A Tale of Roses
by Lady Memory
How does it feel to be missed?
Disclaimer: This is a non-profit tribute to the works of JK Rowling, who created and, together with her publishers and licensees, owns the characters and settings elaborated herein.
All my gratitude to my fantastic previewer and beta Duj. Many thanks to all my kind readers and reviewers.
Dedication: To Tearsofphoenix, an excellent teacher, a captivating author and, above all, a dearest friend.
- Part 1 -
The old woman trudged through the corridors, smiling absent-mindedly at the unknown faces that she encountered. They returned her smile with perplexity. She didn't fit in that place of youth. Her soft curls were veined by large stripes of white, and her wrinkled face looked more and more drained at every step. After a few minutes, she slowed and stopped, as if her legs had refused to carry her.
The younger woman who was walking arm in arm with her stopped as well and turned.
"Are you feeling well, Mum?" she asked.
The old woman nodded with a bit of impatience.
"I told you it would have been better to go directly to St. Mungo's. We could have come here later. I still don't understand what was so urgent," her daughter protested.
The old woman grimaced. "When we get old, we cannot spend our days trying to avoid the unavoidable. I have no more time to waste, Rosie."
"Oh, Mum!" Rosie sighed. "You know what the Mediwizards told you. You should rest. You should take care of yourself."
"That's what I'm doing today, dear." The old brown eyes held a hint of amusement. "And I think I know better than them what may help me."
"Why don't you tell me, then? Why Hogwarts and why today? It's been years since you were here! Since Jane graduated, I think…"
"And what a sweet memory." The old woman smiled. "But Rosie, you must understand that I have other memories in my life…"
She paused and then remained silent. How could she tell her daughter that the memories that drew her were even more compelling than her youngest granddaughter's celebration?
"Please leave me alone in the garden for a while," she said instead. "You can go and say hello to your friends. Take your time. I'll promise I'll sit quietly and wait for you."
Her daughter sighed, then shook her head. She bent to kiss her mother on her cheek and, after a last concerned glance, silently left.
The garden lay open in all its splendour, and the bench was exactly where she remembered it. A few steps lower, the White Stone, inalterable in its glowing pallor, shone in the mild sun. The quietness of the place enveloped her in its soothing embrace, and memories began to flow, while she savoured them one by one.
Now she could see it all again. There was the place that had welcomed her in her passage from world to world. Down in the fields, the chimney pot over Hagrid's hut was emitting white puffs of smoke. Hagrid wasn't there, of course. He had quietly passed away seven years earlier, but he had lived there till the last, too old and too weary to roam the forest, but still laughing his gigantic laugh. And his eyes had filled with tears each time she had come to visit him.
Near the hut, there was the pumpkin field in which Buckbeak had waited to be executed; up on the hill, there was the place where she had slapped Malfoy, and down in the valley she could see the Forbidden Forest, where they had met Centaurs and Unicorns and Thestrals. And even a Werewolf.
Behind her was the castle, and the impressive portals she had crossed coming and going so many times with Harry – now a grandfather of nine and a retired Auror – and with his best friend, the boy who had become so special to her…
For the thousandth time in those last five years, the thought of her lost husband brought an ache to her chest, and her heart jolted. She clenched her fists to resist the sudden acute pain and made herself take calm, measured breaths. She didn't want to be forced to leave the castle before time, not on the day that she had finally convinced her daughter to make that little deviation for which she had begged – yes, begged!
Slowly, the pain subsided. Her head bent while her thoughts returned again to their usual pattern. Memories formed and twirled in sequence… Ron telling Harry that nobody would want to have such an insufferable know-it-all as a friend… a Troll in the bathroom, and Ron managing Wingardium Leviosa for the first time… Ron wounded in the Shrieking Shack, lying in that dusty bed, and the strange hollow sensation his sweaty face had produced in her heart…
An immense wave of tenderness rose to choke her. She took a deep intake of breath. Those memories were too sweet, and she could no longer restrain the tears. Staring blindly at the Stone, she extracted memory after memory, until she found herself in "that" place again. And as usual, confusion tightened her heart. She had come there to remember, and she didn't expect that her memories would bring only comfort. The illusion of being young again - while she was instead on the verge of leaving life and her dear ones forever - was excruciating enough.
But that unresolved question remained, prickling as it had subtly prickled for all those years. She had never confided to Ron how insistent that recurrent memory had been. Ron, bless him, was absolutely untouched by many of the anguishes that still tortured her. So, she had let them go, trying to forget them for the sake of their marriage.
But now, in front of that stone, the doubt re-emerged and hit hard. Could they have done something for… him? Why had they let him die? Of course, they hadn't understood who he really was. It had been a difficult situation. They were only children, and one of them so burdened! Taking sides with that dying man – as she had done so many times previously – would have seemed a betrayal.
She felt so confused… so terribly confused and guilty…
Immersed in her thoughts, she didn't notice the shadow elongating on the bench.
"Is this place taken?" a low male voice asked behind her. Surprised, she didn't answer immediately. Wiping her cheek with a quick gesture, she blinked back her tears.
"May I sit here?" The unfamiliar voice repeated patiently.
She nodded uncertainly, still trying to steady her voice, annoyed at the intrusion, and already preparing to leave the place and that untimely companion.
The man took the few steps that brought him in front of the bench and sat with an evident effort. She shot him a quick glance. He looked much younger than she, but not young, dressed in dark hooded robes that obscured his face and form. Only his grey hair and his long aristocratic fingers were visible.
"May I ask if you are a regular visitor?" he inquired after a few moments.
She winced. A talk was the last thing she wanted; her daughter couldn't arrive too soon.
"I used to be," she said repressively. But he wasn't deterred.
"Then perhaps you know what this white monument is about," he continued. "There's nothing written on it."
She felt shocked. How could a Hogwarts' visitor, surely a member of the wizarding world, possibly not know what the White Stone represented?
"This stone honours the memory of Albus Dumbledore, one of the greatest wizards who ever lived. You surely remember that sixty years ago he defeated the evil wizard who called himself Lord Voldemort," she told him.
"Sixty years is a long gap to fill," he apologised. "But I have always thought that it was Harry Potter who defeated Lord Voldemort."
"Of course he did!" she said. "But without Dumbledore's help, Harry Potter would have had little chance of surviving."
"How fascinating. I had heard that Potter wasn't alone. He had two companions who shared his adventures and risks." He hesitated and added, "I'm sorry for bothering you with my questions, but I left England many years ago, almost at the beginning of my adult life, and, now that I'm back, I'm trying to gather as many memories as I can."
She softened a bit. A difficult task, trying to recollect the facts of a life he hadn't lived. Her reservations fell.
"Yes," she said, "Harry Potter had two particularly close friends. But there were many who cared for him and helped."
She paused, and faces and voices filled her mind once more, sweet heartbreaking memories. Her eyes sparkled with tears.
"I suppose that, without his friends' help, he wouldn't have succeeded," she added, awakening from her painful trance with an effort.
"So he had many friends," the man mused. "I suppose he also had many enemies…"
"Yes." She lowered her head, and spoke haltingly, trying to control her emotions. It was too important. "Many. And very dangerous. But at the end, a few of them helped him. And one even proved to be his guardian."
"How can an enemy become a guardian?" the stranger asked disbelievingly.
She closed her eyes, reliving that miserable night. The corridor, the fear, the silence, the unexpected sound of a body thudding to the ground, then his figure out of the room, his commanding voice and his black robes billowing behind him while he hurried to the stairs, to the Astronomy Tower… Her voice went hoarse.
"He was a spy. Always playing a double role. So we didn't believe him completely. Ever." Absorbed in reminiscence, she forgot to exclude herself from the tale. "Then he killed Dumbledore. It was Dumbledore's idea, but nobody knew that. So he was marked as a murderer, but he kept working for the good side." A pause, and again that excruciating remorse. "Until the Dark Lord killed him."
"You seem sorry for him."
"We didn't do anything to help him." Her hands clasped and unclasped in her lap. "I still see his face in my dreams. I still ask myself what could have changed if we had tried to help him. Perhaps he would have survived."
"You seem to miss him."
"I did for many years," she confessed. "I wish I could talk to him and explain. And forgive and be forgiven. "
"A kind, though useless, feeling, so many years later," the stranger agreed, and put back his hood. "However, it's nice to know I was missed, Miss Granger."
For a moment, her heart thudded so violently that she thought it would escape from her ribs like a bird from a cage. She placed a hand to soothe the pain that was growing dangerously in her chest.
"You…" she whispered, her eyes fluttering with the effort of controlling her heartbeats and that immense, overwhelming sensation.
"You…" she repeated, and her face brightened suddenly with the joy of those who unexpectedly meet a friend in a far time and place.
"How can this be possible?" Her head was spinning as she cautiously said what she had never expected to say again. "Professor Snape?"
"Years haven't changed your manners, Miss Granger, though you must know very well that I am no longer a professor. But I see there has been a change in your status, too. How should I address you now?" He glanced at her gold ring, the only ornament on her hand.
She was too lost in her joy to hear him.
"This is the answer to my prayers", she murmured with trembling lips. Then, her heart sent a powerful signal, and this time she couldn't conceal her sudden pallor. She closed her eyes and leaned back on the bench, unable to resist the pain.
He frowned in alarm. "Are you feeling well?"
She felt his hand around her wrist, and his long fingers search for her pulse. NO. Not now. She struggled to react.
"I'm well…" she panted, and he arched an eyebrow. "I will be in a minute", she corrected herself, as her lips tugged upwards. Oh well, she thought with ferocious desperation, this time her heart would have to get on with it by itself. But he took out a little flask and offered it.
"Here," he said, holding it to her lips. "Drink this."
She gulped the bitter liquid down, shivering in disgust but not even thinking to refuse. Slowly she relaxed, feeling the comforting warmth of his fingers on her pulse. She opened her eyes and smiled, a mischievous smile of youth.
He scowled back and asked gruffly, "Is there anybody here with you?"
Her smile deepened at that sign of concern. "Yes, my daughter. But don't worry, I'm well now."
He shot her a sceptical glance. "You don't look too healthy."
"Oh," she replied vaguely, "who isn't at this age? Work, family and children give so many worries…"
"So, I was right in assuming you changed your status?" he asked, seeming truly interested, and she smiled again.
"You were always right in your assumptions."
He snorted. "Weasley, I suppose."
She sighed. "So predictable, was I?"
"And how is he?"
Her smile fell away. "He is no longer with us." She lowered her head to hide the tears. In spite of his many defects, Ron's absence was even more painful in that so very special moment. "Five years ago."
"I'm sorry," he said mechanically. "Children?"
"Two," she replied, and he stared blankly at the garden as if he had run out of questions. But she had many.
"Tell me about you," she urged him. "How could you survive that bite? And what have you been doing all these years? Really, I still can't believe it! Does anyone else know about you?"
"You have kept that irritating habit, Madam Weasley," he replied, and a spark lit his eyes. "You speak too much."
They stared at each other. It was her turn to scowl now. He shrugged and surrendered.
"However, it's a simple story. My saviour was Dumbledore, though he never really cared for me. Or for anyone, I believe, despite your flamboyant description of him. His repeated comments about Nagini – I presume you remember the name of Voldemort's pet serpent - inspired me to brew an antidote against her venom, and dose myself whenever I was summoned. So, that day in the Shrieking Shack, I was prepared. But I hadn't calculated the added, immense power of the Dark Lord's magic. The dose wasn't enough, and I entered a coma. I thought it was the end. Then I woke up in the night. Alone, forgotten and broken. But alive."
Mortified, she looked away, but he didn't seem to notice. His voice sounded remote as he relived lost memories.
"I left the Shack and went to a secret place where I used to store money and robes in case of need. I had a mission to fulfil – keeping an eye on Potter - and it wasn't completed. And I also wanted my revenge, if he failed. But he won, so I left. Forever."
"And where did you go?" she whispered.
"Away." He shrugged again, this time with immense bitterness. "I had nothing to live for. I spent days struggling against my emptiness, then I found a quiet place, a small country town in the North, where nobody knew me. I settled there and used my knowledge to prepare herbal remedies. Soon I had a circle of unsuspicious clients buying my potions to cure themselves, their cattle and their fields. Nobody asked after me or came looking for me. So, I stayed there and found my peace in helping the Muggles I had fought in my early years, until I became a Muggle again. It wasn't so difficult. After all, my father was a Muggle."
His eyes darkened with regret.
"But, as I said, sixty years is too long to stay in one place. They would have started to notice the many incongruities and strange facts about me. So I left that little heaven, and with my savings, I bought a small house, far from commercial routes and practically isolated. And there I live now, alone amongst the many other existences that surround me: animals and plants, peaceful creatures that do not accuse, do not command and do not hurt just for the pleasure of it, as humans do."
He hesitated. "And there… and there I cultivate roses. Beautiful roses. Their beauty is a comfort to my heart and a joy to my eyes." He paused, as if searching for words, and concluded sharply," But the Dark Magic that is in me corrupts their nature. So, my roses are black."
He took a deep breath, as if awakening from a dream, and glared defiance at her. "Now, what about you?"
"My story is much shorter," she said. "I married Ron, as you guessed, and we had two children, a girl and a boy. I have five grandchildren, and my first great-grandchild is due within the next month".
"In the Ministry. Ended twenty years ago."
"That's all? What about your ambitions, your plans of saving of the world? Or if not the world, at least the house elves?"
She could feel the sneer in his tone, but didn't care.
"That was sixty years ago, Professor. I am a wife, a mother and a grandmother. And that's enough trouble in my life."
She stared at the ground. How could she tell him that life had brought so many disappointments to at least two of the once famous child prodigies? Ron's work as an Auror had never got off the ground. Soon their differences of habits, wishes and interests had created quarrels and problems, and she had been forced to sacrifice her career to save his.
Their children had been a continual source of troubles. Rosie had found the man of her life while still at Hogwarts. The union had been celebrated immediately after her graduation, and had been blessed by three children in rapid succession. But then Rosie's husband had revealed an unpleasant penchant for beer and Firewhisky, and an alarming tendency to lose every job he got. Soon Hermione had felt obliged to take care of the new family, effectively becoming the mother of her grandchildren… and spending a great part of her time seeing to their education.
Hugo had been an erratic student, to her dismay. Then he had spent years searching for a job, always unsatisfied, always complaining, until he had found the girl of his dreams… and divorced three years later. Many other disagreeable events had followed, and finally he had settled down in his Uncle George's shop. The old man had never married so, at the end, he had practically adopted the nephew. Lately, Hugo had married a woman who had added two children to the family, but their grandmother didn't see them too much, as they spent the greater part of their time with George.
Her eyes saddened. No, life had been completely different from her dreams.
"Really, there is nothing more to say."
He intertwined his fingers. "I see. So, why did you come here today?"
"I was going to ask you the same question," she replied quietly. "You must admit that your reasons are surely much more interesting than mine."
He frowned. "In any case, please tell me."
She took a deep breath. "I've been thinking about Hogwarts for months. No, I must be sincere. I never stopped thinking about it."
"The days of our glory are hard to forget," he sneered.
"No!" she protested. "You don't understand. What happened here has been my pride and consolation in the darkest hours… and there have been so many of them," she admitted. "But what happened to you has been my constant remorse. I came here to find peace from my memories."
She blushed under his gaze. He straightened and spoke with a cold voice.
"You mean, you left me dying in the Shack, without even turning to check if I was breathing, and now you want to convince me that you have been sorry for sixty years? Do you expect me to believe it?"
"Yes! Yes, please!" she pleaded, raising her hands as in a prayer. "I have longed to talk with you, to justify myself, to ask for forgiveness..." Her hands slowly lowered to her lap, and clasped with a sudden movement. "But of course you weren't there to be asked."
She swallowed and tears twinkled again. "I'm sorry…" she whispered, while a large drop fell on her lap.
Whiner, she thought bitterly; she had always been ready to cry and time hadn't changed that. How would he react to that reminder of her weakness?
He was sitting rigidly. "Though they come a bit late, I accept your apologies, Madam Weasley," he said, staring at the garden. Incredulous, she turned to look at him.
"But do you trust me? Do you?" Anxiety vibrated in her voice along with tears.
He sighed, and a hint of a smile tweaked his lower lip.
"Should I?" he asked himself. "After all, you lied and tricked and meddled behind my back for years."
"Ah, Professor!" she replied, turning again for a moment into the schoolgirl she had been. "I've always regretted that. What if you had trusted us? What if we had trusted you? What if we had been able to work together? But in the end, you are still alive, and that's the only thing that counts. And looking so well!"
She watched him in wonder, finally realising the incongruity. "How old are you?"
"It should be easy for you to calculate my years," he replied with a bitter smile. "Next January, I'll be a centenarian."
"But you look so… so young!"
"It's the poison. Nagini was too closely linked with the Dark Lord: her power was his power, and a part of it now flows in my veins." His eyes grew sombre. "Her bite became my salvation and my curse. I'm filled with a malevolent power that I can't and I won't ever use, but that grants me a longer, slowed-down life, so that I can savour completely the weight I am carrying …"
She gasped in horror, but his lips curled disdainfully. "I suppose this means I am linked to Potter as well. Ridiculous, isn't it? How is he?"
"Well," she began, "he married Ginny Weasley…"
"Another obvious choice," he sneered. "I imagine they have a litter of brats, then."
"Actually, only three," she said, a bit hurt by his tone, but preparing her revelation with a mischievous smile. "James, Lily-"
"How predictable!" Again he interrupted her with a nervous wave of his hand.
"And Albus Severus."
"Albus… Severus?" he mouthed disbelievingly, and her smile grew.
"Yes, Professor. So, you see, there is effectively a link."
"But… I can't believe it." He looked dumbstruck. And exposed.
"I think you have always underestimated Harry. He was not as thick and self-absorbed as you thought. He honoured his parents, of course, but he also chose the names of the two men who had shaped his destiny. His foster parents, if you like."
He almost choked. Recovering his composure, he snarled, "A despicable choice. Joining my name with that of the man who wanted to sacrifice both of us for a hypothetical greater good!"
She stiffened, but he stopped her reply with an ironic glance. "Don't try to justify him. You can't. Just tell me: what is Albus… Severus doing?"
"Oh, he is the same age as my Rosie, fifty-three now…" she said in melancholy. "Not a boy any more. Time goes by for our children, too." A shadow crossed her face, then her eyes twinkled again, as she savoured her impending revelations.
"He is a wonderful potioneer. He works in St. Mungo's, is married and has three children." She grinned. "And, last but not least, he was sorted into Slytherin."
He took a deep breath. His eyes sparkled, then darkened again.
"Does he know about me?" he asked.
"Of course!" It was her turn to be surprised. "Harry told him that he had been named after two Hogwarts Headmasters, and that one of them was a Slytherin and the bravest man he had ever known."
Snape closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against his fists. She added slowly, "Albus Severus has wonderful green eyes. Just like his father… and grandmother."
He jerked up his head. "You… you know?" he rasped.
"We all know," she declared firmly, and he turned his head away.
"Severus," eyes twinkling with tears, she dared call him by his name. "Your sacrifice was immense and Harry wanted to remember it. We all did."
A violent emotion contorted his features and he struggled to control it. Impulsively, she placed her hand on his hand and gently squeezed it. Then, tired but content, she leaned back against the bench and closed her eyes with a sigh.
"Finally I told you everything. I'm so glad…" she breathed.
"I… I am flabbergasted…" he muttered. "I came here to revisit bitter memories and persuade myself that I had made the right choice, because there were no reasons to hope. Now you tell me that I have been remembered, and remembered with love. If I'd ever known… I could have come back before."
"Why not now?" Eyes glowing, she sat straighter. "You don't need to publicise your arrival, of course. If you don't want to remain forever, at least come for a visit. I'm sure that Harry-"
"No," he replied with an effort. "Meeting him wouldn't be a good idea."
"Then what about me?" She was ready to suggest. "I'm so lonely these days… My grandchildren have all grown up, and my days are empty. Would you come to visit me? I imagine you still know how to Apparate. Do you have a wand? Otherwise I could help you find you a new one."
"I have a wand," he replied, his voice wavering. "But… would you really like to see me again?"
"What a silly question! Of course I would." She turned to look at him, tilting her head and smiling. "Aren't you one of my oldest friends?"
"If I were, I never noticed," he replied bitterly, and her smile vanished. She looked him straight in the eye. "In spite of what you may think, I always trusted you and did my best to convince the others that you were trustworthy…" Her voice went flat. "Until that dreadful night. I lost confidence then. Dumbledore's plan was too hard to understand, too incredible to believe."
He didn't answer and, for a horrible moment, she felt hopeless again. Then -
"I remember when you came to Hogwarts," he said with an unexpectedly soft tone. "You were an exemplary student, but you didn't fit in. Too impetuous for a Hufflepuff, too straight for a Slytherin, too practical for a Ravenclaw, too brilliant for a Gryffindor. You had every gift… except popularity."
He paused, unravelling his thoughts.
"So, I wasn't surprised when you attached yourself to Potter. It gave you another route to admiration, a chance to bask in his reflected glory. And why not, after all? It was a matter of mutual convenience. You needed appreciation, he needed your brain to survive his tasks."
Her brows furrowed, and she burst out, "But brain isn't what counts in friendship, Professor. It's much more important to care and to help each other. That's what friends do."
He bowed ironically. "Yes, that's what you did, and the most astonishing, whimsical things began to happen. I'm still not sure whose mind was behind them - where Potter's responsibility ended and yours began." His eyes narrowed. "Because I'm sure that many times you were the inspiration behind the hand that acted."
She blushed and looked down. "I admit we were reckless. But I wish you could have trusted us the way I trusted you! So many things would have changed, so much pain would have been spared…"
This time it was his turn to look away. He cleared his throat.
"I confess that I was wrong about you. I understood too late, when I saw what you did for him, and how you remained at his side till the end. That… that was extraordinary. Even when your own life was in danger, you never abandoned him." His eyes flashed with sudden ferocity. "Does Potter know how lucky he has been?"
"Well, he had other friends," she replied, surprised at his passionate tone.
"No." He shook his head. "None like you. Not even Weasley. Phineas's portrait told me that he abandoned you in the tent after an argument."
She stared. How could he remember such remote events, and with such precision? How much time had he spent in reminiscence, far and forgotten in that village?
He returned her gaze and shifted uncomfortably. Then he closed his eyes and said haltingly, "If I had had a friend like you so many years ago, perhaps I wouldn't have…" His voice trailed off and choked, and he tightened his hands so forcefully that his knuckles whitened.
Her eyes softened. "There's still time. If you want, we can be friends now."
He watched her with sudden hope, then shook his head. "I… I don't think I could… I have spent a whole life alone…"
"I'm alone too," she murmured. "It would be nice to share my loneliness with somebody else."
His lips trembled, searching for words that he didn't know how to express. Then, with a graceful movement of his fingers, he conjured a flower, a beautiful black rose and, silently, offered it to her.
"For me?" she said in surprise, and lifted the splendid blossom to inhale its scent.
"It's beautiful," she murmured, and smiled. He smiled back, with a blush of pleasure.
Her heart twisted painfully in her chest.
Something cracked inside and the colour disappeared from her cheeks. She leaned back her head on the bench with a moan of pain. His eyes widened in alarm.
"You are not well!" He looked around for help, not daring to leave. "You need medical assistance…" And he fumbled to take out his little flask.
"No…" she breathed. Her time had come like a thief in the night, and there would be no more moments of joy, except these last precious instants. "It will be useless. My heart is injured, Severus. By Dolohov in our fifth year. Do you remember?" Her voice slurring, she struggled to explain. "In the Ministry, fighting over the prophecy… He hit me with a curse… we thought it was healed, but ... aging… it returned…" Her voice was barely audible now. "We had to pay a price for our glory, soon or later… First Ron… Now it's my turn."
He watched her in panic. "Stay!" he implored.
"It would have been so nice…" she murmured. Her eyes closed, and her head sank onto his shoulder.
"No!" he cried, bending and enfolding her in a tight embrace while he summoned his forces and, for the first time, dared awaken the immense power locked inside his body. Waves of energy exploded, surrounding them in a circle of light. And, while he obstinately, desperately, called her spirit back from the depth in which it was sinking, an astonishing change took place. His hair whitened and his face creased, while his body altered and aged in a few terrible instants. He writhed in the pains of the transformation, but kept her tightly till the last powerful vibration. Then - and only then - panting and exhausted, he drew back and watched her through eyes unfocused by tears.
Her body had absorbed his power. Her cheeks were rosy and her breath was returning. He shivered at the sight of his hands, now wrinkled, stained, and veined with blue. Then he looked again at her. She was sleeping peacefully, lips slightly open in a smile. He lingered, brows furrowing with infinite tenderness.
A sound of voices startled him. He turned his head to the castle. With an effort, his now weakened eyes detected a small group of people coming out of the portals and speaking in merry confusion, as friends do when they meet after a while.
"See you soon, Rose!" A male voice exclaimed, muffled by distance, and other voices joined it, exchanging greetings and good wishes. He recognised the name and stiffened. Her daughter was coming.
A moment he hesitated, torn between doubt and desire. Then he lowered his head in resignation. There was no place for him in that world anymore. His eyes apologised to the woman resting so placidly on the bench. Though his heart raged and bled, he didn't want her to see him, not after that dreadful change.
"Sleep well, Hermione", he whispered with his new uneven voice, and bent to kiss her lightly on the forehead.