What Do You See?
"The night was railing against the morning of which it was bereaved, and the cold was cursing the warmth for which it hungered."
― J. R. R. Tolkien
The few times Severus had allowed himself to think forward to a time where he might survive the war and stand trial, it had never crossed his mind that he would do so depending on friends who stood beside him. It still unsettled him; it felt both like weakness and like strength, but he did appreciate it. If not for his housemates at his side, he knew he would've retreated behind walls of occlumency and anger, alone and bitter by now. It wasn't until their easy familiarity had given way to a battle ready solidarity that he realized how much of a unit they had become, or to use Hermione's words, a family of friends. Striding in pace with him through the Ministry, which was filled with an ever increasing tumult of shocked noise, they had become his shield wall, like the Roman testudo formations of old and for the first time in his life, Severus felt he had true companions with him behind the siege lines.
Hermione, in particular, kept her promise and attached herself almost literally to his side. During the trial, Severus was surrounded in support, not only from his housemates, but from the remainder of the Weasleys, Minerva, Poppy, and a fair number of the DA and the Order. Harry had indeed been busy on his behalf. It almost overwhelmed him, it certainly bolstered him from the sea of anger that he faced. If his reappearance in the Wizarding World hadn't been accompanied by so much anger, the shock that overcame so many faces would have been humorous.
Especially Draco and Narcissa's. Lucius was under house arrest and numerous heavy restrictions and fines and Draco was under several restrictions as well, but the Trio's support had both saved Lucius from worse and ensured Draco and Narcissa's freedom. They had come in support of Severus today, having no notion that he was still alive, and were unsure of how to approach him through his unexpected wall of support. Severus nodded to them and watched them puzzle over how he was still alive and when he'd come by his new pseudo-family.
The victory party at the Burrow marked his being restored to the world and the world being restored to him. Because of the SevenS, Severus was marginally less wary of accepting the benevolence and proffered support of those in attendance as honest offerings, but true openness and acceptance was still very much limited to the four who had wormed their way under his guard with their constancy. The day had been overwhelming, and the avalanche of interest that had begun to descend made him ill. He was glad, now, that Harry had insisted he stay with them. As far as sanctuary went, Grimmauld Place was better than Spinners End at present, both in terms of security and in that it kept him from mouldering alone in his hated abode. Severus didn't know how much to credit Harry's assertion that his staying with them was for their benefit as much as his, but he decided to keep things as they were for now.
The next morning Harry and Ron went with George to his shop to prepare for a grand re-opening. They looked wrung out when they returned to Grimmauld Place that evening. It was a grueling, emotional undertaking, but every day it seemed to take a little less out of them. Hermione and Severus mostly stayed within the sanctuary of Grimmauld, reading, listening to music, which in Hermione's case meant humming or sometimes singing in her surprisingly lovely voice, brewing potions, and in Severus' case working on the projects he was consulting on with George who was planning on rolling out some of the last ideas he and Fred had planned together.
It all meant that he and Hermione were spending significant time in each other's company, which was good in some ways and others not. Her presence felt all at once not enough, just right, and too much. The perception of her being too close was to be expected. He wasn't used to being touched or…empathized with, and he regarded every bit of himself given to another as a potential weapon that could be turned against him. Just right, while surprising, was an unexpected boon, an unlooked for but valuable kinship. Recalling the times he had seen her treat Kingsley, Harry, Remus and the Weasleys with a similar disregard for personal space (i.e. touching, hugging, and sitting very near) allowed him to accept this as a mark of her friendship, which he could admit was, in most ways, acceptable. But the idea of Hermione being yet too far away for comfort frightened and confused him. Severus tried not to dwell on this lest it lead him into dangerous waters. Under no circumstances could he allow himself to become needy and dependent.
When he was in a she's-too-close-for-comfort frame of mind he began secluding himself in solitary pursuits. This was when Hermione took to making solitary excursions. Sometimes she brought back library books, sometimes she didn't. Either way, he didn't like it, and he wasn't alone in that. They all knew she was capable of handling herself, but that didn't stop them from feeling protective over her and fussing at her for it. The other three grumbled when she placated them, but he felt alone in the depth of his anger and worry. Of all the many charges he'd had through the years, she somehow incited him to greater depths of concern than he'd ever known. This in no way reduced his anger.
One day when he'd bawled her out over taking off on her own in such a reckless, thoughtless manner, she said, "Fine, come with me then," grabbed his hand, walked him to the front step and apparated him to a place he'd never expected. They were in a public park with an outdoor concert arena where people milled about, ate food from vendors, and listened to live music. The surprising thing about the locale was that she'd transfigured a sort of platform in a tree where she could watch and listen without being observed. Among the formidable protections she'd put about her spot was an odor-blocking charm she said she'd figured out after a close call with a snatcher who had smelled her perfume while they were on the run, and it was thus protected from Greyback's nose if he happened across the area.
Hermione conjured cushions and they sat shoulder to shoulder with their backs against the trunk of the tree watching people and listening to music. That day, it was an orchestral concert of what she called soundtrack music which he'd noticed she was partial to. She had explained that she and her parents had frequented the theater and the cinema and she was a fan of those musical forms, especially the movie soundtracks that portrayed themes and things grander than words could capture. He had to admit she had a point. Things like valor, majesty, despair, nostalgia, beauty and other unnameable and wonderful things were discernible in the notes. He glanced over at her during one particularly stirring strain of music and noticed the sheen of tears in her eyes. She gave him a small grin when she noticed his regard. "Why is it the most beautiful things usually have a touch of sadness in them?" she asked. Looking at her, he knew exactly what she meant, but he had no answer.
Later when they'd gone to a Muggle café to eat, she'd been absorbed watching the people around them. Lonely old people, couples, sullen teens, and mothers with children all fell under her regard.
"There is a beauty to people, isn't there?" she asked.
Not particularly, in his view. The world was full of ugly, and people were the chiefest blight. He raised a disbelieving eyebrow at her.
"Oh, I know there's ugly," she said. "But it's like the music, the beauty is mixed in…its' there…it's in love and selfless acts, in the innocence we're born with, even in our bruised and hidden hearts that keep hoping and beating…you just have to look. I probably sound like Luna Lovegood…."
"Or Albus Dumbledore," he quipped.
"Or Albus Dumbledore," she grinned. "But don't you ever look and see it and wonder what's wrong with us? The world will never be without evil because it's in all of us too. Why? And does the ugly make the beautiful more so, or would the beautiful be blinding without the taint? Can you imagine what that would be like?"
When not discussing factoids or academic minutia, she had the knack of asking the most disconcerting questions. This especially happened when she read books that made her "think about things." Severus sometimes marveled at the way she made him look at the world in a different way. He'd thought himself old and jaded enough to be set in his opinions and ways, but she proved him wrong on more than one occasion.
And he wasn't the only one she threw off guard. Once George and Ron had Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes up and running again and the trials slowed down, Harry resumed spending more of his time at Grimmauld Place. One afternoon, after he'd finished collecting memories and laying the groundwork to bring charges against Dolores Umbridge, Harry sat in the sitting room with them as they read. Severus looked up from his book several times to catch Hermione lost in thought, her book nearly forgotten in her lap.
Finally he asked, "What is it? What thoughts have you wandering miles away?"
She gave him a ghost of a grin and went on in a pensive, far away manner. "Oh, it's just something I've been reading by C.S. Lewis. Do you know him?"
Severus thought. "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, correct?"
"Yes," she said waggling the book in her hands. "This one's non-fiction. He's talking about the desire we have for our own far off country, is how he put it. You know, the secret, innermost part of you that is pierced with things that seem like memories of something, and we call it Nostalgia. He says it's not really memories, it's not a remembrance of things we've actually experienced, it's just that our experience keeps suggesting things, like glimpses from that far off country that we long for." Here, let me find it," she said scanning down the page. "Ah, here we are. He says, 'These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of the worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.' ** Do you think it's really out there? That he's right? It's not that we have to try to recapture something from our past, but the beauty that haunts us in glimpses is something out there that we reach forward to?"
Harry's thoughtful look had a good dose of dumbstruck thrown in. Severus was fighting to keep exactly that look off his own face. Yes, Hermione was good at the disconcerting, startling, hope-reviving, worldview-changing questions. And he'd once thought her woefully limited to parroting and incapable of independent thought. He could honestly call himself wrong on that score.
Except he'd later asked Harry, "It that her usual modus operandi?"
And Harry had answered, "What, the questions? She's always asked questions and made leaps of logic that would never have occurred to us…but yeah, this is a bit different. She's been searching trying to make sense of things…which she usually does do, it's just it's bigger this time I guess. She's been posing your brain stoppers then, huh?"
"Quite," he answered. So her off the page habits hadn't previously been quite so developed, then. This made Severus feel marginally better.
It was odd to him, his place among the SevenS, because of his age and experience.
Severus didn't quite know how to classify himself - something of a friend, something like an uncle figure.
He was flabbergasted when Hermione pointed out in private conversation, "You know, you're the only thing like a god-father-figure Harry has left. Until you, Remus was the last person he had who was part mentor, part friend and knew at least one of his parents well." She then paused as if to gauge her words and added, "I've never said as much to him, but there are ways that I think you're more suited to the role than Sirius was - at least now that you've come to realize that Harry isn't his father. Despite how close he and Harry were, I don't think Sirius ever really realized that. And I think you understand Harry in ways Remus and Sirius were never able. I'm glad he has you."
When he got over the shock of being compared to his nemesis, Severus had to grant that his relationship with Harry was coming to feel like something like the sort she mentioned.
His relationships with Ron and George weren't nearly that complex, but his relationship with Hermione...was.
She was something of a fascination for him, different from who he'd assumed she was and like him in more ways than he'd ever realized. In a way, he was less a mentor figure with her than with the others; her intellect placed her on much more equal ground. That and her alarming ability to see through him and get under his guard. She certainly had the ability to intrigue him. He couldn't think of anyone besides Lily that he would have ever sat with in café - or in a tree - and played, 'What do you see? - What do you suppose their story is?' as they people-watched.
He admired her ability to put her own suffering in perspective. "There are worse things under the sun, and others have suffered them," he'd heard her say a few times when she was having a rough patch. Not in a way to negate her own experiences, which concern he had raised, but as a choice to live with them and move on. "Everyone's got their own trauma, don't they?" she'd responded. "I can either carry mine around like a badge and use it as an excuse for un-laudable actions and attitudes or I can try to assimilate it and get on with things."
Severus winced a little when he sorted his past actions according to this scheme. He was forced to admit that she was making a better go of it than he had.
Hermione also had a predilection for sidling up to one or the other of them to read, sit quietly next to or talk with. Severus sensed she didn't like to be alone after all that had happened and that she gained comfort from this, though it gave comfort to them all as well and made her like the glue between them. She was like a sister common between them – bossy, bewildering, and beloved.
To his bemusement, she seemed to prefer sidling up to him, whether alone at Grimmauld Place, in a crowd as they were at the Ministry during the trial of Dolores Umbridge, or amongst their friends as they were at the cinema outing with which they celebrated the win of getting 'that Umbridge cow' sentenced to time in Azkaban and banned from future employ at the Ministry.
The more he was around Hermione, the more Severus allowed himself to enjoy her company. She was brilliant, ruthlessly determined, resilient, and steadfast. Most people saw what they expected or wanted to see, but she had a rare gift for looking beyond the misconceptions. Severus had thought himself among the exceptional few who could do the same, but realized he had deceived himself in this when he compared himself to Hermione. At her age he'd missed all the clues he should have seen, in Lily, in his fellow Slytherins, and even himself. He wondered briefly what his life would have been had Lily been more like her. Hermione was not flawless, she had random blind spots of her own, but he had a feeling that in Lily's place, Hermione would never have let his illusions stand nor given up on him so easily. She was far too much the crusader to have allowed that. Of a certainty, Lily had never changed the lenses with which he saw the world as Hermione had done.