It was late in the afternoon when Harry found himself alone with Hermione, still going over everything the Minister had told him. Stay or go back? Fight here or there? Run from one past into an uncertain future? The thoughts had blurred through his suddenly overwhelmed mind when, thankfully, Hermione had distracted him by asking about his past. He'd consented to telling her about a few of the less traumatic moments of the life he'd left and answered each question as they blessedly led his mind away from a choice he didn't want to have to make. One he felt was impossible to make.

            Hermione sighed and tugged at Harry's hand. "I'm still bored. I wish they would tell us more about what's going on." At Harry's silence, she added, "I'm glad we get to spend this time alone together. Can you show me a memory?" Hermione smiled as a thought came to her. "Show me your Valentine's date with Cho. I could use the laugh."

            Harry started as his full attention returned to her. "No! It was awful enough the first time. I refuse to see that again."

            "Okay, why don't you tell me what it was like around the time you rescued Ginny from the Chamber of Secrets?" Hermione asked. "That must've been something."

            He nodded. "It was mad," Harry said. "Lockhart was no help at all and I wasn't sure any of us would make it back alive."

            "I can believe that. I want to hear more about it, though," Hermione said. "I can't imagine what that whole time was like. It's just so weird to think of myself as being best friends with Ron Weasley."

            "We were a trio," Harry said. "You two didn't spend too much time alone, to tell the truth. You managed to argue a lot when I wasn't there. Or even when I was. Mostly because you were so bossy," he remarked, grinning as she pulled her wand on him in mock anger. "Ron would get us both to laugh, mostly me, you kind of kept us on track with our school work and helped figure out all the weird things that were happening around the school and I…"

            "Kept getting us all detention?" she suggested.

            He offered her a faint smile. "It wasn't always my fault. I guess you could say I balanced out the two kinds of crazy between you and Ron," he said wistfully. "I helped Ron act a little more serious every once in a while and I guess I helped you loosen up a bit."

            She rolled her eyes. "I couldn't have been that uptight, Harry."

            Harry shrugged, not sure what to tell her about the bookworm and stickler for the rules he'd known, the person whom he suspected she'd been in both lives. "Whatever you say."

            A loosely formed fist connected softly with his shoulder. "I'm just conservative," Hermione said. "There's nothing wrong with that. On the other hand, it's mostly because you've corrupted me that I do things other people would think are out of character."

            Harry put his arms around her and squeezed gently. Immediately, she leaned her head back to his shoulder and snuggled against his chest. "Whatever you say," he repeated in a soft voice.

            "See, like right now? What I really want to do…I can't right now," Hermione whispered back. "You are a bad influence." She turned her head and planted a soft kiss on his neck. "You always have been."

            "Your mind takes you to dirty places. Not me."

            "Not yet." She grinned. "You know, here, second year was actually when I realized I wanted to be more than friends. It took a long time before I got up the nerve to do anything about it."

            "I wish I'd been here to see that," Harry said.

            "It wasn't easy. I didn't want to ruin our friendship. Speaking of that, I keep thinking about all of the memories you've shown me," Hermione said. "I still have trouble believing all of it. The stuff about me and Ron, I mean. Don't get me wrong, he seems nice enough, but are you sure I liked Ron?" Harry nodded. "But, in every memory you showed me, I was always helping to protect you or trying to give you advice about something or hugging or touching you in some way."

            Harry nodded, thinking of the sometimes smothering nature of his friendship with Hermione. "Yeah, you were protective of me because we were really good friends. With all of the things that kept happening, you both worried a lot. Besides, I didn't show you everything."

            Hermione nodded slowly. "Yes, but sometimes I barely looked at Ron when you were around. It was really awkward."

            "Yeah." Harry was silent for a couple of beats. "Because you already liked each other at that point."

            "You're sure it's not because he spent the first few weeks at school teasing me and talking about me behind my back and we only became friends because it was your idea to save me from the troll and we argued a lot of the time when you weren't around so by a certain point we didn't always know how to be civil to each other? It wasn't that, but because of buried romantic feelings?"

            Harry hesitated. "Uh…yeah. I'm sure you liked each other."

            Hermione looked at her boyfriend, smiling as a small flush colored his face. "Sure, Harry. Whatever you say." She giggled more. "Looking at those memories, it's obvious who I had feelings for, even if neither of you could tell. There are some things even time couldn't change." She leaned closer to him and rested a hand on his knee.

             "So." Harry inclined his head slightly as Hermione paused. "What are you going to do to entertain me?"

            A reluctant smile touched his lips. In spite of everything that was going on, he could tell what she was thinking as easily as if she'd whispered the words in his ear. Remembering the marks on his neck, and how they'd gotten there, he knew how dangerous—and tempting—that line of thinking was. Before he could make a suggestion, he realized she was studying him with a worried expression.

            Hermione stared at him in silence for several long moments, her light brown eyes searching his. "What's wrong?" Before he opened his mouth, she said, "I didn't want to bring it up, but I know something's on your mind. Whatever the Minister said is obviously bothering you. You've been too quiet."

            "Nothing is bothering me," Harry responded, his voice shaking slightly.

            "I thought you said you never wanted to lie to someone you care about," she countered.

            "I—" Harry stopped speaking and looked away from her knowing stare. He couldn't lie to her now if he wanted to. "He told me some things about Voldemort and Snape and…it just gave me a lot to think about."

            "Anything you want to share with me? Maybe I can help," she suggested.

            "No, there's nothing you can do," Harry said. He shrugged. "Maybe there is one thing."

            Hermione grinned and kissed Harry on the cheek. "Anything."

            "Tell me why you love me."

            "What?" Her half-lidded eyes widened into a stare. "What do you mean? You already know that," she said quickly. "I've always loved you."

            "No." Harry closed his eyes and took a slow, steadying breath. "Why do you love…me?" At her quick intake of breath, he knew she understood he was again comparing himself to the Harry she'd known for years, and he hoped this time she would give him more than a rote answer.

            "I don't know why you keep questioning this," she said softly. "I've tried explaining it—"

            "We're not the same person, Hermione. You know that."

            She let out a small, frustrated growl. "In a few months, it won't make a difference. You'll be here and all this other stuff won't matter."

            "But it will," he said. "I'll be here, but without years of memories of us together." He opened his eyes and caught her sudden sad expression. "You can't tell me you're okay with being someone who has no memory of our relationship."

            "I have memory enough for both of us," Hermione said.

            "It sounds romantic when you say it that way, but let's be realistic about it. You gave your heart to someone who nearly died. I saw how you reacted in the hospital. You're trying to tell me you won't feel at least some pain, some loss in a few months when it's just me you're left with? It'll be like starting over."

            "You make it sound like you're some kind of second-rate prize I'll be stuck with."

            Harry watched the play of emotions across her face, deciding it was best not to say anything as she debated her answer to his question.

            "I love you because you're brave and caring and supportive and you're the best friend I could ever wish for," she said, emotion making her voice heavy. "I've been trying to tell you this whole time, but you can't seem to believe it. I don't know how to make you believe it. I can't explain it any other way. I know you're not exactly the same, but everything that matters, everything that's here—" she put a hand over his heart "—is all I need. It's different lately because I know you can not only protect the people you care about with everything you have, but you can love me under any circumstances. I'm not exactly the same girl you knew and you love me still. I love you all the more for that."

            "Hermione, that doesn't mean—" She cut him off with a brush of her fingers across his lips.

            "I know you think I'm just saying this because I don't want you to break up with me, but it's more than that." Hermione looked away from him as her first tears made their way down her face. "When you first…came here, I was the only one you could trust. I feel the same way," she continued in a soft voice. Her eyes met his again. "You are the only person I can truly trust. With all of the craziness of the last couple of weeks, you're the only constant I can hold onto. I can't lose you.

            "I know you're tired of me pushing you to feel something you haven't gotten used to yet, but I do it because I know it's right for me, for both of us. I reacted that way at the hospital because I knew if the cure didn't work, it would break my heart." Her hand slid to his cheek and a trembling smile preempted her next words. "I can't stand the thought of losing us. But, it's not just about that." She paused and took a deep breath. "If I had to choose, I choose you."

            With a barely perceptible sigh, Harry pulled her into his arms and covered her wet face with kisses, hands shaking from the emotion he felt when she kissed him back with desperate urgency. Long minutes later, Hermione pulled away and looked up at him, a question in her eyes.




            When Bellatrix entered his office, Severus Snape had two immediate thoughts as he slammed the book he'd been reading closed. The first, that he would gladly kill her if she was coming to whine more of her paranoid thoughts into his ear. The second, that he didn't wish to experience the Dark Lord's reaction if one of his most devoted followers suddenly met with an unfortunate end. Though, Snape thought with a small hint of glee, she was close to outliving her usefulness in Lord Voldemort's eyes. And he would be the one to help her realize that fact when the time finally came.

            The thought bringing a faint smile to his lips, he leaned back in his chair and waved at one of the empty chairs in front of his desk. "Something I can do for you Bella?"

            "Naturally." She stepped forward and sat in one of the proffered chairs. "Be honest with me. Are we going to do anything about Harry or are you content with letting the little brat get away with his interference?"

            His eyes narrowed. "Of course not. You know I can't do anything noticeable to him…for now. I don't see why I have to keep explaining myself to you."

            "Because I don't understand how our master could employ someone so weak to work on his behalf," Bellatrix said in clipped tones, her heavy voice emphasizing the insult as she glared at the wizard behind the desk.

            "A ridiculous a statement as you've ever uttered," Snape responded. "I have no illusions as to how the Dark Lord sees all of us. He values people he can use and control, of which you must count yourself."

            "I don't count myself as being used. It is my privilege to serve Lord Voldemort."

            Taking in her sudden simpering expression, Snape refrained from asking her what else was her privilege relating to the Dark Lord. He had the sneaking suspicion it was best left unsaid.

            "Be that as it may, I don't see why you cannot content yourself with waiting for the plans to unfold in their own time. Impatience has nearly been your downfall on more than one occasion."

            "My downfall?" she asked, incredulity making her voice rise. "I've been waiting years for the opportunity to do something real again and the chance to fulfill our plans may hang on the meddling of a child," Bellatrix said. "I had hoped you had come up with something that couldn't be so easily derailed." She looked down, appearing to study her long nails as she paused. "I don't suppose you've been brave enough to tell the Dark Lord why we aren't able to move forward."

            "He is aware of our…difficulties," Snape said. "I'll be seeing him tomorrow to give an update on our progress."

            She raised one eyebrow in surprise. "Right under Lily's nose? She is still coming tomorrow?"

            "Late tonight, if she can make it," he responded. "I wouldn't worry about her finding out anything. She'll be so distracted showing little James her disappointment over his most recent mishaps that I'll be able to slip away for a little while unnoticed, assuming Minerva lets him out of her personal jail long enough. Potter's idiocy has proven convenient when it comes to some things. Minerva seems too distracted with him to notice what's going on."

            "What do you mean?"

            Snape frowned and motioned to a copy of the Evening Prophet sitting on the edge of his desk. "Didn't you bother checking that? The Ministry's finally noticed a few of the prisoners are missing from Azkaban. With his carelessness, I still think it's only a matter of time before they figure out Lucius is the one who arranged for them to escape, though how he managed it—"

            "Yes, fine," Bellatrix said impatiently. Her full lips pursed. "When are we going to do it?"

            "Do what exactly?" he asked, a deep frown creasing his features.

            She sighed. "What have we been working towards for months?"

            His brow cleared. "We may have only been working for months, but I've been attempting to restore the Dark Lord to his rightful place for years. You know the earliest we can begin is the end of next week. Though I'll have to check the Key again to see if it would be possible to begin the potion a few days early and only complete it during the full moon. Forget what I said about Lily's brat being convenient in his moments. I'd gladly trade his life for the Dark Lord's human form even if it brought the full force of the Ministry down on us."

            At Bella's surprised expression, Snape continued. "Don't give me that look, Bella. I have my moments of impatience, just as you. I'm tired of biding my time. If there was some way of getting to the boy without it being traced back to me—"

            "Isn't there?"

            The quietly spoken question gave him pause. He looked over to find a knowing stare and small, sinister smile aimed at him.

            "We've been over this. The potion is a last resort. Once the final steps are taken, I'm sure Lucius can make sure Potter gets what he deserves." He tapped the fingers of one pale hand on the surface of his desk. "Then again, once the Dark Lord has returned, I'll have no more concerns about getting caught. I can take care of Potter myself." He smiled as he thought of it, the first of genuine pleasure since Bellatrix had entered his office.

            "Perhaps you'll give me a chance to give my regards to your stepson before you do the honors."

            "I had thought you'd be too busy making plans for Longbottom to even think of Potter," Snape said. "My oh my. The Dark Lord has not yet risen and already your true nature is coming out." He leaned back into his chair and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "I had assumed your threats to Minerva the other day were merely boredom, but now I see you're just eager to exercise those skills that earned you the Dark Lord's favor. Be careful not to let your eagerness get the better of your judgment."

            "I am bored with this waiting," Bella remarked. "I'm leaving for a short trip tonight to…entertain myself."

            Snape's brows raised in surprised. "A vacation at the beginning of term?"

            A half-smile greeted this statement. "Do I detect concern for my neglected students? I'm sure they will get along fine without me for a couple of days. It'll be easier to keep up this tiresome guise if I have a little playtime to keep myself occupied. Hopefully, I'll come back without the urge to hex these little brats every few minutes."

            Snape chuckled. "You're slightly more interesting when you're on edge, but if you must go, do enjoy yourself discreetly. Will you arrange for a dragon's blood delivery while you're gone? If it's convenient, of course," Snape added.

            She inclined her head minutely. "Anything else?"

            "I'll have the rest of the list before the weekend is through," Snape said. "Potter will not be able to evade me for much longer. After I consult with the Dark Lord, I will not hesitate to take action."

            Bellatrix stood from her chair and nodded in his direction. "That's exactly what I needed to hear." As she headed towards the door, she said over her shoulder, "I expect to hear more good things when I return."

            Snape began nodding before she'd made it to the door, stopping when Bellatrix tripped over the edge of a rug. "Are you all right?"

            She turned briefly. "Your concern touches me. Give Potter my best this weekend." With that, Bellatrix opened the door and slipped through quickly, leaving the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor sitting behind his desk, an uneasy feeling picking at the edge of his consciousness.



            Harry pushed away from Hermione and leaned with his elbows resting on his knees, his fingers combing through his hair. "I can't do this," he whispered.

            She touched his shoulder softly, feeling a small measure of comfort when he didn't flinch away from her. "I know, Harry. I understand. Especially not now."

            "No, it's—" He turned to her and she saw something in his eyes that hadn't been there before. "There's more going on than what I told you before. With the prophecy and everything else." Harry sat up abruptly and took Hermione's hands in his. He saw his own naked fear reflected in her eyes and wished in vain to be able to soften what he had to say next. "At the heart of it, Neville will have to kill Voldemort or be killed himself. And probably me as well. Even if…even if I go back and undo the part of the past I've changed, I'll still have to face him."

            He looked at Hermione, tears blurring his vision. "I don't think I can do it. I can't kill him." He paused and took a deep breath. "But more than that, I know I can't go back and leave my mum and Raven and…you," he whispered. "Dumbledore isn't going to make me and I can't even pretend there's a choice to be made. I've come through too much to go back now."

            With a startled expression, he remembered the small glass ball he'd brought with him as he'd time traveled, still at the bottom of his bag. Walking behind Professor McGonagall's desk, Harry rooted through the bag until he pulled out the small orb, his breath catching as tendrils of smoke seemed to swirl under the smooth surface. After a few seconds, the gray wisps disappeared and he was left staring at his reflection on the glass surface, his gaze only broken when Hermione crossed the room to stand next to him.

            She took the prophecy from his hand and returned it to the bag, avoiding his eyes as she did so. It took a long while before Hermione gathered herself enough to speak. "You know, if you go back, things will be the way they were. It might be easier for you. You'll be exactly where you left off."

            "That's not necessarily better," Harry said. "I think…maybe leaving the letter was a mistake," he admitted. "But I don't want to go back to what I had. I know I'm going to die there. At least here I have Neville to help me."

            "And me," she said.

            "And you," he agreed. He pulled Hermione into his arms, adjusting so she could rest her head on his shoulder. "I'm not saying I'm staying only because of you, but I need everything I can hold onto before I have to face—"

            "I understand, Harry," she said, cutting him off. "But maybe you should think about what Dumbledore told you a little longer before you make your decision. It's not just your life that's at stake."

            He could tell from the way she squeezed him then that she was beginning to cry, struggling to hold back the tears that threatened to overwhelm her from the moment he'd told her he was facing death yet again. Harry held her in silence, knowing that whatever he had to face, he would take what few moments of pleasure he could get out of this life. There would be no going back.



            When Tonks pulled Snape's office door closed behind her, she closed her eyes, willing her heart to steady it's erratic beat. Tripping was the least of her problems, she knew. Snape was going to lead her to Voldemort when most of the country's Aurors were too far away to Apparate to or send a message. Even with Kingsley Shacklebolt and Gawain Robards to help her, she knew the task of arresting both at the same time would be difficult at the very least.

            Walking briskly down the hall, she entered Bellatrix Lestrange's office and pulled the door closed behind her. She smiled when she spotted her aunt firmly tied to the chair behind the desk, Bella's mouth working furiously when she spotted her niece.

            Tonks nodded at Kingsley. "She give you any trouble?"

            He smiled. "Nothing a quick Silencing Charm couldn't fix. She'll have plenty of time to make an official statement once the charges are brought. How did your mission go?"

            "Well, I think," she said as she began shortening her hair. "We might have an issue tomorrow, though. Is there any way we can quickly reach Scrimgeour and the others?"

            The older Auror shook his head. "We could send an owl that can get there by morning, but I'm not sure anyone knows where they are exactly to Apparate. Besides, it's—"

            "Too far," Tonks said with him, nodding. "Do you think the Minister would allow for a few private citizens to help us if we really need it?"

            Kingsley's mouth dropped open in surprise. "You don't really think we'll need that many people to arrest Severus Snape, do you?"

            She shook her head, her now blue eyes drifting to her aunt who glared at her. "It's not him I'm worried about."

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