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The Smile that Struggled Through Tears

Chapter Text

Hermione, before she'd received an owl-delivered scroll with an invitation to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, had a grand plan for the completion of her scholastic life. She would graduate top of her class, ace all her exams and go on to do Medicine or Dentistry at a university of her choice. When she'd received her invitation to Hogwarts, her plans had changed in direction just a little but only in terms of subjects studied.

The reality of life was rather less impressive.

The war with Voldemort had, eventually, come to an end with less of a bang and more of a whimper. And, in doing so, had brought with it a whole host of issues she was woefully ill-prepared for. Harry, as Harry did, threw himself into being the Saviour. Both of the Wizarding World and Ginny Weasley. It was assumed, by all accounts, that Hermione would end up with Ron.

And yet.

On only the second time she'd persuaded him to join her for dinner at a restaurant that was somewhere other than The Leaky Cauldron, he'd stood her up. And as she sat at the quiet table for two, in a corner of a dark restaurant, eating small mouthfuls of bread, she wondered why she could not just live the life she wished.

That was as funny as getting stood up by the man who was supposed to love you, on Christmas Eve.

You see, Hermione had a secret that she had not even told Harry.

Hermione didn't love Ron. Honestly, at times, she didn't even like him. But it was assumed she would end up with him and Mrs Weasley had been through so much that she had gone along with it. She had worked hard to get them to work until it just became too much. Harry and Ginny were together and their relationship was seamless. Where Harry stopped, Ginny began, in all areas of life. And if she was honest with herself, as she should have been nearly six months ago, she could have stopped this whole charade and told the truth.

There was only one person that she wanted to be with. And it was the one person she could never be with.

In truth, she'd had feelings for this person since she was fifteen. And then, as they had aged in both body and soul, this person had only become more alluring. Their mind was so endlessly enticing that all she wanted to do was sit and talk to them for hours. She was so caught up in daydreams of this, however, that she failed to see the shadow over her table.

When she did, she looked up, prepared to tell Ron that they were over, only to have her chin drop and her eyes widened in disbelief.

"P," she shook her head.  "Professor?"

"Happy Christmas, Miss Granger," Professor McGonagall smiled. "You look wonderful."

Hermione felt like she'd swallowed her tongue.

"I," she couldn't believe she was stammering. "I do?"

"You do," the Professor smiled. "I do not want to interrupt your date, I only wished to tell you Merry Christmas."

She turned to leave and Hermione realised what a gift she'd been given.

"Wait!"

Professor McGonagall stopped and turned expectantly.

"Sorry," Hermione said, for the outburst as well as the order. "Um. Well, he stood me up. I," she swallowed. "I mean. Do you -" she nodded to the table.

Professor McGonagall smiled.

"I'd love to."

Hermione was breathless as the Professor sat down and she followed suit, still not believing her luck.

"Let us start with names," Professor McGonagall said.

"Names?"

"Minerva," she grinned, extending her hand across the table.

Hermione looked at it and looked up and the woman who was wearing a cheeky grin on her face and rolled her eyes.

"Hermione," she said with a smile, taking that hand and squeezing it gently.

"Now we are even," Minerva nodded. "Have you ordered?"

"No, I was -" she frowned, not wanting to admit that she had been sitting here for an hour still hoping.

"I recommend the salmon," Minerva said gently. "Or the lamb. It is all exceptional, but those are the best."

Hermione smiled.

"You come here often enough to know that?"

"I have a secret up my sleeve," she chuckled.

At that moment a man walked from the kitchen, looked around and when he saw Minerva, his eyes lit up. She watched as he nodded to a few people, but made a beeline towards them. Minerva must have realised Hermione was staring and turned, her face breaking out in a wider smile than Hermione had ever seen. To Hermione's amazement, Minerva stood and wrapped her arms around the man and held on tightly.

Hermione's soul died.

She plastered a smile on her face and tried not to cry as Minerva muttered something in his ear as he laughed. He kissed her cheek and pulled a chair up to the table without asking.

"I hear you're the famous Hermione Granger? I've heard so much about you." His tone was light and happy and she took a deep breath and remembered her manners.

"I am, it's a pleasure to meet you -"

"Mac," he grinned. "Thanks for coming "

He was wearing chef's whites and she deduced that he must also own the restaurant. Trust her to pick the one that Minerva's significant other owned.

"Thank you for having me," she shrugged, trying to smile. "Minerva was just recommending the salmon but," she shrugged. "I'm actually going to go. I had a date, he stood me up," she shrugged again. "No matter."

"Miss -" Minerva shook her head. "Hermione, you don't have to leave!"

"I will anyway," she muttered. "I'll leave you both to it. Thanks, Minerva, for sitting with me. Happy Christmas to you both."

She picked up her clutch and left without another word, bursting into the street with a tremulous breath. Of course, Minerva McGonagall would have someone. She was too beautiful and too magnificent to be single. And Hermione had let her mind run away with her that they would spend Christmas even together, maybe get a nightcap at hers and wake up Christmas morning entwined on the sofa.

"You idiot," Hermione growled, finding an alley and checking for Muggles. "Absolute loser," she groaned.

She turned on the spot and disappeared.

Chapter Text

It was early February when she saw Minerva again. Hermione had been for a job interview at a law firm in Muggle London and she almost bumped into Minerva in the street. She was wearing a beautiful bottle-green jumper and black jeans, of all things. Hermione tried her best not to stare.

"Hermione!"

Mac's voice was loud in her head as she forced a smile.

"Hi," she said politely.

Minerva unhooked her arm from Mac's and stepped forward to give her a hug. Hermione blinked in shock. It was only at the last moment that she remembered that hugs should probably be reciprocated.

"You look well," Hermione said, kicking herself for sounding so formal.

"I am," Minerva smiled. "It is good to be at peace, finally. Even the students are behaving," she chuckled.

Hermione wasn't so sure she agreed. She'd not received any Muggle university placements and so far had no job either. She refused to bend and join the Ministry so she'd gone looking in the Muggle world. She also steadfastly refused to think about why Minerva looked so jovial on Mac's arm.

"Do you have a day off today?" Minerva asked.

"Um, yeah," she lied. "Thought I'd go for a wander."

"Where are you staying?"

"Oh, my," she blanked. "I'm staying at home. My parents are," her heart crumbled. "Away."

"You should stay down here for a few days," Mac said happily. "I can show you all the best clubs."

Hermione frowned in confusion.

"I," she shook herself. "I'm not, I don't go to clubs, but thank you for the offer."

"Why don't you go back, darling, and I'll walk with Hermione for a while."

That wouldn't do.

"Oh, please don't trouble yourself," Hermione said quickly. "I'm actually off to an appointment. Thank you. It was great to see you both. Take care."

She knew Minerva had looked at her shrewdly but she waved absently and set off past them, down the street. She could feel their eyes on her the whole way before she turned the corner into the alley she'd used when she arrived and Apparated home.

Harry was sitting in her living room.

"What the hell?" she screeched as she opened the door.

"Hiya," he grinned. "How are you?"

"I'm," she shrugged. "Fine? Are you? Did I give you a key?"

"There's this handy little spell," he grinned.

"Oh," she groaned. "Well shit."

"I'm good," he continued. He'd clearly missed the look on her face that indicated that she was not, in fact, fine. "So, I have news," he said. He stood up and held a grin on his face that threatened to light up the whole house. She guessed what he was going to say and braced for the reveal. "Ginny's pregnant!"

Hermione hugged him tightly. She took the moment while he laughed over her shoulder to blink a tear from her eye. How unfair life was, at times. 

"I'm so happy," she smiled, lying through her teeth. "You're going to be the most amazing dad." That was less of a lie. She was pretty sure he really would be an amazing father. 

"Wanna be Godmother?"

"Of course." He hugged her again and stepped back.

"We're doing a party thing, next month. But I wanted to tell you first. Everyone's invited. Even Charley's coming, apparently."

"Good." She wished she could just say what she wanted to. "I'll be there."

"Awesome. Maybe you and Ron could -"

"What? No," she frowned. "Harry, that's over."

"But -"

"I'm really happy for you and Ginny, Harry. But I'm not getting back with Ron. That's ludicrous. He doesn't want it any more than I do."

"But he does!"

"No, Harry," she shook her head. "He really doesn't."

Harry frowned at her and looked carefully. 

"Why can't you let him."

"Let him?" Hermione squeaked. She stared at him in shock. "Let him what? Ruin my life? Treat me like an afterthought? Stand me up on Christmas Eve?"

"Christmas -" Harry frowned. "He and I went to the Quidditch."

"I know he fucking did," Hermione hissed. "Even though I made sure to tell him, a month prior, that he'd already agreed to plans with me before he made plans with you. He insisted that he just forgot and he'd catch the next game with you. And then he left me sitting at a restaurant, Harry. A nice restaurant. On Christmas Eve. By myself."

"Hermione, it was -"

"Oh, just get out," she said. She'd had enough. "Just," she shrugged. "Why do I have to bend, Harry? Why do I have to be the one to excuse him. I tried dating him. He got drunk at the Leaky Cauldron every time. In fact, the last time we tried to go for a drink, he only spoke two words to me that went something like wanna fuck and if you think that's appropriate then you can fucking date him."

Harry stared at her like he'd never seen her and she felt even angrier when she realised that even he didn't know her.

"Just go," she sighed. "Forget about it."

"No," Harry said quietly. "This is important."

"It's been important for months, Harry. Another one isn't going to make it less so. Go, enjoy your day. I genuinely am extremely happy for you."

When he didn't leave, she decided she would. She didn't want to talk about it anymore so she shrugged and went to her room; up the stairs in her parent's house, void of the only people on the entire planet who actually knew her properly. She shut the door and locked it then fell onto her bed, crying into her pillow and wondering where the hell it had all gone wrong.

Chapter Text

On reflection, Harry had caught her in a moment where she was so discombobulated that she felt the need to meet him for a cuppa, a few days later, and apologise.

"Please don't," he said gently as she opened her mouth to do so. "I'm the one that is sorry." She looked at him and saw that he meant it and shrugged. "Ginny and I spoke," he explained. "She helped me see what you meant." He reached across the table and took her hand. "I'm sorry for not seeing."

"Doesn't matter," she sighed. "Really," she said when he opened his mouth to speak. "It doesn't. I shouldn't have taken it out on you. I am sorry."

He grinned until she snorted and smiled back at him.

"Will you come for dinner tonight?"

"Sure," she shrugged. Better than the two pieces of toast she would have.

"So, what's going on with you?" he asked, sitting back with his mug. "What amazing adventures have you been going on? What's the latest research? I feel like I never see you."

"Me?" she shrugged. "None."

"What are you studying?"

"Harry," she snorted. "I didn't get in."

"Sorry?" he asked, his cup halfway to his mouth. "What did you say?"

"I didn't get in. I never received an offer."

"You -" He stared at her and she felt the tears welling in her eyes. "Did you," he was so shocked he couldn't seem to form words. "What do you mean you didn't get in? You're -"

"Without transcripts," she muttered. "So I had no proof I ever went to school, even."

"What about -" He remembered at the last minute they were in a Muggle cafe and not a Wizarding one. "Aren't there -"

"Yep. They start earlier. By the time I got back from -" her voice broke. "Australia, they said that I would be too far behind."

"You'd have caught up?"

"That's what I told them. The woman accused me of impersonating a hero. With my parentage, it wasn't possible for me to do the things I said I did."

Harry stared at her and looked as horrified as she felt that someone would say that to her face.

"They -"

"Leave it," she shook her head. "It doesn't matter."

"But -"

"Please," she begged as the tears gathered. "Leave it."

He stopped and stared and then got up and sat beside her. She ignored him until he reached out and held her hand. 

"I wish you'd told me."

"So you could throw your pure-blood fame around and get me in?" she shot. He pulled his hand away but she snatched it back. "No, I'm sorry. That was unkind and uncalled for."

"So," he said quietly. "What are you doing?"

"I'm not telling you, because it's so embarrassing and I am aware that if I just swallowed my pride I could work in the Ministry, but I can't, Harry. I cannot work for people who will never see me."

He stared and stared at her until she got uncomfortable and dropped his gaze.

"What do you need?"

"Nothing," she muttered. "I'm fine."

"Hermione," he said, in that voice that made it very difficult to ignore him. "What do you need?"

"I need you to come and tell me I'm enough," she whispered. "Now and then. And not talk about how happy you are and how happy I could be and what I've missed out on. I just -"

"I can do that," he muttered. He pulled her against him and wrapped his arms around her. "I can."

She knew that was wildly unfair to him, but at that moment, she couldn't think about it. The tears that had threatened for an hour finally spilt over onto his shirt. Despite his emotional ignorance, he just held her while she cried quietly in the little deserted cafe on the high street of a quieter part of London.

Eventually, the tears dried and she checked her watch. She needed to go.

"I have to be somewhere. Thank you," she whispered as she kissed his cheek. "I'll see you," she shrugged. "Another time."

"Where are you going?"

"I have to be somewhere."

"Hermione -"

"I'm working," she explained. "But not anywhere I'd like you to know about," she muttered. "And my shift starts in half an hour."

"You're not -" he frowned. "Are you safe?"

"Harry!"

She squealed and couldn't help the laughter as she understood his thoughts. That anyone would pay for this body was hilarious.

"I'm just -"

"I'm flattered, but you maybe need your prescription checked," she grinned. "Thank you for the laugh though," she giggled. "I'll see you when I see you."

She didn't wait. As she left the cafe, she realised that she was making a habit of running from social situations and wondered if she cared much about that. She Apparated into her Dad's old shed and decided that she really didn't. She sighed as she unlocked the back door and went upstairs to change into her uniform. She didn't need the money just yet, but she knew she would. Harry had an inheritance and an investment. Ron lived at home with his mother and father and didn't seem to care if he was poor.

She had none of those things and she did care. The house required heating, and electricity and she steadfastly refused to move somewhere smaller. She'd given up her parents for the good of the world. She refused to give up her house as well.

Chapter Text

Life evened out over the next few weeks and it helped keep her from breaking completely. Her supermarket job was boring, menial and without excitement. The people that she worked with thought she was weird and she did nothing to dispel that myth. As it had always been, in the Muggle world, she was alone where nobody understood her.

Harry had made good on his promise and took one day, every week, and spent it with her. She felt awful really, he had a wife and a baby on the way, but he insisted Ginny was fine with it. Hermione wasn't too sure of that. She'd certainly never invited herself to their outings and it wasn't beyond Ginny to do that. 

It was on such a day out with Harry that they, once again, bumped into Minerva McGonagall. Hermione had just about turned them away when Harry happened to glance up at a noise in the distance.

"Min!"

She frowned in confusion.

"Hello Harry!" she greeted him effusively. He hugged her like she was one of his friends. "How are you? Ginny? The baby?"

"Really well," he enthused, as he always did whenever anyone asked. It wouldn't be long before he took his wallet out and showed her the scan. "Did you get my letter?"

She crumpled at that. Harry was sending her letters?

"Of course I did," she chuckled. "I sent you a reply this morning. I'd love to be there and I have passed on the invitation to Mac as well." Oh goody. "Hermione," she smiled, though there was something in her eyes that Hermione couldn't place. "It is lovely to see you again. You look well."

"Thank you," Hermione said with a nod. "I am. As do you," she added as an afterthought. She steadfastly refused to take note of Harry's confused look.

"We were just off for lunch, do you want to join us?"

Hermione sighed and bit her tongue. That wasn't quite what she'd had in mind, but she should have known.

"Absolutely. Lead on," Minerva chuckled as Harry wrapped his arm in hers and they set off down the street. 

Hermione listened to them talking and catching up. They had been writing to each other a lot, it seemed, and she tried really hard not to hate them both. Harry, for all his damage, was so easy and free with his friendships. He was like a labrador. She snorted quietly. Actually, that was exactly what he was like. He loved everybody. All the time. Even when they kicked him. 

She wanted to be loved by everybody, but nobody seemed very interested.

"Hermione?"

"Hmm?" she asked, realising she hadn't been paying attention. "Sorry, I was miles away."

"In here?" he asked. It was a bakery they'd been to before and she shrugged with a nod.

"Sure."

At least they served good coffee.

They found a table out on a little terrace overlooking a park and Hermione took the seat off to the side so Harry and Minerva could chat. There was a family down by the little pond that had two red-headed children tottering towards the ducks. She wondered how happy she would have been, had she swallowed her pride and just done that.

"Hermione?"

"Hmm?" she said, cursing herself again. "Sorry, what?"

"Are you alright?"

Minerva had turned her chair and Hermione noticed that Harry had gone to order. They'd eaten here not long ago, so she didn't doubt he'd just order what she had then. She hoped he wasn't going to stop and chat with the lady on the till. She needed someone to take Minerva's full attention off her.

"Um, yes," she said, trying to put on a decent smile. "Just," she shrugged. "Tired, busy."

That wasn't a lie. She wasn't sure if she'd had a full six hours sleep since the end of the war. The nightmares were hellish and quite often she'd end up on the sofa reading at all hours of the night trying to avoid actually falling asleep.

"I have been meaning to ask you," she said steadily. "What are you studying?"

"Um," Hermione met her eyes and knew she'd been rumbled. "Nothing," she shrugged. "I, I decided to take the year before going to University. You know, find my feet and what have you."

"You made it sound like you were -"

"Here we go," Harry said, interrupting them. "One for you, Min." He placed her cup of tea down. "Hermione, there's yours. Now," he grinned, sitting down. "Tell me, what's going on at Hogwarts?"

Minerva watched her for a few moments, but Hermione refused to meet her eyes. There was nothing about the interaction that Hermione wanted to continue and honestly knowing Minerva was going home to Mac every night made Hermione want to vomit. She sipped her coffee and listened as Minerva finally gave up and turned back to Harry.

"Well," she started, as if nothing had happened. "Let me tell you about the new Quidditch league."

Hermione really did tune out then. 

She sipped her coffee and hugged the mug to her chest. It wasn't often that she had company anymore. She made a good show to Harry, but honestly, he was the only person she saw outside of work. And those that frequented her nightmares. She wondered at the folly of her younger self. That she had made so many grand plans. So many timelines. How she'd itemised life.

Then she'd fought in a war that was supposed to fix the world and found it right back to where it was again after they'd won. Nobody cared, nobody had fixed anything. Mudbloods still didn't rate. She was only seen as a side-kick to Harry Potter. 

She watched Harry chat to Minerva and wondered whether he could have done all that he had done without her. She chastised herself for thinking it. He wasn't stupid. Ron wasn't particularly intelligent, but he wasn't stupid either. She wondered what would have happened had neither of them saved her from the troll? What would have happened had she been hit by that giant club in a girl's bathroom? That would have been a legacy, at least. She snorted, louder than she wanted to and they paused, turning to look at her.

"You alright Mi?"

He'd taken to shortening her name like that and she wasn't too sure she liked it. At least he was trying.

"Yes, sorry," she chuckled. "Just wondering what would have happened if that troll had squashed me in the girl's bathroom. I wonder if Myrtle and I would have had to share a bathroom."

Harry laughed but Minerva looked horrified. Hermione shrugged but before anything else could be said, the waitress brought out their food and the moment passed. She tucked in, managing a smile at Minerva exclamation that it was delicious and wondered how delicious it was compared to Mac's food. She squashed down the thoughts before it ruined her own lunch. They ate in relative silence, Harry commenting now and then on past students. Hermione couldn't even remember half of their names and she'd been a prefect. They finished their meals and Hermione glanced at her watch. She had a shift coming up and if she didn't get home soon, she'd be late.

"I'm off," she said, standing before Harry could comment. "I'll see you next week, Harry. Minerva," she nodded, meeting the woman's eyes for barely a second. "It was lovely to see you again. Take care."

She desperately hoped as she made her way out of the bakery that Harry would do as he ought to, mind his own business and keep her business out of it. It was only as she landed in her garden shed that she realised that next week was the party. She groaned as she made her way back into the house and changed. She Apparated from her bedroom to the little copse of trees outside the square where the supermarket was. The anti-apparition net over her house was something she'd worked hard on. You could Apparate out, but not in. It was irrelevant; really at this point, she wasn't sure she cared.

The beeping of the till seemed to ring out across the square and she'd even heard it in her head while she was out with Harry earlier. She shook off the day and tied up her hair. Perhaps this was all she was fit to do with her life. 

Perhaps it was time to put away thoughts of medicine and dentistry and Transfiguration Masteries. 

Perhaps it was time to acknowledge that Hermione Granger was nothing special and be okay with that fact.

Chapter Text

The morning of the party had gone horribly wrong. She'd had such a nightmare, after falling sleep over her book, that she had fallen off the sofa and landed directly on her shoulder. She wasn't sure what was wrong with it exactly, but it hadn't been right since, well since Bellatrix, really. The thing was, that she'd never actually got it checked out. She'd meant to, but there always seemed to be people in far more need than she was.

As she landed with a thump, however, something crunched so severely that had she been able to, she would have screamed in pain. As it was, she lost all the air in her lungs and curled around the pain, on the living-room floor, gasping for breath.

Her brain was full of static, like snow on an old television screen. She'd never felt such pain, not even under Bellatrix' treatment. At some point, she must have passed out because when she came too, it was much lighter than it had been and the pain was still radiating, up into her head and down to her fingers. She tried to sit up, but the pull on her shoulder was so bad that she rolled over and vomited right on the living room rug. She had tears running down her face and her stomach was rolling but it didn't matter. She'd have to go to A&E, there was nothing else for it but as she glanced at her watch, she groaned.

It was nearly time for the party. She'd have to go to A&E afterwards. 

She wasn't going to stand Harry up like she'd been stood up so many times; this was his proudest moment. The boy with no family, making his own.

She got back to her knees and managed to cradle her shoulder as best she could. The room spun as she stood but she cleaned the rug with a wave of her wand and made her way to the bathroom. She looked awful.  Her skin was sallow and her eyes were red-rimmed. She rummaged in the cabinet and found a pain potion, which she swallowed happily. She noted absently that she'd brewed it, once upon a time and threw the bottle in the sink. At least it would be strong.

She managed to take her pyjama bottoms off but was stuck with the top. Every time she let go of her arm, she almost screamed in pain. Giving up with a groan, she cut her shirt off with a steady stream of magic and banished it to her room. The skin covering her shoulder was a disgusting mix of purples and blues. It looked truly awful. As the pain potion began to work, she knew she had a finite amount of time before it would wear off again, so she got to work. She found a bandage and made a make-shift sling, taking the weight of her arm to try and stop the severity of the pain. She got into the shower and did the best she could with her hair. Thank Merlin it was her left shoulder and not her wand-hand.

She managed to put her hair up with magic and keep it there before she went about trying to get dressed. She'd decided on a nice little dress originally, but that wasn't going to work with the discolouration on her skin. She opted, instead, for a skinny pair of jeans and a beaded shirt, complete with a jacket over her shoulders to hide the fact that she was wearing a sling. It wasn't perfect, but it would do.

The task now was to try and put on some makeup.  She'd never been any good at make-up, but Ginny had helped her now and then and she tried her best to recall those lessons. The foundation was easy and did a lot to make her look human again. The eyes were harder, but she managed to put on a bit of mascara and some lipstick and afterwards, she looked moderately okay.

Ginny would probably notice, but there was nothing she could do about that. The morning sickness had been wicked though, according to Harry, so maybe she wouldn't. Harry wouldn't notice at all. In fact, she couldn't think of a single person attending the part who might. She stepped back and tried not to wince as her arm twitched. She hadn't looked at herself in the mirror for a long time and she was shocked to see how much weight she'd lost. It made sense, in a way. She ate little, she worked a lot and did very little else. She'd been fitted for her uniform recently, so it fit her current frame but when she wasn't working, she wore clothes that were loose anyway. She hadn't dressed up for anything in a very long time. War wasn't really appropriate for parties, though they'd attended their fair share of celebrations afterwards. She looked again and sighed. Her clothes were almost hanging off her. She shrunk her jeans a little, so she wouldn't need a belt but left the shirt. At this point, it was all she could do to just show up.

She managed to find another pain potion and grabbed the modest present she'd bought for them both. Every part of her arm, from her ear to her fingertips, was throbbing. Despite the initial potion, she knew Apparating was only going to make it worse. She took a deep breath and clenched her teeth. She was supposed to be the smartest witch of her age, but with every passing moment, she honestly just felt like a failure. Shaking her head, she turned on the spot and landed in a barren field, just outside of The Burrow's boundaries. She screamed in agony as her shoulder crunched against itself and once again wondered at the stupidity of herself for even doing what she was doing.

Again, she reminded herself of a pain much worse. Of feeling like nobody cared and she swallowed the second potion, ignoring the warning her brain provided her and waited a moment for it to work. As she tried not to faint, she looked out over the vista of Ottery St. Catchpole. It was calming, at times, and it was in that moment too. She realised, somewhat belatedly, that as soon as Molly saw her, she'd hug her. She considered her options once again and knew that there was no way around it. She would turn up, explain why she couldn't stay and then head to A&E. 

She'd had treatment at St. Mungo's before. She certainly wasn't interested in going back there. Nodding to herself, she stepped over the boundary and smiled at the dilapidated old house. It wasn't her future, but it did bring her nostalgic comfort. Ginny waved to her from the door and she waved back cautiously with her good arm. She made her way over to her and Ginny immediately frowned.

"What's wrong?"

She sighed.

"I think I've broken my shoulder," she muttered. "But I couldn't miss this."

"What?"

"I," she waved it off. "Doesn't matter. Here," she smiled, handing over the little gift. "This is for the both of you."

"You'd better come in," she smiled. "I'll fend off the hordes."

"Ta," she nodded, stepping inside.

"HERMIONE!"

"Mum!" Ginny said, stepping in front of her. "Hermione hurt her shoulder. Just," she chuckled. "Be gentle."

Molly started to question when Harry turned up as well.

"MI!"

Hermione, this time, held out her hand as he swooped in for a cuddle. She explained what Ginny had already told Molly and he looked immediately to Molly for help.

"Come through."

"No," Hermione said calmly, though she could feel the room getting hot. "It's alright. I just wanted to say hi. And give you your present." She tried to smile, nodding to Ginny, but she could feel the sweat rolling down her back. "But I think I'm going to go to hospital. I didn't want you to think that I didn't want to come."

"Hermione, you could have -" 

Harry got a look in his eye. 

"I'll take you to -"

"No," she waved him off, immediately reaching for the doorway. The room had started to spin. "You stay. All of you stay. It's fine. I'll just go and get an x-ray and they'll put it up and if I have time, I'll come back."

"Of course, darling," Molly sighed. She looked at Hermione sadly. "You're always welcome. Whenever you like."

She managed to squeeze Molly's hand and smiled at them all before she turned towards the door. In the future, when she remembered that moment, she would never be sure what made her pause, but she did. She turned back at the feeling that something was about to go horribly wrong.

And it did.

Ron, ignoring the shouts of all those around him, ran to her and hugged her. To add insult to injury, he pressed a forceful, wet kiss on her lips.

"RON!"

Someone yanked him off her and, at the last second, he grabbed her and caught her left hand. As he was yanked away, she was made to follow.

She couldn't speak. She couldn't even breathe. Her vision went black and white and black again. She could barely hear over the roar in her ears and the pain was so intense that she was sure she'd died. She fell to the floor, an extra wave of pain overcoming her with the impact as more than one person yelled again. Just before she fell into the bliss of nothingness she realised two beautiful green eyes were looking down at her.

Minerva McGonagall had arrived, just in time to see that spectacle.

Hermione told herself she didn't care. She would quite happily have died at that moment, so she did. Her breath left her as her eyes rolled back and everything went black.

Chapter Text

The next thing she knew, Hermione was blinking her eyes open with no concept of time or space. As she catalogued what was above her, she was pretty sure she really had died. Harry had told her all about Kings Cross and while it didn't quite look like the ceiling of a train station, it didn't look like anything else she'd ever seen, either.

The walls were so white they glowed and there was sunlight streaming in from somewhere she couldn't place. She shifted a little and immediately wished she hadn't. A thumping in her head started and the pain in her shoulder, while better than it was, made itself known. 

"Drink," a soft voice by her head said. 

A straw was placed at her lips and she did as she was ordered. She guzzled it down, closing her eyes in relief. She'd not realised how thirsty she was until the cool water ran down her throat. She whined when it was taken away and heard a little chuckle in response. She really wanted to open her eyes again, but something made it seem impossible and she felt herself drifting into nothingness again.

Maybe she wasn't dead at all.

"Sleep," the voice said.

So she did.

-0-

When she opened her eyes again, they worked a little better. The walls were obnoxiously white and she was right about the light. It seemed as though the corners of the room were glowing and she couldn't quite work out why. She blinked once more and looked around. It was immediately apparent where she was and she groaned.

St. Mungo's looked the same no matter which ward she was in. 

She glanced over towards the door and immediately felt more alert. She couldn't quite believe her eyes as she watched the figure in the doorway.

Minerva McGonagall stood at the door, talking quietly to her lover. Mac must have said something funny and Minerva laughed at whatever it was. Hermione closed her eyes against the tears and tried to go back to sleep. She didn't want to see anyone, but she especially did not want to see Minerva. She wanted someone to fix her shoulder so she could go back to her pathetic existence. 

Unable to help herself, she cracked open her eyelids again, just in time for Minerva to take Mac into her arms and hold him close. Hermione's breath caught and she purposefully bit her tongue hard enough to taste blood. It didn't quite do the trick, the pain was enough to make her cry for a different reason. She froze as she heard the squeak of what she assumed was the door and tried to calm down. She breathed slowly, trying to remember how she'd watched Harry sleep during those nights in the forest. She tried to match her breath to the rhythm she recalled.

Except, she had bitten her tongue harder than she'd meant to and her mouth was filling up with blood. Just as she'd decided that there was nothing else for it and she might as well just swallow, she also took a breath. Her eyes slammed open and without meaning to, sprayed blood everywhere as she choked on her own breath. 

Minerva's eyes were comically large as Hermione struggled to catch her breath.

"Hermione!"

Minerva slammed her hand on the wall beside the bed and before Hermione knew it, there was a team of people around her. She tried valiantly to fight, but someone yanked her onto her side and had their fingers in her mouth. She clawed at an arm, but it was no use. It never occurred to her that they were healers until she managed to focus on one of their faces. 

She cried.

After a while, everything petered out and she was forced to swallow something vile which made her stomach roll. She didn't even know what was happening but she cried so hard that she couldn't catch her breath. One by one, the hands left her and she was left in her solitude.

Until.

"Hermione?"

She'd forgotten Minerva had been there and had witnessed her horrific frailty once again. With nothing else for it, Hermione curled up in a ball and wept for the life she had wanted and the life she'd had and for how pathetic everything now seemed.

She'd cried for a while before Minerva spoke.

"Hermione, it's okay. It's going to be okay."

For some inexplicable reason, something about that made her angry.

"What the hell would you know," she sobbed. She refused to open her eyes. 

"Hermione, I know that -"

"You don't know anything. You know nothing. You don't know the first thing about me. You don't care."

"That is not true," Minerva said, sounding obnoxiously certain of that fact.

"You don't! Why are you even here? What would possess you to leave your life for mine? Am I some sort of project, Professor? Something to watch over for a while and feel good about your debt to society? Well, don't bother. I'll find my own way."

"Hermione, please calm down."

"Why?" she cried, looking at Minerva for the first time. "Why should I calm down. Why should I be okay with any of this? Why should you care?"

"Because I do," Minerva said, her voice raised above Hermione's for the first time in a long time. The volume shocked Hermione into silence. "Because I do care, Hermione. I have for a long time. But you have done your level best to avoid me at every turn."

"Well," Hermione grumbled. "You may as well stop. Go back to your perfect life and leave me in mine."

"What is wrong with you?" Minerva huffed. "We used to be friends."

"I used to be a lot of things, Professor," she sneered, using the honorific as a shield.

"You are still all of those things."

"Fuck off," Hermione muttered. "What the hell would you know."

"I know you are not attending university, though I still have no idea why. I know you aren't working at the Ministry, or anywhere else in the Wizarding World, though again, I have no idea why. It is quite clear to me why you decided to drop Ronald Weasley, but I fail to see why you have pulled away so completely from the family. From all of us."

"Oh, it's us now?" Hermione scoffed, disgusted in herself, even as she spoke.

"Yes! Mac was saying only yesterday that -"

"I don't want to hear what Mac has to say, Professor," Hermione hissed. "I'm glad you have him. Kindly leave me alone."

"Have -" there was silence but Minerva did not move.

"I said -"

"What did I do," Minerva said quietly, breaking Hermione's heart. "To deserve this vitriol from you? I need to know, Hermione, so that I may fix it, and see you again because my heart is breaking at how much you seem to hate me."

A tear escaped from Hermione's eye as she stared resolutely at the ceiling. She had no answer to give. There was nothing anybody on earth could do to drag the truth from her. Eventually, after what sounded suspiciously like a sniffle, the chair scraped and with a swish of fabric, the door opened and closed behind the woman who held Hermione's entire heart and had no idea. Instead of feeling better at being alone, Hermione burst into tears and sobbed. She cried so painfully that she curled around herself into a ball under the covers.

Chapter Text

She didn't hear the door open again, but not long later, she felt two strong arms untuck her from the sheets and sit her up. She fought a little as they pulled her closer but she was helpless to resist as she was pressed into their shoulder.

"Please," Minerva whispered, her voice sounding pained. "Please tell me what the matter is."

"I fucking love you," Hermione sobbed, angry at herself for not being able to hold it inside any longer. "So much."

"I -"

Hermione pushed ineffectually against the shoulder she was leaning on.

"Just leave me alone."

"Hermione -"

"Go away," she cried. "Please go away."

"No," Minerva whispered. "No love, I won't be going away."

"Don't CALL me that!" she yelled, startling them both. Minerva pulled away and stared at her. "I'm not. I'm nothing. You have a perfect life and a perfect man and I'm nothing and I don't need anybody's fucking pity."

"What?" 

Hermione, in her present state, had no energy at all to fight Minerva's grip as the woman sat back and watched her carefully. Hermione resolutely refused to look at her and instead focussed on the ridiculously white walls just over Minerva's shoulder.

"Hermione, look at me and explain to me what you mean."

"You know what I mean."

"Hermione," Minerva hissed, squeezing her good shoulder a little. "Stop it. Tell me. I don't understand what you're saying."

"I love you," Hermione hiccuped. "And I can't have you." Silence fell over them and finally, she looked up at Minerva, finding only confusion on her face. "What?" she asked sullenly.

"What makes you think I would not be," she shrugged. "Interested in getting to know you better?"

Hermione scoffed and Minerva let her go and let her lay back down.

"Hermione, I'm serious. When did I tell you I was not amenable to that. Because I do not recall you asking."

"I don't need to ask, do I," Hermione huffed, laying back down with a groan. "I'm not an asshole."

"I'm afraid to tell you that I'm yet to see evidence to the contrary."

"Fuck off," Hermione muttered. "What would you know about any of it."

"Harry told me."

The lamp in the corner of the room exploded. Hermione, while shocked at her own power, was so incensed that had Harry been there at that moment, she might well have killed him.

"He had no right to do that."

"He felt it was necessary."

"Of course he did," she sneered. "Precious Harry. Always fixing the world's ills. With absolutely no regard for anyone but that gold star on his chest at the end."

"That is unkind."

"Ask me if I care," Hermione muttered.

"Oh, I think you do. I don't think you'd be so angry if you didn't."

Hermione didn't answer and they fell into silence again. She was just about to force herself into sleep when Minerva spoke again.

"What did you mean about me having a perfect man?"

"Don't play stupid, we both know you are not. If you're not fucking him, you want to be."

It was crass and rude and she did it to hurt Minerva, though, at the same time, her heart was breaking.

"Hermione, I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Yes you do."

"Hermione -"

"He makes you smile wider than anything I've ever seen," she interrupted. "And he's always there. And I told myself that if he made you happy, it was alright. But you pushed and now I've," she sighed. "Well. You should go home to him, Professor. And leave me alone."

"Wait," Minerva said, getting up and moving around the bed so she could see Hermione's face. "Mac?"

Hermione sneered and instead of a rejoinder, Minerva snorted and then laughed. 

"Hermione, no!" She chuckled again and then shook her head. "No."

"No, what," she huffed, not pleased with the fact that her pain seemed to be amusing.

"No, I -" Minerva took a deep breath and knelt by the bed, her chin resting beside Hermione's head. Hermione pulled away, but Minerva slid her hand into her hair and pulled their foreheads together.

"He is my nephew. He has lived overseas for most of his life. Mac is short for McGonagall. Malcolm McGonagall, like his father." There was a whine in Hermione's head that seemed to get louder with each passing second. "Is that why you -"

Hermione could feel her face burning and her eyes rushing and even her fingers tingled. She had never been more embarrassed in her whole life. She pulled away and rolled over, despite the pain, and this time, Minerva let her. She stared at the glass of water on the side table and tried to make herself disappear until she realised she could. She spent a few moments, testing her shoulder out carefully. It wasn't anywhere near as painful but it certainly wasn't pain-free. She felt Minerva's hand on her arm and at the last moment, shook it off and turned in the bed, disappearing from St. Mungo's with a crack and landing in the shed with a groan.

Chapter Text

There had only been a small chance that St. Mungo's hadn't got an Apparition policy, but not one she was particularly surprised about. As a hospital, they were passable. As an institution, they were hopeless.

She pushed herself off the floor with a hiss as her shoulder twinged and stumbled into the house. She hit the answering machine and let her head drop onto the kitchen bench when she found out she was fired. She had no idea what day it was, or how long she'd been at St. Mungo's. Only that she'd missed enough of work that they had fired her, instead of checking she wasn't dead. Just another cog in the machine, she supposed. She managed to drag herself upstairs and into the shower, wondering what it would take to drown herself while she untangled her hair.

She padded into her room and lay face-down on the bed. She'd done more crying than she was comfortable ever doing, but she still sniffled a little as she pulled her pillow into her chest and considered what an abject failure she'd become. She traced the word on her arm and let the fear finally take hold. 

Bellatrix had been right all along. 

She was nothing more than a Mudblood. The Wizarding World had no use for her and no want for her either. She had no idea how long she lay there, trapped between waking and sleeping. Sometimes, she felt things on her skin that shouldn't have been. Other times, she heard voices that were like ghosts. Noises that made no sense. Her name repeated by people she couldn't see.

It was terrifying.

After a while, though she had no concept of time, she managed to grab onto something. A touch on her hand; soft and careful. She gripped it.

And it gripped her back. 

She held onto it and used it as an anchor. Gradually, the nightmares faded and were replaced by black nothingness. 

"Hermione?"

She would know that voice anywhere, but she did not understand what it was doing there.

"Minerva?"

"Come back to me, love. It's okay. Come back." She tore herself from the darkness and opened her eyes. The sunlight streamed in the window and there, in front of her was Minerva. "Hello," she smiled.

Hermione looked around and found herself still in her own room. She sat up but fell back as her energy gave out.

"What -"

"You left St. Mungo's," Minerva explained. "Not long before the Healer came in to tell you that you weren't very well. Part of the problem was too much pain potion," she explained. "The biggest, though, is that you have a deficiency in your blood that," she looked pained. "That is causing all this sadness," she shook her head. "Some of it. Making it worse, anyway."

"I -"

"He gave me some medicine for you to take. I've," she swallowed. "Been forcing you awake to take it."

"How long?"

"Days," Minerva nodded. "Two and a half, to be precise. You were at St. Mungo's for three before that."

"You've been here, at St. Mungo's for -"

"I care, Hermione," Minerva whispered, not looking at her at all, now. "I always have."

Hermione stared as her poor, deficient brain sought to understand.

"About -"

"You," Minerva nodded, finally looking up. "I," she shrugged. "Told myself I was a fool. You are young, beautiful, and have your whole life ahead of you. You were with Ronald, for a time. I was," she snorted. "Am, old. In the latter part of my life. I am -"

"You -"

"I fell in love with you," Minerva whispered. "Quite by accident. And had I known," she looked up and Hermione fell into her eyes. "Had I known how much pain I was causing, Hermione, I would have said something."

"Why didn't you tell me," Hermione croaked, clearing her throat. "About -" Even now she couldn't get it out. "About your nephew?"

"I honestly thought you knew. Harry had met him, a few days before you. I thought," she sighed and stared at her hands. "I thought he would have told you. I thought you were closer."

They fell into silence, though this one felt different. Softer, almost. Hermione was floored by what she had learned. 

Minerva. 

Minerva McGonagall.

Loved her. Had fallen in love with her.  With Hermione Granger.

"Why," Hermione asked, unable to stop herself. "Why me?"

"Oh," Minerva said sadly. "I wish you could see yourself as I see you."

"Try," Hermione begged. "Tell me. Please."

The woman Minerva described was nothing like Hermione and the more Minerva spoke the less Hermione understood.

"Why do you look so sad," Minerva said, getting up from her seat and sitting on the bed. 

"Because you're describing an idea," Hermione sighed. "I'm not any of those things."

"Yes you are," Minerva whispered. "And more. I know you, Hermione. And I know you haven't been feeling like yourself. And I should have," she sighed. "I should have seen."

"Don't start blaming yourself for my fucked up life," Hermione grumbled, reaching for the glass of water by her bed. Minerva noticed and beat her to it, handing it over carefully. She drank greedily and Minerva stood, rubbing her hands on her thighs.

"I'll get you some more."

She disappeared and Hermione was left in her childhood bedroom, alone. Though she had been a little short with Minerva, she did genuinely feel a little better. Everything felt a little lighter. Hopeful even.

Minerva McGonagall had admitted she had feelings for her. Loved her. But it was not the cure-all she had hoped for.

"You should have asked for help," Minerva said from the door. "But I should have seen you needed it."

"Yeah well," Hermione sighed. "I did a really great job of making sure not many people did."

"Hermione?"

"What?" she said tiredly.

"What happened to your parents?"

"I -"

Hermione took the glass of water and drank it slower this time. She contemplated lying and decided that she might as well tell her. She seemed to know everything else.

"I altered their memories in," she thought back. "Well. Just before we left actually. To protect them. I removed myself from their minds and sent them as far away as I could. And," she shrugged. "They're happy. They have two children. Living the dream," she said sadly. Minerva stared at her in horror. "Yeah," Hermione sighed. "Nobody remembers the Mudblood, do they."

"Don't call yourself that," Minerva begged. "You are not."

"Minerva, I recognise that you have to believe the best in people. Teachers always do. But the world isn't like that. The Ministry is no better than it was before. Gringotts is not better than it was before. The," she sought the right word. "Stupid people at the stupid university are no better than before."

"What do you mean?" Minerva said, sitting beside her. "Hermione? What do you mean? Please tell me the truth, why didn't you go?"

"I did," she muttered. "I requested a late entry. Told them who I was, my reasons for missing the admission period. The woman in the office accused me of pretending to be a pure-blood or something like that. Said I was trying to cash in on a free ride. That I couldn't possibly have done," she answered. "All that"

"She did what?" Minerva hissed. "Who?"

"No idea, I never got a name. She signed the rejection form, though," Hermione said, not really understanding. "The folder is where I left it," she nodded towards the desk in her room.

Minerva got up and went over to the desk, flipping open the cover and going very still. 

"Hermione, is there an anti-apparition network on this house?"

"No?"

A crack split the air and Minerva McGonagall disappeared. 

"There's one on the way back in though," Hermione mused.

At that moment, her stomach rumbled and she realised she hadn't eaten in as many days as she had been unwell. She got up, groaning at the stiffness and pulled on her robe. She wondered how she'd managed to pull on some pyjamas, seeing as the last thing she remembered was taking a shower, but she was unconcerned for the moment. She went to the bathroom and brushed her teeth and walked carefully down the stairs in search of food.

Chapter Text

Minerva, it seemed, really had been there for days. Her hat and cloak were on the table by the front door and there was evidence of a cup of tea and the book Hermione had been reading on the arm of the sofa. She shook her head. She had no idea what to make of any of it. Instead, she went to the kitchen, boiled the kettle and settled on some porridge for the time being. It was quick and easy and she was so hungry she couldn't think about anything else. 

Hermione was a third of the way through a bowl when Minerva returned. Clearly, she'd figured out the Apparition net because she walked through the front door like she owned the place. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were glowing, but when she saw Hermione, Minerva froze.

"Oh Merlin," Hermione groaned. "What did you do?"

Minerva looked a little contrite before she straightened her shoulders.

"I simply told the Dean that if he wished to continue to receive my financial support - of which there is a considerable amount - for the foreseeable future, he might start educating his staff on the inclusion of all peoples, not just those that some people feel worthy," she winced. "And that he would need to find a new admissions administrator. Or," she smirked just enough for Hermione to see it. "Thereabouts."

Hermione sighed and wondered whether that meant she would be more or less likely to attend at some point.

"Porridge?"

"Please," Minerva nodded.

She sat down at the table opposite Hermione and they stared at each other for a moment before Minerva broke and snorted into her hand. Hermione smiled as Minerva McGonagall practically giggled.

"I -"

"Thank you," she interrupted. "It means a lot."

Minerva shrugged.

"I could say something about you not coming to me when it happened, but that is in the past and I don't believe in ruing past decisions, so I shall say nothing of it." She made herself a bowl of porridge, adding a little sugar and milk.

"I expected salt," Hermione mused, happy to let the subject drop.

"I knew Albus for too long," Minerva smiled. "He used to switch the sugar and the salt in the shaker."

Hermione thought about it for a moment.

"Did he change it back?"

"Not often," Minerva laughed, covering her mouth. "Filius was always rather wary."

Hermione chuckled, feeling good that she could. As her stomach felt a little less empty, she sat back, nursing a cup of tea.

"I owe you a massive apology," she said quietly. "I'm sorry."

"You don't owe me anything," Minerva clarified, sitting forward. "You were hurting, and unwell. And I was so busy pretending to be happy that I didn't notice."

"Why?" Hermione asked, sitting forward as well.

"Why what?"

"Were you pretending to be happy?"

"May we take this to the sitting room?"

Hermione nodded and waved her on. She knew the way, but Hermione suddenly felt like the host. Minerva sat on the sofa and curled her legs up under her in a position Hermione often took. She mused on it for a while before she took the other end of the sofa and mirrored the position. 

"The end of the war was hard for everyone," she said quietly. "I found myself struggling. I hadn't mourned, not for anyone. Not really. And I," she swirled her tea. "Lost a lot. My parents died in the first war with Voldemort along with my youngest brother Rab. Malcolm, my second brother fled England when he was twenty and we did not speak again. I learned not long after the war, while I was mourning all that we'd lost here, that he had died. Mac," she glanced at Hermione, but she smiled encouragingly. "Mac is Malcolm's eldest. He is one of four. Two younger sisters and a younger brother, but they are still at university in America. He turned up on my doorstep not long after the funerals. I was floored. Malcolm had been," she sighed. "He and I had been close for a long time as children, but after our parents died, he shut himself off and started again. And I respected that decision. Sometimes it is easier to begin anew than to carry the burdens with us."

"No kidding," Hermione quipped, not meaning it like it sounded. Minerva understood though and chuckled.

"It turns out Malcolm never stopped talking about me. He told all of his children what I did and what I was like. Apparently, the youngest girl Hannah is the spitting image of me when I was a child."

"When are they coming to visit, then?" Hermione grinned.

"August," she laughed, sounding a little overwhelmed. "Which is," she looked bewildered. She tried to say something but she shrugged, giving up. 

"Will you take time off?"

"I don't know. The option is there if I want it. Filius is more than capable of taking over, but it is the first proper, normal year back and I -"

"Feel torn."

Minerva nodded and drained her mug. 

"What about you?" Minerva asked gently. "Or rather," she said, stopping Hermione from answering. "What do you need?"

"I don't know," she answered truthfully. "I do feel better," she said quietly, managing a small, thankful smile. "Thank you," she whispered. "For taking care of me."

"I'd like to believe I'd have noticed sooner if you hadn't run away for half a year," she chuckled sadly.

"I think," she mused. "I felt I needed to be better, to do better. And then when things weren't better, I decided that maybe I just wasn't good enough? Or that I didn't deserve to be?" Her voice cracked and Minerva shifted to Hermione's side, taking her hand gently. She paused and they both looked at the scar scratched into her skin.

Minerva ran her thumb over it, then covered it with her hand.

"If it were up to me, Hermione, I'd give you the world. Simply because I think you deserve it. That you are worth it."

"Minerva," she whispered. "You can't say things like that. I'm not -" she shrugged. "I have nothing to offer. I can't be what you want."

"What makes you think I want you to be anything except yourself?" Minerva asked softly. She reached forward and tucked the hair that had fallen from Hermione's ponytail back behind her ear.

"I don't know who I am," Hermione whispered, understanding for the first time that it was that which had made everything so difficult.

"Then let us find out. Together, or separately it doesn't matter. But let us find out."

Hermione considered finding out separately and decided she didn't want that at all. She turned her hand over and entwined their fingers together, meeting Minerva's shocked gaze.

"Together?" she asked.

"Yes," Minerva said, cupping her cheek. "Together."

Hermione realised that in a film, or a book, they might have kissed. But she wasn't ready for that. There were so many things she wanted to get straight before any of that happened and Minerva seemed to understand. Her thumb traced Hermione's cheek for a moment, and she used it to pull her closer and into her arms. As soon as she was resting against Minerva's shoulder, Hermione sighed and felt something let go. 

It wasn't a perfect start, by any means, but it was a start.

Chapter Text

Minerva was the perfect gentlewoman, moving forward. She hovered, without making Hermione feel like she was hovering. She helped Hermione think logically when her brain failed her. She pushed her to figure out things herself, without giving her the answers. In fact, sometimes Minerva just seemed to know when Hermione needed her. Other times, Hermione plucked up the courage to actually ask for help. And when that happened, Minerva usually dropped everything, including her duties at Hogwarts, and turned up on Hermione's doorstep with a smile and a hug.

They'd started slowly.

Minerva, not long after they'd eaten and changed, had taken Hermione back to St. Mungo's and they'd talked for a long time with a healer about how Hermione had become so ill. They went through how she could prevent it in the future and things to look out for. In addition to the vitamins and potions she would take, she would see a counsellor to help work her through her trauma. Considering how helpful everyone was, Hermione also revealed she hadn't been sleeping well or indeed eating so well either.

And, like the woman she was, Minerva had immediately helped remedy that as well.

Mac, as it turned out, was very much like his Aunt. Apparently, he'd spent quite a lot of time trying to get Minerva to ask Hermione for a date and was over the moon that they'd finally figured some of their issues out. Hermione actually saw a lot of Minerva, or rather Malcolm, in Mac's person. He was wickedly funny, intelligent and good-looking to boot. He helped Hermione with her food too. He'd send care packages with explicit instructions on how to cook it, or meals for two if he knew his Aunt was visiting. They'd actually become friends, as time passed. His calm demeanour and raucous laugh had won her over easily.

As turnabout was fair play, she'd since had a great time conspiring about him with Minerva in the corner of the Weasley's sitting room during Molly's spring Solstice party. She'd taken to celebrating it in honour of George's birthday, reserving the actual day for the family's solemn reflection. Mac, it seemed, was falling madly in love with George and based on Minerva's quiet comments on his behaviour, as they shared the sofa and half a bottle of Dandelion and Burdock, George didn't seem to be opposed to that idea either.

Hermione was just happy not to be the odd ones out.

And so, with Minerva's steady help, and a trip to the counsellor a few times a month, Hermione felt better every day. As spring waned into summer, she finally sorted through what was left of her parents' things. She donated what she could and sold what was left. When she was finally ready to let go, she traipsed around the country, looking for a place that she could call her own. She settled, finally, on a small cottage just outside of Hogsmeade. It was too small, she knew that, and she knew Minerva knew it too but neither of them said a word. It was Hermione's, it was closer to Minerva, and it would do for now.

Minerva, in fact, even helped carry - or rather, levitate - the boxes in. She also turned up at Hermione's door most nights. Sometimes before dinner for a quick chat and sometimes after lights out for much longer.

It was on one such night that Minerva turned up, well after ten, looking harried. The Summer holidays were fast approaching and there was marking to be done and things to be concluded for the last days of the first year of peacetime schooling. Hermione drew her in, walked her out to the terrace and sat Minerva in the hammock she'd put up earlier that day, while she started a fire. She bit back a smile when she made Minerva lay back in it and got in after her. The confused look was adorable and it took Minerva a few minutes to realise what Hermione was doing. Once she realised, however, Minerva made a small noise of happiness and helped Hermione settle in her arms.

"You are, without a doubt, my best friend," Hermione whispered in the darkness while she listened to Minerva's steady heartbeat.

"You are mine as well," Minerva said, kissing Hermione's hair. 

She'd taken to doing that, more and more, and Hermione liked it. At her session with Healer Collins last week, she'd been pushed to answer some questions about Minerva and their relationship. Together, she and the healer had attempted to walk through her feelings for Minerva and she'd come away pensive and thoughtful. In truth, she'd been stewing on the answers ever since. After a few days of soul-searching, she'd finally come to a decision.

Reaching up from her place, tucked under Minerva's chin, she traced Minerva's beautiful face with the tip of her finger. She had in mind that tonight, perhaps, they might share their first kiss, but Minerva was overwrought and that wasn't fair on anyone. Instead, she snuggled closer and held on. She felt Minerva fall asleep and she smiled, pressing small kisses everywhere she could reach. She doubted Minerva would know or feel them, but it made her feel like she was helping somehow. That she might, one day, pay Minerva back for the patience and understanding.

And the love.

Since that session, she had decided to scale back her visits to Healer Collins to every month; more of a check-in than a session. Ginny was about ready to burst with the Potter's first and was grumpy all the time according to Harry. Perhaps it was time for her to pay back the Potters' care as well.

With her mind made up, she summoned a blanket from inside the house and covered them both to fend off the dew. She sighed against Minerva's collarbone and fell asleep under the stars with the woman she loved.

Chapter Text

Summer was in full swing and Hermione was writing when Minerva came home from a board meeting.

"Love?"

"Out back," she called. 

It was such a lovely day that Hermione had moved her desk outside and was currently doing research for the paper she was writing. It had been Minerva's idea to research Animagus transformations. It was certainly something fill her time with after she'd applied and been accepted for the next year's University entrance. There was so little research left and as Minerva was one of only two registered Animagus (after Hermione made Rita register her's) that it seemed silly to pass up the opportunity. So Hermione had thrown herself into it, finding comfort in the familiar. She had been working all day and blinked as she realised it was nearly five.

"Hi," Hermione smiled as Minerva stepped through the patio door.

"Hello darling," Minerva smiled. She made to kiss Hermione's hair, but today, Hermione decided that it would be a great day to tell Minerva she might be ready to move their relationship forward. Instead of letting her, she cupped Minerva's cheek and pressed a soft kiss to her lips.

"Hi," she whispered.

The brightness of the smile she received rivalled that of the sun and Hermione absently remembered thinking that Minerva's smile for Mac was special.

This was something else entirely.

Hermione squeaked a little as Minerva slid her hands up her arms and to her face, capturing her lips and kissing her properly. Her bare toes curled on the stone patio and she wrapped her arms around Minerva's shoulders in case she collapsed. As they pulled apart, Hermione could hear Minerva breathing heavily and decided she rather liked the way it sounded like a purr.

"Remind me to take notes later," she muttered as she pressed small kisses to Minerva's throat. The way Minerva's head fell back was interesting. "On whether cat-Animagus-humans can purr."

Minerva laughed and picked Hermione up and twirled her around in joy. She placed Hermione back down gently and held her face between her hands.

"You are my greatest joy," she smiled. "I love you. With every breath I take, I love you."

"I love you," Hermione said quietly. "I may never be able to explain to you how much, but I hope to show you. Every day."

"I am yours, for all my days, love," Minerva smiled. They danced gently together to the sounds of the wind in the trees. Neither spoke, but something changed in those moments that Hermione couldn't put a name to. She finally felt ready for everything a relationship might entail.

"Now," Minerva said quietly as they swayed gently. "Did you forget about dinner?"

Hermione looked up at her.

"Yes," she said, but bothering to even pretend. "Do I have time to change?"

"You do," Minerva smiled. "I will wait for you by the door."

"You," Hermione bit her lip. "Could help me?"

"I have a better plan," Minerva muttered, invading Hermione's space again. "I will help you out of your clothes, rather than into them?" Hermione's mouth dropped open until she caught the twinkle in Minerva's eye. "When you are ready," Minerva chuckled. "And there is no rush."

"You have been so patient with me."

"And I will continue to be so because I love you."

That helped Hermione make up her mind immediately.

"Stay tonight?" she asked quietly. "With me?"

"I would love to," Minerva punctuated it with a gentle kiss. "Now change, or we shall be late."

"I love how bossy you are," Hermione laughed as she danced out of the way of Minerva's swatting hands.

-0-

Dinner, as usual, was a riot. While she'd been sorting her own life, it seemed like George and Mac had become even closer. She watched across the table as Mac stood up to get another bottle of wine from his pantry and traced George's shoulders with his hand as he left. George caught her watching and blushed to his roots but she just smiled and winked at him. She was so glad he was slowly finding happiness. 

Perhaps in time, Fred would be a fond memory, instead of such a raw wound.

It was a nice feeling, finally, to be amongst her friends again. And they were her friends, she knew that now. Every one of them was someone she loved dearly, despite her initial feelings about Harry's Saviour Complex.

She knew that his beautiful soul just wanted to help everyone he could, all the time. Ginny had done a lot to tone him down too, she had noticed. Although she frowned as she looked over; Ginny wasn't looking all that great.

"You okay?" she asked. Ginny didn't answer and Hermione squeezed Minerva's hand where it sat on her thigh and sat in Harry's seat while he was kneeling between Minerva and George. "Hey," she said again, taking Ginny's hand. 

The squeeze she got back was painful and she bit her lip to stop herself from crying out.

"I think -"

Ginny stared at her and Hermione took a breath and tried to remain calm.

"Don't panic," she said gently. "It's going to be alright. Can you stand?"

"Not -" she groaned. "Right now."

"Min?"

"Yes, darling?"

"It's time."

"Sorry?"

Minerva's gaze slid to Ginny and her eyes widened. 

"Right," she said. "Harry? Your baby is coming, darling."

Harry stood and nearly toppled the table over in his haste.

"Steady, lad," Minerva chuckled, squeezing his hand. "Steady. Take a breath."

"Reckon Min will come in with me?" Ginny chuckled when she saw the panic on Harry's face. "He better not faint."

Hermione laughed and helped Ginny to her feet. She swapped places with Minerva and went to Harry's side.

"We'll go and tell Mum," George said, sliding his hand into Mac's. Mac looked like all the Christmases had come at once before he realised they were all in his living room.

"Um, stay as long as you like. We'll see you after?" George smiled at him and Hermione couldn't help but do the same. She nodded and turned back to Harry.

"Be calm," she said gently as she cupped his face. "She needs the Harry that stood at the head of an army and decided just to live. Take a breath and go have your baby."

He pulled her into his arms and laughed. 

"I'm going to be a dad."

"Yes you are," she smiled. "A great one. Go to her and take care of her."

"I can do that."

"I know," Hermione smiled.

He took Ginny into his arms and kissed her gently. She knew there was a Portkey they'd been given in the final trimester but he took his sweet time trying to find it.

"Harry," she chuckled as Minerva's arm wrapped around her middle.

"No, I've got it."

"Take your time," Ginny groaned. Minerva went back to her and held her hand as a contraction rolled through her.

"I got it," he exclaimed. He pulled it from his pocket and took Ginny back into his arms.

"You are coming, right?" Ginny asked before they left.

"We can," Minerva smiled. "We'll be in the waiting room."

"See you afterwards, I guess," Harry grinned before they popped out of view.

Chapter Text

Hermione decided as they sat in the waiting room that she wasn't particularly interested in kids. The screams were enough to put her off forever, but Minerva just wrapped her arm around her and kissed her hair.

"I hear it's worth it, in the end," Minerva whispered. It made Hermione laugh.

"Do you want kids?"

"I'm indifferent," Minerva muttered. "I teach enough of them that I'm not sure it would matter," she blushed. "I confess, I enjoy being a mentor and an Aunt to Mac but I'm not sure I'm someone who would be content changing nappies and walking miles up and down the hall while they cried?"

"I don't think I want them," Hermione winced.

"Now is not the time to decide," Minerva smiled as a particularly deep groan was heard. 

"Shouldn't there be a silencing spell on the room?" Hermione asked.

"There should," Minerva laughed. "Either they forgot or she's broken through it." Hermione looked at her sideways. "It happens."

Hermione shook her head and let Minerva pull her closer. They sat leaning on each other until they heard Molly bustling up the corridor.

"Where is she?" she asked, out of breath. 

"They sound like they're making progress," Minerva said helpfully. Molly's eyes widened as she heard Ginny's screams.

"That won't do," she muttered.

"This will make her feel better," Minerva whispered as Molly marched up to the nurse's station. "It'll give her something to focus on."

Hermione sighed and rested tiredly on her shoulder and Ginny finally got a new silencing spell.

"I'm sorry, love."

"I'm not," Hermione muttered. She turned and pressed a kiss under Minerva's chin. "This is family, right?"

"Yes," Minerva nodded. "It is."

They sat quietly, taking comfort from each other for another half an hour until Harry came out of the room. His eyes were wild and the little paper hat he was wearing was askew but she'd never seen him look so happy. 

"A boy," he whispered as she joined Minerva in front of him. "A -"

He burst into tears and Minerva, the closest thing he had to a parent, held him while he cried. Hermione stood apart for a moment before Minerva rolled her eyes and nodded her closer. She wrapped her arms around both of them and they stood together for a while before Harry pulled away.

"Thank you," he whispered as he kissed Minerva's cheek. He hugged Hermione properly before disappearing back into the room with his tiny family.

"You know he's going to call him James or Sirius or Albus, don't you," Hermione chuckled.

Minerva clearly hadn't had that thought and her face dropped. Hermione laughed happily and kissed her deeply. Minerva's arms held her so surely and Hermione sank her fingers into Minerva's hair. It ended naturally and they pulled away. Minerva's cheeks were flushed and her eyes were shining like brilliant emeralds.

"Perhaps after we meet the baby, you'll help me home?"

"I'd love to," Minerva smirked.

"Oh Minerva," Molly said, disturbing their moment. "He is beautiful."

"I find most babies are, Molly," Minerva grinned, sliding her hand around Hermione's waist as she turned. "Congratulations."

"Thank you," she said. The tears in her eyes betrayed the bittersweet moment. She pulled both of them into her arms and Hermione bit her lip to stop herself from laughing as Minerva was pressed against the matriarch's bosom. Minerva glared at her with a smirk and eventually, they managed to pry themselves out of the embrace.

"They're asking for you both," she said finally.

Hermione and Minerva poked their heads around the door and found Harry sitting beside Ginny with his arms wrapped around her and their tiny bundle.

"Come in," Ginny sighed. "Come and see."

They sat quietly beside the bed and Harry passed the baby over to Hermione first. She understood now, as she looked at the little face, what people meant. He was utterly beautiful and she couldn't help but smile. She traced his features, so like Harry's, but with traces of Ginny as well. She leaned over to Minerva and she made a soft noise of amazement.

"He's beautiful," Hermione muttered. "Congratulations."

"Will you both be Godparents?" Ginny asked. "I know he already asked Hermione, but," she shrugged. "Seems like fate that you're together."

"We'd be honoured," Minerva muttered, taking Ginny's hand.

"We're going to ask George, and Mac too if you think we should."

"I think," Minerva said, her voice cracking a little. "That would be a grand idea."

They stayed a little longer until Ginny's eyes started falling. Minerva, who'd been cuddling the little Potter, told them they'd go and waved off Ginny's admirable protests. Hermione waited while Minerva hugged Harry tightly and whispered something into his ear before she did the same with Ginny. Hermione wrapped her arms around Harry and kissed his forehead.

"You're going to be a great dad, Harry Potter," she whispered. 

"You're going to be a great Headmistress' wife," he muttered cheekily.

"I'm going to get you back for that," she hissed, pinching his rib. He laughed and she went to Ginny and kissed her hair too.

"I love you," Hermione whispered. "I'm sorry -"

"Don't," Ginny shook her head. "I love you too."

Hermione nodded and they left. She sank into Minerva's arms as they disappeared from an Apparition point in the wing. 

By the time they landed in Hermione's front garden, Minerva was already kissing her. She slid her hand into Hermione's hair and kissed her soundly. For a home they both thought was too small, it helped immensely as Hermione unlocked the door and they almost fell through it, their lips locked together. It took barely three steps to get into the bedroom and Minerva stepped back and ripped off her robes, pulling Hermione back into her, almost immediately.

Hermione was burning with need and she did the best she could at removing the rest of the clothes Minerva had been wearing. Before she knew it, and with no real idea of how they'd done it, they were both wearing their underwear at the foot of her bed. She could hear the blood rushing in her ears as her eyes ran up and down Minerva's form.

"God, you're beautiful."

"You," Minerva croaked, her eyes doing the same. "Are divine."

They felt together on the bed and Hermione let Minerva lead for the time being. Their underwear was pulled off and once Minerva's lips wrapped around her nipple, Hermione was calling Minerva's name. It didn't stop though. Minerva wound her up again and again and Hermione clawed at her for more.

"I love you," Minerva sighed as she slid her fingers inside. "With every breath."

Hermione was crying as her body broke and she wrapped her arms and legs around Minerva as tightly as she could while the tears ran down her face. Minerva held her just as tightly and they basked in the afterglow for a long time until Hermione could think clearly again.

"I want you," Hermione muttered, looking up at her lover. "I want you everywhere."

Minerva's eyes darkened and Hermione pushed her backwards. She explored every inch of Minerva's skin with her lips. She found a place on her ribs where Minerva screeched when she bit down on the skin and a little crease on her neck that begged to be kissed. As she teased Minerva's centre, she wondered why she'd bothered waiting for so long. She could have been loving this woman for a year or more and to make up for it, she tied up her hair with a wave of her hand and showed Minerva just how talented she really was.

Chapter Text

Hermione had never felt so peaceful. She remembered the years she'd had prior to this moment and smiled at the memories; good and bad. Her journey to Minerva had been arduous and it had taken longer than she'd have liked, but it had been worth every moment. And now, as she stood at the front of the church, she knew she'd found her Happily Ever After.

She smiled as she thought about the day ahead. It had taken a while, but the love and the relationship that they were celebrating had only blossomed with time. She looked over to Minerva and beamed. She looked utterly beautiful and Hermione made plans in her head about peeling the beautiful green dress off her later. At that moment, Minerva locked eyes with her and quirked her eyebrow. The look Hermione gave was returned with fire.

Hermione smirked into her bouquet as the Pipers took up the song and she winked at Minerva before they turned to look at the big doors at the back of the church. 

They'd made themselves into a little family. Harry and Ginny and James, Mac and George, Minerva and Hermione. They'd added a few as they'd settled into it. Hannah, Sophie and Michael, when they visited - Mac's siblings and the apples of Minerva's eyes. All of them were sitting with their mother, Anabel, in the front row. It was her first time across the pond and it has been a beautiful one. Anabel's visit, in part to meet her husband's sister, had been freeing for Anabel and Minerva. So much so, that after spending the week with her sister-in-law, Minerva seemed much more relaxed than Hermione had ever seen her.

She laughed more, teased them all more. And their love just grew deeper with every passing day. Little James, who'd turned three only a few days earlier, toddled up to her wearing McGonagall colours and holding a pillow with two chunky white-gold rings on it. He bee-lined right for her and hung onto her thigh. Ginny smiled at her in thanks and Hermione asked him quietly if he wanted to go to his Mummy. Evidently, he was happy hanging onto her so she put his hand on his head and they watched the men of the hour enter the church together. 

They looked marvellous.

Mac looked utterly magnificent in his Highland Dress. George had opted for a suit, but his pocket square and tie matched Mac's. She beamed as they walked up together to the front of the church and faced the Minister, neither of them willing to let go of the other's hand, even to wipe away their tears. 

It was more magical than anything any of them could produce. 

As the Minister pronounced them married, a massive explosion of fireworks erupted from the back of the church and even though she had to quickly take James into her arms, she felt her tears falling as she thought of Fred. He would have loved Mac, something she'd told George only a day or two ago. And as Charley and Bill laughed from the back of the church, their wands twirling in their fingers, George grinned at them, through his tears, in thanks. 

They had the reception at the Burrow, as they often did for most things. Even Minerva's birthday had been held there and all of the Professors had attended.

Life, as they say, was good. George and Mac could drink most people under the table and were doing their best to bankrupt Rosmerta as the party reached full-swing. Hermione, however, was tucked into a corner, wrapped in Minerva's arms.

"How long until they announce number two," Minerva whispered in her ear as they watched Harry dote on his wife.

"I have money on next weekend," she chuckled. 

"I said two weeks."

She laughed at the thought that they'd both bet on their friends, but that was the way of things when George Weasley was involved. She was fairly sure that he made more money running books than they did at the shop. 

"Ronald is going to get liver poisoning at this rate," Minerva mused.

"Molly will sort it."

Ron hadn't got any better. He still attempted to better everyone around him and had never really found his niche. Hermione thought at one stage he might take a job at the shop, but as far as she knew, he remained part of the Auror program. Not that he moved up the ranks as Harry did. Harry had been only too glad to take a desk job after James was born and she knew Ginny was thankful he was been home at six every night.

"So," Minerva said gently, disturbing Hermione's perusal. "I happened to get a firecall from Henrich yesterday."

Henrich was Hermione's Mastery supervisor. She was already on her Level 3.

"Why did he call you?"

"He wanted to know what he could do to persuade you to move there," Minerva smirked.

"What?" Hermione laughed. "He's hilarious. I hope you told him to move here."

"I did not," Minerva smiled. "In fact, I happen to know that George and Mac are going to be spending at least six months of the year in New York." A hole opened in Hermione's stomach. "Calm down," Minerva soothed, her hand massaging Hermione's neck. "Between you and our little rag-tag bunch, I wouldn't mind stepping away from teaching for a while. I think, in fact, I might like a year off. I wondered if maybe you might want to move there for a while. Not forever, but we could explore Europe together? Travel east or get lost in the Black Forest?"

"I -"

"Don't answer me now, love," Minerva soothed, pulling her tighter against her. "Think about it for a while. Talk to Harry and Mac. You can do your next level with Henrich and he has contacts if you are still aiming to beat my record," she teased gently.

Hermione didn't take the bait. Her mind was already whirring with the potential break-up of their family. The one she'd only just got back in the last few years. The rest of the night passed in a blur and it really wasn't until Minerva undressed her and slid into bed beside her that she calmed down. She rolled into Minerva's arms and sighed against her chest.

"Does life ever get less terrifying," she chuckled.

"Not really," Minerva muttered. "But it helps to share those scary things with people who love you."

"Like you," Hermione smiled.

"Like you ," Minerva soothed, brushing back her hair. "It will not upset me if you don't want to. But it might be exactly what we've always talked about. You can sell this place, or rent it out. You can try moving in with me somewhere? We can feed each other pretzels and beer at Oktoberfest?"

"You can," Hermione snorted. "No thank you." She paused as she traced Minerva's face. "You practically live here anyway. Why would it be different?"

"Perhaps it wouldn't. But it would not be my place and it would not be yours. It would be," she shrugged. "Ours."

"And when we come back, we'd be in your -"

"We are not required to stay at the Castle, or here. We can move somewhere else. Or have new rooms assigned to us. After a year of exploring, I may not want to go back."

Hermione stared at her for a long moment.

"Yeah, right."

Minerva laughed and rolled on top of her with a smile. 

"We could visit the libraries in Austria?"

Hermione's ears perked up.

"Like the -"

"Like the Library at Admont Abbey?"

Hermione hummed and Minerva took the time to slide her knee between her thighs.

"This is -"

"The Biblioteca Marciana also wouldn't be far away?"

Hermione bit her lip as Minerva smirked. Hermione knew exactly what Minerva was doing but she couldn't bring herself to care.

"We could," Minerva continued thoughtfully, walking her fingers up Hermione's sternum. "Go searching for the Library of Alexandria?"

"Fuck it," Hermione growled and pulled Minerva into a kiss.

Their laughter accompanied their passion and as Hermione lost herself in it, she realised that family was family. Wherever they all were, they would always be there for each other whenever they were needed. Because that is what family is all about. She laughed through her tears and she realised that all she really needed was right here, in her arms and in her heart.

She'd work out the rest of the details later.