Disclaimer: This story was written after Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, thus information from books 6 and 7 are irrelevant here. Read and Review
Hermione Granger stepped on to platform 9 ¾ and pulled the hood of her cloak lower over her face. Students bustled all around her, taking her back to the past when she had been just like them. How she longed to go back to that time. She pushed her cart, weaving herself in and out of the crowd. It was noisy as the students called to friends they'd missed over the summer and parents told their children good bye. She had her belongings loaded into the baggage car and then went to find an empty compartment where she could close her eyes and try to ease the pounding headache that was beginning to develop right behind her eyes. She asked herself once again what in the bloody hell she was doing. A small voice answered that she was going home.
Hermione found an uninhabited compartment and sat down with a long sigh. There were so many memories here. Things she rejoiced in remembering... things she never wanted to think about again. She'd met her two best friends on this very train and, if she recalled correctly, this very same compartment. She'd been helping Neville Longbottom search for his missing toad and she'd come in here where they'd been pigging out on a cart load of snacks. She allowed herself a small smile. Things had been so blissfully wonderful then. She'd just discovered her magic and been introduced to a whole new world she'd never known existed. Where dragons weren't just found in fairy tales and she could accomplish nearly anything with the wave of a wand. Being the insatiable bookworm that she was, she had hungrily devoured any book that she could find about this new world.
She heard the conductor call for all to board, the deep resonant sound of the whistle pierced the air, and the train started to pull away from the platform. She listened to the steady rhythmic sounds of the train and closed her eyes. Maybe if she took a nap now the headache would go away. Unfortunately, her mind had other ideas and instead of drifting off to sleep she drifted off into the past.
Hermione, Harry, and Ron had foiled Voldemort's attempt to capture the sorcerer's stone and she could honestly admit that she'd liked the attention. In her ten year old mind it had made her special, made her stand out when she probably just would have been the girl that could always be found with her nose in a book. After that she would have been quite happy to never have anything to do with the Dark Lord again, but being friends with the boy-who-lived hadn't given her that luxury. Not that she would have traded her friendship with Harry for anything. When Cedric Diggory died in their fourth year she had realized that this was real, people could die, she could die and she almost had.
At the beginning of her seventh year of Hogwarts she'd been happy, even with the threat of an attack from Voldemort looming like a great cloud over everyone. After the battle at the Ministry of Magic Voldemort had seemingly disappeared and they'd enjoyed a relatively peaceful 6th year. As peaceful as it could get at Hogwarts. There had been no attacks, no murders. She'd naively hoped that Voldemort had given up, though she hadn't been naive enough to actually believe it. There was always the possibility that he had decided to wait. To lull everyone into a sense of safety and then make his move. Maybe years, even decades, in the future. After all, what did time matter to someone who seemingly couldn't die?
The worst phase of her life had began in October of her seventh year. Their whole 6th year trips to Hogsmeade had been canceled for fear that students would be attacked. After a year of nothing happening they had been reinstated at the beginning of 7th year. Everyone had been so excited and then two days before their first trip, Death Eaters had escaped from Azkaban. Of course the trip had been put on hold and they'd all been rather bummed about it. She remembered what happened after that very clearly. It was the day of the trip and she'd been sitting by a window in the library doing a potions essay when a tremor had run through the castle. She'd thought it nothing more than a little earthquake, then Dumbledore's voice had magically sounded through out the school telling everyone to go to their common rooms immediately. It was then they learned that Hogsmeade had been virtually destroyed. From the window in the common room they'd been able to see smoke rising and the sounds of spells ripping buildings apart. When the smoke had cleared the dark mark was floating above the ruins. So many people had died, but if the trip hadn't been canceled it would have been so much worse.
They had all feared that Hogwarts might be attacked too. That whole day they had all stayed shut up in their common rooms. Everyone wondered if it would be the day Voldemort finally struck, but an attack had never come. Cautiously some of the professors had journeyed to the ruins, bringing the injured people of Hogsmeade to Hogwarts, piling the bodies of the dead. The older students had been given tasks. Owling the family members of the victims, helping in the infirmary, making sure the patients ate, keeping them company. There had been serious talk about shutting down Hogwarts but it had been decided that Hogwarts was probably the safest place any of them could be.
Hogsmeade was just the beginning. Nearly every day after that news came that a witch or wizard had been injured or murdered. Many students lost parents or family members. Bill Weasley had narrowly survived such an attack and while Molly and Arthur Weasley had been visiting him the Burrow had been destroyed. Thankfully no one had been there to get hurt. Ron had been very lucky, no one in his family had been killed, but unfortunately she hadn't been. Not only were the Death Eaters attacking wizards but they had begun attacking muggles. She clenched her fist at the thought... her parents.
With such horrible things happening outside the safety of Hogwarts, not knowing if at that moment your parents were being tortured or killed, no one had been able to concentrate on their studies. While classes hadn't been canceled they usually just consisted of the Professors trying to keep everyones mind on pleasant things. That didn't stop them from glancing at the door, hoping Dumbledore wouldn't appear and call their name, because they all knew what that meant. She remembered the day that he had come for her.
It was just after Christmas and she was in Potions and they were making musical potions. It was obvious that Snape was displeased at making them do something so frivolous but it was impossible for most of them to concentrate on anything complicated. Hermione had just finished hers and it was playing a beautiful, haunting melody. They were all laughing as one potion sounded like a chorus of bullfrogs and another like a marching band. Seamus Finnigan was in the middle of the classroom doing an Irish jig and they were all clapping. For a moment it seemed like they had forgotten that anything bad could be waiting just around the corner. There was a knock at the door and the laughter and clapping abruptly stopped as beakers were plugged, ending the musical symphony. Snape strode to the door, cracked it open, and stood there a moment conversing in whispers with whoever was on the other side. He slowly turned around, "Class dismissed, take your potions with you." Then he turned and looked at her. "Hermione, Professor Dumbledore would like to speak with you in the hall."
And she knew. Not because Dumbledore wanted to speak with her, that was a bad sign in itself, but because Snape had called her by her first name. Her potion slipped through her fingers and landed on the floor. She heard the glass shatter and the music seemed to float up into the air where it slowly faded. The students filed out quickly. Some avoided looking at her, others gave her looks of sympathy, but she ignored them all. Soon only Ron and Harry were left. Hermione couldn't go out into the hall. She couldn't face what was waiting there for her. She stood there for what seemed like an eternity and then took one step towards the door and then another and before she knew it she had made her way out into the hall where Dumbledore was waiting. She turned to Harry and Ron and told them to leave. Ron began to protest but Harry dragged him away and she took a deep breath and faced the Headmaster.
"So they're dead then?" the words sounded cold to her ears and she wondered how she could say such words so calmly. Why she wasn't crying. Why she couldn't feel anything but a detached emptiness. He told her that their bodies had been found by the muggle authorities and after that she blocked the words out. She didn't want his condolences, didn't want his sympathy. She wasn't sure what she did want.
"If there is anything you need, you have only ask." He laid a hand on her shoulder and she looked up to see tears in his eyes. Hers were strangely dry.
"I am sorry for your loss, if you need time alone I believe the Room of Requirement is empty. Don't worry about your school work and head girl duties, they will be taken care of." She nodded and mumbled something and watched him turn and walk down the hall. He looked as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders and in many ways it had been.
She turned around and walked back into the classroom where Snape was at his desk with his head in his hands. When he heard her he looked up.
"Miss Granger?" he asked, seemingly perplexed as to why she was in his classroom.
"I wanted to clean up this mess that I made," she said briskly, going for the bucket and scrub brush on the far side of the room usually reserved for detention punishments.
"Let me," he said softly as he pulled out his wand.
"No, I'll do it," she said firmly. She filled the bucket with hot water and a cleaning solution and went over to the remnants of her potion. She got down on her knees and picked up the pieces of glass and then she took the scrub brush and stuck it, and her hand, in the scalding hot water. When she looked down she could see that her hand was red. She resolutely put brush to floor and began to scrub away the goo that had been her potion. Scrub, scrub, scrub. She didn't stop, couldn't stop. She kept scrubbing, for some reason determined to scrub away any sign of dirt on the stone floor. Half an hour later the whole floor was clean so she started cleaning up everyone else's tables.
Snape had dismissed them so quickly that no one had time to put away their cauldron and ingredients. She went over to the sink and cleaned each cauldron and then she disposed of, or stored, the unused ingredients according to whether or not they could be used again. Then Hermione began scrubbing the tables, and that's when the tears had started to fall. It was just a few at first. They landed on the table and she wiped them away. Soon she couldn't see because they kept falling and she couldn't wipe them away fast enough. She felt a hesitant hand on her shoulder and turned to see Snape.
Hermione collapsed against him sobbing and he held her. For once in her life she actually wanted him there. Not Harry, who would understand what it was to lose your parents. Not Ron who couldn't understand, but would try his best to comfort her. She wanted her Professor whom she hated, but who at that moment, was a kindred spirit, if only for the fact that underneath his cruel sarcasm she knew that he had to feel alone and she had never felt so alone in her entire life. She hugged him, yearning to feel someone's arms around her, someone to hold and comfort when her parents never would. He held her as everything became clear in her mind. Her parents were dead and she would never see them again. She wanted to scream until the pain in her heart went away, until she woke up from the terrible nightmare. It seemed like she cried forever but after awhile he helped her up off the floor. She hadn't even realized that they'd sat down.
Hermione tried to apologize for soaking his shoulder with her tears but he had shushed her and given her a potion that had soothed her pounding headache and her burning eyes and at last she'd been able to fall asleep.
She'd woken up in her bed the next morning and she had never found the courage to thank him, too afraid that he would come up with a harsh sarcastic comment. When she'd gone back to class he'd treated her the same as always but she's always hoped that that night she had glimpsed the real Severus Snape, the one that, buried underneath everything, had a heart.
The train abruptly came to a stop and Hermione sat up with a start. She hadn't realized how long she'd been thinking. She stood up, cloak securely pulled low, grabbed her belongings, and stepped off the train and onto the platform. Hogsmeade had been rebuilt shortly after Voldemort's defeat but she didn't think it could ever be quite live up to what it used to be. She almost expected to hear Hagrid's booming, burly, voice calling for the first years but he was no longer at Hogwarts. He was, however, the new proprietor of the Hog's Head. She would have to go visit him soon. It had been so long.
"Hermione! Is 'at you?" She turned, a rare, genuine smile on her face. So he was here after all! She wondered how she could have missed him standing there.
"Hagrid!" she yelled gleefully throwing her arms around him. She felt like she was a student again and the way his big arms swallowed her up it was impossible not to feel tiny.
"Dumbledore said ye might be comin' on the Express so I thought I'd take a break and welcome you back," Hagrid said with a grin on his face and tears in his eyes.
"I couldn't have asked for a better welcoming. It's so good to see you! How have you been? How's Madame Maxmine?"
"We're doin' good. Business is boomin' at the Hog's Head. Harry was by to see us just last month but he didn't say anything about ye being Hogwart's new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."
Hermione's face turned a little red.
"I haven't exactly told him yet, or anyone for that matter. I'm sorry I haven't visited you." And she was sorry, she hadn't seen him since she graduated from Hogwarts and that had been over seven years ago.
"Ah, doan worry about it, I understand. The carriages'll be leaving soon so ye better get going. Come visit soon." The kindness in his voice almost brought her to tears. How she had missed him.
"I will. I can't wait to catch up with you."
Hermione gave him one last hug and then hurriedly walked towards the carriages that were just beginning to pull away. She hastily got into the nearest one and sat down. It was empty, but just as it was about to pull away the door opened and another passenger got in. Hermione was surprised to see that it was none other than her former Potions Professor. She looked down hoping he hadn't seen her. She didn't want to be forced to make idle chit chat and she was sure he preferred the silence also.
Being here, seeing Hogsmeade rebuilt, brought back so many memories and she wondered for the thousandth time why she had come back to a place that held so much badness for her. So much misery. A place that had permanently scarred her in so many ways.