The world had tilted on its axis. Nothing was as it should, and yet everything continued as usual. The Dark Lord was gone, his body put on very public display in a glass sarcophagus at the Ministry before someone — Unspeakables, maybe, or the Wizengamot — whisked him away to be buried in some unnamed, undisclosed plot.
It quickly became obvious that nothing was safe yet. Not for him, not for any of them. Aurors were on the prowl, hunting Death Eaters and sympathisers and throwing people in the holding cells in the lowest levels of the Ministry with only a hint of an accusation. The trials would begin shortly but the Wizengamot was also in upheaval with too many of their members exposed as Death Eaters and killed or imprisoned. Pyrites had been one of those brought down by the Aurors as part of the clean-up, due to his many connections with the Death Eaters even if he was never Marked himself.
Rogue Death Eaters were also out and about, targeting anyone they could lay their wands on. Shops in Diagon Alley had been destroyed, several bystanders hurt. It was unclear what the purpose was other than to destroy as much as possible of their society.
Severus found himself without a purpose. Too dangerous from all sides to open a business, no one seeking him out for potions any longer. Hermione immediately busied herself with work, leaving early in the morning and returning late in the evening, and Severus fled the house as often as he could, often to the Malfoy Manor lab. Lily kept asking him when he'd be home, if she should cook something for him, if he could buy something for her or for the baby. She didn't at all appear eager to move out.
Lily had settled in, taking over the small bedroom as if she owned the place, with the baby who was awake at all sorts of odd hours. Since she didn't care about using silencing charms he had needed to set them himself on the bedroom and lab, but it was still unsettling to know someone was rustling around in his kitchen at all hours of the night. He hadn't asked what her plans were, now with both her parents and husband dead and her house pretty much destroyed by the rampaging horde of Death Eaters.
Thinking of Lily made him think of Hermione and that made his chest hurt. She was so distant nowadays, never seeking his company, barely looking at him whenever they met in the tiny, cramped house that had just begun to feel like a home and not just a place to sleep. She slept with her back to him, either asleep before he made it to bed or coming in much later. Even if he tried to stay up until she returned he couldn't get her to talk. Lily always seemed to need him and was always hovering in the kitchen or sitting room.
Anywhere But Here
Hermione wasn't sure what she had expected after the fall of Voldemort but it wasn't this, at least. Having her house invaded by another witch and a baby, Severus escaping to the lab downstairs or at the Malfoys, presumably, any chance he could get, the threat of rogue Death Eaters still making it dangerous to go outside and the Ministry in upheaval. She couldn't believe how fast everything — and nothing — had changed after. After. The Prophet had taken to calling it "The Battle of Godric's Hollow", posting new interviews and analyses pretty much daily, most of them completely wrong.
Going back to Gringotts for work was a relief, an escape. Gargnak had merely nodded at her when she returned and asked her to set up some new calculations focused on Muggle London. No one tried to kill her, shout at her, or ask her for interviews. Luckily no one really knew of her involvement so there were no photographers chasing her down for pictures and no one trying to ambush her for interviews.
She had also contacted the Prewetts, the Augurey Association, and Amelia, and was planning to meet up with them over the next few days. There was a lot to discuss, lots of news to share.
Her memory of the final confrontation was vague, fleeting, evaporating like smoke whenever she tried to reach for it. She'd been thinking to watch the battle and aftermath in a Pensieve but something else always came up, and besides the Pensieve was in the room now occupied by another witch and the baby in another future past known as her best friend.
Severus followed her around like a lost puppy, but it was impossible to speak when there was someone else in the house. It hurt to see him with Lily. His one true love. He was attentive and considerate, doting on her like a diligent butler. Or lover.
Hermione bit her lip. The thought hurt.
He hadn't even looked for her that day. He had whisked Lily off to his house — their home — without a second thought for how it would affect her, without asking. He'd let her find her own way back from Godric's Hollow without even making an effort to look for her.
"Why aren't you talking to me anymore?" Severus half whispered.
They were upstairs, Hermione brushing her teeth and getting ready for bed, Severus following her around like a lost crup.
Anger bubbled up inside her, like a hot but fizzy beverage, a most unpleasant combination. Why didn't he get it, why didn't he see what was going on? Why did he let another witch just barge in and take over? Why did it have to be her?
"How long is she going to be staying here?" Speaking around a toothbrush made her words indistinct, which only added to her annoyance.
He raked a hand through his hair. "I don't know, I was hoping she'd find something else soon. She has nowhere else to go with her parents dead too."
Hermione doubted that. Lily was popular, she had friends. She had options.
"You want her here instead of me?"
"I think she's planning on keeping you." She rinsed, putting the toothbrush back on the shelf. Sometimes she wondered why she kept this very Muggle habit, but perhaps it was just that. Habit. Her insides were clenching and it hurt to breathe.
Severus froze, looking like a deer in headlights. Hermione wondered what the Wizarding equivalent may be. A House-elf in Lumos? Not quite the same. He didn't say anything, even when she waited for him.
"Seeevv!" Lily called, predictably, from downstairs.
Hermione growled, turned on her heel and went to the bedroom, slamming the door closed and warding it tighter than the tent with Harry and Ron.
She left early the next morning, not even making a cup of tea for herself before she was off. Severus had slept somewhere else, perhaps the couch, she wasn't sure. She refused to entertain the idea that he'd sleep in his old boyhood room, with her. He didn't like babies much, after all.
No, she had to keep herself busy. If he couldn't figure it out soon she would have to do something drastic, and the thought hurt too much. Better to bury herself in work, friends and other obligations and hope he did the right thing, that they would be able to recover.
At least she had Crookshanks. The cat had gone missing for a little while and had then returned looking immensely proud of himself. Menace also seemed to agree and she sometimes found the pair of them sitting together as if talking about something. Crooks always did as he pleased but when she called for him he didn't seem to mind being petted or curling up on her blankets to sleep.
It felt strange to be able to go out for lunch like a normal person. She had arranged to meet Evie and Hestia at Brews and Stews in Diagon Alley for a quick catch-up lunch. The two witches looked happy to see her, making Hermione feel oddly guilty over not being in touch as much as she should have over the past few months. Granted, she'd been kind of busy at the time, but still.
As it turned out, she didn't need to feel bad about it. Instead both of the others asked forgiveness for not having stayed in touch, both of them busy with their jobs with Hestia as a trainee Auror and Evie working as a junior typesetter at the Daily Prophet. Both of them had heard a lot of rumours over the course of the conflict with Voldemort, but without enough insight to know what was real. The events at Godric's Hollow had shaken them even though they hadn't been there. Apparently Kingsley had talked a bit more than he perhaps should have, and Hestia had heard all about it afterwards from her Auror colleagues.
She didn't mention Lily or the strange limbo she had found herself in with Severus. It was too fresh, too painful to discuss over a simple lunch of soup and some sandwiches.
After work she met up with some Order members at the Prewetts' place. She tried to convince herself it wasn't a way to avoid Lily, and Severus, but she didn't succeed very well. It was a good distraction at least, and Occlumency helped.
Fabian opened the door a bit cautiously and grinned when he saw her. "Come in, come in! Most of us are here already, Kingsley is on his way and I think Remus will come by later. We've brought in some food."
There was a large dining table arranged in the main room, with about half the seats occupied. Several dishes of food were already on the table along with and bottles of beer and Butterbeer. Hermione smiled and settled in next to Frank with a slice of shepherd's pie and a pint of beer, chatting a bit about the Aurors and the Ministry while they waited for more people to arrive.
Once it seemed everyone had arrived and had something to eat, Fabian called to order. "Thanks for coming everyone! I hope we're all happy and healthy. Let's make sure we all have the same information regarding the events of the Godric's Hollow battle so we don't misunderstand anything. Plus we must of course take the chance to meet up, even without old Voldy threatening our lives."
A cheer rose around the table, over the sheer exhilaration of being alive to see the end of the conflict.
"So what's the verdict?" Marlene McKinnon asked.
"As I think you all heard we lost James, and Albus Dumbledore," Fabian began. "Those are the most prominent ones and they will be sorely missed. Who else?"
Frank raised a hand slightly. "Dearborn is gone."
Hermione felt her heart clench. She hadn't heard about his death, he had become a very valuable ally in a rather short amount of time, both skilled and friendly.
"Emmeline and Elphias were hurt but are apparently stable," Gideon supplied. "They were brought to St Mungo's by the Aurors."
Kingsley cleared his throat. Hermione was glad to see him being part of the group even if he wasn't a formal Order member as far as she knew. "Peter Pettigrew was found in the fields near the Potter cottage, torn to pieces. It was very strange, it looked like an animal had gotten to him rather than a Death Eater."
Fabian shook his head and thumped the table with his fist. "He outed himself in front of everyone, didn't he. Death Eater spy, turning traitor on his friends? What a sad little rat."
"I tried to warn all of you, several times." Hermione couldn't resist bringing it up. "I really did, and now James Potter is dead."
"We know," Frank sighed. "Albus seemed so sure he was on our side."
"What about the Death Eaters?" Gideon asked.
The list of dead and detained Death Eaters was satisfyingly long and included, among others, Macnair (dead), Mulciber, Yaxley, Rowle and Avery (caught), and Dolohov (also dead). Hermione wasn't sure if she had been the one to kill him but she couldn't bring herself to care. He deserved it.
"What about Bellatrix Lestrange?" Hermione half held her breath. If anyone needed to be caught, it would be her.
"She's dead," Frank confirmed. "I think I killed her. Or perhaps she fell."
Hermione heaved a sigh of relief. "Don't feel bad, Frank. Not over her."
The rest of the meal was spent on lighter conversation topics, but apparently something odd had happened with several of the Lords of the Pure-blood families. It seemed none other than Lucius Malfoy had led some kind of mutiny with the House-elves to oust the old generation from their holdings, calling them out for following Lord Voldemort and ruining their whole families. The situation was still a bit unclear but at least the Parkinson, Nott, Rosier, Goyle and Avery families were affected with elves no longer answering to the Lord of the House.
Abraxas Malfoy was wasting away at St Mungo's, stripped of his magic and succumbing to some kind of strange disease. At least one of the other former Lords were also at the hospital with an unknown status. Lord Nott had transferred the Head of House status to his son voluntarily and seemed to have avoided the worst of it. It was all rather strange, and Hermione resolved to talk to the Malfoys about it whenever she next saw them. She didn't exactly consider them friends but Narcissa treated her with at least a bit of respect and Lucius seemed to tolerate her better now than when they first met, or back in her original timeline.
They had nearly finished eating when the door opened again.
Remus Lupin looked none the worse for wear, if one discounted for the whole his being a werewolf. Hermione winced internally at seeing his scars and scruffy clothing. She should work on getting Severus to brew Wolfsbane, not just for Remus' sake.
They made room for him at the table and brought out a spare piece of pie, and almost managed to give him time to finish eating before accosting him with questions.
"Where have you been, Remus?" Frank burst out.
"I was out hunting pieces of You-know-who. Hermione sent me out on a mission to give me something useful to do and get me away from the country for a while, and it worked."
Remus looked around the table and nodded at Hermione. "Vulchanov had some connections in Albania so we got a bit of help but had to be careful so nothing would get back to you-know-who. We went over the whole country, it's a good thing you didn't send us to Russia or we wouldn't be back in a hundred years, Albania is at least pretty small. After a while we got the hang of finding his trace and then one evening an old local witch found us in a tavern and told us about the foreigner who had come by. He had threatened half the village, abducted two of the teens and went up to a set of ruins nearby. The teens came back a week later, completely out of it. He must have Obliviated them but they were apparently still terrified of their own shadows so something bad must have happened." Regulus took a swig of his beer before he continued. "So we went to the ruins she pointed out and had a look around. There was this stench of evil around the whole place, and there were plenty of traps that needed disarming. I guess that's what he used the local kids for, for blood rituals. In the end Vulchanov found an old Muggle toy, a metal car, which pretty much oozed evil. Then we took it out to a clearing and burned it with Fiendfyre."
So it had worked. Hermione felt a great sense of relief, but it was tinged with anxiety as usual. What if they hadn't caught everything? What if there was something more out there, another item?
Remus took another sip of his beer. "Vulchanov's Dark Mark burned off on Halloween, that's when we knew he was gone. It looked horribly painful. He said he didn't want to return to Britain at the moment so he went back to Bulgaria for a while but I have his contact details."
"You did have a notebook, Remus, did you forget about it?" Hermione had had such high hopes for the notebooks, but then reality hit and they weren't used any longer.
Remus scratched the back of his neck. "What? Oh, yes, the notebook. I think I wrote something in it earlier? You didn't answer, and then I forgot."
Hermione frowned. "Oh, it might have been when I was trapped in the Lestrange dungeons."
"Really? I'm sorry, I hadn't heard that."
She twitched a smile at him. "Didn't Regulus Black find you?"
Remus shook his head. "No? It was just the two of us."
Hermione bit her lip, frowning. She wondered what happened to Regulus but there wasn't much to do other than hope he would surface again at some point.
"Three cheers for Remus!" someone shouted and the room deteriorated into celebration and drink when someone brought out the Firewhisky and elf-made wine.
That night she didn't make it home, instead she asked the Prewetts if she could crash on their couch, feeling a great sense of relief over having friends she could ask such things of when she was in no state to Apparate home.
The house was blessedly empty when she returned, late, from Gringotts the following day. There was no trace of Lily or Harry. Had she finally left? Severus was out somewhere too. She wasn't sure what he was doing with his time now after the final battle, they hadn't exactly had the opportunity to talk a lot. She made a simple omelette and a cup of tea for dinner and spent the evening with a book on the couch with Crookshanks curled up beside her.
He hadn't returned by the time she left for work again and hadn't left a note. Had he left? The uneasy feeling in her stomach was back with a vengeance, not that it had ever truly left with everything left unsaid between them.
She went to work anyway, feeling bad and having a very hard time concentrating on her tasks.
A young goblin popped its head through the door an hour or so after she arrived. "Granger? Someone is yelling for you in the fireplace in the Wizard Communication office."
The Goblins didn't use the Floo network much but they did have an office with a fireplace installed. Hermione got the impression they mainly used it to talk to wizards they didn't like very much, forcing them to kneel in an uncomfortable position while the Goblins had proper seats and desks in place on their end.
"Hermione! Hermione, are you there?" a male voice called from the Floo.
To her surprise it was Frank Longbottom sticking his head out the fireplace. "There you are. Sorry I can't get to you, I'm at work and need to hurry."
"What is it?"
"It's Snape, he's been arrested!"
Hermione staggered to a chair nearby and sat down heavily. Arrested? She drew breath to ask but he was apparently already ahead of her.
"For the murder of his father, apparently. And for being a Death Eater but they don't have much proof. Sorry I have to go, we'll have to talk later!"
The head in the fireplace disappeared, and Hermione was left with her mind spinning with questions and concerns. Why him, why now? Who should she contact first, and how would they get him out?
A/N: One more chapter, then an epilogue. No guarantees (busy IRL) but will try to get them up quickly. Thanks everyone who has joined in on this journey! I didn't expect it to last this long. /AA