A/N: Many thanks to my content beta - the Fabulous (capital F) Aurette, and my SpaG beta, the kind and delicious Lady Karelia (LadyintheCloak). I couldn't have done it without you lovelies.
This is a work of fanfiction, and as such, I make no money. Everything you recognize belongs to JK Rowling.
He walked home from Hogsmeade, ordering his thoughts with precision, as if he were back in the dismal days when he had to Occlude against the Dark Lord. The morning was lovely, trees rustling in the breeze, the grass a burning green that nearly hurt the eye, but Snape saw none of it. His hands were tucked into the pockets of his frock coat and cupped in one palm rested a diamond ring.
He toyed with it, stroking the smooth surface of the solitaire as he had for the last twenty-five years.
Back straight, chest out, he walked with the posture of a much younger man, giving the lie to the river of steel grey hair that slipped over his shoulders and brushed his shoulder blades. Pulling his hands out of his pockets, he marched as a soldier who knew he is moving into enemy territory. There, a white cottage with Gryffindor-red shutters and a fine potions garden in the back.
"Mrs. Granger-Weasley," he murmured, nodding to the trim woman with the clouds of grey-streaked brown hair who knelt among the cabbage roses. Snape paused.
"Professor," she said and turned her back to him. Looking towards the house, the Potions master caught a flash of ginger hair in the window.
He walked on.
He walked home from Hogsmeade wrapped in his black, waxed-cloth cloak to stay dry.
There had been a time when he would have cast an Impervious Charm to ward off the rain, but that had been before she had kissed him that first time, and he'd been so shocked his spell had flickered and fallen. The feeling of drops of water running over his eyes and cheeks and creeping down the back of his neck had become mixed up with the glorious sensation of kissing Hermione, her soft lips, the little puffs of air that washed over his face, her fingers tangled in his soaking hair.
When they'd pulled away, he'd been unable to restrain the wolfish grin that crept across his mouth, exposing his crooked teeth.
"Severus Snape," she'd said, her cheeks stained red. With a pert fingertip she'd reached out and tapped one of his hooked incisors. "I'll be very put out if you stop now." That had been the first time he'd made love to her, but not the last.
He never used Impervious Charms any more to protect himself from the rain.
There, the white cottage with the Gryffindor-red shutters and the fine potions garden in the back, and there, his heart sat on the porch watching the rain.
"Mrs. Granger-Weasley," he called to her, but she turned her face away.
He walked on.
He walked home from Hogsmeade, wrapped in a Slytherin scarf and a Warming Charm. This winter was cold, and the winds cut through his spell as if it wasn't there. His old bones, twisted and sore from Voldemort's torture, longed for the comfort of his hearth.
There, the white cottage with the Gryffindor-red shutters where his love resided, and there, in the window, the man who had stolen it all from him.
Ronald Weasley's hand had been the one that had poured the healing potions down his throat as Snape had bled out on the final battlefield. Hermione had crouched next to him sobbing, but it was to the wretched boy he owed the Life Debt.
He wished he'd died there.
Snape met the man's eyes through the window, and Ronald Weasley's mouth tipped up. He raised two fingers to his brow and smartly saluted the old Potions master. The shiver that ran down his spine had nothing to do with the cold.
Denied a glimpse of Hermione, he walked on.
He walked home from Hogsmeade, determined not to look at the bloody house this time. It had been thirty years already, and he was so tired. He wanted peace from this ache, from this constant loneliness and regret. Most of all he wanted peace from the memory of Hermione's eyes when he betrayed her.
Snape snarled. What that boy had made him do to his lovely girl… He'd tried to tell Hermione, to warn her what Weasley was going to do to them, but each time his tongue would swell and he'd dry heave until the words were lost to him. The Life Debt would not allow him an honorable break. No, Snape had been told to drive her into the red-head's arms, to make her flee to him.
So he'd done it. He'd kissed Hermione's mouth and laid her down on his bed, wrapping them in his blankets so she wouldn't feel the chill in the dungeons. He'd licked her breasts and between her thighs until she'd curled her fists in the covers beneath her and begged him. Her head cradled by his forearm, he rocked into her moaning, Lily, oh god, Lily, and he hadn't stopped even when she clawed at his back and cried.
There, the white cottage with the blood-red shutters, and there, his wronged love.
He felt her eyes bore into him, but Snape didn't turn to face her.
He just walked on.
He walked home from Hogsmeade, alone as ever.
Snape paid no mind to the muddy puddles of water on the dirt path his feet tread; he just counted the steps that would bring him closer to that empty white cottage with its blood-red shutters. Minerva had told him that Ronald Weasley was in St. Mungo's, and Snape knew that Hermione would be at her husband's side. He'd been diagnosed with late-stage prostate cancer, and even the potions and tonics in the Wizarding world couldn't cure such a rapid spread of malignant cells.
But there was no hope for Snape. Should Weasley die, the Life Debt wouldn't loosen his tongue. Hermione would be free, but she'd still despise him. And even if he were free to tell her what had happened, why would she believe him instead of her much-mourned husband of the past thirty-five years? And how could he wish such pain on her?
Even now, he bled from losing Hermione. Snape wanted to scream and tear at his hair and lay in the muck outside of her garden gate, just waiting for her to come and take him in.
Instead, he just touched the tip of each fence post of the empty white cottage with the blood-red shutters, as he walked on.
He walked towards the white cottage with the blood-red shutters. The little house wept gently in the rain, water running down the slick slate shingles, tracking down the empty black windows. Snape clutched a fine handful of white camellias for the widow.
Minerva had tried to convince him he should wear mourning garb, but he refused to even pretend. But the flowers were for her because he hated to see her cry.
A week had passed since Ronald Weasley had died, and Snape hadn't seen her once in that time. He'd walked by her house daily, hoping to catch a glimpse of her to see how she was faring.
Today, she stood out in the rain, staring at her cabbage roses. Her hair was a matted, dripping mess, and she wore no cloak. Her robes were plastered to her form, showing sharp hips and jutting ribs that had been hollowed from stress and grief.
"Mrs. Granger-Weasley," he murmured, and extended the flowers to her over the fence line. "I am sorry for your grief."
"Leave now," she whispered, never turning to look at him. "Leave now, and don't ever address me again."
He walked on, the camellias forgotten on the ground behind him.
He walked home from Hogsmeade, the wind blowing his steel gray hair around his face in a violent frenzy. The leaves on the trees were a fading, curling green as they gasped their way into autumn.
Snape walked like a man who had time dragging at his heels, and he stumbled down the rutted path that would take him past her white cottage with the blood-red shutters, no longer theirs.
Hermione was there. He felt her presence burn on the edge of his vision, her nearness, almost a heat pressing against his side. Don't look, don't look, he whispered to himself. She's there at the gate. Don't look. As he made to pass her, she called to him. Her voice was sick and shocked. "Professor!"
He halted, nearly dropping the package in his arm. Muscle ticking madly beside his mouth, he turned to face her, but said nothing.
"Professor," she whispered. "I received a letter from Ron via the solicitor today. In it, he…" She put a hand to her mouth and stifled a sob, and Snape watched her eyes drown in tears. "He confessed what he did to you. I wanted to apologize. On his behalf."
Blood rushed into his belly, and he felt faint for a moment. She knows, she knows, she knows! his heart crowed. Snape, daring greatly, reached forward as if to brush a lock of hair off her shoulder.
She stumbled away from him. "No, no. Don't touch me. Don't say anything. He lied to me, but I've loved Ron for thirty-five years." Hermione looked stricken. "I don't know how to reconcile the man I knew with someone who could do that to another human being. I have to get my head on straight. I'm leaving, but I needed to apologize before I left. Don't say anything, please."
He nodded, saying nothing, his heart dried and shriveled like a cicada skin.
Snape turned and walked on.
He walked home from Hogsmeade, keeping his eyes on the path in front of him. It had been over a year since he'd seen her or spoken with her, and every time he'd walked past her little house, it had been empty. Where was she? How was she? Although he had no rights to her any longer, he wished he knew how she'd fared in the year since her husband died.
Snape's nose twitched from the sudden overwhelming smell of paint. There, the formerly white cottage with the formerly Gryffindor-red shutters, and there, his love in overalls holding a paintbrush. She looked good. Her hair was pulled back in a messy, floppy bun, and she'd filled out again.
He walked on in silence, intent on respecting her wishes.
"Severus!" he heard her soft voice call. He froze. "Severus, can we speak?"
He turned and moved back to her, one slow footstep at a time. Snape felt as if he were moving through a dream. "Mrs. Granger-Weasley," he murmured, drinking in her hazel eyes and laugh lines.
"Severus," she said, and her eyes filled with tears. "I've missed you for a very long time."
Oh god, that hurt wonderfully, and he was suddenly struck with a nearly overwhelming compulsion to lick the salt from her cheeks. Needing a bit of distance, he looked up. There, a cheerful sky blue cottage with half-painted purple shutters. His mouth twitched, and Hermione laughed suddenly. "I know, I know. It's strong isn't it? I figured, 'what the hell?' A total break from the past. It's atrocious, isn't it?"
"I love it," he said, meaning I love you.
"Will you come in? For tea?" she hastened to add. He ran his thumb over the diamond ring that still resided in his pocket.
"I'd love to," he said, meaning I love you.
A/N: Like it, love it, hate it, review it!