After the mourning
Many had called for a grander memorial than just a plain stone with the names of the fallen inscribed on it, but Dumbledore and McGonagall had favored this simple form and finally they had prevailed.
In her last year at Hogwarts Hermione had spent many hours in this courtyard. Not only because it somehow made her feel closer to Ron and Harry, but also because hardly anyone ever came here. And those who did had suffered losses similar to hers and understood her grief.
The snow was falling in large flocks now and lay thick on the ground. Hermione was glad for her high boots as she made her way to the bench. She drew her wand, cleared the bench from snow, put a warming and shielding spell on herself which would keep away the cold and the snowflakes, and sat down.
Not much had changed. The beech, which had been planted next to the stele when it had been erected, was taller now, but that was it. Hermione closed her eyes, trying to imagine herself back more than five years ago. But she failed. Her desperation, the constant anguishing feeling of loss and self-reproach which had made her want to cry out in rage and pain, was gone.
"I'm back," she whispered. "Ron, Harry, I miss you so much. But it no longer kills me."
Apart from the softly falling snow there was not a sound in the whole world. The waxing moon shed silvery light on the snow covered courtyard and the stars were blazing in the black sky. And Hermione felt calm and peaceful.
She was still looking at the stele and the snowflakes dancing around it when a sudden noise shook her out of her thoughts. Snape had entered the court and was just closing the door behind him.
"Hello Severus," Hermione said.
He inclined his head but remained standing at the door. "Minerva told me I might find you here. So this is the monument to the fallen?"
"Yes. Actually your name is on it as well."
He snorted. "Indeed." Snape seemed to hesitate for a moment but then went towards the stele, his dark robes starkly contrasted against the bright snow. He stopped in front of it and read the names.
"Severus Snape, hero of the resistance," Hermione said with a smile. She tried to catch a view of his face but it was turned away from her and shaded by his hair.
Snape snorted again.
"But you deserve it. There are few who did as much as you did." She hesitated, and then went on, "And for such noble reasons."
Hermione saw his body go rigid. "There was nothing noble about my reasons," he stated stiffly, still looking at the stele.
"You did it for love," Hermione said quietly. "I think that's a very noble reason."
She fell silent and there was no response from him. "Why don't you sit down?" she finally asked after some moments had passed. "You were looking for me?"
He turned around, went towards the bench and sat down on the other end, as far away from her as possible. Then he cast the same warming spell Hermione had performed.
"I see you're back to doing magic?"
Hermione smiled a bit self-consciously. "Yes. It just felt right."
"I'm glad to see it."
Hermione looked at him expectantly and a bit nervous, trying to read anything in his face but, as so often, failing at his dispassionate expression. "How are you?"
"I am fine. No aftereffects from the potion. How about you?"
"The same." She paused a few seconds, then went on. "How does it feel, being back?"
Snape snorted. "I think that's a question I should ask you."
Hermione shrugged. "I was worried at first. But it's all right. Strange, but not in a bad way." She gave him a shy smile. "Actually I feel happy. It's good to be back, and to meet everyone again. In many ways this is my home, and I missed it dreadfully."
"Well, I certainly didn't miss Trelawney," Snape said dryly.
Hermione giggled. "What was that with her? She seemed rather eager to talk to you. Don't tell me you and Trelawney were closer than we all suspected."
Snape gave a barking laughter. "Certainly not! But shortly before the fall of Voldemort she suddenly got this strange notion that we are soul mates, that we had been together in another life and should be together in this life as well. I have to admit I had forgotten about it until I saw her again."
Hermione grinned. "I can just imagine her, chasing you with her crystal ball…"
"Just another reason why it was a good decision to leave."
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "So you're not happy at all at being back?"
Snape huffed. "My relationship to Hogwarts has always been rather ambivalent." Her large, serious eyes were scrutinizing him and suddenly he had the worrying sensation that she could see right through him, see all his most intimate thoughts and feelings. He looked away quickly, to the stele where his name was engraved. Severus Snape, hero of the resistance…how ridiculous. "But I suppose in a way it is like coming home," he heard himself say quietly, wondering what had made him admit it to her.
They fell silent for a few moments, Snape still looking at the stele. "What do you think of Quintus?" Hermione eventually asked, a mischievous tone in her voice.
Snape's gaze turned back to her and he looked at her scrutinizing, not sure what to make of that question. "He's far too young to teach," he said curtly.
Hermione raised a brow. "I think he's thirty, or older. How old were you when you started teaching? 21?"
Snape snorted. "That was different."
"Because you were so brilliant? Or because Dumbledore made you stay?"
Snape stared at her, scowling. "Both, I suppose," he eventually said, looking at Hermione's face and trying to read it, but unexpectedly failing this time.
They both fell silent again, looking out into the slowly falling snow. Snape felt strangely peaceful. There was no use denying that he enjoyed being with her, being teased by her. When he looked at Hermione, and even more when he talked to her, there was an unaccustomed feeling of lightness in his chest. It was dangerous, he knew that all too well, but he didn't want it to end nevertheless.
"Why did you change your mind, Severus?" Hermione eventually asked quietly. "I didn't think you liked Christmas at Hogwarts so much."
"I certainly don't."
"Then why are you here now?"
Suddenly Snape felt nervous. "Last time we talked…," he finally said a bit stiffly, "it didn't go the way I intended. I suppose I was still…overwhelmed…by everything that had happened, and what I said didn't come out right. And when I wanted to rectify it you were gone."
Hermione looked at him intently. "You could have written to me. Or visited me."
"No," Snape shook his head. "That didn't feel right."
"I see. So what did you really want to tell me then?"
Snape's mouth was dry. "That I value your friendship very highly. That I want you to come back and work with me. Not only in London, but at my house." He hesitated for a few seconds, then went on. "And that if you really want to know about me…about my past…I will tell you."
Hermione looked at him seriously. Then slowly a small smile spread over her face. "I'd like that very much," she said softly. "But perhaps we should go somewhere else, to talk."
He grimaced. "We should. It'll take some time."
Snape hesitated for a second. "Very well," he said and got up. "Your quarters, then."