tomorrow. Or maybe I'll just charm my trainers to look like fancier shoes." She handed him the bag that she had brought from Hogwarts. "If you haven't eaten yet, I brought you something."
He opened the bag and his eyes widened. "Oh, Hermione! I think I love you! This is most excellent!" He Summoned a plate from the kitchen and pulled out steak and kidney pie, mashed potatoes and gravy, and an entire treacle tart. He also pulled out a flagon of pumpkin juice that was kept at the right temperature with a judiciously placed Cooling Charm. "This is brilliant! A real Hogwarts dinner!" He gave Hermione a hug and a short, sweet kiss. "Thanks, love," he murmured before he sat down and tucked into his meal.
"While you are eating, I think I'm going to go upstairs and relax in a hot bath." She leaned over and kissed him gently on the cheek, then slowly stood up. Making her way out of the living room, she was glad that he was too engrossed in his food to notice how slowly she was walking.
Fifteen minutes later, she was soaking in a hot tub and enjoying it immensely. Snape's actions had been quite confusing, to say the least. Earlier in the day, he had been yelling at her, throwing her into a classroom, and basically saying that she had no business being a teacher. And not half an hour ago, he had walked her home. He had tried not to show it, but his concern for her seemed obvious. But did he simply see her illness as another puzzle, another challenge to solve, or did he really care about her well-being?
She could feel her eyes starting to close as she puzzled over the mystery that was Severus Snape.
Ron enjoyed his meal so much; it took him back to simpler days when Harry, Hermione, and he had been students at Hogwarts, enjoying their meals in the Great Hall with their other Gryffindor mates. He smacked his lips in satisfaction and then Banished the used dishes to the kitchen where he used his mother's Cleansing Charm to clean them. He listened for the usual sloshing of water that occurred whenever Hermione bathed and was rather puzzled when silence greeted him. Hermione never took quick baths, and he became concerned.
He took the stairs two at a time and went into the bathroom. Shaking his head, he regarded Hermione fondly. Her chestnut curls cascaded over the edge of the tub, and her face looked angelic in its repose. He smiled gently as he noticed her chest rising and falling slowly and steadily as she breathed. She was the loveliest sight he had ever seen, and his love for Hermione felt like it was going to burst out of his chest. Summoning the fluffiest, non-Chudley Cannons towel from the linen closet, he Levitated Hermione out of the bath and gently wrapped her in the towel. He allowed the Levitation Charm to dissipate slowly as she landed softly into his arms, and he carried her out of the bathroom, across the hall, and into their bedroom. After laying her gently on their bed and lovingly arranging her hair on the pillow, he kissed her tenderly and slipped underneath the covers next to her where sleep very quickly claimed him.