I pulled my cloak tighter around me and took a deep breath of fresh air, trying to look like this wasn't the first time I'd felt free in over a decade.
Granger and I had left the hospital in disguise to avoid the many reporters still hanging around about 20 minutes ago. It had been so fast, being told by a Polyjuiced Molly Weasley I was being discharged and to go. I hadn't even had a chance to look at myself in the mirror before leaving. Once outside hospital I Apparated to the appointed place: the outskirts of Hogsmeade.
It was winter. Months now had passed. The first part of school had come and gone, and now it was Winter break and time for me to make my grand re-entrance. A light snow was falling all around us, making soft white patterns on my dark clothes. It had already covered the grounds and the buildings in tall drifts of glistening powder. The whole scene looked beautiful. After what I'd been through, though, it could have been on fire and it still would have raised a lump in my throat. When was the last time I had seen something like this, and not been secretly harboring fear?
Boots crunched next to me, and Hermione walked forward, scanning the trees. She'd been waiting to escort me, our first meeting after her departure from the hospital to attend again as student again this year. Her way of carefully surveying the area reminded me that we had to move; no time to stop and admire this first view.
"Alright," she started, "we make our way down from here, to the Shrieking Shack. The tunnel back to the castle should be open by now. Once inside Hogwarts, you can get to your chambers and make yourself at home."
"Something I completely intend to do, Granger. And need I remind you I don't need to be briefed on a plan I helped come up with."
I ignored her glare as I walked quickly ahead of her. Stomps told me she was right behind me. I picked up my pace.
"Professor, you're really being unfair. I was only trying to talk to you."
"And why exactly are you trying to talk to me, Granger?"
"Well, we're kind of on the same level now, aren't we?"
About a million arguments to this immediately came to mind. "Explain." I wondered if I would kick myself for asking that question.
"Well, it's a different time, isn't it? All the things that happened in this past year, with Voldemort being defeated finally, and you trying to help us. You've always been on our side, and now everyone knows it." Her breath was getting heavy. It occurred to me she'd probably never tried to argue her point while jogging downhill in snow.
"If we've always been on the same side, and we've always been at each others' throats, why should that change now?"
"We haven't been at each others' throats!" She finally got in front of me and stopped me. Her face was red; with cold, with anger, or being winded, I didn't know. "You and Harry were at each others' throats, were being the keyword here, but you were a teacher. I hated the way you treated some people, Neville being a good example, but I never hated you."
"Granger," I knew she probably had about 3 other points to make, but I had to interject. "I don't have the time nor the desire to argue with you outside in the snow. We should get to the Shrieking Shack, and from there to Hogwarts, where it will be warm. If you still wish to discuss this, then, feel free, as I can't give you detention for running your mouth currently." I brushed past her and kept walking.
A pause, and then the sounds of a few moments running, and she was back on front of me. Definitely angry. "Yes?"
She took a few moments to catch her breath, then quite shrilly said, "Professor I really don't think you're being fair."
"I thought I was being quite fair." I tried to move past her and she stopped me.
"You aren't. And you're being unfair to one of the few people who are going to recognize you."
This made me look at her directly. "What?"
"And you can give me all the detention you like when school starts and I'm your student again."
I repeated my question. "What?"
"Ron and Harry aren't here though so if you were worried about it being awkward with them don't be."
This is exasperating. "Granger you're not a moron no matter what insults I may have hurled at you. Now tell me what you mean about, 'few people recognizing me'?"
She looked like she was still trying hard to avoid the subject. It was at least another minute of silence before she began to answer. "They had to get the Department of Mysteries involved."
Of course they did. "Why were the Unspeakables necessary?"
"Well, no one was familiar with the kind of magic used to keep you alive. Once you were Apparated from Hogwarts, you'd lost so much blood... You died. You didn't die from a curse, so you weren't gone forever. They brought you back quickly... but... You have to understand, you really should have died at Hogwarts, Professor. You barely had any life in you, your heart was really only pumping what few drops were left and magic. They kept you going at first by tethering your life force to a band of volunteers until the Ministry Officials arrived. I don't know how they did it after that, all I know is that they took you from the team of healers working on you, and then it was quickly decided and pushed through that you'd go into the Time Room in the Department of Mysteries."
I began to see what had happened. "You broke all the time turners, but I don't think that's what they used."
She shook her head slowly. "The bell jar. It didn't take long, just long enough for your blood to return, your body to heal... But, ummm... They thought it might be nice to leave you in a little longer... To help you integrate back into society better."
I starred at her blankly, then took off. There had to be an icy puddle somewhere around here, something reflective. I heard her calling after me, and I became frantic. I had to see myself. It became a crazed drive, and I tore through the snow and trees, my hair whipping into my face. Was it shorter? Was it longer? Had my appearance changed with the process? It couldn't have, I'd notice. But so much that had happened, maybe not. A small part of me wondered why I cared so much, but the rest of me was screaming. My life had earned me my looks. My scars were earned by my work to those I had been loyal to. If they were gone... What if I was drastically different? What if I didn't know myself when I saw my reflection?
I saw a shining patch in the short distance and sprinted. I could hear Hermione a bit behind me; I had lost her in the trees. She would catch up to me soon, but not before I got to the small lake. Finally, I got to it and knelt.
The face that greeted me was roughly 10 years younger, maybe more. My hair was at my shoulders. My face was free of lines. My eyes I recognized because of their expression. Anticipated, concerned, slowly fading to anger and thinly veiled sadness. Soft steps and silence, then Hermione's face appeared nice to mine. She looked barely 5 years younger than me. And I was supposed to be her teacher.
I sat up. I didn't make a sound either way, fighting to control my emotions. It had always been so easy before. I refused for it not to be easy now. At the very least, if I had words to say, it would be to the people who could answer my questions, and not to Granger. I stood, and looked off into the trees.
"Come on Granger. Let's go meet them."
I waited until I heard her stand, then started walking, pulling my cloak tightly around me once more.