Chapter Seventeen

"Fuck!" Hermione shouted, her fingernail tearing an impressive hole in her hose, right at the shin where it wouldn't be covered by her skirt. A knock on the door had startled her into giving an overzealous tug, though it was true that her nails were perhaps not as neatly tended as they should have been for this endeavour.

She quickly donned her skirt and ripped off the nylons, tossing them in the bin with a glare. Torture devices.

She quickly jogged down the hallway, a follow-up knock making known the impatience of her visitor.

Yanking the door open, Hermione almost did a double take, but she'd learned from the very best how to school her features, and six months apart from said teacher hadn't been enough to dampen her quick reaction time.

"Ronald," she said cordially, stepping back to allow entrance. "It's so good to see you!"

And it was. It was rare that Ron came to her flat—it could only be accessed by Muggle means, though she still used magic on the inside. She just didn't relish being too easy to get to; her freedom was a cherished thing.

The neighbourhood wasn't the best, either, but at least it was mostly comprised of families. It had been her home for nearly four months now. After Snape's trial and her subsequent… well, stalking of him, she'd decided that Australia just wasn't right for her. She needed to be home. There was much to be done—reconstruction, peacekeeping. She wanted to be a part of that.

"You, too. You look good, Hermione. Really good," Ron said, a wide smile on his face. He enveloped her in a huge hug, and she didn't pull away, though she didn't really encourage the embrace.

Ron had been a little confused by her feelings for Snape. Hermione probably should have told her himself instead of letting Harry say whatever he had, but she'd been too scared. Not that she cared what he thought—she just didn't want to hurt him.

His confusion had led him to a very commonplace male reaction: when a girl wants someone else, a man immediately begins to think he wants this girl. Typical 'wanting what you can't have' syndrome, and Hermione had tried, both gently and firmly, to turn him down, but Ron was obstinate at the best of times. Again, it had taken Harry to really explain the crux of things—that Hermione's heart just wasn't up for grabs. Someone else still held it, whether he wanted it or not.

And he very obviously didn't.

"Tea?" she said, straightening her blouse after Ron's enthusiastic greeting.

"Please." Ron settled comfortably at her small kitchen table, easily watching her prepare the tea.

"You don't have training today?" she asked, sitting down with the tea service and pouring some for both, earning a massive smile when she remembered the way Ron liked his.

"Nope, have today and tomorrow off." Ron took a sip and sighed. "Ginny said you've the next few days off as well," he continued, his voice a forced nonchalance that Hermione recognised from their school days.

"Yes, well, I was planning on using my time to catch up on work." Hermione had spearheaded a small offshoot department in the Ministry, which was called Care and Protection of Displaced Persons. It had begun as a charity to help those whose homes had been damaged or destroyed during the raids leading up to the battle at Hogwarts, but it now operated mainly as a way to help those affected by their Death Eater parents or relatives being sent to Azkaban. The need was ongoing as the Death Eaters continued to be captured. The help included things like financial support, tuition, food, shelter, clothing, relocation, and sometimes funded a search for other relatives and travel costs to get to them.

As Head of the department, she rarely had time off, but Ginny had insisted when Hermione had offered up her own apartment to shelter a fourteen-year-old orphan. Hermione knew she became too attached, especially to the ones who were not much younger than herself.

Helping them helped her.

"Well, that doesn't sound like much fun," Ron was saying, idly playing with the rim of his saucer.

"Maybe not, but it's satisfying." She bit her lip to hold off asking Ron why he'd come. She could always tell the difference between him coming just to talk or hang out or because he didn't have any food in his flat with Harry and when he actually had something on his mind. It always took excruciatingly long for him to come out and say whatever was on his mind.

"Hmm," he said, nodding as if he understood completely. Maybe he did; he was training to be an Auror after all, and that would be a very satisfying job. Though Hermione suspected it'd be more so if she could have convinced Harry and Ron to take their NEWTs as she had. But she'd learned to let that go. Mostly.

"Ron, is there something you want to talk about?" she pressed.

"Okay, yeah. Yeah, there is. Harry said not to say anything, but I think, as your friend, I really should."

Hermione sighed. "And what is it you think you need to say?" As if she didn't already know.

"It's about Snape," Ron said predictably, and Hermione had to fight herself not to correct him; Professor Snape, she'd say irritably. Only he wasn't anymore. Last she'd heard, he ran an apothecary out of his home, though he didn't have many customers.

Not that she'd been checking up, of course.

"And?"

"And I think you need to get over him. He's obviously moved on from whatever happened." He raised a hand as she opened her mouth. "I know you don't like to talk about what happened when he… had you, but you shouldn't keep it all inside, either. You should talk to someone. See someone new, even."

Like you, she mentally finished for him, rolling her eyes. "You know I'm seeing a therapist, Ron."

"Yeah, a Muggle one," he harrumphed, and she narrowed her eyes. "Not that there's anything wrong with that, Hermione!" he added quickly, placing a hand over hers. "But you're a witch, and you should see someone trained to deal with magical folk."

She'd heard this argument before. "What happened to me wasn't magical. I didn't use any real magic the entire time I was there. I need to deal with my thoughts, and that has nothing to do with the fact that I'm a witch."

That, and she'd really wanted an impartial, outside perspective. Her name was known throughout the medical community, not to mention the fact that she'd never revealed to anyone besides Harry, Ron, and Ginny what had happened inside the cell, and even they had only the briefest details.

But her therapist knew it all, including the fake rape, which she'd said had been videotaped for proof of Snape's allegiance to a Mafia boss.

Stockholm Syndrome. Her thoughts could be easily explained away, perfectly reasonable, understandable, relatable. Simple. Defence mechanisms, natural reactions, duress, all that.

But she still loved him.

"Maybe," Ron said, looking sceptical. "Look, let me take you out to dinner. I know a great place—"

"That's really sweet of you," she interrupted gently, squeezing his hand before pulling hers away. "And I appreciate it. But it's not just that I'm not ready, and it's not just that I still love Professor Snape. I don't think of you like that. You're one of my best friends, and I love you, but I don't…" She stopped. She didn't think anything more really needed to be said.

Ron hung his head. After a few minutes, he looked at her from under his red fringe. She pushed it away softly. He'd always have a place in her heart as her first—of many things—but he wasn't for her.

"Will you… think about it?" he asked softly. The war had changed them all, Ron perhaps most of all. Harry still needed to save people and Hermione still needed to help, but Ron… he'd put that all behind him. He'd mellowed and calmed, and now he just lived life the best he knew how. He'd be okay.

"If you want me to, I will. But I don't need to, Ron. My mind won't change."

He laughed a little sadly, tapping the tabletop with a long, freckled finger. Then his demeanour changed, like sun bursting through clouds, and Hermione almost laughed. Ron.

"Did you hear that Ginny said yes to Harry's proposal? I could barely get him to stop bouncing off the walls long enough to come see you!"

Hermione laughed. "Ginny Floo'd me about an hour before you got here. She's probably at the Burrow now, telling your parents."

Ron's eyes widened. "Oh, I really think I need to see that!"

"Go," she said, waving him away with her fingers, smiling. "Report back on the damage."

Bending down, Ron hugged her again, and though it was a good-bye of sorts, it wasn't the kind that lasted forever.

"Be safe, all right?" he asked as she walked him to the door.

"Always. And you." The same thing the trio had said in parting for years.

"Always."

Hermione propped her hip against the doorjamb and watched him go. He disappeared into the alley down the street, and she groaned. At least he covered the crack of his Disapparition—he hadn't a few times, and the police had been called with reports of gunshots.

Alas, the rent was cheap.

After carefully filing her nails, Hermione pulled out another pair of nude stockings. They were thicker than the first pair, but they were all she had. She'd likely overheat, but Ginny had requested her presence at the Burrow that evening, and she had to look respectable.

Not now, however. She tossed them onto the bed with a disdainful glare and padded into her study to go through her case files.

Amy Justice Dolohov. Hermione shivered. Her parents were dead and her only living relative was Antonin Dolohov, currently serving life in prison. A headache flared as it did whenever she thought of those they'd lost.

There would be no justice here.

The girl was only seven years old. Beautiful, really, though she looked hard for her age. She'd seen so much. She was staying with a foster family, one that was already overfull, Hermione knew. These were the casualties of war.

Hermione closed the file.

Another knock on her door broke through her maudlin mood. This was the job she'd chosen, after all.

Wondering what Ron could possibly want with her so soon, Hermione opened the door quickly.

Then she staggered backward, eyes wide, mouth open.

She blinked slowly and ran a trembling hand through her hair. "Professor Snape," she whispered, forgetting everything she'd ever known and some things she hadn't even learned yet.

"I think it would be best," he said slowly, entering her flat and making the room seem much smaller, "if you would call me Severus." His lips bore the smallest smile, but to Hermione, it was enough.

Fin.


!- /* Font Definitions */ font-face {font-family:Cambria; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */ , , {mso-style-parent:""; margin-top:0cm; margin-right:0cm; margin-bottom:10.0pt; margin-left:0cm; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:Cambria; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi; mso-ansi-language:EN-GB;} page Section1 {size:612.0pt 792.0pt; margin:72.0pt 90.0pt 72.0pt 90.0pt; mso-header-margin:36.0pt; mso-footer-margin:36.0pt; mso-paper-source:0;} 1 {page:Section1;} -

Author's Note: So that's the end! I hope it was satisfying. I know a lot of you were worried that it would be either a sad ending or a too-well wrapped up one, and I think this falls someone in the middle of the spectrum—it's the only ending that felt real.

Thank you all for reading and reviewing. I am so amazed at how well received this story has been—it's definitely the most popular long fic I've written, and I'm sad to have it end because it means I won't get to enjoy any more of your thoughts.

I really hope you all enjoyed the ending. This fic is definitely finished, so no bribing for more! :D If any of you are fans of slash, you can always check out the Harry/Draco fic I'm co-writing with my friend keppiehed, or the many oneshots I write. I am only posting on LiveJournal now, so if you want to read more from me, that's where I'll be. Thank you all so, so much!