An unexpected meeting
She had already chosen two books and was leafing through a beautifully illustrated edition of Paradise Lost when something made her turn around. It hadn't been the doorbell, although that had just chimed, but the strange and subconscious feeling that someone was looking at her. When she turned around she froze and nearly dropped the book she was holding. Standing in the doorway, staring at her, was Snape.
He hadn't changed much. His hair was a bit shorter and he wore muggle-clothes, but his distinct facial features were unmistakable.
Before Hermione could say or do anything, he turned on the spot and hurried away, leaving her standing there open mouthed. Hermione's mind was reeling but after a few seconds she put the three books she had looked at on the counter, quickly asked the clerk to keep them for her, and rushed after Snape. As soon as she left the shop icy rain lashed into her face and she could just see Snape hurrying around a corner. Hermione started to run, ignoring the rain that quickly started to soak through her cloak. She gasped in relief when she turned the corner and saw Snape not too far in the distance. Unlike her, he was carrying an umbrella, in black of course.
He was walking briskly but not so fast she couldn't follow him. Hermione didn't really know what she would do when she caught up with him but there was no way that she'd just let him go. Snape never looked back but the speed of his walk and the fact that he took quite a few turns indicated that he knew he was being followed. Hermione just hoped that he wouldn't disapparate.
After about five minutes he turned around another corner and when Hermione followed she nearly bumped into him. He had stopped right behind the corner, facing her.
"Why are you following me, Miss Granger?" Neither his voice nor his face betrayed any emotions.
"I need to talk to you," Hermione said, shivering in the rain but meeting his cold gaze defiantly. He seemed to consider for a few moments, his dark eyes burning into hers with an unreadable expression, then gave a short nod and crossed the street to a small café not far down the road.
It was a relief to be out of the cold rain and to get out of her wet coat. After they had sat down in a semi-secluded corner behind a pot-plant Snape ordered tea and Hermione, who was still shivering, hot cacao. Neither of them said anything while they were waiting for their orders. Hermione felt profoundly uncomfortable, not only because she was wet and cold but because she had acted on an impulse and didn't really know what to say or do now – in a way it was strangely surreal, sitting in this muggle-café with Snape, of all people.
When the waitress had brought the drinks Snape murmured a spell which would make the other customers of the café ignore them. He still didn't say anything to Hermione but took a few sips of his tea, scrutinizing her with his black eyes in a way which made Hermione feel as if she were back in his class again. After this had gone on for a few minutes she thought it was high time that she said something. Up till then she had avoided looking directly at Snape but now she squarely met his gaze, for the first time noticing the new lines on his face and the streaks of gray in his black hair. It's been nearly four years, after all, she thought. How old is he now? About 42? He isn't a young man anymore.
"So you haven't died," she stated calmly
His mouth curled into a sarcastic smile. "What a very acute observation, Miss Granger."
"In the wizarding world most people think that you're dead – why did you disappear? You should have had your portion of the glory."
"After everything which had happened I thought it best to lay low for a while."
"For nearly four years?"
He didn't answer at once but sipped at his tea. "You're hardly the one to scold me, Miss Granger," he finally replied, "I haven't heard much about your feats in the wizarding world."
Hermione looked at her cacao. "I have returned to the muggle-world."
"I see." His voice was level, not betraying surprise, triumph or any other emotion.
There was silence for some moments which he finally broke: "Why did you want to talk to me?"
She met his dark eyes, her heart beating fast and the familiar pain nearly choking her. "Why did you hold me back?"
He didn't answer immediately but held her gaze, his eyes unreadable. "There was nothing you could have done, not for Potter, nor for Weasley. You would only have got yourself killed."
Hermione felt anger welling up inside her. "You don't know that. I might have been able to help them, to distract Voldemort, to do anything…" Her voice trailed off and she felt tears in her eyes. Hermione blinked them away angrily, she certainly wouldn't cry in front of Snape. He looked at her without any expression in his eyes or face, distanced, as if they were discussing something rather boring and not the death of her two best friends. But what had she expected? Some sympathy perhaps, after all he had been the only one present, the only one who had seen what had happened. But it had been stupid to follow him, to hope for anything. Suddenly she was terribly angry, angry with herself for showing her weakness to him, and angry with him for his cold detachment.
"You are silly to believe that your intervention would have changed anything," Snape said coldly. "Potter had to die. There was no other way to kill Voldemort. I would have thought that with your intelligence you would have realized that without my assistance."
Hermione felt as if he had slapped her. Hot fury welled up in her and she wanted nothing more than to hurt him, to shake this insufferable complacency. "I am sorry I stole your time," she said as collectedly and coldly as she could. "I should have known that it was useless to talk to you. You never liked Harry and Ron." She watched him but the only reaction he gave was a slight curling of his lip. Was a sneer all he would give Ron and Harry, even after they had died to bring Voldemort down? Her anger and pain nearly choked her and with a bitter laugh she said, "Probably you don't know what it feels like to lose a friend, after all you killed Dumbledore!"
His face froze and his eyes blazed and Hermione felt a wild feeling of triumph. Finally she had got to him, had shattered his complacency. Snape stood up abruptly, looming over her as he always had when she had been his pupil. Deathly fury radiated from him. But Hermione wasn't a little girl anymore, afraid of his displeasure, and so she quickly got up as well, facing him with her chin raised and her heart pounding heavily.
"Go!" he hissed.
Hermione hesitated for a few seconds, then turned, grabbed her coat and left the café. The cold rain lashed her face and mingled with the tears that had started into her eyes. She walked around aimlessly, her mind in turmoil. After a few minutes she passed an old church and went in, glad to get out of the rain. It seemed to be Catholic and the smell of incense enveloped her. The church was empty and only dimly lit and Hermione was glad for it. She sat down in a pew, shivering, and tried to compose herself. Her heart was still pounding with fury, but after a while her anger receded.
Whatever had come over her to talk to Snape like this? He had infuriated her, certainly, but she had gone too far. She had been provoked by his behaviour and reacted emotionally, like Harry and Ron always had. Hermione stared at a stand with a few lighted candles, their flames dancing in the gloom of the church. And Snape had been right, hadn't he? She had known for a long time that she probably wouldn't have been able to save Harry and Ron. It had not been what he said, but the way he had said it that had infuriated her. His complete disregard for the death of her friends, for her overwhelming loss. But in all fairness she could hardly be surprised that he didn't mourn for them. And her comment about Dumbledore... That had just been cruel, born of a petty need for revenge, the need to hurt him as much as he had hurt her. Another thought struck her. She hadn't even paid for her hot chocolate. Hermione groaned. He must think her ill-bred, childish and hysteric.
While Hermione was sitting in the church, reproaching herself, Snape had stayed in the café, fuming with anger. What was the girl, that annoying, ill-bred know-it-all thinking?! How did she dare talk to him like that?!
But she wasn't a girl anymore. Nearly four years had passed and she was a grown woman now. And she had changed apart from that. Her face, which used to wear either a thoughtful expression or a smile, now looked serious and sad. Clearly she was still mourning her friends. And while Snape sipped his tea and stared across the room, he didn't see the busy café but what had happened that night in May nearly four years ago.
Four years earlier
The moon was shining brightly, dipping the Hogwarts grounds in silvery light when Snape went to search for Potter and Voldemort. He had been ordered to join the battle which was raging just now, but Snape had been there only for a few minutes, making sure that a number of members of the Order as well as Death Eaters saw him being hit by what seemed like the Avada Kedavra. In fact he himself had performed a harmless spell to make them think that he had died. Snape wouldn't kill any of his fellow Order members and he certainly wasn't keen on being killed by them. He just had to make sure that Voldemort died tonight.
Snape hadn't found the Dark Lord where he had left him not long ago, and so now hurried through the grounds, increasingly worried. He just hoped that Potter wouldn't mess up. His mouth curled into a sarcastic smile. He had sworn to protect Potter, sworn it to himself and to Dumbledore, but that certainly wasn't because he liked the boy. It was because of Lily, and because he knew that only Potter might be able to defeat the Dark Lord.
He reached the edge of the Forbidden Forest and entered it without hesitation. When he had walked for about ten minutes he suddenly saw a bright glow between the trees and headed towards it. After a few more minutes Snape stepped out onto a large clearing and immediately retreated back into the shadow of the forest. In the middle of the clearing stood the Dark Lord and Potter, about ten feet apart, their wands connected by a blinding stream of energy which also surrounded their bodies. Neither of them had noticed Snape. They seemed to be isolated from their surroundings, completely focussed on each other.
Snape didn't dare come any closer. Whatever was happening, it wouldn't do for anyone to interfere. And so he waited in the shadows of the trees, fervently hoping that Potter would be strong enough.
Suddenly something broke through the underwood several feet away from him and Ronald Weasley stumbled onto the clearing. "Harry!" he shouted, and before Snape could say or do anything he charged forward and aimed his wand at Voldemort, yelling "Stupefy!" As soon as his spell hit the Dark Lord the bright energy which was pulsing between him and Potter also enveloped the Weasley boy, fixing him at the spot. He didn't move at all but looked as if petrified, a surprised expression on his face.
Snape, who had stared at the scene before him, heard a cry and turned to see the Granger girl only a few feet from him, her eyes wide and her wand hand shaking. She made to start towards Weasley and Potter but he stepped forward and grabbed her. He wouldn't let her endanger their whole enterprise.
"Don't be silly," he snarled, holding her roughly and pressing her wrist so hard she gasped and let go of her wand. "There's nothing you can do."
She however didn't pay any heed to what he was saying but was fighting him like a wildcat, kicking and scratching and even trying to bite him. And that was hardly surprising, really, since she still thought him on the Dark Lord's side.
Suddenly the light which surrounded Potter, Voldemort and Weasley brightened until Snape couldn't look at it anymore but had to close his eyes. Then there was something like a soundless explosion, rocking the ground beneath them and bringing him to his knees, and as he opened his eyes again the light was gone and he saw Potter, Weasley and what had once been Tom Riddle lying on the ground.
He let go of the girl who immediately rushed forward to her friends, and walked towards the Dark Lord. Kneeling down beside him he saw that he was dead, his inhuman face contorted with anger and disbelief. Snape got up and looked down on the man who had controlled his fate for so many years now, and a small and bitter smile settled on his face.
A hoarse sob, hardly human, jerked him out of his reverie and he turned towards the girl. She was kneeling between her two friends, who were both as lifeless as the Dark Lord, her body shaking with anguish. Only now did Snape notice that her wild hair was singed and that there was blood on her torn clothes. She had had her share of the fight it seemed. Her eyes were wide and full of pain and with a choked voice she whispered "No, no, no," incessantly. Suddenly she bent towards the Weasley boy, softly stroked his cheek and kissed him.
Watching her, Snape suddenly felt a strange stab of compassion. It seemed they had been more than just friends. The girl, who didn't notice him at all, took the boy's hand, and then turned towards Potter and took his hand as well. And so she sat on the forest ground, holding her friends' hands in hers, her head bent and her slender body shaken by unbearable anguish.
Snape slowly went back to the edge of the clearing. He should have left immediately, but somehow the sight of the girl's grief kept him lingering. There was nothing he could do for her and he certainly was the last person she would want to see right now. But nevertheless Snape remained in the shadows of the trees, his eyes involuntarily fixed upon her.
Suddenly he heard noises not far away. He retreated further into the shadows of the forest, prepared to fight if it were Death Eaters. But then Hagrid, McGonagall and Arthur Weasley stepped onto the clearing, and he relaxed. They cried out when they discerned Hermione and the bodies in the moonlight, and hurried towards her. Arthur was sinking down next to the corpse of his son and his shoulders shook with anguish. Hagrid howled so loud birds fled from the forest and then started to cry. McGonagall was standing between the bodies, the moonlight showing her face frozen with exhaustion and grief. After a few moments she bowed down to Hermione, addressing her with soft words, trying to draw her out of the shock she was obviously in.
Snape decided that it was high time for him to leave. He didn't want any part either in triumph nor mourning. His time at Hogwarts was over and the only thing left for him to do was to gather some things from his rooms. He turned around silently and went away without attracting any attention.