Severus was waiting for Hermione near the hourglasses when she came down the final staircase. She looked better, he noted, with her hair obviously washed and clean, and pressed robes on. She stopped as she saw him looking at her oddly, and made a mental note to not snap at any of his deliberate attempts to bait her. Sighing, Hermione started walking again and reached him just as he put his right hand near his mouth and nipped a small piece of loose skin from the side of his thumb. Hermione said nothing, but looked at his left hand then and noticed he was rubbing the skin of his thumb with his forefinger, as she did when she was upset or nervous.
"Thank you for the extra time, I needed it." 'Way to go, Hermione. Nothing like stating the bleedingly obvious,' Hermione thought to herself as she ran her left hand through her hair and then took a closer look at her former professor.
He looked better, and the dark circles that had been under his eyes since she'd found him seemed to have disappeared completely. He was still as thin as a rail, but at least he looked as though he might actually be eating well. Thinking about it, the main thing that startled her, and she hadn't noticed it earlier, was that he wasn't dressed in black anything, except his boots. Hermione's perusal was interrupted as Snape smoothly said, "Had a good look? Would you like me to turn around?"
"I…oh, sorry. It's just I was remembering what you looked like when I found you. I didn't mean to stare."
Severus took a deep breath. They'd still be swapping monosyllabic questions at midnight at the rate they were going.
"So, do I look better than I did? Really, Mrs…Miss…Her…"
"I'm fine if you call me Hermione, as long as I can call you Severus?" Hermione asked in a small voice, half expecting him to snap at her.
"Thank you. I wasn't sure what you'd prefer to be called, and I'd like you to call me Severus, instead of Snape," he added archly. "So, do I look better than I did, Hermione?"
"Very much so, and I was just thinking that I don't think I've ever seen you wear something other than black. Well, that's what I remember at least."
"Well, I am no longer a teacher here, and so the usual restriction of wearing black robes doesn't apply any more. Minerva bought it for me. I believe she said something similar actually. Shall we go? I'd prefer not to linger, if that's all right? I…I don't know if I can behave myself if I… Never mind."
Hermione, sensing he'd said too much, merely started to turn and walk towards the main doors. Severus caught up to her easily and walked beside her for several paces, moving ahead to open the door into the cold sunshine. Once they were both outside, Hermione took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
"Are you all right?"
"Oh, yes, it's just an old ritual of mine. I haven't really noticed much lately, but I've always thought snow made everything smell fresher. It's silly, but it's something I've done ever since I was a small child."
"It's not silly, and I've always thought snow was one of those things that made everything look tidier for a while, until it turns to muddy sludge."
Hermione gave a half laugh, half snort at that comment and shrugged her shoulders.
"I suppose you're right. So, Severus, shall we start making some sludge as we tramp through it to get to the main gates?"
"Sounds like a plan," Severus said as he turned slightly to Hermione and gave her a half smile.
Unknown to both of them, Minerva and Poppy practically had their noses pressed to one of the windows in the Hospital wing as they watched Severus and Hermione trudging down towards the main gates so that they could Apparate.
"Well," Minerva started to say, "he hasn't walked away in a huff."
"No, and she hasn't hexed him either," Poppy added as the pair of the continued to watch Severus and Hermione move slowly down the treacherous path to the main gates.
"The test, of course, will come when he has a new wand, but they'll at least be in a crowded place then. He will be all right, won't he Poppy?"
"I don't know. He does still flinch a bit when he perceives that someone is getting too close, but…look! Well, that's the first time he's touched someone else without prompting," Poppy added thoughtfully, watching as Severus steadied Hermione by putting his hand on her elbow.
"Yes, that was interesting, and all the more so because she didn't give him a tongue lashing for it. You know, I think this might just have been the best idea of all, Poppy."
"It's early days yet. They've still got to get through the curious crowds in Diagon Alley first, and I am worried about him. Actually, I'm worried about both of them. Molly Weasley isn't someone I'd ever want to cross."
"No," Poppy added. "We can only hope she hasn't chosen today to be in town. Mr Potter is going to accidentally bump into them for me, so hopefully he can help if anything untoward happens."
"She hasn't moved her arm away from him yet."
"Well, they do need to be touching to Apparate, Minerva. Maybe she decided it wasn't worth it?"
"Maybe? Oh, heavens look at the time! My seventh year class started five minutes ago." With that, Minerva took one last look at Hermione and Severus as he opened the gate for her, before closing it behind them, and then Minerva set off at a brisk pace out of the hospital wing towards her classroom.
Poppy stood watching for a while longer, before she too turned away just as the pair of them disappeared. Muttering a swift blessing under her breath, she walked back into the main part of the hospital wing and decided it was high time she re-organised her medicinal stocks. It was a messy job she'd been putting off, but the concentration needed would stop her worrying overly about the young witch and wizard.
Arriving at the designated Apparation point close to Diagon Alley, Hermione had to steady Severus as he held her right arm in a death grip. She said nothing, but the worried look on her face at his reaction was sufficient. Closing his eyes, Severus swallowed loudly, and then shook his head as though trying to stop himself from leaving his breakfast all over the footpath. After several minutes, he slowly opened his eyes and looked towards Hermione. 'Well, she didn't let me fall flat on my face,' he thought as he watched her worrying her bottom lip and looking concerned.
"I…that was an 'interesting' sensation. I'm sorry about that. I haven't felt so disorientated since I first gained my license."
Hermione said nothing at first, just watched him as he let go of her arm and then grabbed hold of it again. She couldn't completely block the wince as he held her firmly again, but Severus saw it nonetheless.
"I didn't mean to hurt you," Severus said as he let go again and took several deep gulps of air.
"It's all right, Severus. If it's any consolation, it's usually me who feels like I'm about to decorate anything or anyone standing close enough."
Severus merely nodded his head and cast a wry lopsided grin in her direction. Shrugging her shoulders, Hermione turned towards the opening of the false alleyway and started to move out towards Muggle London. Severus took a faltering step, stopped and then set off after Hermione with more purpose. Waiting for him, Hermione said nothing, just watched for any potential reaction, but Severus started walking towards The Leaky Cauldron with renewed purpose. He stopped several paces in front of Hermione, turned and looked back at her with a quizzical look. Hermione graced him with a small smile and walked over to him before they both set off at a more leisurely pace, The Leaky Cauldron appeared far more quickly than either of them anticipated. Moving ahead, Severus again opened the door for Hermione and then closed the door behind both of them. Taking his time, Severus looked over at the scant few patrons who'd decided that an early lunch was in order. No one looked over at the pair of them as they stood in the dimness of the doorway, but Severus' shaky breath let Hermione know that he was just as nervous as she was about this expedition.
"I'm worried too," Hermione said quietly. "I don't know…I mean…well, that is, I don't know how they'll react to me either."
"I don't understand."
"Poppy told me that annulments are unusual, and as there was nothing like abuse involved, well, it seems that it's all my fault," Hermione trailed off, looking at her feet.
"Hmm, and they ignore the fact that it takes two to manage a marriage, or any relationship for that matter. So, does this make you a fallen woman as it were?"
Hermione looked up sharply, opening her mouth to retort to his harsh comment, but Severus merely looked at her pointedly.
"Hermione, if you feel guilty, then they'll think it as well," Severus added softly, moving his head slightly in the direction of some of the patrons. "Far better to hold your head up, because no matter what the Weasley's think, they – Molly in particular – wasn't there to see what happened behind closed doors. You have the strength to get through this, Hermione. Does that make sense?"
"Yes, thank you, but it's still hard."
"I didn't say it was easy, but I think you'll come off lightly seeing as you're with Dumbledore's killer."
"But you were cleared, and all the charges were dismissed."
"Maybe so, but there are many that would argue that I got away with murder, and they'd be right in the strictest sense of the word."
"Well, I suppose we can't stand here all day, so should we…?" Hermione inclined her head towards the other side of the Leaky Cauldron and towards the brick entrance to Diagon Alley.
"As I live and breathe, Severus Snape! Aren't you supposed to be dead?" Tom's voice echoed loudly from behind the bar in the middle of the room. Every head seemed to swivel towards the pair of them standing in the shadows.
Hermione rocked from foot to foot and noticed that Severus did the same, though with opposing feet.
"It would seem that the reports of my death were greatly exaggerated, Tom."
"You're not wrong there. So, what brings you and your young lady here?"
"I'm here to buy some supplies and then perhaps some lunch later," Severus said hesitantly, giving Tom the chance to shake his head and utter some comment about him not being welcome in his establishment. Severus also knew that if Tom was all right with his presence, that he and Hermione could use the Floo if things became too heated.
Hermione noted that Severus hadn't denied that she was his 'young lady' and opened her mouth to correct Tom's misunderstanding. Severus merely looked at her and shook his head. Hermione closed her mouth, the thinning of her lips the only sign that she was very annoyed. She didn't understand, but it was obviously something to query away from the growing crowd surrounding them.
"Well, we'd best be going, Tom. May we cross and enter Diagon Alley from here?"
"What? Why, yes of course. You'll be back for lunch of course. It's steak and kidney pie today, and if I remember rightly, it's one of your favourites."
"Thank you," Severus said quietly, his voice cracking slightly.
Looking over at Hermione beside him, he took another cleansing breath and then took his first step towards the brick archway guarding Diagon Alley. Hermione watched him move away from her, before she too started to move slowly across the open area between the tables. She passed Tom, looking at him quickly, before her eyes slid away to look at Snape's back. Not one of the other patrons uttered a single word, just watched as the pair of them passed, and it was only when Severus was standing in front of the bricks that he looked back towards Hermione, and the whispering started.
"Well, that wasn't too bad," he said lightly to Hermione who looked as though she was about to cry.
"No, but how long will it be before we're swamped by gawkers?"
"Not long I'd wager, but we'll be fine once we get into Gringotts, though I doubt the goblins will be pleased to see me either."
"They owe me money," Severus said archly. "Once I was declared dead and there was no one around to claim my vault, the goblins took possession of its contents. Now, they have to give it back – with interest."
"Ah, well, that should be interesting. Do you want me to wait outside whilst you conduct your business?"
"No, of course not. In fact, seeing you with me might just make it easier. As I've no wand for them to weigh, I only have this," Severus said, drawing a small silver key from his left pocket.
"But how did you have that when you had nothing else with you when Harry and I found you?"
"Because the House Elves packed up my rooms after it was all over. Minerva kept the box in her office, not quite knowing what to do with it. She gave it back to me the other day, and the key was nestled amongst my other belongings."
"Will the goblins get violent?"
"No, but they'll huff and puff and splutter about it. After all, goblins like money; they don't like giving it back. We'd best move before Tom tells everyone in London where I am." Severus looked nervously behind him as if to reinforce the point.
"Oh, of course." Hermione drew her wand from her sleeve and moved in front of Severus, tapping the necessary bricks to open the archway. Severus stood behind her quietly, gritting his teeth at her movements. Once Hermione had finished the sequence, she put her wand back up her left sleeve before she turned towards Severus, who was still standing quietly behind her. He was pale, with a fine sheen of perspiration on his forehead.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, it's just going to take a while to get used to seeing magic used again so closely to me. I'm worried that a shop full of wands is going to be too hard, but I won't know until I try," he said as he shrugged his shoulders.
Hermione placed her right hand on his left forearm and squeezed it gently, but said nothing. There really wasn't anything she could say. Stumbling forward, Severus got his first look at Diagon Alley for well over five years. The hustle and bustle of witches and wizards all moving at varying paces down the narrow streets made him feel at both wistful for what he'd missed and frightened of losing control and scaring Hermione as well as the other shoppers. Spying a space in the flow of humanity in front of them, Severus grabbed Hermione by the hand and moved forward into that space. Hermione, startled to feel his warm and clammy hand, was too busy watching for signs of any hostility that it took her a while to realise that as they moved out of the crush and up the steps of Gringotts, Severus had yet to let go of her hand. He must have noticed he'd not let go of her as well, because he looked over towards her and just as he was about to open his mouth to apologise, Hermione shook her head slightly and smiled at him shyly.
"Shall we?" she asked him quietly, indicating that they were blocking a rather large and increasingly impatient witch from moving down the steps. Inclining his head, Severus turned, and rubbed his hands down the sides of his robes before he allowed the huffing witch to move past them as they both walked slowly into Gringotts. If Severus had thought The Leaky Cauldron had been quiet with Tom's words, it was nothing compared to the sudden silence from the goblins both behind the counters and talking to some of the more prosperous clients in the main body of the building. It seemed that everyone had turned to look at the two of them, and as Severus stepped forward, the goblins behind their counters made a concerted effort to look too busy to deal with him.
"It's not going to work, you little bastards," Severus said with quiet menace, more to himself that to any particular teller. Spying one particularly nervous looking goblin, Severus reached into his pocket to pull out his key and coughed loudly in the small goblin's direction.
"I've come to reclaim my savings."
"And you would be?" came the imperious question.
"Severus Tobias Snape, formally deceased and now returned to the community, and you owe me money." Pointing his finger in front of the goblin to emphasise his demand, Severus enjoyed the flustered look on the goblin's face as it looked left and right in search of support.
"Your wand, please."
Severus shook his head slowly. "I've no wand to weigh, and you know it, otherwise my savings would still be in my vault. I have my key and the word of a…a friend in my defence."
"Who speaks for this wizard then?" The goblin looked out over the sea of faces, all of whom suddenly found something to distract them from answering.
"I will speak for him," Harry Potter said loudly enough for everyone in the bank to hear.
Startled, Hermione looked at Harry and added, "As will I."
The goblin coughed and looked warily at Harry Potter as he stood behind Severus, with his legs slightly apart and a determined look on his face.
"Well, this is highly unusual. How do I know you are who you say you are?"
"Are you questioning me?" Harry asked before Severus could open his mouth. Turning with a scowl at Potter, he noticed the cocky stance and the fact that people had started to whisper again, though he couldn't hear what was being said.
"No, of course not, Mr Potter," came a new voice as Griphook moved swiftly across the open expanse of the bank. "It's merely a new recruit who was unaware of Mr Snape. Perhaps we could conduct your business in my office?"
"Well, that sounds…" Hermione started to say, but she was interrupted by Severus, who turned then to face Griphook.
"No thank you. If it's all the same to you, Griphook, I'd prefer this was conducted here, to forestall any unpleasantness in regaining my savings."
Casting a dark look, Griphook and Severus played a staring game for the longest time, before the head goblin acquiesced and grunting, nodded to the goblin behind Severus, walking away without a further word.
Severus turned back to the goblin teller then. "My money, if you please, and don't forget to add the interest."
Hermione watched Griphook stop jerkily, before he set off towards his office without turning around or adding any additional comment.
Harry had relaxed his stance and turned to look at Hermione. When Professor McGonagall had Flooed him the evening before, she'd sounded worried about Hermione and any possible repercussions if Severus and Hermione ran into anyone with 'an axe to grind' in Diagon Alley. Harry had agreed, at Ginny's urging, to detour from his Auror duties to check on the pair of them. Harry, seeing the dark circles and world weary look on Hermione's face, was glad that he had listened to them. Hermione looked as though a feather could knock her over, and she was wringing her hands during the confrontation with the goblins, not that Harry would have pointed it out. It merely confirmed his suspicions that Hermione was not dealing with the annulment very well at all. Ron, on the other hand, was out with a new witch every evening, and both Harry and Ginny were trying their hardest to stop Hermione finding out too soon. Snape, though, looked remarkably well, given the state he'd been in when Harry and Hermione had found him unconscious in the alleyway a scant three weeks before. Harry had wondered if his return to Hogwarts might not have been too soon, but it appeared that he was managing far better than Professor McGonagall thought. Harry's thoughts were interrupted as Snape's caustic remarks penetrated his observations.
"That's not all of it. I know how much was there, and you're thieving a very healthy account keeping fee."
"I assure you, Mr Snape, that your account is in order. We pride ourselves on paying our due."
"Well, it seems a touch light, and I would prefer you paid me my due instead of trying to save face with your employer. Now, give me all of my money, or I will come back each day and disrupt your business for as long as it takes to get my savings returned in their entirety."
"I don't care about your assurances, I just want my money, and I want it now!" Severus banged the counter in front of him to reinforce his point, causing several of the gold coins on the scales to fall off.
The ornate speaker behind the counter rang then, and the young goblin picked up the receiver nervously.
"Yes, sir, no, I mean, of course sir, but. Yes, I understand, sir. Immediately, sir."
Looking warily at the increasingly annoyed wizard in front of him, the goblin shrugged his shoulders and added a handful of galleons to the pile on the scales in front of him.
"All of it, if you please."
Adding another handful, the goblin sat back and folded his arms, baring his teeth at the scowling wizard.
"If I find I am so much as a knut short, you will be seeing me again," Severus snapped as he scooped up a handful of the coins off the scales, before he turned and walked out of the bank. Hermione and Harry looked at the goblin before they started walking behind Severus as he cut a swathe through the onlookers and exited the bank to stand on the steps shaking.
Hermione put her arm on Harry's shoulder as he started out the doors and tamped her hand downwards to stop him walking out. She moved ahead of him and stood quietly next to Severus watching him shake. She didn't want to frighten him, and so she just stood next to him quietly whilst he calmed down.
"That was harder that I thought it would be," he said to no one in particular.
"Well, it's done now. They won't try and do it again to you, will they?"
Severus turned then to look at Hermione as she stood next to him.
"Oh yes they will. It's how they conduct business. Ordinarily, I would have enjoyed the sight of a flustered goblin, but it's all still a little too raw."
"With a hundred or so galleons in your pocket, you won't need to go back again for a while. Why did you leave with the money still on the scales?"
"Because I know they'll put it in my vault, and they know I'll come back and annoy them if they don't."
"I don't think they'll want you annoying them for quite some time, Severus."
"Are you making fun of me?"
"No, of course not, but if you do need to come back, can I watch?"
Quirking an eyebrow, Severus gave Hermione a mischievous look and simply looked away.
"Well, as you seem to be all right, I'll be off. Unlike you two, I've got work to do."
"Thank you, Mr Potter. I wasn't expecting any support. I…thank you," Severus said shakily as he exhaled loudly and ran his right hand through his hair.
"Shall we go and spend some of your money now, Severus?" Hermione said lightly, but she was aware of the growing crowd in front of them.
"Yes, Ollivander's first and then we'll see what happens," Severus added as he looked warily at the crowd.
Moving down the steps, the three of them noticed that the crowds parted for them, and though there was some jostling towards the back, they found that they could move easily as people backed away onto the sides of the narrow streets allowing them clear passage towards Ollivander's. Walking behind them, Harry made a note of any sudden movements, but people seemed content to stand and stare at the odd procession. The news of Snape's meeting with the Wizengamot had obviously become general knowledge, and though Hermione looked increasingly agitated at the attention, Severus moved at a steady pace until he came to an old wooden door, the paint flaking off in places. Reaching out shakily, Severus gripped the door handle and opened the door, standing back to allow Hermione to precede him into the shop. Looking at Harry, Severus inclined his head, a movement which Harry returned, before he turned and moved off through the crowds.