Warning: This story contains some adult situations and language, as well as references to mental illness, suicide, and character death.

A/N: After a near-eight year absence, I am back - at least in bits and bobs. If you're reading this - thanks for popping back in!

Un-beta'd, so all mistakes are from my own urgency to hit "publish." Hope you're all well.


Chapter One

Grimmauld Place

She was not going to tell her shrink about this. Granted, she was becoming used to storing secrets away from him, giving him crumbs (the dreams, the stray thoughts or names or words) and keeping the bread of her delusions for herself. What he didn't know wouldn't hurt him.

And he definitely wasn't going to find about this. Her, standing here on the pavement, huddled beneath an umbrella and watching. She couldn't - she wouldn't - tell him what she was watching for, either. Waiting for. Because truly, she had no idea.

All she knew was that this place, this solid wall between one terraced house and another in a dodgy part of London, was not as it appeared to be. It hadn't changed from the last times she had been there - four visits in total, so far - except that there was now a man's cap balanced on the fencepost nearest the gate. The wool was damp, specked with raindrops. Hermione wanted to take it, stuff it into her handbag, but she knew her mum would inevitably come across it and take it as yet another sign that something about her daughter wasn't quite right.

There had been so many "not quite right" moments in the past six years, since Hermione had, as she called it, "woken up." When she came-to in her childhood bedroom in her quiet neighborhood in her quiet suburb south of London, wondering why her hands were so clean, why her muscles didn't ache, and why on earth she felt as though her muscles were made of bricks, her blood running sluggish with dust. Her fingers felt thick, hard to move. Indeed, it had felt not so much like waking and much more like falling asleep.

Six years. Six years of not doing nearly as well in school as her parents had hoped, not able to hold down a job due to her want to daydream. Six years of psychiatrist visits, of her mother watching her, chewing her lip, jotting down notes when she thought Hermione wasn't watching. The disbelieving laughter when Hermione - not usually one to make a fool of herself - took the broom from the cupboard, set it in the centre of the sitting room floor, and watched it carefully, brown eyes barely even blinking, as if she was waiting for it to take flight. Then there was the shock when Mrs Granger walked in on her daughter throwing a handful of her grandmother's ashes into the fireplace and shouting "The Burrow!" before sticking her foot into the flames and meriting a trip to the overcrowded A&E. That had even frightened Hermione's father, who had for so long before this point clung to the platitude that "bright people are always a bit odd," and had come home from work that evening white-faced, his mobile phone clutched tight in his hand and words racing through his mind: What are we going to do about Hermione?

When she didn't know what she was going to do about herself.

She knew it wasn't good for her, standing here like this, waiting for something that wasn't there to appear. Something magical to happen between mis-numbered houses. Something to prove to her that she wasn't mad.

You are mad.

She allowed herself twenty minutes. She could measure the passing of time well enough - she had to, since she'd forgotten her mobile (as she almost always did). The neighbours had kindly allowed her a half-hour of staring last time before they called the police. She wondered if they'd be less wary, now that she was back after having been patted down, her handbag searched for non-existent drugs.

One more minute.

Now that she was only a crackpot, obviously in need of professional help. Chasing ghosts of dreams to the dodgy part of Islington.

Thirty seconds.

"Can I help you?"

It was an old woman with a dog. A dachshund. She looked concerned. A clear rain cap was pulled over her head, dotted with rain; her dog lifted his leg on the fencepost.

"I'm just waiting for a friend," Hermione said. She startled herself with the lightness of her voice. "He's running late."

"Right, well," the woman said, already walking on, "do be careful. It's going to be dark, soon."

"Thank you," Hermione said, and sighed as the woman disappeared into number thirteen.

Rain. Five cars driving by. A dog barking, someone dragging a recycling bin from the kerb.

"You, too?"

Hermione started. Did she know that voice? It was a man - tall and dark in a buttoned black trench coat, black hair, black eyes studying the gap between houses from behind a hooked nose. He held a black umbrella, just like Hermione's, and stood next to her, his stance casual, as though he knew her.

She relaxed, as if she knew him.

"Yes," she said. "But I don't know why."

"No," he said. "I don't either."

They stood in companionable silence for a moment, looking at nothing.

"Snape," he said.

"Hermione," she replied.

And they both thought those names sounded rather familiar.