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When you get to Hogwarts you already have plenty of colours adorning your skin, and given others a fair amount, from your parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents. You try not to think about the girl you’d gone to school with having each other’s colours bold upon on their skin, and you try not to think about Lavender and Parvati exchanging bright pink and orange on that first night. You’re too scared to offer either of them your arm, and they don’t offer you theirs.

You don’t touch anyone for the first few months, you try not to dwell on it, and you’re glad that you have school work and a whole new world to concentrate on. Then Halloween comes around, and you end up with a large handprint emblazoned in a bright red on your forearm from where Harry grabbed you to see if you were alright, and he has dark forest green all over his palm. Ron leaves a lighter blue on your other arm, and you wonder if this makes you likeable now, if you’re not as insufferable as you’d thought. Your green on Ron is darker and brighter than you’ve ever seen before, and he looks at the blue on your skin like it’s a betrayal.

Harry doesn’t tell you for about a month, not until you notice and ask, confused that he had the same colour as the green on his palm in a small, bright sweep upon his neck, and you wonder what that means. He tells you that he’s always had it, that it’s from someone that must have known him as a baby, someone that his parents had known. You think about it for a long time, you even visit the library to see, and according to the books you read, identical colours means soulmates, but no one’s told Harry enough about his past, about who his parents used to know, for him to have any idea who it is.

You’re surprised when you and Neville exchange colours, some of the lightest that you’ve received apart from those from aunts and uncles, and you smile at how they’re the same, both of them light but there. You don’t bother with Lavender and Parvati, you don’t bother with most people. You figure it’s easier than being like Harry, one hand your green and the other a bright, shimmery silver-blue, from that handshake with Malfoy at the beginning of the year, the one that he now wishes he’d refused. The mark just makes Malfoy resent him even more. You spend a lot of time that year considering how many soulmarks don’t mean that much, that too many put too much weight upon them.

The first time you meet Ron’s mum, in Diagon Alley, she gives you a hug as a goodbye, and when you look in the mirror when you get back you have a warm burnt orange on your upper arm, and you smile. Ron tells you in a letter that Molly has a swipe of green on her upper arm, but that she also has another one, one that he hadn’t noticed before, on the opposing forearm. You wonder if that means that it’s from the same person as who Harry got his from, if this person who was in Harry’s past is in Molly’s too, you wonder if she knows, considering how she’s covered in colours, because she loves so strongly and so easily.

You’re lying in a bed in the Hospital Wing, and when you wake up Hagrid is there, Hagrid who left his own colour one of the times he helped you, or one of the times that you helped him, and he looks so happy to see you, he promises to go get the boys. Madam Pomfrey fusses over you, and her sleeve slips, showing a green that looks so much like yours, and your curiosity gets ahold of you.

“Who left that?” You question, and she shakes her sleeve down, knows the rules about not revealing member of staff’s colours, not telling students about marks, and you know the rules too, so she shakes her head and tells you to mind your own business, explains what happened better than Hagrid did.

Over the few weeks left you pay more attention to the talk about which teacher has which mark, which ones all of the teachers share, and you learn that your green is quite common within members of staff, that Professor McGonagall doesn’t have one. It works that she would have been friends with Molly, it works that she could have known Harry’s parents, but you discard the idea, decide it could have been an old member of staff, that it could have been anyone. You almost discard the idea that soulmates are a real thing, but it continues to niggle at you.

She gives you your Time Turner that first night of third year, warns you what it could do, warns you about four times, and then she smiles at you and rests her hand on your shoulder and tells you that she believes in you, that she fought for you to get it. When her hand moves away you look, and you swear you catch bright, bright green before she shakes her green robes back over her hand and tells you to go back down to the feast. She warns you again that you cannot tell anyone, and then you’re slipping out the door, making a beeline for the closest bathroom, and you don’t even lock yourself in a stall before pulling your robes and your jumper and your shirt to the side. And there it is, the brightest mark you’ve seen, almost, as bright as Molly and Arthur’s on each other, and you just stare at it for a long, long moment. Then you cover your shoulder back up, make sure your Time Turner is tucked firmly underneath your shirt, cold against your skin, take a deep breath, and go back to dinner.

The next lesson you have with her you stare at her hands almost all lesson, barely concentrate on the work, and she notices but doesn’t ask you to linger after class, doesn’t mention it. She must have noticed because you didn’t ask for extra work, didn’t do anything but frown up at her, frowning as she checked on everyone but you, frowning as she put even more distance between the two of you. You don’t tell Harry and Ron, and you still concentrate on your work enough that you don’t fall behind.

Trelawney’s wittering on about something, waving her arms around, and you notice green, your green, and you know that you didn’t leave that there. As far as you know McGonagall thinks she’s a sham, that she’s a liar and that Divination isn’t a real subject, and you’re surprised by how bright it is, not as bright as yours but still enough to represent a very strong platonic relationship, almost as bright as the one you’ve seen on Madam Hooch. You think that maybe that’s why you storm out, that maybe you’re just angry that you don’t know anything about her, that even with a mark that bright, even with colours that match each other, there’s no way that she’ll ever let you in.

She sees it one weekend when your hoodie has slipped while you’re carrying books back from the library, dark and bright against your pale skin. You’d mostly forgotten it was there, hadn’t spent that much time thinking about it apart from the times you’d looked in the mirror and caught a glimpse, because you’d just been so busy trying to keep up with all of the work you’d taken on. Her voice is sharp, almost panicked and you’re confused as she makes you take a detour to her office, taking your books off of you. You shrug your hoodie back into place and realise, realise that she's seen it and means to do something about it, though you’re not sure what.

“Miss Granger,” she starts, once you’re both seated on either side of her desk, and she looks as though she’s attempting to keep her face carefully impassive. You hadn’t realised how much attention you’d been paying since you’d received your mark, hadn’t realised how much you’ve attempted to learn about her just by studying her facial expressions.

“You need to cover that up,” she says firmly, nodding towards your mark, and you’re confused.

“Professor? Why? I’m not ashamed of it.”

“But people will ask, considering that it’s the same colour as the marks you give.”

“I know that’s rare, but I’m not going to cover it up. No one’s asked so far.”

“And have you told anyone?” Her voice was still sharp, and you wonder what she was really worried about, what she was so scared of people finding out.

“No, not yet.”

“Well then you can’t be that proud of it. I can teach you a glamour that’s easy and will keep it from being seen.”

“I’m not going to use it, Professor,” you say firmly, and she sighs.

“Just so long as you know it so that you can. When summer comes around properly I don’t want you to be showing it off to everyone.”

“If I want to show it off that’s up to me. If you’re worried about your professionalism coming into question then we both know you’ve done nothing wrong, that you wouldn’t no matter what marks either of us have.”

“It’s not that simple, Miss Granger, we both know that.” She aims another stern look at you, teaches you the glamour as efficiently as though this were another Transfiguration lesson, then sends you on your way, although not until she’s sure that you’ve cast it on yourself and your skin is clear of forest green.

You tell Harry that night, Ron already having given up on his homework, stung by her comment about how proud of it you were.

He’s shocked, obviously, but he just shrugs, says “we can’t always choose who we’re marked by.” He looks at his own hand a little sadly, the one that Malfoy touched, tries not to think of his own bold red, dark on Ginny’s palm.

“Does she have yours?”

“I’ve never seen it, but,” you sigh. “If she thinks I should cover mine then she could quite easily have been covering hers this whole time. And I swear that as she pulled her hand away I saw something, before she shook her sleeve down to cover it. But that could quite easily be wishful thinking.”

Harry sat back in his seat, smiled and ruefully shook his head. “You sure do like to make things hard for yourself, huh?”

“You have no idea,” you smiled.

You spend a lot of time in front of the mirror in the hours before the Yule Ball, considering. Viktor’s mark on you is small, just a brush on your forehead from where he moved a curl of hair out of your face, a deep burgundy that was faded as though it was an old tshirt that had been through the wash too many times, that you didn’t mind as an addition. He knows about the mark on your shoulder, knows the green on his fingertip is brighter than it should be but no kind of competition to it. You wonder if it would be cruel, to wear a mark that he didn’t give you proudly, but you’ve never used the glamour that she taught you and you don’t want to start. You can only see a small part of it, peeking out of your dress, and you suddenly remember that you haven’t told Ron. Ron, who could be accidentally cruel, but that you did love, even if not as much as he wished you could.

You don’t cover it, you go down to the ball and you try to have a good time, and at some point Viktor tells you that it’s disappeared, and when you look over at McGonagall she’s studiously not looking at you, in deep conversation with Madam Hooch who does look at you, who smiles and nods, and you nod back. He looks over at her too, smiles at you and sighs, like he understands immediately what she’s done. Ron doesn’t even notice it, he’s too busy being angry about the mark on your forehead, which isn’t even as dark as the blue he left on you, so by the time Minerva’s covered the dark green that stood out, Harry’s the only one who’s seen it. Harry and potentially Hooch, who looked like she knew, who’d looked at you several times that night, and had spent most of the evening hovering around near McGonagall who does not look particularly pleased.

When you leave you try to let go of the urge to throw something at Ron, to shout something at McGonagall, who just seemed intent on ignoring your existence as best she could, like that would make the marks disappear, like if she doesn’t think about it then it doesn’t exist. You’re not expecting Dumbledore to follow you out, to appear next to you.

“Miss Granger,” he smiles, looks at you over his glasses like he always does. “Do not be too hard on her, she just needs time.”

“You know? Oh wait of course you know,” you laughed, and shook your head. It’s slightly surreal, standing here talking to your headmaster about the colour that marks your left shoulder, the colour that you’ve left the glamour on but that he knows about.

“Of course,” he smiled. “There’s little that happens here that I don’t know about.”

You try not to frown at that, try not to think about all of the things that have happened to Harry that he didn’t know about, or that he didn’t stop. “I know it is, I just,” you stop, and you think about how odd it is to have this conversation with your headteacher. “I wish she wouldn’t pretend like it hadn’t happened.”

“I know. Time is the best healer.” He smiled again. “Good night Miss Granger.”

“Night Professor.”

By the time fifth year rolls around you’ve already seen Minerva around Grimmauld Place several times, heard her refuse dinner from Molly and listened to Molly chastise her and ask whether she’s eaten properly, seen them hug and realised why the green on Molly’s arm is so bright. The news of the existence of the Order of the Phoenix explains why Harry has two green marks, explains how he got that swipe of colour on his neck. You wonder about the chances, about why it has to be her, and when Molly sees your mark she doesn’t say anything but she does look at it for a second too long, then turns back to throwing things in the rubbish bag without saying anything. You think that she must have realised, must have known from having received marks from both of you.

Umbridge finishes her tirade and you explain what it means, about the Ministry trying to interfere, and when you look back up at the staff table Minerva looks as though she wants to hex her. A few days later you’re wearing a tshirt with a wide neck and a hoodie, and you realise that if Umbridge finds out she’ll try to use it against her, try to question her professionalism. For the first time you cast that glamour that she taught you, even though you don’t want to, but you realise protecting her is more important than you wanting to act like you’re proud of the mark. Ron still hasn’t asked you about it, probably hasn’t even noticed.

Harry notices that the green is no longer visible but doesn’t ask, but when you see Ginny she’s confused; she didn’t know who it was from, hadn’t questioned you on it, but she’d got used to seeing it.

“Did the mark on your shoulder disappear?” she asked, quietly over some homework while the boys were at Quidditch practise.

“I cast a glamour on it.” She still looked confused and you sighed, deciding to explain. “It’s from Professor McGonagall, and I thought that Umbridge might try to use it against her.”

She looks surprised and then she smiles. “That makes sense actually, the two of you. Matching colours and everything though, I wouldn’t have expected that.”

“I didn’t expect that either.”

“Does she know? Does she have one?”

“She knows, she taught me the glamour, actually. And I don’t know. I think so.” You smile and then you shrug. “I hope so, anyway.”

“That must be what her and mum were having a very serious conversation about in whispers. I walked into the kitchen and they both stopped and stared at me until I’d got a drink and left.”

“Yeah your mum noticed my mark over the summer and didn’t say anything to me, but I had noticed that they were close.”

“At least mum mostly doesn’t invite her to family meals, or at least McGonagall doesn’t come if she does.” You both laugh, and then the Quidditch team crashes back into the common room, all of them soaked through and streaked with mud, Fred and George trying to squelch numerous people into muddy hugs.

Minerva isn’t there when you wake up in the Hospital Wing, still incredibly sore after the unnamed hex that Dolohov had thrown at you, and you question how you got back at all, your memory drawing a blank. Harry appears after Madam Pomfrey’s done fussing over you, and you try to sit up but the pain in your torso won’t let you. He explains everything that happened, that it’s his fault, and you almost want to hit him for blaming himself, telling him that you chose to be there. He goes quiet for a long time, and then he smiles.

“McGonagall was here. For ages, actually. She turned up when you were first brought in, white as a sheet in her dressing gown.”

“Really?” you smile despite yourself, thinking about her running in, hair askew and dressing gown thrown on over her pyjamas.

“She kept bugging Madam Pomfrey until she told her to get out of the way,” he laughed.

“Why did she leave?” you question, a little disappointed that you didn’t get to witness it for yourself.

“You stabled, and Pomfrey said you were going to wake up soon, so she immediately disappeared. I think she was hoping that no one was going to notice that she was waiting by your bedside.”

“Did it look bad? My injuries, I mean?” You find yourself oddly calm with their worry, like now that you were awake it didn’t matter what could have been.

“For a little bit, because no one recognised the hex that Dolohov used. They still don’t, but you should be okay.”

“I just won’t be able to sit up for a few days,” you smiled. He looked down at his hands and you knew that he was blaming himself, that he felt terrible for how everything had worked out, for dragging you all to the Ministry for no reason.

“No one blames you Harry,” you said softly, and he just shrugged.

“Anyway, I have to go. There’s a massive stack of books to your right, in case you haven’t noticed them.” He smiled and stood up, walking away with his head down before you could stop him.

When you wake up again it’s with your book still on the bed next to you, and you swear that you can hear Minerva, although that could be left over from your dream. You blink your eyes open slowly and try to roll over, letting out a surprised pained huff of breath, the pain in your torso reminding you of where you were. Minerva’s voice stops at the sound, and you smile when you look over and see her paused mid-conversation with Pomfrey, looking over at you with concern. You’re glad that neither of them try to help you finish rolling over, although Minerva looks as though she wants to.

“Hi Professor,” you manage with a smile, and Pomfrey melts away, as she has a knack for doing, as Minerva approaches.

“How are you feeling?” she asks, hovering next to your bed like she was unsure what to do.

“I’ve been better, I’ve been worse.”

She glares at you. “A real answer, if you’d please.”

“My torso hurts and I’m annoyed that moving is difficult. Happy?” She continues glaring, but it’s soft, like she’s telling you to never worry her like that again.

“Very.” She smiles. “I’m glad that you’re awake.” She looks distinctly awkward, like she doesn’t know what else to say.

“Harry told me that you’ve been here a lot,” you say it quietly, and look down at the blanket, because you realise that you’re probably pushing your luck.

“Yes, well, two of my charges ended up in the Hospital Wing after escaping under my watch, so I felt as though I ought to check on their progress.”

“Obviously not because you were worried about me, or anything.” You tried not to sound slightly bitter, but you were tired of her ignoring your marks and you knew why but that didn’t mean that she couldn’t acknowledge their existence.

“Miss Granger, of course I was worried because as one of my students -”

“How long are you going to keep on ignoring this?” You interrupted, your voice still quiet but forceful.

“You are sixteen years old and under my care. At least for as long as the latter’s still the case.”

“I understand questions of your propriety, but why does that mean that you have to try your hardest to ignore me?”

“We are not having this conversation now, Poppy said that you weren’t to be agitated. I’m very glad to see that you’re on well on the way to making a full recovery. Good day, Miss Granger.” She leaves before you can say anything, emerald green cloak sweeping behind her, and Madam Pomfrey comes over to check on you, shooting you an admonishing look as she does.

The next year comes around quickly, and with Umbridge gone you return to wearing your mark proudly, and you’d be lying if you said that you weren’t wearing more wide neck shirts on the weekends just to goad her, just to point out that this wasn’t going away, that she was going to have to accept it and you were not going to drop it. Ron notices, and his reaction is even worse than you were expecting. He barely talks to you for a couple of days, and when he does confront you about it he asks how long, as though by not telling him you’d somehow betrayed him even further (he doesn’t even ask who’s mark it is after that, he’s too angry). Third year is not the correct answer, but his anger is somehow worth it for the exasperated looks that Minerva gives you in the corridors whenever the green is visible.

You storm out when Ron makes a show of himself with Lavender, not because you’re jealous of her, but because you’re jealous of them being able to exchange marks and then celebrate it, that they can look at their purple and blue on each other and see it as a good thing, when Minerva only sees the forest green on your shoulder as something to worry about. When Harry finds you there’s tears on your face, and he puts his arm around your shoulders without saying anything.

“I’m just so tired of her ignoring me,” you mutter, eventually, and he squeezes your shoulders in an attempt to be comforting.

“I know.” He paused, and then smiled slightly. “Maybe you should try to get her to listen.”

“How? How do I do that when every time we’re in the same room she runs away from me? She spent all summer running in and then out without speaking to me, avoiding eye contact, and even now she just sighs at me in the corridors.”

“She’s scared, scared of what this could mean for the two of you. If she hadn’t found anyone yet then I don’t think she was expecting to, had probably given up on the soulmark thing completely. She’s got her whole life to try and recalibrate, and she has to deal with you being a student.”

“So you’re repeating what Dumbledore said, that I just have to give it time?” You’re frustrated, patience has never particularly been your strong suit, and you don’t want to have to wait until you’re thirty-five and she’ll finally make an attempt to see you as an equal.

“No, that’s not what I’m saying,” he smiled. “I think you just have to make yourself impossible to ignore.”

You think there may be something in that.

You start a campaign to make Minerva listen to you. You turn up in her office whenever you have a spare moment, to ask an ever so important Transfiguration question about something that doesn’t even appear on the syllabus, or something that you already know the answer to. She always responds to your questions quickly and efficiently, then attempts to send you on your way and ignores how you try to draw her into further conversation. She does not offer you tea, does not even offer you a ginger newt, but you persevere. You learn her timetable, make it so that she can’t go a whole day without bumping into you, sometimes literally when you’re in a rush, and you can’t work out whether it’s annoying her or not. You think it probably is, but when she catches you for the third time after you bounce off of her tall frame she just looks exasperated and slightly endeared. You’re not sure endeared was exactly what you were aiming for, but it was better than annoying so you’d take it.

You show up in her office again, knock and she lets you in, question already formulated, and she just sighs when she sees you.

“Miss Granger, are you here to ask me another Level Two Mastery question, or a question you already know the answer to?” She’s smiling just slightly, just enough that you feel okay about sitting down opposite her.

“I was planning to go with the latter today,” you admitted.

“As I suspected. Go ahead.”

You laugh, ask, and she answers as though you honestly are confused, she doesn’t even rush through her response for once, and she doesn’t stop you from asking several questions surrounding the topic, either, doesn’t say she has some urgent marking to do or some kind of meeting to attend. You leave after a full half hour of the two of you ending up debating some complex Transfiguration theory, and you swear that she’s smiling as she says goodbye.

Somehow that meeting is the turning point, is what leads to her looking vaguely pleased to see you in the corridors, and you wonder what happened, who spoke to her and convinced her to stop being so stubborn. The next three times you go to her office she’s as perfectly friendly and engaging as you remember her being before the two of you exchanged marks, and you manage to actually have a few long conversations with her, even if they are in a purely professional capacity, and you don’t manage to think of a way to turn the conversation more personal, however curious you are. Harry tells you that your plan obviously managed to work, but you don’t know anything more about her than you did before, even though he tells you that you should be glad she’s started talking to you at all.

You’re not armed with a relevant question as you make your way to Minerva’s office this time, just confusion and your dark green mark displayed proudly on your shoulder. When she sees it she doesn’t sigh, just directs you into a chair, and she looks almost as though she knows what’s coming, that her change of heart could not have gone undetected. You think your determination is probably displayed clearly upon your face.

“Professor, I’m just curious as to why you suddenly changed your mind? In regards to speaking to me?” You don’t even make an attempt to be subtle as to what had lead you there, and she doesn’t look surprised.

She sighed, ruffled some papers importantly, and then linked her hands atop them. “A conversation with an old friend pointed out that I was maybe treating you a little unfairly.”

“Does this mean that you’ll start treating me like an adult?”

“You may be of age but that does not remove the fact that you are under my care.” You try not to hope for how it sounds like there’s a “but” coming. “However, they pointed out, and I have to agree with them on this, that just because you are under my care it does not mean that anything other than a completely professional relationship is automatically inappropriate.”

You try to stop your brain juddering to a halt at the word “relationship” when uttered in the context of the two of you, and actually think about what she just said.

“So, friends?” You manage, cautious, and she nods.

“Friends. Until you’re much older. And due to what other people could think I would prefer if when we met was mostly secret, after dinner.”

“So you’d be allowing me to break curfew?” You ask with a smile, slightly disbelieving.

“On this occasion, yes. I feel as though it would give us a chance to,” she coughed and looked slightly uncomfortable. “Get to know each other.”

“When?” you ask immediately, eager.

“Thursday evening would be amenable for me?” she suggested, and you nodded enthusiastically. “But if you push your luck I will put a stop to it immediately.” She warned, and you couldn’t help but think that she’d had this plan for whenever you eventually asked, that she’d been rehearsing it in her head, preparing for when this conversation would happen.

“Okay, of course. Thank you Professor.” You grinned and retreated, already excited to tell Harry what had happened, already thinking of ways to sneak back to the Common Room on Thursday night.

“So Thursday, huh?” Harry asked with a smile once you’d recounted what had been said, and you’re grinning as you nod. “What do you think she’s gonna do?”

“I don’t know,” you shrugged. “I’m curious as to who the friend that convinced her it was okay was.”

“It would make sense if it was Dumbledore, because he’s the one who would be in charge of investigating if anyone reported her.”

“True,” you laughed and paused. “She looked so uncomfortable as she said “get to know each other”, it was amazing.” Harry just shook his head at the look on your face, at the way that you kept laughing about it.

“I’m not surprised, to be honest. How long do you think it’s been since she attempted to befriend a student?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if she never has.”

Harry nodded and then shrugged. “The most important question here is whether you’re going to ignore her warning not to push it or not.”

“I’m going to try not to, not until we’ve left Hogwarts, anyway. Although I suppose much of that depends on what she defines as pushing it.”

Harry laughed, and then laughed again as you questioned him on what you should wear, something that you know full well he doesn’t have an opinion on.

You don’t learn much of anything at all, you realise belatedly as you attempt to get back to the Tower after curfew, using the Marauder’s Map which Harry had agreed to let you borrow. You don’t take the Invisibility Cloak too, even though Harry offered, because you figure that that would probably be overkill (and you don’t know how much Minerva knows about how you’ve been avoiding her finding you out of bed). Harry’s waiting up for you when you get back, and you try to tell him what happened, but as you found on the way back as you tried to go over it in your head, you have no idea what the two of you talked about. He laughs when you tell him that, tells you to take notes next time because he wants to know everything, and both of you go to bed. You can’t stop smiling, thinking about her pouring you tea, the two of you sat on the sofas in her office with the fire crackling next to you. You think about her gesturing to elaborate on a point, on how her voice was softer than it ever usually was with anyone else, than it was in the classroom, how she laughed, quietly, like she was restraining herself. You wonder what it sounds like when she laughs loudly, uninhibited, and you hope you get to witness it sometime soon.

Two months pass and all you’ve learnt is that she’s allergic to bees and that she used to be captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team (and at one point was pursuing it professionally before she got some kind of injury). That’s it. Two months, and almost all the two of you have talked about is Transfiguration and Voldemort. She’s somehow very good at avoiding personal topics, but Harry tells you it’ll just take time, so you try to be patient. Being patient isn’t one of your strong suits.

Maybe trying to get back at Ron like this wasn’t one of the most sensible things you’ve ever done, but you’re just so tired of hiding, of not being able to tell anyone, of no one even asking about the mark on your shoulder. You want to be able to scream about it, to be able to say that you love Minerva McGonagall and she love you too even if she won’t admit it yet. So you’re going to Slughorn’s Christmas party with Cormac McLaggen, because you couldn’t think of anyone else that Ron hates that much, and when you dash out of that Transfiguration lesson as soon as you hear the bell you’re glad you are, because Ron deserves it. It’s not even like your mark on him is that dark, it just happens to be the most obvious one that he’s received so far; he’ll get a darker one when he’s older, you’re sure. You realise when you’re almost at the Great Hall that you left half of your stuff in the classroom, so you double-back a different way to the others, because you don’t want to see Ron again right now. He doesn’t even know why you’re so upset, doesn’t realise that mocking what you used to be like in Minerva’s lessons is a nasty reminder of how Minerva met you, how she could still see you because it’s only been five years since then, and she sees you as so, so young.

When you get back to the classroom she’s still there, and you notice that she’s stacked your books on the edge of her desk, almost as though they’re there to remind her to bring them back to you (that thought almost brings a smile to your face).

“Hermione,” she smiles, and then frowns. “Your books are there,” she gestures, and you scoop them up and deposit them in your bag. “What happened?”

“Oh it was just Ron being, well, Ron. As he usually is at the moment.” You haven’t told her any of what’s happened, you found it embarrassing to try and explain that he thinks he loves you, that the two of you are locked in some kind of childish battle when you’ve been trying to make it clear how mature you are. She raises an eyebrow and you briefly consider leaving instead of explaining, but you realise that she’s still a sensible adult who can give an objective viewpoint. You sit down at the closest desk (the one that’s usually yours anyway) and prepare yourself to explain.

“I don’t think I’ve told you about any of this but I always just assume you hear about everything anyway.” She smiles but waits for you to continue, and you take a deep breath. “Basically, the mark I left on Ron is much darker than the mark he left on me, and earlier this year he finally noticed the mark on my shoulder.” You almost call it “your mark”, but you panic at the last second. “Since then he’s been being really rather spiteful.”

“So typical Sixth Year shenanigans,” she said with a smile, and you want to laugh but you also want to cry, because you’re so tired of being too young for her.

“I haven’t been making it much easier for myself,” you admit, already committed to telling her the full story, however embarrassing that will be.

“You usually don’t,” she’s smiling and it takes the sting out, and you have to admit that she’s very much right.

“I invited Cormac McLaggen to Slughorn’s Christmas party,” you admit in a rush, and she just looks at you for a long moment, and then she bursts out laughing, and you’re grinning by the time she manages to smother it.

“I’m sorry,” she gasps, still sniggering, practically having to wipe tears from the corners of her eyes, and you’re so endeared that you don’t even mind that she’s technically laughing at you. “But really, McLaggen?”

“I thought he was the person that would annoy Ron the most,” you reply miserably.

“Well you’re correct about that. Maybe a smarter option would have been to take Miss Weasley?”

“She gets invited anyway, I wanted to take someone that would never have got in otherwise.” You look so miserable that Minerva almost laughs again, unable to resist, considering that you had essentially done this to yourself.

“Well I’m sure Mr Weasley will be suitably furious about your date,” she was still smiling, and you had to fight the urge to bury your head in your hands. “But will you be able to survive the evening with him?”

You just groan in distress and succumb to resting your head on the desk. “Save me from the decisions I have made.”

“Make an excuse as to why you have to cancel last minute?” she suggested.

“But then the entire point of asking him to annoy Ron will be cancelled out,” you sighed. “I need an excuse to leave after approximately ten minutes.”

“Good luck with that,” she responded drily.

Slughorn’s party is a complete disaster, and you only hope that Ron feels suitably left out before Harry gets back and tells him what a complete waste of time it was. You’ve been there for an hour or so, spent fifty minutes of that dodging McLaggen and trying to avoid hearing about every save he’s ever made, when Minerva walks through the door. You only realise from where you’re hiding behind the curtain because Slughorn exclaims “Minerva!” unnecessarily loudly, and you risk detection to look. She isn’t dressed up, she looks as though she stopped off on her usual rounds of the castle, and you want to hit Harry and be like “oh god she’s here” but he’s completely disappeared, as he tends to do. McLaggen suddenly appears, and you suddenly meet Minerva’s eyes over his shoulder. She’s smiling, but she’s only really showing it through one side of her mouth being upturned and the amusement in her eyes.

You tell McLaggen that you have something important to discuss with Professor McGonagall, and you join her where she’s eyeing the table of refreshments with distaste.

“Professor, I wasn’t expecting to see you here.” You’re smiling, and it doesn’t waver even as she looks at the mark on your shoulder in a way that is long-suffering but at least a little fond.

“Well I got sent an invitation and couldn’t possibly refuse.” Her tone is bitingly sarcastic, and you grin in response.

“Just couldn’t refuse to witness me suffer at my own hands.” Minerva laughs quietly and looks over at McLaggen, who’s telling some other random person about his Quidditch triumphs, but he glances over at them and Minerva raises an unimpressed eyebrow that leads to him hurriedly looking back at the bored person he was talking to.

“Did you just glare at him?” you asked with a smile, and Minerva sighed.

“I merely wondered why he was looking in our direction.” Her face remained impassive, but you laughed.

“Oh, sure,” you grinned.

Nobody stays much longer than that, even McLaggen gets bored of hearing his own voice, but it’s Minerva that walks you back to the Tower, drops you off with a perfunctory “Miss Granger” that you’re sure was purposefully designed to try and return some of the formality between the two of you after a night devoid of the usual barriers. You’re smiling as you go to bed, even after Harry tells you all about Draco, and you know you look awfully sappy and extremely out of it, and when Ron sees you you hope he thinks it’s because of McLaggen, not because of the way that Minerva had glared at him. It had almost seemed like she was, well, jealous, or at least that he was warning him away, and the thought makes you grin, pressing your face into your pillow, your chest tight with warmth.

You’re floating as you go home for the holidays, even once you realise that Ron is angry enough with you that you don’t get an invitation to the Burrow, but you miss her the whole time, and you wonder what on earth you’re going to do over the summer. Six weeks is much longer than just two, and you’re not sure you’re going to be able to deal with it. Your mother keeps asking what’s put that smile on your face, and your dad stays out of it, but you know that she thinks that it’s Ron, and you don’t see anyway that you can uncover your mark and break it to her that it’s a teacher of all people that left it. You don’t say anything, and go back to Hogwarts with them still not knowing about Minerva, still not knowing that the teacher you loved in First Year was actually the woman that you were destined to love for the rest of your life.

You hope you never have to see that expression on Minerva’s face ever again, but you feel like before this war is over Voldemort will make damn sure that you do. You knew her and Dumbledore were close, everyone knew that, and you wish that he hadn’t have been the first death you truly had to experience, if only for Minerva’s sake. When you finally see her again, not from afar, she looks like shit, but she’s also already in emergency headteacher mod, ready to pick up the pieces, and when you meet her gaze you try to smile, try to be as reassuring as you can. You quietly, discreetly take her hand and squeeze gently, trying to tell her you’re here for her without using actual words, and the smile you get in return is small and so damn tired, but you take it as a victory.

Minerva comes to the wedding and you’re surprised because you didn’t think she even knew Fleur, but you remember what Ginny said about her and Molly being close and it makes more sense. You’re happy to see her, regardless, as she’d been too busy to really check in at the Burrow very much recently, and if you’re honest you have to admit that you’ve missed her, just like you knew you would. Harry smirks at you across the tent and you can see his raised eyebrows even through his disguise. Minerva nods to him in a way that makes it clear that she knows it’s him, and he shows her to her seat. You have to stop yourself from looking over constantly, admiring her robes that are very similar to the ones she usually wears, though somehow much more flattering. You shake your head at yourself and find your seat, resolving to not look at her during the ceremony. You, of course, fail.

“You’ve barely taken your eyes off of her since she got here,” Harry says with a smirk later, when you’re both sitting down and you’re nursing your lemonade, trying to avoid staring at Minerva where she’s talking to Molly.

“I wasn’t expecting to see her, there was no warning,” you whined, and he laughed, patting you on the shoulder.

“Are you actually going to talk to her at any point or are you just going to carry on sitting here pining?”

“I think I’m going to carry on with the pining,” you reply miserably, and he laughs.

Eventually she comes over, and Harry finds an excuse to not be present, and she sits down in his seat. You’re so glad to notice that she’s smiling, that she looks much more relaxed than when you last saw her, when she checked into the Burrow and you saw her leave, brow furrowed and wand in hand. This whole event has a startling sense of finality, like you all know it’s going to be the last moment of happiness before the war breaks out in earnest. The two of you talk about your summers, and when she mentions Hogwarts you almost flinch, because you know you owe it to her to tell her that you’re not going back.

“About next year -” you start, awkwardly, and she just smiles, almost sadly.

“You three aren’t coming back?”

You look at her for a long moment and you realise that you had been right; she does hear about practically everything that happens.

“This whole mysterious quest thing,” you shrugged uncomfortably, wary of mentioning Dumbledore this soon after his death.

“Albus did have a way of making things difficult,” she sighed. “I know he left you strict instructions not to tell me or anyone else what you have to do, but if you ever need any help I want you to know that I will do everything I can.”

You smile, to counter her grave expression, and nod. “I know, and I appreciate it.”

“If you don’t take me up on it I’ll be very offended,” she smiles, attempts to make your conversation lighthearted. “I’ll miss having a student to answer all of my questions next year.”

“I’d like to think you’d miss more about me than that,” it’s almost flirting, and you’re both smiling when the Patronus appears, when the screaming starts. “I have to go,” you say, voice urgent, eyes wife, and she nods like she hadn’t expected anything else.

“I’ll see you soon,” she replies, even though neither of you know when it’ll be, and she grabs your hand, holds on tight, a counter to the last time the two of you spoke, and then Ron’s dragging you away, and you look back to see her watching you in the midst of the panicked crowd. You already miss her.

When you next see Minerva it’s as though a year’s worth of worry has just fallen off of your shoulders at once, but you know that you’re both about to go into battle, and all you can think is that you fervently wish so many of these circumstances were different, that you didn’t have to smile at her across a room that was full of people that were potentially going to sacrifice themselves tonight. You don’t manage to speak to her, but smiling over people’s shoulders and receiving a smile in return that you know says that she’s glad to see you is enough. Glimpses of her surrounded by rubble, covered in dust, and potentially blood, her hat gone, her hair spilling out of it’s braid, they’re enough. Enough to get you through the hours, enough for you to concentrate.

You’re off to the side, trying desperately hard not to interfere in anyone else’s grief, trying to hold onto the fact that you didn’t lose anyone, when she comes over to you. She’s taken the time to wipe some of the grime from her face, but she looks exhausted, mentally and physically, and her hair is still hanging down her back, looking nothing like the practical bun that you’re used to (you’d never realised that it was so long). You feel as though you have never been so glad to see a vaguely grimy human being in your entire life. You take her hand without saying anything, and you think of the parallels between the last time you saw her and now. A beginning and an ending. But the beginning of something else that comes with that.

“I’m glad you’re not in the Hospital Wing for once.” She says, quietly, not looking at you, and you smile, also looking at your shoes.
“I’m glad you’re not either.” Neither of you say anything else for a long moment, because none of this seems real. It doesn’t seem realistic that the two of you could be standing here, holding hands of all things, at the end of a war, but somehow you are. You want to kiss her. You always want to kiss her. So you just hold her hand tighter until she has to go organise beds or sleeping draughts or that hole in one of the walls. She smiles before she goes, and you don’t see her for a while after that, because she has a lot to do.

Even with magic Hogwarts doesn’t get fixed in a day, and when you next see her it’s because you’ve volunteered to help with the restoration efforts. The two of you spend the day quietly clearing rubble, and you feel as though you’re wasting time, like you’ve been presented with your own mortality, but you also feel like you’ve got your entire lives to find out more about each other, to do more than just quietly bask in each other’s presence to do other things than share smiles and co-ordinate your magic. You get back to the Burrow that evening, and when Ron gets back too he takes you to the side.

“Your mark… It’s McGonagall’s, isn’t it?” He’s not smiling, but he doesn’t look disgusted either, and you don’t know how he’s taking it.

“Yeah it is,” you frowned. “How did you -?”

“The two of you, today. Neither of you said anything practically the whole time, but you kept looking at each other, and I’ve only ever seen Mum and Dad look at anyone like that.” He paused. “Like you can’t believe they’re real, or something.”

“I was going to tell you -” you try, but he just smiles.

“I’m happy for you two, honestly. It makes sense, really. You’re both huge nerds,” he laughs. “Even if she is old.” He continues laughing as you hit him.

It takes weeks but Hogwarts ends up even more impressive than it had been before, or maybe all of you just appreciate it more now that you’ve seen what could happen, now that you’ve seen the castle in pieces. You and Minerva start actually talking again, about whatever you feel like, and she actually shares things with you that are personal, things about her family, about Dumbledore when they were younger, about the Order, about so many people that you’ll never get to meet. She’s more open than you’ve ever got to see her, and it makes you feel terrible that you did your NEWTs without telling her, that you sat them at the Ministry through Kingsley, who assured you that this sort of thing was never allowed, that usually it had to be through Hogwarts, but you’re so tired of being her student.

Your take your results, unopened, and go straight to the castle. You’ve already been sent a letter saying that you’ve been accepted for a job at the Ministry, and you know that that means that you’ve passed them, and logically you know that there’s no way you could have failed, even with the fact that you haven’t done as much revision as you would have usually. Academic achievement has lost some of it’s shine, and if you’re honest you just want to get on with attempting to change the world (if that counts as doing lots of paperwork no one else wants to do and having to actually listen to what your superiors say). The gargoyle let’s you up without question, rolling his eyes as he tended to do, and when you walk through the door she looks happy to see you, and you smile in return without thinking, and you hope that she understands why you chose to do this.

“Minerva, I have some news.” You start, and her face drops slightly, but she raises an eyebrow.

“That’s usually followed by something I won’t be happy about.”

You laugh, and fiddle with the sleeve of your jumper, letter tucked in the back pocket of your jeans. “Well, I just wanted to tell you that I won’t be returning to Hogwarts next year.”

“I didn’t think you would be,” she smiles when you let out a sigh of relief. “And here was me worried that you had some terrible news.” She stands and leads the way to the two small sofas she had moved from her old room to the headteacher’s office when she’d taken over. You’ve always been glad that she’d managed to make this room cosy in a way that you don’t think Dumbledore had ever attempted. You sit down and take the letter out of your pocket.

“I got my results back today, and I just thought, well, that you’re the person I’d most like to be there when I opened them.”

Her smile is soft, and she looks surprised but happy. “I’d be honoured to pretend to be surprised when you get mostly all Os.”

You laugh and slowly rip it open, grinning when she just raises her eyebrow in a way that you know is telling you to hurry up, and purposefully slow down, which she just answers by rolling her eyes.

“The tension is unbearable,” she says sarcastically and you finally give in, laughing, and scan the results. When you look up she does look a little like the wait might be unbearable, and you suppose that you should have known that she’d be extremely impatient.

“How did I still only get an Exceeds Expectations in Defense Against the Dark Arts?” You say, faintly exasperated, and she laughs.

“Being able to duel is not what makes an Outstanding at NEWT level.”

“You’d have thought having just fought in a war they’d give it to me anyway.” You frown at the paper and ignore her amused smile.

“I thought you’d said that academic achievement was no longer your highest priority? I assume that that means the rest are all Os?”

“I’d still like to succeed,” you mutter, pouting a little. “And yes, the rest are all Os.”

“With results like those a job at the Ministry is guaranteed.”

“That’s the other thing I have to tell you,” you start, almost uncomfortably. “I start next week, in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. I got my acceptance letter this morning, before my results, actually.”

Minerva honestly looks happy for you as she congratulates you, and you try not to think about the restrictions it’ll put on the time you have, the time in which you would ideally be seeing her. You don’t consider what it’ll be like when September comes, with her running Hogwarts and you at the Ministry and everything back to normal.

“Well, you have to celebrate.” She’s still smiling but you think, you hope, that she’s wondering if it’ll stop you from spending time together.

“I’m sure that as soon as I tell everyone Mrs Weasley will start planning a dinner that’s supposed to be “just family” but thirty people will end up attending,” you laugh. “I’d like you to be there?” You ask earnestly, seriously.

“Well if you inform me of the day I’m sure I will be,” she smiled warmly, her eyes crinkling in the corners in the way that you loved, and you profoundly wish that just by no longer being her student it meant that she was ready to pursue what your marks meant, because you know that “almost twenty” is not an age that either of you would really find appropriate, however much the war had aged you, however much you wished for it.

“I’ll send you an owl as soon as I know.”

Mrs Weasley is ecstatic, of course she is, because people going back to work, the Ministry hiring new blood, all of it is signs of the Wizarding World heading towards normal, and normal means that you’re all one step closer to pretending that nothing happened, that the war hadn’t ripped so many from all of you, that none of you are in danger any more. You’ve all spent enough time mourning, fixing, rebuilding, and there’s hope in all of your voices as you talk about who to invite to dinner tomorrow. You drop a quick note to Minerva as soon as you can, convince yourself out of signing it “love, Hermione” and you get a short “I’ll be there” in response. Harry doesn’t ask, just remarks knowingly that you look very cheerful today, any chance a certain witch will be making an appearance? You tell him to shut up and go back to helping Molly peel carrots.

She is, as ever, stylishly late, sliding in quietly just before you’d given up on her arriving, and you wonder how you ended up in the situation where the Minister for Magic and the Headteacher of Hogwarts are discussing something over drinks at a dinner that is technically in your honour, in the Weasley’s overgrown, gnome-infested garden. You’re full of gratitude, and relief, and no one notices when you wipe your eyes with your sleeve surreptitiously. All of you are so thankful, and everyone is more relaxed and there’s more laughter than you think there has been for years. The best way to describe it, you think, is that there’s hope in the air. Hope that this is truly over, that even with those that are gone there’s a chance to continue, to start over, to find happiness. Minerva’s wearing Muggle clothes, something which you’ve never seen her in, dark smart trousers and brogues and a crisp, deep emerald shirt that offsets her eyes perfectly (and, you can’t help but think, is almost exactly the same colour as her mark upon your skin).

“You okay, Hermione?” Harry asks softly, quietly, throwing his arm around your shoulder.

“Yeah,” you clear your throat, clear the tears from your system, leave them for later. “Just thinking about how lucky we are.”

He pulls you closer, plants a kiss on your forehead. “We sure are. I mean, McGonagall looks damn good tonight, doesn’t she?” He grins as he misses the point completely on purpose, smile just growing as you laugh and hit his chest lightly. He draws you into conversation, draws you out of your pensive mood, and eventually you all sit down to dinner, crammed around the tables that are positively groaning with food, that should be too small but somehow aren’t (and you suspect that “somehow” has something to do with Mr Weasley’s tinkering). Minerva’s sat across from you, and you’re glad because it means there’s no risk of knocking elbows, something that would probably leave you stammering and distracted for the entire night. Harry and Minerva are talking, Harry making animated conversation as he’s gotten good at, and you’re glad for the marks they share, glad for the friendship they have a chance to build. Ron and Fred are having a loud conversation with Percy about the joke shop, and rules and regulations, Mr Weasley joining in, the four of them trying to ignore the obvious hole that George still leaves, will always leave. Molly fusses and you all over-indulge in good food and mediocre wine, and by the time you help clear the dessert bowls everyone’s conversations have got slightly louder and a shade more ridiculous, and you hope no one else is feeling the melancholy edge that has been haunting you all evening.

“It feels like the beginning of something, doesn’t it?” You hadn’t registered her footsteps as she came out of the house behind you and padded across the grass, sitting down on the low wall beside you, still close enough to the others that their voices washed over you, a soothing backdrop as you looked out at the stars. She refilled your almost empty wine glass with a smile then refilled her own, setting the bottle down quietly, even quieter than your murmur of thanks.

“It does,” you take a deep breath of the summer night air. “I’m not sure going into the Ministry is really what I want to do,” you say suddenly, and she frowns at you.

“Then why apply?”

“Because I knew they wouldn’t turn me down. Because I want to start doing something.”

“It’s not forever,” she says simply, with a small smile. “I worked for them, a long time ago.”

“What did you think?” You ask curiously, eager as ever to hear more about her past.

“It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I wanted to do,” she says diplomatically, and you smile.

“Who knows, there’s probably a part of me deep inside that just loves paperwork.”

“Who knows, indeed. You might end up as Minister one day.”

“Everyone will have to listen to me about SPEW then,” you say drily, and she laughs. You sit in silence for a long moment, and then you sigh.

“It feels like another ending too, however hopeful.”

“Beginnings always do. It’ll be good for you to get back into routine, for Auror training to start, for Hogwarts to open. It’s time for the war to end, to really end.”

“Was it like this last time?” Both of your voices are quiet, and you hope that the others don’t notice your absence.

“The damage has never been quite this extensive. He didn’t infiltrate the Ministry last time, he didn’t even get close to Hogwarts. But yes. There was a time of mourning, of repair, and then slowly, steadily, we all got back to our everyday lives. The Order broke up, as it must this time, too, we all got back into routines, into going to our jobs. We all thought that that was it.”

You feel brave, after three glasses of wine and her honestly, and ask something you probably shouldn’t. “I’m still too young, aren’t I?”

“It’s not just that, Hermione,” she says softly, like she was waiting for you to ask. “You have so much left to do, to see, things I’ve already done, mistakes I’ve already made. The war…” she trailed off, rubbing her eyes behind her glasses in a gesture you hadn’t seen before. “It made me want to cherish this, to find out where it could take us, and it’s because of that, because I want us to do this right, because the two of us have so much time left, that is what’s making me say that we still need to wait.”

“I don’t want to,” you say, petulant, and she sighs.

“I know. A large part of me doesn’t want to either. But it’s time for you to go out into the world, to travel, to learn things that you can’t from books, as much as I deplore the idea that books can’t teach us everything. Time for you to experience life without war hanging over your head.”

“Is this where you tell me to go and have my heart broken?” You ask with a smile, unsurprised and not as hurt as you thought you would be.

“Well, you can break some hearts too,” she smiles, and it feels faintly like a break up, regardless of you not having been together in the first place. She refills your glass again and you’re smiling when everyone leaves, when she pecks you on your flushed cheek in goodbye.

“What did she say?” Harry asks, later, the four of you sitting on the grass long after all of the “adults” have gone to bed, wine glasses still in hand.

“She told me to break some hearts.” You smile and Ginny shivers against the summer breeze, Harry and Ron sprawled beside you. It feels like the end of the summer, like all of you should be going back to Hogwarts tomorrow, and you wonder how you all got so old.

You go to work, you make new friends, people in the years above you at Hogwarts, people from abroad, house elves and goblins alike. You work your way up the ranks, you meet some girls, you drink with them, dance with them, sleep with them. You stay with a few for a couple of months, you break more hearts than you were expecting, and years pass. You send her long letters occasionally, you ask her opinions about regulations, you transfer to the Department for Magical Law Enforcement. She sends you letters back, she finally fills the Transfiguration post, Harry becomes an Auror, Ron becomes partner in the joke shop, Ginny has long since graduated, and you go to all of her games, all three of you. Minerva comes with you sometimes, because she still loves Quidditch, and you remember that remark about Quidditch players all of those years ago and laugh to yourself. She starts to look at you differently, or you hope she does, and you see her much less than you were hoping but still more than you were expecting. She remains a constant background presence, someone you remember every time you give a girl a bright, bold mark, every time you receive one that’s brighter than you were expecting. One girl lasts a year and she breaks your heart, and you want to crawling to Minerva, to have her patch you up after this break up that you never expected to hurt, but it’s Harry that you go out drinking with, that finds you crying occasionally when he wanders into the living room of the London flat that the two of you share.

You’re head of your department, some say on the road to becoming Minister, when you bump into her in the entrance hall of the Ministry, her on the way to a meeting with the Minister (a lovely woman that you’re sure Minerva taught and will carefully strike down a few pegs when it comes to her position in regards to Hogwarts), you on your way to a meeting with the head of a different department. You’re in a rush, just avoid sweeping her over, and she smiles as she steadies you with one hand. She asks if you’re busy later, and you wonder, you hope that it means what you think it does, and she says she’ll owl you the details when you say that you can always make time for her. The owl comes, and you reply yes, and you look forward to dinner somewhere nice, somewhere you’ve never heard of, that you Google and it turns out is a nice Muggle restaurant that’s not actually that far from your flat on the tube (you wonder what it would be like to see Minerva on the tube of all places).

You get home earlier than you have done in the last year of no girlfriend and no want for one, as you’d settled into your job and into being yourself, into being this semblance of adult that twenty-eight has thrust upon you. Harry is home and Draco is here, something that you’ve gotten used to over the last few years. Their domesticity, the two of them making dinner together or watching a film together or just existing together, their marks bright and proud after such a long time of hiding, is what’s made you miss Minerva all the more over the last few years, and when Harry sees you barrel through the door he immediately smiles.

“You only ever come home this early when you have a date, what happened to you being “so done with girls” as you had proclaimed?”

“I wasn’t lying when I said that,” you laughed, and practically bounced as you strode across the living room, your bag hitting the floor loudly as you drop it in the corner. “I just got an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

He looks at you for a long moment until his eyes widen, his grin growing, and he’s practically as excited as you. “Minerva? Really? When?”

You’re nodding, grinning as you laugh, and he stands up, spinning you around the room, the two of you laughing. “I very almost sent her sprawling this morning as I hurried across the ministry’s entrance hall, and she invited me to dinner.”

Draco’s grinning too as he watches you, and you know he’s happy for you, that he’d seen enough of your break ups and your one night stands and heard enough about her, from you and Harry both, to know what this means.

“You have to look incredible.” He declares suddenly, after the two of you have come to a stop, grinning and hugging in your living room, and he stands, leading the way to your room. “This is going to take a long time,” he mutters, looking in your wardrobe, and you roll your eyes.

By the time Minerva rings the buzzer you do look incredible, and you tell her you’ll be right down.

“Wish me luck,” you say, and they both hug you, Harry grinning and almost looking like he’s going to cry.

“She loves you, you don’t need luck,” is all he says, and you’re out the door, down the stairs, rushing to a stop next to her. She looks even better than you were expecting, a variation on what she’d worn that night at the Burrow all of those years ago. There have been other nights since, nights where the two of you had been the last awake, nights when you’d almost kissed her, nights when she’d almost kissed you, but none had felt like this. None had had this awkward anticipation, this air that makes you want to stick your hands in your pockets and look at your shoes. Both of you are wearing smart casual, both of you not in dresses, and you wonder if you look like a couple on a first date as she smiles at you, eyes sparkling behind her glasses. She takes your arm, leads you in Apparating to the restaurant, holds your chair out for you, and you think it’s odd that this became her taking you on a date, when you’ve wanted for so long to be the one to do this.

You make small talk over the menu, order your starters and your drinks, and you tell yourself not to get tipsy because she hasn’t seen you drunk since that Christmas where you started crying while everyone was listening to the wireless playing Christmas songs (in your defence it had been a long time since you’d heard a Muggle Christmas song, and someone had put in a request for Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, which you’d always loved).

“I hope this means what I think it does,” you say eventually, giving up on ignoring the one question you really wanted to ask.

“It does,” she reassures you, smiling, and you’re smiling back without even realising because you’ve waited so long. “I want to take this slowly,” she warns. “I want to get to know you again, to get to know you as you are now.”

“I’d like that,” your voice is soft, and she smiles, and puts her hand on yours where it rested on the table, her eyes sparkling in the warm light, her features just like you remembered them when you first met her all those years ago, when you first received her mark, when you first confronted her about it, but she is different, her body language is different, the way she looks at you is so different, and you know that this side of her is going to become your favourite.

“I’m glad.” She doesn’t take her hand away until the starters arrive.

You feel like you get to know her all over again, over dinner, over drinks, over coffee. You get to know her smile and her gestures and how she always gets tired after her fourth Firewhiskey. You get to know her likes and her dislikes, her unreasonable hatred of flowers as presents, her weakness for dark chocolate. You learn so much about her you feel as though you should write a book, about her and her brothers growing up, about Dumbledore teaching her, Dumbledore becoming her friend, his mark on her fading as he distanced himself in his last years. You learn that she loves giving gifts, hates receiving them, that she and the Hogwarts staff members have monthly nights out to the Three Broomsticks which she regales you with hilarious anecdotes about. You learn about her exes, about her best friends (Hooch and Pomfrey), you meet them as her girlfriend, and the two of you spend months almost kissing but not quite. You’re glad for it, somehow, and you think of all of the time you’ve got to get to that, but you have to admit that you’re hoping she’ll be the one that kisses you, because you’ve been letting her set the pace so far. You spend time in her office doing paperwork, she makes dinner for you, Harry and Draco in your flat, and you know that Harry and Minerva are having conversations behind your back but you’re glad for it. You discover that small touches distract her, that just guiding her through a doorway or brushing hair out of her face can make her pause mid-sentence, and she discovers the same thing about you. You find out that sometimes she locks the door to her office and takes a nap, because there’s an occasion when you’re supposed to be seeing her and the gargoyle lets you up with a smile, the door opening even though she swears that she locked it, and you find her asleep on one of her sofas, her legs hanging over the arm (that’s also how you find out that she looks very cute when she sleeps, and that she snores).

You’re checking your email (something the Ministry has you and Arthur Weasley to thank for), when you feel her gaze on you, and you look up, smiling.

“Tea?” she offers, in an attempt to cover her looking and you smile and accept, setting your tablet aside, accepting the cup when she offers it, smiling when she sits next you instead of on the opposite sofa, where various missives from the Board of Governors are spread across the cushions. She doesn’t say anything, just looks into her tea, and you wait, because you’ve learned that patience is something that has borne you well in your dealings with her over the years. She strikes up conversation, and you forget about the moment that passed, forget about much but her eyes and her gestures and her thoughts on a Charms theory that had piqued both of your interests, a thesis that she’d left on your living room table at some point, something that she’d known you’d enjoy. You stay for dinner, the two of you staying in her office, something that she’s been doing much more, recently, something that you know the other staff have been teasing her for, something that you’re sure is confusing the students, causing them to gossip about what could possibly be keeping her from the Great Hall.

Later, after you’ve stolen one of her books and read most of it, the two of you sat close together on the sofa, the fire crackling away, and when you lean your head on her shoulder she jumps (she always jumps), but shifts to put her arm around you, and you try to concentrate on the passage you’re reading that you were finding terribly interesting, but you’re distracted by her drawing absent circles on your upper arm, and when you look at her she’s smiling, her eyes obviously not moving to read. You shift closer, putting your legs up on the sofa, and you hope that this is it, that she’s finally going to make a move, but she just carries on reading her book, even as you rest your hand lightly on her knee.

You go back to your book, actually manage to read some of it, and when you yawn you check the time and realise it’s past 10pm and you should probably go home.

“It’s past ten, I should probably go.”

She checks her watch and nods. “I hadn’t realised the time,” she looks over at the parchment that’s still fanned across the sofa. “I haven’t answered those,” she sighs.

“No one cares what the Board has to say anyway.” She laughs and shakes her head, and you put your book down but don’t move, too comfortable.

“That doesn’t look much like moving,” she remarks, eventually and you shrug.

“I’m comfortable,” but you yawn again, and she smiles while she pushes you upright, sitting up too.

“Okay, I’m going,” you collect your things and she walks you to the door, offering to come with you to the gates like she always does, and you decline like you always do. You stand in the doorway for a long moment, your hand on the doorknob, and she looks at you like she wants something, like she’s unsure of herself, and you’ve never seen that from her before. When she kisses you it’s slightly awkward, sudden, the angle is slightly wrong, your world doesn’t come together, but you smile against her lips, touch her jaw lightly, and when you pull back you know it’ll be a kiss that you remember, regardless of how many kisses after this that you share. She’s smiling too when you kiss her again, light and soft and careful, and she’s breathless as she says goodbye, and you’re elated as you walk through the door and through the castle and through the grounds and Apparate home, and you look forward to more kisses, to more than kisses, to domestic evenings in her office and domestic mornings in your flat, to both of you rushing off to work, to hurried kisses before you Apparate away, to complaining as she wakes you up when she rolls over. You smile as you think about reaching a point where you complain about her little ticks, to one day getting to affectionately refer to her as “the wife”, and you collapse into bed and you smile even as you think about the work you have to do, as you think about the two of you as Headteacher of Hogwarts and Minister for Magic, how the world won’t know what’s hit them with the two of you in charge. You go to sleep and you don’t dream of her, because you don’t need to anymore, because when you wake up you’ll go to work and then she’ll come over to yours if she’s not too busy or you’re not too busy and you’ve done all of the waiting you need to do. You’ve got the rest of your lives to explore this, to finally find out what your marks are all about, to finally luxuriate in the feeling that this is it, that you don’t have to want anymore. You think about your mark displayed proudly on the palm of her hand, the green deep and dark and no longer covered, you think about her finally feeling as though she can face the world with the knowledge that it can be seen, that people could ask, that someone could recognise it, and you just think that it’s damn time.