The two short weeks to class had sped by and now it was time to board the train back to Hogwarts. The train station was busy; new and returning students were milling about and saying their goodbyes to loved ones with promises of a safe return. There were very few present that did not have family escorting them off, and Hermione was one such student. Her parents had to work, but had sincerely apologised for not being able to see her off.
Hermione walked through the crowd and pulled her luggage on a trolley behind her, making her way to the scarlet steam engine. Once she had arrived at one of the passenger cars, Harry greeted her and took her trunk and placed it on the train, knowing that she had to be at the front with the Head Boy and Prefects.
'Harry, have you seen Ron lately?' Hermione asked lightly.
'Er... no. Not today, why?'
'I was just curious to see if he had changed his mind about coming back to Hogwarts to finish his education. I had been trying to convince him that he would be much better off doing it.'
'Well, he told me that he was not coming back and that he had to do a lot of thinking before he could return to the way things were, even if it was not something he could foresee happening in the near future.'
'I am just so sad that things had to turn out this way, Harry. He won't even talk to me anymore, much less look at me. Maybe this was a mistake on my part. Maybe I could have made it work, if only I could...'
'Don't even finish that sentence, Hermione. It is not anything that you can do, things just weren't right between you and he, and I know that he will figure that out. It is going to take a while for his emotions to calm down for him to see the truth. All you can do in the meantime is to not let this get to you and move on.' Harry moved closer to Hermione and enveloped her into a tight embrace as tears slid down her cheeks.
Hermione had never intended for this to happen. She had merely wanted her and Ron to be happy in general, even if it meant that they would be apart romantically. Whilst she strode to the front of the train to be with the other student leaders, she resolved to be happier this school year and just let things happen as they were intended.
The next days passed in a flurry of movement, and Hermione had been so busy that she did not have time to think about what had happened over the summer, which was a decidedly good thing. Teachers assigned so much work that she barely had any time for Head Girl duties, much less anything else. There may not be that many classes, but the workload was more than anything that she could have imagined. She now understood the plight of senior students in years past. Before now, she had always thought that they were being being whiny and uncommitted prats, but that was a hasty judgement.
One day during the first week of class, Hermione went to Potions and sat down at the table that she, Harry, and Ron had occupied for many years, only this time, it was just she and Harry to sit next to one another. The lights were dim and as usual, it was colder than the Black Lake in the winter time. Slimy, creepy things with lifeless eyes still lined the walls, and that large desk loomed at the front of the class like an omen. She was surprised that absolutely nothing had changed in the dreadful year that she spent camping.
The moment that Professor Snape entered the room, her opinion quickly changed. He was the thing that was different. It was not so much his looks that piqued her curiosity; it was the fluid, graceful way that he moved. His stride was elegant yet powerful and there was some secret magic that seemed to crackle in the air as he held his head high. She did not know why she never noticed it before, but his very presence bespoke strength beyond measure.
The Potions master looked different as well, but it did not come as a surprise to anyone that had seen him at the end of the battle. His billowing robes were missing, as was the frock coat with the hundreds of tiny buttons fastened all the way up his neck. Since surviving that nearly fateful snakebite, the Professor no longer wore any shirts that had constricting necklines.
This had to be the first occasion that Hermione had ever seen him actually looking good (she could almost kick herself for admitting it, but he was a handsome man). He still wore the customary black black wool trousers and dragon hide boots, even his shirt was black, but it was made of a classically fine material and a few of the buttons were left unfastened. His hair now fell past his strong shoulders and was bound in a loose leather thong. She finished watching him stride to the front of the room, but tried not to be so blatant in her ogling.
Severus cast an analysing glance around the room fully expecting to see shocked faces before him, instead, he was greeted with the same blank stares that he saw everyday for the past twenty years of his career. All but one gave him that look. Miss Granger, one of his best students, appeared to be eyeing him with more than a polite passing interest. Surely he must be mistaken. Wasn't this avenging angel with the Weasley boy? Admittedly, the thought of her being with someone like that turned him off and even made him sneer. It wasn't the fact that the boy was not a good enough for her, it was that he would never challenge her in the way that she needed. But, since he was only her teacher, he had no right to even think such things.
Setting his thoughts aside from such a forbidden topic, he began addressing his class of seventh-years.
'Those of you that already have your things out need to put them away. Today you will be spending time in the library researching your topic for this year's experiment. You will be expected to carefully select a project that will not only capture your attention but mine as well. You have until the next time we meet for class to have a proposal ready for my approval.'
Severus stopped talking for a moment to assess the lack of movement from his students. Nearly everyone was sitting stock still, apparently waiting for something—what exactly that was, he did not know.
'Well, get going! The fickle mistress that is time waits for no one. There will be no extensions granted, so it is best that you don't dally. Every hour that you are late with the assignment you will lose points. Also, do keep in mind that if you do not use this class time for the appointed task, Madam Pince will inform me and you will be awarded a zero for today's lesson.'
That last statement garnered him more than a few strange looks, but it had put the students to action. Within a few minutes his classroom was completely empty and he was left to his thoughts.
As soon as Hermione had entered the library, she was hit with her favourite scent: the smell of aging bound leather and cracked paper that had been left a sitting treasure for years. Dust lightly floated in the morning rays near the windows and lit a path to the only worktable that she preferred to use, which was near the back and towards a highly perused stack of Potions journals. Of course, it must have only been her and Professor Snape that enjoyed reading such material, for she could not easily see anyone else touching these dusty and out-of-date volumes.
Sitting down, Hermione quickly surrounded herself with many ancient tomes and a stack of parchment, and began to work. She had been trying to concentrate on the task at hand, but it kept wandering to the Potions master and how different he was. His classroom demeanour was much the same as it had always been. Even though he spoke with a commanding voice, none of the previous venom was present—it was almost as though he actually wanted to be there now.
If Severus Snape had been an enigma to her before the end of the war, it was nothing to what he was now. She was curious about him and she wasn't entirely sure why. He had changed, that much was obvious, but the reasoning behind it was not. It could have been a popular theory that this all had to do with his espionage past, but she was certain that it had to be more than that. Hermione had a feeling that there was something hiding just beneath the surface of him that was waiting to be discovered, and she wanted to be the one to find out.