Disclaimer: Everything recognisable belongs to J.K. Rowling and I am most certainly not making any profit from it.

Epilogue

On the patio of a small Wizarding café in London, Hermione suddenly realised she had been staring into space. She refocused her eyes, and noticed Snape watching her, a question floating, unasked, in his eyes.

She bit back the forthright "what?" she was about to blurt out, and looked closer. If she asked him directly, she'd get no answer – Snape wasn't yet ready to put himself forward.

"I was thinking about the differences between Slytherin and Gryffindor," she offered. "But not in the way most people do.

"I remember when we were young, and how sensitive Ron was about…things. Material goods, and wealth. He was jealous of the students who were better off, whose parents bought them extravagant gifts and fancy robes. And he was always so embarrassed by his poor things and hand-me-downs.

"And I see now that Gryffindors are all about the obvious gestures of love, or what could pass as love. Expensive gifts, extravagant gestures, and so on. I know, we're not very subtle. I just wish that I had been able to appreciate more subtle hints when…"

Hermione trailed off, unsure if Snape knew who, exactly, she was talking about. He continued to watch her, seemingly gathering his thoughts.

"Blaise cared very deeply for you," he said, finally.

She looked down at the table and smiled a small, sad smile. "Yes," she said finally, "I know he did. I knew it then, too. I just didn't know how to tell him I felt the same way."

They were both silent, lost in their own pasts.

Hermione smiled, faintly, and ran her finger along one of the more prominent veins on the back of Snape's hand.

"I think I started to fancy you then, you know. After we went to the Hospital Wing, and after…when you let me cry on your shoulder like a soppy little twit."

He watched silently as she slowly ran her fingers over his thumb.

"It was strange; I still knew you were a nasty, vicious, unfair bastard – to your students at least – but I also understood that you were more than just a professor. You stopped being simply an authority figure, and adult, and became…not quite an equal. But a human being. A man."

She shook her head and chuckled. "That was what did me in, I think. Realising you were just a man. A callous, abrasive, cold man, but a man nevertheless."

Severus smiled, faintly, and they were both silent for a while, breathing in the stillness of the garden patio.

"You were the one who found him, weren't you?"

Snape looked up at her, caught off-guard by her sudden question, and for a brief second, Hermione could see guilt in his eyes. She nodded, looking away.

"Yes, I thought so. I'm assuming it was after you returned from being summoned. Did you watch them torture him?"

Snape's silence was heavy, and his hand slipped away from hers. Hermione looked back at him, smiling sadly.

"No," she said, reaching across the table and wrapping both hands around his fingers, "no, I didn't mean it that way. I don't blame you – there's nothing you could have done, except what you did do. I can't imagine how horrible it must have been. To know he was being killed slowly, and that you couldn't do anything without sacrificing a great deal.

"I understand that there was a choice to be made," she said quietly. "He was one boy, weighed against the entire Wizarding World. And while the Gryffindor in me insists that sacrificing everything to save Blaise would have been noble and brave and wonderfully romantic, I am, at heart, a pragmatist. And you couldn't have saved him. I could have before he reached that moment, perhaps, but I didn't."

Snape sighed and looked down. "No," he said awkwardly, "you couldn't have. His family's fate was planned long before you even met him. They had refused to side with Voldemort when he was first coming into power, and the Dark Lord quite enjoyed serving out long-awaited revenge, particularly when it was least expected."

Hermione blinked, and stared at the flame of the small candle on their table.

After a minute, she smiled forlornly. "I'm not sure if knowing that makes it all better, or worse. But thank you for telling me."

Snape nodded, and looked uncomfortable. He seemed to be caught up in an internal struggle of some kind, and Hermione waited quietly for him to come a resolution.

"Are you hungry?" he finally said. Hermione nodded, surprised.

"Then would you like to have dinner?"

"I…yes. Yes, I would."

Snape nodded, stood up suddenly, and after a moment's hesitation, extended a hand. Tentatively, Hermione took it, and stood up as well.

Tucking her arm into the crook of his elbow, Snape led her back into Subsentio, out its door, and into the pleasant bustle of Covent Garden.