Hello, my dear readers.

Happy birthday, Gwen! It's a bit early, but I couldn't wait to post this piece. It's a bit dark, but I hope you'll like it!

For those not in the know, it is my habit to write my cousin a birthday fic because she lives several thousand miles and an ocean away from me. We share the love of SSHG and fanfiction, so I do my best.

This is a bit of a dark story. It explores the aftermath of the war, particularly on Hogwarts. Severus survived, inexplicably.

Also, the line dividers aren't all quite working. Sorry in advance.

When Hermione Granger reenters Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to complete her seventh year, the halls are haunted with pearly wisps of ghosts. Too many of them wear striped ties, too many have pigtails, too many linger in the new built halls where they died.

The dorms and Common Rooms are haunted by the students who didn't die. The second years who can curse but not Transfigure, the fifth years who know more about Dark Magic than they know about the charms that will be on their O.W.L.'s. There are third years who cry themselves to sleep, fourth years who either bear hard, angry eyes or empty stares. Sixth years who will retake their O.W.L's, seventh years whose class is half the size it was, even with the 'eighth years' who inflate their decimated ranks.

The dungeon is haunted by the Potions Master.

He is paler than he ever was. He walks around with a sneer on his face and a high collar that hides the section of his throat that was ripped out by Nagini. His voice is gravely, his movements sometimes slow, but his wit and his sarcasm is as sharp as ever.

All of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is haunted, by the living and the dead.

The five eighth years are in an interesting position. They are eighteen or nineteen, well past the wizarding majority. They are adults, not only in age but in experience.

Dean Thomas knows what it is to run for your life, to lose comrades, to be cold and hungry and desperate.

Justin Finch-Fletchley knows what it is when your parents can't understand what's happening to you and to them, when the only option is to flee the country or die.

Terry Boot knows what it is to hold children who die in your arms and be forced to leave them on the ground, cooling, to run for his own life.

Lisa Turpin knows what it is to lose her friends; some tortured her coldly and others died fighting for her rights.

And Hermione Granger knows it all. She knows the empty feeling of winning at too great a cost, she knows the way her dreams ensure the war never goes away, she knows that the brightness in her, the brilliance, feels like it will never make its home in her chest again.

She knows what is to be a ghost.

As the new Headmistress addresses them in her round office, they gaze at her with tired eyes. They command her respect- they fought, they won, they lost. They can't be treated like normal students, and they won't be.

The eighth years are given private rooms, to keep their nightmares and habits from the other students (Dean Thomas hoards food in his room and Lisa Turpin screams in her sleep and Terry Boot wakes up ten times a night to wash his hands again and again).

They attend classes with their House, but they sit in the back. They help teachers plan, in some cases, they help teach the younger years (so they don't feel like they are students again and trapped and as if something precious has been taken from them because it all really is a farce anyway). Dean is good at Transfiguration, McGonagall takes him into her classroom. Lisa is accepted by Professor Vector, Terry by Flitwick, and Justin by Sprout.

And to everyone's surprise, Hermione Granger asks if she can work with Professor Snape.

"Thank you for agreeing to work with me, Professor Snape," Hermione says quietly, taking a seat before his desk.

He glares at her, eyes black and trying to penetrate her own. "Why did you ask?" Out of pity? Shame? Guilt?

Hermione faces him, her face clear. "I have an interest in Potions, Professor."

"Why?" he asks bluntly. "You've never had a particular talent for it."

"That's exactly why," Hermione answers. "I never wanted to deviate from the rules. I- I feel that I am ready to learn now."

Snape sneers at her. "And now the thought of breaking the rules no longer scares you?"

"I broke into Gringotts," Hermione responds wryly. "Mere textbooks no longer faze me."

It is three months before he lets her teach his first class. Three months of threats, of curt instructions, of scarce praise (the insults she was waiting for never appear for some reason). Three months of working her arse off and he barely lets her demonstrate how to brew a burn paste in front of first years.

If she is honest with herself, the first years break Hermione's heart. The Muggleborn ones whose entrance into the wonderful (terrible) world of magic is tainted by the war. The half-bloods who saw their parents fighting over things they only half understood, who listened to their wireless as Muggles (like mummy like daddy) were called worthless and animal and who had waited years to go to Hogwarts only to have the school destroyed. Purebloods who know exactly why what had happened had happened, all the history behind it, but still don't understand.

She lectures before their faces, half lost in the steam from her cauldron. Snape stands right behind her, watching her every move with eyes as sharp as a hawk.

When she finishes, Hermione asks for questions, answering them one by one with thorough, concise answers.

Hermione goes and stands by Snape's desk as the first years file out the door to go to lunch. Hermione will eat in the kitchens- she doesn't like the Great Hall most days. Sometimes Lisa or Dean join her there.

"Good work, today." The voice is gravely, unexpected. The praise flickers in the empty space in Hermione's ribcage. The sensation is odd.

"Thank you," she says finally.

Snape nods once, sharply. "Next class, we will both patrol to make sure they make it correctly. If you have time, bottle the burn paste and send it to the Hospital Wing."

Hermione advances to the second years halfway through November, and Snape is confident enough in her abilities to sit behind his desk, grading papers, while she demonstrates a brew.

The first day of December she walks among the third years and stops three accidents that might have been explosive at best and fatal at worst.

The fourth years come with a deviation from the routine.

"Read this, Miss Granger." Professor Snape slides a book across his desk at her, not looking up from his grading. "It is my own copy, so I expect it to be returned in the condition it is now. When you finish it, come to my office immediately."

Hermione picks up the book carefully, holding it close to her chest instead of putting it in her book bag. "Yes, sir."

She can't sleep, so Hermione devours the book lent to her by Professor Snape. It is a fascinating study of the Draught of Peace- in fact, it recounts the research done by the creator to make the potion. She reads well in the early hours of the morning, her heart taken by the man who worked for seventeen years to bring people peace in a bottle.

When she finally closes the cover, the sun is just starting to peek over the edge of the Forbidden Forest. It glints harshly on the snow covered ground, on the iced-over lake. Hermione slips from her bed, dresses silently, and leaves the warmth of her room for the cold of the dungeons.

Her raps on the door echo in the empty halls. It is barely morning- for a moment Hermione doubts if he will even be awake, but in the next moment a curt voice bids her enter.

Professor Snape raises an eyebrow at her. "I barely gave it to you yesterday afternoon."

Hermione knows that the dark shadows under her eyes explain, but she speaks anyway. "I couldn't sleep."

He doesn't comment on this, he makes no reference to the twin bruises under his own eyes. Instead, he gestures at the seat before he desk. "Your thoughts, Miss Granger."

It becomes routine. Every other day he gives her a book that pertains to the potion she will help brew or explain in class. She reads ravenously. It's not quite good for her- sleep was infrequent before and is infrequent now.

The castle empties for the winter holidays. The books don't end. Snape hands them to her with cold eyes, cold hands, and cold warning to keep the book in its always pristine condition. She clutches the book to her chest, agrees, and leaves. Sometimes, she doesn't make it to her rooms or the library (which is closer, but barely) before glancing at the title, and maybe opening to the first chapter. Once, a prefect finds her standing still in the hallway, just reading. He asks if she is alright and Hermione nods but doesn't say anything.

It doesn't faze the prefect. All the eighth years are strange.

On Christmas Eve she returns to Professor Snape's office, after the feast. This book was particularly interesting. Research notes from the woman who discovered it was possible to transfigure potions- a brilliant Potions Mistress, who died when one of her experiments went terribly wrong. No one has tried to transfigure potions since.

Snape opens the door, frowning at her. He isn't wearing his frock coat and robes- just a white lawn shirt and black trousers against the December chill.

"It's a holiday, Miss Granger. Shouldn't you be celebrating?"

"What is there to celebrate?"

His eyes are angry. "Being alive, for one."

Hermione winces. "Let me rephrase. With whom is there to celebrate?"

This appeases his angry eyes. "Come in."

Wordlessly, he gestures to her seat. His desk is clear of all its clutter for once. It is bare save for a candle, a dusty bottle, and a crystal tumbler. Her eyes linger too long on the liquor- he snorts. "Care for any?"

"That would be lovely," she responds, meeting his eyes. He doesn't react to the challenge, he only taps the tumbler with his wand to replicate it.

He fills the new tumbler and his with amber liquid, sliding hers toward her. Hermione picks it up with a hand that doesn't tremble.

With a wry smile, he clinks their glasses together. "Happy fucking Christmas," he mutters in toast, then downs what's in the glass.

Hermione does the same. It burns going down, warming her throat and stomach cruelly. She sets it down, and Snape fills it again. It's then when she figures out that he's probably on his fourth, fifth, sixth tumbler.

He holds up his refilled glass, waiting for her. It's her turn to toast. "To making it through the fucking war." A clink, then a burn.

The next one requires no toast. He just stares at her for a moment. "Why are you here, Miss Granger?"

"Most of the teachers call me Hermione now," she says. Her head feels pleasantly light. "Won't you try it?"

"Why are you here, Hermione?" The roughness of his new voice is gone when it smooths over her name. Hermione feels a jolt in her belly, baffling and sharp.

She tilts her head, thinking before answering. "To return your book, I suppose."

"And to drink my cognac?" His half smile, more of a grimace, more of a smirk, is wry.

Hermione looks down. "Human contact is human contact."

Snape knocks back another tumbler of the liquid. "Am I considered human? I half believe I'm a ghost."

When she rises, her legs tremble. Nevertheless, she walks over to him, going around his desk. She leans against it, crosses her arms.

A rough, warm hand slides up her leg, dipping under her skirt. It stops too soon, not soon enough. She can feel the calluses and the burn scars. His thumb sweeps up, then strokes down. Her eyes want to flicker closed, but his black eyes are holding her own. They are harsh, predatory.

"Soft," he murmurs. He is still seated. "Warm."

Her own hand reaches out, brushes his cheek. "Human."

The hand slips away, leaving coldness. Snape pushes himself up, and now he towers over her. The same hand that was just on her upper thigh cups her face. The thumb sweeps up, then strokes down.

When he kisses her, he isn't polite. It isn't soft, it's rough like him. He crushes her into the desk, slants his mouth over hers, pushes his body into hers. She feels like she should shout or push him away, but his warmth is something she's been craving and his kiss feels like something she never knew she needed, and the hand cupping the back of her head is gentle.

Hermione moves her mouth with his, her tongue with his. There is a kind of desperate sadness in the kiss, as if he is struggling to claim a dream before it can evaporate in his arms. She knows this sadness too.

Severus Snape tastes of cognac, sharp and warm.

He ends the kiss, buries his head in the crook between her shoulder and her neck. His body, his powerful body, clutches her as if she is the only thing keeping him together. Her breasts are crushed to his hard chest, his hips are bony against her belly.

Hermione understands. Everyone is haunted in some way.

The memory of the kiss and the embrace linger overlong in Hermione's conscious every time she sees him. Teaching a class, swooping menacingly in the halls, eating in the Great Hall, every time he moves she thinks of him still and against her body.

Neither of them mentions it. Hermione still borrows books, they still discuss them. Life goes on.

Spring comes to the castle, spring and all the memories of battle and fighting.

There is a memorial ball on the one year anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts and Hermione, as one of the Golden Trio, is invited. So are McGonagall, Flitwick, Snape.

They meet in the Headmistress' office, adorned in their finery. Hermione's dress robes are midnight blue, swathed tight about her slim form, and Snape's eyes move down her body and up to her eyes and Hermione's breath catches. Then he turns away and steps into the fireplace.

The fire of the Floo is emerald green and searing hot against her face until she steps inside and coolness surrounds and protects her. The name of her destination is ripped from her throat, and she hurtles through green fire until she is spat out into the Ministry.

She is perched at the lip of the fireplace until a strong hand helps her down. Snape is facing her, his face impassive. And yet, he offers his arm.

"If just so I don't have to offer Minerva," he murmurs out of the corner of his mouth.

Hermione accepts the arm, her face just as emotionless as his. "Of course."

When her hand brushes his, a warmth spreads under her ribs.

He might not have been raised to be a gentleman, but her certainly acts like it. Coincidentally they are seated next to each other at the banquet- Ron is to Harry's right, Hermione to his left, and Severus to her left. Her chair is pulled for her, and they sit as they wait for others to arrive.

Ron and Harry make their grand entrance, and Hermione rises to greet them.

Ron's chest feels like familiar old safety, like a teddy that protected one in childhood and is now a lump of rags one can't bear to throw away because of the memories it holds. He is large and smells like cologne and pride.

Harry is smaller, slighter, but his embrace is tight and Hermione feels like she might cry for a moment. It's Harry Potter, her best friend, and they are safe and alive and he's in once piece.

She, Harry, and Ron have a lot of catching up to do. But once it is done, Hermione falls into conversation- quiet conversation- with the man to her left.

He amuses her with his wit and anecdotes about nearly everyone at the table. All of them are said under his breath, so that she is the only one who hears. It makes her feel special, and she adds her own quips where she can.

After dinner comes dancing, which Hermione is half dreading. Will he ask her? Of course he won't. He's Severus Snape, he doesn't dance.

Except when the tables are cleared away, and they are standing next to each other, he looks at her, he tilts his head, his mouth opens. Then there is a tap on her shoulder, and Hermione turns around, startled.

It's Harry. He has a sheepish smile on his face.

"They want us to open," he says ruefully. "You know the big deal they make of it all."

Hermione turns to look at Snape, but he has disappeared. She turns back to Harry, bringing a smile to her face to hide her disappointment. "Of course."

She dances in Harry's arms, then in Ron's, then in Neville's. George, Bill, Percy, Kingsley. Harry again, Ron again. A break- George, then Neville.

She steps away, breathless. When she leans against the wall it is cold, hard. She watches the couples twirl on the dance floor, delighting in being alive. They are splashes of color, joyful, lively color, and she feels drained.

There are days when it is such hard work to be alive.

There are days when she doesn't feel alive at all.

There are days when Hermione is half sure she is one of the ghosts who haunts Hogwarts, wandering through the halls unaware that she died.

A man is at her elbow, offering her a drink. Hermione accepts it gratefully, tilting her head back to spill the last sips of champagne down her throat. She feels instantly lightheaded.

Snape is looking at her with dark eyes. "The last dance, Miss Granger?"

Hermione raises an eyebrow. "Only if you can remember my name."

"Hermione." His breath huffs out at the beginning, lifts and lilts around the last syllables of her name. Her head drops back, taking it in.

She accepts his arm, goes back to the dance floor. The music has died; now it swells again.

And they are off. He leads elegantly, flawlessly. Following him is as easy as breathing. The hand on her waist is warm and sure, the hand holding hers sends a spark from her palm to her belly.

"Are you enjoying your evening, Hermione?" His voice is low, rough.

Hermione smiles at him. "I am. And you, Professor?"

He frowns. "We aren't at Hogwarts. Severus."

"Well then. Are you enjoying your evening, Severus?"

The dance calls for him to catch her close in his arms, so they are flush against each other. "Very much so," he murmurs, then releases her to a proper distance again.

The dance ends too soon. He bows to her, brushes the back of her hand with his thumb. "Until the next time, Hermione."

Her eighth year is almost over.

Some of the student ghosts have disappeared. Slowly, surely, they have dissolved, left for the otherworld.

Others linger.

Hermione's visits to the Potion Master slow as she begins to study for her N.E.W.T.'s. Still, at least once a week, she visits him to talk about the book he lent her.

Tea has been introduced to these meetings.

Sometimes, there are long, burning glances too.

It is strange, but before Hermione never noticed how elegant Severus' hands were, how sharp his eyes, how seductive his mouth. She focuses on his mouth too often in class, and the sharpness of his gaze makes something jump inside of her.

She tries to avoid meeting his eyes in the classroom. A heart that thumps wildly isn't conductive to calm brewing.

It is three weeks before final exams, and the warm spring air calls to students. They can be found sprawling out by the lake, watching the Giant Squid's tentacles flick ripples across the water. The students inside long for the outdoors, for the sunshine, for the relaxation.

They are distracted when making their potions, the sixth years especially. It's a tricky potion, especially one of the last steps- hellabore is dreadfully volatile and must be neutralized quickly.

She is stopping one student from killing half the classroom with deadly gas when a cauldron behind her explodes. Pain radiates from her skull and knees- Hermione falls forward, her knees striking the flagstones and her body going rigid with the panic.

It crowds at her mind, burning and screaming and spell fire and people dying and fighting for her life with no hope of winning. The panic surrounds her, even through the pain from the explosion.

Somewhere above her she hears Severus giving orders, his tone surprisingly not calm. There is a tension there that she latches on to. There is panic in his voice too, even if it is a different kind of panic. There was a sameness that draws her, that has always drawn her to him.

A warm hand brushes her face, sweeping her curls off her face. A thumb lifts her eyelid, and she sees his face and tries to speak. She can't.

"One of you run ahead to the Headmaster's office and another of you to the Hospital Wing," he snaps. "Tell Madam Pomfrey what has happened and that I am coming with a wounded Miss Granger. Run, you idiots!"

She is scooped up into gentle arms. The strength in them comforts her, as does the warm body that anchors her.

"Severus," she murmurs.

"Don't speak," he orders. They are moving, in the halls of Hogwarts now. His stride is long, not a run but nearly. "I don't know how injured you are."

The back of her head is a throb of pain, but she smiles anyway. "I'll hush."

"Please do."

Darkness beckons, calming and yet, something deadly lurks in the deep. The rocking motion of Severus' movements is lulling her closer to the darkness, and she starts to slip into it.

"I've changed my mind," his sharp voice says. The panic is back in it, although her own panic has receded. "Talk."

Hermione tries to blink. "About?"


Her tongue is heavy, and the darkness seems a luxury now. Brightness is pain. But Severus wants her voice and he shall have it. "You were an excellent dancer."

The surprise lines his body. She can feel it, pressed against him as she is. "You were exquisite."

"Was that a complement?"

"Don't sound so surprised. I admire beauty where it can be found. It is rare in a place like this." His voice is rough, but Hermione's heart is soaring so high she doesn't care.

"Keep talking. It's another two floors to the Hospital Wing." He doesn't sound winded, although they've been climbing stair after stair for an age and a half.

Hermione struggles to find something else to say. "I thought you were a ghost. When I first saw you."

Severus doesn't reply for a while, until he realizes he needs to respond to keep her talking. "I was."

"And now?"

"I am not."

It is true. There had been something cold in him at the beginning, but Hermione had seen it warm herself. "I know."

Madam Pomfrey's voice is calm and collected and still sharp. She has seen too many limp and bloody students, Hermione knows, too many of them not to have the same thread of panic in her tone. Hermione regrets being released from Severus' warm hold, the safety of it.

She opens her eyes once to see him standing against the wall, his arms crossed tightly over his chest. His eyes are dark and his brow furrowed.

Something in her chest stirs, and then she gives in the darkness.

It turns out to be a minor injury after all. Hermione is awake and talking three hours after it happens, her head nearly healed. Madam Pomfrey keeps her for the rest of the day and over the night anyway. Hermione doesn't complain. She can recognize the panic when she sees it. It lives in all of them. It'll be the last ghost of the war to die.

She has well-wishers crowding her bed after dinner. The rest of the eighth years stop by one by one, a crease between their eyes. They have a panic of there own. Even if she isn't of their House, she is of their year and she is one of them.

Ginny and her friends give Hermione chocolates and brush her hair tenderly. Luna offers a butterbeer cork.

And on Hermione's bedside table is a glass vase with a single rose. There is no note, and it appears without warning. Hermione notices it an hour after it appears. The feeling in her chest rises again.

When the sixth year who fouled up his potion comes to see her, miserable, Hermione pats her bed. "Sit down." She won't say it wasn't his fault because it was, and she won't say it's alright because it isn't.

"I'm sorry," he mumbles. "I didn't mean to. I'll never mix hellabore and ground quills again, I promise. I've never seen Professor Snape that mad."

Hermione winces. "How long do you have detention for?"

The sixth year grows gloomier. "The rest of this year and half of next."

"At least you'll never make that mistake again," Hermione says gently, and pats his hand once. "Off you go. Don't want to miss curfew."

The news of Professor Snape's anger should not make her this happy.

But it does anyway.

The miniature graduation ceremony will be nothing much. They will sail across the lake, and that will be that. Hermione doesn't look forward to it as much as she thought she would have. On her last day at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry she stands by a large window and stares out at the lake.

She leaves the window, descending the moving staircases one by one.

The dungeon is cold even in summer. Goosebumps prickle her arms, but Hermione doesn't quite notices. It's been colder before.

He is waiting for her, as if they had planned it.

As soon as she is in his office, he stands. Hermione locks the door. The click sounds loud in the quiet room. Severus exhales, a long release of breath. His head is bowed and his is bracing himself with his desk.

"Are you sure?" he demands.

Her answer has been sure for a long time. "Of course."

This time, he moves toward her slowly. His hand grips hers, and his lips just brushes the thin skin over the back of her hand.

"We should do this properly."

Hermione narrows her eyes. "No," she says firmly. "Kiss me."

He does. He is gentle and kind this time. There is no alcohol on his breath or hers, nothing to make the kiss frantic. His mouth moves easily with hers, his hand tenderly cups the back of her head. An arm snakes around her waist, bringing them closer. Her own hand is clutching his back, his neck.

Hermione isn't sure what to call the feeling rising in her chest. It's a blossoming, it's an awakening, it's a calling. It's something that she hadn't known was missing until she lost it, and now she has found it again.

When Severus pulls away, he scowls. "Why are you smiling?"

Hermione lets out a quiet laugh. "Because we were ghosts."

Thanks for reading!

This will be a one shot, it is not to be continued.

I owe a great amount of inspiration to the fantastic bloggers on tumblr who speculate so much about the end of the war.

Happy Birthday, Gwen!

Reviews would be lovely, if you could oblige. If you are here from another story, let me know! If you aren't, I have several other SSHG stories, from oneshots to three part stories to lengthy epics.