Three days later she went to London to meet Snape. What had happened had troubled her, even more so because she had no one to talk to. Ginny was away on holidays, and she couldn't tell Thomas. Something still prevented her from confiding in him and this made her feel even more miserable and lonely. There was much work to do for her studies as well as for Snape, and Hermione was glad for it, working late into the nights to keep her thoughts from dwelling on Sam. When she went to London on Friday, she felt tired and distracted.
It wasn't only the question of magic which troubled her, though. Hermione had meticulously analyzed the dream she'd had of Snape, and had rationalized it away quite thoroughly. But when she saw him again she was shocked to find that her perception of him had subtly changed. Suddenly she did no longer perceive him as a somewhat sexless teacher, but as the man he was. She found herself staring at his long, delicate fingers, noticing how he moved them when he spoke. How the corner of his mouth jerked up a little when he was amused and how his black eyes sparkled when he thought they'd had a good idea. It was deeply disturbing.
Snape soon noticed that Hermione, who was usually absolutely focused on her work, was preoccupied with something. "What is the matter?" he asked after she failed to react to a question for the third time.
For a moment she looked guilty, then embarrassed. "I'm sorry. It was a stressful week."
He gave her a searching glance. "If these meetings are too much work perhaps we should stop them," he said in a dispassionate voice.
She shook her head violently, her eyes wide. "No, that's not what I mean. I'm sorry, it's just this week."
Snape looked at her and suddenly a question that had preoccupied him for quite a while now came to his lips. "Why are you doing this?"
She looked confused. "Do what?"
"Help me." He looked at her attentively. "You put much effort into this, and much extra work. I'm sure that you're busy enough with your studies."
"Well," she replied slowly, looking self-conscious, "it's very interesting. It's a challenge. And it is something really important. If we find a cure…I mean if you find a cure…that will make a real difference." She paused, then added, "and I suppose I like working with you." She seemed as surprised as he was at those last words. Her eyes quickly flitted away from his face, and she looked rather flustered.
"Well," Snape said slowly, his throat suddenly dry, "I am honored."
Their eyes locked for a few seconds until Snape broke the contact.
"It isn't only work," Hermione abruptly said.
Snape threw her a questioning glance.
"What's bothering me. The porter at my college had a heart attack a few days ago," she explained. "I was there and tried to help. Luckily the ambulance came in time, he's fine." She hesitated and he realized that she was deeply troubled. "But ever since I've been wondering…if I had had my wand with me, I could have helped him much better. If he had died, it would have been because I chose not do magic anymore." She looked at him, her large brown eyes full of doubt. "I've been wondering if it was right to leave the wizarding world. If I don't have the obligation to use my powers."
Snape shook his head. "You don't have an obligation," he said. "It's your choice. That however also means that you'll have to live with the consequences."
Hermione grimaced. "And that's the problem. I know that many were disappointed when I turned my back on the wizarding world." She looked down on her hands. "Everyone said that, of course, it was terrible that so many people had died. That Harry and Ron had died. But I should go on with my life. There would be so many opportunities open to me. Me being so…gifted, and a heroine of the resistance. But somehow I thought I had done enough for the wizarding world. That after all it is my life, and I should decide what to do with it."
"And you were right," Snape said. "I'm certainly the last to tell you otherwise." He was struck by a similarity between them he had never seen before. The fact that in many ways they both had dedicated their lives to bringing Voldemort down. He for a much longer time, certainly, but she had become involved in the fight when she had only been eleven. And they both had broken out of their old lives when Voldemort had died. He looked at the young woman who was obviously troubled by her sense of responsibility. "The question is what makes you happy," he went on slowly. "You shouldn't pick up magic again just because you think you must. In that case, your magic won't be any good, and you know that. You should return to it because it gives you pleasure. Because you miss it and because you feel that it's an integral part of you. Not because some dunderheads in the ministry accuse you of wasting your great potential."
She looked up, a surprised smile on her face. "A praise from your lips, Professor? I thought I'd never see the day."
Snape shrugged his shoulders. "I never denied that you are a very talented witch."
Her eyes narrowed. "Indeed?"
Snape felt uncomfortable under her steady gaze. And suddenly the question struck him if he would have treated her differently if she hadn't been Potter's friend. "You were quite an annoying know-it-all," he said in a dispassionate voice.
"I suppose so," she replied, still looking at him searchingly.
"But a gifted witch nevertheless," he added, turning to open a book. "Now, shall we go on with that?"
He stared down onto the book in front of him, still feeling her eyes on him, but when he finally looked up again she had turned away from him.
On an afternoon two weeks later Hermione returned to her college and found a strange woman in the porter's lodge.
"Hello luv," the elder woman greeted her cheerily. She reminded Hermione of Mrs Weasley, if a bit slimmer. "I'm Mary Jones, the new porter."
"Nice to meet you," Hermone replied, surprised. "I'm Hermione Granger."
The porter's smile widened. "You're the girl that saved Mr. Ashe's life?"
Hermione shrugged her shoulders. "Luckily I was there when he had his attack. But what about him? Isn't he coming back? I thought he was getting better?"
The woman shook her head. "He's recovering, but as far as I know he and his wife thought it best that he stopped working altogether. At least for a while. You know, he's not young anymore. That's why I'm here."
"Oh," Hermione said, feeling sad. She had known Sam ever since her first day at Cambridge and she just couldn't imagine her college without him.
"Don't you worry, luv," the woman said gently. "He'll be all right. By the way," she started rummaging around in some papers on her desk, "there's been a visitor for you about half an hour ago. A young pretty woman, redhead, by the name of," she had found the note she had obviously written, "Weasley. She said she'd be back around 5 o'clock."
"Thanks," Hermione said in surprise. She had no idea why Ginny had come to visit her but she'd have to wait and see.
"You're welcome, luv. I'll send her up when she shows up again."
"Thank you, Ms Jones," Hermione replied with a smile. The new porter might not be Sam, but she seemed to be all right.
"It's Mary, luv."
Half an hour later Ginny arrived at Hermione's room. She looked excited as if she was bursting to tell Hermione something, and for a second Hermione was struck painfully by her strong resemblance to Ron. "What's up Ginny?" she asked with forced cheerfulness. "What's so important you couldn't send me an owl or phone me?"
Ginny grinned. "Well, one thing is that Draco is my new colleague."
"Malfoy!" A host of memories, none of them pleasant, washed over Hermione. "I thought he was staying away from Britain. He lived abroad, didn't he?"
"Yes, he did until recently. But it seems that now he actually has to earn some money, and for whatever reason he chose to work at the Ministry." There was a definite note of schadenfreude in Ginny's voice. "We don't really know why he's doing it, and there are lots of rumours going round, but either the Malfoys had to pay so much to get out of Azkaban earlier than was due that now their son has to work for his living. Or he broke with them and has to fend for himself. Anyway, whatever the reason, Draco is now working in the department of International Relations."
Hermione winced. "How unpleasant. How is he nowadays?"
"He's changed, actually." Ginny said. "Mind you, even in that last year at Hogwarts he was kind of different. You would have thought that he'd have a field day with the Death Eaters in control over the school and everything. Many Slytherins enjoyed it immensely. But Draco often seemed more nervous than pleased, perhaps even afraid."
"I guess he was under a lot of pressure." Hermione shuddered. "Still, he was a nasty prig."
"Definitely. But with those parents…". Ginny shrugged.
Hermione shook her head. "Sirius came from a similar background, and he wasn't a cruel bully."
Ginny smiled wryly. "After all I've heard I suppose Snape would beg to differ."
That left Hermione silent.
"You know, not all could be as brave as Harry," Ginny added quietly after a few moments.
"No," Hermione conceded. "But there were choices to make. And ultimately Draco made the wrong ones."
They looked at each other in silence for a few moments, each of them lost in thought. Eventually Ginny went on. "He's quiet now. Keeps to himself. You still see the old arrogance, the self-confidence from time to time. Well, not that I've talked to him much. He seems to feel uncomfortable around me."
Hermione snorted. "No wonder." She gave Ginny a searching look. "That's very interesting, but it still doesn't explain why you came to see me in person."
Suddenly Ginny looked a bit shy. "I thought about calling you," she conceded, "but I really wanted to tell you this in person." She made a dramatic pause. "Neville and I are together."
"Oh Ginny," Hermione cried out, and a large smile spread over her face. She was surprised, but not that much. Ginny and Neville had been friends for a very long time now, and had had a special bond ever since that terrible seventh year. "I'm so happy for you!"
"So am I," said Ginny, grinning joyfully. "Neville and I have been friends for such a long time. I don't really know how it happened, but suddenly I realized that I loved him. I was a bit worried. You know, because of Harry, and everything. But I feel good about it. I'm really happy."
"You look it. And you know that Neville has had a crush on you since at least fourth year."
Ginny giggled. "The poor boy. Well, now you know why I had to tell you this in person."
"I certainly do. This calls for a celebration. Do you have time to go out tonight?"
"Neville is visiting his Grandma to tell her about us." Ginny grimaced. "A formidable woman, but I hope she'll like me well enough. So I'm all yours for tonight."
They went to Hermione's favourite pub and after they had talked in great lengths about Neville, Hermione finally told Ginny about Sam and the feelings of doubt that his heart attack had created in her.
"I just don't know what to do," she said. "I've thought about this dilemma before, but luckily there never was a situation when my powers were called for. And after all, there's always the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy. But the question really is, am I right in not using my powers if that means that I won't be able to help people in similar situations? I'm just so glad Sam's fine again, I'd feel terrible if he had died."
Ginny looked at her with great concern. "I know what you mean. But you know very well that we can't help everyone. So I don't think you should feel guilty."
"Sure. And I don't mean I – or other witches and wizards – should go around trying to save people or something like that. But it's something different if it happens right before your eyes."
Ginny grimaced. "I know. About a year ago I was walking down a street when I saw a small boy running after his ball. He rushed right onto the street, taking no heed of the cars. Any second he'd have been run over. Without thinking I wished out my wand and stopped the cars. Luckily everyone was so occupied with the boy, no one noticed me. And everyone just thought that the cars had stopped in time, even the drivers. But I got into some problems with the Ministry." She shrugged her shoulders. "So shouldn't I have saved the boy? I don't think so." Ginny paused, then went on. "What do you want to do now? Take up magic again? Carry a wand for emergencies?"
"The latter, perhaps. Ever since I've started working with Snape I've been wondering what keeps me from performing magic again. Sometimes I think it was really stupid to give it up."
Ginny shrugged. "You had your reasons then, and they were good reasons. And you're happy back in the muggle world, aren't you? But that doesn't mean you have to forego magic for the rest of your life. You just have to try and find out how big a part of it it should be."
"You're a wise woman, Ginevra Weasley," Hermione said with a smile.
Ginny grinned. "I am, am I not?"