A/N: Hello everyone, and welcome to my first attempt at fan-fiction/Harry Potter. I'm sure a lot of you see this all the time, whether or not it's actually true, but this is definitely something new to me. I'll appreciate reads and reviews, and I hope you enjoy it.
A/N (Ammendment): When I wrote this story, originally, it was a little bit at a time, so the chapters are, unlike my crazy epics ones you'll find in Looks or One Step, often short in comparison. If you are used to the long chapters (and by long I mean 3-5+k at a time, feel free to check out the condensed version I posted on Archive of Our Own (AO3) under the same name.
Disclaimer: Standard none of these characters are mine, and I don't claim them as mine. I'm just borrowing them for entertainment.
Chapter 1: Graduation
While most of the remainder of the seventh year class did not return to Hogwarts, Hermione remained to finish her official education and take her Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests. Whispers and rumors flew as to why only one of the Golden Trio had stayed, while the famous Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, and others had been given a reprieve from the formalities of graduation to go directly into their respective careers. They had survived the final battle. What greater test could any one of them not face after such a feat?
Unlike the years before, Hermione kept to herself, studying until the wee hours, and save the times the younger students saw her speaking with her professors and walking with Hagrid out by his shack, she did not deviate from her studies. It seemed as if she was either studying furiously or impossible to find. It was as if she was driven by some outside force to complete her objective without distraction and without fail. When graduation finally came, everyone knew she had received nothing less than an "O" on everything that mattered as well as things no one really wanted to believe mattered.
As the majority of Hogwart's packed and left for the summer break, Hermione met with Ron on his break from Auror's training and walked through the swarming construction crews that were starting to trickle in for the construction, or rather repair, of many of the wings of Hogwart's that remained damaged from the war. Such things seemed strangely trivial in comparison to their lives. Buildings could be repaired, shelves restocked, classrooms refurnished, and lollygaggers docked points any time, but the lives that remained were precious.
"I'm sorry, Ron," Hermione apologized as she looked out over the bridge overlooking the damaged remains of Hogwarts's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. "It's not that I don't love you. I do. I just… cannot think of you that way anymore."
"But 'mione," Ron protested, his eyes filled with emotion. "I thought after all this…"
Hermione turned to look Ron in the eyes. Her brown eyes that had once held the sparkle of light and the possible future had darkened. For a moment, Ron saw something in her gaze that was viscerally familiar. Cold, emotionless tunnels that seemed to take the place of the warmth she once had for everyone. It was the same dark glare that he had seen countless times before in the eyes of the late Master of Potions that caused his legs to shake and his resolve to flee into deep corners of his mind. Even her mouth was a flat line, only slightly curved up in an almost snarl, as if any patience she may have had evaporated from her mind. Behind her piercing gaze was an almost tangible fire.
Ron instinctively back-peddled, reliving every horrible moment under the tutelage of Professor Snape, unable to fight back the wave of gut-twisting fear. He saw his hated Professor like a boggart overlay over his old friend. It didn't matter that the truth about Professor Severus Snape revealed his true allegiance and his role through the war. It didn't matter that Snape had protected them from as much as he could. His memories of the old Potions Professor were so ingrained it was like a deep-rooted phobia.
And suddenly, like a change in the wind, Hermione was looking at him with her normal tolerant smirk. She had her hand out to help him up off his bum where had fallen over himself in the most undignified manner possible. Her eyes were their familiar warm brown as he had always known them to be. "I am sorry, Ron," she said softly. "I think of you as my best friend and my brother. Please, don't let me lose you like that."
Ron took her hand and swung himself up. He searched Hermione's face for some sort of visual tell to a lie. His face softened and he hugged her, noticing how his touch caused her to stiffen slightly but her arm went around him like it always did in a mutual hug.
There was the distinctive crack of sound as someone apparated in nearby and Ron stepped away as if being caught after curfew by a patrolling Professor.
Familiar dark robes billowed behind the distinctive figure of the Potion Master of Hogwarts as he glided towards them with silent footsteps. The dark wizard's appearance had not changed in the decade he had known him. His expression even more so the same, his lip curled in a half sneer as he eyed Ronald Weasley.
"I would have thought you had enough of this place, Mr. Weasley," the Potion Master droned lowly, his voice holding no less scorn than Ron's memories of him.
"Hello… uh… Professor Snape," Ron stumbled over himself. Seeing the Dark Wizard face to face was no less nerve wrecking than his reminder of him only a few minutes before. "I was just… discussing plans for the future with Hermione, that's all." He finished his last gush of justification with the same rushed and nervous tone that came when stammering an excuse to Snape's intimidating inquiry during the past years as his student.
The dark wizard scowled at him silently and then turned his attention to Hermione. "Apologies for the interruption, Ms. Granger, but Minerva insists I fetch you for help moving and transfiguring the debris on the west side. The bungling construction dunderheads do not seem to have the aptitude for following instructions to not touch the glowing debris or stay out of the transfiguration areas." His voice was annoyed, as usual, and it seemed that not even near death had cured him of that. "Leaving… us… to pick up the pieces." His last words came with his habitual and characteristic sneer.
Ron fidgeted. He had no idea that Professor Snape had survived the Dark Lord's snake attack. Seeing him there had confirmed that he had, but seeing him standing there in his dark robes caused a shiver to go down his spine. How had he missed seeing him at the graduation ceremony? Snape wasn't exactly hard to miss with his characteristic black robes. Harry insisted that Professor Snape was to be regarded as a hero after the war. Somehow Ron didn't think the greasy git of the dungeons would want to be regarded at all. Hold on a tick. Why would Headmistress McGonagall request Hermione to help clear the debris at Hogwart's?
"Have the wards been adjusted for my apparition?" Hermione asked as if commenting on the weather.
"No," Severus replied matter-of-factly. "Minerva has been distracted lately. You will have to suffer me." He raised his arm up, opening his side to her for a side-along.
Hermione made a harrumphing sound and stepped closer to him, placing her hand around Severus' waist and pressing close to him to allow his arm and cloak to curve around her back. "I'll owl you later, Ron," she said in the cheery tone he remembered her for. "Thanks for coming to my graduation."
"Don't gawk, Mr. Weasley" Severus growled lowly, in the same tone he remembered him for. "This is not a zoo."
With a corresponding crack, they were gone.
Ron wasn't sure which part he was more stunned by: Hermione sharing a side-along apparate with the infamous dungeon bat or the fact that the Potions Master had pulled her against him in an almost protective embrace before they had disapparated in front of his eyes.