Between the Sand and Stone
by sshg316

Chapter Six

Christmas Eve

An hour later, Hermione was marching out of the Leaky Cauldron and into a snow-blanketed Diagon Alley with a visibly smug Severus Snape blithely gliding along beside her. Casting him a baleful glance, she gave a disgruntled huff. He wasn't at all put out by her display of temper. Indeed, he seemed rather amused by the entire affair.

"Irritating git," she muttered. With a huff, she cast him a scathing glance. "Do you have to follow me? I am perfectly capable of running an errand on my own."

He merely shrugged and continued walking, a single stride matching every two of hers as they navigated down the busy cobblestone street.

Hermione grumbled under her breath, her annoyance with the wizard growing with each passing moment. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she acknowledged that perhaps she was being a tad unfair. The professor's actions had been in direct response to her carelessness, after all, and she had to admit it felt nice to have someone consider her well-being … even though it was getting on her wick.

Despite the charitable thoughts fighting to the forefront of her mind, she stopped abruptly in the middle of the pavement and turned to glare at the professor. She had a Christmas present to buy, damn it.

"Professor—"

He frowned at her, and she rolled her eyes.

"Severus—"

His black eyes warmed, and a rare, if brief, grin appeared, distracting her momentarily. His entire being seemed to transform when he smiled. That will take some getting used to, she thought.

Taking a deep, cleansing breath, Hermione began again. "Honestly, this isn't necessary. I'm going to the stationery store across the way. See? It's right there, not far at all. I'll only be a few minutes."

His only response was an arched eyebrow, and she groaned. "Why do you have to be so … gah!" She threw her hands in the air in frustration. "I'm going to buy a Christmas gift. I will be perfectly fine."

"Of course, Hermione. You're a grown witch and perfectly able to care for yourself, after all."

Her jaw dropped at the complete insouciance with which he'd spoken. She snapped her mouth shut, and her eyes narrowed as she glared at him with every bit of vitriol she could muster.

She turned to walk away only to see Pansy Parkinson approaching. Just what she needed—yet another Slytherin who wanted to tell her what to do.

"Good afternoon, Professor Snape," Pansy said as she stopped in front of them. She turned her attention to Hermione, her expression one of disapproval. "Traipsing around Diagon Alley isn't what I had in mind when I said you needed rest."

Already irritated, Hermione's temper spiked, but she maintained control—somewhat. "I'm not traipsing, Parkinson. I'm shopping—or I would be if someone would take a hint and go home!"

Pansy looked Severus, her eyes narrowing in suspicion. "Professor, what say you? Has my patient been complying with my orders, or is she still gallivanting all over wizarding Britain for no good reason?"

"I'm standing right here—and I had a perfectly good reason!" Just not a rational one, and she was very sorry about the whole thing, but that was irrelevant at the moment.

Severus ignored her and instead addressed Pansy. "Indeed. She is following your orders to the letter and has shown marked improvement over the last few days. She promised her errand would take but a few minutes, so I did not see the harm. I assure you, I would not risk her health for something as trivial as shopping."

The tension around Pansy's eyes eased slightly. "That's very good to hear. Well, don't let her dawdle too long, Professor. She needs to rest. Happy Christmas." She gave them each a short nod and continued on her way, seemingly headed to Flourish and Blotts.

"For Merlin's sake," Hermione said, throwing up her hands in exasperation as she turned to Snape. "I am not a child. I can take care of myself." She realized immediately that her words might have had more of an effect had they not been accompanied by the stomping of a foot. "Oh, never mind. I'm going to the stationery store—alone."

"I have an order to pick up at the apothecary," he replied, his lips twitching in what she could only assume was amusement at her expense. "I shall meet you at Flourish and Blotts when you have completed your shopping. Agreed?"

"Agreed." She took off down the street before he could change his mind, moving as quickly as she was able, leaving him laughing her in wake. Her anger and indignation drained away at the unexpected sound, and she fought a smile of her own. The man was infuriating in more ways than one, but she couldn't help but like him.

Shaking her head, she allowed the smile to form and headed in the direction of the stationery store.

~o0o~

Within fifteen minutes, Hermione had made her purchase and left the store, a small brightly wrapped package safely hidden inside her robes. She was confident the professor would appreciate the sentiment behind the gift, if nothing else. While it was a bit impersonal, she didn't know the man well enough to have done otherwise, and even if she had, there wasn't enough time for a more extensive search. In a pinch, the quill would have to do.

And a fine quill it was. The raven's wing feather was a black so dark it seemed to have a blue sheen. She had admittedly splurged a bit on a quality nib, carefully inspecting each option before choosing one of the finest the store carried, knowing the professor would be pleased with the way it would glide across the parchment.

Satisfied with the gift she had selected, she stopped in front of Flourish and Blotts to admire the display in the window.

"Hermione?"

Her eyes closed briefly, and her contented smile slipped from her lips. She considered ignoring the inherent request in the pleading tone or pretending that she hadn't heard, but playing the passive-aggressive had never been her game. Gryffindor to the core, she squared her shoulders and turned around to face her self-proclaimed nemesis.

"Ginny." Her gaze shifted to the rigid form of Molly Weasley, who stood a short distance behind her daughter. "Mrs Weasley."

Neither woman had changed much since Hermione had least them. A little older, obviously, and Hermione wondered if they were a little wiser, as well. One can only hope, she thought.

She wasn't certain she was prepared for what was bound to be an uncomfortable conversation, but she also felt compelled to stay and listen to what Ginny had to say. Despite their abandonment of her, Hermione hadn't yet been able to completely sever her heart's ties with the Weasley family. A small part of her still hoped for reconciliation, no matter how unlikely.

They stepped to the side a bit, allowing some fellow last-minute shoppers to pass, and then stood in awkward silence, Ginny looking everywhere but at Hermione and Molly staring icily at a point just over her right shoulder. Were they really going to just stand there on the pavement all day?

"Was there something you wanted? Or were you simply acknowledging my existence?" Hermione said, suddenly feeling tired and cross and hormonal and wanting nothing more than to find Severus and return to Spinner's End for a spot of tea. And maybe one of those delicious biscuits from that tin hidden in the cupboard.

Molly scoffed and rolled her eyes. With a hard look at her daughter, she turned on her heel and stormed off toward the Leaky Cauldron.

"Or perhaps not even that," Hermione muttered as she watched the woman she'd once considered a second mother walk away. The hurt wasn't as acute as it had once been, but she still felt it. Unwilling to offer any insincere platitudes, such as it was good to see you or we must do this again sometime, she clamped her mouth shut and decided it was her turn to leave.

"Wait!" Ginny said, rushing forward to touch Hermione's arm as she began to turn away. "Don't go, please. It's been so long since I've seen you—"

"And whose fault is that?" Hermione took a step back, allowing her former friend's hand to fall.

A shadow briefly crossed Ginny's expression before her face became infused with sincerity. "Mine, absolutely. I—I've wanted to contact you, for a long time actually, but …" She trailed off and shrugged.

"You act as if I've been living on another continent. If you had truly wished to contact me, you could have done quite easily."

"Of course," Ginny quickly replied. "Only, I wasn't certain my apology would be accepted."

"Ah. I've always believed in seeking forgiveness when you know you've done something wrong regardless of whether or not you think you will be forgiven, but because it's the right thing to do."

It didn't escape Hermione's notice that Ginny didn't immediately fall all over herself apologising, nor did she utter even a single word. She merely nodded and looked away, and they returned to the uncomfortable silence.

Finally, Ginny spoke again, her mouth curving into a small, cautious smile. "So … how are you? Anything new in your life?"

"You must be joking."

The small smile faltered, and Ginny's brow furrowed. "Sorry?"

"'Anything new'?" Hermione repeated, her incredulity at the inane question suffusing her tone. "You mean other than burying my husband, having a baby, and being wrongfully evicted from my flat? Other than those tiny little insignificant things, no. Nothing new at all."

Ginny's mouth tightened in annoyance for a brief moment before she caught herself and smoothed her features. Hermione tamped down the pang of hurt—it was obvious Ginny had no interest in her well-being. It wasn't anything new. She was used to disappointment when it came to the Weasleys. The only real question was Ginny's true motivation for approaching her.

"You haven't seen Harry, then?" Ginny asked as she turned to look at the window display, a blatant attempt at nonchalance.

Should have seen that one coming, Hermione thought with dark amusement.

"No one has seen or heard from Harry in several months. He's away on assignment," she said. "But even if I had, I wouldn't discuss him with you."

Ginny's friendly façade disappeared in an instant, and anger flared in the witch's eyes. "Of course you wouldn't. You want to keep him all to yourself," she said, her expression darkening with bitter antipathy.

There was the truth of it, then. Hermione waved a dismissive hand. "Rubbish. Harry is a person, not an object, and can determine for himself with whom he does or does not associate."

"Oh please. You play on his emotions—"

"Harry makes his own choices, with no input from me."

"Right," Ginny said, derision dripping from the word. "We both know you convinced Harry to go along with you when you chose a filthy little ferret over my brother."

Hermione's eyes narrowed. "First, that 'filthy little ferret' is my husband, and I love him—if you had any regard for my feelings, you would respect that, no matter how you feel about him. Second, let's not rewrite history. You are the one who played on Harry's emotions and then pushed him to choose, either me or you. That choice was his and his alone. And as for Ronald, he had every opportunity to make known any such feelings he harboured. He had years. It's not my fault he chose not to."

"He did tell you—"

"Only after I began seeing Draco. Even then, he made no true declarations, only vague inferences. He expected me to wait for him until he was done dipping his wand in every willing cauldron." Hermione gave a disbelieving laugh. "It was ridiculous."

Ginny shook her head stubbornly. "He loved you."

"Doubtful. If he'd had his way, I would be waiting even now."

Ginny, of course, waved away her reference to Ron's continued carousing. "He loved you, and you threw it back in his face. In all our faces!"

"Pardon me for not being willing to sacrifice my own wants and desires on the altar of all things Weasley!"

Ginny ignored her and continued her rant. "Well, what goes around comes around, doesn't it? I warned you. I told you getting involved with Draco would be a big mistake, and look at you now," she said with a sneer. "You're all alone. No family, no friends, with a dead husband and a bastard ba—"

Hermione was already drawing her wand when a dark voice from behind her said, "I would not finish that sentence if I were you."

She glanced up to see an eerily familiar sight—a livid Severus Snape. Her heart warmed at his fury on her behalf.

Severus gently grasped Hermione's elbow in a show of support and then looked down his hooked nose at the now nonplussed witch before them. "You have previously demonstrated some modicum of intelligence, Miss Weasley, so I am certain you are aware that particular word is not applicable in this instance."

Ginny's expression was rather mulish, but she somehow managed to curb her tongue.

"Have you completed your shopping?" he asked Hermione, his gaze unwavering, locked on Hermione's angry erstwhile friend.

"Yes, I have. But if you could wait a moment, I would like to settle a few things with Ginny."

His eyebrows rose at her determined tone, and the corner of his mouth twitched.

"Of course." He gave her elbow a squeeze and then stepped back, only to reveal Pansy Parkinson at his side, her wand in hand as she surreptitiously cast a few privacy charms over the immediate vicinity.

"Looks like this could get rather ugly," Pansy murmured as she and Severus stationed themselves behind Hermione.

Both former Slytherins stood at the ready, the fingers on Severus' right hand outstretched, ready to retrieve his wand if needed.

Surprised by the display of loyalty—something she had done little to earn—Hermione blinked back unbidden tears. Then she smiled. Her revelation earlier that morning that she was no longer alone was holding true—she now had people standing at her back. And it felt glorious.

"As you can see," Hermione said, returning her attention to Ginny, "I have friends."

It was a rather bald statement, and perhaps she was stretching the truth slightly, but the words felt right.

"Oh, yeah." Ginny laughed, the sound ringing of sarcasm. "Such good friends you've found!"

"Let's talk about good friends, Ginny. Real friends. Severus"—Ginny's eyes widened in surprise at Hermione's use of their former professor's given name—"is not only a highly respected war hero, but he is the most honourable wizard I've ever known. Look at all he has done in the name of friendship, even when to his own detriment. He is intelligent, loyal, dependable, and trustworthy, and I am proud to call him my friend.

"As for Pansy," Hermione said, "how do you suppose Draco's wealthy pureblood friends reacted when his parents died and their debts were called in? What did they do when he sold the manor and chose to live as an ordinary wizard in an ordinary flat with an ordinary life?"

Ginny crossed her arms over her chest and rolled her eyes. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Everything," Hermione replied. "Draco's friends never abandoned him. Not ever. Not even when he married someone they considered beneath him. Did they become my best friends and come over for a chat and a cuppa? No. But they never let their dislike for me affect their relationship with him—because they loved him and his friendship was invaluable to them. That, Ginny, is what true friendship is all about—as opposed to threats and ultimatums." She glanced back at Severus, then Pansy, and a small smile touched her lips. "I think I've found some rather good friends, actually. Better than the so-called ones I had."

The anger in Ginny's eyes had faded as Hermione spoke, and now she stood shifting from foot to foot, her cheeks flushed with what could have been embarrassment and her eyes downcast. She cleared her throat and then said, "With Draco dead, I'd hoped you'd regained your senses, but obviously that isn't the case."

Hermione shook her head sadly. "You mean you were hoping I would forgive you so you could have another shot at Harry. You couldn't care less about me. Not really."

A single tear slid down the young witch's cheek, but she said nothing.

Hermione let out a breath. "I have no need for friendship with strings. My relationship with your family is over. Harry will, of course, make his own decision. I won't influence him either way, just as before."

Ginny nodded and, without another word, spun on her heel and walked away.

Hermione remained still, her eyes riveted to the retreating back of her one-time friend. It was done. And though part of her would always miss them, severing ties with the Weasleys once and for all had been far easier than she would have expected.

Once Ginny had disappeared into the Leaky Cauldron, Hermione turned to Severus and Pansy. "I'd like to return to Spinner's End. I believe I need a bit of a lie down."

Severus immediately stepped forward. "Of course."

"Thank you. Oh, and Pansy?"

Pansy arched an eyebrow. "Yes?"

"Do you have plans for Christmas dinner?"

The Healer responded with an inelegant snort.

Hermione caught Severus' gaze, her request written on her face.

He sighed and nodded before turning to Pansy. "Please join us for Christmas dinner, Healer Parkinson."

A slow smile appeared. "I suppose I can cancel my previous arrangements … and again, please call me Pansy, sir."


A/N: Just a reminder, after all this time, that this story is NOT DH-compliant. :)

Thank you to everyone who looked over this chapter over the years. (Gah.) All mistakes are mine. I make no promises as to when the next chapter will be, but I am hopeful it will be sooner than later. Up next: a Christmas surprise.