DISCLAIMER: The Harry Potter characters are the property of J.K. Rowling. This is a work of fan fiction created in 2012 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.
Fire in the Belly
Hermione sat on the porch of the Burrow. Rose and Hugo were inside with Fleur, and Ron was—well, somewhere. She leaned back, enjoying the rare moment of quiet. She tried to not think about work or the things that needed doing back at the flat or how Hugo was growing out of his clothes again.
She heard clomping, felt herself tense.
“Did you pack my book?” Ron asked through the screen door.
“No. You were going to pack your book.”
“No, you said you’d do it.”
She took a deep breath. “Read mine. I did pack that.”
“I don’t want to read yours. I want to read mine.”
She counted to ten. Maybe he’d be gone by then or would conjure the blasted book and leave her in peace. This is how work was, too. Everyone at her, all the time. Couldn’t anyone do for themselves anymore?
She turned to look at the door; Ron wasn’t there. She sighed. In relief. Which was horrible of her. Was she ever pleasant to him anymore? She kept telling herself to try and then he’d come round with something else, and they’d be off again.
Bickering over nothing. She sighed again, this time because she knew she needed to do better.
If only she had a little time to herself.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought no one was out here.” Harry stood at the foot of the stairs, little Lily on his hip. “She’s been fussy. Walking helps. We’ve been around the house four times and I’m knackered,” he said, and Hermione nodded in understanding.
Harry was an excellent dad. More hands on than Ron was, to be honest. But also more worried. Like at any moment his children might break.
But given his background, Hermione supposed this probably wasn’t too surprising. He’d spent his childhood having most everyone he loved ripped away. Probably not something you just shook off and moved on from.
“Come sit,” she said, patting the porch swing next to her.
He settled in and she played with Lily for a moment, letting the baby reach for her fingers.
“She’s a beauty.”
“Takes after her mom.”
Hermione smiled. Lily did favor Ginny.
Harry leaned back. “Nice evening.”
“Very. Nice dinner, too.”
“Very. Molly outdid herself.”
“Mmm.” She took a deep breath and glanced at Harry. “Everything okay at the job?”
“Oh, yes. Well, you know. Same old same old. You?”
“Fine, of course.” She looked away. “Although if something—anything—different ever happened, it would be a red-letter day.”
He chuckled. “Your department isn’t known for being quiet. But I guess compared to the old days...?”
They looked at each other and smiled. A game smile. A smile of two people who at one time weren’t sure they’d make it out of their teens.
“But I’m fine. I’m happy,” she said, as she felt her smile fading.
His was fading, too. “No, definitely. Very happy.”
“I mean we got it, right? The happily ever after. Kill the bad wizard. Live a long, happy life.”
“Well, longer than we might have.” He grinned. “Who knows what the future holds?”
She smiled. “I miss those days, Harry.” She realized she’d said that out loud. “I mean—”
“It’s okay. I miss them, too.”
They both sat, and he dandled his daughter on his lap as they stared out at the slowly darkening sky.
Danger used to come from the sky. It was something Hermione had never gotten over. She still considered the heavens suspect. Always would, she imagined.
The door opened, and Molly peeked out. “Oh, there you are, you two. Come inside. Ron can’t find his book so I thought charades would be just the thing. We can’t play without you.”
“Brilliant,” Hermione said as soon as Molly closed the door, not even trying to keep the rancor from her voice. “Charades. Which, apparently, they can’t play without us.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers, eh?” He stood, hefted Lily onto his hip and held his hand out to her. “My lady?”
Laughing, she let him pull her up and escort her back inside.
Harry walked among the auror cubicles, smiling at those busy working, stopping to talk to others who weren’t so engaged. He knew, no matter what it looked like, everyone in the group was fully occupied, but they all knew how to take a little time for themselves. They spent too much time in the field to worry overmuch about what happened when they made an appearance at the home office.
Except for Harry, of course. Ever since he’d been put in charge last year, he hadn’t logged more than a handful of hours in the field. His days were made up of meetings, reports, more meetings, more reports, and general tediousness. If he was lucky, he might have the odd personnel problem to break up his day. If he was lucky.
Today, he wasn’t lucky, so he was living vicariously through the tales of his aurors just back from dangerous, hair-raising missions.
He heard a low cough, saw Minister Shacklebolt standing with two Asian men wearing yellow and red robes. Shacklebolt motioned him over.
“This is the man I was telling you about, gentleman. May I present our head of the auror department, Harry Potter. Harry, this is Tenzing and Sonam, distinguished visitors to the Ministry from Nepal.”
“Hello.” Harry wasn’t sure whether to bow or shake their hands, so he settled for a nod of his head.
“Ah, the famous one.” Tenzing took Harry’s hand in his and smiled. “Interesting.”
“So much potential.”
“Oh, Harry here has more than lived up to his potential.”
Sonam gave him a somewhat pitying smile. “Of course. Tenzing meant no disrespect. You have, of course, gone very far for your system.”
Sonam smiled. It was an annoying smile. Not unlike Snape’s, only worse. Supercilious in an enlightened way. Like you wanted to get mad, but then felt guilty when you did. “Your system of magic. Rules and rote and”—he nodded at the wand in Harry’s belt—“those.”
“Wands, you mean?”
Tenzing shared a look with his colleague. “They are so small to be such pervasive crutches.”
Shacklebolt had the fixed smile of a man who had gone through this sort of interplay all day. “Potter. Take them to lunch, will you?”
Tenzing bowed to him. “Your time and attention have been deeply appreciated.”
“Good to hear. I’ll leave you in Potter’s hands. Enjoy the rest of your stay in London.” Preferably far, far away from the Ministry was what Harry heard unsaid in his boss’s voice.
Sonam studied Harry. “We know we have wearied the minister with our critiques of your...methods.”
Tenzing smiled, a true smile, open and friendly. “It is in adversity that one grows. It is how one answers the challenging truth that defines character.”
Harry led them out. “He’s a good man. Full of character. He fought—“
“I did not mean to infer he was not a good man. But like all of you, he is stuck in place.” Tenzing turned to Sonam. “I am not hungry. Are you?”
“I am not.”
“We have meditations to attend to.” Tenzing reached into a pocket that Harry didn’t think had been on his robe a moment before. He handed Harry a lotus flower that let off a hint of fragrance, then folded itself up over and over into a circular business card. It was covered with some kind of writing he couldn’t read—Sanskrit?
“For the questing mind, there are always places to go.” Tenzing bowed.
“I don’t understand.”
“When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Tenzing smiled gently. “Although sometimes the teacher appears just a bit before.” His look turned playful. “I am sure lunch would be delightful, but you have things to do, do you not? Important things?”
Harry tried to hide the truth: lunch with these two would have been the most exciting part of his day.
Tenzing’s smile faded. “It is hard to have lived the bulk of one’s life in your childhood.” At Harry’s look, he touched his forehead, where the lightning-bolt scar still showed. “You were defined by this for so long. Does it hurt?”
“Not anymore. Not once the darkness was purged.”
Tenzing glanced at Sonam, then back at Harry. “Evil, you mean. Evil was purged, not darkness. It is one of the strange parts of your system that darkness is so maligned. You are losing a valuable resource if you equate it to evil.” He shrugged. “But what am I? An old man who needs to be leaving.”
“Why did you come here?” Harry opened the door, then followed them out of the Ministry. “You clearly think you’re better than us.”
“Better?” Tenzing’s expression was playful. “More open, perhaps. There is an entire universe of possibilities out there. And yet you limit yourself to what you have here. I am only saddened at the waste.”
With a bow they left him.
Harry saw Hermione coming out of the door they’d just left. She looked unaccountably liberated. “Who was that?” she asked.
“Visitors. Shoved off on me by Shacklebolt.”
“Better you than me.”
“You going to lunch?”
She turned and gave him a strange look. “I don’t know what I’m going to do right now. I’ll see you later.” With a mysterious smile, she walked off.
He took a deep breath and went back inside. Maybe Ron was free for a bite.
Hermione read over the report Odyssia had given her. The young woman sat in the chair in front of her, looking like she hadn’t slept in weeks. “This is not your normal work.”
Odyssia perked up immediately, looking like a dog waiting to be kicked. “Ma’am?”
“There are typos and grammatical issues all over this report. More importantly, your conclusions seem to be, well, inconclusive. I’m used to something a bit more polished from you.”
Odyssia looked crestfallen. “Oh, ma’am, I’m sorry. I read it over. Several times. I did.”
Hermione studied her brightest investigator. She was not usually given to babbling out excuses any more than she was to making mistakes in reports. “What’s going on?”
Odyssia looked down.
“You can tell me. You know I think highly of you. Is there a problem you’re afraid to tell me about?”
“Oh, no, everything’s fine.” A gigantic yawn put lie to that statement.
Hermione let an eyebrow rise in a way that would have made Snape proud.
“Oh, ma’am, I’m sorry. I am. It’s just, I wanted to be perfect and you know you’re you, and you were part of them, and it’s such an honor. And I’m young, and I know others questioned my assignment to this posting, and I just wanted to show that I could do—”
“Double the work?” Hermione smiled. “Do you have it on now? The Time-Turner?”
Odyssia fished it out from under her robe.
It looked just like the one Hermione had used third year. “You know, for something supposedly destroyed, there are an awful lot of those turning up.” She smiled at her own silly pun.
“Give me that.” She held out her hand, waited as Odyssia slipped it off and placed it in her hand. “I used one of these for an entire year. I hated it. You cannot sleep off two days in the few hours a night people like us generally sleep. Odyssia, you’re fine the way you are. Whoever I was, whoever I knew, whatever you think of me, you don’t need this to impress me. Just do a good job. Be yourself. I had to learn that the hard way. You don’t need to.”
Although to Hermione’s credit, she was a lot younger than Odyssia when she learned this lesson. But she’d resist saying it to the younger woman. “Go on now. Go home. Get some sleep. Come back in the morning and redo this report.”
“Ma’am, thank you.”
“Go on.” Hermione waited till Odyssia was out to study the Time-Turner.
She should take it right to the vaults. She should turn it in.
Right after her next meeting. That she didn’t need to go to but would hear about if she didn’t show up. Or the working group she’d somehow been signed up for. Where she and her colleague from Administrative seemed to be the only ones doing any work. Or the lunch she wouldn’t get to eat unless she grabbed something and ate it on the run, because her assistant had booked her all the way through the day.
She should do the right thing. Like she did every day at this job. Every day at home. Every day since they’d brought down Voldemort.
It would be unthinkable to use it for her own pleasure.
She put it in her drawer—she would take it to the vault tomorrow.
Shacklebolt’s assistant popped his head in. “You have a moment?”
“I was just going to the canteen.”
“I just need you to give me some input for this.” He smiled and sat down, and Hermione felt the last few minutes before her meeting slipping away. Brilliant—her stomach would growl all through the meeting, and she’d get a headache from not eating.
When he finally left, it was time to head off to the meeting. She went to look for her assistant and saw a note on her desk. “Gone to lunch.”
She very slowly went back into her office and closed the door, leaning against it so no one else could come in.
It would be wrong to use the Time-Turner to get lunch.
It would be very wrong.
Except...maybe just this once? She walked back to her desk and took the Time-Turner out of the drawer. She heard a knock on her door and ignored it. Whoever it was went away.
She slipped the Time-Turner over her head, walked to a corner of her office that she never used, and turned the Time-Turner an hour back.
She was standing in front of herself. She—the other her—froze. Fortunately, she didn’t reach for her wand or anything as dire as the warnings for use of Time-Turners said.
“You probably want to check Odyssia Fronagle’s reports,” she told her only slightly younger self. “Just...a thought.” Then she walked out and tried to keep the time paradox headache that using a Time-Turner always gave her at bay.
As she left the building, she saw Harry with some men who looked like monks. She managed to weasel out of lunch with him after they left him standing on the curb. Not that she didn’t enjoy lunch with Harry, but for now, she was determined to enjoy her extra hour—all by herself.
Harry was just coming around the corner to get something for Molly when he saw Hermione peek out of a door. A door that, as far as he knew, led to a closet.
She saw him and immediately looked guilty. “Oh, Harry, yes, well, nice afternoon, isn’t it?”
He walked over to her. “What are you up to? I know that expression. It’s an ‘I’m up to something’ look.”
“Up to something? Oh, don’t be silly. When do I have time to be up to something?”
She tried to push past him; he didn’t let her.
“What’s this?” He touched the bit of gold chain peeking under her collar.
“A necklace, Harry. Surely you’ve heard of them?” Again, she tried to get past.
“You’re doing it again, aren’t you?” He grinned at her. There were times he wished he had a Time-Turner to carve out an hour or two with Ginny—three children definitely made it tough to schedule couple time. “Does Ron know? Are you two sneaking back in time so you can...well, you know?”
At her look, he realized that shagging was definitely not what she was getting up to. “Wait, Ron doesn’t know?”
“No. And I prefer to keep it that way if you don’t mind.”
Maybe shagging was what she was up to? Just, not with his best friend. “Are you hurting him?”
“Why would I hurt him?” She pulled the Time-Turner out and brandished it at him. “Why does this have to be about him at all? Why can’t anything be just for me?”
He took a step back.
She immediately looked contrite. “I’m sorry, Harry, but do you have any idea how tired I am of having people at me day and night?”
“I know it’s hard but maybe if you talked to Ron about it?”
“You don’t know if it’s hard. You don’t know anything about it. It’s just...I’m sick to death of being at everyone’s disposal. You have no idea how tired of it I am. Of how frightfully bored I am.” She took a deep breath. “Oh, God, I did not mean to say that.”
He led her to a window seat, sat down next to her. “You’re not happy?”
“That’s not what I said. I said I was bored.” She looked down, then met his eyes. Hers were flat and hard. “Harry, I go to work, and then I come home and I’m with Ron and the children. I do the same thing every day at the same time in the same way. I have no time for myself. No time to even breathe. And I haven’t learned anything new in I don’t know how long.”
“You learned how to be a mum.”
“I babysat, Harry. I know that’s terribly Muggley of me, but during the summers, it was a way to earn some spending money.” She sighed. “So you see I was quite familiar with the inner workings of a nappy long before I had Rose and Hugo.”
He wasn’t sure what to say. As she put the Time-Turner back under her blouse, he asked, “So where do you go when you use it?”
“Nowhere. I just go out in the fields. Get away and try spells. Or take a little nap where no one can find me.”
“You have all that time, and you don’t go anywhere?”
She put her chin up. “Why? Where would you go?”
“I don’t know. Paris, maybe. Or Madrid.”
“I’ve been to both of those places.”
“I’d come back with a sunburn. I think Ron would notice.”
“Then Nepal. They have monks there who know all kinds of magic—things they never taught us at Hogwarts. We could learn a thing or two.”
He frowned. “Did I say we?”
“You did. I’d rather you didn’t say it again. This is my time alone. Just for me. You understand that, right? I’m not doing anything wrong.” She looked almost panicked, and he wondered just how unhappy she was.
“All right, Hermione.”
She got up, turned to look at him. The panic had receded; the hard look was back, even though her voice was soft when she said, “Please don’t tell Ron. Or Ginny. Or—“
“I won’t tell anyone, Hermione. Don’t worry.”
“Thanks.” She smiled tightly, then walked away.
He sat for a moment, wondering why he’d said “we.” He heard footsteps on the stairs, and Ginny came into view.
“There you are. Mum’s sent me to fetch you. She said for you to never mind on your errand. Does that make sense?”
He nodded and held out his hand.
Ginny walked over and took it. “You okay?”
She smiled. “Would you be better at home?”
“No, this is good. You know I love it here.”
“Well, from the look she was just wearing, Hermione doesn’t. Although I think she likes the built-in nanny she gets when she comes here.”
“Do you think Hermione’s unhappy?”
“No. I just think she doesn’t like it here as much as you and I do.” She gave him a guileless smile. “It’s harder to be a daughter-in-law than a son-in-law, you know? Easy to never measure up if you’re a girl. ’Specially with my mum.” She laughed. “Hermione’s good people, though, and mum knows it. She’s just going to be a bit particular because that’s what she does. Nothing but the best for her boys.”
“What about her girl?” He pulled Ginny close.
She kissed the tip of his nose. “Well, I got you and you’re one of her boys.” She frowned. “Which in that course of logic makes me your sister. Forget I said that.”
“I think that’d be best.” He gave her a quick kiss. “Anyway, you’re right. I do love it here. It’s the family I never had, the home I always wanted.”
“And don’t you forget it, mister.” Ginny pulled him up and hugged him, then shooed him off downstairs.
Hermione lay in bed with Ron, lying quietly after making love and listening to the rain come down overhead, battering on the roof. They were in their own house, in their own bed, with their kids tucked in down the hall. No Molly to make her feel not quite up to snuff. No Ginny to remind her that motherhood was a wonderful thing. And several hour’s worth of time that had been all hers, thanks to the Time-Turner.
It had given her the rest she needed, made her actually smile when she saw Ron waiting for her at the Ministry. And now it was just the two of them. Enjoying each other.
“You’ve been in a good mood lately,” Ron said, as he played with her hair.
“Have I been so unbearable?” She was more interested than troubled at the idea—she knew she was in a better mood, hadn’t been sure if it was translating to him, though.
“Look, I know sometimes it gets wearing. This life. The kids. Me, probably.” His smile was sheepish. “I know I make you mad and most of the time I don’t even know what I’ve done.”
“The kids are fine. We’re fine.” She smiled and turned to cuddle into him. “And amazingly, I’m not mad at you right now.”
“Well, that’s a relief.”
She sighed happily as he began to rub her shoulder.
“What’s this?” He was fiddling with something on her arm. “You’ve got a weird scratch here.”
“Yeah, caught myself on a bramble at the Burrow.” Trying a spell she shouldn’t have.
“Why were you in the brambles?”
She chuckled. “Well, clearly, I didn’t mean to be near them. I just lost track and sort of got a bit too close. Are you sure your brambles aren’t related to the Whomping Willow?”
“Who knows, eh? I would not put it past George and Fred to have done something like that.” He grew quiet, as he often did, when he thought about his lost brother.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you sad.”
“It’s all right. It’s been years, hasn’t it? Where did the time go?”
“And I can pretend all I want that he’s not dead, that’s he really on extended holiday and will show up someday, but it won’t make it so.”
“And you’ll see Fred again. Harry said they never really leave us.”
“Well that’s a bit disturbing considering what we’ve been up to just now.” He made a funny face and she laughed.
“I do love you, Ron,” she said as she kissed him. “I don’t say it enough, I don’t think.”
“You don’t say it all the time and that’s fine. I had my fill of mushy with Lavender back at school. That whole ‘Won-won’ thing.”
She didn’t like to think of Lavender. It still hurt. Even if maybe it was better that he’d had that, so he didn’t have to wonder if what he had with her was good and strong. And the right thing. And that she’d never, ever call him Won-won. “But I say it enough?”
“You do.” He kissed her on the forehead. “Stop being such a worrier.”
“It’s just, I love you. I love the kids. I love our life.” And it was true, on nights like this, when she’d had time to herself. It was what kept her from surrendering the Time-Turner the way she knew she should.
“Me, too. All’s well, then.” He seemed to be having trouble keeping his eyes open. “I love you, Hermione. I know I don’t say it enough.”
Then he was gone. She sighed, wondering why, after all these years, she’d thought he’d be able to hold a conversation for very long after sex.
Good sex. Sex they hadn’t had in a while. Sex they’d probably needed long before this.
She was afraid she had become unbearable—and that he was just too smart to say so.
Harry walked through the halls of the Ministry, pretending to be on nothing more than a little “clear the cobwebs” stroll. But he sped up when he finally reached Hermione’s wing. He took a moment at the door, then knocked.
No answer. Damn.
“What are you doing here, Harry?” Ron had his arm around Hermione; they looked like they’d just come in from the outside. “Something wrong?”
“Just looking for you two.” If by two he meant Hermione and her Time-Turner. He tried not to look guilty.
“Well, here we are. Beautiful day out. You should go get some fresh air. Does wonders for the perspective.” He grinned at Hermione, and she gave him an impish smile back.
Harry suddenly wondered what exactly they’d been up to in the great outdoors. He looked down, was about to come up with a weak excuse for why he was there, when Hermione said, “Actually, Harry, now that you’re here, I do have some questions for you. Regarding a case I’m working on.” She kissed Ron—a long kiss that made Harry a little uncomfortable. “You understand, right?”
“Confidentiality. I understand.” He winked at her and patted Harry on the back and then left them alone.
Harry waited until he was gone to say, “I guess stealing time is good for a marriage?”
“It’s good for me. I’m happier, ergo our marriage is happier. Not advanced alchemy, Harry, just a simple fact. What do you want?”
“I need a break. I need to borrow the Turner.”
“I’m not.” When she shook her head, he said, “Would you want the rest of the Ministry knowing you had it?”
“Are you blackmailing me?” She moved closer. “Harry, this isn’t like you.”
“I just feel left out.”
“Well, yes, that’s because you are left out. But so, I might point out, is my husband. So really, I find myself caring a bit less about your angst over this than how he might feel if he knew I was spending significant amounts of time without him.” She sighed. “You’re happy with Ginny. I can tell because she can’t hide a thing and if she were worried about you, I’d know. You love your children. I can tell that just by watching. What is there to be left out of?”
“Hermione. I spent my entire childhood afraid.” He could see she wasn’t following his logic train. He wasn’t sure it was necessarily making much sense so he didn’t blame her. “Always afraid.”
“And I’ve vowed that my children shall not live that life.”
“And you’re doing well on that promise. Although I suppose it helps that the horrible dark wizard that made you so afraid is dead and his followers are neutralized.”
“Hermione, you said you were bored—well, I am, too.” He started to pace. “Yesterday, James fell out of a tree. And it was the worst thing ever. And I was...overcome with this need to protect him.”
“That’s called being a parent.”
“No. Not from trees or gravity or any such thing. From me. From the kind of life I used to lead. From the adventure, I miss—and that I want back. I feel like I’m dying inside, like ever since Voldemort fell, a part of me has been leaking away. Soon there’ll be nothing left of me.”
“Of you? Or of the life you hated while you lived it?”
“It’s the same thing, isn’t it? You were there with me. When Ron left. You remember how lonely it was.”
“I do. I remember how much we missed them.”
“Right. But there was another part of me. That...liked it. That liked the freedom to be and do whatever I wanted. I felt that no one could get hurt when I was away like that on my own.”
“On your own? What about me?”
“You’re so strong. I never feared for you. I needed you.”
“This is all because James fell out of a tree?”
“Well, truthfully I think James might have been up to something. It wasn’t actually our tree.”
She laughed. “That boy’s a menace.”
“He may take after my dad in more than just name.” Harry sat down in the one of the chairs that faced her desk. “Look, I see how you’ve changed in the last few months using it. I see how much more content you are. And I want that.”
“I’m not giving you the Time-Turner.”
“Then let me go with you. I’ll leave you alone, I promise, if solitude is what you seek. But I just need some time that’s mine and that won’t put my family at risk.”
“At risk? What do you plan to do with this time?”
He took a deep breath. “Get stronger. Get smarter. Work at something?”
“Work? We revolutionized the Ministry or haven’t you heard?”
“It was archaic. Ready to change. On the cusp and Voldemort sent it crashing over. We just picked up the pieces. We didn’t revolutionize anything.”
She moved closer to him. “You’re not bored. You’re...insignificant.”
He looked away.
“Harry, you lived in a few years what most people don’t achieve in a lifetime.”
It was as if the monks were back, telling him that his life had ended when he was a child. “And I want it back. I want to feel that thrill again. I want to do something, anything, that will remind me of when I was the...”
“The Chosen One?”
He didn’t meet her eyes. It was not a thing he wanted to admit.
“You’re the Chosen One in Ginny’s eyes. In your children’s—well, maybe not James so much, but Albus and Lily.”
“Why won’t you let me be part of this?”
“Find your own thing. Why do you have to take mine?” She touched his cheek and her look was sympathetic, but then she dropped her hand and went back to her desk. “I can’t believe you’ve forgotten how Ron reacted in the Forest? When he thought we were together? Can you imagine how he’d feel if he found out we were running through time together...without him?”
“It’s not like that. You and I, we’re best friends.”
“Then act like one. And go home to your wife.”
Harry watched as Hermione got up and said she was going for a walk. She lifted her hand to her neck, a little tell he’d learned to spot. A tell that meant she was going to use the Time-Turner.
He handed Lily to Ginny and leaned over to give her a kiss. “I’m going to go check on her.”
He nodded. “Heard she had a case go badly. I’m worried she’s obsessing. You know how she gets. And I have Shacklebolt’s ear in case she needs something told up the chain.”
She smiled. “You’re always thinking of others.”
He gave her gamest smile he could. “Well, who wants a cranky Hermione around?”
She laughed and waved him off.
He got to Hermione before she was out of sight of the house.
“Harry, we’ve been over this.” She didn’t slow down.
“I just need half a day. All right?”
“Half a day? For what?”
He took a deep breath and held out the business card that Tenzing had given him. “I want to go to Nepal. I need to find two monks.”
“You’ve got to be joking.”
“Look it’s summer—there, too, I mean. We could go and be back and not need to change clothes or anything. Or you could do whatever while I go there.”
“Are these the two I saw you with at the Ministry that day?”
“Yes. They had...I think they had knowledge.” It was cruel, really. Using that against her when learning was the thing she cared most about. “Knowledge we don’t have. Or maybe they don’t really have it, but I need to find out one way or the other.”
“Half a day, Harry? And at altitude. We’ll be exhausted.”
“I know a spell. We use it all the time in the auror office when we have to work at altitude. Trust me, Hermione? All right?”
She didn’t look convinced.
He moved closer, put his hand on hers but didn’t try to hold her. Just touched her, just connected—the way they used to. “Hermione, this is important to me.”
She was lost. Just as she’d always been when he’d needed her help. “This is against my better judgment.”
He smiled at her.
“Just do the bloody spell, already.”
He performed the spell. It did nothing at sea level but once they hit the heights, they’d be glad of it—and it lasted for months before it needed to be done again. He gestured to her bag. “I trust you have everything else we could possibly need in that.”
She glared at him. “There was a time you were very glad at what an efficient packer I am.”
“That’s very true.” He smiled at her. “Please? Let’s go. Let’s have an adventure and learn something no one else here knows.”
Her glare intensified, but then he could see her wavering. Finally, she slipped the Time-Turner out and looped the chain over his head too.
“Half a day. We both go. If I think this is bonkers, we don’t go back.”
“Agreed.” He nodded and gestured to the Time-Turner. “Do it.”
“We need to get over here.” She led him to a spot near an abandoned shed, clear of the house from any angle someone might watch them. She dialed the Time-Turner back a whole lot of turns and suddenly it was much earlier in the day, when it had still been misty.
“Ginny and I would be just leaving to come to the Burrow.”
“Ron and I, too.” She gave him a hard look. ‘Now, how do you propose we find your monks?”
He took out his wand and touched the business card, expecting it to unfold into the lotus. Nothing happen. “Accio Tenzing.”
“Do you have any idea how common those names probably are in Nepal? Or how far away they are—do you expect a summoning charm to work?”
“Well, they gave me this card. It must do something.” He studied his wand. “They called these crutches.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Right. But maybe.” He put his wand away, gestured for her to do the same. “Take my hand.”
As soon as he felt her hand in his, he closed his eyes. The business card began to move on its own in his hand, drawing his hand up and up, to rest finally on his forehead, just between his eyebrows.
“Harry, it’s turned into a flower. It smells so beautiful.”
It was the scent he remembered from the monk’s visit. He thought of them, pictured them, and then disapparated, with Hermione in tow.
They apparated in the middle of a temple. Candles with some sort of liquid fuel burned all over, leaving a greasy popcorn smell in the air, and monks sat cross legged on small mats, chanting softly. In the back of the temple, other monks rang a medium-sized gong, and boys sounded bells, some deep, others tinkling and light.
He realized he in his walking shorts and Hermione in her summer frock were dressed all wrong for the occasion.
“So you come. And you bring another.” A monk rose from a row near the back of the temple, came closer, and Harry saw it was Tenzing. He smiled at the flower Harry still had held to his forehead. “You found the third eye. Well done.”
Hermione was gazing around the temple and she said, “There are women here.”
“Nuns, yes. As well as we monks. You are...?”
She blushed. “Oh, yes, how rude of me. Hermione Weasley.”
“I am Tenzing.” He looked at Harry. “Sonam is away. He will be sorry to have missed you.”
“I’m glad I found you. One of you, anyway.”
“Come.” Tenzing took their arms, led them out of the temple and onto a patio that went right to the edge of the cliff, a row of benches serving as a wall of sorts.
Below them was spread out a valley, and beyond that, the mountains.
“It’s beautiful here.” Hermione walked right to the edge. “A wonderful place to worship.”
“Is that what you think is going on in there?” Tenzing asked.
“To worship is to give praise and glory to a deity, is it not?”
“I guess so.”
Tenzing smiled. “We seek unity with the source of all life. We seek harmony with the many natures within us. We seek mastery and balance. All that we need can be found within ourselves, when we are as one with the Universal power.”
“Bit of a difference.” Harry glanced at Hermione, unsure what she thought of all that.
“So everything you need is inside you.”
“Sometimes the newest pupils speak the greatest truths.” Tenzing smiled widely, the expression wrinkling his eyes and giving him a mischievous look.
“Oh, no. It’s Harry who wants to study with you. I’m just here to be his voice of reason.”
“If you wish to believe that, then please continue with your self delusion.” Again the dimpled grin.
Harry could see Hermione was offended but also having a hard time resisting the charm of Tenzing’s smile. “Is it all right that we’re here?”
“It’s all right with me. And with my brothers and sisters.” He took them each by the arm, led them to a path that meandered down the mountain. “What do you seek here, Harry?”
“I’d like to know more about what you said that day at the Ministry. About wands and our system.”
Tenzing looked serious. “Do you know, my children, that every time you raise a wand, I feel it?”
“Feel it how?”
“You rip and you tear and you force. You work against nature and the Universe, in spite of the magic inside you.” He looked at Harry’s wand with distaste. “If it would not be an affront to you, I’d throw it over the cliff.”
“It would probably come back. A simple summoning charm.” Hermione made a sheepish face.
“You learn your spells like they are alphabets or figures. Tailor them not at all to your own special gifts.”
“That’s not true.” Hermione’s eyes blazed. “We’re all trained to be our best.”
Harry winced. It was a Ministry motto, and it sounded horribly mindless coming from her in this way.
“Who defines your best? And how do you attain such a superlative and still have so much to learn?” Tenzing smiled.
“Do you always just ask more questions?”
“Do you have a problem with questions?”
She sighed and glared at Harry, who shrugged. He was sort of enjoying watching her meet her match at arguing. Or non-arguing maybe was the better term.
“Hermione. It is a pretty name.” Tenzing smiled. “I know much of your...Western philosophies. Your name is derived from the Greek god Hermes. Ever changeable. Ever quick. Ever thinking.” Tenzing laughed. “Also a thief.”
“I’m not a thief.”
“Would you steal Harry from us? Would you steal this chance to learn from yourself?” He stopped, put his hand on her shoulder. “Because it’s up to you, isn’t it? I know you control time with one of your little toys. If you don’t choose to come back here, Harry won’t either.”
Harry was about to protest that he could apparate on his own, but then realized Tenzing was right: he needed the extra time, when he’d be letting no one down by taking it for himself. By being selfish.
By having fun.
“We’ve hardly started to see this place,” he said into the silence between Hermione and Tenzing. A stiff silence on Hermione’s part. A peaceful silence from the monk, as if he could stand there all day and not worry about anything. “Let’s give it a chance, eh, Hermione?”
She turned to look at him. He could see she didn’t like it here. That this wasn’t what she’d wanted when she’d taken the Time-Turner.
“Please,” he said, as he took her hand. As he stared into her eyes and tried to will her to feel how badly he needed this. “Please.”
She exhaled finally. A slow, surrendering sigh. “Show me more.”
Hermione sank gratefully into Ron’s arms. It had been a long day in Nepal, the third day she’d spent with Harry and Tenzing, talking about things that made no sense. She should be smart and tell Harry they were getting nowhere, but she saw how his eyes shone when he got to Nepal, and she was pretty sure hers probably did, too. Even if hers was as much in frustration with the endless non-answers of the monk as it was in the awe and enjoyment Harry seemed to feel.
“Have you been to the cinema?” Ron asked.
“You smell like popcorn.”
She closed her eyes. Yak-butter candles. She’d meant to take a shower before she came back into real time. Stupid. So stupid.
“Oh, no, I popped into one is all. To get out of the rain.” It was raining today, wasn’t it?
“Did you get some?”
“Oh. No.” She sighed. “Do you always think of food, Ron?”
“Well, yeah, generally. You know that.” He sniffed her hair. “And there’s a tinge of incense mixed in with the butter smell.”
“Where do we work, Ron? There’s always a tinge of something.”
“That’s true. I like the popcorn smell. But it’s making me hungry.”
“Do you want me to go wash it off?
‘No, it’s a good hungry.”
She snuggled against him, thought of things Tenzing had said. “Have you ever thought that our way of doing magic is rather...aggressive?”
“I’m an auror. Aggressive is sort of the name of the game.” He pulled back so he could look at her. “What do you mean, anyway?”
“Well, it’s just...” She sighed. She wasn’t sure what she meant. Tenzing tended to talk in riddles or answer in a round of endless questions, but it was clear he did not like the magic that Hogwarts taught and the Ministry endorsed—and enforced. “Oh, never mind.”
Today, she’d tried a stupefying charm on Tenzing. He’d looked at her like he was very disappointed in her—even though he was the one who’d told her to try it—and just kept talking to Harry. Harry of course had been mortified. She’d had no idea how Tenzing was still standing, much less talking.
It was as if the spell had gone around him rather than onto him. Which was impossible. She was an impeccable spell caster.
“Why did you do that?” Harry had asked her as they’d apparated back to an alley outside the Ministry.
“Well, he told me to.”
“And if he told you to jump off a bridge...?”
She rolled her eyes. “I don’t know. He’s so...unbearably smug all the time. He told me to, and I guess I wanted to teach him a lesson. Didn’t work, so I don’t know what you’re so upset over.”
“He’s my friend.”
“Your friend? You only met him a few months ago.”
“Well, he could be my friend. Someday. Maybe.”
“You’re just embarrassed because I tried something you don’t have the stones to try.”
“It was rude, Hermione.”
“He’s rude. With his constant dismissal of our system, of our wands, of us.” She’d rolled her eyes again, mostly because she knew that drove Harry batty. “Where was he and his great Universal One when we were fighting Voldemort?”
He hadn’t had an answer for her. He’d left her quickly, as if he couldn’t get away from her fast enough.
She had a feeling that if the Time-Turner had been in his hands instead of hers, she’d be persona non grata in Nepal from here on out.
She didn’t care. She’d wanted to see if Tenzing could put his all insufferable assurance where his mouth was. If she could bring him down. It had been...illuminating when she hadn’t been able to.
It had been, quite frankly, disturbing, too. Harry might have been more right than he’d known. They didn’t just have something to learn from these monks: maybe they had everything to learn from them. Tenzing had deflected a spell with no wand, no words, and no apparent effort. A spell she was very, very good at.
Even if things were awkward, she couldn’t wait to get back.
Harry sat staring out the window, as James and Albus played. He made the appropriate responses when they showed him something new and exciting about their toys, but his head was still in Nepal.
Tenzing had resisted a stupefying charm.
Actually, resisted was probably the wrong word. He’d more...ignored it. As if he was exempt from the spell.
Next time they went back, Harry would ask him how he did it.
He wished, not for the first time, that the Time-Turner were his and not Hermione’s. He’d been on the look-out for one of his own, but didn’t want to be too overt in his interest. He didn’t want anyone at the Ministry to know he was doing this.
It wasn’t for the job. Wasn’t to save anyone or help anyone—other than himself. It was the most selfish thing he’d done in ages, and yet it felt so good when he was in Nepal.
And even though Hermione was annoying with her constant questioning of everything Tenzing said and her skepticism, it was like old times to have her with him.
Old times would include Ron, some part of himself seemed to say. He pushed that part down. It wasn’t like what they were doing was wrong, after all. They weren’t cheating on Ron and Ginny.
He heard a rustle and turned to see Ginny watching him. She was holding Lily.
“You were so far away, Harry.” She walked over, sat in the chair opposite him and put Lily down on the floor to crawl. “You’ve been a little distant.”
She nodded. “I mean you’re here. But your mind...?”
“There are some things going on at work. I can’t talk about them. But...they’ve been weighing on me.”
She instantly looked sympathetic. “I know you hate sending others out in the field to do a job you’re so good at. Why don’t you go back to being an auror, not the head of them all?”
“It doesn’t work that way.” He smiled grimly at her. “I’ve been chosen. And not like before when I was the Chosen One. Chosen this time for meetings and reports and everything else that’s mindless and brain-numbing.”
“I’m sure they wouldn’t have chosen you for the job if they didn’t have faith in you.” It was the kind of platitude that used to make Harry feel better. Now, it just made him sad.
Chosen to be a bureaucrat. Well done, Harry! Way to excel.
She echoed his sigh, only hers sounded a trifle impatient, as well. “We’re all right? Aren’t we?”
He met her eyes. “What?”
“Well, it’s just you haven’t been exactly...” She looked down, blushing. “You never seem to want to...you just fall right to sleep.”
“No, I’m just...tired.” Living two days in a day didn’t leave him much energy for anything. But he hadn’t realized he’d been neglecting her.
It was ironic that Hermione’s love life had seemed to improve while his would be circling the drain if he weren’t careful.
Then again, Hermione had the damn Time-Turner at her disposal all the time. She could use the days they weren’t in Nepal to take a nap if she wanted—she could take loads and loads of them until she got all her energy back. He was hostage to her willingness to go to Nepal, and because of that, he used every minute she gave them.
“It’s not like you to shower before you come home.” She looked up. “Your hair was wet today.”
He never exercised. Had always had the kind of metabolism that just ran fast. If he said he’d gone to the gym, she’d know it was a lie. Besides, it wasn’t like he packed a gym kit when he left for work.
“I needed to get away from the grind for a bit and you know how I lose myself in warm water. Aurors have shower facilities.” That much was true; he’d used them today to wash away the yak-butter smell. “It’s...it’s one place Shacklebolt won’t bother me. Cowardly, I suppose, but I just couldn’t take being invited to one more impromptu meeting that would be ‘good for me to attend,’ but that I’d spend the whole time wondering why he’d thought that.” At least the rancor in his voice was real. Shacklebolt did say that, all the time. And the meetings rarely seemed worthwhile.
He held out his hand. “Come here, you.”
She got up and walked over, letting him pull her onto his lap.
“I’m sorry if I’ve been distant.” He kissed her. Made it a really good kiss.
“Just don’t shut me out. You can tell me anything.”
He smiled and nodded. He could tell her anything. He could tell her about the Time-Turner. About the trips to Nepal. About...about going with Hermione—and that Ron didn’t know either. Oh, yes, brilliant. That would go over well. But if he told her now, before this went on any longer, it would be all right.
But he had a feeling Hermione wouldn’t forgive him for outing her precious time away. And his trips to Nepal would end.
And he wasn’t ready for that.
It wasn’t like they were doing anything wrong, after all.
Hermione was surprised to see another man with Tenzing. He looked her over—the look wasn’t offensive: he seemed to be taking her measure.
“Do I pass?” she asked, unable to keep the brittleness out of her voice.
“I don’t know. Do you?” The monk smiled finally. “I am Sonam. I will be taking over your instruction.”
She decided not to point out that so far “instruction” had consisted of a great deal of pointless talking about things that were neither concrete nor particularly useful.
As Sonam led her away from Harry and Tenzing, she muttered, “This is because of that spell I did, isn’t it? He doesn’t want to train me.”
“No, this is because he thinks I am better suited to your energy.” Sonam grinned, and the expression was infectious. “I, too, was rather driven as a young man.”
He picked up a pack that was lying on a bench and led her around to the shade in the back of the temple. “Sit,” he said, pointing at the grass.
She sat, cross legged as the monks seemed to prefer. The lotus position, Tenzing had called it. She couldn’t imagine her father with his arthritic knees taking this pose, yet monks much older seemed completely comfortable with it. Maybe practice made perfect?
“I was not here when you came because I was on a search.” Sonam laid out a square of silk from the pack, then gently removed several objects. Three pairs of round spectacles, three strands of prayer beads, and three different razors.
“What were you searching for?” Hermione could feel her questions coming easier with this man, her tone softening.
“A great teacher died several years ago and now we search for his new incarnation.”
She smiled. “Or she, would be just a child.”
“Yes. It is true. Old enough to make choices, too young to easily deceive. The perfect age to be sought.”
She stared at the items. “And these...?”
“Are his. Our Momo Rinpoche’s. Or one of each of these is.” He sat down next to her.
“I don’t understand.”
“One of the tests is to find the items that belonged to the previous incarnation. It is how we assemble the candidates for final selection. The child will recognize his or her own possessions. Sometimes they laugh. Sometimes they cry. Always they know them.” He met her eyes. “The items that are his are loaded with his essence. Try to determine which are his.”
She reached for her wand.
“With your mind. Not with that thing.”
She sighed. “May I touch them?”
She picked up the nearest pair of glasses. Round, metal—they looked remarkably like Harry’s. “Is this why you wanted us here? Because of Harry?”
“I am looking for a child, Hermione, not a man. And those are reading glasses not the kind of glasses Harry wears. Rinpoche needed them in his last years.” He smiled.
“I’m not feeling anything.”
“May I?” he asked as he held his hand over hers. When she nodded, he settled his on hers. Then he laughed. “How they expect you to do anything when you never clear the energy from your body is beyond me.”
“You build up so much magic inside. So much energy inside. And you use these inconsequential sticks as focusing agents and for the most part trickle out your magic or blow it out all at once. There is no moderation. You are either full to the brim or depleted.”
“I never feel depleted.”
“That is because you have not felt whole in years, Hermione. You don’t know what you feel.”
“And what makes you such an expert on our system?”
“I was a wizard, too. I know what it feels like to summon that kind of power. To slice and command and make war using the essence of the Universe. Or the miniscule part of it that the methods we are taught as wizards allow us to tap into.” He took her wand from her belt, laid it behind her. “It will be fine there. No harm will come to it. Now, please trust me to help you find balance.”
“I don’t trust easily.”
“I accept that. And I would not argue that trust should be earned. But tell me, from your gut--do I feel evil?”
She looked down. “No. You don’t.”
“Then close your eyes.”
She did as he said.
“Now imagine a road that leads from your third eye right here”—he touched just above the spot between her eyebrows—“and your heart and your belly and your inner fire.” He didn’t touch those parts of her body, but she could imagine what each was. “This road runs into the earth, pouring out spent energy. Negativity. Anything that needs to go can run directly into the earth.”
She nodded, afraid that speaking wasn’t right.
“Coming back up the road, from the earth, from the planet that supports you, is energy. Energy you have not wrestled or tricked or called up by some spell. It is energy freely given. Clean and bright and ready to fill you and bring you peace.”
She nodded again.
“Breathe through your nose, deeply, from your abdomen, not from your chest—you will know you are doing it right if your shoulders do not move. And as you exhale, imagine all the energy you don’t need, energy that’s been stuck inside you, draining out. And as you breathe in, imagine the clean energy rushing into you, filling you, making you whole. Now, we shall do it together. Breathe.”
She tried to do as he said. For a moment, nothing happened, but she could hear him breathing deeply next to her, and she fell in sync with his rhythm, visualized as best she could the energy like dirty dishwater running out of her into the ground. Saw the new energy pulled up into her, shining like the sea when the sun caught it and turned it to liquid silver.
She wasn’t sure how long they sat there. She only knew she was sorry when Sonam said, “Now. Try to find Rinpoche’s items.”
She didn’t open her eyes, just leaned in, imagining the items that were the ones she needed to find were pulsing with the same energy she’d just brought into herself. But instead, all of them pulsed with energy. She opened her eyes. They looked normal, but she could still feel the energy they emitted.
“Find the nuances,” Sonam said softly.
She looked deeper, ran her fingers through the air over the items, never touching—trying not to force anything. Then she felt it. This set of beads, this razor, and this pair of spectacles—they all felt the same. She pulled them out, set them in a pile and looked at Sonam.
He was smiling at her. “Well done.”
She found herself blinking back tears she could not explain.
He touched her hand. “The first time—the connection with the whole—it is overwhelming. I remember it well.”
“It’s not like anything I’ve been taught.”
“No, I agree. It’s so...still inside when you connect.”
“Yes. I’m used to magic being so...”
She laughed. “Yes. And a bit noisy. Often with smoke.”
He laughed. “And bad smells.”
“Right.” She put the items back in their piles. “Did you find the incarnation of your...he was your friend, wasn’t he?”
“He was. And no, not yet. But I will. Or one of my brothers or sisters will. And when they do, I will be honored to teach them.”
She wondered at a system that believed in such things. What would Dumbledore come back as? Or Snape?
“I must report what I have seen on my search. Will you be all right here?”
She nodded. “This is the first time I’ve felt welcome here.”
“No, dear one. This is the first time you’ve welcomed being here. There is a difference.”
She didn’t argue. Just nodded and sat in the shade, long after Sonam left her. Soaking in the feeling of complete connection.
“So why did you pawn Hermione off on Sonam,” Harry asked Tenzing.
“He will suit her better. I infuriate her with the way I answer her questions.”
“You answer with questions.”
“Precisely. Sonam is more direct. She will enjoy that, I think.” Tenzing indicated they should walk to the top of the path that circled around and behind the temple.
“How did you stop her stupefying charm?”
Harry took a deep breath, from down low, where Tenzing said the true breath lived. What had he been breathing all these years, then? “But it didn’t work on you.”
“It sought a target. I failed to give it one.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The water in a bowl is made up of many water atoms, is it not?”
“Can you scoop up just one?”
“Of course not, you get whatever amount of water will fill the scoop—and all the atoms that make up that amount.”
“She expected one atom that was my essence and everything else to be the rest of the Universe. But when you are one with all, then what will the spell seek?”
“Good defense. Is it something you have to work at?”
“Not anymore. I’ve been working at this for decades.” Tenzing smiled. “This incarnation, anyway.”
“I...I don’t follow, sir.”
“When you achieve oneness to any extent and sustain it over time, it becomes much easier to not have to think about it.”
“So Hermione and I couldn’t do that?”
“Not now. Maybe someday. If you wanted to dedicate yourself to study.” He turned to study Harry. “But I can help you with other things, Harry. I can help you learn who you are.”
“I know who I am. I’m the Chosen One.” He hated how bitter he sounded when he said that.
“Were. Were the Chosen One. Now...what are you now, Harry?”
Harry looked down.
“It is not a question to be answered in an afternoon. Or a month. Or possibly even a year.” He stopped them before they hit the top of the path. “Let’s sit here. We will practice the meditation I’ve been showing you. We will do a round of mantras.” He handed Harry a strand of prayer beads. “Count off with this. Once we are done, we will seek the stillness within.”
Harry quietly chanted “Om Mani Padme Hum,” counting off the mantras on the beads, much like he’d seen Catholics use a rosary to keep their place. Tenzing had told him there was no real translation to the mantra, but through it, the monks captured everything there was to capture about their faith.
Faith. Religion, in other words. Not something Harry had ever had much time for as a child. Not something he’d tried to make time for as an adult, apart from having his children christened—at Ginny’s insistence. He doubted he’d have made that choice on his own.
He kept time with Tenzing, his accent changing the words a bit, and he tried to make his pronunciation sound as much like the monk’s as he could.
Then, once they finished, Harry tried to seek the stillness within, but the more he sought the stillness, the more his mind fought back. Tenzing had told him this would happen. To clear the mind did not mean the mind would not resist. It was a test of surrender to let the thoughts that popped up in the stillness come and go without latching onto any one.
Finally, he abandoned surrendering and stood. Tenzing didn’t seem to notice, so Harry went in search of Hermione, eager to find out if she liked her time any better with Sonam than she had with Tenzing.
He really wanted her to like this. He really needed her to like this so he could keep coming back.
He found her behind the temple, leaning back on her elbows, legs kicked out, staring up at the sky with the most relaxed expression he’d ever seen on her face. She turned to him slowly, her smile languorous.
He found himself staring. He’d never really considered Hermione sexy.
“I get it,” she said, her voice husky, as if she hadn’t talked in a long time. “I finally get it.”
He sat down next to her. “Get what?”
“Why you want to come back here. What you feel.” She studied him, as if she could probe his mind with her eyes. “It’s the connection, right? The oneness?”
He found himself feeling a pang of envy. So far the only oneness he had found was what other people were experiencing. And he was the open one, not her.
“No?” she asked. She was always so perceptive.
“No oneness for me.” He leaned over and brushed a stray strand of hair off her cheek. “It’s time to go, I think.”
She looked at her watch. “It is.” She didn’t get up, though. “When we were in the Forest of Dean, there were occasions when time would slow down and I’d feel as if I’d never escape there. It was anything but transcendent. But here...” She smiled the slow, almost sensual smile again. “I think we can learn a lot here.”
“I think so, too.”
She pushed herself to her feet, hauled him up so quickly that he lost his balance and had to hold onto her to steady himself.
“Careful, silly.” She laughed. “And the best part of today is no yak-butter smell.” She sighed as she looked around. “Soon it will be cold here. We’ll need to stash some winter gear places Ron and Ginny won’t find them.”
“Right.” He looked down, suddenly uncomfortable with the idea of hiding more things from Ginny, especially when he was noticing things he shouldn’t, like that Hermione was sexy. “Can’t we tell them? Can’t we bring them here, too?”
He saw her oneness crash on the ground and die. Her expression was suddenly the tight and angry one he’d gotten used to her wearing. “And then what? We could all share the Time-Turner? The whole point of this was so I could have some time to myself. These trips to Nepal weren’t even on the agenda. And now you want to tell them?”
“I just...I just worry what they’ll think if they find out. If we told them now, it’s still early enough where things would blow over quickly.”
“Harry, if it were just Ginny, then I’d say yes. But it’s Ron. And then it’s the children. And then Molly will want to come. And soon the entire, sodding Burrow will be in Nepal. It’ll be Weasley East.”
He started to say something and she cut him off. “This is mine, Harry. Do not take it away.” She’d moved closer, was in his face the way she’d used to do at school, when she was particularly impassioned about something.
He nodded quickly and eased back. “Fine. I just thought...the lying makes me uncomfortable.”
“Easy fix, then. Stop coming. Stop lying.” She walked away from him, to the front of the temple, was standing looking over the view of the valley when he caught up with her.
“I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“No one ever does,” she said as she looped the chain over his head and apparated them to the alley they used, then they walked into the Ministry, to the corner of her office that she never went in except to Time-Turn, a corner that was now hidden by a lovely ornate screen he’d found at a second-hand store. A screen she’d propped up in front of where they usually appeared, in case anyone ever walked in while they were zapping in or out.
“Hermione, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. Be careful.” She stared pointedly at her door until he took the hint and fled.
Hermione was just finishing up her shower, claiming an overzealous walk through the countryside around the Burrow to explain her need for a midday ablution to wash away the yak-butter smell—it was getting too cold in Nepal to meditate outside, so the last few times they’d gone, they’d come back reeking of it—when she heard voices in the hallway. One voice angry: Ron. She tied her robe, turbaned her hair in a towel, and opened the door.
Harry was standing half in and half out of the doorway to his and Ginny’s room. Ginny was sitting on the bed, a confused look on her face. Ron was near the room he shared with Hermione, and his face was red—the way it got when he was truly angry.
“What’s going on?” Hermione asked, jamming her hands in her pockets to hide her nerves.
“He stinks of popcorn, that’s what.” Ron turned on her. “Guess you got to the shower first, eh?”
“Popcorn,” Ginny said softy.
“Yeah. Only what I want to know is how they’re getting to the cinema without us noticing them being gone.”
“We’re not going to the cinema, Ron. Don’t be daft.” She tried to push past him. “It’s a new spell, is all. I’ve been trying to perfect it. It’s based on something the monks in Nepal use, this...yak-butter thing. Anyway, I figured yak, cow, close enough and made my own cow-butter candles. But it’s stinky and I felt silly that I wasn’t getting the spell to work because it’s really easy—I’ve been working on it since the first time you asked me about that smell.”
She could see Harry staring at her as if he didn’t know who she was.
She ignored him and forged on. “And Harry found me trying a while back, and he thought he could do better because he happened to have two monks shoved off on him by Shacklebolt at the Ministry, so I let him try. But he didn’t do any better than I have. But I’m going to keep trying. It’s just a challenging spell is all.”
“What’s it do?” Ginny asked softly.
Hermione took a deep breath. “It preserves a flower. Not like we do, where we freeze it in place or petrify it. This...transmutes it. But it comes back a flower.” She gave Harry a hard look. “You still have that one the monks gave you, yes?”
He pulled it out of his pocket.
Ron took one look at it and sneered. “That’s a sodding business card, Hermione. Not a flower.”
“Show them, Harry.” Her look dared him to tell them the truth and she knew it was unfair. But she didn’t care. Ron would think the worst if he knew they were going off together. And there was nothing wrong with it. But if she told him the truth, he’d want to come. And then—“
“She’s lying, Ron.” Harry held the flower up to his forehead and it opened into a lotus. “Yes, the flower does this, but that’s not what she’s up to.”
She felt her face freeze. What was he doing?
He looked at Ginny, seemed to be pleading. “She has a Time-Turner. We’ve been going to Nepal to learn from the monks. It’s...it’s amazing. And I don’t think they would want me lying.” His pleading look was turned on Hermione. “I don’t think they would.”
“You two. Going off alone for parts of the day Gin and I can’t even get to?” Ron sounded hurt and angry, the way he had that day he’d left them alone. Abandoned them because he couldn’t stand their friendship.
Hermione took a deep breath. “It’s not like that. I wanted some time to myself. You know how hard I work. And then the kids. And...”
“And me. That’s what you were going to say, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Ron, and you. I needed some time to myself. And I needed to learn something new and be excited to use my mind again. Is that so wrong? And Harry stumbled in and had these monks he wanted to visit, and I didn’t even want to go, but he convinced me, and they’re...amazing.”
“You went with him. How is that being alone?”
“Nothing happened, Ron. Harry loves Ginny. I love you. This wasn’t even about you. Why are you acting like it’s a crime?”
“You were sneaking around,” Ginny said softly. “You couldn’t tell us. That’s usually a sign that maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.” She looked at Harry, and Hermione couldn’t tell if she was angry with him or pleased that he’d squealed. “And now it’s out. And you can just go there if you need to. Quit stealing time. Quit lying.”
Harry was nodding.
Hermione walked up to him, gave him her most withering look. “I hate you right now.” She wanted to slap him, but she turned and pushed past Ron, getting dressed quickly and grabbing the Time-Turner from its hiding place.
She ran downstairs and dialed it back just far enough, caught Harry before he hit the stairs and pulled him into a darkened corner. “Apparate to the Ministry. Shower. Get back here.”
“Hear that?” She pointed up to where the shower could be heard. Where she was taking a shower right this very minute. “If you go up, you’ll run into Ron. You’ll smell like yak butter. He’ll make a scene. And you’ll cave like some little girl. I don’t want that to happen. Now go.”
He went. And didn’t argue at all—she was that mad.
She waited out the few minutes, then hurried into the bedroom, past a reading Ginny, past a Ron doing a puzzle in the paper. She heard Harry come in, heard him kiss Ginny hello.
Ron looked over at her. “Hello there. Good walk?”
“The best. I love it here, Ron.”
He beamed and went back to his puzzle.
She caught up with Harry after dinner. “You weaseled on me.”
“I didn’t.” But he didn’t sound very sure.
“You did. You damn well did.”
“I’m sure I had a good reason. But you’ll just see them as excuses, won’t you?”
“Reasons, excuses—I don’t care. We’re done. No more Nepal for you.”
“You’re just going to stop going?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Oh, so you can go but I can’t?”
She crossed her arms in front of her chest.
“I’ll tell. You keep me away and I’ll tell.”
“You did tell. That’s why I’m doing this.”
“Well, we’ll be more careful in the future.” He shook his head when she tried to make her face more resolved. “I’ll tell, I swear I will. And I’ll do it in a way you can’t wipe from my mind. I know that’s what you’re thinking.”
“I could wipe you right here.”
“What would Sonam think of that?” He seemed to know he’d struck gold by the expression on her face. “They want me there, Hermione. What makes you think they’ll keep training you if I’m not in the picture?”
“You’re not all that, Harry. You’re not the Chosen One again.”
“I know. But they like me. I don’t know why, but they do. And I’m supposed to be there. And you can’t take that away from me.”
“I’ll just go without you.”
“Then I’ll apparate there myself. In real time. And tell Ginny and Ron why I’m suddenly never home and never at my job.”
She was stuck. And all because she was being selfish.
But why shouldn’t she be? She’d given up her childhood to fighting evil. To saving this world. She’d done an awful lot in the Ministry since then as well. And she was a good mother. Why shouldn’t she be selfish?
“If you ever betray me again that way, I’ll wipe your memory so bad you won’t even remember Voldemort or Hogwarts.”
“Just try me.”
The next day, Hermione found Sonam walking by himself outside the temple. Ron and Harry had gone fishing—an activity she didn’t even pretend to understand the attraction of—so she knew it was unlikely she’d be caught coming back from a solo trip to Nepal.
Although what if she was? What would Harry do?
Sonam smiled at her, but his smile faded as she walked toward him. “You are troubled. Also angry.”
She nodded. “May we walk?” When he nodded, she fell into step with him. “What do your beliefs say about ruthlessness?”
“That is a very broad question.”
“Well, say, if a person knew that someone was going to find out something. Something that would upset the someone and cause a lot of hubbub over nothing. So say, the person took steps to make sure that the event didn’t happen.”
“Didn’t or wouldn’t.” He smiled. “I was a wizard, Hermione, so I know the difference. And you don’t think you are hiding your little toy from me, do you?” He nodded with his chin at where the Time-Turner chain made a slight mark in her shirt.
“Ron—my husband—found out Harry and I were coming here. I may have used this ‘little toy’ to fix that.”
Sonam frowned. “You are not with Harry?”
“No. He’s married to Ron’s sister.”
“But he brings you here, not her?”
“The Time-Turner’s mine. I bring him here.”
He nodded, as if trying to understand the various lines of connection. “I don’t understand why you need to turn back time to come here.”
She looked down. “What does your system say about selfishness?”
“We tend to emphasize selflessness.” He seemed to be thinking so she walked beside him in silence until he asked. “Did you choose Harry for a reason?”
“No. He was the one who wanted to come here. I had the Time-Turner before he suggested it. I was using it to carve out a little time for myself. No work, no children, no Ron. Just me.” She sighed. “And then Harry wanted to come here and—“
“Forgive me, but why didn’t you just say no?”
“He knows my weaknesses. He said the magic word: learning.”
“Ah.” He gestured for them to sit. “Do you regret your actions?”
“I’m talking to you about them, aren’t I?”
He shrugged. “That may be because I am far away and unlikely to judge. Do you regret your actions?”
“No.” She met his eyes. “It’s possible I’m not always a very nice person.”
“I believe that.”
She felt stung, looked away before he could see that she was affected by his words.
“Nice is not always the important thing, Hermione. Compassion is. Connection is. Right action is. The feeling of completion we get with being in balance is. This is less about what you are than what you choose to do.”
“Well, I don’t always do good things. I kept an animagus in a jar for a week.”
He laughed. “I hope the animagus chose a small animal to turn into. Or that it was a very large jar.”
She smiled. “Beetle.”
“Why did you do that?”
“She was hurting people I love. She was lying about them. I let her out once she promised to make things right.”
“It is indeed ruthless to do that.”
“Is it wrong?”
“I cannot tell you what is wrong and what is right, Hermione. You feel it in your gut or you don’t. You have a moral center or you don’t. And everyone’s is different. I know what our teachings say, but not everyone follows our teachings. And as the saying goes, there are many roads up the mountain, but at the top, we all gaze on the same moon.”
“The moon being God.”
“If you will.”
She thought he might say more but he fell silent. Finally, she said, “My husband was angry with me. He thought, at first, that I was cheating on him with Harry. But I think it hurt him worse that I wasn’t. That I just didn’t want to include him in this.” She ran her hand over the scraggly grass. “But I changed that—so he wasn’t hurt. I went back and made it right.”
“You went back and made it better for yourself. That may not be making it right.”
“I thought you said you couldn’t say what was right and what was wrong.”
He sighed. “You are too quick witted. You use your mind to wiggle out of arguments rather than accept the words for what they are.”
“And what are they?”
“When you deprive another of free will—when you change the destiny of another with magic—you are at odds with the One.” He met her eyes and his were hard. “That much is certain. Everyone has the right to their own path.”
“We all have interference. People who come in and change our path. If you hadn’t given Harry the lotus card, you and I would not be talking now.”
“Who did we hurt when we gave him that card?” His eyes softened. “Who did you hurt when you took away your husband’s reality and replaced it with another.”
“I took away the hurt.”
“You made him forget the hurt. The resonance of the hurt still rings if you have the ears to hear it.”
“I made it so it never happened. It’s different. I can make someone forget, too—wipe their mind, I mean. But this was just...replacing an unpleasant scene with a more palatable one. For everyone.”
“Palatable for whom? And are you living your life? Or writing scenes that can be edited and remade?”
“What if I am? Rewrites are good; we learned that in English.”
“We earn enough karma with one life, one series of actions and consequences. Do you really want to call down more?”
“So you’re saying I’ll be judged?” She lifted her chin. “Well, have at it, then. Judge away. I’ve done enough good in this world to balance out a few convenient sins.”
He took a deep breath. “Too many convenient sins can become a habit. And habits become life choices. And eventually, you arrive at something of consequence, where the scales will not balance out.”
“With Voldemort at one end, the scales will always balance out.”
“Our ancient Egyptian brothers said that our souls were measured against not demons and evil, but a feather. Would yours be as light?”
She had no answer for him.
He stood. “Stay here as long as you wish, Hermione. Seek your own answers. You came here today for a reason. Figure out what it is.”
“But you won’t help me?”
“I have new monks. Children, just arrived to the temple. They need me more than you do.” He touched her shoulder. “You have everything you need within you. If you just recognize it.”
“Easy for you to say.”
He smiled and left her alone. She stayed on the grass for a long time, despite the gathering cold. She wasn’t sure she found any insight, but at least here she had peace.
Harry was working when he heard a light knock on his door. “Come in.”
Hermione peeked in. She looked...unsure. “Got a moment?”
“Sure.” He gestured to one of the chairs in front of his desk but she walked over to the window, stared out.
“You have a better view.” She didn’t sound envious; she didn’t really sound anything.
“Guess they like aurors better than lawyers?”
“Who doesn’t?” She sighed. “Things aren’t good between us right now, are they?”
“Well, you threatened to wipe my memory if I step wrong. So no, they aren’t gumdrops and rainbows.”
“Gumdrops will pull out your dental work.” She smiled, a very bitter smile. “My father used to say that. When I’d ask for them.” She turned to him. “They’ve never forgiven me for taking their memories away.”
“Sure they have. You spent Easter with them.”
“And it was....awkward. If it hadn’t been for the grandkids for them to coo over...” She walked over and sat down in the chair he’d indicated. “They don’t trust me. They’re right not to.”
“So I shouldn’t trust you, either?”
“That’s not what I meant. I...I tend to dictate things. Terms and such. My way or the highway.” She smiled sheepishly. “Bossy little thing. I know that’s what’s said.”
“I don’t say that.”
“No, not now. But you used to. Everyone did. It’s all right. I know that. But now I’m not little. Now I’m grown up but I’m...” She took a deep breath, seemed to be trying to center herself the way Tenzing had shown him. “We never had a childhood, Harry. Not a proper one. We went right from fighting evil to being grownups. Parents. Wives and husbands. When I’m in Nepal, I feel young in a way I never did when were truly young. And I feel...”
“Free.” He met her eyes. “I know. I do, too.”
“Then why did you tell Ginny about us?”
“You did, in that other reality. You told her and Ron all about us. And you made it my fault. When you were the one who wanted to go there. You were the one that made this ours and not mine.”
“I’m sorry. I promise I won’t do it again.”
“You don’t know that. We think we won’t do things over the way did them before, but then we do. They become habits.” Her smile was strange, as if she was very far away. “You’re honest, Harry. Or you’re terrible under pressure when it’s people you love who are mad at you. I’m not sure which.”
“I couldn’t lie to Slughorn, either. When Dumbledore wanted me to get the true memory about Tom Riddle for the pensieve.”
She laughed. “So, you’re honest.”
“I think it’s possible I’m just a bad actor. I...panic. Freeze and then blurt?”
She laughed again.
“Can I ask you something, Hermione?”
“Why don’t you want Ron there? Why didn’t you bring him and Ginny along once you knew you’d be stuck with me? I mean your alone time was bust.”
“But it wasn’t. I knew you wouldn’t tell them.” She rolled her eyes. “Well, I thought you wouldn’t tell them. So the rest of the time, when we weren’t in Nepal, really was mine.”
“Are you that unhappy with Ron?”
“Okay, let me rephrase, clever girl. Are you happy with Ron?”
“You’ve been hanging about the monks too much.”
He gave her a hard look. “That’s not an answer.”
“If I have my time—my time—then I am.”
He wasn’t sure Ron would say the same. His friend seemed happy with Hermione. Happy with his life. No extra time needed.
“And what if it got taken away—your time, I mean?”
“Let’s not find out.” She got up and walked away but stopped and turned just before the door. “Sonam thought you and I were together.”
She nodded. “Does Tenzing think that?”
“I don’t know. He’s never said anything. Why? Does that bother you? That they think we’re together?”
She gave him an odd look. “No, Harry. It actually doesn’t.”
Harry sat inside the temple with Tenzing, in a part of the back portion that held private rooms for some of the more senior monks. They drank yak-butter tea and sat on mats that barely kept the cold of the floor away.
The he heard a hissing. He froze for a moment, imagining Nagini. He turned slowly, saw that the snake was small and orange.
“They are rare. Not very aggressive. And their venom has interesting properties.” Tenzing watched the snake move across the floor. “Is it true you can speak to them?”
“Not anymore.” Harry shuddered. “Which I’m glad of. Since they’re symbols of evil.”
Tenzing laughed. “Are they now?”
“Well, Slytherins being that way.”
The monk actually rolled his eyes. “Your biases are so pervasive. Are you familiar with the four elements, Harry?”
“Of course. You can’t do magic without understanding them and the fifth element: spirit.”
“Your houses in your wizarding school, there are four of them, correct?”
“And each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses.”
“Well, I guess that’s how it started.”
“You guess? You were what house?”
“Gryffindor. The lion.”
“Ah, brave and stalwart.”
Harry nodded. “Much better than a snake.”
“Do you know, Harry, that snakes only strike to hunt food or protect themselves. But lions will kill for fun.” As if to give weight to Tenzing’s word, the little orange snake slithered past Harry as if he wasn’t there and disappeared out the open window. “You find solace in things light and sunny, and you fear the darkness. But Harry, the darkness is intrinsic to two of the elements: Earth and Water. Half of your school’s students will find themselves stronger in the night, in the dark, under the light of the moon, not the sun. And they are not evil for it. They are merely as they were designed to be.”
“Slytherin and Hufflepuff.”
“I was almost sorted into Slytherin.”
“I wanted to be Gryffindor. It’s what my parents were.”
“Yes, of course you did. And your teachers, for the most part, favored Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, isn’t that so? Fire and Air being so much more dynamic, so much more...open and easier to champion.” Tenzing sighed.
Harry actually didn’t remember Ravenclaw being favored. It was mainly Gryffindor, if he was honest.
“Open does not equal good, Harry. Great cruelty has been done by open and gallant men. And great honor earned by those who skulk in the shadows.”
Harry couldn’t help but see Snape in the description, but he’d be damned if he’d include all the Slytherins in his good will. “You see things so differently.”
“I just see them how they are. There is duality in all things. For every element that emits, there is another that draws in. It is the way of thing. Neither is right or wrong at the basic level. Both are as they should be. If you fail to see this, you will fail to see those who truly rise above—and those who sink far below. In your job, that latter part is important.”
“Yes. It is. Or used to be. I don’t really do much anymore.”
“You are bored in your current position?”
“God, yes.” He stretched his legs out, tired of sitting cross legged. “Hermione told me not to take the promotion. Ron, too. But Ginny had sacrificed enough with me running all over—and then with the kids.” Harry remembered what Hermione had told him. “You know I’m not with Hermione, right?”
“No. Why would you think that?”
“You bicker like a long-married couple.”
Harry laughed. “We’ve always done that. She’s the annoying sister I never had.”
“May I make an observation? A bored man who sneaks away to a mountain hideaway with someone who is not his wife—and not his sister, either, no matter what you say—is asking for trouble. Your wife will not take kindly to the truth if she finds out.”
“We’re not doing anything wrong.”
“Ah, so you have told her?”
Should he say he had told her, up until Hermione turned everything upside down with a twirl of the Time-Turner? Probably not. “No, I’ve not told her.”
“This is your secret. Yours and Hermione’s?”
“If you are going to juggle torches, you will eventually get burned.”
“I’m a horrible juggler. So we’re fine. I’d never attempt to juggle torches.”
Tenzing smiled slightly. “You know what I mean.”
“I do. But Hermione will kill me and never bring me back here if I squeal. So I won’t tell.”
“As you wish.” Tenzing looked a little disappointed in him but poured him another cup of the yak-butter tea and changed the subject to things less personal.
Sonam was out on his search again, so Hermione sat with Harry and Tenzing. “May I ask you something, sir?”
“How did you evade my stupefying charm?”
He smiled. “I just did.”
She sighed—after working with Sonam she could honestly say she did not miss Tenzing’s non-answers. “Can anyone do it?”
He thought about that. “There are several other monks here that probably could.”
He smiled. “I do not believe he has ever tried.”
She knew she had a calculating look on her face, when he added, “I would not suggest you be the first to put him to the test.”
She smiled sheepishly. “Right.”
“Will you try something for me, Hermione?”
She nodded, then realized she’d normally have asked a hundred questions before agreeing to a blanket request like that.
“Take out your wand.”
She did and held it out to him.
“No, I want you to keep it. What do you feel when you hold it. Compared to what you feel when you put it down.”
“I feel powerless when I put it down.”
He smiled gently. “I mean what do you feel from the wand itself?”
She frowned. Wasn’t that the same thing?
“Harry, give Hermione your wand.”
He passed her his wand. She held it in her left hand, her own wand in her right.
“Close your eyes, center, and tell me what you feel. Take your time. I believe this will be illuminating.”
She closed her eyes and did take her time, centering and breathing the way Sonam had taught her. Then she turned her focus on the wands.
She felt Harry in his wand. The essence of him seemed deeply etched in it, but when she reached for it with her mind, it fled like quicksilver. No matter how she tried, she could not capture his essence.
“You are frowning.”
“It’s just...I feel Harry. On his wand. But when I try to reach for it...”
“Smoke and mirrors, child. See the illusion for what it is. Accept it and look deeper.”
She tried. She managed to make the essence of Harry still and move over to the side of her consciousness. She went deeper into the wand, expecting to find the spirit they’d been told lived there.
Nothing. Even the phoenix wing inside was quiet.
“I don’t understand. The inside is...” She opened her eyes, saw Tenzing looking at her with sympathy.
“A fallen feather from a bird. Inside a piece of wood.” He took the wands from her. “Hermione, you were born of non-magical parents, were you not?”
“Such an ugly word. At any rate, you had no magical teaching growing up, correct?”
“Not until Hogwarts.”
“Then she made up for lost time,” Harry said with a wry smile.
“There is no lineage backing up your skills. No bloodline to fall back on. Everything you posses in the way of magical talent, Hermione, is inside you. It is yours and yours alone. It was innate and then you learned more.”
“And you learned what they wanted you to learn. Like that these”—he held up her wand—“were actually necessary.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Have you ever used a keyboard?”
“Do you know why the letters are placed as they are?”
“Because it made sense.”
“No, my dear, it was because the keys in the old manual machines would stick if a typist went too fast. So they organized the keys in the way best suited to slow someone down. Planned inefficiency.” He held up the wand. “This thing takes all the power that is inside you and focuses it down. It’s as if you had a huge irrigation canal and chose to disperse the water with an eye dropper.” He dropped the wand in the grass. “You are better than that.”
“Teach me.” It was out before she could even think. She looked at Harry. “He should teach us this. We should know this.”
He swallowed hard. “The wands are powerful.”
“And you are even more powerful,” Tenzing said, his voice so soft Hermione had to strain to hear it. “And no one, Harry, no one can ever disarm your magic if it’s inside you. If you recognize that and embrace it.”
“It’s not how things are done. The Ministry...”
“You’ve not told the Ministry you come here, have you? Why not?”
Harry looked down.
Tenzing looked at her. “Why have you not, Hermione?”
“Oh, well, I’m sneaking off to get some time away from my husband.” She held a hand up. “Sonam’s given me the lecture so you can forget it. It’s not about being with Harry. It’s about having some time for myself. See, a few months with you and I’m just bursting with self awareness.”
Tenzing smiled and turned back to Harry. “Why do you come here?”
“Because I feel good when I’m here. I feel free.” He looked down. “But I’m just dabbling, aren’t I? Back at the Ministry? This is why you gave me the card. So I’d learn magic your way.”
“It’s not my way, Harry. It’s not anyone’s way. The magic is inside you and always has been, no matter how much they’ve tried to control you and mold you into a proper unquestioning soldier for them.”
Hermione could feel herself bristling. “We’re not all soldiers.”
He turned to her with a pitying glance. “Yes, you are. These wands are like swords. You commit violence every time you use them. They don’t just limit you, they shape the power into something...offensive.”
“We’re not evil,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest.
“No you’re not. But you are selfish enough to be here, to learn this, and not care about the consequences. You’re curious and smart enough to break free from the restraints you’ve lived under.” He turned to Harry. “You’re brave enough to try a new way.”
He swallowed hard. “I’m lying to my wife.”
Hermione stared at him. This again? “Oh for God’s sake, Harry.”
“No, let him continue. This is important. This goes to who he is.”
She met Tenzing’s eyes. Saw that he did not believe she possessed similar qualms in her character. “Fine. Let him go back. Let him give up. I don’t care because I want to learn.”
“I didn’t say I wanted to go back.” Harry sighed. “I just wish Ginny and Ron could be here.”
Hermione felt pushed in a corner. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath. “We’ve been over this.”
Harry scowled at her. “Yes, you make the rules because you have the Time-Turner.”
“If it’s such a hardship being here with me, then when we get back, you can forget about coming with me and”—she had to hold up her hand when he was about to protest—“and find a way that will get you back here with her and without betraying me to Ron. Because I don’t want to share this with him. I need something that’s just mine. That’s not...ours.” She hated the spin she’d put on the word and looked down.
“If you’re so unhappy with him,” Harry asked, “why don’t you leave him?”
“I’m not unhappy. I just have found a way—this, Nepal, learning something again—to be happier with him. He’s fine. He’s even happier now than he was when I was discontent. So leave it alone, Harry. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
“May I ask you an important question, Hermione?” Tenzing asked.
“Do you come here so you can be alone with Harry?”
She stared at him. “With..?. You mean...?”
“No. He’s like a brother to me.”
“I am sort of your brother, since we married siblings.”
“Right. That. No.” She shrugged, annoyed that Tenzing would even ask.
Tenzing just waited, looked as if he could wait for hours, days even.
“I think I need a break,” Harry said into the silence. “I don’t mean because of that question. I just...I’m just not sure I want this...not this way.”
Tenzing nodded, as if he’d expected nothing different. “You are welcome whenever you want to come back.”
Harry looked at her. “Take us home?”
Tenzing handed her the wands. In her mind, she heard his voice, “Come back when you have taken him home. You still have time, I presume?”
She nodded ever so slightly.
“Come back, then. I have a new study partner for you.”
“Hermione, let’s go.”
She got up and gave Harry his wand, then slipped the chain over his head and apparated them back to the alley. She waited till he was safely in the Ministry, then headed back to the temple. Tenzing was waiting.
“Why do I need a new study partner?”
She rolled her eyes but followed him inside, to a part of the temple she’d never been to before. It had small rooms, barely closet sized.
“Outsiders who come seeking are lodged here. Some are not in the best shape when they arrive. He was one such.”
Tenzing knocked softly. A scratchy voice answered. “Come in.”
She walked in after Tenzing, had to grab the wall for support. “But...you’re dead.”
“Clearly I am not, Miss Granger.”
“That...that is an interesting story. And my voice is not what it once was, although it grows stronger. Perhaps later?” Snape was sitting on a mat like the monks did. He was wearing clothing not unlike what the other monks wore; he looked less sallow in the saffron and maroon than he ever had in black. He turned to Tenzing. “Why did you bring her to me?”
“Because I deem it best. And she has lost her study partner.”
“Weasley?” he asked with a bit of a sneer.
“Harry,” she said.
“Oh, that’s how it is, is it?” He was definitely smirking.
“No it’s not bloody well how it is,” she said, her hands on her hips and her dander up the way it hadn’t been in quite a while. She took a deep breath, said it with more decorum. “I mean...no. It’s not like that.”
Tenzing smiled. “I did not mean to interrupt your meditations, Severus. I will tell Sonam that you and Hermione will begin studying together. Or I will teach the two of you if he is still out on search.”
Snape looked doubtful.
Hermione frowned. “But, how long has he been here? Shouldn’t he be far more advanced?” She was used to him being the teacher, not a fellow student.
“It took him some time to find his way here.”
“I had to recover from that blasted snake. You try coming back from a punctured throat, Miss Granger. And then there were the Death Eaters, what remained of them at any rate, intent on making my life a living hell—or ending it quickly—if they found me. I came here when it was safe to come here.” He met her eyes; his were surprisingly soft and very far away. “I came here when I was supposed to come here.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Give it time.” Tenzing seemed to find that statement funny. “You should go home now, Hermione. Think about what you want. Perhaps, like Harry, you too need a holiday from this?”
“From learning? From freedom? Hardly.” She looked at Snape, defied him to say one sarcastic thing.
He wisely did not.
She half waved at him, unsure what the proper gesture was for saying goodbye to someone who’d risen from the dead. “I guess I’ll see you later.”
“I will try to press on until that moment.” The sarcasm was in full swing.
She raised an eyebrow: a perfect imitation of how he used to do it, and turned around and left.
Tenzing was smiling as he walked her out. “You did not expect this.”
“He was dead. Why would I expect it?” She sighed.
“You will come back?”
She met his eyes. “What is the right thing to do?”
“Only you can say.”
“Is there ever a time you aren’t vague?”
“Yes.” He smiled, a deeply amused but not mean-spirited smile.
It was all up to her if she wanted to continue. “I’ll come back,” she finally said. Harry wouldn’t and now a man she once despised would be her new partner. Nothing was what she expected.
This was all so perplexing—if not also a little liberating.
Harry found Hermione walking in the fields outside the Burrow. Her head was down and she was walking fast, hunched over a bit the way she used to, when she was carrying books and trying to get to class and figuring out a problem all at once. It made him nostalgic suddenly for Hogwarts. For when life was, if not easy, at least straightforward. Stop Voldemort. Don’t let Voldemort kill you. Easy to understand. No moral gray issues.
She looked up at him with a wary look.
He smiled, tried to put her at ease. “I’m not here to cause trouble. I just...I wanted to explain why I needed a break.”
She smiled suddenly, and he felt himself relax. “I know why you needed a break, Harry.” She laid her hand on his arm. “You’re a good husband.”
“When this started, I was so bored at the Ministry. I thought I wanted it back. The adventure. The...freedom. But I don’t. Not enough to lie for it.”
“I understand.” She looked a bit stung, though, because what he knew he was saying, even though he hated it, was that she was willing to lie for it. “I need to learn.”
“It’s more than that, Hermione. You’re not happy.”
“No, you’re not happy, and you think saying you’re not unhappy is the same thing, but it’s not. The most you can hope for is neutral by that logic. And if you have to lie and sneak just to get to neutral, well then I think you need to make a change.” He took a deep breath. “Ron deserves better than half a wife.”
“I’m entirely a wife. I give him a full day, Harry.”
“But how much more of a day do you have to steal for yourself? And how long can you keep using the Time-Turner before you get snappy like you did before? It’s not good for you. And it ages you.”
“That’s not been proven. No one’s ever gone back far enough for it to be proven.”
“Or they did and died on the way back.”
She made a face. “Well, if you see me getting all pruney, do let me know.” She turned to go.
He stopped her. “Hermione, I’m serious. You need to find what makes you happy. I think right now the only thing that does is Nepal and the children. I don’t think you particularly like your job. And...and I don’t think you particularly like Ron.”
“Are you mad? How long have I been married to him?”
“I know you love him, Hermione. But do you like him? What we have, that’s like. That’s friendship. I don’t think we could be more than like, frankly. With him you can be a lover, but are you really his friend? He drives you nuts, and you—”
“And I what? What has he said?”
He took a deep breath. “Just the normal complaints, the same as from the day we met you. You’re bossy. You’re picky. You’re a perfectionist. You try so hard and you achieve so much that you make him feel...”
“Make him feel what?”
“He’s not stupid. He just doesn’t apply himself.” She crossed her arms over her chest, her expression tight. “And he’s not always that nice to me. But we’ve worked past that.”
“Have you? Or have you just swept it under the rug for Rose and Hugo’s sake?”
She looked down. “I need Nepal. If this is your way of telling me you’re going to tell him—”
‘I told you: I’m not here to make trouble. I just wish you’d open your eyes. If you were happy, you wouldn’t need Nepal.”
Her expression changed, and he could almost see the gears turning, her tack changing. “Harry, what we can learn there--I can’t believe you’d give this up. Not forever.”
“I’m not like you, Hermione. You’re quick and you really care about learning, I know that. But I’m not sure I do. I mean not more than I know now. I’m good at what I do. I’m good at this system. Tenzing said I needed to find out who I am. And I think I have. And maybe it’s a little bit dull. But I’m all right with that.”
“You’d rather be a big power in a small pond? They can give us the Universe, if we just open our minds. I’m sure of it.”
He nodded. “I’m sure of it, too. But this is enough for me. What I have is enough.”
“Where’s that Gryffindor spirit, Harry?” She seemed to be on the verge of tears. “Or are you saying I really should have been a Ravenclaw? Intellect over honor?”
“I’ll tell you something: the sorting hat wanted to put me in Slytherin.”
Her anger seemed to fade.
“I wanted Gryffindor. I convinced it. Just like you did. And why? Because I didn’t want to be like them. I did want to be noble and honorable.” He shook his head. “I guess I still do.” He pulled her in for a quick hug then backed away. “Ginny and I are going on holiday. Bermuda. Just the two of us. We need to reconnect.”
She smiled gently. “I’m happy for you.”
“I hate leaving you alone in Nepal, though.”
“I won’t be alone.” She gave him a strange look.
“Right. Sonam—and Tenzing if he’s not there. And you seem to be getting on better with Tenzing.”
“We’re right as rain.” She patted his arm. “Have fun in Bermuda.” Then she walked away.
He hurried back to the house, found Ginny fussing over Lily.
She gave him a sheepish look. “It’s the first time we’ve left her.”
“Molly’s a pro at this.”
“I know. It’s silly. But she’s my baby girl.”
He pulled her to him and kissed her. “It’s not silly at all. I love you.”
She smiled, the warm and genuine smile he’d first fallen for. “I love you, too.”
Snape heard footsteps coming down the hall toward his room. There was the unmistakable clack of high heels. Then a knock.
He got up from the small bed and walked over to the door, pulling it open.
Hermione Granger stood in front of him. In a business suit of all things. And high heels as he’d suspected.
“Lost your casual wear?”
“I came from work.” She seemed intent on staring him down.
“What are you doing?”
“One thing we need to get straight: you don’t get to boss me around. You’re not my teacher anymore.”
“I am well aware of that.”
“All right, then. Let’s get to it. Tenzing’s waiting for us.” She walked off, and he did not try to keep up.
He could tell by the look Tenzing gave her that she did not usually wear a business suit to see him.
“I do hope there’s no lotus position, Miss Granger. That skirt is probably not the thing for it. Wore it to show me how grown up you are now, did you?”
Tenzing seemed to be trying not to laugh.
Granger turned to him. “I want it on record that I am opposed to this study partnership.”
Snape chuckled. It came out meaner then he meant. “There is no record, Miss Granger. We’re at a Buddhist temple. They don’t keep records of you and me.”
“Oh, for goodness sakes, Snape, call me Hermione. Or I won’t do this.”
“Are we ready?” Tenzing asked, his eyes crinkling with mirth.
“Yes.” Snape turned to her, gave her a mocking bow. “Hermione, are you ready to begin?”
“I am.” She sat, rather gracefully for someone trying not to expose anything they shouldn’t in a skirt not made for crossed legs, and turned to him. “Did you know that wands limit us?”
“So it would appear.”
“That’s not an answer. That’s just sarcasm. Did you have any idea of this fact before you came here?” Her face was stony but not the bratty anger he was used to. More just...serious. Had this trying girl actually grown up?
“No. I didn’t.”
“Good. Me, either. Tenzing, we’re ready.” She gave Snape a smile he couldn’t read and turned back to the monk.
“It might be easier for you two to learn together if there were more...harmony between you. I propose a breath exercise. Severus, if you will move so you are facing Hermione, we can begin.”
Snape moved and left a good amount of space between them.
Snape moved in closer. “I apologize if this is uncomfortable.”
Tenzing stood. “Now, lift your hands, palms toward the other person and bring them together. This creates a circle of energy between the two of you. A circuit you can use to become balanced with each other.”
He found it difficult to look at her, and he heard Granger say, “Can we close our eyes? The professor seems to find the sight of me repugnant.”
“Ah, the brat resurfaces. I was merely trying to make this less uncomfortable for you. I find nothing wrong with your appearance.” In fact, if he were to tell the truth, she’d grown up quite nicely. Not a beauty but full of the kind of energy that radiated strength and intelligence.
“Oh, well, thanks ever so.” Her words were snotty; her tone wasn’t.
“Are you two finished?”
“Yes.” She sounded somewhat contrite. “Sorry.”
“Close your eyes. Now, breathe the way we’ve taught you. Make it as silent as you can. Do this until I speak again.”
Snape felt the familiar peace fill him as he let the prana, the vital life force Tenzing had taught him about, surge in with each breath and rush back out into the Universe with each exhale. He failed to lose himself the way he normally did, though. He was too aware of Granger’s palms pressing against his. Of her knees pushing on his.
“Now, breathe together. Find the rhythm of the other. Find the breath that feels complete for both. Without words. Sense it. Feel it. Know it.”
Snape fought his inner editor who thought Tenzing at times was a bit overdramatic. Then he let that thought go, didn’t clear his mind so much as accept that everything in there was fine, so long as he kept concentrating on what mattered: breathing.
He felt for Hermione’s breathing, listened for her soft inhale and exhale, felt the pulse of it where her hands touched his, found himself falling into the rhythm of her breathing, could tell she was with him as she slowed just a little even as he sped up. Soon, he could tell—he knew—that they were in sync.
He felt her push just slightly against his hand, pushed back to let her know he was there, too. Together.
It was entirely strange.
He heard Tenzing walk off. Was unsure what to do. Decided to keep breathing and surrender to the instructions.
They breathed, on and on and on, and her hand began to grow hot against his, as if they were creating fire, with nothing more than their breath.
“I think we should stop,” he murmured.
“I agree.” But she didn’t pull away, just opened her eyes and stared at him. “Do you think he knew that would happen?”
“I have a feeling he did.”
“Quite.” He gently pulled his hands away from her and moved back enough to give her room but not so far he’d give offense—he hoped, anyway. He was horribly out of practice with the niceties.
She leaned in, and he caught a whiff of her perfume. It smelled familiar.
“Your perfume. Did you wear that at school?”
“Is it common?”
Her eyebrow went up.
“I don’t mean cheap. I mean do other people wear it, too.”
“Oh.” She laughed. “Yes, it’s not custom made for me or anything. But I have to special order it. It’s not in vogue anymore. Are we really talking about my perfume when I want to know how you’re even here?”
“Appears to be just fine, so start talking.”
He smiled at the look in her eyes, the little gleam he’d seen at Hogwarts when she was absorbed in schoolwork that actually interested her. Not everything did, so many things were too easy for her. She’d been such a quick study—if an annoying one.
“I gave Harry my memories.”
“I remember. We all still thought you were evil. Sorry for that, by the way. If it’s any consolation, Harry named his second boy Albus Severus.”
Snape laughed and it came out bitter. “Wonderful.”
“You would have preferred Severus Albus?”
“I find it remarkable Potter thought of me at all.”
“He misjudged you. We all did. But you made it very easy to.”
“I know. I had to.”
“I know. Harry told me. Told me everything, I think. About his mum. And his dad. Kind of a wanker, huh?”
“Kind of? That man and his band of marauders made my life a living hell.”
“Harry doesn’t like to think of that.” She looked down.
“I can’t imagine why not. The sainted James Potter a right son of a bitch? Who’d want to hear that?”
“Anyway, how did you get away?”
“I thought I was done for. I thought I’d die and go wherever unsung heroes go and see Albus again. And give him a piece of my mind for the role he made me play in all this. For what he did to Potter, to all of you. But then someone came.”
“I thought at first it was one of my Slytherins come to save me—or at least save me from dying alone. Draco maybe. Or Pansy. But it wasn’t a student: it was a woman. I was nearly blind from the venom. I couldn’t see who it was, but she had the same perfume you’re wearing. She put some dittany on my wound; I know that smell. It shouldn’t have worked. Nothing worked on Nagini’s venom..”
“Yes. And she told me something. She said I had to hide and get well. As I said, I don’t know how she stopped the bleeding. It shouldn’t have been possible, but she did it. And then she said to come to this temple. But not until 2008.”
He nodded. He remembered the warmth of the woman’s touch. The way she’d leaned down and kissed him. This complete stranger. One of the best kisses of his life. But Granger had no need to know that.
“And you have no idea who it was?”
“No. Maybe I should call your perfume supply company? Although that was a long time ago. They probably don’t keep records that long.”
“Oh, back then you could buy it anywhere. It was wildly popular. That’s why Ron gave it to me, I think. He thought the spokesmodel was pretty.”
“I see.” He wasn’t sure what else one said to something like that, but then he began to cough, and she instantly looked contrite.
“Oh, you weren’t just being snide about your voice.”
“No. A side effect of not talking much after having your throat punctured, I’m afraid.” He shrugged. “I’m alive. I should be happy, I suppose.”
“Why did you come here?”
He looked down. It was utterly ridiculous why he had come here. Did he really think that the woman would show up, ten years later? That her whispered instructions had been a promise?
“You came for her, didn’t you?”
“She saved my life. I thought I might as well do what she said. But I didn’t come for her. I’m not some starry-eyed schoolgirl.” He made his eyes as hard as he could.
“Neither am I, Severus.”
His name sounded utterly wrong coming from her, but she managed to make her eyes as hard as his.
“So I see, Hermione.”
“Well, now that we’ve proven we can both use each other’s first names—and that we’ve both got the stones to argue—let’s find you some water. Or a nice cup of—”
“If you say yak-butter tea, Granger, I will curse you.”
She laughed. “You don’t get out much, I take it?”
“I’ve been more or less a hermit since I arrived.”
“We could go somewhere? Or I could bring something back. Tea and scones, maybe?”
He saw how unsure she looked, but also how kind. “That’s all right. I’ll just have some water. But...thank you.”
He thought that was possibly the most civilized conversation they’d ever had.
Hermione took a deep breath, straightened her jumper, and apparated to Nepal. Sonam was waiting for her, and he smiled when he saw her.
She looked around for Snape. Didn’t see him. “Just me today?”
Sonam shook his head. “I wanted to talk to you alone first.”
“How did you know I was coming?”
“Just lucky.” His smile told her otherwise.
“Am I ever going to learn all the things that you know?”
He laughed. “No, but you may someday learn many things of your own.”
She rolled her eyes and fell into step with him when he started up the hill. “What did you want to talk about?”
“Are you comfortable training with this man Snape? I know Tenzing likes him, but if this is not what you want, just let me know.”
She thought about it. “He was our nemesis for so long. We thought he was evil.”
“So Tenzing has indicated.”
“But he wasn’t evil. He was living a horrible life. And...I never really knew him—none of us did. And I think—for now, anyway—that I would like to get to know him. If that changes, I will be sure to let you know.”
Sonam nodded as if the answer was what he expected.
“Is that the right answer? The right path?”
He smiled. “Your question is an absolute when really the true issue is whether this is the right path for you.”
She thought about it. “Do they never coincide? The absolute and the personal?”
He did not answer right away. Then he said, “There are many times that the greater good takes precedence over personal growth or gain.”
“But aren’t there times when what I need is what the world needs? Or are you trying to tell me that every time I make a choice that pleases me, the world suffers?”
“Of course not. You are not that important to the world.” He winked. “But there is a difference between what’s right and what is pleasing.”
“How do you know which one you are looking at?”
He smiled. “Doing what is right does not cause you to feel sick in your stomach if you view the actions with the eyes of truth. Doing what pleases you is often something you then have to rationalize to live with.”
She sighed. “I think they coincide sometimes.”
“That is because you occasionally do what pleases you with no care for the rest of the world, and you do not want to view those actions with the eyes of truth.”
She didn’t argue because he wasn’t wrong.
“Your partner in learning awaits.” Sonam was looking at the top of the hill. Snape stood watching them. “He is an interesting man.”
Sonam nodded. “Like an onion. Peel a layer back and I think you will find a new one.”
“Isn’t that true of anyone?” Hermione realized as she asked it that it wasn’t. Peel a layer of Ron back and you essentially ended up with more Ron, not a different side of him. “Never mind.”
Sonam smiled. “It is not bad to be uncomplicated.”
“It is if it gets boring.”
“Not for the person who is uncomplicated. It is, I think, an easier life to be what you appear. No hiding. No worry. Just...existence.”
“So they live in the eternal now.”
“Oh, I do not mean that. Living in the now is a skill most humans never learn.”
“Nor would we win most wars if we did.”
“Interesting that you should so naturally think of war as the first example.”
“You try being a soldier in your teens and tell me how that shapes your world view.”
He raised a hand as if in surrender. Then he called up to Snape, “Good morning.”
“Morning.” Snape looked at Hermione. “Granger.”
Sonam shot her a look.
“It’s Weasley, actually,” she said.
Snape gave her a knowing smile. “That’s a shame. I shall continue to call you Granger, unless you object strenuously.”
She didn’t. She knew she should insist he use her married name. Especially once she’d corrected him. But truth to tell, she liked hearing her old name. “Suit yourself,” she finally said, earning another look from Sonam.
“Sit,” Sonam instructed them, pointing to a spot on the grass.
They both took the lotus position, side by side.
“Ground and center for me.” Sonam looked at Snape. “I presume you know how to do that?”
“Tenzing has been quite thorough in the basics. Why, may I ask, am I not studying with him?”
“You may ask, but ask him, not me.” Sonam shot him a look that Hermione thought was worthy of the old Snape, back at Hogwarts.
She almost giggled.
For a moment, she thought Snape might get up and leave. He and Sonam seemed to be having a silent battle of wills, but then Snape seemed to relax.
“Since Tenzing has seen fit to assign you as my teacher,” he said, “I will ground and center as you suggested.”
Hermione closed her eyes, found the rhythm of breathing that worked best to center her, envisioned the energy coming through the ground to her and back out again. A few minutes later, Sonam led them through some visualizations that seemed to serve no purpose so far as magic was concerned. All about imagining the whole. She supposed those were for her benefit, selfish thing that she was.
“Your homework, until we assemble together again, is to continue seeking the whole. Keep notes on occasions when you find something that moves you or seems to be approaching unity with the all.”
Then he left them sitting together.
“Lessons here are never what I expect,” she said, stretching out her legs and turning to look at him. “I thought you were going to rebel.”
He looked like he might tell her to mind her own business. But then he, too, stretched his legs out and said, “I opted not to.”
“Well, yes, that’s obvious since you’ve not stormed down the hill.” She realized he wasn’t wearing the robes today. “Normal clothes? No more blending in?”
He shrugged. “I’m tired of robes.”
“But not of all black.” Although the trousers and shirt he’d found didn’t look bad on him. “Anyway, why did you decide to stay?”
He smiled and it took her by surprise, even if it was only half of the expression anyone else would give. “I considered the fact that there was a time when I was asked to tutor someone who hated me. Asked by the very person who would have been the preferred teacher.”
“Harry and Dumbledore?”
“For the record, I don’t think Sonam will be as mean to you as you were to Harry.”
“I don’t know. They do talk about karma here a lot. “ He shot her a wry look.
She studied him. “What I don’t understand is why, if you really don’t like Harry, you agreed to do anything for him?”
“It was the right thing to do.”
She raised an eyebrow. “But you had to feel conflicted?”
“Potter was the son of my most hated enemy. Potter was also the son of my dearest friend. The latter trumped the former.”
“Friend? More than that—you were in love with her.”
“I was. And I have no intention of discussing her any further with you, Granger.”
They both stared at the ground a bit until he asked, “So you married Weasley?”
“Where is he?”
“At work, I suppose.” She sighed, could see he was trying to figure out why she wasn’t. “I have one of these.” She pulled out the Time-Turner.
He nodded but then his expression turned mocking. “Need to run away in time to escape him, do you?”
“I have responsibilities. My job. My children. It’s difficult to carve out time without—”
“Carving out time quite literally?” His expression was unreadable. “Are you aware that you left your husband out of your list of responsibilities? Your job. Your children. No mention of him.”
“He’s assumed.” She kept her chin up, as if this conversation was beneath her.
He just laughed. “When loves become footnotes, trouble is on the rise.”
“As if you’d know.” She saw her words hit home. He seemed to shut down immediately. “I’m sorry. That was mean.”
“And a Gryffindor would never be that.” He got up. “Until next time. When we will no doubt engage in equally delightful chatter.”
Before she could say anything, he had turned and was hurrying down the hill. And even though he wasn’t wearing his old robe, she could still imagine it billowing like a black cloud behind him.
Snape was trying to meditate after the encounter with Granger when a soft knock sounded on his door. “Come in,” he said, not bothering to get up.
Instead of one of the monks, Granger peeked in. “I come bearing gifts.”
He kept his face as expressionless as possible.
She held up a basket. “I have decent tea. And homemade scones.”
“You made them?”
“No, Molly did. I filched a few.” She took a deep breath. “What I said was harsh, and you did not deserve it. I apologize. And I’d like to make it up to you.” She took a step into the room. “I also have tea sandwiches.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Granger, this is the monk’s side of the living quarters.”
“I checked with Tenzing before I came. It’s not that the nuns can’t come over here: it’s that they don’t.”
She’d had time to make tea, filch scones, acquire tea sandwiches, and clear this with Tenzing in the fifteen or so minutes since he’d left her? “You need to be careful with that thing.”
“What thing?” She was unpacking what did look like an excellent repast.
“That Time-Turner. You were already in the past—your past—and then you went back again? You’ll get lost if you’re not careful.”
“I always know when I am.”
“Oh, of course. The brilliant Miss Granger would never make a mistake.”
She stopped in the middle of pouring tea and looked at him. “Of course I make mistakes—now and then. I couldn’t see that you were helping us all those years ago. And I did not have any right to insult you the way I just did today. Clearly, I am not infallible.”
“Witness marrying Weasley as an argument on my side.”
She grunted, but he noticed she did not argue. Trouble in paradise? He didn’t doubt it. The almost cruel way Weasley had treated her was obvious even to someone who wasn’t paying all that much attention, as was the fact that Granger had adored the boy. Children had no idea how much of their lives teachers noticed.
“Why did you marry him?”
“I love him.”
She took a deep breath. “How about this: we agree not to insult each other over our romantic affairs and I won’t toss this hot tea at you?”
He laughed. “Agreed. What kind of tea is it?”
“Darjeeling. I hope you like that? It’s my favorite.”
“It’s not yak butter. I’d take freshly steeped grass at this point, I’m afraid.”
She laughed, and it was an open and engaging sound. He suddenly suspected she didn’t laugh very often. “Well, this is much better than grass. I order it special.”
“Your perfume. Now your tea. You don’t frequent shops like a normal person?”
“Who has time?” She smiled ruefully as she handed him his tea and offered a container with milk, lemon, and sugar cubes stored inside. “Even with a Time-Turner.”
“Unadulterated is fine,” he said, sipping his tea black as she added copious amounts of milk and sugar. “Would you care for some tea with your sweetened milk?”
She laughed again. “No comments from you, sir. Or I’ll whisk this away before you can sip more of it.
He took another sip of his tea. “This is heaven, Granger.”
She laid out a plate of scones and another of what appeared to be cucumber sandwiches. “Eat up.”
“One insult is hardly worthy of such a feast.”
“I wasn’t ready to go home.” She stared resolutely at the floor. “And I was sorry for what I’d said. So...this seemed like a good idea.”
“Well, I certainly appreciate it. If I refrain from making snide comments, may I ask why you don’t want to go home?”
“Didn’t want to, not don’t. I wasn’t ready for my time to be over. It’s not that I don’t want to go home because I do want to.”
“Just...on your own terms.”
“More in my own time.” She exhaled, and it sounded like something midway between a laugh and a sigh. “It’s lovely having people who depend on you. But...” She met his eyes. “You had a whole houseful. You know how it is.”
“I wasn’t required to love them.”
She didn’t smile. “But you did, didn’t you? You did a lot for that house. I mean, aside from the obvious.”
“I did.” He wasn’t unhappy to admit it. He’d loved his Slytherins, saved the ones he could. Tried to get them on a good path. Hard to do when expectations were so low and temptation so nearby. He decided to change the topic, get it off him and his house. “And Potter? He prospers?”
She nodded. “He married Ginny Weasley. They’re very happy.” She looked down.
As opposed to she and Ron? Snape wondered if she could even hear the implied contrast in her tone.
“Good for them.” He tried to sound jovial; it came out forced.
She looked up at him and laughed. “Were you even trying to sound genuine there?”
“I was, sadly.” He smiled at her, smiled wider at the grin he got back from her. “I am not conviviality personified.”
“You don’t say?” She held out the container she’d poured the tea from. “More?”
“Please.” He helped himself to the scones and sandwiches, too.
There was a comfortable silence as they both ate.
Finally, she leaned back, and asked him, “Do you think Tenzing and Sonam can teach us a better way?”
“I think they can teach us a different way. I am not certain yet if it is better or not. I’d like to think it might be, if I’m going to subject myself to their rather Spartan food and accommodations.”
“Yet the Temple feels so rich. I think that every time I’m in there. The wood and the brass, the maroon and gold cloth. The sound and the smell. Incense and popcorn: that’s what I think of.”
“It’s especially beautiful at night.”
“I know. But you can’t see the mountains in the background.”
“But if you sit on the benches and look in, it’s really quite astounding. The golden glow and the tones and hums.”
She smiled. “Who knew you were such a lover of beauty. You of the all-black wardrobe and classroom with no affectation.”
“You don’t know me that well, Hermione.” He realized what he’d called her a moment after it was out of his mouth.
She smiled. “My, you didn’t choke or anything when you said that.” An enormous yawn put an end to whatever else she was going to say. She eyed his cot. “I know it’s an imposition, but I’m so dreadfully tired.”
“Another side effect to that blasted toy. Come here in real time, Granger. It’s safer.”
“I have my reasons for using it.”
He decided not to pursue that. “Take a nap. I have reading to do.” He held up the book Tenzing had given him. One of the better translations of the basic tenets of their belief, he’d said. He thought Voldemort and his Death Eaters might have liked the title.
She curled up on his cot and was out in a flash. He watched her sleep for a moment, then picked up the book and continued on from where he’d left off.
Harry felt Ron poke him in the side. “What?”
‘She’s not eating again.” Ron was looking at Hermione. “She never seems hungry anymore. But she’s not losing weight.”
“Maybe she ate a big lunch.”
“Hermione? Miss “Talk to me while I run off to this meeting” Hermione?”
“Maybe it was a special occasion. Going away or promotion or some such? I don’t know, Ron. Maybe she just doesn’t like Beef Wellington.”
“Who doesn’t like Beef Wellington. Especially my mum’s?”
Harry shrugged and mercifully Ron’s attention was nabbed with a discussion of the latest quidditch results. Harry looked over at Hermione and tried to mime eating as stealthily as he could. She stared at him for a moment, then seemed to get it, and began to pick at her food.
Once they were done eating, he cornered her in the upstairs hall. “Maybe you should save some room for dinner if you don’t want Ron getting suspicious.”
“Of what? A restaurant?” She rolled her eyes. “I picked up some Thai food. I had a hankering.” She seemed amused by the idea.
“You ate lunch in Thailand.”
“No, I got it to take away.”
He frowned—since when did she do takeaway to Nepal? “Did you do some new kind of meditation? Your pupils are really dilated.”
She nodded. “It’s a tandem breathing exercise.”
“Tandem with Sonam?” He laughed. “He doesn’t seem your type.”
“It’s not like that.” But she suddenly looked cagey. “If you were there, you’d know. But you’re not there, so I really would rather not talk about it.”
“Fine. But try to at least pretend you like Molly’s cooking.”
“I love Molly’s cooking. I’ll do better.”
Harry heard clomping up the stairs and moved away from Hermione as Ron came into view.
“There you are.” Ron’s smiled faded a little as he saw Harry. “Both of you.”
“I’m just going for a walk.” Hermione brushed past him and set off down the staircase.
“I’ll come.” Ron shot Harry a look and then hurried after her.
Harry went into his bedroom where Ginny was playing with Lily. “I love you. Have I told you that recently?”
She grinned at him. “Not today.”
“Do you want to know all about my day?”
“Not really.” She laughed. “Unless you want to tell me?”
“Not really. I just...I just don’t want there to be things we keep from each other.”
“Couples don’t share everything, Harry. You have to preserve the mystery.” She winked and pulled him over for a kiss. “But the important things, I agree, let’s not keep those secret. Unless they involve birthdays or Christmas.”
“Right, then.” He gave her another long kiss, then leaned back against the wardrobe and watched his daughter play.
Hermione adjusted the scarf she’d bought to go with the new blouse. It made her look...bohemian or something. Like a slightly saner Luna. She’s always envied Luna the ease with which she could turn anything into an outfit—even if she hadn’t always admired the end result. Luna had always seemed happy with it, as if she’d been shopping on Saville Row rather than the produce section.
“You look pretty.” Ron was standing in the door to their bedroom. “That new?”
“Um huh.” She smiled at him in the mirror.
He came up behind her, began to nuzzle her neck. He put his hands around her waist, started to move them up.
She leaned back against him and then remembered the Time-Turner. He’d find it if he kept exploring the direction he was going. “This is lovely, but I’m late.”
He glanced at the clock. “No, you’re not.”
He dropped his hands like he’d been burned. “Well, sorry to get in the way of your schedule.”
“Ron. That’s not what I meant. Later, all right?”
“Sure. Fine. Later.” He walked out and a moment later she heard the door to the apartment slam.
“Brilliant.” She took a deep breath, grabbed her bag, and followed him out.
He wasn’t waiting for her in the hall, or on the street. He’d left her and gone on. Wonderful. He’d be in a great mood when she got home.
She caught up with him at the Ministry, but he didn’t say anything to her as she walked next to him. She finally reached over for his hand, and he let her take it, but he didn’t squeeze back when she tightened her grip.
“If something were wrong, would you tell me, Hermione?”
“Nothing’s wrong, Ron. And I’ll prove that tonight.”
He turned and gave her a searching look. Then he pulled his hand free and hurried off in the direction of the auror’s department.
She worked through lunch, took a break later in the day and used the Time-Turner to get back a few hours, then apparated to Nepal.
Snape was waiting for her on the bench by the temple. “School’s out today, I’m afraid.”
“Tenzing is busy and Sonam is gone.”
She sat down next to him. “Oh. Well.”
The both stared at the ground. Then she said, “We could go somewhere, you know? I’ve never been to Borneo.”
“Oh. Do you want to go back?”
“Not particularly.” He was studying her. “You look different today.”
“Oh, put on a scarf, is all. Not any kind of effort, so don’t think I did this for you.”
“I wasn’t.” He looked amused. “How about Hong Kong? There’s a little dim sum place I love.”
“I’ve never been there, either.”
He stood and offered his arm. She took it, and he apparated them to Hong Kong. Where they nearly got run over by a crowd of people evidently in a very great hurry.
“Sorry, this wasn’t so busy a street the last time I was here.”
She laughed as he pulled her out of the way of a car that looked like it was going to come up onto the sidewalk. “We’ve all done it. My goodness, they’re quite mad drivers, aren’t they?”
He eased her back to the storefront. “The place I like is just...there.” He pointed to a small shop across the very busy road. “Would it be terribly lazy to apparate us over to that side of the street?”
“It’d be terribly obvious. But I think we’re going to take our life in our hands if we try to cross.”
“That alley will do.” He put his hand over hers where it lay on his arm, and in a moment they were across the street. “Right, then. Hungry?”
He smiled and they went into the small restaurant. The owner clearly remembered Snape and treated him like a long-lost son.
Once they were seated, she leaned in and asked, ‘How many times did you come here?”
“I lived here, for a time, after I was saved. Seemed a good place to hide in plain sight. Big city, lots of foreigners. Easy to slip by as if you’ve been here forever.”
“Do you speak Chinese?”
“A little. Not much, to be honest. It’s a hard language.”
“I thought you were brilliant?”
“I am. But even I have limits.” He looked as if he might laugh, and she smiled at the silly way his mouth was quirking up.
She let him order for them, enjoyed the various offerings the waiter put on their plates. Most of them, anyway. Some were a trifle odd. She decided not to ask what was in them. She’d learned that was often the best way with potions or food dishes in a strange country.
She stopped before she was full.
“That’s all you’re eating?” He frowned. “Do you not like this place?”
“I need to save room for dinner.”
His eyes narrowed, and she felt like a specimen under a microscope as he looked at her. “Why do you have to save room?”
“It’s just a bit suspicious if I’m never hungry because we’ve had a big lunch.”
“Why don’t you just tell him you’re taking classes at a temple in Nepal and the hours are off enough that you need to eat while you’re there?”
“Well, that would require explaining where I’m finding the time to be in Nepal.”
“Perhaps you should just find the time. Tell him you need some to yourself. Don’t use the Time-Turner.”
“You clearly have never had children. Or a husband who has the attention span of a gnat if it’s his turn to watch them but a quidditch match is on.”
“Perhaps if you made it clear how important it was to you?”
Was she getting relationship advice from Snape? “It’s fine the way it is.”
“You’re lying to him, Granger. How is that fine?”
“Well, you don’t seem to be complaining. You seem to enjoy my company.”
“Yes, to my shock and amazement, I find I do enjoy your company. But that’s hardly the point. I could enjoy it just as well if you didn’t lie and then we could share a dessert.”
“Get a dessert if you need one so bloody much.”
“That was an example. I don’t want dessert.” He sighed. “I know it’s none of my business, but you just get a certain look when you talk about your home situation.”
“Leave it alone.”
“I said to leave it alone.” Her voice was ugly, and she knew it.
He held up a hand, as if he got it, and then motioned for the check. He paid it in a tight silence and then rose and waited for her to lead them out.
She felt miserable. “I didn’t mean to ruin our meal.”
“You didn’t. It’s just a meal, after all. It’s not like you’re cheating on your husband.”
She stopped and nearly got run over by a couple racing for a trolley. “I’m not. With you?”
“Not with me, you ninny. With Nepal. With this experience. With your secrets. Be honest with the man, Granger. I’d want that if you were with me.”
“If I’m honest, he’ll want to come.”
“I know why I’d consider that a bad deal, but why do you? You married the git.”
“Can we please drop this? I really do not need guidance from you.”
Again the hand went up. He took her by the elbow and they were suddenly in Nepal. He strode off without another word.
“Oh, that’s right. Act offended and hurry off so I feel bad.”
He turned and shook his head. “I have other things to do, Granger. As do you. Go do them.”
When she got back to regular time, she worked through dinner, left a message for Ron that she’d be late. He stopped by before leaving, seemed unsurprised when she said she had to finish something.
“Guess our big night is off?”
She sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m just not in the mood. I have all this work and—”
He turned and walked out before she could finish.
Snape saw Tenzing walking in the temple and joined him.
“No Hermione again today?” Tenzing asked.
“No.” She hadn’t been back since their dim sum in Hong Kong several weeks ago. Snape hated to admit he was missing her. Then again, who else did he have to talk to other than Tenzing? Surely he wasn’t actually missing her so much as the idea of another person from home, another wizard.
There was no way he was missing Hermione Grang—Weasley.
“She is perhaps rethinking her involvement with us,” Tenzing said quietly.
“As she should. Why did you lure her here?”
Tenzing laughed. “Lure? We lured no one here but if you must know, I invited Harry to visit us, not Hermione. She seemed to be part of the package.”
“Not much of a package—I’ve yet to see him here.”
“We all discover things about ourselves here. Harry is no different. I believe he thought adventure and secrets would be more fun than they proved to be.”
“Hermione may have come to the same realization.”
“Perhaps. Although I think she is cut of different cloth than he is.”
“A darker cloth?”
“Dark, light, the color makes no difference. Is the night inherently more evil than the day?”
Snape actually agreed with him. But try telling that to those who weren’t Slytherin.
“Do you miss her? Our Hermione?” Tenzing smiled, the eye-crinkling smile of utter amusement. “Oh, you’re about to make up some reason why of course you don’t miss her. Don’t bother, Severus. I’m onto you.”
Snape rolled his eyes but found himself fighting back a smile.
“Do you like football,” Tenzing asked.
“Football. Men on a field chasing a ball and trying to kick it into a goal?”
“I know what football is.”
“Excellent. Do you like it?”
“I guess.” He’d never given it much thought. Quidditch had been the game of choice for him, even if he’d never excelled at it.
Tenzing had a devilish grin. “Some of the younger monks have rigged the antenna to pick up the games. We could watch?”
“All right.” He followed Tenzing into the temple and back to the common room that the monks and nuns used for larger meetings. Everyone was gathered around a small television set. When the signal went out, they would yell and some boys would scramble up onto the roof and do something to the antenna to make the signal come back.
“A lot of effort for a game.”
“Find joy in all you do.” Tenzing said, then yelled in triumph as the opposing team lost the ball. At least Snape thought it was the opposing team. It was difficult to see through the bad reception to tell who was playing whom.
He decided to quit trying to decipher anything and just enjoy the spirit of camaraderie.
Hermione opened her desk drawer and reached into the back of it, pulling out the Time-Turner. She held it for a moment, then shoved it back into the drawer.
Her door opened and Ron peeked in. “Ready to go?”
She nodded. Getting up slowly, she joined him and walked out. They didn’t talk much as they went, just some halfhearted chatting about their day.
It was odd. She was getting enough sleep. Not stealing time. Not lying. And she felt as if the life had gone out of her. She knew Ron could tell something was wrong, but he didn’t seem to want to ask her what it was.
“Fleur offered to take the kids if we wanted some time alone,” he said, not looking at her.
“That’s sweet of her.”
“Do we want that? Time alone?” He didn’t look at her still. “I told her I wasn’t sure. Work being busy and all.”
“Right. Work is busy.”
“Yes.” He stopped walking. “If there were someone else, would you tell me?”
She frowned. “What?”
“Someone else. In your life. That you love. Would you tell me?”
“There’s no one else, Ron. I’m right here.”
“Yes, you are.” He took a deep breath, like he was trying to not say things he really wanted to. “But you aren’t. You seem to be going through the motions.”
She could feel anger boiling up and started to walk away from him.
He grabbed her arm. “No. Just tell me.”
“There is no one else, Ron. I’m right here. Where I’ve always been. Where I always am. At your side. The dutiful little wife.” She practically spit the last part at him.
He took a step back. “Then why do I feel like I’m living with a ghost?”
“I don’t know. I’m right here, Ron. If you can’t tell that, then that’s your problem, not mine.” She walked away again and this time he didn’t grab her.
More than anything, she wanted to disapparate right in front of him. Go to Nepal—or wherever she wanted—and not have to pretend she wanted to be with him.
When did she stop wanting to be with him?
She stopped, turned, and walked back to him. “I need to go back to work. I’ve forgotten something.”
“Suit yourself, Hermione.” He walked past her, shoulders hunched forward, hands jammed in his coat pocket.
She hurried back to the Ministry, went to her office, and got the Time-Turner. No. She didn’t need it. This would be just a quick trip. She walked outside, found a good place to disapparate from, and concentrated.
She found Snape in the temple garden. He was working with some kind of herb and it took him a moment to realize she was staring at him.
He turned and studied her, his expression giving away nothing. “Granger.”
“Snape.” She walked over and stood above him. “I missed you.”
“I’m sure the world will end at an—”
She slapped her hand over his mouth—a bit roughly, perhaps. “No, no insults. I missed you. Did you miss me?” She removed her hand.
He rubbed his mouth. “Yes, damn you.”
“Good.” She took a few steps back. “Good. Then, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“You’re coming back?”
“No reason not to, is there?” She did not look away from his eyes.
He did not look away from hers, either. “I can’t think of one.”
“Brilliant. Then, tomorrow?”
“Right.” She suddenly felt very awkward. “Ta ta.”
She apparated on the street in front of her flat. She saw Ron moving about in front of the windows—looking for her, no doubt.
She felt a pang of guilt, but then anger took its place. He already thought she was cheating. What difference did it make what she did?
Snape found himself having a hard time sleeping. The encounter with Granger in the garden had left him wondering if the gods were playing tricks on him. At the time, he’d known exactly what he meant and what she meant, but now, as he kept replaying the exchange, he wondered if he’d made the whole thing up.
He finally fell into a light sleep, dozing on and off until morning, when he got up and spent a little extra time getting ready.
She showed up not long after and walked over to him.
“Sonam isn’t here,” he said.
“All right.” She looked at the temple. “Tenzing, then?”
He shook his head. “Why don’t we talk?”
She took a deep breath. “We could do that.”
He took her elbow just long enough to turn her down the path and then let go. “I wasn’t sure you’d come back here.”
“I shouldn’t have.” She looked over at him and he realized she looked like she hadn’t slept well either. “I’m essentially cheating on my husband, you know?”
“Yes, I told you that.”
“With you, I mean. I came back for you.”
“No, I’m just icing on the cake.” He made a face so she’d see he knew how ludicrous that statement was. “I think you came here for your freedom.”
“My freedom.” She sighed. “I spent so many years pining over him. And then I got him. He’s a good man.”
“If you say so.”
“I’m just tired of trying.”
“To not change. He doesn’t ever change. And I have. I want to. I want to learn and grow.”
“Just tell him that. Not the part perhaps about him being stunted in perpetual adolescence.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“Ah. Well, just tell him the part where you need to grow. You don’t have to betray him to do that.”
She seemed to think about it. For a long time.
“It’s not that difficult, Granger.”
“I’m tired of him.” She closed her eyes, as if she had not meant to blurt that out. Then she opened them and looked relieved.
“That, my dear, is a different thing altogether.”
“I know. This is a problem. You’re a problem.”
He stopped them. “I fail to see how I’m the problem.”
“I’d rather be here, talking to you, than home talking to him.”
“Then make some new friends, Granger. You’ve clearly gotten housebound and office bound.”
She sighed and turned to look out at the mountains. “But that’s the problem. I don’t want new friends. I like talking to you.” She looked back at him. “And I think you like talking to me, too.”
“I’m not exactly awash in options here.”
Her face fell. “Oh. No, I guess you’re not.” She let out a huff of what had to be exasperation. “So, once again, stupid Hermione, after some boy who doesn’t know she’s alive.”
“I’m not some boy. Also, I wasn’t under the impression you were after me.”
She turned to look at him. “I don’t know what I want.”
“That I believe.” He took her arm, didn’t let go this time.
She let him get her moving and then glanced at him. “So you’d never be interested in me—is that what you were saying?”
He realized she had the scarf he’d admired on, that she’d taken extra care with her hair, and that he found her very, very attractive. “Hermione, leave it be, won’t you? This is confusing enough.”
Because suddenly he was interested in her. But who could blame him? He was surrounded by celibate monks and nuns. And she was so very much alive.
“It’s confusing for you, too?” she asked in a very small voice.
He knew he should tell her no. He knew he should shut this down. He knew all those things, but he saw her expression and melted a little. “It’s confusing for me, too, all right? Now, let it go.”
He realized he still had hold of her arm and moved away. She didn’t protest, just walked along in silence with him until they finally started talking about things magical and monk like, and the awkwardness between them gradually wore off.
Hermione saw Sonam sitting with Snape. The two were actually talking as if they might someday deign to like each other. She wasn’t sure why there was tension between them when Tenzing clearly thought highly of Snape.
“Granger,” Snape said, and his eyes lightened when he saw her.
She knew her own were probably shining, too. “Snape.”
“Sit here on this side,” Sonam said. “Both of you move closer, I will need to be able to rest my hands on your arms.”
They scooted in, and he said, “Take a moment to ground and center. Then we will talk.”
She worked on centering, was dimly conscious of Snape’s measured breath and fell into the rhythm of it, found the ground more easily, the power coming up, felt her own used-up energy flowing back.
“That is sufficient,” Sonam said, and Hermione opened her eyes, saw that Snape was smiling slightly at her—had he known what she was doing? “We have talked and talked about magic the wizard way and the way we do it here, the way of the one. But I have been remiss in not showing you. Telling you does not have the same impact.”
He pointed at a clump of flowers that was blooming near them. “I am going to touch you; it will allow you to feel what I feel. Not in general, but in moments when something happens that impacts the all. Do you understand?”
“No,” Hermione and Snape said together.
Sonam chuckled. “Who would like to kill that flower on the right?”
“It is not a trick request. I want one of you to use your wand to destroy that flower. Hermione, you do it.”
“All right.” She took her wand out and pointed it at the flower on the right. “Confringo.”
A jolt of pure pain and terror roared through her from where Sonam’s hand rested on hers. She heard Snape cry out in surprise.
Tears sprang to her eyes. Partly of pain, partly because she imagined she could feel the...disappointment of the Universe at the destruction of one of its creatures. The senseless destruction.
“Does it change if it is an inanimate object?” Snape asked. “Mineral, metal?”
“Try it and see. That rock over there, perhaps?”
Snape snapped his wand at it. “Expulso.”
The rock shattered into pieces, again the pain came but it was slightly less.
“Think of living things as the picture, solid things as the frame. When either is broken, the thing is no longer whole. But some things are easier to replace.”
Hermione frowned. “Rocks take much longer to form than flowers take to grow.”
Snape laughed softly.
Sonam did not. “The metaphor is apt.”
“She does have a point.” Snape smiled—the supercilious smile of Hogwarts. “How do we know you aren’t feeding us this pain to promote your agenda?”
“You don’t.” Sonam turned to her. “Would I do that?”
“No,” she answered without hesitation.
Sonam shot Snape a look.
“Well, we could replace it.” She tried to conjure the flower, but all she managed was a sad looking, clearly fake, copy. A slight rumble ran through her from Sonam’s touch, but nothing more. “Geminio,” she said, pointing at another flower, then to the spot the old flower had lain.
A copy of that flower appeared, and a screech rang through her brain. She saw Snape grab his ears and shake his head.
“What is it?” she asked Sonam as the noise continued but gradually grew less shrill.
“It is the sound of wrongness. That flower should never have existed. It will, eventually, stop protesting.”
He let go of them and said, “Move closer to the flowers and touch my arms.”
They did as he said.
He reached out for the copy of the flower, murmured, “Be as you should be.”
She could sense something going out from Sonam. It wasn’t magic, precisely, but it was definitely something special. There was a slight hum—not an unpleasant sound but Hermione thought over time it might grow annoying—and then the flower vanished.
“Reveal your nature, thing of mind.” He ran his finger through the flower she had conjured and it crumpled into dust.
There was nothing coming from Sonam when he did it.
“Why didn’t it protest?” Snape asked.
Sonam smiled. “It was unreal. Not even a copy. A thing that was not. Getting rid of it was nothing more than cleaning up the space. The copy, however, lived. I gave it the choice to continue its existence or not. Since its creation affected the original flower, it chose to return to its originator”—at Hermione’s sound of protest he looked at her—“every time you take, something else loses. There is only so much energy and mass in the Universe. There are always consequences, even if nothing is made of them—save for the three Unforgivables—during your training.”
Snape looked thoughtful. “Conservation of energy. And of mass, too, I presume.” He frowned, turned to Hermione. “When you kept Skeeter in the jar, how much did she weigh?”
Her eyebrows went up. “You knew about that?”
He laughed. “I thought it was hilarious. I could not abide that woman.”
She smiled. “She weighed what a normal beetle would weigh.”
Snape looked at Sonam, raised an eyebrow.
Sonam smiled in an untroubled way. “Turn this rock”—he handed a small stone to Snape—“into a clump of moss.”
Snape did the transfiguration spell and a clump of moss lay in his hand. And all around him, surging and pulsing was the rest of the mass, tied to the object but kept from the visible by the spell. She got the slightest bit of a read off the moss: it felt as if it was being crushed. Not that a moss puts that into words the way, say, a journalist might if she could tell you how much it hurt to be a beetle and have the rest of her weight constantly pressing on her psychically.
“Your beetle was in pain. Not physical. Worse. The sense of heaviness. The sense of missing something inherent. The sense of being torn from the whole.”
“You didn’t tell me that before.”
“You weren’t ready to hear it.”
“I tortured her.”
Sonam nodded, but patted her hand. “At least it was not as specific a pain or intent as the cruciatus. You did not mean to hurt her, only deprive her of liberty.”
Hermione felt dreadful, and Snape even managed to look a bit contrite.
Sonam smiled gently. “There is some measure of responsibility on the part of an animagus. He or she chooses the pain every time they transform into a creature that is significantly different in size. The heaviness of being too small, the emptiness of being in a body too large. But the captivity: that was on you, Hermione.”
“Is there a way to fix the flower that died? Your way, I mean,” Snape asked.
“It is dead. How would you fix it?”
“Everything lives, by your reckoning. Conservation of energy.” He frowned. “By the way, if that holds true for souls, how would reincarnation work? The number of souls at the start of time is nowhere near what would be needed now.”
“How do you know the number of souls at the start of time was not infinitely larger than what was needed?”
“That’s a bit like arguing what dance steps the angels will choose on the head of a pin.”
“As you say. So let us not argue about it.”
“Fine. Getting back to the flower. It will be reborn?”
“As a different flower. The one she destroyed is gone forever.”
“It’s just a flower,” Hermione said, but she remembered the scream that had gone through her. What would a human sound like?
“It is just a flower. And a beetle is just a beetle. A snake just a snake. But when does it become more than just a small thing, Hermione? Your cat? A beloved dog? A person you don’t like?”
“She didn’t mean it that way,” Snape said.
“Hermione can speak for herself. You have no idea, sir, what she is capable of. Does he?”
“No,” she whispered.
Sonam seemed to take pity on her; his eyes softened and he put his hand on her arm. “But you are also capable of great good. I would not ride you so if I did not think you were better than this.”
She nodded, still felt stung.
Sonam got up. “That is enough for today. I will leave you two in peace.” He walked away, his pace unhurried, as if he had not just upset their whole world.
“Well. That was...illuminating.” Snape moved closer to her. “You all right?”
“I will be. It was—you felt it, right? When that flower screamed?”
“I felt it. I was surprised.”
“I was, as well. Why don’t they teach us that every action—“
“Has an equal and opposite reaction? They do, Granger. It’s called physics. Something not taught at Hogwarts.” He shook his head. “Maybe it should be.”
“How do you know so much about it?”
“I’ve had a lot of time to read over the last ten years.” He gave her a crooked smile. “You’d be surprised at what I’ve read.”
She found herself grinning back as she stood up. “Tawdry novels?”
“Hardly.” He stoop up, then offered her his arm and she took it. “I wouldn’t worry too much about whatever you did. It’s in the past, is it not? You can learn and change now. Or not—since this is the only system we know how to use. For all their babbling, they aren’t very forthcoming with actual methods.”
She laughed. “I know. If I hear, ‘Everything you need is within you’ once more time, I’ll scream.”
He patted her hand and she leaned into him. “Are you hungry?”
“How long can you stay?”
“I gave myself half a day.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“I know, I know: you don’t like how much I use the Time-Turner. But if I didn’t use it, I wouldn’t be here, and you’d be stuck with yak-butter tea and gruel. Do you really want me to stop using it?”
“They don’t serve gruel. The food is not bad.”
“It’s not dim sum. Or Thai. Or Donner Kabob.”
“I’ve not had that in an eternity.”
“I’m sure we can scare some up in Ankara.”
“Granger, it’s only after breakfast here. It’ll be early in the morning there.”
She smiled. “Well, we’ll just have to find other things to do until the restaurants open there for lunch.” She leaned in closer, felt him push back. “Unless you object?”
“Resisting you would be an exercise in futility. What did you have in mind?”
“We could talk.”
“Whatever we felt like. You know—like friends do.”
His smile was amazingly sweet and open. “I would not say no to that.”
They walked on. And talked about whatever they felt like. The way friends do.
Snape sat next to Granger as the lesson wrapped up. Tenzing was teaching them, and he’d seemed to go out of his way to answer every question she asked with another question. She was pent up and full of frustrated energy by the time Tenzing left them.
“He’s infuriating,” she said. “Never, ever just answers the sodding question.”
“It’s not his way. And I think he likes to play with you.” He dodged a slap at his arm. Not a hard one, more a warning shot. “You make it frightfully easy for him. Has hiding your emotions ever been a goal?”
“I hide them all the time.”
“Granger, I can read you like a book. And if I can read you like that, imagine what someone actually skilled in interpersonal relationships can do.”
“Fine, what am I thinking now?” She seemed to be trying to hide her emotions but he could see the fire in her eyes.
“That you’d like to whomp me to London and back.”
She looked chastened, so he knew he was right.
“How about now?” She did manage a bit more equanimity in her look but still, he could read through.
“You’re determined to get it right. You’re frustrated that you can’t.”
She took a deep breath. “I think you’re more skilled than you know.” She seemed to think about that. “But then, you’d have had to be. To survive a double life for so long. Reading others well would equal survival.”
She had a point; he nodded a big grudgingly.
She suddenly had a devilish look. “What am I thinking now?”
“I am not playing this game anymore.”
She moved closer. “No, really. What am I thinking?” She stared into his eyes and was clearly trying to hide a smile.
“I think you’re contemplating how to best be an utter brat.” He pushed her back.
She was relentless. “No, tell me, if I’m such an open book, what am I thinking right now.”
Her lips were parted, she was staring at him intently, and she leaned in, her perfume wafting to him.
“Stop it.” He made to get up, but she stopped him. “Hermione, I mean it. Your game has gone far enough.”
“See, you can’t tell.”
He yanked her to him, close enough so she would be uncomfortable with the distance. “You’re acting like a child who thinks she can pretend to be seducing someone.”
“You think I can’t seduce you if I want to?” She looked unfazed by the supposed-to-be-uncomfortable closeness. The fire had died some, the over-the-top sensuality replaced by something else.
Something much harder to resist.
Warmth. Openness. Curiosity. And a refreshingly light sexiness.
She moved closer. “Don’t you want me?”
“Don’t you want me?” She moved nearer; their lips were so close—he only had to pull a little and she’d be there.
She didn’t move, just watched him. She let her eyes grow sleepily sensual, a look he’d never seen on her before: it was exceedingly fetching.
She moved and their lips touched barely. “Do you want me to finish this?”
He could feel her lips moving against his with each syllable.
“Not if this is just a game.”
“Because I’m not in the mood for games.”
“I’m not either.” Her voice was husky, something he barely had time to register before she was pressing closer, her lips on his, a sweet kiss, a loving kiss.
He waited to see what she would do, if she would pull away quickly, so he let her kiss him but offered not much in the way of help—even though he really wanted to.
She didn’t pull away: she opened her mouth. And he was lost. He pulled her to him, kissing her fiercely and she laughed into his mouth. And he found himself laughing too.
When they finally came up for air, she smiled at him. “Not bad, Professor.”
“Not bad yourself, Miss Granger.” He studied her, feared his eyes were far too soft. “You realize you’ve just complicated this beyond all reason.”
“I don’t care. I wanted to do it. I’m glad I did it.” She touched his lips. “And I want to do it again. May I?”
He nodded. Probably should have taken a moment to think about it, but in for a penny and all that.
If anyone had asked him ten years ago if he could ever envision a day when he’d spend the morning kissing Hermione Granger before heading off for Turkish food, he’d have laughed uproariously.
And yet he was doing just that. And could not remember having a better day. Not since those early days with Lily.
And he felt colder when Hermione finally left for home. And suddenly very jealous of Ron.
Harry watched as Hermione wandered through the great room at the Burrows. She was swaying a little bit, as if dancing, and humming.
He walked over. “You all right?”
She didn’t snap at him the way he expected. Just nodded.
“So, you and Ron must be getting on better?”
Immediately her look changed, became wary. “We’re fine.”
He felt his stomach sink. Ron kept saying he thought Hermione was seeing someone. Harry hadn’t believed it, but she was acting really strange. “Is it Sonam?”
“Is what Sonam?”
“Whoever has you humming and nearly floating across the room.”
Again the wary look. “Is it so unlikely I might just be happy?”
“Lately, yeah, it really is.” He took her by the arm, led her to a corner of the room. “You need to stop going—you are still going, right?”
“I am. I did stop. For two weeks. Was miserable, Ron even more so. It’s not Sonam. He’s a monk, Harry. I mean, really.”
He frowned. She had the look she used to get right after she and Ron had gotten together. The look of a woman in love. Newly in love. “I just don’t want Ron hurt in all this.”
“Neither do I.” She rolled her eyes. “You’re reading too much into me having had a glass of wine midday and wearing too much perfume.”
“I don’t mind the perfume. I like it. It smells different on you than anyone else. Even when it was so popular.”
He shrugged. “Body chemistry, I suppose. Everybody changes the scent. But it’s so...fresh on you. I never liked it when the other girls wore it.”
She seemed lost in thought.
“Did I say something wrong?”
“Not at all. I think you said something right. I think I finally understand something. God, I am so dim sometimes.”
She grabbed him and kissed him. “And I love you. Thank you.” She laughed and he was a little worried about her. The manic sound in her voice was like the old days, when she was hatching some scheme.
“You can tell me anything.”
“I know.” She gave him a smile that was bright, but if he looked further, meant nothing. Then she went back to humming and floating.
Suddenly, she stopped. Her smile faded. She looked at him and he said, “What?”
“How do you compete with a ghost?”
“I just realized. I mean, I’ve always known. But...” She seemed to realize she was making no sense. “Listen to me go on. I’m sorry. We had a strange exercise today in Nepal. It...” She smiled, then the smile faded. “It was fun. But...maybe not real.”
“You are making no sense.”
“I know.” Her good mood seemed to have evaporated. “I’m sorry.”
He turned to leave her alone and saw Ron watching them from outside. His friend turned away when their eyes met and walked off.
Harry sighed and went to look for Ginny, the sanest person he knew in this huge house.
Hermione walked into the flat, heard Ron, and immediately felt all the bliss she’d gained so effortlessly in Nepal with Snape that day float away.
Even if suddenly she was wondering if a dead woman would always be between them. Every time she went back and he kissed her, he did it like he was really there, but was he thinking of Lily? She knew what it was to have a love you couldn’t have. But then fate had surprised her and she’d gotten Ron after all, and it had been good—until it wasn’t, turning from good to bad so slowly she hadn’t noticed until it was too big to miss.
Snape never got to have that. Lily would always be some sort of...saint. Never attained. Never grown tired of.
“Hermione?” Ron’s voice was like nails on a chalkboard. “Where’d you put my socks?” he asked, peeking out of their bedroom at her.
“Where did I put your socks? I imagine that if I had anything to do with the location of your socks, you’d find them in your sock drawer.” She slammed her bag down and walked into the kitchen. “I think the better question is where did you put your sodding socks.”
He came out and stared at her. “Well, if I knew where I put my sodding socks, do you think I’d be asking you?”
This was the point in one of their arguments where one or both of them usually started laughing.
This was the point where whatever stupid thing they were fighting about was brushed under the carpet—where his bloody socks were probably hiding along with every issue they’d never addressed.
“I can’t do this anymore.” She turned and walked into the children’s room. Hugo smiled when he saw her, reached for her and she picked him up and walked over to Rose, slipping her hand onto her head and stroking her long red hair.
“Look,” Ron said as he walked into the room. “If it’s such a problem, I’ll buy more socks. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
She felt as if she was a million miles away, only her hold on Hugo and her rhythmic stroking of Rose’s hair keeping her grounded. She put Hugo on the floor to crawl about and walked back into the main room.
“What is wrong with you?”
“You just got back.”
“No, not for the day. I’m leaving. Really leaving.” She took a deep breath. “I want a divorce.”
“This isn’t over socks. It really isn’t about you, at all. It’s me. I’ve found something—“
“Something or someone?”
She had to think about that. Snape was someone she wanted, but he might never be hers. But Nepal, learning, growing: those were things she could claim. What happened with Snape would happen as it was meant to, the way she wanted or not, who knew? What happened in Nepal, she could control. “Something. A place to study. It’s in Nepal with some monks. They have a way of doing magic that is really different. And I need to be there.”
“And you’re just going to leave? Cheerio, all, I’m off to Nepal?”
“I’ll get a flat in town. I’ll be able to have the children there when it’s my turn with them.”
“You’re serious. You’d leave?”
“Ron, I have to. I’m suffocating.”
He just stared at her.
“I’m sorry. But I don’t want to be married to you, anymore. I need to do this for myself. I know that makes me selfish. I know it’s not what you want to hear. And I’m sorry. But I have to go.”
“If you can do this to me, to the children, then you’re not really a Gryffindor. I always knew it, though. You should have let the hat sort you into Ravenclaw the way it wanted to. You care more for knowledge than you do for anything else.”
“You know, Ron, that’s really not the insult you think it is. But coming from a true Gryffindor, I doubt you’ll ever realize that.” She took a deep breath. “I loved you. I did. And I still care. And we have the children.”
“The children who will stay with me.”
She could feel her face getting tighter. “Until I’ve settled into a new place, that’s fine. But once I’ve settled, then we’ll share the time.”
She wanted to reach for the Time-Turner. Start this over so the conversation went better. Or maybe take his memory away and—
And what? She could imagine Sonam’s voice right now. Talking about small sins.
“Ron, I’m not happy. I’m sorry. I wish I were. But I’ve found something that I want, and I need to pursue it. We’ll figure out the situation with the children when you aren’t so angry at me.”
“I will always be angry at you.”
“I don’t think you will.” She looked around the room. Was there anything she couldn’t bear to lose? Because she wouldn’t put it past him to toss her things into the rubbish bin out of anger: he was that hurt.
No, she’d d let him do what he had to do. And she’d replace whatever she lost if she needed to.
The one thing she could never replace was what she was leaving. That should bother her more than it did, which probably meant it really was time to leave.
“I’m sorry, Ron.”
“Just get out. You know: my mother never liked you.” His face was blotchy, the way it got when he was truly upset. This was anger but fueled by hurt, not any petty meanness.
“Goodbye, Ron. I’m sorry.”
She disapparated before she could make it worse.
Harry was sitting with Ginny at the Burrow when Ron apparated in front of them. “Is it you?” he asked, staring daggers at Harry.
“Is what me?” He looked at Ginny, who shrugged.
“Hermione. Her other fellow, because I know she must have one. Is it you?”
Ginny scowled at him. “Ron, sit down here right now.”
He sat. His eyes were red and his face was blotchy. Harry thought there was only one thing that could make him this upset.
“She left you?”
“Yes, and how the bloody hell do you know that? Did she tell you?”
“No. I haven’t talked to her in weeks. I see her at the Ministry and she’s always in a hurry.” And looking extremely...happy. More happy than a good meditation could account for, perhaps? But who would she be seeing in Nepal? Sonam didn’t seem like the type to mess with someone’s wife. Maybe it was someone here. But...who? He never saw her with anyone.
Ginny took Ron’s hand. “She’s been unhappy for some time.“
“She told you that?”
“She didn’t have to. I could tell. And she’s been pulling away from me. The way you do when your best friend is also the sister of the man you’re thinking of leaving.” She moved over, drew him into a gentle hug. “I’m so sorry, Ron.”
Ron buried his face in her shoulder for a moment, then looked over at Harry. “You swear it isn’t you?”
“It’s not me, Ron. If she does have someone, I don’t know who it is.”
“Well, I know where it is. Nepal. Nepal? Who the hell goes to Nepal?”
Harry tried not to look guilty, probably failed miserably. Fortunately, Ron was warming up for a good rant and didn’t seem to notice.
“To learn magic, the monks’ way. At her age? She’s leaving me and the children to go be a student again. In what reality is that rational?”
“And monks? Really? I’m supposed to believe that? Some rich Nepalese is more likely. Or maybe it’s Viktor. I bet she never got over him, that’s what I think.”
“He’s married to someone on my old team,” Ginny said gently.
“Well, married people fall in love with other people, don’t they?” He was shouting now, and Molly came to the door.
“What’s all the fuss out here?”
“Hermione’s left Ron,” Ginny said, sharing a strange look with her mother.
“Well, that’s terrible. Come on, Ronald. Come talk to your mum about this. I’ll make your favorite cookies while you tell me all the details.” She smiled at Harry and Ginny as she led Ron into the house.
“She didn’t seem too surprised.”
“She was surprised they ever got married. Thought Hermione would get bored of Ron and leave. Took her a lot longer to do that than mum gave her credit for.” Ginny curled up next to him. “I was surprised when they got together, too.”
“He wasn’t very nice to her, Harry. If you’d ever treated me the way he treated Hermione, I’d have thrown you out a window.”
Harry laughed. “He could be relentless with the teasing.”
Ginny nodded. “Do you think she has found someone?”
“I don’t know. Maybe she just needed to find herself again?” He frowned. “Ron didn’t bring Hugo and Rose with him, did he? And if Hermione’s gone...?”
“You know how well he looked after Scabbers. God knows what they’re doing back at the flat.” She let Harry pull her up, and he apparated them to Ron’s flat.
The children were sitting in their room, neither crying but looking extremely confused. Harry picked up Hugo, and Ginny took Rose by the hand.
“Let’s get you back to the Burrow,” Ginny said gently, and Rose buried her face in Ginny’s stomach and started to cry.
“I know, pet. I know. Everything’s fine now.” Ginny shared a look with Harry and he shook his head.
This reminded him too much of being left alone after his parents were killed. He kissed Hugo on the cheek. “You all right, big guy?” He blew on Hugo’s neck, and his nephew laughed and laughed.
“Let’s get them home, Harry. They can stay with us, can’t they, if Ron needs some time?”
“Of course they can. The more the merrier.”
“We are not having another,” she said, mock glaring at him.
“Whatever you say, dear.”
Hermione found Harry in his office. “I need a favor.”
He eyed her warily. “Do I have to lie to Ron about it? He’s just starting to calm down after you left last month.”
“Yes. Sorry. One last time, hopefully. I need to borrow something. Do you have your invisibility cloak here?”
“Why would I keep it here?”
“Because you’re too smart to leave it anywhere James might find it.”
Harry smiled. “Well, that’s true.” He studied her, finally opened one of his desk drawers and pulled it out. “Why do you need it?”
“Do you need help?”
She laughed. “Harry, this is why you will always be my best friend. You don’t even ask what I’m doing first. You just want to know if you can help.”
“Well, can I?” He handed her the cloak.
“No. I need to do this alone. But I’ll tell you all about it when I’m done. It’s something you probably need to know, anyway.”
He seemed to be waiting for her to say more, and when she didn’t, asked, “Where are you going to live, now that you’re not at the flat?”
“Oh.” He frowned. “With the nuns?”
“Not exactly. I’ll explain later, I promise.” She held up the cloak. “Thank you for this. You have no idea what it means.”
“Just bring it back when you’re done.”
“I will.” She was overcome with a sudden need to hug him and walked around the desk, leaned down, and pulled him close. “I love you, Harry. I’m so glad we met all those years ago.”
His smile faded as she pulled away. “Hermione, now you’re scaring me. This rescue mission...what—“
“It’s nothing. Really. Thank you.” She smiled easily, walked slowly as if nothing was urgent, but once the door was closed, she hurried to the alley, and disapparated as quickly as she could. He would not have let her leave alone if he wormed any of the truth from her. Just to make sure, she Time-Turned an hour back. That should give her plenty of time before he could show up, intent on helping her—or stopping her, or possibly both, if he started wondering what kind of rescue mission needed an invisibility cloak.
She hurried up the walk and into the temple. Steeling her resolve, she walked over to where Tenzing sat. She noticed the other monks that sat nearby rose, bowed, and left them alone.
“Why do they do that?”
“Because I am in charge here. And they presume you wish to speak to me privately.”
“You’re in charge?”
Tenzing nodded. “How else do you think I got the great Minister of Magic to receive me?”
She processed that. She probably should have realized he was in charge, but he’d never said and she’d just assumed he was what he seemed to be: a lowly monk. Then again, that’s exactly how he might see himself, position notwithstanding. “It’s Tenzing Rinpoche, isn’t it?”
“It is. But you can call leave off the honorific. I don’t mind hearing my name by itself on occasion.”
She sat in front of him. “So you were found on search, weren’t you? The way Sonam is searching for Momo Rinpoche?”
“I was. Many, many years ago.”
“Do you remember? Those other lives I mean.”
“I have been on this earth a long time, Hermione. And I have learned to do things that some would consider astounding. It is a function of being one with the all, nothing I can claim credit for, other than through persistence and faith.”
“Not a bad combination.”
“No, not at all. Look at us, for instance. Who would have thought we would end up such good friends after our rocky start?”
She felt herself blushing. “I am sorry about the stupefying charm. It was stupid.”
“No. If you were to do it now, knowing what you know, then yes, it would be stupid. But where you were then—well, you needed it, that’s all.” He met her eyes. “What else do you need, my dear?”
She didn’t look away. “You know that I’m the one who goes back? To save Snape.”
“Of course I know. I’m the one who gives you what you need. I just wondered how long it would take for you to figure that out. For the record, it took you less time than I thought.”
She didn’t answer right away and saw him smile, as if he was proud of her for not blurting out whatever protest came into her mind. Finally she said, “Time is confusing. And I think perhaps a bit limiting as a concept.”
“That, my dear, is the wisest thing you have ever said.” He laughed, the joyous laugh that had charmed her from the beginning, even as his non-answers had vexed her. “Do not question how the egg comes before the chicken. Time is not a line, but a serpent eating its own head.”
“And a serpent is the problem. I healed Harry of Nagini’s bite, but she didn’t inject him with much venom, enough to make him pliable, not to kill him. Not like what she did to Snape.”
“I know.” He handed her a little silver bottle. “This is what you need.”
She sniffed it cautiously. “It smells like dittany. Dittany won’t work.”
“This dittany will. It has something special in it. It will save him. Or rather, you will save him with the help of this potion.”
She took a deep breath. “Don’t tell him where I’ve gone. Ten years...it’s a long time. I did it before, though, right? But...did I come back?” And how old would she be when she got back? If using the Time-Turner really did age someone?
“May I give you something? It will be permanent. Like this.” He turned over his arm and she noticed for the first time that he had a tattoo. It was like the ceremonial tool the monks used, the one that seemed to be two crowns with the tops facing out and set on a short wand, symbolizing the thunderbolt of enlightenment. Only this had two wands, each with its set of crowns, forming an “X.”
“Is that a dorje?”
“A double dorje. It will help you find your way there and back. Consider it...an amplifier.”
“That’s how you do it, isn’t it? Spread yourself out so the spells can’t find you?”
“No, it’s not. But it is how I find my way back when I’ve ventured too far.” He took her hand for a moment. “I will not tell Snape you are going, but you must.”
“Why? He’ll stop me.”
“He will try. And you will prevail. Because you will do anything to save him. And he will know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that you love him. And you will know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that you would die for him if need be.”
“How do you know I love him?”
“Why else would you go back in time to save him?”
“And all the while not knowing if he loves me.” She looked down. “He still loves Lily.”
“And you will do this anyway, won’t you?”
She nodded. “He’s worth saving. Even if I can never be her.”
Tenzing pulled her into a hug, and she froze, surprised he would do this. “Be glad you can never be her. She was human, not some bodhisattva. Someday he will open his eyes and realize the perfect woman of his dreams is an illusion. Nothing more.”
“But not today.”
“Probably not today, no.” He let her go. “May I mark you?”
“Hold out your hand, palm up.”
When she did as he said, he settled his own arm over hers, clasping just under the elbow. She did the same, and suddenly felt a burning, like hot needles going very fast over her skin.
“It hurts,” Tenzing said, sympathy in his voice. “I remember.”
And then it was over. She held her arm out and saw a perfect replica of his double dorje.
“When you need it, visualize it being there on your arm. When you don’t, visualize your arm the way it was. It will come and go—that is why you have not seen mine before now.”
She visualized it gone and it faded away. She imagined it there again, and the ink darkened until the image was whole. “How does it work with the Time-Turner?”
“Make sure it is visible. Then imagine it radiating golden rays, like when the sun hits brass. Try it.”
It took a while, but suddenly the image turned from an outline to being filled with what looked like liquid gold.
“It shines like the sun.”
“No, it shines like the whole. The sun is but half of the whole.” He smiled. “We use brass often here, not gold, not silver. Do you know why?”
She shook her head.
“Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. The orange of the sun and the silver of the moon. It is everything, in one very useful metal.” He touched the shining tattoo on her arm. “Once it is glowing like this, you can use the Time-Turner. Each twist will give you years instead of hours. If you let the glow fade some—try it for me—it would give you months instead of years.”
She got the brass to gleam less. Then she took it another step down.
He nodded. “Yes, days instead of months.”
“I’ll have this forever?”
“But I may not have the Time-Turner forever.”
“It doesn’t matter. You will have an interesting time discovering what else your mark will amplify. Now, go say goodbye to Severus.”
Snape was practicing moving a feather with his mind instead of his wand. It was hard, so much harder, than the magic he had mastered so many years ago. He had to become one with the feather, not just order it about.
He slowed his breathing, reached out with his mind for the feather and felt nothing.
How in blazes was he supposed to become one with something that had no essence to speak of?
Then he thought of Tenzing’s favorite saying. “Everything you need is within you.”
So, maybe he wasn’t supposed to become one with the feather out here. Maybe he was supposed to seek the connection internally. This wasn’t such a strange thought. He’d long ago found the best cure for hiccoughs was to sink into himself and find the spasming spot on the diaphragm and...accept it, welcome it, surround it with—God, it sounded as whimsical as these monks to say love, but that was what he felt it was. And unlike when he’d tried other methods to stop them, like holding his breath or having a spoonful of sugar or drinking from the other side of the glass—all methods that were trying to force the hiccoughs to stop—going inside and becoming one with them gave them permission to stop.
And they invariably did. With no drama and none of the vexation of a spasm that had gone on too long and started to hurt—in addition to making that horribly undignified popping sound.
He sank into himself the same way he would have for hiccoughs. Pictured the feather, tried to recreate it as closely as he could. Then he visualized it floating gently off the grass.
He opened his eyes. The feather was not just floating, it was actually moving in time with the soft sound of chanting and bells and gongs coming from the temple. It was, to be honest, quite a lovely sight.
Hermione sank down next to him. “You’re getting good.”
He shrugged. “It’s not as if I’m working with lead weights. A feather is, after all, feather light.”
“Can’t you ever just accept a compliment? And a feather is the heaviest thing of all if you’re measuring your soul against it.”
He held out his arm where the dark mark lay as a scar now, not a tattoo. “I lost my soul. Remember?”
“Don’t be daft. That’s just a mark.” She held out her arm and as she stared at her inner forearm, a mark of her own became apparent.
“What have you done?”
“Tenzing gave it to me. He has one, too. It’s an...amplifier.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have room for one.” He ran his fingers over the dark mark, smiled ruefully.
“You wish that were gone?”
“More than anything.”
“Then let me.” She reached for his hand.
“And how are you going to accomplish what so many others have not been able to, Granger? The mark is permanent.”
“You really are a stupid man sometimes, Snape.” She was clearly angry. “Give me that,” she said as she twisted his arm so the dark mark showed fully. She slapped her arm down on his, tattoo to scar, and clasped her hand around his arm just under the elbow.
He found himself doing the same.
“You don’t have to wallow in this.” Then she closed her eyes, and he felt power surge between them, and her arm become blindingly, horribly hot.
He moaned and she whispered, “I’m sorry. It’ll only hurt for a moment.” Then he thought she said even more softly. “I think.”
She thought? He tried to pull away but she was surprisingly strong for being so slim. He felt something jolt through him, and he was overcome with dizziness.
And a feeling of utter, wonderful lightness. As if he’d never, ever lived in the dark.
That faded quickly, but the peace remained even as the shadows he truly was comfortable living in returned.
She pulled her arm away. “Look at it.” Her voice was full of awe—and extreme self-satisfaction and not a little surprise. “Look at what we’ve done.”
We. She’d said it with no apparent thought. He looked down at his arm, was stunned to see his dark mark gone. And in its place, the same mark as she wore.
“You’re the advanced one. Play with it while I’m gone. Visualize it not showing on your skin, then showing. Visualize it glowing gold—only it’s brass. Did you know brass blended night and day?”
“You’re babbling, Granger.”
She laughed. “I know. I’m nervous.”
He could feel his smile drop. “I’m sorry if all that touching made you twitchy.”
She punched his shoulder. “We really need to work on your self esteem. I’m scared because I have to do something, and you aren’t going to like it, and I’m not sure it’s really that achievable—except, well, I did it once, didn’t I?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I have to go back. And save you.”
“I’m sitting right here.”
“Yes, but I think that’s because I went so far back, and it’s hard to tell where the present line stops and the future line begins. Or...something like that. It’s not easy like rescuing Sirius was. The timeline was so short then. It was a breeze to figure out the points of origin.” She met his eyes. “I was the one who rescued you. That was my perfume you smelled.”
“You cannot Time-Turn ten years, Hermione.”
“But I did. I know it. And you know it, too. It’s the only thing that makes sense.” She stroked her new tattoo. “And this will help. Tenzing told me.”
“Tenzing is an old woman when it comes to interfering. He’s as bad as Dumbledore.” Except he wasn’t. Tenzing didn’t seem to have any goal that Snape could see. If he was using them, it wasn’t at all apparent why.
And Tenzing appeared to actually like him. Snape had spent his whole friendship with Albus wondering what he saw in him. And then, at the end, it had been apparent. Snape had been a tool, a weapon, a pawn to be moved around Albus’s chess board. But never, ever just a man. Never just a friend.
“I have to go.” Hermione touched his face. “I wish I could go even further and give you Lily back. Make your life better.”
“My life is as it is.” That, at least, he had learned from his time here. “It may not have been a particularly pleasant life, but it is mine. And I made my own choices and walked my own path.”
She took his hand. “Still, I wish I could.”
“You have already made it immeasurably better simply by being in it the last few months.”
She smiled. “I love you. I just want to say that in case I don’t come back.”
“You don’t have to go.”
“I do. I’ll feel like I let some other Hermione down if I don’t.”
He wanted to stop her. Wanted to forbid her to go. But she would just Time-Turn back a bit and go from there. He knew her—and it is what he would have done if someone tried to stop him under similar circumstances. “I hate time travel.”
“Believe me, I do, too.” She started to get up, and he could tell she was surprised when he stopped her.
“Hermione, I don’t need Lily. I...love you.”
“Oh, that’s so very sweet of you. And also a lie.” She kissed him—and he suddenly wished they’d done more than kissing. Why hadn’t they done more? “But it’s a nice lie.” She stood. “Wish me luck? Please?”
“Good luck, my dear.”
She pulled out the Time-Turner, patted her pocket as if checking for something, and then she pulled out a folded piece of silvery cloth and shook it out. It was a cloak, and when she put it around her shoulders and pulled it tight, she disappeared.
“Can you see me?”
“No, but if that’s Potter’s invisibility cloak, that’s the idea, isn’t it?”
“Okay. Ready, then.” She pushed the hood back a bit and one side of the cloak away, and stared down at her arm. The tattoo began to glow, brighter and brighter until he had to shield his eyes.
“Oops, I think that might be decades, not years.” She grinned sheepishly. “Me coming on too strong: imagine that?” The tattoo began to fade till it was still a bright gold but did not hurt his eyes.
She stared at him. Seemed to be memorizing him. And then she seemed very far away. He could almost imagine what she was seeing. Him, in that damned Shrieking Shack. Dead. Or nearly so. If she saved him, then only nearly so.
She turned the Time-Turner ten spins back and was gone.
He instantly felt hollow inside—and stupid. Why had he let her go? How could he have let her go?
He stood, stalked around the temple complex until he found Tenzing. “How dare you!”
“She would have it no other way. I made sure she had what she needed to get the job done.”
“She thinks I’m redeemable, you daft fool. She thinks she can save me from more than just death. Make me a better man.”
“Severus, she thinks nothing of the sort. Do you know what she said to me? ‘That you were worth saving.’ Does that sound like someone looking to make you over?”
Snape took a deep breath. “She shouldn’t have gone. I shouldn’t have let her.”
“As if you could have stopped her. She’s a lovely, vibrant woman who cares for you. And more importantly is every bit as quick and intelligent and determined to get her way as you are. If she went back to save you, it’s because she wants to—and it’s because she loves you.”
“Well, she shouldn’t. What good have I ever brought anyone who loved me?”
Tenzing looked him square in the eyes, put both hands on his shoulders, and said, “My friend, tell me: who in this life has loved you? Who have you ever had the luxury of hurting that way?”
Snape felt as if Tenzing had stabbed him.
“Until now,” the monk said softly. “Until you found this place at this time with this woman. Until you came here to be with us. You are where you are because this is the place you should be. If you hurt her or not: so be it. At least try.”
“I’m not sure I can.”
Tenzing nodded as if this answer was not unexpected. He turned to go, then looked back. “Did she tell you she has left her husband?”
“Yes, several weeks ago. Do you know why she didn’t tell you?”
Snape shook his head.
“She thinks it is because she believes you do not love her. And that is true—she does believe that you will never let her in completely while you can remember Lily. But that is not why she left him. It is because finally Hermione is making a choice that is strictly for herself. Whether or not you decide to be with her if she gets back from this rescue mission, is entirely up to you—and will have no bearing on the fact that when it was time to make the choice, she chose growth instead of stagnation. The most humane way she could.”
“If she gets back?”
Tenzing’s look sobered. “There is no guarantee she will come back. She saves you, that much we know. But does she exist past this point? Only time will tell.”
Snape felt his stomach knot. He had far too much experience with people he cared for not surviving. “Make sure she does come back.” He could barely get the words out.
“I can only do so much, my friend.”
Snape stared at him, unwilling to believe that. “Make sure she comes back, Tenzing. Or there will be hell to pay.”
Hermione pulled the cloak around her as she materialized in the Shrieking Shack. Snape lay before her, Harry, Ron, and her much younger self staring at him.
Harry knelt down, needed something to put the blue essence in. Hermione remembered this moment. She’d handed Harry an empty flask when all along she’d had the dittany in her bag and never once considered using it on Snape.
He’d been the enemy, after all. The hated one.
Voldemort’s voice sounded all around her, and she’d been expecting it so she didn’t jump but the other three did. They took off, leaving Snape alone.
And still breathing. If they’d only bothered to look.
“Idiots,” she murmured under her breath, then she pushed the cloak over her shoulders, impatiently shoved the hood off, and pulled the enhanced dittany out of her pocket.
Snape lay unmoving and she knew that could be a side effect of the poison. He’d said he’d been blind, so she cleared her throat gently as she knelt next to him.
“It’s going to be all right,” she said softly as she poured the dittany on the puncture wounds Nagini had made. It took forever, but they finally closed.
“You’re going to be sick for a while. But you’re not going to die. You need to find shelter as soon as your vision comes back. Lay low, do you understand me? It will be dangerous for you.”
He nodded. She considered that progress compared to the corpselike way he’d been lying before.
“This is important, Severus. Do not get caught. And in ten years—in 2008--you must go to the temple in Nepal.”
“Which temple in Nepal?”
“It’s just outside of Katmandu.”
“There are a hundred—“ His voice abandoned him.
“I know there are a hundred bloody temples there. Would you let me finish?”
He nodded weakly.
“Ask for Tenzing at each one. It’ll be a good exercise. They’ll be Tibetan monks and nuns. You’ll know by the yak-butter smell—it’s a lot like popcorn.”
She could see he was fading out. “2008. Nepal. Tenzing.” She couldn’t help herself; she leaned down and kissed him. Made sure it was the best kiss she could give him—let Lily compare with that.
He moaned—happily, she thought.
She touched his forehead. “You’re safe here for now. I’m pretty sure no one comes back here during the rest of this battle. But leave as soon as you’re strong enough to apparate, do you understand?”
He nodded. As she got up to leave, he reached out for her hand. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Now get well and keep your head low.” She was afraid that seeing him lying there so helpless would distract her from the focus needed to make a ten-year jump, so she walked out into the hallway and nearly ran into one of the Death Eaters, trying to find a bolt hole, apparently.
The cloak wasn’t back on all the way; she was clearly visible.
The Death Eater lifted his wand.
She reached for hers, felt the familiar slide of the polished wood.
They attacked at the same time. The streams of energy did not cross and engage each other, so they each got direct hits: she to his chest, he to her stomach.
He fell and did not get up. She was sent to her knees by the pain, held her hand against her gut and could feel blood seeping.
“Damn it all.” She tried to push herself to her feet and the feeling of tearing skin made her stop. She could feel even more blood.
She had dittany. But it had something else in it. Would it be safe? Why hadn’t she asked Tenzing what he’d put in the mix? Although he would have just answered with another question.
She got the flask out. Most of it was gone, used on Snape. But she put her fingertip against the lip and turned it, then gingerly laid her finger against her stomach.
The burning was immediate. Dittany did not do that. She shoved the flask back into her pocket: it was useless.
She held her arm out: the tattoo wasn’t even visible. She tried and tried to make it show up. It didn’t.
Panic filled her. Why hadn’t she practiced more? She never just winged it, why in blazes had she started now?
Then she imagined Tenzing’s voice, his joyful smile. “Focus,” he seemed to be saying.
She stared at her arm, focused on her breath, calming her heart rate, slowing the blood loss. The ink began to appear. When it finally was whole and dark, she worked on filling it with the golden light.
The best she could get was a dun color.
She thought of home. Of her parents who were frightened of her. Of Ron who hated her. Of her children, who were probably confused why she wasn’t there with them.
The ink started to fade.
No, good things only. She thought of Harry. Of his friendship. Of Ginny and how she didn’t seem to hold Hermione’s abandonment of Ron against her. Of Sonam and his quiet, earnest way of explaining things. Of Tenzing and his interminable questions. Of Snape.
She imagined a happy life with him. A life where he loved her. A life unfettered and full of challenge.
The tattoo began to change to a deeper color, golden and brighter with every second. When it finally hit the right color, she turned the Time-Turner ten turns in the return direction.
She arrived back in Nepal, where she’d left Snape. He wasn’t there and she started to laugh. At least, she’d made it here. To die, probably, but she’d made it back.
“Hermione,” Tenzing’s voice rang out, and then there was the sound of running.
She felt strong arms lift her up, heard Snape say, “She’s hurt badly.”
She smiled at him. An “I’ve lost a lot of blood and am quite giddy” smile. “You’re still here.”
“Where else would I be, you nitwit. After your daring rescue.”
“Didn’t go so well afterwards.”
“You got back, didn’t you? Now stop talking and let us work on you.”
His very worried face was the last thing she saw before she blacked out.
“Will she be all right?” Snape asked Tenzing, as the temple healers worked on her.
“I think so.”
Snape began to pace, occasionally stopping to watch what the healers were doing. Hermione looked just as she had when she’d left—no sign that traveling ten years to the past and back again aged a person—but she was terribly pale.
Tenzing moved over to his side, gently took him by the arm, and steered him out. “Come, my friend. You are unnerving them with all your glares.”
“I’m not leaving her.”
“We’ll be just out here.” He drew Snape outside to the steps that led up to this part of the temple. “She’s a very strong woman. She made it back, which was the hardest thing. She made it back in that condition.”
“I know.” He turned to glare at Tenzing. “She should never have gone in the first place.”
Tenzing apparently decided not engaging was the wisest course of action.
Sonam came rushing up the stairs, stopped when he saw them sitting there. “She’s not...”
“She’s alive,” Snape said. “No thanks to this one.”
Sonam closed his eyes and exhaled loudly. He appeared to be exceedingly fond of Hermione. Snape suddenly found himself wondering just how fond. Did these monks takes vows of celibacy?
Hermione would have told him if she’d been carrying on with Sonam, wouldn’t she?
Sonam sat down on a lower step, leaning against the wall and letting his legs extend along the step. “What happened?”
“Wand fight. Stomach wound.”
Sonam grimaced. “I hate those.” At Snape’s confused look, he said, “I was a wizard before I came here.”
“Oh. I didn’t realize.”
Tenzing laughed. “And with that one statement, Sonam’s credibility just took a giant leap, didn’t it? If only I could claim such a thing.”
“You have credibility. It does not prevent you from being entirely annoying, but you have it.” Snape looked up as one of the healers came out. “Is she...?”
“Awake.” The healer eyed him somewhat nervously. “She’s asking for you.”
He was up and inside before the healer could say more. He found she had been moved to a bed, was tucked in well, her wild hair streaming over the pillow. “How are you?”
“You should see the other guy.”
“Is he dead?”
“Excellent. Will save me from stealing your Time-Turner and hunting him down.”
She smiled. “Would you do that?”
“Well, I don’t know what he looks like. I suppose I could invade your mind to find out and then go hunt him down.”
“Can you wait till I’m feeling stronger?”
He nodded and sat in the chair an attendant brought over. “I was extremely worried.”
“I was, too.” She blinked hard, and he realized she was starting to cry. “Oh, bother, I swore I wouldn’t do this.”
“It’s all right to cry. You don’t have to be strong all the time.”
“Says the man who never cries.”
“I cry. Just not where anyone can see me. I wept like a babe after I killed Dumbledore.” He looked down, then met her eyes. “I’d have done the same if you hadn’t come back.”
“Of course, you ninny. Don’t you know how much you mean to me?”
She shrugged, then made a face. “Ow.”
He leaned down, being very careful not to put any weight on her, and kissed her. “I love you, Hermione.”
“Tell me that when you’re not getting over being scared I was going to die.” She smiled. “Now kiss me again.”
“I believe you have a quota.”
“Kiss me, damn it.”
He kissed her. Then he whispered in her ear. “Sonam was extremely concerned for you. Are you sleeping with him?”
“Yes,” she whispered back. “I have a weakness for bald men in maroon and yellow robes.” She laughed and then immediately moaned. “Oh, bloody hell, that hurt.”
“Serves you right.”
She looked at him and said softly, “I am not sleeping with him. He’s my teacher. And my friend.”
“So you would mind?”
“I would most definitely mind.” He touched her face, hoped she wouldn’t realize he was doing it to reassure himself that she was real and warm and alive.
That he hadn’t lost her.
“It’s okay. I’m still here.” Her eyes were full of something that he wasn’t used to seeing. He realized it was compassion.
“Go to sleep, dearest. I’ll be here when you wake.”
“You need sleep, too.”
“I’ll be here when you wake. No arguments now.” He took her hand in his when she seemed to be fighting him. “Indulge me, Granger.”
“Fine. What I put up with.” She was smiling as she drifted off.
Snape heard footsteps, saw Sonam coming up. “She’s going to be fine.”
“Good. I would miss her if anything happened.” He looked at Snape. “I trust I do not have to give the standard warning of ‘If you hurt her etcetera etcetera etcetera,’ do I?”
“What are you? Her minder?”
Sonam nodded. He smiled at Snape then left him alone with Hermione.
Snape sat at her side as he’d promised, making sure she was comfortable—even as he grew less so in the hard chair.
He was unaccountably touched when an attendant brought him a cup of tea.
Yak butter, of course. But beggars couldn’t be choosers.
Hermione knew Snape was watching her as she moved around the room Tenzing had given her. She’d apparated—against Snape’s wishes—back to her flat to get some clean clothes and some other things she thought she might need. It had been a week since she’d been hurt, and she was tired of being treated like a china doll that would shatter if knocked wrong.
And truth to tell, apparating hadn’t taken that much out of her. She was stronger than she looked, and the healers here were extremely good.
“Why didn’t you tell me you’d left Ron?”
She froze, was thinking of the right thing to say when he snapped, “Answer now, Miss Granger,” the way he would have back at Hogwarts, and she blurted out, “Because I didn’t want you to think it was because of you.”
“An honest answer. Thank you.” He sat down on the floor. “So I don’t have to hold myself culpable for destroying your happy home?”
She sat next to him. “It wasn’t that happy. Not at the end.” She sighed. “The sad thing is: Ron was happy. I was the problem.”
He made a sympathetic noise, and she hit him on the arm. He grinned at her and she grinned back, unable to resist an expression she so seldom saw.
Then his smile faded. “Does Ron even know you were hurt?”
She shook her head. “The mood he was in when I left, I don’t know that he’d care.”
“Does he know where you are now?”
“In general terms. Nepal. With some monks.”
“Ah. Left it vague, did you?”
“Can you imagine him charging in here and finding you?”
“Actually, yes. It’s not a pretty picture.”
“Exactly.” She leaned against him. “He suspects there’s someone, though.”
“I imagine he thinks it’s Potter.”
“He gets jealous of Harry. Which is a little amusing seeing as how he always had the thing Harry wanted most: a loving family and stability.” She looked down. “But I shouldn’t laugh because I’m jealous of a dead woman so...”
“You don’t have to be.”
“I still am.” She took his hand in hers but wouldn’t meet his eyes. “What was she like?”
“In the past, I would have said incomparable.”
“She was beautiful. I’ve seen pictures.”
“Yes, she was. I loved her from the time I was a boy to—”
“You still love her.” She sighed. “I can’t compete with a memory.”
“You don’t have to. Lily is gone. And you are here. And I realize what a blessing that is since I almost lost you.”
“So you’re transferring your grief over her to me?”
“I didn’t say that.” He sighed. “Hermione, you’re so different than she was. What we have, it’s different than what I had with her.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s less. I certainly never sat holding her hand while we talked about old loves.”
She laughed. “If you’re so crazy about me, why don’t you want to...you know?”
“What makes you think I don’t?”
“You haven’t made much of an effort to ...” Oh bugger this. It was like being a teenager again. She started to get up and he pulled her back down.
And kissed her. Very, very thoroughly.
When he pulled away, she ran her hand over his cheek. “I want to. But...I’ve only ever been with Ron.”
He leaned into her hand. “Hermione, it’s not as though I’m a man about town on this subject.”
“But you’ve been to town, yes?”
He laughed. “Of course.”
“Oh. Good, then.” She moved, so she was straddling him. “Do you think we’ll get into trouble if we make love in this room?”
“I think it’s highly likely.”
“But Tenzing made us do that breathing exercise. I asked Sonam about it. It’s a tantric exercise.”
Snape just laughed.
She kissed him before asking, “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?”
“For what purpose?”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m being romantic, you git. Where would you like our first time to be?”
“Anywhere. I just need you.”
“I’ve never been to Tahiti.”
“Nor have I.”
“Perfect.” She frowned.
He was smiling in a way that said he’d arrived at the problem before she had. “Going to be hard to apparate there if neither of us know what it looks like and we’re this keyed up.” He pulled her in for another kiss. “I have an idea. Do you trust me?”
She nodded. “But let me grab the blanket.” Once she had it, she said, “Okay, then.” A moment later, they were in the Forest of Dean. “But how did you...”
“I may have been here before. A long time ago. To deliver a sword.”
“That was you?” She smiled. “You were always looking out for us.”
“Well, for Potter at any rate. The rest of you were incidental back then. If I’m honest.”
“And I want you to be.” She smiled and began to unbutton his shirt. “Have I told you how much I like you?”
“I am inordinately fond of you, as well, Miss Granger.” The formality of the address was contradicted by the fact that he had his hands under her shirt and was running them up and down her back. “And for what it’s worth, I’ve done this before, but never with someone I truly cared about. Never like this.”
She spread the blanket out and they crawled onto it, all the while kissing and removing whatever bits of clothing they could reach. She pushed him down, slid on top of him, sighed as he lifted her up and settled her down and—there.
She closed her eyes, heard him ask, “Are you all right?”
‘Oh, yes. You?”
She opened her eyes, saw him smiling at her in an open and free way she wasn’t sure she’d ever seen. She began to move and the smile changed into something more sensual.
She closed her eyes, moaning as he kissed her, as he stroked her back and steadied her as she finished, as he clutched her a moment later as he, too, found his way home. He buried his head against her chest, breathing hard.
She laughed. And knew it was a strange laugh. Almost a defiant one.
She was free. She was herself. She was in love. And she was happy.
He was watching her with concern.
She pulled him to her and kissed him hard. “I adore you.”
He smiled and pulled her down to cuddle. A moment later, he smacked something on his arm. “Mosquito,” he said at her look. “Why in God’s name did I think this would be romantic?”
She laughed. “Because it is.” Normally she’d just do a spell to keep the bugs away. She knew Snape would have, too. “What would Tenzing do in this situation?”
He laughed. “Become one with the bugs? Not smash them, I daresay.”
She cuddled against him. “It would seem we still have a lot to learn.”
He nodded and kissed her hair. “It would indeed seem so.” His voice changed, became a bit tentative. “So we should probably stay in Nepal? Or I should.”
She pulled away so she could look at him. “I can’t be there all the time. I have children. And I do love them.”
“I know. And I don’t think Weasley will want me anywhere near them.”
“I don’t care. But it would probably be good to let him cool off before we try anything like that.”
“Do you like children?”
“Everyone thinks I don’t.”
She laughed. “I know you were good to your house.”
“I saved those I could. It wasn’t enough, but it had to do.” He smiled at her. “I do, for the record, like children. I may not, however, be very good around them. You know how you reacted to me.”
She smiled. “Ah, but the you of back then was not involved in a blissfully sensual relationship with a certain woman, a relationship that will make you very prone to smiling rather than scowling.”
He shrugged, proving her point about how mellow he might become with the proper attentions.
She smiled. “We’ll see how it goes. You’re in my life. That’s enough if the children and you don’t take to each other. But I have to be in their lives.”
“Of course you do. I’d never take a mother away from a child. God knows, my mother would win no prizes for maternal instincts, but she was still important to me.” He sighed. “I’ll see if I can find something close to the temple for us. Tenzing told me there were some other options for housing.”
“He never stops matchmaking.” She smiled up at him. “He also likes you. I think he wants you around because he’s a little lonely.”
“Tenzing? Master of the Universal All?”
She laughed. “I know, it’s inconceivable, but there it is. I think he likes you quite a lot. I think you like him quite a lot, too.”
“I do.” He sighed, a very contented sigh. “You make me happy, Hermione.”
“You make me happy, Severus.”
“Who would have thought?” He slapped at his arm again. “Oh bother this. I have no intention of leaving this place for quite some time, so Tenzing will just have to excuse the use of this.” He reached for his wand.
She stopped him. “Meet him halfway. Use your mind to do it.”
He made a thoughtful face, and then seemed to be concentrating madly.
Suddenly, they were surrounded by a lovely little bubble.
“Well done, you.”
He smiled. “No bugs allowed.”
“How did you make it?”
“I tried to force it at first. The way I would have with the wand. Then I thought about just putting it together slowly, letting whatever bugs were on us get out before I closed it up. The way I might a garage door, if a bee has gotten in.”
“I thought so.” He looked very pleased with himself. “Now, let’s see what other kind of magic we can get up to.”
They found any number of creative ways to fill the day.
Snape was sitting on the benches outside the temple when he heard someone cough softly. He turned, expecting one of the monks, and saw Potter standing in front of him.
And Potter did not look surprised to see him. “So. You are alive.”
Snape was not sure what to do, so he just nodded.
To his surprise, Harry came over and sat with him, although he turned so his legs dangled over the bench. “I love this view.”
“Ah, my two favorite visitors.” Tenzing came from God knows where and put a hand on both of them. “It’s been a long time, Harry. Good to see you.”
“Sir.” Harry had the same star-struck look he used to get around Dumbledore. At least this time, Snape didn’t think he was giving his loyalty to a man who would hurt him.
“I’ll leave you two to talk,” Tenzing said.
“But, sir, I thought you wanted to see me. I got this message at the Ministry.”
“I did. And now I have. So, I’ll leave you two to talk.”
Well, the man was as subtle as a bull and as manipulative in his own way as Albus ever was. But when he looked at Snape, he gave him a gentle smile before walking back to the temple.
“So,” Snape said, deciding to take some pity on Potter. “I hear you named one of your sons after me?”
“Albus Severus. You’d like him, I think. He’s very...serious.” Harry looked down. “You’d probably not like James much. Too much like my father and I.”
“The only reason I never cared for you, Potter, is because you reminded me of your father. I should have looked beyond that.”
“Maybe. It’s in the past anyway, right? Can’t change that. Well, unless you’re Hermione with a Time-Turner.” He startled Snape with a friendly grin. “Took me a while to figure out just who she was going to rescue when she borrowed my cloak. But it came to me finally.”
Snape was unsure what to say.
“Did you try to break up her marriage?”
“No. I didn’t even realize she was the woman who saved me until she went back to do it again. I probably should have realized, but I’m...unaccountably stupid at times when it comes to women.”
“Not a man alive who can’t say that.” Harry sighed. “Ron’s really unhappy.”
“I wish I could say I was sorry but of all of you, he was the—”
“Don’t.” Harry held up his hand. “Whatever you’re going to say, just don’t. I know how you felt about him. About most of his family.”
“His mum was all right. Seemed a fair lady.”
“If you weren’t Hermione. She never really took to her.”
“Maybe she knew Hermione was wrong for her boy. Molly’s not stupid.”
Harry shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Are you doing all right? Happy?”
Harry looked over at him. “I am. I have a wife I love and children I adore. It’s funny: I first came to Nepal seeking something, but everything I wanted, I found I already had.”
“Sometimes we don’t realize that until it’s too late. You’re a lucky man if you can still enjoy it, Harry.”
They sat for a moment, and then Harry asked, “You didn’t like Hermione when we were at Hogwarts, did you?”
Snape shot him an appalled look. “Good lord, no. What do you take me for?”
Harry looked relieved. “You’ll treat her right?”
“I should think you’d be more worried about me.”
Harry laughed. “I should probably be more worried for anyone around you, the two of you together. At least you’re here, where they’ll train you up right.” He shook his head. “Part of me is sorry I’m not coming here still.”
“I have a feeling you’re always welcome.”
“I know. I just sort of think I should stick with Ron for a bit. Solidarity and all that.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t plan to tell him you’re alive. He really hates Slytherins enough without finding out one stole his wife.”
“I didn’t steal her. She left him. She probably would have done that even without my presence in her life.”
“Somehow, I doubt that.”
Snape shrugged. “At any rate, I agree. Don’t tell him. Will just be one more nail in the Slytherin coffin.”
Harry smiled. “I was almost sorted into Slytherin.”
Snape couldn’t hide the surprise he felt. “What?”
Harry nodded. “The hat wanted to put me there. I wanted to be Gryffindor.”
“I’m not sorry I was in the house I ended up in. But I do regret I didn’t get to know you better.”
“Now—you regret that now. You certainly did not regret it then.”
Harry smiled a bit ruefully. “No, I didn’t, you’re right. At any rate, I thought you should know.”
“I appreciate that.” Snape studied the man who had been his nemesis and greatest worry. “You know, watching the three of you when you were at school, I always thought that you and Hermione would be better suited than Ron and she.”
“She’s like a sister. My best friend. Don’t tell Ron I said that.”
“Trust me, I won’t.”
Harry swung his legs around and got up, and then he held his hand out to Snape. “I never got to say, sir, how brave I think you were. Everyone says I was the hero, but I got to live in the open. I got to be the one everyone rallied around. Got to be lauded and do the right thing. And you had to hide, the whole time, and still do the right thing. I can’t imagine how lonely that was for you. So I just want to say thank you for what you did for us.”
Snape took his hand. “You’re welcome.” Then he let go.
“Oh and you don’t have to hide anymore. I made sure that your contribution was known. Your sacrifices acknowledged.”
“Because you couldn’t have your son named after a traitor?”
“No, sir.” Harry’s expression was very like one of Tenzing’s when he was a little disappointed in Snape. “Because it was the right thing to do.”
Hermione walked around the small little stone structure that was part of a cluster of shelters. She and Harry had always wondered what they were for, lying just far enough away from the temple to seem like they were separate. “So this is your house?”
“This is it.” Snape smiled. “I could use some help decorating it.”
“I’ll say.” She smiled at him.
“And you can use the word ‘our,’ you know.”
“I can? And how would I use that particular possessive.” She laughed as he pulled her into his arms.
“As in, “Ah, Severus, man of my dreams.” He actually laughed when she rolled her eyes. She wasn’t sure she’d ever heard him make such an easy, happy sound. “All right, something more akin to what you might actually say might be, ‘So, you marginally satisfying man who I have decided I love—‘”
“I would not deem you marginally satisfying.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear it. It is maddeningly difficult to get to the point with you, Granger. You know that?”
“I’ll help you out. “So, Severus, pain in my neck, this is our house?” She felt funny asking it despite the cheeky way she’d put it. She still had moments where she did not want to presume and find humiliation waiting on the other side of that presumption.
“Yes, Hermione, endless source of frustration, this is our house.” He pulled her closer. “Frustration because you so rarely listen to me when I am obviously older and clearly wiser.”
“I have yet to see evidence of that.”
“Vexation of vexations.” He threw his hand over his heart, looked up at the roof as if begging the heavens for mercy.
She pushed him down onto the bed while he was busy overdramatizing. “I think we should break this thing in.”
“If you insist,” he said with a long-suffering sigh, but he was already easing her clothes off her, so she ignored it and got to work on his. Then he stopped her for a moment, a truly puzzled look on his face. “Why me, Hermione?”
She could see he was serious. “Because you’re smart.”
“There are many smart people in the world, some closer to your age.”
“Stop with the damn age thing. You know it irritates me.” She tried to unbutton his trousers, and he stopped her again. “What? You need more reasons than just your sterling intelligence?”
He nodded. She could tell he was trying for one of his more sarcastic looks but he failed utterly.
“Because you make me laugh in bed, which admittedly is the last thing I would have thought we would do.”
“Laugh or be in bed together.”
“Both. Oh, come on, you cannot seriously say you envisioned me as a partner.”
“I did not. But to my credit, I was dealing with a pert young schoolgirl about whom I was most specifically not supposed to envision future dalliances. Whereas you could easily have had a schoolgirl crush.” His mouth turned up into a half smile. “I know: I am delusional.”
She laughed. “You are. But witness: we are in bed and we are laughing. Now, may I please continue disrobing you?”
“If you insist.” He pretended to be bored, but as soon as enough of him was free of clothing, he pulled her on top of him and moaned as they joined.
He was, for someone who claimed to be not that experienced at this, bloody good in the sack. Then again, the fact that their tattoos had become not only visible but had also started to glow might be helping that along. Tenzing had said there were interesting other ways the tattoo could be used to amplify things.
When they were done, and they lay sweaty and sated in each other’s arms, she said softly, “Why you, Snape? Because I love you.”
He met her eyes, smiled wistfully. “It is wonderful to hear that.”
“My wish is that someday, in the future, if you ask me that again, and I tell you that I love you, you say, ‘I knew that.’ And not act so surprised.”
“Wouldn’t you rather hear me say ‘I love you, too’?”
She thought about that. “You have to say it first some of the time. Too many times it’s just a rote response, a Pavlovian kneejerk. ‘Oh, right, quite, I love you, too, snookums.”
He laughed. “Well, I do love you.”
“But never as much as Lily.”
He shook his head slowly. “You have that backwards, Granger. I never loved her as much as I do you. Oh, yes, I idolized her and adored her and wanted her. I nearly died when she did. But I never knew her, because the girl I thought I knew better than anyone, that girl of course loved me back, and Lily most assuredly did not. I never lay in a bed after wonderful, wonderful sex and just...enjoyed talking with her. I never had her, Hermione. Not like I have you. Not like I love you.”
He smiled, and it was an open and real smile: one of the rare ones. “And I’m not saying that because I’ve learned to make do, or because I’m older and I’ve been through a lot. I’m saying that because for the first time in my life, I know that I have someone who can, when necessary, love me more than herself. Do you think it was lost on me that the first thing out of your mouth when you came back, bloodied and alone, was ‘You’re still here’?”
“Well, my effort and potential death wouldn’t have been worth much if you hadn’t been.”
“This is true.”
“And it could have been a statement of ‘Ooh, look at how extremely skilled I am.’” She pulled him to her for a long kiss. “Or it could have been just as you said. Because, my dear man, living without you if I could stop it: not an option.”
“There will come a time—”
“You don’t know that. I could go first. I think that means we should just be happy and enjoy what we have.”
“I think you are most wise.”
She pulled her arm up so she could see the tattoo. “I think you should make yours glow.” She worked on her own, making it brighter and brighter, and his started to glow either because he was trying to make it do so or because it was responding to hers.
His look of surprise and pleased, “Oh, Granger, well done, you,” as he rolled her to her back, let her know which it was.
Snape sat next to Tenzing on the grass, looking out at the mountains and the valley. It was an unusually beautiful day; the sun was hitting the snow on the mountains just right, turning them pink.
“You are content, my friend?” Tenzing asked.
“But you seem to have a question.”
“And even if I hadn’t had a question, that sort of statement would make me find one.” Snape smiled at Tenzing. “I am wise to your ways.”
“So you think.” Tenzing took a deep breath. “It is good having you here. Someone who does not answer to me. Who is my friend.”
“Have I ever thanked you for welcoming me here?”
Tenzing shrugged that off. “We welcome all who seek.”
“Do you befriend them too?”
“Not as often. I must maintain my air of mystery.” Tenzing’s eyes crinkled up as he tried not to laugh. “But you do have a question, Severus, so just ask it.”
“Something has been bothering me. What I don’t understand is how Hermione healed me in the first place. I understand why dittany worked on Harry—Nagini knew not to kill him, probably barely injected him with venom. But I was as good as dead. That snake gave me more than a lethal dose.”
“Yes, she did.” Tenzing shook his head. “Dittany alone will not close a wound like that. But perhaps with something else?”
“What else is there?”
“Some energy restorers perhaps. To get you on your feet and out of that shack.”
Snape shot him a look. “That alone wouldn’t do it.”
“No. That alone would not do it.” Tenzing began to make a slow, quiet hissing noise. A few moments later, a little orange snake slithered into view.
“You’re a parselmouth?”
Tenzing nodded, holding out his hand and the little snake crawled onto it, then up his wrist, coming to rest like a living bracelet. “This is Cepla. She is a special little serpent. Her venom, while very weak when used in defense against a human, is adequate for mice and other small beasts.” He held her out to Snape. “Take her.”
Snape put out his hand, and Cepla moved gently from Tenzing to him. Her scales sliding over his skin felt almost like silk, and her little tongue moved in and out as she wrapped herself around his wrist and seemed to go to sleep.
“Her venom, when combined with dittany, negates Nagini’s venom. Not all at once: she is, after all, a very small creature. But in time.”
Snape rubbed his throat with his free hand. “Yes, in time.” He sighed.
“What is it, my friend?”
“Hermione thinks she thought up saving me, but you did, didn’t you? I mean you brought us all together, starting with Potter that day. Why?”
Tenzing shrugged. “It is, at times, good to be the head of the order and free to move around. Free to pay special visits on bright men who will help me get you back.”
“Get me back? You didn’t know me then.”
“Severus, I have lived so many lives. One at a time and all at once, as I tried to explain to you when you tried your stupefying charm on me—Hermione did that, too, by the way. So alike, you two. At any rate, I tried to explain that like light, we have dual natures. We can be soul, and swim in the wave of ourselves that spans Eternity, or we can be physical and choose to be a particle, losing our connection with the all. Sure only of one thing: our location or our speed in leaving it.”
Snape smiled. “That is a bad paraphrasing of quantum physics.”
“No, quantum physics is a bad paraphrasing of Universal wisdom.” Tenzing reached out and stroked Cepla. “Most of the time, I am something in between. I am old enough, close enough to moving on, that I can live as a wave even with my feet on this earth. And therefore, your magic had no target when you tried your spell.”
“You had a point about friendship in all of this scientific mumbo jumbo?”
“I did. I see all when I connect. I see the past. I see who I was. I see how I lived and who was important to me. I see who they are now and watch them as they struggle and as they fight. As they keep fighting, no matter what.”
Snape made a mocking face, the old one he’d used at Hogwarts. The one that kept him safe from having to show any kind of vulnerability.
Tenzing took his shoulder and shook him slightly. “Severus, I have known you before and I watched you this life. I saw what you had to do, and I know how much it cost you. And I know you would have died alone if Potter and his friends had not come along. After everything you did: that was to be your only reward? And sometimes, sometimes I do not have to sit by and let my friends die. Sometimes, I can say, ‘No. Not this time.’”
Snape swallowed hard.
“This is karma, my friend.”
“I thought karma was punishment.”
“It is what is earned. Sometimes punishment. Sometimes a reward.” Tenzing smiled. “That woman is a reward. She will love you with fierce abandon. And you will never, ever bore her, although it’s possible you will drive each other crazy at times struggling over who is in control.” Tenzing smiled, seemingly amused at the thought. “Have you finally no words? You who are so quick to defend?”
“I... I just... Thank you. I wish I understood this all better. I wish I...” He shook his head.
“Sometimes it’s better to speak in the language of the listener. Is this easier, my friend? Well done, thou good and faithful servant. You have toiled long enough, Severus. Time to rest. Or whatever that wonderful woman allows you to do.” Tenzing actually laughed at that. A simple, innocent, heartfelt belly laugh.
“You’re enjoying this far too much.”
“I know. Indulge me. Life is fun sometimes.”
“Yes,” Snape said, as he saw Hermione walking out of the temple with Sonam, as she gave Snape the sweetest smile imaginable and a little wave before continuing on. “Sometimes life is.”